If the guy hadn't spotted him, everything would have gone according to plan. Europe wasn't a big place, but it wasn't small either. The borderless world of terrorist cliques was smaller, though. Vaughn knew the guy and the guy knew him. They caught each other's eye across the club, and a frost of fear descended from Vaughn's scalp to his chest to his gut, freezing him for an instant before he turned to the bar and took one last sip of his drink, his moves casual. He was halfway to the door when the guy's hand fell on his shoulder.
He had two options: fight or feign ignorance. He couldn't fight; that would blow the mission. He looked around at the guy, flicked a gaze up and down his beefy body.
"You're not my type," he said dismissively, and tried to turn away again. The gun in his ribs stopped him.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" He reshaped his face for confusion, irritation, and a touch of contempt as he was yanked along stumbling toward the curtained VIP room. The gun thrust harder between two ribs. "Hey! Look I don't know what you want, but you've got me confused with someone else."
He kept the act up as they wound their way through the club, but knew his protests were useless.
As he was forced into the room, everyone sitting at the big round table looked his way. Jack's expression didn't even flicker as his gaze took Vaughn in. He was leaning back against the padded seat of the booth, his expensive black suit blending into its leather and shadows. One hand rested on the table near a whiskey glass; the other was below the edge of the table. Vaughn would have found that more reassuring if he hadn't known Jack wore his gun in a shoulder holster.
"What's this?" he asked, with the same detached interest he might show if he'd received a dinner he hadn't ordered. The man was stone. Around the curve of the table sat Sydney, Weiss, and their target, Mislov. Of them all, Mislov actually looked the most concerned--it was his bodyguard holding the gun.
"CIA," said the bodyguard. "I recognize him. Last year. Paris."
"I wasn't even in Paris last year, dickhead." He got a thump on the back of the neck for that. It hurt like a motherfucker and he took several steadying breaths.
"How do you know he's CIA?" Mislov asked with a sharp look.
"He was in the hotel."
Sydney exchanged a glance with Weiss, both of them making a show of rolling their eyes for Mislov's benefit, and then Sydney lifted her drink, studying him over the rim of the crystal tumbler, letting the glass obscure the intensity of her face.
"That's not exactly evidence," Jack said. His tone was neutral though. He wasn't ready to call it yet. Vaughn felt his chest tighten, nerves ratcheting up a notch.
"I think he's cute." Sydney cocked her head. "CIA agents aren't that cute, are they? They're all, like, old guys, right?" An innocent remark if you didn't know that just two hours ago she'd been heatedly clashing with Jack over mission protocol.
Jack gave her a sidelong dirty look but no comment.
"He is not so young," Mislov observed with his own head tilt. The scene was starting to give Vaughn an uneasy tingle along the back of his neck, exactly in the place he'd been hit. "Past his sell-by date for my taste."
"Look," he spoke up. "I don't know who you people are, but I'm going to leave now." As he tried to pull away from the bodyguard, he got wrenched back into place. He'd known it was a futile gesture, but he had to make a few futile gestures to stay in character. The guy snaked Vaughn's wallet from his pocket and handed it to the second bodyguard, who carried it to Mislov. The choreography of criminals.
There was nothing of interest in the wallet, and Mislov dropped it on the table after a quick inspection. "What shall we do with you, Mister--" He glanced at the open wallet with mockery. "--Payden?"
"I think you should give me back my wallet and get this fucking oaf off me." He glared at the bodyguard, who'd welded himself to Vaughn's side. "The guy's cologne could fell a water buffalo from ten yards."
Cologne Guy kidney-punched Vaughn, nearly sending him to his knees. Jesus, his job sucked sometimes.
"See if he's transmitting," Mislov said to someone while Vaughn was levering himself back to his feet. A fresh wave of panic hit and it took all his focus not to look to the others for help. No one had expected that he'd be made; Donnelly was in the van at the back of the building, hearing everything. He wouldn't interfere--he might already be pulling away by this point, falling back to their secondary position. There was no way to backtrace the transmitter, so Donnelly was safe. Vaughn, not so much.
The bodyguards found it on the first sweep and twisted the tiny silver stud off his dog-collar. Vaughn set his jaw and stared at the carpet. Mislov, given the device, dropped it into his drink. It bulleted to the bottom of the glass. Vaughn swallowed his first impulse to speak. An agent's knee-jerk instinct wasn't necessarily going to be on target in a situation like this. He had to let one of the others take the lead.
"So," Jack said, gazing levelly at him. "Why don't you make it easy on yourself. Who are you keeping tabs on? Me...or him?"
That gave Vaughn a direction to take, but he couldn't just leap there. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. He imagined himself delivering that line with a coolness to match Jack's. He didn't accomplish it, but it was good to have goals.
"You shouldn't play games out of your league," Jack said, studying him. He was deep in his assumed persona and Vaughn thought it was kind of creepy the way Jack could look him over as if he'd never seen him before. His gaze crawled up Vaughn's body until their eyes met again.
"I'm not playing games--look, I don't know what that thing is you just ripped off me, but *whatever* it is, I didn't know it was there. I get all my gear second-hand. This stuff doesn't come cheap, you know."
Sydney and Weiss smirked at him, the bastards. Jack's expression turned bland as he raised his brows. "I'm guessing you don't either. But I'll take my chances."
Even though it was just Jack, that chilled his blood a few degrees. They were in a dangerous situation. The mission was designed to stretch over several weeks, and it was critical. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like any surprise developments.
Before he could say anything, Mislov took up the slack. "I thought you liked a more exotic sort of animal, Laszlo."
Jack cut his eyes across the table with a small smile. "What's more exotic than my own CIA agent?"
"Now how do I know he is *yours*?" They were bantering.
"That is the question," Jack agreed with equanimity. Refocusing on Vaughn he asked again, "Who are you keeping tabs on?" A pause and then he went on. "Bear in mind that Mr. Mislov will only torture and kill you, whereas I will keep you on a leash until I tire of you, and then torture and kill you."
Oh joy, Vaughn thought, heart sinking into his gut. It was going to play out like that. And it was clearly time to throw in his hand. "You're bluffing. You can't abduct a CIA agent. They'll have your balls."
"I'll have yours first."
Vaughn didn't have to try very hard to look unnerved. Sydney and Weiss were sitting tensely with their hands flat on the table, like cowboys sensing a gun battle to come. They were both looking sideways at Jack, and then suddenly Sydney melted.
"Daddy," Sydney said, sliding closer to him and touching his shoulder. She had a big toothy grin. "Are you going to give him to me for my birthday?" She actually tried to wind a curl of her father's hair around her finger, but it wasn't quite long enough.
"I'll get you a less dangerous toy for your birthday, sweetheart. Something with a pretty accent." He smiled back at her in a perfectly sociopathic way. Sydney pouted at him while issuing warnings with her eyes that only Jack and Vaughn could see, Jack because he was inches away, Vaughn because he knew what to look for. Her loyalty was comforting, though he predicted fierce embarrassment to come--embarrassment all around, except maybe for Jack, who never seemed to mind anything. Vaughn was waiting for the day when he'd get to see Jack Bristow squirm, even just a little.
"But he still hasn't told us his preference," Mislov said. He was leaning back with his jacket loose, watchful and ready. His complaint was not a friendly one; he wanted to know if his operation was compromised. "I think perhaps you've made it too easy, Laszlo--offer a man death or the leash, and he will always choose the leash."
"I don't even know who you *are*," Vaughn said sharply, drawing Mislov's attention. "We're just interested in Boros."
"You see, Josef?" Jack inclined his head like one who has graciously won a match. "He is interested in me." He sounded mildly amused.
Mislov didn't look happy. His mouth flattened and his dark gaze held steady on Vaughn, assessing him.
"This is purely routine, low-level stuff," Vaughn said, pretending to appeal to Jack. "You'd be crazy to kill me."
"I said I wouldn't kill you. Right away." He glanced at the bodyguard. "Bring him here."
The guy pushed Vaughn forward into a stumbling fall at the edge of the table, by Jack's right shoe. It was the perfect opportunity for an escape attempt, and he took it as if it were the real thing, ducking sideways and under the table, shoving up with his shoulder. If he'd been able to complete the move, the table would have tilted its contents over into everyone's laps, temporarily trapping them.
The table was bolted to the floor. "Shit," he said, as Jack shoved him to the ground. In only a few moments he'd wedged his heel against Vaughn's head and drawn his arms back. The quick snap of cuffs followed. In a place like this, everyone had cuffs, even the guys in business suits like Jack. Police conventions and dungeon clubs--it was kind of funny.
Even when Jack let him up to his knees, the world remained off-kilter. His head was level with the table and Jack had a hand around his throat, fitted to the shape of his chin just above the ludicrous dog-collar he wore.
"There," he said calmly. "That's more friendly."
Vaughn struggled just a bit while Jack's hands did overly friendly things to him, stroking his neck and head. Jesus Christ, this was disturbing. Sydney was cooing with fake delight that had a touch of anxiety in it, and Weiss was just recovering.
"Jeez, dad." Weiss invoked the blasé attitude of the Boros heir. "You're not really going to try and train that, are you?"
"Why not?" Jack stroked a thumb along Vaughn's jaw. Now that was just wrong and unnecessary. "He might be fun."
There was no question that this would have been a single evening's charade, followed by a story the next day from Jack to Mislov about the toy he'd accidentally broken while handling, if it hadn't been for the bet.
"And that might actually be a challenge," Mislov said, an air of cynicism over a sneer beneath, "if you didn't use drugs."
"I don't have to use drugs," Jack said, giving each word soft and deliberate weight. Scarily, Vaughn didn't even think that was a lie.
"I would like to see you break a CIA agent barehanded, Laszlo. I say it cannot be done. In fact, I will bet you the plant in Syanogorsk that you cannot do it."
Jack's hand went still against Vaughn's neck and he saw Sydney's shoulders stiffen just a little with suppressed excitement.
"And if I lose?" Jack asked, as if making casual conversation.
"You sell me the formula." Mislov hesitated calculatingly. "At half cost."
"I thought this was going to be a partnership."
"We'll have many opportunities for lucrative partnership if this goes well."
"True." The two men stared at each other for a moment. "All right. What are the terms?"
"One week. No drugs."
Mislov waved a hand. "I will know if you use drugs."
Vaughn had been inching himself around in Jack's grip, and could see him raise one eyebrow. "That's very trusting of you."
"Trust," Mislov said, "is essential. In business as in bed." He smiled and a hint of tension around the table eased. He poured himself another drink and lifted his glass. "Let us drink to it."