See DISCLAIMERS before you proceed.
Queens, New York
Agent Denna Lopez looped a strap of her ruggedized backpack over one shoulder and stepped off the commuter train. For the first time in years, she’d dressed to blend in with her surroundings. No more tailored suits, polished dress shoes, or tasteful understated jewelry. Truth be told, she’d always thought the executive attire mostly overkill for her basement cube back in Langley.
Instead, her new boss had instructed her to dress down for her new position and to draw no attention to herself. Her new goal, he’d said, was to blend in wherever she went. Today, she was to make sure nobody noticed when she showed up for the first day of her new assignment.
That had called for a bit of research.
For the last three days, she’d driven around this neighborhood to get a feel for the area, though she hadn’t come within four blocks of the assignment’s location. Now, for the first time in what felt like years, Denna walked the streets in an old pair of dark jeans, scuffed boots, and a faded black zip hoodie. The hood was pulled over her hair. If Foster wanted her to blend in, then that’s what she’d do.
Denna deliberately slumped as she took a switchbacking path to the meet, walking blocks out of her way a few times, matching the pace of the few people on the street. This wasn’t a crowded area, not like downtown, but it was busy enough that no one would remember one more hooded figure.
Half a block down a side street, a dark door with an intercom box stood between a pawn shop and small bodega. Denna ignored the intercom and pressed the buzzer twice, paused for three seconds, then pressed it again. The door clicked, and she stepped inside, then pressed the door closed behind her until she heard the lock engage.
A dark stairwell greeted her, but she could see light at the top. Echoes of low voices reached her ears.
Denna followed the sound up the stairs.
Foster, the man who’d hired her, stood with his back to the door. Tall, broad-shouldered, with a neatly trimmed beard on his weathered face, he loomed over an occupied chair. In front of a table covered with several computer displays, another man sat in the chair and alternated between two different keyboards.
There were three more tables in the room, but only two were occupied. No one looked up at her arrival.
“Renault’s on the move,” Foster said. He didn’t look at her as he raised an arm and pointed. “That’s you.”
No preamble. Denna adjusted quickly. Foster was pointing to a table on the other side of the small room. A short stack of computer networking equipment was piled on one corner of the table.
“I need AV on him stat.”
Jean-Marc Renault was a suspected terrorist and rumored to be an influential and elusive crime boss. Six governments wanted him for questioning, but this operation of Foster’s wasn’t interested in detention. Foster wanted to catch Renault in the act and put him away for good.
Foster nodded at a woman in the corner. “Ellis will give you the location once you’re up.”
Ellis, a younger woman with a cheerful face, nodded at Denna in welcome, then went back to her own tasks.
Without asking questions or speaking to the other people in the room, Denna opened her backpack and pulled out her own equipment to set up shop.
She could have installed the cables and gear with her eyes closed, so it was easy for her to take a quick look at her surroundings. The room wasn’t large. Dated panelling covered walls with no other decoration. This place must have been some sort of office at one time – it didn’t seem large enough to have been much of a living space. It was cold in here, despite all of the electrical equipment giving off heat, so the insulation was probably old or nonexistent. Two windows faced the street, but one was covered by curtains and the other was so dirty, it allowed only pale light inside.
The sound of running water filtered through a door, and a moment later a tall black woman stepped into view. She paused when she saw Denna, then resumed her walk across the room to a stack of large black cases.
“You must be Lopez,” the woman said.
Foster spoke to Denna without turning his head. “That’s Rayner. She’s on weapons.” He pointed blindly to each of the others in turn.
“Sato is logistics.” An older Asian man looked up from his table to nod her direction.
“Ellis is comms, and Marsh here is on tactical.” Foster gestured at the man in the chair before him.
Marsh didn’t respond, and didn’t look away from his screens. His linebacker frame made the chair look smaller than average.
Denna finished plugging in all the cables, and booted up her systems. If they were already in the middle of the mission, she’d better start earning her keep.
She walked through her standard boot-up protocols, connected to the network using login information written on the devices in permanent marker, and then began to do her real work – the reason Foster had sought her out and offered her this job.
Using the address Ellis gave her, Denna searched for nearby businesses. She hacked into municipal networks to track down connectivity points, internet access points, security licenses – all the data she needed to sift through to get to her true target.
Forty minutes later, she’d acquired what she needed.
“Vid links up,” Denna said, projecting her system’s feeds to one of the larger displays mounted on one wall. “No audio.” She’d bet money that Foster wouldn’t like that.
“Why not?” He looked at her, in obvious displeasure, for the first time since she’d arrived.
“No clear feed. The only camera with audio is too far away for a clean feed.”
He frowned, but said nothing more about it.
Multiple camera angles showed several sides of the building at the given address. At exactly quarter past the hour, several cars pulled into the loading area along a back alley.
“Showtime,” Marsh said.
On the passenger side of the largest towncar, a tall man with a scarred face stepped out of the front seat. After looking around the area, he closed his door, then reached to open the back door.
Out stepped Renault. With his movie star good looks, Denna could have picked him out of a crowd. In seconds, he was surrounded by guards and goons protecting his position.
“One of them is the Falcon,” Marsh said. “Renault never goes anywhere without his pit bull.”
The Falcon was rumored to be Renault’s most dangerous enforcer. His legendary moniker was whispered in criminal circles, but no one knew who he was.
Foster had made it clear when he recruited Denna that he wanted to catch them both.
Denna and her new cohort all watched in silence as several individuals from multiple angles congregated in two distinct groups, close enough to speak but not touch.
“My money’s on Scarface.” Rayner’s contralto voice was a low mumble Denna barely heard.
One last car arrived. The driver parked behind the others.
“Haven’t seen her before,” Marsh said.
They all watched the largest display as a lone woman stepped out of a fifty-year old American muscle car.
“She’s ballsy, driving that thing. They’ve been illegal for a decade.” Ellis sounded impressed.
“New player. Caucasian female, mid-thirties,” Sato narrated into one of his systems. “Walks like she’s armed to the teeth. The boys are giving her a lot of room.”
Foster leaned on Marsh’s chair. “Anybody know her?”
Denna took a closer look at the woman on the screen. There was something tickling the back of her mind, but it wasn’t clear enough to mention.
“Nah,” Rayner said. “She’s hot, though.”
“Something useful, please.”
The room fell quiet.
Foster stood upright. “Street team in place?”
Ellis tapped furiously at her keyboard. “Confirmed. If we see any hardware, they’ll wait until the meeting breaks up, follow the package and detain the crew.”
They watched Renault and another man who acted like the leader of the second group talk to each other calmly.
Denna wished she could hear what they were saying.
In one video feed, a shadow crossed the end of the alley.
“Who the fuck are these guys?” Sato asked.
Two dark vans pulled to stop. The side doors of each van opened up quickly to reveal masked men holding assault rifles.
“Shit!” Foster leaned forward.
Calm negotiation collapsed to violent melee in seconds. Everyone onscreen had a weapon in hand – sometimes two – and the two leaders quickly climbed into their respective cards and pulled out of sight.
In less than five minutes, the altercation was over without the deal having finished. The dead lay where they’d fallen. One van was completely [trashed? Inoperable?], its tires shot flat, bullet holes riddling the engine compartment.
Everyone else, even the wounded, had left the scene.
“Shit.” Foster tossed the pen on the desk. He turned to Denna. “Tell me you got something and this wasn’t a complete waste.”
Denna leaned back, one hand behind her neck massaging sore muscles. “Yeah. Clean video on the whole meet from three different cameras. We’ve got images of the whole crew and all their vehicles, including the crashers.”
Foster sighed. “Alright. Pull everything together for the debrief report. HQ will want the whole story. Ellis, call off the street team.”
Denna busied herself grabbing individual shots from the video recordings, archiving as much as she could from the low quality source files.
“Renault’s at JFK,” Ellis said after a while. “Perro’s message says he’s headed to Paris. Plan is to stay for the rest of the month.”
Foster sighed, and he wiped his face with his palm. “Alright, we need to move. Let’s break camp. Sato, get us in the air. Everyone else, stash your gear and prep for a long flight.”
He glanced at Denna, and it seemed to her that it was the first time he really noticed her.
Foster looked her up and down before turning back to Marsh’s console. “Dye your hair.”
Denna sighed, but kept her response to herself.
Sato walked over to stand by her table. “You need anything for the trip?”
Denna shook her head. She’d been told to travel light and to be able to travel anywhere at a moment’s notice. She’d taken the directive to the extreme. Everything she needed was already in her bag.
“Keep that gear with your kit,” he said, tilting his head towards the stack of equipment in front of her. “It’s yours from here on out. Freight elevator’s through that door.” He pointed to the back of the room.
“Got it. Thanks.”
He nodded and stepped away. Everyone else was pulling cables and packing gear, with no extra motion or chit-chat.
Rayner walked by Denna’s table, carrying a long heavy case in each hand. She smiled.
“Welcome to the team.”
All rights reserved. You try to snag this story and I’ll find you. ~VB