At the Cordell they stuck with the same routine they’d practiced at the Fillmore, keeping to their room at the hotel, forgoing such comforts as the rooftop pool that got such admiring mentions in the tour guides and the twenty-four hour fitness center, and quietly getting their meals from other locations.
Tuesday morning, after Ashley picked up breakfast (coffee and French toast sticks for herself, orange juice and a bran muffin—“Blueberry if they’ve got it,” which they did—for Logan) she went into her room and transcribed her conversation with de Ruyter into a computer file manually, typing the words herself rather than trusting to a voice-recognition program. Then she went out into the sitting area and, since Logan was working on his laptop at the table in the room, settled on the couch and started reading every selection in their decrypt of Northrop’s disc that mentioned de Ruyter.
Again, Ashley was stymied by the incompleteness of the decryption, and the redundancy and obliqueness of the text. However, she did see a number of references to de Ruyter and Mackelvore close together on the same page, a couple in the same paragraph, reinforcing her suspicion that the two had been connected.
“Have you found anything that might help us approach him?”
“You mean leverage?” Logan asked.
“Maybe one thing. Ever heard of Emily Madewell?”
“The dating site?”
“The dating site for married people looking for ‘discrete’ affairs,” Logan said. “I found an e-mail indicating the username and password for his account there.”
That did sound like potential leverage to Ashley. “Well, let’s check it out.”
Logan brought up the site on his laptop.
“Did you ever try it?” Ashley asked. “You know, online dating?”
“No.” The site challenged them for a password, and Logan started typing away.
“Me either.” At eighteen, at twenty, there just hadn’t seemed the need. Then there had been Julian, and then after Julian . . .
“And we’re in,” Logan said. “Check out the profile.”
Ashley looked at the photos first. Light brown hair, blue eyes. Thin, not just in the sense that he wasn’t carrying surplus flesh on his bones, but also that the bones carrying that flesh were thin. Ashley wouldn’t have called him handsome exactly, but those bones did give him the delicate features she’d come to associate with people whose backgrounds included prep schools and country clubs. They also helped the forty-four year old Mackelvore look a young forty-four.
But then Ashley noticed that the suit he was wearing in one photo looked a few seasons out of date. She blew up the photo, confirming the impression, and then wondered if it wasn’t an older picture, and what that old picture might have been intended to conceal.
She minimized the photo after that and read what he had to say about himself. Mackelvore emphasized his M.D. from Pacific Coast University (on the theory that women liked doctors and graduates of elite universities, she guessed). He also made his work for the non-profits sound like part of a deep commitment to research and its potential to alleviate human misery (on the theory that the prestige attached to medical research would translate to him, and perhaps also that women liked do-gooders).
He styled himself an athlete to boot, mentioning his having captained the football team back when he was at Taylor Prep (“He wasn’t even water boy,” Logan said), and his black belt in mixed martial arts (“He quit that McDojo after two months, hasn’t walked into another since”).
“He likes to impress,” Ashley said. “How long has he had this account?”
“Does it look like his first try at this kind of thing?” There were other sites. And of course, he might have sought old-fashioned, offline affairs before taking his search into cyberspace.
“If he did, he’s taken the trouble to cover it up,” Logan said. “At least from this end of things.”
“But not what he’s been doing since?”
“No. There are some e-mails in a hidden folder here.”
“Do they say if he’s actually hooked up with anyone?”
“Some e-mails indicate meetings. But his profile says he’s still looking.”
He probably wasn’t looking for anything long-term.
“Can you trace any of the messages the women sent to him back to their profiles?”
They checked the pages of the three women, looked over their pictures and personal statistics—Jennifer Howells, Sharon Connors, Laura Pearson. Their heights varied, as did their body types. Jennifer was clearly on the slim side, Sharon rather curvier, but there were commonalities among them. One was that they were all brunettes. (Unlike his wife Whitney, who was blond.) Another was that the women were rather younger. Sharon, the oldest of the three, was still a good decade younger than him at the age of thirty-four. (Given the wig that Ashley already had handy, and the difficulty she would have had pretending to be a woman Mackelvore’s own age, that all struck her as promising.) And they were all conventionally pretty, with delicate features and large eyes. (Ashley got her compact out of her purse and critically examined herself in its mirror. With her bone structure she supposed that she could pass for Jennifer’s sister.)
Ashley thought that it would have helped greatly to understand his motivation in using the site, what he was looking for from it, if it was just sex, or something more. She wondered about the state of his marriage. Did the relocations of the last dozen years put a strain on their relationship? His wife had been in PR originally, worked as a party planner now. Was she happy in her career? If she wasn’t happy, did she blame him, blame all the moves? What about his relationship with his children, Todd Jr. and Margot? At that age kids were liable to be difficult, and having to pick up and leave familiar places and familiar friends for new ones couldn’t possibly help.
And what about Todd the lover, as opposed to Todd the husband? Was he a man to whom female companionship came easily? Given how his appearance underwhelmed her, and his propensity for puffing himself up, she didn’t think so, but he may have perceived those things differently. She supposed that could make all the difference, since his self-image was hugely important for their purposes.
She would have to work out all that, but it didn’t do to rush the process, and the fact remained that she’d never even heard of Todd Mackelvore a mere twenty-four hours earlier. Besides, given the potential complications involved in meeting people online, she supposed people tended to be cautious about everything from exaggeratedly attractive profiles to predators on the prowl, especially when the meetings were illicit.
Ashley was also quite conscious of not knowing the rules of this particular game. Knowing the etiquette of this particular web site might make the difference between success and failure—
“You’re thinking about kidnapping Mackelvore,” Logan said.
“What if I am?” Ashley asked. “Is that so crazy?”
“We didn’t even talk about doing that with de Ruyter.”
“And that didn’t work out like I hoped. And . . .”
“You think Mackelvore’s the key to this whole thing?”
“He’s the link between de Ruyter and the financiers of the project. So yeah.”
“And you’re thinking we could get to him through here?”
“It’s an old ploy, but it works, right?”
“Under the right circumstances,” Logan said. “And I don’t think this qualifies. That’s the kind of thing that should be done by a large team. Not two people already on the run.”
“I think we can make it work,” Ashley said.
“How? Tell me what you have in mind.”
“I was thinking that I can approach him through the site under a different name, pretend to be interested—”
“And you arrange a meeting. A honey trap, with you as the honey. The more you tell me, the less I like it.” He sighed. “Then what? We’ll need a suitable safe house, a place we can get him into and out of without being seen or disturbing the neighbors, and you know that’s not easy to do. Another car, to get him there.
“Then once you’ve got him, there’s the problem of getting him to talk. Maybe he’ll be so vulnerable then that you can just intimidate or blackmail him into talking, but maybe he won’t, and you’ll have to get tougher than that. Just how far are you willing to go?”
“I’ve heard about truth serums,” Ashley said.
That was all she would do. For now. Even if this man and the rest of his party hadn’t had any qualms about going further than that with her, entering into her brain and . . .
It was all she would do.
“Heard about them, but don’t know very much about them, I’m guessing?” Logan asked.
“No. I was hoping you had.”
“I do. Enough to know that none of them is perfect, either, or we’d see them used a lot more than we do. Enough to know they’re not easy to come by either, for obvious reasons.
“Are you starting to see why I’m less than enthusiastic about this idea?”
“Yes, but . . . I don’t see anything here that’s a deal-breaker,” Ashley said. “I mean, we’ve done other, comparable things . . .”
Things that hadn’t all gone perfectly well, she remembered, if she’d ever forgotten. Or they wouldn’t have been in a hotel room in Atlanta having this conversation. And Logan must have been thinking the same thing. But he didn’t say so. Yet.
“This is the only way we’re going to find out what we need to know,” Ashley said.
“So you’re determined to do this.”
Ashley got the feeling that Logan wasn’t done yet, that he had objections he hadn’t aired. Perhaps they were not all operational in nature, she thought. Maybe Logan had baggage about this kind of thing from an earlier job gone bad. Maybe the way she meant to approach Mackelvore was an issue. She thought again of all those times when he’d reminded her of a harried father.
“All right,” he relented.
“So we’re doing this?”
“I’m committing to helping you plan it,” Logan said. “Not to going through with it. If this turns out to be unworkable, that’s it, we let this idea go and try to come up with something else.”
Ashley knew that it was as much as she would get out of him, and that she wouldn’t be able to bring this off without him. So she agreed and they got started.
“As far as the drugs go, I’ve heard about something that might do the job,” Logan allowed. “No taste, smell, color or immediate side effects. And afterwards he won’t remember a thing. If it works as advertised. But we know better than to assume that.”
Ashley remembered that drug de Ruyter injected her with after his people botched their experiment on her. He’d thought she wouldn’t remember a thing too.
That didn’t put her off this idea, though.
“I don’t suppose you know how to come by some?” Ashley asked.
“I do know a guy,” Logan said, “but he isn’t based anywhere around here. We’d be pretty far out of his way.”
“We could make it worth his while to take a trip,” Ashley said.
“We’ll have to if that’s the option we go with,” Logan said.
But in line with all that he’d told her, Logan meant to do his homework first. He got on the phone and on the computer and conned the credit card companies into letting him look at Mackelvore’s files, which didn’t indicate his spending on any health products more exotic than over-the-counter vitamins. He then used the information from those files to get in touch with Mackelvore’s physician’s secretary, whose revelations did not include conditions that would lead to the complications worrying him.
“We can’t be completely sure,” Logan said when he was all done. “Maybe he’s got an undiagnosed condition, for instance. Maybe the chemists missed something, and we’ll end up discovering some whole new problem with their work at exactly the wrong time. But I think we’ve done all we can do.”
“All right,” Ashley said. “Now what?”
“Now we make some logistical decisions. Do we have my guy bring the goods to us in Chicago?”
Ashley didn’t think the deal would send up a red flag the way running the Project Athena file through the NCO’s computers had. But that wasn’t necessarily the only thing for which the people after them were watching. They may have been hitting up their every associate, buying or bullying cooperation out of them. And they both knew that they couldn’t take anyone’s silence on the matter for granted.
But she wasn’t going to give Logan another chance to try to talk her out of it.
“Tell them to visit us down here,” Ashley said.
In the event that their order was leaked it seemed safer to give away their present location than the place to which they were headed next. Hopefully without too much luck they’d already be on their way out of town before the bad guys showed.