Ione scrounged up money for Jack's trip to the casino.Ione's dream of a chocolate warehouse exploding was cut off by the ringing of the phone. She groaned as she tried to remember through the fog of sleep where she was. The phone blared again, getting cut off by Mara answering it, her voice raspy. Ione pushed herself up, willing herself to get moving. "Ione, are you up?" Mara asked.
"That was Jack. He's waiting in the lobby for you."
"Good for him." Ione heard Mara's sharp bark of laughter. "I'm up." The brunette rolled out of bed. "Do you need the bathroom?"
Mara threw off her covers. "You go ahead."
Ione opened her sports bag. She stared at her jeans for a moment, then passed over them for her new cream skirt. Ione reached for her new shirt, then stopped as she spied her corset under her jeans. Even though Jack asked her to bring the corset, she had decided to pack it. When she bought it, she had made sure that it would match her jacket, just in case. Ione grabbed the corset and a fresh pair of underwear, the padded to the bathroom.
When Ione came back out, Mara was up and out of bed. The redhead turned to look. "Looking sharp, Ione."
"Thanks." Ione sat down on the edge of the bed to pull on her boots. "Are you coming down with me?"
"Jack said he was waiting for you. He never mentioned me."
"Doesn't mean you can't come with me."
Mara sighed, her chest heaving. "Doesn't mean I can, either. Ione, I work for him. If he wanted me there, too, he would have said so."
"He's an irritating SOB."
"No arguments here. Want me to lace you up a little tighter?"
"Sure, thanks." Ione turned her back to Mara to give the redhead better access.
Mara pulled on the laces, using her knee to brace against Ione. "Can you still breathe?"
Ione took a deep breath. "Yes, thanks." She turned to face the red haired woman. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Don't worry about me. Better get going. Jack gets all weird about waiting."
Ione said her goodbyes, then grabbed her black leather jacket and left the hotel room. She strolled down the hallway, carrying her jacket over one shoulder. The elevator took a few minutes to arrive after she pressed its call button. When the doors opened, several people were already inside. Ione smiled at her fellow passengers as she entered before turning to face the doors.
The ride down to the lobby didn't take long. Ione was the first out. She spotted Jack waiting along the side of the lobby, wearing a suit she figured would cost her a year's salary and carrying a black mahogany cane. Ione walked towards him. Her every step had renewed confidence. "Good morning, Jack," she said when she reached him.
Jack looked her over, up and down. "Interesting choice, my dear Ione."
Ione maintained a pleasant expression. "You did ask me to bring the corset."
"Sounds lovely, Jack."
Jack raised an eyebrow as he tried to read Ione's expression. He turned away and began walking towards the hotel's restaurant, his cane clicking on the marble. Ione matched his pace. They were shown to a table as soon as they entered the restaurant. Ione sat down opposite Jack, her jacket draped on the back of her chair. She asked for a coffee. "You must have a plan," she said.
"Am I that easy to read?" Jack opened the menu.
"Why else would I be here?" Ione folded her hands on the table. "You're not the type to engage in small talk, Jack. Everything I've seen you do has been with a purpose. Right now isn't any different."
"Maybe I shouldn't have asked you to bring the corset."
"Am I wrong?"
Jack set down the menu. "No."
"What do you need from me today?"
"We're meeting Marco's people this afternoon."
"I thought that was going to be this evening."
Jack nodded tersely. "I ran into one of Marco's superiors in the casino last night. As it turns out, I've had dealings with him before. We're making the preliminary meet this afternoon to make the final arrangements." He tapped the menu. "You better have a good breakfast. You may not have time to eat lunch."
"Two eggs, over easy, with bacon and whole wheat toast with a side of marmalade." Ione smirked. "Tell me more, Jack. Just how deep am I in?"
Jack leaned in closer, lowering his voice. "Three way deal. I need weapons, Marco's superiors want drugs, and the dealers with the weapons want cash."
Ione leaned back in her chair. "Wonderful. Remember the song you quoted to me over the weekend? I found the official video of it last night while Mara was out. There's another line coming to mind. 'No matter if it's cocaine, heroine, or hash, you've got to carry weapons 'cause you always carry cash.' I'm willing to bet that everyone there will be armed, Jack."
"Probably." Jack became silent as the waiter returned with Ione's coffee. He gave Ione's order to the waiter, then added his own.
Once the waiter left, Ione asked, "Does this outfit look like I can conceal a gun anywhere?"
"Under the skirt, maybe."
"Where am I supposed to get a gun?"
"You're not." Jack's voice became stern. "We're not going to be carrying any guns."
"That's just wonderful, Jack. What happens if someone there gets trigger happy?"
"You'll be safe. No one is going to pull out a weapon. There's too much riding on this deal." Jack picked up his cane. "But, if someone does slip through the cracks of sanity, I am ready." He twisted the cane's handle, then pulled it up a centimetre.
Ione saw a glint of steel between the handle and the mahogany. "A rapier?"
"Small sword, if you want to be pedantic." Jack pushed the blade back into the cane. "It's an old trick, but useful."
The waiter returned with breakfast. Jack set down his cane and began eating his crepes Suzettes. He thanked the server. "You should try these, my dear Ione."
"I'm sure they're delicious, Jack." Ione smiled at the waiter. "Merci."
Jack became pained. "Must you?"
In her most nasal Montrealais accent, Ione said, "Oui."
"We're going to conduct business in English this afternoon. I am not risking the delivery because someone takes issue to what you call French."
Ione stuck her tongue out at Jack. "Just as long as we don't get shot."
"My dear, that is the least of my worries. Now, eat up. We have a busy day ahead."
Jack ate the rest of his breakfast despite a couple of attempts by Ione to engage in chit-chat. Ione gave up on conversation and focused on her bacon and egss. When the waiter returned to clear the plates, Jack told him to charge the meal and tip to the room. Ione excused herself from the table, then returned upstairs.
Ione had the room to herself when she entered. She didn't mind, time with Mara kept getting awkward. The ditz label she used for the redhead on the flight over didn't fit. Ione wasn't yet convinced it was an act, but there was definitely more to Mara than she let on. How much more, Ione couldn't tell. Jack, though, Jack was a different story. If Mara gave the impression that she didn't put much thought into what she did, Jack more than made up for it for both of them. Every action, every sentence, every word felt carefully chosen. Yet, Ione put some trust in him. She felt like she was an extension of him when he was around, another tool in his kit, and he had a craftsman's care with what he used.
Gathering her skirts under her as she sat, Ione checked her email. On a hunch, she launched Ada's proxy network. A message waited for her. A, your boss is playing a dangerous game. The Mascagni Cartel doesn't trust him and has no problem killing him or you to make a point. M. Ione shrugged her bare shoulders. All she could do is warn Jack. She shut down the proxies. Once she got home, she told herself, she was wrapping up her side investigation and passing it on to the proper people. A quick thrill of acting like a field agent was one thing; the excitement of being in the field with people who wouldn't think twice of killing her had long passed.
A new message icon appeared. Ione took a look, hoping it was from her housemate. The address showed it to be an email from Karen. Ione opened it. Miss Mackenzie, if you want to speak to your friend ever again, you will call me before noon. A phone number followed the short message. Ione felt the blood drain from her head. She grabbed the phone and stabbed at the buttons, dialling the number. The other end picked up during the first ring. "Whoever you are, let her go."
"No pleasant greeting, Mackenzie?" Ione recognized the voice. Gemma continued, "You do remember me?"
"I do, Gemma. What's going on? Where's Karen?"
"She's safe. If you do as I say, she'll remain safe."
"What's going on, Gemma?"
"That's what I want to know, Mackenzie. How can an analyst from Canada afford to stay at the Hôtel de Paris after eluding me twice?"
Ione felt her legs grow week. "How did you know where I was?"
"Call display. Now, if you want to see your little friend again, you'll meet me at Le Petit Bar at noon."
"Wait, let me speak to Karen. Gemma, I'll meet you there, but I need to speak--" The line went dead. The phone dropped out Ione's numb fingers. Tears welled in her eyes. If something happened to Karen, Ione wasn't sure how she could bear the guilt. A sob wracked her body.
How long she cried, Ione didn't know. She caught hold of herself long enough to regain her breath. Ione got up and entered the bathroom to clean up. No use crying now; if she met Gemma, Karen would be safe and Ione could tell a proper field agent what was going on. Staying in the hotel room would, well, Ione didn't want to travel on that train of thought.
Ione washed her face, trying to hide that she had been crying. She had to project confidence, even if she didn't feel it. After one last check, Ione left the bathroom. The trip to meet Gemma might interfere with Jack's plans, Ione figured, so she left a quick note, leaving the name of the bistro and a quick explanation. She checked her purse for spare cash. Most of the notes were Canadian, but she found some bills marked in Euros. They should be enough to get to the bistro.
Making sure she had everything she needed, Ione left the room. She went straight to the stairs, not wanting to wait for the elevator. Hurried strides carried her through the lobby to the main entrance, where she asked the valet to hail a cab for her. The minutes spent waiting for the taxi became an eternity in agony for Ione. The cab did arrive, a black Mercedes. The valet opened the door for Ione, letting her slip into the back. Ione gave the driver the name of the bistro.
Le Petit Bar fell within the borders of Monaco, making the drive to get to the bistro not even five minutes. Ione fished several Euros out of her purse, more than enough for the fare. She thanked the driver and got out. A few minutes of standing outside the bistro let Ione psyche herself up for meeting Gemma. Ione entered, projecting an air of confidence. She was shown to a table.
Ione ordered a coffee, then tried to get comfortable in her chair. She looked around the room for a clock. Seeing the time, she resisted the urge to slap her forehead. She was early, easily an hour early. No use beating herself up, Ione realized. The extra time could be used. Ione kept an eye on the door, watching the people who came and left the bistro, trying to pick out anyone who could be working with the British agent.
At a quarter to noon, Gemma entered the bistro, her folded in her arms. Ione caught her attention. The British agent walked to Ione's table. "A little early. Good. Get up."
"How is Karen?" Ione kept her voice steady.
"She's safe, for now." Gemma's ice blue eyes flashed in the light. "Now, up." She raised part of her coat, revealing to Ione the black barrel of a pistol.
Ione tossed a few Euros on the table to pay for her coffee. "I thought you wanted to talk."
"No, I want you to talk." Gemma motioned for Ione to take the lead.
"As long as nothing has happened to Karen." Ione got up and walked out of the bistro. "I want to speak with her."
"You will, once we're done." Gemma guided Ione to a narrow street. "Provided you don't do anything stupid. Stop. Turn around."
Ione followed the blonde woman's orders. "It was you back in Ottawa following me. Why didn't you just talk to me then?"
"And listen to lies? I had my suspicions, but now? Like I said on the phone, just how does an analyst get the money to fly last minute to Paris and then, a day later, get down here to Monte Carlo and stay at the Hôtel de Paris?"
"It's a little complicated, Gemma."
"I'm sure it is. You were the only survivor at the warehouse, Mackenzie. Two good agents died in the blast."
Ione pointed at Gemma. "You survived, too."
"I was in the van down the block. You were on site. You reported a man with a sword."
"I wasn't the first to see him. You were."
Gemma threw her coat to the side and raised her silenced pistol. "Who was he? How did you convince him to carry a suicide bomb?"
"A what? I have no idea who he was and you are out of your mind!"
"Who do you work for, Mackenzie?" Gemma's face darkened.
"You know perfectly well."
Both women heard the squeal of tires of a car approaching. Gemma kept her distance from Ione as she circled around the Canadian woman. She lowered the gun, pressing it into thigh to use her own body to block anyone from seeing it. A sky blue Maserati roared around the corner and screeched to a halt just past the women. Jack stepped out of the exotic car, mahogany cane in hand. "Ione, there you are." He walked around the car to stand beside the Canadian. "I read your note. Now isn't the time." Jack grabbed Ione by the elbow.
Gemma raised her pistol. "She's with me."
Jack glanced at the blonde woman. "No, she has other plans. She also doesn't swing that way. Run along."
"Mackenzie, if you want to see your friend again . . .."
"Jack, please." Ione pleaded with her eyes.
"Look, whoever you are, you can have her later."
Gemma's eyes narrowed. "Just what are you?" She aimed her gun at Jack.
"I am starting to get annoyed." Jack took a step towards the blonde woman, raising his cane.
Gemma fired. The pistol's report, despite the silencer, still cracked through the air. Jack's shoulder jerked. Gemma shot again, twice, three times. Jack fell to the ground. Ione stared at his body. "Now, Mackenzie, get away from the car!"
Ione looked up into the barrel of Gemma's pistol. She shuffled away from Jack's body. "That," she stammered, "that wasn't a good idea."
"Face away from me and get on your knees."
"Gemma, really, that wasn't a good idea." Ione did what she was told, though.
"I don't care, Mackenzie. Hands behind your head."
"He could have helped you!" Ione laced her fingers as she put her hands on top of her head. "He's looking for the same person you are!" She heard the British agent approach her.
"Tell me everything. Lie to me and that's the last thing you ever do."
Ione felt the barrel of the gun being pressed to the back of her head. "You needed him. He was looking for the person responsible for last Wednesday. That warehouse wasn't the only one hit!"
"You have proof?"
"I have photos back at the hotel, for what good they'll do now." Ione felt tears building, waiting for release.
"Take me there."
"Why? You completely destroyed everything here."
Gemma pressed the barrel harder into Ione's skull. "Not everything."
"True." Ione heard Jack's voice. "Came close, though, you stupid bint." The gun barrel pulled away from Ione's head. The woman heard several meaty punches, followed by a body hitting the ground hard. "You can get up now."
Ione spun around as she got up from her knees. Jack stood over Gemma's prone body as he brushed off his suit. He fingered a hole in the lapel. "I'll never find a tailor who can fix this."
"Jack?" Ione took a step back. "Jack, she shot you."
"She did, yes. Bleeding well hurt, too."
Ione pointed at a pair of bullet holes over Jack's left breast. "No, Jack, she /shot/ you. Dead. How?"
"Not here, my dear. Let's get going before your lovely friend wakes up." Jack bent down to retrieve Gemma's gun. "We can't let this just lie here." He began dismantling the pistol.
"Jack, what the hell is going on?" Ione pushed the hysteria back down.
"Get in the car, please."
"Get in the car, Ione." Anger tinged Jack's tone. "Please."
Ione nodded, then skirted around both Gemma and Jack to get into the Maserati. She brushed off her skirt once inside. Jack soon joined her, Gemma's gun in pieces in his hand. "Thank you, my dear." Jack's tone returned to being pleasant. "Care to explain what happened? And can you get a plastic bag from the glove compartment?"
"She's a British agent." Ione opened the glove compartment and handed Jack a plastic bag. "Secret Intelligence Service. I worked with her last week, setting up the buy at the warehouse."
"I see." Jack dumped the remains of the pistol into the bag and set it aside. He put the car into gear. "She doesn't like you for some reason."
"She thinks I set up her team. I didn't, though. And now, she has Karen somewhere and I need to find her first."
"No, my dear. I need you this afternoon. There's no time to gallivant all over town, assuming your agent did have your friend."
"Gemma said she had Karen."
"Gemma is a spy, my dear. Spies lie for a living. She doesn't need to have a hostage to tell you that she has one."
Ione twisted in her seat to face Jack. "And if she was telling the truth?"
"Have you heard from your friend?"
"Call?" Ione blinked.
"Do you have your phone with you?"
"Then call your friend. See if she answers."
Ione dug into her purse and brought out her cell phone. She turned on its radio and dialled Karen. After the third ring, the call was answered. "Hello?"
"Karen! You're safe!"
Jack winced at Ione's volume. "Dear, you're on the phone, not shouting out a window."
"Sorry." In a lower tone, she returned to her phone call. "Karen, where are you? What are you doing here?"
"I was wondering the same thing about you. Ben and I are at our hotel and waiting for an email from you."
"You didn't run into a blonde woman, taller than you, short hair, with a British accent, did you?"
"Back at the house, yes. I haven't seen anyone like that since. Do you know her?"
Ione sighed with relief. "I do. I met her on my last work trip to Paris. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, Ione. The bitch hit me on the head, but Ben looked at it and said I'll be okay. Where are you staying?"
"I can't say right now. I'm probably changing hotels soon, anyway. Where are you staying?"
"We're at the Adagio Monaco Monte Cristo. I don't think we're in Monaco. Hang on. Yeah, Ben says we're still in France, but maybe twenty minutes walking distance away from the casino if that helps."
"It might. Can I call you back? I have a few things to work out."
"Sure. We'll be here. Bye."
"Bye, Karen." Ione ended the call, then turned her phone off. "She's safe."
Jack smiled. "Didn't I say so? What was that bit about changing hotels?"
"Gemma knows where I'm staying. When she recovers, she is not going to be happy and she will come looking for me."
"Do you have any other enemies that I should be watching out for? Ex-boyfriends? Cuckolded wives? School rivals who can't let go of the past?"
Ione glared at Jack. "No. I didn't know about Gemma."
"Just how did she find out?"
"My dear Ione, you called her?"
"I thought she had Karen."
Jack kept his eyes on the road. "What's done is done. You'll have to find somewhere else for tonight. I'll help you pack."
"Wait a minute, Jack. You're forgetting something. Gemma saw you, too. She shot you, or have you forgotten? Because I haven't. You still owe me an explanation."
"You have bullet holes in your suit, Jack. What is going on?"
Jack eased the Maserati to a stop. "It is a long, complicated explanation, Ione. One that isn't helped by being in a car running away from a crazy blonde bint who is trigger happy."
"When, Jack? When do I get to know?"
"When the time is right, Ione." Jack turned to face the woman in the passenger seat. "You don't see the entire picture yet, Ione. I don't know if you have the capacity to see it. My mystery man, he's not just after organized crime."
Ione stared at Jack. "Then show me the full picture, Jack. I'm not a pawn."
"You were never a pawn, my dear. I always considered you my knight." Jack put the car into gear. "The time will come when I will explain. Right now, my dear Ione, we are under a strict time limit. This little side escapade of yours didn't help and might have drawn some unwanted attention."
The Maserati arrived at the Hôtel de Paris. Valets helped Ione and Jack out of the car. The two walked up to their room in silence. Ione gathered her gear and clothes, then followed Jack back downstairs. She gave him the name the hotel Karen was staying at. Jack didn't comment on the location, but drove Ione there in silence. He helped carry her bags up to Karen's room, a studio on the fourth floor. Ione knocked on the door.
After a few moments, Ben opened the door. "Hello, Ione," he greeted. He noticed Jack in the hallway. "You, get away from her right now!"
"Now, I may be a tad upset right now, but I am done with being on the outside looking in."
"You two know each other and decided to pick some random person to drive crazy."
"Rivers of blood. Dogs and cats living together. The end of the world."
"You have no power here!"