532 Elm Avenue
Rose handed the PDA to Allison as she got out of the car. "Check this first. Get as much info out of it as possible but keep it usable. I have plans for it. You can investigate the laptop in the morning." Rose glanced over at Amber. "What's with her? She didn't say a word on the ride here."
Allison shrugged. "Long day for her, I guess."
Elena unlocked the apartment door. "Let's go, ladies." She held the door open for Allison.
Rose walked around to the driver's door. "Amber, time to go in."
Amber stepped out of the vehicle, still looking dazed. She let Rose lead her inside. "Rose, Velasco Investigations has a sexual harassment policy, right?"
"Yeah, last time I checked. I don't think it's ever been used."
Elena looked out from the kitchenette. "What happened, Amber?"
"I think Allie harassed me, sexually, in the car."
"I didn't see anything on the ride here," Rose said. "Are you sure?"
"No, not then. When we were being the distraction. I'm sure that counts a sexual harassment."
"Oh, come on, Amber," Allison protested. "It was just a distraction."
"You kissed me!" Shock and horror came through in Amber's tone. "You didn't even ask."
"What?" Elena returned from the kitchen. "I must have misheard. Allison, you kissed Amber?"
"Did you see any security guards while you were inside?"
"The distraction worked."
Rose massaged her forehead. "That's not the point right now. What happened?"
"Allie kissed me!" Amber repeated.
"Rose, you wanted a distraction. I provided it. If there was anyone watching with a camera, he got to watch two girls making out."
Rose shook her head to clear it. "I never thought of that. Okay, Amber, are you mentally scarred from what happened?"
"I don't know. I've never been kissed by a girl before."
"Obviously," Allison said. "You need to work on your technique."
"Allie!" Amber exclaimed. "It's bad enough that you . . . you assaulted me, but now you're criticizing me!"
"I didn't assault you, Amber. It was a kiss."
"We made out. We made out for almost two hours."
"I didn't fondle you."
Rose looked over at Elena. "Ever have this problem?"
"Never," Elena replied. "Amber, Allison, now isn't a good time for a discussion like this. It's late and it's been a long day. Allison, check that PDA, then go to bed. Amber, go freshen up and get some sleep."
"I am not sleeping in the same room as her." Amber pointed at Allison.
"You're with me, then," Rose offered. "Just go do what you need to do." Amber flounced angrily into the apartment's tiny bathroom and slammed the door behind her. Allison rolled her eyes, then started working on the PDA. Rose joined Elena in the kitchen. "Tempted to tell Sexton where they can be found?"
"We do that, and the agency's computers will all crash without Allison there to threaten them."
St. Louis, Missouri
532 Elm Avenue
Amber shuffled out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, her green hair disshevelled and her suit's skirt wrinkled. She made a beeline to the coffee maker on the counter. A few moments later, the fact there was no water in it sunk through her half-asleep state. Amber blinked. She searched through the cupboards, looking for the coffee grounds she was sure was in the apartment.
"There's only instant," Allison called from the living room.
"You're joking. Allie, don't kid about this."
"No joke. It's above the fridge."
Amber looked into the pantry above the fridge. As Allison had said, the jar of instant coffee was here, taunting the green-haired woman. She sighed. "I'm drinking this under duress."
With a sigh, Amber retrieved the instant from its shelf and put a kettle on to boil. She walked out to the living room and flopped on to the couch. She looked over at Allison. "What do you got?"
"The laptop Elena brought back last night."
Amber peered to look at the the screen. "'Silk and Chocolate'?"
Allison lowered the monitor. "Excuse me. Private."
"What? It's Sexton's laptop."
"And there's someone around with a wide-open wireless network. I'm taking advantage of it."
"So you're ordering chocolate online?"
Allison inhaled sharply. "It's private, Amber. As in none of your business."
"Fine." Amber got up and returned to the kitchenette. She stared at the kettle.
Rose walked into the kitchen. "A watched pot never boils, Amber."
"I don't need existentialism before my first coffee, Rose." Amber scowled at the stove. "Hurry, damn you!"
"I'm going to check out the firm's substance abuse resources when all this is done."
Amber turned her attention from the kettle to Rose. "The what?"
"Have you thought of changing to decaf?"
"Why?" Amber blinked in confusion.
"Never mind." Rose left Amber to her own devices and joined Allison. "Find anything interesting?"
"Oh, lots," Allison said. "He's visits some unusual websites and I'm sure his Information Technology people are going to have a fit if they ever get this laptop back. Let me just close this." She clicked the close button on the browser.
"Were you online?"
"We'll be hard to find. My IP has to be traced through whatever ISP the kind people with the open network use, and it'll take time to find an address. We're safe."
"Good." Rose sat down beside Allison. "What do you have?"
"Here." Allison pulled up the photos Rose had taken at the warehouse. "Looks familiar, right?"
Rose nodded. "Those are mine."
"And now, look at this." Allison brought up a second set of pictures. "Familiar?"
"I didn't take those."
"No, you didn't. In fact, these aren't photos. These are the original files. No watermark. In fact, I don't think he realized what would happen if he aged the paper."
"How do you know he did that?"
"Wild guess right now, really," Allison replied. "I'd need to see the plans we found again. I doubt they exist anymore, though."
"We need something harder than that."
"I checked his history in Word and in Internet Explorer – nothing odd there. I managed to dig through to find the drivers installed, though. There was a microphone installed. No sign of any new file, but his burning program did save the settings. Given time and the right programs, I could dig out details."
"Are you still online?" Seeing Allison nod, Rose continued, "Get what you need, then. Give me a shopping list of anything you can't download, and analyze the hell out of that laptop. And try to track where all the Canadian ships are."
St. Louis, Missouri
532 Elm Avenue
The women gathered in the apartment's small living room. Allison balanced the laptop on her knee as she sat in the corner, still working on recovering data. Amber sat on one of the chairs, a mug of coffee in hand and a satisfied look on her face. Elena sprawled out on the couch, still wearing a nightgown she found in the bedroom dresser. Rose stood in the centre of the room, looking at each of her co-workers in turn. "Okay, we've had time to sleep, freshen up, have something to eat, and get real coffee." Amber held her mug up in a toast. Rose smiled and continued, "We are not wanted by the police, or, at least, weren't wanted yesterday. Sexton is with national security, though he knows squat about computers, right Allie?"
Allison grunted affirmative. "Almost done here. This makes for interesting reading, really."
"Don't spoil us. Did you find the information on the Halifax-class ships?"
"Frigates," Amber corrected.
"Frig you," Allison sniped. "Yes, I got it. Easier than I expected."
Rose raised an eyebrow. "The Canadian Forces computers are that leaky?"
"I didn't have to hack in. Some of their websites show where they are. Here." Allison passed a sheet of paper to Rose. "I wrote it down."
"I see." Rose shook her head to clear it. "Okay, the job Sexton hired us for turned out to be a set up. He created the plans we found."
"An Ouroboros," Amber said.
"A what?" Elena asked.
"The snake that swallowed its own tail. It's Greek. We were hired for a tail-chaser job."
Allison huffed. "Thank you, Miss Trivia."
Rose held her hands up to quell the spat. "Not now, ladies." She took a breath. "Okay, right now, Sexton should be aware that he's missing a few things, and should be in a right state. I want to keep him off-balance. No more reacting. Allie, what did you find on his PDA?"
"Several interesting messages, including some from Agent Thompson. He's starting to freak out because Sexton isn't returning any calls."
"Good. It's a start for all of what we've been through. Next, get Sexton to make a mistake."
Amber raised her hand. "What sort of mistake?"
"A critical one, one that will let us find out what he really is up to."
"Sounds good, Rose," Elena started, "but what if he doesn't make that mistake?"
"Remember Sarajevo, 1982?"
"That was a total disaster on both our sides."
"We're going to be playing the part of British intelligence this time."
Elena appeared unconvinced. "We don't have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines this time."
"I know, Elena. That's why I want to poke Sexton. Yesterday, he held all the cards. He didn't have to rush. He knew that we couldn't move around freely, that any contact we made could be monitored. Now, we've taken away some of his edge. We're not free yet, but we can now make him sweat for a change." Rose sat on the arm of the couch. "And I have a way to keep him off-balance. First, though, a shopping list. Amber, find two cars, doesn't matter the make or model. As long as you'd be happy driving them. Elena, I want you to find four identical vehicles, same model, same year. I don't care what they look like."
"Rose," Amber started, "do you want my two cars to look the same?"
Rose thought for a moment. "No. In fact, make them two completely different cars."
Amber nodded. "Cars I like, right?"
"Right. Allison, get a message to Tyler, then track down a wig for me. After that, help Elena and Amber with what they need. Me, I have a phone call to make."