Jack presented the problem to Ione using the Socratic method.Jack's car turned out to be a black Mercedes-Benz, stretched to become a limousine. Mara sat up in the driver's compartment, steering the behemoth out of the airport and on to the road into Paris proper. Ione sat in the back with Jack, her eyes taking in the lush red interior and feeling well out of her league. For his part, Jack sat back in his seat. He turned on the small television built into the divider between the passenger and the driver. Channel after channel, Jack flipped through the dial before turning the TV off again. He grimaced.
"That's a first." Ione turned to watch out her window.
"Just catching up with some outstanding work. Nothing you need to be concerned about." Jack leaned forward and tapped on the tinted window acting as a partial barrier to the front seat. The window lowered. "Mara, after you've dropped us off, please see Monsieur Laval. He needs some encouragement." Mara nodded, then raised the window.
"That's probably far more than I needed to know."
Jack glanced at Ione. "I try to keep busy."
"My body isn't going to be found washed up along the river, is it?"
Jack smiled, sending shivers down Ione's spine. "A little late to be asking that question. However, no, my dear. I do abhor waste. You'll be free to return home or to anywhere you want."
Not feeling reassured, Ione said, "Thanks."
"Your efforts are being appreciated, Sarah."
Ione twisted in her seat to face Jack. "Okay, can you stop calling me that?"
"Stop calling you what?" Jack's face showed his confusion.
"But that is your name, isn't it? I read it off your license."
"It is, but it's my 'official' name." Ione used air quotes.
Jack raised an eyebrow. "I didn't realize you were using a fake name. My apologies."
"It's not fake. I use my middle name. Do you know how many Sarahs there were when I started school? Thanks to Sara Mitchell, I was always called 'Sarah-with-an-h M. I didn't even have my own initial, thanks to Sara-with-no-h Mitchell. So, in high school, I started using my middle name, Ione. Works great, especially with telemarketers. Very few people call me Sarah. Not even my grandparents. Having you use it? Doesn't sound right. I keep waiting for 'with-an-h'."
"I see. Very well, Ione." Jack nodded his head towards the analyst. "What happened to Sara-without-the-h?"
Ione blinked. "I have no idea. We weren't friends, really, just classmates. I lost track of her at the start of high school. I think she went to Glebe." She shrugged. "At least she could get her last initial back."
"Some happiness came out of that sordid story, then."
"Would you prefer that I told you I got my name by fighting the giant who stole it?"
"If you could make that story more interesting, then yes." Jack smirked.
Ione glared. "How did you get your name, then?"
"I'm just one of a long line of Jacks. Confirmed bachelors, each and every one of them."
"I'd have never guessed."
Jack faced the front of the limo. "There's that wonderful sarcasm again."
The limo slowed to a halt. The door on Ione's side opened; a valet stood just outside offering his hand to her. "Oh, um, thanks. Merci." She let the valet help her out. A second valet opened Jack's door, though he refused the help.
"The luggage is in the trunk," Jack said. "I trust we have the Imperial Suite?" He strode towards the hotel's entrance.
Ione hurried to keep up. She spotted the hotel's name, Le Bristol, but didn't recognize it. Inside, the luxury of the hotel almost overwhelmed her. Jack already found the concierge and was talking quietly. Behind Ione, a porter walked in with her bags. Jack snapped his fingers, getting Ione's attention. "Let's keep going, dear. You have work to do." Forcing a pleasant demeanour, Ione followed Jack to the elevators. The porter followed.
The Imperial Suite impressed Ione. King-sized beds, a dining room that could easily double for meetings with wood table and chairs, the main room alone was bigger than the house Ione shared with Karen. Ione walked to the nearest window and looked outside. The garden below would be lush if she had been there in the summer. "Jack, just how do you afford all this?"
"This? This is a favour I called in." Jack sat down on a couch. "And, yes, this was well worth calling in the favour."
Ione started pacing around the room. "I've never been in a room so . . . so . . . expensive."
Jack laughed. "Isn't it? No one has ever accused me of not having wealth and taste. Now, Ione, I believe you have work to do?"
"Right." Ione picked up her computer bag and took it to the meeting room. She sat down at one end of the long wooden table and set up her gear, getting everything plugged in. As her laptop started up, Ione connected her smart phone to the hotel's wireless network and sent a quick email to Karen, letting her housemate know that she arrived in one piece. She set aside the phone to focus on her computer. Once she logged in, Ione ran her proxy network program to reach her Ada account. The message from earlier still sat waiting for her to respond. "Hey, Jack, it's your lucky day. Pascal here wants to meet with me."
"Pascal?" Jack entered the room. "Just who is Pascal?"
"Babbage's contact. I had to call him something."
Jack nodded. "'Every name's an alias, in case somebody squeals.' Glenn Frey, 'Smuggler's Blues'. Probably before your time. Where does he want to meet you?"
Ione grinned. "That's the thing. He hasn't said where or when, just before the end of the week. So, perhaps it's time that Ada's higher ups got involved?"
"Devious. Try for a meeting tomorrow afternoon. Somewhere public. Don't mention me, though. Let me be a surprise. It'll throw off this Pascal person."
"How public? When I dealt with Babbage, it was all done in small bistros in parts of the city that tourists never go."
Ione nodded. "I never got to see the Eiffel Tower last time I was here. Public enough?"
"Large tourist trap, lots of people with cameras. Sure! I'll leave you to the details." Jack returned to the main room.
Ione opened her browser, searching for an appropriate place near the Eiffel Tower. Finding one, she returned to Ada's webmail account and replied to Pascal. If you're still interested in the sale, I am. Let's meet tomorrow, la Terrasse du Septième, three pm Paris time. I'll wear a flower over my left ear. - Ada. Ione disassembled her proxies and closed the lid of her laptop. She took a quick look at her phone for the time. The device showed 4:35. Ione looked out the window; the night sky disagreed with the phone. She shook her head; she forgot she had turned off the phone's radio to avoid racking up roaming charges that would take months if not years to pay off. Ione walked into the main room, ignoring Jack lounging on the couch watching some sort of sport on the suite's television. The alarm clock showed 10:36. Ione opened her sports bag and pulled out her leather jacket. "I'm taking a walk. If I want to sleep tonight, I better tire myself out." Jack waved without looking away from the television.
Taking her time to the elevator and through the lobby, Ione tried to get herself oriented. No use getting lost or worse. She stepped outside as the wind picked up. Ione adjusted her jacket, then walked out to the street. The weather had improved since the middle of the week, but was still autumn with its crispness. She saw other people bundled up against the chill as she walked. The cheer of a crowd attracted her attention. Across the street, a bar was lively. Another cheer came from the bar. Curious, Ione picked her way across the street, dodging the cars passing by.
Entering the establishment, Ione saw a crowd of men all circling one table. Avoiding the mob, she stepped up to the bar. "Un vin blanc a l'hôte, s'il vous plait." She reached for her wallet, hoping she still had Euros from the earlier trip. The bartender returned with her white wine; Ione paid and added a generous gratuity. She took a sip. The wine was well aged and agreed with her.
The men cheered again. Ione got up on a stool to get a better look, prefering not to push through the crowd. Most of her view was blocked, but she spotted a shock of red hair in middle of the crowd. "Okay, that's enough for now, guys. Ça suffit." Mara's familiar voice carried over the din. The men broke away in ones and twos, letting Ione see Jack's co-pilot, still in her scant uniform. "Hey, Sarah!" Mara ran over. "I didn't expect you here." She looked around the bar. "Is Jack with you?"
Ione shook her head. "No."
"Did he send you?"
"No. Mara, what's wrong?"
"Nothing! Nothing at all!" Mara parked on the stool beside Ione. She adjusted her skirt. "What are you drinking?"
"The house white."
"That sounds good." The redhead waved to the bartender. "Garçon, comme elle, merci."
Ione noticed the sheen of perspiration on the red haired woman's forehead. "Do I want to know what you were doing?"
"I don't know. Do you?"
"I don't think I'm drunk enough to answer that." Ione took a long sip of her wine. "I thought you had to go break the legs of some guy, I think his name was Laval?"
"Oh, that. It's done. Not the leg breaking. The encouraging. He's very encouraged."
Ione eyed Mara. "I'll bet."
"Why are you here?"
"I needed to be on my own."
"Oh." Mara slipped down from her seat. "I'll leave you alone, then." She smoothed out the back of her skirt.
"No, Mara, wait. Don't go."
"You said you needed to be alone."
"I didn't mean you." Ione set down her glass. "Mara, please. Maybe you can help me."
Mara smiled. She sat back down. "Sure."
Ione turned to face Mara. "What exactly is Jack's deal?"
"Yes. You know, what is he after, why is he doing this and all that."
"Oh, that." Mara paid for her wine, letting her arm linger on the bartender's arm. "I don't think I can tell you that. Sorry, Sarah."
"My name is Ione."
"What about Sarah?"
"It's my name, too, but I use Ione. Long, boring story."
Mara bobbed her head as she processed the information. "Okay, Ione. Sorry."
"Why can't you tell me?"
"It's not my place to say. I'd love to tell you, Ione, but Jack wouldn't like me doing that." Mara sipped her wine.
Ione sighed. "Okay, then how does Jack afford everything? I mean, his clothes, his car, both his cars--"
"He has a few."
"Okay, his cars, the hotel, the jet. I'm sure you must be paid well. How does he pay for everything?"
Ione stared at Mara. "He has to have an income. What does he do for a living?"
"Oh, that's what you meant? He's an investor. He's really good at it."
Ione picked up her wine glass. "That makes sense. What does he invest in?"
"Oh, this and that. He doesn't tell me what, usually."
"You just drive him around and provide other 'services'."
Mara nodded. "Sometimes I act as his bodyguard, sometimes I run errands for him."
"Does he treat you well?"
"Jack? I suppose."
Ione leaned closer to Mara. "You do know that most countries have laws against sexual harassment."
Mara roared with laughter. "Good one, Ione."
"Take a look at your uniform, Mara."
The redhead looked down at her vest and micro-mini. "Did I spill something on it?"
"No, I mean--" Ione drained the rest of her wine. "Did Jack choose that for you?"
"The uniform? He had veto rights. You should have seen some of the outfits he said said no to."
"The skirts even reached the knee?" Ione signalled the bartend for a refill.
"Knee?" Mara giggled. "Other way. I mean, nothing was showing that you couldn't show here." She sighed. "I really loved that outfit. Showed off my assets, you know? But Jack, he wanted dignity." Mara drank half her wine in one gulp. "He's big on that."
"Dignity. Right." Ione paid for her glass of house wine. "I don't know, Mara. Is that uniform really dignified?"
Mara nodded. "Oh, yes. It projects an image."
Ione took a drink of her white wine. "Can't argue with that. Jack definitely has an image."
"I help make him look rich and powerful. Jack makes his deals, I look like scenery, and if something goes wrong, no one ever expects the eye candy to step in."
Ione blinked at the revelation. "You're Jack's bodyguard? I didn't think he'd want one. He looks capable of guarding himself."
"Appearances, Ione. Not everything is as it looks. You should know this. Aren't you a spy?"
Ione ducked down, trying to hide in her seat. "No!" she growled. "I'm an analyst."
Mara sipped her wine. "Yes, but you analyze other people's data."
"Not so loud!" Ione eyed the rest of the crowd. "Last thing I need is attention to my job. I'm already going to be in trouble."
"Pfft. No one here speaks English." Mara got up from her stool. "Hey, can I get everyone's attention." She turned in place. "Hey, hi, thank you." Eyes looked over at her. "Does anyone here understand a word I'm saying?" Mara spread her arms. "Anyone?"
Ione felt her cheeks grow warm. "Mara!"
"My friend doesn't want anyone to know what her job is." A few men in the crowd muttered words in French. A few more shrugged, then returned to drinking. Mara sat back down. "See? Really, Ione, they're more interested in me than they are in you."
"They're hoping for a panty flash." Ione concentrated on drinking her wine as she willed her blushing to go away.
"That's silly. I'm not wearing any."
How Ione managed to not choke on the swallow of wine in her mouth, she never knew. She set down her glass, coughing. "Okay, that was too much information."
Mara smiled angelically. "There's nothing wrong with that."
"For you, maybe. For me, it's too much of a risk and it's too damned cold out there." Ione looked over Jack's co-pilot. "You don't have a coat here, do you?"
Mara shrugged. "I didn't need one."
"You're not cold in that outfit?"
"Not at all."
Ione shook her head. "I'm still sleeping on the plane. I must be."
"Do you want me to pinch you?"
"No." Ione finished the rest of her wine. She stood up, and regretted it. The room tilted slightly. Ione put a hand on the bar to steady herself.
"Are you okay, Ione?"
Ione let the dizziness pass. "I broke a cardinal rule about drinking: Never drink on an empty stomach."
"I know a good restau that should still be open. It won't look like much, but the chef does amazing with seafood."
"Is it far?"
"I still have the car." Mara slipped off her seat. "I'll drive." She wrapped her arm around Ione and led her outside.
"What idiot calls in the middle of the night?"
"Ione, there was a break-in and I had to say where you were."
"There are some people who are very angry with you."
"I need coffee first."