A night out had an uncomfortable coincidence and the return of Ione's stalker.Ione had just zipped up her duffel bag when she heard the front door unlock and open. "Karen?" she called.
"It's me." Karen's heels could be heard on the foyer's linoleum tiles.
"Did you bring Ben home with you?"
"Long story there, but no." Ione heard Karen coming up the stairs, then stumble. "Diesel! Watch where you're going, you little brat!"
Ione came out of her room. "My fault."
"No, it's his." Karen continued her trip up the stairs. "He knows better than to run like that between my legs when I'm on the stairs."
"You're going to have to step on him for him to learn."
Karen crested the top of the stairs. "I don't want to break my neck."
"In here." Ione stepped aside to let Karen enter her room.
Karen sat down on the computer chair. "Packing? Ione, what is going on? You left me in the lurch at the bar and now here you are packing. Where are you going?"
Ione flopped down on her bed. "Things are getting weird around here. Well, not here, which is weird, too, all things given."
"How much did you have to drink when you got home?"
"Nothing. You can check."
"Do I need to?"
Ione shrugged. "Up to you." She took a deep breath and held it for a count of ten before slowly releasing it. "I'm going back to Paris to find out why the warehouse exploded."
Karen stared with a blank expression. "I would like context for this. What warehouse? What explosion?"
"Remember how I can't really talk about work?"
Karen nodded. "Yeah?"
"I'm talking about work. You can't tell anyone."
"I don't have anything to tell yet, Ione." Karen took off her heels. "Much better." She massaged her feet.
"You remember how I told Ames that I math for a living?" Ione waited until Karen nodded again. "Well, it's more than that. I'm an analyst with CSEC."
Karen blinked as she took in the information. "It's part of the government, right? Like DFAIT and RCMP and DFO and all those other jumbles of letters that half the city works for. The only one I know is from Mass Effect, C-Sec, Citadel Security, and you aren't Turian."
"There are humans in C-Sec in the second game."
"You're getting off your point."
"There's a reason why Ames never likes my answer about where I work and what I do. She knows the difference between those 'letter-jumbles'. You're not from Ottawa, so you don't get the full alphabet soup's worth of departments."
"What does this have to do with this Cee-thing you work for? It's not the spy agency, is it?"
Ione got comfortable on her bed. "Not the one you're thinking of, no. That's CSIS, Canadian Security Intelligence Service. No, I work for CSEC, the Communication Security Establishment, Canada. We spy on other people's networks and the like. So, when I say I math for a living, I'm not exactly lying. Just not telling the full truth."
"You're a spy?"
Karen got up from the chair. "Ione, you kept your awesome job to yourself without telling me!"
"You don't have to shout. The neighbours don't need to know what I do. And it's not that exciting. I still math for a living. My Masters' degree was all about cryptography. The algorithms bore anyone who doesn't math."
"Can you at least quit using 'math' as a verb? I hate it when people verb nouns."
"Sorry. So, there you go. I'm an analyst for a spy agency."
Karen sat down on the bed beside Ione. "That didn't explain the packing. Or the warehouse or the explosion, for that matter."
"I discovered a weapons dealer one day doing some work outside my job description."
"You did what now?"
"I investigated something that wasn't mine to look into." Ione leaned against Karen. "You're comfortable."
"You're drunk and tired."
"Anyway, I strung along the weapons dealer until I could write up a report for my boss, Lawrence, and find out who to pass him along to. Turned out, the Brits wanted him. Problem is, the guy wanted a face to face meeting online and the British agency was taking too long. So, I talked to him, told him I had people interested, and made the connections. That's why I was in Paris earlier this week. I was introducing the dealer to the Brits who were acting as buyers. The plan was that they were going to take him down quietly to smuggle him into Britain where he'd stand trial. All that went out the window when the warehouse blew up with the dealer, his people, and the British agents inside."
"And that's when you came home." Karen gave Ione a friendly hug. "I wish you could have told me sooner."
Ione put her head on her friend's shoulder. "That's not all. There was someone else there, not one of the British agents, not one of the dealer's people. He walked across the parking lot, went into the warehouse. I heard gunfire. Something that shouldn't have been shot got shot. The warehouse exploded. It wasn't just one explosion. Several. Like fireworks. No one survived. No one could have survived." Ione snuffled. "Except that one man."
"Jesus, Ione." Karen pulled her friend into an embrace. "You're safe, at least."
"That's it, though. Ever since I got home, I've been followed. There was a silver car in the parking lot tonight. The driver tried to follow me after I left the bar." Ione's eyes met Karen's. "Did Ben ever leave the table after I left?"
"You think that Ben's involved?"
"I don't know, Karen. Did he leave at all?"
"He went to get me a new diet cola, but that was well after you left. At least half an hour after you disappeared. Why?"
Ione slipped out from her friend's embrace. "Two days ago, the same silver car followed me on the Parkway while I was out riding. I think it was the same car. Whoever it was saw me leave and ran to the car."
Karen's eyes widened. "Why didn't you call the police? Were you followed home?"
"Would you believe my stalker had car problems?"
Karen laughed in relief. "Lucky break."
"Yeah, lucky. That's twice that my stalker ran into problems following me. First time, I got pulled over for speeding. Remember my trip to the Earl of Sussex?" Ione paused as Karen nodded. "Yeah, he wasn't a cop. That's why I'm going. Something is going on around me, and this is my best chance at finding out what it is."
"I'm coming." Karen got up from the bed.
Karen spun on her heel. "You need me with you, Ione."
"I do, but I can't guarantee you'd be safe, Karen. I don't trust the guy as it is." Ione stood up and walked to her computer desk. "I'll have my gear with me. If I have to replace any of it, you'll hear from me with the new number. Your laptop's still working?"
"I'll Skype with you when I can. Email me at my Gmail address."
Karen sat back down on the bed. "Ione, I don't like this. It sounds dangerous. Really dangerous."
"Yeah." The weight of the implications hit Ione. "Yeah, dangerous. But it's getting dangerous here for everyone around me, too, especially you."
"I don't like this."
"Me, neither, Karen." Ione returned to the bed. "I promise you I will keep myself safe. I am not missing my baby sister's wedding, whenever it is, and I am not leaving my best friend wondering."
"If I'm not back by Monday, call Olivier and give him some excuse."
"What I do for Jack stays with Jack, or something like that."
"Now comes the fun part."
"It's ten o'clock somewhere."