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.
“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.”
“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.
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