AND THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES
A Gunslinger Girl fanfiction by Alfisti, based on works by Yu Aida. Special thanks to Professor Voodoo, owner or Elio Alboreto, Marisa and Foreplay and Kiskaloo, owner of the Pagani fratello and M/Y Bright Star.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As the title suggests, this story leads on directly from previous works, namely the Jethro + Monty fancomic which can be found under wraith11 on deviantART. While it is hoped that "And the Adventure Continues" is written in a manner which will allow it to act as a standalone piece, it is recommended that the comic be read either prior to this story or at some point in the future. Events contained therein are relevant to this arc and shall continue to be throughout later planned chapters.
For those who do decide to read the comic, you have my sincerest apologies for both the sub-standard writing and illustration work, particularly in earlier issues.
CH01|And the Adventure Continues
It had once been said that if a Liberty Ship survived a single crossing of the Atlantic, then she had paid for her construction. If that were truly the case, then SS Tempest had earned the keep of herself and her sisters a hundred fold times at least.
Despite her age, Captain Arthur Howell was proud of his ship. The steady eleven knots at which she currently steamed was certainly not the equal of more modern vessels, but her oil-fired engines were nigh unburstable and she was small enough that, from his position on the bridge, the captain could see everything that occurred upon her decks. She had other advantages as well: the vintage hull attracted exactly the right sort of attention, tourists and enthusiasts, which meant the authorities found it easier to leave Tempest alone. It also allowed those clients who may have wished to avoid awkward questions to slip aboard under a handy, prefabricated cover.
On that thought, the captain's attention focused upon the slender, female figure standing on the ship's prow, looking at something on the horizon that apparently only it could see. Despite their being incongruously dressed for a sea voyage, Howell had not asked questions when this girl and the man with her had requested passage aboard his ship. They'd paid generously, up front and in cash, which was a combination that could buy a lot of no questions asked. It had also been enough to acquire the captain's cabin for their own usage, which they'd locked and kept private since departing Algiers. That the girl could not have been more than half the age of her companion had set the ship's scuttlebutt alight, to a point where even Howell was starting to feel a certain level of unease over the whole arrangement. That was perhaps why he decided that his next action would best be carried out in person, rather than delegated to one of the crew.
"Mister el-Bayoumi," he said, turning to the bridge's other occupant, "hold course for Alexandria, and see to it we're ready to receive a pilot aboard. I'm going to go inform our guest there that she may wish to make herself scarce."
The Egyptian at the ship's helm nodded his understanding without saying a word and the captain allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction as he made his way toward the main deck. His ship may be old, but her crew were efficient, competent and could be counted upon to complete their tasks without nannying.
If Monty was aware of the captain's approach she didn't show it. Instead she continued to scan the horizon, hunkering down slightly in a thin turtleneck jumper which was proving insufficient protection against the chill evening air. Part of her wished she'd grabbed her trench coat to help ward off the stiffening sea breeze.
Monty's head and eyes swivelled round, cool gaze sizing her addressor up over a shoulder. Perceiving no immediate threat she allowed herself a slow count to five before turning to face him.
"Ms. Archer, the pilot boat from Alexandria will be out to meet us shortly. I suggest you move yourself below decks."
"Understood Captain, I'll inform my uncle."
With a curt nod she brushed past Howell, close enough for him to catch a whiff of her dark, jasmine-tinged scent over the tang of salt, ozone and faint trace of oil that purveyed the ship itself. While the girl's actual age was a matter of some debate, the captain didn't think she could be more than fourteen, sixteen on the outside. However her stance and presentation were those of someone much older, and then of course, there was the man she'd accompanied aboard...
He shook himself mentally, in twenty-four hours they'd no-longer be his problem anyway.
A short walk brought Monty to the cabin she shared with her partner. Glancing briefly backwards, the girl rapped sharply on the door in a sequence which would let him know she was alone and safe. Waiting half a second she opened a gap just wide enough to allow passage and slipped into the room beyond, before shutting the door smartly.
Inside, her nose wrinkled as the acrid smell of hot plastic assaulted her nostrils, "Christ Guvnor, you wouldn't want to open a window at all would you?"
Jethro Blacker didn't turn away from where he was positioned at the captain's small writing desk, the hot clothes iron in his hand pressed down hard on something resting atop the woodwork. Resigned through experience to the idea that her handler was busy right now and wouldn't be responding until finished, Monty leaned back against the door, folded her arms and started to give her report.
"Captain Howell has informed me that the ship will be taking an Alexandrian pilot aboard shortly, so we'd best stay below decks till docked. Pity, I was hoping to get a look at the harbour on our way in."
Jethro withdrew the iron briefly then, working steadily across the object in front of him, started making small circles with the tip. This action however apparently signified the end of his need to give full attention to the task in front of him.
"Well, Alexandria does have a tricky entrance. It shouldn't be a big surprised that even smaller vessels need a pilot. Besides luv, if we saw everything before we arrived, where would all the fun and surprises come from?"
Monty's expression flattened and she fixed her handler with a deadpan gaze, "I'd be perfectly content without either just right now thank you, we've had plenty enough of both this month already."
"Monaco turned out alright."
"Monaco ended with Nick and Shamus turning up dead for reasons unknown and their boat drifting in the Mediterranean. I'm not certain the description of alright is entirely apt under the circumstances."
"Ok, let me rephrase that: the job itself turned out alright, the latter's just bloody worrying..."
Pushing herself away from the door, Monty stepped over to her companion who had now set the iron down and dropped what he had been working on into a bowl of water. Noticing her presence, Jethro wrapped an arm around his cyborg, and threw her a lopsided half grin.
"...but hey, that's what we're here for: find some answers."
Monty pulled a sour face, "Every time we do that all we seem to wind up with is more questions… How're those going?"
The last was directed at the bowl of water in front of her.
"Don't know yet."
Jethro fished a small, bedraggled rectangle of plastic out of the water and started carefully rubbing away at the sodden paper fused to its face with his thumb. Once it was removed, he handed the cleaned plastic to Monty. From a square on the card's surface, a slightly fuzzy version of her own likeness scowled out with the word "EUROPOL" printed up the side in block capitals.
"It still needs aging, but I'd say that's one library card that didn't die in vain," said Jethro happily.
Extracting herself from her handler's grasp, Monty turned the card over, running her thumb up the magnetic strip on the back and cocked a questioning eyebrow.
This time it was Jethro's turn to pull a face, "Still no luck finding something to restripe those with, you'd think a ship this old would have a tape-deck or a VCR or something onboard. As it is we'll just have to wipe it and cross our fingers that flashing these around a bit will be enough to get aboard Foreplay. Given time we could probably do better, but this tramper isn't precisely a goldmine of forgery equipment."
Monty looked down at what had once been a library card belonging to one of Michele Pagani's crew, commandeered before M/Y Bright Star had dropped her and her handler off in Algiers.
"We'll make do. By the time Alboreto got back to Rome with our report and the Agency higher-ups had cleared impersonating Europol personnel..."
"You seem to be making a habit of that," interrupted Jethro, "sending paperwork back to the SWA with Alboreto I mean."
"It was once, in Bruges," deadpanned Monty, eyeing her handler.
"And now twice, you're starting a pattern."
In truth, the decision to send reports and paperwork back to the Social Welfare Agency's headquarters near Rome with the Alboreto and Pagani fratelli had been of twofold origin. First it was guaranteed secure delivery, something neither electronic nor more traditional forms of transmittal could offer. Secondly, and to some extent more importantly in the Blackers' opinions, the extra time taken prevented the Agency from learning what they were planning to do until they'd already done it, thereby circumventing a certain amount of bureaucratic horse trading. For Monty at least, it had never occurred that the SWA might itself prefer not to know. If the Blacker fratello ever dropped the ball, then that organization would be able claim ignorance of its agents' actions and possibly deflect some of the inevitable governmental fallout... and for the Agency's international "away team", the amount of potential fallout to be generated could be substantial.
The disadvantage of course was that, without knowing what the Blackers' next move was, the Agency was in turn unable to provide support. In the cyborg's opinion that wasn't such a bad thing as it kept traceable links back to Rome at a minimum and fortunately, Monty had been given a master forger for a handler. Advantageous in many respects... she looked over at her partner who was back at work, quietly humming something from a west end musical... even if it was sometimes more akin to being paired with a small child.
Devoid of anything more pressing to do for the next few hours, the cyborg retrieved her laptop and settled in to read the Agency's latest intelligence packet. Technically intended for her handler, the document had arrived travelling the opposite direction to her own reports, with the Alboreto fratello from Rome.
The last dregs of sunset were fading into an inky night by the time SS Tempest bumped up against the dock fenders of the Port of Alexandria. Another hour, filled with the clank and scrape of break cargo being unloaded, passed before Monty finally closed down her computer and slipped it into her waiting duffle bag. Jethro, now dressed in a slate grey two-button suit, handed one of the completed Europol IDs to his cyborg, then stood back to size the girl up.
"Are you sure you're happy in that?"
Monty looked down at her own outfit; a plain charcoal skivvy top, black leggings and flats.
"No, but since we came straight from Monaco, I've not got anything suitable both for nocturnal sneaking and going out on a town that still prefers its women with their knees covered."
"Touché," returned Jethro, shrugging his assent; the wardrobe they'd packed for the flash and glamour of the French Riviera was ill at ease here on the Mediterranean's more conservative southern shore. The thought though, twigged something else. "Speaking of, where is the car right now?"
"If everything's running on schedule, which I doubt it will be, it'll leave Felixstowe tomorrow evening," responded Monty, referring to the Audi estate that served both as the nomadic fratello's home and wardrobe, and which had been left in England during their previous job for reasons of security. "I'll find somewhere to change once we're out of the port."
A tap on their door heralded the arrival of one of the crew. Jethro picked up his and Monty's heavy suitcase and one of the duffels whilst Monty grabbed the second, lighter bag as befitting a girl of her stature.
"Mr. Archer, Ms." said the captain, as the cabin door opened, "A customs friend of mine has graciously agreed to look the other way tonight. When the wharfies take smoko in another five or so, we'll take you ashore. There's a covered truck waiting near the gate, the driver thinks there's a problem with his ID..."
"Work of the same friend?" queried Jethro.
Howell apparently chose not to answer that, instead turning on his heel and leading the fratello toward the exterior of the ship. Outside, the noises of a port at work had subsided to distant clangs and rumbles as the general cargo crews retired to their huts. In and around the industrial sounds, Monty's sensitive cyborg ears could now also just pick out the faint hum of human chatter from the well lit passenger cruise terminal, visible just beyond the general cargo area's fence. Confirming that the coast was clear with one of his men stationed on the dock, the captain motioned Jethro and Monty forward.
They moved quickly down the gangway and across an open expanse of concrete between the ship and wharf warehouses. Finally in the shadows of shipping containers, stacked neatly next to the warehouse wall, the little group found sufficient cover to stop and take stock.
Handing Jethro a scrap of paper, Captain Howell motioned up toward the far end of the warehouse, "Your transport should be just around the corner there. That bit of paper there's got the registration number on it just in case."
Jethro quickly scanned the piece of paper, committing the truck registration to memory before passing it to Monty who completed the same process with similar expediency and handed it back to the captain.
"Thank you for your help Captain Howell," said Jethro, but only received a grunt in reply as the captain turned from the fratello, moving back toward his ship.
Once he'd disappeared from sight, Monty gave a slow count to ten to make sure the man was well clear before addressing her handler, "Do you want I should run a rooftop recce?"
Jethro shook his head. "Not this time luv," he replied, nodding toward the passenger terminal. "That upper floor has a sight line on the top of this warehouse. For now, I think it'd be wisest if we stuck to the shadows at ground level. Go check on our transport though."
Without waiting for further instruction, Monty set her bag down and scampered quickly and quietly toward the land-end of the warehouse. She stopped short of the corner, straining to hear what might be going on out of sight. No sounds of people: good, but also no sound of a truck: not so good. Carefully she crept up to the corner and, tensing to run if required, peeped cautiously round.
Moving swiftly back to her handler the girl delivered her bad news. "Skipper, our transport's not there."
"Do you think it's late, or been moved?"
"Doubt it," growled the cyborg. "Howell said the driver was already there, so I think it's gone. Probably his tame customs official wasn't quite as reliable as expected."
"Or we've been setup," said Jethro, voicing that unpleasant thought.
Monty eyed at her watch. The Heuer Camaro's red seconds hand swept around inside its own little black dial, counting off time she didn't have. "I doubt we're going to have time to go searching, the dock workers should be coming off their break any time now. Ideas?"
Jethro looked around, taking in what avenues were available to him, which were limited at best. There was back to the ship, which would do them no good at all. Behind, the bulk of the warehouse would lend cover but only take them further into the port complex. The other two options were a well lit stretch of concrete to the road fence or the cruise liner terminal.
"The cruise terminal, we'll get out through there."
Monty eyed the approach dubiously; a wide stretch of concrete with sparse cover to a guard station and single vehicle parked beside it, presumably belonging to the guard inside. Beyond that, two vehicle gates next to each other lead into the public terminal area. Unfortunately her handler was right: it was the lesser of all presented evils.
"Ok, but I go first and you give me the heavy bags."
Without waiting for her handler's response, Monty grabbed the large suitcase and heavier of the two duffels with her other hand to balance herself, lifting both easily with cybernetic strength. Jethro, already at the edge of the shipping container stack, motioned for her to join him. As the cyborg came up level he placed a hand lightly on the nape of her neck, signalling a stop while he made himself comfortable that the area was clear.
The hand was removed and Monty was off, sprinting low across the exposed hardstand, head constantly moving left and right, up and down. Coming to a halt next to a stack of shipping pallets, she spared a quick glance back for her handler before scanning the area ahead and waved him forward. Now it was Jethro's turn to duplicate her run, low and fast across the open ground… then straight past his cyborg to the gate-guard's hut, crouching down in the gap between its wall and the car stationed beside it. Remaining behind, Monty kept watch while Jethro rummaged in the bag he was carrying. Extracting a shaving mirror from his dopp kit the handler cautiously raised it above the window ledge, using its reflection to survey what lay beyond. Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, he waved his cyborg over.
"Can't win tonight, there's only one guard," Jethro kept his voice pitched low, "but it must be the start of his shift because the silly blighter actually looks attentive."
Monty made a face, "Think we can entice him out of there?"
Jethro shrugged, it might be possible, but the options for viable distractions around him were as limited as ways to escape the port itself.
More precious seconds ticked away.
"I could knock over some of those shipping pallets, draw his attention," suggested Monty.
"You're at the docks luv, loud crashes won't raise any eyebrows..."
Monty gave her handler a quizzical look as his sentence tailed off.
"Give me your lockpicks."
Extracting from her bag a soft leather wallet, the cyborg presented it to her handler who unrolled the black package extracting two dull, blued-steel tools. Working quickly he inserted both into the lock of the car door in front of him.
"What're you up to?" whispered Monty, looking on.
"I figure knocking things over won't draw enough attention, but a car running into them just might..."
The lock clicked open and a piercing wail shattered the night.
Jamming lock picks and wallet in his pocket, Jethro snatched up the light duffel and sprinted for the back of the guardhouse, Monty close behind with the two larger bags. They ducked behind the structure just as the guardsman came crashing out the front door. Frantically trying to shut his car alarm off, the man never saw two shadowy figures dash across the concrete threshold, through the gates and into the relative safety of the darkened gardens next to the cruise terminal entrance.
Jethro and Monty fetched up against the wall below the terminal main entrance stair, resting beside a service door in the block work. Jethro was breathing heavily after their flat-out sprint, but his face was split in a manic grin, "Whew! Well, that was certainly more fun than coming in through the airport."
His cyborg however seemed less entertained, "Just give my bloody lock picks back."
Jethro handed them over and she got to work on the service entrance lock.
"You realize there's a perfectly good door just above us right? It's bigger too, columns and everything."
"Yes," replied Monty, taking a second to fix her handler with a hard stare, "but I can't very well go wandering through dressed up as a cat burglar, not to mention walking in with luggage then walking immediately out again may raise a few eyebrows."
There was a click as the door swung open and the two partners slipped quickly inside, relocking it behind themselves. Ahead was a small storage area, apparently used for gardening equipment and a service corridor stretching off to their right, terminating at a pair of swing doors on the far end. The fratello hurried down it, emerging cautiously through the "staff only" entrance to find themselves in front of a set of toilets on the left, with stairs opposite leading presumably, to the main concourse.
"Take this," instructed Monty, handing off the suitcase to Jethro. "I'll join you up above in a minute."
With that she disappeared with her duffel into the female bathroom. Once inside she found a free cubicle and, offering up a quick prayer of thanks for finding one with a throne to set her bag down on rather than a trough, set to work. Quickly she stripped off the black skivvy top and unzipped the bag, extracting from it a carefully rolled and packed YSL Mondrian dress and small, black pistol. Checking that she had a round chambered and the safety on, Monty strapped her Walther PPK on over her leggings, high up her thigh. Then on went the dress, falling to cover the gun in its holster and off came her flats, replaced with knee high white gogo boots. Stuffing the discarded garments back into the duffel, Monty exited the cubicle and took a moment to inspect herself in the bathroom mirror. Having run a hand over her head to smooth her short auburn hair, and straightening a few imaginary creases in her dress, she seemed satisfied with the view and exited the bathroom, every inch the glamorous, poster child cruise liner passenger.
In the main concourse Jethro was waiting for her, now carrying a Lonely Planet guide to Egypt and tourist map of Alexandria. As his cyborg walked up, the handler gave her a quick one armed hug before picking up the suitcase and other duffel again.
"Shall we go find a taxi?"
Twenty minutes later, a black and yellow taxi dropped the fratello off outside the Sofitel Cecil Alexandria hotel. Paying the fare they'd negotiated at the port, Jethro thanked the driver and let the taxi go. Monty however was looking sour.
"I hate to do this to you Guv, but we may need to do a spot of shopping tomorrow. I figured I might get away in this here," she said, picking at her dress, "you know, tourism and all. But somehow I get the impression being clothed for Monaco is rubbing a few local karmas up the wrong way."
Jethro took another look at his cyborg, remembering her own attempts to negotiate a fare at the port, "He probably just took you for another rude tourist, though covering up a mite more would probably be polite."
"I don't much care if it's polite or not," Monty retorted, "but reactions like that are going to make my life difficult."
"Ok, we'll find you something more fitting to the local sensibilities tomorrow," said Jethro, seeing his girl was in no mood to be placated. "Until then, playing tourist for a bit may not be a bad idea. Come on."
With that they headed not for the hotel, but into central Alexandria itself, disappearing among the melee of the port city's night time streets. For the next three quarters of an hour they wandered, seemingly aimlessly and luggage in hand, in a pattern intended to help identify and lose any potential pursuers. Occasionally they'd stop to consult the map and guidebook, or accost a local for directions to some hotel on the far side of the city. Eventually, the two lost tourists gave in, settling down in a café full of other tourists for a rest. Heads bowed again over their guidebook and map they let Alexandria bustle past, locals and travellers alike, all in search of a good time or on other business known only to those partaking in it.
Presently two espressos arrived, which Monty dipped into their dwindling supply of local currency to purchase. Once the waiter had gone, she had a sip and put the tiny cup down looking unimpressed. Apparently in a city famed for its abundance of cafés they'd managed to find one which didn't know how to make coffee. In hindsight, she suspected that probably explained the number of tourists and lack of locals making use of its services.
The taste of burnt grindings still fresh on her tongue, Monty started, "I don't think that was worth the money."
Jethro took his own taste, "Try to look on the bright side: it's caffeinated..."
"That's about all it is."
"...but if it placates you any, think of it as paying for the seats."
Monty shifted in what she was now apparently paying for; causing the aged bent wood construction to creak worryingly. Lowering her head again over the guidebook, she trusted noise from the mass of humanity streaming past to mask her next words.
"I think finding a hotel might be a good idea," she started, apparently speaking to the book on the table in front of her, "something close to the port. This 'Hotel Union' or the Metropole both look promising."
Jethro took a moment to skim the entries his cyborg was pointing to while she kept talking, "The Union's cheaper and probably more the sort of thing Europol would book for its agents, but the Metropole has internet and a currency exchange which could come in handy."
Jethro took a moment to weigh the options, "Well we're not short of cash after Monaco, but it's all in Euro and the local money changers mostly want to see a passport or similar. That's fair enough I suppose... however I'm also running short of clean clothes, don't know about you, and I see Le Metropole has a laundry service."
"Le Metropole it is then."
Unwilling to attempt another run in with the café's coffee, Jethro and Monty quickly drained their cups and, leaving enough of a tip to seem polite, returned to the streets. Pausing occasionally to again consult the map, point out a sight or fend off the occasional street hawker, they charted a similarly meandering course as earlier, slowly moving toward Alexandria's East Harbour waterfront. There they turned west toward the port, adopting the leisurely pace of those around them, and joined the throng of tourists and relaxing locals taking an evening stroll down the Corniche.
It was perhaps that slower pace which caused the hurrying young man to crash into Jethro. Bouncing off the taller Englishman he bowed his apologies and made to move on. However he didn't get more than a few steps before finding himself sprawled on the ground, being offered a hand up by an unconvincingly apologetic Monty, whose booted foot had somehow got tangled in his legs. Helping the man to his feet and still voicing her concerns, she used her free hand to quietly liberate her handler's wallet from the would-be pickpocket, before sending him on his way.
"You know, I never feel quite at home in a city until someone tries to rob me," quipped Jethro, accepting his property back from his cyborg, who merely responded with a wry grimace. The idea of having to scrap a perfectly good alias thanks to encountering some of the local colour held little appeal. Adding to her worries, the fratello had intended to travel back to England after Monaco rather than continuing on, so spare identities right now were in short supply, which brought up another uncomfortable concern.
"I assume you've started giving some time to how we're getting back out of here?" put in Monty, dropping a none-too-subtle hint that if her handler hadn't, he possibly should be.
Jethro let the question hang for a few seconds whilst he arranged his thoughts. "A little perhaps... if we have the time I'd quite like to get our passports stamped and sorted, there's generally someone around who will do that for a price. It'd be nice to keep what aliases we have left as above board as possible."
Monty wasn't going to argue that point. Travelling across international borders was much easier done on a passport, even if the passport in question was for someone who didn't technically exist. After their clandestine arrival, the fratello was going to have to pick up their pattern of mostly legal emigration eventually, and as far as the cyborg was concerned: the sooner the better.
Jethro continued, "If we don't have the time, I guess we could catch another ship out or drive across the border once the car arrives, then get back on passports somewhere else. Worst comes to worst we could even organize a cinema..."
"I think we'll need to wait for the car one way or the other," put in Monty, "there's no-one really handy here to forward it onto us again."
The Blackers' relaxed pace eventually drew them level with the wide Saad Zaghoul Square, over which the white edifice of Le Metropole hotel presided. As promised by the Lonely Planet, Le Metropole turned out to be a masterpiece of faded French Colonial glamour and opulence. Ornate, albeit slightly crumbly plaster work, cool stone flooring polished within an inch of its life and tired Louis XVI era furnishings greeted the fratello as they made their way to the check-in desk.
There they were greeted by a friendly and helpful Arab girl who informed them in pleasantly accented English that yes, the hotel would happily accept their payment in cash Euro, and change whatever other amounts they required into Egyptian Pounds. However she only had a city-side standard room left with two beds.
Jethro appeared to consider this briefly and shot Monty a glance, "Are you sure you've nothing on the water side? We were really hoping for sea views."
The girl took in the middle aged man and young girl standing in front of her and consulted her computer, "Well sir, we do have a superior room, but it only has a single queen bed."
"That will do fine."
A flash of disapproval passed over the girl's face at that, but was quickly gone. She was paid to fill rooms after all, not to pass judgement on those seeking lodging.
"Indeed sir, and how long did you wish to stay for?"
Jethro shared another glance with his cyborg who replied, "five days to start, with the option to extend should we require it."
The girl's fingers flew across her keyboard, filling in data, until presently the banshee screech of a dot matrix printer signalled that she was finished. Removing the completed form she handed it across the desk along with a ballpoint pen.
"Now if you could just sign here, and date that, I'll take your fee and a deposit and get the porter to show you to your room."
The hotel's elevator was an ancient wooden contraption with a staircase running around it, and which required the porter to hold both inner and outer doors open for his guests to enter or exit. Two bowel loosening lurches and a second short struggle with the doors later, the fratello were deposited safely on the fourth floor and shown to their room. High ten foot ceilings and walls decorated with ornate wallpaper served to give the otherwise small floorplan a sense of airy space. Slender French doors, hung with somewhat aged gauze drapes, opened out onto a Parisian style balcony with a spectacular view out across the East Harbour to the yacht club and beyond to the Mediterranean proper.
Tipping the porter with some freshly exchanged currency, Jethro closed and secured the door, then started working his way clockwise around the room. Monty mirrored his circuit, going anti-clockwise: checking in light fittings, behind paintings, in the phone, behind seat cushions, seemingly partaking in a scavenger hunt only the fratello knew the point of. Halfway through, cyborg and handler crossed and began working over the side of the room just vacated by the other, finally meeting back at the door.
"Looks clear to me," stated Jethro quietly.
Monty nodded her agreement. While she hadn't really expected to find any bugs or traces, one of the first things Jethro had taught her had been that, in the espionage business, a certain level of professional paranoia was an essential survival skill.
"I don't like this high ceiling, makes it difficult to check the cornice."
"Can you see anything?"
Monty slowly scanned the upper portions of the room, moving along the wall opposite what she was viewing and using her acute cyborg vision to try and detect anything out of place: a stray shadow or patch on the wall, even a bit of out of place colour. Her efforts however were hampered by the vintage decoration's fine patterning.
"Nothing that I can make out."
"Then that'll have to do." Jethro paused, and a wry expression coloured his features, "Lets face it; the walls here are probably so thin anyone who wants to listen in won't need a bug, an upside down glass on the plaster would be perfectly adequate."
With that he shrugged off his jacket and hung it neatly in the hotel's supplied wardrobe. His black knit tie was draped over the hanger rail as well before removing the light shoulder holster he wore; complete with the slightly battered looking black SIG P230 it contained. Those were placed under the bedside table closest to the window. Previous experience had taught Jethro the futility of trying to argue who got the side of the bed closest the door with his cyborg. For similar reasons he'd not been allowed choice of the aisle seat on an aeroplane since his tenure with the SWA had commenced almost two years previous. That latter though he sometimes suspected was simply because Monty liked the extra space and instant access to her hand luggage.
He looked over to where Monty was; skinny almost to the point of fragility, few people would have suspected that this girl could shrug off small arms fire or throw grown men around as if they were sacks of dirty washing. Currently she had released the leather belts which secured their beaten black and orange Globe Trotter suitcase closed and was rapidly transferring its contents into the supplied storage with a practiced hand.
"I don't think the receptionist was too well impressed by us," Jethro stated, reaching over his cyborg to pluck a fresh set of underwear from the suitcase before Monty could stow them.
"I didn't notice."
Rummaging now for his dopp kit, Jethro hid a fond but weary smile. Intelligent and efficient she may have been, but social skills were something they still needed to work on. "Either way I'm plenty content to play the weary traveller tonight. If you want to order up some room service, I'm going for a shower."
"You can play as weary as you like, but snore or stray from your own side of the bed and you're on the couch."
It was pushing nine am by the time a much better rested Blacker fratello descended the stairs to Le Metropole's ground floor. Hand resting lightly on the nape of his cyborg's neck, Jethro guided her gently toward the breakfast room. A soft word to the maître d' secured them a secluded table near the back of the space, which was slowly emptying as the business crowd headed out to its various engagements. That left the Blackers with just the tourists for company, causing Monty to growl something quiet and unintelligible about loud Americans into her continental breakfast. Jethro, on the other hand had gone the full English, both out of respect to his heritage and as a result of only having felt up to a light meal the night before. This however he now left mid-bite, returning with a second cup of coffee for his cyborg. While she may not have thought highly of the drip filtered product, it was caffeine and would he hoped, in sufficient quantities have the desired effect of bringing her personality out of the doldrums. Still, he gave the girl another five minutes and a third cup before attempting to discuss the day ahead.
"We might get your shopping done straight after breakfast so we can move around a bit more freely. Then I'd like to have a stab at finding somewhere to get a good view of the West Harbour; if we can find Foreplay just by looking, rather than imprinting ourselves in the memories of the local populace, so much the better."
Monty nodded slowly, "The Ferretti's not exactly a pretty boat, if Foreplay's there it shouldn't be a great stretch to pick her out. I was hoping to get a look on the way in, but obviously the pilot boat put paid to that idea. Right now though, my major concern is if she's being held in one of the military areas; that could complicate things."
"I'd say that'd be highly and unfortunately likely. Just to complicate things further I'm not even sure we'll find a good lookout." Jethro suddenly looked slyly at his cyborg, "Though I guess if it really came down to it you could climb a minaret or something."
Monty gave a derisive snort, "You're been spending too much time around Marisa, the crazy's rubbing off."
She took another sip of the bland, tourist focused coffee before continuing, "Either way, do we have a plan B yet? Because I had a flick through some of the news sites this morning and there was no mention of where Foreplay was, just that the police had towed her to Alexandria and taken Nick and Shamus's bodies off for examination. Everything beyond that was just the tabloids spouting their usual drivel."
"If only they knew the real story, those reporters would have a field day."
"But that's just it isn't it," Monty grouched. "Even we don't know. Last we heard, Foreplay left Monaco with Nick and Shamus breathing and upright. The how; the what and most concerningly; the who, between there and Alex are still a mystery."
Jethro reached across the table to give his cyborg's hand a reassuring squeeze, "Then what say we be about it?"
Fortunately, one thing Alexandria did not want for were places to acquire clothes. Bustling streets were lined with small shops, their wares out for the world to see, protected from the harsh Egyptian sun by awnings and all competing with one another for the customer's attention. Men and women alike haggled over prices, sometimes bargaining hard, or throwing in another item in the hope it may sweeten a deal. The younger crowd however confined itself more to the air conditioned malls, lined with designer shops, their windows displaying everything they believed the modern, chic Alexandrian may desire.
It was one of these latter that equipped Monty with a light, white cotton blouse of which she rolled the sleeves up and tucked loosely into wide, kakhi linen slacks, pressed neatly with a crisp crease down the front. Back at the hotel were added a wide red belt and black flats. Large, white framed vintage sunglasses finished the look with a red gossamer silk headscarf, bought from a street seller, covering her hair and draped casually over one shoulder. She was just tucking her PPK into its holster in the small of her back, where the fold of the blouse would keep it concealed, when Jethro entered.
"You good to go?"
Monty nodded, "Yes, hopefully this'll be enough to tide me over till the car turns up."
"Good, because we've got some walking to do," Jethro said, "I asked the concierge, but he couldn't think of anywhere that'd give us a good vantage point on the whole harbour. Actually, he seemed a mite confused when I said I wanted to look at the west basin rather than the east."
Monty could understand the bafflement the man might have felt at her handler's request. The West Harbour contained Alexandria's commercial and military port, rather than the east's picturesque fishing and pleasure craft.
"Do I even want to know what story you spun?"
Jethro grinned, "Said I used to be in the merchant marine and found looking at freighters nostalgic."
Monty eyed off her partner: slender but fit, in artfully faded coffee chinos, a blue and white striped button up shirt with the sleeves loosely rolled and a pair of Ray Ban wayfarer sunglasses hanging from the undone collar. The whole look was finished with a white flat cap and sand coloured suede desert boots. If there was any merchant marine in that makeup it was during a time long past.
She cocked an eyebrow, "Did he buy it."
Jethro shrugged, "Seemed too."
The cyborg sighed and shook her head; dress aside, her handler's ability to create seemingly limitless bullshit on the spot and importantly, make people believe him, would never cease to amaze her…
'C'mon luv, lets avast and set sail from this land-lubberish establishment to look upon the fine ships of the West Harbour."
…as would his ability to turn instantly juvenile.
Monty's eyes narrowed as she growled back, "Cut that out you, or you'll be walking the plank to the briny deep and I'll finish this job on my own."
Jethro flashed his cyborg a big grin, "Lucky for you then we're heading for the seaside. I think we'll do the west-facing vantage points first… so start up near Citadel Qaitbay and work our way inland then around."
A tram carried the fratello from Ramal Station, just on the square outside their hotel, to within walking distance of Qaitbay Citadel. Built on the site of the destroyed Pharos Lighthouse by Sultan Al-Ashraf Qaitbay, the monolithic fortress had stood guard over Alexandria's East harbour since the 15th century. Now the fort's canon had fallen silent, replaced by the snap of camera shutters as thousands of tourists took advantage of the same views that had allowed it to defend the city for so many centuries.
Jethro and Monty however did not join them, instead heading west and strolling toward the sea-front before turning inland. Keeping to the highest ground they could find, they maintained a leisurely pace, stopping every so often to take a photo with the small digital camera Monty carried, consult a map or discuss some point of interest… two tourists getting off the beaten path and exploring the city backstreets. Anyone interested enough to have observed them for awhile may have noticed that they tended to stop more when their sight line gave them a view of the port, and that one of the two seemed to be getting less and less enthusiastic about the whole undertaking.
"This is ridiculous," stated Monty, stopping to take a swig from her plastic water bottle. "We're just not getting high enough to see anything more than shipping containers and warehouses and the back end of the odd Greek carrier if we're lucky."
"Agreed," conceded Jethro. "I've never truly appreciated before just how bloody flat Alexandria is. What say we try something a bit more targeted?"
Taking the guidebook from him, Monty started flicking through the pages, "Well I don't think we want to be visiting the cruise terminal again anytime soon if we can avoid it… Citadel Qaitbay's too far away to give a good view… Pompey's Pillar might be worth a go though."
Moving around behind his cyborg, Jethro put an arm around her and bent down to read the entry over her shoulder, "'Highest ancient monument in Alexandria', sounds hopeful..."
He removed the now slightly dog-eared tourist map from his back pocket, unfolded it and, after a slight faff to collapse it back down to the section showing Pompey's Pillar, laid the paper over the top of Monty's book, "...it's almost two clicks back from the port though."
"We'll buy some binoculars. Hopefully it'll at least let us take a look at the military prohibited zone."
"Well, so much for that brilliant plan."
The Blacker fratello had caught another of the ubiquitous Alexandria trams as close to the tourist site as they could, then taken the short climb to the top of the hill that the pillar was situated on. It had occurred to both that for a major landmark, the area seemed to be almost devoid of tourist traffic. Now they knew why.
Monty stood scowling and holding her iPhone up in front of her. On it was the digital image of a 19th century print tagged "View from Pompey's Pillar" which she'd dredged up off Google during the ride over. On the LCD screen was depicted the pillar, standing high above the city, with a clear and unobstructed view out toward the two harbours. Now in the present day, the sightline to the harbour was marred by three ugly and weather beaten high-rise apartment blocks, three of the many which now towered over "the highest monument in Alexandria", like rugby players over a geek who'd accidentally strayed into their locker room.
"I am really starting to think we should try a different tack," grumbled Monty, eyeing the buildings sourly. Not only had she now wasted another hour of the day, but also the fifteen Egyptian Pound per-head entry fee to the pillar site and the cost of the, admittedly rather good, binoculars that had been bought en route.
"Concur," replied her handler. "I don't know about you but I'm famished. What say we take some time to grab lunch and regroup?"
"I don't know Skipper, we've already wasted half a day. It's only going to be a matter of time before the authorities move Foreplay on…"
Jethro gave his cyborg a hard look, "Allow me to rephrase that: we're getting lunch. Half an hour to rest and take stock won't do any harm at all." A wry half grin now creased his features, "Besides, I'm hungry and I know you don't function well on an empty stomach."
The last point Monty grudgingly had to concede. Unable to store energy in the form of body fat, the cyborgs needed to keep themselves fuelled to maintain peak performance. Without regular meals, their much vaunted strength and speed would drop off, their mental faculties would be compromised and, in extreme cases, could suffer a severe hypoglycaemic reaction. Monty knew she had it better than most of her sisters on that particular front. With the understanding that she and her handler would be deployed far from SWA support for months at a time, the doctors and engineers at the Agency had cut Monty's peak strength back slightly from the standard Generation 2 norm, effectively detuning the cyborg. The upshot was that she could go longer between routine maintenance and used up her energy less quickly. However, even she couldn't run on nothing.
"Fine, food first."
The fratello spent another ten minutes at the pillar, taking time to save more images to the camera's memory card before descending back into the city streets. Ironically, it was at the base of one of the three blocks which had irked Monty so much beforehand that they found a small café, where a casually dressed waiter provided menus and a bottle of table water, before leaving them in peace. After a quick skim of the offerings, Monty excused herself to find the ladies' room, returning a few minutes later with an armful of cheaply produced newsprint.
"What is that?" questioned Jethro warily, eyeing his cyborg over the top of his menu.
"Back issues of the local rag… don't look like that I didn't scavenge them from the loo… they were on the counter for customers to read. I figure they'd be worth looking through to see if there's any mention of Foreplay or her whereabouts."
Jethro lifted the top, most recent newspaper from the pile and inspected it, "Monty, luv, this is in Egyptian Arabic… you can't read that."
"I know, you're still teaching me," she offered her handler an impish smile, "which is why I'm going to look at the pictures and you are going to read it."
Jethro groaned internally, that one he'd walked right into. Hoping to delay the inevitable a few more minutes he tried changing tactics, "Have you decided what you want to eat?"
Picking up the first paper, Monty eyed him over the top of the thin print stock, "You just said it yourself: I can't read the menu. If they do a club sandwich I'll have that, otherwise pick me something you think I'll like."
Having leafed through the list of offerings while Monty was otherwise indisposed, Jethro thought her chances of getting a club sandwich in this particular café looked slim at best. Fortunately, despite Monty's comment, neither fratello member was averse to playing "food bingo", so ordering local wasn't going to be an issue. He eventually settled on lamb torly for himself and kofte kebabs for his cyborg, both served on rice. As the waiter left with their order, Monty handed over the first newspaper that she'd finished with and Jethro settled in to skim the flowing Arabic type, looking for any mention of their former team-mates' yacht.
The pattern continued, Monty hunting for pictures which might give some hint to Foreplay's location and Jethro skimming the copy, without much success until the fratello's meals arrived… whence the exercise was dispensed with temporarily in favour of food.
Reaching across the table, Jethro used his fork to pick up the last bit of Monty's kebabs and was thrown an unimpressed look, one eyebrow raised, for his troubles.
"Lay off, I haven't had kofta since last time I was in Turkey," Jethro paused for a second, apparently remembering something. "Sorry, time before last time I was in Turkey."
"And that was?" quizzed Monty.
Jethro looked thoughtful again, "Would have been, I'd say, about two or three months before I met you actually… forgery job. So where do you think we go next?"
Monty swallowed her final mouthful of kofta and shrugged, "Honestly I'm not sure. I guess we could start at the street urchins and work our way up asking questions, unless you know anyone in town?"
"Not that could help with this no," Jethro cut in as his cyborg's train of thought rumbled off down unfortunately dead end tracks. "I was thinking I might try some of the bars around the dock area this evening; one of the workers may have seen Foreplay in their travels. A shiny white powerboat is going to stand out around ships, tugs and dumb barges."
Monty nodded slowly, "If you do that, I might try similar at some of the hotels where cruise liner guests get put up. It's a long shot but..."
Her voice trailed off again as the waiter brought them the bill. She doled out the money, picking up again as the young man left.
"...as to what we do this afternoon, I'm not certain. The Aida Beach Resort might have some Hobie Cats we could scoot around the entrance to the port with."
"Hobie 16's and Panamax bulk carriers, now there's a combination I'm sure the Port Authority will just love."
"Can you think of anything else to occupy our time with?" replied Monty, pushing her chair back.
Jethro shook his head, "Not really. Not right now. Try me in ten minutes."
Monty gave a thin smile as she exited onto the footpath first, checking quickly both ways before her handler arrived beside her. The pair turned left down the street, but only managed a few paces before Jethro pulled Monty up. Holding her shoulders he bent down slightly so they were face to face and shifted his eyes toward the alleyway between two of the apartment blocks. Running up the side of the building the café was situated in was a fire escape, its lowest platform about a story and a half off the ground with a retracting ladder.
"Do I want to know what you're thinking..." muttered Monty under her breath.
"I'm thinking that these buildings ruined our view from Pompey's Pillar and are probably some of the tallest points in Alexandria," Jethro replied quietly. "Reckon you can get topside and take a look at the harbour?"
At a more normal volume Monty replied brightly, "Actually I think I may need to use the toilet again, wait here for me will you?"
With that she scooted into the café they had just vacated, leaving Jethro standing in front of the alley to share an embarrassed smile and shrug with the surprised waiter.
Retrieving the toilet key from the counter, Monty followed the path she had taken when they first arrived, through the kitchens and into a service corridor. Checking the make sure the toilet was indeed still locked, she made a quick sweep of the area before heading out the rear doors into a loading dock. Five more steps had her around to the side of the building and into the alleyway she'd just recently been standing at the front of. At its far entrance she could see her handler, leaning against a wall seemingly waiting for his companion with the bladder the size of a walnut.
Wedging the café's key securely in her belt, Monty stood directly below the fire escape, then took two bounding steps and launched herself at the opposite side of the alley. As she hit the aged concrete her legs compressed, storing energy and she kicked off the wall, aiming herself at the lower fire escape platform. Flying across the gap she twisted around and extended her arms monkey like and, grabbing the top handrail on the platform, pointed her body to swing between the metal tubes, landing silently on the steel decking. Without wasting any time or movement, Monty flowed quietly up the steep ladders of the fire escape, heading for the roof.
The cyborg emerged onto the flat, gravel rooftop and extracted the binoculars from their case. Stopping short of the roof's edge she crouched down with her elbow braced on her knee with the lenses to her eyes. Lying down would have been preferable, but it wouldn't do to go walking around with her impeccably turned out partner looking like she'd been dragged through the streets behind an ox cart. Jethro had been right however: the rooftop was damn near the highest point in Alexandria and Monty had a clear view of the military side of the Port. Starting at the sea end she began a slow sweep along the docks, looking for the tiny fleck of white that may signal the presence of her quarry.
Back down on street level, Jethro was watching the world go by and keeping an eye out for anything that might interfere with his cyborg's work.
"Your girlfriend certainly takes her time sahib."
Jethro turned his head to find another waiter from the café standing beside him.
The handler shrugged, "Women eh? But what can you do… and she's my niece."
The waiter gave him a grin and conspiratorial wink, "Ah I see, I too keep a few nieces..."
"I don't know about "a few", but that one's worth waiting for; wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more."
At that Egyptian burst out laughing.
High above them, as the man's laughter drifted up from street level, Monty swore under her breath. Her second pass across the docks had also yielded nothing. Not ready to give up quite so quickly, and unwilling to miss an opportunity she checked her watch. Deciding she had a little time yet and could count on her handler to hold the fort, the cyborg turned her attention to the East Harbour. Much of it was obscured by buildings, but she began a similar sweep across the visible expanse of water.
At the alley entrance Jethro was enjoying himself, twisting and guiding the conversation to keep the waiter entertained. It was however he thought, about time to end and allow his partner off the roof again. Unfortunately his new friend didn't seem to want to leave.
"And then there is Anai she lives down toward the docks. Lovely girl..."
"She certainly is taking a little long isn't she?" Jethro cut in, making a show of looking at his own timepiece. "Perhaps I should go check on her, just in case."
His companion broke off for a second, digesting the sudden change of subject. Then a wide toothy grin split his face, "I do not recommend it friend. Women can get touchy about these things. Let me tell you about the time I tried to hurry Anai up!"
"Ah, but sometimes it is best to allow them to be annoyed with you, that way they can get it out of their systems for when you'd prefer them happy."
The waiter seemed to consider that.
"Pick your moments friend," continued Jethro. "It is a bit more work, but like all well thought out work, pays off in the end."
"I will think on that, but you remind me, I must be getting back, otherwise I shall not be able to afford to keep my nieces!"
Now thoroughly annoyed by the lack of results, Monty completed one final sweep across the harbour before stowing the binoculars back in their leather case and slinging it across her body. Carefully she moved to the edge of the roof and peeked over the precipice, just in time the waiter far below slap her handler on the back before moving to a table which was signalling for his attention.
Content the coast was clear, Monty's descent was as smooth and as quiet as the climb preceding it. Reaching the last platform, she checked the alley one more time before swinging herself over the handrail. The petite girl hung from the steelwork for half a second, before releasing her grip and dropping silently the last story and a bit to the ground.
Two minutes later she was back with her handler and ambling off down the street. Her expression however saved Jethro from asking how things went.
"No joy huh?"
"None," grumbled Monty, "I checked the East Harbour as well as the West. Admittedly I could only see half of either but still..."
Sensing that this was probably a good moment to not say much at all, Jethro put an arm around his cyborg and pulled her in close. "Come on, I think we'll head back to the hotel and give the Hobie Cat a miss. I don't know about you, but I need get some washing done before we hit the bars so what say we do that, have a shower and make an early start on the evening."
Monty grumbled something unintelligible, but which was probably agreement and the pair disappeared again into the Alexandrian street crowd.
Breakfast the next morning wound up being a room service affair as Monty patently wasn't in the mood to deal with her fellow guests. The previous night had proven as seemingly futile as the day and Jethro decided it would be easier to let her be. Despite trying a number of port bars, both of the regular and hookah variety, the handler had encountered no luck locating information on a white powerboat nestled in amongst the military and commercial vessels of the West Harbour. His cyborg, conducting similar enquiries in the slightly higher class establishments frequented by the cruise-liner passengers, hadn't gained anything more than her handler, bar one or two suggestions as to how she should spend the remainder of the night.
Monty stabbed another piece of melon with her fork and sat chewing it thoughtfully. Their fratello was down, but certainly not out. Today however would begin the slightly riskier business of putting out feelers in Alexandria's criminal community. Not that dealing with the less law abiding segment of a city's population worried her in terms of physical safety, nor indeed would it be anything new, but the change in activities did promise to increase the fratello's exposure. Almost two years of clandestine operation outside of Italy's borders had impressed upon the young cyborg exactly the sort of stakes with which she played on a daily basis. Failure on her part could well result not simply in just a reprimand and/or extra work for Section One and the support teams, but also serious repercussions for Italy's foreign relations. Perhaps worse though would be the potential exposure of the cyborg program to a media over which the Italian government held no sway.
The second possible avenue of investigation was riskier, but also likely to yield faster results: simply asking. It wouldn't be difficult to weave a story as to why two Europol investigators didn't know where the thing they were supposed to be investigating was stored. Bureaucracies after all had an incredible ability to leave their employees under informed, and she and her handler had certainly done more with less. However, it would also mean getting into a situation with a much higher risk of someone being able to scrutinize their hastily cobbled together identities, and make it more difficult to escape cleanly if the same someone called their bluff.
Mulling over the options, Monty allowed her head to rest on her hand, staring out the room's open French doors as she started into a Danish pastry. The hotel staff had set up a small table and two chairs in front of the balcony. Hence the Blacker fratello were able to enjoy their breakfast with a cool morning breeze, set against the stunning backdrop of Alexandria's East harbour. Monty's eyes played out across Midan Saad Zaghoul to the Sofitel Cecil Alexandria diagonally across the square, then over the Corniche and across the water to the Yacht Club where the glistening hulls of its members' and visiting boats bobbed at anchor.
Monty's train of thought came to a crashing halt and she stifled an internal groan. Pinching the bridge of her nose she squeezed her eyes shut and put the Danish down. "Skipper, pass me the binoculars... and then my pistol; because if I'm right I about this I may need to shoot myself."
Wordlessly Jethro handed the binoculars over and Monty began a slow sweep of the boats moored on the far side of the harbour. Augmented by the expensive optics, her sharp cyborg vision could make out fine details on the vessels present. Anchors, fenders, running lights, names and home ports on their sterns were all thrown into sharp relief. After one pass, Monty started back, now looking at those closer to shore. Sure enough, tied up at the end of one of the yacht club's service wharfs and guarded by two armed policemen was a white motor yacht with large cabin and unprotected upper deck. Foreplay, the Ferretti 510 which had come into the SWA's possession through an operation between the elder Croce and Alboreto fratelli in Pescara; subsequently commandeered by the Blacker fratello to support their first dive team in Monaco... now in the possession of the Egyptian police and the scene for the potential murder of that same dive team.
Monty let out a heavy sigh, "Foreplay's under guard at the Yacht Club. I didn't see her yesterday because there were buildings in the way and we've been concentrating in the western basin because we assumed she'd be at a government facility."
Jethro gave his cyborg a lopsided grin, "Wow. Embarrassing."
"You're telling me," replied Monty who, despite her wry expression, was feeling a lot happier than she had five minutes previously.
"In that case I say we take another ten minutes to finish breakfast then set to."
In lieu of an actual reply, Monty shot her handler a sly half smile and tucked into her Danish with renewed vigour.
Another black and yellow cab dropped the fratello in the street outside Alexandria's Yacht Club of Egypt. Jethro was again in his grey suit and wayfarers. Monty, currently lacking a suit of her own or indeed anything befitting of a staid Europol detective, had instead gone the opposite direction, aiming for flash and glamour. Taking the same Mondrian based outfit she'd worn on their first night in the city, she added the red silk headscarf and sunglasses, along with her light bone trench coat in deference to local tastes, but with its sleeves rolled up to the elbow in deference to local temperatures. With her she also carried the small Leica D-Lux 4 camera the fratello had used for their tourist cover.
Turning left at the club house, Jethro and Monty made for marina's the service berths. As they crossed the hardstand area, a powerful waft of fresh antifoul assaulted their nostrils, mixed with the underlying scent of oil and diesel. Boats, pleasure yachts and fishing vessels alike were supported in the air by spindly networks of scaffold, their undersides and engines stripped bare as workers swarmed over them.
Leaving the noise and stench of the work area behind them, the pair walked out along the short pier at the end of which was moored Foreplay. Between the fratello and the Ferretti stood two slightly bored looking Egyptian policemen, MP5 submachine guns hanging lazily from their shoulders. At the unexpected arrival of two people, both pulled themselves up to a more alert stance, fingers now resting lightly on their firearms. One of the two, seemingly the senior, stepped forward with his hand held up in the universal sign to halt.
The instruction came in heavily accented English; that of someone not used to using the language on a regular basis, and Jethro held up his hands in a placating gesture. By his side Monty carefully stepped on her ingrained cyborg urge to get between the handler and any potential threat. Instead she allowed the ex-spy and confidence trickster to get on with what he did best whilst her eyes, hidden by dark sunglasses, scanned rapidly looking for potential escape routes or options should the situation escalate.
Slipping into his own fluent Egyptian Arabic Jethro replied, "We're with Europol. Our office should have called on ahead."
"We have received no such call. Identification. Now."
Jethro allowed his face to slip into a wry half grin and, keeping his spare hand in view, reached slowly into his jacket's internal pocket and withdrew the small leather wallet that contained his phony Europol identification card. Flipping it open he held it up in the air for the guard to see while Monty beside him extracted her own and presented it for similar appraisal.
Leaving the second policeman to cover him, the senior man stepped forward and ran a quick eye over both IDs.
"Remove your glasses please."
Both fratello members complied, Jethro pinching the bridge of his nose as he did so. "You're sure no one called ahead?"
Momentarily distracted, the guard's attention moved to Jethro's face and the SWA man took the opportunity to close his ID case and stow it back in his jacket before the policeman could go back to inspecting it.
"Not at all. If they did, Headquarters would have let us know."
Jethro sighed, "That's the bureaucracy for you: the field people work their butts off and swelter in the sun but you can't count on the desk jockeys to even pick up a blasted phone."
At that the senior Policeman's moustachioed face twitched into a slight grin, "Ah, sahib you speak a truth eternal."
"That's why it's so great to be in the field: you're always the first in trouble and the last to know anything that may keep you out of it."
The twitch became a wide grin. Motioning to his companion to stand down, the guard moved forward to shake Jethro's hand, "You say you are from Europol? It is nice to know they have unreliable people as well."
"I don't think you can escape them anywhere… Patrick Steed," Jethro motioned to Monty, "and this is my partner, Emily Peel."
The policeman gave Monty a cursory nod, but otherwise paid her little attention, "Rashid El Sadat, but tell me, should Europol not be busy in Monaco?"
Jethro allowed his half grin to return, "As interesting as a casino heist is, an Italian registered yacht turning up with two dead men aboard is also very much within our scope. Besides, only those with enough strings to pull or very brown noses could expect to get sent to the French Riviera."
The Rashid laughed again at this, and motioned the fratello aboard, "You understand I must accompany you: orders."
Jethro shrugged as he climbed over the boat's safety rail, followed by the policeman and finally Monty, "Fine by me. How about your friend?"
"He will remain on guard out here."
Standing in the stern cockpit of the Ferretti, Jethro turned again to the fratello's new escort, "Can you tell me anything about what happened? We were given a brief, but it was a bit on the sketchy side."
This time it was Rashid's turn to shrug, "I am only the guard, not an investigator Mr. Steed, so I can only tell you what I've overheard others talking about. One of the men was killed in the forward cabin with the boathook, messy. The other, the larger, ate his own gun in the bathroom of the same."
Jethro kept his features impassive, but the last piece of information had taken him off guard. He spared a glance for his cyborg; though she also showed no outwards indication of surprise, she had to be digesting this new piece of information with similar interest. Neither Nick nor Shamus had been armed at the start of the Monaco job as far as the Blackers were aware, and the chances of them being able to acquire a gun between leaving England and turning up dead would have been slim.
Jethro decided to press a little, "Do you know what sort of firearm?"
Again Rashid shrugged, "I am afraid not."
"I assume that was taken off the boat, along with whatever else looked interesting…"
"Indeed sahib, they are all currently at my own headquarters with State Public Safety."
Escort in tow, Jethro and Monty started their investigation in the forward cabin. Immediately evident were dark stains on the mattresses of the bunk: blood, permanently soaked into the fabric. The head also had blood dried onto its surfaces, and Monty handed her camera over to Jethro so he could start taking photos, all the while chatting amiably with Rashid. They worked their way back through a smaller side berth and master cabin before ascending the boat's tight gangway into the main social space. That received similar treatment, thoroughly searched stem to stern, before the group emerged again onto the stern deck. There, Jethro directed Rashid up to the upper level.
The two men emerged into the glorious Mediterranean sunlight and moved forward to Foreplay's second set of controls. Jethro plonked himself in the seat and brushed the wheel lightly with his hands.
"You've got to wonder how many heads someone must need to stand on to afford something like this," he said, goosing the inactive throttles forward.
Rashid nodded his assent, "I'm sure some people get there honestly sahib, but certainly no one in the police!"
Jethro laughed, "Not if my pay is anything to go by…"
Back on Foreplay's main deck and forgotten by their minder, Monty made her way swiftly back down to the forward berth. Working quickly she began her own, more thorough investigation. Starting with the mattress, even her superb cyborg eyes found no puncture marks in it. Lifting the foam rubber up there was also no sign of impact on the ply-wood below, so no misses by the killer. Added to the guard's story of the boathook, she figured there wasn't likely to have been a struggle. A boathook was generally a light and reasonably blunt object, so in order to inflict sufficient trauma to kill a man in such a confined space it would have needed to be used in a stabbing motion. That would have required the killer to get some sort of run-up and been powerful enough to do at least some damage to the bed had they gone wide of their mark. With that in mind, Monty turned her attention to the ceiling and back wall.
There. Slight indents in panelling, like those that might be made by a hard plastic handle hitting the thin wood veneer. Taking out her iPhone, Monty used its camera to snap photos of the indents; first from far back to show their location, then close up with her thumb next to them for scale. She moved around, placing her phone almost parallel to the panelling and shot again to keep a record of the depth of the divots.
Content with how, assumedly Shamus as the smaller of the two men had died, Monty turned her attention to the cabin's attached head and bathroom. There was blood on the sink and a smaller amount on the floor below it, suggesting that Nick, sitting on the closed toilet, had slumped in that direction. The rest of the room was however devoid of staining. Seemingly whatever the firearm was, the round hadn't been powerful enough to exit the body. Monty noted there was also no scoring or marking to suggest a hot casing had landed on any of the wooden surfaces, or in fact that anything had impacted them at all.
Monty took another few phone photos before leaving the sleeper berth and again went through the lower deck quickly but thoroughly. The other beds were undisturbed, with no creasing or marking to suggest they'd even been sat on recently. No blood anywhere else either, so assumedly both men had been killed in situ and not elsewhere on the boat then moved to their final resting place.
Back on the main deck she gave the main cabin another truncated once-over, unfortunately the cyborg had to keep things brief lest Jethro's new police friend notice she was no longer with the men-folk. Finding any removable evidence was however unlikely as the Egyptian authorities had already been over the entire hull with a fine-tooth comb.
Though she'd not seen anything amiss on the land side of Foreplay, and couldn't re-investigate for fear of being spotted by the other guard, Monty moved to the water-side of the boat. This would be a calculated risk, balancing potential gain against the chance of being spotted from the harbour. Creeping forward along the narrow walkway between cabin and handrail, and careful to keep the boat's superstructure between her and the dock, the cyborg inspected both deck and fittings closely. Just where the boat's hull was at its widest a darkening on the fibreglass caught her eye, which on closer appraisal resolved itself into a pattern of crosses and blocks. Monty twisted her head around to get another view… boot treads; partial marking from boot treads. Brushing a thumb across the iPhone's flick switch to make sure it was still on silent, the girl snapped another a photo then checked above her to make sure no-one was looking down off the top deck. Comfortable she was out of sight she stuck her head over the boat's side to look at the rub-rail a half-foot below her.
Against the normally black trim was a smear of dull red.
The iPhone's digital camera recorded that as well then, reaching down, Monty scratched a bit of the red off with her thumbnail and sniffed it. Faint, faint but unmistakable, the same smell she and her handler had encountered in the hardstand area: antifoul. Now she was almost certain: Foreplay had been boarded, and boarded from something large enough and lightly loaded enough to have been sitting high out of the water.
Content she had gained what information she could and feeling that it was about time to wrap things up, Monty slunk back to Foreplay's stern and hopped over the side onto the pier. Using her very basic grasp on Egyptian Arabic she quietly asked the dock guard how to get to nearest toilet and was directed to small breeze-block building containing a few dirty troughs. Minutes she was back and climbed the ladder to the upper deck where her handler and Rashid were.
"Sorry, had to attend to some lady matters."
Rashid glanced in her direction and Jethro nodded his understanding before they returned to their conversation, again seemingly oblivious to her presence.
"And you're sure it was antifoul."
Monty nodded, "Ninety-five percent."
"Good enough for me."
It was evening again in Alexandria. After Monty's arrival on the top deck of Foreplay, Jethro had kept their police minder talking for another half hour or so, with intent to muddy the waters time wise should both guards decide to compare notes. Now the Blacker fratello had installed itself at an isolated back table in the famous Spitfire expat bar where it could review the day's occurrences. Monty nursed the last dregs of a Negroni cocktail, which the Spitfire had provided with thankfully few questions. Jethro on the other hand had something of his own creation, essentially a Vesper Martini with one shot of gin replaced by sweet vermouth and orange rind rather than lemon as garnish, lending the normally light Vesper a darker, more mature air. This he had, much to his cyborg's annoyance, christened the "Monty".
Jethro inspected the photo on the iPhone's small screen, "That paint could have scraped off the ship which found Foreplay of course."
"I was under the impression that they had called the authorities immediately and not set foot aboard," replied Monty.
"Ah yes, the boot print," Jethro scrolled back to the set of photos of it. "That definitely wasn't Nick or Shamus, both have been around yachts long enough to know better than to wear marking soles."
"It's one of the few clues still left intact on the boat, the Egyptians stripped her pretty bare of anything which wasn't nailed down. All that's left are the physical marks."
"Or what wasn't there," replied Jethro, spinning the phone around to show his cyborg the picture of Foreplay's blood-painted forward head. "You said there were no signs of casings having landed anywhere in here?"
Monty shook her head, "No, so Nick or whoever killed him might have used a single shot, a revolver or at least something which won't throw brass. Of course I guess any ejected casing could have just landed in the sink or been retrieved before it had the chance to singe the decking. Either that or they were killed in a different part of the boat, but that's doubtful as there're no signs of blood outside of that forward cabin."
"Our killer could also have cleaned up," pointed out Jethro, reversing the fratello's usual roles for a minute to play Devil's Advocate.
"They could, and we don't have any way to test for that," Monty paused for a second. "However, if someone was going to off people and move the corpses, the logical thing would be to pitch them over the side and let Foreplay become a ghost ship rather than try to dress the place up as a murder-suicide. Feasibly the Egyptians could have tidied up as well but that wouldn't make much sense from an investigative view…"
"...Thinking about it, I don't believe the paint came from one of the Egyptian military boats either," shrugged Monty, changing tack. "Their draft doesn't vary enough to have antifoul that high out of the water, so it's likely from a merchant ship or at least some commercial vessel."
"It'd still be nice to know from what ship though."
The cyborg didn't reply immediately. Sitting with her head in her hand as she and her partner talked, Monty's eyes had been wandering out the bar's door, playing across passersby as she let her mind mull over the conversation. Now she saw a familiar face in the crowd.
"Hold that thought."
Draining the last of her cocktail, Monty motioned her hander to follow and ducked out into the street.
Benipe moved confidently and quickly through the street crowds, checking his appearance in a shop window as he passed. By dressing well he'd found people, particularly the wealthy tourists, were less likely to treat him with suspicion and that suited Benipe's purposes nicely. His earnings this night had already been good and he felt the wad of cash in his pocket with a sense of satisfaction.
Turning down a side alley toward one of his own favourite night-time haunts, the young pickpocket's world suddenly spun crazily as he was thrust up against a wall, cheek smashing into the brickwork. Still slightly stunned, Benipe tried to focus on the voice now coming from behind him. Though conversational and cultured, there was iron beneath the man's words, and he was speaking Benipe's native language.
"I know you; you tried to rob me the other day. But that's water under the bridge, now we're going to have a little chat."
"I do not know what you're talking about," started Benipe. "I'm simply a shop…"
His arm was twisted higher up his back and he grunted in pain.
"Oh don't try and talk to me like a fool, a shop keeper here can't afford clothes like that… not without supplementing his income one way or another," chided the unseen speaker. "What I need is information, and you look like the enterprising sort of young urchin who may wish to find it for me, as opposed to his other options, say: landing in the lap of the authorities."
The voice continued, "There's a motor yacht moored at the Yacht Club's service docks under police guard. I want to know about the ship that found it and who's been taking an interest in it. Nod if you understand."
Benipe nodded. It was a jerky, slightly spastic movement, but he offered no more resistance. The pickpocket may not have been well educated, but he wasn't stupid and was certainly smart enough to know that the person in the arm lock did the listening to whatever the person holding the arm had to say.
"Now you're going to keep kissing the wall and count slowly to thirty. Then you may be on your merry way. In three days you will be back here at the same time and facing the same wall. You never know; if you do this right there may even be something in it for you."
The pressure was released from Benipe's arm and he continued to face the brickwork, counting slowly to thirty and continued on to sixty for good measure. When he turned around finally, the alley was well and truly empty.
"What an endearing young man."
The Blacker fratello had quickly exited the alley which served it as an impromptu ambush point, loosing themselves again in the Alexandrian streets.
Monty gave her handler an absolutely flat look, but chose to ignore the comment, "Thoughts on where to now?"
Jethro walked in silence for a moment, mulling over the question. What they really needed was more guidance, more information. Flicking idly through the photos on his cyborg's phone, he eventually came to rest on the picture of Foreplay's blood soaked head. Something about that was bothering him, something out of place. He gave a mental shrug; it was a fair bet whatever it was would hit him about 3am in the morning... most likely whilst trying to sleep.
"I don't think you're going to like where we need to go next," said Jethro finally, handing Monty her phone back, "but we probably want to go and take a look at Nick and Shamus's personal effects."
Monty grimaced but said nothing, so Jethro continued, "Our friendly minder today said those were being held at the local equivalent of the CID. He's based there too as assistance to the detectives, so fingers crossed he'll have blabbed a bit and when we turn up people won't ask so many questions."
"Either that or they'll have run our IDs, realised we're fakes and will nick us on sight."
Jethro put an arm around his cyborg and gave her shoulder a squeeze, drawing her into his side at the same time. "Have a little faith in the stupidity of humanity."
"I don't need to have faith in fact," growled Monty, seemingly un-placated. "However I also know just how much Murphy loves getting mixed up in these situations."
Jethro sighed, she had a point, "I know, but honestly, we don't have much else to go on. We need more information before deciding where to next, and I can't think of a better way to get the facts first hand."
"I wouldn't mind getting a look at the bodies as well…"
"No." Monty's use of the word wasn't a suggestion, but a flat, emphatic stonewalling from the cyborg.
"…well I'm glad you agree because I was about to say it would probably be pushing our luck a mite far. We'll get a gander at what the Egyptians pulled off'f Foreplay, and if that doesn't turn up enough to chart us our next move, we'll look to figuring out a way to get into the morgue."
Monty seemed to relax slightly at this. Feeling some of the tightness leave her body, Jethro steered his cyborg around in front of him and put both hands around her skinny shoulders, massaging the synthetic muscle between her shoulder blades as they walked.
"For now though I suggest we get back to the hotel for dinner and a good rest."
Twisting out of her handler's grasp, Monty returned to strolling beside him, "Perhaps for you, I want to finish with Alboreto's intelligence packet before bed tonight. We're still short on information and it may throw something up. Not to mention it'd be worth checking a sailing schedule to make sure three days is still a good timeframe to fit in with the car delivery."
Sighing in knowledge gained from previous experience that this was one he wouldn't win, Jethro answered, "Just be quiet about it then, you may be good to stay up all hours but I personally need sleep."
Cool air washed over the Blacker fratello as they entered the police building in which Nick and Shamus' personal effects were held. After a visit to Le Metropole's laundry service, the outfit Monty had worn during their fruitless search two days previous had returned, along with what passed for her good humour. The cyborg was much happier with a distinct goal to pursue, even if that goal included seeing her and her handler walking straight into a potential trap.
From the front desk, a bored looking police sergeant eyed Jethro and Monty as they walked toward him across the lobby. Not giving the man time to gather himself up, Jethro started into his fluent Arabic immediately as he reached the desk.
"Patrick Steed and Emily Peel from Europol, investigating the Foreplay boat; we're here to see the personal effects of the two men found onboard."
Caught slightly off guard, the sergeant never the less knew his job, "Identification please."
At that, "Steed" shot his companion a glance and sighed resignedly, "Again?"
Without breaking, Jethro turned back to the desk bound man and continued in a louder voice, "This happened to us yesterday as well, our office was supposed to call on ahead."
"Well if they have, then I have not been informed of it," replied the policeman, eyeing the pair suspiciously. "So I will still need to see some identification."
Reaching into his jacket Jethro, for the second time in two days, withdrew his phony ID and handed it over with Monty following suit. The desk sergeant inspected both carefully and started to withdraw Jethro's out of its plastic sleeve, assumedly intending to run it through the magnetic strip reader on the top of his keyboard.
The "Europol" man kept his tone conversational, "I don't know, maybe the call got routed to Interpol in Cairo. Either way, two days of this is just utter bollocks. If you don't believe us, ask Corporal El Sadat, he was there when we caught it yesterday."
At that the sergeant stopped, Jethro's plastic card halfway out of its case and his eyes narrowed, "You know what sir? I think I just might. I know Rashid, lets see if he can back up your story."
Replacing Jethro's ID but leaving both wallets up in front of him, the man reached for a desk phone and dialled. Still keeping a suspicious eye on Jethro, he held the receiver to his ear and, after what seemed to the fratello like an eternity, someone apparently picked up on the other end.
"Rashid. It's Amal from the station... Yes, yeah I thought it was my day off as well. Look, I've got two people here claiming to be a Patrick Steed and Emily Peel from Europol. They say they met you yesterday... what do they look like? Well about six foot, brown hair... yes the man. The girl's about five-four, brown hair as well... yes... Ok, thank you."
Amal put down the phone and, snapping the two ID cases shut, handed them back to their respective owners. "Seems you were telling the truth sahib, I am sorry for the inconvenience but you can never be too careful."
Smiling as he replaced the ID wallet Jethro replied, "The world's getting to be a more dangerous place these days..."
"Indeed. Now, you said you were here to see the personal effects of the two men found aboard Foreplay. You'll need to fill out and sign these forms," said Amal, handing over a set of stapled together papers for each fratello member, "While you're doing that, I shall organize someone to take you to the evidence locker."
Sitting across from her handler at a small table in the lobby, Monty started filling out the stack of paperwork with pertinent details for her current alias: Emily Alexis Peel, 20 years old, assigned to Europol from the UK, investigating Foreplay... occasionally she'd glance over at her handler's paperwork, reading it upside down to check that their stories lined up. Though they'd pre-arranged their cover, it never hurt to be a little over cautious.
Just as they were finishing up, a young policeman, introducing himself in English as Karim, arrived to take the fratello to the evidence locker. Before leaving the lobby however he turned to them, "I need to ask, are either of you armed?"
By way of answer Jethro produced his SIG. Removing the magazine and emptying the chamber, he handed it over for inspection and Monty followed suit with her PPK. Karim inspected both quickly, eyebrows raising slightly as he read the stampings on the side of each slide.
"7.65mm, that is a small round, not very powerful."
This time it was Monty who replied, deadpan, "We're collecting information constable, not fighting a war."
"Fair enough," said their escort, diplomatically but still looking unimpressed. Continuing, he handed the small pistols back, "However, while you may not be fighting a war, I must still ask you to leave your sidearms unloaded whilst in the building."
With that he directed the fratello through the lobby side door and into a passage that ran down the outer wall of the building. That, it seemed, lead to a veritable maze of corridors, elevators and stairs until the party found itself in front of, assumedly, the evidence locker. Karim took a set of keys from his belt and unlocked the solid looking padlock which held the heavy steel door's bolt in place, and swung it slowly open.
"Someone should have already retrieved the items you wish to look over, I shall wait out here."
With that the police constable closed the door, but Monty did not hear the bolt slide across. Looking around she was quick the notice the two CCTV cameras in opposite corners of the room. That at least explained why their escort had not bothered coming in with them. Harsh fluorescent lighting illuminated the area lending it an air of sterility and bringing into stark contrast flaws and imperfections in the floor, walls and second steel door directly across from the first. Seemingly this was not the evidence locker proper, but an inspection room adjacent to it. On a steel bench in the middle of the floor were three trays containing, on closer appraisal, the personal effects of Nick and Shamus. A number of archive boxes were also stacked up against to the far wall, presumably filled with other curiosities from Foreplay.
There wasn't much in any of the trays, which did not surprise either fratello member: the whole team had been careful to sterilize themselves before starting the Monaco heist. Pulling on a set of supplied latex gloves so as not to contaminate any evidence, Monty reached into the first tray extracting an almost new leather wallet. Unfastening the Ziploc bag which protected it she made to slip the object into her open palm but in her eagerness fumbled and it slipped from her grasp, bouncing under the table. Cursing silently under her breath, Monty crawled down on all fours to retrieve the errant item, re-emerging a few moments later.
Moving around the table, Jethro leaned down close to his partner in order to study the wallet now in her hands.
"See anything?" he whispered quietly, pitching his voice for his cyborg's sensitive hearing.
Monty gave a small shake of her head, "Not that I could make out."
Jethro nodded and returned his attention to the wallet and its contents. Just because Monty hadn't seen any form of listening device under the table didn't mean that it wasn't there, the check had been more to confirm that someone was spying on them rather than vice-versa.
Taking the wallet from his girl who had apparently now finished with it, Jethro made an inspection of its compartments. There wasn't much there: a UK drivers' license with Shamus's picture on it and a fake name, as well as corresponding credit and debit cards, a PADI open water ticket, powerboat license and a few hundred Euro in notes... all items with which Jethro and Monty had furnished their dive team prior to leaving England.
Another identical plastic bag to the one Monty had opened contained Shamus's fake passport, some coins, again in Euro, and a cheap Casio watch. A larger bag in the bottom of the tray contained bloodied and holed clothes, those which Shamus had been wearing when he was killed. Jethro carefully extracted a shirt from the bag. A series of large, messy holes were spaced unevenly across the back, holes that could easily have been made by something blunt being forced through the fabric.
Leaving Monty to carry out a closer inspection of Shamus's possessions, Jethro moved onto the next tray, containing what had been found on Nick. Extracting the first transparent bag he carefully resisted the urge to move immediately to the last item, alone in its own container on the table. Nick's tray was little different to Shamus's, less frayed holes in the clothes, but with blood staining down the right-hand side, consistent with what they'd seen on the boat. Part of that still seemed a little too neat to the experienced agent, but he shifted the thought to a part of his brain where it could be mulled over while he got on with the job in hand.
Nick's wallet also differed little from Shamus's, though the notes compartment contained a few US hundreds muddled in amongst the Euro. These Jethro extracted and held up to the light, looking over them with a practiced eye before replacing them back from whence they came, seemingly nonplussed by their presence.
Now he moved onto the last tray. Inside in its own sealed bag, cold, clean steel glinting under the harsh fluorescent lights, lay a snub-nosed revolver. Jethro picked the thing up, face impassive, masking his distaste of it. While strapping on his own SIG was akin so slipping into a pair of well worn shoes, the ex-thief and spy would not on a whole have described himself as a "gun" man. Turning the revolver over, Jethro noted the "Colt" stamped into its frame before picking up the second bag in the tray. In it were five rounds of hollowpoint, .38 Special ammunition and one empty brass case. Jethro looked at the loose rounds, then back to the revolver in his other hand and motioned his cyborg over. Handing both to her he said, "What do you reckon."
Monty ran a cursory eye over both packets before replying, "I think it looks awfully clean Skipper; point-blank shots with hollowpoint tend to be a messy business."
Jethro nodded, "That's what I was thinking."
Stepping over to the door, Jethro rapped sharply on the metal, then pulled it slightly open. Karim was still waiting patiently outside.
Jethro his head around the corner and held up the gun in its bag, "Has this been cleaned at all?"
Karim shook his head, "Just enough to do the ballistics test, but otherwise it's exactly as we found it."
"And the test?"
Karim shifted slightly, looking uncomfortable, "I believe the round in the victim's head was found to be from that gun."
Jethro nodded his thanks and shut the door. Turning back to Monty he held the gun up again, "No, apparently it hasn't been cleaned." Much more quietly he added, "The Egyptians don't seem to be feeling that helpful either suddenly. Lets get a look at those other boxes, but I don't think we should dawdle much longer here."
Monty nodded her agreement and took the Colt off her handler, replacing it in its tray. For the next hour Jethro and Monty sifted through the archive boxes of assorted paraphernalia from Foreplay. Talking in hushed tones between themselves, they noted items a pair of lower-ranked and inexperienced investigators may have found interesting whilst staying careful not to let slip any actually useful information. Their job was made easier by there not being a whole lot of interest to find. Like the people aboard her, Foreplay had been kept devoid of personal touches. That which had remained aboard consisted of items that could be found on just about any boat across the world: a box of flares which was opened and its contents inspected, tide books which were flicked through, rum and whiskey…
"Crying shame that," noted Jethro, replacing the last bottle.
Having packed up the final box, both fratello members stripped off their gloves, placing them in a pocket for later disposal, then exited the evidence room to meet the still patiently waiting Karim. Locking the door again, the young policeman led the pair back through the maze of a building.
"And that was everything that got pulled off Foreplay?" queried Jethro as they walked.
"Yes sahib, everything of note."
As they exited back into the public foyer, the desk sergeant beckoned them over.
"Mr. Steed, I followed up your suggestion that perhaps your office had contacted our Interpol branch in Cairo. They however have no record of such a phone call either. Do you have any other ideas?"
Jethro shrugged, "It may well have been someone being forgetful on our end too, I'll chase it up when we get back."
Suddenly he smiled, "Either way, we should be out of your hair now. This was only a preliminary pass, depending on what the brass thinks of our report, someone else may be along eventually. Otherwise, we'll leave the matter in your capable hands."
"Very well, have a safe trip then Mr. Steed."
"Thank you, sergeant."
With that the Blacker fratello walked unhurriedly across the foyer and back out into the heat of the city. Ambling down the street, Jethro made sure to put a good block or so between himself and the police station before speaking.
"I don't think we should pay the Police any more visits."
"Agreed," replied Monty seriously. "That desk sergeant seemed like he was about to start asking awkward questions."
Jethro let his eyes play across his cyborg's face, "Either way, I say we find some lunch and sort over what we've got."
Jethro and Monty found a tram to get them well and truly out of the police building's vicinity before locating one of Alexandria's many cafés, which offered a table that allowed for some anonymity whilst preventing them looking like two plotters in a back corner. It was also buzzing with locals after a midday meal. That promised the fratello two extra advantages: the drone of humanity to mask their own conversation, and good food, as no bad café was ever this busy.
Having sent the waiter off with their orders and a request for two Turkish coffees, Monty was straight down to business, "I think we start with the obvious: that Colt's a plant."
"I don't deny it was used in the killing," continued Monty, "but I can't see Nick or Shamus having had time to acquire it between London and Monaco, not unless they'd planned ahead and we didn't dole out details till the very last minute. Between that and the boarding..."
"...plus the few times I met Nick before this, he never struck me as the gun type, it's one of the reasons I liked working with him," put in Jethro. "That said, he never struck me as the back-stabbing type either. Can I borrow your phone?"
Monty handed it over, and her handler scrolled through the photos on it to Foreplay's bloodied head.
"This only really clicked when I asked if the gun had been cleaned, as you said: if it'd been used for a suicide there should have been some splashback on it. Now if Nick had held it in his left hand it should have fallen on the clean part of the head and left another mark. If it had fallen on his right it'd have ended up in a pool of his blood and been much messier."
Jethro handed the phone back, "Shamus's being killed with the boat pole I'm not going to dispute though, poor bugger."
"And it was Nick who did it?" queried Monty.
"Well he'd certainly have the strength," replied Jethro.
"In which case it's highly probable either he or Shamus or both were responsible for trying to sabotage us in Monaco," growled Monty.
"Actually, on that particular count, I'm almost certain it was Nick."
Monty took a sip of her coffee then, resting her elbows on the table, eyed her handler over the cup's rim, one eyebrow cocked urging him to explain.
"Two reasons, but the first I'll leave for when we're back at the hotel. As to the second: that Egyptian guard said the rozzers didn't pull anything beyond what was in that room off'f Foreplay… and we both know there should've been a substantial quantity of explosive aboard to blast into the Fairmont's vault. So either the Egyptians are lying or some third party removed them..."
Monty cut in, "Nick and/or Shamus could have dumped them when they saw they were going to be boarded."
"Feasibly they could have," said Jethro, "but knowing Nick and Shamus I think they're both the sorts to try and bluff their way out of that sort of situation rather than loose a large haul of Semtex. Perhaps more to the point though: I think we both agree they were boarded by a civilian vessel, which would give them little reason to expect to be searched."
Jethro took another sip of his coffee, "On the explosives front though, the other reason I'm inclined to run with the 'Nick as saboteur' theory is the flares."
Monty nodded, "I did notice our dummy flare was gone."
At this moment the waiter returned with the fratello's meals and they pulled the conversation up short. Both partners had again gone with local fare and for a few more minutes silence reigned as they made short work of what was placed in front of them.
Using a piece of bread to mop up her Bamya, Monty started again, "You were saying about our flare..."
Still chewing, Jethro pointed to his cheek, so the cyborg was forced to wait patiently till he had finished, "Yes, the flare with Nick and Shamus's detonators in..."
Washing down that last mouthful with the table water, the handler continued, "...that it was gone says to me that our demolition gear was removed by someone who knew where everything was, ie. one of the dive team."
"But that only narrows our saboteur down to someone on the boat, not just to Nick," pointed out Monty. "I'm going to guess whoever boarded Foreplay was probably working with or employing our saboteur and gave them a double cross."
"That, Ms. Peel, is highly probable," grinned Jethro, "but there is a part two, because Nick had US currency in his wallet."
"Which, Mister Steed, merely proves he has poor taste in nations," replied Monty, deadpan.
"There's a bit more to it than that. As I said, I'll explain the rest back at the hotel," Jethro looked around, "and speaking of which, the lunch crowd's emptying out. I say we get a rattle on as well."
Monty narrowed her eyes, "You'd best not just be winding me up."
"Now would I do that?"
Settling the bill, Monty and Jethro took another meandering stroll through Alexandria's streets before dropping in at the Bibliotheca, content to gawp for a time in the role of tourist. From there they took the same route along the Corniche they had on their first night in the city, enjoying the harbour view, on the way to Le Metropole.
Safely ensconced in their room, Monty closed the doors and gauze curtains, then turned on the air conditioning to help mask any small discernable amount of speech filtering out of the room. They were rudimentary measures at best, but Monty had long ago learned to work with what she had available, which right now was translucent curtains and a noisy air conditioning unit.
If not content, then at least satisfied she had done what she could, Monty turned to her handler who had his jacket and tie off and was lying on their bed.
"Out with it."
Without getting up, Jethro dug in his pocket and extracted a neatly folded US hundred dollar bill.
"Here," he said, holding the slip of paper out to his cyborg. "That came out of Nick's wallet."
Monty took it and ran a cursory eye over both sides before fixing her handler with another "please explain" look. She didn't bother asking just how Jethro had removed the currency without being spotted; her handler had been playing street cons for laughs since his high school years and sleight of hand was one of the must-have skills. Besides, as Jethro said: he'd only ever been caught properly once, a mistake which had landed him in Her Majesty's Secret Service... hardly, in his opinion, something to complain about.
"Take a really close look at it," reiterated Jethro.
This time, Monty examined the note in the sort of minute detail only a cyborg could, then held the hundred up to the light coming from behind the curtains, studying the watermark.
"It's a forgery."
Jethro nodded, "So were the others, and I don't think it's been out of the press more than a fortnight."
"Hence why Nick couldn't have picked it up between London and Monaco..."
"Exactly. Somebody has paid him with that," confirmed Jethro. "It's a good forgery too, watermark's a bit blurry, but the paper's right and the ink's hue and viscosity are nigh on perfect. Now smell it."
Monty raised the fake bill to her nose and took a sniff. An acidic smell hit her nostrils, mixed in with the warmer scent of paper.
"That ink is fresh but isn't the correct one for US currency," continued Jethro. "It's also slightly acidic, so while it seems nice now, in a year or so the paper will start to yellow and deteriorate... not that it matters, whoever forged it will have had plenty of time to use or launder whatever they've printed by then."
Sitting up and retrieving the bill from his cyborg, Jethro swung his feet off the bed and padded towards the bathroom. "Bring the matches, there's one last thing I want to check now you've had a chance to look this over."
Taking the little pack of matches provided by the hotel, Monty followed her handler. Holding the note by one end over the bathroom sink, Jethro struck a match and touched it to the bottom corner of the fake hundred. The flame flared yellow for a second as the paper caught then settled into a slightly sputtering red-purple. Quickly he blew it out and doused the match in the sink.
"Thought so," said the handler looking satisfied. "This, is an Turkish ink compound, from Istanbul to be precise."
Monty cocked an eyebrow as the pair filed back into the main room and Jethro flopped back down on the bed. "Dare I ask…"
The handler seemed to consider this for a second, "Remember I said I was in Turkey on a forgery job just before I met you?"
Sitting down next to her handler on the bed, Monty nodded.
"Well, we were doing Franklins… US hundreds. A friend had come into acquisition of a press which could do the work, another had created routes by which to dispose of the forged currency. I was brought in to make up the plates and source materials. You know; paper stock, ink and so on."
"This," he held up the note, "is the same ink compound we used back then. Its colour and viscosity are near-as-makes-no-difference exactly the same as what the US mint uses, so it goes down at the correct tint and thickness with relatively little difficulty. The aging issue really didn't worry us; all we wanted was quick, single-use cash."
"I take it there was a good reason for forging US currency and not, say, Euro or Pounds Stirling," put in Monty.
"There was, and still is," replied Jethro, rolling up on his side to look at his partner. "The US is very paranoid about its currency, and rightly so too: drop the details into the wrong hands and someone could absolutely destroy their buying power simply by printing the stuff. Practical upshot is that there's always some security measures that the Yanks don't share with the rest of the world, including Europe..."
"...so if you forge US currency in Europe, it's harder for anyone to spot a fake... and vice versa for Euro and Pounds I assume," finished Monty.
That brought a small smile to Monty's lips, "Well at least that's something we can follow up, even if our pickpocket comes back with empty hands. It's been awhile since we did Turkey."
Jethro rolled again onto his back and lay looking up at the ceiling, "Turkey's definitely an option, but lets see what our pickpocket has to say first. Besides, we've still got to wait on the car so what's that, two, three days at least?"
"Let me check."
Retrieving her computer, Monty quickly brought up the freight line's sailing schedule, searching for the container ship carrying the fratello's Audi.
"Then until that time I say we lay low and work up our tourist credentials," replied her handler.
With little else to add to the current conversation, Monty flicked her screen over to the intelligence packet she'd not yet quite finished summarizing and left her handler to his own thoughts. It was a system the pair had fallen into quite by accident: as they spent much of their time on the road, travelling from one place to another, it had simply been logical for Monty to handle the fratello's day-to-day running and administration while her handler filled chauffeur duties.
Giving her notes a quick edit, Monty dumped the whole lot into a pdf and attached it to the start of the intelligence packet proper. Then she retrieved her handler's iPhone and started to transfer the combined file across for his perusal.
As the cyborg was unplugging the phone, Jethro spoke up.
"What I'm not sure on," he said, apparently starting halfway through an existing thought, "is why Nick only pulled himself and Shamus out of action. Surely there had to be more certain ways to foil us in Monaco."
Recognizing the signs of her handler looking for a chance to compare his own theories against someone else's, Monty waited a few seconds before giving him a verbal prod. "To be fair, if Alboreto and Pagani hadn't been able to take a holiday on short notice we would have been sunk. Nick couldn't have known we had somewhere other than Europe's criminal community to draw resources from. Even then, Agency personnel weren't supposed to be on our reinforcements list, for that I think we may well have landed in Croce's black books."
If Jethro caught the mild jab at the SWA's field commander he didn't respond to it, instead continuing, "But simply leaving a tip with the authorities to take the whole team out of action would have been much more likely to shut us down."
Monty dropped her handler's phone on his chest and closed the top of her computer before twisting herself around on the bed to face him.
"I think it'd be fair to say that Nick, or whoever he was working for, probably wanted as little to do with the law-enforcement types as we did," she began. "While that doesn't explain away an anonymous tip, a tip also wouldn't have gotten him clear before the rozzers moved in. Perhaps more to the point though, getting "thrown out" meant that, if we did pull through, he'd have a viable alibi to work in with us again."
That last caused Jethro's forehead to crease in a frown, "You think, well... whoever, may be taking an interest in us beyond trying to shut Monaco down?"
Monty shrugged, "Don't know, but a touch of "worst case" paranoia never hurt."
Jethro grimaced, the idea that someone might be taking a deeper interest in him and his cyborg was one he did not like the sound of in the slightest. Monty meanwhile had opened up her Macbook Pro again and, starting a fresh document, began noting out the fratello's next regular report for Rome. Comfortable that she was capable of putting in the appropriate bits of information, leaving out that which should be left out and spinning what needed spinning, Jethro picked up his iPhone and started through her intelligence summary. She'd organized the information by its relevance to their own fratello, beginning at unconfirmed reports of increased contraband traffic through Northern Italian ports and working down to more localized, internal Italian affairs. Clicking the hyperlink Monty had provided to what she deemed the item of greatest interest, Jethro started reading the slightly more in depth analysis by Public Safety and Section 2's own intelligence team. The text was only a few pages long, relatively short, and Jethro couldn't help but remember a comment that had been made during his time in the SIS: that the Italians were excellent spies, but only in their own backyard. Making a mental note to bump tracing seaborne arms routes into Italy up the fratello's seemingly ever growing "things to do" list, Jethro flicked back up to the top of Monty's pdf to find the next section she'd decided was worth reading.
Another forty-eight hours found the Blacker fratello back in the Spitfire bar.
The previous morning had been spent in their hotel room, dealing with the bureaucratic detritus of what would once have been called "paperwork", but was now for the travelling fratello mostly the realm of eForms. The practical upshot was that it had been past midday by the time the pair had attached Jethro's electronic signature to the last document and dropped a zipped and encrypted package into one of the online "dead letterboxes", from which the SWA would retrieve it. The rest of the day had been spent in Alexandria's great library, during which time Monty had made use of one of the public computers. From that she left an anonymous comment on a well frequented watch blog, which would alert the SWA that there was a file to be collected. Some low-level analyst would get the job next day of trawling through the comments on new posts across a number of blogs and forums to find the specific set of words and phrases Monty had used to pass on her message... the chalk mark on a wall for the digital age.
Like the library, the Spitfire bar offered the advantage of being frequented by foreigners. Postcards and stickers left by patrons on its walls reflected the cauldron of nationalities present on its floor. Two extra Europeans sat at a corner table did not look out of place.
Monty and Jethro let the time tick by, faces close together and talking softly between themselves, until the Spitfire's patrons started to join the night-time dance of bar hopping. Some left for other harbours whilst more arrived to fill their place. Fitting in with the now more transient crowd, the fratello moved themselves out into the street.
Holding Monty close beside him, Jethro headed the opposite direction to the one they had previously taken when tailing their pickpocket. Stopping in front of a darkened alley, the handler turned Monty to face him and bent down, pulling his cyborg into a tight embrace. Placing his head next to hers he made as if too whisper nothings in her ear, causing the girl to give an indulgent smile as he placed a light kiss on her cheek before drawing back to place another on her lips.
Still nose to nose, Jethro whispered, "See anything?"
Monty, who had made thorough use of the opportunity her handler had created to check the area behind him replied flatly, "No, no-one interested in us at least... and try part two with no warning again and you'll be doing all the paperwork yourself next month."
Jethro cracked a small smile at the last comment, before pulling back and hustling the girl with him into the darkened alley. Safely out of sight of the street, Monty stripped off her bone coloured trench coat to reveal the charcoal turtle-neck skivvy she'd worn during their escape from the port and a matching pair of three-quarter length riding pants. Jethro took the trench from her and gave his cyborg's shoulder a final, heartfelt squeeze before she bounded off into the night. Now on his own, the handler worked his way through the maze of back alleys to the next main street and, settling into a steady pace in order to give Monty time to get into position, strolled back in the direction of his next appointment.
A shop closer to his destination presented the chance to kill a little time and Jethro paid a couple of pounds for a bottle of water. He was just returning outside as his phone vibrated. Extracting it from his pocket he read the simple, one word text message: "night".
Stowing the phone again, Jethro checked the street left and right before skipping nimbly across it, through the traffic and into another alleyway. He navigated his way across the loosely styled city block, moving quickly until he was almost at the next main street where he slackened back to a casual saunter. Jethro rounded the next corner to find a man standing face to the wall with his eyes shut.
Guess he actually was bright enough to follow instructions.
Taking up a position just out of reach behind the figure, Jethro kept his Egyptian Arabic low and level, "Good evening Mister Pickpocket."
Benipe the pickpocket didn't say anything but continued to stare at the wall so Jethro continued, "I believe you had some information for me."
At this, Benipe swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing, then started to speak, "Yes sir, I have a friend who knows a friend who works at the Yacht Club. He said that, apart from the police, two other groups have been to see your boat. The most recent were a man and a woman from Europol. The man was about six feet tall, with brown hair. The woman he said looked almost like a girl, much shorter than the man and very slim. She was wearing a head scarf though so he didn't get a look at her face."
Benipe swallowed again then continued, "The other was a woman claiming to be from Scotland Yard: tall, with long black hair in a pony tail. My friend's friend said she walked right past where he was working and that she had very blue eyes and nice... a nice figure..."
The pickpocket's voice trailed off, and Jethro gave a cough as indication he should continue.
"As to the ship that found your boat... I tried to find what I could, but I could only get a name: the Ghazala out of Algeria..."
Benipe's voice trailed off again. Figuring he had all the information he was going to, Jethro slipped a €500 note out of his wallet and tucked it into the back of Benipe's shirt before quietly disappearing back up the alley, leaving the pickpocket facing the wall.
He was just about at the other end of the block when there was a swish of rushing air and small sound of someone landing quietly beside him. Without blinking he shook out the trench coat draped over his arm and held it out to his charge who was dusting herself off after a successful run across the rooftops. Monty slipped the coat on, doing the belt up loosely to fasten it closed before taking a sip from the water bottle now proffered by her handler.
Falling into step as they started moving again, Monty asked, "So?"
"So I think we'll talk about it back at the hotel," replied Jethro. "Your end?"
"Our pickpocket arrived alone. I didn't see anyone on the roofs or watching from the surrounding buildings either."
Jethro nodded, "I didn't expect him to be that sophisticated, but better safe than sorry."
"And you just left him facing the wall?"
"He'll figure it out eventually."
Back in their room at Le Metropole, Jethro divulged the little information that Benipe had provided.
"First up, we're not the only people taking an interest in Foreplay..."
"No real surprises there," put in Monty flatly.
"Not precisely no. The other party is a woman claiming to be from Scotland Yard. The exact description was 'tall, long black hair in a pony tail, blue eyes and well built'."
Monty's eyes narrowed, "Sounds suspiciously like that 'Christmas' woman."
Jethro nodded, remembering the punter who had played opposite him at the Fairmont Monaco's baccarat table. "It does, and I'm willing to err on the side of paranoia and say for now that it is. That's the second time she's been in the same area as us that we know of."
"Moscow Rules then Skipper: Once is an accident; twice is a coincidence..."
"...three times," finished Jethro, "is an enemy action... and I'd really prefer we not get to that third time."
"As to the ship," he continued, "all our pickpocket could get was a name: Ghazala, out of Algeria."
"That I can work with," stated Monty, retrieving her computer and flipping the screen up. "Give me a few hours; I should be able to dredge up her sailing schedule and whether she was full or empty whilst in the area."
Jethro nodded again, "I was hoping you'd say that. Either way, I don't think there's a whole lot more we can learn here. Between that, 'Mary Christmas' showing up again and the police getting suspicious, I think it may do us well to take leave of Alexandria... when did you say the car was arriving?"
"The ship it's on gets in sometime late tomorrow morning," replied Monty immediately. "So I imagine it'll be offloaded and ready to pick up some time that evening."
"Then lets get ourselves out tomorrow night and head for Istanbul. That seems to be the next best bet."
Monty stifled a yawn, "Agreed, but for the immediate future I motion we get some food and coffee up here. Something tells me it's going to be a long night."
Monty's prediction of a few hours to acquire Ghazala's schedule turned out to be slightly on the optimistic side, and it was the small hours of the morning before she had received a reply from the shipping company's agent. In the interim the cyborg took the opportunity to strip, clean and oil her PPK, and also switch magazines in order relieve the spring in the one she had been carrying. Replacing the firearm in its holster, Monty turned to Jethro, who was lying on the bed watching her work.
"Do we have a way to leave the country?"
Jethro rolled off their bed, and crossed the floor to join his cyborg in the room's small sitting area. "Overland. Needing to take our curtain call a little sooner than expected has put paid to getting passports sorted here. That means a covert exit, and since we raised something a ruckus at the port on entry, overland looks like the next best option."
Monty paused a second whilst she digested this. It wasn't far off what she'd expected to hear and it certainly wouldn't be the first time they'd left a foreign country in a hurry. More to play Devil's Advocate than anything however she replied, "You could just blag us onto the ferry here and save the border crossing."
"I did consider that," replied Jethro, "but it's something like a forty-eight hour boat ride. That's longer than I'm comfortable relying on a blag we've nothing to back up, exciting certainly, but not high on the sensibility stakes."
He took a second to arrange his next thought before continuing, "I think overland into Libya, we've still got plenty of profit from Monaco if we need to bribe our way across, or we can find a route without a border post. Libya's authorities are less efficient and significantly more genially corruptible than Egypt's, so we should be able to get passports sorted there without too much difficulty. Then we can take another tramper, or even a regular container ship if it happens to be going the right direction, to Turkey."
"Or feasibly we could just see if there's a handy passenger service," stated Monty.
Jethro gave her a half grin, "Spoil sport."
"Rolling off a car-ferry is far less likely to raise eyebrows than being unloaded from another ship, not to mention it'd chalk up an extra genuine emigration stamp for our passports. Let me have a look and see what's available, I'll tell you how we get on at breakfast."
Monty's handler raised an eyebrow, "Meaning?"
"Meaning you should be making tracks for bed. It's a long drive to Libya tomorrow and I'd prefer you didn't run us off the road through lack of sleep."
Unfortunately for Monty, her computer chose that moment to give a chime, signalling a new email had arrived. Clicking into one of the online email accounts used in the fratello's dealings with third parties, the cyborg pulled up the attached pdf of Gahzala's sailing schedule. Flicking quickly down through the columns Monty found the approximate dates around when the ship would have found the drifting Foreplay.
"Full," she stated as Jethro circled around to look at the screen over her shoulder, "Gahzala was on her way to the Suez Canal with a full load of LNG from Bethouia. Previous to that it looks like she was docked for about a month, perhaps with plant issues."
"So she couldn't have been near Foreplay when the latter was boarded. That makes sense, no-one would risk sending a gas ship out with a fault."
Jethro sighed, "Either way that cuts it: there's no point staying in Alex. First chance we get, we're leaving."
The container handling section of the Port of Alexandria was mercifully separated from the General Cargo area via which Jethro and Monty had made their entrance into Egypt. Collection of their consignment from the freight forwarders was a reasonably straight forward, if lengthy, exercise in form filling and signing under the appropriate false identity... repeatedly. Jethro had instructed his contact in Britain to ship under the fratello's "Archer" identity, as the emergency spare the fratello had taken to Monaco and now the only one they had available not technically in a different country. The lack of options was another reason to get to Istanbul in a hurry as that city also housed one of their safe boxes, which could be raided for fresh aliases to rest those used up to now.
Paperwork complete, and donning orange high visibility vests, one of the freight forwarder's agents then lead the pair down the darkened, towering, geometric canyons formed by the tall stacks of shipping containers stored in the company's hardstand area. Eventually they came to a series of containers separated out from the stacks, apparently awaiting pickup by their respective owners. Jethro and Monty were directed to a smaller, twenty foot intermodal unit on the far end, given a key and abandoned with instructions to leave it and their loaner vests in the container.
The fratello took the time to give the container a walk around, checking for any signs of forced entry. The dull, faded and age patinaed red paint would be difficult to mask any attempts at cutting and repair against. Completing their circuit the fratello came again to the set of doors built into one end of the twenty foot box. Like the rest of the metalwork, they were faded red, however the locking bolts were clean and freshly greased.
As the last lock separated, Monty lifted the bolts free then swung the heavy metal doors open, splitting the sun and sea faded white "Universal Export" stencilled across them in two. A small smile coursed her features; securely strapped down in the same position it had left England was the vehicle which, for better or for worse, was the closest thing she'd known to a permanent home since waking up at the SWA. Walking into the container with her handler, the cyborg started another walk around, checking for damage, bugs or other malefactions which may have befallen the dark grey Audi A4 Allroad since it was last in the fratello's hands. Finding nothing, Jethro retrieved the car's spare key-fob from where it had been hidden by his contact under the car's front bumper and handed it to Monty for storage. Using the emergency physical key on his own fob rather than the remote to unlock the driver's door, Jethro popped the bonnet and gave the engine bay a similar once over to the rest of the car. Satisfied his vehicle wasn't going to blow up the minute the ignition was pressed, the handler checked the car's fluids and set about reconnecting the starter battery. With her boss otherwise occupied, Monty made a second check circuit, releasing the car's restraints as she did so and rolling the ratchet straps up to be left in the container for their owners.
As his cyborg finished, Jethro dropped the bonnet again and, sitting himself in his driver's seat, slipped the fob into the its slot in the dashboard and gingerly pressed the start button. The high whine of a starter motor was quickly replaced by a deep mechanical thrum, settling back to an almost silent idle as the Audi's diesel V6 came to life with Teutonic efficiency, seemingly unfazed by its weeks spent in storage.
Jethro selected drive, then edged the estate car out of its container so as not to asphyxiate himself and his charge. Leaving the engine idling he released the boot and moved around to the back of the vehicle. A large suitcase which had shifted during the car's sea voyage got put back in place before the handler removed one of the interior trim panels. Intended by the car's designers to allow access to things like tail-lights, it now also stored a second, deep-cycle battery which Jethro set about reconnecting. A crackle of electricity, followed by a bout of swearing, made Monty look up from where she was setting the fratello's two duffle bags on the back seat.
Eyeing her handler across the seatback she deadpanned, "Are you ok."
"Is good," grumbled Jethro, shaking his right arm. "It just bit me."
Taking more care to check the isolator was off before getting back to work, Jethro quickly had the battery reconnected and panel locked down in time to allow Monty access into the boot with their other suitcase which was stowed beside its brethren.
That left the fratello with one more job to do. Folding one of the back seats forward, Jethro lifted the carpet slightly and extracted a flat, satin wrapped package. Ten minutes later, a dark grey Audi rolled out of the port gates... wearing Egyptian number plates and registration.
The Audi didn't go far before pulling into a service station. Though more intended for freight trucks than private vehicles, it allowed Jethro to check tyre pressures and brim the Allroad's main and aftermarket reserve tanks. The service station shop also gave Monty the opportunity to purchase the necessities of a long road journey: bottled water, snacks, Red Bull, all of which was placed behind Jethro where she could easily reach it from the passenger seat. With the fuel included, her purchases saw the fratello's supply of local money again running low, but now it wouldn't matter so much. They were leaving.
With his cyborg once more safely ensconced in her passenger seat, Jethro pulled out of the service station and turned west, heading for the Libyan border along the International Coastal Road. Soon they had left Alexandria's city limits, along with the fertile Nile Delta, and dry desert lapped at the edges of the thin string of tarmac tracking arrow straight just inland of the Mediterranean Sea. At Sidi Barriani the fratello stopped to top off the car's tanks again. With a full fuel load, the Blacker Audi had a theoretical range of over 1600km. However, one of the first lessons of long-distance, remote area driving Jethro had learned was that you tanked off when you could, not when you had to, and the tractless desert certainly wasn't the place to be gambling on theoreticals.
From Sidi Barriani the Allroad was pointed inland, its driver looking to put some distance between the fratello and Egypt's slightly more populace coast. Settling into a comfortable high-speed cruise, Jethro allowed himself to relax into the car's rhythm, its extra suspension travel and plump, rally-bred Pirellis helping soak up the aged tarmac's imperfections, its interior suffused in the soft glow of dashboard instruments. Beside him, Monty reached out to let her arm brush briefly against his where it lay on the centre console. Though she'd never admit it to anyone, these were the moments she looked forward to and treasured: just her, her handler and the open road; their car a tiny, isolated speck of light against an infinite night; travelling.
The Blackers kept with the road as it curved toward the border again, and continued until the tarmac turned sharply south. Pulling off onto the shoulder, Jethro killed the car's lights and engine. Now that they were away from the coast, the temperature had dropped dramatically, and Monty found her breath condensing in the air as she stepped out of the estate's heated interior. Opening the back door she retrieved her trench coat from the seat as an extra layer of protection against the chill desert, along with the binoculars.
The combination of bright, almost full moon and clear desert night meant it took little time for even Jethro's unaugmented eyes to adjust to the cool, silvery moonlight which picked out the featureless landscape in a ghostly monochrome.
"Bombers' moon tonight," he commented, breathing out another cloud of fog.
Monty nodded, "That's good for us. Give me a lift up."
Kneeling down, Jethro helped Monty position herself on his shoulders and, with a small grunt of effort, stood up. From her perch, the cyborg started a slow, 360 degree sweep of their surroundings. First revolution complete, Monty lifted the binoculars to her eyes for the second rotation, this time searching farther out, extra detail leaping at her as the large optic lenses sucked in all the light available to them. At the end of the second rotation however she clambered down off her handler and shook her head.
"I can't see anyone out there."
"Good, then lets get rolling before that changes."
Monty's trench and binoculars were returned to the back seat and the fratello retook their positions. Starting the car again, Jethro left the lights off and crept westward into the desert: away from the road, away from Egypt and into the relative safety of Libya.
To be continued...