Vinnie took another sip of his ginger ale and prayed to the train god that the ride would smooth out.
“How do we get them back there?” he asked, his lips still on his glass. It was a murmur, so quiet without the tin ears Verna never would have heard even as she stood half a foot away.
“We don’t,” Verna said, matching his tone, still facing the bartender. “She does.”
Hannah was in the back with Duane, so ‘she’ had to mean Maggie. That meant she had to be around somewhere. Vinnie let his gaze cross the party car, his eyes skimming across faces. She should have been easy to pick out, with that long black hair and the bruises across her face. Since the plan had been put in motion there hadn’t been time to think about anything else. Now, finally standing in calm waters, he wondered. Vinnie knew next to nothing about her. Her name. Her position with the team. The fact that he didn’t like her. Maybe that was unfair of him, but he’d come to like and trust the others, and if they didn’t like her…
Bar fight, maybe. He could picture that. She did always dress like she hung out at rough places. Probably some biker bar at the edge of town. Probably pissed someone off. Stole their drink. Flirted with the wrong guy. Cheated someone at pool. He could picture it all in his mind, now, like he’d actually been there.
“Can I take your empty glass?”
One of the waitresses had come around, startling him from his daydream. He smiled at her and put his glass on the tray she held out to him.
“No problem, sir. And you, ma’am?”
Verna’s eyes flashed. She had finally gotten her drink from the barman, and Vinnie didn’t think she would be willing to part with it so soon. To his surprise, she took a heavy sip from it, emptying half of it, and then put it on the tray.
“Too watery, anyway,” Verna said.
The waitress nodded and wandered off, toward the back of the car.
“Hand off complete, coming to you,” Verna muttered under her breath.
Vinnie raised his eyebrows at her. He looked around the car, trying to catch Maggie walking away from them. When he saw no one, he turned back to her and held his hands out, confused.
Verna laughed, a little too loud, and waved a hand at him. “That waitress called me ‘ma’am.’ I hate that. I’ve still got plenty of ‘miss’ years left in me!”
He shuffled around, forcing his hands to stay away from his ear. Instead they readjusted his tie, pulling the satin this way and that. Vinnie was confused, and only growing more confused as Verna made faces at him. As though he should have understood by now.
“In that case, maybe next time I’ll card you,” said a new voice in his ear.
She didn’t sound like the waitress. Did she? Wait, what had the waitress sounded like, anyway? No, she definitely didn’t sound like the waitress. Or look like the waitress. The waitress…had been wearing a black and white suit like the rest of them. And her hair had been…blonde. Yes, blonde! He was sure she had been blonde. Or maybe a light brown? Definitely not black. And…and…Vinnie would have noticed if she had been right in front of him, damn it!
“Let me help you with that.” Maggie’s voice came through his earpiece again. It must have been Maggie, anyway. It was a woman’s voice, and it didn’t sound like Hannah or Verna. But it didn’t really sound like Maggie, either. It sounded lower, huskier. Did it sound like the waitress? He already couldn’t remember.
“Thanks,” Hannah said. Then, a couple seconds later in a much lower tone. “Hand off two complete, heading for the back.”
He looked at Verna, who shrugged.
“There’s more than one way to disappear.”
She turned back to the bar, trying to get a replacement drink from the bartender. Vinnie knew he should be walking away. Finding someone to make small talk with. Blending in, somewhere not near Verna. But he was very confused and his head hurt and mostly he just wanted to find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes while staring at nothing.
He got a few steps toward the bathroom before he heard Hannah and Duane in his ear again.
“Break time,” Duane said.
Vinnie could picture them, standing in front of the guards at the front of the car and flashing the pilfered badges. How long did they have until the undercover guards found they were gone?
“There’s no switch scheduled,” he heard one of the guards say. Barely. The earpieces weren’t meant to pick up surrounding voices. It must have been quiet back there. Quiet enough that he could hear the suspicion in the guard’s voice. He could imagine his hand, reaching slowly for the gun in his holster. Duane and Hannah were silent. Maybe they hadn’t expected any resistance.
Vinnie saw the first guard he had pegged, obviously trying to keep her face flat as two socialites tried to talk at the same time.
Boring quiet, nothing is going to happen, I hate this detail.
“Tell them you need the break from the party,” Vinnie said. “That if you have to listen to one more socialite complain about some designer you’ve never heard of you’ll put a bullet in your mouth.”
“Look, man, the break isn’t for you, it’s for us,” Duane said. “That party…If I have to listen to one more socialite…”
A pause. Vinnie held his breath. He felt like he could feel everyone holding their breath. Verna. Joey. Maybe even Maggie. Then, quietly, he heard the guard laugh.
“Yeah, I get that. Fucking rich dicks, man.”
There were sounds of shuffling around and commiseration between the two real guards and Duane and Hannah.
Hannah’s breathy voice sighed over the earpiece. “The tweedles are gone. All clear sailing from here, if I do say so my…oh shit.”
“Don’t say that,” Joey said, speaking for the first time. “Why would you say something like that?”
“This lock is electromagnetic, that’s why I would say that.”
“What’s that mean, babe?”
“It means I can’t pick it until the power’s off. I mean, I could pick it. But it won’t open, and will probably set off an alarm somewhere.”
“Can you see where the juice is coming from?” Joey asked.
“I’m looking…looks like it’s wired into the train’s main power. The electromagnet might have been an afterthought. If I’m looking at these wires right, this should go right up to the electrical car at the front of the train. Face or Smile?”
Vinnie looked across the car at Verna. She was chatting and laughing with some guy who kept flashing his diamond cufflinks. She didn’t look like she’d heard a word, but Vinnie knew better.
“Smile’s trapped by a trust fund kid,” he said. “Guess it’s me.”