See DISCLAIMERS. More out of sequence stuff. Tons of backrev and “more/fix” notes – the later in the month, the closer to the end, the more I tend to worry about inconsistencies.
THE ROSES ARE DEAD
Over the last year and half, Denna had spent time in a lot of rooms, and this was by far the most luxurious and comfortable one, but she couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for the amenities. Though her suite in this high rise four-star hotel featured both a commercial-grade kitchen and a receiving area large enough for a small board meeting, plus a bonus room with king-sized bed and a bathroom adorned with a tub that could comfortably seat four, it was just another empty room, and she was still alone.
She missed Katja, and there wasn’t enough here to distract her. Denna wasn’t exactly under house arrest and could leave at any time and go anywhere as long as she didn’t leave the city, but only if accompanied by an armed guard who’d been provided for “her own protection” by the agency.
The boredom was taxing, now that she didn’t have an active assignment. With Renault and Roux dead, Foster’s operation had come to a close. Now back on U.S. soil, Foster and his team were under the microscope from JSOC [BACKREV]. It would have been different if they’d come home with results, but all they had were corpses and limited intel. Foster and Marsh bore the brunt of the attention, since they were the most senior members of the team. Ellis and Sato had already been reassigned. Rayner was taking an early retirement, but she’d hinted to Denna at their last meeting that she had options she was exploring.
And Denna was on leave pending completion of the investigations, but there wasn’t even a whisper of her possible negligence or irresponsibility.
No one knew about her and Katja, and Denna had no idea what had become of [erstwhile?] lover.
The official word was that the Falcon had escaped and was in the wind. Not a trace of her showed up in the feeds, and Denna had been looking through both official and unorthodox channels. The only thing Denna knew for certain was that Katja was alive.
Marsh’s endless displeasure was testament to the Falcon’s survival.
To distract her from her longing and the endless boredom, her only entertainment so far had been hacking her own outside feeds. Using the network provided by the hotel was just a direct line to the company servers, and she continued to use those as well to ward off suspicion. She was now precautious to a fault – and trusted no information she hadn’t vetted and verified though multiple channels.
She trawled the feeds like always, and had even managed to route a few communications to the network Katja had given her before her capture but there’d been no response.
Around noon, a new message appeared in one of the in-game chats she monitored for intel. This one was directed at one of her several clandestine monikers.
: Tuesday. 1045am. The place where I watched you sweat.:
Denna stared at the message blankly until she deciphered its meaning. Her heart leapt. It could only be Katja.
For the next several hours, she planned how to ditch her guard and get out of the hotel. It could be done, but it would tricky. She didn’t want to hurt him or in any way interact with him – she just wanted to elude detection. It helped that she had a few days to make a plan. It was only Saturday.
[BACKREV: check the timeline on this carefully. It’s going to be tight, but it has to be or the story won’t unfold correctly.]
A few hours past sundown, a new notification scrolled across the bottom corner of her screen. Another message in the same chatroom.
She signed back into the client, hoping Katja hadn’t changed her mind about meeting. Denna was surprised at how much she was looking forward to seeing her, to confirm with her own eyes that Katja was alive and well.
: Change of plan. Have to leave country tomorrow. Guthrie Park Rose Garden. Midnight tonight.:
Denna frowned at the screen and checked the time. It was a more aggressive timetable if she wanted to ditch the guard, but she didn’t have a choice. If she left now, she could make it to the park in time to meet Katja.
It was time to leave. For good this time.
New York was home, but things here would never be the same, and if she couldn’t have Denna, she didn’t want to be here.
Penelope had found out that all of Foster’s team was back here, doing whatever the hell their agency did when things went south and they had to cover their tracks. Katja didn’t care
She did, however, want to see Denna one more time before she left, even if she couldn’t touch her.
Katja had some chops of her own on the technical front, though she kept them to herself. She never knew when she might have to work without Penelope, which meant that she had to have some skills considering most of her business was based in this medium.
Besides, it was impossible to hang out with hackers like Penelope for over a decade and not learn a few things.
She sent the message to Denna, asking for a meet in a few days before Katja headed for the border and back to Europe. Maybe she could start over.
Katja had decided not to accompany Penelope on this venture with Roux’s former crew. If one of them was going to be the new boss, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be Katja. She didn’t care enough about the business for that, but Penelope did. At least Penelope would keep things only illegal and not completely unconscionable. Theft? Absolutely. Murder? If it was deserved. Trafficking? Absolutely not.
Still, Katja did her do diligence and checked on Penelope several times to make sure things were going well. So far, there had been no inkling of duplicity, which didn’t mean there wouldn’t be any, but at least it wouldn’t be premeditated.
Penelope had sent a message a few hours ago saying things were going well, but it wouldn’t hurt for Katja to swing by and remind people who was still waiting in the wings should they decide to misstep. Katja decided that she’d head that way in the next few hours. She was getting restless sitting alone in the apartment anyway.
It was too soon to expect a reply from Denna, but she couldn’t help herself, and logged back into the client to see if there was a response waiting for her.
:Acknowledged, and confirmed. Be advised – will likely be on the loose and under time constraints. : [Fix]
Katja frowned. So, Denna would be on the run. Still, it was better than nothing. [More]
She executed the cleanup scripts prior to her logout and was surprised to see that there was a message in her “sent” folder, and the system asked for her confirmation before deleting it.
An itch worked its way up her spine. She’d run the cleanup script after her last login. There shouldn’t have been a message in her sent folder.
Ten minutes later, she was still trying to solve the puzzle in front of her. Someone had sent a second message to Denna using her login. Denna hadn’t responded, but considering she only had an hour to get to the meet, she may not have had time.
It wasn’t Penelope – she was busy dealing with the deal in the Bronx, and she wouldn’t have done this. It didn’t have her flair.
Someone had hijacked their meet and was setting Denna up.
Katja stared at the screen, weighing her options. Penelope was dealing with some unknowns, but was capable of handling them. Most of their associates didn’t understand exactly how dangerous Penelope was on her own, but Katja did. If Katja didn’t show, Penelope might end up in a tough situation, but she could probably deal with.
Denna, on the other hand, had no idea that she was walking into a trap.
Pretending there was a choice was just wasting time.
Penelope didn’t need her.
Guthrie Park was a vibrant, lurid splash of autumn in the heart of the city. Two thoroughfares and two retail centers framed the designated nature preserve that spanned a width of several blocks, and stretched nearly a mile long. A long, meandering path traced its edges. Dozens of paths, like spokes on a wheel, led from the outer boundary to the rose garden at the center.
This was where Katja’s message had told Denna to be.
Denna walked the rows where the rose bushes bloomed in the spring. The gold light of the gaslamps looked like floating orbs in the fog. She could only see the lampposts closest to her, the few trees within throwing distance, and the [frames] where the roses grew long into summer. Now, a few leaves remained, but all of the roses were dead.
The rest of the park was a murky soup that hid any threat. Denna was armed, but it wouldn’t do her much good if she couldn’t see anyone.
Just as Denna began to wonder why Katja would choose somewhere so open to exposure with no available cover, she heard the crunch of footsteps on leaves.
“I knew you’d come,” Marsh said.
Denna whirled to face in the direction the voice had come from.
Dressed in black, Marsh was hard to recognize but his voice was unmistakeable. He sneered at her and leveled a weapon in her direction. ““How could you resist meeting your terrorist lover for a midnight stroll through the rose garden?”
“I know you met with the Falcon’s little side piece.”
Denna frowned. Did he mean King?
“Just before the Falcon suddenly escaped? That was too coincidental, and you’re the dark horse, aren’t you? The one that pulls the aces out on the last play.”
[More. A lot more.]
“Was it your plan to kill Renault?” Katja’s stepped out from behind a nearby tree, weapons drawn and aimed at both of them.
“What the fuck are you doing here? I sent you after that other bitch.” Marsh sounded annoyed.
Katja’s eyes widened and then her face went blank.
That scared Denna more than Marsh’s weapon, but it didn’t matter who was supposed to be here and who wasn’t. Someone was going to die in the next few minutes, and Denna didn’t want it to be Katja.
“I’m a traitor?” Denna’s only choice was to try to bait him into shooting her. If he did, Katja would get the drop on him and then at least she would get out alive. “Does Foster know you made a deal with Roux?”
[MORE. MUCH MORE. MARSH SHOOTS DENNA, KATJA SHOOTS/KILLS MARSH]
“Breathe, and stay still.” She held Denna’s body down, trying to keep her from moving and losing more blood. “It’s not bad. Help is coming.”
Katja could barely hear Denna’s whisper.
“You’re safe now,” Katja said, and kissed her cold cheek.
She pressed one last kiss to her temple, closed her eyes and tried to breathe in her scent but the air was too cold. This would have to do.
“No one will hurt you again.”
The sirens sounded closer.
Several hours later, the sun had burned off some of the fog. Denna sat on the bumper of an emergency vehicle, wrapped in an emergency blanket with hot tea in her hands. The wound wasn’t serious – a graze on her forehead, a through-and-through to her arm.
Yet another set of scars to add to the list.
She watched the steam rising from the trees as the mist evaporated. It made the park look like it was on fire.
It was finally over. Renault, Roux, Marsh – they were all dead.
Marsh had been the only one who knew about her and Katja. He’d never have tried to blackmail her if anyone else had known, and though dangerous, he’d been honest. If he’d wanted anyone else to know, she’d be in custody right now and on her way to being tried as a traitor.
Marsh had known the truth about the two of them, and Katja had killed him. If she never saw Katja again, no one would ever know about what had passed between them, and if Denna wanted, she could continue her work with the agency – assuming she survived the investigation.
Now she understood what Katja’s parting words had meant.
She’d been saying goodbye.
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