The man in the black suit sat in the airport coffee shop staring at his laptop computer and manically tapping his foot. His agents had called in for pick-up a day early, which made him more nervous than he’d already been. He’d handled the man—called Ethan this time—on more than one occasion and he knew that the only reason this agent would call in early was because things were going really well, or really poorly.
He also knew that Ethan hated working with a partner. He always made it very clear that he considered partners a burden—babysitting was a common term he used. Ethan had been their best option, but he had so little experience in impersonation, that the-powers-that-be had insisted on a partner. The man had tried to argue this point, but no one had listened to him. The-powers-that-be had also chosen the girl—Kathleen—without knowing a thing about her except she was young and good at impersonations.
It’s true that she had impressed him with her persona change in the back of the car, but her snarky personality had been keeping the man up every night since she’d stepped onto the airport curb. He couldn’t think of a personality more poorly match to Ethan’s dead seriousness. It was a disaster. The agency would be shamed. Millions of dollars would go to someone else. Lives may be lost.
He liked to keep his agents happy. They did, after all, risk their lives for their job. In fact, they were all likely to be dead within ten years of being hired, so he liked to keep them happy while he could. Making sure they were happy was also insurance against the possibility of any of them deciding to jump ship for a better offer. Ethan was not going to be happy with this assignment.
Like most airport food establishments, this coffee shop had only half walls so he could watch the passengers coming to and from their flights as they walked by. The computer in front of him had a few meaningless spreadsheets on it in case anyone was watching, but the man hardly looked at it. He sipped his coffee, watching for the duo. How they arrived would tell him everything he needed to know. He was half expecting them to be trying not to strangle each other.
The man in the black suit recognized her luggage (he’d picked it out after all) before he recognized his agents. They were dressed as business colleagues. Ethan had thick rimmed glasses and a moderately priced suit. The girl wore a pencil skirt and heels that made her legs look…The man shook his head to focus. She also had bright blond hair pulled sharply away from her face.
The two walked together not as if they were going to kill each other, but as if they were one person. They flowed, keeping step with each other, shifting around the other travelers wordlessly, all while keeping the perfect, professional space between. This had not been what the man had expected.
They entered the coffee shop gracefully and Ethan pulled out the girl’s chair. She slipped into it naturally as if they had preformed the same action together a thousand times. The man in the black suit just stared.
“May I?” the girl asked pointing at his computer. He was surprised she spoke first. Ethan was the lead agent. He pushed the laptop towards her. She pulled her phone from her bag and hooked it to the computer via a USB cable. While she did this, Ethan sat back in his chair, silent, as was his natural state of being. The man tried to interpret Ethan’s expression (a difficult thing, but he knew his agent well enough to hypothesize about his mood). Ethan looked…content.
While the girl fiddled with the electronic gadgets, the man finally said. “You’re early.”
“We finished the assignment. If you’d like, I’m sure we can think of some way to blow our employer’s money for a day,” Ethan said.
“So, you…completed the assignment already?”
Ethan gave him a withering look that he had seen many times before, while Kathleen said, “No, I’m just downloading kitten videos to your computer.” The man really thought that Ethan may have smiled at the joke. Just a little, tiny bit.
“And everything went…smoothly?”
“It wasn’t brain surgery,” Ethan stated. He pulled out his phone. “The backers of the contest were at the conference. They went by the name of Durrant.” He turned his phone so the man could see a picture of an older couple. The couple in the picture matched the known profile of contractor, but they’d never had a photo before.
“I didn’t ask you to identify the backers,” the man said. Ethan rolled his eyes, and pocketed the phone.
“I included a picture of them with the files that are downloading now,” Kathleen stated. “I also included a picture of a man named Chance Smith, who is a foreign operative that was also competing for the information. He is the most likely to succeed—after us, of course.”
“What do you mean, he’s the most likely to succeed? If you succeeded, that means everyone else lost!”
The partners looked at each other as if they were deciding whether they should let him in on a secret. When the girl smiled, Ethan leaned forward and said, “We put a computer virus into the system. No one knows that the contest is already over. Anyone else who tries to retrieve the information, will get a virus instead.”
“The virus is tracible,” Kathleen added. “I am downloading instructions on how to trace it to your computer. You will know exactly who else wanted that information.” The man was impressed. It would be valuable to identify who had been playing the game. She turned the computer so he could see the image of a man. “This is Smith. We did not identify his accent, but his hair is dyed. It’s naturally black.”
“Consider him dangerous,” Ethan added. The man arched his eyebrows in surprise. Everyone in their industry was dangerous, so the fact that Ethan warned him meant this Smith fellow was not someone to dismiss. The girl turned the computer away again and began typing.
“Anything…else I should know?”
“My report is with the downloading files,” Ethan said shortly.
Kathleen pulled the cable from the machine, closed the top, and pushed it back to him. “Take care of that computer.” She shoved her phone back into her purse and stood. “If there’s nothing else?” The man in the black suit could think of nothing, and Ethan remained silent. “Then I have a plane to catch,” she said. She gave them both a flirty little smile and walked away down the concourse.
The man in the black suit watched her until she disappeared from view. He turned to look at Ethan who was leaning back in his chair, his eyes still on the place she had last been. “I’m sorry you had to partner with her. It wasn’t my decision, and I will try to prevent it in the future,” the man said.
Ethan stared at him for a moment before answering and it made the man very uncomfortable. “You don’t know much about her do you?” Ethan said. The man shrugged non-committally. “She’s…quite impressive.”
“That’s high praise coming from you.”
“I’m not stingy with praise when it’s deserved,” Ethan grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’ve just never given me a competent partner before. All the others were imbeciles.”
Ethan had always complained about his partners, but the truth was, his partners had not been imbeciles. They had been some of the best the agency had to offer. What did that say about the girl? Without meaning to, he turned to look at the place on the concourse she had last been.
“I wouldn’t have completed the mission as fast without her,” Ethan continued. “Perhaps not at all. It was biased toward a certain amount of technological savvy. You did know she was a computer expert, didn’t you?”
“Um… that wasn’t in her file,” the man said.
“I suggest you add it. She is the one who implemented the virus, and the one who bypassed the security measures on the computer that allowed us to get to the information before anyone else. I suspect that the backers were planning on releasing a clue as to how to get around the security tonight or tomorrow. I can get around on a computer without too much trouble, but not like James.”
Ethan shrugged. “It’s what I decided to call her.”
“I will update her profile,” the man said. “Regarding the computer skills.”
“James is more than just a pretty face. You are underutilizing her.” Ethan stood up. “It’s just about time for me to board too,” he said. “I imagine it won’t be long before I hear from you again.”
“I imagine not,” the man said. He stayed seated.
Ethan picked up the brief case he’d been carrying, but left the carryon suitcase. It was the agency’s. The man watched as he took two steps towards the concourse where his partner had disappeared a few minutes before.
Ethan stopped and turned. “I—wouldn’t be opposed to working with her again,” he said. The man in the black suit nodded. Ethan joined a scurrying crowd as it hurried down the concourse.
Ethan had found his partner. The man had long suspected that this is what he needed to become unstoppable. The man in the black suit took a sip of coffee from his cup. On his computer, he brought up the girl’s profile. Under code names he typed J A M E S.