When Logan was in Central Intelligence there was a lot of talk about the world being divided into competing trading blocs, and industrial espionage among the great economic powers of the day was supposed to be the heart of the new spy game. That was the craft he learned, and went on practicing after leaving government service, for private employers and fatter paychecks, while also finding his way to other things—like the underbelly of the New York art world.
But he never let go of the old contacts, personal connections being everything in his world. Some of those connections had been useful in the past, while some were only potentially so.
Lloyd Withes fell in the latter category.
He had been Logan’s colleague in Paris, way back in Logan’s, and Lloyd’s, first overseas posting. Lloyd had struck him as a personable enough guy who had a tendency to get in over his head. Of course, Logan supposed, that could have been said of just about everyone in their line of work (was the job ever what anyone expected it to be?), but Lloyd had more dramatic troubles than most. Like his getting involved with a woman who turned out to be in the employ of French counterintelligence, just before dozens of American agents in the country were very publicly blown—a blunder which didn’t actually cause that bit of trans-Atlantic rancor, but which would have killed his career if Logan hadn’t helped him keep it quiet. Or the debt he ran up with a knife-obsessed bookie that could have cost him much more than his career—if, again, Logan hadn’t bailed him out through a “creative” use of their operational funds for the “good of the Agency.”
And that was the way it had gone, Logan generally covering for Withes, a perpetual ower of favors in his books. Still, after Logan left Central they kept in touch, exchanging an occasional e-mail, a more occasional phone call, a still more occasional face-to-face when one of them was in the same town as the other.
In the course of those communications and visits Logan learned that Lloyd had also shifted careers a couple of years after he had, leaving overseas case work with Central for an internal security post at the NCO.
Years later a mutual acquaintance told Logan about Lloyd’s sideline. Logan simply filed away the information, and then didn’t think about it until the problem of Harold Northrop’s disc brought it back to the forefront of his mind.
“Who watches the watchmen?” Lloyd had been fond of saying, a line he attributed to some Roman poet Logan had never read, and whom he suspected Lloyd had never read either. It seemed much more likely to him that he’d got the line out of a comic book that had been big when they were young.
“Not just when we were young,” was Lloyd’s retort to that.
Who watches the watchmen? It had the ring of a career plan, one successfully followed by many in the past, but fraught with its own risks, risks which Lloyd seemed ill equipped to face, risks which anyone dealing with him also bore.
But if he really was doing so, he could certainly use his help, and so he left the Fillmore and set off on a roundabout bus trip that led to the door of Lloyd’s condo, which Logan had never visited before.
As it turned out the place had a security guard at the front desk who despite never seeing him before waved him through the glass doors. (Logan liked to think that he just “had one of those faces.“) Past these, looking at the marble-tiled lobby, Logan wondered if Lloyd was being less than discrete with the money he must have been making from the operation. But then Lloyd was living with his girlfriend Justine, and it didn’t seem improbable that the two of them could cover the mortgage together on their regular paychecks alone.
Into the elevator, and up to the twelfth floor. Apartment 12D was the one he was looking for, which was at the south end of the corridor according to the posted sign, so that was the direction he headed in. Walking past apartment A he heard the sound of a television turned up too loud, past C the noises of small children—the sounds of the building waking up.
D was comparatively quiet, but when he knocked the fish eye lens promptly darkened, after which he heard the sounds of one, no, two locks being undone, and a deadbolt being drawn. When the door opened he found Lloyd standing there, wearing a blue robe belted over what he guessed to be the T-shirt and shorts he’d slept in, and a pair of loafers, and looking at him with bleary red-tinged eyes from beneath his unmanageable mop of brown hair. His smell and the lack of stubble on his face indicated he’d showered and shaved, but not accomplished much else, and he still looked very much like a man who found morning the most wrenching time of day.
“Come in,” Lloyd said curtly. “Have a seat.” He motioned toward the center of his living room, which seemed to be centered on a big plasma screen. In front of the TV was a coffee table with three pieces of furniture arranged around it, matching armchairs at each end, a couch situated along the table’s length, all sleek, minimalist, Swedish-type stuff. At the far end was a floor-to-ceiling window letting out onto a balcony that looked down at the street from which he’d come in.
Logan settled on the couch.
“Get you anything? Coffee?”
“Water would be fine.”
Logan popped into the kitchen, which Logan couldn’t see into very well from where he was sitting, and continued looking about himself, noting the cleanness of the place. He guessed that was Justine’s touch, though she didn’t seem to be around at the moment. Maybe she’d already left for work. If so, it would make it easier for them to have their talk.
On the big screen there was a pair of talking heads behind a news desk, a correspondent talking about a bridge collapse in Ohio. The news. The last Logan remembered, Lloyd had preferred the sci-fi reruns on Lerner Network Television.
“If I want news, I’ll read it online,” he’d said.
Maybe that was Justine’s touch too.
When Lloyd came back he had Logan’s water in one hand, a mug of coffee in the other. He gave Logan the glass, then settled into an armchair at the head of the table and sipped at his coffee.
“So,” he said. “How have you been?”
“Can’t complain. You?”
“The same. So, what’s brought you here at this hour?” Without writing or calling to say you’d be in town?
“Your side-business actually,” Logan said.
Lloyd sipped at his coffee thoughtfully. “Does anyone know you’re here?” he asked.
“No.” Ashley knew what he was doing in general terms, but she didn’t know the name or address of the man he was now meeting.
“I have a disc that I need looked at.” Logan produced the disc case from his satchel, the first copy he’d burned from the one Ashley grabbed from Northrop’s office.
“A single file.”
“I see. How big?”
Logan told him. “And that’s just a partial.”
“I see,” Lloyd said. “Any idea about the type of encoding?”
“Just that it’s tough.”
“Any chance you could tell me the source?”
“I’m afraid the information’s not mine to give.”
That didn’t please Lloyd, but it couldn’t have been the first time he’d heard that.
“All right,” he said. “You know how this goes. The longer we work on it, the better our chances.”
“Do whatever you can for forty-eight hours, max, then set up the meet and bring whatever progress you make along,” Logan said. “After that we’ll decide where to go from there, depending on the kind of progress you make.”
“How do I get back to you?” Lloyd asked.
Logan spelled out an e-mail address, a purely random letter and number combination for him to commit to memory.
“Send me a message, anything at all, from any account, just so long as you sign ‘Lyle’ and name a meeting place in downtown,” Logan said. “I’ll be there within an hour.”
“All right. Two hundred k. Fifty percent up front, after which we get to work. The other fifty percent when you get the goods.”
Ashley would not be thrilled with those terms, but Logan had been prepared for worse. “Done,” he said, and then headed home, retracing his route back except for a stop at a Windjammer’s to pick up coffee and muffins for breakfast.