When Mai entered the conference room, she smiled at John Stone, then she saw MacArthur Holt. She gave him a smile as well and got his usual scowl in return. He was an Eton man, reaching for a title, but John had confidence in him. His field work had diminished as Stone had involved him more in management.
Mai thought he had a bit of a James Bond streak. Holt wore only the best suits, carried a Walther PPK in a shoulder holster, and had a fondness for martinis. She often wondered if he took them shaken, not stirred. Today, he wore an immaculate white shirt and striped tie, the shoulder holster over the shirt but daring not to wrinkle it. He stood by the window, hands on hips.
“You wanted to see me?” she said to John.
“Yes, Mai. Sit down,” John said, an off-hand smile showing.
Her stomach lurched, and she wondered if she’d done something wrong. No, she thought, the last dead drop went exactly as intended. She sat at the table as John took his seat at the head. Holt sat across from her, arms on the tabletop, fingers interlaced. If anything, the scowl deepened.
“Is this about the dead drop in Rome?” she asked John.
“No, not at all. That went well. We debriefed that. Excellent work. This is the next step.”
“The next step to what?” she asked.
“You expect to fill and clear dead drops and eavesdrop at society parties your entire career?” Holt asked, his derision unconcealed.
“I’m sorry, Arthur,” she said, “have I done something to upset you?”
“No, Mai,” Stone said. “Arthur is upset that I assigned him to work you through a new project.”
“John, I’m not upset,” Holt said. “I just think I should be working with someone a bit more experienced.”
“Arthur, how will she get experience except through tutelage from an experienced agent?”
“I’d prefer she have a few more ops under her belt.”
“‘She’ is sitting here and has never liked it when others discuss her in the third person in front of her,” Mai said.
“Easy, old girl,” John said. “Arthur, get started with the briefing.”
Holt opened a folder that had been at his right hand, took out a picture, and slid it across the table toward her. She picked it up and studied it, getting a vague memory of a man with a younger face in a corner of a pub, playing a guitar and singing Irish songs. Holt then passed her the file, which she began to read.
“Fintan Maitland,” she said and looked up at Holt.
“You should know him. He’s your cousin,” Holt said.
“His father and my grandfather were siblings. That makes him my mother’s first cousin, mine once removed or some such. I don’t think I’ve seen him since I was eight or nine.”
“You don’t think?” Holt asked.
“He’s your cousin.”
“Yes, we’ve established that. I think the last time I saw him was during a summer visit to a family house in Belfast when I was eight or nine. He was singing at a local pub.”
“And there’s been no contact with you since?” Holt asked.
“No, but he may have had ‘contact,’ as you call it, with Roisin O’Saidh. She manages the money of anyone who was left funds from my mother’s estate,” Mai replied.
“Mr. Maitland has indeed ‘spoken with’ Miss O’Saidh about money recently. She denied him.”
“I’m sure she had her reasons,” Mai said. Roisin had cut her off often enough.
“Those reasons were probably that any money he gets he funnels to the IRA,” Holt said, with a smirk.
“There have been factions of the Maitland family with connections to the IRA,” Mai said. “John is aware of that. John, I thought you said something about a next step. This feels like an interrogation.”
“I was beginning to notice that. Arthur, shall we get to the point?” Stone asked.
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