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.


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