Karen's safe, but someone is definitely after Ione.Ione woke up to an alarm clock blaring. She pulled the covers over her head to shut out the sound. The blankets were ripped back, exposing her and her nightwear. Ione opened her eyes and saw Mara standing at the side of the bed, blankets in hand. "Good morning, Ione."
As she sat up, Ione mumbled her, "Good morning," back to the red haired woman. "Wha ti' izzit?"
Ione cleared her throat and blinked the sleep out of her eyes. "What time is it?" Her voice was still rough from lack of use.
"Six?" Ione fell back on the bed. "Why so early?"
Jack walked out of the dining room. "We have work to do, my dear. Up! Up and at 'em!"
"I'm done with the tub," Mara said. She skirted around the bed to get to where Ione was sprawled. "Let's go." She grabbed Ione's arm and pulled her up.
"I'm up!" Ione shrugged out of Mara's grip as she stood up. "Why so early?"
"You have people to contact and we have errands to run," Jack explained. "Go get cleaned up."
Ione shuffled towards the bathroom, grumbling under her breath with each step. "I could use some coffee." She picked up her sports bag on her way to her morning wash.
"Indeed, my dear. Mara, if you would be so kind?"
Closing the bathroom door, Ione set her bag down and ran the water for her bath. A long soak would either wake her up or send her back to sleep, both of which appealed to her. Ione stripped out of her night clothes and stepped into the tub. The water lapped around her, soothing her. She let herself sink deeper, let her head fall back and her eyes close.
The door opened. Ione sat up straight. Her hands moved to cover herself as best she could. She turned her neck much as possible without turning the rest of her body. Mara walked in with a steaming mug on a tray. "I'm taking a bath!"
The redhead kept walking in. "I can see that. I brought you some coffee."
"I'm not wearing anything!" Ione sunk down in the tub so that only her head from her chin up was above the water's surface.
"That's how most people take baths." Mara set the tray on the side of the tub. "Jack asked me to bring this in for you." She glanced down at Ione's nude body.
"Mara!" Ione rearranged her hands, trying to hide her once private parts.
Mara rolled her eyes. "You have nothing that I don't have."
"Please, Mara. I like my privacy, okay? Not even my cat gets to join me when I take a bath." Ione looked up at the red haired woman with pleading eyes.
"All right, all right." Mara turned on her heel and left, closing the door behind her. From the other side, she called, "I don't see what you're ashamed of."
"I'm not ashamed!" Ione called back. In a much smaller voice, she added, "Much." She waited a few moments to see if Mara would return. When the redhead hadn't, Ione sat back up. She picked up the coffee mug with both hands and took a long drink.
Ione emerged from the bathroom not long after, with her wearing a grey pullover on top of a black t-shirt and her faded jeans. She glowered at Jack. "You put Mara up to peeping on me."
Jack put on an innocent expression. "I was being efficient. Go see if Marco emailed you."
"Efficient, my ass."
Ione stormed into the dining room and turned on her laptop. She logged in and checked the charge on the machine's battery. The system reported a full charge available. Ione launched her proxy network. As she opened up Ada's web mail, she felt Jack's presence behind her. She ignored him and checked for new messages. "He sent one," she reported.
"Open it. Let's see what he has to say."
Ione had already clicked on the message before Jack ordered her. The message opened. Ada, tell your boss that my people are willing to talk. They want to meet with him, not you. - M. Ione looked up at Jack. "Want me to reply?"
Jack nodded. "Tell him that I will meet with his superiors in Monte Carlo in two days."
"Monte Carlo? Jack, you never said anything to me about going there."
"That's because I didn't know we'd be taking a detour there."
"Why Monte Carlo?"
"I've never been there." Jack patted Ione's shoulder. "There is a method to my madness, my dear."
Ione hit the reply button. "Care to let me in on the madness?"
"In due time. Please, reply."
Ione typed in the message. M, Jack wants to meet with them, in Monte Carlo, Tuesday evening. I trust that this will give your boss enough time to get there? Ione adjusted the laptop's screen so that Jack could read the reply.
"You are good at this, Ione." Jack smiled. "Go ahead and send it."
"Thanks." Ione hit the send button. "Now what?"
"Pack. We're leaving today." Jack stepped away from Ione. "Mara?"
Mara strode into the dining room. "What's up, boss?"
"Once Ione is done packing, take her shopping." Jack tossed a billfold to the tall redhead.
"Shopping?" Ione pointed at Mara. "With her?"
Jack regarded Ione. "I don't see anyone else in the room qualified for the job. We are going to Monte Carlo, my dear Ione. We must all dress the part and, well, of the three of us in the room, you're the only one wearing grubby jeans."
"My jeans aren't grubby. And I am not wearing anything Mara picks out. You have seen her outfits, Jack. I am not exposing myself like that."
"I'm not exposed." Mara tucked the billfold into her cleavage. "Tell her, boss."
Jack held his hands up to stop further squabbling. "This isn't up for discussion. Ione, you need something more than jeans and a blouse. You're not going to be allowed in the casino. Mara, Ione does have a small point. Remember to be conservative with her." He turned to leave. As he reached the door, he paused. "Oh, and Ione, what colour is your corset?"
Ione put her fists on her hips. "Just how do you know I have a corset?"
"You strike me as the type of woman who would have one." Jack winked. "My business requires me to be a keen observer of people. I am seldom wrong. You did bring the corset, I trust?"
"I did." Ione sighed, her anger deflating. "It's dark purple."
"Mara, remember that. Dark purple." Jack left the hotel room.
Ione slumped into a chair. "Does he do this to you, too?"
"Never mind." Ione pushed herself out of the chair. "I'm going to pack my computer gear." She walked towards the dining room. Feeling the redhead's eyes watching her, Ione spun to face Mara. "What?"
Mara shrugged. "I never thought of you to be the purple type. You seem more like a blue or a green to me."
Ione stared at the woman. "What?"
Mara rubbed her chin. "Maybe a pink, but not often."
"I'll be packing." Ione resumed her trip to the dining room. Inside, she sat down on a chair near her laptop. She started closing programs, then remembered that she had to let work know she wasn't going to be in. Ione opened a connection to her home computer, a desktop system she used as a control for her home network. Once logged in, she wrote a quick message to Lawrence, copying Olivier for his use. Lawrence, sorry about the short notice. I'm not up for going into the office this week, but I can work from home. I'm feeling a little better, but still shaky after everything. Let me know if I need to be in. Ione. The woman paused. Out and out lying to her supervisor, something she never thought she'd ever do. After a moment, Ione scheduled the email to be sent at seven o'clock Ottawa time.
"Almost done?" Mara called.
"Hold on!" Ione shut down her system. She gathered the cords and coiled them as neatly as she could before shoving them into her bag. The laptop followed. Ione grabbed the bag and returned to the main room. "Just a few more things, okay?"
"No rush." Mara sat down on the couch.
Ione packed her tablet in with the laptop, then picked up her cell phone. The device was still connected to the hotel's network. After a quick glance at Mara, Ione typed up an email to Karen. No idea when you'll get this, but chances are I'll either be in Monte Carlo or be on the way. Sorry for the disappearance. I'm safe. Go home, please. Ione. Once the message was sent, Ione turned off the phone. "Okay, ready."
"Great! I know a few places where we can start." Mara stood up. "I'll grab your bags and take them to the car, then we can meet in the lobby."
"Can't wait." Ione forced a smile. She grabbed her leather jacket. "See you downstairs."
Ione dashed out the door and down the hall to the elevators. She transferred her phone to her jacket pocket as she waited for the lift to arrive. A short ride later, Ione strolled into the hotel's vast lobby. She watched the other guests walk through, feeling a little out of place compared to the couples who passed by. A group of business men arrived, all speaking French, passing through to one of the hotel's restaurants for a morning meeting. Ione found a place out of the way where she could sit.
Mara arrived after a ten minute wait, waling through the main doors and ignoring the stares she garnered. She loomed over Ione. "The car's outside. It's nice out."
"Are you sure you want to shop with me?" Ione got up from her seat. "I'm sure you have something better to do."
"Not really." Mara led the way to the hotel's front doors. "Besides, Jack said I had to take you."
Ione followed. "I know what he said. But, look at us." The two women exited the hotel. "We don't share the same tastes. We're completely different builds, different styles."
Mara opened the passenger door of the limo for Ione. "That doesn't mean you couldn't use a second opinion. Jack had a point up in the room. You could use a splash of style."
"You sound like my sister." Ione slipped into the limo's back seat.
Mara closed the door, then jumped into the driver's seat. "You should listen to her."
"My sister has it easy. She didn't have to scrimp and save for seven years to pay her university tuition. She didn't even go that far into debt. Of course she goes off and indulges in fashion."
"Jealous?" Mara put the limo into gear and drove out of the hotel's driveway.
"Are you and Jack going to delve into my psyche all the way to Monte Carlo?"
"Ione, it's just shopping. Why are you so upset?"
"No one asked what I wanted. Jack just assumed and you didn't even stop him."
"What can I do? I work for him."
"Speak up. You have choices. I have choices. Everyone has a choice."
"You make it sound so easy, Ione."
Ione settled back in her seat. "What's so difficult? What can Jack do, fire you?"
Mara remained silent for several blocks. "If it helps, I know you don't like how I dress."
Ione closed her eyes. "It's not that, Mara. It's, I don't know, I feel like you're pandering to Jack's tastes. I know you're his bodyguard. I know that you dress like that so that everyone else ignores you as fluff. I just feel that no one should be fluff." She opened her eyes as the limo took a corner. "I guess being one of the rare women in my degree forced me to fight more for what I got."
"You don't like the idea of being fluff."
"Yes, exactly. I worked hard to get where I am. I have to balance how I dress between being better dressed than my peers without looking like I slept my way into my job. Even my boss doesn't dress as well when he doesn't have to go to meetings."
"You're the best dressed person in your department?" Disbelief tinged Mara's tone.
"Well, no. Olivier, the admin assistant and the reason the department doesn't collapse, he's the best dressed."
"Ask him for advice, then."
"That might get awkward." Ione leaned her head on the window. "In many ways."
"I don't see the problem. Just ask."
Ione watched the buildings pass by outside. "Where are we going?"
"We don't have much time, so we're going to a place I know where we can get decent clothes off the rack without looking like they came off the rack. It'll cost a little extra, but, hey, Jack's paying. It's not far."
True to her word, the drive took another twenty minutes before Mara pulled the limo up outside a small boutique. The red haired woman got out of the car, then opened the door for Ione. She took the lead, showing the tinier brunette to the door. "You'll love this place. I stop here all the time for outfits when I'm in a rush."
The door chimed when it opened. An older man, his grey hair thinning, looked over. "Ah, Mademoiselle Mara, bienvenue! Ça va?"
"Bonjour, Thierry. Can we speak English? For my friend here."
Ione nudged the redhead. "Mara, I can--"
Mara returned the nudge. "If it's not a problem, Thierry."
"Sure, for you, Miss Mara, anything." Thierry's English had a heavy Parisien accent. "What do you need today?"
"My friend needs a proper dress." Mara pushed Ione towards the shop owner. "Her name's Ione."
Thierry walked a slow orbit around Ione, hmm'ing and grunting. "What sort of event are you going to?"
"I'm not sure?" Ione watched the shop owner as he walked around her. "I'm going to a casino, apparently."
"Ione will need an outfit for the day, something that will fit in at lunch and along the beach and another for the evening." Mara found a chair to sit on. "If it helps, she already has a corset, a dark purple one."
Thierry nodded. "The corset helps. I can work with that." He tapped Ione's arms. "Lift."
Ione shot Mara a questioning look before raising her arms. "Like this?"
"Perfect." The shop owner pulled out a measuring tape from his pocket. He wrapped it around Ione's chest. Before she could react, he moved the tape over her breasts then over her hips. "I've worked with worse." Thierry rolled up the tape and put it away.
Mara put a finger to her lips. "Ione, shush."
Thierry stepped back to get a better look at the brunette. "Good height. Not tall, not short." He looked over to Mara. "What colour for the evening? A classic black or maybe a red? Attract the attention of the young men?"
"Black," Ione said.
"Red," Mara answered. "Ione, red."
"I don't want the attention, Mara. What if someone takes a photo and posts it online?"
"Enjoy the attention."
"I'm supposed to be sick at home."
Thierry stepped in between the women. "Ladies, ladies, no fighting, please. I am an old man."
"Sorry, Thierry." Mara walked over to the brunette. "Really, you'd look amazing in red."
Ione lowered her arms. "Maybe, but I have to think about my career. I can't afford to stand out right now." She turned to the shop owner. "Please, something in black."
"In black." Thierry disappeared into the back of his shop. He returned soon after, several outfits draped over his arm. "Here." He pushed the clothes into Mara's arms. "Have her try these. I'll keep looking."
Mara arranged the clothes to free a hand to grab Ione. "Let's go." She guided the brunette to a change room and handed her the top outfit of the pile in her arms.
Ione stepped into the booth. She held up the article of clothing to get a better look. "Mara, I don't know. This skirt is not going to cover me."
"Let me see." Mara pulled aside the curtain to look at the white skirt. "You haven't even put it on."
"I don't need to." Ione held the skirt up against her hips. The skirt fell a quarter the way down her thighs. "See? I'm going to be giving people a show if I bend over."
"Then don't bend over. Problem solved."
"Mara, I need something longer. At least to my knees."
Mara shrugged. She searched through the clothes in her arms. "Here." She handed Ione a cream coloured skirt. "Try it on." The redhead pulled the curtain closed.
Ione shook her head. She slipped out of her ballet flats and jeans then pulled on the skirt. The hem fell down to her ankles. Ione twirled, letting the skirt billow out. "This is better." She stepped out of the change booth to let Mara see. "What do you think?"
"I think it's too long. You're hiding your legs. Why are you hiding them?"
"Why are you concerned about my legs?"|
"They work for you. A lot of women would kill to have your legs. You should flaunt them."
Ione's cheeks reddened. "I . . . thanks."
Mara passed a light green blouse to Ione. "Now try this with the skirt."
Ione took the blouse and returned back into the booth. She pulled her t-shirt off and put on the shirt, tucking the tail into the skirt. She took a look at herself in the change room's mirror. "Are you sure?" she called.
"Don't question Thierry. He's been doing this since forever."
Ione walked out and modelled the outfit for Mara. The redhead had Ione turn around. "Do I meet with your standards?" Ione asked.
"I want to see the blouse with the other skirt."
"Not a chance."
Mara adjusted the blouse. "Still wearing your bra?"
"Does it matter?"
"Maybe not. The corset is dark purple, you said? Maybe I should go get it."
Mara blew a stray bang out of her eyes. "To make sure of the colour. I assume the corset provides support?"
Ione rolled her eyes. "It does, yes. I'm not letting anything sag."
"Just making sure." Mara gave one last critical eye to the outfit. "It'll pass." She handed Ione another outfit. "Try this one, to make sure."
"It covers my ass, right?"
"Figuratively or literally?" Mara turned Ione towards the change booth and gave her a small push. "Go."
Ione returned inside the changing room. She sighed. The thought of having a personal shopper had seemed luxurious. With Mara, though, the hassle of shopping remained. As she changed to the new outfit, Ione took a look at herself in the mirror. "You're in Paris, shopping, with someone else paying. Stop being a bitch. Enjoy it, damn it."
"What's that?" Mara called.
"Just talking to myself." Ione put on the new outfit, a forest green dress that fell to her knees with a black vest. "I like this." She adjusted the waistline. "I think it needs a belt."
"Let me see."
Ione stepped back out. "This is what I look for."
Mara pulled on the hem of the dress. "You're still hiding most of your legs."
"I live in a city that has winter half the year. I need my legs covered, even when I go out."
"That still gives you six months of summer." Mara walked around Ione. "It'll do."
Thierry returned from the back. "Ah, excellent, Miss Ione. I knew that would suit you." He handed a black dress to the brunette. "I believe this is what you and Miss Mara would want. Go try it on."
A quick change later, Ione re-emerged from the booth. The short-sleeved dress reached mid-thigh, but covered her chest. The back, though, was open. Mara tsk'ed at the visible bra strap. "Could work," the redhead admitted. She looked down at Ione's feet. "You'll need proper shoes."
"My ballet flats are for comfort. Easy on, easy off. I have a proper pair of shoes in my bag. They'll go with the dress."
"You'll need at least one more pair. It won't do to show up in the evening with the pair you had on all day."
"Fine, a new pair of shoes." Ione's resignation shone through her words. She turned to go back into the change booth.
"Un moment!" Thierry dashed to block Ione's path. "A moment, Miss Ione. I cannot have anyone leaving in what you wore coming into my shop. I will get you something else to wear." He zipped into the back of the shop.
Mara's expression became apologetic. "Forgot about this. Thierry really doesn't like jeans. Or t-shirts. Anything he thinks is common and grubby."
"Great." Ione leaned against the change room's wall. "If that's the way it is. I do get to keep my own clothes, right? He's not going to burn them in front of me."
"He hasn't yet. Not with me, at least."
"Do you even own a pair of jeans?"
Thierry returned with folded clothes in his hand. "Here, Miss Ione." He thrust the bundle into the brunette's hands. "Wear these. They are much more suitable to a young lady who is a friend of Miss Mara here."
Ione looked down at the bundle. Biting off the question of whether the pants were crotchless, she thanked the shop owner and returned into the booth. She examed the new offering with a critical eye. The pants were made from soft brown leather. Ione took off the black dress to try the pants on. As she slid into them, she noticed that the legs tapered near her ankle. She modelled in front of the mirror, checking behind her. Ione allowed herself a grin. The pants looked good on her. With renewed spirits, she checked the shirt, a grey sleeveless silk camisole. Ione pulled the camisole on and adjusted it to hide her bra straps. She put on her ballet flats, gathered her old clothes, and returned to the shop floor. Seeing Thierry, she twirled around to give him a better look at the outfit he chose. "Merci."
"I've settled with Thierry," Mara said. "Thank you again, Thierry. It's always a pleasure." She kissed the shop owner on his forehead, leaving a bright red lipstick mark on him.
Thierry blushed. "It is always a pleasure having you here, Miss Mara. Tell /Monsieur/ Jack not to work you too hard."
Mara picked up the shopping bag with the new purchases. "I will. Bonjour, Thierry."
Ione smiled at the shop keeper. "Thank you." She followed Mara out of the boutique and back to the car. A gust of wind reminded the brunette to put on her jacket. "How long has he been here?"
"Forever, or it seems like." Mara opened the passenger door for Ione. "Before he opened the store, he was a designer of some note. Worked at a small company."
"The store doesn't look like much." Ione got into the limo, taking the shopping bag from Mara.
"If you need his services, you'll find out about him. He has a very exclusive clientèle." The red haired woman closed the door. She soon got in behind the steering wheel. "Next, shoes. Something to go with your new outfit. Let's not fight about it, okay, Ione?"
Ione stuffed her t-shirt and jeans into the shopping bag. "Not going to fight. However, instead of shoes, how about boots? A pair that's knee high, to go with the skirt and blouse."
Mara regarded her charge through the rearview mirror. "I like your thinking. I know the spot." She put the limo into gear.
Gemma maintained a calm demeanor as she passed through the French customs. The Canadian somehow managed to get a flight on short notice, though how, Gemma couldn't figure out. Her tiny friend, though, was more than helpful in finding out where Mackenzie had gone. Gemma should have realized it without having to interrogate Mackenzie's roommate, but having confirmation reduced the chances of following the wrong trail.
Stifling a yawn, Gemma showed the customs officer her passport. She was desperate for a decent sleep. The intermittent nap on the flight from New York helped, but, prior to the flight, she had been up at least a day trying to follow Mackenzie after losing her at the nightclub. The rest would have to wait, at least long enough to break into the roommate's email. Gemma had discovered the password while waiting for the roommate, Karen Dietzman, to get home from her evening out.
Through Customs, Gemma left Aéroport Charles de Gaule and hailed a cab. She gave the cab driver the address to the safe house Gemma had set up for the earlier operation, the one that saw her entire team die. There, she would be able to get the intelligence she needed to find Mackenzie and then sleep for a few hours.
The cab stopped in front of the small house. Gemma paid, then got out, walking with purpose into the building. She tossed her briefcase on the kitchen counter, then sat down at the computer set up in the mission control room in what was formerly the dining room. If the mission had ended properly, the electronic gear would have been dismantled. With the utter debacle the mission turned into and the Canadian disappearing back home, no one had the time to remove the equipment. Gemma had no problem taking advantage of the oversight.
Once the computer had finished booting up, Gemma logged into the Dietzman Gmail account. She skimmed through the waiting unread messages, noting that there were a number from several hours ago. One message caught her attention, from Mackenzie herself. Gemma opened the email. No idea when you'll get this, but chances are I'll either be in Monte Carlo or be on the way. Sorry for the disappearance. I'm safe. Go home, please. Ione.
"Monte Carlo?" Gemma shook her head. She checked the time stamp of the message. It was sent at most a couple of hours ago. Depending on how Mackenzie was travelling, Gemma thought she might be able to get there first. She reached for the phone in the former dining room and dialled a number from memory.
After two rings, a man's voice answered, "Ici Vols Ménard."
"It's Carob." Gemma gave her code name. "I need a flight to Monaco as soon as possible."
"So much for what the pebble wants."
"Money not backed by any government."
"Try to not let me witness anything, then."
"No one escapes Death."