Tanya smiled to herself as she returned the receiver to its cradle. She had listened to the argument between father and son thanks to one of three bugs she had planted in the Knight Mansion. She had even sympathetically winced at the punch thrown at her employer, but those meager feelings of human compassion evaporated quickly as she considered the scenario that was unfolding before her. For the past two weeks, she had grown increasingly concerned about Miles's dogged determination to uncover the paper trail that was sneaking its way to Knight's top competitors. She had, in fact, grown so concerned that she had refused Cameron any more schematics until further notice. But this…this was too good to be true! Garthe Knight had been the ultimate disappointment to his father and the bane of Miles's existence, a fact well known among the staff but only spoken in hushed whispers. Cameron had verified these facts, and he even remarked that had Garthe Knight not been of such an unstable nature, he would have recruited him into the fold. Unintentionally and unknowingly, however, Wilton's son would become a very key element to a plan that was steadily taking shape in her mind. She now had her distraction, and one that could not be linked back to herself. With both men no doubt reeling from their encounter with Garthe, Miles would be less interested in corporate espionage and more worried about his friend. Wilton Knight, as he was always wont to do, and would become more interested in his pet projects and ignore the rest of the company. Through the office grapevine, she had learned that it was a well-established pattern. She had even seen evidence of it herself. Morbidly, she lamented that a death in the family would have been much better, but she did like a challenge to the game.
Tanya carried a stack of manila folders up the stairs to Wilton's office. She smiled at a descending errand boy, pretending not to notice the double-take and near-stumble that came very close to leading to a fall. She was completely out of his league, but she let him window shop. It certainly didn't hurt her ego.
Shifting the folders under her left arm, she knocked twice and opened the door. Only a year ago, she would have stood in the hall and waited to be acknowledged. Now, she strode in as if the room were her own office. "Latest updates on that chemical plant," she announced, pulling off the top folder from the small stack and placing it before the head of Knight Industries. She waited for a reply or at least a curt nod, but none was forthcoming. His chair was turned slightly away from her, and he toyed with a model of a sports car, his eyes glazed and distant. She lowered her folders onto a stack on his desk. Her fingers edged down so that when she lifted the folders back up, two more went with them. She tucked them in the crook of her arm and stepped around the desk. "It's a beautiful machine," she commented. "It's so sleek. What kind of car is that?"
Drawn from his thoughts, Wilton looked up into her inquisitive gaze. He then looked down at the car in his hands, having forgotten that he was holding it. He held it up a little higher. "What you are looking at is the Knight Automated Roving Robot."
"Robot?" she repeated, accepting the model into her hand when he extended it to her. "I didn't think that Knight Industries made toys."
"Hardly a toy," he said dryly. He nodded his head at the car. "That is a scale model. The real one is much, much bigger."
Her eyes widened as she carefully set it down on his desk. "Incredible," she murmured. "You know, I've always had a fascination with technology," she admitted. "Once I save up enough money, I'm going to go to college to learn all about it," she declared emphatically. Her cheeks tinted color ever so slightly. "Sorry, Mr. Knight. You probably have a lot more important things to do than hear me talk. I'll leave you to your work."
"Actually…not at the moment," he confessed, seeking a distraction from his morose thoughts of the night before. Today would be the one day with no meetings and everything running smoothly. Even Devon had mysteriously disappeared, but it was not entirely unusual for his friend to leave without warning – though it was still annoying. "What area of technology interests you?"
"You won't laugh?" she asked doubtfully. "Everyone teases me for it."
"I promise," he said, even holding up his hand to verify his word.
She glanced behind her as if afraid that she might be overheard. "Engineering," she finally confessed. Her shoulders slumped. "But no one will take me seriously."
"I do," he said, sitting forward. He gestured for her to sit.
She did and heaved a sigh.
"Very few ever took me seriously either," he commiserated, "but now they do. Determination and hard work, Ms. Walker. You can never go wrong with those."
"I can't imagine people not listening to you," Tanya said with wide-eyed innocence. "You're one of the richest men in the world!"
He smiled slightly, but it was rueful. "Monetarily," Wilton answered quietly. Then, in a more normal tone, he elaborated, "But I came from an anonymous background." Seeing her idly turn the model car on the desk, he asked, almost cautiously, "Would you like to see the real one?"
"Could I?" she asked, growing excited. "Oh, I would love to!"
"Excellent," he said, rising from his seat. "I was about to check on things myself." He paused, bracing himself against the desk as a twinge of pain rippled down the side of his right leg.
"Are you all right?" she asked, noticing his grimace.
"Yes," he said, the spasm passing. "But I do advise that you never become old." He circled around the desk and extended his arm, which she took with a smile, and he led her from the office.
"You can imagine my surprise to hear from you, Devon," the slender man said as he sat at the restaurant table. His black hair had just begun to bleach around the temples. It did not detract from his appearance. Rather, it seemed to enhance the wrinkled skin around his eyes and mouth, and the dark suit that he wore to give him a distinguished appearance. His accent was unmistakably British, and, with the teacup in his hand, he seemed more of a stereotype than a person. "Particularly to fly me from a Washington conference in your company's private jet. It's been, what, eight years? Ten years?"
"Nothing nearly so appalling," Devon answered with a wave of his hand. "Five years."
"Oh yes, of course," he said, leaning back in his seat as his memory cleared. He lowered the teacup to its saucer. "You were still in Washington, D.C. You never did tell me what caused you return to that American. From your description of him, you would have been better off to remain where you were."
"My reasons are my own, Alistair," he said, his tone a subtle warning the man not to press the issue any further. Despite the long length of time he had known this man, Devon was adamant about not discussing either his return to California or why he had left in the first place. Even with Wilton, the subject had never been brought into conversation. "However, I'm afraid there is an underlying reason for this meeting."
"You did mention needing a favor," Alistair said. "So why call an old Scotland Yard inspector? You know my jurisdiction isn't extended to this country."
"It isn't Scotland Yard that I need," he said, dropping his voice as he leaned forward so as not to be heard beyond that table. "It's your other informational connections."
His demeanor changed to a much more serious one, and his voice also dropped. "You know I hate dealing with reporters. They develop this delusion that I owe them."
"I know, but you know some of the best in the business. You're probably related to half of them."
"Yes, and I became the black sheep for breaking the tradition," he said dryly. "What can the BBC do for you?"
"Nothing more than a little research," Devon answered, tugging on his ear.
"What kind of research could you possibly need that you couldn't ask in a phone call?" Alistair asked, folding his arms skeptically as he regarded his long-time friend. "Why bring me here personally?"
"Garthe Knight paid a little visit last night," he explained, his voice low.
The Inspector's brow furrowed. "Garthe Knight…I've heard that name."
"I mentioned him before – he's Wilton Knight's son."
"Ah, I remember," Alistair said with a nod of his head. "I take it from the look on your face that the visit wasn't planned?"
"It wasn't wanted," Devon said, his voice dropping deeper with a momentary lapse of his temper. He quickly reined it back under control. "He had been working his way up an Eastern European mafia chain, according to a few sources of mine. He'd escaped trial twice because of payoffs and a sudden lack of evidence."
"Sounds like a colorful fellow," Alistair commented dryly. "Are you seeking to open the old cases? Because I can warn you from experience, it's a waste of time."
He shook his head. "I want to know what he's up to now. He was so full of himself that he must be planning something."
"I'm not sure what could be found on him," Devon's friend said, rubbing his chin with the back of his hand. "He sounds like small fish to me."
"Small fish grow bigger in time," Devon warned. "Every exploit of his is a little worse than the one before. He's a man with no conscience and thrives on vengeance. I wouldn't be surprised if he wound up at the top of the list some day, but right now, my concern is the threat he might pose to Wilton Knight and Knight Industries."
The Inspector released a breath. "You do have peculiar loyalties, Devon," he said, sounding somewhat amused. "But your instincts are usually sound. Very well. I might have a cousin or two who can help."
"I appreciate it, Alistair. I owe you for this."
"Oh, I think this is a nice beginning," he said with a grin and pushed the dinner check toward his friend.
Devon opened the black case and looked at the bill. Wilton didn't know it, but it was about to be listed as a business expense.
"Did you see Tanya?" Antonia Young sneered hatefully, her back turned away from the rest of the room as she spoke quietly with her long-time friend, Barbara Wood.
The older of the two by about six years, Barbara was always interested in gossip, and Antonia seemed to be a fountain of information. She could never figure out how her friend consistently managed to know everything about everyone, particularly since she had only been with Knight Industries for about a year. Well aware of Antonia's inability to keep a secret, Barbara was always careful to keep her own personal life beneath her friend's radar, but it was no secret that she loathed Tanya Walker. Most of the secretaries did. The peroxide blonde had somehow appointed herself Wilton Knight's personal secretary, in an unofficial capacity, but she never wasted an opportunity to remind the others how important she thought she was. Barbara had been positive that Tanya would have been gone by now, but she had been wrong. However, she kept her dislike of the woman mainly to herself, but Antonia displayed her animosity for the woman like a campaign slogan. "What did she do this time?" Barbara sighed.
"I saw her hanging onto Mr. Knight's arm, looking up at him with those big doe eyes," she spat with a hiss. She clasped her hands to her heart dramatically as she lifted her eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, Mr. Knight, I'm just such a poor, naïve girl. Poor, poor me."
Barbara suppressed a snicker. "You really shouldn't do that around here. The wrong person might overhear you, and then you'd be in trouble."
"Well, what makes her so special?" Antonia huffed, looking ready to stomp her foot. "She was a lot easier to deal with when she jumped at her own shadow. At least she did her own work. Maybe the peroxide bleached her personality. Sometimes I just want to-"
"Keep the rest of that sentence to yourself," she warned the younger woman. "I don't want to be considered an accessory to murder."
"Uh-oh. Speak of the devil," Antonia murmured, glancing back at the doors that led to the office. She broke away from Barbara and returned to her own desk, pointedly turning her back.
Tanya walked inside, manila folders held to her chest. She smiled at a few as she passed. Seemingly oblivious to the thinly veiled hostility radiating from Antonia like a fever, Tanya approached. "Antonia, do you think you could make a copy of some papers for me? I was with Mr. Knight and time just slipped away from me!" she said with a light, airy laugh.
"That isn't all that slipped away," Antonia muttered under her breath. "I have my own work," she said at a normal level.
Barbara made her way back to her own desk on the other side of the room, not wanting to see the fireworks that were coming dangerously close to erupting.
"But it wouldn't take long, and I do have other things to do," Tanya pouted, fumbling with the folders. "In fact, I have it right…oops!" One of the folders tumbled off, the papers scattering on the floor in front of Antonia. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" she apologized as Antonia bent down to gather them. "Here, let me help." Tanya knelt down as her left hand slipped one of the folders from her stack into the open attaché case resting beside Antonia's chair.
She shoved the papers into Tanya's arms. "Why don't you go sweet-talk someone else," she snapped. "I'm sure there's some guy around here who will fall all over himself to do your bidding."
"Why, I don't know what you mean," the blonde said, feigning hurt. She straightened the papers and tucked them back into the folder. "I've only ever tried to be nice to you."
"Yeah, sure. Whatever." Antonia turned back to her computer, pointedly ignoring her.
With a heavy sigh loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room, Tanya left her alone.
It had become instinct for Devon to lash out with his foot in the direction of the high-pitched whirring sound that quickly preceded X's appearance. The little robot was too quick to be caught by such a crude maneuver, but he hoped that one day he would clip it. "X, go away!" Devon snapped at the android as he climbed out of his Mercedes.
X zipped and zagged, ignoring, as usual, Devon's irritated tone. "I request information."
"Read a book," he answered tersely, closing the driver's door and locking it. He walked out of the multi-car garage, the android right on his heels. He tried twice to back-kick it, but this day was obviously not going to be his lucky one.
"I am incapable of performing that task without assistance," X declared.
Devon rolled his eyes to the sky, the sun now making its trek toward the distant horizon. Despite the springtime weather and the slowly lengthening daylight, the days were still shorter than he preferred. "Go ask Wilton."
"His superior intelligence would be preferable to your inferior grasp of basic principles, but he is currently occupied."
Devon stopped and glared at the little robot. "My 'inferior grasp' of basic principles is obviously better than yours, else you wouldn't be pestering me with questions," he shot back.
"On the contrary. In comparison with the knowledge that I possess, the information gained by the answer to this question is a ratio too small for you to grasp," it answered haughtily.
"Then, logically, it would be a waste of time to ask," he said smartly and started walking.
X accelerated to catch up with him. "Actually, it would have been more efficient to answer my question rather than to debate whether or not it should be asked," it argued.
"Fine," Devon said in annoyance, growing impatient and hoping to get rid of it. "What is the all-important question?"
"Does Hell have changing seasons?"
He stopped in mid-stride, his left foot hesitating before it returned to the walkway leading to the rear of the mansion. "You pestered me to ask an asinine question like that?"
"It is important," X defended.
"How could that possibly be important?"
"Because I can return to the Hangar when there is a cold day in Hell," it answered.
He was about to give a smart remark for an answer, but he stopped himself. Instead, he spoke in a calm voice, "Off the top of my head, I don't know when the winter season is, but why don't you go pester, ah, ask the meteorologists for a forecast? And don't let them tell you that it's impossible to find out. They're just being stubborn. You keep after them until they help you."
X scurried off to one of the labs at the far end of the property line. Why Wilton had thought that his own meteorology department would help business, Devon would never know. He himself was quite content to look at the sky and make a reasonable judgment. However, he did not have the final say in spending, and he had learned long ago that there were some arguments that were simply not worth pursuing.
Devon might have felt sorry for the unsuspecting scientists about to get their first real taste of artificial intelligence, but they had teased him about his nationality too many times for there to be any sympathy left. Enjoy, he thought smugly to himself.
His momentary elation of being free from X died quickly when he had gone into Wilton's office to announce his return and found his friend searching frantically through what had once been a neatly stacked pile of folders. "What's the matter?" Devon asked with a concerned frown.
"The latest revisions for the Robot," Wilton answered distractedly. "I finally figured out the flaw that was causing so much trouble in the processor, but I can't find the schematics."
"You're certain?" he asked, stiffening.
"Of course I'm certain!" he said curtly. "I was working on it this morning."
"When was the last time you saw them?"
"I don't know." Wilton stopped and ran his hand through his thinning hair. "I guess this morning. I'd put the folders right there," he said, gesturing with both hands at the corner of the desk. "I'm almost certain it was there when I went to the hangar…" He looked around the room.
"I don't suppose you thought to lock your office?" Devon asked.
"Well…no," Wilton said, having the grace to look somewhat embarrassed. "But I can't believe that anyone-"
"Wilton, we've been fighting a leak for months!" Devon exclaimed in exasperation. "It has to be someone in this company."
"Um…excuse me," a voice said from behind him, causing Devon to turn. Tanya held up a manila folder. "I…I really hate to do this…I…I saw it and I was sure that they weren't supposed to have it…I didn't know what to do, but…" She held it nervously out to the Englishman.
Devon took it and flipped it open. Recognition flitted across his face and his mouth curled downward even farther. He held up the folder for Wilton to see it. "Where did you get this?" Devon asked her, closing it shut.
"It could have been a mistake, right?" she asked worriedly. "I wouldn't have even recognized the label except that Mr. Knight showed me the KARR, and I didn't think she was supposed to have it. I don't want to get the person in trouble. I just thought maybe if I return it to you-"
"Ms. Walker, do you know the meaning of corporate espionage?" Devon asked warningly.
"Yes, but…" Her eyes widened. "You don't think it was me, do you? I was with Mr. Knight! I couldn't have! And I found it on Antonia's desk, not-" She clamped her hand over her mouth.
"Antonia Young?" Wilton asked. "She's been here for at least a year."
"But the timetable fits," Devon said. "It wasn't long afterwards that we started having…incidents." To Tanya, he asked, "Is she still here?"
"She was getting ready to leave, but why-" Tanya was brushed aside by the two men, and she only followed them to just outside of the office. There, she stopped, watching the entire scenario unfold from her vantage point. She saw Antonia blocked as she left the office, the quick-tempered woman growing indignant. She saw the woman angrily open her attaché case and hold it out for them to inspect, which was quickly followed by a desperate protest as Devon pulled out the planted file from its interior. By now, others were coming out of the office to see what was going on, and she could easily hear the heated conversation. Antonia's temper was her downfall, making her look even more guilty.
Feeling a pair of eyes on her, she singled out one of the employees – Barbara, Tanya remembered the name. Even from the second story, Tanya could sense her hatred and suspicion, but this woman did not lose control like the other one. If anything, Tanya would describe her as dangerously quiet and calm, which bothered Tanya. Emotions, particularly raging ones, were easy to handle because it left the situation in her control, but those eyes gave away nothing but contempt and knowing. Barbara knew what Tanya had done, but she could not prove it, else she would have told Knight and Miles as they interrogated Antonia. Perhaps it was a sixth sense that warned Tanya, or maybe she simply read it in the woman's expression as the security guards came to lead Antonia outside, but she knew that this woman was now just as much a threat as the nosy gossip Tanya had just removed to make room for Lonnie.
It was a relief to Tanya when Barbara turned her attention away, speaking desperately to her employers. Tanya surmised that it was probably to tell them that Antonia would never do such a thing and that there must be a mistake, which was a useless act. The timetable was too perfect, and the circumstantial evidence was mounting. That didn't stop Barbara, and Tanya suspected that Barbara would be watching her more carefully. Tanya would mention her concern to Cameron, but she already knew his answer. If the woman was a threat, get rid of her and anyone else who could pose a problem to their plans.
Unnoticed by those below her, Tanya's gaze fell directly on Devon Miles.