Pepper hit both the up and down buttons for the elevators. Two of the six sets of doors opened with accompanying chimes.
"Here," Pepper whispered as she ran into the elevator with the Up indicator lit. Geoffrey and Cinnamon followed her. Pepper pressed the door close button. Below them, in the lower mezzanine, they could hear men shouting and running.
"There's a security camera in the back right corner of the cab, but no sound," said Pepper, barely above a whisper. She pressed a floor button. The cab jerked but didn't ascend. "Geoffrey, you're the one in the suit and trench coat. Pat your pockets for a key card. Sheila, look disgusted that he forgot." She unlocked her phone and made a series of quick gestures on the screen.
"That door's going to re-open in a few seconds," said Geoffrey quietly, checking his pockets. Cinnamon leaned against the back wall of the cab and folded her arms.
"Got it," said Pepper, giving the phone one last tap. "Okay, now make it look like you're palming me a key card from the camera's point of view." Outside there were squawks from walkie talkies and the knocking sounds of heavy boots on granite floor tiles.
Geoffery pretended to surprise himself and find a key card. Cinnamon lifted her head and lazily watched Geoffrey hand the nonexistent key card to Pepper. She made a show of sliding something to the back of her phone and holding it up to the security sensor.
The sensor beeped and its LED turned green. Pepper jabbed the button for one of the upper floors and the elevator cab started to ascend.
"The nice thing about the elevator system here," said Pepper, "is that it'll only say it's going up, not which floor. My contact says it's incredibly irritating if you're trying to make it back for a meeting right after lunch."
"But they'll have a good guess from how long the indicator light is on," said Cinnamon.
"Not that good," said Pepper. "It's harder to tell with these high-speed systems, because you don't know when it started to decelerate."
"Where are we going, anyhow?" said Geoffrey.
"To my contact's office," said Pepper. "She's very good at cooking up a story on the spot if anyone tries to question her, and the RFID on my phone will unlock her door."
"That was a neat trick," said Geoffrey. "I didn't know they were issuing toys like that with our budget."
Pepper snorted. "They're not. I requisitioned one ages ago and they laughed me out of the quartermaster's office."
The elevator doors opened. "Then how come you have it?" said Geoffrey.
"A little Acme Surplus, a little Fry's," said Pepper. "I needed it."
"Yeah," said Geoffrey softly, "I can really appreciate that."
"Here," said Pepper, tapping the back of her phone against another card scanner. The door clicked and she pushed it open.
Pepper checked the office as Cinnamon and Geoffrey followed her inside. "Clear," she called. " The alarm won't go off unless we try to take something substantial out of the office. My contact is very big on RFID. Well, and computer security."
"So, we've got what, about twenty minutes before we have to move again?" said Cinnamon.
"Sounds right," said Geoffrey.
"Okay," said Pepper, leading them into a boardroom and sitting down. "What do we know about the goons downstairs?"
"They're most likely but not definitely associated with DeBussy," said Cinnamon.
"Who left the USB key out as a decoy," said Geoffrey. "And who, at last report, is freaking out because Pepper found what he was really hiding. Now she's the one hiding it."
Pepper hesitated, then tapped at her phone a few times. "See for yourself." She held her phone in front of Geoffrey.
Geoffrey squinted and leaned back to read the screen. His eyes widened and he stared at Pepper. "How the hell did he get hold of that?"
"Had to be someone on the inside," said Pepper.
"Now I understand why you were so quick to point your gun at me earlier," said Geoffrey. He pressed his lips together. "And then our briefs for the op were different..."
"Any way to narrow down who it might be?" said Cinnamon. "Research is an awfully big division, and those briefs get assembled from a lot of different sources. It's hard to say at which point those security details were suppressed."
Pepper shook her head.
"There is one thing," Geoffrey said slowly. "I found out about the cordon around Sheila's apartment building when I scanned for radio. There were two people communicating. Base was filtered; could have been anyone. The field was unfiltered. Probably the guy on the grate who spotted us."
"Any referentials?" said Pepper.
"Code names," said Geoffrey. "The base was Great White, which I guess is a shark reference. The field was just a nonsense phrase. Beer Mouth or... no, wait. It was Mouse. Beer Mouse."
"Great White and Beer Mouse. Sounds like they just threw darts at a dictionary," said Cinnamon. She glanced at the wall clock. "Shouldn't we start moving?"
"Beer Mouse..." Pepper giggled. The giggling grew more acute, until it cracked open into a full-on laugh.
"This is a bad time to lose it, Ellie," said Geoffrey.
After an effort, Pepper stopped laughing. She sighed, still grinning, and stood up. "I know a way out that they won't have covered yet. Well, most likely." She giggled again. "And I think I know where those code names came from."
To be continued...