Danielle ignored his question. She looked around. The club was not that crowded, not yet. It was certainly not as busy as the street below, but the movement was still chaotic enough that there would be little chance to spot a threat until it was right on top of them. “Why did you bring me here?”
“These guys are friends of mine,” he said.
She waited for a better explanation.
“I did a favor for the owner once,” he added grudgingly, as if that explained everything.
“What kind of favor?”
“His daughter was taken from him. I brought her back.”
Danielle went quiet, imagining the scenario and guessing that such an act would buy a good measure of loyalty. “And the men who took her?”
Hawker shook his head slowly.
“Trust me,” he said, “no one’s getting to us unannounced.”
She gazed out over the balcony once again, guessing that their attackers were not about to shoot their way into a crowded club, even if they knew where she and Hawker had gone. She dialed the hotel on her cell phone, making sure they increased security on the NRI’s private floor, and made a mental note to move Verhoven and his people there in the morning. She turned her attention back to Hawker, realizing he had lied to her. “You said you were unarmed.”
“I did,” he admitted.
She reached for a glass of water. “Apparently, that wasn’t entirely true.”
He smiled. “You all right?”
“Deaf in one ear, but I’ll live.”
Hawker’s face grew serious. “Someone set you up. Your old partner, maybe?”
There was no way Arnold Moore would have put her in danger. They’d been too close for too long. “I don’t think so. I’m not saying it was an accident, but it wasn’t a setup from our end.”
“A shakedown maybe, or a kidnapping attempt. Well-connected American disappears and gets held for ransom. Like your friend. It happens more often than you’d think down here.”
“I know all about ‘down here,’” he said. “And you’re right, it could have been anything. But it wasn’t. It was connected with this expedition.”
She didn’t want to go down this road. But if they were going to do so, she preferred for it to happen quickly. “What’s your point?” she said.
He hesitated, appearing to be put off by her directness. “I still know a few people,” he said. “And I’ve done some checking. I know your responsibilities and your reputation. You’ve been all over the world, but that was prior to becoming a regional director.”
The words lingered. It was the promotion that had come through as part of this assignment, but in reality she was still Moore’s lieutenant. The promotion would take effect only upon successful completion of the mission. “You’re half right,” she said.
“That’s more than usual,” he replied. “And it’s enough to make me wonder what the hell is really going on here. In the Agency, big shots ride desks and read reports; they tell other people where to go and what to do.”
He sat back, looking very pleased with himself. “But then here you are,” he added. “And until your partner left a few days ago, here you both were, two high-ranking directors working the ground floor like a couple of stiff necks, dragging around a bunch of civilians who have no idea what they’re getting into.”
She glared at him. “Not my choice.”
“And yet, I’m guessing it would cause problems if I told them we’d been shot at.”
“Mostly for you,” she said coldly.
He studied her, seeming to agree. “Funny thing is, I rode shotgun on an operation like this once. We had a Chinese defector coming in through Hong Kong with a list of operatives and part of a cipher code. The only face he trusted was a pretty bank teller’s from Macau, so we brought her in, covered her seven ways from Sunday and prayed that no one got killed. Security was so tight that the Asian director of field ops met with the guy himself. No regulars around, no station involvement or paper trail. Just a couple of guys who don’t exist, a DFO who was never there and a young woman who went back to her normal life, a little wealthier and none the wiser.”
She listened, hoping that her own team would fare as well and contemplating the concept of a man who doesn’t exist. At the very least the China operation did not appear in his file.
“Look,” he said, “I have no idea what you’re after down here, and to be honest, I really don’t care. But whatever it is, it’s big and it has to be kept quiet. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Your partner wouldn’t have been here. And you sure as hell wouldn’t have come looking for me. Not with my situation.”
His “status,” she thought. “By situation, you mean the fact that you’re wanted.”
He seemed offended. “I’m not ‘wanted,’ like some common criminal.”
“Really?” she said. “The State Department has a warrant out for you. Interpol does as well. NSA, CIA, FBI, they’d all like to have a few words with you, preferably in a locked room somewhere. How much more wanted could a man be?”
“Right,” he said. “Well, where the hell are they? Don’t you think they could find me if they tried? You did.” He shook his head. “They don’t want to find me. They just want to make sure they don’t lose track of me.”
This much she knew, though it was unclear as to why.
“Besides,” he said. “That just proves my point. You say I’m wanted, but you hired me anyway. You made a four-hour drive to the middle of nowhere to do it, when a single phone call could have brought in one of your own. And that can mean only one thing: this operation goes beyond quiet; it has to be invisible, even to your own people. To make sure that’s the case, you hire a guy who can’t talk to anyone, a guy no one would listen to even if he did.”
“I see,” she said. “Apparently, we’re smarter than I thought.”
“I hope you are, because they’ve left you in a bad spot. They sent you to fight a war without any bullets and told you failure’s not an option.” He leaned back. “And that’s the catch, isn’t it? You don’t mind the task; you just want the equipment to get the job done. But security requires that you go it alone.”
He backed off a bit. “Okay, maybe tonight did take you by surprise. Or maybe you’ve been waiting for this since you came down here. Either way, now you know for sure: the word’s out and whatever the hell you’re after, someone else wants it too. Bad enough to kill you for it.”
That fact hadn’t escaped her. They’d begun this task secure in the knowledge that they were alone, but somewhere along the line, despite a maniacal focus on security, word had slipped.
“I’m not your enemy,” he added. “I know the position you’re in. I know it all too well. And I’m not pressing you. I’m offering to help. To mutually agree upon some additional responsibilities.”
Perhaps it was his new tone or the realization that there was no point in further denials, but as he used her own words from their conversation in the hangar, she couldn’t help but brighten a fraction. “What kind of responsibilities?”
“I can talk to people who would run from your shadow. I can get things done that would be impossible in your official capacity. And most important of all, I can give you cover from a direction no one would expect, because as far as anyone knows, I’m just the guy who flies the plane.”
Danielle weighed Hawker’s words carefully. He was right, of course; Gibbs’ ever-increasing paranoia had led him to call Arnold Moore back to D.C. And for what? It had only made things worse. In Moore’s absence she was vulnerable and exposed—out on an island, exactly as Hawker had described. She peered across the table. Perhaps he was right, perhaps he could be of assistance. “So you’d like to help me?”
Hawker nodded, leaing forward in his chair as if he were bowing. “I offer my services. Meager as they may be.”
The edge of her lip curled almost imperceptibly. “Your services,” she repeated, interested now. She leaned forward, stirring her glass of water with a straw. “And in exchange for such services, you would require … what?”
“A ticket home.”
“A pardon,” she guessed.
“Pardons require charges, conviction actually. Nothing like that exists in my case.”
“Simple clarity.” He motioned toward her with his hand. “You guys have friends in high places. Over at State, with the NSC, and whether you admit it or not, everywhere in the Agency. They’re the ones who have it out for me. The right words are said, specific assurances are given and the problems disappear. Then I can go home again. Start living a normal life.”
It was hard to look at him and think of a person living a normal life. It didn’t suit him, or really even seem possible that he could have relatives, family and friends somewhere. His file was blacked out, partially to protect the innocent, of course, but it gave the impression of a person with no past, as if he’d just come into existence out of the ether, fully formed as the man she saw in front of her.
“So you help me see this thing through,” she said, “and I get them to forget your past. So you can go back to Kansas with Toto and Dorothy and Auntie Em? Am I understanding this right?”
He laughed. “More likely somewhere with a beach, and if Dorothy is there, she’d better be wearing a blue and white plaid bikini and sharing a cold beer with me, but yeah, that’s the general idea.”
It didn’t cost her a thing to promise, but she wasn’t sure she could deliver, and in a strange onset of conscience found she didn’t want to lie. “What makes you think I can do all that? I can’t even find out what you did to get yourself into this mess.”
“If this thing’s as important as I think it is, you’ll have carte blanche. You probably do now. You just don’t know it yet.”
She thought about that. Gibbs’ obsession with the project suggested he was right.
Hawker elaborated. “Somewhere back in Washington there’s a file you’ll never see, with the letters R.O.C. stamped in one corner. Those are mission attainment parameters. R.O.C., depending on who you ask, means Regardless of Cost or Regardless of Consequences. It means this thing is the express train and everything else gets out of the way. You want to pay someone off, done. You want someone to disappear, done. You want to cut a deal with a tragically misunderstood, ruggedly handsome fugitive, fine, just bring us what we want and don’t ask why.”
He glared at her in mock disappointment. “You could do worse.”
She nodded. “I suppose.”
“The point is, they don’t tell you about things like that when you’re in the field, but after a while you start to know. I’ll bet your old partner knew.”
Silently, she agreed. Gibbs had given them everything they’d asked for without batting an eye, everything except allowing Moore to stay on. Perhaps Moore had known too much. “You’ll be in the dark,” she said.
“I do my best work that way,” he said. “Just tell me what you think I should know. You can start by giving me some info on the guy we met with tonight. I’ll find out who he associates with. Maybe we can figure out who paid him off, or who the payment came through. He seemed like a nervous type, probably not doing this by pure choice. Beyond that, I can arrange a new charter, with someone I know and trust.”
“And how do I know I can trust you?” she asked.
“You can’t,” he said. “Not the way I trust these guys.” He nodded toward the center of the club, indicating the friends who worked and owned the club, providers of their temporary refuge. “But you can trust people to act in their own self-interest. And at this point you have something to offer me that no one else can match.”
“And assuming that’s true, what makes you think you can trust me?”
Hawker leaned back in his chair and smiled at her. It was the look of a rogue and a cheat, the look of a man who knew just what the next card would bring and had been waiting forever to see it played. Somehow it was charming just the same.
“My options are more limited,” he said. “I can walk away and keep scratching out a life down here or I can take a chance on you. So there it is,” he finished. “Time to roll the bones.”
Danielle failed to suppress a grin. It made sense to her. It fact, it actually seemed fair. The bargain itself would probably infuriate Gibbs, but that almost made it more appealing. “All right,” she said. “I’ll take your offer. I can’t promise anything until I have it cleared, so I won’t. But I’ll talk to the people I know and if there’s a deal to be had, I’ll give it to you. Fair enough?”
“Fair enough for me.”
As Hawker finished, a broad-shouldered man with a thick moustache and deep tan approached. With his impeccably moussed hair and a spotless white dinner jacket, he looked like a movie star from a bygone era. He carried two glasses in one hand and an expensive bottle of Chilean wine in the other. He introduced himself as Eduardo, owner of the club and sometime benefactor of young Mr. Hawker. The two friends shook hands and then Eduardo turned his full attention to Danielle.
Hawker feigned distress at Eduardo’s comment even as Danielle held out her hand. “Pleased to meet you,” she said. “My name is Danielle.”
Eduardo smiled, kissed her hand, then turned back to Hawker. “An American,” he noted. “Like you.”
“An American,” Hawker said. “But not like me.”
Eduardo raised an eyebrow. “A good thing for her, no doubt.”
“No doubt,” Hawker said.
Eduardo turned serious. “You ran into a problem.”
“I can’t tell you what they look like,” Hawker said. “Or even what they’re wearing. But I’d guess they’re still searching for us.”
“Don’t worry,” Eduardo said. “I’ll send you home in my car. In the meantime I’ve put some extra men on, friends from the policia. They like big paychecks and hassling troublemakers. And I told Diego no one else crosses the ropes tonight.”
Hawker looked pained. “This is your biggest night, that’s going to cost you.”
Eduardo laughed softly and then turned to Danielle. “Our friend Hawker, he’s okay, but not too bright when it comes to business. I know of no better way to attract a crowd than to tell them they can’t get in. I’ll do this again tomorrow night and all through the week and by next Friday, I can double the prices and still fill the place three times over.” Eduardo shook his head softly. “Already I’m asking myself, why didn’t I think of this years ago?”
“I owe you for this,” Hawker said.
His attention returned to Danielle. “I’m afraid I must leave you for a while.” He placed the bottle of wine on the table. “But please, cheer him up while I’m gone. He’s far too serious for one sitting with such a beautiful woman.”
Danielle smiled at Hawker, and then back at Eduardo. “I’ll do my best.”
With that Eduardo bowed and stepped away.
“Your friend is charming.”
“Yeah,” Hawker said, rolling his eyes. “I think he likes you too.” He picked up the bottle of wine, examined the label and then uncorked it and let it breathe. “Looks like we’re going to be here for a while,” he said. “Might as well make the best of it.”
She agreed and pushed her glass across the table toward him.