“That was a violation of our agreement,” he said.
“We didn’t ‘agree’ to anything,” Ashley reminded him. “You pushed the job on me. And then just as I should have known all along, the job went bad. And I had to start exploring my options.
“So I made a partial copy of the disc. That was all there was time for. Exclusively as a way of protecting myself. No betrayal was ever intended.”
“And then when you saw this partial copy, what did you do?”
“I got the disc decrypted—”
Little as she could see of the Client’s face, something about it made her stop in mid-sentence. His somehow apparent anger that she had not only taken a look at the goods, as she’d been specifically told not to do, but had gone and involved still others in this affair.
“Go on,” he told her, his composure completely recovered. Perhaps he’d reminded himself that he couldn’t trust a single thing she said.
“I wound up with a partially decrypted copy,” Ashley said. “I didn’t have a clear picture of what was going on, and so I started trying to fill in the gaps.”
“I see,” he said. “Let us assume, for now, that this was all just as you say. That you recognized that, through no fault of your own, I had not received the disc, blamed you, and was sending my people out to . . . see about the matter.
“Your conduct was, of course, motivated by the fact that you had no way to prove your innocence in this matter. After all these weeks of ‘investigation,’ has that changed at all? Can you offer any actual proof that you were not involved in the murder of Mr. Colby?”
Ashley thought of her alternative theory of how Harold Northrop’s people got their hands on the disc. That the leak had been on his own end. That very likely he’d been betrayed by a member of his own staff who was privy to his plan to get Northrop’s disc, perhaps one of the very people in the room with them. But she knew how that would sound given her position, especially when she didn’t have a shred of specific evidence to back up such a charge.
Ashley decided to try another tack.
“I have repeatedly been attacked while going about the investigation,” Ashley said. “In Charleston, South Carolina, and then again in Mahony, Illinois, before coming here.” She wouldn’t mention Baltimore if she could avoid it because it was Logan who was attacked and pursued then, and she saw no reason to mention him if she could help it.
“Were any of your people involved in such incidents?” she asked the Client.
“No, they were not. What significance am I to attribute to them?”
“Proof of Harold Northrop’s hostility toward me, which continued after his recovery of the disc,” Ashley said.
“Demonstrating that you had not been working for him?”
The note of doubt in the Client’s voice when he said that made Ashley realize that hers was not an airtight argument. She could have been working for Northrop at one point, and then seen him turn on her. As the silence dragged, she was sure the Client was thinking the same thing. But it still seemed better than nothing.
“Were these incidents public enough to leave any sort of record?” he asked.
“Almost certainly,” Ashley said, then proceeded to lay out the details for him. The shootings in Hammett Park, the attack on the house in Mahony.
“We will look into those incidents then,” the Client said. “Is that all?”
“There is one more thing,” Ashley admitted. “Like I said, I have a partial decrypt of the file on the disc. I also have testimony from three people who were involved in the research component of Project Athena, at various levels. I am sure it is not everything that you hoped to get when you brought me into this, but the material might still be of interest to you. You can have it.”
Again there was a pause that left Ashley anxiously awaiting the Client’s reaction. But this time it was because she thought that he might seriously be considering her offer.
“That may indeed be worth something,” he conceded. “Did you have any of these things on your person when my people picked you up?”
“The three interviews are saved on the audio recorder,” Ashley said.
The Client gestured to one of his people, who brought him the item, enabling him to scan the display.
“These three files are those interviews?” he asked.
“Who were the interviews with?”
“Dr. Sebastian de Ruyter, who directed a major research program on behalf of Project Athena; Todd Mackelvore, who oversaw that program’s funding from inside the Tom Galt Memorial Fund; and Dr. Anthony Vieira, who was scientific advisor to the Company.
“Actually, talking to Mackelvore was why I was in Chicago. I came to Mexico to see Dr. Vieira.”
Ashley wondered if he knew enough about the program for these names to mean anything to him.
“I will have to verify all this,” he said. He could check the dates on which the files were created against her whereabouts and the whereabouts of her “interviewees” on the same days, even get the voices matched.
“What about the other item, however, that partial decrypt?” he asked.
“I don’t have it. But I can get it for you today.”
“With my people accompanying you, of course,” he said.
That seemed less than ideal to Ashley, knowing that she would have to lead them back to Logan to do that, and wanting to avoid that if it was at all possible.
“That’s one possibility,” Ashley allowed. “Another’s that I can have someone bring it.” But he wouldn’t want any friends of hers coming here to his hotel room, would he? “They can leave it for your people at a drop,” she added.
That same silence again.
“Make the arrangements,” he said.
Granite Face gave Ashley back her cell phone. She wrote Logan a text, sent it off, and worried that he wouldn’t answer, couldn’t answer. That Northrop’s people had got to him, that any of a dozen very plausible and very bad things had happened in the time since she’d last seen him.
But then she got a text back from him.
HEY, WHERE ARE YOU? YOU JUST DIDN’T SHOW UP.
Was it possible he was still waiting near that bus stop? No matter. She was all right now, and a possible way out of this mess was in sight, which meant that the short version best suited the situation.
I’VE HAD A RUN-IN WITH THE CLIENT’S PEOPLE.
I NEED YOU TO MAKE A DROP.
THEY WANT THE DISC.
Ashley read the message over, decided it would do, then hit the send button and waited, wondering how Logan would respond. This was a big development, fraught with ambiguities in any circumstances—and he was getting her news in text form, which must have made it seem all the more unreal, all the more uncertain. Maybe she should have just called, Ashley thought, but she didn’t want to speak in front of these people if she could help it.
Still, it wasn’t more than half a minute before she had his next message:
IT’S THE DEAL I’VE JUST MADE. TO WRAP THINGS UP.
Or so she hoped. The first time she met the Client she suspected he was capable of many things, but that he was not out to cheat her. Somehow, even after being kidnapped and hauled here before him to face his inquisition, she still didn’t think he meant to do so. But it was far from clear what would satisfy him. If the goods weren’t what he expected–-
But she didn’t see any other way out of his hotel room.
She kept on watching her phone for Logan’s reply. When it finally came it was an offer to leave the disc in a green cloth bag on the bench at the entrance to Diaz Park in an hour’s time. Ashley relayed it to her captor, who looked at his people.
“That would be fine,” he allowed.
Ashley let Logan know that the Client accepted those terms. The man on her right held out his hand to take back her cell phone, and his boss nodded to her to comply. So she gave him back the phone for the time being, and felt that much more anxious about what she’d asked Logan to do. It seemed all too possible that her captor wasn’t content just to get the disc, meaning to have his people try to grab Logan too.
The Client signaled Granite Face to lower his head and whispered something to him too quietly for her to hear. Granite Face nodded, walked past her, and then Ashley heard the hotel room’s door open and shut. She guessed that he was the one he was sending to retrieve the disc.
The Client then had his people fetch a pair of ear buds, which he used to listen to the recordings on her device. She was unable to tell what he thought of them, and wondered if he would pause at any point to ask her a question. He did not, apparently listening to all three recordings back to back without saying a word. She knew that he was still continuing the interrogation that way, just getting his answers from her possessions rather than her words.
Still, it didn’t seem too much to hope that these items would bolster her story about what she’d been doing since New York. Not that he showed any sign of thinking so when he finally took the ear buds off. He simply sat there silently, still appearing to watch her, while she continued to stew. Because that was all she was able to do, because that was all he meant for her to do here in his suite, a show of hospitality not part of his technique in handling her today.
Ashley thought of how at home the Client seemed in this suite, the size of his entourage. She’d only arrived in Mexico that morning. How could he have known she would be here?
Maybe he’d known she was coming to see Vieira, somehow. But if that was the case, why all the games? Granted, an able interrogator was careful about revealing what they knew, and this interrogator was especially hard to read behind his absurd façade, but she suspected he really didn’t know what her plans were. Especially if it wasn’t his people who came after her in Baltimore and Chicago . . .
A knock on the suite’s door interrupted Ashley’s thoughts. The door opened, after which she heard footsteps—just one pair of them, to her relief. It was Granite Face who came into view then, with a green cloth bag in his hand.
The Client took the bag, looked in it and extracted a disc case. Then he called for his laptop, which was promptly brought to him. He rested it on his knees, took the disc out of its case and slipped it into the laptop’s tray, then focused his attention on the screen.
A minute passed, then two, then ten without his saying anything, or his largely obscured face giving anything away.
But he did eventually look up from the screen.
“I hired you to recover a disc from Harold Northrop’s office,” he said. “I am now convinced that you fulfilled your obligation. Now I will fulfill mine.”
He nodded to one of his people, who handed back her cell phone, her purse, her IDs, her money, the energy bars and the water bottle, the green bag. She was even given the Taser and the case with the syringe containing the truth serum.
The digital recorder stayed with them, along with the disc. But she could live with that, Logan having copies of her exchanges with de Ruyter and Mackelvore not just on his computer, but saved in a number of online accounts he had assured Ashley were secure. And the conversation with Vieira was still relatively fresh in her memory; she wouldn’t forget anything essential before she got the chance to write it all down.
“The money you are owed for the job will be in your account the next time you check it,” the Client said. “There will also be a bonus. For your troubles, which I sincerely regret.
“My people will show you out.”
Two of the Client’s people escorted her back to the service elevator. They took it down to the first floor this time, not the garage, and then directed her out of a side exit, toward the street.