Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 6

Rowena had gotten used to seeing Done, Trinity and Mark as teachers and friends, but she'd never seen them work together like this. They'd stuck their heads together, made a plan, and turned the hotel room into an impromptu command center with quickly-procured tech. With Done out to gather their arsenal for the worst case scenario and Trinity on the laptop arranging a few things, the only one missing was Simmons - who soon stepped out of the bathroom in his suit, this time wearing a black tie and a fresh shave.

"Phone," he said; without looking, Trinity grabbed one of the three cellphones on the table and chucked it toward him. Mark plucked the phone out of the air and started dialing.

Like clockwork.

"Hey baby," he said as soon as the phone call came through. "Don't fuck with me, we're in the same timezone. Is your husband around? Yes, it's professional. Can't talk, spy stuff."
"Guten Tag, Herr Mayer. Ich wuerde gerne auf mein Nummernkonto zugreifen..." Trinity spoke into her headset.
"Dante? You sound like you just got up. You did? My bad. Listen, can you do me a favor? We need to do some transactions..."
"...vier zwo sieben, Deckname Panther..."
"Okay, you got it? See anything over 10 million moving in the last seven days? We need to trace them all...yes, I mean, you need to trace them all. Sorry."
"...ueberweisen Sie das Geld bitte auf das Konto..."
"Confirmed, I saw that guy...yes, that one, too...that one's off. Deep search..."
"...ja, alles..."
"Well, hack it, then."
"...wann kann ich auf das Geld zugreifen?"
"Okay, now, do something. Throw their flags."
"Vielen Dank, Herr Mayer. Wir sprechen uns morgen..."
"Like a Christmas tree? Ha, score. Thanks, man. I'll wire you some goodies."
"W√ľnsche ich Ihnen auch! Auf Wiedersehen."

And they both hung up.

"Green," Mark said. "Green," Trinity replied, then looked at Rowena and chucked another phone at her. "Call in the big guns."

Rowena started dialing.

---

It was, technically, billed as a white tie event, but Mark put that down to a miscalculation; it was hard enough to get everyone into a suit for the auction, and he could only assume that some intern of Peter's had typed up the invitations. The whole thing went down in a rebuilt cinema slash lecture hall, which was the largest and comfiest arrangement one could hope for in an old military base. The team went in with their formal clothes again - Trinity had joined Rowena's lead and gone with a business suit for this one, although she chose to wear a skirt for reasons unknown and, perhaps, unfathomable.

"On 3," Done said, and Mark cocked his head about to spot Gray and Abbot standing near the impromptu bar sipping bubbly.
"Warm up the seats," Mark replied. "Time to meet the snakes, kid," he said to Rowena, who followed him as he closed the distance to his nemesis.

Mark decided that this was worth the anger management issues and put on a smile, then held his hand out for Gray to shake. The mastermind gave him a glare, but finally completed the handshake.

"Here to kill me, I presume?" Gray said, by way of starting the conversation; Abbot stood close, her eyes twinkling with barely contained psionic power.
"I'm a bit busy right now," Mark replied. "But I do have an opening in February. Just you, me and a chainsaw. How's that sound to you?"
"I'm all stocked up on idle threats. And you must be Gabriel," he said, addressing Brandon's daughter.
"I already have a name, and it's Rowena."
"Well, you're infamous and don't look happy, so I think we had the better idea there. A crying shame really, especially considering that you could have been with the winners..."

At this moment, Rowena understood, if only briefly, why Mark hated Dennis Gray.

"You haven't won yet," she retorted.
"That just shows how little you know." Gray sported a thin smile. "Oh, and tell Daddy that I'm looking forward to crushing his throat."

Rowena realized that Mark was dragging her away, and she was only slightly less freaked out by him being the voice of reason than by her own reaction to Gray. That man had a face that just begged to be bashed in, and Rowena dearly wished to be the girl with the Louisville Slugger. Still smoldering, Mark almost had to force her to sit down in her seat, but finally she went along and fixed her eyes onto a new task: burn a hole into the cinema's white screen.

"That went well," Mark said, in that tone where Rowena had difficulty telling if he was being sarcastic.
"Can I kill him, please?"
Mark shrugged. "Maybe later."

---

The lights dimmed; finally a spotlight fell onto the stage and traced Peter Krueger's way from his seat to the podium.

"Ladies and - *ahem*, excuse me - Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to my little auction. As you know, we've all gathered here to do a little business on the side - and judging by the numbers my assistant is holding up on a big piece of cardboard" - that drew some laughs from the audience - "judging by those numbers, I can say that 'little' equals about 67 million Euros this year."

Applause.

"It's a good year, really, it is. I remember when we started out in 1992 - I sold two capguns and a Makarov."

Laughter.

"Now, what you all came here for. I'm not claiming it's for everyone. It's not the big revolution in small arms or the newest hot thing - this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is proven Russian engineering at it's finest. Four items that truly deserve the label - Ultima Ratio Regum."

The film projector started up, showing several minutes worth of footage of the ICBMs - their loading onto a Typhoon-class boomer, a test launch, a computer smiluation of their impact pattern with MIRV warheads.

"Let us not mince words, Ladies and Gentlemen. You're not just bidding on any old set of rockets. You're bidding on becoming your own private nuclear superpower. Imagine the power! Imagine the prestige! And try not to faint when you imagine the resale value."

This time, there was no laughter or applause - the whole hall was silent, the audience enraptured by the images. With a flick of the switch, the projector switched off, and the lights came back on slowly, leading to some murmurs.

"You'll find a tablet PC set up next to your seats - if you would kindly enter your invitation numbers so we can confirm your identites..."

A minute went by while everyone prepared; Krueger kept his eyes on the master system display and finally nodded with satisfaction.

"I think we're ready now. You'll see a numeric pad on your screen - just enter your bid and click 'send'. The highest bid will show up on this display here -" Krueger indicated a big LED array above the podium - "together with your invitation number. If you want to update your bid, just enter a new number and send it. Oh, and of course, you're not just bidding on the rockets - as you may recall, I have an Antonov on the airfield all fueled up and ready to deliver the rockets to your destination of choice. You'll also get a full set of the technical manuals and six months of our 'No Worries' service policy - all free of charge, of course. Now that we've explained the basics...allow me to say my catchphrase."

Krueger took a deep breath, using the pause for dramatic impact, then put on his best salesman smile.

"Let's deal," he said.

---

"80 Million? You can do better than that, people!" Krueger exclaimed; the display shuffled upwards as if in response. The field had levelled off to a good degree, settling into a six-way bidding war. That was somewhat sooner than Krueger had expected, but then again, this was a lot of money. Maybe it would have been better to sell the missiles seperately...

Mark furiously worked his tablet, pushing the bidding past the 100; two bidders quit right there, but four parties pushing the auction didn't slow it down significantly. At 110, another one bailed, then it went up to 150 and seemed to stretch on forever.

"When do we quit?" Done asked.
"Not yet..." Mark answered, scribbling 160 onto the tablet. Rowena took a deep breath - this wasn't pocket change.

Trinity looked through the audience and saw a man in some sort of desert fatigues get up and smash his tablet onto the floor - so much for number 3.

"Who's leading?" she asked.
"We are," Mark said. "Come on, come on..."

The display jumped to 170, courtesy of Gray.

"Shit!" Done mouthed.
Mark kept his fingers still. "Second place is plenty," he said, watching intently for further bids.

---

At the podium, Krueger smiled at the numbers, then turned to the audience.

"That looks like it levelled out to me," he said. "Going...going..."

---

"Do something!" Done said.
"Okay," Mark replied, then laid down the tablet and smiled.

---

"Gone!" Peter shouted, and let it stand for a second before a murmur went through the crowd. "Will Number 65 please stand up?"

---

The gang watched Gray rise into the spotlight; he grinned and waved at them, but then he saw Mark's smile and turned his facial expression down a notch.

"What the fuck just happened? Why didn't you go higher?" Done asked.
"We couldn't outbid him, not for any sort of realistic price. Trust me, that was the right thing."
"Calm down, honey," Trinity said. "That was how we wanted it to go."
"Waste of time," Done replied. "Now what?"
"Now?" Mark's smile grew into a grin. "We walk back to the hotel, plunder the minibar and wait for the call..."

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