The Improbability Volumes – Day 16

See DISCLAIMERS. Also, PLEASE NOTE that this section isn’t exactly safe for work, but it isn’t completely NSFW either, so proceed at your own YES I AM 18  risk.


WHITE IN CHECK

Katja was always gone by the time Denna woke up.

The first time, she’d awoken in the conference hotel room alone and found herself still restrained. Denna had been furious that Mannis had left her in the embarrassing magnetic cuffs, and sat up with a curse, only to discover herself naked from the waist down, her shirt ripped open to expose her chest. She’d blushed so hotly she could feel the heat on the hands she pressed against her face.

She’d soon discovered that Katja had left the key on a bureau on the other side of the room.

After she calmed down, she had to admit it was a sensible precaution. Her first instinct upon waking had been to call [Foster? Marsh? One of the others?], but then she wondered what it was that she could possibly say other than the truth – Mannis had been lying in wait in her room, and then had attacked her…except that wasn’t accurate, now, was it? She hadn’t fought back – she’d been a willing and energetic participant. She couldn’t tell anyone.  Now that she’d voluntarily slept with a wanted criminal, wouldn’t she lose her job? Would she be treated as some sort of accomplice for literally sleeping with the enemy?

Naturally, that led to her next question: was Katja still her enemy?

In the end, Denna had done the only sensible thing she could. She pretended that the sex had never happened, and doubled her efforts to find and capture Mannis and King. Her panicked in-depth search of the hotel’s feeds revealed absolutely nothing. She was the only one who knew that Mannis had been there, had been in her room.

If she reflected often about what had happened in that room, she chose not to acknowledge it even to herself.

And then, the Falcon disappeared again. There was nothing on the agency feeds, so Denna started her own datasets, complete off the agency networks. She stored and analyzed the data on her own shadow systems, but there was nothing there either. Katja was nowhere to be found.

Three weeks later, back in Versailles, she was walking from the morning’s team meeting back to her latest temporary home. Renault was making noises about leaving France again, this time to head to Greece. It would be tougher for Foster’s team to work in Athens – their ops weren’t cleared for that country, and if they made the trip, they’d be on their own without backup.

Denna would never say so, but she thought Foster was dragging his feet about making a decision.

She had just finished her second double-backed loop to shake any surveillance and was headed once again in the right direction. Two blocks from the train station, she felt it.

Someone was watching her.

She wasn’t planning to take the train back to her neighborhood. She was suspicious of heavily surveilled areas now, particularly since she knew that King was monitoring the feeds the same way she was. King’s skill was comparable to her own and she alternated between being impressed and frustrated. The station was just another pivot point on the long walk back, but today, she wondered if she could use it to her advantage.

Denna stepped on a crowded commuter car and found a open corner seat directly beneath the camera. She sat with her back to the wall, pulled out her mobile, and hacked into the feeds, trying to catch a glimpse of who was following her.

The feeds were down. That made this train a complete dark zone. Nobody could see her from outside this train, since the cameras were out of commission, but on the other hand, she couldn’t record who was following her for future analysis, if they’d followed her here at all.

Then she felt eyes on her again.

Without moving her head, she looked around the car. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her – all involved in their own lives, conversations, devices – until she noticed the one person looking right at her.

Katja Mannis sat midway through the train, right next to one of the doors, her head mostly covered by the cowl of her coat.

Denna didn’t move a muscle, trapped between wanting to shout, wanting to flee, and wanting to confront Mannis to ask what the hell was going on, but then she drew in a sharp breath.

Katja tipped her head, and the look on her face made promises that had Denna’s body temperature rising. She remembered what that look meant – she’d certainly fantasized about it enough over the last three weeks. Yet while Denna’s body clearly wanted one thing to happen, her mind was conflicted. What was the right thing to do? Call for backup? Chase Mannis down all by herself?

The car slowed and stopped. Mannis raised an eyebrow, almost as if in question, and then stood and strolled off the train as if this were a simple afternoon ride through the city.

Unsure, Denna followed.

**

Denna got the impression that at any moment, Mannis would disappear. She followed closely enough that Mannis would know she was there, but far enough away that she could disappear herself if she needed. It was an odd dance – and she wondered why she was trusting Mannis this much. It was entirely possible that more of Renault’s goons were nearby and could snatch her again, but she didn’t think that’s what was going on.

It certainly wasn’t what that look on the train had implied.

Mannis approached a lower end hotel and disappeared inside. Denna followed, closing the distance between the two of them.

By the time she caught up, Mannis was stepping inside a door at the end of a short hall.

Denna hadn’t seen another soul, and prayed she wasn’t walking into a trap.

Inside, Mannis’ back was to the door as she stood on the far side of the small room. She removed her coat, and tossed it over a nearby chair. Her arms were held away from her body, revealing that she wasn’t visibly armed, though Denna didn’t think for one moment that she actually was. And then Mannis turned around slowly to face her.

Neither of them spoke. Denna didn’t know what to say. If she opened her mouth, she’d have to explain why she was here, and it would force the issue. Would she try to capture Mannis and take her in? Would Mannis fight back?

With each of them trying to gain the upper hand, would they kill each other?

Their eyes locked as if skittishly watching for one [confrontational move], they stood across the room from one another.

Finally, Katja took a step towards Denna, her palms flat as if easing a frightened animal. Every muscle in Denna’s body prepared for fight or flight, but she knew it was foolish.

Katja wanted her, and Denna would be lying if she tried to convince herself that she didn’t want Katja right back.

By the time Katja stood before her, they were both breathing hard, as if they’d overexerted themselves by simply remaining silent.

And then Katja  reached out to grab Denna by the hips and pulled her closer, kissing Denna hard until Denna responded.

Denna ached for more.

**

She tried not to think about the game she was playing, and it was that – a game. Her job was to track down the very woman she allowed to wordlessly command her in secret bedrooms all over town. Every few weeks, Katja would show up out of nowhere, and guide Denna to some clandestine hotel. They never spoke, not in words, but every moan and gasp was another language. In that way, they were in constant communication.

Katja would wear Denna out until she had no choice but to sleep. When Denna woke up, whether it was seven hours later or  only 45 minutes, Katja would be gone.

And then Denna would return to her private and solitary apartment, and resume the official search for a woman everyone else thought was a ghost, but whom Denna could still smell on her skin.

**

One night, the game changed.

Denna lay flat on her back with one arm thrown over her eyes, her chest heaving as she recovered. The hum of her last orgasm – the fourth or fifth tonight – resonated throughout her body, when suddenly she felt something new.

A soft, light and almost teasing caress across her stomach.

She lifted her arm and looked down her body.

Katja lay naked between Denna’s legs, her arms crossed over Denna’s hips, her head resting on one arm. Her fingers tenderly stroked Denna’s skin, and now that Denna was looking, Katja stared in her eyes.

There was a warmth and tenderness there that Denna had never seen before. From anyone, but certainly not Katja.

They stared for a long time. Tonight, as usual, they hadn’t spoken a word to one another, but the way Katja looked at her was new, and it made Denna’s heart pound differently.

Katja pushed herself up, and in the low light of the room, with her dark hair tousled over the smooth skin of her shoulders, she looked like a goddess to Denna. Katja climbed over Denna’s body, settled her gentle weight into Denna’s arms, and so slowly Denna felt every hush of breath between them, lowered her face and gently brushed her lips across Denna’s.

It was a warm kiss, gentle and achingly kind, full of slow passion. This wasn’t a kiss of conquest. This was a kiss that spoke of things Denna didn’t think were possible, and yet in that moment, she craved every last one of them.

She flipped Katja, rolled over with her, and made the kiss her own.

Though Denna had lost count of how many times they’d touched one another, this was the first time they made love.

**

When Denna woke, Katja lay in her arms, already awake herself.

Katja raised her head and pressed a sweet kiss against Denna’s lips. Denna’s diaphragm seized. She was elated that Katja was still there, but soon she realized that they had to talk now. There was no avoiding the truth of what was happening.

Katja pulled away just enough to look at her, and there was fear in her eyes.

“What do we do now?” she said, and Denna knew that she didn’t have any answers.


All rights reserved.

 

The Improbability Volumes – Day 15

See DISCLAIMERS. This is all out of order.


VIGNETTES 5 -8

5

Paris

For the most part, getting back to work with the team felt the same. Sato and Ellis greeted her like a long lost comrade and then soon treated her like she’d never left. Foster kept asking about her shooting hand, but she showed him her test results and he eased up. Marsh talked to her now about as much as he had before, which meant that he didn’t talk to her at all.

Things were different with Rayner now. Not awkward, exactly, but not smooth either. If asked a question, Rayner would answer. If asked for assistance, Rayner would provide it. And Denna didn’t feel as if she was being avoided at all, but there was no trace of amicable tension between them. Then again, Denna would not have taken advantage of it if there had been.

Rayner was civil at work, but that was the norm. Nothing had changed there, and their roles didn’t intersect often, anyway. Denna often wondered why Foster had a weapons specialist at all, since they rarely exposed themselves in the field. He did like to lurk from the outside, watching everything,  moving pieces around on the board, but then he’d bring in the big guns when it was time for execution.

Still, it was probably irresponsible not to have someone like Rayner around. She was a hell of lot easier to deal with than Marsh.

Denna wondered if Rayner felt guilty, all these months later, even though Denna had absolved her more than once. They’d taken precautions, and still been caught at the wrong place at the wrong time by the worst people. Rayner had tried to save Denna, but had only managed to secure her own escape. She didn’t blame Rayner for what had happened, and she didn’t regret sleeping with Rayner.

On the few occasions, however, where they were alone, Rayner was distant though not rude, and often found ways to disengage as soon as possible. As if she was hoping that Denna wouldn’t try to make the conversation more personal, or ask point blank if they could continue their former physical relationship.

Denna didn’t want to hook-up with her again.  Though her new mantra encouraged her to take chances where she hadn’t before, another meaningless sexual liaison felt – weak. Like they were the easy way out, and those days were behind her, but she did miss the easy camaraderie. She wondered if it would ever come back.

One of the opportunities she’d missed out on the most was simple friendship.

Denna could use a friend right now.

**

6

Late in Act III

Rayner stepped into the back of the command trailer where Denna sat alone, staring at screens and monitoring feeds.

“Got a sec?”

Her voice was pitched low, and didn’t carry far. It made Denna look up – clearly, Rayner didn’t want to be heard by anyone else.

“Yeah.”

“I just got a message to check to give you a set of coordinates and have you check the vid feeds.”

Denna frowned. “Message? From who?”

Rayner reached into a pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. “I’ve got a hunch, but I don’t want to say until we look at the feed.”

“You think it’s a tip?”

Rayner made a noncommittal noise, and handed Denna the paper.

It took a few minutes, but not long. It was a security camera feed from a small retail shop, and featured a rotating set of vantage points. Most of the rooms were empty, but one room held an occupant that made both Rayner and Denna lean forward to look more closely.

“I’ll be goddamned,” Rayner muttered.

“Is that -?” Denna didn’t want to say it, but there it was in plain view.

“It’s Guittard.”

The druglord they were looking for was stripped naked and strapped by the ankles, wrist, head and midsection to an office chair.

“Someone tied him up and left him there, and then sent word to us?” Denna sounded incredulous. “Why?”

“If I had to guess,” Rayner said, her voice still low. “I’d say your girlfriend left us a present.”

Denna snapped her head up and stared at Rayner. She knew she’d already blown it – by schooling her face to not reveal a thing, she’d probably revealed it all.

Rayner stood, and looked back toward the front of the trailer. There was no one else there, but it appeared to Denna that Rayner was being overly cautious.

“Look, I’m not an idiot, and I can keep a secret as well as the next girl.” She leaned her back against the door frame and looked more directly at Denna. “From where I’m sitting, seems to me we’re on the same side. We’re all working to take out the bad guys, but her way is more direct and she doesn’t have to do any paperwork.”

Denna didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t really care, Lopez. You’re a big girl and I figure you already know you’re in deep. I’m not going to say anything, and you have my word on that. I owe you that much.”

That part was getting old, and Denna started to disagree, but Rayner held up an arm in warning.

“Consider me officially in the dark, but if word of this gets back to the home office, I can’t back you up. You’re on your own.”

She looked at Denna for a long minute to make sure she was understood. Denna nodded, still speechless, and watched Rayner walk back outside.

7

JFK —> CDG

That first day back, flying once more into the lion’s den, it was hard not to second guess every choice she’d made that had led her here.  As the plane descended, she remembered that last hazy day in Roux’s clutches. She thought she’d seen Mannis in the room, but then she thought she’d imagined it, just like she’d imagined seeing her at the hospital. Or were both things true?

Was she the only one under surveillance, or were other members of the team under a microscope as well? Her usual paranoia was ramped up to almost maddening levels as she disembarked and headed towards the ground transport center. Was she already being followed? If so, was it the Falcon, or someone else?

Was it because Renault himself had ordered her killed, or had Mannis herself decided that Denna needed to die?

She decided that just for tonight, she’d stay in one of the agency sanctioned, higher security hotels, even though it would cost her a fortune. She needed to sleep, and try to figure out her next move. It would take a while to make some intelligent precautions.

Maybe all this was because she’d found the transactional trail, and hit Renault and his people where it hurt. Right on the bottom line. Foster had told her that he’d never managed that before, that the traction they’d made against the whole organization, including finally identifying Mannis, were further than the agency had managed to get in two years prior to Denna’s arrival.

She didn’t want to over-value her contribution, but her work had made some significant inroads.

So, if she was the one element that needed to be eliminated, and if Mannis had the upper hand in New York, why was Denna still breathing? Why didn’t the Falcon kill her while they were both in on U.S. Soil? Denna had been undefended and completely unaware. In retrospect, even though it made her break out into a cold sweat, she had to admit that she’d been a sitting duck.

So the hell hadn’t the Falcon taken advantage?

Finally, she had to admit that those were answers she was never going to get, and it was ridiculous to argue with herself about why it was that she was still alive. Clearly, she needed to get more rest, so that’s what she’d do. Until she’d logged at least ten hours of rack time, she wasn’t going to think about next steps.

But after that, it was time to go back to the drawing board, and figure out how to take out the Falcon before she herself was removed from the playing field.

**

8

Thinking was difficult. That weapon in Mannis’ hands was too big to ignore or try to maneuver out of. Unlock Denna’s knees, Mannis’ hands weren’t trembling at all. Her grip was sure, and that cannon was aimed right at Denna’s guts.

One shot, and it was over for her.

Was this elaborate cat and mouse bullshit – the presenter that had never showed up, the lying-in-wait in Denna’s hotel room – were these ridiculous games what Mannis had wanted? Had killing Denna when she was an easy target been too boring?

If so, Mannis’ stock had just gone down in Denna’s book.

The moments stretched on, the conversation confusing, and still, Mannis didn’t pull the trigger. She was still talking, claiming not to care that there were agents all over the building, that Denna was the only one she was interested in.

Why?

“Come to finish the job you botched in Munich?” Denna was proud that her voice didn’t shake.

“I couldn’t get your people there any sooner,” Mannis said.

Get her people? “What?” That didn’t make any sense.

“If I’d made the call sooner, I would have been exposed and Renault might have had you killed. As it was, Roux nearly ended you.” She looked uncomfortable, displeased, and then – most confusing to Denna, remorseful.“I’m sorry.”

If she was apologizing, that meant that Mannis regretted Denna’s capture. If she hadn’t captured Denna, then…

“Made the – you called Foster?”

Katja tilted her head, as if she was hedging her answer. “In a manner of speaking.”

Mannis had called Foster. Mannis was the reason she was still alive, though that didn’t make sense if she’d also been one of the people in on her capture. But if she didn’t want her dead, why had she gone to New York? Why had she followed Denna at all?

“So why were you casing me in New York if you didn’t want to kill me?”

Mannis froze, and they stared at one another.

And then the back and forth continued. Mannis denying Renault’s murder, Denna’s accusation that there was proof. Mannis claiming to be impressed by Denna’s intelligence. They traded words like barbs, but there was something else going on beneath it all.

Something that made the sweat run down Denna’s spine, made her fingertips tingle, made her breath come faster in her chest, and made a low steady pulse beat between her thighs.

Mannis stalked closer, and pounced, and in that moment, Denna knew at least one thing for sure. Mannis wanted her alive and alone in this room.  Mannis – Katja – wanted her submission, and even more surprising, Denna wanted to give it to her.


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Improbability Volumes – Day 14

See DISCLAIMERS. This is extremely rough, with a lot of author’s notes, and out of order  scenes. Also, we’re getting dangerously close to NSFW territory. Look out in future chapters.

(And let me say once again that this is a ZERO DRAFT.  Don’t judge me too harshly for all the blemishes.)


BACK ON THE HORSE

Somewhere over the Atlantic, JFK -> CDG

Denna had been officially back on the job for less than 48 hours when she received approval to rejoin Foster’s team. Renault was back in Paris, so Foster’s team was as well, and Denna was eager to get back on the horse. Once again, she was on special assignment to [FOSTER’S TEAM NAME].

Reducing her overhead in the U.S. had one added benefit. Denna now had a surplus in discretionary funds, and she’d decided of one way to put them to good use.

She flew commercial back to Paris.

The only downside was that the network connectivity wasn’t as secure as it would have been on a company flight. Given a choice between nearly eight hours in an uncomfortable seat with internet access, or no access in a first class cabin, Denna opted for comfort.

She had a new mantra: no more missed opportunities. Today, that meant leg room and bottomless whiskey.

It was still a working flight, though, so the whiskey would have to be consumed slowly. She’d downloaded the backlog of the data sets to her local system. Foster had been working with another analyst in the interim – some guy Rayner said was a horrible fit with the team – but Denna wanted her own take on the data.

There was a lot to go over, and she wanted to be up to date when she met with the team at the end of the week.

The temp analyst had used her algorithms to track Renault’s transaction stream, but their efficacy had dramatically decreased. King, or whatever alias she was using now, had figured out Lopez’s approach and changed the game. Denna would have to start from scratch. She hoped some of her original assumptions would still work as a starting place.

Renault was in pocket, but not doing much. She could sense Foster’s frustration when she’d spoken with him, and hoped something changed before Foster had a stroke.

The biggest question mark, at least as far as Lopez was concerned, was the Falcon herself.

Mannis had gone to ground. No one had been able to isolate her location in several weeks, though there had been a few face recognition matches in odd places around the world.

That didn’t make sense. Mannis was on every cooperating agency’s most wanted list. A false passport might work, but there was no way she was getting past facial recognition, so she had to be laying a false trail to distract from her most likely location – near Renault and King.

Denna adjusted her seat and leaned back, nodding in the steward’s direction to request a second whiskey. She still had a couple more hours before landing, and decided to do her due diligence, even though none of the sightings were likely accurate.

The logs showed possible entries for facial recognition matches in cities across Europe and around the world. The ones in Paris, Venice, and Munich were several weeks old, and not particularly helpful. She knew Renault had been in Paris and Munich.

Thinking of Munich made her frown and take a stronger pull from her glass.

The rest of the entries were probably doppelgangers. Solitary images were logged from Hungary, England, Brazil, Costa Rica, and back in the states, California, Kentucky, and least likely of all, New York. She looked over the images in order of appearance.

It was almost entertaining. The ones from Budapest, San Jose and Lexington might have been Mannis, but weren’t clear enough for a proper ID. The images in London and Fresno were completely wrong – the women in those photos had similar facial features but the wrong body types.

Denna clicked on the last and most recent entry, an image taken a few weeks prior in New York City.

She lurched upright, startling the sleeping man next to her. He grumbled, turned a bit on his side, and went back to snoring. Denna set her glass down with trembling fingers.

If it wasn’t Katja Mannis in the image, then it was her twin. In plain view of a bank surveillance camera, the woman in the image sat sipping from a coffee cup in a cafe Denna had never set foot in, but recognized immediately. A chill ran through her body.

The cafe was right across the street from the gym where she’d trained for the last two months.

Mannis had been watching her.

**

Much later, near the end of Act II

“The speaker coordinator says she canceled just a few hours ago.” Denna stalked across the hotel lobby towards the elevators as she spoke into her comms. “They just now announced it from the stage. This whole op is a bust. They’re not here.”

She listened to the chatter on her team’s open channel and tried not to glare at the other conference attendees as she stood waiting for the elevator doors to open.

Denna had planned months ago to attend this convention. It was one of the few that welcomed both black and white hats in the hacking world, and the sessions were some of the most informative and cutting edge in the industry.

Since the team was getting nowhere tracking down the Falcon, she’d held onto the reservation.

Then, a few days ago, one of Augusta King’s old aliases had popped up on the wires. Her information security persona been scheduled to present at this conference here in Amsterdam. So close the event, it had taken a great deal of maneuvering on Denna’s part to get a team in place, but they’d been ready.

It had all been for nothing, and Denna was pissed.

“Clearly, this was a ruse,” Denna said on the open line. “I’ll check the feeds in the morning and find out what’s really going on. If we were diverted here, then the action is elsewhere.”

Marsh agreed, not that she cared what he thought.

An elevator car arrived, and she stepped inside, signing off comms before the door closed. “Consider me offline for the night.”

She heard the low murmurs in English and Dutch from the other people in the elevator, but she wasn’t really listening. Instead, she was trying to figure out where she’d gone wrong. Was Mannis still trailing her? How else could she have known that Denna would be here? What did this accomplish?

It was possible that Mannis was still planning to kill her, but that hypothesis didn’t ring true anymore. The Falcon had passed up several opportunities to kill Denna, if that was her goal, but Denna was still breathing.

What kind of game was Mannis playing?

The elevator car was nearly empty by the time it reached Denna’s floor. She stepped off, checking the hall for unwanted guests. It was second nature now to check her environs. She had been careful back when she first joined Foster’s team – and didn’t that seem like a lifetime ago – but now, after what Roux had done to her in Munich, she was nearly obsessive.

She passed her wrist over the access scanner and hear the click of the lock disengaging. Denna stepped into the darkness of her hotel room and shut the door behind her. The lights in the suite’s foyer came on automatically.

“One move toward your comm, Lopez, and I’ll tase you unconscious. I guarantee you won’t even feel the floor when you hit it.”

Denna froze at the first word, and felt her heartbeat triple in her chest.

The Falcon was in Denna’s hotel room.

**

“This is foolish, Mannis. The entire complex is full of agents. You won’t escape this time.”

She needed to be on guard. Lopez wasn’t some desk jockey. Katja had seen Lopez fight back in New York. She must be careful to not Lopez get the upper hand.

First, though, she had to get close enough to disarm her.

Katja raised her weapon in a firm grip, and leveled it at Lopez’s midsection. No one in their right mind would rush a weapon guaranteed to give a close range gut shot.

“I don’t care about the agents outside.” She reached out to confiscate Lopez’s communicator and weapon. “Only the one in here.”

Katja was surprised to find out that Lopez – Denna, she corrected in her own mind – was an inch or two taller than she was.

This close to her, feeling the energy of Lopez’s seething frustration, seeing the dark menace in her eyes, Katja suddenly understood.

Denna was dangerous, and Katja wanted her. She wondered if Denna was capable of wanting her in return.

She took a step forward. Denna looked wary, and stepped backwards, closer to the wall.

Katja gazed into Denna’s eyes, watching for any tell, any twitch that hinted of some retaliatory action.

“You know I didn’t kill Renault.” Her voice was a whisper. “You’re smarter than the rest of them.”

“I know what the evidence tells me,” Denna said. She was breathless. Katja wondered if that was fear, or something else. “Renault’s murder doesn’t match the Falcon’s M.O., and neither does the crime scene, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t do it.

“Yes, it does. And you know it.”

The distraction worked. She snapped the binding restraints on one of Denna’s wrists, and fast as lightning, dragged it between them to snag Denna’s other wrist. The magnetic locks clicked.

Denna looked more angry than afraid. “Let me go, Mannis.”

Almost against her own will, Katja leaned forward. “I don’t think you want that, Denna.”

[THIS IS too close to the original scene, and I don’t think it fits here in this story. This scene needs to unfold slowly and with more revelation, less porno seduction. Leaving it in, just in case certain lines are useful.

Perhaps, instead….]

“Come to finish the job you botched in Munich?” Denna’s face was contorted in a disdainful grimace.

Botched? Katja didn’t understand what she was talking about. “I couldn’t get your people there any sooner.”

Now, Denna looked confused. “What?”

“If I’d made the call sooner, I would have been exposed and Renault might have had you killed. As it was, Roux nearly ended you.” She didn’t want to apologize – it set a bad precedent – but in this case… “I’m sorry.”

Denna looked shocked, at the new information and the apology. “Made the – you called Foster?”

Katja tilted her head, but didn’t drop her weapon. “In a manner of speaking.”

There was a long pause, then. Katja could almost see Denna thinking, and watched the mental calculations in real time.

“So why were you casing me in New York if you didn’t want to kill me?”

Katja froze, wondering how it was that Denna had seen her. She was so sure that she’d been undetected. Hell, she’d risked damned near everything on the ability to remain completely invisible.

Denna was good – dangerously good. Katja probably should kill her.

But as she stood staring at Denna up close, she knew she wouldn’t. At least, not today.

Even standing in the face of what she clearly thought was her own death, Denna barely blinked.

“I didn’t kill him.”

Denna made a scoffing noise. “Which one?”

“Renault. I didn’t kill Renault. And you know it.”

“I know what the evidence tells me. It doesn’t lie.”

Interesting.

“So what does the evidence tell you, then, Denna?”

Denna’s pupils dilated. Katja filed that detail away as well.

“Come on. Impress me like you always do. You’re smarter than the rest of them.”

Denna took a deep breath, and her shoulders rose and fell as if she was reluctant to answer. “Renault’s murder doesn’t match the Falcon’s M.O., and neither did the crime scene, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t do it.”

“Yes, it does.” Katja stepped closer in measured steps. She didn’t want to spook Denna – she might end up with Denna’s fist in her face. “I’ve done a lot of things, and I’m sure you know about many of them. But I didn’t kill that bastard, even though I wanted to.”

Slowly, so that Denna could see every shift of her weapon, Katja secured it in the holster in the small of her back. Before Denna could do anything to take advantage of it, however, Katja used the other hand to slap a restraining cuff on Denna’s closest wrist. In the fastest move of her life, she kicked Denna’s legs apart while pushing both of Denna’s arms over her head and against the wall.

The magnetic locks of the cuffs engaged. She pressed against Denna’s body with her own, restraining her in more ways than one. Her face was inches from Denna’s, so close she could feel Denna’s rushing breath against her own lips.

“Let me go.” Denna’s voice was low, her teeth clenched.

Katja focused on her eyes, trying to read the truth in them, trying to find her secrets. “Are you sure you want me to do that?” She licked her lips, thrilled to see Denna’s eyes focus on her tongue.

They stared, and Katja wondered if Denna would kick her off. If this turned into a brawl, she’d have to make a run for it.

She did the only thing she could under the circumstances.

Katja kissed Denna, hard enough to press lips into teeth, pushing with her whole body to pin Denna to the wall.

Before Denna could shove her off, Katja stopped. She pulled her head back but kept her body close, looked into Denna’s eyes, and waited to see how this was going to go.

Denna closed the distance between them, but instead of kissing Katja, she pulled a lower lip between her teeth, bit hard enough to make Katja wince, and then licked Katja’s lips with a quick flick of her tongue.

When she pulled away, Katja saw her own blood staining Denna’s lips.

It was too much.

Katja pushed harder with her hips, and devoured Denna with another kiss. At the first sound of Denna’s moans, she stopped.

“Not one sound,” she said. “One word, and I’ll stop.”

Katja stared into Denna’s eyes, made darker by pupils so large, she could barely see the color of the irises. Katja breathed in her scent, wordlessly aching for Denna to give in. She waited, almost embarrassed by how much she hoped for the gift of Denna’s silent consent.

Denna tipped her head back against the wall, and eased her shoulders just enough for Katja to notice.

Denna didn’t say a word.

Katja felt something within her unravel. She claimed Denna’s lips with her own.


All rights reserved.

The Improbability Volumes – Day 13

See DISCLAIMERS. This section contains Act III spoilers.


A LONG DESERT ROAD

A year and a half later

The bus was late, but Katja didn’t think anything had gone wrong with the plan. Though she probably shouldn’t, she trusted her connection implicitly. Of course, when she thought about it, the reason why she shouldn’t trust Agent Lopez was the same reason she was on this road.

She suppressed the urge to growl, took another sip of a barely cool formerly iced tea, and listened to the music in her air-conditioned car.

Forty-five minutes later, a dust cloud miles down the road caught her attention. It took another ten minutes for the dust cloud to materialize into a watery mirage of a vehicle,  and several more for it to solidify into a bus. Finally, with a groan Katja could hear all the way inside her sealed car, the bus slowed down to a crawl and then parked alongside the wide spot in the road where Katja waited.

She sighed, preparing herself for battle.

It was a full-sized prison bus though it only held the driver and one passenger, as agreed. The driver, a burly bald man in an overstuffed uniform, turned off the engine and walked to the back of the bus. Katja couldn’t see what he was doing, but she had some idea.

She stepped out of the cooler air of her car into the warm sun and winced at the smell of exhaust in the air. The bus was so old it was an ethanol hybrid, not a fully electric model, and the dust it had kicked up blew behind her sunglasses and into her eyes.

Katja was surprised to find herself nervous, perhaps even afraid though she didn’t want to admit it. This could go badly, and she didn’t want it to.

She steadied herself, tipped her sunglasses atop her head and leaned against the side of the car.

A creak signaled the opening door of the bus, and the driver stepped out first. He gave Katja an assessing look of disapproval, then stepped aside, barking orders into the bus.

A lone prisoner shuffled to the front of the bus. Penelope wore the standard, unflattering and ill-fitting orange jumpsuit of the federally incarcerated. Her wrists and feet were both bound and connected by a long chain. She maneuvered the steps of the bus with a curse, and then shuffled away from the door.

She glanced at Katja, then shook her head and looked up the road the way she’d come.

“And here I thought I was about to get two in the back of the head.”

She looked underweight, which was saying something since she’d always been thin. Her voice sounded the same, though.

“Or is that what this is? Too tricky to kill me in custody, so you paid off this guy to bring me out here?”

That hurt. Even after everything that had happened, it’d be a cold day in hell before she’d deliberately hurt Penelope. Katja couldn’t imagine a scenario where that would even be a possibility, but perhaps Penelope now thought differently.

Penelope didn’t look at her. Instead she squinted at the wide desert around them. It didn’t escape Katja’s notice that Penelope took deep breaths, and she wondered if this was the first fresh air she’d had in awhile.

“I wanted to see for myself that you’re okay.” Katja knew that wasn’t the best way to put it, but she couldn’t find better words.

“Oh, that’s rich, coming from you, considering you’re the reason I’m wearing these fucking chains.”

It was true. If Katja had been with Penelope that night, instead of going after Lopez, Penelope would never have been captured, but it was all said and done now. She didn’t take the bait.

Penelope sighed and shuffled halfway across the highway.

“So, how’d you get me out of the hole?”

Katja winced at that news. She had hoped the feds were treating Penelope decently enough. If they were keeping her in isolation, that wasn’t the case.

Then she realized that she was stalling. Penelope wasn’t going to like the answer, but she didn’t want to lie.

“I didn’t.”

Finally, Penelope looked her right in the eyes, her expression as cold and pale as her eyes. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

Katja crossed one leg over the other, trying to appear nonchalant, but she felt the tremble in her knees.

“Let’s just say I took advantage of an opportunity presented to me.”

Penelope didn’t need to know about all the wheeling and dealing she’d had to do with Lopez, and what she’d had to sacrifice just to see a federal inmate for ten minutes.

Penelope looked like she wanted to toss her arms in the air the way she usually did when she was angry, but the chains wouldn’t allow it.

“From that bitch? What the fuck, Kat?” She shifted to the side as if to begin pacing, but couldn’t move fast enough and nearly tripped. “Goddamnit. I don’t want shit from her. She’s the reason you left me high and dry.”

“I didn’t -“

“You did! You left me there with those asshole loyalists of Renault’s.”

Katja seethed. This wasn’t why she’d come all this way and done so much to make this happen. “Will you just fucking listen for once?”

“To the same old story? It’s bullshit, Kat. Those agency bastards always stick together, so I don’t buy a single word of it. Why did you do it, Kat? Did you even think about what might happen?”

“That’s not fair -“ Katja regretted her word choice instantly.

“Don’t talk to me about fair!”

“None of it was supposed to go down like it did, but I couldn’t get back to you in time.”

Penelope sneered. “Was it easy for you to choose her over me?”

Katja clenched her hands into fists. “I didn’t choose her over you. I would never do that.”

“But you did. You heard she was in trouble and you went running, even though it left me exposed.”

Katja laughed, a biting unpleasant sound even to her own ears. She stalked forward, meeting Penelope in the middle of the road.

“Don’t even think to play the damsel in distress with me, Pen. You could have handled those guys just fine by yourself if you’d been paying attention, but you weren’t, were you? Did you get greedy?”

Penelope took a threatening step into Katja’s personal space. Even chained, Katja knew she was dangerous, but she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“I was protecting your goddamned interests, the way I always do,” Penelope said.

“We had enough, Pen! We’d made back all the money we’d lost. Hell, we made more than that – twice, three times over.  We were good. You could have pulled the feeds as planned, but no -“

Penelope leaned toward her. “Do you have any idea what they did to me, Kat?” Her voice dropped to a low, scathing register. “When they finally got me back here? The weeks of interrogations by people way worse than Foster? The junk they got me hooked on that took weeks to flush out of my system? The bullshit I had to deal with when they tossed me in the pit with the rest of the animals?”

Katja kept herself still, but inside, she cringed. For so long, even though it wasn’t necessary, she’d thought it her job to protect Penelope from the madness in their world, to keep her away from the monsters Katja took it upon herself to rid from the earth. Penelope could take care of herself, but there was something about her that Katja had always wanted to keep safe.

And though it hadn’t been her fault, not really, she looked deeply into Penelope’s eyes and knew. Penelope wasn’t going to listen.

No matter how much she tried to explain, even though every awkward word was the truth, Penelope was never going to believe her.

She turned around without another word and walked toward the car.

“That’s it? You had me dragged all the way out here for that?” Penelope sounded incredulous. “You’re just gonna send me back to rot?”

That wasn’t the plan, but Penelope couldn’t know that.

Katja kept walking.

“Katja!”

Katja wanted to leave. She didn’t want to hear another word – not about what had happened after Penelope’s capture, not the truth of Penelope’s words, not the crowding thoughts of Lopez in her own head.

But she missed Penelope, and there was so much between them.

She turned on her heel and walked back to Penelope, not stopping until Penelope had taken a rattling step backward.

I’m gonna say this one last time, Pen, so I want you to hear me.” Her voice was low and crisp. This was the way she spoke to those who defied her, to those who would never hear another thing after she’d finished talking.

She’d never spoken to Penelope like this, not in the entire time they’d known each other, but this time, this one time, Katja needed to be heard.

Penelope needed to understand, and if she didn’t, they were done, no matter how the plan unfolded.

I didn’t know they were coming for you.” She watched the words land, though Penelope’s expression didn’t change. “I didn’t know they were anywhere near you. I thought you were safe, and I thought you could handle those goons who were supposed to have your back, even if they turned on you. Unlike the rest of those jokers, I know who you really are and what you’re capable of.” She stared into Penelope’s eyes, hoping to see that she was finally listening.

Penelope stared back.

Katja tipped her head down, emphasizing her point. “The only reason I went after Lopez was because I knew Marsh was going to kill her. Not arrest her. Not detain her. Not surrender her to the Gendarmes.” She lowered her voice. “That fucker was going to kill her and leave her as bait for the rats in the sewers, and I could not let that happen.”

She still wasn’t ready to say just why yet, but this much, she knew Penelope already understood.

“I didn’t choose her over you, Pen. I thought you were safe, and I knew she was going to die.”

One more thing to say, and she prayed that Penelope would hear the truth.

“I would never, ever leave you in danger if it was in my power to save you.”

Penelope’s eyes widened by millimeters, and Katja tried not to sag in relief.

Penelope finally understood.

Katja stepped backwards slowly towards the car. “Take care of yourself, Pen.”

She turned around and walked to the driver’s side of the car as she heard the door of the bus open.

“I’ll miss you at Thanksgiving,” she said as she climbed in the car.

She drove away without another glance.


All rights reserved.

The Improbability Volumes – Day 12

See DISCLAIMERS.


THICKER THAN THIEVES

Penelope threw her hands into the air for the third time in ten minutes. “I just don’t understand why you’re doing this.”

Katja didn’t understand either.

“What the hell do I tell Renault?” Penelope asked.

“You won’t have to tell him anything. He’ll contact me directly, and I won’t be gone that long.”

“That’s not the point. You’re taking one hell of a risk. The Falcon is too hot in the states right now. Your face is on every watch list in the western world, and if the feds back home catch you, they’ll throw you in a hole and never let you out.”

“That’s a bit dramatic, Pen.”

“Yeah, not by much.”

She wasn’t wrong, but Katja didn’t want to focus on all the things that might bite her in the ass. She zipped her small carry-on bag closed, and then lifted it from her bed to rest on the floor. “There are some things I need to take care of.”

The exasperation in Pen’s tone hit peak intensity. “What things? Since when?”

Katja crossed her arms. She wasn’t going to get into this with Penelope right now, not when she wasn’t sure herself why she was doing it. “Look, can you do it or not?”

The gust of breath from Penelope sounded labored. “Yes, I can do it. It’s expensive as fuck, and dare I remind you that we shouldn’t be leaking any extra money right now -“

“I don’t want to talk about how much it costs, Pen. I just need to go.”

It was the closest they’d come to an argument in years. While they had an arrangement when it came to doing their jobs – Penelope handling most of the logistics while Katja took care of any meatspace work – their lives had been inextricably linked for nearly a decade. This was one of the few times that Katja planned to set out on her own, even for a short while, and it was made worse by her inability to answer any of Penelope’s questions.

Much to Katja’s surprise, Penelope backed down. The fiery shine in her eyes morphed from angry to sad in seconds.

“It’s going to take a few days to get you anywhere near the east coast. Your train tomorrow to Budapest leaves at 8:40am local time. From there, I can get you into South America easier than Canada or Mexico, but it’s still a roundabout way to go. Less planes, trains and automobiles – more buses, boats and helicopters.”

“I’ll take it.” Katja softened her voice. “Thanks, Pen.”

“It’s what I’m here for.” She stood without looking at Katja and headed back to her usual workspace.

Katja sighed, and proceeded to pack up the gear she was leaving behind, just in case Penelope needed to move them while she was gone. It wasn’t likely, but she took the precaution. It was how they lived.

Her contacts had told her that Lopez had spent weeks recovering in Washington, D.C., but had spent an unpredictable day in New York. Soon after, she’d packed up her D.C. condo and was now staying in New York but not working for the agency, at least not through official channels.

It was odd behavior for an analyst, and completely outside of Foster’s usual playbook, but Katja had known since she’d followed Lopez in Paris that she wasn’t a typical analyst.

She didn’t think this thing with Lopez was over. She just wished she knew what the hell it was to begin with.

**

After four days of constant travel, Katja was back in the United States.

The border patrol agents were looking for people traveling alone with little or no luggage. Without prior planning, Katja might have fit the description, but she had the twisted workings of Penelope’s brain on her side.

Katja cooed in broken Spanish to the crying baby in her arms, and clutched the hand of a toddler as she walked through the gates. She hitched the baby high on one hip, knowing it would change her gait, and she’d already applied enough makeup and false [putty to shape her face] to fool the face detection software.

The man next to her pulled her luggage as well as his own. He smiled at her as they passed the border guards, though the warmth didn’t quite reach his eyes. A tired, young widower with two tiny children, he was emigrating to the U.S. to work in his uncle’s garage in Kentucky. He was a good man, so Katja had no idea how Penelope had found him or convinced him to play this role. Still, ten thousand American dollars would provide him with seed money in his new life, and had purchased Katja a ready-made family to escape detection.

Another twenty grand had given her a clean set of identification papers.

Any reluctance by the children to follow their mother would be considered typical behavior for ones so young, and weary from travel, Katja looked the part of a harrowed parent. She and her temporary family wouldn’t part company for several hundred more miles, but she didn’t mind the added challenge of tired tantrums from healthy, well-loved children. It was a far cry from where she’d started.

She didn’t think about the old days much. There wasn’t much to cherish.

By mid-day the next morning, she’d parted ways from the kind man and his children, and reached the last planned drop on this part of her voyage. Katja entered a four-digit code into an old padlock and lifted the door of a remote garage. Once inside, she pulled the tarp from the waiting vehicle and smiled.

The navy blue 1970 Chevelle with white sport stripes wasn’t her black Barracuda, but it would do.

A quick inspection revealed a briefcase full of cash, a few burner phones still encased in manufacturer packaging, parking stickers from a nearby military base as well as veterans’ bumper stickers proudly displaying time served overseas. The windows were tinted and wouldn’t reveal who was driving. Anyone who saw her would think she was an old vet driving a classic car, and she’d be able to get away with murder – not that murder was on the docket this trip.

It was brilliant cover. Maybe Penelope wasn’t that mad at her after all.

She transferred a few thousand dollars in cash to her pockets, then tossed everything into the trunk. The keys to the Chevelle had been left in the ignition.

She fired up the engine and listened to the purr of well-tuned American ingenuity.

Twenty minutes later, Katja was driving five miles over the speed limit on the highway, headed for New York City.

**

Katja tossed another ten dollars into the tip jar, and winked at the pimpled kid behind the counter who served her another cup of designer coffee. “Table rent.”

Predictably, he blushed, but a bark from his manager sent him scurrying.

It’d taken a bit of scouting to find this place. Penelope said the cameras on this block were covered, but Katja played it safe and chose a shop that was clearly cutting costs and likely wasn’t paying their surveillance bill. The cameras were probably recording, but the data wasn’t going any further than the shop’s archives.

She sat down in a corner table with a view of the street. This was the third day she’d stopped in this shop, under the cover of working on a freelance article for New York Magazine, but in truth, she was scouting the bizarre daily activities of one Agent Denna Lopez.

Katja sighed, and took a sip of her too sweet, too hot coffee.

What the hell was she doing here? She hadn’t let herself ask that question for most of the journey, for fear the answer would reveal that she was on a fool’s errand. At significant expense, and at risk of absolute disaster, she had travelled halfway around the globe to get another look at Lopez.

She didn’t think it was worry about Lopez’s injuries – that didn’t sound like something she’d do. Though she’d made the call that freed Lopez from Roux’s clutches, and made an uncharacteristic trip to the hospital to see if she’d lived, Katyz didn’t really care what happened to her, did she?

Did she want to kill her? This woman had destroyed a carefully constructed personal and professional house, one designed to protect Katja’s interests as well as her identity. But the thought of killing Lopez didn’t offer her any satisfaction, so that wasn’t it. Was it because Lopez had given Foster such an edge?

No, she didn’t really care about Foster that much. He was merely an annoyance. Foster was Renault’s problem.

On the other hand, Lopez seemed to be hers.

Katja read over the chatter on the nets from the last few days, checking buried messages in various applications and sites that Penelope had set up for clandestine communication. Nothing significant had changed, and though Penelope asked her about a return date, she didn’t ask anything about what Katja was actually doing.

She saw Lopez arrive out of the corner of her eye. Something about the way Lopez walked caught her attention, even though she was focused on the screen in front of her. It was the same walk Katja had seen on the streets of Paris, but now people in Lopez’s path saw her coming and moved out of her way.

Interesting.

Lopez was dressed in workout gear, and carried a rugged backpack. Now that Katja thought about it, Lopez was always carrying a rugged backpack. Katja wondered if that meant something.

As she had yesterday, and the day before that, Lopez had arrived ten minutes before the top of the hour, and walked into a martial arts studio across the street.

The gym was in an old warehouse with large bay doors. It was warm enough that they’d opened all three of them, revealing a matted area inside with half a dozen fighters. Lopez’s warm-up demonstrated that she knew her way around a mat, but the other guys looked like professional brawlers – mixed martial arts guys, boxers, grapplers. Most of them were twice Lopez’s size.

In fact, Katja realized, most of them were bigger than Albert Roux.

The warm up ended, and the show began.

Katja watched Lopez get her ass kicked over and over again. Knocked to the ground in every bout, Lopez never once got the upper hand, but each time, Lopez got back to her feet, wiped the blood from her face, reset her mouthpiece and beckoned a glove for more.

Katja thought Lopez might be some sort of masochist, but as she watched, she realized that Lopez never made the same mistake twice. She was a quick study – still rough, still losing, but improving, and quickly.

Lopez was becoming a different animal altogether, and Katja couldn’t stop watching her.


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