I really, REALLY wanted to give you two chapters this week.
Oh, to hell with it. What's Adam going to do? Kick me off the system? Mac could hack into anything you lot have in about ten seconds if she's distracted in the middle.
So boom, there you go - two chapters!
The second one is more fun - I hadn't met the Chief yet, but when Cris told me this story? Yeah, totally her. Completely and utterly. No doubt about it.
Chapter 11: Dirty Work
The body had been taken away and the door hung open, a silent accusation.
Kaine stood in the doorway, peering in the darkness of the isolation room. This room should have broken Cassidy’s will long before her associates could have mounted a rescue attempt, much less actually gotten her out with her body and mind intact. How? Where did it go wrong? He turned to face his immediate subordinates, gathered in the corridor.
“Well?” he snarled. “Whose fuck-up is this?”
None of the four answered him. Part fear, for they all knew what the Director was capable of; but also part defiance, because this had entirely been Kaine’s operation, and none wanted to share in the shitstorm that was sure to be following.
“Get out of my sight!” he barked when none spoke. They scattered.
Kaine stalked back to his office, slamming the door closed and engaging the full measure of security protocols before keying on his comm.
“The bitch got away.”
“Your superior isn’t going to be happy with you. I guess you aren’t as good as you think you are, eh? Maybe you shouldn’t have tried to save your money by not hiring the best.” The voice was mocking.
“Listen, Talbott, if your incompetent fools hadn’t allowed her out of your oh-so-secure compound, I wouldn’t have had to try to catch her!” snapped Kaine.
“And if you hadn’t been in such an all-fired rush we could have done a proper operation and never gotten Foster-Briggs involved!” Talbott barked back.
Kaine forced himself to be calm. There’d be time enough to settle with Talbott. After the operation was over. And off the books.
“Do you have any leads I can follow?”
“No,” ground out Talbott. “Nothing. It’s like she fell off the planet.”
“Maybe she did,” mused Kaine.
“Off-planet? Ha!” scoffed Talbott. “Not without Foster-Briggs!”
“And how do you know that they aren’t together?” countered Kaine.
“I have my sources,” answered Talbott.
“You’re covering something,” accused Kaine.
“Of course I am! You’re a client; you think I tell you everything?” Talbott laughed, bitterly. “Not even close. You only get this much because your superior doesn’t want to know any details.”
Frustrated, Kaine returned to the subject of Cassidy. “So she’s gone to ground. Probably somewhere in the Republic. No cash, no credit, no ID, there’s not too many places that she can go.”
“And just what does that mean to you, Mr. Kaine?”
“It means that my sources shouldn’t have any problem running her down, not as long as she’s in Texas, and she can’t get out without passing the border check. Let me tell you, our Border Patrol beats those pussies from the United States like the Cowboys always whip the San Antonio Defenders.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow – it’s not important. So you’re sure she cannot get across the border?”
“Not a chance.”
“Make sure you don’t screw this up too, Kaine,” sneered Talbott, then disconnected.
In a locked desk drawer a comm silently blinked.
Chapter 12: Daughters of Darkness
The mini convoy had stopped two klicks short of the Sonoran border for a conference.
“No way we pass through with all our equipment,” insisted Stone. “I know these lads; they are serious about border control.”
“What if we -” started Celsey, but Cass interrupted.
“No weapons?” gasped a shocked Montana.
“No weapons,” agreed Cass. “If we can’t get them across, we can’t get them across. We lose some hardware.” She looked at the surrounding faces, showing various degrees of shock. “So what? We can replace hardware; we can’t replace team members. Mac, didn’t you tell me that you acquired all this stuff in the past couple days?”
Mac nodded, opened her mouth to speak.
“That means we can get more,” continued Cass before Mac could speak. She held their eyes, one pair at a time, until each had nodded agreement, except for Stone.
“Not a chance, missy. I have my federal license to carry, honored by all the countries south of the PRM, and if those jumped-up Rangers think that I’m going to give up my gun because they can’t handle a sheila packing, they’ve got another think coming!” She patted the matte black pulse rifle fondly. “Me and this beauty have a history, we do.”
Cass knew when to give in.
“The travel documents we used to get across from OutLook – they’re good enough to get us out?”
“No problem,” assured Mac. “I did the hacks myself, not even the Feds could crack those babies, let alone these Republic pricks out here with the saguaros and Gila monsters, we’re good as long as – oh, shit.”
“Not good, Mac,” said Montana. “What is “oh shit”?”
“Kaine,” came Mac’s one-word reply.
“Oh, shit,” echoed Cass.
“We’re covered,” said Mac, “We have our real passports, we used those heading in-country, that’ll get us out, but Cass is a different case, the ID she used in HLC is certainly burned, and there’s no way that her real ID would pass, not the real person that HLC is looking for, and even then, Cass, what are you doing?”
Cass had dived back into the car and was rummaging through her bags. “Tell you in a minute if I didn’t forget and am just imagining things and no! Ha!” She held up an ID pack triumphantly.
“You can’t use your real ID,” said Montana patiently.
“It’s not my real one, it’s the one Dick made up for me, and it’ll beat any system you want to throw at it.” She thumbed the pack to life. A 3D hologram of her head appeared, with the name “Willow Rosenberg” floating below. “That’s sorted, then. But what if Talbott’s reported you two – and the rest of you! - to the Rangers?”
“Then,” said Stone, fingering the 40 megawatt pulse rifle, “We’ll just have to convince them of the errors of their ways.”
From their position inside the “Last Texas BBQ” roadhouse, Cass, Stone and Montana watched the flow of traffic out of the country. The plan was the two vans would attempt it first, spaced out by a few minutes, while the command team tried to glean all the information they could from observation. Mac would comm back to Montana as soon as she’d passed through with any potentially sticky questions. If both teams got through without problems, then Montana and Cass would make their crossing. But, nursing beers and snacks, it looked like it might be challenging. Even though it was the middle of the night, it didn’t seem that the Rangers believed in slacking off at all.
The biggest difficulty was actually the Bugatti. Cass had flatly refused to leave it behind in the supposedly-secure storage Montana had arranged. “If I show up and have to tell Kendra that her baby is a thousand miles away in the hands of someone I didn’t even vet? No, thank you!”
So, perforce, Cass was driving the Bugatti.
The border was brightly lit on both sides. On the Texas end, the would-be international travelers were escorted from their vehicles, separated, and herded into individual “interview rooms”, while whatever vehicle they were in was thoroughly inspected for any contraband. It looked as though the average was about ten minutes per person, though they did note that one man in a beret had gone in nearly an hour earlier and hadn’t emerged yet. In contrast, the Sonoran crossing a hundred meters away was relaxed almost to the point of coma, with only the most perfunctory questioning.
“Sonora’s a doddle,” said Stone. “But getting out of Texas might be a mite tougher.”
Montana nodded around her French fries. “I’m not looking forward to explaining things to those Rangers if it comes down to that.”
Cass shook her head. “Come on, you two! Mac hasn’t failed us yet, has she?”
“No, she hasn’t, but –”
“But nothing! She hasn’t failed us, and she won’t fail us now.”
“What if –” Whatever Montana was about to say was lost as Stone interrupted with, “Heads up. First van is headed in.”
The other two’s heads swiveled to look out the window.
The van was pulling up to the border, Sanzari at the controls. From their vantage point, Cass could see the driver’s side. Sanzari was calm and cool, answering the questions the pair of Rangers threw at her. After a couple moments, the Rangers stepped back as the doors opened and the first team got out. One Ranger took the vehicle to inspection and the second led Sanzari’s group into the control building.
“Clock’s started,” said Stone tersely.
“How long until Mac’s group?”
Montana checked her chronograph. “If they’re on schedule – and the way Mac drives, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be – eight minutes.”
“Get in touch with her. Tell her to pull over and wait.”
“On it.” Montana’s voice was questioning, but she punched in the comm code unhesitatingly. Cass turned her attention back to the window as Montana talked in the background.
“Two minutes,” said Stone.
More cars, hovercraft, trucks, and others had approached the checkpoint. All the procedures seemed to be the same as for Sanzari. That was good.
“She’s stopped,” reported Montana.
“I want to see how it goes with Sanzari’s crew before we send Mac through,” explained Cass to the unspoken question. “We missed that in our planning,” she added.
“My fault,” said Montana and Stone simultaneously.
“We’ve been rushed,” said Cass, waving them both off. “At least we caught this one before it got us by the tail.” They all fell silent again.
“Dammit, what if something’s gone wrong?” muttered Montana. “It shouldn’t take this long; hell, I’ve seen a dozen craft pass all the way through since they went in!”
“Relax, kid,” said Stone. “Lots of things could be happening, not all of them bad. Slow interviewer. Lunch breaks. Remember, there’s six of “em that’s in there. They’re only going to be as fast as the slowest interviewer. Or interviewee.”
“That’s true,” added Cass. “Isn’t Michael in this group?”
“Yeah,” said Montana thoughtfully. “That deep South accent of his – I don’t think he could say his name in less than ten seconds if you put a gun to his head.”
“I see the van – and Sanzari’s at the wheel,” exclaimed Stone. “Looks good so far.”
“Two more,” added Montana.
“One on this end too,” chimed in Cass. “Three more.”
Two minutes passed before the next came out, with the fifth member following seconds behind.
“One more,” said Cass, unnecessarily. Her nerves were showing, and the next minutes were agonizing as the waiting dragged out.
“Who’s left?” she said. “Michael?”
“Yup. What a shocker. And you know – well, actually, no you don’t know, but in any case. Michael can talk the ears off you if you let him – slowly.”
“Relax.” The chime on Cass’s burner comm interrupted. She checked the code before answering.
“Hey Dick, thanks for ringing back.”
“No problem missy. You and Kendra, you sure do make an old man’s life more interesting.”
“Have you heard from her?” The eagerness in Cass’s voice couldn’t be hidden.
“You kiddin’? Who do you think she called? Shit, girl.”
“She’s fine. She’s got money, a roof over her head, she’s gonna be fine. So why can’t you let an old man sleep?”
Cass couldn’t answer; she was sobbing silently. Montana took the comm from her unresisting fingers.
“Mr. Evans, Cass is a bit, ah…”
“Yeah, yeah. Bawling like a baby, I’m sure. Who’re you?”
“I’m a friend of Kendra’s from her old Agency. Christina Montana.”
“Yeah, well, do you know what she wanted, waking me up in the middle of the night like this? I’m an old man and I needs my sleep. Not that I’m likely to get any, all the chattering and tale-telling those two do.”
“She’s trying to get hold of Kendra. You’ve been in contact?”
“You must not be listening right. Hell yes I’ve been in contact!”
“I’m sure that she would like the contact information.”
Evans’s voice changed timbre. “Uh-huh, I’ll just bet, Mizz Christina Montana of the A-gen-cy. I’ll just bet.”
Cass grabbed the phone back. “Dick, it’s alright. Montana is helping us, helping me, try to get back with Kendra. Do you know where she is? Wait, no, scratch that.” She thought quickly, trying to figure a way to contact her without making Dick violate his security principles. “Can you give her this comm code next time you’re in touch? Then it’s out of your hands.”
They could hear the smile in the old forger’s voice. “You bet I will,” he said. “After I check it out. Gots to be safe; gots to protect my baby girl, you know.” The voice grew harder but still fond.
“I understand. As soon as you can, please.”
“That’s up to her,” Dick said before disconnecting. Cass sat back, smiling.
“Stop looking the bloody love-struck cow,” snapped Stone. “We still have another team to get through, plus our own selves, if you don’t mind.”
“We’re clear,” said Montana. “Michael strolled out a few seconds ago. They should be on the way any moment – yup. There they go.” The van pulled away from the Border Control building and slowly approached the Sonoran checkpoint.
“One more hurdle,” muttered Cass.
“I won’t say relax,” said Stone. “But a little less stress would be good. You’ll live longer.”
The van barely stopped at the Sonoran border before the lead guard was waving them through.
“I must say, I expected a bit more fuss than that,” said an astonished Stone.
“Sonora is pretty laid-back,” said a smug Cass. “That’s why we ended up there.”
“There’s laid-back and then there’s comatose,” insisted Stone.
“Can we send Mac through?” Montana asked. “Or do we want her to wait longer?”
Cass looked to Stone questioningly.
“I’d say wait, but then we’re stuck here longer drinking this watered-down horse piss you bloody colonials call beer. I vote to send them on.”
“Make the call, Cris.” It was a brief call.
“Done. We should think about settling the check,” added Montana.
A few minutes later Mac’s transport appeared.
“Don’t blow this,” muttered Montana. “Don’t blow it, Mac.”
“She’s going to be fine,” assured Stone.
Stone’s stolid assertion was borne out. In a little more than ten minutes all the members of Mac’s team had been processed and released. The entry into Sonora went as rapidly as Sanzari’s.
“Game faces ladies,” said Stone. “We’re on.”
“So how are you getting across again?” said Cass to Stone.
“Don’t you never mind that,” replied Stone. “What you don’t know, you can’t tell. I’ll meet you on t’other side.” She was up and out before Cass could reply.
Montana shrugged. “SEALs.”