Just Another New Year’s Eve
I STARED out of the window of the office I used on those rare times when I was in town, which was two, maybe three times a year at most. Although lately….
Mr. Wallace, the man who ran the Washington Bureau of Intelligence and Security, had requested I stay in contact. I’d worked for him for almost fifteen years, and while I wouldn’t do it for anyone else, when he said jump, I was willing to ask how high.
Well, mine wasn’t to question why, and I didn’t know for certain, but I had my hopes.
Maybe he’d finally let me loose on that shit Robert Sperling, who was the Director of Interior Affairs.
Director of Asshole Affairs was more like it. He’d cost me a good team a number of years back, and I wanted him in my crosshairs. So far The Boss—and yeah, that was in caps—had said no, but he was a smart man, and I had no doubt he had a reason for keeping Sperling alive.
One day, though, The Boss would turn me loose on him. I pictured Sperling hung up by his thumbs while I slowly peeled the skin from his pathetic dick.
I smiled, then shook myself out of that pleasant reverie.
It was New Year’s Eve, but as far as I was concerned, it was just another day. Looking up, I could just make out the gunmetal-gray sky over the roof of the building opposite. There was no threat of snow hovering over the District, but the temperature was below freezing.
Aside from that, it was Standard time; even though it was only four thirty, it looked later.
What the fuck was I even doing in DC at this time of year? Usually, The Boss had me in Melbourne or Seoul, maybe London or Prague.
If I were there, I’d get in touch with my friend Pierre de Becque. Pete mostly did what I did, only in Europe. He worked for an antiterrorist organization that was so highly covert no one knew which of the arrondissements of Paris it was quartered in.
But I was here and from what I could gather, Pete was in Stockholm, and while I was going to be spending New Year’s Eve alone, he’d probably have that skinny blonde with him. Not that he’d take her to bed. Pete was a dedicated bottom, and the sooner Kiska accepted it, the better it would be for both of them. If she kept getting distracted by his beaux yeux, she’d wind up getting them both killed.
Of course I didn’t have to be alone if I didn’t want to. The WBIS had a list of ladies who were available for the evening. I took the paper out of my wallet and looked over the names. Inga, Gus, Delilah. Blondes, brunettes, redheads. Slim, curvy, busty, whatever was my pleasure. I could take my pick.
Or I could spend it with a rent boy. Pretty Boy was a good kid—well, he really wasn’t a kid anymore. He was twenty-seven now—and he was worth his fee, although the one time I’d had him had been gratis. That was back when I’d rented an attic apartment from the boys. I’d done them a favor by decking a client who was stoned out of his mind. I hadn’t known if he was an asshole because he was stoned or if his being stoned just made him more of an asshole. He’d become violent, I’d clocked him and chucked him out, and they’d been anxious to pay me back ever since.
But I had no doubt Pretty Boy was booked up for the evening, if not for the entire day.
I went back to my computer and studied the image on the screen. Quinton Mann, Deputy Director of Operational Targeting of the CIA, whose family was considered royalty in the intelligence community. His father had been CIA, as had his maternal grandfather, although his cover had been working at State. Two uncles on his mother’s side were also CIA, while another was NSA. The Spanish American War, the Civil War, the Revolution; Mann had ancestors involved in them all.
I knew of him—who didn’t?—but I’d never met him until the summer before, although that might not be the best term for the manner in which we’d crossed paths. We’d both been in a deserted warehouse on the Patapsco River, Mann to buy the plans and prototype of a cyclotron, and me to retrieve it since the scientist who’d developed it had done so under the aegis of Huntingdon Corp., which was the front for the WBIS.
The last thing I’d expected was to be impressed by Mann. I thought he’d be the usual dilettante, relying on his family’s reputation to carry him along, but he was the real deal, a class act, right down to his Edward Green oxfords. And in spite of the fact he’d been shot, he’d held on to that briefcase, willing to face me down.
Of course I was annoyed that he’d thought I’d shot him. Not that I wouldn’t have if it had been necessary, but it would have been a kill shot, not a flesh wound to the thigh.
He was a good-looking man, but it wasn’t what I could see that intrigued me. What goes on behind those hazel eyes of yours, Mann?
There was a tap on my door and I toggled out of that screen. “Yes?”
Ms. Parker, my secretary whenever I was at WBIS headquarters, opened the door and stepped in tentatively. “If it’s all right with you, sir, I’ll go home now.”
“Sure. Plans?” It was New Year’s Eve, after all.
“Yes.” She didn’t look happy, though. Under orders of the WBIS, she was still seeing that asswipe CIA officer.
I leaned my elbow on my desk and propped up my chin on my palm. “Want me to talk to The Boss about it, get you someone else to date?” I had to offer—she was an excellent secretary and I valued her skills—but I hoped she wouldn’t take me up on it. I only knew of one spook who was worth anything, and that was Mann. There was no way I’d suggest she start seeing him, especially since he was seeing a woman who worked in Justice.
“Thank you, but no.” She looked like she wanted to say something else, but instead she put a bright smile on her face. “We’re going to the Madison Arms. The CIA has taken over the Dolley Madison Room for the night, and it’s going to be such fun!” For a moment her smile slipped, but then it became even more brilliant. “Happy New Year, sir!”
“Happy New Year, Ms. Parker.”
She started to close the door, then stopped, obviously startled by someone behind her, and I reached for the Glock in my shoulder holster. But then she said, “Good afternoon, Mr. Wallace!”
What the fuck? I eased the gun back into its holster. What was The Boss doing here? He always sent for his agents or directors to come to him.
Ms. Parker stood aside to allow him to enter and then turned to me. “Mr. Vincent, did you want me to get anything? Coffee? Sandwiches?”
“Thank you, Ms. Parker.” It was The Boss who answered. “But there’s no need for you to be late on my account. Enjoy your evening.”
“Yes, sir.” But she still waited for my response. Trevor Wallace might be The Boss of the WBIS, but I was her boss. I gave a slight nod. “Thank you, sir. Happy New Year.”
“Just one thing, Ms. Parker. If you’ll step into your office? Excuse us a moment, Vincent.”
“Sure.” Like I was going to say no? But what did The Boss need to talk to her about?
In a matter of minutes, he was back.
“You’re here late, Vincent.”
“No later than usual.” I eyed him cautiously. It wasn’t like The Boss to state the obvious.
“It is New Year’s Eve. Most of the other departments closed down at noon.”
“I’m aware of that, sir.”
“No plans for this evening?”
“No, sir. Mr. Wallace, was there something you needed me to do?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” He glanced casually at the screen of my monitor. I didn’t bother checking it. All he’d see was a spreadsheet that kept track of Robert Sperling’s latest comings and goings.
Mr. Wallace wasn’t thrilled about it, but as long as I didn’t do anything beyond shooting paperclips at Sperling, he wouldn’t challenge me on it.
The screen I’d toggled out of, though…. He’d definitely challenge me on that. A WBIS agent might have every reason to keep a file on a CIA spook, but there was no reason to have wallpaper of Quinton Mann.
Mr. Wallace hitched up a pant leg and made himself comfortable on the corner of my desk. “The affair at the Madison Arms.” He folded his arms across his chest.
“Yes, sir?” I started getting a bad feeling.
“I need you there.”
I was a senior special agent, and I worked best in the field. Rubbing elbows with spooks who thought they were God’s gift to the intelligence community was not what I did.
Of course I wasn’t about to tell that to The Boss.
“My tux isn’t back from the cleaners.”
He knew I had a monkey suit; it was his… suggestion… that I purchase one. I’d countered that renting might be more cost effective, but there was a reason why he was The Boss. He’d simply cocked his eyebrow and smiled that crooked smile of his, and I’d gone out and bought a Fumagalli. Not because it was half the price of a Hugo Boss, but because I hadn’t anticipated finding much use for it, and I’d been right: this would be the second time that I’d be wearing it.
Besides, I figured it suited me well enough.
“Then go and pick it up.” I opened my mouth and he held up his hand. “And don’t tell me they’re closed. Have them open.”
They got a lot of business from the WBIS, so yeah, they’d open for me.
He stared at me stonily. “It wouldn’t have needed to go to the cleaners if you hadn’t sneaked up on Bob.”
“I don’t sneak, sir.” It wasn’t my fault Sperling hadn’t been paying attention. He’d turned around, seen me behind him, and spit his drink all over my tux.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Vincent?” he’d demanded.
I’d opened my eyes really wide. “I was invited.” Although I’d had no clue why. This was the first time The Boss had told me to get into my tux and show up at the party he hosted for directors, and I was a little uneasy.
“You… I… how….” Sperling had ground his teeth, then stepped around me and stalked over to where the Director of Public Relations stood with his personal assistant. A nod from his director, and the personal assistant had left them.
Sperling’d glared at me over his shoulder before deliberately turning his back on me.
Not the smartest idea—I wouldn’t have done it—but then he wasn’t me.
I’d looked down at my tux. Well, until The Boss let me off the leash, Sperling was safe for another day.
A waiter passed by, and I’d stopped him.
“Would you care for a glass of champagne, sir?”
“No thanks.” I had a minor issue with champagne—it made me horny as hell, and if I had no interest in getting laid, I stayed away from it. “Napkin?”
“Of course, sir.”
I’d taken the napkin and brushed at the drops of champagne that were splattered all over my dress shirt and my jacket.
“You might want some club soda for that.”
“Good idea. Thanks.” I’d need to head for the bar. Unless…. I’d started to grin. This would make a perfect excuse for me to leave.
I’d crossed the room to where The Boss stood with some of his senior directors and waited patiently until there was a break in the conversation.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll need to leave. Champagne leaves an unpleasant stain.”
He’d looked from me to Sperling, shook his head, and said, “Go.”
“Thank you. Merry Christmas, sir.”
Not that it had been. It was just another day for me, and a workday at that, although I did drop off presents to some people I knew—the rent boys who’d been my landlords, the genius who worked R&D for the WBIS and who’d come up with some nifty gadgets for me, and a medical examiner who’d done some autopsies on the odd occasion when a body needed to be officially dead.
Mr. Wallace cleared his throat pointedly, and I focused on him again.
“You were thinking of Sperling, weren’t you?”
“Actually, I wasn’t.”
“You weren’t? Hmmm. I must be losing my touch.”
“Not you, sir.” I wasn’t touching that one with a ten-foot pole.
“You’ll be on the clock.” He handed me an envelope. Inside was a ticket granting admittance to the New Year’s Eve event to K. Flint. That was a name I used if I was going undercover as a spook. Anyone looking into it would find I’d been recruited out of Cornell, and both the CIA and Cornell would have the records to back it up.
“What am I looking for?” Flint appeared to be stationed in Austria this time around.
“Director of Counter Intelligence Edward Holmes. It seems he’s becoming very cozy with a certain senator from the Midwest.”
“The same senator who’s on the Appropriations Committee?” He’d been giving us a pain in the ass, and because it was happening within the country, it was Sperling’s job to straighten it out.
“The very one.”
“I’ll keep an eye on Holmes.”
“I knew I could count on you.”
“Do I have time for prosthetics?” R&D down in the basement had the raw materials. I’d need to bake them and then let them cool, but if I had the time—
“If you’re fast enough. I don’t want you there later than eight.”
I shook my head. “I have nothing made up in my apartment, although I can tack my ears back. It’s amazing what a difference that can make.” They were prominent, but no one called me Dumbo. Not more than once.
“I trust you. This is a last-minute assignment, and I’m sorry for that, but something came up, and the director I was going to send will be unable to attend.”
Shit. I hoped this didn’t mean he was planning on grooming me for a desk job. I’d been in the field longer than any other agent, and only part of that was due to the fact that the date of birth listed in my file shaved five years off my real age—I was just that fucking good.
I worried at my inner cheek. I wouldn’t let the fact that the WBIS believed in mandatory retirement from the field at the age of thirty-five bother me now. “Ms. Parker is going to be there.”
“Yes. That’s why I asked to speak to her. I informed her of your attendance and that if she should see you, she’s not to recognize you.”
“Okay.” She was good, and I could trust her not to blow my cover. “I’ll shut down my computer and get going.”
“Excellent. Report to me in the morning.”
“In the morning” would be New Year’s Day, but I didn’t have any plans, and if The Boss was going to be here at headquarters, then so would I.