No Way Out (Karen Vail 5) Alan Jacobson


No Way Out

A Karen Vail Novel (#5)

Copyright (c) 2013 Alan Jacobson. All Rights Reserved.

Suspense Magazine’s “Best of 2013″
The Strand Magazine’s #6 Best Thriller of the Year

 

1

Plaza Mayor

Madrid, Spain

 
 

“Could really do with a fag about now.”

A number of responses flooded Karen Vail’s thoughts—and not all of them politically correct. The one she chose was borderline, yet biting.

“I don’t do fags,” Vail said, knowing full well that the British man was talking about bumming a cigarette off her.

The homicide detective squinted, unsure of what to make of the feisty redhead—let alone her comment.

After a moment, he rocked back on his heels and said, “Your theory of finding signature within MO was quite intriguing.”

FBI profiler Karen Vail, in Madrid as part of the Behavioral Analysis Unit’s effort to provide instruction on criminal investigative analysis to the world’s police force, held out her hand. “Karen Vail.”

“Ingram Losner.” The thin man paused, then said, “You did know I was talking about a cigarette, a smoke. Not a back tickler.”

Back tickler? “I did,” she said. “But that wasn’t the first thing that crossed my mind. I don’t know a whole lot of British expressions, but isn’t that one outdated?”

“Old habits die hard. Kind of like smoking.”

Vail looked across the tourist-filled plaza at a mime who was clad in thick green metallic paint, standing rock still and holding a broom. “I stopped smoking a while ago. Shitty habit.” She faced Losner. “You do know what shitty is, right?”

“Of course.”

“I’m just saying. You people say ‘pissed’ for drunk, ‘fag’ for cigarette, ‘football’ for soccer—personally, I think we Americans have improved the English language.”

“Agent Vail,” said a suited man with a thick Spanish accent.

Vail turned. “Oh, Detective—” She snapped her fingers. “Heredia.”

“Very good, yes. I found your discussion of sexual homicide fascinating. It reminded me of a case I had four years—” His two-way radio chirped and he frowned. “Excuse me.” He yanked it from his belt. “Estoy fuera de servicio.” I’m off-duty. But a woman’s staccato speech erupted from the speaker, and Heredia’s expression hardened. He responded, “Sí, sí, estoy aquí.” Yes, yes, I’m here.

Vail struggled to follow the exchange. Her conversational Spanish was poor and the brush-up audio course she listened to in the weeks before her departure required more time than she had to give.

Vail picked up a few words and missed several others, but she got this much: Two murder suspects. Your location. Gray and blue backpacks.

Heredia’s head moved left and right as he scanned the crowd in front of him. “There!” He brought the radio to his mouth. “Los veo.” I see them.

Vail followed his gaze to two men a dozen feet away. They were carrying colored rucksacks like the ones the dispatcher had described.

“Policia,” Heredia called out. “Necesito hablar contigo.” I need to talk with you.

They turned to look, saw Heredia moving toward them, and took off.

Heredia followed, as did Vail. Losner’s voice receded behind her as she charged into the throng: “You’ve got no jurisdiction—you’re just a citizen!”

No, I’m a cop. And those are fleeing murder suspects.

Navigating through the dense horde of tourists and college students crowding the massive square, Vail saw the men running toward a side street. She did likewise, headed in their direction through the plaza’s archway exit onto Calle del Siete de Julio.

“You see them?”

Heredia. Behind her, slightly to her left—and suddenly blocked by a heavyset woman with a stroller.

“Got a visual!” she said without taking her eyes off the fleeing men.

Whether or not this was her jurisdiction, Vail was an officer of the law down to her bones. True, she was unarmed, and in Spain her FBI creds were worth less than the brass alloy her badge was made from—but none of that mattered as she sprinted ahead, darting around, and into, passersby.

Something deep down—the inner voice she sometimes ignored—Come on, Karen, admit it: you ignore me all the time!—told her to back off, to remember what she was here for. No matter how she parsed it, she was not in Spain to engage murder suspects in a foot race through the streets of Madrid.

Yet here she was, pushing forward, hurtling toward…who knew what.

She followed the men as they turned left onto Calle Mayor, through the flow of tourists and city dwellers, although the crowd had thinned considerably as she and Heredia put distance between them and the plaza.

As she crossed Calle del Duque de Najera, one of the men peeled left down the side street.
“I got him,” Heredia shouted.

Vail took the gray-backpacked man who continued straight. He slowed along Calle del Factor to dodge a passing taxi, its angry horn blaring.

On her left stood the imposing, brick Pallacio de Uceda. A soldier was stationed at one of the main entrances, a fully automatic machine gun slung over his shoulder. Asking him for assistance was out of the question; she had walked by the building two days ago and tried to chat him up about the best place to grab a taxi. He would not divert his attention to even talk with her, let alone join a harebrained chase.

Vail passed a Museo del Jamon restaurant on her left—with wrapped pig parts hanging in the window—and a cell phone store to her right.

The suspect dodged traffic and crossed the large avenue, Calle de Bailén. Slightly to the right and down the street was the massive complex of the Palacio Real de Madrid—the Royal Palace of Madrid.

But the guy toting the gray backpack was not headed toward the royal’s home—too much security there.

He swung left toward a sizable gray and tan structure, sharply spiked wrought iron fencing rising behind what appeared to be a statue of Pope John Paul II. A dozen crosses sat atop spires of varying heights, the most prominent being the building’s bell tower.

Vail’s suspect turned left down the steeply sloped side street, then ran up some stone stairs and through the church’s side door, the entrance to the Crypt of the Almudena Cathedral—a place one of the detectives had told her she “had to visit.”

This didn’t really qualify as a visit, but what the hell—she wasn’t going to have time to see the place otherwise.

As she entered the cathedral, a short man with frizzled gray hair was on his feet, looking to his right, pointing beyond the entryway. He turned to Vail and yelled, “Él no pagó!”

“Yeah, and I’m not paying either, buddy,” she said as she shouldered past him into the crypt. But the view immediately stopped her. “Holy shit—er, holy mother of God.” Please, God, don’t strike me down. I meant no disrespect. But the view is kind of breathtaking.

Charcoal-veined ivory marble tiles stretched a hundred yards down a long corridor lined with dozens of ornate columns and gold light fixtures. Strategic spotlights buried in the floor and accent lighting atop the columns lit the arching, atriumed ceiling, providing a dramatic aura in the dimly illuminated interior.

Vail couldn’t decide if the place was exquisite or gaudy.

But one thing was clear: her suspect was nowhere in sight.

She moved forward cautiously, down the corridor, passing open rooms to her right—private crypts with carved mantles, religious figurines and some of the most complex stained glass windows Vail had ever seen. Angel-themed murals made of inlaid tile formed the backdrop for works of ancient porcelain pottery set on elaborate pedestals.

“Yo sé que estás aquí,” Vail shouted. I know you’re here. “Policía! ¡Salga!” Police! Come out!

At least, I think that’s what I said. Should’ve paid more attention to that audio course.

Footsteps, twenty feet away, in the crypt off to her right.

Vail moved in the direction of the sound, reaching for her absent Glock. Shit. What am I going to do, spit on him? Yell at him? Well, I’ll definitely yell at him, but what’s that gonna get me?

As she passed the area where she had heard the noise, the clunk of something heavy striking the wall off to her left echoed in the corridor. She flinched and swung her head in that direction—but someone grabbed her from behind, locking the crook of his elbow into her larynx and yanking her backward. Vail pried at the man’s wrist, attempting to leverage his arm off her windpipe, but the pressure against her neck only increased.

She slammed her heel into his foot— and he released his hold enough for her to turn her head to the side and squirm down, out from under his grip. But then he brought his left knee up and swung it around, slamming into her side and sending her sprawling deeper into the crypt.

She landed face down on the slick tile floor and was trying to get up when he grabbed the back of her shirt and flung her into the stone wall. Her shoulder absorbed most of the impact, and she bounced back enough to give her the momentum to stumble forward, toward the opening that led to the corridor.

But he fisted her blouse and yanked her back toward him, then cupped a hand across her mouth. She wind-milled her elbows, striking him sharply in the nose and cheek—yet his grip remained firm.

He clamped a hand over her eyes and tried to force her to the ground.

Vail reached out blindly and grabbed for something—anything—and felt two objects. She took one in each hand and heaved them behind her, above her head.

They struck her attacker in the face.

He froze on impact—and she drove the point of her elbow into his abdomen. As he released his grip, she spun around, put her head down and struck him in the stomach, driving him backward like a linebacker doing tackling drills.

He grabbed her hair and pulled—but momentum and adrenaline propelled her forward several steps until they both struck the wall. It knocked the wind out of him and he lost his hold on her. She fell to the floor, landing on her bottom.

Vail got on her feet, ready to strike if he came at her again. And that’s when she realized that it was not the wall that had taken away his breath, but the wrought iron gate.

That, and the curved, razor-sharp pointed arrows atop the metal fencing.

As she advanced on him, it became clear that the murder suspect with the gray backpack was no longer a threat: the prongs had punctured the back of his skull, killing him instantly.

Footsteps. Running, echoing.

Shouting voices: “Policia! ¡Salga ahora!” Police! Come out now!

Now there’s a new one. Wish I’d thought of that.

Two cops appeared with handguns, pointed not at their dead suspect, but at her.

Vail did what all people are supposed to do when armed law enforcement personnel yell at you: she lifted both hands above her head. The universal sign for “I am so screwed.”

“FBI,” she said, not knowing if they understood English. And there was no way she’d be able to translate Federal Bureau of Investigation into Spanish. But she tried anyway. “Bureau Federale de Investigación.”

They looked at one another, hesitated—and then handcuffed her.

Typical cops. Don’t like fibbies.

As they led her away, she realized she had a problem. Murder suspect or not, she had killed a man in a foreign country. She was, as a buddy of hers liked to say, “in the shit.”
Lucy, you got some ’splaining to do.

VAIL FORCED A SMILE. She had been in the police interview room for thirty minutes, doing her best to explain her actions. But her piss-poor Spanish and their piss-poor English made for a lot of confusion and misunderstood hand gestures. Unfortunately, the one hand gesture Vail preferred to use would not have done her much good.
They finally summoned a translator.

“As I’ve been trying to tell you, I’m a Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI in the United States. I’m teaching a conference on behavioral analysis to your detectives.” She stopped and waited for the man to finish turning her English into Spanish. Accurately, she hoped.

A few exchanges later, she wondered if the interpreter understood English either. As he and the police official discussed the score of the soccer game between Real Madrid and Barcelona—they couldn’t have been talking about what she had just said because she had only uttered three sentences—Vail realized that her do-it-yourself attempt to save her ass was falling short.

“Find Detective Heredia. He’ll tell you. There was a call over his radio about two murder suspects.” She finished the story, and then the interpreter stopped and waited for her to continue. But she felt she’d already provided the police enough information for him to laugh, slap her on the back, apologize for putting her through the embarrassment of getting arrested—and then offer to take her out for tapas and beer.

He did none of that. Instead, he turned to face her and said, through the interpreter, “The Almudena Cathedral is the seat of the Madrid archdiocese. You disrespected our national treasure and destroyed valuable artifacts.”

Yikes, the archdiocese? For sure I’m gonna burn in hell. “It’s a really beautiful church.” Over the top gaudy, if you must know. “I’m truly sorry. I should’ve let the murder suspect get away.”

Some rapid-fire Spanish, and then the translation. “You have no jurisdiction here. Why did you initiate foot pursuit?”

I’m sure my boss will be asking me that same question.

“Instinct,” she said with a shrug. “I’m a cop. No matter what country I’m in, I live to catch the bad guys.”

The man frowned and shook his head.

Really? Not even a thank-you?

He walked to a phone, babbled something into the receiver, waited, then babbled some more. He finally returned and said, “Your FBI will be handling this.”

I can’t wait.

VAIL SAT IN THE STATION for another forty minutes, waiting for things to get sorted out. Because of the time difference, she was sure the delay was due to an inability to reach someone at the Bureau. She didn’t even know the protocol for a situation like this. It probably involved the Madrid FBI Legat, or legal attaché, calling his contact in the States, who would then alert an assistant director in charge, who would then call her boss. If that scenario was correct, she was not looking forward to hearing her name tossed about in hushed curses—not only for what she had done but because she did it at an “inconvenient” hour.

Finally Vail was led into a large room where the detectives had their desks, computers, and files. She was put in a chair and handed a phone. A line button was pushed and she said, “This is Vail.”

“Karen.”

It was the voice of the Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the behavioral analysis units, Thomas Gifford.

“You can imagine my surprise when I got a call from Director Knox about some trouble one of my agents got herself into. And the first thing I thought was, ‘Must be Karen.’ Now why is that?”

“I’m sorry they got you out of bed for this, sir.”

“I wasn’t in bed.”

Vail did a quick calculation—but before she could arrive at the answer, Gifford said, “I sent you to Madrid because I thought you’d do a good job representing the Bureau. But maybe that’s my fault for having unreasonable expectations.”

Ow. Did I deserve that? “You realize, sir, that none of this was my fault.”

“I’ll withhold judgment for the moment. But only because something’s come up. I need you to go to London.”

“London.” She looked around for a hidden camera crew capturing her surprise. “What’s in London?”

“There’s been a bombing and we were asked to provide support and analysis. Threat assessment.”

“What about my conference?”

“Postponed. If you wrap up your assignment in London quickly, you can go back to Madrid. But we’re also discussing a way of finishing it on Skype. Not ideal, but right now the priority is helping New Scotland Yard with this case. And—I can’t stress this enough, Karen—I want you to make like a good soldier and get along with others. Show respect to the other law enforcement personnel you come into contact with, especially the London Legat. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“That’s extremely important. I don’t want anymore phone calls.”

“No more phone calls. Got it.”

“Karen, I’m serious.”

“I am, too, sir. Phone calls are bad. I don’t want any phone calls either.”

“Karen—”

“No worries. Sarcasm’s in check. No insubordination. I will be a good soldier.”

“I’m not going to hold my breath.”

“Probably smart, sir.”

“Lenka worked with the travel office,” Gifford said, ignoring her comment, “to get you a room. London’s usually 80 percent occupied, and it’s particularly busy now, so it wasn’t easy. You’re booked into The Horatio Nelson at Charing Cross. It’s by Trafalgar Square, centrally located and very expensive. The British government is footing the bill. Please be courteous to the staff. Got it?”

“Courteous. Got it.”

“That means no attitude. That’s an order.”

“Yes sir. Got your order. A side of courteous, hold the attitude. When do I leave?”

Gifford groaned. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Sir, have I ever let you down?”

Gifford chortled. “Plenty of times.”

Vail furrowed her brow. This is a new leaf. No argument. Go with it. “Yeah, but here’s the thing: all that stuff’s behind me. I’m not gonna let you down. Clean slate.”

Gifford was quiet, no doubt wondering if she was serious—but hoping that she was. He said, “I’m going to hold you to that. Because I don’t have a choice and I’ve got someone from the Madrid Legat packing up your stuff as we speak. Head directly to Madrid-Barajas Airport. Your Lufthansa flight leaves in two hours.”

2

 

Vail arrived at Heathrow—a city within a city—and hiked about four miles to the entrance of the Underground, London’s subway system. Fine—it was only about three-quarters of a mile. It just felt like four.

Per Lenka’s emailed instructions, Vail went to the ticket window and purchased a week’s pass. The man handed her a blue card with “Oyster” lettered across it. She wasn’t quite sure what an ocean mollusk had to do with a subway system, but she had other things to worry about—like where she was going.

She navigated the long, narrow tunnels to the tracks and arrived just as the train pulled into the station. As she lifted her suitcase up into the car, a female voice filtered through the speaker. In “The Queen’s English” she announced, “This is a Piccadilly line train. Mind the gap.”

Vail turned to the woman seated to her left. “What did she say? Mind the what?”

“The gap. There’s a step up into the train and there’s a space between the car and the platform. I think you Americans say ‘watch your step.’”

Vail got off at Leicester Square station and “minded the gap” as she disembarked. Then she wheeled her suitcase back and forth, looking for the exit. There was none.

“Excuse me,” she said to a suited man heading toward her. “How do I get out of here? I don’t see any exit signs.”

“Just look for the way out.”

Vail drew her chin back. Does this guy understand English? Silly question. Of course he does. “That’s what I said. I’m trying to get the hell out of here.”

He pointed up and behind her.

Vail turned and scanned the ceiling. A black and yellow sign said “Way Out,” with an arrow that pointed right. You’ve gotta be kidding me. “And I suppose outside there’s a sign that says ‘Way In.’”

The man tilted his head. “What else would it say?”

“I don’t know. Maybe something simple like…‘Entrance’? And Exit?”

He frowned and hurried off.

Vail carried her suitcase up the stairs and then boarded an exceptionally long escalator that featured dozens of small, rectangular advertisements evenly spaced along the tiled walls of the tube-shaped tunnel.

At the top, she wheeled up to the electronic turnstile and placed her Oyster card over the reader. After another flight of stairs, she exited onto a rainy street. Lovely. No umbrella.

Ten minutes later, she arrived at her hotel, which sat adjacent to the Charing Cross underground station on The Strand, a busy commercial street lined with retail shops. She walked through the curved glass of automatic doors and into the soapstone floored lobby. A strong floral scent curled her nostrils.

She stepped up to the semicircular registration desk and was greeted by a Frenchwoman sporting a smile and a name tag that read, Aimée. Her heavily accented speech was nearly unintelligible.

“Checking in. Karen Vail.”

“Welcome to London,” Aimée said, punching the keys on her terminal. “How was your journey from the airport?”

“Did my best to mind the gaps. They’re very scary.”

Aimée’s smile faded. “Come again?”

“Who knows? Let’s first see if I like your city.”

Aimée stared at Vail a long moment, apparently confused. She recovered and fell back into her spiel. “We’re a full service facility. Would you like to know about the area? See the sights?”

“I’m here for work. I won’t have time for pleasure.”

“Well, if there’s anything you need, just ring us up.” She handed her a key card and said, “Oh wait. Room 204.” She hesitated, bit her lip, and looked back at her screen.

“Something wrong?”

“I will find you a different room. If you give me a moment.” She started tapping her keys again.

“What’s wrong with 204?”

Aimée’s eyes tracked up and met Vail’s. “I’m not supposed to tell the guests this, but you’re a woman, and, um…” She glanced left and right, leaned forward, and said, “Jack the Ripper supposedly stayed there, in 1888. I don’t think you’d find it to your liking.”

Jack the Ripper. How perfect is that? Vail grinned. “The room’s fine. I’ll take it.”

AFTER SETTING HER SUITCASE on the bed, Vail called her significant other, Robby Hernandez, and her son, Jonathan. She told them both she was in London, prompting Jonathan to ask her to buy him a sweatshirt—and a shot glass.

“A what? You’re fifteen years old.”

“It’s not for drinking, mom. My friend collects them and they’re cool.”

“Let me think about that one.”

“God, ma, sometimes you’re such a—such a—”

“Mother? Guilty as charged. I’m not saying no, I’m just saying I have to think about it.” Then I’ll say no. “Okay?”

“Whatever.”

“I’ll talk to you soon. I love you, sweetie.”

“Love you, too.”

After hanging up, Vail took a cab to the American embassy in Mayfair. The massive building occupied an entire city block, fronting the adjacent heavily wooded and grassy Grosvenor Square. Statues of Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower stood heroically at either end of the park’s planters.

Multiple Delta security barriers rose from the ground along a semicircular foot path that brought visitors to two sizable bronzed glass guard booths that sat astride the embassy’s front steps.

An American flag ruffled in the breeze, just above a massive eagle that extended from the center of the roof. Despite the ugly uniformity of the building’s dated and uninspired design amid a city of classic, centuries-old architecture blended with contemporary glass marvels, Vail felt a sense of pride well up inside her chest as she paused to watch the stars and stripes ripple above. The founders were not only visionaries relative to the new government they were forming, but they selected a flag design that was inspiring—and timeless.

Vail had heard that the embassy was moving to an ultramodern facility and that the existing complex had been sold to a Qatari developer. She had little doubt the London demolition crew would enjoy ridding the city of this eyesore.

Vail stepped up to the guard booth. Ten feet away, behind tall wrought iron fencing, men toting large machine guns paced the grounds. The one closest looked her over—at a fit five-seven with a mane of curly red hair, it was something she was accustomed to—but his was not the lusty gaze men often gave her. His expression was stony. All business.

He evidently decided she was not an immediate threat, since he turned his attention to an approaching tourist snapping photos of the embassy.

Vail entered the booth and placed her creds on the security scanner, then walked through the magnetron while one of the British guards called the Legat’s office to confirm her appointment.

Nothing was taken for granted. Such was the state of the world these days.

MOMENTS LATER, VAIL EMERGED from the elevator. The administrative assistant, whose name plaque read Annette Winston, glanced up. “Agent Vail. Welcome. The legal attaché will see you in a moment.”

Jesus Montero, dressed in a finely tailored dark blue suit, white shirt, and bright red tie, sat down behind his large desk. He opened a folder and turned a page.

He did not invite Vail to sit, and since she intended to keep her promise to Gifford to be a good soldier, she waited for Montero to offer her a seat.

“So how was your time in Spain?” he asked, turning another page in the file.

Crap. Don’t ask me about Spain. “Fine,” Vail said. “Beautiful city. My first time there. Lots of churches and antiquities.” Fewer antiquities, unfortunately, after I left.

Montero skimmed a file note as he spoke. “And ASAC Gifford sent you over here? Is that right?”

“Yes sir. He said it was important. I haven’t been briefed yet. Some kind of threat assessment.”

“Exactly,” Montero said, scrawling his loopy signature across a document. “Bombing at an art gallery. High profile location. Lots of media. The nature of the target makes it a big deal to the British government. You’re going to have your hands full.”

And here I was, hoping to see the town, get in some shopping at Harrods. Damn.
For the first time, he looked up from his paperwork. His eyes were cold and dark, penetrating. Serial killer-like.

“What?”

Did I say that out loud? “Nothing. I didn’t say anything.”

Montero let his pen drop and leaned back in his chair. “You didn’t have to. Your face said it all.”

My face? Shit, it’s harder to master this good soldier thing than I thought.

“I’m going to be honest with you, Agent Vail.”

“Honesty is always best, sir.” Bullshit. Sometimes that white lie is worth something. Jesus, Karen. Stop it. He can read the sarcasm on your face.

“It’s your record,” Montero said. “It concerns me. A great deal.”

Vail narrowed her eyes. “I think I’ve got an exemplary record.”

“Yes, I’ve no doubt you’d think that. I’ve had agents like you before under my command. Problems, every one of them. Their value to the Bureau never surpassed the shit they stirred up.”

Vail narrowed her left eye. She felt blood rushing to her face. Oh crap. Keep your cool, Karen. You’re a good soldier. You’re a good soldier. She put her hand to her mouth and forced a few deep coughs to mask the flushed skin.

“You’ve had some problems with ASAC Gifford. And a domestic violence complaint—”

“And a lot of very important arrests. Are those in your file, too?”

“Yes,” he said with a dismissive wave of a hand. “Somewhere.”

Smile. Lighten the mood. “The reports of my insubordination have been greatly exaggerated.” Is quoting Mark Twain over the top?

Montero squinted. “Are you trying to be funny?”

She straightened her shoulders. “No sir.”

The door opened and in walked Annette Winston. She marched over to Montero and handed him a message slip.

He glanced at it, then his eyes narrowed and he shifted forward in his chair. “Thank-you, Annette.” The woman turned and headed out.

Montero looked at Vail. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

Vail swiveled to look behind her. “You talking to me, sir?”

“There’s no one else in the room,” Montero said. “And no one else here who needed her ass bailed out of trouble by the Legat in Madrid.”

“Oh,” Vail said, swatting the air with a hand. “That. It was nothing, really.”

“Let’s get something clear, Agent Vail. You’re here until I say you can’t be here anymore. In this country, I am the FBI. I am the director here. There is no higher authority. Kind of like God. Get it?”

“Yes sir. After all, your name is Jesus. I get it.”

He studied her face a long moment, then asked, “Do you? Do you really?”

“I think so. God is pretty absolute.”

Montero rose from his chair. He walked up to Vail, very close—too close—invading her space—and looked down at her.

“I think you should take a step back, sir. With all due respect, of course. The last man who tried to intimidate me by getting in my face ended up—well, it didn’t end well for him. But you probably saw that in my file.”

Montero ground his molars and took a long moment to respond. But he did not move. Finally he said, “Don’t bother unpacking your bags, Agent Vail. You won’t be staying in London. Wait outside with Annette.”

VAIL ENTERED THE ANTEROOM and took a seat. Annette was on the phone.

“Yes sir. Please hold.” She glanced at Vail with a concerned expression on her face, then pressed a button and dialed a long string of numbers. Moments later, she said, “This is Annette Winston at the London Legat office. Mr. Montero would like to speak with Director Knox…Yes, I’ll hold.”

Oh shit, Karen. The director? Not my biggest fan. But what was I supposed to do?
Five minutes later, Montero’s door swung open. “Agent Vail. Come in.”

Vail pulled herself out of the chair and made her way into Montero’s office.

“Look, sir,” she said, trying to strike a conciliatory tone. “I’m sorr—”

“You will complete your assignment in England,” Montero said. “You will report everything to me, no matter how inconsequential.”

Montero kept his eyes on the desk. Unlike before, his penetrating gaze never once made contact with Vail’s face.

“Okay,” she said, trying to hide the shock. “Can I have a handgun to carry while in-country?”

“No.” He sat down and shuffled some papers. “England’s very different from the States. There’s no tolerance for guns here. Even the police officers—even the detectives—don’t carry.” He shifted a stack of files—and had still not looked at her. “We’re done here. You can leave.”

Vail rose from her chair and turned to leave, but Montero stopped her.

“Stay out of trouble, Agent Vail. I don’t want to have to clean up any of your messes.”

Yeah. I got that speech already. No phone calls.

Vail left the room without responding, still confused about what had happened. As she exited the building, she realized none of that mattered. The faster she could complete her threat assessment, the sooner she could head home.


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