Ione explained how she tracked Babbage.The limousine passed through the border between France and Monaco without Ione noticing the change. To her, the road continued with just a sign indicating the border. She did notice a few agents, but the agents did not seem to see the limo. Not that it mattered to her. Ione just wanted to stretch for a bit. Mara managed to avoid a few traffic snarls, but a collision lost them some time.
Mara brought the limo to a stop outside l'Hôtel de Paris. Valets walked over and opened the passenger doors while the red haired driver got out to open the trunk. Ione stepped out, then stretched. She heard her spine crack. Groaning, she followed Jack inside. The lobby took Ione's breath away with its marble floors, crystal chandelier, and arched ceiling. Jack brought the brunette to a chair. "Wait here. Try not to call attention to yourself."
Ione looked around at the people in the lobby. "How? I think they might be calling the police to take me away for vagrancy."
"Stay." Jack left her, walking towards the the front desk.
Ione sat down, perching on the edge of the chair. She watched the other guests as they passed through the lobby. In another circumstance, she knew she'd be taking photos. Of course, in another circumstance, she wouldn't even be in this hotel. She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and checked its charge. The battery was low, but not as low as it would have if it was available to take calls. Ione started its camera app and took a few pictures, trying to capture the lobby's immensity.
Mara entered the lobby, followed by a porter with a cart carrying the group's luggage. The redhead waved to Ione, then said something the brunette couldn't make out to the porter. Done with her instructions, Mara strode over to join Ione. "Where's Jack?"
"Checking us in, I think." Ione shrugged. "I hope he doesn't take long. I'm starting to feel hungry."
"Let him work his magic." Mara sat down across from Ione, then adjusted her black micro-mini. She pointed at the smart phone. "Calling someone?"
Ione held up the phone so Mara could see the display. "Taking photos. I doubt I'll ever get back here unless I win the lottery."
"You should see this place in the summer, Ione. Bustling, and with the casino next door? If you wanted to marry rich, this is the place to be seen." Mara gave a pointed look at Ione's legs. "You just have to flaunt your assets a bit."
"Rich isn't at the top of my list of what I'm looking for." Ione glanced around, then leaned in closer to Mara. "How rich are we talking about? Assuming my potential husband fits what I am looking for?"
Mara laughed, drawing the attention of people nearby. "If they're here, they have money they can afford to lose at the casino."
Jack returned, a scowl on his face. "We can't get a suite. The best I could get was a room with two beds and a spare couch."
Ione met Jack's eyes. "It's still a room, right? I mean, we're not going to be spending all our time in it, so what does it matter?"
"Image, Ione. Image. But, you do have a point. I'm not planning on bringing anyone to the room for negotations." Jack clapped Ione's shoulder. "Come. We have a room and I need seed money."
Mara was the first to get to her feet. "I thought you didn't like gambling, boss."
"It's only gambling if there's a chance I might lose." He started walking to the elevator, Mara in step behind him.
Ione jumped out of her chair and rushed to keep up. "Jack, I said I don't have that much, even if I could convert the BitCoins."
Jack stopped at the elevator. "Do what you can, Ione. That's all I can ask right now."
"Okay." The elevator doors opened to let the group in. "I do need dinner."
"The hotel has room service. I'll order for you." The doors closed. Jack pressed the button for the third floor.
"Thanks. Just, no escargot or anything fancy. A club sandwich."
Jack gave the brunette a warm smile. "A club sandwich. White wine with that?"
"Not if I'm cashing anything. I'll need my head clear."
"I'll find out what else the kitchen can provide. Mara, is the luggage on its way?"
Mara nodded. "The porter is taking care of it all."
"Good. We'll need alternate transportation in town. The limo is a little too obvious."
"I'll get on it."
The elevator doors opened again. Jack took the lead once more as she walked with purpose to his room. He unlocked the door, then stepped aside to let Ione in. The brunette entered, taking in the room with every step. "Jack, my house isn't this nice."
"I feel sorry for you." Jack followed Ione inside. "Let me know when the luggage arrives. I need to freshen up." He disappeared into the bathroom.
"Ignore him, Ione." Mara plunked down on a bed. "I like this. It's cozy."
Ione joined Mara on the bed. "Cozy. Right." She shook her head. "Two beds and a couch, just like Jack said. I can sleep on the couch."
"No, I should be fine there."
"Really?" Ione looked over at the couch then back at Mara. "You're not going to fit. I can't see Jack volunteering, so I will. Besides, I'm here as a tech. You and Jack are doing the heavy lifting."
A knock came from the door. Mara rolled off the bed, landing on her feet, then ran to open the door. The porter stood in the hallway with the luggage cart. "Oh, good, come in." She stepped aside to let the porter into the room. "Jack, the luggage is here!"
Ione rose from the bed. "Thanks." She checked her pockets, looking for her wallet. "Damn. My money's in my jeans."
"I've got it." Mara reached into her cleavage and pulled out several Euros. She handed the money to the porter. "Thanks." The porter bowed, then left the room.
"Do you keep all your money there?"
"No one is going there unless I want them to." Mara grinned. "Want to try?"
"No, thanks." Ione grabbed her computer bag and made her way to the room's desk. "Your dates must be interesting."
"You don't know the half of it." Mara sat down on the couch.
Ione waited for Mara to continue as she set up her laptop. When nothing more came, she said, "And?"
"That was it, really." Mara kicked off her shoes. She wiggled her toes. "Oh, that's much better. Driving in high heels is murder on the feet."
"I can't imagine."
Jack came out of the bathroom, looking refreshed. His tie was undone and hanging down his chest. "Ione, any news?"
"I'm getting there. The laptop works at its own speed." Ione logged into the machine. "It slows down when people stare at me."
"You should get a tech to look at it, then." Jack sat down on the bed nearest the window. "Mara?"
"Don't you have something to do?"
Mara sighed. "Just giving my feet a chance to rest." She stood up. "Hey, Ione, Jack mentioned you own a motorcycle. Is that true?"
Ione glanced over at Jack. "I do, yes. Why?"
"I never would have thought you were the type." Mara walked to the door. "I should be back in an hour."
Jack waved without looking at the red haired woman. "I won't be here when you get back. Try not to break anyone tonight."
"Thanks, boss." Mara left.
Ione focused on her computer. She found the site for her virtual wallet and logged in. Hesitant, she looked for a way to cash in her BitCoins. One thing she needed was a bank account. Ione didn't want to use her own; too many questions would be raised by her bank just by moving the money through, especially when she wasn't at home. She did have an account with an American bank for the purposes of following transactions, but, again, that bank would also flag the transaction. On a hunch, Ione checked banks in countries that were in the former Soviet Union. She found one that allowed her to open an account online. There'd be a large fee, but Ione could sell enough of her BitCoin stash to take care of it.
With the bank account ready, Ione completed the conversion, cashing in two of her BitCoins. "Done. I can give you the information for the bank account to get the money."
"Excellent. " Jack fixed his tie, using a trinity knot. "Write it down. How much should I expect?"
"There should be at least nine hundred Euros in the account. No guarantees, though. I had to use a dodgy bank in Kiev."
Jack stood up. "It will do for now."
"Um, Jack? Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Oh, right, my jacket." He started to head to the bathroom.
"I hadn't forgotten. I'll put the order in at the front desk on my way out." He popped into the bathroom, returning with his jacket. "Really, my dear Ione, you need to trust me. Now, please excuse me. Don't wait up for me." Jack left.
"Wasn't planning on it." Ione stared at the closed door. "And I'm talking to myself. Great."
Ione returned her attention to her computer. Opening her email, she found a message from her sister. Ione, when are you coming back? I have to work and I can't keep dropping by in the evening. Is there something going on? Let me know!
With a sigh, Ione hit reply. Ames, I'm still busy with work. I'll explain when I get home, whenever that will be. Karen should be back in a couple of days. Don't worry too much about Diesel. He only really needs his bowl topped up every other day. Love you. -I. Ione hit send. She really did owe her sister an explanation, but she didn't want to do it over email. Face to face would be easier, maybe.
Ione returned to checking her messages. She found none from Karen. Hey, Karen, I've arrived in Monaco. Amy's worried about us. I can't call her right now. Can you say something to her? -- Ione. She frowned. If Karen was still travelling, sure, she couldn't check her email on the plane. Still, she hadn't heard from her roommate since the break in.
Realizing that she couldn't do anything except worry, Ione shut down her email. A knock came from the door, followed by the call of, "Room service." Ione dashed to the door to open it. A room service attendant stood outside carrying a tray. "Mademoiselle Ione?"
"Oui. C'est le club sandwich?"
Ione stepped aside to let the attendant in. "Sur le bureau, merci." She dug in her sports bag to find her jeans and wallet.
The attendant set down the tray. "Non, non madelle. Monsieur Jack a arrangé pour tout. Merci." He left.
The smell of the food wafted to Ione, reminding her that she was hungry. She sat down at the desk again and removed the tray's cover. A plate with a club sandwich, cut into four, sat in the middle of the tray, a pickle spear lying beside it. Another plate held wedge fries. Salt and pepper shakers stood at attention beside the fries. A glass sat upside down beside a can of Coke. Ione popped a wedge into her mouth, savouring it even without the salt. She attacked the sandwich, devouring the quarter-slice.
When Mara returned within the hour, all that remained of Ione's dinner were crumbs and an empty can. Ione waved to the redhead, then returned to her browsing. Mara pulled off her shoes and collapsed on to the couch. "Have you been here all this time?"
Ione tore her eyes from the laptop's screen. "Yes, Mom."
"Don't go there. Really."
"That's a good way to put it."
Ione gave the red haired woman a sympathetic smile. "No worries. Have you eaten? I can call room service for you."
"I ate." Mara stretched. "Looks like it's just the two of us tonight. I don't suppose you have a deck of cards in your bags?"
"There might be." Ione checked the side pockets of her computer bag. "No regular cards. I've got a couple of card-based games."
"Depends. Is there a strip version of them?"
Ione glared at the woman. "No."
"It was a joke. Lighten up."
"Sorry." Ione set down the bag. "I have a few things on my mind."
"I can help with that."
"Mara, no. I'm straight, okay?"
"What?" Mara laughed. "No, not sex. A massage. You must be stiff after the drive. Hop on the bed."
Ione blushed. "Oh. Thanks, Mara, but no. I'm good. Just tired and worried."
"Nothing from your friend?"
"Nothing. Last time I heard from her, she was in Chicago. I don't know if she's on a flight overseas or waiting on stand-by to get home or what." Ione slumped in her chair. "This week hasn't been good."
Mara swung her legs on to the couch. "She's probably safe, wherever she is. You know how computers are. Your friend probably ran out of power and can't reach you. You've been given a whirlwind tour of France ever since we got here. Once she can check her email, she'll answer."
Ione thought over the redhead's words. "You're right. Worrying isn't helping."
"It's a bad habit."
Ione got up from the desk. "I need dessert. Want anything?"
"Room service? Sure! Do they have anything chocolate on the menu?"
After a brief search, Ione found the menu. She skimmed through the desserts. "There's a chocolate torte with white chocolate icing. Chocolate enough?"
Ione dialled the number for room service. When the other end answered, she said, "Oui, ici chambre trois quartoirse. Nous voulons deux tortes chocolates et deux Cokes, s'il vous plait." The brunette waited as the desk clerk confirmed the order. "Oui, parfait. Merci!" She hung up. When she turned back to face Mara, the redhead had a horrified expression on her face. "What?"
"I thought you spoke French."
"I've never heard an accent like that before. Are you sure you speak French?"
Ione crossed the room back to the desk chair. "I'll have you know that I have an exempt designation at work."
"Really? I guess the testers don't want to hear your accent."
"What's wrong with my accent?" Ione sat down.
Mara shrugged. "I've never heard French sound so . . . so . . ." The redhead floundered for the right word. "Guttural."
"Guttural? My accent isn't guttural."
"It's nasal. Where did you learn to speak French?"
"My mom's parents live in Montreal. I learned by listening to them and everyone around. No one spoke English during the visits."
"And everyone sounded just like you? Nasal?"
Ione rolled her eyes. "Have you heard any French Canadian accents, ever? There's a difference between Quebecois French and Parisien."
"And people understand you at work?"
"Yes. Look, if my accent bothers you this much, you can get the door when the tortes arrive."
"Okay." Mara got up from the couch and adjusted her skirt. She strode to her luggage and opened it up. "Does your friend have your accent?"
"Karen?" Ione shrugged. "Not really. She still has an English accent, like what you'd hear from someone who only used French in French class. Karen doesn't really need to be bilingual, though."
Mara unbuttoned her shirt. "She doesn't work with you?"
"She's not even in the Public Service. She works at a bank, fraud investigations."
"Do either of you do normal things?" The redhead turned to face Ione. "I mean, here you are, world-travelling spy who knows about computer currency, your friend hunts down people defrauding a bank." She shrugged out of the shirt. "You carry around cards that aren't cards."
"Mara!" Ione swivelled her chair to face the laptop screen. "What are you doing?"
Ione heard a zipper being undone. "Out here? What if room service comes by? You'd answer the door naked?"
"It's hard to put clothes on a door. Ione, it's just nudity. Nothing to freak out about. Besides, I've seen you unclothed. Now you can see me."
Ione let her head fall into her palms. "I . . . That's . . . thanks, Mara, but I'm good." She sighed. "We won't have to tip the guy this time, at least."
Mara laughed. "He's probably seen a lot of naked people here."
"I don't want to think about it." Ione raised her head, still keeping her eyes locked on the laptop. "You are getting dressed again, right?"
"Thanks." Ione noticed the new mail icon on her laptop's screen. She checked her messages. "Hey! Karen finally got in touch!"
Ione opened the message. Just arrived at our hotel in Paris. What do you mean you're in Monte Carlo? Can you stay in one place long enough for me to catch up? Ben and I will head there tomorrow after I've had a chance to sleep. The brunette felt a weight lift from her. "She's in Paris."
"What took her? And you can look now."
"She didn't say." Ione glanced in Mara's direction. The redhead had red silk pajamas, or at least the bottoms, with a matching robe on. "That looks good. Anyway, Karen's safe."
Mara sat on the foot of the bed nearest to the door. "You were worried for nothing."
"I know. Hang on." Ione began typing a reply to her friend. Welcome to France, Karen. You don't have to see me. You and Ben should tour Paris while you're there and have fun. Otherwise, you're looking at a nine hour drive to catch up to me and I can't say where I'll be tomorrow. You get to deal with Ames next, too. She's not happy. But thanks for caring. --Ione. She pressed the send button.
A knock came from the door. Mara dashed to the door, opening it to see the room service attendant back. "Thanks! We're famished." Taking the tray, she winked at the attendant before closing the door. "Ione, chocolate!"
Ione pushed away from the desk. "Is everything there?"
Mara removed the cover, revealing two tortes and two cans of cola. "Looks like it." She set down the tray on the room's dresser. "I'll go get us some ice for the Cokes. Go ahead and start eating." The redhead grabbed the ice bucket and darted out of the room.
Ione padded over in her bare feet to the door, opening it so that Mara could get back in. She then picked up one of the plates and a fork before sitting back down. The torte almost looked too good to eat, but Ione managed to overcome its beauty to try a forkful.
Mara returned and set the now full ice bucket down. "How is it?"
"Better than sex."
"Nothing's that good."
Ione broke off another forkful from her torte. "No, really. Try it."
The red haired woman picked up her plate. She tried a bite of the dessert. As she let the chocolate melt in her mouth, she closed her eyes. "Oh, oh, Ione, this is amazing!"
"Told you!" Ione resisted the desire to consume the torte entirely in one go, but did eat another delicious bit. "I need to learn how to make this. I'd be the hit of the office."
"I don't think this is legal in North America."
"I don't care. I'll feed it to the judge. He'd never convict."
Mara laughed. "Let me know if you're sharing. This is too sinful to keep to yourself."
"You don't see the entire picture yet, Ione."
"Three way deal. I need weapons, Marco's superiors want drugs, and the dealers with the weapons want cash."
"I'm willing to bet that everyone there will be armed, Jack."
"Interesting choice, my dear Ione."