♣ Josh ♣
My memories of the police station were forever going to be crappy. By the time Stephen pulled into the parking lot, Astrid was in an unconscious state of sorts, probably more dazed than anything else. Not that I could blame her. Stephen looked like he wanted to ask more questions than I could handle at that point, and so I made sure I ignored him as I stepped carefully out of the car, leaving Astrid on the seat.
The rain had finally stopped, leaving the ground damp and sticky and the air fresh but heavy. Dark clouds still hovered overhead, and I glanced up at them before looking towards the police station. It looked as enticing as always – which was to say, not at all – and the back façade of the building was hardly better-looking than the front. I could see some sort of door leading into the station from the back but figured that it would probably be either locked or inaccessible to civilian use. I didn’t, however, want to troop around to the front of the building holding Astrid’s barely conscious figure.
Vacillating, I glanced at the SIS agent. “Should we go inside?”
He shrugged. “What other options do we have?”
I had to admit that he had a point. But that didn’t mean that I wanted to be taking Astrid into the station in her state; it would probably arouse loads of questions that I didn’t feel like answering. Sighing, I pressed my hands over my eyes, struggling to rein in my emotions as her words came flooding back to me: “Charlie’s dead.” It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be. I had to concentrate, or we would never be able to help Pierre – though by then I was starting not to care.
“All right,” I said finally. “I’ll carry her in, then.”
Stephen raised an eyebrow, as if he didn’t believe that I could, but I chose to pay no heed to that gesture as I stepped towards the car again. Astrid was still slumped against the back seat, but her eyes were open, looking at me with an emptiness that made me feel that I would rather have her unconscious. I forced a smile to my face as I wrapped my arms around her a little awkwardly, moving so that I could carry her easily. She didn’t protest as I scooped her out of the seat.
With Stephen following, I made my way towards the front of the station, praying that Delta had somehow gotten there already. Fortunately, the rain seemed to have driven all pedestrians from the streets, and so our little parade received little to no notice as we trooped to the front doors. As the SIS agent pushed open the glass doors for me, I saw the man at the desk’s eyes widen in shock as I entered with the limp, soaked Astrid in my arms. Staggering slightly by this point, I moved straight past him, placing Astrid on the wooden bench near his desk carefully.
“Don’t even start,” I growled at the man – what was his name? Something annoyingly French. He seemed to be frozen in his chair, one hand on his phone. I held his eyes until his hand returned safely to his side and then looked over at Stephen, who was busily locking the doors to the station with some sort of skeleton key. Finishing, he looked over at me, apprehension in his brown eyes.
“What now?” he asked in a deceptively calm voice, striding over to where I was standing.
I opened my mouth – and then closed it again, looking down at Astrid, whose eyes were closed again. After a moment, I realized that the head of police – Bertrand, wasn’t it? – was standing in the doorway to the lobby we were in. He looked shocked to see Astrid lying on his precious bench, his hand frozen on the side of the door. I glanced at him, unsure of what I could say, and then decided that I really didn’t care what he thought. All I wanted was to hear that Delta was coming.
“Who is she?” Bertrand managed to say after a moment. “And why are you all wet? Have you been out in the rain?”
Dimly, I realized he was right. I could feel my clothes sticking to my skin, my hair plastered to my head. The moment it dried, it would be a curly mess. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I registered the fact that I was shivering in the air-conditioned building, but I was only thinking of Astrid. She would most likely be freezing as well, and, when I looked, I could see her shaking slightly from her limp position.
“Get some blankets,” I ordered Bertrand, who looked slightly taken aback. A moment later, he told LeFran – the man at the desk – something in French, and the latter disappeared down the long hallway towards Bertrand’s office. Sighing heavily, I sank onto the tiny space that Astrid wasn’t taking up on the bench, forcing my mind to think of something other than her pale face as she said those words. Charlie’s dead.
“They should be here soon,” Stephen was saying to me quietly. “The CIA move fast.”
“You’re telling me,” I answered sourly, thinking that if an SIS agent thought the CIA moved quickly, he would think that Delta moved a heck of a lot faster. But even Delta’s planes couldn’t make a trip over the Atlantic that much more quickly. An ocean’s an ocean either way.
Casting an eye over him, I realized with the slightest pang of remorse that Stephen was also looking damp, his golden hair sticking up in all directions. He appeared to be slightly uncomfortable in his wet t-shirt, but it wasn’t my problem. He should have been trained for this stuff, anyway. Glancing at my watch to see how long it would be until support arrived, I cursed silently as I realized the digital numbers remained stationary. When had it stopped working? I couldn’t remember.
“Do you have the time?” I asked the room in general.
Bertrand pointed to a clock above LeFran’s desk. “There.”
“Did I ask you for a clock? Just tell me the time!”
“It’ll be at least two and a half hours until they show up,” Stephen interjected in a soothing tone, looking at me. “It’s only six-thirty, Josh.”
Swearing in a low voice, I looked up at the SIS agent. “What do we do in the meantime?”
A flicker of anger passed over his face. “I don’t know – play darts?”
Ouch. That was a low blow even by my standards. Stephen seemed to realize this as well, sending me an apologetic look before running a hand through his damp hair, making it stick up even more than before.
I looked at Astrid again, wondering how long she could cope. Even with the blankets that LeFran had finally brought in draped over her, she was still shivering and her lips looked a little blue. When I touched her forehead, my hand came away quite hot. The fever was obviously still inside of her; maybe it hadn’t been just nerves that had caused her to break down on the bridge. Something had happened to her.
“You want to talk?” Stephen asked after a long moment. “If not, you should get some sleep. It could be a rough night.”
I rubbed at my eyes, trying to think. His words made sense, and I knew that I would need sleep if what I had in mind would have to be done. What could I do with Astrid, though? I didn’t want to leave her on the bench alone. In a flash, I remembered talking with Bertrand when I had first arrived at the station, him mentioning about sleeping in one of the rooms off the long hallway.
Lifting my head, I proposed this idea to the room, and, albeit reluctantly, Bertrand agreed. Within a few moments, I was carrying Astrid again down the long hallway towards a plain wooden door. Pushing this open with my foot, I came into a room with a single white army cot in it, on which I placed Astrid, arranging her blankets on top of her for maximum comfort level. I touched her hair gently and then turned out of the room, running into Stephen in the hall. This guy just had to be as annoying as possible, didn’t he?
“I think you should tell me who I’m looking for,” he said as I turned away from him, walking towards another room. “I’ll stay up for the CIA, if you want, but I need some information.”
Pausing in front of another door, I looked back at him appraisingly. What did I say to that? Describe Alan Young? Chances were that the director of Delta wouldn’t even show up. In fact, I would be surprised if he did. “Look for some men that call themselves the CIA,” I replied at last. “I can’t say anything else.”
Stephen actually rolled his eyes. “Please. How secretive can you be?” he asked with a sigh. “It’s not like people haven’t heard of the CIA, kid.”
I glowered at him. “What have I said about the ‘kid’ stuff?”
He raised his arms in surrender. “All right, all right.” His voice took on that annoying grown-up tone that made me feel like a toddler. “Go and take a nap, okay? And maybe you can calm down a little.”
I had to resist the urge to shoot him. “I’ve just learned that one of my best friends is dead,” I snapped coldly, my hands in tight fists. “So don’t push it, okay?”
His expression changed slightly, as if he was going to apologize, but I found that I didn’t want to hear it. Jerking the door open, I strode into the room, stripping off my drenched t-shirt as I did so and throwing it to one side. My jeans were only slightly damp, and so I ignored them, collapsing on the cot and heaving a sigh. Curling into a ball, I stared at the dark wall, trying to quell the monstrous fury that was rising inside of me. There was little light in the room, but I was glad: At least no one would be able to see the tears that were beginning to roll down my cheeks.
It seemed that I had barely closed my eyes for an instant before I was jerked awake once more. I found myself gasping for breath, swinging my legs over the side of the cot in an automatic move as someone touched my shoulder. There was light in the room again and I swiped my hand across my eyes, hoping they weren’t looking too red from crying. I was experiencing one of those awful feelings that I had been in a nightmare, but couldn’t remember what it was about.
I took me a moment to realize that Stephen was leaning over me, a troubled expression on his face. Unable to look him in the eyes, I placed my head in my hands, propping my elbows up on my knees as I tried to regain my composure. Charlie. That’s what I had been dreaming about. And his blood, washing over the floor. How was it that I hadn’t even seen him die, nor did I know how, and yet I could picture his body so clearly?
“Are you all right?” Stephen’s voice seemed to come to me from a long distance.
Raising my head, I looked into his brown eyes. “Yeah,” I managed after a moment. “I’m good.”
Pushing myself off the cot, I walked out of the room without another word, hearing Stephen behind me as I did so. He didn’t say anything, so I figured that Delta hadn’t come yet or he would have been waking me up with a little more urgency. At that point, I just wanted to sleep for a few years, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to again. I could feel my body shaking as I strove to take deep breaths, forcing the image of Charlie’s dead body out of my mind.
“It’s around eighty-thirty,” the SIS agent was saying. “Your backup should be here shortly. I didn’t want to wake you up, but I figured you should be ready for them – and, well, you were calling out a lot.”
Great. Now I had some big-shot Brit concerned about me, like I was a temperamental three-year-old or something. “Thanks,” I mumbled, my tongue feeling heavy in my mouth. I wanted desperately to change the subject. “Do you know where the bathroom is in this place? I want to…wash up.”
Stephen led me to the small white room designated as the washroom that simply held a row of sinks, nothing more. Stumbling inside, I pulled the handle for cold water and waited a moment, staring at my reflection in the mirror. My hair was a massively tangled mess, my eyes staring out at me bleakly. Running my hands under the icy water, I splashed it on my face, closing my eyes to let the coolness sink in. I was still shirtless, and my jeans were now stiff from air-drying, making it awkward to move.
Moving my hands through my hair in an effort to tame it, I took a few deep breaths, still avoiding Stephen’s eyes. Giving up on my hair rapidly, I scowled at my reflection, wishing I had thought to grab my shirt from the floor of the room. I had never realized how weird it could be to be shirtless in front of a British secret agent. Then again, I hadn’t had loads of experience with that.
“Here.” Stephen pulled something out from behind his back. “I reckoned you would want to change.” He handed me a clean, dry t-shirt, which I pulled on gratefully. It fit reasonably well. There was nothing I could or wanted to do about my jeans, and so I threw more cold water on my face to revive myself, and then used a towel to mop away the remains of my nightmare.
“Okay,” I said after a moment. “What do we do now?”
The agent was looking at me with an odd expression, almost pitying. He obviously hadn’t slept; the slight dark shadows under his eyes had become more pronounced, making him look younger and more world-weary. For a moment, I realized that this particular agent probably had a lot in common with me – but I was too tired to try talking to him. And so I held his gaze, waiting for his answer as he studied me for a moment.
“We wait,” he replied plainly, and I frowned. “What else are we supposed to do?” He countered my argument before I could state it. “It isn’t like we have a lot of options.”
I could hardly argue with that, and so I followed him out of the washroom into the lobby, where Bertrand was standing, looking nervous. As we entered the room, he hurried over to us, wringing his hands like an old man. Maybe he was an old man, but I still thought it was a weak gesture. Probably the Frenchman in him coming out – weren’t the French supposed to be overemotional?
“Please,” he said, “don’t argue.”
I rolled my eyes, in no mood for dramatics. “What exactly are we not supposed to be arguing about?” I demanded in an irate tone, tempted to wring my own hands. Stephen shot me a conciliatory look, which I deliberately ignored.
“I would like you to come to the back lobby,” Bertrand told us. “You say that your – what is it? – CIA is coming, and I don’t think it would be good for them to come into our front vestibule. It can be seen from the street.”
Most likely, Delta had already thought of that, and so I wasn’t really concerned about them blasting through the police station doors like a couple of Power Rangers or something. Shrugging, I resisted the urge to snap at the police chief again, merely asking as patiently as I could, “And where exactly is your back lobby?”
Looking a little relieved that I had complied so easily, the chief gestured for us to follow him, disappearing down the hallway once more. I was beginning to wonder just how many doors this place had. Stephen in front of me, his broad shoulders pretty much blocking my view of the narrow corridor. I noticed that he wasn’t the only one who seems to be tense; his whole stature practically screamed that he was waiting for something to go wrong, like I was. Surely Decrioux would have realized that Astrid was gone by this point? Why wasn’t he doing anything?
The back lobby looked a lot like the front, except perhaps that it wasn’t quite as nicely decorated. After all, it wasn’t like anyone off the streets would be looking at it. It was connected to the doors that I had seen from the parking lot so that it looked isolated and not easily locatable. Not completely certain that this was a good thing, I sank into one of the leather chairs they had facing the double doors, inclining my head so that I was looking at the blank ceiling. Somehow, in this remote area of the station, the people working here seemed more like me – secret agents. Truth was that the most action they would see was if a bike was stolen.
Stephen was pacing the lobby, his hands thrust deep in his pockets as he alternatively glared at Bertrand and the portraits on the walls. His t-shirt had ridden up to show the gun hitched on his hip, and I saw Bertrand’s eyes stray to the weapon nervously more than once. It made me long for my own weapons, but scarcely had I opened my mouth before Stephen was striding out of the room once more. Raising an eyebrow, I chose to wait for him to come back. When he did, he was holding my black duffel bag, which he extended to me without a word.
I blinked in surprise. What was he, a mind reader? Jeez, this guy was good – maybe a little too good. “Thanks,” I said, a little belatedly, as I grabbed the bag and began rifling through it. Everything looked as I had left it, but then again, it had only been a few hours since I had seen it. Still, it felt good to have a gun on my own hip and a sniper rifle at the ready. Bertrand was looking more and more edgy as I began to assemble my gun again, anything to keep my mind off of Delta.
Another hour slowly passed. My eyes kept straying to the clock situated above the door, counting every second as it ticked by. I had already assembled and disassembled my gun at least two dozen times, as well as my rifle, and inspected the vial of the mysterious liquid Astrid had found earlier that day – my gosh, had it only been about twelve hours since we had been looking at in the car?
A noise from the street made both Stephen and I jump to our feet. My duffel bag toppled to the floor as I pulled my gun back out of its holster, glancing sideways at the SIS agent as he covered the doors cautiously. Bertrand was actually hiding behind the desk, his pudgy face looking terrified as Stephen and I advanced towards the doors.
“CIA?” he muttered tersely, glancing at me, and I shrugged.
“Better safe than sorry,” I returned, and sprang into action.
Sweeping sideways on one foot, I crashed through the doors with a little more noise than necessary, whipping my gun out in front of me as I flattened my back around the corner before poking my head around warily to inspect the area. What I saw made a huge grin unfurl on my face for the first time in hours – several cars pulled into the parking lot. Official-looking cars. A team of people dressed in darker clothing was heading towards the station, all holding duffel bags similar to my own. Heading them was a tall, muscular-looking man with short dark hair and piercing blue eyes that swept over me, evaluating me completely in a split second.
“Wulf,” he said, by means of introduction, as he stepped up to the station doors. “We came as quickly as we could.”
“And inconspicuously, of course,” I replied dryly, casting an eye over the cars and heavy duffel bags. Wulf shot me an equally sardonic look, one that told me he clearly thought he was in charge and didn’t appreciate being sent in to help out some teenagers.
“You want help or no?”
“Sure, whatever you say.”
“Then move out of the way,” Wulf snapped, glaring at me. “And put the gun away, kid, before you hurt someone.”
Ooh, someone was condescending. Older agents were never good on the self morale. Still, arguing would hardly help, and so I shoved my gun back into my hip holster, giving the agent a miffed look as I did so. Moving aside, I held the door for the team of agents, three men and two women, all of which looked at me as though I was some sort of inferior bug. Only one of the women, who had blonde hair done up in a fancy braid and bright blue eyes, winked at me as she passed, which actually served to make me feel even younger.
Scowling, I re-entered the foyer to see Wulf striking up a conversation with Stephen, who was standing at such brisk attention that you would have thought he was meeting the freaking president. Or Prime Minister, seeing as he was British. I approached them, standing next to Wulf in a tacit way of saying that I was his equal here, although I knew he was hardly looking at the situation like so.
“All right,” he began, glancing at me but really talking to Stephen. “Young’s already briefed us on what’s going on, but we’re going to need directions to this manor he was talking about. Other than that–”
“You’re still going to use me,” I interrupted, fighting back my anger. “I’ll show you to the freaking mansion, yes, but then I’m coming in with you. Those are my friends in there, and this is my job, and so I want to be with you when you carry out your little plan.”
Wulf looked like he was struggling to hold back a sigh. “Look, kid,” he growled, turning the full force of his icy blue eyes on me, “I appreciate the fact that you wanna help your buddies out. But let me take over from here. Need I remind you that I’m here to save your ass?”
“Whatever,” I snarled. “Doesn’t matter. What I’m saying is that you need to be talking to me, not some British guy that you’ve never heard of before. He’s not in charge here. He’s not even from our country!”
Wulf gave me another one of those once-overs. “How old are you, anyway?”
I gritted my teeth, but before I could throw him some infuriated answer, a voice sounded from the back of the room.
Everyone in the room turned to look at the speaker, and I appeared to be the only one unsurprised to see Astrid standing in the doorway, pale as a wraith but still looking determined. I had been waiting for her to show up. Grinning again, I crossed over to her, wrapping my arms around her briefly before looking into her eyes. They still held that empty look that tugged at my heart, but another emotion was growing in them as well: a resolve that I felt as well, something that made my heart glow.
“I’m good,” she answered softly, gently removing my arms from around her and looking towards Stephen and the Delta agents. I could see her body shaking and the sweat beading on her face, but her voice was strong. “Listen. I realize that you’re here to help, and I appreciate that, but you’d better appreciate the fact that we know what’s going on here much better than you.”
Wulf looked angry, but I cut him off. “Listen to her,” I snapped, and he complied with a furious expression on his face.
“You’ll get pretty far listening to Josh,” Astrid continued, “but you’ll get loads further listening to me. I’m the one who got out of the freaking manor, so start perking those ears up to listen to me. Decrioux isn’t who you think he is in the slightest. He’s really this guy named Michael Cloying, and he’s out to kill the President.”
“And just how does he plan to do this?” Wulf questioned witheringly as the other agents and I looked at her.
Astrid fixed him with an icy stare identical to his own. “There’s not enough time to talk about it now, but that’s not important. I don’t even think he can get away with that, but I do know that he has possession of several nuclear weapons that need to be apprehended ASAP.” She took a deep breath, and I squeezed her hand to show my support. “I’m assuming they’re somewhere here in France, and they’d be too large for him to carry out of the country even if he was to flee, and so our best bet is to get a hold of him before he can.”
Wulf stood still for a moment, mulling over her words. “Okay,” he said at last, still looking at her. “Anything else?”
“I bloody hope not,” Stephen muttered, looking about as confused and stunned as I felt. “What more can this man do?”
“He killed Charlie Gallagher,” Astrid stated bluntly, still holding Wulf’s eyes, and I saw the latter blink – probably the most surprise this guy was capable of showing.
“Charlie Gallagher?” he repeated in an entirely different tone.
“You knew him?” I asked, looking at the Delta agent.
He looked dazed for a moment and then nodded slowly. “Yeah, pretty well, actually. I trained that kid – some Korean hand-to-hand combat for about a year when he was, what, thirteen?” He shook his head regretfully. “Nice kid. Extremely bright, too. Into explosives, wasn’t he? I’m sorry to hear that he’s…gone.”
Astrid bit her lip, looking at the floor. “So, go get Cloying.”
I exhaled loudly, running my hand through my hair again. “Are you going to work with me, or what?” I asked Wulf, who held my gaze for a long moment.
“Heck, that’s what I’m here for, right?”
And for a single moment, a grin lit up his face. Smiling a little reluctantly, I extended my hand, pressing it into the larger man’s, looking into those sharp eyes as I did so. I knew that it was only going to be a matter of time before we clashed again, but at that moment, I knew better than to bring up leadership problems.
“Right.” Wulf’s tone was decisive. “Let’s get you two introduced to the team, then. Josh, Astrid – meet Georgia Madden, Janice Smythe, Isaac Reagan, James Hannigan, and Clark Davis.”
“But you can call me Georgie,” chirped the blonde woman, sending me a sparkling smile. “One of my first assignments, actually.” Not surprising, considering how young she looked. She looked to be around twenty, with that lush golden hair and bright eyes and a figure that had probably gotten her an A+ in seduction – never mind my score.
“Uh, thanks, but I have a girlfriend.” I said it automatically, noting the looks of amusement on the agents’ faces. For some strange reason, I found myself thinking of Sadie Gallagher, Charlie’s little sister. She was a cute kid – how would I be able to face her bringing the news of Charlie’s death?
Georgia Madden was rolling her eyes. “Of course, dear, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get close, does it?” She smiled beguilingly, and I blinked.
The smile widened. “Ooh, playing hard to get, are you?” she said in a teasing tone, batting her eyelashes.
“All right, enough,” Wulf grumbled, rolling his eyes. “Sorry, kid, she pulls that one on any guy under forty she comes across. Me, too, if you’re wondering.”
I grinned at the thought and then looked over at the other agents. The men were all relatively tall, with the same short haircut that Wulf had. The other woman, Janice, wasn’t as beautiful as Georgia Madden, but she carried herself with an attitude that screamed authority, something Madden didn’t seem to have. I just hoped that this team would be effective for what I had in mind.
“Okay,” came Astrid’s voice from behind us. “So everything’s worked out, then?”
I turned to look at her – and immediately rushed forward to grab her arms. Her face had gone deathly white, her eyes widening slightly. I could feel her trembling as I steadied her, steering her towards a chair while murmuring soothingly to her. Her knees gave out before we reached the seats, and once again I was holding her bridal-style in my arms.
“Dosomething!” I growled at the other agents, who were all looking at us in mild shock. Stephen came forward hurriedly, bracing me as I carefully placed Astrid into a chair. Wulf strode forward as well, standing next to me as I leaned over Astrid, touching her forehead carefully before whipping my hand away. It was burning; how she had managed to stand for that long was beyond me.
“Come on, baby, stick with me,” I murmured, looking at her anxiously.
“What’s the matter with her?” Wulf’s tone was curt and to-the-point.
“I don’t know,” I replied tensely, taking her hand in mine for a pulse. “Some sort of fever, I think, inside of her. She was like this when I picked her up from the manor, and then when we came–”
“You went to the manor without permission?”
“It’s not important!” Frustration leaked into my voice. “The point is that she’s sick. Very sick. So what do we do about it?”
Wulf swore under his breath, touching her forehead as well, and then taking her hand from me to check her pulse. After a moment, he looked up at me. “I think she’s going to need medical help. I can…” He hesitated.
“Hans, we have to help the kid,” Georgie spoke up. I frowned in confusion before realizing that she was speaking to Wulf, who was now glaring at the female agent.
“I realize that,” he said through gritted teeth. “I’m trying to think of how we can get her to a safe hospital without causing an uproar.”
“Does the CIA have hospitals stationed in France?” Stephen asked dubiously, and Wulf shot me a quick look. I shook my head a minute bit, signifying that our British friend knew nothing about our agency.
“No, not really,” Wulf answered, still concocting his diagnosis of Astrid. “But I was thinking the French secret service…we have connections…I don’t know, maybe we can contact them somehow…”
“The DGSE?” I couldn’t keep the surprise out of my voice. “We can get them to operate for us?”
The faintest hint of a grin appeared on Wulf’s face. “Like I said, we have connections.” He straightened, looking around the room. “I’m thinking a helicopter… they can take her to DGSE headquarters with one of our team – maybe you, kid?”
I shook my head. “Nice try,” I said wryly, “but I’m sticking with you. And – Wulf – enough of this ‘kid’ crap. First Stephen and then you; I feel like I’m about three years old here. The name’s Josh.”
The agent was already moving on, striding across the room until he was standing in front of the quaking figure of Bertrand. I had forgotten the police chief was in the room, but now he stood looking at all of us with fear in his eyes. He probably thought we were a group of terrorists or something.
“Can I use your phone?” Wulf asked, and then winced. “Excusez-moi. Puis-je utiliser votre téléphone?”
Bertrand looked relieved that someone was speaking his language. “Oui, oui. Si vous voulez me suivre…?”
More of that dang French. I looked at Wulf, to see if he would need my help, but he waved me away. Feeling a little rejected, I stood next to Astrid, holding her hand tightly and wishing she would respond to my touch. Georgie had seated herself in one of the chairs, her leg draped over the armrest elegantly. The other agents milled around the room, looking antsy and annoyed at being made to wait. I couldn’t help feeling out of place and extremely young as I stood by Astrid.
It seemed to take hours for Wulf to return. “All right, listen up.” Every eye in the room was on him as he spoke. I had to admit he made a prominent figure. “The DGSE has kindly allowed us to borrow one of their helicopters, which they’re sending over here now. They’ll take the girl–”
“Astrid,” I put in.
“Yeah, Astrid – anyway, they’ll take her to their HQ with one of you while we go take a look at this manor.” He paused, glancing over at me. “You sure you’re going?” he asked, and when I nodded, he continued. “We’ll go through with Plan A – kid, we’ll brief you on the way – but keep in mind that our main problem here is this Decrioux person. I know,” he interpreted my angry look, “your friends are important, too. But we have a job from Young, and his instructions didn’t cover anything like that.”
I bit back my fury, nodding slowly as he looked at me for consent. Like heck was I going to follow his “instructions” once I got to the manor – what were they going to do to me anyway? Shoot me as a court martial? Did Delta even have a court martial?
“Good.” Wulf sounded satisfied. “All right, now – who’s going to stay behind to escort the fair lady to the French?”
There was a slight pause, and I couldn’t help feeling a little taken aback. Wulf had struck me as the sort of man who didn’t ask for opinions or volunteers – he seemed like he would be the sort to order and not expect retaliation. No wonder we didn’t get along very well. The Delta agents glanced at each other, and then all eyes seemed to turn to Stephen. The British agent blinked and then put up his hands in protest.
“No. I’m not responsible for American agents. I’m coming with you.”
Wulf actually snorted. “I don’t think so,” he said scathingly. “A British agent with us? No. We don’t operate like that. You’re going with the girl, or you’re staying here.”
Well, if the look on Stephen’s face wasn’t pissed, I didn’t know what it was. He ground his teeth together furiously, glowering at Wulf. “All right, I won’t go with you,” he responded finally. “But there’s no way I’m staying here to help you bloody Yanks. I’ll get in contact with my boss and get the out of here, then.”
“Good,” Wulf said again, but I frowned. I wanted to know what Stephen was doing in France, and his getting out of here wouldn’t help me. But the SIS agent was already turning away, snapping something in rapid-fire French to LeFran, who had just entered the room. The Frenchman looked cowed by his words, hurriedly following the Brit out of the room as the door slammed shut loudly.
“Great move there, Hans,” the second woman – Janice – said quietly. “Now what?”
He glanced at her. “I’m not asking you to volunteer. I want you when we go to the manor. You’re my right hand man – woman.”
The woman grinned slightly. “Well, volunteer someone else, then.”
“Oh, no.” One of the men looked from Janice to Wulf pleadingly. “I know where this is going. Not again, please!”
Wulf shook his head. “Sorry, Reagan. I need you to go with the kid and the DGSE, all right?” And when the agent hesitated, he added, “Look, it’s a great chance for you to get closer to our French friends here, right? See what you can figure out without getting yourself shot.”
A smile flicked onto Reagan’s face. “All right,” he agreed reluctantly. “You’re the boss.”
Some boss. I would probably die under his command.
“And now?” I asked, still feeling irascible as I looked down at Astrid’s pale face and wondered how we could be standing around talking. “What do we do now?”
Wulf looked over at me, his forceful blue eyes giving me a cold look. “What do you think we do, kid? This is the secret service. We don’t just wait around.”
Well, at least that got rid of the annoying waiting that I was afraid he was going to have said.
“The DGSE’s helicopter won’t be here for another half an hour at least. In the meantime, we’re not hanging around. Reagan, you stick around and keep an eye on the kid, okay? And that British guy. I don’t trust him. The rest of us – we’re out. Let’s move!”