"Parker... Parker!" Nate raised his voice over the com. "This is supposed to be a quiet entry."
"Fine," Parker grumbled through the earpiece. Then, quietly, "Wheeeeeeeeee."
Nate's sigh and Eliot's snort were audible to Hardison. "You do you, crazy mama," Hardison said, watching her dot descend through the ventilation shaft on his laptop screen. The tall, African American hacker had created a three-dimensional mock up of Torosiki Plaza, a sixty-story luxury apartment complex in Manhattan. He'd written a program to allow him to trace her progress using a tracker. He'd debated on making a miniature Parker, turning the whole thing into a video game, but Nate had kept pointing to his watch, so ghostly blue 3D and a dot it was.
"May I please remind you that I can only keep Merriman occupied for so long," Sophie scolded softly over the com.
"Your floor is coming up, Parker," Hardison said, leaning closer to his laptop screen. He was in the back of a cargo van painted to look like a city work truck, parked near the Plaza. "Three more floors, then hit the air duct on your right."
"Got it," Parker said. Her freefall dive stopped at the 38th floor and her dot moved into the correct shaft on the screen.
"You'll want the fourth apartment."
"I know," Parker said. Hardison watched her dot until it appeared over the correct apartment. A moment later, he saw her hanging out near the ceiling inside the room. "I'm in. And wow, there are a lot of paintings in here."
"We only want the original Cezanne," Nate said.
"But there's a Monet, and a Van Gogh, and I think that's a Gauguin."
"How do you know what a Gauguin looks like?" Eliot said over the com.
"I've taught her well," Sophie said like a proud parent.
"I've dropped a line to Chris Bauman, my old contact on the FBI's Art Crime Team. He'll likely be showing up today to investigate, so we need to keep moving," Nate said.
"I'm moving, I'm moving," Parker said.
"Chris Bauman, will wonders never cease. How is he?" Sophie said, nostalgia in her tone.
"Doing well. He had another child, a girl," Nate said. "And no, he didn't name her after you."
Sophie laughed quietly. Hardison watched Parker's dot move through the room. The door to Merriman's apartment was alarmed, and he had a few floor level motion sensor alarms, as well. Not a problem for Parker, who simply kept off the floor.
"Found it," Parker declared. The size of the painting meant she'd have to remove the canvas from its frame and roll it up. It would go into a tube strapped to her back. "On my way out."
Hardison watched the dot return to the air duct, pause to screw the vent back on, and then proceed to the main ventilation shaft. Within a short period of time, the dot was shooting back up the shaft using a power ascender.
Eliot was stationed on the roof, keeping watch. Hardison had disabled the rooftop door alarm to allow them up there. Parker's dot reached the top of the shaft, and a few moments later, Eliot said, "We're coming down."
Nate, stationed in the lobby keeping an eye on security, said, "No reaction down here."
There was a single security camera in the stairwell leading to the roof, but it was pointed down the stairs, not up, and was easy to skirt under to enter the hallway on the top floor. Once there, it didn't matter if the hall cameras caught Eliot and Parker. They would be dressed as if they lived in the building, with Parker wearing a loose, floor length dress over her burglaring rig and Eliot carrying a briefcase with the rope and ascender inside. Dressed as a businessman, he would also carry the painting tube. The plan was for them to take the elevator down and walk out the front door.
Hardison watched Parker's dot descend at a much more sedate pace than the first time. Without any trouble, the dot reached the first floor, passed through the lobby, and walked out onto the street. The dot headed in Hardison's direction.
A minute later, Nate said, "In the clear." The words meant no one from Plaza security, or anyone else, noted Parker and Eliot.
"I'm taking my leave," Sophie murmured, indicating that Merriman would be released from Sophie's distraction.
Hardison opened the cargo van's door at the short rap, knowing it was Parker because of her dot. He smiled when he opened the door. "Your carriage, Cinderella."
Parker's blonde hair was pulled into a braid and her heart-shaped features creased in a frown, as she climbed into the van. "Who?"
"She'd better not be Cinderella," Eliot said, sliding behind the wheel. Eliot's shoulder-length, dark hair was pulled back in a tie, to make him look more professional in a business suit. Hardison thought Eliot looked like a surly pit boss. "Cinderella lost a shoe at the ball and got caught because of it."
Parker pulled up her skirt, revealing both of her black-clad legs and shod feet. "I have both my shoes."
"Never mind," Hardison said, shutting the door.
Nate reached the van and took the front passenger seat. The middle-aged man with the red-rimmed eyes glanced behind him. "Good job, Parker." Parker beamed. Nate took a silver flask from his inner coat pocket and indicated to Eliot with a gesture of his hand. "Let's get out of here."
Eliot started the van, put it into gear, and merged into traffic, carrying with them a recovered Cezanne and the sense of accomplishment of a job well done.