"I'm going to kill them," Ariadne said flatly when the line finally picked up. "They're dead men. Yusuf's pretty confident he's planned the perfect murder and Saito's promised to cover the legal fees just in case, so I thought you'd like the chance to say your goodbyes." Silence. "Dom?"
A high-pitched, definitely-not-Dom voice called out, "Daddy, it's for you!"
Ariadne winced at the volume and weakly sweetened her tone. "Hey, Philippa."
Philippa wasn't listening; Ariadne heard rustling, clicking and a muffled, "Ariadne's killed someone!"
She let her head drop forehead-first onto the desk, but kept the receiver at her ear.
A moment later, Dom came on the line. "Ariadne?"
"Hey, Dom," she said into the varnish. "School holidays, huh?"
"Yeah, you know. Kids. School. " A beat, and then he spoke with studied nonchalance. "So Philippa says you … killed someone?"
Ariadne could hear the effort it was taking Cobb to be calm and non-judgmental, and took pity before, like the good, experienced friend he was, he started recommending ways to flee the country. "No, I said I was going to kill someone. Actually, someones."
Then, she frowned. "Wait, you think I could kill someone."
"You took the job with Arthur and Eames?" Cobb's voice warmed considerably. "That's great."
With a resurgence of vehemence, Ariadne was distracted from Cobb's opinion of her moral compass. "It's not great! There is no great here! They're children. No, they're worse than children. What's worse than children? They're, they're - they won't stop bickering! And kicking each other! And the ties."
"Okay," Dom said soothingly, sounding not unlike he wished she had killed someone. "You just have to know how to handle them."
Ariadne sat back upright and smiled brightly. "I told you, Yusuf has me covered. He's really very devious."
"No perfect murders," Cobb said sternly. "Or perverting the judicial system." He paused then, presumably realizing what he'd said. "In any way that requires Saito to buy a judge and jury of your peers," he clarified.
"Fine, they can live." She rested her elbow on the desktop and her chin in her palm. "But, seriously - what the hell's their problem?"
Cobb laughed quietly. "With each other? They'd probably tell you different, but basically they both have the same job and egos you can see from space."
Ariadne turned that over in her head, but couldn't quite see the connection. "They both work with shared dreams, but that's not exactly the same job."
"You were a little busy learning to pay much attention to everything they were doing on the Fischer job, right?"
Ariadne snorted genteelly. "Learning, getting stabbed by crazed projections, falling into limbo …"
"Yeah, okay." Cobb coughed. "Look, they both have to get to know the subject inside out, they both do it in different ways and they're both right - you just won't get them to admit it without Sodium Pentothal or at least a lot of vodka."
Ariadne thought about it for a moment and supposed that was one way to look at it: Arthur had to know all the details to make sure he created the right diversions, Eames had to know how the subject perceived the world and people around him so he could understand the psychology. At the time she hadn't questioned that he'd taken lead with the Inception methodology, rather than Cobb, but now she thought about it, it made sense.
She made a grudging sound of understanding. "It's like when Professor Sandhurst and Professor Haryana got in a fight over structural sustainability."
"An actual fight?"
She grinned. "Professor Sandhurst's a hair puller."
Cobb laughed. "At least you won't have to worry about that with Arthur and Eames, I've never seen them actually fight." They'd come close, once or twice, but it probably wasn't the time to mention that.
In better humor, Ariadne pouted and put just a touch of a whine into her tone. "But if one of them kills the other, my problems are over. Or there's always my perfect murder."
"Don't kill my point man. Or Eames."
Ariadne could imagine the finger being shaken at her; fatherhood was apparently taking over Dom's life. "He's not your point man anymore," she pointed out. "You retired, remember?"
"Okay - don't kill my ex-point man," Cobb allowed. "Or Eames."
"Why's Arthur your point man, but Eames isn't your forger? Did you buy Arthur from a factory? Because that would explain a lot."
Cobb was silent for a moment and then said, "Ariadne?"
She hesitated at the more serious tone. "What?"
"Don't take this the wrong way, it's great to hear from you, but this is the longest we've talked for months - why are you really calling? I'm pretty sure you don't need me to tell you how to manage Arthur and Eames."
"Have one of them working an outside angle at all times and add sedatives to the coffee at briefings," Ariadne said promptly. "But if you have any other tips …"
She sighed. "We just lost our extractor. Actually, Arthur and Eames just lost our extractor, which is why I'm going to kill them. So I was calling to see if-"
Dom's voice was clipped. "No."
"I wasn't going to ask you to come back," she protested. "I know you're retired and I totally respect that. I'm not even in on the - never mind."
"On the what?" He asked after a suspicious pause. Then in a resigned tone, went on. "Who's running the book?"
She grinned. "Who do you think?"
"What are my odds?"
"I told you - I'm not in on it. I just thought maybe you'd know someone in the business that wouldn't snap after five days of tie pulling. Or maybe just brings their own duct tape."
Dom was silent for a longer moment and then, "Did you seriously sedate the coffee?"
She ignored him. "Can you recommend anyone?"
"Not if you're sedating the coffee," he said unbendingly.
Ariadne rolled her eyes, stood from her chair and turned off the light on the desk. "Yusuf swears it's harmless - he'd know. And they deserve it."
"Stop drugging my point man. And Eames. Even if they deserve it - promise."
She switched off the main light and made her way to the door. "I'm not Philippa, Cobb – I already have a daddy."
"Oh for – fine. I promise, no drugging anyone; just get us a new extractor, please."
"Eloise Monroe. She came out of the same programs Eames was in. I only met her once, I think she was a nanny or … maybe in the SAS. It was a little unclear. At least she'll know what she's walking into."
"What the hell were you thinking? Eloise Monroe! Monroe!" After darting a look back over his shoulder to reassure himself she wasn't bearing down on him, Eames lowered his voice and hissed into the receiver. "You know what's worse than knowing she could break me with her little finger? She still thinks she's a bloody nanny!"
After a delicate pause Miles said, "So you'll be wanting to talk to Dom, then."
"Is that Miles? Sorry," Eames said unapologetically. "Is he about?"
"He's standing in the doorway, waving his arms at me and mouthing a word I can't quite decipher, so I'll take that as a yes."
"Thanks, Miles," Dom said sourly as he took the phone a second later.
"Eloise Monroe! Monroe! She still thinks she's a-"
"Yeah, I got that. She was a nanny, right? How many kidnappers did she kill when they came after that French diplomat's kid?"
Eames cast his eyes upwards as he brought the incident to mind. Bit hard to forget, what with the offensive use of a stuffed toy. "Three. No, wait – two. One's still alive; I understand he can blink now. Remarkable woman really, you should see what she can do with a knitting needle and Flopsy the calico rabbit."
"See – you like her, what's the problem?"
"I like forging her, but only because a stereotypical British nanny is the quickest way to strike terror and a deeply disconcerting sense of attraction into a certain breed of target. Good God, the tweed."
Cobb laughed. "You're actually the last person in the entire world who gets to complain about tweed. So she has your number, is that what you're saying?"
"My number, my address, my NI and my inside leg measurement. She has the hotel desk send six a.m. wake up calls. She only lets us get take away once a week. She replaced the choccy biccies with oatcakes, Dom. Oatcakes. Arthur pretends to like them just to spite me." He scowled. "Nanny's pet."
"Or maybe he just likes oatcakes," Dom said mildly.
"No one likes oatcakes, Cobb." Eames replied coldly. "They're just something the Scots think it's funny to inflict on the rest of us. Find another extractor. Any other extractor."
"And what about Monroe?"
"I can take care of that," Eames said darkly.
"And when you say you can take care of it, you mean Yusuf's going to drug her and put her on a plane, don't you?"
"No?" Eames tried.
"Yes, you do."
"Maybe a little bit," he conceded. "But, oatcakes."
"Okay, look – I'll try and find someone else, but only if you deal with her properly. No drugs, no alcohol, no neuro-linguistic programming. Pay her off like an adult. Promise me."
Eames drew himself up. "Cobb, I am not a -"
"Promise, Eames." Cobb said implacably, with the tone of someone whose sympathy was unlikely to be swayed by horrifying snack choices.
"Fine. I promise. I both cross my heart, and also hope to die. I'm sure there's a needle I can stick in my eye around here somewhere. Now. Save me. Oh, hello, Nan- Elo- Serg-Ms Monroe."
The phone cut out and Cobb opened his address book.
"Cobb!" Yusuf whispered urgently from his hiding place under the table. "You've got to help me! She's armed, Cobb!"
"Who is this?" A French-accented voice replied warily.
Yusuf began to stumble over an apology when Cobb's voice came on line. "I got this, Avril, thanks. Yusuf, you okay?"
After the woman muttered darkly and dropped the line, Yusuf rushed on in low tones. "What were you thinking sending Moran Sevah?" Sub-vocal mics were severely under-rated and he vowed, should he survive the night, he would invest in many of them.
Cobb sounded shocked. "Moran's armed? Does she even know how to use a gun?"
"She was in the Israeli army, Cobb! Of course she knows how to use a gun and for me she would certainly carry one. Perhaps two, or more."
Cobb tried to reconcile his image of Moran – petite, sweet-faced Moran, with her delight in flower patterns and the sly sense of humor – with a gun wielding maniac. It just didn't fit. "What did you do to piss her off?"
Yusuf grit his teeth. "I called off the wedding."
And now it fit. "Why the hell did you do that?"
"Are you a relationship counselor? No. No, you are an ex-extractor who makes recommendations without doing full background checks."
"Arthur usually does that," Cobb admitted. "But I've worked with her before, she never mentioned you."
There was a sudden burst of static and someone startled yelling, and then Moran's voice came on the line. "I'm not armed." She said calmly. "He screamed and ran as soon as he saw me."
"I did not!" In the background Yusuf's tone was injured, but Cobb was fairly confident no other part of him was.
"Yes, you did. Like a small child, crying for his mother." Moran sighed. "You should have warned me he was here, Dominic."
"I'm sorry, Moran – I honestly had no idea you two knew each other. Eames introduced me to Yusuf, you never even mentioned him."
"And I don't intend to mention him ever again," Moran said with a bite in her tone. "Find them another extractor."
A series of hard sounds followed as the phone was put down, then a long scrape as it was picked up. After a moment Yusuf said, "She's leaving. No thanks to you."
"Seriously - I'm sorry, okay? I'll find someone else and make sure they have no history with any of you, I swear."
Yusuf snorted. "The pool we swim in is not so large nor deep."
"There has to be someone. In return, if Eames or Ariadne – if anyone – asks you for anything more than an aspirin and they're not on the clock, don't hand it over, okay?"
"Oh, I haven't been," Yusuf said cheerfully. "Colored sugar water, nothing more. Although Ariadne may be beginning to suspect, I may have to give her a little something to -"
"Please don't, it will end badly." Cobb pinched the bridge of his nose. "Promise, Yusuf."
"Of course," Yusuf replied blandly, and that was probably as good as it was going to get.
"Cobb, I've been a good friend: I haven't called, I've sent birthday cards, I haven't even tried to kill Eames – I don't deserve this."
After a second, a little voice piped up. "Uncle Arthur?"
Arthur huffed. Of course. He smiled. "Hey, James. How's the cold?"
"Okay," James said after thinking about it for a while. "Pretty good, I guess. I had to go back to school."
"You like school," Arthur pointed out.
"Yeah, I know. But I like breakfast ice-cream more."
Well, you couldn't argue with that logic. "That's tough, little man. Hey, your dad around?"
"Yeah," James said. "He's around."
Arthur waited a beat, just in case more was forthcoming, and then gently nudged things along. "Can you go get him for me?"
The phone dropped loudly on the table, but at least it wasn't back in the cradle, which happened more often than not.
Arthur waited patiently until Cobb picked up and then greeted him with, "Do you ever answer your own phone?"
"Yeah, lately I'm trying not to. You're calling about Franklin, right? He's hitting on Adriane, or he's getting drunk with Eames, or he's … I don't know, what's he doing?"
"He's in the hospital," Arthur said with as little inflection in his tone as he could manage.
"What the hell?"
"Actually, it's kind of a funny story."
"Really?" Cobb sounded doubtful.
"No, not really," Arthur admitted. "I wouldn't call except we really do need an extractor on this run. We've tried switching off jobs, I took the lead and Ariadne went on point … that didn't end well. Then we put Yusuf on lead and I think Eames sprained something trying not to laugh. This job is turning into a disaster.
"Look, there has to be someone out there you'd recommend who doesn't want to kill any of us and isn't prone to falling off balconies."
"He fell of a balcony?" Cobb tried to imagine the sequence of events that would like to someone falling off the balcony of a single-story, window-free warehouse.
"Or down some stairs," Arthur said off-handedly. "Depends who you ask."
"I'm asking you," Cobb said levelly.
Arthur shrugged and crossed over to the little kitchenette area. "Guy that accident prone, he probably tripped over his own shoelaces. He spilled coffee … he knocked over models. Hell, he nearly knocked Ariadne under a bus."
Ah huh. "So what you're saying is, it was Eames in the library with the candlestick."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. But, yeah, probably Eames. Or Yusuf. He kept muttering something about him or us."
Cobb felt a flash pity for, yes, now he came to think about it the exceptionally clumsy Franklin. He scribbled a note to himself to send flowers. Maybe a life insurance policy. "I'll find you one more extractor, Arthur – but you have to promise not to try and murder this one."
Arthur sniffed and sounded faintly offended. "Who was trying?"
"I'm promising, I'm promising."
"And play nice with Eames before Ariadne throws you under a bus."
"Mr. Cobb," Saito said urbanely. "Did I wake you?"
Cobb risked a glance at the glaring red numbers on his alarm clock and then winced away. "Yes you woke me, it's 2am … how did you even get this number? No one has this number."
"Do you really want to know, or would you prefer I tell you why I am calling at all?"
As if Cobb couldn't guess. "You're not working the job, Saito – you can't possibly have a problem with Toure."
"I personally do not, however it appears your previous colleagues were allowed only one phone call between them and felt I was their best option to voice their problem with him."
Cobb blinked twice and sat up rapidly. "They've been arrested?"
"Apparently, Mr. Toure has had a series of misfortunes since you last worked with him, which led to his being used as a … I believe you say, snitch? They were apprehended entering their mark's apartment. Further charges of resisting arrest, aggravated assault and public nudity are to be considered."
Awash in a sea of shock, Cobb clung to the floating debris. "Public nudity?"
"I did not pursue the subject. However, I have dispatched a small team of lawyers and arranged their bail. Charges will be dropped in the morning."
"You … hope?" Well, Cobb hoped he hoped, anyway.
"I am quite certain," Saito said, quite certainly. "Also, Mr. Toure is on a return flight to Sweden."
Cobb blinked again; it didn't seem to be helping. "Sweden? He's from Tunisia."
Cobb gave up and fell back on the bed, narrowly missing the headboard. "So why call me?"
"I thought you would wish to be kept abreast of the situation. Was I mistaken?"
"No," he said after a pause. "No you weren't."
"They asked me to relay to you that you had one last chance to find them an Extractor or … you could consider both bets and promises off."
Cobb sighed. "Thanks, Saito."
Ariadne held her cell between head and shoulder as she juggled grocery bags with keys and, while the laws of gravity were temporarily looking away, managed to unlock the warehouse door without dropping anything.
Just as things began to wobble, a hand reached around her and she put one of the bags into it gratefully. "Morning," Eames said, and followed her in.
She righted her head and the cell dropped into her waiting hand. "Still can't get him. Do you think he's okay?"
"I think he's finally discovered call screening." Eames smiled crookedly. "Pity, I was starting to get quite the rapport with Avril – she was going to send me a recipe for jam tarts."
"You cook?" Ariadne's eyebrows rose, and then lowered quickly in case he took offence at her surprise.
He didn't. "No, I was hoping you did."
She batted his arm as she passed and then looked back over her shoulder as the door opened again and Arthur and Yusuf entered.
Eames gave a theatrical gasp. "Arthur's late for work. Someone call the hospital. Or a priest."
"I'm not late, you're early." Arthur frowned pensively and then reached up as if to check Eames' forehead for excessive heat. The forger danced back and then opened his mouth for a second salvo.
Ariadne scowled and raised a finger sharply. "Do not start before coffee. That's the rule. Do not break the rule or there will beconsequences."
Arthur shook his head. "It's sugar water, Ariadne."
She smiled brightly, and showed just a hint of tooth. "It was sugar water, Arthur."
Arthur looked briefly disconcerted when a conspiratorial look passed between Yusuf and Ariadne, then shrugged and turned to put the water on to boil. He frowned and drew back. "It's already hot. When's the new extractor arriving?"
Ariadne drew back. "Not until noon."
Arthur reached for the Glock in his shoulder holster as Eames drew his gun, tucked in the back of his pants. Both started forward and then stopped abruptly as a figure came around the corner.
"Got a seat on an earlier flight," Cobb said, and then held his mug up. "This coffee's terrible. And so's the plan."
Eames lowered his gun and grinned widely, even as he protested. "Hey! The plan's good. The plan is excellent. The coffee's bloody awful, though, that's true."
"Great, now we have to schedule for you getting caught up." Arthur smirked, slipped his gun back in its holster and then turned back to making the horrible, horrible coffee.
Yusuf clapped Cobb hard on the shoulder as he passed him, headed for his bench of sugar water. "Welcome home!"
The chemist was narrowly out of the way before Ariadne came in fast and low with a flying hug that had Cobb staggering backwards.
By the time he righted himself, Eames was thumbing through a small blue book, lips pursed. He mouthed a few numbers to himself and then nodded. "And the winner is Ariadne, with six weeks, two days. Almost down to the day – uncanny."
"You said you weren't in on the book," Cobb whispered in her ear.
"I'll split it with you," she whispered back. "Promise."
He released her with a grin. "Deal."