Chapter 2 : Floor One
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The lift played its usual melodic chime as it touched down and the door opened silently; Merryn, first in and now first out, strode across the foyer and waited imperiously by the glass door that admitted CAMI employees to Floor One. Tom and James shunted along slowly, elbowing each other and glaring fiercely at alternate moments, leaving Merryn to roll her eyes and tut as though breathing the same air as those two idiots was beneath her.
"Good of you to show up," she muttered and turned back to face the door in a move that clearly rejected any form of reply. Promptly, she pulled a plastic card out of her jacket's inside pocket and stuck it into the card reader on the wall. A panel popped open and she pressed a thumb onto the lit-up pad and waited. The tiny buttons on the card reader flashed red three times.
"You've been out of the game for too long, Dunlop," he said wryly and she could hear the self-satisfied smirk in his voice. He pushed past her, leaving her to step back with folded arms and glower at him, and withdrew two plastic cards from a pocket. One he placed in the slot at the top of the reader, the other in the slot at the bottom. The buttons flashed green as soon as his thumb touched the pad and the frosted glass doors slid open.
"And that's how you do it. Best go and see personnel and get them to fit you out with the right kit," James said solemnly and he and Tom walked forwards into the bright light, laughing together and pushing, leaving Merryn to follow in their wake.
Floor One had changed dramatically since she had last been there. The beloved Bond films of her childhood had had it all wrong. The frosted glass doors slid back to reveal a painfully bright fluorescent light and an immense room beyond her wildest expectations; it seemed to go on forever, a huge expanse of cables and wires, of cubicles off to the sides that were virtually life-proofed and where the latest weapons could be tested, of people milling around and laughing with each other as they fired bullet after bullet into a sponge dummy, spell after spell into a Protego shield. And, at the heart of the madness, James and Tom cracking jokes, flirting with the girls, doing their best Russian accents and pretending to stroke a cat. Compared to the rigid, suited-and-booted Upper East Side, this place was anarchy but it was fun, she couldn't deny that. She just had no intention of showing her amusement.
Ignoring the whispers that followed her and the curious stares, Merryn strode across the room, parting the crowd like Moses, and stood impatiently behind James. "Well," she snapped, "if you two have finished arsing around, perhaps we can get down to business."
Everyone around her quietened down, their heads flicking from James to Merryn in the futile hope that they'd witness the mother of all arguments from the pair known for such antics. Nothing happened for a few moments but then James turned around slowly, a pair of thick glasses perched on the bridge of his nose and suddenly looking extraordinarily like his father.
"You're the one who took their time getting over here," he said coolly and Merryn could have sworn she heard a quiet 'ooh' pass through the gathered crowd. Frustrated, she turned on her heel and glared.
"Can I help you with something," she growled at no one in particular but it had the desired effect; the crowd dispersed back to their cubicles and mechanical work benches, leaving just the three of them and a disgustingly pretty redhead standing over a white table.
No one said anything for a moment then Tom cleared his throat loudly. "Merryn, this is Dee. Dee, Merryn Dunlop." The redhead smiled prettily and turned back to focus her attention on James.
Merryn sniffed. "Oh God, you haven't started going down the whole 'James Bond-Q' route, have you?"
Dee turned to fix her with a heavy stare. "Some clichés don't stand the test of time," she said in a delightfully raspy voice that turned words into song lyrics, "but when your parents name you Delia, you go for the first nickname you can find. You're good to go, Jim, just stop by Geoff before you leave. You're clearly suffering from withdrawal symptoms."
"Boyfriend? I knew there was something dodgy about you, mate," Tom grinned and ducked away from James' punch.
"Course not. Couldn't be unfaithful to you, Johnson," James quipped before the grin slid off his face as he looked Merryn in the eye coolly. "Geoff handles the guns- no innuendo intended. I broke mine last time I was out."
Dee scoffed and everyone turned to look at her. "Broke," she rolled her eyes, "you know bloody well that magic and guns don't mix!"
Merryn looked on blankly. "How the hell do you break a gun?"
"James-I'm-so-bloody-clever-Potter decided that what the world needed was a gun with a built in gun. So, what did he do? Bought a new wand, strapped it to the gun and tried to Stupefy some poor bastard- not kill him, mind, or at least that's what he said in the mission report," Dee explained but she was far less animated talking with Merryn than she was with the boys. "Anyway, the spell backfired and managed to hit the barrel of the gun. The bad guy is blinded- is still in St Mungo's, by the way- and Smart Arse Potter gets sent flying backwards, a piece of metal from the gun that's pretty much the size of your pendant of yours lodged in his chest, and wakes up in hospital a week later with precious little memory of the whole fiasco."
Merryn pursed her lips together. "Couldn't you have just gotten hold of a new gun?"
"It doesn't work like that, Merryn," Tom explained patiently, "our guns are custom-made down to the last millimetre. Perfect weight, length, equipment for each of us; if Jamie buggered up his, it takes at least a month to get a new one made."
"Which is why I haven't been out in a month," James growled but he sloped off to a cubicle at the far end of the room, stopping to chat with certain people and flashing a white-toothed grin at others along the way.
Tom cleared his throat loudly and suddenly Merryn realised that, a good few moments after James had disappeared into a frosted glass cubicle, she was still staring in his direction. Dee looked at her oddly before pressing her palms down lightly on the top of the white table; at her touch, the table top seemed to tremor as the middle section of it was raised up by some invisible lever. On the surface, spaced minimally, were an odd collection of objects that clearly served some higher purpose, even if their appearance suggested otherwise: a pair of sunglasses, a black fountain pen like her Mont Blanc one, pearl-tipped hair slides and, slightly less exciting, a standard British passport.
"Bet you didn't have that in New York, did you," Dee grinned wryly and Merryn found her lips curving into a smile before she composed herself and resumed a steely expression. "What you've got here is your basic collection; you can put in a request for anything else you think you'll need and once it's vetted and approved, we'll get it made and sent over to you. We'll start with these," Dee stated in a business-like tone, picking up the sunglasses and handing them to Merryn, "they look like your typical pair of shades but we don't do average here. Put them on, you'll see."
Merryn did as she was told and gasped softly.
"Thought you might like those," Dee said smugly. "Essentially, they're a tablet in a pair of shades. You can pull up anything from a phone or a laptop- maps, documents, pictures- and it'll appear on the lenses, visible only to you. There's a tiny little button at the back of the right hockey-stick that you can use to turn them on and off. You saw Jim's ones earlier; the lenses change from clear to tinted depending on the light but yours don't. We can modify them if you want."
Merryn shook her head. It would look stupid if the two of them were to wander around in matching glasses.
"Good, then we'll continue. Pull the pen lid off if you want to write with it, unscrew it and you'll find you've got a handy little back up wand, as we like to call them. Same core and wood as your own but given the number of times Jim breaks his, we've found it easiest to make sure he has a spare on him," Dee smiled and Tom rolled his eyes.
"Sounds like him. Clumsy idiot," he said but it was hard to mistake the warmth in his voice and Merryn suffered from a moment of nostalgia before she snapped to again.
"Moving on and the hair slides are, in my humble opinion, a work of genius. Sure, they look good but unscrew the pearl twice anti-clockwise and you're covered, top to toe, in a Disillusionment Charm and Protego Charm. Brilliant, if you ask me. Then, we got hold of another copy of your passport to support the cover story you two are travelling under so, unless you have any questions, I'm done here," Dee sighed and flopped down in a chair behind the white table, rubbing her temples wearily.
Panic struck Merryn and she turned to face Tom, the palm of her hand suddenly sweaty. "The two of us. You're not coming," she said dumbly, forgetting, for one moment, the importance of her unshakeable resolve.
Tom looked her in the eye and spoke gently. "No, I just came back. Jim's on this one and it'll be fine. You're both smart enough to get this over and done with, providing you don't kill each other first."
Before Merryn could reply, James came bounding back over, brandishing a sleek gun in matte grey and grinning like a child at Christmas. He slung an arm around Tom's shoulders.
"Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me," Tom smirked and James mimed throwing a punch at his face before turning to look at Merryn, his expression becoming more serious.
"Right, so if you're all done here, I'll see you at St. Pancras Station tomorrow morning, 0700 hours," he said coolly.
"Of course. We had intel that Holden's headed to Paris to finish what he started. Makes sense to join him there, don't you think? And I refuse to Apparate. Takes all the fun out of life," James smiled and pocketed the gun before turning to Dee. "Coming? Tom and I are going on a bar crawl and I thought I'd round up Al and Lou, maybe Lucy if she wants to come."
Dee grinned and promised to meet them at some obscure bar Merryn had never heard of before; the two boys strode confidently out of Floor One, joking and messing around like old times as everyone else gazed at them. Merryn was left alone with her goods. She pocketed the sunglasses, the hair grips, the pen and the passport and followed silently in their wake. She had a phone call to make.
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