The Improbability Volumes – Day 9

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ASP IN THE LION’S DEN

(Again with the narrative distance problem. FIX: establish what the distance is and stick with it, damnit.)

Something smelled like asphalt.

Everything hurt, so Denna kept her eyes closed. It smelled like hot tar of some kind. What had this place been used for? Had it been some kind of sealant plant?

If she kept her breath shallow, it didn’t hurt as much, but it did require concentration that made her head pound like her brain was too big for her skull and pressed against bone with every heartbeat. She tried to focus on the tar scent, to figure out what it meant instead of thinking about what had been done to her in this filthy warehouse, and the fate that was most likely coming.

The scent reminded her, oddly, of her childhood.

Denna had been born to hard-working professional parents and raised in northern California. Her mother, Megan Roberts, had been a federal prosecutor and a Mexican immigrant. Her father had been born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska before he moved to the lower forty-eight to pursue an education and subsequent career in cryptology. He’d ended up working for DARPA, and had worked there for most of his life.

Her parents had met when David Lopez had been called in as an expert witness for one of Megan’s cases. Years later, they’d crossed paths again, fallen in love and married.

Denna had been a surprise to her middle-aged parents.

Now it came back to her. The smell reminded her of summers in Palo Alto, when the hot California sun had made the air in her subdivision neighborhood smell like asphalt.

Her mother had died of cancer when Denna was still in elementary school. Denna had been raised by her father, and years of sitting in corners of his offices and conference rooms had encouraged her to follow in his footsteps when she got older. Her pursuit of computer engineering had led to her becoming an analyst.

He had lived long enough to proudly watch her walk across the university stage to claim her undergraduate degree, then died not long after.

She wondered what he would think of the assignment she’d taken that had landed her in her current predicament.

Denna opened her eyes and blinked against the painful glare of light. It wasn’t that bright in here, which meant she probably had a concussion, and there also wasn’t much to see.

She was handcuffed to a cot in the middle of a warehouse that stank of [stale river water], and there was no way for her to get comfortable so she’d stopped trying. The last beating had taken a lot out of her, so she didn’t exactly feel like moving around to find a better position.

She’d been lying here for awhile, so she guessed that the next beating would start soon. Denna felt a tear run down one cheek, stinging the cuts made by Roux’s rings, but she knew the tears were just from the fatigue and the pain. It wasn’t hopelessness – she knew Foster’s team would find her eventually. She did wonder if they’d get to her before she was beaten to death.

Roux was getting tired of her not speaking.

He had questioned her several times about how she had figured out how to [mess with] Renault’s financial [endeavors], but it was clear to her that he didn’t really care what she said. He didn’t ask specific enough questions to know a damned thing about what it was that she did, which meant that Roux didn’t really want answers.

That meant that Renault himself didn’t really care. They just wanted her to stop doing whatever she’d been doing, and evidently her death would solve that problem.

Perhaps Roux thought he could get some other information out of her and that was why he hadn’t killed her yet.

Denna swallowed, but it hurt. She didn’t feel thirsty anymore, but knew that couldn’t be true and was another bad sign.

She took a deep breath and instantly regretted it. The excruciating pain in her chest probably meant broken ribs, and she thought one might have punctured a lung. She bit her lip to keep from crying out and tasted her own blood.

Denna heard footsteps, and male laughter, and wondered if her time was up.

***

Katja forced herself to keep her tone cool. “This is a foolish move on Roux’s part and will draw too much attention to us.”

She stood in the small office area of the warehouse. The walls were thin enough that she could hear Roux performing his “interrogation” on the captured agent. Renault sat in a nearby chair, going over notes with another one of his goons.

The goon gave her a wide berth, as if he could sense her true mood.

The interrogation soundtrack continued.

So far, Agent Lopez hadn’t revealed a single detail about her operation or her team. Katja didn’t know if that was brave or stupid, but the result was likely to be the same. Roux would execute Lopez once he got bored with pretending that he was beating her for information instead of his own personal enjoyment.

“Perhaps,” Renault said, his tone matching hers. “But at this point, we already have plenty of attention. I don’t think this will change that one way or another.”

“Foster’s team will find her.”

Renault laughed, but it wasn’t a humorous sound. “If they do, it will already be too late.”

Katja forced herself to keep her face blank. This was all going to ruin them, and that meant that she wouldn’t be able to kill Renault herself.

And she really needed to be the one to kill him.

***

Renault didn’t want to be anywhere on the premises when Roux killed the agent, so he took his leave. Katja stepped onto the killing floor, and took bitter pleasure in the fact that Roux’s cronies moved aside, nervous at her arrival.

They were all weak.

Roux was giving himself a workout by repeatedly smacking the full weight of his hand across Lopez’s face. One of Lopez’s eyes was swollen nearly shut, and her nose looked broken.

He paused to pull out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his pocked face. He noticed Katja standing on the periphery of his workspace, and smiled, revealing stained crooked teeth.

“{Come to learn something?}” Roux was the only one laughing.

He tossed the handkerchief aside – like an amateur, Katja thought – and asked another inane question of the agent. Lopez was obviously not going to answer.

The punches to her midsection, though, were solid, and Lopez started spitting blood. At one point, her eyes, which had been unfocused and rolling, stopped and stared at Katja herself.

***

Denna was losing track of the questions being asked of her. It was almost as if she was losing the ability to understand French, but that didn’t make any sense. She didn’t think it was possible to beat the language out of someone. She almost laughed at that ridiculous thought, but then groaned at the pain of breathing.

The pain took all of her focus. Not talking was easy, though. She could barely get air in, since both breathing in and out hurt, but she couldn’t stop that.  Speaking at this point, though, was completely out of the question and beyond her capability. He had to know that, which meant this beating was just for show.

She fell back into the shadows of the pain.

For awhile, she’d only noticed Roux, until one of the others had spoken, and then she’d seen that there were actually three of them there. She forced herself to focus on that person, and was surprised to see Mannis standing so close.

Her hair was down this time, and fell past her shoulders. Lopez wondered if criminals kept stylists on the payroll.

Mannis was taller than she’d thought, too, and seemed to hold more space than just her body allowed. Like there was a force field around her that didn’t let anything else get close.

Even now, she looked angry and menacing, but Denna didn’t think it was directed at her.

Then Roux hit her again, and she lost focus and had stop looking at Mannis.

She didn’t want that. Everything hurt, but Mannis…Mannis was interesting and made her forget that she was about to die.

***

Katja wasn’t sure what that look meant, but Lopez stared until the moment was broken by Roux’s next fist-fall.

The beating went on far longer than was even remotely reasonable, even for a sadistic thug like Roux. Katja wanted nothing more than to shoot him dead right now, but if she did, she’d have to kill his henchmen – and then she’d have to explain it to Renault. She didn’t have a reason to do all that.

And then Katja saw the moment when the agent accepted her fate. It infuriated her to see Lopez give up.

She turned her back and walked toward the door.

“{No stomach for this, little Falcon?}” Roux asked.

His snide voice grated on Katja’s taut nerves, but she kept walking in slow, measured steps. “{I am bored by your lack of imagination, Albie.}” In a way, she was. He always had to do things the hard way, the way of blood and pain and stupidity.

She clenched a fist in her jacket pocket until she’d left the room. The moment the door was closed behind her, Lopez screamed.

Against her better judgement, Katja didn’t wait until she was secure in her car before she called Penelope.

“Yes?” Penelope never greeted her with a simple ‘hello’.

“Leak the riverside warehouse location to Foster’s team, and make sure they know Lopez is here. Then tell the mole that Foster’s team is headed for Roux’s stash house.”

There was a long pause as Penelope processed the reqeuest. Katja climbed into her coupe and made her escape. If Penelope did as she’d asked, Foster would have boots on the ground in minutes.

“Are you sure about this?”

“We can’t afford the kind of heat that a dead agent will bring us, and I don’t want Renault to go underground. It’ll make our work impossible.”

Penelope didn’t sound convinced. “As long as you’re sure that’s the reason you’re snitching on Roux.”

Katja didn’t want to answer that – it was too close to things she didn’t want to look at. “Do it, Pen. As fast as you can, before Roux kills her and dumps her body.”

She terminated the connection without another word, before Penelope started asking dangerous questions.


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