shallowness: Five panels featuring pictures of different female characters based on my interests at the time. (Default)
[personal profile] shallowness
Title: Harsh lights
Author: shallowness
Fandom: Alias
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Sydney Bristow/Julian Sark
Word count: 5,387
First posted: January 2007
Summary: A spy's life is full of signals, codes, tells, until you see messages everywhere. Sydney, Sark, a night in Prague.

Author's Notes: This is set early in season 4, but is AU. Written for savage_midnight who wanted Sarkney. My brain, for once, decided to stretch the concept of a ficlet. With apologies for the delay. Massive thanks to lusmeitli for the beta; all idiocies are mine. EDITED 13/9/14.

Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, I make no profit from writing this fanfiction.



Harsh Lights: shallowness


She flew into Ruzynĕ alone, taking out the passport that said she was Emma Jefferson from the front of her bag when she was asked and smiling shyly like she was flying into Prague for the first time. She answered the token questions, but Sydney’s mind was on the mission ahead of her.

Sloane had called her, her father and Marshall into the briefing room. That morning, it had been easy enough for Sydney to tell herself that she was the right person to do this. As the passport was returned to her without even a flicker of suspicion, she wondered how many more times she would fly into another country on a passport that wasn’t her own, carrying out a mission she’d been rushed into by a man she only almost trusted.

“Last night, we intercepted one side of a telephone conversation between Marcel Laroux and a buyer of a suspected Rambaldi artifact that is to be handed over in Petrin park in Prague tomorrow morning,” was how Sloane opened the briefing. “Thanks to Marshall, we were able to triangulate Laroux’s location and since then, he has been under surveillance by the Czech counter intelligence service. This will be a joint mission with BIS. They want Laroux. Your goal will be the artifact.” Sydney nodded, scanning her folder. Laroux’s picture had been taken from surveillance footage and enhanced. He was in his late forties, with graying hair that had been left to grow too long, giving him a vague look.

“We know where and we know when the transaction will take place, but not who will be buying,” her father, seated next to her, said.

Sloane brought up a visual of the artifact on the screens and Marshall handed her her own copy. It was a sketch of what Sydney guessed to be a lantern. The style of the sketch was Rambaldi’s, but there were no notes surrounding it to explain its part in the grand scheme of things.

“We believe that what Laroux is selling is the Justinian lantern,” Sloane said.

Sydney shook her head a little. The name might carry significance for Sloane, but not her.

“Rambaldi left many references to sources of light that he had created, each with a specific function. This may well be a significant artifact—“

“We’re talking worth a cool five million,” Marshall said. “A cool five million euros, that is. Which, with the current exchange rate—”

“You will intercept it before it gets to the mystery buyer,” her father interrupted Marshall. Sydney couldn’t quite muster up her usual smile at the by-play.

“You should know that, three years ago, Laroux was responsible for the death of an undercover Czech operative. He thought that she was part of the organization he had been working with and dropped off the radar. He would have been wise to continue to stay there,” her father continued.

“But five million euros convinced him otherwise,” Sydney murmured.

“Apparently,” her father answered.

"So, it’s personal for the Czechs?" Sydney asked, looking at him. He nodded silently, perhaps offering an apology that the mission would be more complicated than walking into a grocery store and buying some milk.

"They would prefer to have already picked Laroux up and taken him to one of the many former Soviet detention centers at their disposal. They see waiting for you as a hindrance to their mission," Sloane replied.

"The irony being that without us, they might not even have known Laroux was in the country. We picked him up, not them. Well, I did,” Marshall was unconsciously smoothing his tie with pride as he spoke.

"It’s probably better not to remind them of that," Sloane said. "I trust in your discretion, Sydney." As ever, his use of the word ‘trust’ revolted her. Sloane himself had taught her that trust was a gamble. She might have to trust her life to strangers with their own agenda. It was something she was too used to doing.

Trying to cover her feelings, she turned back to her brief, and said, "But we need to hold on the extraction until right before the meeting to be sure that Laroux has the Justinian lantern on him."

"Yes, your team members may not like it, but they have specific orders,” Sloane agreed. “Their superiors are being very co-operative. The officers assigned to follow Laroux and capture him have no idea that this has anything to do with Rambaldi or of the potential importance of the artifact involved. Let them grumble about indulging special interests. It’s better that they don't know the whole story."

"I understand," Sydney responded, closing her file, its contents memorized. She looked to see if she was dismissed, but Sloane seemed to be thinking, his fingers coming together to form a steeple.

"Your objectives are different to the rest of the team’s. They will want Laroux. Your responsibility is acquiring the lantern."

He looked directly at her as he spoke.

"What about the buyer?" she asked. “Do you have any suspicions as to their identity?”

“It could be one of many people. This is a very valuable piece - the price being put up is fair. But you must concentrate on the lantern. Consider the buyer a bonus," Sloane said, lowering his hands. The message was delivered: he wanted the Justinian lantern and the buyer was irrelevant. Sydney had looked for mania in his eyes, but it wasn’t there, and that made him trustworthy for now.

*

It was late afternoon when Sydney got to her taxi. It looked as though she picked it at random, but the driver had left an old copy of the Prague Post on the dashboard.

“Do you speak English?” Sydney asked loudly, because Emma Jefferson wouldn’t know any Czech.

"Yes, yes! Where to?" The driver asked with a trace of a Czech accent, starting the car.

"Hotel Liska Obecna," she spoke distinctly. “Is that right?”

“Yes, I know it.” The driver pulled the car out, following a train of other taxis. Sydney wasn’t going to a safehouse on this one. International co-operation didn’t go so far as letting the Czechs know where their safehouse was. Instead, Sydney was headed for a hotel, creating a respectable trail for Emma Jefferson.

"This is your first time in Prague?"

"Yeah, everyone says I should visit the Old Quarter." Sydney put her hand to her throat, smiling. He smiled back, although his eyes never left the road - something of a tell that he wasn’t an actual taxi driver. "The hotel is pretty near to the Old Quarter, isn’t it?"

"It is not entirely a lie to say so." They both smiled, having established their bona fides.

"You will be pleased to know that everything is proceeding to plan. Our mutual acquaintance had breakfast at a café within walking distance to where the meeting takes place tomorrow. We believe he will do so again tomorrow. That is where we will pick up both him and the item. I will come to meet you at oh seven hundred hours at the lobby. By then we will have a detailed plan ready."

"Okay.” Sydney made her body relax. He would be watching for that. The view of Prague was extraordinary, as the pink of the setting sun caught reddish roofs, making magic of the architecture.

*

The hotel was pretty good, geared more towards tourists than business travelers. Sydney signed 'her' name to get the card for Emma Jefferson's room. She turned down the offer of a porter - her case was lightweight, balanced by a laptop on the other shoulder. Both had gone through airport security as easily as she had, all their secrets kept hidden.

Taking the elevator, Sydney had visions of room service, maybe trying out the gym, and maybe doing some further research into Laroux and his lantern. And that was all that was on her mind as she opened the door with her pass.

She took in that it was an anonymous, standard hotel room - only the view outside and the brochures on one of the tables would tell you that it was in Prague rather than any other European city. That was to be expected - Sydney was trained to notice the details that weren’t. She reached for the light, her eyes drawn to the bed.

Hotels didn't leave notes on their guests' pillows. All of Sydney's instincts kicked in hard.

Her face blank, she brought her case and laptop inside the room, set them down them and closed the door. Going to the window, she shut the blinds, and then, quietly, as if it were a ceremony with each step determined by something beyond the dimensions of the room and its contents, she walked around the bed and sat down. Her hand reached for the paper, with the calm she'd use when dealing with a gun.

It was a flyer for a nearby nightclub. All the DJs either had cartoon characters’ names or Czech puns. If it had been handed to her on a street, it would have meant nothing. Placement was everything.

She looked at it until she could only see the creases where it had been folded - it was the shape of a cross - but that wasn't the message.

*

Emma Jefferson's wardrobe was supposed to be that of an American businesswoman's: a couple of variants on the sensible trouser-suit that she had worn flying in. But Sydney Bristow walked towards the nightclub in five-inch heels, barely-there stockings, her ass covered by a snug little mini skirt. On top, she wore a black silk camisole and a fake fur waistcoat, her hair and make up taking years off her face.

She had a cell phone that would hook her up to Marshall if she needed back-up and which would work as a tracker, a few thousand euros and, if she got into a tight spot, her chain belt. Given the time and resources she’d had, it was good work. She wondered if the person who'd set up the meet would appreciate it.

Looking around, it was good to see that she’d judged her clothes well enough to pass. Nearly everyone else who was waiting to get in, shifting restlessly, had a touch of Goth, some European chic, and a sheen of attitude to sell the idea that they were one of the bright young things. Mixing her Czech with some English, she soon talked her way into a group of college kids in front of her in the line. They were semi-regulars, who had no idea that the club was a front for a gang that Europol was getting interested in. They were out for a good time, had brought their own drugs and were willing enough to share with ‘Mira’. Perfect cover.

She told them she was meeting her boyfriend and his sister inside later, mirroring their movements and using every trick she could think of to get them to act like Mira had always been waiting in line with them.

All her work paid off. The bouncers didn’t look at her face.

*

Once inside, her tactic, such as it was, was to get noticed by whoever had invited her. So she bought her new friends drinks and went dancing with the girls. It was an opportunity to shake out her frustration and worry. Despite the strobe lights, she got a good fix on all the exits, and the make-up of the crowd. It was mostly local; the tourists hadn't invaded this place yet. There were a couple of stone-faced guys who had to be parts of the money-laundering operation, probably armed. One of them, at least, was watching her, but that was the idea.

Getting impatient, adrenaline beginning to kick in, Sydney changed her style slightly, taking on moves she'd last seen in Tokyo.

Her reward came two drinks and several tracks later. His hand caught her wrist deftly. It should; he was as well trained in hand-to-hand combat as her, but his next move was to twist her into his body, surrounding her with lean muscle that wasn't safe at all.

"You came," he murmured.

With a cover story to protect, she corkscrewed her body, turning her head to reply to him in the thick accent that Mira would have.

"But of course." And maybe to throw him off balance, maybe because, in that moment, she was Mira greeting her boyfriend, or for another, simpler reason, she kissed him hard. His response was immediate, making backing out impossible, his hand tightening around her wrist as his lips met hers. She couldn’t be surprised that he kissed her demandingly, that it was a form of attrition; she responded and he punished her for it. It wasn’t soft lights and romance, it was deafening need reverberating through her. Everything was charged by more than adrenaline and strobes.

They pulled away instantaneously, Sydney turning to face him, both of them putting on masks of control, but she could see that his pupils were dilated and his chest rose and fell fast. She had no doubt that she was giving herself away equally.

He grimaced, smiled as if they hadn’t broken the rules she’d set and by which they’d abided for so many years.

“As always, it’s good to see you.” He did not raise his voice, trusting her ability to read his lips.

She gave him the wide smile that a party girl like Mira would give to her boyfriend. She had considered the possibility that Sark was behind the meet – he would use any method he deemed necessary to facilitate his plans. Her strategy now was to find out why.

She had confirmed that he was unarmed. Like her, he was trusting in his hand-to-hand skills and honed reflexes. Neither of them, Sydney thought, would make the mistake of thinking that the other was vulnerable.

“Not in a dancing mood, I see!” she yelled.

“No.” He rolled his eyes upwards, the message clear. His hand was still on her wrist – a normal guy would have taken her hand, she noted – and he led her from the dancefloor. They passed Mira’s new friends, who made impressed, laughing faces. They approved, whether of Sark or the caveman tactics, Sydney didn’t know. She didn’t expect to see them again, nor for them to notice.

Whether the guards or surveillance were noticing them was another question. For all Sydney knew, Sark could be leading her to the offices of his new colleagues to subdue or torture her. She amended that idea quickly, as he took her to one of the emergency exits, but instead of pushing through to the outside, he turned right and started climbing stairs, still holding her wrist. She didn’t like it, mainly for the effect it was having on her - or was that reverberations from the kiss? Angry with herself, with him, and maybe starting to trust him for now, she concentrated on taking the stairs in her ridiculous heels.

There were plenty of stairs, flight after flight, weakly lit, but eventually they came to an end and Sydney followed Sark out to the roof. Any sarcastic rejoinder she’d been about to make to prove she wasn’t fighting for breath was lost.

Presumably, he’d wanted a place where he could be sure of privacy. It was also possible he’d wanted to impress a girl with a great view of the central Prague skyline at night.

He let her wrist go, let her turn around and make a full sweep of the impressive cityscape, a patchwork of roofs, chaotically lit by streetlights, windows and roof-lights from all over. Sydney’s eyes feasted on it.

He came close to her, behind her shoulder, and she turned to face him, refusing to let him dictate the situation or to do anything she couldn’t see. They looked mismatched, she thought, her wearing little but layers of attitude, him, casual-formal – dapper was the precise word. His pants weren’t folded crisply, but they looked expensive. His pale blue shirt wasn’t tucked in, but he was wearing a jacket over it. It all suggested that he might have had to bribe the staff outside to let him in, because he looked like he had money and he had been running late.

None of this was on his face. He was in control of that. No suggestion of injuries or tension. Sark had had too long to settle into his implacable mask.

“What are you doing here?” Sydney demanded, the accent all hers, Mira only left in her outfit.

“The same thing as you, Sydney.”

“What? Someone left you a mysterious message to come to this spot tonight? Somehow, I don’t think so.” She took a challenging stance to back up her cynicism.

“We can play games if you wish—“ He wasn’t pressed for time, she deduced. He’d left his whole night clear for this. It was important to him. She refused to feel flattered by that. She was a means to an end.

“Let’s take it that you’re behind this. Why?” she asked coldly.

He nodded slightly.

“You’re not going to like it. Rambaldi. The same thing that brought you here.” His smile was fleeting, an incongruous offering to go with his words. It was as if he was expecting her to get angry, but she would have had to be very naïve not to expect that the Rambaldi lantern was the reason for the meeting. It was unlikely that he was fishing – that he had heard of her arrival and was trying to discover why. Sark wouldn’t make himself known without good reason. Mere curiosity wouldn’t be enough to make him stop being a hermit crab when it came to her and APO.

“It always comes back to Rambaldi,” he said.

“No, it doesn’t,” she replied.

“It does for Sloane, you must concede that.”

“Sloane? Rambaldi? That’s why you went to all this trouble? I need a better answer from you, Sark.” She stepped forward, so that he would almost be able to feel her breath. “Or are you just wasting my time?”

“Time spent with you is never wasted,” he muttered. Her expression darkened and he sobered.

“You think that you can check him.” He paused. “May I ask if he has divulged the possibility that the lantern that Laroux is peddling is an eighteenth-century copy? Ah, you give yourself away.” Her damned eyes and breathing. “He never briefed you on that. If you had no idea that that was a possibility—”

“You’re not a particularly reliable source of information, Sark.”

“A few minutes online will confirm that Laroux brought the lantern from the last remaining member of a Belgian family who lived in the small town of St Justine-sur-le-fleuve, where there was a devastating fire in 1796. In the spring of 1797, Jean-Louis Lavelle hired a renowned goldsmith in Bruges, commissioning a one-off article in the greatest of secrecy. All of this can be ascertained.”

Sydney shrugged, “Copy or not, why do you care?”

“I want the Justinian lantern, Sydney.”

“Why?”

“Mercenary reasons.”

“Of course.”

He nodded at her response, almost relaxed, as if she paid him a compliment by acknowledging what he was, so she threw a little grenade his way, “And the rest of it?”

“Sloane shouldn’t get his hands on this.”

“He won’t.”

“Ah yes, your checks and balances. Has it occurred to you that by amassing the single largest collection of Rambaldi artifacts in the world for your government, Sloane has earned his right to have first look, first touch, should he press for it?”

“And?” Sydney’s brain raced, Sloane had found Nadia – the Passenger – and he’d promised to change for her. Of course, there was plenty of proof that Rambaldi’s works were many and varied and Sloane knew about most of them. He’d been vague about the lantern. She had put it down to the need for expediency, but it could have been another manipulation. After all, she was here in Prague with a whole night free. A holiday for her. They could have had more prep time.

“He’s kept you from the documentation. He’s withheld vital information from you,” Sark said in a measured voice. “You don’t know what the lantern does.”

Marshall had told her that Sloane had said that it would direct a beam to open a hidden compartment in another Rambaldi artifact, sourced from Caral, Peru. It might be the truth, it might not be the whole truth.

“This is your argument for me letting you have the lantern.” Sydney gave a short, mirthless chuckle and paced away, further from the door. “A system that’s been proved to contain Sloane, involving me, my father, Dixon versus you, and your willingness to sell out to the highest bidder. An artifact that may or may not be the real thing. And even if your version of events is correct - and you’re no historian - for all we know, Jean-Louis Lavelle may have been able to commission an exact replica.”

“It’s a leap,” he agreed, his voice muffled. She turned to watch him, angry with herself for letting him get out of her line of sight, he was straightening up, but instead of a weapon, he carried a bottle of wine and glasses.

“And you expected me, what, to agree to let you have things your way and then we’d drink to it?”

“I had hoped that things could be different,” Sark said, and she wanted to call him on his arrogance, but, in that moment, despite his ingrained habit of lying and covering, she was afraid that he was telling the truth. Whatever that was worth. “It’s a good vintage, you should have a glass.”

“And find myself out of commission for long enough for you to get the lantern?” Sydney shook her head. She wanted to ask about the buyer, but to do so would be to admit that they didn’t know who they were. Still, the chances that Sark was the buyer’s representative and even knew his or her identity had to be stratospheric.

“Very well. At least hold this.” He handed her a glass and let the other fall. She jumped back from the shards of glass, her legs vulnerable. The violence was a reminder of who she was dealing with. Not that she’d ever forgotten.

Her eyes were fixed on Sark, watching him take out a corkscrew from an ankle holster that had been designed for a regular old weapon. He opened the bottle with assurance and calm, even though her eyes should be burning holes in his linen-blend suit.

The ‘phut’ of the cork leaving the bottle seemed to change the atmosphere. He was smiling a little again, perhaps he’d felt her gaze. He’d misread her.

“My glass, please, Sydney.”

Very deliberately, Sydney raised her hand and threw the glass to the floor. He made no effort to catch it, as if he’d made the calculation and decided, cat-like, that it wasn’t worth his dignity.

“If the vintage is so good, you won’t mind drinking from the bottle,” Sydney said, the words coming from her lower register.

“Everything I have said can be confirmed. Find the documentation - find his secrets. You will not be so hasty to let Sloane near the Justinian lantern,” Sark responded.

Sydney walked away, her first steps crunching through glass above the background hum of the city’s nightlife. If the image of him, lifting the bottle to his lips and swallowing as she passed him, was burned on her memory forever, she did a good job of setting it aside.

*

“Documentation. What documentation? I swear, I never saw anything like that when I was working up the brief-“

“Cross reference everything we have, Marshall,” Sydney insisted. “There may be another reference to the Justinian lantern there.”

“Sure, but where are you getting this from, Syd?”

“This does not get back to Sloane,” she warned, leaning against a wall. She’d left the club and walked down a few streets before making the call back to APO.

“Um.”

“Don’t say this is a conference call, Marshall.”

“No, no, it isn’t, but—“

“I’ve just had a meeting with Sark.” She talked over Marshall’s response, which sounded like choking. “What he said could be nothing more than misdirection, a series of insinuations to distract us on a wild goose chase, but you have to admit, the mission parameters were sketchy.”

“But that’s because of a lack of time. We’ve…well, you’ve set out on less.”

“Has anything new come in?”

“No, there’s no chatter. And, well, your father’s heading another team. To Peru.”

“Oh.” Sydney swallowed the questions about the other mission. For the first time that night, she thought of Vaughn. The chances were good that he was on it.

“So you think Sark’s the buyer?”

“Presumably, or acting for the real buyer, his behavior would suggest that, but he may have personal motive.”

“Doesn’t mean he might not be telling the truth.”

“Exactly. I have to go for now, do what research I can on this side. Call me in an hour and we’ll see what we’ve got.”

”Will do.”

Sydney called a cab and gave the driver instructions in quick-fire Czech. She had a date with her laptop and an obscure chapter of Belgian history.

*

An hour later, Sydney was convinced that the evidence that Sark had given her was solid. Too many different sources confirmed his story. But what it added up to was still a mystery. They might be hunting after a copy. They might not. Rambaldi’s work had survived more than fires, even ones that killed six adults and seven children.

Her phone didn’t get to ring twice.

“What have you got, Marshall?” Her voice was harsh, harried.

“There’s no sign of this documentation that you wanted. I’m sorry. I have found a reference to a bringer of light, but it could refer to several other artifacts.”

“What does it say?”

“Well, it’s a little cryptic, but it says that the lantern itself contains co-ordinates.”

“Co-ordinates?” Sydney shifted in her seat. “For what?”

“It probably makes sense if you’re a Rambaldi nut. ‘The corner before the final path’ – sounds like gibberish to me.”

“Gibberish that’s worth a lot of money and effort.” Sydney sighed.

“I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I am. I’ve had a weird night.” Sydney gave a small smile that wouldn’t alleviate Marshall’s concerns as he couldn’t see it. “Thanks for asking.”

But she wasn’t okay. She could – should – have got more out of Sark than insinuations.

“Look, I could call—“

“Not Nadia.”

“Well, no, she’s in Peru too. But, Dixon, maybe? With his contacts, he might be able to find something more concrete.”

Sydney ran her hands through her hair, and exhaled a little.

“That would be great,” she said genuinely.

*

When the knock on the door came, Sydney reached for her gun. She was still in Mira’s clothes, though her feet and legs were bare, the fur waistcoat and her belt discarded on the back of a chair.

When she opened the door, she could tell she had the advantage. He was still unarmed. He hadn’t even brought the wine. She brought her gaze back to his face, catching him out doing the same thing.

“May I?” he asked. “You’ve had plenty of time to verify what I told you.”

She nodded to both the request and the assertion, wondering if she would need hypnotherapy to get to the bottom of why she was doing this, did she crave danger upon danger, and if so why? She closed the door behind them, and let him see the gun, which she still held in her hand, but lowered.

“You may be telling the truth, but you aren’t going to get the lantern.”

He threw her a glance that held too much meaning to be disassembled and understood.

“Neither will your buyer,” she continued.

“Will Sloane?”

“No.” The word came out unwillingly, she was telling him too much, but he nodded in satisfaction.

“Put the gun down,” he said and walked towards the bed, turning his back to her. He headed to touch the pillow where the flyer had laid. A sentimental gesture or a message? He straightened up again and the mask was gone.

“Put the gun down, Sydney,” he repeated. The message? They could be adversaries in the morning. Or in the daylight, to be exact.

She looked down, not at her hand or what it held, but at her wrist.

“I’m not the man to apologize. You know what I am,” he said.

“Do I?” she asked.

“I think you do.” But the question that would haunt her was whether she knew who she was anymore. Sydney put the gun to rest next to the laptop, passing the chair with her belt, both weapons she could use to subdue him, to injure him. In minutes, she could have back-up and some of tomorrow’s threat would be eliminated.

“Did you drink all the wine after I left?” She paused, several feet from him and the bed. The room seemed to have expanded.

He shook his head.

“Somehow, it had lost its taste.”

She took a moment to admit what she’d already decided to do. Her eyes rose, taking him in, his clothes still unflustered, but, at the collar of his shirt, his pulse beat fast.

“Let me be the judge of that,” she said.

She moved in to taste his lips, on tiptoes, pushing herself into him as his mouth opened for her. He hit the bedside cabinet, but she assumed the pain of contact only added to his pleasure, as he intensified their kiss.

Playing the coquette, she pulled back, before he had had anything like enough.

“You were right,” she purred. “Good vintage.”

“Sydney,” he gasped, and it was vulnerability enough. His eyes flashed and he turned her around, pushing her down onto the bed, following her to kiss her ferociously, his lips grazing everywhere, making her be the one gasping, taking her control.

They kept the light on, they kept their eyes open, neither of them willing to dive for the weapons that weren’t so far away.

He left her in silence. The mask was on before he left the bed. He collected his clothes and dressed in a way that brooked no intimacy. His coldness said enough. She waited some minutes after he closed the door, then went to shower. She expected to cry over her new bruises and knowledge, but she didn’t.

*

“I’d like to check out, please.” Sydney had covered up her lack of sleep with some make-up, and then pulled her sleeves as far as they would go, before leaving the room.

“Did you enjoy your stay?” The receptionist’s question was neutral, what she was meant to ask. Sydney had wondered if the hotel staff had noticed Emma Jefferson’s transformation into Mira. If any had, they knew their job well enough to be discreet. Like any city hotel, this was a place where people came to escape. Mostly, it was done with an innocence she couldn’t afford.

“Yes, thank you.”

“I will get your bill.” The woman was Dutch, Sydney recognized, with impeccable English. “Oh, this was left for you.”

Sydney reached for the extended package carefully. It was a brown envelope with her room number rather than a name printed on it.

“Do you know who left it?” she asked, although she suspected that the hotel security tapes would show Sark entering with the envelope, leaving it at the reception desk before heading towards the elevator. Several hours later, on the same tape, he would leave, empty handed. Maybe the mask would still be on his face.

Inside the envelope were photographs of a document and at its heart was a sketch of the lantern. This time, there were notes scrawled all around it. Sydney flicked through them, her mind processing the details at speed.

She could have shot him. His buyer still might, although she had a feeling that Julian Sark was far from Prague by now. Walking up to her hotel room had been a gamble.

“With room service the bill comes to—”

“Do you have a fax?”

“Of course.”

“I need to use it. Immediately.”



FIN



Feedback is always loved and concrit is welcomed.

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