IC 1 - Amsterdam - Day 1

Gatac 2016-10-11 15:48:42
Hot on the heels of Edil Varajev, the new Wildcard team follow him to his safehouse in Amsterdam, where they hope to get their hands on the laptop that might shed light on Varajev's connections to the shadowy terrorist group known as RoI.
Gatac 2016-10-11 15:53:17
With local CIA officers suitably pissed off, Brahmvir Singh still secured as a "guest" on board your flight and said flight fueled up again, it's time to depart Thumrait for the roughly eleven-hour flight (via Turkey's Incirklik Air Base to refuel again) to Amsterdam. The added gear plus Laith Sy and Lucy start to stretch the Wolfhound's cabin space beyond "comfy", but in the end the plane makes it back into the air and that's what matters. As soon as the plane settles into cruise, Operations leads you into the SCIF, where the intel dump from the secure flashdrive gets uploaded. Passing out small laptops for everyone, Operations steps back and lets you get to work.
Gatac 2016-10-11 16:05:50
(Mason uses Tradecraft to research Varajev’s security measures and Flirting to dig into Varajev’s...off-duty activities.)

In Mason’s experience, there are two ways into a man’s home: through the front door or through his pants. Going down the first road, Mason digs up the blueprints and brochures for Varajev’s apartment building. Turns out that, contrary to what you might imagine when you think of the canals around the flower market, there actually are some reasonably tall skyscrapers in Amsterdam when you get a bit outside of the historical city center. Leeuwentoren is a 29-floor glass and steel monstrosity in South Amsterdam whose only notable feature visible from street level is that the corners of the tower gently twist about a quarter turn along the tower’s height for visual flair, but Mason rather suspects that the helipad on the rooftop was a bigger selling point for Varajev. That said, even Edil Varajev could not quite afford the penthouse here, and so makes his home on the 26th floor, which is still pretty high when you think about it, in a 4000 square feet apartment that includes two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a bar in the living lounge and a fireplace because of course he has a fucking fireplace, probably never used. Access to the building itself is either by electronic keycard for residents (from the roof, underground parking garage or the front lobby), or getting buzzed in by the receptionist. And once you’re in and past that receptionist in the lobby, there’s not much stopping you from breaking and entering any one apartment, with the right tools - we’re talking good doors and good looks on these apartment doors, but strictly commercial-level, nothing that would make a professional locksmith work up a sweat if he was called in at 3 AM to open a door for a half-naked bigwig CFO who locked himself out when he walked out into the hallway to pick up his fifty Euro truffle pizza delivery from the tower’s dumbwaiter. So far, so unspectacular for a luxury apartment tower. Now, what Varajev did to the place once he moved in - that gets into the “educated guess” department, but Mason’s pretty educated. Obviously, when you move into the 26th floor of anything and you don’t own the entire building, you don’t get to put in armored walls or a hidden saferoom or other heavy-caliber fortifications. The best you’re gonna do for the perimeter is (probably) adhesive sheets over the safety glass to provide some ballistic protection against business rivals with helicopters and machineguns, and (maybe) kevlar mats along the walls as spall liner against anyone trying to blast their way in. But that’s a big maybe, and Varajev probably doesn’t want his whole apartment looking like a Christo art installation. Front door, though...you secure the shit out of the front door. Nice front veneer over a steel core, reinforced interior hinges, probably biometric security. And if this was Mason’s job, add a peephole camera for 24/7 video surveillance of what’s happening out in the hallway, though unless Varajev is very cozy with the owners, he’s probably not tapped into whatever cameras the building proper has. Add about a half-dozen men in Varajev’s security detail, judging from what he brought with him to Delhi, and that ought to be it.

If all that makes Varajev sound like a bit of a shut-in, his dating record more than confirms it. Varajev engaged a VIP escort service too classy to have “VIP” or “escort” or “service” in its name for some female company, repeatedly so. After going through a date each with a “Lieke Simonis” (strawberry-blonde, B cup, and according to her profile, a talented dancer) and a “Zulay Panova” (the “homesick” Chechen option, but you know you’re only there to tick somebody’s checkbox if the best your profile can do for you is to talk about your “exotic beauty”), he seems to have hit it off with “Geertje Rompa” (real name Eni Akkermans), a sophisticate who’s apparently financing her MBA with Varajev’s affections. Eni’s been spotted at Leeuwentoren a couple of times, after Varajev dropped the pretense of only meeting her in restaurants or other hotels, so it’s a pretty fair bet that she’s been inside his apartment - maybe even has an access pass.

(Luc uses Interrogate to interview Brahmvir Singh about his connections and Streetwise to ascertain the criminal landscape around Varajev. Spending a point of Streetwise, he makes contact with an old quote-unquote friend whose friends, in turn, do not much care for Varajev.)

Luc’s not one for digging through the CIA’s SIGINT dump, especially not when they’ve got the HVT still aboard and are gonna be rooting around in some fairly familiar stomping grounds - you don’t get to work for the DCSE without gaining at least a bit of awareness of how things work in Hollande. He’s there to suggest that Brahmvir be briefly let out of his restraints to join Laith for the Asr prayer, helping them out by steadying Laith for the movements and keeping track of Mecca’s position throughout. When he then even offers to share his smokes with Brahmvir, the so-far reclusive terrorist leader knows that this is probably the nicest interview he’s likely to get. But even Luc is pretty surprised by easily Brahmvir talks once he starts talking - Al Queda operatives, generally speaking, make it a point of honor to deny cooperation until they can physically no longer stand to hold out, but Brahmvir doesn’t seem to be much for that kind of honor. Again, the question of how this man put together AQIS comes up. But to hear Brahmvir tell it, True Believers are on the way out, and he’s picked up the pieces. The Taliban always came at things from a more traditionalist, free our home from foreign rule kind of angle, and AQ was the more militant, Wahabist external force who thought that crushing infidels and instating a gonzo fantasy throwback to the old caliphate was a great idea, which would be comical if it hadn’t led to so much suffering. AQIS, though, took its cues from KSM’s infamous “International Terrorist” business card phase, and ideology for Brahmvir was always secondary to getting paid to fight people he hated, and then using that money to finance his posh lifestyle. With the other elephant in the room - Brahmvir’s obvious Sikh heritage - casually dismissed as Brahmvir deliberately breaking free from his family for being “perpetual victims”, the conversation wanders towards Brahmvir’s connections.

Turns out that AQIS used to be under TTP’s umbrella, technically still is, but Brahmvir’s been maneuvering them farther and farther away from what he considers hidebound and defeatist oversight. While TTP wants to take over Pakistan, it’s doing a pretty shit job from where Brahmvir’s standing, and he thinks that the only way to get what they want is violent revolution. Which also explains why he threw in with Renewal of Islam and their chosen proxy, Edil Varajev - it was a way of growing AQIS to the point where it would finally be free of its ties to TTP and be able to sustain operations themselves. No more surplus AKMs and young boys with more faith than trigger discipline; Brahmvir wants to turn AQIS into a proper strike force, recruit the top-tier talent and get shit done. What’s kept him on top so far is an eye for talent and a knack for results; though the more “Northern” AQ splinter groups consider him barely better than an infidel for his lack of ideological line-toeing and TTP thinks he’s a loose cannon who’s gonna blow it and expose them all any time now - a rep that Brahmvir is not blind to - he says that they both can’t get rid of him because he’s got his own house in order, and even the staunchest ideologue in AQ can’t be seen infighting with their most successful recent offshoot - there’s enough chaos among the ranks as is, and so far AQIS has done pretty well shielding itself from Direct Action and drone strikes, which further adds to their outsize importance to operations in South Asia.

Renewal of Islam, though? That’s nothing more than another name to Brahmvir. Contact with them was first through an internet messageboard via a moderator that Brahmvir trusts, then through Varajev since. Varajev was actually supposed to deliver the laptop to Brahmvir, who had gotten the flashdrive key from an earlier courier, and on that laptop he was supposed to get info on further contacts, targets and bank accounts to finance the campaign with. What he does know for sure is that several movers and shakers online insist that RoI, though low-profile, is for real, and Varajev certainly didn’t come down to meet him if he wasn’t getting paid handsomely for it. Brahmvir’s working theory is that RoI is just the newest funnel for Saudi money, but he honestly doesn’t seem to care too much about that particular mystery, as long as he can get a financial backer who can keep up with his ambitions.

With Brahmvir as bean-spilled as he’s gonna get in a couple of hours and no way to quickly verify much of what he’s been told, Luc next gets on the satphone and makes a few discreet inquiries. The Unione Corse is probably the least significant organized crime ring in Amsterdam, which is saying something with about two dozen distinct types of organized crime active in and around the city, but they’re chummy with French intelligence and that’s all Luc needs to get his foot in the door with Pierre Niemans. Now Pierre is the kind of guy who likes his cheese ripe, his chestnuts roasted and his little sister unacknowledged - seriously, he will slit your throat if you even think about her, you dirty son of a bitch - but Luc’s no stranger to these kinds of circles, and offering to pay for a nice dinner is enough to get Pierre to agree to a meeting. On the phone, Pierre plays his cards close to the chest, but he’s definitely saying without quite saying that he’d love to take a shot at Varajev - though that line starts way earlier and higher up. Amsterdam’s local organized crime scene is officially neutral on the Varajev issue, but frankly that guy is making way too much noise about moving stolen military hardware, which is liable to bring the cops sniffing around certain parts of town, and ain’t nobody got time for that. The Armenian, Albanian and Serbian mafias in particular do not care for Varajev on a personal level, the Kejahatan (Malay-originating crime groups) see his smuggling operations as potentially fucking with their shit, and even the Penose - the local Dutch “overseer” of organized crime - has taken to expressing some concern that Varajev’s dealings in the AfPak region might endanger their hashish trade with South Asia, which might cede the weed game to the Moroccans - and if there’s anything you can count on in Amsterdam, it’s that there’s a vested interest in keeping the weed game on lockdown. It shouldn’t be particularly hard to enter into an “arrangement” with any of those groups, provided that you lead with “We want to help you get rid of Edil Varajev”.

(Blake uses Streetwise to figure out where Varajev hangs out when he’s not at his apartment, and spends a point of Electronic Surveillance to figure out what Varajev is going to do next.)

Here’s a question: if just about everybody in Amsterdam’s underground hates Varajev’s guts, who the hell is he dealing with there? Blake turns his attention to Varajev’s overseas trading connections, when he scares up a curious little tidbit: Varajev has been associated with some arms shipments of the Crips. Looks like Varajev sources guns abroad and finds domestic buyers, while the Crips provide logistics and security for the transport into and through Europe.

By the way, if you didn’t know that there are no-shit Crips in the Netherlands and that they’re heavily into arms smuggling, you do now. No word on whether they keep a blue flag hanging from their backside, though.

The Crips are a step ahead of many criminal groups in Amsterdam insofar as they’ve been around there since the 80s and have grown up accordingly, graduating from teenage gangbangers to 30-something professional criminals, with a curious mixture of insular local community and widespread overseas connections. In fact, as Blake knows, there’s a hefty amount of logistical assistance rendered by the US military, if only unknowingly, simply because Crips have achieved fairly good penetration of the enlisted population - which would explain both their facility at smuggling and the skills some of their members use to turn to contract killing on the civilian side. In any event, Blake’s able to pinpoint the vaguely-named Visser Transporte BV as a Crip front operating out of Rotterdam, and while the surveillance records are too spotty to bear it out, it’s a fair assumption that if there’s anything Varajev would need to leave his apartment for, it’s to either inspect shipments in Rotterdam at their warehouses or the local branch office to arrange his deals. (And you can tell it’s a Crip front because the “B” in BV is artfully integrated into the fancy, blue-heavy logo in a way that makes it look crossed-out.)

Then Laith Sy shouts out “He’s making a call!” from inside the SCIF and before Blake has finished thinking about it, he’s rushed into the room, grabbed a spare laptop and set up next to their crypto specialist. Turns out that two minutes ago, a call was placed from aboard the KLM flight Varajev’s on, and it’s taken those two minutes for the CIA to pick up on it, gain high confidence that it’s Varajev’s phone and remote-link to the Wolfhound’s computers. While Sy’s doing his best to ID the stream cypher and maybe make headway on figuring out the actual conversation, Blake jumps on the routing nodes. Unsurprisingly, onion routing is not just for mail-ordering MDMA and reactivated theater prop guns anymore - top-tier scumbags like Edil Varajev pay dearly to use a service with enough bandwidth to run an encrypted voice call through, though the audio lag is (inevitably) considerable. However, that ain’t news to Blake - the US Navy invented onion routing, and Blake’s taken classes from some of the original gangstas on that topic. With hands flying over the keyboard and a quickly hacked-together snooping algorithm, he correlates node traffic at entry and exit points and picks up the trail on the other side of the onion routing service, hopping a couple more straightforward network jumps before going local somewhere in Hamburg, Germany - and then the call cuts off, quieting both sessions of furious typing. Hrm. Deutschland, of all places. With his luck and how crazy the Krauts have gotten about privacy, the server logs won’t be there long enough to get search warrants. Then again, Wildcard is not exactly a “search warrant” kind of outfit. Now he just needs somebody simultaneously smart enough to compromise the endpoint server for a crypto phone service and dumb enough to try it with only a day, at best, to prep the attack. But even without that, it’s a fair bet that Hamburg is Varajev’s next destination, once he’s regrouped and reorganized from the safety of his Amsterdam base of operations.

“I’ll keep on the stream cypher,” Sy promises.

(Tim tries to figure out OSP via Streetwise and an exit strategy through Urban Survival.)

Sy's promise leaves a bit of a bad taste in Tim's mouth, because Tim's been going through the gear to figure out what they're gonna need to procure on site in Amsterdamn, and frankly, Sy’s lockpicking kit sucks. And this isn’t some kind of moral judgment against the man or Wildcard’s resource situation, it’s just that, well, it sucks. It’s the kind of gear you’d bash together from a basic “locksmith” kit on Amazon Marketplace, a couple of repurposed metalworking tools and a punctured tennis ball because you saw that one YouTube video where they totally opened a car door lock with a sharp blast of overpressure.

This might be forgivable if all you're doing is trying to impress your friends by picking bike locks with a ballpoint pen, but you do not bring that weak shit to Tim Barstow. Tim Barstow, the CIA’s Lock King. Tim Barstow, the footnote disclaimer on the “undefeated” byline of the Steranko Security System. Tim motherfucking Barstow, the man on the poster in Solid Snake’s bedroom.

This will not do.

Luc’s and Blake’s list of criminal contacts in Amsterdam reads like a veritable Who’s Who of organized crime, but Tim has...different friends. Friends who backflip through laser grids for fun. And where do they get all their wonderful toys - glass cutters, laser prisms, safe drills and such? Well, while Safecracks’r’us remains a sadly unserved market niche, there is a man in Amsterdam who, through several decades of reliable and discreet business, has managed to earn the trust of several of Tim’s friends. They call him “The Dane”, but the instructions on how to contact him read more like an invocation of ancient pagan demigods than contact protocol. Word is, The Dane does not use the internet. Or phones. Or even mail. You go to the place, you do the things, and then maybe - maybe - he will find you. Because that’s exactly what you needed, another mysterious primadonna black marketeer who values his opinions of you over how much money he could be making off you.

By comparison, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to guns, fake IDs, drugs and getaway vehicles. Anything that goes bang and is even kind of man-portable can be had for the right amount of money, though the things that go boom tend to be more on the Varajev side of the business. Then again, you do have several pounds of explosives already so...you should be good. Right? Tim doesn’t particularly want to consider the implications of attempting any plan for which they don’t already have enough explosives. Fake IDs, same thing, though Tim does note that the forgery equipment is for sale, too - and he’s laminated a phony access badge or two in his professional life. Drugs...why would we even bring up drugs? Well, they’re available! Maybe getting somebody high or planting a key of coke in certain bedrooms might be useful. And getaway cars, yeah, sure, getting away is something you always ought to do. The selection isn't particularly cheap, but within reason, pretty much everything's for sale - but used trucks might be a particular steal, considering the many logistics companies in the area who renew their fleets every so often.

Speaking of getting away...Varajev chose his hideout for convenient travel, which may well turn out to be an advantage for you. Assuming a start from Varajev’s apartment building, you’ll be within sight of the highway that rings Amsterdam proper, which ought to be the fastest way to get anywhere on the ground. However, “within sight” does not include a particularly convenient on-ramp - as it is, you’d be doing about five minutes of driving further into the city and then hooking around on the next major arterial to get to the highway, and from there it’s like another ten minutes to the airport - all times assuming that you obey speed limits. If, on the other hand, you don’t give a shit about signs or even streets, a suitable vehicle - jeep, rally car, motorcycle - could give a big middle finger to the detour and smash/snake/jump their way directly onto the highway, open up the throttle and maybe make it to the airport in more like...seven minutes total, on the outside? For something more low-key and environmentally friendly, there is also a major underground train station, maybe three minutes from the Leeuwentoren at a sprint, that could see you off on the next train to Western Germany or Belgium. Escape by speedboat, though attractive at first glance given Amsterdam’s canals, would see you stopped at the grand locks that link the Noordzeekanal to, well, the North Sea. However, maybe something slower would work. Amsterdam’s canals are stuffed to the gills with touristy tour boats, houseboats, a legit floating flower market...point being, if it exists, it’s probably afloat somewhere in Amsterdam’s waterways. And that offers a lot of possible ways to blend into commercial traffic or go to ground, if you’re not dead set on a high-speed police chase.

Hideouts, in general, should not be a problem. The biggest obstacle to just walking into a hotel and getting a room may well be that paying straight cash might draw a bit of attention. Hostels would be less concerned with that, but the lack of privacy is probably a deal breaker. But renting an apartment or a houseboat for a couple of days...no problemo, and unlikely to leave much of a paper trail. Push comes to shove, the CIA does have a safehouse in Amsterdam, but the wrinkle here is that this is where Operations would like to keep Brahmvir Singh safely locked up until his status can be...clarified. Having you guys operate out of the same location might compromise the security of the facility, and “burning” a CIA safehouse is a really good way to make sure you never get to use one again.
Gatac 2016-10-14 14:03:12
Time flies when you're having fun! Ironically, it doesn't seem to fly very much when you're flying, and the refueling stop in Middle of Nowhere, Turkey didn't really help either. For all that the Wolfhound's a cutting edge covert ops airplane, it's not really built for long-haul flights, and by the time you land at Schiphol, it's not just time to eat something more substantial than prepackaged sandwiches, but also just plain time to get out of that tin can and stretch your legs. One of the advantages of infrastructure is that the Wolfhound finds it's parking position inside a private hangar, where another black SUV and another set of two CIA agents is waiting.

One is a middle-aged woman in a stylish leather jacket with windswept black hair and piercing blue eyes, the other is a dude in a suit wearing thick-rimmed glasses who looks like he's trying to pass several bricks at once.

"Operations," the woman says, her accent mangling it into something a bit more like "Ohpperrayshonz" as she stretches out her hand. Operations returns the handshake. Good, firm, half-second - professional, through and through.
"Agent Abbing," Operations says.
"And I want you to meet Agent Coemans," Abbing says. "He is in charge of our guest services."
"Goodday, Agent Operations," Coemans says. "How goes it now?"
"Any updates on Varajev?" Operations asks.
"Edil Varajev arrived here an hour ago," Abbing says, in an impressively close approximation of how Edil Varajev would actually be pronounced. "His driver picked him up, and they drove right back to his apartment. My agent is watching him like you said."
"Good," Operations says, just in time for the rest of the team to make their way. "Boys, I want you to meet Agents Abbing and Coemans. Agent Abbing is our station chief for Amsterdam, and Agent Coemans will be with Laith, Brahmvir and me at the safehouse to make sure we're taken care of."

"Gentlemen," Abbing says, going around and greeting everyone in turn. "Welcome in Amsterdam. You can be sure that we will support you how we can, but we do not usually host direct action groups, so excuse please our lack of preparation. I have parked for you a car in the back. Please use it to get around and acquire what you need, then leave it tomorrow. There is an address in the navigation for leaving." That said, she hands out business cards for a...tailor? "For your eventual trouble," she says.
"Excuse me," Operations says, "I think you mean 'possible'."
"Ah, yes," Abbing says, chuckling without smiling. "Call and ask when suit for Mister Krueger is ready for pickup. They will tell you when and where to go. Same number with nine in last place is the lawyer number. If you get in trouble with police, call that." She looks around. "Try not to get in trouble with police, okay?"
"We'll be discreet," Operations says, then hands the document box she picked up in Thumrait over to you to spread the love around. "Your call how you split everything, but I recommend about 500 Euros cash walking-around money for everyone and stash the rest. The cards are Visa, one thousand dollars preload each, not traceable - I recommend one each of those, too. I expect you to call in from a burner by tomorrow noon, we'll go from there. Shops are already closed for today, though."
"We packed some luggage for you in the car,"Abbing weighs in. "Just some clothes and hygiene things, and two empty suitcases for...whatever else you have."
"We also requested a houseboat rental," Operations says. "And a stingray."
"We rented a houseboat for you," Abbing says, digging in her jacket for a folded-up printout where she has circled some things with a pen. "You go here to the rental office and pick up the keys, they tell you what to do. But no smoking, yes?" She smiles a bit like that was a joke. "We will have a stingray tomorrow. Agent from Stuttgart is coming then with it."
punkey 2016-10-17 00:06:03
(On the flight to Amsterdam)

Mason slides into a seat across from Tim. "So, Agent Barstow, I've got an idea for entry into Edil's apartment to run past you. How good of a plumber can you pretend to be?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-10-17 09:13:50
"I've gotten in places with pipe wrenches before," Tim answers. "I can fake it well enough. Why's Edil gonna need a plumber?"
punkey 2016-10-18 02:08:13
"Because the pipes in the apartment above his are going to burst," Mason says. "And when he or his super call for a plumber, we'll trap the call."
Mason turns to Operations. "As for how his pipes burst...how did you pack, Ms. Wildcard? Anything that says 'I'm yours - for a price'?"
Gatac 2016-10-18 10:31:20
"What a charming thought, Mason," Operations replies. "The answer is no. And for your education" - she pulls back the hair over her left ear, giving everyone a good look at her mangled earlobe and hearing aid - "this is a permanent promotion from field agent to handler status. I did enjoy getting to stretch my wings a little in Delhi, but any plan that deliberately puts me in harm's way is a non-starter with me and my superiors. Next idea, please."
punkey 2016-10-18 10:38:25
Mason nods - doesn't smirk, just nods. "Got it - usually easier to find a field agent in a short dress than a call girl with field experience, but we'll just have to make the C4 charge dummy proof."
Gatac 2016-10-18 10:39:58
Operations raises an eyebrow. "Perhaps you could start with where you intend to deploy that C4, and we can work back from there."
punkey 2016-10-18 10:42:22
"This toilet," Mason says, pointing at the master bathroom in the apartment above Edil's. "Just a little one, enough to burst the pipe joins and cause a very large and unpleasant flood in the back of Edil's apartment - giving our plumber a chance to roam the whole apartment freely and do whatever his heart desires."
Gatac 2016-10-18 10:49:53
Operations nods. "And that's a good idea," she says. "But you're assuming I or any other pretty lady could walk into the apartment, set off the charge in their bathroom and then get out without anyone suspecting foul play. We don't know who lives there, we don't know their hours, we don't know what their deal is. Who knows, even if they are going to invite strangers in, they might just prefer ruggedly handsome military men in tight leather pants. I know I would." She smirks. "What I'm saying is I expect you to figure this out, boys. We're in the intelligence business, so if you want to go down that route, you're gonna have to do some homework."
punkey 2016-10-18 10:56:32
"Which is why I checked Funda," Mason says, spinning his laptop around and showing a Dutch real estate site. "Says right here the floor above his is empty as of last week." Now he smirks. "I do my homework, Ms. Wildcard."
Gatac 2016-10-18 11:04:36
"Very good," Operations replies, giving Mason the slightest nod. "I expect the same attention to detail in all aspects of this operation. Failure's not an option, boys."
skullandscythe 2016-10-20 15:14:45
Blake peers over his screen at the mention of C4. "Goin' on a nostalgia trip, Mason? Remembering the good ol' days of stuffing firecrackers in the girl's stalls?" He shakes his head. "I'll make the charge. You kids have fun, just try not to get shit on you."

He turns over to Luc. "You want any backup for your meet? Been a while since I had good food."
Gatac 2016-10-24 11:07:10
(Back in Amsterdam)

"Here are your keys," the houseboat rental guy says, also sliding a brochure over the wooden counter. "A city guide. Good restaurants here and here, for shopping you go here. Oh, and wifi password on the back. Is free now! We really need to update our website, ja?"

"And here is your card," the gas station attendant says, handing over one the preloaded Visa cards, but not without stealing one last glance at the sharply overpriced groceries you're packing up. Needs must when the devil drives, especially when the devil drives to a gas station late in the evening to grab some essentials - like Grolsch and Genièvre and Gauloises (and a couple burners). "Please drive safely," she adds.


Luc and Blake lay claim to both suits in their emergency wardrobe as they head off to meet Pierre Niemans, local Unione Corse heavy, at a fancy French restaurant for dinner. He deftly rises from his seat and buttons his jacket, then walks over to greet you. "Luc, mon ami, bonsoir!" he says with a big smile. "Comment ça va?" (Luc, my friend, good evening! How's it going?) After exchanging cheek kisses with Luc, he goes on to shake Blake's hand. "Bonsoir!" he repeats, then bids them to sit. "Je me suis permis de commander peu de vin," he continues. "Condrieu cru 2012. Il va très bien avec le turbot." (I've taken the libery of ordering some wine. A 2012 Condrieu. It goes very well with the turbot.)


Tim's doing a thing, where that thing is puffing on "a cigar" while taking "a stroll" along Oudezijds Kolk, a scenic little canal street just to the rear of the church of Saint Nicholas. These were the instructions he was given to arrange a meeting with "the Dane", and all those quotation marks aren't really helping his confidence. Eventually, after a couple of strolls up and down the street, he clocks a 40-ish man with graying hair exiting Molly Malone's Irish Pub and entering an intercept course with Tim. Half a minute later, the two halt roughly in front of the lively pub.

"Ik zag je sigaar," the man says in halting Dutch, clearly learned phonetically. "Welk merk is het?" (I saw your cigar. What brand is it?"
"Franz Jäger," Tim answers, according to protocol.

The man nods, then looks around.

"Follow me, please," the man says, in still hesitant but somewhat more fluent English.

It's a short walk down the street and across a small bridge, then a few more turns until they come to the closed storefront of a clockmaker's business. As the man unlocks the front door, he turns to Tim. "Please do not excite him overly," he says. "It is late and he needs his sleep."

Suitably warned, Tim follows the man inside and through the shop itself to a narrow set of stairs upwards, where - behind another locked door - he soon finds himself in a different kind of store altogether. The walls are covered in wooden shelves, which contain hundreds of meticulously sorted and labelled drawers, while every corner contains piles of larger hardware - including, hanging from a very solid-looking steel frame, the heavy helmet of a standard diving dress. And don't even get started on the racks of uniforms, shoes and other clothing items - everything a fashionable thief might need to leave the right impression. The centerpiece of the room, however, is the workbench, apparently decadently hewn in one piece from a very large tree. Bowed over it is a man in his - 70s? 80s? - in a pinstripe suit, inspecting what Tim recognizes as the dismantled locking mechanism of a commercial safe with the help of a bench-mounted magnifying glass and light.

"Onkel Egon," the 40-ish man says. "Din Kunde er hir." (Uncle Egon, your customer is here.)
"Ja, ja, Børge," the old man says. "Kom ind. Har et sæde." (Yes, yes, Børge. Come in. Have a seat.)
"Onkel Egon," Børge nags. "Nok med låsen for i dag." (Uncle Egon, enough with the lock for today.)
"Ja, ja," Egon says. With his hands quivering just a bit, he switches off the workbench light and straightens up. "You - the American?" he asks, in what seems like a fairly broad but surprisingly fluent Bostonian accent overlapping with his native Danish. "You want to make a big heist?" he says, his smile growing. "You have come to the right man! What help can I offer you?"


With the others out on business, Mason tidies up at the houseboat and then pops open the case for the secure sat phone. Looking around to make sure no one sees him, he slides it into a bag and takes a walk down the pier to a small cafe around the block. There, he reaches into his wallet and pulls out a unmarked white card and slides it into the cryptography key slot on the phone, then dials a number from memory. As the phone rings, he waves for a waiter. "Een espresso, alsjeblieft." (One espresso, please.)

The phone rings a couple of times before a bleary-voiced woman answers. "Masie?" she says.
"Hey, 'Lira," Mason says. "I know it's late, but...I've been thinking of you. Wanted to touch base. See how things are going."
"Late?" Alira says. "It's five in the bloody morning here. I was just dreaming of you...maybe I can be convinced I still am." The smirk's audible through the line.
Mason groans. "Time zone change. Still getting used to it. How's Della?"
"Well, she's eating, that's a start," Alira says. "Cow chunder's not my favorite decoration. How about you, Masie? You're sounding serious as, is everything okay?"
"Things are different," Mason says. His terse phrasing and flat tone communicate a lot more than his words do.
"That's how things usually are," Alira says. "Just try to not collect any more holes, I'm sure you'll nut out the rest." She pauses for a moment. "And it's good to hear your voice, Masie. Even if you're a dag."
Mason smiles. "Good to hear your voice, too. Miss you, 'Lira."
"Wouldn't mind seeing you either, Masie," Alira says. "If I can't know where you are, I oughta know where you're going. I think that's in the laws of physics."
"Places, 'Lira," Mason says. "Up in the world. A big step up. And your way, as soon as this mission is done. Don't have to worry about leave anymore."
"And that's deadset?" Alira asks. "Where's the catch?"
"The job, like always," Mason replies. "If it was safe and easy, anyone would do it."
"Well, they got a right man for it," Lira says. "Hurry up and get it done, will you?"
Mason smiles again. "For sure. And 'Lira? Watch the news."
"Like there's anything else to do here without you, Masie," Alira says. "Now get off the phone and do your bloody new job. You still owe me a pash from your no-show in Bangkok."
Mason laughs. "Yes, SAiC," he says. "Love you, 'Lira."
"Love you, Masie," Alira says. "Bye."
"Bye." Mason hangs up, slides the card, back into his wallet, and waits for his espresso.

"Alstublieft," the waiter says as he puts down the espresso in front of Mason. (Here you go, Sir.)
Mason slips him a five-Euro note. "Houdt het wisselgeld maar," he adds. (Keep the change.)

One call concluded, Mason switches to one of the hastily-acquired burners. His research notes include the phone number for Imago, the escort agency that Varajev favors, and with his natural charm, he quickly manages to arrange a callback from Varajev's mistress "Geertje Rompa" for an engagement tonight with one "Martijn Krabbé" as he walks back to the houseboat. Back there, Mason waits for the call from "Ms. Rompa" on the roof of the houseboat, glass of Dutch gin in hand.

After ten minutes or so, the burner phone vibrates on the table next to him, and he picks it up.

"Mr. Krabbé?" the woman on the other end asks. "Dit is Ms. Rompa van Imago, het inleveren van uw oproep. Je verzocht om een bezoek voor vanavond?" (This is Ms. Rompa from Imago, returning your call. You requested a visit for tonight?)
"Ja," Mason replies. "Iik vroeg me af wat uw tarief is voor twee uur." (Yes, I was wondering what your rate is for two hours.)
"Vijfhonderd Euro, Mr. Krabbé," the woman replied. (Five hundred Euro, Mr. Krabbé.)

Mason whistles.

"Imago biedt alleen de hoogste kwaliteit van entertainment, Mr. Krabbé," the woman said. (Imago provides only the highest quality of entertainment, Mr. Krabbé.)
"Hoe snel kun je zijn op Prinsengracht 513?" Mason asks. (How soon can you be at Prinsengracht 513?)
"Een half uur, Mr. Krabbé," the woman replies. (Half an hour, Mr. Krabbé.)
"De rode woonboot aan het einde van het dok," Mason replies. "Accepteert u bankoverschrijvingen?" (The red houseboat at the end of the dock. Do you accept bank transfers?)
"Natuurlijk," the woman says. (Naturally.)

The details of secure transfer of funds are sorted out, and Mason finishes his gin. "Ik zal wachten in het vooruitzicht," Mason says. (I shall wait in anticipation.)
"Tot ziens, meneer Krabbé." (See you soon, Mr. Krabbé.) The woman hangs up the phone.

With the arrangements complete, Mason settles down with a glass of water and gives the houseboat another once-over, just to be sure everything's tidy. Twenty-eight minutes later, an exceedingly clean car pulls up to the quiet parking spaces next to the dock. Late model BMW sedan, dark blue paintjob, gently used. The woman in the driver's seat takes a critical moment to check her hair and makeup, then makes her exit - or entrance, depending on your perspective. As she walks up to the houseboat, her every step is well-practiced, her facial expression as much a part of her persona as everything else about her. Her knock on the door is firm, but not insistent. "Meneer Krabbé?" she calls.

Mason opens the door and stands to one side. "Kom binnen." (Come in.)
She puts on a well-practiced smile. "Gaarne," she replies. As she enters, she slides her jacket off her shoulders - a jacket she pretty much just wore to take off and hand over to Mason to hang. "Wat is de gelegenheit vanavond, meneer Krabbé?" (Gladly. What is the occasion tonight, Mr. Krabbé?)
Mason, playing the proper gentleman, indeed hangs her jacket on a hook by the door, and closes it behind her. "Bedrijf," he says. "En dan, misschien, plezier." (Business. And then, perhaps, pleasure.)
"Interessant," she says. "Zullen we beginnen met de jenever?" (Interesting. Shall we start with the gin?)
"Natuurlijk." Mason pulls the bottle out of ice, and pours two glasses. "Ten eerste, wat eerlijkheid. Ik ken uw naam en situatie, mevrouw Akkermans, en ik wil een kans om af te betalen een deel van uw schulden aan te bieden." (First, some honesty. I know your name and situation, Ms. Akkermans, and I want to offer an opportunity to pay off some of your debts.)
"Goed," Ms. Akkermans replies, taking the glass. "What do we speak now? English?"
"If you want," Mason replies.
"What I want is to hear your offer," Ms. Akkermans says. Given the situation, it seems rude but understandable for her to take a sip without clinking glasses first.
"I would like you to use your access to Leeuwentoren to go into a certain apartment, flush an item in a particular toilet, and then leave," Mason says. "Take a vacation for a few weeks - paid for, of course."
"I thought it was something like this," she says. The second sip is noticeably bigger. "You want to arrest Edil?"
"No," Mason replies.
"Kill him?" she asks.
"Not remotely," Mason replies.
"Then explain to me how I will be safe after this," she finally says. "I have no illusions about Edil. He is a good customer, but I know he is a bad criminal. If he finds out I helped you - if he finds out I talked to you - I will not be safe. You say take vacation, I think, what would make me look more guilty than disappearing right after you use me to get to him?"
"I didn't say he'd still be around, either," Mason says. "I'm not really in the 'arresting people' business."
"That is not enough for me," she says.

(Mason spends a point of Flattery to butter her up and gain her cooperation.)

"Like he would ever suspect you," Mason says with a smirk. "Edil has always had a blind spot with women he likes - and he likes you a lot, Ms. Akkermans. We can provide enough of a cover for you that, believe me, someone like you? Who sees all the angles and knows how to play them? You'll be back here in no time, on your way to that corner office that much sooner."
Ms. Akkermans takes another sip. "Good gin," she comments, as her business smile reasserts itself. "How is this - 10,000 Euros up front," she says. "And after the job...I think a five-star resort on Tenerife would be a good place to get away for...let's say three weeks. I'll need to update my wardrobe for that, of course."
Mason's smirk widens - it's not like it's his money he's playing with, and it is mission essential, after all. "Sure thing."
"We will discuss details when I have the money," she says. "For now, I would be happy to have a...disposable phone. You can text me the time and location for the next meeting. I will make the time. Is that good for you, Mr...what should I call you, anyway? You do not have the stature of a TV host, after all."
"Mr. Timmerman," Mason says. "And this phone will do just fine." He slides the burner he used to call her across the table. "Now, you can go - or you can stay here for a while longer. I always like to end successful business deals with a bit of a...celebration." He turns his smile on Ms. Akkermans as he finishes his glass.
"Is that so?" she says, taking in Mason from head to toe - and liking what she's seeing. "Well, it seems we have nothing else to do for another 105 minutes, Mr. Timmerman." She's not wearing a watch, but Mason's pretty sure that's accurate. "Perhaps you could freshen up my drink first, and then we can talk about how you like to celebrate."
Mason fills her glass up half-way, slides up next to her, and ever-so-slowly drops two more ice cubes in it. "Let's just say...I've got a few ideas."
MikeS 2016-10-28 13:33:32
Luc clasps Pierre's arms firmly in greeting. "Pierre! ça fait trop longtemps! Ah, oui, ça va. Qu'est-ce qui se passe?" (Pierre! It's been too long. It's going alright. What's happening?)

He has a seat. "Un bon choix," he comments, regarding the wine.

"Allons-nous parler Anglais? Mon collègue est américain." (Shall we speak English? My colleague is American.)
skullandscythe 2016-10-28 14:50:42
Blake smiles and shakes as Pierre approaches. "Bonsoir, Monsieur. Appelez-moi Blake, s'il vous plait." (Hello, sir. Call me Blake, please.)
He doesn't seem to trip up anywhere, but even to his ears, the accent is definitely American. Pretty thick, too. As for the name...well, might as well. If he wants to know it, he could just ask Luc.

He takes his seat.

"Pas besoin de retenir sur mon compte, messieurs," Blake responds with a grin. "Le vin ne me ralentir un peu." (No need to hold back on my account. The wine will only slow me down a little.)
Gatac 2016-10-31 03:05:16
"Trés bien," Pierre says.

As you settle down for the meal, Pierre wears a confident smile. "Alors, comment puis-je vous aider dans votre quête, mes amis? Vous avez dit que vous étiez après ce caractère odieux Varajev, et je suis certainement pas d'objection à lui donner un nez en sang, mais il a quelques amis dans cette ville." (So, how can I help you in your quest, my friends? You mentioned that you were after that loathsome Varajev character, and I certainly do not object to giving him a bloody nose, but he does have some friends in this city.)

You don't like how Pierre says "friends" one bit. How big of a deal are the Cribs, really?

"Vous feriez peut-être comme moi ... lisser les vagues que vous allez faire? Ou est-ce plus d'informations dont vous avez besoin? Tout est à vendre, mes amis, pour le bon prix." (You would maybe like me to...smooth the waves you are about to make? Or is it more information you need? Everything is for sale, my friends, for the right price.)
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-11-01 11:48:11
Tim smiles back, especially since the Dane is the first man he's ever actually met named Egon. Ghostbusters doesn't count.

"I need some help with some locks," Tim says. "Exterior and interior mechanical, plus swipe cards. I'd also be interested in anything for defeating or bypassing... call it B-level electronic security and surveillance to be safe. And hell, since I'm here and it looks like you've got it, let's make me a plumber."
Gatac 2016-11-01 12:28:46
"Olreut!" Egon says with a grin, and it takes Tim a moment to realize he was saying "Alright!"

As the vagaries of accents are pondered, Egon sweeps the workbench clear and then stalks off towards the shelves, pulling boxes with wild abandon and the boundless energy of a man no older than sixty. Borge sweeps in to help his "uncle", and then Tim kinda has to help, too, but finally, the whole mess is spread before them.

"Let us see," Egon says. "You will need picks, of course, if you cannot copy the keys. What locks do you need to open?"
"Schlage door locks, Zero Halliburton case," Tim says. "Nothing too fancy."
"I recommend the polymer tips for a Schlage - the action is light enough and that way you don't leave tool marks," Egon says. "The briefcase, is it a Zero Executive with the optional interior shield?"
"No, it's the 2013 slimline model, four tumblers," Tim says.
"Pah!" Egon says. "Your mark is too easy. I have a three-millimeter carbide bit I can loan you for that. What kind of swipe card, then?"
"Plain magnetic stripe," Tim says. "I think it's a Haltenbecker reader, 2003, but I've only seen photos so far."
"I thought Haltenbecker switched to chips in 2002?" Borge asks, drawing stares from both of them.
"For their flagships!" Egon says. "They kept the base model until '05. And you want to take over the shop? Not in a hundred years if you don't take your work seriously!"
"...sorry," Borge says.
"Where were we," Egon says. "Ah!" He produces a yellowed plastic box with a thick cable hanging off the back. "Stripe reader!" he says. "It does not have this 'USB' but it does have the right program for the older patterns. I think you want..."
"Haltenbecker 6-Bravo," Tim says. "If it is a 2003."
"Yes, yes," Egon says. "It can do that. Do you have blanks?"
"No," Tim says. "But I bet you do."
"Borge!" Egon says. "Make yourself useful! Top shelf #13, the shoebox!"
"Yes, uncle Egon," Borge says, then traipses off to find a ladder.
"And for electronic surveillance, I recommend this!" Egon says, holding up a black plastic device about the size and shape of a walkman. "White noise maker with infrared flashlight! Drowns out bugs and blinds cameras. Maybe not so James Bond now, but still useful for the cheap stuff!" With Tim's help, he hefts a solid metal toolbox onto the bench, then cracks it open. "This is my old mechanic kit!" Egon says. "Many, many useful things in here." He nods to the racks behind him. "You take this and find a suit and boots in your size, you will play a good plumber!"