RATING: PG-13 (for language)
WORD COUNT: 11,000
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Written for leverageland's Secret Agent Challenge.
“The famed and elusive 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle twenty-dollar gold coin,” Nate said, gesturing at the poster in front of the convention center. “In 2002 a single 1933 double eagle believed to have been part of the private collection of King Farouk of Egypt sold at auction for 7.5 million dollars, officially making it ...”
“The most valuable coin in the world,” Eliot finished for him.
“Precisely,” Nate continued. “None of the 455,000 double eagles struck in 1933 were ever released into circulation—”
“Because almost all of them were melted down after FDR passed the Gold Reserve Act in 1934,” Bering interrupted impatiently. “We actually work for the Secret Service, in case you forgot, we do know what a 1933 double eagle is.”
“I actually didn’t know,” Lattimer said, prompting Bering to roll her eyes. “What?” he said defensively. “I was in D.C., protecting the president, in case you forgot. Not all of us worked at a mint.”
“So anyway,” Nate said. “There are only twenty 1933 specimens believed to be in existence. And two of them—the only two kept by the U.S. Mint—just happen to be on display right here in Boston this week.”
“How do we know she’ll even go after the double eagles?” Hardison asked. “I mean, the whole place is basically wall-to-wall money. It’s like Parker’s Disneyland in there.”
“We don’t,” Nate said, shrugging. “But the 1933 double eagles are the biggest draw of the convention, and the rarest coins on display this year. They’re the most likely to tempt her.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like Parker’s going to try to pull off this kind of a job in broad daylight in front of literally thousands of people with absolutely no planning, right?” Hardison asked, cocking a skeptical eyebrow. “’Cause that seems kind of—”
“Crazy?” Eliot suggested. “It’s not like impulse control is one of her strong suits.”
“I’m just saying, maybe she’s not stealing anything. Maybe she’s just, you know, visiting the money.”
Eliot shook his head. “That almost kind of makes sense, in a Parker sort of way. On the other hand, if this ring does what they say it does ...”
“It does,” Lattimer said.
“Whatever,” Nate said. He wasn’t going to let himself get distracted by this magic ring business. “I’m telling you Parker’s in there somewhere right now, figuring out how she would steal those double eagles, because that is exactly the kind of thing she does in her free time.”
Hardison shrugged. “Yeah, okay, I’ll buy that.” He gazed up and down the length of the convention center and shook his head. “That’s an awful lot of ground to cover, though.”
“Thirty-eight meeting rooms and 176,000 square feet of exhibition space,” Nate said.
“In that case we’d better split up,” Bering told Lattimer. “I’ll take Mr. Ford here to the security office and see if we can spot her on any of the security feeds.”
Lattimer nodded. “And I’ll take these two around back and start checking the service areas, fire exits, and anywhere else that doesn’t have a camera on it.”
“No funny business,” Bering warned them sternly. “Remember our deal: you help us recover the ring and everybody goes home happy.”
Nate smiled wanly. He doubted very much that Bering had any intention of sticking to the deal she’d made with him. Which was just fine, because he didn’t plan on sticking to it either.
Eliot was extremely careful not to react when he heard Nate’s voice come over the earbud Hardison had slipped him in the van. “Eliot, Hardison, I need you two to get to Parker before Lattimer does.”
Eliot could hear Bering in the background, talking to someone in the security office from the sound of it. He slid a look over at Hardison and got a slight nod in return.
“I’m not buying this magic ring business and I do not trust these two,” Nate said quietly. “That ring is the only leverage we’ve got. You understand me, Eliot?”
“Copy that,” Eliot muttered just loud enough for the comms to pick up.
“What’s that?” Lattimer asked behind him. The guy was slightly sharper than Eliot had given him credit for.
“I said she wouldn’t be in here,” Eliot replied coolly. “Too many people around.”
They were in the food service prep area behind the snack bar on the exhibit hall floor and he could feel Lattimer’s eyes on him. The agent was watching him closely, keeping two steps behind him, like he was waiting for Eliot to make some kind of move. He was only half watching Hardison, though, so apparently he’d decided the hacker wasn’t likely to make any trouble.
Eliot led them through a door and out into an empty service corridor behind the kitchen. It was out of the way, secluded, and about as good a place as any to make his move.
“Man, it’s bright back here,” he mumbled to Hardison. “We could use a little shade, don’t you think?”
“Huh?” Hardison looked at him blankly. And then the light kicked on and he said, “Oh, yeah. Right.”
Eliot grimaced and shook his head. If Sophie were there she’d know exactly what to do without even having to be told. As it turned out, though, Hardison didn’t do half bad. Halfway down the hall he managed to “accidentally” trip and fall into a food cart, toppling it over and causing an avalanche of hot dog buns to rain down on top of him. Which distracted Lattimer just enough that Eliot was able to take his sidearm and that crazy-looking stun gun off of him before he’d even realized what was happening. Eliot tossed the stun gun to Hardison and trained the Sig Sauer on Lattimer.
“Seriously?” Lattimer said, putting his hands in the air. “This is getting to be embarrassing.” Eliot almost felt sorry for the guy.
“In there,” Eliot said, nodding at a custodial closet.
“Come on, dude, we both know you’re not gonna shoot me,” Lattimer said.
He had that much right anyway. Eliot grinned and ejected the magazine from the gun, slipping it into his pocket. “Maybe not. But I would fucking love to see Hardison zap you with that stun gun.”
“Please. He doesn’t even know how to work it.”
“What, this thing?” Hardison said, waggling the stun gun at Lattimer. “Seems pretty straightforward to me. I’m guessing this little doohickey on the side lets you dial the power up and down just like a Star Trek phaser, right? Pretty cool, man, I gotta say.”
Eliot cocked his eyebrows at Lattimer. “You ever been shot with that thing before?”
“Oh, yeah.” Lattimer said sadly.
Eliot nodded. “Then you know exactly how much you don’t want it to happen again. Now get in the damn closet.”
Lattimer complied, albeit reluctantly. Eliot took his handcuffs from him and cuffed him to the pipe under the sink, then slipped the key to the cuffs into his own pocket.
“You don’t want to do this,” Lattimer told them. “You’re making a big mistake.”
“Look, it’s nothing personal, man, we just can’t let you catch Parker,” Eliot said, somewhat regretfully. Lattimer actually seemed like a pretty decent guy. “Look, I know y’all get in a lot of trouble if you lose your sidearm, so I’m gonna leave it over here for you, out of reach, but I’m keeping the magazine so no one gets hurt. Hardison, leave the stun gun, too.”
Hardison made a noise of indignant protest. “What? No way, Eliot, come on! Why can’t I keep it?”
“’Cause I don’t want you accidentally electrocuting yourself. Or me.”
Hardison grumbled about it some more, but he set the stun gun down beside the pistol.
“Listen to me, man,” Lattimer pleaded. “You need my help to get that ring away from your friend. It’s not safe!”
Eliot shut the door on him and walked away, hoping he was doing the right thing.
Nate scanned the monitors in the security office, searching the convention floor for any sign of Parker. It was still early in the day so things weren’t in full swing yet —in another few hours teeming masses of numismatists would be packed into the exhibition hall like sardines. There were still plenty of collectors wandering the floor, though, poring through the dealer boxes or standing around in sweaty packs discussing the intricacies of grading and stickers.
Bering stood over his shoulder, closely watching his every move. She didn’t know what Parker looked like, so she was watching Nate more than the monitors, looking for his reaction to tell her that he’d spotted their target in the crowd. At the moment it was his only advantage.
Over his earbud he heard the unmistakable sounds of Eliot and Hardison dispensing with their Secret Service escort and Nate allowed himself to feel a moment of hope. They actually had a chance to get to Parker first, now. Assuming they could find her, that was.
He redoubled his efforts scanning the convention floor and a moment later he spied her. She was making her way across the exhibit floor, moving through the crowd. And she was headed straight for U.S. Mint booth hosting the 1933 double eagle display.
Nate kept his expression studiously impassive and forced himself to turn his attention to another monitor, one that was showing a part of the exhibition hall nowhere near where Parker was. A moment later his elbow bumped the half-empty cup of coffee that had been left behind by the guard they’d displaced. Coffee spilled all over the security console. Between his own profuse apologies and the guard’s attempts to clean up the spill before it did any damage to the electronics, Nate managed to mutter a brief instruction to Eliot and Hardison without attracting Agent Bering’s attention. “Convention floor, section 300. Heading straight for the double eagles.”
After they left Lattimer, Eliot and Hardison had moved out into the exhibition hall and split up to cover more ground. Eliot had lost track of Hardison in the crowd but he was close to section 300 when he heard Nate’s voice. He scanned the area, looking for a sign of Parker.
“I see her,” Eliot said, quickening his steps. “Parker!” he called out.
She turned and broke into a surprised smile when she saw him. “Eliot! What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you. What the hell are you doing?”
“Stealing the double eagles. Want to help?” Her eyes were bright and intent, brimming with mischief.
Eliot blinked. “What? No, I don’t want to help.”
She shrugged. “Fine.” Then she started to walk off.
He grabbed her arm. “Wait. Parker, you can’t do it. Not now.”
She frowned at him, eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“Because the Secret Service is looking for you. We have to get you out of here.”
She shook her head stubbornly. “Not until I get those double eagles.”
“Did you hear what I just said? The Secret Service is here right now looking for you. We have to go.” He started to lead her away from the double eagles but she snaked out of his grasp.
“If you’re not going to help me then stay out of my way,” she said angrily.
Her stun baton hit him in the ribs with a 800,000 volt wallop that he never even saw coming. It was Parker for Christ’s sake; it hadn’t even occurred to him that he needed to be on his guard against her. Which, in retrospect, was obviously a huge mistake.
Eliot crumpled to the floor, his limbs no longer under his own control. “Fuuuuuuuuck,” he groaned as he watched Parker bolt for the U.S. Mint booth.
Nate squinted at one of the monitors in the security office—a monitor that Parker definitely wasn’t on—and said, “Hmmm.”
“Did you find her?” Agent Bering asked, leaning down for a better look.
“Ah ...” Nate hesitated, for effect. “I thought for a second maybe … but no, not her.”
Bering drummed her fingers impatiently on the console.
Nate could hear Eliot’s side of the conversation with Parker over comms. The urge to glance at them on the monitor was almost overwhelming, but he knew it would probably draw Bering’s attention, so he resisted. Even when he heard Eliot’s pained-sounding expletive.
“Hey, is that Parker?” Bering asked abruptly, pointing at the very monitor Nate had been trying to distract her from. “Putting your guy on the floor?”
“Er,” he said. “Looks that way, yeah.”
“Dammit.” Bering grabbed him roughly by the arm and jerked him out of his seat. “Come on.”
“Holy shit!” Hardison exclaimed as he watched Eliot crumple to the ground. He was torn between the urge to go check on Eliot and the urge to go after Parker, who was even now snaking her way through the crowd towards the U.S. Mint booth.
After only a moment’s hesitation he chose Parker. Eliot could probably take care of himself, he reasoned, and Parker was heading straight for trouble. She was also heading straight for Hardison, who was standing squarely between her and the double eagles.
“She’s crazy,” Eliot said. His voice sounded strained and hoarse over the comms from the jolt he’d taken. “She Tased me, man. Watch out.”
Hardison swallowed hard. Being Tased by Parker was pretty high on the list of things he’d always vaguely dreaded. Seriously, he had a recurring nightmare about it. Nevertheless, when she got close enough, he stepped into her path and said her name.
Recognition flooded her face and she smiled at him. Then her smile disappeared and her eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to try to stop me like Eliot did, are you?”
“Naw,” he said quickly. “Nuh uh. No way.”
The smile returned, to his very great relief. “Good. You wanna help?”
“Sure. Yeah. Absolutely.” Hardison could see the ring on her finger, just like Bering had described it. A gold band with a cluster of garnets.
“Cool!” she said cheerfully.
“So, uh, what’s the plan?” he asked, taking what he hoped was an inconspicuous step towards her.
Parker shrugged. “I was going to break the glass on the display.” She pulled a glass breaking hammer out of her pocket and waved it at him.
“Wow,” Hardison said. “Um. Yeah. You know, maybe there’s a better way. ’Cause that’s a Visonetix SpiderAlert alarm system they’ve got on that case, and with all these people around, I think your getaway’s gonna be a problem, you know?” He took another step. They were only about a foot apart now, close enough that he could reach out and touch the ring. Sophie probably could have slipped it off without Parker even noticing but Hardison had no such confidence in his own pickpocketing skills, especially where Parker was concerned.
“You got a better idea?” she asked him.
“Well,” he said, thinking quickly. “I saw an electrical panel back in the service area. Why don’t we go cut the power first? That’ll disable the audible alarms and in the confusion it’ll be a lot easier to get the coins and get out, yeah?” He didn’t dare reach for her hand outright—this was Parker, after all, and touching was pretty much a no-go even under the best of circumstances—so he offered his hand, palm up in invitation, and hoped.
Parker looked down at his hand, and then up at him. She smiled and placed her hand in his. He twined his fingers with hers, just like he’d imagined doing countless times before. Of course, in his fantasies he wasn’t terrified Parker was about to Tase him. That was pretty much the exclusive territory of his nightmares. He could feel the ring on her finger, the metal surprisingly hot to the touch. But Parker’s hand was warm and soft in his and she was looking at him like she was really seeing him for once and this part was exactly like his fantasy.
Which was of course the point when he heard Agent Lattimer shout, “Secret Service. Everybody stay right where they are!”
Lattimer was coming towards them and he had his not-exactly-Star Trek phaser pointed right at them. Hardison looked around desperately for some cover, somewhere they could get away, but they were standing in a broad open space and there was nowhere.
That’s when Eliot popped up out of nowhere, interposing himself between them and the Secret Service agent.
“Get out of the way, dude,” Lattimer said.
“Can’t,” Eliot said grimly.
“I will shoot you,” Lattimer warned.
“You’ll have to,” Eliot countered.
Hardison’s eyes slid over to Parker. All her attention was still focused on him. In fact, she didn’t even seem to have noticed Lattimer or the gun he was pointing at them, that’s how intently she was staring at him.
“What?” he asked nervously.
“You’re cute,” she replied.
He blinked. “Um … what now?”
He was vaguely aware that Lattimer was telling them to put their hands up but it was hard to pay too much attention because Parker had moved closer to him. She was so close they were practically chest to chest and she was looking at his mouth, which … he might be a computer nerd, but he knew what that usually meant. And then Parker was kissing him and suddenly the Secret Service agent pointing a magic laser gun at them didn’t seem so damn important anymore.
She tasted like coffee and caramel, like every sweet sensation he’d ever experienced, like heaven. Her fingers were curled around his neck, pulling him down towards her like she couldn’t get enough of him. She jumped up and wrapped her legs around his waist and he reached around to hold her up so not only was he kissing Parker but now his hands were on her ass and there was nothing about anything of this that wasn’t completely unreal.
It took longer than it probably should have for him to notice that someone was shouting his name, and that the someone was Eliot. “The ring, Hardison! Get the damn ring off her finger!”
The ring. Right. Hardison shifted Parker onto his hip a little and reached up to his neck with his left hand. He could feel it there on her right ring finger, hot metal and rough gemstones. She still hadn’t stopped kissing him, not even to breathe, and he didn’t want her to ever stop, but even so he closed his fingers around the band and pulled.
The ring slipped off and the metal went from hot to cold in his hand, which was weird. Parker stopped kissing him. She stared at him, her brow furrowed. “Hardison?”
“Uh, hey,” he said awkwardly.
She dropped to the floor and took a hasty step back.
That was right about the time when Agent Bering arrived, dragging Nate along with her. “Did you get it?” she asked anxiously.
Hardison held out his hand to reveal the ring in the palm of his hand.
Lattimer rushed forward with a purple anti-static bag and Hardison dropped the ring inside. There was a flash of light and a sparking sound as Lattimer sealed the bag, which—again—weird. “Good work,” he said.
Hardison heard Eliot snicker behind him. “Yeah, that was real impressive how you just stood there and let her mack on you.” Lattimer tried unsuccessfully to stifle a snicker and Hardison prayed fervently for a sinkhole to appear and swallow him up as soon as humanly possible.
“What does mack mean?” Parker asked.
Hardison died a little more inside while Lattimer and Eliot dissolved into a full blown fit of snorting laughter. Nate didn’t laugh, though.
“It means you were kissing Hardison,” he said. “You don’t remember?”
“I remember kissing him,” she said. “I just don’t remember why.”
Which only made Eliot and Lattimer laugh harder. Even Bering’s persistently disapproving expression had softened into a smile. “All right,” she said. “Maybe we should get out of here before we draw anymore attention to ourselves.”
Nate was quiet on the ride back in the van. He watched Parker, who was also keeping to herself, his brow furrowed.
Bering leaned over and said, quietly, “You didn’t believe me, did you?”
Nate glanced over her, then back at Parker. “I still don’t.”
Bering nodded. “It’s okay. It took me a while to accept it, too.”
“The universe is governed by rules,” Nate said. “I won’t accept that the rules mean nothing, that the world is full of things that are supposed to be impossible.”
“The rules still have meaning, but for every rule there’s an exception." She shrugged slightly, her eyes drifting over to Parker. "You’ve just encountered one of the exceptions, that’s all.”
After they’d all climbed out of the van in front of McRory’s, Eliot turned to Agent Lattimer and stuck his hand out. “Hey, man, sorry about … you know. No hard feelings?”
Lattimer grinned and clasped his hand in a friendly shake. “Nah, I probably would have done the same thing in your shoes.”
Eliot jerked his head towards the bar. “Buy you a beer?” Lattimer cast a nervous look at McRory’s that immediately made Eliot regret the suggestion. Leave it to him to offer to buy an alcoholic a drink.
“Thanks, but … we should probably get going,” Lattimer said.
“Sure,” Eliot said. “I understand.”
“The U.S. Government thanks you for your assistance,” Bering said, flashing a friendly smile. “You guys stay out of trouble, you hear?”
As Eliot watched her walk away he felt Nate come up behind him.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Nate said quietly.
“What?” Eliot asked.
Nate dropped a hand on Eliot’s shoulder. “Her partner. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know that,” Eliot muttered. He avoided meeting Nate’s eye; Nate could always tell when he was lying.
Hardison gazed across the bar to where Parker was sitting alone in one of the back booths, her long legs stretched out across the length of the seat. She hadn’t said much since they’d left the convention center. Not to Nate, not to Eliot, and definitely not to him. He gulped down the last of his beer for courage, dragged himself to his feet, and took himself over there.
She looked up at him, her expression as inscrutable as ever. “Hey.”
He slid into the seat across from her. “Do you maybe wanna talk about it what happened today? I mean, you don’t have to if you don’t wanna, but I thought maybe …” He trailed off uncertainly.
She stared off into the distance and shook her head.
He shrugged. “That’s cool. Just, you know, I’m here if you change your mind, okay?”
“Sure,” she said distantly.
“Cool.” He shifted uncomfortably and rubbed the back of his head. He knew she probably wanted to be left alone, but it didn’t feel right. Someone ought to stay with her, just to make sure she was okay. And he wanted that someone to be him.
After a while his patience was rewarded when she finally spoke. “Today was weird.”
Hardison nodded. “Yeah it was.”
She didn’t say anything else for a while. Then: “I liked the kissing part, though.”
Hardison tried to swallow but his mouth had gone completely dry. He didn’t trust his voice to work properly and he didn’t know what to say, in any case. So he reached across the table and offered his hand, palm up in invitation, and hoped.
Parker looked down at his hand, and then up at him. She placed her hand in his. Hardison twined his fingers with hers and smiled happily.