Eames slid into a seat at the bar and flashed a tired smile at the pregnant blonde wiping down the counter. "Katya, you look ravishing as always."
The blonde made a soft humph of annoyance and put down the dish towel. Her hair was tied up in a messy twist, and she looked down her nose at Eames, full lips quirking into a smile. "We're closed, you know. Even your charm won't get me to open another bottle for you."
"You wound me." His blue eyes twinkled at the woman, and he instantly felt a little less tired. "It's been a long night, and I wasn't here for free booze."
"That's a change," Katya quipped, leaning against the bar. "What, then?"
"Lying low?" Eames offered with a smile. He was dressed like a businessman, in a crisp dark gray suit with a light green shirt and dark green tie. His blond hair wasn't even mussed, and the jacket of the suit hid his holster well. "Like I said, long night."
"I have little to offer you," Katya said with a sigh. "With Sergei the way he is..."
Eames frowned at Katya. "Still?"
"We knew the risks," Katya said sharply, frowning at him. When she realized that he wasn't criticizing her, she relaxed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you. You know Sergei. He stayed behind so that the others could complete the job." She rubbed at her jaw tiredly. "Nicky will be going in with the others soon. They won't let me go in, of course."
"Of course," Eames replied, nodding. "How deep in is he, do you think?"
Katya snorted. "It was supposed to be simple, but when is anything with the Vory simple?" She picked up the dish towel and rubbed at a stubborn spot on the bar counter, not meeting Eames' eyes. "The bastard was militarized, Nicky said. So Sergei did his job to keep the others safe, at the cost of his own mind. He's lost now. Nicky can say it was an additive in the mixture, but we all know it isn't so." She looked up at Eames with empty eyes. "You need to leave, da?" She waited until Eames' reluctant nod. "Then perhaps we may help each other after all. Nicky insists on having cleaner compounds, and you know the cleanest ones come from Kenya."
"He doesn't leave to enter the field," Eames reminded Katya.
"Of course." She reached under the counter for a thick envelope. "But you bring this to him, he'll send a courier back to Istanbul. And it gets you away from police. Your nice clothes will only fool them for so long."
They smiled at each other, and Eames put the envelope in his jacket pocket. Katya didn't blink at the flash of the USP Compact in his shoulder rig. "I'll help you, Katya. I hope they do get Sergei out of limbo."
Katya gave him a pained smile. "There is much to live for, if only he would remember it."
Eames nodded and patted her hand gently. "Good luck to you all."
"Do svedanya," Katya murmured. "I hope to see you again with Sergei at my side."
Eames couldn't help but smile at her as he pushed back from the bar. "Just in case there was a contaminant," he said, patting his breast pocket. "You can never be too safe."
"Of course not," Katya agreed. She continued wiping down the bar as Eames slipped out the door as silently as he had come in.
Mombasa was just as hot as Eames remembered it, and he had dressed accordingly. It didn't take him long to find the location where he knew Yusuf would be; not many people knew of him, but the ones that did always came back for repeat business. He was seated at his desk balancing books, bottles with yellow liquid behind him. None were labeled, and Eames knew from past experience that he knew which bottle was which. He had his glasses perched on his nose, the chain dangling down from the earpieces to hang around his neck. Yusuf liked neutral colors and flowing fabrics, especially in the midday heat. It also helped him blend in with his surroundings when he left his office. Eames knew that Yusuf had involvement in other things than simply chemistry, though he didn't pry too deeply. It wouldn't do to make a nuisance of himself and have the chemist start prying into his affairs in return.
"Yusuf," he said with a smile, entering the office. "Pleasure to see you again."
Yusuf looked up from his ledger, finger marking his place. His brown eyes took in Eames' artfully careless appearance. "To what do I owe this honor?" he asked in measured tones.
Eames carefully reached into his jacket for Katya's envelope, moving with exaggerated slowness. He wasn't carrying a gun, but he didn't want the lazy looking Kenyan in the corner to mistake his move for a threat. Yusuf didn't look dangerous, but he didn't have to be. He was a valuable player in the field, and there were those willing to lay down their lives to protect him from idiots thinking to make a quick sale. "This is from Katya."
Marking his place with a post-it, Yusuf took the envelope and counted its contents quickly. "She is quite desperate, then. So the rumors are true? Sergei is lost?"
"Possibly for good." Eames pursed his lips. "Likely for good. His family won't let it be, but no one's ever come back."
"Well." Yusuf tucked the envelope away in one of his drawers. "Perhaps he doesn't have reason enough. It all depends on the dream, after all."
Eames found the comment creepy, and said nothing as he shoved his hands in his pockets. He closed his fist over the poker chip in his pocket, feeling its well worn surface. Yusuf merely smiled at his stoic silence and leaned back in his chair under Eames' watchful gaze. "Katya will get her compounds by tomorrow. I will see to that. Have you further business for me today?"
"Not today, Yusuf."
"Very well, then. Take care, Eames," Yusuf told him gravely.
That was a different closing than usual, and Eames flicked his gaze to the Kenyan in the corner. He still sat there with his pipe, milky eyes gazing into the distance as if Eames didn't matter in the slightest. "Have there been whispers about me?"
"There are always whispers. It depends on what you want them to mean."
"I would stay away from Turkey for a while," Yusuf said, folding his hands over his stomach and peering over the rim of his glasses. "It would not be safe for you there. Some believe you are at fault for what happened to Sergei. We both know differently, of course, but you are a much easier target."
Eames swore under his breath. So much for relying on Katya and her family's contacts. Dammit.
"Europe has no whispers. Neither does Kenya." Yusuf smiled. "I would know. I hear a great many things in my line of work."
"I suppose you do. Thank you, Yusuf."
Yusuf smiled at Eames. "You always carry interesting news my way, Eames. It would be a shame for that to end."
"Yes, it would," Eames agreed with a nod. "You take care as well, Yusuf."
The midday Mombasa sun was stiflingly hot when Eames left the office. He knew his flat in the city would still be safe, but he didn't want to stay in the area for long. If Turkey wasn't safe, someone might shake down Katya looking for him. She normally wouldn't roll over and give him up; they had too much history for that, but Sergei was her life. If he was the one being threatened, Eames knew he didn't rank as highly in her affections. It wasn't pretty, but it was the truth. It would be safer to cut and run and see where things went. When it was a safer time, he could check in on Katya.
It was time to look into Europe again.
Jensen was a tall, thin man with dark hair and a pale complexion. He wore glasses with round lenses and looked more like a librarian or a curator from the British Museum. He dressed in worn suit jackets over rumpled slacks, which only added to the absent minded professor look. He was much deadlier than he looked, and Eames knew him from the days when he first defected from the British military. They were sitting at a cafe in Cologne, Germany. It was one of the few places that Jensen felt safe as a British expat. He stirred his tea with precise movements, then placed his spoon on the saucer before taking a sip. Eames knew better than to rush him when he was thinking.
"England is out, obviously," Jensen said as he placed his teacup back on the saucer.
"Obviously," Eames replied, managing to keep his voice neutral. Jensen didn't like sarcasm, and he was known to send people into more dangerous situations than they were capable of handling if he felt slighted. "You know the best markets in Europe."
"Are you going to stay in Germany?"
Eames frowned. He had racked up thousands of miles in the past few weeks, and he was really tired of planes. "I'll go where the best markets are."
Nodding, Jensen took another sip of his tea. "There is something potentially in Berlin. Have you ever heard of Columbia Industries or Markneuheiten?"
"No. Should I have?"
Jensen smiled thinly. "It is not well known, but they are major competitors in biomedical technology. Columbia in particular, though Markneuheiten is looking to expand from pharmaceuticals into instrumentation."
"How do they mean to do such a thing?" Eames asked, a wry twist to his lips.
"Pharma is big business," Jensen said, syllables falling crisply and precisely. "I can convince my contacts that they have particular need of alternative resources to get what they want. Columbia's main offices are in London. Their Berlin office was built specifically to needle Markneuheiten."
Eames couldn't help but snort. "That's simply asking for trouble. Too many possible avenues of attack, too many things that can go wrong."
"Of course." Jensen took another sip of tea. "It was part and parcel of their plan, you realize."
"Give the enemy an obvious target and they'll be too distracted to realize it's not the real one." Eames nodded as Jensen touched the side of his nose in agreement. "Well, then. How deep are their pockets?"
"Deep enough for whatever you have in mind, I'm sure." Jensen smiled thinly at Eames. "Plus my finder's fee, of course."
"Without question," Eames agreed. "What would be the objective for this particular exercise in corporate espionage?"
"I'll leave the particulars on how to get it done up to you, but Markneuheiten wants certain members of Columbia's development team to stop their work. Obviously, it cannot be traced back to them and should look rather natural."
"Well," Eames began, leaning back slightly in his seat. "That will be difficult in the real world. But then, difficult is one of my specialties."
Jensen finished his tea. "So shall I tell Markneuheiten you'll work with them?"
The smile he flashed Jensen was completely mercenary. "I'm always up for a challenge, you know that. Do you have any other takers for this?"
"You can pick your team, if you like. Which name are you using for this?"
"Eames will suffice," he replied, standing. "You set up the meeting, I'll see what I can do."
"Your talents will be much appreciated, I'm sure."
Considering the fact that Jensen didn't even know all of what Eames could do, it was praise indeed. "I'll keep in touch."
Jenny was average height, with brown hair and brown eyes. She was fair skinned and blended fairly easily in European crowds, which was why she tended to stay there. She knew Europe fairly well and had contacts on both sides of the law. She liked Berlin over Cologne, and Eames was willing to meet her there since Columbia Industries had a scheduled meeting with him the following week.
"Darling, you look as wonderful as ever," Eames said, meeting her in the lobby of the Hotel Berlin. "Are we staying in or heading out elsewhere?"
"Come on up with me," Jenny told him, letting him take her arm in a gallant gesture. She led him into the hotel and hit the button for the elevator. "I did a thorough sweep, though there's no reason to think it's suspect here. I pay enough for the privilege, but you can never be too certain."
"Of course," Eames told her approvingly. "I've only just arrived in the city."
"Am I that important to meet?" Jenny asked, lip curled in amusement.
"Always," he said with a smile that didn't quite meet his eyes. It was a dance of innuendo and half truths, one they were used to. Eames enjoyed poking at his coworkers that way; being completely straitlaced and stoic wasn't his style and made for very boring months leading up to a job. The jobs themselves were always adrenaline rushes, and the payouts generally helped cover the downtime between interesting jobs.
"Flatterer," Jenny said with a smile as the elevator opened to her floor. "Come on, then. We have things to discuss."
Her room was the quiet understated elegance that she preferred. Jenny tended to dress in business casual, making it that much easier for her to blend into the upscale and business districts of various cities. She handed Eames the room service menu, which he appreciated. It was late for lunch and somewhat early for dinner, but he hadn't eaten in some time and ordered himself a light meal and a wine to match. Jenny smiled in amusement and followed his lead in ordering a dinner item. She did appreciate the money he handed her and tucked it away in her wallet.
"Well, then. I'm assuming this is dream share and not money laundering or gun running," Jenny began without preamble, sitting on the edge of her bed.
Eames nodded as he sat at the desk to face her. "Markneuheiten," he said.
"Oh. Very posh clientele you have these days," Jenny teased.
"They can't all be on the run from Interpol," Eames returned evenly.
Jenny nodded, conceding the point. "What are we extracting, then?"
"That's just it. We're probably looking at something entirely different."
"Oh?" she asked, intrigued. That little eyebrow loft she had was an adorable looking trait that she could mimic even when she was bored to tears, but Eames could tell that this wasn't an affectation. Extractions were common, and it was just a question of how a team would go in to get what they wanted. There were rumors about minds becoming more and more hostile the more attempts were made in a single session, even if the subject was sedated between extraction attempts. Eames had to repeat an extraction attempt twice, and he had always been vigilant about subconscious security. He could tolerate a little danger in the dreaming, but if there were threats to the integrity of his mind, he pulled out of the job. No matter how much he liked this particular persona and how much he prided himself on the professional reputation he was building with it, no job was worth going insane for.
He pushed away thoughts of Sergei. The Russian pushed boundaries and took jobs involving unstable minds and high levels of risk. Someone had to, but that risk meant that dreams could easily turn and move out of his control. Sergei was good at what he did, but even he was caught now. Eames hadn't been involved in that particular job that now left him little more than brain dead, but he had known all the players involved. That was bad enough as far as rumor mills went.
"Markneuheiten will pay a large but as yet undefined sum to have its competitor stop R&D." Eames paused at the knock at the door. "That was fast."
"I pay for the privilege of good service," Jenny said with a smile. She took in the room service order and they began eating in silence. About halfway through her own meal, Jenny looked at Eames thoughtfully. "This is dreaming, not a call for execution. This implies changing someone's mind." Eames nodded, still chewing his own mouthful of food. "That can't be done."
"Why not?" Eames challenged when he could comfortably speak.
Jenny opened her mouth, but didn't say anything right away. She frowned and looked at Eames thoughtfully. "It hasn't been done before."
"That doesn't mean it can't."
"You would never be able to do something like that in a standard dream."
"Who says it has to be standard?"
"Levels?" Jenny put down her fork and let out a sigh. "I'll have you know, I've never been involved in a job that successfully kept another level of the dream stable."
"Were they using regulation somnacin?"
"Of course. Good enough chemists willing to adjust the formula are hard to find."
"In Europe, perhaps," Eames replied with a grin. "I've been in a second level for a time. It collapsed before anything useful could be done with it, but it can be done."
Jenny merely blinked at him. "So you're talking about..."
She took a deep swallow of her own wine. "Somehow, you get involved in all sorts things you really shouldn't," Jenny began slowly.
"Does that mean you won't be involved?"
"Hell, no," she scoffed. "I'm interested to see how you think this can work."
Eames leaned back in his chair slightly and smiled at the woman in front of him. "We'd need a formidable team, in the first place. Everything would need to be tailored just so. Do you have an extractor or architect you work with regularly enough?"
"You wouldn't be extractor on this one?"
"The more influences we have, the better."
Jenny nodded and was thoughtful as she finished her dinner. "Gubet is working with a pair of Americans now, so he's out for an architect."
"Americans are in on this now? Whatever is the world coming to?"
Jenny snickered and put her dishes aside. She swirled her wine in her glass thoughtfully. "From what I hear, they're pretty good and making names for themselves. There must have been some kind of formal training in America, which means there is some kind of story there as to why they left. Their military sanctions are stringent, from what I understand."
"Isn't there always a story?" Eames asked in arch tones, pushing his own dish aside. "We all get into this for a reason, and we all stay for a reason. Who are these Americans?"
"Dominic Cobb and Arthur," Jenny said. Her tone didn't have any particular inflection to it, so Eames couldn't tell if she thought they were actually good or if the rumors were all hype. "Christophe mentioned them to me, and thought that they were a solid team. Gubet is... Well. You've met the man."
"Good architect, but not under pressure." Eames drummed his fingers along the tabletop. "Would we be able to drag them into this? If Christophe thinks they're solid, then perhaps they're worth taking a chance on."
"I don't have direct contact information, unfortunately. It would take some time to track them down. They don't stay in one place for long."
Eames filed that fact away to contemplate at another time. That kind of thing could be excessive paranoia, a poor support network or active investigations. Regardless, he didn't want to waste time in tracking them down just yet. There were plenty of others in Europe that might be willing to entertain attempting the impossible and successfully sustaining a two level dream. He was sure Yusuf could craft the compounds they needed. He was forever tinkering on them, leading to slight variations in the shades of yellow inside the clear glass bottles on his shelves. Eames never asked who he experimented on; he didn't need or want to know. Plausible deniability was a wonderful thing in this line of work.
"If Gubet is off the table, who else would you be willing to work with? You'd know the local talent best."
Jenny lofted him with a raised eyebrow. "Not looking to import someone familiar?"
"I know a chemist I'll deal with for compounds." His lips quirked slightly in amusement. "We're on our own for dosing them, but he's talented and it's worth the hassle of doing all of the calculations ourselves. Or, if he's feeling particularly kind, he may do the maths for us so we're actually likely to wake up." Jenny snorted and rolled her eyes; Eames knew the last chemist she had worked with was brilliant with the decanting and utter rubbish when dealing with people. The man had made Yusuf's professorial stance seem downright warm and fuzzy. "I know you, and I know you'll get the job done. The importance in this is less if I like the other team members than if they're going to do their part in making it all happen. If extraction itself can be delicate work, inception would be something akin to neurosurgery. I'd rather have the best."
"In that case, I'm flattered you rank me among them," Jenny replied with a nod. "What about Nash? Have you ever worked with him?"
"Once. He did good work on that particular job. Is he available?"
Jenny shrugged. "I'll find out and let you know. When are you going to get details from Markneuheiten?"
"I'm meeting them in a week. If we can have the rest of a team assembled by then, we can start planning as soon as we know more about the subject."
Jenny nodded and lifted her glass in a belated toast. "I'll get to work on the underground. It's going to be an adventure."
Eames drained the last of his wine as he answered her toast. "They always are. Let's make the impossible possible."