#fridayflash: protocols

I'm trying to make these episodes stand alone, but if you want to read them as a series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Geoffrey carried the water glass to the living room, set it on the waiting coaster, and eased himself into his favourite armchair, biting back a groan. He was glad his days of foot chases and overnight surveillance were behind him — the cold and damp tended to make his joints ache.

He put his feet up on the ottoman and checked the clock on the mantlepiece. Ellie should be at the safe house by now. He allowed himself a thin smile. Knowing her, she'd have already sussed out the USB key by now — not out of paranoia, mind, just so she could check the data team did their job right — and she'd be working on an intelligence analysis that she'd keep to herself until it was time for the debrief. Then she'd make Munroe look like an idiot.

Geoffrey's smile turned into a frown. It was past time for him to put in a good word for her again. Unlike a lot of agents, Ellie wanted to be kicked upstairs.

The phone rang, and Geoffrey startled despite his best efforts. He grumbled to himself and let it go to voicemail. When the answer light turned on, he listened, and heard a customer satisfaction survey from Sunshine Cleaners.

Aches and pains forgotten, he rapidly punched a number into the phone.

"Sunshine Cleaners," said a man's voice.

"Hi there," said Geoffrey. "I just wanted to confirm my shirts would be ready to pick up tomorrow morning."

"Sure," said the voice. "Could I get your ticket number?"

"643214."

"Oh hi Geoff."

"Hi Doug. Has the drop-off been completed?"

"I tried, but..."

"Tried what? Is Ellie okay?"

"I dunno. She got on a subway."

Geoffrey pulled the handset from the side of his head and glared at it for a full second before pressing it against his ear again. "Doug, there aren't any subway stations near the drop-off. Want to walk me through this?"

"Vera from research, we had coffee together, right? And she mentioned the hotel — the location for the pick-up. And I just thought instead of waiting all night, I could just meet Ellie there, right?"

"At the pick-up."

"Right."

Geoffrey pinched the bridge of his nose. "I remember the brief saying the target has his own private surveillance force. Wasn't that in your copy too?"

"Well, yeah, but —"

"Okay, so you were there. Then what happened?"

"I saw Ellie leave. Well, not really."

Geoffrey sat up. "What the hell does that mean?"

"She was about half a block away before I realised it must be her. So I tried to catch up."

"Do the drop-off in the middle of the street, you mean."

"Well not like that, but..."

"And Ellie's met you before. She knows what you look like."

"I was going to show her my office pass."

Geoffrey held the phone away from his mouth and took a deep breath. "So she got on the subway, and then what?"

"I couldn't catch up enough to get on the same train as her. So I went to the safe house. She still hasn't shown up yet," Doug said, indignation creeping in. "And it's like a freaking war room in the comm post, because the target went back to his hotel room and started phoning and e-mailing every contact he's got. Turns out we were wrong all along."

"What thing exactly are we wrong about?" Geoffrey clenched his teeth.

"The USB key. He doesn't give a shit about that. Every electronic trace we have on him, he's telling his entire network something else is missing. Something he cares about."

Geoffrey grinned and held back a laugh. "Ellie figured it out."

"Figured what out?"

"Never mind. See you at the office tomorrow." Geoffrey hung up. He was going to have to order an investigation into how the likes of Doug ever passed the entrance exams, but at least he now knew that USB key had just been a decoy. Munroe had insisted it wasn't. But Ellie had found something else worth taking — something she hadn't had a decoy for.

His grin fell into a frown. He opened the lid on the ottoman and rapidly punched in the combination to open the fireproof box it contained. From the box he pulled out a laptop.

He had to find Ellie before someone from the target's side did.

To be continued...