Cho Chang/Harry Potter Original Female Witch/Ron Weasley
Harry Potter Original Female Witch Original Male Wizard
Action Suspense
Children of Characters in the HP novels
Published: 04/12/2003
Updated: 05/05/2003
Words: 178,786
Chapters: 22
Hits: 20,126

Presents from the Past

Horst Pollmann

Story Summary:
Thirteen years after Hogwarts. Eight years have passed since the last time we saw our heroes. The number of children walking or crawling through the scene has grown from three to more than a dozen. And some of them are in the focus of attention - this way or the other ... Harry and Cho moved from California to Ireland. One of the reasons was to have the same time zone as Paris, where some other people are found, and some other children. However, it's their old place where the first dark clouds appear ...``A fic most of the characters known from the previous one - well, except for all these shorties somewhere between ten months and eleven years ...

Chapter 16 - Preparations

Chapter Summary:
Harry waits outside the city prison until his 'old friend,' the van driver, comes out. Then he summons him to a quiet place for a quiet conversation.

16 - Preparations

The entrance to the City Prison, for some people also serving as the exit, was no good place to hide. But so what, Harry didn't care whether he'd be spotted at once. The guy he was waiting for knew about his pursuing skill, had learned it the hard way, and Harry wasn't going to take chances when the man tried to disappear again. Consequently, there was little sense in hiding for the small chance of Harry being able to follow unnoticed.

A large door, a few stairs in front, a narrow sidewalk, then the street - this was the location. The evening before, when checking out the place, Harry had tested how far the locking field reached. It ended somewhere on the stairs - large enough, the wizard would be in Harry's view before he could find a chance for apparating off.

Coming with a car would have been helpful. Such a car would offer a seat, and a place for something to drink. But Harry was no car traveller, and hadn't felt like borrowing one. So he sat down, his back toward a wall at the other side of the street.

He didn't look like a beggar. Less from his clothes, but somehow his appearance refused to melt into the surroundings. Maybe it was his lotus stance.

Nobody had been able to tell him an exact time. "Such things can take some minutes," had been the answer, indicating that nobody inside was in a hurry delivering a resident into freedom, deserved or not. But certainly not earlier than nine o'clock; the daily morning routine took precedence for guards and waiters.

Probably not for that guy, only he wasn't asked. And so Harry had been there at five to nine.

Meditating was out of the question, he just wasn't sure whether he would come awake in time. As a consequence, Harry's thinking about what Cho had said the evening before, after they had left Ramon and Laila, felt a bit impaired.

He agreed with Cho that - at least - Groucho was more involved than it looked to the outside. The demand, five millions, left no question about that. From there, however, you could see too many paths that might open. Was it the entire corporation or just Biochemicals? Did it extend to Cho? To him? To the past?

And her dim feeling - Harry had no memory of a dark witch, none whatsoever. A British woman, that told him just enough to agree that the roots of this story originated somewhere in the past. Which was a great insight, really.

He should stop milling ideas. Getting upset about his own thinking was foolish, and besides, the task ahead demanded calm determination. In a meditation, he would not have gone upset..

There was someone coming out.

He was the first one leaving rather than entering. Paper bag in hand. Stopping just outside the door, looking around ... the wizard.

Now he looked at Harry, sitting there across the street. Apparently he recognized him instantly. He showed no surprise, didn't move further - as if, any second now, the man would sit down by himself on the staircase, should Harry still refuse to come over.

So Harry came over.

The wizard watched him come closer. When Harry reached the bottom of the staircase, the man said, "I guessed you'd be there. Had just no one to bet, except myself."

"I might hold your next bet, only it'll be harder to win."

"Now that really scares me. Where's your car?"

Harry registered with limited surprise that remarks like his last one would have no effect - from an objective standpoint, the wizard might even have scored the first point. But this had been just the opening. Aloud, he said, "No car. We'll apparate."

"Sure, why not? And where to, if I'm supposed to know? Because without that - "

Harry apparated, and summoned the wizard a split second later. While he walked to the light switches in the dark room, he could sense that he was already ahead in this imaginary scoring.

Not by much, and not to the outside, as the wizard's face showed when the neon tubes steadied after the initial flicker. But again, this had been just the opening.

The wizard looked around, only there wasn't much to be seen. Harry had removed a few easily identifiable items the evening before. There was almost nothing, not even something to sit on.

It wasn't Harry's habit anyway, in this room. But now he sat down - on the floor, again in the lotus stance.

The wizard followed his example - almost, at least his legs were crossed. Then he asked, "Where are we?"

"In Tony's training hall. Here we used to train weaponless combat together. It's well insulated, you don't hear anything from upstairs."

"Nor the other way around, huh? That's what you trying to tell me?"

"We didn't shout much, it's more something for the movies."

The wizard's mind felt quite tense - well, naturally so. Somewhere, the man didn't really expect him, Harry, using torture. Only he wasn't sure, and this uncertainty was draining a bit of his energy.

Harry waited silently.

When he could feel the wizard's impatience prominently in his haragei, he said, "I spoke with someone about catching you for an - er, conversation. This someone suggested I should come with my children."

"Your children?"

Astonishment, together with the previous impatience, had forced the question, apparently against the wizard's determination to play the game of silence by himself.

"Yes," replied Harry, "because they can do what I can do, only much more. With their minds, in particular - eight and eleven years old, it's unbelievable. When Sandy was a baby, it was pretty hard to stand her mind blows, until she managed to keep it under control. Anyway, they liked Tony a great deal, and, well, you know, children can be so merciless ..."

In this light, every face looked a bit pale, however not as pale as the wizard's face at these words.

"... but I thought, not this morning. They have to go to school, that's why."

The man's armour was showing cracks, no denying that.

"And besides - they don't even know about yesterday's kidnapping. It'll hit them much harder, and I'm in no hurry to tell them who's been kidnapped - "

"What? What are you talking about? A kidnapping?" Almost a cry, the voice showing traces of desperation, not bothering to fake disbelief.

"Yes. A woman with two children, actually close friends of us, and that's why I think I shouldn't spend too much time here, get it done and off before - "

"Wait! Wait a second - what story are you trying to hang on me? I've got nothing to do with ..."

Harry waited long enough to make it obvious what the wizard almost had said, and let his face show that he knew. Then he said, "No, of course you didn't take part in yesterday's action, after all, you were in prison at that time. That's why I'm asking myself what to expect from a last conversation with you."

Was there sweat on the man's temples?

"You won't do that," the wizard said, only his voice lacked certainty.

Harry made big eyes. "What?"

"You ..." The man swallowed his own reply. After a second, he said, "And I don't believe the other story. There's been no kidnapping. You're just trying to squeeze me."

Which, in a way, was as good as a confession. Only this wasn't the goal here, they both knew about the other, and whatever would be said here was useless in front of a jury anyway.

Harry came up, in the corner of his eyes registering how the wizard startled. He walked to a darker spot and came back with Nagini, then sat down again.

"This snake can distinguish lies from the truth. I can understand her, but for you - if she's hissing to what someone said, it's been a lie. Okay so far?"

No reply.

"Yesterday, Marie-Christine Garcia was kidnapped together with her children Carlos and Esmeralda. To get them back, I'm not shying off from anything - bribe, murder, torture, as I see fit."

Nagini kept silent.

Glancing at her, the wizard said, "She's your snake - you're making this up, she won't rat out on you, no matter what you say."

"I'm going to kill you anyway."

Nagini hissed.

Harry gave the wizard a cold smile. "See, that was a lie - you should have placed your bet here, since you were right ... Up to some point, I mean."

The wizard's lips moved without producing a noise. Maybe he had repeated just a single word like, for example, anyway.

In a thoughtful tone, Harry said, "I could imagine a deal, because what I have in mind - " He looked up as if to explain something. "I'm no cop, you know, I've got my own problems - yeah, and one of them is, to find Tony's murderer. Needless to say, there won't be any deal with that person. While otherwise ..."

"What deal would that be?"

"Oh, I don't know - it's just an idea, I mean, what do I care if someone lost two millions? As I said, my own concern is more about what - "

"Stop it! There's no deal - you make me sing, and then you pass me over to the cops, and this is California, know what I mean? They send me ..." The words ended almost in a sobbing.

"Nagini didn't hiss," said Harry. "That means, I definitely could imagine a deal. And for what else you said, with the cops and so - I don't care about confessions, would be content with a tale."


"Yes, a tale. Not a fairytale, but it might start like, there once was a group of wizards, and they watched day after day how millions and millions were spent for some crap movies, and ... Got it?"

Hope was shimmering in the wizard's face. "Er, yes ... A tale, yes ... There was this ..." He looked up. "Can I have something to drink? Please?"

Harry wasn't prepared for that, so he had to move up and fetch a can of water and a glass from the adjacent bathroom. He put it down in front of the wizard who had regained some balance.

"Thanks, er ..."

"Call me Harry, I'm not taking offense from that - as you said, this is California here. By the way, do you have a name?"

"Er - Jerry, I'm Jerry. These wizards, yes, er, they had an idea about some other business, kind of special delivery - " The wizard startled, apparently afraid to find no acclaim for his choice of words. "The planning was, make it neat, clean, reliable, you know, we'd got a repu - " He stopped again and looked up in panic.

Harry kept his voice smooth. "Keep to the tale, Jerry."

"Er, yes, Harry, yes - what I was going to say, they had got themselves a reputation for keeping terms and deadlines, and they were sure it would work in this other business too. We - they had a girl with them, Judy, she's - she was kind of a nurse, and her job was to take care of the - er guests. And it worked!"

"Just once," snapped Harry.

"Er, yes, you mean ..." The pretense of a tale was wearing thinner with every sentence, but the wizard didn't care any longer, was anxious to point out something else, and a moment later, it became obvious what.

"There was a guy, Frankie - had been a mistake from the beginning, only he's been one of the founders, no way to keep him out, said it's been necessary to make clear it's no joke - but there was a lot of shouting, and Judy said she's going to leave, now, and Frankie didn't take it well, but then - er, someone else told him if something's happening to Judy he won't see the end of the day, and this had to be the last time, and when Frankie saw the others, how they were looking at him, he said okay okay, and then it looked as if it was settled."

"That other guy," asked Harry, "what was his job in the actions?"

A swallow, and a quick glance to Nagini. "Scout."

"Scout? To find the candidates?"

The wizard's voice went into fast-forward. "Yes, and he looked for people where it wouldn't cause trouble, you know, rich enough they can afford it, no medical trouble with the child, no bodyguards that might start shooting, things like that. It wasn't planned to last forever, just some more stunts so each of - of them had at least a million - "

"And this scout selected Tony?"

The wizard was sweating heavily now. "I swear - he's been picked because it looked like no trouble, an older man with a younger wife, he wouldn't take risks, but healthy enough so he wouldn't get a heart stroke, and the girl was so - she wouldn't cry just from being held by another person, everything smooth, that's how it was planned, only that stupid asshole Frankie couldn't let go, after he'd been warned not to mess with - "

A fearful glance in his direction told Harry enough about this particular warning. He asked, "And what did this scout do then?"

A twist. "He's not been there - not in the other cases either, because he's been at these places before, and with the voice and so - 'twas Lennie who told him, and then he said that's been it, high time to get lost, only the others said no way, not now, how does it look if we close the company now, could as well put an advertisement in the newspaper. But they didn't know about ..." Another quick glancing up.

"Then why didn't the scout have the good sense to follow his own advice and get lost? The money?"

"Yes, that too." The words lacked the former spirit, came almost sadly.

Which made Harry ask, "And the other was Judy?"

The head in his view, kept tightly over bent knees, nodded.

Fighting mixed emotions, Harry said, "He should have been more convincing, this scout in your tale, when there was still time. Judy the nurse is dead."

Obviously, Jerry knew. He looked up. "How?"

"Shot by their own people. Head and chest - like Tony."

"Frankie." An almost toneless murmur.

Harry waited a moment, then said, "Well, Jerry, that's been quite a tale you told me, but so far, it's just good to ask myself what to do with you."

A shrug. "Go ahead."

When nothing happened, Jerry looked up again. "Listen - I'm sorry about your friend, I never planned to join a gang of murderers, if that's what you want to hear, only it doesn't make him alive, not Judy either."

With a rest of defiance, he added, "She was good with the babies, at least that worked. They hadn't a hair twisted when we took them back."

"That's been your job too?"

"Mine and Judy's. We could have walked through Wal-Mart with them, after one day, Judy had them laughing at her."

"Where's the money, Jerry?"

A snort. "Ask Frankie, only he's burning in hell, I hope he is." After a second, and with a different voice, Jerry added, "He and Mike, they were the only ones knew everything."

"What a pity. With that, I could imagine a deal."

Some interest appeared in the wizard's face. "It's in some bank on the Bahamas. Most of it, that is. Half a million is in some luggage deposit somewhere in the valley, for cases of emergency."

"That's all?"

Jerry looked at Nagini, looked away. After a moment, he said, "Each of us had a personal deposit, for the same reason. We had to show it once a month, to prove we didn't spread it around."

"How much?"

"Twenty grand, for each of us."

Here he was, had heard everything to hear, except for something this wizard still held back, some life-saver just like these twenty grand. And Harry couldn't care less. The day before yesterday, a person like that, a scout who had picked Tony, was bound to face something very, very unpleasant. And today - maybe without the dead girl, it would have been simpler to figure out what to do with this Jerry.

But then, maybe not.

What kind of punishment would be appropriate? Was there anything worth topping the wizard's misery? Had he, Harry, the right to punish? Maybe for revenge?

Not revenge. That would leave a cheap taste.

Harry found his decision. "Okay, Jerry. You tell me everything you know about the bank and the deposit, and I won't ask you about the rest. Then you can go."

"What makes you think there's anything else? Didn't I tell you what I know?"

Harry grinned humourlessly. "You, the scout? Who's looking for an exit since we're here? Say, 'I don't know more than what I already said'."


"Just what I thought. You know what's the problem with killing someone? To justify it for yourself, so you can live with your memory. And you're the one who picked Tony, and now you're trying to get away with - "

"I said I'm sorry, I really am - that snake didn't do anything, isn't that true? And it's other people's money, your friend's blood is not on it."

"You've got five minutes, Jerry."

"What guarantee do I have you keeping to the deal?"

For a second, Harry felt too baffled to muster some fury. Then he asked, "What guarantee did the parents have? I guarantee you that much - when the five minutes are over, you'll find out that it was a mistake not to talk."

Suddenly, the fury was there. "You stupid fool, can't you learn from your own mistakes? You waited too long once, and now your Judy's dead! Get reason!"

"Okay, okay." This reminder had taken the wind off Jerry's sails. "I have a number and a keyword, but I don't know what bank. Found them once when Frankie didn't watch - guess that piece of shit was too stupid to remember them without writing it down. But he's been clever enough not to write the bank's name."

"And the deposit?"

"Los Angeles Central Station - that's my guess, I'm not sure, only Frankie once made a remark that made me think so. And the key - yeah, the key ..." Jerry grimaced. "Check the building, check his apartment, rip off the floor panels, knock at the walls and listen, is all I can tell you. No idea."

Harry tried to imagine where he himself would hide a key. "Maybe buried somewhere?"

"Frankie with a spade?" A harsh laugh. "Never."

"Well, then ..." Harry wondered what Lieutenant Seeger would think when this Jerry was never seen again, after having met him right outside the prison. Not his problem, might Carl blame the State of California and his oh-so-reasonable laws.

Then another thought struck him. "One last question."

Suspicion rose in the wizard's face. "What else?"

"That kidnapping from yesterday - what do you make of it?"

"Me?" Astonishment pure. "Why do you ask me? Wasn't us, that's for sure."

"But you're an expert, aren't you? So what crossed your mind, hearing that a mother and her two children were kidnapped?"

Another uncertain glance, then this particular expert felt tickled enough to present his educated guess.

"They're crazy, for sure they are! Bloody amateurs, getting three people if one had been enough. Imagine the problems! The logistics - place, and food, and whatnot. And a grown woman - " The stream of words abruptly came to a halt.

Harry knew why. "You think she's already dead?"

An uneasy shrug. "You know what the problem is. You can blindfold her, but someone has to talk with her - and if she's going to hear that voice ever again ... The blindfolding makes it even worse, all she has is a voice to concentrate on. How old are the kids?"


Jerry's silence, together with his face, showing something like disgust, was answer enough.

"Could it be they caught all of them together because it's simpler that way? The mother keeps the children calm, would follow orders quicker?"

Jerry thought for a moment. "I could imagine it was just by accident - they were together when it happened. But then, would they give a damn for two five-year-olds left on a street?"

As if to emphasize in which category he was placing himself, he added. "You know, in the beginning, we thought about that - getting the baby with the mother, make things easier. Only there was always the same problem. And then we got Judy."

"And in the Waylon case, nobody would have been left to pay."

"What? ... Oh, yeah."

The sarcasm in Harry's remark hadn't reached its target, however, the sadness in Jerry's expression faded. And maybe that had been all that was intended.

"That's it," said Harry. "You're free. Get lost."

But Jerry surprised him a last time, by confessing he was broke, couldn't reach his money that way, and whether his council wasn't worth a tenner, or two.

Shaking his head, Harry gave him two fifty dollar bills. And seconds before still, he'd been sure that saying 'Thank you' to this baby scout would be out of the question.

* * *

Laila kept yawning, couldn't stop. Maybe she should have a walk outside, fresh air and some exercise, only it was too fascinating what Ray was doing there. And apart from that - probably he wouldn't move a muscle without her supervising.

Although it was nonsense. C4 was the most peaceful explosive, so to speak.

Twenty pounds, ten for each of the two suitcases. Quite some weight, together with the money. But Ramon would manage.

Laila yawned again. Wasn't used any longer to nights that short, years after her army time. And it hadn't even been - er, falling asleep late. No, she'd slept well, quite early for her habits. But Ramon hadn't.

He had awakened her at two o'clock, and in the first seconds she'd thought it was for something else. But it wasn't, he apologized for his rudeness, and when she told him to stop that nonsense, he had explained why.

Because he wanted to discuss his plan with her - this alone could have taken place in the morning, only if she agreed with him, some technicians had to start working instantly, and ...

Coming really awake, Laila gasped at hearing Ramon's plan. Then she contributed her own ideas. Around that time, it was Ramon's turn to gasp. Then he nodded.

And at three o'clock local time, she jumped to Ireland, using a Groucho portkey. If Ray couldn't do it himself, he would know whom to ask for that. Of course Ray's eyes turned big first, narrowed soon afterwards when realizing in which situation suitcases prepared that way might be needed. Then he said, "I'm going to do it myself, but you'll be right at my side, to wipe the sweat off my forehead. And should I happen to ask you, please don't answer me."

Then there was the question of where to get twenty pounds of C4 in a hurry. Laila dismissed other types instantly - first because she was familiar only with this stuff, then because it could be formed like clay.

And because it was safe.

Problem was, you couldn't enter the next store to buy it. Not even in California. Especially not in California, with their recent psychosis about terrorists. In her desperation, Laila had called this lieutenant.

"Are you mad??"

"Carl, it's for a good purpose. And I need it now."

"But - twenty pounds?"

"I haven't got the time for asking around on the black market, wouldn't even know where to look for. And my contacts in Israel - that takes too long."

"Does Harry know?"

"As soon as I can reach him."

"Laila, that's impossible. Twenty pounds - imagine, that's enough to ..."

"It's enough to blow an armoured vehicle with some cops in it - yes, you're right."

Silence. Then, with a totally different voice, "After that, we're quids - understand?"


"No we aren't - you owe me a dinner, but I'll pay."

"Not this evening, please."

Seeger laughed, although a bit shakily. "That's agreed. Give me ten minutes, then you can call Woods - but ask him first whether I just called. Do you need anything else? Detonator, cable - "

"No thanks, for that stuff I did my shopping in time."

"Yeah, I bet." Chuckling, Seeger hung up.

If she only had mastered apparition. But somehow she got everything together, the sausage-like bags from Woods, the money from Gringotts - the Goblins offered an escort, Laila thanked them and said it was okay, although she hadn't even found the time to catch her holster with the gun in it. And now she was here with Ray, watching how he installed the deadly lock.

The plan - Ramon's plan, combined with her own contribution - was based on an assumption as cruel as correct. If they cheat somewhere along the way, they're going to cheat altogether. And if not, they would agree - had to, otherwise they weren't ever going to set eyes on five million dollars.

The money would be in the two suitcases - five millions in hundreds filled quite some space. The suitcases were locked through a combination of magic and conventional technology, plus this deadly dough. The locks would not prevent anyone from opening the suitcases - but if they weren't disabled first, if someone tried to open the suitcases without permission, they would explode.

Not leaving any trace of that person, nor anyone standing close. And not much of the building either, should this mistake be made in a building.

To open the lock, a spell was required. Ramon would not know the spell. He would ask for it when it was time. Maybe he'd be forced to ask for it, which didn't matter - the other side, most likely Harry and Laila, would not tell him, not before his family had reached a safe place.

Which left Ramon in the hands of the kidnappers. Laila had desperately searched for another way, but Ramon had said, "Either they let me go, or they don't. It's as simple as that. But if they want to see money, at least Marie-Christine and the children are safe."

Laila was still milling the problem in her mind, always coming to the same point - if Ramon wasn't there, after having informed them about the nature of the protection, the kidnappers would never open the suitcase, which meant they wouldn't let him go after he'd arrived with the suitcases.

And the other way around - the moment Ramon had opened the last suitcase, he would be at their mercy.

Ray was mounting the trigger devices into the suitcases, which otherwise were empty. The money piled up on a table - hidden under a plastic tarpaulin, should someone enter the room. And the C4 sausages laid there openly, looking as innocent as putty.

Examining the tiny boxes in Ray's hands, Laila had the smaller half of an idea. She asked, "Ray, can you add a switch? So that, once the suitcase is open, someone can still blow them up?

Ray stared at her. "Who'd do that?"

"Don't ask ... Just answer."

He muttered, "Couldn't you say that first? Needs another box type - I cannot use a press button, the first shaking of the thing would send it skywards."

"Sorry, Ray."

The engineer glanced at her, back at his work. "Don't listen to me, my dear, should nobody be around when a technician is solving a problem, might burn the ears a bit, you know ..."

"Go ahead - I might learn something new."

Without turning, Ray said, "Oh, you would, no doubt about that, only today I'm a bit distracted anyway ... Well, I think I know how to fix ... Yes, that might ..." He froze for a moment, sighed. "I just figured out why this switch might come in handy - funny how you can trace back the purpose from the item."

He went to another workbench, rummaging there, murmuring, opening a drawer, closing it, then he came back with some thin cables, all the time avoiding Laila's eyes.

She asked, "How does it work? Light? Pressure? Tension?"

Ray's voice was a bit scornful. "None of that. All of these Muggle techniques are too clumsy." Now he looked at her. "You said, it should react when the suitcase is opened, right? Well, that's what it'll do, whether using the clasps or a knife doesn't matter."

"That's good. And the spells - can you make different ones for the two suitcases?"

"No sweat, sweetheart."

Then Ray was done with the locks and waved at Laila for her to come closer. "Look here, see these plugs? If you pull them apart, once the lock's activated, the thing goes bang. Okay that way?"

She examined it. "Can I try now?"

"Do you see any of that devil's clay around?"

Why couldn't technicians simply answer yes or no? Laila unplugged the connection, then put it together again. "That's fine. And now the explosives?"

"Said the lady to the bishop."

British humour of the oldfashioned kind, somehow that felt relieving. "Can I have a knife, please."

"Uh-oh." Ray handed her a carpeting knife with an adjustable blade.

She took the first sausage. A quick cut, and the wrapping was slit open from one end to the other. She extracted the C4, bumped it on the table, broke a piece, walked to the first suitcase. "We should put it all around the frame, I think it sticks by itself. That'll make a hell of a bomb."

Ray, still shaky from what he'd seen seconds before, now watched how Laila was working the piece toward the inner walls of the suitcase. "Does it really make a difference?"

"You bet, buddy. It's still a small rectangle, but the effective blast is more than twice that of a single lump ..." Laila stopped, seeing Ray's expression. "Are you putting me on?"

A wry grin. "Not at all. I'm sure you're right, but still, your answer missed the point entirely."

"Oh." Now she understood.

Some moments later, both of them were working, each at his own suitcase, after Laila had shown Ray how to link the pieces together, that a sculptor's diligence wasn't needed at all.

When the explosives were in place, they filled the money piles in. About to start with the last steps, Ray stopped. "Do you need to open them more than once?"

Laila thought a moment. "No."

"All right, then - would you please go powdering your nose, or whatever, and come back in ten minutes?"

"Why ... oh, yes, of course." Ray didn't know who would be the messenger, didn't want to know either; he just made sure it could be anyone except himself.

Laila went to the bathroom and inspected her face, which was a mistake. The phony already in her hand, she stopped and put it back. She would see Ramon pretty soon, while every phony call he got was likely to drain some of his precious energy. So she walked out, only to realize that here in this country the sun already had disappeared behind the horizon.

Coming in again, she found the suitcases closed - and marked with shiny stripes of paint, one red, the other blue. Ray held two envelopes in his hand, one of them showing a red mark, the other a blue one.

"Here - the two spells are written down inside. Now do me a favour and don't confuse them."

She wouldn't, and Ramon either. "Er - what about the pronounciation? How do you know the spell worked?"

Ray showed the hint of a smile. "Remember the holes I drilled into them? Check them closely."

Peeping into the small holes, Laila saw a red glowing, like an LED. "And if the light is off ..."

"You got it."

"Great. Perfect. Ray, without you - "

"Wait a second, I've got something else for you. Please check my dress - can you see anything conspicious?"

"Wha ..." Laila examined the engineer from head to toe - an older wizard, overall, office clothes underneath, quity formally, even a tie, fixed by a clip. A clip? Bending closer, she inspected it, then stepped back.

"No, nothing."

Ray smiled broadly. "You were right. Take it."

She pulled the clip from his tie, and only now, she became aware of the flat plate that had been hidden inside the tie folds. Inspecting the item, Laila could only see the most unusual tie clip ever. "What is it?"

"A phony. Single direction, like those babysitter pieces." Ray's hand went into his pocket and came up with a normal phony. "That's the receiver. Want to have a test?"

"Yes." She gave him the clip, took the phony, went out again.

A moment later, Ray's voice came through the phony. "The clip's on my tie again, Laila. I guess I have a fair idea who's going to use it, and - well, after all, a tie clip on a woman would look strange, wouldn't it?"

Yes, probably so.

* * *

Waiting. Waiting was the worst. Waiting and not knowing when the kidnappers would call again.

When his phony beeped the first time, Ramon came awake with a jump. But it was just Laila, telling him the technical preparations were settled, she had found someone, Ray, whom else, and all that was missing were the explosives and the money.

After this short conversation, Ramon felt guilty having fallen asleep after sending Laila around the world, then chided himself - she'd be the last to reproach him for that.

Laila ... Without her, he'd never have found the strength to plot his strategy, and the willpower to hold it. The true trial would come later, when he was going to leave with the money, but he knew - this way or no way.

This knowledge would keep him on track.

He showered, then had breakfast. No office work today - the worst vacation ever. Waiting again. Killing the time with TV. Switching it off. Thinking about possibilities, variations, tricks, and ways to counter the tricks.

Then he had a visitor, as surprising as the day before. Cho.

"I realized that you'd be alone," she said. "And, by now, probably ready to climb the walls. So I came to talk." Seeing his stare, she added, "Or to shut up."

"No - er, sorry, come in."

Walking inside, he asked, "How did you know I was alone?"

"I knew you weren't in the office. I know what Harry's doing. I heard about Laila's errands."

The fine art of leaving out. Like, and your family's kidnapped. The not so fine art of provocative remarks. Like that about Laila. Or was the provocation just in his mind?

Certainly not in her face. "So you've got yourself together, in time."

"In the diagnosis, you're right, while the cause-and-effect analysis is somewhat questionable."

Cho looked at him innocently. "Could you translate that to plain English, please?"

"Yes, I could. No, I won't."

Her glance turned to appreciation without a smile. "See - now I could follow."

He snorted. "Follow, huh?"

Cho's face showed impatience. "If I thought, a slab in the face would've helped, I'd done that. If - "

"I got that too," he interrupted her, "yesterday, before you came."

"If I thought pity would help, I'd do that now, and if I thought, I was better suited to the task ... But I didn't."

She was serious, no doubt. "Just so? And Harry?"

"Harry did already what I would have done. Long ago."

Surprise, surprise. But then again, not really. These two had some experience with this situation, from different angles. Which raised a question in Ramon he shouldn't ask, maybe, couldn't suppress though. "Say, Cho ... How is it?"

"To be kidnapped?"

He nodded.

"Every hour's an eternity." Cho leaned back and closed her eyes. "Not knowing what will be, and being alone ..." Her eyes came open again. "It's pretty much the same on both sides, that's why I came here, and in this regard, Marie-Christine is better off - she has Carlos and Esmeralda, she's got something to do."

Ramon pondered these words. "Same on both sides? But only to the inside, while otherwise - "

Cho shook her head. "That's wrong, Ramon, because it doesn't matter much, not compared to your own feelings. Even a beating twice a day would be some kind of regularity you can hold onto ..."

Hadn't he known? He shouldn't have asked, not Cho, at least.

"... which is most unlikely here. They didn't catch Marie-Christine and the children for anything like that, there's some purpose behind, and the visible part's the money."

And the seven eights below the surface? Aloud, Ramon asked, "And what if it's not the money?"

A dark fire was glowing in Cho's eyes. "Bring them back, Ramon, no matter how. No matter what they want."

"Like, information?"

Cho shrugged ostentatiously. "We can assume they already know what Marie-Christine knows. What else is there?"

"Details. Lots of them."

"Spill them out, if it helps. We knew it would happen one day. Bring them back, Ramon, is all that matters."

He nodded. "Listen, Cho - if my plan works, could be they're back and safe while I'm not. In this case, don't - "

She interrupted him sharply. "In this case, you have no saying. Don't try to get it in advance."

Ramon felt something like surprise, and relief. "Yeah - it's that simple, isn't it?"

His phony beeped.


"Mr Garcia." The woman again. "I take it you have accepted the facts in the meantime, after - "


The voice cooled, apparently not taking well to be cut short. "Very good. Then how successful have you been to get the money in your hands?"

"I'll have it this afternoon."

"Splendid. And how successful have you been to keep this business to yourself?"

"I'm the only cop in play. How's my family?"

"Rest assured, they are fine, and thanks to your quick response to our request, they might be even better soon. Mr Garcia, be prepared to travel a bit - you'll need your car, and your phony to receive instructions from - "

"I know the drill, lady."

The voice would have cut paper now. "It's not particularly helpful, Mr Garcia, to play the know-it-all. You can save the efforts to prepare the car with some position sender, or yourself, for that matter, because - "

"Don't you listen? I said I know the drill. If I knew all, you'd be dead."

"But I'm not." It came with a mean viciousness, then the line was cut.

Cho watched him. "You sure that's the way to talk with her?"

"Funny that it's you asking me." Ramon grinned thinly. "As you said, it just doesn't matter - and besides, I have to, it's already part of the plan."

"Well, then ..."

After a short silence, they spoke about more innocent topics, like Groucho Biochemicals, exchanged observations, presented half-formed ideas, things not fitting into the agenda of tightly timed meetings. In some way, these were subconscious attempts to cut a claim in some future, while at the same time both avoided being specific about anything scheduled or planned within the next weeks.

They were interrupted by the doorbell. It was Harry, and he was quicker with his own question.

Ramon told him about the phony conversation some moments ago and that he would be ready later, then asked in return which news Harry could tell.

"Well, I met him, and we talked."

"And then?"

"You sure that's the most important topic now?"

Ramon looked at Cho, back at Harry. "Why do I hear a question like that every five minutes? There's lots of time till the evening - so tell me, is he still alive?"

"Very much so, and what's more, he's got some pocket money from me."

Visibly satisfied with the reaction after this astonishing announcement, Harry gave a summary of what he had learned from that Jerry, and what kind of deal he had struck. He finished, "I'm going to put Paul on this track, and tell Seeger to look for a key everywhere."

When nobody said something, he added, "Whatever you think now - I just didn't know what else to do. I felt distracted."

Cho smiled at him. "I, for my part, think I'm hungry."

Which meant, I'm very pleased with you, but even so, don't expect me to cook.

Ramon suggested the other two should go to lunch and come back with some pizza for himself.

Cho said no.

Harry offered what he called his precinct routine.

Cho looked suspicious, however didn't offer any better idea.

A few minutes later, Harry was back with his food called Turkish pizza, and Ramon, after the first bites, gladly used the opportunity to discuss the similarities between Turkish and Mexican food - although it was more of a monologue.

Then Cho left, and Harry instantly tried to start a discussion about the alternatives how to guard him, Ramon, during his travel with an unknown destination.

Ramon ended it quickly. "No way, Harry. I can't help feeling they'd spot you, know you're there, or maybe they've found a trick to shake you off anyway."

"I wasn't planning to hide in your trunk, but with my Steel Wing, I could follow anywhere, sufficiently far away not to be - "

"No." Ramon was sure. "I'm not taking chances in this regard. On the other hand, I need an anchor man who's flexible and can react quickly."

"To do what?"

Ramon showed a short smile. "I have an idea how to handle it. It's desperate enough - no need to discuss it, so just wait ... Anyway, thanks for your offer."

"De nada ... Or is it por nada?"

"Hey - a sarcasm in Spanish, from you." This smile held a second longer. "That's remarkable, Harry."

Harry opened his mouth, probably for a sharp reply, closed it again.

"I see," said Ramon, "that's the opportunity to say what I ever wanted to say, without risking so much as a hit on the nose." He pondered the idea for a moment. "Only there's nothing that comes to my mind."

Harry just watched him.

"Well, maybe with a tiny exception. I might have a question, about an issue that came up a while ago when talking with Cho, except I don't know whether I should ask, not even with this moment's liberty, because - er, in a way, it might be a bit revealing, I mean the question as well as the answer, but it's nagging me, and before I die of curiosity - "

Looking slightly furious, Harry said, "Deborah's the answer. And would you please stop acting like a condemned man? There's a connection between what you expect and the results you get!"

Even at his current state of mind, Ramon could admire his friend's skillful parry. "I'm just realistic," he replied. "The chances for Marie-Christine and the kids are quite good, according to my plan, while my own are limited. But believe me, Harry, I'm going to use them."

Harry's answer was stopped by the door bell.

It was Laila, aching under the weight of two suitcases looking deceptively harmless, and with something else which raised the spirits of the two men considerably.