Some people would have expected a more sordid place, like an old warehouse or a shop with a secret room at the back, but this made more sense. If they wanted to attract clients with money, with really a lot of money, then luxury and comfort should be present at all times. And the offices of the most exclusive travel agency in the city, located on the top floor of a skyscraper, certainly met those requirements.
One of Jenny’s sources had tipped her off about some very secret and exclusive hunting trips that offered the possibility of getting the most extraordinary trophies without leaving the country. She had managed to locate one of the participants from a previous trip and, to her shock, she had found the head of a smilodon hanging in his trophy gallery.
Threats of ruining his political aspirations had eventually worked and the man had given them all the information he had about the people who organised the hunts. They were extremely cautious and the clients weren’t allowed to know the exact location of the hunting grounds (they were driven there in a vehicle with black windows and brought back the same way), but he had given them the address of the travel agency. He had also told them, quite proudly, that only a few exclusive clients were accepted on those trips, they wouldn’t accept just anybody.
Considering the secrecy of these hunts, Lester had agreed that posing as a potential client was the fastest way to find the anomaly, but the original plan of Cutter being the undercover agent had made him cringe. Unfortunately it wasn’t just Cutter, none of the members of the team could be considered a good option to pose as a filthy rich millionaire, so Lester had sighed deeply and finally had volunteered himself. Cutter’s relief had been obvious, as well as Ryan’s discomfort.
“There is no need to worry, Captain,” Lester had reassured him. “I’m more than capable of pretending I am an ill-mannered rich man who is used to doing as he pleases. I have vast experience in dealing with people like that, unfortunately. You wouldn’t believe how many of them end up working in the Home Office.”
“I could always go in his place, mate,” Danny had offered to Ryan. “I look great in fancy clothes.”
“Your fondness for the use of the term ‘mate’ is one of the many reasons why you aren’t suitable for this mission, Mr Quinn,” Lester had replied. “The only other person that could fit the job would be Ms Lewis, but unfortunately there is a high probability that she might be recognised after her inquiries about the agency.”
Ryan had finally agreed with him, to Danny’s disappointment, but he had insisted on going along.
“You’ll need a chauffeur, after all,” Ryan had said. “And that will be me.”
Ryan had probably regretted the idea when he had seen the uniform, but it had been a bit too late to back out. Nevertheless, even though he had worn the black suit and the tie, he had discreetly tossed the cap aside.
Jenny had made up a fake background for Lester, borrowing pieces of the interesting life of a friend’s friend, as she had said. Jenny hadn’t elaborated and Lester had considered it better not to ask further questions. He had just memorised it and got ready for his part. They had kept the agency under surveillance for a few days, to gain information about the place and the workers, and they had finally set their plan in motion.
Lester looked at the other people in the gallery and found exactly what he had been expecting: expensive clothing, impatient tics and many scornful looks.
While normal travel agencies had leaflets to show their potential clients, Sapphire Skies had a long gallery with panoramic photographs and interactive monitors that showed the many possibilities they offered and a secretary that served tea and coffee in fine porcelain cups. There was also an exhibition of objects from the different travel destinations that was quite spectacular, particularly the collection of Zulu spears, but Lester tried very hard to look unimpressed by the whole thing.
The place wasn’t crowded, but there were a considerable number of people walking around and they all had come with their assistants, who wore almost as expensive clothing and stuck-up expressions as their employers. Lester was glad to see that he had been right to ask Lorraine to come with him. If he was going undercover, playing the part of a bored millionaire with too much money in his hands, he didn’t want to stand out immediately because he hadn’t brought a personal assistant with him.
His attire wasn’t going to make him stand out either. Lester prided himself on owning some fine and expensive suits, but for this occasion, just to make sure he would fit in, Lester had got an obscenely expensive suit for him and had asked Lorraine to find a matching one for her. They couldn’t keep them, of course, they were too expensive for the ARC budget, so they were going to have to return them eventually, but they were going to enjoy them while they could.
The young woman was offering him some tea and coffee when a man in his thirties walked into the gallery with a charming smile and cleared his throat to get their attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for visiting our agency,” the man said. “As you have already been informed, this is just an example of the many vacation packages we can offer you, but I want to assure you that all of them are open to modifications. We can arrange different accommodations, variations in the length of time or activities... If you have in mind something specific that you can’t find here, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Then the man proceeded to walk around, chatting a bit with each potential client, obviously trying to charm them into booking a trip. Lester waited patiently for his turn while he looked disdainfully at some amazing pictures of the Diamond Ring tour in Iceland. By his side Lorraine kept herself busy, checking fake schedules and mails on her iPad.
“I can see you don’t find Iceland very exciting, but I hope something else has caught your eye, Mister...” the man said when he walked to Lester’s side.
“Harwood, David Harwood,” Lester said, shaking the hand the man was offering him. “To be completely honest, I haven’t found what I was looking for...”
“Well, Mr Harwood, that’s why I’m here,” the man said, smiling brightly. “My name is Matthew Andrews and if you’d like to tell me what you are looking for, I will do everything in my power to find it for you.”
“A friend of mine told me excellent things about your hunting safaris,” Lester explained. “Unfortunately, all I’ve seen here is the usual hunting trips I could find in the travel agencies of any shopping centre in the country.”
“Amongst our travel offers you can find many hunting destinations on any continent in the world,” the man immediately replied. “If you could tell me the details of that safari...”
“That’s the most curious thing about it, Mr Andrews,” Lester said, looking pointedly at him. “My friend claimed he didn’t know the exact location of the hunt, isn’t it ridiculous? But he insisted that it was the best hunting experience anybody could ever have.”
The smile on Mr Andrews’ face faltered only for a moment when he heard that, but it was enough for Lester to notice.
“It sounds highly unlikely, indeed; surely your friend could give you more details about the trip...”
“He only said it was the biggest game hunting ever offered and that the trophies were something... from another world,” Lester replied. “He told me to ask for Diana, but he didn’t seem to remember the full name.”
“I think there are a few workers in our company with that name, but with no surname, it may take some time to find the right one,” the man said. “Of course, if you could tell me your friend’s name, that would help me to find her faster.”
“Well, see, that’s another thing he insisted on,” Lester replied, smirking. “He wanted to remain anonymous. He was adamant about it. He said he wasn’t supposed to talk about it, but I was, if I must say, quite persuasive.”
“Then I will make some phone calls,” the man said with his unfaltering smile. “Meanwhile why don’t you take another look around, there is a fantastic safari in th-“
“No, thank you, I’ve spent enough time here already,” Lester stopped him drily. “I have many businesses to attend to, and this is starting to look as if it’s been a waste of my time. Thank you, Mr Andrews. Call me if you have something really interesting to offer me.”
Not giving him a moment to react, Lester walked towards the exit without looking back. Lorraine smiled politely and gave Andrews a fake business card before quickly following Lester.
“Do you think it will work?” Lorraine asked as they arrived at the car park.
“We’ll have to wait and see, Miss Wickes.”
Ryan got out of their rented luxurious car as soon as he saw them. He looked terribly bored, but Lester knew him well enough to know that he had probably been assessing the risks and examining the surroundings very carefully while they were gone.
“Did they take the bait?” Ryan asked when they all got in the car.
“I certainly think I’ve made quite an impression,” Lester answered. “Let’s hope it’s enough to make them curious and greedy.”
A few days later Jenny confirmed that he had indeed made them curious. Her contacts had told her that somebody had been checking Lester’s fake background, but they had all stuck to the plan and his cover was intact. Then Lester finally got a call from the agency asking him to come to a meeting to discuss their offers.
“My time is very valuable so if you really have something interesting for me, you can send me the information by email,” Lester said smugly. “If I consider it’s important, I’ll make an appointment with you. Thank you very much.”
He hung up the phone and looked at Jenny’s shocked expression.
“Oh, my...,” Jenny exclaimed. “Why did you have to do that?”
“We don’t want to seem very eager, obviously,” Lester said matter-of-factly.
Jenny sighed deeply and resumed her conversation with Lester about the next meeting with the Home Secretary. They didn’t get far, though, because only five minutes later Lester received an email on his phone. There was just a photo in it, but it was enough. He showed it to Jenny without saying a word.
“I’m going to call the team,” Jenny said, getting up and walking out of Lester’s office.
The photograph was beautifully taken, like the others in the gallery. It was a colourful panoramic view of a green landscape on a sunny day, but the most amazing part of the composition was, without a doubt, the mammoths that walked freely under the blue sky.