The Improbability Volumes – Day 5

See DISCLAIMERS. These vignettes are out of sequence, so you’ve been warned.


VIGNETTES 1-3

1

“You were nothing but Renault’s little pet bitch,” Roux spat. “If I didn’t know you were a pervert, I’d swear you were his whore.”

Katja didn’t rise to the bait of his taunts. They’d worked together – or at least adjacent to one another – for years, and she knew how he fought. When he couldn’t rely on his reputation, he’d fall back on pure physical menace. If that didn’t work, he’d do his best to bait his opponent into making a mistake.

She was not one of his usual hotheaded opponents.

Katja stepped with certainty, balanced over her center of gravity, waiting for the right time to make her move.

It wasn’t a short fight, but she did eventually get the upper hand. With his dominant arm broken, and broken fingers on his other hand, he couldn’t do much damage. She was sure she had a few bruised ribs and a black eye, but in the end, she stood out of his reach with her gun in her hand while he weaved back and forth, trying to stay upright on his knees.

Finally, he conceded.

“I’ll cut you in on half, but I’m the deciding vote. I’ve earned it, and I won’t let you take it away from me.”

Penelope would love that, Katja knew. After all this bullshit, and years of mopping cleanup behind these fuckers, that big a chunk of the take was hard to resist. Katja had no interest in running the entire organization, and letting Roux be the figurehead while she and Penelope continued to do the dirty work but on their own terms for a bigger piece of the reward – it would be a significant improvement over the way they’d been treated under Renault.

Katja thought it over. Despite the fact that this asshole would still technically be in charge, it was a good deal.

Then she thought of Denna in a German hospital, two days after she’d been found in a Munich warehouse, battered, casted, bruised and barely conscious. Katja hadn’t been able to get into her room, not without detection, but once, as the nurses and doctor and operatives stood clustered around her bed, Denna had looked right at her through the window.

Katja knew the moment she’d been seen because Denna froze, but didn’t point her out to her colleagues. The glance only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like hours to Katja. Right then, she knew something had changed between them.

And this motherfucker had been the one to put Denna in the hospital in the first place.

Katja shifted her grip, kicked Roux hard enough to knock him to the ground, and shot him twice in the back of the head.

2

Penelope Jacobs never told anyone her real name. Even Katja didn’t know what her last name was, and Penelope trusted Katja with her life. They’d been inseparable for years, but Penelope thought it best to keep some things to herself. That name was one of them.

She’d never intended to become a killer for hire. Most of the time, she didn’t consider herself one now. Katja did the wetwork, while Penelope handled logistics. Katja had the skill, the patience, the discipline and the fortitude to do the deeds, but never seemed interested in bigger picture – not unless it had something to do with Renault. Penelope, on the other hand, was perfectly suited to set up all of the building blocks to make Katja’s job easier.

It was a perfect match. Or at least, it had been.

Dissatisfied with how Renault had been removed from the board, lately Katja seemed to be playing a completely different game, and Penelope wasn’t sure what the new rules were. Katja had built a new rubric for which jobs she’d take and which she’d decline, and she wasn’t telling Penelope why.

And now, for the first time in years, Katja hadn’t shown up when she’d said she would. Whatever had gone down with Lopez was now starting to affect the rest of their work.

Mullins continued his pacing along the north wall. His chain smoking was becoming a problem – this floor of the abandoned building was well-ventilated, but the cheap French cigarettes smelled disgusting.

“We need your friend for this job, no?” His weak English conveyed his displeasure. The Falcon, after all, was a legend, while Penelope was often perceived as the hired help.

Clandestinely, Penelope checked her feeds again. Nothing.

She exhaled. She didn’t like to do the dirty work, but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t.

“No.” Penelope opened a nearby case that she rarely needed but always brought. She lifted her perfectly sighted and well-oiled SIG Sauer P320.  “She’s run into a challenge with another client, but is resolving the issue presently,” she lied.  “I’ll take care of this myself.”

He looked doubtful until she confidently chambered a round as if she’d done it hundreds of times before.

In fact, she had.

“Let’s get started.” Penelope readied herself to take care of business on her own, but had one last thought before she focused on the matters at hand.

It was time to talk to Katja about what was really going on with Agent Denna Lopez.

3

Marsh was going to kill her.

Denna had seen more questionable interrogations than she’d ever imagined she would back when she started her career, but this…this was heading into a whole new zone of unpleasantness. She knew her face gave away nothing, because she’d trained it to do exactly that, but inside…

Inside, the warning flags were starting to wave.

In the small anteroom of yet another abandoned warehouse, Denna looked at her systems and the audio and visual feeds of the factory floor below. Only half of the team was here – Foster, Marsh and Denna. The rest were off preparing for their exodus back to the States with their prize in tow.

Denna hadn’t voiced her concerns about Marsh’s methods to Foster, and knew she couldn’t say a thing to Marsh himself. Dissent in the ranks was always frowned upon, so she’d kept her disapproval to herself. Instead, she regulated her breathing, modulated her posture, and when asked a direct question, she answered in a clear, concise monotone. But she saw the way her hand trembled as she typed into her keyboard, and she knew that this was getting to her.

It had to be getting to Mannis.

They’d captured her outside [location], though Denna had found it to be too easy. Mannis had successfully avoided them for months, so it was odd for them to nab her in broad daylight in such an obvious location while meeting a contact that had been on the “known associates” list for almost a year. Foster didn’t question their providence, though, and Marsh – Marsh had smiled for the first time Denna had ever seen.

It hadn’t been a nice smile.

Now, four days later, Katja Mannis sat with her arms and legs tied to a chair in one of the decrepit industrial areas of the old factory. Her hair and skin were soaking wet and her clothes soggy, her eyes closed and her breathing shallow. She wasn’t going to last much longer, and had already passed out several times she hadn’t given up a single piece of information.

Though she’d certainly lobbed many an insult at Marsh the first couple of days, Mannis hadn’t spoken more than a grunt since yesterday afternoon. Marsh kept an uneven schedule of hosing Mannis down with a bracing, biting spray of cold water until she winced in pain, then left her to shiver in the cold warehouse air. When her lips turned blue, he’d turn on the lamps – hot, blinding, designed to keep her from freezing to death or falling asleep.

He certainly wasn’t taking any cues from anyone else on the team, and Foster had given permission for him to get information by any means necessary. Mannis had the cuts, bruises, broken nose and tissue damage to prove it.

She was going to need hospitalization when all this was done, but Denna didn’t know when that might be. And she was starting to wonder what the point of this interrogation was – and if Marsh intended for Mannis to survive it.

Denna chewed on her lower lip, and tried not to flinch when Marsh backhanded Mannis again.

There was no connection between Mannis’ actions as the Falcon and any of the terrorist activity Renault was rumored to be involved in. Each and every murder they had on the Falcon’s docket had been a criminal, yes, and certainly the victims had been eliminated for crossing Renault, but not one of them was wanted for terrorism. Whoever his contacts were in that arena, the Falcon hadn’t been called in to keep them in line.

Denna knew they needed actionable intel. They’d been playing hide-and-seek with the Falcon for far too long, and Foster needed something to show for it. Mannis herself wasn’t enough, but she had information, for certain, and getting her to talk was crucial, yet this…there was no guarantee this was going to give them the information they needed.

And they wouldn’t get any intel if she was dead.

Denna watched the video feeds again, and checked the audio levels for the hundredth time to make sure they caught every single word. Mannis’ stomach clenched several times before Mannis vomited, then coughed so hard she cried out in pain.

Marsh brought out the hose again, cleaned off the sick and the blood and who knew what else, then sat down on a stool near Mannis’ chair. In a low, calm voice – he never raised it – he asked the same set of questions over and over again.

Mannis didn’t answer. And Denna knew that wasn’t going to change.

Denna knew there were better ways to get her to talk. Drugs, virtual reality simulations, negotiations with leverage – so many other tactics that would get them closer to what they needed. Denna had seen it – Mannis would wheel and deal with the best of them, given enough incentive. So why was Marsh playing hardball?

And why was he doing it in a way that would kill their best chance of catching Renault?


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