Conspiracy of Swords
(See Part 1 for Disclaimers)
Shadowriter can be reached at Shadowriter@kc.rr.com
"Teren, I have an idea."
The two of them were packed, and their bags were by the door. Teren had called and made their reservations on an evening flight to Munich while Alex checked their email. Ken had sent word that Derek White had been seen, but no one had picked him up yet. Apparently he'd been using a disguise, and this sent Alex's mind spinning.
"What's your idea, Alex?"
The blonde sat at the table next to her friend. "I don't think we, as in you and me, should meet with Meinhard."
Teren groaned. "Alex --"
"No, Teren, hear me out."
"We need the data on the account."
"I agree. I'm not suggesting that neither of us meet with him, just not both of us."
Teren leaned forward. "You don't want to be there?"
"Oh, I do. It's you who shouldn't be."
There was a negative shake from the darker woman. "You're not meeting with him alone."
"Well, no, not really. We'll be in the middle of a cafe, you know?"
Alex sighed. "Teren, please listen to me."
"I'm listening, I'm just not liking what I'm hearing yet."
"Okay. How about this. If you're meeting with Meinhard, you can't keep your full attention on the surroundings. It puts you at a disadvantage."
"That's why I have you."
"Right. But I don't know German. Which means anything I might overhear will be little more than gibberish."
Teren frowned. "Okay."
"But, if I meet with Meinhard, it leaves you free to slip into the background, to listen and observe. If there's anything out of the ordinary, you'll spot it sooner than I will, probably."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you've been here before, and you know what to look for."
Teren sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I don't like it."
"Think of it this way. It's never a good idea to compromise your sources, and we've already lost one."
A nod. Then Teren shook her head. "Damn. This is getting complicated."
Alex put a hand on her shoulder. "Come on, Teren, you know it's a good idea."
The blue eyes raised to hers. "We don't even know for sure if Keppelmann was killed because of us."
"You said you thought he was."
"Yes, but I'm paranoid."
Alex nodded. "Paranoid's okay. I can work with paranoid."
"And you really think this will protect Meinhard?"
"Not completely. But it's better than nothing. Besides, you have to admit I look less intimidating than you."
"And that's important because?"
Alex grinned. "Nobody would believe that someone as sweet and innocent looking as me could be an agent of some kind."
Teren snorted. "Sorry, Alex, I don't see you as innocent."
"Wait 'til I get into tourist mode. You won't even recognize me."
The two of them stared at each other for a minute. Alex refused to look away. If she did, she thought, Teren would win. And she really thought her plan could work.
Teren didn't like it. If she blended into the scenery, it meant limited communication with Alex, which would put the younger woman at risk. She didn't like that at all, but, finally, she looked away.
"Alright," she said with a heavy sigh. "You'll meet with him. I'll find a disguise and show up first, maybe with a book or a newspaper. I'll keep watch, and you retrieve the material."
"We need to work out a few details, though."
"We need signs, a way to communicate if we need to to."
"And you need to really be convincing, Alex."
Alex smiled. "No problem. I can play tourist with the best of them, Teren. Just make sure I have enough money, and point me towards a souvenir shop."
The look in the green eyes made Teren believe Alex could do it.
"Das ist Herr Meinhard."
"Herr Meinhard, das ist Frau Olind." Teren waited for him to answer, then switched to English. "I'm presuming you have information for me, correct?"
"I do. Are we still meeting for lunch?"
"Yes. The information is in written format, yes?"
"Good. Before you go to the cafe, stop and buy a magazine, or a book. Then place the material in the bag. When the meeting takes place, it will be as if you're giving a friend a present."
"Yes, I understand. That is a good idea. We are still set for one o'clock?"
"We are. You'll be meeting with my associate, Miss Reed. You remember her, right?"
"I remember. You will not be there?"
"No. So if you see me, you won't speak to me, understood?"
There was a touch of confusion in Meinhard's voice, but he answered yes, and Teren ended the conversation. She put the phone down and picked up her jacket.
"So, it's set? He knows I'm meeting with him?"
"Yes. And I told him to put the stuff in a bag. He'll be giving it to you as a present."
"Great." Alex glanced at her watch. "Well, if I'm going to go play tourist, I guess I'll have to get moving."
"Right. Make sure you take my cell phone. Do you have the money I gave you? "
"Got it, and yes." She stood by the door. "And after lunch we'll meet in the lobby, right?"
"That's right. The bags will be in the car, but we won't check out 'til you get back, so your story about me being back at the hotel will work."
"Good." Alex slipped her coat on, and zipped it up. She pulled a fluffy blue hat over her blonde hair, the white yarn ball sticking up from her head. Teren couldn't resist reaching over to tug on it.
"Hey. Leave my snowball alone."
"Oh, is that what you call it? Looks like a rabbit's tail."
"Teren." Alex tried to sound indignant, but couldn't fight the grin on her face.
Teren took hold of Alex by the shoulders. "You remember our signals, right?"
"Of course. You drilled me on them for half an hour."
"You remember how to get to the cafe?"
"Yes. Plus, if I get lost, I'm sure there will be someone who can tell me where I'm going."
Teren tightened her grip. "Are you sure you want to do this? You could just wait here while I get the data. Then we could go to the airport and --"
"No." Alex was emphatic. "Everything's going to be fine, Teren."
Their eyes met, and for a second Teren couldn't breathe. Then the moment passed, and she let her hands drop from Alex's blue clad shoulders.
"Better get going then."
Alex opened the door, and Teren pushed it shut. Alex turned to look at her, and was surprised by the feel of Teren's soft lips on hers. The kiss only lasted a moment, then Teren backed away, her face red, her eyes looking anywhere but at Alex.
"Right. I'm going, now."
This time when the door closed, Teren was alone in the room, and her stomach clenched. A fleeting thought went through her mind, the idea of running after Alex and not letting her leave the hotel burned bright for several seconds. Then she shook her head, and pulled on her own jacket. She needed to get their bags stowed in the car, then get into her disguise. Teren wanted to be at the cafe at least ten minutes before Alex and Meinhard, and to do that she had to hurry.
She had to be there for Alex.
It was a short walk to the tram again, and then a short ride to the city center. Alex got off a few blocks from the cafe. After a moment to orient herself and consult her map, she started walking, intending to hit as many souvenir shops on her way to the restaurant.
She slipped into one that had several t-shirts showing in the window. This would be as good a place as any to begin her cover.
Teren, meanwhile, had stowed hers and Alex's bags in the car, and taken the tram to a stop well past where the cafe was located. She switched cars, and headed back, keeping an eye out for anyone following her. She breathed a sigh of relief when no familiar face showed up.
Stopping at a clothing shop, she bought a new jacket, stuffing hers into the shopping bag. She also bought a beret, and a matching scarf. Teren debated with herself as to whether or not she should keep her old jacket. It wasn't one of her leathers, and although she did like it, it would be a hindrance should she need to move quickly. Finally, with a sigh, she slipped into an alley behind a sausage shop, and dumped the package into a dumpster. After donning her new hat and sunglasses, she came out of the alley on the other side. With a stop at a corner newstand she bought a newspaper and a couple of magazines, and headed to the Striecker Cafe.
"Excuse me, ma'am, do you speak English?" Alex was in a small used bookshop, where she had stopped to make one last purchase.
"A little. You vould like to purtzase zese?"
"I would. And I think one of those books on the Alps, the one on display in the window."
"Of course." The woman found the book, and added it to the small stack in front of Alex. "You are American tourist?"
"Yep. I'm here with a friend of mine on a short vacation."
The clerk began slipping the books into a bag. "You read German?"
"No, but my friend does, and she promised that when we get home she'll teach me."
"So, ze books are for her?"
"Well, yes and no. If she's going to teach me, why not teach me on stuff that I want to read?"
The woman looked confused. "It is a good idea, but how did you know vitz books you might vis to read?"
Holding up a tiny book, Alex chuckled. "First stop today, I got myself an English-German dictionary. It's been helping, a lot."
They shared a laugh, and Alex paid the clerk. "Could you do me a favor and put this," she pulled a book out of the stack, "in a different sack? I'm meeting someone for lunch, and wanted to give this to him."
"Him? You have a boyfriend?"
"No. He's just someone I met last night. A really nice guy."
The clerk smiled. "Vell, I hope you have a nice time viz your young man."
Alex couldn't help but smile. "Oh, I think it'll be a very interesting time indeed." She added the two bags to her growing collection, and left the store.
Making her way to the corner, Alex tried to juggle her packages in such a way that she could look at her map. She thought she had a handle on things, but two bags started to slip from her hands.
They were caught before they hit the ground, and Alex looked up to see Meinhard.
She greeted him with a big smile.
"Herr Meinhard! I'm very glad to see you."
He smiled. "It is nice to see you, Ms. Reed. Will you allow me to help you?"
"That would be great. I was just trying to find my way to the cafe."
"Then follow me. It is across the street, and down a few shops."
He relieved her of half of the packages, and led her across the street to the opposite curb. Together they walked to the cafe.
Meinhard held the door for her. "Will you trust me to order for you this afternoon?"
"Absolutely." She stopped for a moment. "As long as it's not cow tongue."
He laughed and followed her in.
Teren was seated at a table close to the door, facing the street, and she surreptitiously watched the other patrons of the restaurant. She was nervous, but she didn't know why. After all, there'd been no sign of anyone watching their hotel room, and no one had been following her. Besides that, the most suspicious act she had seen in the restaurant was a waitress that cheated a customer. Even that didn't seem to be on purpose.
So why was she still so jumpy? She mentally chastised herself, and focused her gaze, if not her full attention, on the newspaper that she'd spread out in front of her. She wasn't reading it really, but it was a decent cover.
Moments later she glimpsed the silly white tassel attached to a blue cap as it passed in front of the window. She forced herself to not look up, even when Alex and Meinhard came through the door laughing. She waited until they were seated, then she glanced up, taking a drink from her cup, and made eye contact with Alex.
Curiously, her nervousness vanished.
Alex sat back in her chair, and gave a big sigh.
"Did you enjoy your Buendnerteller, Ms. Reed?"
"I did. It's an interesting mixture of foods. In the US you really don't see a salad mix of meat and melon."
"That is because Americans are not as adventurous. They do not know good food."
"Oh, I don't know about that, Herr Meinhard. I think American food is the best."
"I have heard, and please, forgive me, I mean no offense, but I have heard that there is no such thing as American food. It is only a mixture from many different nations."
"That's true, but I think that's what makes it so wonderful. We Americans think nothing of taking a dish and adding our own touch to it. It is our way of paying homage to the cuisines of the world, and putting our own stamp on them."
"Ah. What is the word? Assimation?"
"Assimilation. And, for good or bad, it's what Americans do." Alex reached out and patted Meinhard's hand. "Okay, I think I better be going. I'll have to see if my lazy friend back at the hotel is ready to do anything."
"Your friend -- she is alright?"
"Fine. She had a little headache, and she doesn't like cold weather." From the corner of her eye, Alex saw a half-smile cross Teren's face. "But, I'm hoping to coax her out of the room sometime today."
She snapped her fingers. "By the way, I have something for you." Alex reached amongst her bags and pulled one up to the table. "Here it is. It's that book I told you about. You know, the German translation of Tom Sawyer?"
Meinhard raised an eyebrow, but accepted the bag. "Oh, yes, thank you. I thank you for that very much. And," he reached for the bag on the chair next to him, "this is for you. The magazine we discussed."
He handed the bag to her very carefully, and she opened it just enough to see a thick folder.
Alex nodded. "Great. I'm glad you found it for me. I was looking for this at the bookstore I visited, but didn't see it." She set the bag carefully inside one of her other parcels. "Well, I do believe it's time I went back to the hotel. I need to make sure my friend hasn't overdosed on chocolate." She smiled and held out her hand. "Thank you for lunch, Herr Meinhard. It's been very nice."
"It was my pleasure, Ms. Reed. I hope your friend is well, and perhaps we shall see each other again?"
"Of course. The next time we're in town, we'll call, I promise." Alex slipped her coat on, and pulled the hat over her head. Meinhard helped her gather her bags, and then picked up his own.
"You will be alright going back to your hotel?"
"Oh, sure. Just point me in the direction of the tram, and I'll be just fine."
Meinhard chuckled. "The nearest tram station is just two blocks from here. Go back up the way we came, and then turn left after two blocks. It will be on your left."
"Thank you, Herr Meinhard. You have a wonderful day."
He bowed slightly. "You as well, Ms. Reed."
Alex left first. Teren watched Meinhard leave the restarurant. After that she made a great show of looking at her watch, and gathered her things. She walked out of the cafe just as Alex turned the corner. Teren hurried, wanting to be on the same tram car as her friend.
When Alex reached her tram stop she carefully maneuvered her way off the car, lugging her purchases with her. She began the walk to the hotel, and was startled when someone came up beside her. A quick glance and she noticed that under the beret and glasses, it was Teren. They didn't speak to each other, but merely walked next to each other.
When they got closer to the hotel, Teren veered off. Alex watched as she entered by a side door. She herself went in the front door, dropping her packages into a comfy chair in the lobby. She stood next to them, watching for her friend.
Teren joined her after a moment, and grinned. "Did you buy enough souvenirs?"
"I think so. I got one for you."
A dark eyebrow rose. "Really? What?"
Alex shook her head. "Not telling. You'll just have to wait."
"Aww, Alex, come on."
Teren grumbled a moment longer, then glanced through the packages. "Where's the last one you got?"
"Here. I put it inside the bag with the books. It's safe."
"Good." Teren stopped to look at all the bags. "You know, if you're really bringing that stuff with us, you'll need another suitcase."
Alex grinned. "Funny you should mention that." She opened one large paper bag to show a folded up duffle. "I was just thinking the same thing earlier."
Teren rolled her eyes. "Great. You get packed up, and I'll go check in our keys. Did you leave anything in the suite?"
"Umm, I don't think so." She thought for a moment. "But, knowing me, you might want to check anyway, just in case."
"Fine. I'll go get them. Just make sure you're ready to go, alright?"
"Yep. I'll be waiting."
Alex carefully packed her new duffle bag, making sure the papers from Meinhard were somewhere near the top. Along with the books, and a couple of t-shirts, she'd gotten small things, like a tiny stone sculpture, and a stone mug. They were little gifts, things she'd thought her friends back home would like.
If she ever got back home to give these things to them.
The thought hit her suddenly, and brought tears to her eyes. Frustrated, she wiped them away angrily, then zipped the bag closed.
Teren's voice sounded strange.
"Hi. Are we checked out?"
"Yeah. Let's get out of here."
"Okay." Alex frowned as Teren grabbed her arm and pulled. "Take it easy. You payed the bill, right?"
"Then what's the hurry? Our flight doesn't leave for a couple of hours."
"I'll explain when we get to the car," Teren replied through tightly clenched teeth. Alex took one final look at Teren, and stayed quiet.
When they reached the car, Alex was surprised to see Teren open the trunk and begin pulling out their bags.
"What are you doing?"
"We're leaving the car here. I've already called the rental company and told them where it is."
"Why aren't we taking it to the airport with us?" Alex was beginning to get very nervous, and she grabbed Teren's arm. With a yank she turned the agent around to face her. "Teren, what the hell is going on?"
"When I went upstairs to get your stuff, there were two guys in the room. I guess I surprised them."
Alex turned white. "Are you okay? What did you do?"
"I ducked, and you don't wanna know what happened after that."
For a moment Alex couldn't speak. Then she swallowed, and rubbed a gloved hand across her forehead. "Shit. We're in trouble, aren't we?"
"Yes. Now, come on, help me with these bags. There'll be a taxi picking us up any second."
"And we're going straight to the airport? Any chance of getting an earlier flight?"
"Nope. We're not flying. They'll be expecting that."
"So, what are we doing?"
Teren closed the trunk, and picked up her bags. Alex did the same, her newest duffle slung over her shoulder.
"Have you ever ridden on a train, Alex?"
"Well, you're about to."
Continues in Chapter Twenty-seven