Chapter VI

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Dubai, UAE, Present Day

JOHN FOUND PIERRE AFTER saying good-bye to Ethan.

They took a car the short distance to the Burj. As they talked, John found it was a small world—the friend in high places Pierre had been talking about all this time was none other than Jordan Weston. So it's two birds with one stone, then. Only John's heart raced, his stomach was in knots, and he had a severe case of heartburn.

Something didn't sit right and John chewed on it all the way to the 144th floor, where he found it still wouldn't go down easy.

John and Pierre cooled their heels in the late-afternoon sun-soaked lounge of a dance club near the top of the world's tallest building, waiting for their appointment.

As was customary in his dealings with Important People, John knew the drill—hurry up and wait; don't speak until spoken to; the first to talk money loses. Despite how much had changed in the world of late, it was alarming at how little change the modus operandi actually had undergone. Money makes the world go 'round, John thought. Always has, always will.

Instead of acknowledging the awkward silence between himself and his newest partner Pierre, instead of doing the slightest thing about it, he sipped green tea from bone china, staring out the windows. John wasn't sure whether to resent or reward him for his connections, so he did nothing.

The door opened. "Mr. Cross." It was the executive assistant.

He turned.

"He's ready for you, sir."

"Very well," John said, motioning to Pierre to come along.

Pierre agreed beforehand that he would only make introductions and that John would take over from there. To John, Pierre was mostly here for appearances anyway. In these circles, everyone had people—handlers, assistants, bodyguards, thugs. And John wanted to appear to be "normal", that Pierre was one of his "people". The people he usually dealt with found appearances to be reassuring; appearances drove home the idea that John was the real deal.

They took the elevator farther up, to the 154th floor, and walked out into a clean, modern lobby. There were double doors at the far end. As they approached, those doors opened to reveal a reception area. A wiry man with an earpiece sat behind a high desk.

He motioned to them to be seated.

Of course.

John disciplined himself to keep from rolling his eyes. He shared a glance with Pierre, wordlessly urging him to keep cool. It was a simple power play; they would be made to wait another five to ten minutes.

As John sat, he was briefly overcome by what he might have irritably termed his conscience—it was like taking a too-large dose of medicine. It was a gigantic "what-am-I-doing" glimpse, an alarming whiff of perspective in which he could taste, see, even smell himself exactly as others might be able to do.

It was repellent.

In that split second, as his full weight came to rest on the seat that supported him, he thought of how at one time he had been innocent, back when he was young and ignorant and uncynical. Back when he had been an amorous husband, a plucky optimist new hire, an inexperienced father of a sweet little girl. But it had never felt quite right. He knew somewhere deep down that having a family was wrong for him, though he couldn't put his finger on why. The feeling nagged. He hated that he had to keep so many secrets. His work for the CIA and others had required him to make a completely different life for himself apart from Maggie and Airel.

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