3 Nov 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 16

Mara helped Ione get ready for Monte Carlo and Gemma tried to get ahead.
Ione and Mara met Jack at city hall.  If he noticed Ione's new outfit, he never said.  Instead, he told Mara to start driving.  He settled back in his seat.  Ione looked over at him.  "Where are we going?"

"Monte Carlo.  I haven't changed my mind since I left the hotel."

"I know that, but how are we getting there?"

Jack turned to look at Ione.  "We're driving.  Technically, Mara's driving and we're riding in the back."

"Driving?  How far is it?"

"For most people, ten hours."  He faced the front again.  "Mara, how long?"

"Eight hours, non-stop, depending on the traffic at the tolls."

Ione raised an eyebrow.  "Eight hours?  And what if I need to use the facilities?  What about eating?"

"I already put lunch in the car," Mara said.

"And when we stop for gas, you can use the facilities at the station.  Haven't you been on long rides before?"

Ione nodded.  "To get home from school for long weekends.  But I planned out the trip, especially when I had passengers with me."

Jack patted Ione's leather-clad leg.  "This trip is planned, other than being a last minute idea."

"So much for what the pebble wants."  Ione sat back in her seat.

"The pebble?"

"A line from Babylon 5 regarding avalanches and pebbles."  Ione glanced at Mara.  "Is my computer gear in the trunk?"

"It should be.  Why?"

Ione sighed.  "It's going to be a long trip."

"Nonsense, my dear."  Jack turned on the limo's stereo.  Soft jazz played through the speakers.  "There's music, there's wine, and there are sandwiches.  What could you possibly need with your electronic toys?"

"I have books on my tablet."

Jack faced the brunette.  "I would not have taken you for a literary type.  What books do you have on there?"

"A couple of fantasies, some Terry Pratchett, and a techno-thriller."

"So, not the literary type."  Jack chuckled.  "Escapism."

"Nothing wrong with that."

"Until you prefer that world for your own.  Still, your choice of reading material might just prepare you for what's needed."

Ione twisted in her seat so she could give Jack her full attention.  "Speaking of what's needed, Jack, why Monte Carlo?  Aren't we getting away from finding your mystery man?"

"Not at all."  Jack brought out a bottle of red wine from the limo's small refrigerator.  "Wine, Ione?"

"No, thanks."

Jack poured himself a glass and set the wine bottle back in the fridge.  "While you were off getting your new clothes, and may I say that Thierry chose well for what you have on now?  While you were and Mara were off shopping, I was doing some research.  I believe that Marco's superiors are next on my 'mystery man', as you put it, on his hit list."

"I see."  Ione's tone of voice said otherwise.

"The owners of the now destroyed warehouses all had something in common.  Unfortunately, the owners also don't believe in electronic forms.  The records room at Paris City Hall is dusty, musty, and cramped.  That's where I found the next link."

"A warehouse in Monte Carlo?"

"Don't be silly.  A warehouse is too down scale for the next target.  No, our mystery man is going after a smuggling operation if I'm not mistaken."

"How do you know this?  The Mounties have been working with the French police to track smugglers and haven't found anything."

Jack smirked.  "I know people that your law enforcement are not even aware of, my dear Ione.  I would also like to keep it that way.  While I try not to break the law, I tend to bend it into interesting shapes and I still need these people."

Ione settled back.  "Great.  Try to not let me witness anything, then."

"Of course.  I wouldn't want you around for those meetings."  Jack sipped his wine.  He hmm'ed.  "Mara, remind me to replace the stock in here when we get to Monte Carlo.  The wine's a little off."

"I will."

"Ione, I do need a favour from you."

"A favour?"  Ione blinked in confusion.  "What sort of favour?"

"I need a bit of seed money for the casino.  Marco's superiors will be looking for their money.  I'm afraid I just don't have it right now."

"How much are we talking about?"

"For Marco?  Don't worry about that."

"For the casino."

Jack downed half of the remaining wine in his glass.  "Five hundred.  In Euros if you have it."

Ione laughed.  "That's a good one, Jack."

"I'm not joking, Ione."

"I don't have five hundred, in Euros, dollars, or Canadian Tire money."

Jack set the glass down.  "How were you paying for the weapons Wednesday?"

"Crypto-currency.  I doubt that the casinos take it."


Ione nodded.  "You know, BitCoins?  Money not backed by any government."

"Does that even work?"

"Not well."  Ione shifted to her lecturer's tone.  "The key to crypto-currency is that it's virtual.  There's no physical format like a coin or a bill.  BitCoins are created through running a time-intensive, processor-intensive algorithm.  They were meant to be used as virtual coins, but they got treated like stocks and bonds, with conversion fluctuating up and down like the stock market.  Remember when the FBI made the Silk Road arrests?"

Jack nodded.  "I do.  Shameful business, that."

Ione tapped her finger on her leg for emphasis.  "The FBI gained a good number of the BitCoins in circulation at the time, causing the prices of the currency to fall."

"How did you get yours?"

"I learned about them when I was an undergrad."  Ione snorted in self-deprecation.  "I thought it was an interesting idea at the time, so I got myself a virtual wallet to hold the virtual coins and did some mining.  I wound up with a good number, but when that computer crashed, I never bothered to keep mining.  A couple of years ago, I started hearing stories about the currency and found my wallet and realized just how much I had."

Jack cocked his head to the side.  "Fascinating.  Woke up rich, did we?"

"Not rich, but imagine you bought five stocks in, say, Microsoft in 1990, then checked them today.  That's the sort of difference I saw.  I could purchase fifty dollars worth of a BitCoin and see the investment double or triple in a few days."  Ione laughed.  "Of course, a week later, they might not be worth the original fifty."

"Not much of a currency if it fluctuates that wildly."

Ione nodded in agreement.  "They aren't, and not many legitimate places take them.  There are some, but at a corner store, the clerk behind the counter is just going to tell you to take a hike.  The other aspect, though, is that the currency is anonymous, like a ten dollar bill.  If I pay you in BitCoins, it's like being paid with a suitcase of unmarked bills."

"Interesting phrasing."  Jack picked up his wine glass.

"That's how the currency is being used.  The other stories I heard were how BitCoins were being used for everything from drugs to weapons to, well, if it was against the law, the currency got used.  I worked out a way to track my own BitCoins.  It was difficult, but each BitCoin has an encryption key that can be used to verify its legitimacy.  Once I could be sure of where my coins were going, I got involved in some shady deals.  Nothing major, nothing face to face.  Just enough to get the coins out.

"And you were never tempted to make a profit for yourself?"

Ione held up her hands.  "It crossed my mind, but everything I did, I wrote down in a report that I passed to my boss.  Every transaction.  As long as I kept him in the loop, he didn't care what I did."  She sighed.  "Then I ran into the guy I called Babbage, who demanded more participation from me.  That's when I called myself Ada and strung him along as much as I could.  My boss knew, so he was able to get in touch with British intelligence, who were looking to get into Babbage's gang."

"Leading to last Wednesday and the explosion."  Jack set down his glass.  "You, my dear, are much more interesting than you appear."  He retrieved the bottle of wine from the refrigerator and poured a second glass.  "I believe you need this."

"Thanks."  Ione took the offered glass and had a long swallow of the wine.  "I mean, I didn't want anyone hurt.  I just wanted to do what I could."

Jack set down the wine.  "The classic dilemma, do the ends justify the means?"  He rubbed Ione's shoulder with his free hand.  "Yet, you did everything in your power to keep people alive."

Ione drained the wine from her glass.  "Maybe.  But people are still dead."

"People die, Ione.  No one escapes Death.  Think of how many people won't die because of the weapons that were lost."  Jack leaned back in his seat.  "We have eight hours of driving coming up.  When we stop for gas and the facilities, Mara can get your tablet from the trunk.  I need you sharp when we get to Monaco.

Next Week:
"Really, my dear Ione, you need to trust me."
"Image, Ione.  Image."
"I think they might be calling the police to take me away for vagrancy."
"Do either of you do normal things?"

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