“So, are we happy with this list?” asked Mercury. Othello and Box indicated their agreement. They had, between them, worked their way through the complete list of OGS agent files Othello had downloaded from the OGS system – some one hundred personnel files.
“So who’ve we got?” asked Prada from her place at the window.
“Agents Cobalt, Sabre, Callisto, Oak and Ruby.”
“Ruby?” Prada was incredulous, “You’re kidding right? I went to his birthday barbecue last month. I taught his daughters jump rope. He’s solid, I’d bet my life on it.”
“You’re probably right,” said Mercury soothingly, “but at this stage we’re just pulling out anyone with anything unusual in their background. Ruby’s family is significantly wealthy, so he might be able to buy stuff other folks couldn’t. The family owns a chain of jewellery stores. Remember, we’re not accusing anyone of anything yet.”
“Cobalt’s background is in mining, that’s why he’s on the list,” added Othello, “he might have been able to get his hands on explosives.”
“And Sabre?” asked Prada, “What’s your justification for including her?”
“She has a gap in her history of about six months, which is very unusual - OGS is usually very thorough. It’s probably nothing, but nobody else had any gaps.”
“And Oak had a fairly long-running bit part in a soap opera.” Othello again.
“How is that relevant? I know some soap operas are criminally bad, but, even so.”
“Well, I suppose we’re clutching at straws here,” explained Othello, “but I was thinking about acting ability and how someone who was good at dissembling might be our traitor.”
Harold was only half listening to the agents’ discussion, he was enjoying looking at the garden. Box’s mysterious friend obviously had green fingers if this pleasant and well-kept space was anything to go by. At this time of the year, many of the plants were in bloom, adding splashes of colour here and there and the plants themselves looked to be in a lot better shape than the hot-housed, wilted specimens Harold had sometimes seen on sale in filling station forecourts. Of course, this garden, as fine as it was, was not a patch on that other one, the very first one… He stopped his thoughts right there, before they could take a turn down a rocky and painful road, to coin a figure of speech.
He wished he could be more help with the task in hand. Spotting a traitor in one’s midst was never easy, such a one was hardly likely to leave any obvious clues. Of course, Harold himself did not know any OGS agents apart from the ones in the room, their boss, Opal, and that young agent, Moon. All of them seemed super-duper squeaky-clean to him. Humans were masters of deception though, so you could never tell. He smiled to himself: talk about calling the kettle black.
“What’s tickling you?” asked Teatime, seeing Harold’s grin.
“Oh, nothing much,” Harold replied, “just the huge and fascinating ironies of life.”
“I do wonder about you sometimes, old sock, I really do.”
The doorbell rang.
“It’s a delivery guy,” said Prada quietly, “I’ve been watching him. He’s just been to the house across the street, but it looks like they’re not at home. I guess he’s looking to see if we’ll take in the package. Ours is the only house with a car in the driveway, so he probably thinks there’s someone here.”
“Does he look legit?” asked Box.
“He’s wearing a UPS uniform and his truck has the right livery.”
“I’ll get rid of him,” said Othello, standing up.
“Why don’t we just ignore him?” said India, “Surely that would be safest.”
Othello was already at the door. From the living room, they heard a brief low-voiced conversation. Othello then came back into the room, followed very closely by the UPS guy, who had a silenced gun pressed into the small of Othello’s back.
“Everybody keep calm and nobody will get hurt,” he said loudly and clearly. He gave Othello a push. “Face down, on the floor, all of you.” His voice dropped to a more normal level as they scrambled to comply, he was addressing an unseen colleague via an earpiece, evidently. “OK, I’m in. Garcia. Thompson. You’re up. Andrews, inform Mr Peck.”
A few moments later, Garcia and Thompson appeared. They too, were sporting UPS livery, earpieces – and guns.
“What’s going on?” demanded Mercury, “who are you people?”
“No talking.” Replied the first fake-UPS guy, whose name-tag identified him as Jeff. “Garcia. Get all their phones and those computers. Thompson, tie them up.”
Harold had briefly considered rushing Jeff before the others appeared. Bullets would not kill him after all, but, in a rare bout of think first and act later, he realised that there was a high risk of the gun going off and injuring or even killing one of the humans. By the time he had worked though this logic, the moment had passed anyway, so he followed Jeff’s instructions. Teatime jumped off his shoulder and ran behind the sofa, doing his best to act the dumb-monkey-who-is-no-threat-whatsoever-to-anyone-no-sir.
Garcia and Thompson were briskly efficient, and soon everybody was phone-free and wearing the latest in plastic cable-tie bracelets.
“OK, good,” said Jeff, when they had finished, “Now you, blond guy in the leather jacket. On your feet, you’re with me. The rest of you stay nice and quiet for my colleagues here.”
Harold got to his feet with some trepidation. Was he about to join Baron Samedi, Susan, Illyriel and all the rest?