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Authors: Jordan McCollum

Tags: #Romance, #Spy, #Espionage

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BOOK: Mr. Nice Spy
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“Sixty seconds.”

My rib cage squeezes tighter. I scan the rearview for the next valet car approaching. I need to get back, get the keys and name tag in the right places, and get away before we attract too much attention. But first, Talia has to finish.

“We’re good.” She hands me the phone. I slide it between the driver’s seat and the center console, like it fell out of his pocket. Talia acts as a diversion again for me to put the name tag and keys away at the valet booth, and we both casually dive back into our car.

“All right, what have we got?” I ask once we’ve made our escape.

Talia tosses her sunglasses aside and pulls the embassy directory from under my seat. “Let’s find out.”

The drive back to our office isn’t terrible, even with our surveillance detection stops, but I wish it were longer. Talia’s only halfway through her comparison when we arrive, and I don’t want to wait around. No point in going upstairs. “Any potential?”

“A couple names I’m not seeing in the directory off the bat.”

“Faces ring any bells?”

“Doesn’t have any in his phone.”

What’s the purpose of a smartphone if you’re not going to use the features? As a reflex, I take mine out. The voicemail symbol sits on the little status bar. I check who it’s from.

Shanna.

My stomach hits the asphalt. I forgot her flight. I missed my chance. I missed my Shanna.

No. No. She gets in tonight. I know it. I still have a chance.

But does Shanna need me? Or is she calling because she needs more time? I turn away from Talia and hit the icon to pick up my voicemail.

“Elliott?” Slow, even breathing fills in a long pause. At least she isn’t crying, but something about her voice is off. Could’ve been drinking. It’d explain why Shanna, always so in control, meticulous, careful, would contradict herself and reach out to me when she “needs time.”

“So tonight my mom tricked me, set me up with a guy I went to high school with.” A slight slur, missing beats in her rhythm — maybe tipsy. Doesn’t take much.

“And it was great.”

I stop analyzing and start panicking. My chance is slipping through my fingers. I’ve already lost.

If she’s tipsy enough to call me, she might actually have been drunk enough to do something really, really bad. Or at least bad for me.

“I don’t—” She sighs. “Anyway, if you want it, here’s my flight info.” She rattles off the time, airline and flight number, before another long pause. And then another sigh.

And then Shanna’s gone.

I pull my phone back. Talia breaks into my thoughts. “All right, I think we’ve narrowed down the field to two choices.”

I can’t look away from the voicemail screen and
my
two choices. Delete? Save?

“Elliott?”

“Yeah.” I power off the screen and push the phone into my pocket, forcing the panic and the pressure to the back of my mind. I don’t have time to be devastated. Yet. “What’s up?”

Talia flips the cloned phone around to me. “Kelvin Adams and Marcus Lee. Neither of them show up in the embassy directory, and from the emails we’ve got, Rhodes has had both of them adjust his schedule.”

“Which one’s which?”

She shrugs. “Shockingly, there’s more than one Kelvin Adams and Marcus Lee on the Internet. Didn’t see anybody familiar, though.”

“You checked the whole Internet?”

“Twice.” Smirk. “Now what, Mister Brains-Behind-This-Op?”

Now what, indeed. We’ve narrowed our list to two, but those options are faceless names. Waltzing into the embassy to talk to them doesn’t quite qualify as “covert.”

We need something to tell them apart. Some way to make the real mole show his hand. Something like — “Wait, we’ve got his emails?”

“A few. What was in the cache on his phone.”

“Can we
send
emails as him?”

Talia’s lip curls and she stares at the phone. “If DS&T’s as good as they claim.” The Department of Science & Technology is our real-life Q — and sometimes they’re way better. I’m hoping this standard phone cloning program is one of those times. “What’ve you got in mind?”

Now it’s my lips curling into a smile I can’t stop, and I don’t want to. “Oh, just a way to tell John Doe from Joe Schmoe.”

I let her peer over my shoulder while I fire off short emails with two polar opposite messages to the ambassador’s stoolies.

I’ve given it some thought
, I type in an email to Kelvin,
and we need to talk to the Emiratis
.

Then I write the opposite message to Marcus:
the Canadians and the Emiratis need to reach an agreement on their own
.

Now, when the mole relays the message to the Emiratis, we’ll know who he is from which message he sends. I can tell Talia is impressed by my genius by the way she’s trying so hard not to look impressed. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Shocker: Talia, paranoid.

“We’re not here to interfere in international affairs,” she finishes.

I cast her a sidelong glance. “Oh, aren’t we?” I shake off the teasing tone. “It’s minor. We’re fine.”

“Until the embassy reads these guys’ emails.”

Nah. “By then, this phone will be so long gone they won’t be able to trace it to an American, let alone one of us.”

Talia gives me a look that I think means
you’d better hope so
. “Let’s try not to go down with the guy, okay?”

I roll my eyes. The woman takes suspicion to newfound lows. Neither of us is in danger.

I think.

 

 

Talia takes off to play catch-up with her other job, leaving me to my own devices for the afternoon. I know it’s a Saturday, and the odds of non-emergency diplomatic business getting done on a weekend are almost nil, but there’s still the possibility. Mr. Mole and his Emirati Girlfriend might both find my email important enough to warrant a visit. At least a phone call.

Yep, I’m back in that “plumbing” van, except this time it’s dressed up as Rogers Communications. The vans are ubiquitous enough that I’m not too worried about sticking out, even a couple cars away from the Emirati Embassy entrance.

A cable company on the weekend? Weirder things have happened.

Sometimes, just sometimes, being in the right place at the right time is a matter of hours and hours of patience. In a routine check of the area for security — not going through that again — I see them. I see
it
— our one big break.

An Emirati woman in an abaya walks to the corner across from the embassy, casting a few surreptitious glances around. To see if anyone’s watching her. Anyone like me.

My lungs hold my next breath hostage.

Her gaze passes right over the van.

And I can breathe again. It’s much brighter out than it was at that reception, but she’s a little farther away this time. Despite the distance, I can’t help the feeling this is the same woman I saw fighting with her husband at the party. The mole’s contact.

I scan the area again, like my luck will work out that well. But apparently I’ve taken enough hits this week to bank a stroke of good karma. A little red car slingshots around the corner and parks, and a guy comes sprinting out, holding out something to the woman. A cell phone.

The woman’s head whips around, like someone’s about to swoop in on them. Only electronically, sister. I turn the parabolic mic their direction.

“You need to be more careful,” she whispers.

“And me getting caught carrying your phone around is careful?” His sarcasm carries a New England accent. Same as the guy at the reception? I think so.

She sighs. He clasps her hands for a second, before jogging back to the driver’s seat.

In the van, I make a rush for my phone. If I can get a shot of the guy’s face or license plate — but when I get him in the frame, his little red car disappears around the corner.

Instead, I catch a shot of the woman and send it off to the Company facial recognition server. Good thing she doesn’t wear a niqab over her face. Three seconds later, the woman’s crossing the street to the embassy, and I have my confirmation:
Leyla al-Fulan, UAE citizen, wife of Ibrahim al-Khoori, Dep Ambassador to CAN
.

Yep.

Past the embassy gates, Leyla lifts her phone to her ear. I aim my parabolic mic again, but my language luck doesn’t hold. Rapid-fire Arabic is not my specialty. She ends the call before she reaches the embassy doors.

I double check I’ve got the recording, then sink back into my chair, releasing that hostage breath. Depending on what Leyla said, this might be enough to pin him.

Time to rally the troops. My phone is still in my other hand, and I pull up Talia’s number.

I pause for half a second, the muscles in my shoulders tensing again. We’re fine. Calling in her help isn’t weird, right?

Right. This morning was fine. One little kiss two days ago didn’t change that. We’re okay. But I have to recalculate that conclusion when Talia’s tight-with-tension voice answers: “Hello?”

“You busy?”

“Yeah?”

When is she ever
not
busy? “Is it work? Because I need you.” I wince. I don’t want to sound like a whiny little boyfriend. I’m none of the above. I rush on: “At the Emirati Embassy.”

“Now?” Pause. “Fine, ten minutes.” Her tone clipped, she ends the call setting up a fake meeting for anyone in earshot.

She’s annoyed. I could handle this on my own, but we’re a team. And I do need her. For that much.

Unless, of course, I’ve already screwed everything up.

I shake off my doubts and look back to my phone. With this latest Arabic recording, my team needs at least one more person, since this message has to be for her ears only. I don’t have her number in my phone, so it takes a minute for muscle memory to kick in before I figure it out.

And get her voicemail. Great. “Angela, it’s Elliott. I need you — I need your help. Time sensitive.” I don’t dare say more without a secure line. She’ll figure out what I’m asking.

I end the call and stare at my phone, showing me and Shanna on a beach in Saint John, the sun behind us, reducing us to silhouettes. Maybe there’s still one more person I need to call.

Once again, I end up at voicemail. Is she ignoring me, or does she not have her phone around? “Hey, Shan,” I start, trying to sound casual. But the nerves wear my voice thin around the edges.

“Just calling to let you know I got your flight info.” There’s more to say — a lot more — but how can I say it to a machine? I end the call before I realize I didn’t promise I’d be there.

Do I call back? I don’t have time to decide. My phone chimes with a text message. One spark of hope ignites in my rib cage — until I see it’s from Talia. The spark sputters and dies.

Meet at Jules Morin Park in 20. Bring food.

I think she’s always that clipped, and there’s not enough time to overanalyze. In fact, there’s hardly time for the minimum SDR. I make it — no food — but have to sacrifice another couple minutes walking the slope that rings the park’s ball fields, scanning for her. The smell of grass, the sounds of baseball games, the sun shining, and I’m here for work. Typical.

I don’t spot Talia until she’s already walking toward me. The little white dress from this morning has changed to a little black T-shirt and jean capris, her leather jacket over her arm. She nods a greeting, but she focuses on my hands. “What, no food?”

“What are you, a teenager?”

She scowls. “I barely had time for breakfast this morning, thanks to you, and now you interrupt dinner before I get to eat?” But then she looks away, her cheeks already tingeing pink.

“Conversation number two? Or are things turning out with your Turkmen boyfriend?”

“Mind your own business.” Her tone carries only a little bite.

Much as I’d love to tease her more, one of us has to focus. “Can you describe the guy you saw at the reception?”

“Average height, dark hair, freckles. New Englander accent.”

Sounds like my guy, too. “We might just be in business.”

Talia’s eyes, so busy skimming the field, suddenly snap to mine. “Seriously? He’s fast.”

“Very.” I lead the way back to the van, back to the recordings.

“So which message did he give them?”

And that’s the bad news. “I’m waiting to hear back from Angela. But I’ve got a couple lines in English.”

I cue up the first recording, the American and the Emirati woman on the street. Talia listens intently to the tape, his one little line, her expression grim. “Right accent, at least.”

“Not a lot to go on.”

“It may be enough.” She pulls out her phone, and I know exactly what she’s aiming for.

We don’t just do facial recognition via cell phones. We can do voiceprints, too — but the system isn’t quite as seamless, or as fast. You’d think otherwise, since, you know, phones were kind of
made
to do voices, but it’s easier to enhance a photo than manufacture frequencies that a telephone can’t transmit. Or something like that. I’m sure DS&T would be happy to explain the whole fiasco.

I restart the recording to let Talia capture the guy’s voice, and she gets to work sending the sample to our computers. Then I fast-forward to the Arabic half of the conversation. It’s only been half an hour, but I need to be ready for if —
when
— Angela calls.

BOOK: Mr. Nice Spy
12.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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