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What, was "Rudy" on cable last night?

. . . Yes.

Eliot Spencer vdistinctive
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Geneva, Switzerland, late Thursday night (local time)
James Sterling, formerly IYS Insurance, now an agent of Interpol, was good. He was very, very good, quite possibly the top of his field. The number of times he'd backed Eliot and his team into a tie -- always a tie, never a win, not on either side -- was testament enough to that. The was no way Eliot would've been able to track the man down on his own, not across the 190 member countries the man could be working in at any given time.

Of course, James Sterling also had a daughter. And no matter how well Sterling had trained Olivia, she was still a teenager. Teenagers were idiots. They made mistakes. As had Sterling, it turned out, when he brought the Leverage team in on his mission to rescue her. The key to finding Sterling was simply to find Olivia.

There were easier ways to get the intel Eliot had promised Leland. For instance, he could be trying to bust into Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, or one of the handful of regional offices around the world. A massive security system and actual armies worth of guards would definitely be easier than going directly after a man who knew Eliot's face and MO as well as Sterling did. But -- it just wouldn't be anywhere near as satisfying.

Yeah, Eliot thought, when Sterling clicked on the light after returning from dropping Olivia back off at her swanky Swiss boarding school for the night and saw Eliot sitting in the living room of his suite. This was much more satisfying.

"Spencer." Sterling actually managed to look almost bored when he said it. "To what do I owe the pleasure."

Eliot stood, cracking his knuckles and his neck. "Nah, Sterling. Pleasure's all mine."

The door fell shut behind Sterling and the fight was on.

Sterling had apparently learned a new trick or two, since the last time Eliot had beaten him up. For instance: this time he used his baton to desperately whack at Eliot's head instead of his hip. He managed to land a blow that split the skin over Eliot's right eyebrow, but that mostly just made Eliot angry.

A hotel like this one was going to be well-insured, so Eliot didn't worry too much about the damage to that wall.

"The hell do you want?!" Sterling shouted as Eliot slammed him down onto the desk (nice one, too, real mahogany; Eliot liked it when a place put that kind of effort into interior design) and pinned him in place.

"Who said I want anythin'?" Eliot smirked down at him, then yanked him up by his collar and slammed him back down again. Sterling gurgled, and Eliot frowned, knocking his head into the desk a few more times until Sterling stopped squirming. He stepped back, letting Sterling slide to the floor, and watched him for a few moments to make sure he was unconscious, then pushed his hair out of his face and winced. He pressed his thumb against the split on his forehead, then kicked Sterling in the foot once for good measure before rifling through his pockets to find his phone and any other electronics he might have on him. He figured those and the laptop should cover it.

Of course, if he just took them with him, then Sterling would know this was more than just a random revenge beat-down. Which meant Sterling would come after him. Maybe follow him to Fandom, put the students in the line of fire.

Eliot looked over the small collection of computer equipment. He dug around in his own pocket until he pulled out one of Hardison's magic little hacker thumb drive things, then looked at the electronics again. ". . . Dammit."

He was going to have to call Hardison.

[ooc: for him -- and let's be honest, potentially her -- on the other end of the phone.]

That was absolutely enough said. Though now Eliot was disappointed he'd missed it. He wondered which one of them managed to talk the other's ear off first.

"How the hell should I know what's in the case?" Eliot asked, turning the thumb drive over. "It was on the left. On your desk."

It was super smooth, how he just straight up didn't bother to answer any of Hardison's questions about where he was or what he was doing.

You hear that sound, Eliot? That was the sound of nerves fraying, teeth grinding, and jaws clenching. It was the sound of one hacker praying to god and all the little angels up in heaven for patience.

It was the sound of orange soda being cracked open. Hell yeah it was.

"Gimme a damn minute to see which one is missing," Hardison growled into the phone, extricating himself out of Parker's lamprey-like hold and ruffling Megabyte's silky ears so she knew that this daddy wasn't just gonna abandon her.

"All right," he said. "Flip it over and check out the serial number imbedded on the stick. Does in end in -57Hb2?"

Eliot flipped it over, then had to lean into the light from the living room to be able to see it clearly. "Yeah. Which kind does that make this?"

"The kind that ain't been improved yet," Hardison said, rolling his eyes. "See, what I do is buy a bunch of thumb drives in bulk and then spend time improving them, optimizing them for different functions. Like, some some drives come equipped with worms to infiltrate firewalls and other security protocols. Others come with viruses and trojans to overload a system, like when we don't wanna hack a network, we just wanna bring it down. Others have programs written into them that automatically copy all the data on the computer's hard drive and then delete as it goes. The problem with thumb drives are that they have limited space. So you task each drive for one thing, rather than making it capable of doing them all, you feel me?"

Hardison was clearly winding up for a long and involved explanation here.

Parker had woken up by now, and listened enough to realize that Hardison could be talking to only one person.

"Where is he?" she hissed, tip-toeing over, Ratman T-shirt hanging off her shoulders. "Why didn't he say where he was going? WHERE ARE YOU, ELIOT?"

That might deafen him a little, but Parker lost her fight with self-control very suddenly.

Eliot winced. "I've only been gone one day," he growled. "And what you're tellin' me is that this thing is useless."

Sterling groaned, and Eliot stalked over to smack his head into the floor again.

"I got a limited window here. What if I gave you the address and room number for the hotel?"

It wasn't like Eliot didn't already know that Hardison was tracing the call, after all.

"You bailed on us with a damn message which didn't say nothin' useful at all and left your phone and your earbud behind," Hardison growled. "Hell yeah we're worried! We're your crew! You don't just bail on crew!"

And the sound of flesh against something unyielding did not make Hardison rest any easier.

"The address and room number? What, am I supposed to send you room service? You wanna be really useful, gimme the IP address and the router key." He caught Parker's eye and nodded towards the couch, taking his seat and grabbing his laptop again. "Did you mention Interpol? Are you in Lyon? London? What the hell are you doing, anyway?"

Parker scowled and followed him over, then said, "Megabyte was worried. She doesn't understand. We gave her dog cookies to make up for it but she still doesn't get it, and I don't either."

Displeased Parker is very displeased.

She put her pointy chin on Hardison's shoulder and muttered to him, "We could've helped in person and this wouldn't be going sideways on him."

"Girl, I know that and you know that and even Megabyte knows that, but some people just don't understand the true power of friendship."

Look, his introduction to Pinkie had been very enlightening, okay?!

"Who the hell is Megabyte?" Eliot shook his head, resisting the urge to just toss the room for the router. Which -- "It's a freaking hotel, Hardison, there's no router in here!" He went back to the laptop, turned it over and scowled, then opened up the cellphone to see if he could get it to connect to the hotel's network. "I'm in Geneva, alright?" His instinct was to tell them everything, which surprised him just a little. He wasn't sure when that happened. He had his mouth open to explain when a wave of panic washed over him.

They were thieves. They might take the necklace.

"I'm running -- Quinn called in his marker." And that was the first time Eliot had outright lied to them. Not fudged. Not joked with. Lied. "That's all I can tell ya. Sendin' you the wifi information now."

"It's one of Val's aliases, we're working on them," Parker said, scowling at the phone. Under her breath, "I don't like that Quinn guy... Bring us back chocolate. No, gold. No, money." She whispered to Hardison, "He's not going to get caught, is he?"

"Nah, mama, he ain't. I'm not gonna let that happen to our boy here." And, hell, it wasn't like Hardison could even keep talkin' smack about that. Eliot owed Quinn and no one took a debt more seriously than Eliot Spencer. "A'ight, a'ight. Gimme the name of your hotel and the wifi info and I should be able to get you whatever you need."

Once he owned the wifi, he could use that connection to hack into the computer that was giving Eliot all this trouble. Systems were designed to pick up signals and connections all the time and with the right commands, those signals and connections could be used to make a laptop and do tricks. Hardison? Knew all the commands.

"Wait--did you say Geneva? Quinn's got you running on Sterling?!" Look, Eliot had mentioned Interpol already and Hardison knew where Sterling was currently staying. This was Sterling, of course he kept tabs on him. "Now I ain't even sure that I wanna know what he's got you doing." That was a lie. OF COURSE he wanted to know!

"You knew --" Of course Hardison already knew where Sterling was. Of course. There really wasn't any way this job wouldn't have gone smoother if he'd brought them in from the get-go, was there.

Except, you know, for the part where he couldn't.

Eliot sighed heavily. "Tell Parker I ain't robbing a bank for her. She'd just get jealous she wasn't doin' it herself. And stop givin' my dog aliases! She has to learn her real name, first." That was easier than addressing the elephant of what the hell he was trying to do. "I need the intel from the computer on something nice and portable. The thumb drive gonna work for that?"

"Yeah, yeah the whole point of a thumb drive is to make information portable." Sorry, Eliot. Even if Hardison understood your motivations, he was still going to snark. It was how he rolled.

Though, once Eliot passed along the information he'd asked for, he'd be able to enjoy a few minutes of silence broken only by the clackity-clack of Hardison's fingers flying over the keys. At least until he started talking to himself. "A'ight, a'ight. Gimme a few more minutes to crack this encryption--aww, is that Black ICE? That's adorable--and then I'll own the entire computer. 256-bit encryption? C'mon now! You're Interpol! Have some respect for yourself."

A few more keystrokes and it was done. "There ya go. All good. But before I turn it over to you...let's hear you say it."

Yes, Hardison was absolutely going there.

"He's right, I probably would," Parker muttered, then more towards the phone, "Val is smart enough to figure it out! And now is where you say 'thank you, Hardison.'" She glared at the phone, rubbing Megabyte's ears. "And you could have told us it was for Quinn."

And then they would have followed him.

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