29 Sept 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 11

Ione slipped a tail as she went out to get on Jack's private jet.
With breakfast out of the way, Ione settled in for the flight.  She brought out her laptop and started going through the files she collected and built tracing Babbage.  The money trail was easy; she had made notes as her virtual coins travelled through transaction after transaction.  Each time, the electronic currency was used in a shady deal.  Drugs at first, low amounts of a variety that Ione figured were meant for street deals, but as the currency moved up the chain, the purchases changed from drugs to guns, then from guns to rockets.  This is where Babbage came in.  Ione wasn't sure of his real name, nor did she want to know.  His purchases, though, were enough for her to flag him for Lawrence before tracing his emails and instant messaging.  If she wanted, she could easily have followed him through social media.

A squeal from the cockpit pulled Ione's attention away from her work.  Mara's high-pitched giggle penetrated through the cockpit door.  "At least they closed the door," Ione muttered.  She tried to ignore the noises coming from the front of the jet, but couldn't focus on her files.  Ione set down her laptop, closing its lid, and picked up her tablet.  If she couldn't concentrate, one of the games on the tablet should distract her.

A few levels into Angry Birds, the cockpit door opened.  Mara strolled out, her red hair dishevelled, her vest completely unbuttoned.  She waved at Ione.  "Enjoying the flight?"

Ione didn't try to hide her disgust.  "Not as much as you, apparently."

Mara walked past the analyst to the galley.  "Jack will be out soon enough.  Want anything?"

"I don't suppose you have a diet cola in there."

"Let me check."  Mara opened the fridge, kicking up a leg as she leaned in to look.  "No, nothing diet.  Jack doesn't believe in diet anything."

"Of course he doesn't.  What about you?"

Mara put a hand on her hip.  "Does it look like I need a diet cola?"  She flipped her hair back in defiance.

Ione set the tablet on the arm of her chair.  "A Coke.  Coca-Cola."

"Coming right up!"  Mara reached into the fridge and brought out the familiar red and white can.  She walked over to Ione, letting the fridge close on its own.  "Here you go, Miss Sarah."  Mara bent down to hand the can over.

Ione averted her gaze away from the redhead.  "Thanks."

Mara straightened up.  "I better go fly the plane."  She turned on one stiletto heel and marched back to the cockpit.  The door opened before she reached it.  Mara pressed herself against the bulkhead to let Jack pass by her before slipping into the cockpit.

Jack sat down across from Ione, his hair still in place, he himself still looking like he did when Ione had first met him at the pub.  "So."

"So."  Ione opened the tab on her can of cola.

"You've been thinking.  I can tell."

"You got me."

"What were you thinking?"

Ione took a long drink of her cola.  "First, I was thinking that I had to be out of my mind coming along.  Then I thought, no, something's up, and if I can find out who that guy is, why not?  That's when I started checking my own notes.  Then you and that ditz did who knows what and, quite frankly?  I don't want to know."

The intercom crackled to life.  "The ditz heard that."

Ione's cheeks reddened.  Jack laughed.  "She really does have excellent hearing.  Mara also has other qualities."

"Oh, I'll bet she does."

Jack smirked.  "Ah, sarcasm.  I like you, Sarah.  You're a tad judgemental.  Mara isn't what she appears.  None of us are, really."

"You'll have to forgive me for not seeing Mara's depths when her tits are right in front of me."

"I'll have a talk with her.  In the meantime, what can you tell me?"

Ione picked up her laptop and brought it out of hibernation.  "With what you've told me, this guy you're hunting, and it'd be a lot easier if there was a name--"

Jack shook his head.  "No names.  I'd love to give you one, but I can't."

"Right."  The word was laced with Ione's dubiousness.  "This guy you're hunting, he seems to be targeting organized crime.  Simplest solution, he's a hitter for one mob or another."

"Simplest.  I hear doubt in your voice."

"I'm not an expert on organized crime.  I just analyze data and write reports."

"Indeed.  Go on."

Ione took a breath.  "From what I can tell, he's hit all the major crime families, at least three terrorist organizations, five embargoed nations, and several entities that I had no idea existed."  She shrugged helplessly.  "If he's working for someone, that someone is a complete unknown.  He might be with a government, but damned if I can figure out which one."  She looked up at Jack.  "You, though, you seem to know who he's working for."

"I do, yes."  Jack's expression turned serious.  "He's working for himself."

"Can I ask you how you know this?"

"You certainly may.  I can't tell you."

"Jack, how the hell can I help you?  You know far more than I do right now.  I'm an analyst.  I analyze data.  It's hard to analyze data that I don't have."  Ione realized that she was starting to yell.  She took a few breaths to try to calm down.  "Sorry."

Jack smiled in sympathy.  "Don't be.  You're only human.  I'm not asking for the impossible from you.  You don't need to trace my guy.  I just need you to get in touch with your contacts so I can lure him to me."

"That's going to be difficult.  It's going to be difficult to build trust with Babbage's people.  Thanks to me, he's dead."  Ione's grip dented the cola can in her hand.

"Did you cause the explosion?"

"No, but--"

Jack reached out and took Ione's free hand into his.  "Your 'Babbage' worked in a field where anyone he met could have killed him.  He dealt in illegal weapons.  He knew and accepted the risks.  If you hadn't lured him there, he would have died somewhere else.  You, Sarah Ione, are not to blame."

"If you say so."  Ione eased the pressure she had on the can.

"I do."  Jack stood up.  "Now, I should get back to flying.  We'll be in Paris soon enough.  Take the time to rest and think about what you're going to wear at dinner tonight.  I've made reservations."  He walked towards the cockpit.  At the door, he turned back.  "I do hope you packed your corset."

Ione's jaw fell.  She worked her mouth trying to find her voice.  "How did . . .?"

"My dear Sarah, I analyze people.  You seem to be the type to have a corset or two in her closet."  Jack winked at Ione before disappearing into the cockpit.

Ione lost track of how long she stared at the door.  She shook her head slowly in disbelief.  "Men."  She put away her electronics.  A quick trip to the head later, she found the recline lever for her seat.  Laying back, she stretched out and took a nap.

Jack's announcement of the pending landing roused Ione from her sleep.  She brought her seat back up and facing the front.  Her tongue tasted fuzzy.  Ione downed a gulp of her now warm cola, then placed the can into a cup holder and hoped it wouldn't spill.  She looked outside.  The sky was dark with the lights of Paris pinpoints in the night.  The jet banked, letting Ione spot the airport runway before it disappeared below the hull.  The whine of the landing gear extending reverberated through the aircraft, as did the clunk as the gear locked into place.  Ione sat back in her seat and fastened her safety belt.  At least the landing was at a gentler angle than the take off back in Ottawa.

The landing was smooth.  The roar of the wheels against the runway echoed inside the jet.  The engines picked up again, their thrust now being used to slow the airplane.  Now well below the craft's air speed, the pilots brought the plane to a private hangar at De Gaulle.  "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking," Jack announced over the public address system.  "Thank you for flying Air Jack.  We will be allowing passengers to disembark shortly.  We're just waiting for our host country to get its ass in gear and send the customs officers.  Please refrain from calling them Duane, no matter how tempted you are.  Thank you."  The intercom went dead.

Mara came out of the cockpit, vest properly buttoned and hair properly in place.  She walked past Ione, giving her a wink as she passed, to the onboard storage.  "Won't be long."

Ione unbuckled her belt.  "Customs, right?"

"Yeah.  Bit of a pain at times.  They don't like Jack for some reason."

"I can't imagine why."  Ione dug through her computer bag for her passport.

Mara grabbed Ione's sports bag.  "You'll want to keep this with you."

"Thanks."  Ione received the bag.  "Anything I should know?"

"Oh, definitely, but nothing that'll help here.  That I could tell you, at least."  Mara smiled.  "Right now, the less you know, the better."

"Yeah."  Ione set her sports bag down and rummaged through it.  Finding nothing that didn't belong to her, she zipped it back up.  "If I get arrested here, I am personally blaming Jack."

"I'm sure the French will believe you."  Mara smiled.

Jack came out of the cockpit.  "Ladies.  Best behaviours.  Douane is coming aboard."  He opened the hatch to allow two men, both in uniform, inside.  "Welcome!  Bienvenue!"

The first man, a little shorter than Ione, with a thin moustache, was the first to enter.  "Monsieur Jacques."  He straightened his uniform.

"Monsieur Renaud.  Et Monsieur Favre.  Trés enchanté.  Vous vous souvenez Madelle Mara, oui?"

Favre pointed at Ione.  "Et qui est elle?  Un autre des votres fille, Monsieur Jacques?"

Jack beamed.  "Oh, non, non, non, Monsieur Favre.  Elle ne travaille pas pour moi.  Mais, j'ai besoin d'aide et elle est la personne idéalle.  Miss Sarah, please show Monsieur Renaud and Monsieur Favre your passport."

Ione glared at Jack as she held up her green passport booklet.  Renaud took it from her hand and read it.  "Canadienne?"

"Oui."  Ione nodded.  "Je viens d'Ottawa.  Mon employe est dans le gouvrement du Canada."

Renaud returned the passport to the woman.  "Avez vous de contrebande dans votres velises?"

"Non, Monsieur.  Vour pourrez regarder si vous voulez."

Renaud turned his back to Ione.  "Et vous, Monsieur Jacques?  Avez vous de contrebande?"

Jack put on an innocent expression.  "Moi?  Non, Monsieur.  Jamais."

Renaud whispered with Favre for a moment before turning back to Jack.  "Bienvenue à Paris."  The two customs agents left through the hatch.

Jack waved to the agents, then closed the door.  "That went well, yes?  And, Sarah, you never told me you understood French."

"I work in the Canadian Public Service."  Ione put her passport back into her computer bag.  "It's useful to speak both official languages.  It'll let me move up to management."

"Mara, call for my car.  Make sure I have a suite booked, too."  Jack looked over at Ione.  "Once we're checked in, contact your people.  You'll have everything you need and more."

Next Week:
"Hey, Jack, it's your lucky day."
"My body isn't going to be found washed up along the river, is it?"
"I don't think I can tell you that."
"I'm just one of a long line of Jacks.  Confirmed bachelors, each and every one of them."

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