Pritchard launched right into it. “You have no idea the pressure this is going to put on our margins,” he said. “They knew exactly who they’d gotten hold of this time, and believe me they charged for it. You’re free now, incidentally. They agreed to let us talk while the commandant fudges papers.”
Emily’s eyes flitted around the room.
“Relax. I swept.” Pritchard reached into his suit jacket. He removed a closed fist, held it out over the table at ninety degrees and opened his hand. A black object hit the table, skipped twice then lay still, looking for all the world like a dead insect. “They hid it under the table,” Pritchard said. “Pretty old-fashioned. Probably didn’t work in the first place.”
From beneath the table he produced a black gym bag. He unzipped the top and lifted the flap to show off stacks of local currency.
“Ten million local.”
“In numbers I understand?”
Pritchard shook his head as he re-zipped the bag. “Not sure where the spot rate ended up. I wouldn’t want to misrepresent the extent of our losses. Standards and Practices and all that.”
For Pritchard there was no such thing as a casual day. Always best practices, always in suits. Here, as in Syria, the suits were linen. In Grozny he wore them under heavy, fur-lined overcoats that made him look like an oil baron who’d absentmindedly wandered into the combat zone.
Emily imagined his closet to filled with hundreds of suits, dozens of copies of each style, a warehouse full of them.
Whenever blood, shrapnel or accumulated abuse ruined one suit Pritchard simply pulled a fresh one off the rack. According to him there was no excuse for a sloppy appearance in a client-facing role. Not even in a war zone. Apparently they’d drilled that into him as he racked up his professional certifications. The acronyms took up a full line on his business card.
Pritchard ran Syria from the business center inside a shattered Damascus hotel (“all it needs is IT”). He sent the militia up to the roof to fix the satellite booster dish to the roof (“yalla binna, habibis!”), and while they were busy upstairs he rolled up his sleeves and ripped cable out of the wall to make room for his modular Bloomberg. Never even loosened his tie. He was wired of course but he liked to use a monitor for visual reference when it came time to bitch Emily out over cost overruns. That way he could point to fancy-looking charts and graphs during the lecture.
It surprised her he hadn’t brought his tablet to the prison. “Where are we on our contingency?” she asked.
“New York thinks we’re burning cash in the streets. You wanted journalists after we blew up the Tropico? We bought them. You wanted the professor? We bought him. Now this. We may need the journos back if it hits the wire. On the bright side I don’t think we have to worry about litigation.” Like many accountants Pritchard tended to ramble. “Can you spare a moment for a personal question?” he asked.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Why’d you go after him?”
She shrugged. “I went with my gut.”
Pritchard frowned. He wasn’t a soldier. He didn’t approve of gut reactions. “All your gut is good for is buying high and selling low,” he said. “That’s been proven scientifically, you know.”
“I assume my tracker’s still working then.”
Pritchard nodded. “It cost satellite time. The Drone Master nearly had an embolism. That vein in his forehead popped out about an inch when I told him.”
“Drone Master” was Pritchard’s name for the prissy liaison from USAF EXPED. His real name was Carter. Pritchard had taken an immediate dislike to him because he wore his ties in a half-windsor (“what is this, the junior prom?”). Carter ran the drone wing and managed their satellite time. Like all old-school military men he deeply resented contractors. Like, all the way down in his bone marrow. “Did he call New York?” Emily asked.
“It shouldn’t show up in your review. I wish I could say the same for our fiscal profligacy.”
Profligacy. The word reminded her of Fulton, lying face-up in his cell, a zombie staring blankly at the concrete ceiling, absorbed in Reese’s wonderland.
“The rest of this better come off on the cheap,” Pritchard said. “Our unit’s financials are already looking grim ahead of next week’s analyst call. I know you never bothered to pick up your MBA so I’ll warn you in plain English: New York will be tight going forward.”
“Our next gig might be VIP security.”
“Bleh, indeed.” Pritchard closed up his gym bag. “Where’s the professor?”
“In his cell.”
“Working, believe it or not… And my friend Jefe?”
“What, you want to see him?”