We found ourselves in the HQ for the second time today. Maximus had got let off for kidnapping Tiffany, calling it a "delayed arrest". He did get a warning though. Right now he was helping me solve the code on the back of that photo.
Tiffany had been taken for questioning by people she'd never seen around twenty minutes earlier, and now sat on a chair behind us, under instruction to tell us everything that was said if she got a call. We could only keep her here for so long, and then we'd have to let her go under tabs so we could find her if we needed her again.
"This is stupid," Maximus complained. "It's like they've done each word in a different code."
I stared at him. "Maximus, you are a genius."
"Well, that's a change."
"Yeah, enjoy it while it lasts."
Then Tiffany's ringtone, which she'd played for us earlier, sounded off, and we both looked at her. I warned her not to tell where she was. She nodded and answered it, a few "hmm"s and "uh-huh"s and then she put it back in her pocket.
"All right. He said in that restaurant, you know the one where everyone seems to go on first dates, or last minute plans? In about ten minutes."
"All right then. You go on ahead of us from here, now. We'll turn up roughly five minutes after you."
"Oh, and Tiffany," Maximus stopped her as she tried to leave. "If you aren't there when we get there, trust me, we will still be able to find you."
She nodded slowly and then left. We worked a bit more on the code, and then were about to leave, when:
"You can't go like that," Boss informed us, appearing out of nowhere.
We looked at our clothes.
"What do you mean?" Maximus asked.
"Yeah," I agreed. We're not even in uniform or anything."
Boss shook his head. "Didn't you hear what our delightful suspect said? Allow me to quote, where everyone seems to go on first dates, or last minute plans. I even had my first date in that place. Nothing will look more unusual than a young girl and a young boy sitting there, at midnight, as 'friends'. The looks on your faces are quite amusing."
"We have to go as a couple?" I blinked, lost in a total jaw-drop moment.
Except for a loud groan, Maximus didn't seem all that bothered. He managed one of his shrugs and said, "Got it covered."
"Seriously, Briony. We're fine as long as no-one wants proof. And that would just be weird. We just have to look convincing. We haven't got to be convincing."
"What the hell is the difference?" I demanded as he pushed his fingers through mine like it was completely natural to him. I just felt awkward. "Can't we just argue like we normally do? That's a couple-like thing to do."
"Not in a restaurant," he raised an eyebrow. "And I know the couple thing isn't why you're acting so nervous you'll give us away."
"All right," I put down the menu. "First of all, let's pretend I'm nervous because this is my very first date. I pretend I've been single since birth all the time. Second... I met Last Year here."
"You met your exhere."
"Yes. Now, look, there they are." Luckily, the group had chosen a table right next to ours, which I thought was rather strange until I realised that they were here first and Maximus had actually led me to the table while I complained.
I was suddenly aware how strange we must look. We were about the most mismatched excuse for a couple. We were like eating barbeque chicken wings while drinking milk. There was me: average, boring girl, nothing stand-out-ish about me. And then there was Maximus: tanned, amazing hair, and bloody dreamy eyes.
Dreamy eyes? I didn't just think that.
"Yeah, so which one's the mastermind?"
"Well that's obvious, it's..." I had to trail off because the person who I'd initially thought was taking the lead now seemed to be taking a harsh talking down to by another guy. There were eight of them altogether. Six of them were men, and then there were two girls. One of them, of course, was Tiffany. The other one seemed maybe seventeen, which wasn't too young considering I was eighteen. They both sat in absolute silence. Clearly they were only there to hear the plan, nothing else. They were just being used.
As I watched, the guy next to Tiffany tapped her and then rather conspicuously looked in our direction. They talked, and then he came over to us.
"What do you think you're looking at?" he demanded.
"Nothing," Maximus said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise-" I started.
"Don't give me shit," he snapped. "Why are you so interested in what's on at my table?"
"I'm sorry," Maximus smiled. "But I'm not the one going round interrupting couples' meals."
The man laughed. "Ohhh, you're a couple are you?" He looked at us. "Well my girlfriend reckons you're just friends, so I'd like to see you prove you're a couple."
I swallowed and tensed. Maximus was going to have to be relied on to get put of this one.