“Barkeep, freshen up the lady’s drink,” the man added in the tone of one who rather liked giving orders. “And a scotch for me. Neat.”
The bartender acknowledged him with a nod and then silently saw to both orders as Ashley studied the speaker of those words, now settling onto the bar stool next to hers. He was wearing a gray suit and a blue tie, loosely knotted, a coat draped over his arms, the fabric and cut of each testifying not just to money, but to a well-honed taste in such matters. They also indicated that he’d come straight to the bar from work, and she supposed he’d told his wife that he was still there.
Not the only lie he’d told about tonight’s meeting, she thought. Five-eleven, his profile said under height, but he was as tall as she was in flats, shorter than she was in the heels she was wearing now. More like five-eight, max. More significantly, his hairline had retreated up his skull quite a way from what she’d seen in the profile picture, and much more of what hair he did have was gray, confirming her guess that it was some years out of date. She guessed, too, from the belly that the elegant suit jacket didn’t fully conceal, and the way his clothes generally hung on him, that just as he hadn’t really played high school football, he didn’t jog or swim or play so much tennis as his profile claimed, let alone keep up with the training of a “mixed martial arts master.”
Not such a young forty-four at all, but without looking much more distinguished, which combined with the now obvious weakness of his chin to make him appear less intelligent than he had before.
“Your picture didn’t do you justice,” Todd said.
“Thank you. Neither did yours,” Ashley said, then took another small sip of her refilled drink, just for appearance’s sake, striving to sustain that image of two sophisticated people enjoying a sophisticated conversation in the sophisticated place that the bar of the Trilby Hotel was supposed to be.
Sophisticated or not, Mackelvore gave no sign of remembering her from anything before she contacted him. Not that he should have. Again, she’d been one test subject of many, and as one of the project’s money men he may not have been involved enough in such things to have ever seen her picture. But this still reassured her that he hadn’t been warned about her coming. That perhaps her and Logan’s pursuers did not expect them to come this way, and had not yet flung the net so wide as to involve someone like Todd. And he didn’t show any wariness of her, which made what was going to follow that much easier.
Sitting with Mackelvore, speaking to him, Ashley was quite conscious of not being attracted to him. But she’d also outgrown the tendency to malign the existence of sexuality in a man she didn’t personally find attractive as “creepy,” and she put on as good a show as she could of making him think his interest was well received, and the feeling mutual. She laughed at his jokes, even though the sadistic streak in his sense of humor appalled her (and he just wasn’t much good at telling jokes, period), and appeared very interested in the things he had to say when he was more serious (inane as his idea of “serious” was), and in general pretended to be very impressed by this man who left her less and less impressed the more she saw of him. (Todd, she decided, was a frat boy who never grew up, and she’d already been done with frat boys at twenty.)
For his part Todd gave every sign of buying the whole performance, getting looser, getting bolder as the evening went on, with the scotches helping, and Ashley encouraging him to keep drinking them.
“Let’s go back to my place,” Ashley said when the time seemed right. To that big empty apartment where they would be alone together and he could almost certainly get what he was looking for.
“Let’s,” he said with a big smile on his face.
“Take my car?”
She’d worried he might be of one of those men who insisted on driving, but clearly he didn’t mind her being at the wheel. In fact, he sounded like he wouldn’t have minded just about anything he could picture her doing now, which was so much the better.
Todd paid their tab and then they walked to her car, which was parked on the second level of the multi-story garage two blocks from the hotel. During the walk across a thousand feet of the kind of megacity nighttime bustle Ashley hadn’t seen since Manhattan, she didn’t see anyone keeping pace with them. In the garage she didn’t notice anyone lurking near her vehicle, standing about in the shadows or sitting in some nearby car, waiting, either. Reasonably confident that they were alone, she took the wheel while he dropped into the passenger seat and strapped himself in, looking very pleased with himself.
There would be no better time to act than this, Ashley knew. She discretely got the syringe out of the case in her purse, while Logan’s instructions about how to use it went through her mind again.
“Just jab him in the thigh,” he said.
“Just like that?” Ashley asked.
“Just like that.”
Ashley would have preferred to put something in Todd’s drink, but if she fumbled the job inside that crowded bar, with the barkeep just two feet away from her, there would be witnesses, and if his body didn’t react in the predicted way there wouldn’t be anywhere to fall back. And so the syringe in her palm Ashley turned close to Todd and leaned toward him, making him lean toward her, expecting a kiss. What she gave him instead was that needle punching through the fabric of his trousers and the skin underneath.
Ashley’s body instantly tensed, like she was going to have a fight on her hands. Maybe Todd’s body wasn’t going to react the way they expected, maybe Logan’s friend had just brought the wrong stuff, maybe—
But then Todd’s eyes closed and his body went slack.
As soon as Ashley confirmed that he was out, and checked again to make sure that no one was standing outside her car, looking in through the windows, she went through his pockets. She saw that Todd had no gun on him, or any other weapons. Just a cell phone, which she smashed, just in case any attempt was made to track it. And a wallet, the contents of which she scrutinized with a pen light. There was a hundred and fifty dollars in cash in various denominations. The usual IDs, and a couple of credit cards. Condoms, several of them. In another pocket he had the keys to his Mercedes.
She put all these things in her car’s glove compartment, and then looked at him lying there. She had considered restraining him, but if someone saw him tied up there would be questions, and so it seemed safest just to hope he stayed unconscious until they got back to the safe house.
Which made it imperative that she get back as quickly as possible. But not at the price of the necessary precautions. While making their plans Ashley had been tempted not to take the car all the way back to the safe house, changing vehicles before then. But the plan was already complicated enough as it was, especially with just her and Logan to execute it.
So she drove for the garage’s exit, not seeing anyone follow her, not meeting any resistance on her way out. Driving close to the curb she paused momentarily by a trash can to toss the remains of Todd’s cell out her window, then put her Audi through a few unnecessary turns to make certain she wasn’t being followed. Convinced no one was tracking her she headed back to the safe house, all the while dreading an accident, a cop, anything that would force her to stop, bring attention to her. Or a traffic jam or some other delay that would cause them to both still be in the car when the effects of the drug she’d injected him with faded. Or, despite Logan’s assurances, the chemical in Todd’s system reacting with the alcohol he’d drunk in some untoward way (so that she checked his breathing and pulse at every opportunity). None of those complications occurred, though, and Ashley pulled into the safe house’s gate right on schedule.