Finder’s Keeper – Part Twelve
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
As the Irish Rail train pulled out of Clara, I looked at the group of women in our first-class car, all involved in their hellos of relief at their temporary safety, and shook my head. Too many targets. One or two was going to be an issue. Three – including a kid? That was stretching it. But six? What the hell is the Boss thinking? I looked over at him. Tomas had a grin on his face like it was Christmas morning. Or like he’s forgotten our sitch. I think he’s overlooking other significant issues, like the goons about to pounce on us. I sighed. This is where I get to earn my paycheck. I turned around and settled into a seat facing the door back to the next train car.
Tomas disengaged himself from the family scrum and dropped himself into the seat opposite me. He handed me a paper cup. Coffee, black. “I know you asked for Bushmills, but it’s been a long day, and we need to stay alert.”
“I’m aware.” My stare didn’t leave the door. “We have no guarantee Lonnie’s team didn’t make it on the train before it pulled out.”
There was a brief silence, then the Boss sighed. “Cheer up, Louis. You should be pleased.”
“How do you figure?”
“Mr. al-Mansouri asked us to find his daughter, and we did. We succeeded and in record time. The bonus will be quite nice.”
My gaze shifted over. My voice tightened into a growl. “Really? Is that how you see it, Tomas?”
Vee, ever alert, tried to warn me off. “Louis, stay calm.” I reached up and pulled out my earwig, then dropped it in my pocket. I was not in the mood for my own little cricket right then.
I fixed the Boss with the hardest stare I had in my arsenal, on that should have told him my bull tolerance meter was maxed out. “How long?”
“You heard me. How long had you known the truth about the sisters?”
Tomas held up both hands. “I assure you, I knew nothing—“
I cut him off with a slash of my hand. “You get that one. Only that. One more and I pull the emergency call, walk off this train, and you never see me again.”
“Don’t ‘Louis’ me. You made me a promise. Whatever games you might use to solve a client’s dilemma you would never work on me. Only that wasn’t true this time. You’ve played me, and I don’t like being played. Not on a case like this.” I looked back over my shoulder at the two small children on the floor of the car. “Especially a case like this.”
The Boss studied me for a moment as if measuring his choices. “Louis. I misjudged,” he said finally. “I was trying to protect you. I apologize and hope you can forgive me. I should have been more open about my knowledge in the case. Part of it was the awkward position I was placed in.”
“What, by Manny showing up?”
The Boss grinned at that. “You know, I’ll bet Miller hates you being that familiar with his client.”
“Considering he sent a team with a whole butt load of guns into a country skittish about them since the days of the IRA and aimed them at me, we’ll call the scales balanced.”
“Noted. But we need to keep feelings out of this if we’re going to think our way out of this. Watkins, Glen, and Miller will have resources, reach, and resolve.”
“I hate when you get alliterative. Obviously, you knew about these two and chose to keep me in the dark. Does Vee know?”
“Not everything yet.”
I whistled. “You think I’m pissed? Wait until you tell her the whole truth. So what twigged you?”
“As soon as the firm sent the single word to set up the meeting – Marwan. I knew it had to be about the girls. We’ve been in touch all along. They contacted me just before they had decided to go off-grid from their father.”
Tomas took a sip of his smoothie and sat back. “Yes. Ariana and Isabeau went to Paris for university, but they’d become estranged from their father over that time. Exposure to ideas, different culture,” he paused and looked over at the blind woman, “and a lifestyle change.”
“Yeah, I kind of picked up on that. Ariana is defiantly protective of her. But I think you’re going to have to draw me a chart as to who partnered with whom, when they did, which child is whose—“ I trailed off as the Boss shook his head. “Okay, I know that look. What did I miss?”
“The children. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”
Yeah, well, kids do tend to be a blind spot of mine. Ariana said her child was named Raven. I turned around and looked again. And looked twice.
I couldn’t tell the children apart.
I closed my eyes and swore. This just keeps getting better by the second. “Okay, Boss, someone needs to go to a casino. They hit the genetic lottery twice.”
“True. An identical twin having twins is unusual.”
I turned back and looked at him. “It wasn’t Ariana, was it?”
“Your instincts are good. The children are Isabeau’s.”
I started putting connections together in my mind. “Then why would Ariana lie?” The words were barely out of my mouth when I knew the answer. “She was trying to protect her sister. No idea who I was.” I put both hands on the sides of my head and rubbed my temples. “I can’t even begin to keep this straight.”
“It’s simple, Louis. Both girls went to Paris, where Ariana now bats for the other team and met her lovely Belgian friend with the white cane.”
“Meanwhile, somewhere along the way Isabeau somehow picked up a pair of children – am I to assume manufactured the old-fashioned way?”
“That would be a correct assumption.”
More wheels turning. “Since I don’t see the father here in the car, should I surmise that’s an element of our problem.”
“Agreed. I am aware that Miller used us as a stalking horse to flush Ariana and Isabeau out of hiding. In that, they’ve succeeded.”
“So anyone else in their lives is potential leverage – like the father of those twins, or any of Jennifer’s relatives or… who is that other young woman?”
“Isabeau’s college roommate, Amelie. She’s been functioning as an au pair to the twins.”
Huh. And I always thought au pairs were only an American thing. Go fig. “Boss, my gut tells me these other ladies are collateral. The target is Isabeau’s beau.”
There was a jolt, and the train’s brakes squealed. Bright lights appeared outside the drawn shades. Tomas glanced out the window. “Tullamore Station. First stop on the way to Dublin.”
“How many more do we have?”
“Five. About an hour’s travel.”
A determined enemy can make a lot of mischief in an hour. I got up and headed to the exit. “Stay here and watch that door. If anyone comes in, please handle them.”
“But of course.”
As the train slowed, we slid past a crowd on the platform. No one was in the first class boarding area, courtesy of the Boss’ deep pockets. Our expense account was going to take a hit on this trip to be sure. As we inched to a stop, I hit the button to open the door, then pulled out my phone and put it in selfie mode. I angled the screen so the camera gave me an image back along the platform of the passengers getting on and off.
I hate it when I’m right.
Three cars back, Lonnie got off. Two more operatives joined her, new ones I hadn’t spotted before. Things Six and Seven, check and check. The two mercs were moving toward the rear of the train when Lonnie reached for her ear, turned and pointed toward the front. My car. They came running in my direction.
This can’t be good. I slid the door closed and used my telescoping baton to smash the actuator, then drew down the shade before the mercs arrived. They banged on the door and cracked the safety glass, but didn’t make it through before the whistle blew and the. Best I figured, they’d be boarding the car behind us and looking to make their way forward as soon as they could.
But how did they know we were here? It hit me. Vee was tracking our movements from inside the Water Tower, but she was also working inside the servers at Watkins, Glenn, and Miller, looking for information. What if her hack had been discovered and someone was riding piggyback on the connection to look at our systems? They’d be able to tell what we knew – including the current location of Tomas, me, and the al-Mansouri twins. It was a stretch, but it was the best answer I had.
I fished my earwig out of my pocket and put it in place, then reactivated it. “Vee, come in. We’ve got an issue.”
“You think so Shutting me off like that? I’ve got half a mind—“
“Shelve it, Vee. You’re not alone. I think you’re getting hacked.”
“Excuse me? I don’t get hacked.”
“There’s a first time for everything.” I laid out my suspicions, explaining how Lonnie somehow knew we were in First-Class car.
“How long is the stretch to the next station? ”
“By the schedule, your ETA is nineteen minutes.”
“Plenty of time for her to organize an attack. And me with the human version of Noah’s Ark here.”
“Long story. Just everything comes in two, and lots of fruitful multiplying.”
“Okay Louis, you’re right, it’s a crappy situation. What’s our play?”
I almost choked. “Our play? You’re asking me?”
“Who else? Tomas is dealing with the twins, and I can’t rightly fight from here. “
That’s Vee. Straight to the point, like a jumper from the top of the key. Okay, time for nothin’ but net. “For now, we keep moving, although I’d like to stay away from wherever Miller and company are trying to herd us to.”
“What about your visitors?”
“I’m making this up—“
“I know the cliché. Just do better than that.”
Ouch. Vee was right, I needed to be at my best, and it had already been too long since I’d seen anything like sleep. One cup of coffee was not going to cut it.
So, time for a second cup. This is a first-class car, it had to have some sort of kitchen arrangement. After all, Tomas came up with that cup from somewhere. Sure enough, there was a galley and a few of those cup-at-a-time makers. As I had one brew me some joe, I figured out a half-dozen possible upgrades to my weaponry from the available items.
As the train sped up, I poked my head out and looked down the aisle. “Boss, hope you have a plan C.”
“What’s our situation?”
“Like it or not, next stop is our stop. I expect a breach attempt in transit. We have three on the train in pursuit, including Lonnie. Someone must be feeding them intel in real-time. They identified our location in this car. I was about to play Horatio at the Bridge at the last stop, but luckily we pulled out of the station before that became necessary. ”
Tomas checked his watch. “We’ve still got seventeen minutes until Portarlington.”
I blinked. “If you say so. Again, if need be we can hit the emergency call, but we’re still going to end up herding cats.” I looked down the aisle. “There are only three operatives, but I don’t know what weapons they’ll have. They could disable us with gas, or use some other technique, including claiming to the Irish Garda we’re a security threat.”
“Louis, I’m depending on you. We need to buy time until we can get off the train at the next station.”
“I’m open to suggestions, Boss.”
“Be creative. I’ll get the women together at the far end of the car. You secure the door.“ Tomas headed to start moving his group back and prepping his own line in the sand. Me, I was about to up against an angry buzz saw with nothing more than a stick in my hand.
I’ve faced worse.
I slammed back the last of the joe, black and scalding. Tossed aside the paper cup, stood facing the rear door, baton at my side and ready to use.
Someone stepped up beside me. I glanced over. Ariana had her bow strung, and an arrow nocked. “It seems you can do nothing without me, or that ridiculous hat.”
“I liked that hat. It had character—”
A blinding white light flared around the edgings of the door. It traced the outline for a few seconds. Then the door fell inward, raising a cloud of smoke and dust. Through that cloud strode Lonnie and her team. She sneered and said, “Knock, knock.”