19

New Orleans, Wednesday March 22, 23.45 CST

The device she had found had been burning a hole in Maggie’s pocket for the best part of an hour. Lewis Rigby had insisted they bury the hatchet with a drink. No hard feelings and all that.

Throughout their conversation, though her eyes didn’t waver, Maggie did not listen to a word the grubby little hack was saying. Instead all her brainpower was channelled into her fingertips, as she turned the object she had snatched from Forbes’s suit pocket over and over in her own.

It was round and flat, a disc; and yet it had buzzed. It was too thin to be a cellphone, even a novelty one. There were no buttons, nor one of those clam-shell flaps that might conceal them. A moment of panic seized her, one she hoped Rigby did not glimpse as she pretended to be fascinated by the story of how exactly he had come to tap the cellphone of the former mayor of Atlanta just in time to hear him call the Hot Guys chat line.

What if she had been half-right? What if the buzzing sound had indeed come from the wardrobe, and from the suits, but she had reached into the wrong pocket? What if she had had the chance to grab Vic Forbes’s cellphone, only to come away with a flipping bar coaster or whatever this piece of crap was?

They finally got back to the Monteleone where she made her excuses, though not before running into a crestfallen Tim, who gently asked whether her headache had cleared.

‘My what?’

‘Your headache.’

Christ, she’d completely forgotten. That had been her explanation for leaving the bar, hoping Tim wouldn’t notice that Rigby was waiting for her just outside. ‘Oh, yes. Right as rain. Thanks for asking.’

‘So perhaps you’ll join me for that nightcap we missed out on?’

She checked her watch: gone midnight. ‘You know I’ve had a long day, Tim. Flight down and all that. Would you hate me if I had an early night?’

Of course he wouldn’t, he insisted, his words brimming with the caring solicitude of an English gentleman, even as his eyes wondered if, since she was taking to her bed, she might want some company.

Once upstairs, having shaken him off and closed the door behind her, she plunged into her pocket and pulled the thing out. Fucking hell, if it wasn’t actually a poxy coaster after all. From the bloody ‘Midnight Lounge, S Claiborne Street’.

She threw it on the bed, convinced that she had screwed up royally. What the hell was she doing here? She was an analyst of international relations, a diplomat for Christ’s sake, and here she was, fannying around pretending to be a journalist, playing at being Sherlock bleeding Holmes. And she was crap at it. Somewhere in that house – in that cupboard – was Forbes’s BlackBerry, bursting with the information that would answer every one of the questions that would save Baker, and she had missed it, passing over the magic lamp and reaching for the wooden spoon instead. She could curse-

There it was again. The buzz. The coaster was buzzing.

She picked it up and stared at it. At last she smiled. So that was what this was. She hadn’t seen one of these things in years. Not really the style of the kind of places she dined in these days. Not very Washington.

But maybe joints like the Midnight Lounge in New Orleans still went in for handing customers a pager while they waited for a table. Get a drink at the bar; when the pager buzzes, you can be seated. She wondered how the police could have missed it: but perhaps it would only have started going off again late in the evening, as the Midnight Lounge reopened for business.

And if it was still buzzing now, its batteries still alive, did that not suggest Forbes had picked it up recently, maybe even very recently?

She glanced at the bed, with its enticing offer of rest after an exhausting day that was already eighteen long hours old, and then back to the coaster.

She was damned if she knew how she would explain her miraculous resurgence of energy if she ran into Telegraph Tim, but she’d just hope to bloody well avoid him. Mind made up, she went downstairs, stepped outside and hailed a cab. ‘Midnight Lounge on South Claiborne Street please. As quick as you can.’

In her haste, she didn’t notice the man watching from the other side of the street. The same man who had seen her arrive from the airport, step out with that British journalist and then return with another person entirely – male, Caucasian, one hundred eighty pounds, five feet eleven – to the Forbes residence. Nor did she notice this man flag down a second cab, so that he could follow her into the New Orleans night.

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