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A Twist of the Knife

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"There will be two simultaneous flights," Kendall briefed them. "Sloane and Jack will be driving out from the airfield to the location of the bar. You-" his sweeping finger encompassed Dixon and Sydney, "-will make a parachute drop closer to the site. You'll have a window of thirty-five minutes to get to the bar ahead of them and tap into the closed circuit feeds so we can monitor their activities."

Dixon simply nodded, though he had to admit that inside he had mixed feelings about this assignment. Extra surveillance on Sloane was only prudent, but he didn't like the fact that they were running it behind Jack's back. In his experience, mistrust and deception between agents who were supposedly on the same side could wreak more havoc than enemy action. He glanced sideways at Sydney, but her face was a professional mask.

"We'll also have cameras on the plane," Kendall said, standing back with his hands on his hips. "However, it's not feasible to plant one inside of their vehicle without Jack's knowledge, and there's always the possibility that they will do something... unpredictable," he curled his lip, "so we will also have microphones on both men."

Marshall jumped up. "Er, bugging Sloane is, um, pretty much straightforward because, hey, he's in our custody. We'll have access to his clothes before they're given to him, sewn in microphone, no problem. It's, er, Mr Bristow who's a bit more difficult." He let out a nervous huff of amusement at that statement, and held up a clear plastic bag containing a microtransmitter.

"This is... kind of a micro-microphone." He grinned. "Nearly all transparent components, lightweight, practically invisible. It'll adhere to clothing even if you, you know, twist it about a bit-" he demonstrated by tugging his shirtfront this way and that, then looked over at Sydney, "-not that I'm suggesting your dad's going to be, um, grappling with anybody." He tilted his head reflectively. "Although, you know, a little bit of grappling isn't always... But not on a mission, I'm sure."

Syd's expression urged him to move on.

"So, er, yes, you just need to press it on to a piece of clothing and it'll stick fast." His smile faded. "Um, therein lies the problem."

"Volunteers to go grope Jack?" Weiss said, with an expression of dismay. Vaughn coughed, and even Sydney made a face.

On an op, it would be easy enough to arrange a collision or adopt a grabby persona. But Jack would be suspicious of an 'accidental' bump, and he guarded his personal space too well for it to seem natural if anyone invaded it for a casual pat on the back or tap on the arm.

In fact, there was only one person here who could conceivably get away with it. They all turned to look at Sydney.

"Give it to me, Marshall," she said. "I'll find a way to plant it on him."

The set of her jaw was resolute, but she seemed almost as daunted as Weiss by the idea of trying to invade her father's personal space.

Dixon couldn't help but find that incredibly sad.

"Dad!" Sydney hurried after her father as he strode down the hallway, on his way to go and retrieve Sloane from his cell. As he turned to face her, she saw that he'd traded his usual suit and tie for a black shirt with a subtle purple pattern that was open at the collar; still practically formalwear by most people's standards, but positively casual by his.

She tried not to think about the fact that the reason he was dressed that way was to play the role of Sloane's... boyfriend? No. Not boyfriend. Just about anything in the world other than boyfriend.

Apart from-

Okay. No more thinking on this topic. Ever. Back to her objective.

"Dad." She shook her head. "This is a bad idea."

"The mission's already been approved," he said, as if that should cut out all argument.

"We should not be letting Sloane out into the field." This confrontation might have an ulterior motive, but the concerns were real. "Bad enough to let him plan operations, but allowing him out to take part in one?"

"Sloane wants to unite the Keystone with the Winter Sun as much as the CIA does," her father said. "Sabotaging the mission would bring him no benefit."

That was her father's problem. Always expecting human beings to function like logical automatons. Sloane had killed Danny. How was that logical? How was that necessary? Men like Sloane didn't need a reason to wreak their destruction.

Her dad turned to leave, presenting her with her opportunity. Sydney stepped after him and gripped his shoulder, pressing the hidden bug in her palm to his shirt. "Dad..."

He turned to look at her, so visibly taken aback that she suddenly felt insanely guilty. The argument about Sloane she was going to make turned to ashes on her lips.

"Be careful," she said instead.

Her dad moved his mouth, a subtle shift in expression that might have been headed for a smile but didn't make it all the way there. He gave her a stiff nod, and pulled away.

Oblivious to the bug that remained clinging to his shirt. Sydney hung back, wondering if she was doing the right thing - or setting her father up for a fall she was suddenly freshly aware she had no wish to see him take.

"Secondary flight is en route," Weiss reported, jogging over to Marshall's computer where Kendall and Vaughn were both standing by. He'd just got off the phone with Dixon, confirming the takeoff.

"Audio feeds are coming through fine from both hidden mikes," Marshall reported, tapping keys. He gave a twitchy grin. "And I've synched them up, so, hey, surround sound."

Kendall leaned forward, placing his hands on the desk. "Do we have visual from the plane?"

Marshall brought up the camera feed. "They just boarded, so they should be- ah." The two men appeared within the camera's field of view. Sloane walked like he thought Jack was his bodyguard rather than his escort. They sat down opposite each other, the camera angle showing more of Jack's cool stare than Sloane's answering expression.

"If Sloane's working with an outside partner, the flight will be his best opportunity to make contact," Kendall said. "It's the only place where Jack might leave him temporarily unattended."

Weiss supposed that even Jack Bristow had to take a pee break now and then. Maybe about once a week.

"Shouldn't he be cuffed?" Vaughn said, forehead wrinkling.

Kendall scowled. "Jack's decision," he said sourly. "He thinks we'll get more out of Sloane by treating him as a partner - a position I do not agree with. I'm still not convinced he's not in cahoots with Derevko. This whole ploy with turning himself in may be part of some greater plan."

"So we're checking up to see if Jack leaves him too much laxity." Vaughn looked pained, and Weiss couldn't blame him. That was a crappy enough position to be in without the extra angle of dating the man's daughter.

It didn't look like Jack was letting Sloane get away with much right now. The two men were studying each other with a kind of still, calm wariness; cat stares, neither rigidly tense nor overly relaxed, that could equally go on for hours or come to a casual end without any sense of concession.

Weiss supposed it was good for the sake of his boredom threshold that it turned out to be the latter. Sloane shifted, resting his chin on his hand with one finger pressed along his cheek. "I presume the CIA continues to be thwarted in its pursuit of Katya Derevko," he said, raising one eyebrow.

Weiss read it as a taunt, but either Jack saw it differently or he was simply used to Sloane's mode of conversation. "She appears to have gone to ground," he said. "It's possible she was contracted by her sister for only a single assignment."

"And yet that assignment remains incomplete." Sloane tilted his head and smiled inscrutably.

"It may have been merely a distraction tactic," Jack said.

Sloane steepled his fingers together. "Then the question becomes - a distraction from what?"

They weren't sniping at each other, Weiss realised - or at least, not just for its own sake. This was a tactical discussion. He spared a glance sideways at Kendall, whose mouth had thinned out unhappily.

Sloane was, technically, a resource to be made use of. But Weiss was pretty sure Jack didn't have clearance to be discussing Katya Derevko with him.

Jack was walking a dangerous line.

There was a car waiting for them a ten-minute hike from the drop point. Sydney drove them to the alley behind the piano bar and opened up the laptop as Dixon hopped out.

"Boy Scout, what's the ETA of the primary mission?" he asked over the radio.

"Assuming standard traffic they'll be at your position in approximately four and a half minutes," Vaughn's voice reported.

Cutting it fine. Dixon grabbed his newspaper off the car seat and headed straight for the bar.

Hidden inside the rolled up paper was Marshall's latest creation, a miniature remote-controlled car with optical camouflage that would render it invisible in the dim interior of the bar. They'd placed a tracker inside the shoes Sloane had been given for this alias; the car could pick him out of the crowd when he arrived and Sydney would steer it after him into whatever private room he and Jack met with their contacts. Once in, they could use the car's built-in RF transmitter to piggy-back the room's internal security cameras.

Dixon had to shake his head at the technology Marshall could squeeze onto a toy no bigger than the ones Steven left scattered like death traps over the stairs.

The only catch was that the car had to be deployed inside the building - it couldn't bump over the threshold to drive in from outside by itself. Getting it on the floor without anyone noticing would be child's play; the fun part was going to be getting in and out without being made by Jack and Sloane.

He pushed through the door into the dim interior of the bar. The vibe was less dive and more gentleman's club, wood panelling on the walls and a piano standing unattended on a raised dais in the corner. The bar itself was busy, but not a complete scrum, and about half the tables were occupied. There was no sign of the two retired black market traders, though intel said they should be on-site.

But they weren't his target.

As he crossed the room, Dixon located the CCTV camera. He angled the face of his watch at it and pressed in one of the buttons.

"Bar-room feed is online," Sydney reported a moment later. "Connection is solid." A few seconds later Marshall echoed the words from back in LA.

Dixon didn't pause, but continued on to the bar. Even if Pearce-Hamilton and his partner were retired now, they'd been in the game once - and if they had someone monitoring, slipping in and out without buying a drink was a sure way to raise a red flag. Their job here was to surveil the primary mission, not compromise it.

"Activating Dodge Dart," Sydney's voice said in his ear. "Transmission is good."

Dixon was far too professional to quirk a smile at the fanciful name for the miniature car. As he joined the line he tucked the newspaper under his arm, careful to keep its hidden burden secured with the crook of his elbow. The car wasn't designed to make a drop - Marshall had apologised at length, with digressions into the viability of invisible parachutes - and if it fell to land upside-down it would only take one misplaced high heel to crush its delicate innards.

So Dixon waited in line and ordered a German beer - nothing strong enough to muddy his head, not so lightweight that it would strike the bartender as atypical - and carried it over to a table. As he set it down, he let his gaze fall naturally on his left foot, and gave a vague grunt in the universal language of 'damn shoelaces'. He bent down to retie the shoe, placing the rolled up paper on the thin carpet beside it.

The newspaper jerked slightly, and he heard the faint whirr of tiny servo-motors, a sound that would have been completely buried in the background hubbub of the bar if he'd raised his head only a few inches higher. He thought he caught a flicker of motion along the carpet, but it was gone before his eyes could get a proper fix on it.

"Dart is away," Sydney reported.

Dixon's job here was done. He picked up the newspaper and placed it on the tabletop, still folded. He didn't have time to pretend to sit and read it; he just had to finish his beer in a relaxed, inconspicuous manner and then stroll out of here.

Or not. "Dixon, they're here!" Sydney blurted in his ear. "You need to get out of there, now!"

He turned the intended sip into a check of his watch, then tipped the beer back in one long chug. He set the empty glass down on the table with a thunk and stood up. "I'm on my way out now," he murmured.

"Abort!" she warned. "They're getting out of the car right now. There's no way you can leave through the main door without being spotted."

The only back exit required leaving through the kitchens, a conspicuous move that risked jeopardising the primary mission. But Sydney was right - if he walked out now, he couldn't fail to be seen and identified. He was going to have to stay in the bar and wait for a safer chance to exit.

As the door started to push open, Dixon spotted his opportunity. An old man sitting with his back to the door, a flat cap hooked over the back of his chair. Dixon sat down smoothly at the table in front of him, reached back to snag the cap without looking, and sat it on top of his head. He unfolded the newspaper and held it up in front of his face as the door completed its arc.

The two men entered. The newspaper obscured Dixon's view of their faces as much as it did theirs of him, but through the gap underneath it he recognised both their walks. They paused for an agent's beat in the doorway - long enough to let their eyes adjust a little, not so long that it would draw attention - and then moved on.

He waited a beat of his own, then stood to leave, tossing the newspaper onto the table and the cap back onto the back of the other man's chair in the same motion. Without looking back, he left the bar and strode out into the sunshine.

The video feed on Marshall's monitor showed a narrow, murky field of view mined with occasional chairlegs and unexpected shoes. Weiss had no idea how Sydney was managing to steer the little car. It was making him seasick just watching. The screen next to it showed the piggybacked CCTV from the bar, but even comparing the two Weiss couldn't work out the Dart's current position.

"Do we have the tracer?" Kendall asked with a tense frown.

"It only has a range of a few feet," Marshall said, then smiled nervously. "Heh. Um, feet, which is pretty appropriate when you think... yeah." He spoke into the microphone. "Mountaineer, you need to get close enough to Uncle for the Dart to be able to follow the signal."

Sloane's rather dubious call sign from the SD-6 takedown had stuck. No one seemed to be quite sure who'd proposed it, but they clearly had a twisted sense of humour. Weiss half suspected the hand of Jack Bristow, but if so, he was pretty sure that there would be no proving it.

Talking of parts of Jack Bristow... "That's got to be Jack," he said, as the Dart narrowly avoided bumping up against a giant pair of shoes. What were the odds of finding someone else walking around the bar with feet that size?

The Dart swerved and circled around. "Got the signal!" Marshall said triumphantly. "Okay, Mountaineer, just stay with him. When they get into the private back room, we'll be able to pulse the cameras and pick up the closed circuit feed."

As the little car zoomed over the bar carpet in pursuit of Sloane's shoes, Weiss listened in to the two microphones on his headset. Background chatter... A brief conversation in Swiss-German, Jack talking to one of the bar staff. Yes, the gentlemen were expected, and if they'd like to come this way...

"They're in," Weiss reported to the others.

"Stick close, Mountaineer," Vaughn advised. "We don't know how long a window you're going to have to get through the door."

Getting shut out of the private back room would make this op an embarrassing bust. And while, personally, Weiss would be only too happy for this fishing expedition to come up empty, they needed that to happen with Jack Bristow's field behaviour fully exonerated.

Because any other result was going to get the un-fun kind of messy. He flicked a glance sideways at Vaughn. If questions were raised over Jack's loyalties, Sydney was likely to get tainted by the same brush; and then Vaughn would ride to her defence in full white knight mode; and then Weiss would have to follow him to try and rein him in... and then he really couldn't think of anyone else who was likely to leap on the end of that chain.

Being the anchor sucked.

Sloane's feet passed through a door, and the Dart zipped in on his heels, narrowly avoiding being crushed as it fell closed. "Hector!" a plummy English voice said delightedly, starting off a four-way exchange of pleasantries. There was a confusion of feet as the men greeted each other, and the tiny car avoided them in jerky arcs.

"Where's that video feed?" Kendall demanded, leaning forward impatiently.

Marshall's hands flickered over the keyboard. "Pulsing..." He waited as a progress bar travelled across the screen, then bit his lip. "I'm not getting a hit for the camera. There must be something interfering with direct line-of-sight. Mountaineer, can you move the Dart into a more open area?"

Weiss watched tensely as Sydney manoeuvred the car into the centre of the carpet. From what he gathered from Marshall's explanation, it was supposed to be next to invisible, but this room was better lit and less busy than the bar, and if Sloane or Jack were likely to spot an out-of-place movement, it would be now.

"Okay, stop there!" Marshall said into the radio. "Pulsing... Yes! We have the feed." He typed even more frantically. "Just give me a second to, um... oh, here we go."

The image from the Dart's tiny camera was eclipsed by a new window, this one a far more familiar overhead CCTV view. It showed the four men sitting themselves down on facing couches - Sloane, Weiss couldn't help but notice with mild bogglement, with his arm slung casually over Jack's shoulders. Sydney made a faint sound over the comms that was somewhere between a snort and a cough. Weiss resisted the probably suicidal urge to ask, "Say again?"

Kendall adjusted his own microphone to speak into it. "Secondary mission, your objectives are complete. All you've got to do now is stay out of sight."

Weiss grabbed himself a chair. Sydney and Dixon's part in the op was done - theirs was only just beginning. Now the primary mission was underway, and from this moment on, Sloane's behaviour and how much of it Jack let him get away with came under even greater scrutiny.

Weiss hoped - for Sydney's, Vaughn's, and by extension his own sake - that Jack was going to play this one entirely by the book.

He couldn't help but be aware that Jack and the book had never been particularly close acquaintances.