Friday, April 20, 2007

Chapter 18: Poison!

Samantha had just landed at Heathrow and was efficiently wheeling her bag behind her. Her flight attendant’s uniform was crisp with no evidence that she’d been seated for several hours. Her cell phone rang and she reached into her jacket pocket to retrieve and answer it.

“Hello?”

“Sam. Mark here. There’s been a slight change of plans. Take a cab to the safehouse.” Click.

Samantha made her way past the bustling crowd of tourists arriving and holiday-takers leaving and soon found herself seated in the back of a black cab. The cab driver moved deftly into the traffic, easily negotiating the press of cars. As the driver made his way to Knightsbridge, the traffic dwindled and Samantha relaxed. The driver soon stopped in front of the address. He came around the side of the car to let her out and help her with her bag. She thanked him and tipped him generously before watching him drive away.

When he reached the end of the block, Samantha turned and looked at the door. The red door with the lion’s head door knocker was one of the most famous of CIA safehouses. The house had real history, but that was for another time. She approached the door smartly and rapped twice with the door knocker.

The door opened and Mark stood there in the foyer. “Hey.” It wasn’t much of a greeting, but like an old married couple, they had their own way of communicating. This “hey” meant “really glad you are safe, we’ll do a proper hello when we can be private.”

Something was definitely wrong. Samantha parked her roller bag in the foyer and followed Mark, her black heels clacking on the marble floor. They walked down a hallway and were soon standing in the doorway of what looked like an office. There was a Queen Anne desk and chairs, and several nice oil paintings on the walls.

None of this really absorbed Samantha’s attention, however. That was focused on the beautiful young woman who lay dead on the floor. The handset for the phone lay near her body and a chair was overturned, but beyond that, nothing seemed out of place.

“What’s going on?” Samantha asked Mark. “Is this Aimee?”

“Yes. I got in earlier this morning. We introduced ourselves and then I went upstairs to shower before you arrived for the briefing. When I came downstairs about an hour ago, I found her like this.” Mark seemed sincerely rattled, that in itself was highly unusual.

“Do you think we should call the authorities?”

“I’ve already called and left a message for Carstairs. He should be calling back very soon.”

“Then we’d better collect some information so that we have answers to his inevitable questions. I’ll go find some gloves.”


The speakerphone crackled softly.

“Sam, Mark, I hear things are not so good in London. What have you learned?”

Samantha looked at Mark and began to speak. “Carstairs, there are no obvious wounds. She’s been dead less than two hours, but already her skin has a slight blue tinge. I suspect she’s been poisoned, but I can’t know for sure. An autopsy would confirm that, but I doubt we have that kind of time.”

“Did you find anything else? Anything at all?”

“Nothing that doesn’t have an innocuous purpose. I’ll do a more thorough search of her belongings when we hang up. She wasn’t an agent, so anything strange should stick out.” Mark absently scratched the back of his hand.

“Okay. Call the local guys in, but stick to the cover stories. We don’t want to jeopardize the mission. In the meantime, I want you both to be very careful. Don’t eat anything in the house or use any of the toiletry items until we identify the COD. We’ll hobble together a plan here and call you back in an hour or two.”

The click came through the speaker indicating that Carstairs had hung up. Mark and Samantha shared a look over the desk. This should be fun.

The local authorities were called and quickly descended on the crime scene. Photographs were taken, Aimee Hall’s body was collected, and cover stories were provided. In an amazing four hours, the safehouse was safe again. Mark scanned the main rooms for listening devices while Samantha did a quick inventory. Their examination of Aimee’s belongings before the British police arrived had told them nothing new.

Carstairs rang back at 8 pm local time and they ran through the known information.

“Okay,” Carstairs began, “we know that Aimee suspected that one of her regular passengers on the London-Rome route was planning a terrorist attack. Samantha is already credentialed to join this route beginning tomorrow as a flight attendant. Mark, I’m going to have you ticketed on the flight as a passenger. Sheffield is emailing you the details. He has also made you some hotel reservations. You should check in as soon as possible, just in case anyone is watching the safehouse.

“For now, until we learn more, we are going to play it cool and observe. Sam, see if you can find out anything from the crew. We know that the name of the man Aimee suspected was Edward Kaji. Both of you make the flight to Rome.”

Mark left the safehouse dressed in the same clothes as when he arrived, looking very much the college student with a backpack his only luggage. He checked in to the Prince William Hotel and went to his room. After stowing his belongings under the bed, he took his wallet and left the hotel through the kitchen’s service entrance.

Two hours later, an Italian business man pulled up to the curb in front of the Prince William in a limousine. The driver held open the door and the man slid out of the back seat carrying his briefcase. He checked into the hotel, disappeared upstairs briefly, and returned to the lobby lounge where he proceeded to nurse several bottles of fine Italian wine until midnight.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Chapter One: The Introduction of SpySistah

The sleekly sexy couple was preoccupied on the bridge, sharing a kiss that conveyed love at its most passionate and consuming. Or so it seemed to on-lookers who gazed at the couple and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. To the trained eye though, Samantha’s well-toned musculature, coiled and poised at the ready, belied a different agenda. Mark’s strange posture in the kiss, too, would have given them away to a professional. But in the pre-dawn haze, no innocent would ever suspect.

Mark whispered into Sam’s ear as he pretended to nuzzle her neck. “Do you see her?”

She tapped her finger twice on his neck where her fingers had been playing in his hair, indicating no.

Partners they were: teamed together in life and in the desperate game they played for their country. They were both American, but as is so often the case with spies in the field, they could blend into any culture. Samantha’s dark straight locks, almond eyes, and olive complexion made it possible for her to be Hispanic, Italian, Israeli, or Arabic. She spoke French, Russian, Spanish, and enough Yiddish and Arabic to get by. Mark's genial features allayed any questions, making him look younger than his years and putting people off guard. He could pass as Irish, Spanish, French, and Russian if he brooded. His years as a military brat had served him well: he spoke Russian, French, German, and Farsi.

But today’s mission had them speaking French on a bridge and searching for a contact in the light mist that enveloped the early dawn hours.

Samantha spotted the young Algerian girl over Mark’s shoulder and tapped his neck again. He lazily wrapped his arm around her and they sauntered toward the other end of the bridge. The dark haired young lady moved industriously, setting up her artist’s easel facing the Seine. She had palette in hand and was quickly making short work of the canvas before her, painting an impressionistic scene from the Bois du Bologne from memory.

They stopped in front of her to admire her artistry. “That is the Bagatelle Gardens, non?” Mark asked in perfectly accented French.

“Oui.” The girl responded. “A very romantic place, where my parents were engaged.”

“Do you, by any chance, do portraits? We’d love to capture this perfect morning of our love.” Mark was all casualness and calm while Samantha peered away from the artist, seemingly bored with the conversation.

“Non. Je regrette. I am not so good with the human figure. This one you may like.” She said handing him a landscape.

“Beautiful. How much?” Mark finished bargaining, taking note of Samantha’s tensing. The sun had still not risen completely but the mist had stopped. A profound and unnatural stillness enveloped the area.

“What is it?” Mark asked quietly, wrapping his arm around Samantha’s form.

“1,000 yards back, a homeless man…seems a little too interested.” Samantha was a professional and whispered this while gazing besottedly into Mark’s eyes.

“Let’s see if we can’t get back to the van and decode the message. Just for safety, you take it and I’ll keep the picture.” Mark’s hand slipped negligently to the back of the picture, dislodging the chip, and then into his breast pocket. He handed Samantha the chip in his crumpled handkerchief and she blew her nose.


The snort was lost in a staccato of rapid gun fire. Mark and Samantha ducked and ran to cover behind a pillar. Samantha was further encumbered by dragging the young contact along with her. Mark’s weapons were concealed in a pair of shoulder holsters under his jacket. Samantha ran and tore the tear-away bottom half of her sheath dress free, revealing her twin 9mm Berettas with the mother of pearl grips.

The two spies exchanged gunfire briefly with their pursuers, before splitting up. “Stargazer! This is ‘Ursa Minor’, plus one. Taking fire! ‘Ursa Major’ north-bound from point. Need Extraction!” Samantha cried this into her coms unit hidden in her necklace. She ditched her spiked heels and ran south toward where she knew the company van was parked. It was driving toward her at breakneck speed and slowed as she approached. The side door slid open and she grabbed the proffered arm and jumped into the vehicle, pushing the Algerian woman in before her.

“Drive up the street, but take the first left!” Samantha urged the driver. She reloaded then looked to her appearance. “Jim, give me your boots!” she ordered, tossing him the chip. Samantha tore away the bodice of her dress, revealing a hot pink pleather bustier. She donned some pink eyeshadow and black lipstick, then spiked her hair up with her fingers by teasing it and letting the severe bun out. “Stop here.” The van slowed to a stop and Samantha hopped from the vehicle, playing the new role of punk rock chick.

She walked with attitude back around the corner and toward the café where she had last seen Mark headed. Her approach was casual, but as she got closer, she began to hear fists hitting flesh. Samantha looked around to make sure that she wasn’t observed. Then, she headed down the alley toward the sounds, stepping carefully and deliberately to keep her presence unknown.

In the dim light, she saw Mark near the end of the alley in desperate need of her assistance against five martial arts aficionados. She engaged two almost immediately. She sent one to his maker rapidly with a swift thrust of her hand, sending his nose into his brain. Another passed out when she kicked him into the brick alley wall, smashing his head. She turned to assist Mark and noted that he was fighting his last foe. When this last villain fell, she turned to the mutilated Mark and suggested they get the hell out of Paris.

“Where are we going?” Mark asked breathlessly.

“Cairo. The cell is in Cairo.”

“Any news of Atta?” “Sorry. I was too busy trying to save your ass to debrief. Shall we?”

Chapter Two: The Tale Goes Forward

Cairo had not gone well. Damn it all, anyway. Mark had tried to penetrate the cell, but she lost him in the market and he had not made contact since. It had been four days and she was worried. At least she wore the worry well. It went with the goth-girl brood that she had donned for this meet. She was sitting in some goth bar in London, heavy black eye makeup and greasy hair providing her disguise. She ordered another drink, a “blood-sucker” and continued to wait.

In time, a young wiry man approached her, walking as though he wore a very dirty diaper. He spoke to the bartender first in a thick Scots brogue, ordering a “Pulsing Corpuscle.”

“Have you heard the new Inkubus Sukkubus yet?” Samantha hid her tension behind her hair, imitating the hiding manner of so many disaffected teens.
“Aye. Did you get tickets?” He turned toward her, blood red drink with blue flame in hand.

“No.” She began, before he interrupted her.

“Let’s get out of here.” He downed his drink and led her from the dark bowels of the club and out toward the stairs that marked the club’s entrance, grimy as they were with unidentifiable effluvium that resembled the remains of solid human waste. The spotlight shown down through the cigarette smoke that had accumulated and created the illusion of a ghost hanging in the middle of the stairway.

They slouched against the railing, still keeping up the act. Roman pulled a CD case from the inside of his jacket and flipped through the titles, ostensibly discussing them with her.

“What do you know?” She asked in a soft whisper that disappeared in the heavy air.

“Not much, I’m afraid.” His Scots brogue was gone. “Mark left Egypt under an alias. Willingly or not, I’m not sure, but there is someone who can tell you.” He slipped her a concert ticket stub with an address on the back. “He won’t be willing, but he can be coerced.”
“Thanks.” She said, fearing that she’d never see Mark again.
Next day, she took a bus to Stone Henge with the tourists, this time dressed to blend into the crowds of holidaying teenagers. Her hair was in ponytails, braided down the side of her head. But her attire was something else. She wore an itty bitty t-shirt that showed plenty of midriff and left nothing to mystery north of that. She wore itty bitty short-shorts too, that just hinted at the under curves of her rear. She hated dressing like this, but if she were going to fit in with the teenie-boppers, it was necessary. She grabbed a Samuel Adams baseball cap from her bag, placed it on her head, and began her search.

Inside of 15 minutes, she had identified the man. He appeared to get nervous and turned away from the crowds, but she followed him. She slithered into his path through the grass, pulled out her knife, and placed it to his neck from behind.

“Say nothing. Keep walking.” Her voice grated on the words, she was so angry. Too much pent up frustration and worry were working on her control. They walked further until she found a place sheltered from the view of the public. She turned him forcefully around and pushed him up against the abandoned bus, keeping her knife handy, but not threatening him with it. “Where is Atta?”

The dark skinned man stared into her eyes, clearly evaluating and calculating. He took in her appearance, lingering a little too long on her breasts, but said nothing.

She pulled the knife forward and brought it to his scrotum, applying steady but so-far harmless pressure. “Here’s what you need to know: I’m a farm girl. Daddy taught me to perform castrations and Mom taught me to sew. I’ll have no trouble removing your equipment and making myself a handy coin purse and a sack for carrying my tampons.” She reinforced her argument by applying more pressure. “Now..., Where. Is. Atta?”

The man was clearly alarmed and sweating profusely. “But I know nothing.”

“Wrong answer, Asshole.” She pressed her point further and she knew he was near his breaking point. “Look, buddy, it is no skin off my nose if you can’t impress those 69 virgins…” She let her voice trail off.

“Hamburg,” he began, but then a glint of victory came to his eye. She failed to turn in time, and a sharp blow to her head cut off her words and turned her world black.

She awoke, she knew not how many hours later, to find herself cuffed to a rickety iron bed frame with a mattress that smelled distinctly of sex. The room was empty, unless the five or six scurrying rodents or roaches counted. She didn’t wait long before two Arab-looking men entered the room and locked the door behind them. One of them wielded a cricket bat, but neither of them were her would-be coin-purse donor. She could tell they weren’t innocents in this war, but hardened soldiers, hungry for blood.

The larger of the two began beating her with his bat, concentrating on her ribs. She tried to resist with her legs until the second man bent down to hold them to the bed. Her beater seemed to tire of his sport. She suspected that the interrogation was about to begin until she saw the lust in his eyes.

He pushed the second man forcefully away from the bed and climbed on top of her. He cut her t-shirt from her body with a knife and started to remove her shorts. He had them open and was starting to cut into her under garments when she heard a large thwack, like a baseball bat hitting a pumpkin.

Her molester slumped to the side, finally showing her the face of her rescuer. But a fraction of an instant later, her molester’s companion engaged the man and she was helpless, cuffed to the bed as she was.

Chapter Three: Hems and Hot Pursuit

Special Agent John Cutter was a much welcomed sight to Samantha. He made quick and quiet work of her second aggressor before freeing her from the cuffs that tethered her to the liquor and sex-soaked mattress.

“We have to get you out of here,” he said leading her from the building that seemed to be quickly disintegrating into dust. The back stairs led to an alley and the van that held the communication center.

“All I got out of the guy was ‘Hamburg’ before his friends showed up. That doesn’t really tell us much…” she said sheepishly.

“It’s okay.” John began, “Mark turned on his locator briefly and we know where he is. He must be deep under cover though. In the meantime, we have a new op to prep.”

“Okay. What’s up?” They began laying out the next mission for her, involving the copying of information from a palm pilot belonging to a known terrorist financier.

***

Thirty-six hours later, she was in Vienna.

This has to one of the weirdest getups, yet, she thought to herself. She was dressed for the famed Vienna Opera House’s Annual Masquerade. Her gown was a floor-length black silk by Ralph Lauren. Her ‘fallen angel’ look was completed by the black wings and black and pearl mask she wore on her face.

John looked dignified and comfortable in a black Armani tuxedo and black silk mask. He offered her his arm and they strolled negligently to their box overlooking the stage, with all of Vienna society glittering around them. A dark haired couple already occupied the box, so they slid into their seats graciously, nodding hello and exchanging pleasantries with the other couple.

The man spoke with a heavy accent, but the woman appeared to be an American. She was dressed as a suggestive Cleopatra while he was costume-less. The house lights blinked and a hush fell as everyone settled in for the show. Samantha watched the stage with little enthusiasm. She had a job to do. To either his credit or his stupidity, acting skills or inability to stay on mission, John took obvious delight in the performance.

The house lights came back up at intermission and the audience rose in a tremendous cackle. Samantha knew that she was on, and hoped John’s head was back in the game. John engaged Cleopatra in idle conversation, distracting her from Samantha and her date.

“Are you enjoying the diva?” Samantha queried the dark man.

“She is,” he responded in a heavily accented yet somehow quiet and deadly voice, “quite good.” He stood up. “If you will excuse me, I have to step out for a moment.” He was holding a silver cigarette holder and gestured that he intended to light up.

“Of course. Don’t let me keep you.” Samantha rose and moved to the side, making room for him to walk past her, but as she did so, she stumbled. The darkly dangerous man had no choice but to catch her as she nearly pushed him over the balcony. Her screech of fear drew John and the young woman’s attention to them, as well as the wondering attention of those in other box seats nearby. “Good grief!” She exclaimed as she persisted in the warm enclosure of the man’s rope-like arms. “I am so sorry. The hem of my gown…” She still needed a few more seconds for her ring to capture the contents of the man’s pda from where her hand rested on his tuxedo jacket. Thinking quickly, she squeezed out a few tears and began to shake. “We could have both been killed!” Her emotional voice held a tremor that convinced their audience.

The Arab was noticeably embarrassed and disconcerted. He practically tossed her into John’s arms as he dragged the other woman from the box.

“Laid it on kinda thick, didn’t you?” John asked when they were alone.

“Are you kidding? Did you see the panic on his face? He couldn’t get away from me fast enough. That was an Oscar-worthy performance. Plus, he never suspected a thing.” She waggled her ring finger at him to indicate the successful retrieval of the information.

“Okay, Ms. Streep. Whatever you say. Now then, shall we?” He indicated the curtains that led out of the box and they casually strolled out.

When they reached the street, they noticed that their limousine was not waiting for them.

“Lock and load?” Samantha asked John, indicating his shoulder holster.

“Rock and roll.” He reached into his jacket casually and removed his weapon, letting it hang by his side and conceal itself in the camouflage of his black pants. Samantha reached down, ostensibly to adjust a garter, but removed her twin 9mm friends in a moment from their hiding places. She held the one in her right hand concealed in the folds of her skirt. She slid her left arm around and under John’s jacket, snuggling in and concealing the second weapon by his ribs.

They walked casually up the street in the direction of their hotel. The lights on the street in the block ahead were all out, pulling Samantha’s nerves taut and ready for action. They walked into the darkness casually, but both were ready, expecting an ambush. As they approached a dark side street, Samantha and John heard running footsteps.

The first shots rang out on the cobblestone streets, missing their mark. Samantha fired first through John’s suit jacket, blowing a hole in the side from where her hand had been resting. The second shot she fired from her right hand only a millisecond later. John too had been firing since the first shots and now was reloading from behind a corner of the building. Samantha sensed that their pursuers were sufficiently slowed, so she urged John to run.

They ran straight to the hotel, never stopping, but continually checking behind them. When they reached the lobby, they slowed to a slow jog, pretending to race to the elevator.

“Damn, I’m tired of getting shot at!”

Chapter Four: Body Oil and Navel Cams

Samantha provocatively rolled her head back and forth on her neck to the sultry music. Her hair dragged in the sweat and dust on the stage of the German strip club. She was having difficulty balancing on just her palms and the 6 inch jet black stilettos she wore. Sometimes she really hated her job. Going undercover was one thing; but being topless, uncomfortable in clingy and sweat inducing plastic pants, and performing for a bunch of slobbering drunken perverts should mean better than hazard pay. She must really love her country.

The body oil was distracting, making her body glisten, but at least it made it harder for the more aggressive perverts to get a good hold. There was no place in her ensemble to hide a weapon, so she was stuck in a very dangerous position: exposed and defenseless. Samantha had never been good at relying on someone else for her protection, so the fact that the club had several armed agents undercover was little comfort.

The music changed, building into a more primal beat so she switched gradually to undulating and gyrating next to the pole that looked like it hadn’t seen any bleach or other cleaning agent since the dawn of time. At least being on her feet again gave her a chance to take a thorough look at the patrons/perverts.

She saw him with the group of young urban professional Arabs sitting on the left side of the stage. Mark appeared to not even recognize her and paid her performance little attention, seemingly distracted from her bounteous assets by the conversation of his friends. One of them though, paid her the compliment of grinning lecherously and motioning for her to come forward and accept his token of appreciation. The spittle on his chin and his obvious intoxication did much to suggest against approaching the degenerate, but she had a part to play, and the job came first.

She approached him sexily, hoping that was what it looked like, but doubted the fool would see it any other way than how his lust-liquored eyes desired. She went into a slow crouch, knees spread for the viewing pleasure of his table, and it garnered the attention of all five of the assembled men, including Mark.

Her slobbering admirer took out a damp $50 bill and nearly toppled over in his enthusiasm to slip it into her hot pants. The others were all grabbing for their wallets, so she stood back up from her crouch and turned away from them and bent over at the waist, giving them the grade-A view of her legs and rear. She swayed back and forth, holding onto her ankles for dear life and hoping she was giving a believable performance.

Two more of the men stuck bills to her sticky cheeks and she turned again, offering Mark the best view of her breasts. He grinned in that devilish boyish way he had and caressed the side of her breast gently with his folded $100 bill, eventually sliding it behind her ear.

She caressed her own breasts then for their edification and slid his token from her ear into her waistband. She sashayed over to another table of lecherous sots and gave them an eyeful while she desperately prayed for the music to end. Finally it did and she pouted into her final pose. The club erupted into hearty catcalls and graphic suggestions of what she should do next. She bowed and left the stage, vowing to ask for a raise.

John Cutter was waiting for her in the wings. He was impersonating a bouncer tonight, which was ironic since his British accent and wiry build was more reminiscent of an effete Lordling than a bruiser. He followed her down the austere, almost clinical, hallway with the soul-sucking fluorescent lighting, providing safe escort to her dressing room, which was doubling as the OpTech Center for this mission. John opened and held the door for her, then followed her into the room. When the door was shut behind them, she began to carefully remove each of the bills that had been stuffed into her pleather pants, careful not to destroy any possible prints on the bills.

“Dude! That was so surreal!” Jackson was the local CIA tech guy in Hamburg. “I’ve never used that navel cam before, but I swear I’ll never treat strippers the same again.”

“Did you gain an appreciation of what women go through, Jackson?” Samantha asked him sarcastically. She knew that whatever “lesson” he’d learned would be quickly forgotten by this most chauvinistic member of their cadre.

“It was disgusting the way that they looked at you – like you were a hot meal and they were starving!”

“And to think, you couldn’t even smell the liquor or feel the spittle…. Did you get all that you needed?”

“Yeah. The stills will help, as will the prints. We should know more in 6 hours or so.”

“I’m going to get into something less revealing.” Samantha moved behind the screen to wipe off the oil and pull on a short black dress.

“Hey,” said Jackson, “Don’t change on my account!” The chauvinist was back.

Fully dressed, Samantha stepped out from behind the screen. The crew was in full analysis mode, so she strapped on her thigh holsters, feeling better with her 9mms on hand. She opened the door and stepped into the hallway for a breath of air. Her legs were cramped from her attempts to cavort lustily on 6 inch heels. In an instant, she heard someone coming down the hallway. She kept walking away slowly. When the footsteps seemed on top of her, she bent down toward the wall to fiddle with the strap of her shoe. Slyly, she watched the man fade toward the exit.

She followed and found the street. The man was gone, but at the opening to the exit, on the concrete of the sidewalk, was a soft pink rose.
Only Mark could have done that.

Chapter Five: Décolletage and Seaspray

Samantha lay back in the tub, soaking away the stress and fatigue of a two-week deployment and this morning’s seven-mile run. The bubbles, her one nod to her rarely displayed girlishness, clinged to her form like the hands of an ardent lover. The quiet was almost unbearable in the townhouse she shared with Mark. He was still deep undercover and she hadn’t gotten any in far too long.

She was worried about Mark. She knew he was a professional, that he was serving his country admirably, but she sometimes found it difficult to separate her heart from the mission, particularly when she wasn’t along to watch his back. Nobody should ever have to be in the field without backup.

RRRRRing. The island phones had an odd ring to them, but Samantha had grown use to the grating clatter. She picked the phone up casually after rising in a mass of slippery bubbles and throwing a towel around herself. She expected it to be her sailing coach, but it wasn’t.

“Hello?”

“Hey sis!” Mark’s voice was very upbeat, but she knew instantly that this was an important call.

“Wow! Where are you? Like, what is this call costing?” She tried to sound young and teenage in case his line was being monitored.

“Uh, yeah. Would you tell Mom and Dad that I’m going to stay here in Germany at least another month?”

“Why can’t you?” She asked petulantly.

“Give me a break, huh? I’m on my way out and I need to make sure that they’ll still be able to watch the dog.”

“Oh, alright. Anything else, Master?”

“Don’t get into too much trouble.”

He hung up. She hurriedly hung up and ran to the closet. It appeared to house linen, but in reality it was a secret room that stored weapons, money, computers, and what she needed now: a secure phone. She dialed her supervisor’s direct line and it was answered by a professional feminine voice.

“Darden Electronics.”

“Ursa Minor for The North Star. Go Secure. Sailboat 67985.”

“Connecting.”

Samantha heard clicks and then Scott Davidson’s gruff voice. “Go.”

“Sir, Mark just called. He is requesting a dead drop in two days.”

“Fine. I’ll have the plane fueled and ready to fly.”

********************

48 hours later she was checking her reflection in the mirror of the ladies room off the Lobby of the L’Oriental Hotel in Munich. The entire hotel was decorated in an oriental theme, and this room was no exception. The wallpaper was a lush yellow floral featuring a half-dressed geisha in purple robes. As the last woman left the bathroom, Samantha strolled over to the appropriate hand towel dispenser and opened it with her key, grabbing the message from Mark and sliding it into the décolletage of her sequined cocktail dress, then returned to the hotel bar.

*********************

48 hours after that, Roger Hardbreak, an American Four Star General and his wife, were lounging on a yacht off of Cyprus. General Hardbreak’s wife was seven months pregnant and seemed to be enjoying her holiday. Her long blond hair was swishing in the Mediterranean breeze.

Monica Hardbreak chattered nonsensically, sending the crew hither and yon after drinks, hats, sunglasses, and lotion. Her husband grew tired of hearing about baby gadgets and feigned sleep there on the deck in his chair.

“Allahu Akbar!” shouted a dark man as he swung over the side railing from a boat that had pulled alongside. The general came out of his cognac-addled stupor suddenly, reaching for the sidearm that wasn’t there. “Stop!” directed the man pointing his weapon at them, “Call to the crew and captain and nobody will get hurt.”

Monica ordered the crew to the deck and the man instructed them to line up against the railing. Then he ordered the two burliest crewmen to tie up the general and his wife with some nylon cording he’d brought aboard. When the Hardbreaks were tethered, the man opened fire on the crew with his AK-47, sending a few overboard in their sprawling shock, while others slunk onto the deck in a pool of blood and seaspray.

Assured that there were no survivors, Mark pulled the wedding rings from the hands of the general and his wife, eliciting a whimper from the Mrs. He broke off her whine with a sharp backhand to her face. The general grew quite upset and strained at his bonds at this, only to watch his wife pass out.

Mark drew his knife and plunged it repeatedly into the general’s chest, spraying blood all over himself and screaming “Allahu Akbar” with every strike. Next, he moved on to the unconscious woman and plunged his knife into her belly and chest three times. Satisfied, he wiped his knife on the woman’s dress, set the charges, then jumped back over the side of the ship and motored away from the scene.

Two miles away, he pressed the trigger and the boat blew up, scattering the evidence into the sea.

*********************

“General, Mrs. Hardbreak, it is safe now. We can take you to the plane that will fly you back to D.C.” Samantha looked into the petrified eyes of the pregnant woman. “Don’t worry. They think you died. Everything is fine.”

John Cutter was busy removing his bloody vest and directing the other agents to secure the route to the airport. Samantha was still wearing the body pillow and blond wig that made her look like the General’s wife.

“I don’t understand,” the General’s wife began, “what’s going on?”

Samantha gave her the short version. “Well, your holiday has been cut short and the General’s new assignment at the Pentagon moved up. We had to fake your deaths for your safety. Don’t worry. Another agent will explain the details when you get back to the States.”

John hustled them out the back door of the safehouse and into the waiting van, sending them to safety.

Samantha sighed. She wanted another bath, the sea salt from the swim to the beach was making her itch.

Chapter Six: Tourists

Samantha was blown violently to the ground in the wake of the explosion. She shook her head to clear the shock, feeling the heat burning her cheeks. The grass was green beneath her, but all she could smell was burning wood. There was no retrieving the data now. It was gone.

“Fuck, fuck, FUCK!” She thought to herself.

That’s when the bullets rang out. These assassins were apparently not content with assuming she was dead. They had decided to strafe the area and do a body count too. Lovely.

She belly-hugged the ground, creeping to cover. She’d have to wait them out. They hadn’t been firing at anything in particular, she knew, so if she didn’t make herself known, they might assume she’d gone the way of the marshmallow. Terrorists were big on martyrdom, but short on brains sometimes.

*****

“China?” Samantha asked. “What’s in China?”

Davidson was getting weary of dealing with agents. “We have a courier going and I need to provide her with increased protection based on intel from an asset.”

“A babysitting job?” Samantha asked.

“Look, you are going in as the granddaughter of the courier. You’ll meet up with her at O’hare. Here’s the op specs.”

Samantha opened the folder and read the brief, committing it to memory. “When?”

“Tomorrow. Noon.”

*****

“Grammy!” squealed the young woman, tearing through the waiting crowd to reach the side of the elderly white-haired lady dripping in beads. The elderly woman looked up from the clacking knitting needles she held in her lap and smiled at the young woman.

“Oh, Child. Do slow down before you knock someone over. You make me tired.”

Chastened, the young woman dropped her head and kissed the old woman’s soft wrinkled cheek. “Sorry, Grammy.”

*****

Samantha and Cyrilla Halifax casually scanned the crowd of tourists at the Beacon Tower. The crowd was buzzing with excitement as the Great Wall Marathon was in full swing, with runners, organizers, tourists, and performers as far as the eye could see.

“I wish I had known there was a marathon,” Samantha said casually, “I would have brought my running shoes.”

Grunt. “It makes me tired just thinking about it.”

“Do you need to rest, Grammy?”

“No, no. Let’s go listen to that.” She nodded toward a large group assembled on the wall.

They listened to the performer weave them into the sad but enchanting story of Meng Jiangnu and her husband. When the crowd was suitably awed, he segued into the Legend of the Beacon Tower and King You’s attempt to make his Queen smile.

Cyrilla nudged Samantha in the ribs, as old women are wont to do to their boisterous and younger companions, indicating that she was interested in walking a bit. The two wily women strolled along the wall, finally settling in to watch a performance. A group of young women, dressed as warriors and dancing with swords arrested their attention.

The symmetry of movement, the grace of the dancers, the swinging of the long black hair gave the impression of music playing, though none did. The crowd was speechless in awe, recognizing real artistry. Samantha’s attention was captured by the exquisite artisanship of the sword, thinking it would make a nice gift for Mark’s birthday, if he ever got home. Even a replica would be pricey, but well worth it.

Cyrilla feigned fatigue as the performance ended. The dancers milled idly around, posing for photographs for the tourists. Cyrilla, as arranged, slumped to her side in a near faint, prompting the attention of one of the young dancing girls.

“Ma’am? Are you all right?” the young woman asked in accented English.

“Could you help me get her into the shade?” Samantha asked.

“Yes, of course. I have some bottled water too.”

“Now, don’t fuss…” Cyrilla began before giving up to the two women’s careful movement of her to a quiet corner that fell in the shade of the tower.

All of the players continued their ruse, but in the relative safety of the shade, their conversation changed.

“I’m in trouble.” The black-haired young woman whispered urgently without accent. “I need extraction.”

“So much for a simple courier’s job.” Samantha thought.

“Yes, yes.” Cyrilla said. “But do you have it?”

“Not here, but it is safe.”

“Okay.”

“Can you meet us in Beijing tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“Here’s what you do….” Samantha leaned in further and whispered the plan before gently taking Cyrilla’s arm and leading her out of the shadow.

*****

Samantha accepted the hand-off of documents in the hotel lobby on their way out as Cyrilla paid for their stay at the front desk of the Grand Hyatt. The rest of their day was spent shopping in the bustling streets of Beijing. At noon, they went to the restaurant as arranged and requested a table for three.

Before long, a young Chinese man sat down opposite them at the table. He was dressed in typical American teenage boy fashion, wearing Levis and a rugby shirt.

“Jonathon,” the old woman admonished, “we are traveling in a foreign country and you look like a slob. Don’t you know that you represent your country when you are abroad? What must the Chinese think of you?”

The threesome finished their meal and loaded into a taxi they hailed at the curb, departing for the airport.

They were stopped at security and at customs, but nobody questioned the identity of Jonathon Halifax, adopted grandson to the formidable Cyrilla.

And nobody questioned what was contained on the memory card that resided in Jonathon’s camera.

*****

As they touched back down in Chicago, Samantha’s tension eased. All was well. Maybe she’d have time to see her mother before flying back out. It wouldn’t hurt to do some shopping either. She could use a new bra. She’d worn out her best one in that explosion and grass-dive in Ukraine. It was hell trying to find a good bra. They just don’t make them strong enough. And forget about finding one with a hidden cleavage holster that actually fit.

Chapter Seven: Spittle & Chlorine

He was tense and making it look like he was relaxed was only making him tenser. He stood at the mirror of the seedy Berlin club that was attached to the hotel, looking down into the grime-encrusted sink. His hair was getting too long. He liked to shave it off, but for this mission, a longer look had been necessary. He tried not to think about it, but he really missed her. He didn’t like the idea of not being there for her.


He shook himself out of maudlin reverie and eased back into the quiet brood with the dangerous and violent undertone. Mask back on, he washed his hands and walked back out to the neon blue lights and stale smoke of the club.


As he walked back to the table of his so-called friends, he thought about the hypocrisy of it all. Not on his part. Somehow his hypocrisy was understandable. Theirs, though, was not. They preached and prattled about the jihad and Allah, but then they went out boozing and seeking debauchery. Initially it was this inequity that made him wonder if they weren’t poseurs pretending to be jihadists. Who knew, he had thought, maybe it was ‘cool’ in their culture.


After a time though, he had become convinced of their villainy. They had given him a test, a serious test, of his convictions and dedication to the cause. He had done murder for them, spilled the blood of the infidel, and now they trusted him.


He sat down in his spot in their corner booth, noticing that Abu was once again stroking the thigh of some young Asian girl in a blond wig and black go-go boots. Abu was perhaps the least serious of their group, considering himself a real playboy, but he was also the deadliest. Too many of those young girls ended up maimed in the morning from his pleasure-taking.


Sayeed was the youngest, but a pivotal member of their group. He was the one whose father was financing the fun, like sending your 14-year-olds to Boy Scout Camp. Mohammed, Sayeed’s older cousin, was their leader. He was savvy and had excellent instincts, but like his friends, only saw things through his own kaleidoscope of black and white.


A leggy brunette in a mini skirt and silver spangled tank top came up to their table and rubbed her derriere against Mark’s arm. He wrapped his arm around her, pulling her into his lap, and gestured to a waitress for another round.


The men continued talking around the table about inconsequential things. Football was often central to their discussions, pointing out to Mark, yet again, how almost normal these young men were. If only, he thought, he wasn’t aware of their pathological bloodlust, he could almost call them friends. But he knew better.


The brunette fidgeted on his lap and he knew that the time was fast approaching. He ran his hand up her leg to her tight thigh, then under her skirt, reaching for the power that was there. He gripped it and the twin warring emotions of calm and excitement took him again. He loved that feeling. There was nothing like it. This was how it was supposed to be: all of the power in the world, cradled in his capable hand, an extension of his being. He slid the 9 mm out of Samantha’s high-thigh holster and silently flicked the safety to firing position.


Two more minutes. That’s all he needed. The raid at the apartment would have started earlier, but as soon as they had the go-ahead, they would do it.


Samantha stood up, signaling the start of things. She turned away from the table, as though to walk away, but quickly turned back toward them, gun extended. “Nobody move.” She held them immobile in their shock.


“What the fuck…” Mohammed began. Samantha automatically turned her gun on him, giving Abu the opportunity to pull a knife and press it forcefully to the windpipe of the young woman on his lap.


Mark jumped out of his seat, extending his own 9 mm in the process. “Look, nobody has to get hurt.”


“You traitor of the faith! You pig! How dare you?” The recriminations and accusations came fast and furious from each of the men.


Abu, however, was not to be ignored. “I’ll kill her!” He spat the words violently at Mark, spittle landing on the cheek of his hostage and on the table. “You know I’ll do it! Back off! Drop your guns!”


Mark and Samantha shared a brief look, then both carefully bent down and placed their weapons on the floor.


“Now, kick them away,” Abu shouted.


They made to do so, Mark sending both into the farthest corner. A flurry of activity arrested everyone’s attention.


The blonde woman, Abu’s hostage, had fired a round point-blank into Abu’s chest. Abu’s surprise registered on his face. Spittle was bubbling in his mouth and creeping out one corner.

Joan stood up, pointing her weapon at the assemblage. “Look, I wasn’t about to let this thing go south,” she said to Samantha. “Besides, he spit on me! Eww! And, he was a pincher! Do you have any idea how hard it was to sit there while he pinched me in places nice girls don’t talk about? He was an asshole!”


“Joan, it’s okay. Chill out.” Samantha suddenly noticed that two of the men were missing. Mohammed must have bolted during the excitement, and Mark had followed him. She knew his only weapon was still under the table, so she barked out the orders.


“Joan. If any of them move, do what you must. I’m going to help Mark.” She ran toward the exit, dodging the scared patrons in her way. She called for backup to close in and help Joan.


The door let out on the service side of the hotel pool. In the pool, Mohammed and Mark struggled in a fight to the death. When it was over, one body floated lifelessly.

Chapter Eight: A Thong and a Prayer

Samantha walked into the house toting her travel bag. It had seemed that she’d never get back home to the island safehouse. First it had been the Med, then China, and finally Germany. She was glad to be home, if a little sad. The requisite adrenaline crash that followed a mission always had this impact.

She wandered into the kitchen leaving her bag at the foot of the stairs. She grabbed a Heineken from the fridge and headed up the stairs to bed. She needed to sleep.

As she climbed the stairs, she became alert. She heard a shower running. She silently pulled her 9 mm from the holster and carefully approached the bedroom. At the doorway, she could see the bed she and Mark shared, linens crumpled and obviously slept in. Another clue. She never left the bed unmade.

She quietly searched in all of the likely places: under the bed, in the closet, behind the drapes. It seemed that there was only one intruder, and they were in the shower. Stealthily she searched the room for other clues to identity, but found nothing. She heard the water turn off and then the telling squeek of the shower door. Samantha gave it a few moments, then crept toward the bathroom door.

This, at least, was one door that didn’t make noise. She silently pushed the door open. The sight would have shocked most people, but not Samantha. She could see the back of a naked young woman, tattooed from one end to the other. She brought the gun to center on the woman’s torso.

“Don’t fucking move.”

The faceless tattooed body replied in a sugary British accent, “You must be Samantha.”

“And your name is…”

“Emma Radcliffe. MI-6. Friend of Mark’s.”

“Turn around, slowly.” Samantha directed the woman. When they were face to face, Samantha asked, “Well, Emma, how did you get into my house?”

“Key. Mark gave me a key.” She gestured toward the counter, where a silver key lay amid the woman’s underwear. Mark didn’t just “give a key” to anyone.

“Uh huh. Was Mark expecting you? He didn’t mention anything and I’m afraid he’s out of town.”

“No. It was a lark, coming to see him. Bad planning, I suppose.”

“Why don’t you get dressed and we’ll talk.”

Samantha left Emma in the bathroom and went to the secret closet. She sent a message to her boss, Scott Davidson requesting information. Mark was still being debriefed after his long undercover stint. She returned to the bedroom to find Emma wearing her own pink thong and matching bra.

“Just make yourself at home, I guess.”

“Sorry. I didn’t think you’d mind. Mark always speaks of your generosity.” Samantha watched as Emma pulled on Samantha’s favorite black sundress. Generous she might be, but there are just some things a girl doesn’t share, lipstick, underwear, and men chief among them. What kind of tramp wears another girl’s thong, Samantha asked herself.

“So,” Samantha began, “you didn’t just come on a lark, but also appear to be traveling very light. When, may I ask, did you arrive?”

“Mmm. Late last night.”

Samantha regrouped. “Well, sorry for holding you at gunpoint and all. I didn’t know…anyway, now I’m feeling a bit like one of Goldilock’s three bears. Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed, bathing in my shower, and now wearing my clothes. It is a bit unsettling. Hungry?”

“Yes, quite.”

Samantha took Emma up to the Lighthouse for afternoon tea. They munched on scones and took in the view of Horseshoe Bay Beach, Samantha trying desperately to figure out what Emma’s game was.

That evening, Samantha took Emma downtown for Sushi and then they walked among the vendors who sell trinkets to the cruise ship passengers. At one point, Emma lingered over a particular hemp necklace, finally handing money over to the vendor for the purchase. Samantha became suspicious as it had looked as though more than cash had changed hands. She contented herself to watch Emma carefully.

The ladies left the plaza and strolled down the darkened streets back toward the house. They crossed the street and Emma seemed to get nervous. She started chatting nonsensically, switching subjects with increasing momentum. Emma turned and looked back over her shoulder down the street. Her behavior made the hairs on Samantha’s neck stand up, sensing danger. Abruptly, Emma turned and began running in the opposite direction.

Samantha wasn’t sure what to do. She wasn’t carrying and didn’t know anything about Emma except that she claimed to be Mark’s friend and an MI-6 agent. She supposed that for a moment that knowledge was enough. She quickly turned on her heel and followed after Emma, her sandals slapping the pavement rhythmically.

She turned the corner, following Emma’s moves, and stood in the darkness evaluating. Emma was struggling with someone a block up. She ran toward them to intervene. As she approached, she heard a noise behind her. She turned and noticed a figure standing in the blue light of a store front, casting only a faceless shadow. Even so, it was clear that a gun was pointed in Emma’s direction.

Simultaneously, Samantha shouted and the gunman depressed the trigger. Emma looked up at the shout, then shock fell on her face as the bullet found a target in her chest. As she stood there in shock, the gunman fired twice more into her chest and ran off, Emma’s assailant also taking flight.

Samantha ran to Emma’s crumpled form.

“Take it easy.” She told the young woman as she dialed for emergency services with her phone. “You’re going to be okay.”

“No.” Emma said shallowly, “I’m not. I should … told you. Take this.” Emma placed the blood-soaked necklace into Samantha’s hand.

“It takes more than this to bring down an MI-6 agent!” Samantha tried to urge her to live. But it was a lost cause. That gunman had been a pro. She’d be dead before EMS arrived.

“I’m sorry to die in your thong.”

Samantha sent up a prayer.

Chapter Nine: Wet Suits and Vx

“Tell me again. What happened?”

Samantha took a deep breath and told Mark the whole bizarre tale of Emma Radcliffe. When she had finished, she removed the necklace from the box and handed it to him. “She gave me this as she lay dying.”

Mark seemed perplexed, so Samantha asked, “You did know her, right?”

He turned the necklace over and over in his hand. “Yeah. I knew her. A long time ago, James introduced me to her as his girlfriend.”

“And you gave her a key to our place? Are you nuts?”

“I never gave her a key. James had a key while he was here on the island. I’m not sure I got it back from him. Maybe she got it from him.”

“I swear! Sometimes I think you have toast where your brains ought to be.”

“I feel the same way, honey.” He smirked at her, still turning the necklace over and over in his hand. “Hey did you see this?” He said, pointing to the back of the charm and a catch that opened a little door.


*****

Samantha and Mark were in it up to their necks. Again. Samantha didn’t know precisely how these things always happened to them. Emma’s locket had been filled with data that, when decrypted, suggested that a South American magnate had purchased enough liquid Vx to eradicate several Dallas-Fort Worth sized cities.

By the time the intel had been decrypted, only one team had been available to act on it. That is what led Mark and Samantha to be in scuba gear off of a Caribbean island, being circled by a shark.

“How is it you always land us in these sorts of predicaments?” she asked him.

“Me? I think it’s you! You are the one that gets kidnapped, shot at, and otherwise ends up on the wrong side of the threat.”

“Whatever. Do you think you can get us out of this one?”

“No problem. Get ready to swim.” Mark pulled the knife from his utility belt and as the shark drew near, he punched it in the head and plunged his knife into the brain. “Go!” he shouted.

They swam and swam to get away from the confused and writhing animal, eventually landing on the beach. They shed their wet suits and ran across the sand for cover.

*****
Samantha, now dressed in the black spandex of an assault mission, stood waiting in the lengthening shadows behind Enrique Chavez’s island manse. Samantha really hated the tropics. Cockroaches the size of Yugos were not her idea of a good time. Yet another aspect of how the glamorous life of a spy wasn’t quite so glamorous.

Mark was scouting the area to determine where the best opportunity to breach the patrols might be. She checked her vest, confirming that she had her 9 mms, extra ammo, and her field knife. She did. She checked her coms to make sure that she could call in the cavalry when that time came.

*****

Samantha and Mark climbed silently to the top of the bricked wall and jumped down to the other side, instinctively checking to see if their presence had been detected. Surreptitiously, they half-crawled to the sliding glass door. Samantha silently slid the door open and disappeared into the darkened depths of the house. Mark faded back into the shadows.

Samantha easily adjusted to the dark. Her photographic memory recalled the layout of the house and the quickest route upstairs. She padded quietly up the grand staircase and down the hallway to where the master bedroom lay. She crept to the door and stood silently, waiting for Mark to get into position. When the light on her watch flashed, she opened the door, gun raised, and surveyed the room. Candlelight broke the darkness and lit the entwined bodies of Enrique and his young mistress.

“This is just charming!” she said by way of introducing herself to them, “But maybe you should stop.” Enrique pulled away from the young blond and looked up, leering at Samantha in her skin-tight uniform.
“Beautiful, there is time,” his heavy accent grumbled. “Isabella will not mind sharing. Take off your clothes and join us.”

“Delightful as that offer is, I’m going to have to pass. I like my men a little more…manly.” She said motioning to his nether regions with her gun. “So, Isabella, you must like him for his bucks, huh?”

Isabella pretended not to understand, but Samantha could tell from the gleam in her eye that she had.

Samantha threw a silk robe at Enrique. “Get dressed, would you. That thing reminds me of a lizard.” He slowly shrugged into the garment and lounged on the bed. “Much better. Now. Here’s what you are going to do: you are going to tell me who sold you the Vx.”

Enrique feigned stupidity. “Vx? What is Vx?”

“Alright, Dumbass. Play dumb. We’ve already got the goods on you. It is no skin off my nose if you prefer the nasty method of intelligence extraction to my softer and gentler side.”

He got off the bed and approached where she stood, weighing the truth of her words. He looked ready to comply when suddenly he lunged and disarmed her, tackling her to the ground. Samantha fought tooth and nail, punching and clawing at the desperate Enrique. She pulled the knife from her vest, but he wrestled this out of her hands and laid it to her throat.

“Shall we discuss softer and gentler now?” He asked, his brow sweating from his exertions.

“Honey, jump in here anytime.” Samantha said.

“Oh, fine. But I really think you could have taken him.” Mark was leaning up against the jamb of the door to the master bathroom, guns trained on Enrique and Isabella.

Enrique rolled off of Samantha and she leapt to her feet, kicking Enrique in his family jewels as she walked past him.

“That was for suggesting I climb into bed with your slimy self. Now, let’s talk Vx.”

Chapter Ten: MREs and a Goat

Joan clung to the cliff face, her hands turning red and her arms and legs nearly buckling under the exertion. Samantha had already reached the top and was spotting her. This was Samantha’s idea of a “girls vacation” but Joan had been thinking spa retreat. You can take the girl out of the CIA, but you can’t take the CIA out of the girl, apparently. Next time, she told herself, she’d do the planning of the girls getaway, or else she might find herself running the Boston Marathon next!

She pulled herself to the top and noticed that Sam was talking into her Sat phone. If she was lucky, this call would put her out of her misery.

Sam ended the call as Joan brushed herself off. “So…?” she asked.

“We have positive confirmation on Enrique’s intel. We fly out in two hours. We will rendezvous with the guys in Amman.”

Joan was secretly grateful, but wisely didn’t let Samantha see that she was happy to escape the vacation.

*****

“What’s the mission, boys?”

The four of them, Joan, Samantha, Mark, and John Cutter were safely ensconced in the safehouse in Amman. The boys had arrived first and had prepped the mission with headquarters by videolink.

“We are going into Iraq, but quietly.” Mark said. He leaned in closer, pointing to the map. “We will rendezvous with Spec Ops at a camp here,” he slid his finger across the border, “and they will provide us with on-site intel, weapons, and backup.”

“And we think the Vx has made it’s way to Iraq?” Samantha asked.

“That’s what John managed to find out. He tracked down some associates of our friend Enrique.” Mark nodded and John, being the ham he was, faked a bow.

*****

They had arrived at the camp under cover of darkness, the headlights of the Jeep having been extinguished when they crossed over the border. The girls had been led to one tent and the boys another in the center of the camp.

Early the next morning, they were all rousted out of their beds for a briefing and breakfast.

“MREs for breakfast?” Joan grumbled. “So much for the glamorous side of the spy biz.”

“Buck up, camper!” Samantha grinned, loving to tease Joan as much as possible, “You are seeing the world!”

When they arrived in the tent, they were introduced to the Camp’s Commander, a Major Tom Cavanaugh. “I’m glad you made it safely and hope you got some sleep last night. Now, let’s talk about what we can do to make your mission a success.”

The four agents then spent the bulk of the morning planning a foray into the nearest village with the Major and two of his aides.

“The ladies will set the explosives. They will need disguises. Jeremy,” the Major nodded to the youngest of the group, “you see to that. The rest of us will go in, also in disguise, but there we can expect less scrutiny. Cutter will need some self-tanning lotion and hair dye. That lily white is a dead give-away. Jeremy, add that to your list.”

“What about backup?” Samantha asked.

“I’ll have a secondary Delta team on the perimeter, but it is best if we don’t need them. Our job here is difficult enough as it is. This is going to be a precision strike. Now, ladies, do either of you have any questions about the charges?”

Samantha smiled at the Major. “No sir, I believe we can handle the C-4 just fine.”

“Good. Then, while you and Jeremy and Nick tie up any loose ends and check tech, I’ll take Mark and John on a little recon. Nick, we’ll need a few camels.”

*****

Later that same day, as the sun began to wane and they knew local families would soon be taking to the streets, the group of seven made their way into the little village. The men scattered in the crowd, drawing no notice as they blended into the bustling activity at tea shops and other markets.

Joan and Samantha chatted quietly, feigning the proper modesty of a woman of that region, and made their way to the target. They strolled slowly, waiting for Nick to complete the thermal scan of the building and join them.

He strolled over casually, looking every bit the young cocky Iraqi in his disguise. “It’s clean. You can go.”

Samantha seized the opportunity. Her wide hips swung toward the rear of the building and she meandered toward the entrance. Her usually sleek hips were wide under the burqa, hiding the cache of C-4 strapped to her hips and thighs.

She noticed the noisome smell of goat inside the building from the moment her foot entered inside. It made her want to gag. She choked down the bile and surreptitiously made her way to the back room off of the kitchen. Why anyone would store chemical weapons so close to where they prepared food would remain a mystery to her. Not the brightest of terrorists, she supposed.

She set five charges around the Vx and then clambered up the stairs to set two more on the second story. As she came back down, she thought she heard something, but investigation proved otherwise. She set the last charge in the front of the house and quickly made her way back out the rear.

As she approached Nick and Joan, she noticed that Nick had a panicked look on his face. She activated her coms and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I think there is a child playing in the rear of the house!”

“Do nothing. I’ll go!” She whispered into her coms, turning and retreating back into the area behind the house.

Samantha knew her time was running out. She had to find the child and get back out in less than two minutes. She searched the rear of the house and found nothing. She made her way back to the front rooms and again came up with nothing.

“There’s nobody here.” She communicated to Nick via her earpiece.

“Look again. There is a heat signature right behind you, 10 or 12 feet.”

She looked again. Under the table she found her quarry and threw it under her arm. “Goddam Fucking Goats!” She gritted into her com unit. She heard Joan and Nick laughing as she made her way out of the house. She heard her watch beep and then darkness fell.

*****

Joan and Nick leaned over Samantha, slapping her face.

“Yeah! Yeah! Stop that,” Samantha bitched, “I’m awake. What time is the briefing?”

“What?” Joan asked. “This morning’s briefing. Can we eat first? And you should take a shower. You smell like goat.”

Joan laughed. “You are the one who smells like goat, or is that guy you are cuddling your date for the night?”

Samantha was confused. Where was the tent? “What’s going on?”

“You barely escaped with your life, that’s what!”

“We just went to bed, what are you talking about?”

“Honey, you just planted the charges. The Vx has been incinerated, as planned. You, however, seem to have been hit in the head by flying debris.”

“I don’t remember anything after arriving in Iraq.”

“Well,” Joan smiled, “I’ll tell you all about it.” She and Nick helped Samantha regain her feet. “We had MREs for breakfast and met the most delicious Major. Then, you saved the day… again. Just another day in the fabulous life of the super spy.”

“How weird is it that I don’t remember any of this?”

“Pretty weird. But don’t worry, we’ll have you checked out. They can fly you to Germany for medical attention if it is serious.”

“I saved a goat?”

“Honey, that was probably somebody’s dowry!”

“Oh, shut up, Joan.” "Hey! I'm not the one who woke up with a goat, here."

Chapter 11: Ravens & Ghost Stories

Spyvella Chapter One written by Silk.

Chapter 12: Secrets of the Night

Spyvella Chapter Two by Christina.

Chapter 13: The Recruit

Spyvella Chapter Three by Theresa.

Chapter 14: Blood & Cristal

Spyvella Chapter Four:

Samantha sat at the table tapping her foot to “Pink” by Aerosmith. The music was blaring from the speakers at the afterparty. The assembled crowd was a veritable Who’s Who of British Society. Several Lords and more than a few Ladies littered the swanky room, some of them acting decidedly un-ladylike. Samantha amused herself imagining the Queen’s reaction to this hedonistic scene. She suspected that the old lady was unaware that her grandson William was in attendance or that he currently had a certain young Russian vamp on his lap, her hand searching for the royal family jewels. Samantha had to admit it, Natasha could play the role to the hilt.

The Henley Regatta had been very informative. That afternoon, they had played the proper family for the appropriate audience. John had escorted her as her fabulously wealthy British husband. She was the American stepmother to Natasha’s bratty and indulgent daughter. Natasha had done well, belittling her stepmother for all who would listen and comparing her negatively to Natasha’s Russian actress mother. Natasha had even acted out, “punishing” her father through her antics by being a tramp on the dance floor with her “boyfriend,” Edwin.

It had been a miracle that Edwin had been the one chosen for this mission. As a school friend of the Prince, Edwin Frasier’s presence assured them entrée to the most exclusive party.

As they had watched the excitement that afternoon, chatter had been flagged by MI5 that a possible terrorist attack targeting Henley was scheduled for that evening. Cutter had been alerted and the team instructed to hold their position. And so, Samantha sat in her dress and heels while Natasha slutted it up with the Prince.

Cutter returned to her and bent down, ostensibly to kiss her cheek, but informed her, “Nothing new.”

Just then, a rambunctious group of young men entered the ballroom and became the center of attention. They were all dressed well, but one of their party triggered Sam’s radar. He seemed awfully sober and intent on the room and didn’t fit in with the rest of his party.

It was then that Natasha kicked off her shoes and signaled an emergency. Samantha rose and brushed the creases out of her skirt, stalking to the table where Prince William sat sharing a bottle of Cristal with Natasha.

In her best bossy attitude, learned by years of watching her sister, Sam intoned shrilly, “Angelica, that is quite enough. Please peel yourself off of His Royal Highness and come with me.” Sam’s face brooked no argument on the matter.

Natasha rolled Angelica’s eyes for the Prince’s benefit, then petulantly followed Sam to the ladies room. Once behind the safety of the closed door, Sam asked, “What is it?”

“I recognized one of zee boys who came in zat group. I’m afraid he will blow my coveer.”

“Where do you know him from?”

“He used to meet with Constantine late at night after we…”

“Enough said.” Samantha then reached up to the two carat diamond earring in her right ear and twisted it. “Edwin, did you hear that? You need to get the Prince out of there.”

She heard Edwin mutter, “too late.”

Samantha scrambled back to the ballroom, instructing Natasha to get to the car. Cutter was leaning lazily against a pillar near the table where Edwin and William sat chatting with the brooding and sober dark-haired boy of the party of newly arrived rowdies.

“Your Highness.” Ahmed nodded his head to the Prince and his party. “My friends and I would like to invite you to party with us. We have several bottles of Cristal…I see that your’s is empty. May I refill your glass?”

Ahmed lifted the bottle hanging at his side by the neck, his thumb over the opening and made as if to pour it. Edwin leapt to his feet and pulled the Sig Sauer from his shoulder holster and shot the man between the eyes.

Screams erupted when the shot rang out. Ahmed began to fall, but Cutter caught him before he let go of the bottle, moving his own thumb over the trigger mechanism in the neck of the bottle to keep the bomb from detonating.

People raced for the exits, but agents prevented anyone from leaving. Sam had her Walther out and trained on the remaining members of Ahmed’s party.

Once an agent approached her, Samantha explained the young men’s relationship to the suspect and the need to question them. With these additional suspects safely in custody, Sam went over to where Edwin and Cutter were examining the body.

“Good shot, Edwin! But, how did you know he was a suicide bomber?”

Edwin grinned boyishly. “Sam, you know I spent some time with Mossad. I picked up a few things.”

“The Prince is safe?”

“For now. He may start keeping a lower profile, though. He didn’t like the idea of being a terrorist’s target.”

“Well, I’m glad we stopped the attack. Can you imagine a splashier al Qaeda move than assassinating the heir to the throne?” Sam’s perfectly-groomed eyebrow raised.

Cutter wasn’t convinced. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, though. The boy won’t have any real power. Why target him?”

Edwin spoke up. “He’s a symbol and his death would terrorize Britain. You remember what Diana’s death did to people. Can you imagine if her son was assassinated?”

“Hmm.” Samantha wasn’t convinced it was that simple. “Is there anything other than C-4 in his pockets?”

“Just this” Cutter handed her a matchbook. “Does it mean anything to you?”

“Absolutely! I’m going on vacation. This is a matchbook from the bar in the Palace Hotel in Gstaad. Call Mark and tell him to leave the golf spikes and pack the ski stuff. I’m going after Fayad.”

It was at that moment that an MI5 agent approached them with news. “We’ve found another body.”

“Who is it?” Cutter asked.

“A blonde woman in a dress. On the sidewalk. Three shots to the chest.”

Chapter 15: Garter Belts & Glocks

Spyvella Chapter Five:

Cutter, Edwin, and Sam looked down on the body.

Cutter exhaled a long-held breath. “Thank God. It isn’t Natasha.”

“Yes. But who is it? And where is Natasha?” This mystery wasn’t unraveling fast enough for Sam.

“I’ve never seen that person before.”

Cutter and Sam looked at Edwin expectantly. “What are you looking at me for? I like redheads!” They all laughed.

“Okay.” Sam scanned the scene quickly making note of the gawkers. “I have to get a new passport from Carstairs and catch a plane to Geneva. I don’t know if this person has anything to do with this, but can you guys do the homework here and forward me anything I need to know?” The men nodded, then began the task of investigating the body as Sam slid behind the wheel of the Vanquish S and headed off toward headquarters.
















***

The concierge leered suggestively at the display of cleavage that the blonde ski-bunny was parading. He loved wealthy women: too much time on their hands, absent husbands, and plenty of plastic – both in their bras and their wallets.

“Howdy!” Sam addressed the concierge, adopting a Texas drawl. “I’d like to check in, please.”

“Your name?” The concierge was all unctuous business now.

“Juliette Lawson-Nash. Of Dallas. Has my husband checked in or left any messages for me?” She tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder for good measure.

“I will check.” He peered into the mailboxes behind him and brought out a piece of folded cream-colored cardstock. “Your messages, Madame.”

“Why, thank you. I don’t suppose you have a boy that can attend to my bags, do you?”

He smiled. “Of course.” He rang the bell and a young man appeared. The concierge handed him a large ornate metal key with a scarlet tassel attached. “The Elizabet Suite, Michel.”

The young man started to lead Sam away, but she turned back in time to see the Concierge had been checking out her backside. “Ya’ll have wifi, right?”

“Yes, Madam. Michel will show you.”

***

Cozily ensconced in her room, the bell boy well-tipped and on his way, Sam pulled her pressed powder out of her Louis Vuitton handbag. She opened the compact and walked around the room, gazing at her reflection and applying fresh powder to the non-existent shiny spots on her face. The green light appeared behind the mirror and she knew that the room was “clean.”

She went into the living room and pulled up the cushions on the settee. From there, she was able to slide her hand into the opening in the couch back cushion and retrieve her G36 and the two extra magazines. She replaced the cushions and picked up her phone, calling “Granny” as the note had instructed.

After a few clicks, the call connected.

***

Sam was dripping with sweat. She had just spent an hour gyrating on the floor of the hotel’s disco. Very retro. But, she had achieved her purpose. Fayad had noticed her. She could tell.

She strolled over to the bar and ordered a drink, threw her hair over her shoulder and looked back casually at Fayad’s table. His eyes were locked on her. She bent down and smoothed the silk stocking on her leg, shifting as she did so that Fayad would get a peek at her garter. The bartender placed a shot of whiskey before her next to a glass of water. With flair, she threw her head back and downed the whiskey. Then she sat down and sipped at her water.

She could tell from the way the bartender’s eyes shifted that Fayad was approaching.

“You are a beautiful woman,” he said by way of introduction.

“Why, thank you, Mr…?”

“Everyone calls me Fayad.”

“Mr. Fayad, do you dance?”

“I’m afraid not. However, I would like to buy you a drink. Shall we have some champagne?”

“Why not?”

They sat there for quite a while, making polite conversation about Gstaad and European travel, continually drinking. Slowly, Samantha feigned increasing inebriation.

“I think I need some air,” she said rising.

“Let me carry your drink. We can continue talking as we walk.”

“That is so gentlemanly of you, Mr. Fayad.” Samantha turned toward the exit and saw herself in the mirrored wall. She also saw Mr. Fayad drop something into her glass.

***

Sam “awakened” slowly, aware that she was tied arms-over-her-head to the shower head. Her clothing had been removed and she wore only her underthings, stockings, and garter.

“Samantha. So good of you to rejoin us.” Fayad was sitting in the middle of the bath suite on a leather wing chair.

“Mr. Fayad. I didn’t know you had a kinky streak! I had heard that you only liked little boys. In fact, Michel the bell boy told me…”

Fayad interrupted, “Shut up! We are done with social hour. Now you will tell me how you choose to die.”

“Hmm. That’s a tough one. Okay, I got it! I choose old age.”

“I’m afraid that is not an option.” He raised his gun and pointed it at her chest.

“Don’t you dare, Fayad!” Natasha came stalking into the bathroom. “You promised me I could kill her.”

“Then do so.”

Samantha was not surprised to see Natasha. She had suspected that the young woman hadn’t been honest with them.

“Are you going to fill me in, Natasha? Why did you kill that woman on the street?”

“She got in my way. What do you care? She was no one.”

“You are such a lovely person, you know that. Just so I don’t die of curiosity, are you going to tell me why you are killing me?”

“You Bitch! You killed my husband in Vienna last year!” Natasha was flying into a rage.

“It’s possible. Was he a terrorist? I kill a lot of terrorists.”

“Not any more you don’t!” Natasha’s face was blistering red and her hand was shaking. She aimed the gun at Samantha’s heart. “Go to hell, you…”

Natasha never spoke the final word. She fell over, the gun skittering across the marble floor.

“You waited long enough.” Sam grinned at Mark who held her Glock trained on the seated Fayad.

“She really needed to let out her emotions. It isn’t good to keep that kind of rage bottled up. It will constipate you. Anyway, shall we deal with Mr. Fayad and his little training program for terrorists?”

“Absolutely. Then let’s go for sushi. How was Vegas, by the way?”

Chapter 16: Hong Kong & Kai-ying

Samantha loved the pink sand beaches of her home. Nothing beat Bermuda’s beaches, and Samantha had been to a great many of the world’s most luxurious playgrounds in her travels for Uncle Sam. Having completed her swim, she walked back to her towel and chair to enjoy a nice long lazy nap in the sun. Her new electric blue bikini, purchased in the shop at The Palace Hotel while on her recent trip to Gstaad, had quickly become her favorite. For some unknown reason it didn’t creep into the areas that make a girl uncomfortable.

She lay in the sun, reading the latest novel her sister had sent. Another mystery. If only her suburban housewife sister knew the depths of the real world mysteries. Ah well, it was nice to escape all of that. Carstairs had promised her and Mark a nice little vacation and Samantha was going to waste time and read trash until she couldn’t take it anymore. Boredom is a nice change of pace from the mad dash and red blood of international espionage.

She was halfway into the fifth chapter when her cell phone rang.

“Agent 3826, please hold for the director…” Click.

“Samantha –“

“Carstairs,” she interrupted, “you had better be calling to wish me a relaxing vacation.”

“Now, Samantha, you know that the calendar of terrorism and blood thirsty dictators do not necessarily fit into a neat 9 to 5, 5-day work week.”

“Yes, yes, but all work and no play makes for a very bad spy…”

“Nor,” he continued, “does it allow for extended vacations. Wasn’t I a good guy and let you go see your sister’s new baby? Don’t you think I’d call somebody else if I thought they could do the job?”

“By all means, when guilt and cajolery fail, appeal to my vanity.”

“Look, Sam,…”

“Enough, Carstairs! What is it?”

“I need you to go to Hong Kong with Elise. She is flying in this afternoon and has your cover documents. I’ll lay out the mission for you in our next briefing, say at 1700 hours?”

“Fine.”

“Enjoy the rest of your vacation.”
He hung up. Yeah, she’d enjoy the rest of her vacation, what was left of it. She looked at the sportwatch attached to her sandal. 90 minutes and counting.


***

Elise was waiting for Samantha when she drove up in her tiny little car.

“Hey! This is the life, huh? You pick up guests in your bikini? Nice to know you went out of your way…” Elise smiled at Samantha, teasing her. They hadn’t worked together in a couple of years.

“Well, I’m sorry. I would have dressed to the nines, but I got caught behind some traffic and was late coming home from the beach. Perhaps Carstairs mentioned that I’m supposed to be on vacation?”

“Yeah, so he mentioned. Seriously? There was traffic here? I thought everything was supposed to be so laid back?”

“Oh, it is. It is just that our roads are so narrow that when something does happen it takes a while to restore order. Anyway, I’m glad to see you. Virginia appears to be treating you well. You are absolutely glowing.”

“Thank you. I just got back from Playa Del Carmen.”

Gritting her teeth, “So, where are we off to this time?” Samantha asked.

“Hong Kong! I’m so excited!”


***

The two business women, smartly dressed in black business suits, deplaned and walked up the jetway toward the waiting crowd. A veritable throng awaited them, many laughing and hugging people while others held up signs, some in Chinese, some in English.

Samantha saw their driver and she pointed to Elise to follow her.

Walking up to the elderly and extremely short Chinese gentleman she said, “Roarke and Van Whipple. That’s us. I’m Erica Roarke and this is my business partner, Joanne Van Whipple.” The gentleman bobbled his head and motioned for them to follow. He helped them into the back of the black sedan and then made his own way to the front seat. He reached both arms around the steering wheel and pulled himself forward, leveraging himself to reach the pedals.

“We go!”

Hong Kong was bustling with the activity of millions. Samantha and Elise were undercover as textile buyers and needed to check in to the Excelsior Hotel before meeting their contact. The short Chinese man steered the little car into the driveway in front of the hotel and then motioned for help from a bellman for the bags. The girls walked nonchalantly to the desk and checked in, receiving keycards to their adjoining rooms.


***


Two hours later, they were seated in the bar of the hotel. Samantha was drinking Scotch and soda while Elise sipped a martini at the bar. They chatted casually about the hotel and the city lights, fully aware they may be under surveillance. A young woman approached them.

“Ms. Roarke. Ms. Van Whipple. My name is Kai-ying Heng and I’m with Luthai Textiles. It is very nice to meet you.” She extended her arm for an American-style handshake. “How was your trip?” The young lady’s sleek jet black hair was cut crisply in a bob that fell at the jaw bone. Her suit was a smart dark pinstripe accented by a very crisp and startling white blouse. Her features were delicate, but Samantha could see a back bone of steel under the elegant façade.

“It was very nice,” Samantha answered. “We were just discussing this amazing city and the way it seems to vibrate with activity.”

“Yes, Hong Kong has a life of its own. I understand from my superiors that you might appreciate some assistance in finding good restaurants and entertainment during your stay. Shall we move to a table and discuss the possibilities and make arrangements for your factory tour tomorrow?”

The ladies picked up their drinks and moved to a table in the middle of the room, Samantha choosing a seat that gave her a view of the back of the bar. Kai-ying took a paper and pen from her clutch and began writing names and addresses. “For authentic Chinese food…for excellent supper…for American-style breakfast. The best clubs are all in the same general area, but here are some names and addresses of my favorites.” She looked up from her paper and sent Samantha a meaningful look across the table. “The company will send a car for you in the morning. Is 10:00 a.m. acceptable?”

Samantha nodded and plastered a smile on her face. “Yes. That will be wonderful. Thank you for all of your help.” Elise yawned audibly. “Jet lag catching up with you, Joanne?”

“It must be,” Elise said yawning anew.

“Perhaps we should go to our rooms then. We have a very busy day tomorrow.” Samantha threw the rest of her drink down and the ladies rose. “Kai-ying, thank you again. We’ll see you tomorrow, I hope?”

“Yes. I will be at the tour to help with any language barriers.”

“Very good. Good night.” Samantha and Elise exited the bar and headed for the elevators. As they stood waiting for one to carry them to their rooms they watched Kai-ying exit the hotel through the ornate doors and walk to the right, carrying her away from the glamour of the Excelsior.

Thirty minutes later, Samantha was sitting on her bed looking at the note that Kai-ying had given her while Elise swept the room for bugs.

“What are you going to wear tomorrow?” Elise asked Samantha. Samantha looked up from the paper to see that Elise was pointing to the curtains on the window and a bedside table. “I want to make a good impression on Luthai’s management.”

Samantha moved off the bed and kneeled beside it, fussing with the contents of her garment bag. “I think I’ll wear this.” She said pointing to a black pants suit.

Elise could see from Samantha’s motions that she needed to make some noise, so she began to do just that, opening and closing drawers, switching channels on the television, and keeping up a running commentary on the next day’s “planned activities.”

This cover of noise allowed Samantha to further analyze the paper that Kai-ying had given them. Finally, Samantha realized that it was a crudely hidden message. One piece of paper had been carefully glued over an identical page. Samantha peeled them apart while Elise had a coughing fit.

“Do you need some water?” Samantha asked Elise with the papers fully separated.

“I’ll be fine. I think I could use a remedial Chinese lesson, though. I want to greet our guests in their language.”

Samantha read Kai-ying’s message. There wouldn’t be a tour after all, and their stay in Hong Kong was going to be very brief.

***


At 3 a.m. local time, Elise and Samantha snuck out of the hotel under cover of darkness. They were dressed as clubbers, hair spiked and colored, clothing revealing quite a lot of their figures. They walked down the stairs and out into the night, disappearing in the street. They walked quickly toward the docks.

Kai-ying’s note had informed them of a change in plans. Chinese intelligence was looking for Samantha, planning to arrest her when they found her. Kai had arranged for the information Samantha and Elise needed to be transferred to her grandfather on his fishing boat. Samantha and Elise would retrieve it from him and he would get them to safety.

The girls ducked into a shadow near the docks and changed their clothes into scruffy boat hands, complete with hats and dirt smudges. With any luck, they’d look like fishermen headed to work.

Kai-ying’s grandfather was waiting as arranged and the girls climbed into the boat and helped the old man push off from the dock. Once safely at sea and after ascertaining that the boat wasn’t bugged, they retired to the hold for a conversation.

“Kai give me this for you,” the man said handing Samantha a pen. Samantha plugged in her earbud and connected it to the pen, then depressed the button on the top. In short order she was listening to a recorded message in Kai’s voice.

“Sam, the ETIM is planning to bomb a Mosque in Karachi and blame it on the US as a way to expand the war into Pakistan. Musharraf will not be able to hold out against the upswelling of public opinion if the truth doesn’t come out. You have to get to Karachi and stop them. The chip has jpg files of the participants and planners that I’ve been able to identify.”

Samantha handed the pen and earbud to Elise so that she could listen. The old man looked expectantly at Samantha.

“Sir, we need…”

Heng interrupted. “We meet boat. Rest, we go far.”