“If you like books, you’d love my dad’s collection. He has a lot of first editions, even signed copies.”
“Wow, that sounds cool. I wish I could see it.”
Ana spent a couple minutes spinning her coffee cup in slow motion circles. John was worried his hint was either too subtle or it’d come too fast. Finally, she spoke.
“Do you want to come over and see it sometime? The book collection that is.”
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Are you free anytime this weekend?”
“I have a family dinner tonight with my parents, my adoptive parents. There’re great, but a little protective.”
“My dad’s the same way,” Ana said. “Except I’d use the word controlling.”
“What about tomorrow afternoon?”
Tomorrow afternoon worked fine for Ana. They exchanged numbers and John gave Ana a few deliberate stares before leaving for his supposed family dinner. As he pulled open the door of the van and climbed in, he saw what he’d really be eating. Cartons of Chinese food were balanced on top of computers and surveillance equipment.
Once he got settled, Mal passed him some fried rice. He started digging in and Mal leaned in to chat.
“Good work in there. Women are like putty in your hands.”
“I have trained for years for this, you know.”
“I’m just saying it’s a pleasure to watch you work,” Mal said. “The driver’s a real stick in the mud. He didn’t like that I ran out for food.”
“He’s probably supposed to keep an eye on us.”
“Spies being spied on.”
The thought stayed with John the rest of the night. He lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Sleep wouldn’t come. He wanted to text Brian even though it was late, but he didn’t trust himself to play it as cool as he had with Ana. He took that to be a good sign.
The next morning they got ready early. Their gear was checked and triple checked.
“How can you be so calm?” Mal asked him. She was pacing around the room in their CIA safe house.
“I’m not,” he said. “I’m just hiding it well.”
The waiting was the worst. John might be able to hide all outward signs of stress because of his training, but it still took its toll on the inside.
The hours dragged on, but eventually it was time to head to Ana’s house. The neighborhood was filled with huge houses and giant lawns. Their driver parked the van down the street. John got out after Mal and Steve made sure he had everything he needed. He’d been drilled on everything multiple times last night and this morning. He shouldered the backpack filled with cleverly disguised surveillance equipment and started walking.
Ana’s house was up on a hill back from the road. There was a fence surrounding the property. John made his way to the main gate. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, so he didn’t have to pretend to be cold as he pressed the intercom and looked up at the camera.
Ana’s voice crackled over the speaker.
“Mark, come in.”
A buzz and a click told him it was okay to open the gate. The house, or mansion, kept getting bigger and bigger as he walked up the hill. By the time he knocked on the front door, he was feeling small.
He saw Ana typing in a code through a window and then she pulled the door open. Once the door closed, she had to type in another code.
“Your dad really likes security,” he said.
“He has to, because of his job.”
“Is it okay for me to be here?”
“Of course,” Ana said. “I cleared it with his head of security. I hope that didn’t sound as weird to you as it just did to me.”
“What does your dad do?”
“He’s an international broker, whatever that means.”
John scanned the hallway. There was a camera trained on the door and well-disguised alarms on the windows. They hadn’t been able to get all the details of the on-site security, but Ana’s comment about the head of security confirmed what they’d been worried about. There was a security force in the building, probably guarding the area with the server.
“Okay. Proctor, you need to get me into the system. Keep your eyes peeled for any computers,” Mal said.
He scanned every open room as he followed Ana through the house. A guard was sitting in front of a glass door. That had to be the way to the servers. There was no choice but to continue following Ana into the library.