The Improbability Volumes – Day 20

See DISCLAIMERS. Another out of sequence bit. This one’s really rough, so forgive me any errors.


IT’S A DIRTY JOB

Four months after the scene in Day 13

[Near the end of Act III, after the climactic action w/Marsh]

As the sun crept closer to sunset in Washington, D.C., Denna shifted a bag of groceries to one arm and tried not to let her overweight backpack slip off her shoulder. Still covered in dirt from the trail, she juggled her keys and finally let herself into the basement apartment she’d been renting for the last few months.

It wasn’t home, but it was a decent enough place for now while she figured out where home should be.

The apartment was dark, but she hadn’t been gone long enough for the air to stale. It was completely furnished, if impersonal, but that kept her overhead low. She’d agreed to a month-to-month arrangement since she’d only come to town to deal with all of the fallout from Foster’s operation, and everything that gone wrong with Renault, and Roux, and…

And Marsh.

There was another name that she pushed out of her mind whenever it arose.

All of the investigations from the Foster operations were complete. Nearly two weeks ago, the last one had wrapped up here in D.C.

She was washed out of the agency, but there were no additional charges. Whatever the powers that be had discovered in their atomic level review of all of Foster’s operations hadn’t led to any formal repercussions for Denna. Still, she’d have to find a new job. She’d most likely never hold a government job again in her life.

Denna wasn’t even sad about that.

All the paperwork had wrapped up the week before the whole country turned to family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday, and Denna had found herself with no plans and no connections. Adrift and alone, she’d decided to knock another item off the long list of things she’d always wanted to do.

She’d gone backpacking in New Mexico.

It was a last minute trip, so she hadn’t chosen anything that required too much training, but her base fitness level had proved good enough. She’d fallen in with a few experienced hikers who teased her mercilessly about her newly purchased gear, and had spent the last week off the grid, alone even if she was surrounded by a small crowd of people, and had slept under the stars for nights in a row.

Though she hadn’t figured out a single thing about what she should do next, she’d enjoyed the fresh air and the easy conversations, even if she’d had to lie through most of them.

It bothered a lot how easy the lying had been.

She stashed the groceries and took a long, hot shower. Once clean, she decided to plug back into the world, and see if there was any place for her in it.

While she purged her bags of trash and dirty clothes and gear, she listened to the backlog of messages. Most of them were spam, ridiculous job offers from folks who didn’t understand what she did – what she’d done, but surprisingly, there were three messages from Rayner.

She hadn’t spoken to Rayner in months.

“This is an unofficial call, so don’t bother checking the usual channels. Got some information you’ll probably want.”

The next sounded a little impatient.

“I get that this is weird, but…just call me as soon as you can. There’ve been some…developments.”

The last was terse. Rayner sounded exasperated.

“Listen, I get that you don’t want to talk to me, but…actually, I don’t get it. This isn’t about…anything in Munich. But I do need to talk to you, and soon. Ivanova is in the wind, and…”

Denna stopped moving, and listened to the playback more closely.

“…This isn’t a personal call, but I really, really need to talk to you.”

Denna let her open pack fall to the floor.

It took over half an hour to find her systems and get them booted up cleanly. By the time she’d tracked down how to reach Rayner, it was long past sundown. Finally, she opened a connection.

“I was offline,” Denna said, by way of apology.

Rayner sighed in greeting. “Somehow, Ivanova escaped on Thanksgiving day.”

“What?”

“The logs read like a Shakespearean comedy of errors. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong to allow her to escape somehow happened. I’ll send you the feeds.”

Denna closed her eyes. She knew who was behind it, and she knew that Katja wouldn’t have left a trace that would track back to her.

She guessed that Rayner knew that as well.

“If you’re asking me if I can track them, forget it. Not to mention the fact that my involvement in anything right now is completely unsanctioned. I’m out.”

“I don’t work for the agency anymore.”

Denna didn’t have any words for that. This was news. She thought Rayner was a lifer, and had managed to step out of Foster’s shadow.

“Look,” Rayner said.  “I hate this over the line shit. Meet me tomorrow. I’ll put the details in the usual drop.”

Denna winced, and tried to think of a way to beg off. Rayner was a little too close to the quagmire Denna had just crawled out of.

“I hear you might be looking for a job,” Rayner said, and Denna heard the smile in her voice.

**

In a coffee shop just off New Hampshire Avenue, Denna sat with a cup of non-designer drip. She was early, but she’d wanted to get a look at the place before Rayner arrived, and had to admit that she was mildly impressed. In spite of being in the heart of the capital city, this shop had limited surveillance and the kind of background noise that made recordings impossible. Rayner had made a good choice.

Denna didn’t think twice about her assessment. The habits that had become ingrained over the last eighteen months demanded precaution on her part.

Just because she was on American soil didn’t mean she was safe.

Rayner walked in like she owned the place. Denna rolled her eyes. Everyone in the room noticed when Rayner walked across the shop to the counter. She ordered something that took a moment for the barista to create, and then finally meandered her way between the tables to the seat across from Denna. Rayner didn’t even look apologetic.

They appraised each other. Perhaps out of habit, Denna thought, but the truth was that anything between them was water under the bridge. This would be all business – casual, but professional.

Rayner smiled, and Denna was annoyed that she herself was fighting a grin. Rayner was still an attractive woman, and whatever she was doing these days looked good on her.

Then, Rayner got serious and told Denna everything she knew about Penelope Ivanova’s escape. Denna listened, trying to find any holes that might bear exploring, but the more she heard, the more she realized that it was a lost cause. Once again, the two women who made up the Falcon had vanished.

“And then she climbed into the back of an auto-car that just happened to be waiting at the end of the road.” Rayner sounded impressed. “Which wasn’t on the logs, by the way, and hasn’t been recovered.”

Denna had to admit that Katja had done a thorough job.

“No sign of either of them since,” Rayner said, and took a sip of her coffee with finality.

Denna wasn’t surprised to hear this either.

“So why do you want to talk to me? This is info you could have sent through the feeds.”

Rayner stared at her, flicking a fingertip around the cardboard wrap of the paper coffee cup.

“I’ve got my own team with Zephyr.”

Denna knew that she’d failed in keeping her expression blank when she felt her own eyebrows rise.

Zephyr was a private military company, known to work in tandem with the agency from time to time. Unlike other agencies of its type, it had yet to take its place in the public eye for misconduct. For the most part, they seemed to run a clean operation.

“Due to recent…developments,” Rayner said, and Denna knew she meant Foster and Marsh. “Zephyr has been given license to pursue certain elements in the global landscape. Our methods are above board and will withstand any scrutiny by governmental oversight.”

Denna understood the doublespeak. Zephyr performed clandestine operations, but all of the paperwork matched up with what they were actually doing. None of their operations would be off the books, as Foster’s had been.”

Rayner suddenly grew very interested in her hands. “We have a new…consultant on retainer.” Her face gave nothing away, but Denna knew this was the real reason for this meeting.

Denna crooked an eyebrow, wondering what this could possibly have to do with her.

“For obvious reasons, there are some jobs that a contracting agency isn’t sanctioned to perform.”

Rayner waited, and Denna realized that she was expected to fill in the blanks herself.

This team Rayner mentioned was officially on the government payroll, and they were doing everything by the book. That  meant that if any ops needed a firmer hand – say, the removal of a human obstacle – they couldn’t take care of that themselves.

They had a gun-for-hire on the payroll.

Denna didn’t understand what that had to do with her.

Rayner continued.  “This particular consultant was very specific about her handler.”

Denna leaned back, her composure shot.

Katja.

“And it just so happens that my team is lacking in a particular skillset, one that quite frankly, I know you happen to have a great deal of expertise in.”

Denna wanted to curse out loud. This was exactly like the operation she’d just walked out of, and there was no way she was going through a complete congressional investigation again. Her career would never survive it. She would never survive it, and if she didn’t end up dead, she’d be in a dark hole for the rest of her very short life.

“Please explain to me how this is any different from that shitstorm I just walked out of.”

Rayner’s expression hardened. “For starters, I don’t have some bullshit vendetta that I need resolved.”

That meant that she was just as pissed about the whole Foster/Marsh debacle as Denna had been. Now that she thought about it, though, Denna wasn’t really surprised.

“I don’t need to tell what kind of threats are out there, and I know I don’t need to tell you that people like us are the first line of defense.”

Which implied that people like Katja were the last.

Denna didn’t like it one bit. Any of it…but she hadn’t seen or heard from Katja in months, and just thinking about the possibility of seeing her made something in her take flight.

Rayner crooked an eyebrow, and Denna hoped she hadn’t exposed her true thoughts.

“Think about it. If I know you at all,” Rayner said, and the weight of her words gave Denna pause. “You want to do something that matters. This does.”

She raised her eyebrows in question, daring Denna to say otherwise, then stood and walked out of the coffee shop.

Denna sat staring at her empty cup for a long while.


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