the spy au that @philosophium ordered !!
Andrew slips through a slit in the crowd, brushing through the sleek trains of expensive gowns, rich wool suits jackets catching on his own. He’s on his second flute of champagne, and the tartness keeps him focused. His attention is on the flavour and the rim of the glass and the warp of faces through it. His earpiece crackles and whispers.
He can see his mark on the opposite side of the room, surrounded by servers and liars and pretty things. One of them is all three, Andrew can tell: a waiter’s vest, a seam of over-applied foundation, and bright blue eyes.
He’s distracting, flighty, a rubber band pulled all the way back. He looks like the memory of a case file, and a name occurs to Andrew one second before Kevin hisses it into his ear.
“It’s fuckin’ Charlie Pilot. Don’t engage, Minyard, we’re not here for him.”
Andrew doesn’t make any effort to reply, just takes another pull of champagne. He’s not really watching the troupes of entertainers or the clockwork security or the velvet and silk blooming under bowing chandeliers. He’s not even watching the man he’s either going to rob or kill, who’s laughing and weedy, red in the face from the alcohol. He’s stuck on Pilot – next to his target, holding a heavily stocked tray of appetizers, his expression pleasant and empty.
He’ll be an irritant to what should be a straightforward plan, if he keeps hovering. Andrew takes a loaded step forward and the voice in his ear complains.
“Don’t even think about moving in until Pilot leaves. He’s probably doing reconnaissance for Matt. I bet he doesn’t even know about the file.”
Andrew watches Pilot’s face tick, the way he blinks like he’s on a timer, the way he’s worrying the inside of his cheek with his teeth.
“I bet he does,” Andrew murmurs, and he drains the last of the champagne. He plucks his tie pin away from the fabric and drops it in the empty glass, leaving it on a passing tray.
“What— what the fuck Minyard, we’ve lost visuals. Do you hear me? Andrew? Andrew?”
Andrew weaves through the rest of the golden crowd, ignoring the buzz of Kevin’s reprimands in his ear. He finds a new spot on the outskirts of the crowd where Pilot has installed himself.
“Do you know how fucking expensive those cameras are? You’re such a piece of shit operative,” Kevin says. “When you inevitably come back without the intelligence and without our equipment, it’s costing us to keep you around, do you realize that?”
Andrew’s more focused on the way Pilot’s shoulders are turning to face him, the slim line of his tailored pants, that eyelash-thick smudge of un-blended make up.
“Shrimp?” Pilot offers, swaying the tray in his direction.
“No,” Andrew says, but he stays uncomfortably near, feeling along the edges of his boundaries without finding any seams. Pilot’s composure is still and reserved as a frost-ravaged garden.
“Have a good evening then,” Pilot says graciously, turning back towards the host that Andrew should be sizing up but hasn’t even looked at. He glances at him for a sliver of a moment, finds himself uninterested, and looks back at Pilot.
Andrew catches him suddenly by the arm, but relaxes his grip just as quickly, caught off guard by his own impulsivity. His own disguise is just an invitation and sun bleached hair; he isn’t playing a character like Pilot is. He’s neutral for a living, but Pilot is a new weight on his scale, unbalancing him so that he can’t quite settle at zero.
When their eyes meet, the polite, curious waiter snips out of existence. Charlie Pilot stares at Andrew, with eyes like the bluest part of a fire.
“There’s a conflict of interest,” he tells Andrew calmly. “And your interest will lose.”
“I’m not interested in anything,” Andrew says broadly.
“Hm,” Pilot says, unconvinced. “You’re lying.”
“I don’t lie,” Andrew says. He’s always saying it; it’s a novelty that employers enjoy and enemies challenge, amused.
Pilot raises his jaw, mouth twitching. “No, you wouldn’t, would you.” His eyes flicker to the side of Andrew’s face, where Kevin is breathing furiously through his earpiece, then down to the grip he still has on his forearm. He lowers his tray down until the rough edge is pressed to the root of Andrew’s hand threateningly. “You’ll want to let me go, Andrew, or you’re going to end up needing a longer armband.”
Andrew feels genuine surprise squeeze his fingers around Pilot’s wrist. He hadn’t noticed the black fabric extending a whiff beyond his crisp white sleeve. He lets go, and Pilot tucks his shoulders back, satisfied. His hair is too dark to match his freckles, Andrew notes quietly. It is, perhaps, what the make up was meant to cover up.
“You are not going to win, Charlie,” Andrew says. “We’re the more capable team.”
Pilot smiles indulgently. “‘Charlie’,” he repeats, mouth curling around the name. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been Charlie Pilot.” He jostles his tray from one hand to another, and loosens his collar with his freed hand. “And I don’t think you understand how much farther ahead we are than you. If you’re looking for information, we already have it. If you’re trying to find the connections this place has to the Yakuza, we’re the ones undoing them.”
“Who’s we? I don’t remember seeing anything about loyalty in your case file. You’re just a runner.”
Pilot looks briefly bothered by this, and he juts his chin again. “I’m loyal to whoever’s doing the work that needs to be done.”
“That doesn’t answer my question. Who are you?”
He looks down, at Andrew’s empty hands, at the hip where he’s hiding his gun. His expression is warped and sad when he looks up, like the real filling in his strange costume is finally oozing out.
“You can call me Neil,” he says, and drops the whole tray of food so that it clatters and rolls into the host’s feet. There are gasps and yelps, partygoers dodging and stooping to catch the runaway platter. Andrew looks impulsively down to track its progress, and when he looks sharply back up into the knot of activity, Neil is gone. Of course he is.
He doesn’t have time to think about where he might have disappeared to, just steps neatly into the opportunity that’s been afforded to him. He uses the distraction as a doorway directly into the offices behind the coddled host.
Kevin is asking repeatedly for updates, and Andrew fishes the earpiece out and tucks it into his breast pocket. He likes to be alone for this part, when the most important door closes behind him and everything makes as much sense as a ticking clock.
He keeps thinking of Neil’s reaction to ‘runner’, of the vulnerability trussed up in his persona. He finds himself sick to his stomach wanting to know what his real hair colour is.
He tries every door in the polished row of them, finding all of them locked. He picks the lock on the door farthest from the burble of the ballroom behind him, and cracks into what looks like a room built for business arrangements and drinking. There’s a snifter next to a half dozen tumblers on a cart along the wall, and extensive cabinets under the desk.
He feels his way along the underside of the desk, and opens each drawer, idealistically left unlocked and unprotected. He finds useless information and shady information and heaps of anonymous, unlabeled tapes.
He finds the safe in the floor, facing up patiently under a wingback chair and a panel of floorboard. He stoops so that he’s face to face with it, shrugs his jacket off like a dead skin onto the floor, and puts the heart of a stethoscope to the face of the safe.
He’s sweating, spread out surreptitiously on the floor, but the safe is flimsy. It cracks in under an hour, the party wilting two rooms over, pressure taking him by the hair. Andrew flicks the door open impatiently, unwinding the stethoscope from around his neck.
It’s filled top to bottom with paper, and he reaches for the first file, carding his fingers through the spill of sheets.
Got you, it says. Over and over again, in unassuming little typescript. And on the next page, got you.
Andrew’s fingers flex. The next file is the same, and the next. A million taunting, twirling repetitions: got you. Got this. Got here first.
The safe was already cracked. The list of names was already stolen. Neil’s face winks and swarms when he closes his eyes, furious. If you’re looking for information, we already have it.
He roots around for the bud in his pocket and pops it back into his ear. He leans back, splayed away from the spill from the safe, the stacks of failure. He enunciates clearly into the microphone sewn into his collar.
“We have to find Neil.”