Hello, sir. I'm Rawlings, head of the Department for Special Acquisitions and Liquidations. Allow me to welcome you to the DSAL. I appreciate you coming from Zurich on such short notice. How was your flight? Yes, I know, the Concorde isn't all it's cracked up to be, but we needed you here fast. Time is of the essence. This is our car.

Sorry about the view, but bulletproof glass isn't the clearest. Cigar? Drink? No? Hope you don't mind if I do. Thanks. (Tony, make for corporate headquarters!)

Upon arrival at HQ, I'll introduce you to the other members of the team.

By the way, I was sorry to hear about your father. I knew him from Tunisia. A great man. You should be proud of him. I realize you had your differences, but he was proud of you. I know you told him not to get involved with the Austrians, but what happened wasn't his fault. Or yours. Anyway, he will be missed.

Why, yes, this is the DSAL's building. I didn't think you'd be so surprised. Where did you expect us to be, in some Batcave? The most inconspicuous place, my friend, is always right in the middle of things.

Take your coat? The others will be waiting in the ready room as soon as they hear our car is off the elevator.

Here they are. Good lads, all of them, if a bit hard-headed. But that's the business for you. Mind your Ps and Qs, now.

Gentlemen! You know our guest by reputation, I believe. He'll be working with us to retrieve as many items as we can from the Barcelona debacle. Once you're all briefed, I expect loadout and deployment in less than one hour.

Now, allow me to introduce you to the other members of Alpha Bravo team. The best available, and as good as any.

Hardin here was our man on the ground in Riyadh for that incident in '99. You remember that, I'm sure. Brooklyn boy, ex-Marine, a logistics wizard, a legend in the fixer business. Put Hardin on the ground anywhere in the world and, odds are, he speaks the language and knows some of the locals. One of the only men to walk out of Nepal after that infamous bit of betrayal in '83, and I do mean walk out: 1,100 miles worth in six weeks with nothing but good boots, a knife, and a newfound facility for the Sherpa tongue. A great yarn, that one, and all true. Shame no one can be told about it.

The Dutchman here may be deaf as a post, but there's no lock—mechanical, electronic, or otherwise—that he can't open. He can still sense vibrations, you see. He's also dead solid perfect at reading lips, across a room, over a TV monitor, or through a rifle scope. And, although it may never come up, he designs and forges his own throwing knives from meteorite steel. I can't say if it's true or not that he never sleeps—he's only worked with us for three years.

Pierre you've heard of, I'm sure. Lucky, lucky Pierre. He's been the last man standing in more messes than I can remember. Good man to be standing next to when the wheels come off. A master of subterfuge, disguise, and subtle poisons, deadly or merely incapacitating. Highly skilled in the operation of both rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft. Speaks English without a trace of an accent but is French to the core. A survivor of our November gambit. The only survivor, actually, though that turned out to be just as well.

The Fader is supposed to be on the roster, too, but he must not be here yet. Mei Ling! Is the Fader...? Oh, my apologies. I didn't see you there. Well, you can see—or not see—the Fader's talents for yourself. A perfect infiltration man. Quiet, a face that could be anybody's, can get lost in a crowd of two. It's what he does best. That and interrogation.

Finally, there's Mei Ling. She'll be the eyes and ears, coordinating you and the others through the Xerxes satellite communication system. The subvocal transceivers in your mastoid sinus will filter out most vocal inflection, but it's her voice you'll hear. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this is the only time you'll ever see her. I may be old-fashioned, but I'll be damned if I'll put a woman in harm's way.

Now. Gentlemen, to the briefing room. We know where the Barcelona dossier is being kept, at least until tomorrow night. Coffee? It's genuine Blue Mountain. Good. Now listen up and listen good: Your hoverplane leaves at 0500 hours.