After evading a stalker, Ione is pulled over for speeding. However, the ticket she received was an invitation, not a summons.Ione stepped into the Earl of Sussex fifteen minutes early for her meeting with the constable. Her neon red helmet dangled by its strap from her hand. She stopped just past the doorway to let her eyes adjust to the soft lighting inside the pub before stepping up to the bar. Before sitting, she looked over the clientèle; there was a young couple lost within each other to the point that they didn't notice anyone else. A group of five young men, their suit jackets off, sat with a round of beers watching the muted pre-game show for the Ottawa Senators' away game. Across the room, on the other side of the bar, a group of three, two men and a woman, chatted. Spying a seat that faced the door, Ione walked around the bar to get to it. She sat down, shifting herself on the bar stool to get comfortable. As she set her helmet on the seat beside her, the bartender turned his attention to her. "A Coke, please."
"Coming right up."
Ione craned her neck to check the hockey pre-game show. Her mother's side of the family were lifelong Canadiens fans for generations; Ione, however, became a fan of the Sens as a tween-aged girl and tried to follow them whenever she could. She wished she was home to watch the game instead of meeting a mysterious constable in a bar. Ione paused. A question came her mind; what did the constable look like? She racked her memory. She remembered his car, a Ford Crown Victoria with the RCMP logos and livery. She remembered his uniform. She remembered the ticket book. She even remembered his sunglasses. Ione just couldn't remember any facial details, despite looking right at him.
The bartender set down Ione's Coke in front of her. Ione fished out a five dollar bill to hand to him. She took a sip of her drink, then slumped. Whatever happened to her tonight, she figured, deserved to happen if she made such a stupid mistake.
"This seat taken?"
Ione managed to stifle her shriek, but she still jolted when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She twisted around to see a man her height in an expensive but subtle charcoal grey suit, a pink tie providing a splash of colour.
"Sarah Mackenzie." The man's tone was assured; there was no question. He offered his hand.
Ione took the man's hand. "That's me." Her hand lingered as she felt heat coming from his.
The newcomer smiled. "Glad you could make it. Early, too. I like that. Shows initiative and caution."
"How did you get in here?"
The man sat down beside Ione. "The door. Same way as you."
"Funny." Ione took another sip of her soft drink. "I got your note."
"As you were meant to."
"Look, this week hasn't been the best. Are you hitting on me?"
The man sat back on his bar stool. "Oh, no. This is more work related. Your recent trip."
Ione bit back a few choice curse words. She worked to keep her expression neutral. "Recent trip?"
"A warehouse in France. I would think what happened would be memorable, unless," he leaned closer to Ione, staring at her forehead, "no, no visible bumps. Unless there's something under your hair."
"Did Babbage send you?"
"That would be a neat trick, all things considered. There wasn't much left of him."
Ione set down her Coke. "That leaves a few possibilities. One, you worked for him." She nodded at his suit. "Not likely. Two, he worked for you, but not directly. If he answered straight to you, you would've been in the warehouse, too." The memory of the man standing in the middle of the flames washed through Ione's mind. She quashed the image. "Three, you're a rival who wants to move in on Babbage's territory. Again, not likely. I don't move as much as someone in an expensive suit would bother with."
"You like the suit? Yves Saint-Laurent, had it tailored to my specifications."
"So, which of the three is it?"
"Ah, but there's a fourth option." He signalled the bartender. "Glass of your best white wine." He turned his attention back to Ione. "Want to keep guessing?"
"Not really. At least, not until I get a name."
"Call me Jack." He beamed at Ione. "Pleased to meet you."
"Hello, Jack." Ione's tone turned icy. Her phone vibrated in her jacket's breast pocket. "I need to get this." She fished out the Android phone and answered the call. "Hello?"
"This is your ten past seven Get Out of Jail call," Karen said. "Is your grandmother sick?"
Ione switched the phone to the ear away from Jack. "Not sure yet."
"Okay, how about this? Your sister is here and is starting to get annoyed with you."
"Aw, crap. Tell her I'll be home soon, then set Diesel on her."
"Don't take long. Bye."
"Bye." Ione punched the disconnect key. "I can't stay. Family issues. You understand." She downed the rest of her cola. "We can continue your guessing game some other time. Have your people call mine." She grabbed her helmet and stood up. "Thanks for coming."
Jack watched with a bemused expression. "I think we'll be in touch again."
"I'm sure you have your ways. Good evening, Jack."
"Good evening, Sarah. And, ask yourself, how did that one guy survive that explosion."
Ione stopped in her tracks. Her spine ran cold. She turned around to stare at Jack. "How . . .?"
"Option number four, Sarah. Please, say hello to your sister and roommate for me."
Once out of the Earl, Ione burst into a run to get back to her motorcycle. Jack, whoever he was, definitely wasn't a constable with the Mounties. The suit alone would be out of a constable's pay range. And he knew, he /knew/ what had happened in Paris. Outside the CSIS agent at the Consulate in Paris, Lawrence, and the British woman, whatever her name was, no one else could know. Ione had made sure that she never mentioned the man standing in the middle of the blaze. She still had problems believing he was there. He should have been dead, blown to pieces like everyone else inside. Yet, he still stood, and he walked. And Jack, whoever he was, knew.
Reaching her Kawasaki, Ione wasted no time putting her helmet on. She mounted the Kawasaki, throwing a leg over the low seat. It took her two attempts at kickstarting before the Vulcan roared to life. Ione manhandled the motorcycle into traffic, turning herself around to avoid Sussex. The traffic became stop and go as people hunted for a parking spot in the Byward Market. Ione eased her Kawasaki around cars, avoiding pedestrians who stepped out into traffic. Reaching King Edward, Ione opened the Vulcan's throttle, increasing the distance between her and the Earl of Sussex.
Ione kept an eye on her mirrors, expecting Jack to somehow be behind her. Despite her paranoia, the ride home was uneventful. She recognized her sister's black used Volkswagen Jetta parked along the curb. Karen's copper Fiat was in the driveway. Ione brought the Vulcan to a stop behind the VW and killed the engine. She took a deep breath, held it for a count of ten, then released it in a slow exhale. Ione took off her helmet and ran her fingers through her hair. As she got off the Kawasaki, she took a look around, inspecting the shadows to find anything out of place. Satisfied, she walked up the front steps to the door.
As she entered, three beings approached her. Diesel, as per his usual, mewed at her, demanding attention and treats. Karen had a worried look on her face. Amy, her face framed by her auburn hair, stepped around the cat, visibly annoyed. "Ione, you knew I was coming over. You said you'd be here."
Ione took off her jacket and boots. "I'm here, aren't I?"
"That's not what I mean." Amy put her hands on her hips. "First you go out of the country without telling anyone and now this? This isn't like you."
"Something came up, Mom." Ione picked up Diesel and scratched his chin.
Amy rolled her eyes. "I came here with news and you couldn't be bothered to stay here."
"You never mentioned news." Ione sat on the couch, holding Diesel close to her.
Amy parked herself in an easy chair. "Why else would I be here?"
"To borrow a cup of sugar?"
Karen laughed. "Like we have any."
Amy glowered at Karen. "Maybe I should leave."
"Ames, wait. I'm sorry. Something came up." Ione set Diesel down beside her. "What's your news?"
Amy held out her left hand and wiggled her fingers. A sapphire sparkled blue in the light. "Matt proposed!" She squealed with delight.
"Congratulations!" Karen said. "This needs a toast." She dashed into the kitchen.
"Really? Congrats! When's the wedding? Or have you set the date?" Ione reached out to take her sister's hand to inspect the ring closer.
"We're still working that out. Ione, I want you in the wedding party. A bridesmaid."
Ione's cheeks flushed. "Are you sure?"
Amy smiled. "Positive. You're my sister."
Ione let go of Amy's hand. "I'd love to be a bridesmaid." She got up to pull Amy into a hug. "You're getting to be a woman."
"Don't sell yourself short, Math Nerd." Amy kissed her sister's cheek.
After one last pat, Ione released her sister. "Do Mom and Dad know?"
"Duh. They'd kill me if I hadn't told them. Well, Dad might not, but he'd have to clean up Mom's mess and he hates having to do that." Amy sat back down.
Karen returned with a bottle of wine and three glasses. "Not exactly champagne, but it'll do." She popped the cork and poured the wine. "Ione, you do the toast. I'm not good at it."
"And she is?" Amy smirked.
"Shush you." Ione raised her wine glass. "To my sister, who, despite getting engaged, will always be my baby sister, no matter what. Congratulations on your engagement, Amy."
Amy blushed. "Thanks, guys."
The three women clinked glasses, then sat down. "So, Ione, Paris?" Amy asked.
"It was work, Ames. I can't talk about work."
"You told Karen."
"She told me she was going there for work." Karen sipped her wine. "That's it."
"I never got out for sightseeing," Ione added. "It was a busy trip."
Amy sighed. "Still, you never talk about your work."
Ione shrugged. "It's all math, Amy. You hated math in school. You even ew'ed when I got into the Math program at Waterloo. I math for a living."
"So, all you did was solve math problems in Paris?" Amy's mouth turned in disgust. "That sucks."
"We can't all have exciting careers," Karen said. "Technically, I math, too. I just get to math with money."
"Blame Karen for any increase in your credit card interest."
"Hush, you." Karen laughed. "Those pay for my raises. I like getting raises."
Ione sat back on the sofa. "Besides, I'm sure Matt can math, too, so that you don't have to."
Amy stuck her tongue out at her sister. "I can math, Ione. I just don't like it."
"So what's two plus two?"
"Your job." Amy finished off her wine. "I should get going. Some of us have real jobs in the morning." She set her glass down on the coffee table. "Thanks for the wine, Karen."
Ione stood up. "Ames, congrats, really." She pulled her sister into another hug. "Be happy, okay?"
"I am." Amy gave Ione a squeeze before letting go. "Love you."
"Love you, too." Ione released her sister, then brushed a stray bang of auburn hair from the younger woman's face. "Say 'hi' to Matt for me."
"I will." Amy grabbed her things and left.
Ione watched out the window as her sister got into her Jetta and pulled away. Karen came up behind her. "You okay, Ione?"
"Yeah. Just seeing my baby sister grow up. Makes me feel, I don't know."
Ione chuckled. "That's a good word."
"I'm going to lock up. The hockey game should be on if you want."
"How does the new day look?"
"I'm sorry for disappearing this week."
"No witness have come forth so far, but the French police are working with Interpol and with various intelligence agencies to trace the origins of the weapons."
"Good morning, Sarah. We need to talk."