THE OTHER FOOT
A week after she’d drawn the curtains, Denna regretted the symbolic barrier she’d raised against Katja.
Denna pulled her hooded coat around her more closely against the chill in the air. The walk back from the team meet took almost three hours today. She didn’t feel the weight of surveillance, but that didn’t mean someone wasn’t following her. Still, something told her that Katja had taken the hint and was leaving Denna alone.
She missed her. She had never yearned for someone like this, and it was disconcerting, among other things. How many lovers had she taken to bed who hadn’t really meant anything to her? How many women had she let touch her only because of the physical release they’d offered?
Had any of them truly touched her?
No one had ever looked at her the way Katja did. And she knew that none of them had truly seen her.
Denna tried to rationalize her involvement with Katja, and tried to give her lover the benefit of her doubts. Katja wasn’t exactly a terrorist. Katja had worked for one on several occasions, but she herself hadn’t participated in terrorist activities. She was a murderer, yes, though Denna could admit if only to herself that the people the Falcon had killed would most likely have been sentenced to death in many countries.
Denna nearly stomped as approached her building. Even she was disgusted with this line of thinking. She was merely splitting hairs, trying to find some justification should she choose to let Katja escape justice.
On the other hand, since that last conversation, Denna had thought often about Katja had said.
Her lover was right. Everything about Foster’s operation was as shady as Renault’s business dealings, which meant that Denna’s team wore gray hats, not white ones. And while her methods were harsh in comparison, Katja was going after the exact same people.
Frustrated, she pulled out her keys to unlock the door. The time alone, without Katja in her arms clouding her mind, hadn’t helped clear up anything.
The moment she stepped into the apartment and closed the door behind her, she froze.
Something in the air was different. Someone had been here.
She drew her weapon and listened closely, but heard nothing. After she’d cleared the main room and the bathroom to make sure no one was there, she stood in the center of the apartment, looking around for traps or clues. And then she saw it.
Across the room, an oblong black velvet box sat on the white tile of the kitchen counter.
Denna walked toward it warily, and stared at the box as if it was a bomb she had no idea how to defuse. While she wanted to consider any other possibilities, she knew the box was from Katja. Katja who never brought anything with her when she came to visit except her coat and a gun.
With trembling hands, Denna opened the box.
Inside was a fine filament gold necklace, adorned with a tiny heart-shaped locket. Denna gingerly lifted the chain, wondering how something so light could hold form, and tried not to think about how apt a description that was for her tenuous relationship with Katja.
If their interaction could be called a relationship.
The necklace was beautiful, and Denna liked the way it felt against her fingers. The locket itself was empty.
She stood holding the necklace for a long time.
Katja had respected her wishes and left her alone, yet had left this gift, this token for Denna to find. They had never spoken of their feelings, not in words, but here in her hands, Denna held proof that Katja cared for her.
Perhaps as deeply as she realized she felt for Katja.
She put the chain around her neck, struggling a bit with the tiny clasp. It was long enough that it lay hidden beneath her clothes, not at all visible. The locket feel between her breasts, against her skin inches from her heart.
And now she was right back where she’d started. What was she going to do?
With a sigh, Denna reached to close the box. When she lifted it, she felt and heard something small slide inside.
Denna opened it again, and removed the insert that had held the necklace. There, in the bottom of the box, was a small data chip.
Denna felt her heart begin to pound.
She took no chances, and quickly booted up one of her shadow systems, one that had no network connectivity whatsoever and that could be scrapped or rebuilt if this was some sort of malicious attack. She inserted the chip, and waited.
A communications program executed automatically once the chip activated. Simple instructions were displayed, ones for sending an encrypted message to an anonymous server. Denna stared, stunned, when she realized exactly what this meant.
Katja had provided her with the means to reach out to the Falcon.
Denna sat back in her chair with a grunt, and frowned at this new predicament.
If she had the means to contact Katja, then she had the means to summon the Falcon to a location where Denna’s team could apprehend her.
Katja walked along one side of the dark, slimy tunnel, headed for her meeting with Albert Roux, but her mind was all the way across town.
She felt naked, and knew it wasn’t because she was working alone tonight. She worked alone all the time, and she’d taken the usual precautions to make sure she wasn’t being followed. She was extensively armed, as usual, so the vulnerability she felt wasn’t because of the job.
No, it was because she’d given Denna the means to destroy her.
The chip contained the only way to contact the Falcon. Katja and Penelope had stopped using burner phones for their real business, so the communications program Penelope had created was the one way to reach them no matter where in the world they might be. It was a huge [deal], and if Penelope had known what Katja had done, she’d have been furious.
Yet Katja had debated herself much longer about the necklace than she had about the data chip. She’d planned to give the chip to Denna sooner, as some sort of demonstration of the depth of her feelings – feelings she couldn’t yet put into words – but then Denna had sent her away.
When she’d held the necklace, though, and thought of it around Denna’s neck, she’d closed her eyes and envisioned herself tracing the strand along Denna’s skin, down to her heart. In the end, it wasn’t even a choice. She had to get it, and she had to give it to her, even if Denna didn’t want her anymore.
Even if she never touched Denna again.
She wondered if this was what love was supposed to be like. The constant sacrifice of pieces of herself to someone else, even someone like Denna.
Disgusted, angry, and still yearning for the woman who had shut her out, she shoved those thoughts from her mind and focused on work.
She was early to the meet, but Roux was already there.
“Hello, little birdie.” He laughed at his own joke. Katja tried not to roll her eyes.
He appeared to be alone, and Katja had checked the surrounding area before coming here, but she kept her distance just the same.
“So what was so important that we had to meet face-to-face?” Katja wanted to get this over with so she could go back to pining for a woman who didn’t want to see her. She scowled for more reason than one.
He stepped closer, though he couldn’t exactly menace over her if she was several paces away. He tilted his head down, and lowered his voice.
“You’re going to work for me now.”
The balls on this guy, Katja thought, must be huge.
“That’s not how it works, Albie. I decide which jobs I take, and I’m starting to think I don’t want to work with you at all.”
“You mean for me.” He smiled at her, but it wasn’t a nice smile, and hinted that he had other ideas about the kind of work she should be doing.
“You don’t understand anything,” she said. “Didn’t you pay attention when you were following Renault around like a lost puppy?”
The smile faded. Then he made a comment about her being Renault’s whore, and Katja decided right then that she wouldn’t take a job from this guy if he asked her to kill Satan himself.
She started to wonder if he really wanted her to work for him. Was this a set-up?
The words coming out of his mouth finally matched the malice in his eyes. He had to know that he couldn’t get the drop on her. He was big, yes, and probably a good shot, but she killed people like him for a living. Right now, he was measuring her as if looking for any advantage. She saw the moment he must have realized that she wouldn’t be easily conquered.
Katja thought that he, on the other hand, wouldn’t be the biggest challenge she’d ever faced and won.
She kicked Roux’s body to see if he was dead yet.
Fucker. Penelope was going to be pissed, but Katja was already on that particular shitlist. Still, Katja figured that most of the people in their business would believe her side of the story, not because it was the truth, but because everyone knew Roux was an opportunistic sadistic asshole.
She tagged him like she tagged all the others, though for the first time she wondered if she should keep signing her kills. Now that she was an officially high-ranking public enemy, she should probably stop leaving even circumstantial evidence behind. She didn’t need to prove herself to anyone anymore.
Except maybe Denna, but thinking that just upset her.
A click was her only warning, and then every muscle in her body contracted. When the pain eased, she was on her belly on the ground. She didn’t even remember falling.
Footsteps sounded closer.
“I’d hoped to catch both of you.” Frozen prone, half her face in the muck clinging to the ancient cobblestone, Katja heard Foster’s voice. “I guess one will do.”
There was no escaping him this time.
After hours of analyzing the communications program Katja had left her, Denna had shut down her systems for the night and was preparing for bed when one of her phones emitted the ringtone she’d assigned to her team. It was nearly 1am, so whatever it was, it probably wasn’t good.
“How soon can you get back here?” Foster sounded eager.
She rapidly calculated an alternate route. “Ninety minutes to shake any surveillance. Forty-five if I skip a few protocols. What’s up?”
“Roux’s dead,” he said. “But we’ve captured the Falcon.”
Denna’s blood ran cold.
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