Ashley’s mind raced. It was only as an afterthought that she slipped the buds out of her ears, got her cell out and pretended to be taking a call, to give herself an excuse to stop where she was.
Ashley’s principal fear had been an ambush by Northrop’s people. Now it occurred to her that maybe they had something more subtle in mind, replacing the Client’s pickup guy with another man in a gray suit who would make the collection in his place and take the disc right back to Northrop without anyone realizing it until it was too late.
But since there were two such men that obviously hadn’t happened.
Maybe they’d attempted to execute such a plan, and just failed to bring it off completely. Failed to delay the real pick-up man, grab him, do whatever it was they’d hoped to do.
But wouldn’t they have alerted their ringer if that really were the case? What purpose could he serve when the right guy also showed up?
Maybe having the effect he was having on her now, Ashley thought. Seeing two men fitting this description she had hesitated. Maybe they figured she’d come in, see them, be uncertain about which one was supposed to get the disc. They’d have the chance to spot her as she hung there, not sure what to do. If she decided not to make the hand-over, they could try tailing her from there and make a grab for the disc where the Client’s man wouldn’t be able to interfere. And maybe she’d simply see their guy first, or see both guys and pick the ringer instead, so they’d get their disc back without a fight.
With two guys there and each looking equally probable to her they would have a fifty percent chance of getting Northrop’s disc back if she went that route. Yes, she could see someone trying it—
But she also remembered her earlier jumpiness, and it occurred to Ashley that maybe this whole line of thought blazing through her mind was the same thing. It seemed like an incredible coincidence that there could be two men in gray suits with cups of Windjammer’s coffee in this square—but then she knew that almost a hundred thousand people visited the park every day. An average of five thousand people an hour. And there were probably a lot more people than that here in the middle of the day on a Monday, business-suited men on their lunch breaks among them. There could have been dozens of men in gray suits, several of whom could have had a taste for Windjammer’s coffee, and two of whom could easily have crossed her path at the same time by chance.
Suddenly the description she’d been given seemed useless. Making matters worse, she didn’t think the man making the pick-up would be of much help. The Client’s people knew what she looked like, but she was standing here in a wig and sunglasses. The whole point was to make herself harder to spot, and if her efforts to accomplish that actually worked, then she wouldn’t be able to count on him to find her. Which meant it was up to her to take the lead.
Ashley was reluctant to approach either of them, however, even in an oblique way. She stayed on the phone while she studied the two men. First she wondered if the pick-up man could have been in the entourage the Client had with him at the Winchester Hotel, if it was possible that either of these men had been there. Of course, all those dark suits and dark glasses and the shadows and the theatrics in that room hadn’t been conducive to her remembering faces . . . but for what it was worth, she didn’t remember either of them from that meeting, or from anywhere else for that matter.
She fell back on the hope that their behavior would offer her some clue to which of them was supposed to receive her disc. Perhaps one of them was there for a meeting with someone else, and that other person would show up.
Before anything like that could happen, though, Ashley noticed that the second man she noticed—younger and shorter than the first—sat sipping his coffee while the first just held his cup, like that was all he meant to do with it. Maybe he’d already drunk his coffee, and the cup was empty, and he was just holding it because the woman he was meeting was counting on his having such a coffee cup to let her pick him out from the crowd.
That didn’t seem like enough information on which to act, however, and she went on waiting, until the drinker got up, dropped his presumably finished cup in a garbage can just a few feet away from his bench, and walked away, leaving just one gray-suited man at the scene.
Ashley didn’t think that her contact, or someone pretending to be her contact, would just walk away like that. And with just one gray-suited man to think about, well, there was no more point to her earlier worries, was there? It was all just a coincidence, a really irksome one, but a coincidence all the same.
As the second man disappeared from the terrace she ended her “call” and resumed walking toward the remaining Gray Suit. He didn’t so much as look at her, just went on holding his cup as she wordlessly seated herself next to him, then slipped her backpack off her shoulder and turned it around as she settled it in her lap. With one hand hidden by the bulk of the backpack, she extracted the disc from the back pocket and, while using her other hand to unzip the main compartment and get out a water bottle, slipped it toward the man sitting next to her. He took the disc from her with his free hand, using the jacket draped over his arm to cover his part in the action, eliminating the last doubt in her mind about his having been waiting for her.
Ashley opened the bottle, took a drink, capped it, then put it back in the backpack. She picked up the phone as well, then got up and walked away as if carrying on her earlier conversation, studiedly not looking back at the bench or the man who’d been sitting on it. The brush pass had been brief, and hopefully inconspicuous, and she meant to keep it that way.
Ashley continued along Bethesda Drive to the other side of the park, where she put away the phone and restored the ear buds to their earlier place. So arrayed she kept on walking until she hit the second subway station along that route, then returned underground to begin the convoluted reverse of her trip over. Doing so she already felt a great sense of relief, enough so that her earlier worry that that second man had somehow been setting her up started to seem like something she could laugh at.
Still, she made sure that no one was tailing her as she made her way back to the safe house, where once again Logan was waiting for her, visibly more restless than before. Twenty-four hours in this office would have that effect, she supposed. He’d told her about his having endured rather longer stakeouts than that in more claustrophobic surroundings, but she didn’t think his partner had been in such a tight spot during those.
“The hand-off went as planned,” she said to him.
“You’re sure?” Logan asked.
“We’re still waiting on the money.”
“That’s not funny,” Ashley said.
“I’m not trying to be,” Logan said. “See for yourself.”
The account was up on the center screen in his array.
The digits in the box read $0.00.