“How well do you know Charlie Hatcher?”

Her tone was casual, but neither she nor Gary moved a muscle.

“Charlie in quality control? The older guy?”

“He’s forty-four. But, yes, that Charlie.”

“Can’t say I know him well, but we worked together on the Brussels job last fall.”

The job had been conventional, even routine, a three-day fixer-upper carried out in New York for one of their operations in Europe. Charlie and he had meshed easily enough, relating to each other in the usual way of older and younger colleagues. Sam deferred to Charlie’s experience, while Charlie patiently humored Sam’s hunger for fresh approaches. Things went so smoothly that Sam mildly regretted having to decline Charlie’s offer of a drink after they wrapped things up on Friday. He had other plans, but might have squeezed in at least one round, and since then there had been no occasion to renew the acquaintance.

“He seemed like a good guy. Easy to work with.”

“Any other impressions?” Nanette asked.

There were, in fact, but Sam wasn’t inclined to offer them, not with his questioners looking so eager— particularly Gary. And it wasn’t as if he had anything profound to say. It was just that Charlie had struck him as a man who, even within the rigid hierarchies of Pfluger Klaxon, had grown comfortable with the idea of going his own way. The solutions they worked out that week had fallen well within company practice, but in implementing them Charlie had bypassed the chain of command and contacted the European office directly.

“It’s okay,” Charlie had reassured him. “When you’re out there in the provinces, old son, the leash grows very long and very slack. By the time our folks here think to give it a tug, those guys will have everything tidied up.”

Charlie was a man who had come to terms with the arc of his career, and that was especially refreshing when compared to the burnouts and buttoned-up types Sam usually encountered in the older ranks. Still, he could see how such habits might eventually catch the attention of a corporate security officer, especially one as exactingly proper as Nanette Weaver.

“Well?” Gary prompted.

“He was a straight shooter. With me, at least. And a nice guy.”

“Oh, he’s plenty friendly,” Gary said. “That’s the least of our worries.”

“You’re worried about him?” Sam directed the question at Nanette. “He’s very competent.”

“I agree,” Nanette said. “He’s a valuable associate. Especially when he’s home and behaving himself. It’s when he gets out in the world that he becomes a concern. An embarrassment, even.”

“Doing what?”

“The usual male transgressions. Women, booze. Not that all you fellows don’t indulge in some of that. But Charlie crosses the line. That’s why I’d like you to travel with him, be his friend for the weekend. At least until he’s well beyond the temptations of Dubai.”

“Spy on him, you mean.”

“Not at all. You’ll simply be along for the ride, keeping his nose clean. I’m not asking for a single report on his behavior, or his movements, and I won’t be badgering you for updates along the way. That would be unseemly, even improper. It’s not like we expect saintly behavior. I just want you to, well, keep him from going off the deep end.”

“Like a chaperone.”

“If you prefer.”

“For a man sixteen years older than me. Will you be telling Charlie about this?”

“In a manner of speaking. He’ll be told it’s you who needs a chaperone—because you’re a little shy, unseasoned, especially in the Arab world. So he’s supposed to take good care of you. Even show you a good time, within reason. To sweeten the pot, you’ll be staying at Charlie’s usual hotel, the Shangri-La, which is a regular, well, Shangri-La.”

“What if he ditches me?”

“Then you’re to let me know. Only as a precaution. By using this.”

She slid a black cell phone across Gary’s white desktop. The mere idea of it seemed to raise the stakes, and Sam’s first inclination was to avoid it.

“I have my own.”

“This one’s better. It’s already got a SIM card for Dubai’s server, and the battery’s good for a full week. You’re to keep it switched on 24/7, in case I need you.”

Sam still didn’t pick it up.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this. Maybe I’m not the right guy for the job.”

Gary frowned.

“Do me a favor, Sam. Do the department a favor. Just play along.”

“No, no. It’s all right.” Nanette smiled benevolently. “I don’t want him doing something he’s not comfortable with. But, Sam, I would like you to consider that Charlie has a family. A wife and three children, two in college. And if he runs off the rails again I’m not sure we can hush it up a second time. Much less keep him on the payroll.”

“You’d fire him? What has he done?”

Gary spoke again.

“‘Whoremonger’ would be the indelicate term.”

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