Jason looked across the table in mild disbelief. The 14 oz. Porterhouse steak, baked potato and broccoli, had disappeared before his chicken breast and vegetables were even half gone. She had also eaten most of the cheese fries and mushrooms they had ordered for appetizers. It was incredible how someone 5 foot 4, and 120 pounds, could put away so much food. It also warmed his heart. For some reason he just loved watching her eat.
Alison pushed her empty plate aside and began looking through the desert menu. She was eyeing the brownie sundae. He continued where he had left off.
“I know you don’t want to push her too hard, but I think we should just keep going with the testing. She seems none the worse for wear. Actually, I think she’s enjoying it.”
“I think the part she’s enjoying is having so much time off from school,” Alison replied, keeping a close eye on the door to the lady’s room.
“Could very well be,” Jason said. “But she won’t be in that place much longer. Besides, the sooner we finish her tests, the sooner we’ll be able to know where to put her in school.”
Jason knew exactly where to put her in school, but schools for the gifted required test results. They were funny that way.
Alison eyed the restroom door again. “Maybe I should go to the lady’s room. She should have been back by now.”
“Relax, she’s fine.”
“I’m sure she is. It’s just that I can’t help worrying.”
Jason smiled, “Stay calm mother hen. Your baby girl is just fine. Remember our talk about letting her do more and more on her own? How it will help to build her self-confidence? As a matter of fact, I think I remember the bathroom thing being your idea in the first place.”
It had been her idea. In the short time she had come to live with Alison, Sarah had made considerable progress towards coming out of the shell that she had built up around herself. She was smiling more now, responding, (somewhat), to the other teachers, and even conversing with a couple of the girls in one of her classes.
Deep down, Alison knew there was no need to worry. The mental connection between Sarah and Jason was becoming more reliable than radar. It seemed to grow stronger every day, as if they were learning it together. Still she worried, as mothers tend to do. Even though Sarah was an incredibly gifted girl, she was introverted, and only 7 years old. A minute later Sarah walked out of the lady’s room, and her foster mother felt at ease. The brownie sundae was delicious.
Fred Listerman was on his second Jack Daniels when a very tall man, in a very expensive suit, sat down across from him. He put his arm up with his index finger outstretched. “Miss, two more Jacks on the rocks over here.”
“You’re late,” Listerman said, as casually as possible. He was feeling good now. He had the information and he felt in control.
“Sorry. Do you have the package?”
“Got it right here,” Listerman said, reaching into his inside suit coat pocket. The waitress appeared, and he clumsily put it back. She put the drinks on the table, along with the bill. Four Jack Daniels, $34.60. The tall guy gave her two twenties and told her to keep the change. He looked across the table and smiled as he was handed the thumb drive. He put it in his coat pocket, and in return produced a letter-sized envelope, fat with hundred-dollar bills. He slid it across the table. Listerman looked all around before picking it up. The tall man looked only at him. He took one sip of his drink after Listerman picked up the money and got up to leave.
“I’ll be in touch.”
“Aren’t you going to finish your drink?”
“No time. I’ve been running late all day.”
“Suit yourself,” Listerman said with a casual wave good-by. It wasn’t like he wanted to chat with the guy anyway. He returned to his drink. As he looked around again, he saw a bunch of middle-class business people coming in to unwind after a hard day’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. The successful exchange, along with the whiskey, had him feeling pretty damn self-righteous.
He called the girl back over and ordered another one. Watching her hips sway back and forth on her way to the bar, he thought to himself, this was the easiest damned three thousand dollars I’ve ever made.
It’s funny how wrong people usually are, when they’re feeling self-righteous.
“I’ve told you not to come in here when she’s working. She just stops when she sees you, and we still have a long way to go.”
“Boy, when you proctor a test you really crack the old whip. What happens tomorrow, bamboo shoots under the fingernails while attempting statistical mechanics?”
“Sorry, I just thought I’d pop in to see how things were going with my two favorite girls.”
Alison exhaled long and hard.
“Things are going fine,” she said. “At least they were before you got here. I’ll call you this afternoon. Now would you please leave. Every time you’re around she slows down or stops. She seems to sense whenever you’re in the hallway. I can tell you’re about to come in the room by the change in her body language.”
“OK. OK. I’m leaving,” Jason said, smiling at Sarah and waving.
Sarah waved back, pencil in hand, legs swinging under her chair. She took a sip of orange juice before continuing.
“But let’s be fair about this,” Jason added on his way out. “She knows when I’m entering the building.”
The two agents were discussing baseball at the bar when the very tall man came in. They had been working together for over two years now and knew exactly what, and what not to do.
When Listerman’s friend got up to leave, so did they. Two people arguing the merits of the designated hitter, going to their separate cars after work, are much less noticeable than one man leaving alone. “Hide in plain sight” was routinely taught at Langley these days. After getting the license number of the tall man’s car, they went their separate ways. They did not follow him. No one followed him. He was a professional, and probably would have seen that. He would be easy to locate now. Within the next few days, when the time was right, a small G.P.S. device would be placed on his car enabling them to keep track of his whereabouts.
It was amazing how much more money could be made doing private consulting work, compared to even a senior agent's salary. After twenty years of field work, this type of thing was basically a walk in the park. These guys never took things for granted though. They never got cocky. That’s why they were the best. That’s also why they were so expensive.
The man sitting behind the forty-five square foot desk was not pleased. Not pleased at all. The man in front of the desk was standing more than at attention. He was rigid.
“Do you realize what this means? We not only have alerted the people at Universal that someone is attempting to steal their data, making it now almost impossible to do so, but we’ve led them right back to us in the process!
And for what? For what? For this, this, piece of SHIT!”
The man behind the desk was standing now, waving the folder containing the phony information, and the report confirming so, above his head in a rage.
“That idiot. That fucking IDIOT!” he hollered.
To punctuate his disgust, he threw the folder into the other man’s face hard as he said the word idiot the second time.
Papers landed everywhere, on the desk, on the floor. The man in front of the desk made no effort to pick them up, or to attend to his nose, which was now bleeding. His heart was in his throat, and he was afraid to move. A long moment passed. The man behind the desk sat back down, apparently calmer. The man in front of the desk resumed breathing.
“Sir, I of course assume full responsibility for any repercussions. I offer no excuse for my poor judgment.”
Again, an intolerably long moment passed. The man standing knew his superior would accept no excuses. He also knew his superior rarely lost emotional control. Seeing him do so, knowing the power he held, was terrifying. He desperately wanted to say something in his own defense, but he dared not. He just stood there silent, sweating.
“That will be all.”
“Sir, if I might just…”
“That will be ALL!”
Huboral International: Founded in 1919. Multinational corporation, with projects in over 30 countries. Does consulting for government, military, foreign governments, and high-level companies all over the globe. Heavily into oil, gas, and construction. Also, allegedly involved with C.I.A. in covert operations, supplying arms and munitions. Consolidated resources approximately $26.8 billion.
Once Bob Schimmel saw the name on the report, he really didn’t need to read the rest. He knew only too well who they were but was a little surprised they were trying to steal from Universal Biotech. It was a bit unsettling, even for him.
Huboral Intl. was one of the biggest and nastiest sharks in the corporate ocean. The big man had some thinking to do. This chess game had just gone to Grand Master level. One thing seemed sure now, he’d have to talk to Jack.