After Nate and Sophie retired, the unusual clients decreased in favor of those that Hardison picked up through Facebook ads.
Nate had a way of being in the right elevator at the right time, speaking to the right person, and pulling them in with choice words that the rest of them couldn’t mimic. Of course, it was usually just those elevator pulls that turned into longterm investments, clients with the best return. Admittedly, the team only noticed how much Leverage Consulting depended on serendipity was when Nate stopped being there to do exactly that.
Hardison called it the Nate Factor and was working on a program to replicate it for him, but he wasn’t having much success.
Hardison had been just explaining to his rubber duck that Nate might have been made out of insurance magic, when Parker said, "It’s Nate." She looked at him with a significant head tilt. "Of course he does it with some kind of mind tricks."
Eliot, who was pretending to sleep on the couch but was clearly listening, seemed to agree.
"We need to find a better way to find clients," Hardison said.
"Sure," Parker agreed. There was a pause, then "How?"
"We might need to call Nate," Hardison said.
Eliot opened his eyes and looked at Parker. Parker looked at Hardison.
Finally, Eliot closed his eyes again, and said, "Nah." And that was that.
Hardison turned to streamlining the process of vetting their clients because their whole operating procedure did sound like a scam. Granted, he had taught a whole subset of people contacting him for frivolous things like finding their car-keys, cats, or lost siblings some much needed internet safety, so technically those might still count as their clients — but it left him less times for the ones with interesting personal details, and the ones with real crimes committed against them.
Sometimes, they managed to find clients even without Nate’s innate ability to find the most miserable or deserving victims in any twenty mile radius due to a combination of word-of-mouth recommendations and coincidence. That was how they found themselves on a detour in Brooklyn trying to bug a shady real-estate broker with a penchant for cars, houses and vacations exceeding his declared income for a great extend.
"It’s not this one either, Hardison, this looks like a… warning system for— water filters?" Parker said, frustrated. This hadn’t been the first cable box she checked. Or among the first tenth even.
Hardison wasn’t physically present. Instead, he sat in the van a block over, right in front of the building of their mark, a corporate shark selling car debts in a shady area. They needed access to the buildings main power-line, if only to trigger the electronic safe’s manual override. What would also be excellent, was access to his data — cloned online banking statements, his emails, anything they could get their hands on.Too bad that the blueprints Parker stole from the urban administration office were complete bullshit: the city council had yet to update all their infrastructure to online databases.
Now Parker was desperately trying every even vaguely applicable power box on the block and coming up with nothing.
"If you’re looking for the switchboard to the administration building of PLT Inc, might I point you towards that back alley?" a voice with some kind of British accent asked from behind.
Parker turned around slowly — a tall, dark-haired man dressed in a boring looking coat rolled back and forth on his feet. He looked unfamiliar. "Who’re you?"
"Ah, excuse me. My name is Sherlock Holmes. You, of course, are Parker."
Hardison exhaled sharply over the connection of her ear bud.
"Have we met?" Parker asked, setting down the pair of needle-nose pliers into the toolbox she had been carrying around.
"No, I don’t think so," Sherlock Holmes, if that was really what he was named, said. "But I’m an ardent admirer of your work, I must say, your take-down of Damian Moreau was a work of particular genius. How exactly did you manage to back him into a corner so neatly?"
"Uhuh," Parker agreed, and looked for ways to disengage quietly and fast, until she realized what exactly this person had said. "How do you know about that?" she asked, squinting. Over the comms, she could hear Eliot cursing.
"May I direct your efforts toward the power lines you are looking for? The city’s municipality has been mismanaged for years, and none of their record bears any resemblance to reality. There has been an effort to have electronic copies available, but the project stalled since they couldn’t afford someone with the necessary background in IT. The only way to get those files is through good old-fashioned networking, or by following the cables."
Hardison grumbled, almost inaudible, over the comm, "Well, he’s not wrong. Do you think he’s working for his father, Morland Holmes?"
"You are working for—" Parker began
"No, wait!" Eliot interrupted.
"—your father, I presume?"
"He’s a consultant for the NYPD, that’s why I remember his name, but he’s not really working for the law," Eliot continued his thought.
Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes made a most disgusted face, and denied any such working relationship between him and his family. "Look," he added, "I’m really just trying to help you. I have no reason to lead you in the wrong direction. You’re doing me a favour, really."
Parker picked up the toolbox, and followed him out of the alley.
"Diogenes," Eliot said suddenly. "I remember that. It was a Michelin star restaurant in Kabul. His brother’s, I think. Moreau liked it."
"The more I know of this guy, the more fishy he gets," Hardison commented.
"No, no — Moreau liked the food, he didn’t have ties to the owner. You can plainly see that this Holmes is more used to the presence of law enforcement."
"Does that have a very distinctive style?" Hardison asked, with a mocking undertone. Parker wanted desperately to watch this in person because Hardison was going to get gloriously owned, but Sherlock Holmes was crossing the street — jaywalking, of course. She could almost hear Eliot’s glower, and she couldn’t help the grin when she heard Hardison yelp, " Not the gummy frogs!"
Sherlock Holmes didn’t seem like a criminal mastermind. A mastermind, yes, but too undisciplined to keep up a facade for too long. Parker knew that kind of mind well — very similar to her own. It was hard work to keep on grifting. She didn’t know how Sophie could do it.
She lengthened her stride to keep up, and once he was next to her again, she asked, "Why is Pence & Associates of interest to you? If there’s enough implications to indict any of them, we wouldn’t actually have to break into their office buildings. We were just looking. "
"Pence isn’t the only managing partner of the firm," Sherlock Holmes answered. "and he’s only a really dodgy witness. The only thing the NYPD might charge him with, is obstruction of justice. I’m afraid most of his real estate dealings are just evil, not illegal. Though they really should be both."
Parker disregarded the shout of "What are you doing to my Squeeze’s Soda!" in her ear and forged on. "What do you need from us?"
"A distraction, preferably," Sherlock Holmes said, and rocked back on his heels. "What would be most useful would be of course a digital footprint of where the bastard was on the eve of March 13th, but a distraction while I confirm he wasn’t present at his firm would do just fine."
Over the squabbling in the background Parker asked, "Hardison?"
"On it," is the reply.
"Let’s move somewhere less public while my associate deals with your problem," Parker used her customer service voice to move them nearer to the van. There was something about New York City that was stressful and harried. Nothing she could voice, just a general feeling. The van, even with his cramped quarters, felt more comfortable. It might also be the deep-set glower Eliot used to watch Sherlock.
Within ten minutes, Hardison transferred the entire collection of surveillance tapes to Sherlock Holmes phone.
"This is, uh," Hardison said, "completely illegal, but I could run this through for you and identify all people appearing on this."
It was the first time, Sherlock smiled, "No, thank you, this is plenty. Now. You were looking for the data cables to his office?"
"Please, and thank you," Parker said, and escorted him to the right spot. It was unassuming, and from the outside looked just like every other cable box Parker had spotted today — but it contained the right one. She clipped the tiny unassuming device to the cable, waited for Hardison’s reply and then thanked Sherlock Holmes. He seemed impatient, and only said, "Excellent! If you ever need me, you can leave a message at 42 Stanford Ave in Brooklyn. I doubt you’ll ever need it, as you are a truly singular team, but just in case — well. I’ll be going." Then he left.
Parker, done with bugging his data connection, returned to the van.
"That was weird," Hardison said.
"Yeah," Parker agreed with a sigh, then added, "Let’s leave New York for the rats and the aliens. I’m sick of this place." She vaulted over the portable server before Hardison could shout at her for getting smudges all over the surface. "I can’t wait to be back in Portland!"
"How about we go look at Tiffany’s first?" Eliot suggested. "Otherwise you’re going to whine all the way back that we never take you somewhere fun."
"Hey, people," Hardison said, "we aren’t done yet. What about the safe?"
Parker leaned back against the portable server, and dangled the drive she had in her back pocket since the 8th cable box in front of Hardison’s face. "Are you looking for this?"
"Where did you get this?" Hardison took the drive daintily into his fingers. "When did you even have the time!"
Parker shrugged. "I was bored," she said.
Somehow, they did manage to keep up Leverage Consulting’s usual revenue stream.