MILK, SUGAR, AND CRIME SCENE VIDEO
As traps went, this one wasn’t bad. At least it had coffee.
Barron sat in the booth in the diner and figured the angles. He had made at least four men watching the diner outside, two more inside. He hadn’t gone around back to check, but you had to figure at least two more back there and a sniper on overwatch. He hadn’t spotted one on a cursory glance and hadn’t wanted to look too obviously. It was hard to tell at a glance how good each man was, tactically, but whoever had placed them was good.
The day had started out so well. Granted, he was tired and a little hung over, but his mood was light and the pressure in his head—that particular formula that had pushed itself on him for almost three years now, demanding to be spoken, the one he had steadfastly refused to say—was nearly gone. It would come back, he knew, and drinking would not relieve the pressure for long. He knew from bitter experience that it was no long term solution.
Still, he had been reasonably satisfied for most of the morning, until his phone rang. “Barron,” he answered.
“Mike?” asked a female voice. “It’s Isobel.”
Barron was confused. Was this a wrong number? Although his name was Michael, no one called him “Mike.” He preferred it if they didn’t use his given name at all, but working in a civilian office, you had to get used to it. The woman’s name wasn’t ringing a bell, but the voice sounded familiar. “Excuse me?”
“Isobel Crisostomo? From last night?”
Barron managed not to groan out loud. Of course, he recognized the first name now. But how had she reached him here? He didn’t remember telling her where he worked, and he didn’t think he’d had that much to drink. And she hadn’t stirred when he got up early and crept out of the motel room. “Yes. Good morning,” he acknowledged. “What can I do for you?”
“Did you enjoy last night as much as I did?” the voice cooed.
Silence on the line. Maybe she was waiting for him to respond in more detail, but he had work to do and didn’t want to let this drag out.
“Is that all you wanted?” he ventured into the silence.
“No,” Isobel’s voice said, speaking faster now, and with a more professional tone. “I thought you might come meet me for coffee.”
“I don’t think so, Ms. Crisostomo,” Barron said. “I don’t know how much you remember from last night, but I’m sure I told you that I was not looking for anything ongoing in a relationship. And I do have a lot of work to do today.”
“Oh, you were very clear,” Isobel’s voice said. “But this is just coffee. I mean, I know it’s not as exciting as stopping a bank robbery, but I thought you might spare a few minutes.”
Barron went cold. He hadn’t been sure whether or not he had let slip where he worked, but he was as sure as could be that he had not told her about the robbery. He hadn’t talked to anyone about it in the three weeks since it had happened. Not even Grace. “What are you talking about?”
She didn’t give any further answer. She only spoke the name of the diner before hanging up.
And now here he sat, waiting for the shoe to drop. He saw her emerge from the ladies room, and he was immediately sure it was her, even though he didn’t entirely recognize her. Her ash-blonde hair was pinned back instead of falling loosely to her shoulders, and she was dressed in business-like slacks rather than the party outfit he’d taken off of her in the motel room. The only incongruous thing about the outfit was the very large purse she carried; not very businesslike. He knew it was her because of the way she met his eyes and held them all the way to his booth, pausing only to ask the waitress for coffee on the way.”
“I’m glad you could make it,” she said. She plunked her heavy purse into the seat opposite him, then slid in after it.
“Well, after all the things you let me do to you last night, I figured the least I could do was buy you coffee,” Barron said. “But that stuff you were saying about a bank robbery?”
“Let’s not insult each other with a denial dance,” Isobel said. “We’re both too professional for that.”
“Okay,” Barron allowed. “So what is it you want from me?”
“To ask you a question,” Isobel said. “What exactly do you do, Mister Barron?”
“I work with data,” Barron said.
“That must be awfully dull,” Isobel said, as the waitress set a cup of coffee in front of her. She waved away the waitress’s inquiry about ordering food. As she added sugar to her coffee, she looked at Barron and said, “I mean, I’ve read your jacket. Security consultant, special forces operator, combat veteran…”
“That was a long time ago.”
“But stopping that bank robbery wasn’t,” she said. She added creamer and stirred.
“I’m still not sure…” Barron began.
“How we know about it?” Isobel finished. “Or are you wondering if there’s still a way you can deny it. Let me show you something.”
She fished a laptop computer out of her huge purse and flipped it open on the table. A few moments later, she turned it to face him. There was a video clip playing in a window on the screen, obviously a feed from the bank’s security cameras. Barron watched himself disarm the boy with the AK. He winced as he saw himself hit the boy in the throat. The kid had been so obviously unprepared for this job.
“I thought the police said the security videos had been hacked,” Barron said, not saying that he had erased them himself.
“We have a guy who works with us,” Isobel said. “He’s pretty good at this stuff.”
Barron didn’t answer. He hadn’t had time to be completely thorough, but the randomizing seed he’d hastily spoken over the disk drives should have made them unrecoverable. “Pretty good” was an understatement of Biblical proportions.
Isobel spun the laptop around and clicked through to another file. “This one’s my favorite,” she said as she turned the laptop again.
Barron watched as a section of vault wall unraveled and the grey-haired leader fell backwards into the hallway. He watched himself shoot the man in the face, turn and walk away as the wall remade itself.
“And you think this really happened?”
Isobel shut the laptop and smiled. “We both know there are people in the world who can do these kinds of things. Not many, at least not that we know of, but you can’t say that what you saw on the video is impossible.”
“Perhaps not,” Barron admitted. “But I don’t think you’re here to arrest me.”
“Of course not.”
“So what exactly do you want from me, Ms. Crisostomo?”
Isobel sipped at her coffee. “To offer you a job. I’m setting up a small elite task force. I obviously can’t tell you the details until you’re read on, but believe me when I say it’s an important job. We should wrap it up in a month, max.”
“Not interested,” Barron said. “Even if I could take a month off my current job without losing it, which I can’t, I don’t do that kind of thing anymore.”
“This is important, Barron,” Isobel said. “You would be stopping some bad guys and doing a good thing for the world.”
“The world?” Barron asked skeptically. “That seems a little ambitious for a small task force.”
Isobel shrugged and put her laptop back into her oversized shoulder bag. “Well, I’m not going to beg, and threatening you probably won’t do any good. But we both know that a man like you, with an ability like yours, is wasted in that office. So take some time to think about what you really want out of life.”
She climbed out of the booth and looked down at him. “Give me a call when you decide.”
“Shouldn’t you give me your number?” Barron asked.
“My card is in your wallet. I gave it to you the first time we had this conversation, ten minutes ago.” Isobel smiled. “You’re not the only one who‘s different, Mister Barron.”
Barron watched her turn and walk away, followed a moment later by the men she’d placed at the counter.