“You’re pretty good at this,” James said, as if she was pleasantly surprised by the insight. “I didn’t know if you’d pick up on the shocked and confused husband act, but you played it perfectly.”
Ethan decided the best response to this would be silence. That whole “open your mouth and prove yourself a fool” mantra. It occurred to Ethan that she—like him—had assumed her partner would be incompetent; and she—like him—was realizing that wasn’t the case. James was leading them down a narrow, dusty staircase in the passageways. She hadn’t been idle this morning. When the Blacks’ room (former and present) were dead-ends, she’d slunk around until she stumbled upon an opening to the secret passageways in a supply closet at the end of a hall on the first floor.
“Did you plan on the baby thing from the beginning?” he asked as they reached the basement. She pulled out her phone where she had uploaded the map overlay and blueprints.
“It was a possibility,” she said dismissively. “I didn’t decide for certain until last night.”
“And you told Karon Durrant?”
James looked back at him as if he was crazy and then turned back to the phone and started down the hall to the right. It was so narrow, they had to walk single file. “The Durrants were watching us. I needed remove the suspicion. Karon followed me to the drug store last night after dinner,” she said as if he had known she took a trip to the drug store. They came to an intersection and after consulting the map, turned left. “Something is up with the Durrants.”
“So you…bought one of those tests?” he asked.
“I bought the pregnancy test, took it into the bathroom at the drug store, opened it and threw it away,” She answered. “Karon Durrant is thorough.”
“Wouldn’t she have seen the negative test? Unless you are pregnant.”
James turned and gave him a look. “If I am, it’s none of your business,” she snapped. “I shoved it into an especially vile trash can. Someone would have to be highly motivated and very suspicious to be tempted to dig through that.”
They turned again, passing a dusty door that looked like it hadn’t been opened in ages. “Our cover won’t matter if we meet anyone down here,” James commented. “There’s nowhere to hide.”
“Well, we know no one else has the flash drive, so hopefully they’re busy elsewhere.”
“Unless they saw you take it, and come looking for you.”
“No one saw me,” Ethan said shortly.
“Not even Chance Smith?”
“Chance was MIA this morning.”
James turned and looked at him. “That doesn’t make me feel any better. The computer should be just ahead, around the next corner.”
“Lead the way.”
James approached the corner cautiously, silent in heeled shoes that looked anything but. She slipped around the corner and they found themselves facing a solid wall. Once again Ethan began doubting himself. Maybe the map had not been of the basement. Maybe Chance Smith was wandering the streets of Atlanta a minute away from finding the computer.
James didn’t waste time with doubt. She studied the wall, especially the edges and corners, getting right up next to it with her hands pressed flat against the surface. Without warning she pulled out her knife from under the hem of her skirt, knelt on the concrete floor and stabbed the baseboard. Ethan could only watch as she finessed the knife back and forth until they heard a click. She pushed on the wall and it swung slowly open. Ethan was impressed.
“I have some experience with fake walls,” she said as way of explanation. They slipped into the hidden room. Ethan closed the wall almost all the way.
The room was small and bare. One fluorescent light overhead, which James flipped on. An uncomfortable old office chair. A desk and on the desk a bulky black workstation, monitor, keyboard, and wireless mouse.
“We should move fast. No one saw me take the drive, but they will know it’s missing. We need to get back as soon as possible,” Ethan said, pulling the flash drive out of his sleeve. James pulled out the chair for him and swished the mouse to wake the computer up. A generic Window’s desktop display appeared. Ethan sat down and inserted the drive into the workstation. A little hourglass appeared on the screen. Ethan waited. The screen blinked off two or three times as if the cord was loose and then a box popped up that said, “Drive Configuration to be verified. Press OK to proceed.”
Ethan was about to click the OK button when James suddenly cried, “No, stop!” and yanked the drive from the computer. She jammed her finger into power button on the workstation until the machine blinked off. “It’s a virus. We almost wiped the entire flashdrive.”
“How did you know—“
“I’ve seen something like that before,” she said cryptically. “Do you mind?” She pointed to the chair and he gladly gave it up. Before turning the computer on, she inserted the drive into the computer, sat down on the edge of the chair, and let her fingers hover over the keyboard as if she was about to start some kind of race. “Okay, turn it on,” she commanded.
Ethan pressed the button and the light on the machine blinked on. James’s eyes were glued to the screen. A standard Windows startup began, with James poised, waiting for what, Ethan didn’t know.
A command box flashed onto the screen James’s fingers sprung into action. Ethan couldn’t follow exactly what she was typing, but it was rapid, with a lot Control Keys and combined commands. More boxes popped up and disappeared as she worked until finally the same generic desktop display appeared, and a box popped up that said almost the same thing as when Ethan had been in control. This time it said, “Drive Configuration is verified. Press OK to proceed.”
James leaned back in her seat and let out a breath. “That’s a nasty protection program they’ve got on there,” she said as she clicked OK. A window opened and files began to appear in it. They had found their treasure.
“Should I ask why you happen to know about that virus?” Ethan asked. James pulled out a cellphone-to-USB cord from somewhere under her pink sweater.
“Let’s just say, it seems that I have a mutual acquaintance with the masterminds behind this treasure hunt,” she said. “We got really lucky.” Files continued to appear in the window. There was a lot of data. “No one is going to get passed this security measure.”
“Unless they have the same mutual friend.”
“Highly unlikely,” she answered with confidence.
“Then there must be some kind of clue. Maybe one we missed, or one that is still coming.”
James contemplated this idea. “What are you planning on doing with that jump drive after this?”
“Do we need it?”
“No. I’m going to download the files to my phone.”
“How about we put a virus on it and return it to its owners.”
Ethan raised his eyebrows. “What good would that do?”
“Prevent anyone else from getting the information, for one. And solidify our cover. If we give the drive away it will go back into circulation. There’s no reason to do that, and since we won’t be attempting to get it, no one can possibly suspect us of participation. The virus I’m thinking of would also be tracible, so all those analysts back at headquarters could track anyone else who gets this far. I’m sure they’d appreciate the information.”
“How long will it take?” Ethan was getting claustrophobic in the small room. There was only one way in and out and he never liked lingering in places like that.
“I don’t know, just a few minutes.” James plugged her phone into the computer and began transferring the unencrypted files into her possession.
James smiled wickedly and turned back to the computer. She began pulling up more screens and typing faster than he could follow. He watched the door instead, expecting at any second to see it push open. It took about eight minutes for her to wrap everything up.
James disconnected her phone and the cord disappeared again, as did the knife that had been sitting next to the keyboard the whole time. She handed him the flash drive and smiled mischievously.
“Let’s go,” Ethan said and pulled the door open. They slipped into the narrow passage and closed the wall until they heard the click indicating it was back in place. Ethan wanted to get out of this place where they had nowhere to hide. He led them back the way they came, up the stairs and into the supply closet without incident.
“I need to secure my phone, you know, just in case,” James whispered as they slipped back into the public halls of the hotel. “It’ won’t take long, but I need to go back to the room. You know what you’re going to do with the drive?”
“I have a pretty good idea,” Ethan responded. “Should we come back separately, after, you know, the scene we caused?”
“Just tell them I’m getting cleaned up. And tell them you apologized and are thrilled about the baby and all that,” she added. They had reached the elevator and she pressed the up button. “Go ahead, you’ll know what to say. I’ll be there in ten minutes or less.”
Ethan hesitated, just briefly wondering if he should let her walk away with all the information. But then Ethan realized he trusted her completely. As the elevator dinged, he turned the corner and took three steps toward the dining room where “networking” hour should still have about fifteen minutes left.
He stopped when he heard Chance Smith say, “Ah, Mrs. James, imagine meeting you here. Alone.”
Ethan knew that his partner was a trained agent and he should continue on with the plan, but his feet refused to move. Chance Smith was dangerous, and he had not hidden his feelings about James last night. Any trained agent should know how to take care of a man like that, but Ethan didn’t know how well James’s skills in combat were, and Smith could be a trained agent in someone else’s government. He had at least fifty pounds on the girl. Not only that, but James now held the coveted information on her phone. Although Ethan couldn’t imagine how, it was possible that Smith knew this, in which case, James was in great danger. So was the information.
While he was thinking, James had said, “Hello Chance. Excuse me, I am just going up to my room.”
Then Chance had said, “No rush, right?” Ethan heard the elevator door close.
“You are looking very nice today, Mrs. James, although I have to say, I liked your outfit last night better,” Chance said.
“Mr. Smith, please—“ James said and then Ethan heard a scuffle, followed by a thud, followed by Smith’s laugh. Ethan’s heart was beating rapidly. He spun around the corner.
Chance Smith’s back was to him. He had James pinned against the wall, his head bent to her neck. James looked helpless until she spotted Ethan. She looked him straight in the eye calmly. He knew she was trying to tell him something, but he didn’t know what.
Ethan was close enough to hear Smith whisper, “Tell me what you see in that oaf of a husband. Let me show you what you have been missing.” He leaned in aggressively to kiss her. Ethan took a step forward as James pushed against her attacker, giving her the room to knee him in the groin, which she did hard enough to make Ethan take a step back in sympathy. When Chance buckled under the pain, she slammed her elbow into his back, knocking him to the ground, twisted his arm behind him in an incapacitating position, and mouthed the word, “GO!” to Ethan.
Ethan slipped back around the corner.
“You want to know what I see in Ethan?” She spat at the man she now had at her mercy. “He taught me how to do this.” A moment passed and Ethan heard the elevator door ding again. “Don’t come near me ever again, Chance.” Ethan heard the elevator door close. Once again, James had proven herself more than able to handle whatever came her way.