It was a bleak, cold day in London in spite of the approaching spring. Sophie Devereaux straightened her suit jacket and tried to ignore the bickering that was transmitting in her earbud. They were about to arrange a contract with VIW—Vanderburg Iron Works— to build a purely fictional new line of cargo ships. Sophie tossed her hair back and let a confident, no-nonsense demeanor replace the face of apprehension that had been there only a moment before.
"Let's get this over with and get back home, hmm?" she interrupted the squabble. Sophie stepped off the busy London sidewalk and into the impressive building in front of her, making her way up to the eleventh floor. She didn't like this con; it was too close to home seeing her young friend suffer and the hands of heartless businessmen and career politicians.
"Madeline Dresnick." She introduced herself at the front desk with a well cultured British accent and ever so faint smile. "I'm here representing AGB Shipping."
"Yes," the secretary nodded curtly as she picked up the phone to announce Sophie's presence. "Go through those doors on your left. The conference room is the last door on the right."
"Good, Sophie." Nate coached from a coffee bar in the lobby. "Just get that thumb drive connected to a computer and we'll be in."
"I know, I know." She hissed as she walked past the receptionist. "You can stop telling me."
"Why is she so uptight?" Eliot grumbled through the com. "She's not the one in the back alley checking for goons."
"No." she spat back. "I'm the one walking into a room full of politicians and CEOs trying to swindle them out of 20 million dollars. Your job is a cake walk."
"A cake walk?!
"Will you two put a cork in it?" Hardison demanded. "I can't hear a damn thing from the bugs we've set up in the office. Not a damn thing. I know it doesn't mean much to you but it's actually pretty important that I have the necessary information to set up an adequate infrastructure for…"
"Oh shut up, Hardison!" Sophie and Eliot cried in unison.
"Shut up?" he was indignant. "Shut up? SHUT UP? Oh really? That's just…fantastic… Y'all just don't appreciate me, not one bit. Nobody cares how much work I put into..."
"Alright, that's enough." Nate ordered harshly. "Now I know you're all tired, it was a long flight in, but we have got to keep our heads clear. Now we know that while Vanderburg will consider the board members' decisions the choice is ultimately his. Cater to him, Sophie—but be subtle!"
Sophie entered the still empty conference room and quickly crossed to the computer set up in the corner. She had almost connected Hardison's drive to the computer when someone placed a heavy hand on her shoulder.
"What are you doing?"
Sophie spun around and locked eyes with Walter Vanderburg, the CEO himself. She faltered for only a split second and then calmly turned back to the computer and inserted the thumb drive.
"Madeline Dresnick." She extended her hand boldly. "I'm representing AGB Shipping. I was just about to set up my presentation."
Vanderburg looked leery. "Yes, of course. Go right ahead, Miss Dresnick."
"I must say," Sophie began to pull up her presentation and turn on the necessary equipment. "I am very impressed with you."
His cautious attitude faded considerably. "My company you mean?" He sat down near the head of the long conference table to watch her.
Sophie laughed. "No, Mr. Vanderburg. I'm well aware of how this company got to be where it is today and I will admit freely that I am impressed with your—how shall I say it?—resourcefulness." She gave him an approving smile and he almost grinned himself.
"Well you certainly can't advance a company without knowing how to steer past a few roadblocks." He reminded Sophie of a cat proudly displaying a dead mouse in its mouth.
Hardison gave a small cheer of success. "I'm in! I now have full access to all server files."
Nate smiled approvingly. "Alright Sophie, sell him one hell of a contract."
The lights glittered, glasses clinked, and footsteps echoed throughout the busy restaurant in the heart of London. Abi stared gratefully at the man across the table. "Thank you for bringing me here, Eliot." She said genuinely. "I would have died if I had to spend another night hidden away."
Eliot nodded and shrugged. "There's really no point in hiding as long as I'm with you." He meant it as a very direct statement but Abi returned the comment with another sweet smile and Eliot began to stutter. "Look, Abigail, I don't want you to think that I'm able to—that I—"
Abi laughed merrily and shook her head. "Oh Eliot, you're always so serious." She considered the man in front of her for a moment and then grew somber. "But you have reason to be, don't you? Everyone has left quite a lot on your shoulders."
Eliot stared down at the table for a moment before directly meeting her gaze. "I take it upon myself." He stated firmly.
"Good!" Abi smiled softly. "I can't stand a martyr." A teasing sparkle shone in her eyes. "How do you like my choice of restaurant?"
Eliot shrugged again. "A little overdone."
She nodded and Eliot wasn't sure if she was agreeing with him or just acknowledging his statement. "I used to come here with my father when I was a girl. With Charlotte—er, Sophie too. Ironically we stopped coming once we could actually afford to eat here."
Eliot leaned back in his chair and decided to stop trying to find anymore meat amongst the bed of lettuce on his plate. "What was she like back then?"
"Your Sophie?" Abi copied Eliot's nonchalant shrug and then laughed. "She hasn't really changed much. Less frightened maybe."
"Frightened of what?"
Abigail sighed and thought deeply for a moment. "I was young when she left London but I've actually thought about here a good deal over the years. I think she was afraid of losing herself."
"A little ironic for an actress." Eliot observed.
"Even more ironic for a grifter." Abi looked at Eliot's half eaten salad and smiled. "Why don't you choose the restaurant for the second course?"