Chapman catches him on his way out the next morning - dressed in another impeccable black-on-black suit, like the one he’d been wearing last night, that has Eliot feeling all the more run down and worn out in comparison - he’d barely managed to clean up last night before he’d collapsed into bed, and he’s pretty sure that shows all too well in the weak light of the early morning. Not that he’d ever admit it. The guy’s ego was already vying for second-place after Damien’s.
“What do you think, slug to the shoulder or one in the ribs?” Chapman asked, handing over a thin folder, sounding as carefree as he probably thought he looked. But it’d be a cold day in hell when the man fully relaxed around Eliot, and, if he took a small amount of glee in that, well.
“Planning your retirement?” Eliot shot back, knowing he sounded as relaxed as he actually was, because it’d also be a cold day in hell when he couldn’t take Chapman out at a moment’s notice, regardless of the situation.
“Taking bets on how you’re going to cock this one up.”
“Who suggested Keller again?”
“Just try to actually kill this one? Moreau doesn’t care how,” clearly, or he would’ve told Eliot directly. Which they both knew. “Vector hasn’t spilled yet,” but he’d have the chance to, Eliot saw, flipping through the file. He’d read it again on the plane over, but he enjoyed watching Chapman scowl out of the corner of his eye when it became clear he was only giving him half his attention.
Ex-hockey player (and that's why that name was familiar) turned investment manager, turned federal witness and then granted immunity for turning on a couple mob bosses. With the access he had to Damien’s accounts, going crying to the feds as soon as Damien did something he didn’t like would seem like a better and better idea the longer the offer of protection stayed on the table.
“Public?” he asked, cutting off whatever Chapman was going to say next. If it was actually important, he’d get it into the conversation anyway. His persistence was one of his most endearing qualities. Really.
“Doesn’t matter.” Actually free then. Eliot grimaced slightly, doing his best to hide it by focusing on the file again. He hated having free reign, even if it was easier. And no, he wasn’t going to look into that too closely right now. Absolutely not. “What, you need a hand to hold all of a sudden?” And of course he saw that.
“Haven’t needed one yet. Hey, Damien still talking about me training some of your new guys? Think I’ll have time when I get back. What’d they do to get him antsy anyway?” It’s the low hanging fruit, for all that it’s true, but Chapman raises to the bait beautifully anyway.
“He hasn’t said anything to me.” Indignant, worried, angry. His expression is a masterpiece really.
“Well, he wouldn’t, would he?” Snapping the folder shut isn’t as dramatic as he’d like - its too flimsy for that - but walking away feels good.
He tries to sleep on the plane. Knows he won’t - something about the deep thrum of the engines and being surrounded by a bunch of strangers has always keyed him up (go figure). So he has plenty of time to run over plans in his head on his way to Boston (and what the heck is with Boston lately anyway?)
Damien’s given him free reign over this - which is rare. Almost as rare as Damien using him as an actual assassin nowadays - he can pick any sniper he wants. Any gun for hire he wants. Eliot’s normally reserved for driving points home, if they reach that far.
(Eliot still doesn’t know if Damien made a conscious decision about that, when he came back, or if it just worked out that way. But Eliot’s grateful all the same, even if he’d never say it. He can do what Damien asks of him - it’s his job, it’s what he’s good at, he knows how to work under Damien’s eye, knows where things go and how things play out, but even he can admit, leading up to his lapse, the assassinations he’d been handed had been wearing him down.
Then again, now he’s paraded around, bruised and bloody, for all to see, rather than being the figure in the shadows at Damien’s beck and call. He’s not entirely sure which is better. He’s not entirely sure what it says about him that he kind of prefers things the way they are now, either.
Except he knows exactly what it says about him, and that cold pit in his stomach doesn’t shift, doesn’t twist, and he takes a cold, steady kind of comfort in that.)
But there is no point here. Vector hasn’t threatened Damien, and Damien hasn’t threatened Vector. This is cleaning house, plain and simple.
He could go the sniper route - easiest clean up (if he even bothers. Gloves and careful gun selection and it could look like a mob hit), quickest turn around. He doesn’t have to be in the same room.
But it’s also the easiest to fuck up, for someone else to get caught in the crossfire. He may be good with guns, but he hasn’t used to a rifle in years, and even then, he was never the best (good enough to be a problem, yes, but his eyesight failed him when it came to measuring up), which was fine. He was better at close range anyway.
Which meant recon. He needed to get Vector out of sight, even for just a moment. FBI handlers shouldn’t be too hard to slip, especially if he was as brash and cocky as the file suggested. Guys like that didn’t do well in protective custody.
Start of a plan in mind, Eliot forced himself to… well, not relax. Still too many people around. But he did zone out a bit, half his attention on the ground below, half on the people moving around him, not catching on anything in particular. Just, drifting for a bit. It was actually kind of nice.
Hardison would never admit it, but he kind of hated the the start of any of their cons. Well, no, that’s not right. It was fun, creating all their backgrounds, going through Nate’s plans and fitting himself into his role in any way he could. It was exciting, watching everything start, everything start molding to their Mastermind’s ideas.
But. He was also well aware that they rarely - if ever - had a plan go off without some kind of hitch. And after three years, it had become a game of waiting for the other shoe to drop. So the start of a con was a weird time - exhilarating and tense all in the same moment.
He had kind of gotten used to having more time before something went wrong though, so he wasn’t expecting it when Parker switched comms to their private channel, a little while after luring Vector to McRory’s.
Which. That was all kinds of painful to listen to, mostly because this was clearly not her game and while she covered it beautifully, Hardison could still hear the edge in her tone and could practically see her fidgeting. He’d been on Parker’s side when she’d asked if Sophie or Mikel wouldn’t have been the better option to play the carrot, as Nate put it. But, Nate, as usual, managed to logic his way out of it - Sophie was needed for the lawyer part, Mikel was… well. Mikel. She could, visibly, take Vector punch for punch, weight for weight, and while her grifting skills were remarkable, Parker was the better option for not scaring him off.
Turned out to be the right call when they’d spotted McSweeten at the airport, because while Hardison had FBI identities for him and Parker, Mikel didn’t have an established one yet - which isn’t to say he didn’t have one lined up for her. She just hadn’t used it yet (Hardison was determined to find a chance for her to, at some point. It would be awesome, if he had any say in the matter. And he kind of wanted to know if he could sneak one of the FBI’s most wanted in under their noses).
“Hardison, you can check the airport’s cameras, right?”
“Yeah…?” switching over to another monitor, he started looking for said cameras, flitting around until he found the footage from earlier of Nate and Parker, already mentally preparing for that metaphorical shoe to drop.
“Was that Spencer body-checking Vector?” And there that shoe goes. Look at it. Bye, it’s gone. He didn’t squawk. Kind of wanted to though. Sure, the tracker had gone offline a couple days ago - it had only been on the man’s jacket, he was surprised it lasted as long as it had - but still, there was no reason to suspect Vector would already have Moreau’s attention.
...Unless what he had on Moreau was actually, you know, important, like they were banking on, and then it made perfect sense. Federal witness with access to Moreau’s accounts? Any two-bit gunrunner could figure that was a bad idea. Dammit.
Sure enough, even though it took a couple tries to get the right angle, it was Spencer - dressed in at least two over-sized jackets that had seen much better days, hair tucked up under a beat-up ball cap, and enough bruising around his cheek to throw off basic facial recognition. He never once turned Nate and Parker’s way, which is probably the only reason Nate hadn’t noticed him. He’d have to ask later how Parker had.
“...and we’re on a private channel because?” He didn’t verbally confirm her suspicion - he knew she was right, she knew she was right, and if she dumped Vector to go hide in the bathroom, they only had a couple moments.
“I think Nate’s working Spencer wrong.” And if she was actually willing to voice it, they’d gone right past ‘wrong’ and into ‘alarm bells’ territory. “But I want to see what he does first.”
And Hardison didn’t like this. At all. Spencer was dangerous, for all that he wanted to help the man - and he honestly, earnestly did. The more they looked at Spencer and what had happened in London, the more the pieces didn’t fit quite right, the more Hardison wanted to side with Parker about how badly Nate was approaching it, caught up and hyper-focused as he was on Moreau and the plan at hand.
...and look at that, he’d just talked himself out of arguing. Sure, it didn’t sit right with him, keeping Nate out of the loop like this. But, if Parker had an idea, he was willing to run with it to the end (hoping and praying it didn’t come back to bite them too badly). On one condition -
“Sounds like you’ve got a plan. I’m gonna get Mikel in alright? You can tell Nate and Sophie.” Kept the ball in her court, but gave them an extra set of eyes, and, more importantly, an actual competent pair of fists should things go sideways.
When he hears the comm switch back over to the public channel, and the cringe-worthy return of Alice (she really has gotten better at grifting, Hardison can acknowledge that. But where Sophie slips into a role as easy as breathing, he can still hear Parker’s stiff delivery, even if Vector can’t), he knows she’s agreed. Which makes him feel better - Mikel being on the lookout for any hiccups is a weight off his back, and he trusts Parker to tell Nate and Sophie if things get out of hand. She may not be completely playing Nate’s game, but this was still a team, and she, out of all of them, sometimes clung the hardest to that.
Luckily, it didn’t take much longer to move Vector along, and soon enough he was snoring loud enough for the comms to pick up. Parker had done her part (technically, was still doing her part, but, like she’d said, she could do this part literally in her sleep).
It was his and Mikel’s turn. And this was going to be fun - he’d always wanted to drive a squad car.