Van Treece led the way down the hall to an elevator at the end. The doors opened as they reached it.
“I didn’t see you hit the button,” Barron said as he stepped in.
“There isn’t one,” Van Treece said. “This isn’t the 19th Century. Three.”
The elevator doors closed and the car began to descend. Van Treece looked at Barron with a half-smile. “Questions? Comments?”
“About what, the elevator?”
Van Treece nodded.
“Nope,” Barron said.
“Nothing?” Isobel asked.
“I’m curious how you authorize access, obviously,” Barron said. “But you’re not going to tell me until I’m cleared to know, so why waste all our time asking pointless questions?”
“Other than that one?” Van Treece asked, but did not follow it up with Strike three.
The elevator doors opened onto a beige hallway. Red strobes spaced at twenty-foot intervals along the hallway flashed twice, repeating every ten seconds. Barron followed Van Treece down the hall with Isobel bringing up the rear. “We’re meeting in the conference room, here at the end,” Van Treece said as they walked.
Barron glanced into an office as they passed, saw computer monitors on screensaver, wall charts covered with heavy tarps, blank whiteboards. They entered a double doorway at the end of the hall into a room that was much more plush than anything he’d seen so far, with thick carpeting, leather chairs and a huge mahogany table with slate insets. The people already seated—three men and a woman, all lined up on the far side of the table—looked up as Van Treece entered.
“Have a seat,” Van Treece said, indicating a seat on the vacant side of the table. Barron sat in the chair indicated. Van Treece sat at the head of the table, and Isobel sat beside Barron.
“You must use this room a lot,” Barron said, running his finger down the seamless join between smooth slate and glossy wood.
“Perks of being the boss,” Van Treece agreed. “These are our department heads. Anton Savage heads up our IT and electronic collection.”
A heavyset man, whose bushy reddish-blonde beard seemed to be an attempt to compensate for his thinning hair up top, half-stood and reached across the table to shake hands. His polo shirt made him the most casually-dressed man at the table. “Glad to have you on board.”
“I’m not on board yet,” Barron said. “You’re the guy who restored the security video?”
Savage’s beard puffed out with his smile. He glanced at the others alongside the table. “Yeah, that was me. You didn’t make it easy.”
“Really curious how you did that.”
“Show me yours, I’ll show you mine.”
Van Treece cleared his throat for attention, then indicated Isobel. “Cris runs the HUMINT side of the operation, and Julie Anselmo here runs our analysis shop.”
A brown-haired woman, mid-to-late 40’s, briefly met Barron’s eyes and nodded. She was almost the opposite of Isobel: plain and dark and heavy, with no make-up but wearing a flowery, feminine dress in contrast to Isobel’s business-like attire. She said nothing and made no effort to shake hands.
“Arthur Fincher is in charge of equipment and special projects,” Van Treece said, indicating the next man down the table. A tall, thin man in a brown suit reached across to shake Barron’s hand.
“Special projects. So you plan the office parties or what?” Barron asked.
“He makes the skins,” said the last man in line, a powerfully built man with buzz-cut black hair and a no-nonsense attitude. He wore a jacket, but no tie. Barron wasn’t sure they made shirts with a neck big enough for him to button.
“Ramon Quesada runs our special tactical team,” Van Treece said. “Some of their equipment is non-standard. Mister Fincher builds it in-house.”
“Best in the world,” Fincher said.
“When it works,” Quesada muttered.
“So that’s the team,” Van Treece said and waited.
“So am I to assume that I would be on Ms. Crisostomo’s team?” Barron asked.
“Interesting,” Van Treece said. “What brings you to that conclusion?”
“She scouted me. She recruited me. She’s the only one on my side of the table.”
Savage started to say something, but Van Treece cut him off with a small gesture. “I’d like to hear your thoughts on that,” Van Treece said. “Is that where you see yourself fitting in here?”
“No, that’s just it,” Barron said. “I don’t see myself fitting in here anywhere. I mean, I’m obviously not here for electronics or—sorry, Mister Fincher–mad science. I was mainly an analyst at Bulwark, but it seems like it was my combat skills that put me on your radar. But from the look on Mr. Quesada’s face, I’m not here to join your tac team.”
“It would take too long to train you on the skin,” Quesada said, “that’s if we had one to spare.”
“So that leaves Isobel’s team,” Barron continued. “I know she has field agents assigned. At least, I hope those were her people and not your tac team watching the perimeter when she met me.”
“We had one man there,” Quesada said. “For support if you caused trouble.”
“The sniper on overwatch?” Barron asked.
Quesada’s eyes narrowed. “You shouldn’t have been able to see him.”
Barron smiled and turned to Van Treece. “But the thing is, I have no real experience in HUMINT asset management, and I doubt I’d be meeting all the lead personnel if you just wanted my gun arm. Look, I mostly like what I see here. Your operation looks squared away, your people know what they’re doing, and you’re not government, which is a plus. But I still don’t know exactly what role you need me to fill, and what I’ve seen so far isn’t enough to get me to leave a job I like to come here. So you tell me: why should I stay? Or is that strike three?”
Van Treece’s scar made his smile uneven. “No, it’s not strike three. But actually, I’m not entirely sure where you’re supposed to fit in, either. Cris and Anton came to me and said we needed you, and I trusted their judgment enough to bring you in and have a look at you. Now that you’re here, I like what I see, but I’m still curious as to what you’re supposed to bring to the table that we don’t already have. Anton?”
Savage curled his lower lip under his front teeth so that his beard bristled forward even more. After a moment’s thought, he said, “Okay, first, Cris didn’t scout you. I did. At first, I was just having fun digging into a News of the Weird item about a foiled bank robbery. Five robbers killed, mystery hero fades away, security video erased. Normally, stuff like that never lives up to the hype. But with this one, the deeper I dug, the more interesting it got.”
“That’s good, Anton, but it still doesn’t answer our question,” Van Treece said. “What does his bank robbery have to do with our project?”
“Nothing,” Savage said. “At least, not the bank robbery. Mister Barron, have you ever heard of Nathan Gentle?”
“Don’t recognize the name,” Barron said. “Who is he?”
“The only survivor of Building 2413.”
Barron froze. Van Treece asked, “What’s that?”
“Building 2413 of Bridger Carriageworks in Detroit collapsed on Zero Day,” Savage said. “That was where Mister Barron’s wife died.”