Ah. The reunion with Cass.
You might think it was a bit overdone, because it had only been a few days.
Aiyana Rosewind Cassidy was, and is, my One True Love. Yes, I've slept with other people. Yes, I've been in love with other people. Hell, I've even been married to other people. (What? Yup. Haven't told Adam everything yet.)
But I've loved Aiyana since I was a little girl. She has always been the best part of me, and when we were apart for those few days it was crushing. It was worse because we'd spent a dozen years apart, because we'd found each other again and knew we were supposed to be together.
So, yeah. Frankly, I was ready to throw her down right in the cafe.
Chapter 16: Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time
The café was busy that morning, and the teams ended up scattered across the entire dining area. Cass, Montana, Mac, and Stone sat at a table facing the entrance.
“Try to look natural,” said Montana for the eighteenth time. “At least drink your coffee.”
Cass automatically took a sip, eyes never leaving the door, then made a face.
“Ugh. This is stone cold.”
“Yeah, well, if you’d been drinking it instead of staring outside you might have gotten a refill by now and it wouldn’t be cold and then Cris wouldn’t be telling you to act natural and what are you worried about, it’s not ten yet, she’s not late, she’ll be here you know that.”
Cass finally pulled her gaze away to look at her companions. “Sorry,” she said, not sounding apologetic at all. “It’s just –”
“It’s bad tradecraft, is what it is,” said Stone. “This might be home base for you, but right now it’s enemy territory. You can’t do anything to call attention to yourself, and that includes focusing on the door so intently that a blind rabbit could tell you’re waiting for someone.”
Whatever response Cass was going to make was lost, as Kendra chose that moment to walk in.
“Oh, look Cass, Kendra’s here, I told you she’d –”
Cass was in Kendra’s arms like she’d teleported. Fortunately, nobody had any immediate plans, but when the largely-incoherent greetings stretched passed five minutes Stone started to get antsy.
“Ladies,” she said. “I don’t want to interrupt, but we have some pressing issues.”
Kendra recovered her composure first. Still holding Cass’s hand, she turned to face Stone.
“You must be the SEAL,” she said without preamble.
“Master Chief Mikki Stone. Retired SEAL.” She extended her hand, then retracted it when she noticed that Kendra wasn’t about to let go of Cass.
“Agent Kendra Marissa Cassidy,” replied Kendra. “Also retired. I think we have the, ah, unwillingness of our retirement in common.” She nodded to Stone. “You must be good. Montana doesn’t tolerate incompetence on her teams.”
Stone looked at Montana at that. She shrugged.
“I told you I hurt people and break things. I didn’t say I wasn’t an expert in team dynamics and combat skills evaluation.”
“Right,” said Stone, deadpan. “In any case, we have some planning to do. I don’t think here is the right venue.”
“Agreed,” said Kendra.
“I know where we can go,” said Cass.
“Full circle,” said Kendra.
They were standing at what had been their wedding venue. Being a weekday, no events were planned, and they’d been able to access it without any difficulty.
“We’re clear,” announced Mac, after scanning for any listening devices.
“I’ve got to tell you –” said Cass and Kendra together, then stopped.
“You first,” said Kendra.
“No, you,” insisted Cass.
“Oh, for bog’s sake,” muttered Stone. “We don’t have time for this rubbish. Cass, I know what you know, so why doesn’t Agent Cassidy start?”
Kendra said, “I’m just Kendra here, but thank you Master Chief.”
“You can call me Chief,” said Stone with a slight smile.
“Right. Chief. Okay, so I’ll tell it bang. I was set up by Talbott. She is responsible for the deaths of two other agents. I don’t know why, but I know who she sold me out to, and he’s heir to one of the biggest criminal undergrounds in the entire Confederacy.”
Cass was shaking her head.
“What no? I’m telling you, Talbott –
“Is a snake and a bitch and you don’t know the half of it,” interrupted Cass. “You’re right, she did set you up. And she set us up as well, and it’s all coming from, well, let me tell it from the beginning.”
At the end, with key additions from Montana, Mac, and Lisa, Kendra just sat and shook her head.
“Frak me running.”
“That sums it up, yeah,” replied Cass. “As near as I can count, we have Talbott and Kaine gunning for us, at the orders of someone higher up at HLC, plus Williamson in the Confederacy.”
Sanzari spoke up. “Agent, I had no idea –”
Kendra waved off the apology. “There’s no way you could have known. The operation was totally by the book, just the end result was crap. Right. Well, Williamson isn’t anything to worry about. Yeah, he’s got money, but his power really doesn’t extend far beyond the Valley. He doesn’t have much of an organization, thanks to what I did to them on my way out a few years back, so unless he wants to throw good money after bad I think we can forget about him. At least for now; I wouldn’t mind going back and finishing the job.”
“Talbott and Kaine,” said Montana. “That’s another problem.”
“I agree,” said Stone. “They have reach and resources.”
Kendra nodded. “We have one weapon; well, two. Lisa and Mac.”
The two ladies looked to her at their names.
“You’ve both proven you can get in and out of the HLC and OutLook computer systems. Any reason to think that you can’t continue doing that from here?”
There was a moment of eloquent looks between the two before Mac answered.
“It all depends on how secure the systems are that we’re going to have access to, if we have to worry about keeping off the grid then we’re not going to be able to devote as much time to getting in, and anyways getting into the systems isn’t the issue, the issue is not being detected, and that gets back to the system security and our ability to spoof their hunter programs, I know the ones at OutLook since I practiced against them and I even wrote some of them, hey, Lisa, I wonder if you and I could recode a hunter to hunt the hunters, that would keep them off our backs, and if we can do that at OutLook we could probably do that at HLC through your backdoors.”
“Okay, so that’s a yes?” said Kendra.
“Well, yeah,” replied Mac. “If the system’s secure.”
“Once we’re back home,” said Cass, “You’ll have a secure system. I did so much telework that I practically had a dedicated line.”
“Yeah, well, you see, that’s it’s own problem, if you always used one –”
Lisa interrupted Mac. “One problem at a time. Come on, I don’t think they need us for this bit. We can strategize.” The two computer experts stepped away, already conversing in low tones.
“That leaves the problem of getting into your home,” reminded Stone.
“I have some thoughts on that,” said Cass. “First, though. Now that everyone has a better idea what we’re up against, it’s probably not too late to get out. I know you’ve all taken risks to be here, but that’s when you thought it was a much, much smaller problem. You didn’t expect to be taking on two major organizations with a bare handful of bodies, so if you want to go home, go back to your lives, please. Go now. I know that you’ve broken cover, violated your orders, to be here, and you don’t need to go any further.”
Faces turned to each other, and silent questions ran through the group. A moment later, Sanzari stood.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say, to hell with our orders. We’re with you to the end, you and Kendra.”
Cass’s eyes glistened, but her voice was steady. “Thank you all. We’ll try to make this worth it.”
Kendra gave her a hug, then turned to the group. “Now we plan.”
Stone said, “One question, a really basic one, before we get rolling.”
“What’s the address? I want to call up a map of the area around the property.”
“Thirteen thirteen Mockingbird Lane.” Kendra said.
“Got it. Now, we can plan properly.”