An Erinyes Adventure
By E. E. Nalley
He said: “Thou petty people, let me pass.
What canst thou do but bow to me and kneel?”
But sudden a dry land caught fire like grass,
And answer hurtled but from shell and steel.
He looked for silence, but a thunder came
Upon him, from Liège a leaden hail.
All Belgium flew up at his throat in flame
Till at her gates amazed his legions quail.
Take heed, for now on haunted ground they tread;
There bowed a mightier war lord to his fall:
Fear! lest that very green grass again grow red
With blood of German now as then with Gaul.
If him whom God destroys He maddens first,
Then thy destruction slake thy madman’s thirst.
Stephen Phillips, The Kaiser and Belgium
A Treasury of War Poetry: British and American Poems of the World War 1914–1917. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917
The white plaster walls of the small complex of buildings that made up Holy Trinity Catholic Church gleamed in the mid-morning sun. Nestled in the massive, vaguely rhomboid shaped ‘bowl’ that protected Georgetown University framed by the Reservoir, Wisconsin and M Street Canals. Holy Trinity took up the entire block of the old roads and those walls had seen a lot of changes over the centuries. Its first building having been erected in 1794, it was the oldest Catholic Church in the area, and one of the few that could boast both slaves and Presidents had been parishioners.
It was not as ornate a building as some of the others of the Old Capital that had been saved from the rising oceans, but its classic Greco-roman edifice stood with a quiet dignity that went beyond embellishment. Having been built and run by the Society of Jesus, such an austere dignity was fitting. Still, austerity gave way to practicality in the late twenty first century; the sanctuary was full of cool air from the campus’s central HVAC plant against the May swelter.
Father Joshua Leonard, SJ, was glad of the cooler air as he made his way into the sanctuary, regretting briefly the traditional black suit that was the hallmark of a Catholic Priest. The Jesuit vow of poverty had been expanded by Papal Bull to include personal air conditioners which made crossing the quad of the church’s campus quite a chore in late summer. In spring, it was merely unpleasant.
“Lead by example,” the priest told himself quietly as he paused to kneel and cross himself towards the altar before continuing into the chapel proper. Father Leonard was nearly sixty, the very image of the kindly old parish priest; slightly overweight, balding and blessed with a round face that was never in want of a smile. Despite the slight paunch, he was very fit for his age, perhaps because of the austere lifestyle of self denial he had led. It had been his intention to make a sweep through the chapel to replace burned out prayer candles but as he rose from paying his respect he noticed the subtle signal that someone was in the confessional.
Father Leonard made his way there first, mentally preparing himself to be of aid to whatever brother or sister needed of him. He settled into his place, sent a silent prayer upward for God to place the right words in his mouth, before closing the door with one hand and opening the small partition between his booth and the next with the other.
Immediately a rich, lightly accented voice drifted from the decorative screen that separated the two. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it has been three weeks since my last confession.”
A smile of recognition pulled at Father Leonard’s cheeks, “God forgives all things so long as we continue to strive towards His perfection, my daughter,” he told her. “What trespass weighs down your heart?”
There was a slight pause from the screen before the woman’s voice asked, “How much time do you have, Father Leonard?” Joshua couldn’t contain a soft chuckle at the worried tone of her voice.
“I have as long as you need me, Elisa,” he assured her.
She seemed to think about that for a moment, and then finally continued, “I have committed fornication, Father.” Joshua frowned for a moment as he dug out his PDA from a suit pocket and consulted it. He called up the records he kept only to find his memory was not as faulty as he imagined.
“It’s been some time since you fell to that particular sin, my daughter.”
“I… I think I may have found a husband, father,” she admitted. “I guess I couldn’t restrain myself.”
“I’m glad this isn’t some passing fling,” the priest told her from making his notes. “I would be very disappointed if you had fallen so far after all the work we put in. Has this young man given you indication he seems interested in more than carnal knowledge of you?”
“If you recall my confession from last year about the company Christmas party he is the same gentleman.”
“As I told you then, Elisa, that was not sinful. You had no control of yourself, and you did not seek out that state. God does not hold you accountable for the actions of others. But, when we had last spoken I gathered that you were more interested in keeping this relationship professional.”
“I was,” she affirmed. “We had to go through a very difficult piece of work and we finally came to an agreement about what had happened then.” Joshua felt his eyebrows ascend his forehead.
“And this agreement included fornication?”
“No!” She paused again gathering her thoughts to try and explain the situation better. “He let me know that he had been interested in me for a long time, more so than I had realized, to be honest, Father. I guess I had been using him as a yardstick, even though he was really everything I could want in a husband but I hadn’t let myself consider him because he was a co-worker as well as what had happened.”
“After your parents passed on,” the priest said slowly, “I was worried that perhaps you set your sights a bit too high. Still, I must admit to being very proud of the strides you have made in your walk with God, Elisa.”
“It has been very hard,” the young woman admitted. “I hope I haven’t accidentally ruined something by letting a beautiful place put me off my guard.”
“Elisa,” Joshua told her, “if you’ll allow me a bit of indulgence, let me quote his Holiness, who said, ‘the body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it’. Now, what John Paul was saying, better than I could, is that our bodies are all we have to perceive the wonder that is God. The unity of the act of physical love is the closest we poor mortals can come to the love God holds for us. We of the Church encourage young people to hold off only because marriage is the best framework to understand something as monumental as that. Sex, to use the vulgar term, is not of itself sinful. It is a wonderful and glorious thing. As wonderful as I’m sure you thought your time with this young man was, it would be so much more so if he were in fact your husband.”
“I know, father. I am sorry I lost control, or rather I gave up control.”
“A small, but important difference, my daughter,” he chuckled. “Still, if this young man is in Our Lord’s plan for you, I doubt you’ve done any damage to that. I, however, must encourage you to be more mindful in your further dealings with him.”
“I will, father.”
“I think one Our Father and one Hail Mary will serve as a good penance for this, my daughter.”
“Yes father,” she replied before looking up into the screen. Joshua could just make out her glistening, dark eyes before he forced himself to look away as was proper. “Father, am I a good person?”
Her question drew his gaze back in surprise, proper or not. “Goodness, child, what would make you ask such a thing?”
“Do you think I am a good person?” she pressed. “I try to be a good Catholic, father, I really do, but there are times…” She looked away for a moment before her eyes returned to the lattice board that separated them. “I have always trusted you, Father Leonard. You know more about me than anyone walking this Earth. What do you think of me?”
“In many ways, my dear child, I think of you as the daughter I did not have,” he told her kindly. “Having watched you grow up, I had taken pride in your successes, and agonized with you in your failures. I suppose I should confess my own pride there in my next confession. I knew for a good while that you were not fitting into the First Born Son mold your parents had made for you. I was worried that perhaps you would have to struggle with repressing homosexuality through your adult life. When you came to me with your decision to seek out a place with Themis, I understood my error.”
He sighed and shook his head at his own wandering thoughts. “I know you weren’t looking for a repeat of the Church’s stance on homosexuality and transgender issues. Yes, Elisa, I think you are a good person, a good Catholic, and a good and dear friend. Now, what brought this on; something at work?”
Her face was obscured by her voluminous black hair as she nodded and then forced her eyes up to meet his gaze again. “Father, I want to kill a man.”
That gave the priest a moment of pause. He took in the cold fire in her eyes and he realized this wasn’t some fit of pique as he might address in one of his other parishioners. Elisa was a killer, her job demanded it of her, and there was murder in her eyes. The priest had spent many an hour in this booth helping her see the difference in the lives she had taken to save others. To compare her with the traditional policemen of old and how the violence their job demanded of them was no different. But he knew it was a very fine line he walked. More to the point, deep down through years of hearing her confessions he knew that if she desired to kill someone, they were only a few short steps from the Pearl Gates.
That meant her own soul, which he cherished as if she were his own flesh and blood, was entirely in his hands. Joshua forced his dry tongue to lick his dry lips. “Murder is a very terrible sin, my daughter. I’m glad that you have come to me first. What can I say to keep you from throwing your life away in such a manner?”
A single tear escaped her eye and rolled down her dusky cheek. “He is evil, Father, an evil as pure and rancid as you could ask for.”
“It’s not his soul I’m worried about, Elisa, it’s yours. Tell me what has happened to put you in this state. We will work through this and then, I promise you, we will find some way that this villain is brought to heel.”
After a long moment she nodded, with a small, tired sigh. “I suppose it all started about two weeks ago. I had just gotten back from a well deserved vacation that was cut short due to the pressing needs of the company.”
The main office space of the Erinyes Division of Themis was normally a bustling place, filled wall to wall with inordinately beautiful women who were struggling under a fearsome, but manageable case load. As Elisa entered the main operations floor, sipping on one the cafeteria’s better coffee offerings, she was forced to pause for a moment, stunned at the lack of people in what she had always known as a busy place.
Only one desk in five had an Erinys sitting at it, and there was none of the friendly chatter or subtle banter of a workplace normally so full of aggressive, alpha type women. The silence was unnerving and only broken by the constant chirp of telephones and the clatter of keys on keyboards being worked.
Even Kallie, the young office intern was at ‘her’ desk, eyes intent on a spreadsheet floating holographically before the T-Girl’s face. While she wore her wig and the falsies she treasured, she was still wearing the (male) version of her school’s uniform. That implied she’d been pressed into service as soon as she’d set foot in the building.
“It’s about time you got here,” greeted the Branch Supervisor, one Diana Davenport as she looked up from the copier near the door. She collected the document’s she’d made and fell in step with Elisa, guiding her towards Diana’s office. “We’ve been so swamped I’d considered sending an Ajax team looking for you.”
Ajax was another division of Themis, one that specialized in object recovery. While they normally worked stolen property cases, they weren’t particularly picky if the object in question was alive or not. Elisa kept her annoyance in check. “It takes time to travel half way around the world, you know. What’s going on, where is everyone?”
“You look tanned,” observed Diana as they reached her office. “You must have had a good time.”
Elisa rolled her eyes at her superior’s off beat sense of humor. “I was born this color. Diana, what’s up?” The older, but still breath taking blonde unburdened her arms of the archaic paper and crossed to behind her desk while waving Elisa into one of the comfortable chairs that faced it.
As she sat, Elisa could make out the documents were contracts, practically the only thing Themis did on paper that wasn’t evidence in nature and the stack was nearly fifty centimeters thick. “What isn’t?” moaned Diana. “In addition to our normal case load the U.N. is holding a Global Cooling Summit in Old Manhattan, the G8 Conference is taking place in Richmond and the World Fiction Awards are happening right here in Old Dee Cee.”
“Damn,” Elisa swore. “You haven’t called for help?”
“I have Erinyes pulled from Kansas City, Alberta and even a couple on loan from Miami,” Diana replied tiredly. “We’re still badly short staffed.” She bristled a bit and crossly said, “I wouldn’t have cut your vacation short if it weren’t a real emergency.”
“I know, I know,” Elisa placated her. “Still, I suppose the bonus this quarter should be rather nice. How can I help?”
Diana tapped at her keyboard before rotating her monitor to where Elisa could see it. On the screen were the details of a job bid form. “A number of the girls are tied up helping out Cerberus with body guard work throughout these meetings. The one major threat we have that I don’t have the manpower for is the World Fiction Awards. Berndt Klaus is being awarded the Hefner for Adult Fantasy Novel and we’ve gotten word a number of religious groups plan to protest. You’re the only Supervisor rated Erinys I have left. I want you to take charge of security for the author as well as serve as Side man for him.”
“Why should the fundi’s care who wrote the best dirty book this year?” Elisa asked, somewhat confused. Diana chuckled darkly as she returned the monitor to where she could see it and send the form to Elisa’s workstation.
“Obviously you haven’t read Herr Klaus’ work,” she said darkly. “Do me a favor and don’t until this job is done. I know you may find this job distasteful, Elisa, being Catholic…”
“I’m a professional,” Elisa snapped. “I like to think I’ve done a damn fine job keeping my private life out of the workplace.”
“That’s the brief I got from Karen, and I’ve seen nothing to convince me otherwise,” she said quickly. “I’m giving you this because you’re who I can trust with it, Elisa. Even if I had the pick of the office, I’d still tap you.”
Elisa smiled demurely at the compliment. “Thank you, and I’m sorry for my outburst. I’ll see that this gets handled, Diana.” The blonde nodded her dismissal as she wadded into the over flowing workload she was struggling with.
At her desk, the Erinys found her monitor already displaying the bid form and a single white rose in her seat. She picked it up and inhaled the soft, delicate aroma before opening the card that had been tucked into the keys on her keyboard.
It’s hard to write something here that won’t be sappy or overly romantic. I think it would take me a lifetime to tell you how I feel, but I’m willing to start with dinner.
All my best
She smiled as her mind’s eye painted the image of the object of her affection bent over the card in her hand, mental gears turning loud enough to be overheard as he struggled with what to write. Dropping the rose into a small glass vase he had thoughtfully provided Elisa tried to keep her thoughts from wandering as she read over the details of the job form and the threat assessment from Computer Intelligence.
It became apparent quickly that Berndt Klaus was a figure steeped in controversy which was exactly to his liking. Indeed, hating Mr. Klaus seemed to be the one thing the various Christian and Muslim fundamentalist groups in the area could agree on. “Some people,” she muttered as she flipped through the report, trying to pull a gist first before she would go back in and fill the details. The report was a veritable who’s who of the radical fundamentalist movements; The Tribulation Saints, the Maccabees’, Crimson Jihad, The Hand of Allah, even the Daughters of Judith. No one seemed to like this guy.
Then her eyes fell on the final name on the list and brought her up short; Cardinal Daniel Lethe, Dean of the College of Cardinals for the North American Federation. While Elisa had never met the man, she knew of him by reputation. Further, it was Cardinal Lethe, who was then Bishop Lethe that had signed the indulgence that had allowed her to remain Catholic after undergoing the Dragon’s Blood process and becoming Elisa due to the fact that she was now a genetic woman.
Frowning, Elisa brought up that specific page of the report and read. “Freedom and respect for human rights and dignity has been the hallmark of the Catholic Church for the last two hundred years,” the document said. “Beyond issues of faith, the Holy See does it’s best to remain neutral in the politics of humanity. However, there are certain items that cannot be ignored or overlooked. While the Church acknowledges Mr. Klaus’ right to write and publish whatever he wishes, we urge every good Catholic to distance themselves from his writings. There is never a good reason to wallow in filth.”
“What in the world has this man written?” Elisa asked herself as she reached for her phone and dialed. “Father Joshua Leonard, please,” she requested of the receptionist when the line connected.
After a brief moment, Elisa’s ear was filled with the rich baritone of the Priest’s voice. “Elisa, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Clean living,” she laughed. “Do you have a moment, Father? I need some information; it’s for work I’m afraid.”
“I can’t imagine how we might have run afoul of the Themis Corporation, but I’m quite at your disposal, my dear,” he replied.
“I’ve just read a statement Cardinal Lethe wrote about an author I’ve been assigned to bodyguard. I can understand why the local fundamentalists may have issue with him, but I’ve never heard of the Church putting forth a pronouncement about what people can and can’t read.”
“Ah,” he muttered in understanding. “The Church’s stance on pornographers has been fairly uniform throughout the last century, my daughter. I’m familiar with the pronouncement you mention, and all I can tell you is, that as a good Catholic, you should distance yourself from this man. Now, if this is something you cannot do because of work, I strongly recommend you not read any of his filth and keep your time with him as brief and professional as possible.”
“Father, what could Mr. Klaus…”
“What he’s written isn’t important, Elisa,” he interrupted her. “You must trust my judgment in this. I understand if your work compels you to protect him, but, please, my daughter, don’t let him corrupt you.”
“I won’t, Father,” she said, even more puzzled than when the phone call began.
“Good,” he replied with genuine relief in his voice. “Will we see you at Mass, Sunday?”
Elisa checked the dates on her file. “No, Father, the assignment occupies the entire weekend. I’ll be there for midweek though.”
“I’ll look forward to seeing you; if there is nothing else, child?”
“No, Father, thank you for your time.”
“God and His angels watch over you and keep you safe until our next meeting, then.” Elisa crossed herself as she accepted the Priest’s blessing and returned the handset to its cradle. There were still many questions that were pressing against the back of her mind, but no time to puzzle them out. As it was, she needed to find out what kind of resources she had available to build a team and get it ready.
“This is our client,” Elisa told the small group she had managed to assemble in the briefing room, “Berndt Klaus, author, age 47. Murphy, should the worst happen you should know he’s allergic to all penicillin derivatives, his cholesterol is forty points higher than it should be and he’s already suffered one heart attack.”
The ghostly hologram of a somewhat rotund man wearing an expensive suit floated between Elisa and the rest of the team as Murphy scribbled out notes to himself. “Our length of contract begins at 1700 hours today when his flight arrives at Clinton International and will end Sunday at 2200 when we put him on the plane back to the European Union. Overnight shifts will be in three, three hour blocks. Threat assessment from computer intelligence is level nine; this guy has a long list of people who hate his guts and a history of violence. Currently, we’re forecasting at least one attempt on his life, possibly as many as three.”
A chorus of groans drifted through the darkened room. “That’s the bad news,” admitted Elisa. “The good news is that it’s highly unlikely any of these attempts will be coordinated with the others. While our ‘friends’ in the Fundi camp agree they hate this guy, that’s about all they agree on. We’ll have to be on top of our game on this. Our highest threat times are the award ceremony tomorrow night, the ‘meet the author’ panel tomorrow and the farewell brunch the day after.”
Elisa keyed the projector to display a floor plan before the team. “This is our area of operation; the Canard Hotel and Casino, Arlington. The award ceremony will be taking place in the Reagan Auditorium here, the panel event in the Truman Room here and the dinner in the Taft Dining Hall here. As this is a public hotel there are hundreds of entrances and exits all required by law. We don’t have the man power to cover them all, nor can we have any of them locked due to fire and safety codes. So, our focus will be on physical security and good old fashioned body guarding. I will be playing ‘escort’ to Berndt while Tom takes Front Man slot with us. Murphy, you’ll be playing Wing Man because if our boy is hit, I want you there ASAP.”
“I know the drill,” groused the young medic. “In first, clear the room and get out of sight. Who’s going to have my bag?”
“Sam will be doing over watch with the rest of the team in a command van here,” Elisa replied indicating the car port closest to the kitchen entrance to the hotel. “Your bag will be in the van. Carry as much trauma gear with you as you can. As this is a black tie function, only Sam and the reserves will be able to use hard suits. The rest of us have to make do with soft armor and tuxedo monkey suits. Sam, I’ve already arranged to have the van access to their security system so you’ll be our eyes and ears. We’ll try to use the kitchen exit as our primary evacuation point, with this side door as our secondary and the main doors here as the fall back.”
Diaz clicked off the projections and brought the lights back up. “We’re going to be very exposed for this entire mission and it can’t be helped, guys. This is considered a high threat mission and that bonus schedule applies.”
“Do we have any good intelligence on who’s likely to make a play for our mark?” asked Tom.
Elisa shook her head. “Not really. This guy’s at the top of a lot of people’s hate lists. They could possibly all try for him, or we could get lucky and have a quiet time of it. No way to know for sure.” She examined their faces for a moment to let the gravity of the situation sink in. “If there are no other questions, let’s get suited up and head out to Clinton International.”
“So I’m guessing dinner is out,” whispered Tom as he fell into step with her under his breath.
“Think of it as a working date,” she replied as quietly.
The Airbus 7000 was one of the few aircraft that still required a hard runway; an oddity considering the near omnipresence of massive inlets, bloated rivers and the sea culture humanity had adapted to in the twenty first century. What it lacked in accessibility it made up for in comfort, lots of comfort. This particular specimen was dressed in Lufthansa livery as it rolled to a stop at one of the older floating tarmac gates of Clinton International. As the boarding ramp was maneuvered into position Elisa calmed her nerves by taking another visual sweep of the gate area.
The beautiful Erinys in her skin tight armored Fury suit with her clutch of heavily armed and armored gentlemen in waiting were drawing their normal stares, but no one seemed particularly interested in getting involved. Most were more preoccupied with getting from A to B in the most expedient manner possible. That made her happy, but she realized she wouldn’t relax until they were repeating this maneuver in reverse. “Comm. check,” she thought at the transmitter that had been implanted in her skull. She disliked using it as it gave a tinny echo to both her voice and everyone she heard through it, but it had the advantage of being the height of discretion.
“Frontman,” came Tom’s mental voice after the chorus of her team.
“Wingman,” finished Murphy.
The ramp was now firmly secure against the double-decker airliner as Elisa felt the last bit of her relaxation slip away from her. It was show time. The First Class passengers began to dribble out in small clumps; a businessman who was struggling with his suitcase, a phone at his ear, a small family with a little girl who was crying and her father seemed livid, a steward who was trying to perform damage control for the airline as he trotted to keep up.
A coiled spring replaced Elisa’s spine as her eyes fell on the subject of their next few days. He’d gained ten kilos from the hologram and probably nearly a hundred Euros in expense for his suit. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments and Elisa was nearly certain she saw the muscles twitch around his mouth as if to pull it into a sneer of disdain but his expression remained neutral. He practically marched up to Tom and presented his hand. “I am Berndt Klaus,” he declared in a deep voice with only the mildest hint of an accent. “You would be the leader of my detachment, yes?”
“No sir,” replied Tom smoothly as he shook hands. “I’m Thomas Vannoy, squad leader of the Cerberus guards and I’ll be serving as what we call your Frontman or the obvious bodyguard. Special Agent Elisa Diaz, Erinys, is in overall command of your safety and she’ll be serving as the ‘Sideman’ or ‘escort’.”
His eyes slid over her with all the cold ooze of a slug. “Let us hope she is as skilled as she is beautiful,” he murmured as Elisa bit down on her temper hard.
“More than you’ll ever know,” she told him through gritted teeth in a macabre mockery of a smile.
Klaus held out his shoulder bag in Tom’s general direction. “Well, let’s be about this, then.”
The Cerebus used the muzzle of his PAS to push the doctor’s hand, and therefore the bag, back. “Herr Klaus,” he said softly. “It is our pleasure to serve as your body guards for the next few days. That does not include fetch and carry, valet service or any other servant work. And as saving your life is included; let me make you aware that the only services you may expect from Agent Diaz would be stopping bullets and/or assassins targeting you.”
The author sniffed his disdain and stiffly marched towards the baggage claim. Elisa and Tom exchanged glances and fell in behind.
This is going to be a lovely weekend, she thought at her large friend. He shrugged an exaggerated gesture through the armor.
You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.
The wait at the carrousel was tense as bag after bag was claimed by the portly man; five in all counting a suit carrier he began cursing in German about due to its obviously rough treatment. Sam detached himself from the group and sprung for a push cart when the third bag had been pulled off. He let Berndt load it, however. A soft tone in Elisa’s ear told her the vehicles were out front and ready, but it was obvious that their subject was not yet finished yelling to the Lufthansa rep about the state of his tuxedo.
Diaz was no longer amused and was feeling the minutes stretch out, increasing their vulnerability as Klaus went red in the face and, despite obvious appearances, seemed to be enjoying making an ass of him self. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a haggard looking, thirty something woman who was trying and failing to look younger taking more than a passing interest in the display.
Elisa hooked a hand into Berndt’s elbow with the intent of beginning to urge him out the door when the woman’s strident voice erupted with a spine chilling wail of, “Murderer!” Diaz’s grip became an iron vise on Klaus’s elbow, pulling him from his argument with a surprised cry of pain. Quickly she pulled the man to the side, into the clutch of armored men and away from threat.
Meanwhile the woman had snatched an improvised weapon from a passing bag of golf clubs and was intent on improving her handicap at the expense of Klaus’ head. Elisa was vaguely aware of her team frog marching the protesting author out of the airport as fast as he could be forced into moving as she faced the threat head on.
The woman made a clumsy swing at the author’s departing back, keeping up her screams of “Murderer!” as if a mantra to ward off evil. Elisa interposed herself and locked up the woman’s arm while a foot sweep cost the woman her footing. She didn’t seem to care about the pain Elisa was putting her in as she continued to try and claw her way after Klaus. Finally it was apparent to her that her forward momentum had been halted and she turned on Elisa. “Let me go! Let me go!” she cried, tears streaming down her face. “He killed my son! My Son!” was the last bit of coherence that came from her as she dissolved into wracking sobs that plucked at Elisa’s heart.
The display didn’t keep the Erinyes from handcuffing her before her eyes looked up, seeing the first two of the three vehicles peal away from the curb.
Diaz to central, she thought, after a long moment;
Code green, one in custody, target safe.
“Janet Hastings,” Kallie’s voice said, injecting itself into the agent’s funk as she watched the aforementioned housewife through the two-way mirror. The woman was out of her panic now, and sullenly sipping at the cup of coffee she’d been given and trying to repair her ruined hair do, somewhat impeded by the fact her hands were cuffed together. Kallie continued reading from the file she had gotten from DC PD. “Husband Michael, a tenner with a contract to Nolan, Parker and Weinstein; son Jonathan, deceased age ten, daughters Michelle and Sara, ages nineteen and thirteen respectively. No priors, no parking tickets, not so much as an over draft on the family Visa.”
“Any signs of her being a kwick kroot?” asked Elisa softly.
Diana shrugged as she joined the two, passing out cups of coffee as she did so. “We won’t know for sure until the results of the MRI come back. The preliminaries say no, however.”
“What would make Mrs. Straight and Narrow here snatch up a five iron and go for a capital murder rap?” muttered Elisa to herself. Turning back to Kallie and the report from the police she asked, “What were the circumstances of the son’s death?”
The intern had finally been able to get out of her school uniform and into a rather flirty sun dress that just tempted the office’s rather relaxed dress code. The pages of the report rattled as Kallie flipped through them. “Um, kidnapping by a known pedophile, one Gus Danner, who according to this did some pretty horrible things to the kid before he killed him and dumped him in the Pennsylvania Inlet. That’s how he was caught. A Mud-lark only identified here as Joshua saw the dump and fingered him to the cops.”
“Where is Mr. Danner now?” Diana asked with an arched eyebrow.
“The prison graveyard of Arlington Federal Penitentiary,” Kallie replied after a moment of digging. “Death by lethal injection two years ago.”
“What is Klaus’ status?” asked Diana of Elisa after a moment of thought.
“Tom is sitting on him at the hotel,” she replied, never taking her eyes off the suspect. She turned to Kallie once more. “I don’t suppose there are any obvious ties with Mrs. Hastings and fundamentalist groups?”
The intern shrugged once more. “According to this she’s a Unitarian.”
“Of course,” Elisa muttered as she collected the file from Kallie. “I’m going to have a chat with her, see if I can get some kind of an explanation for this.”
“The video feeds are on,” warned Diana to Elisa’s department back, then she turned up the volume on the box next to the mirror slightly and settled in to watch. Elisa felt the woman’s eyes on her as she dropped the folder to the table and made her self comfortable at the desk, pointedly ignoring her. She opened the file and made a show of flipping through it before she finally decided to speak.
“My condolences for your loss,” she said softly.
Janet inhaled sharply before sniffing in anger and turning away. “I want a lawyer.”
Elisa took out a pen and made a note on a blank sheet of paper in the file. “That’s your choice, but it will make things harder on you.”
“I want a lawyer,” she repeated sullenly.
From a pouch on her utility belt Elisa took out a pocket voice recorder and turned it on. “Case number 209758348, 8:07pm, People Vs Janet Hastings, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, attempted capital murder, let the record show that the accused…” was as far as she got before the woman interrupted, a bit of panic in her voice;
“Attempted murder?! I didn’t try to murder anyone!”
“What were you planning on doing with the five iron, Mrs. Hastings? Give Mr. Klaus a few tips on his chip shots?”
“That… that devil murdered my son!”
“Gus Danner murdered your son, Mrs. Hastings,” Elisa shot back. “He was tried eight years ago for it. Convicted and two years ago put to death for the crime. Are you admitting that you perjured yourself and sent an innocent man to Death Row?”
“Klaus put that animal up to what he did. He is the one that made Danner think he could get away with it!”
“So now you are alleging a conspiracy between Berndt Klaus and Gus Danner for what happened to your son? I’m fairly confident Mr. Klaus’s whereabouts can be accounted for during that entire year.”
A single tear rolled down Janet’s cheek. “You don’t understand…”
Elisa produced a box of Kleenex and leaned forward as she presented them, softening her tone considerably. “Then help me understand, Mrs. Hastings. What made you try and attack Mr. Klaus?”
Janet wiped at her eyes before they fell on the Fury Uniform and hardened again. “Why would a pervert like you care? You don’t know what it’s like to bring life into the world and have it snatched away; you’re just playing at being a woman!”
“You stupid perra! Si usted fuera un hombre…!” she shouted, jumping to her feet before she mastered herself and remembered they were being recorded. “Just because you won a genetic lottery doesn’t give you a monopoly on motherhood! I’ve been shot at and risked my life for fifteen years for the privilege of what you were born with so don’t you ever tell me I don’t know what it means to be a woman!” She turned away cursed under her breath for loosing her temper.
“Are… are you telling me that… you…”
“I bleed every month just like you,” snapped Elisa. “And speaking of bleeding, that’s what you’ll be doing in the female wing of Arlington Federal. The hard cases in there will eat you for breakfast! Now, I tell you for truth, cachapera, you best tell me what was going through your head when you snatched up that five iron and it better make sense, or I’m going walk out that door and wash my hands of you!”
Mrs. Hastings seemed to find that funny and couldn’t suppress a nervous giggle as if she was only just on this side of losing her mind. “You honestly don’t know, do you? That piece of filth you’re protecting is a pedophile! Not only does he lust after little boys but he writes books on how to get away with it!”
The door to the cubical was snatched open and Diana’s strident voice cut in over the woman’s shouting. “Diaz, out! Now!”
Elisa was too stunned to fully comprehend what she had heard and her body was too used to following the orders of Diana’s voice. As she stumbled out Janet shouted after her, “You don’t have to take my word for it! Look it up! Surely this place has Google!”
Diana had the walls of the shark tank blackened so the few agents that were in the office couldn’t see Elisa pacing like a caged tiger, nor hear her shouting as she vented her spleen at her boss. For all the rage and violence, in both English and Spanish, Diana coolly sat behind her desk, watching the agent vent, neither interrupting, nor answering the heaping abuse she was receiving. Finally Elisa ground to a halt and flung herself into one of the overstuffed chairs that faced the desk, out of breath for the moment. “Are you finished?” Diana finally asked after a long moment of silence.
“I can’t believe you put me on a detail to protect a pedophile!” hissed Elisa.
“An alleged pedophile,” Diana responded coolly. “Klaus has never even been charged, let alone convicted of anything improper. More to the point I put you on a detail to protect a client who has paid for our services. As such, I expect you to fulfill the obligations of your contract and protect our client to the best of your ability.”
As string of obscenity in Spanish greeted the order, but Diana refrained from smiling as she drew her ace and played it. Loudly over cutting the agent’s tirade she declared, “You swore an oath to follow the orders of the superiors placed over you by this company, Elisa; an oath that both legally and morally binds you to the obligation of protecting Berndt Klaus until 2200 hours the day after tomorrow. Now, are you going to honor that Oath, or should I get in touch with your priest now about the excommunication?”
Elisa shot to her feet, trembling with rage. “Don’t you dare try to use my religion against me!”
“Let me be clear, Agent Diaz,” Diana drawled as she almost leisurely stood up and locked eyes with her recalcitrant employee. “I’ll use whatever I have to so that this office’s obligations to our Clients and Corporate are met. If that means I have to use your baby brother against you I will! And speaking of Juan, how will you pay his tuition at that very exclusive school I helped you get him into without a paycheck of your own?”
“If you were a man, I’d cut your heart out with a dull knife,” hissed Elisa.
“If I were a man, I’d probably ask you out as I’ve always had a weakness for ethnic beauties,” Diana replied smoothly as she came around the desk to get nose to nose with her agent. Elisa, for her part blinked in confusion at the sudden turn the conversation had taken.
“Wh… what?” she sputtered
“Are you finally thinking clearly?” Diana demanded. “Good, so, now that I have my best supervisor back and not some Spanish hellcat let me paint you a picture, Elisa. Berndt Klaus has paid for protection and we, being the professionals we are, took his money and promised him he’d live until 22:00 hours Sunday. Now, you didn’t take his money and neither did I, more to the point if either of us had been the ones he’d come to we likely would have put out feelers to see who would pay the most for him to have a little face to face time with his Creator.
“But we weren’t, it’s shitty, but that’s the way of it, Diaz. So, we grit our teeth and we do our job and we keep his slimy ass alive until 22:00 Sunday. Now, you’re going to get your Spanish heart breaker ass down to that hotel and you’re going to keep Berndt Klaus alive until 22:00 Sunday. Do you read me, Diaz?”
“Loud and clear,” the agent muttered.
“Good,” beamed Diana around one of her dazzling smiles. “Now,” she said resting her shapely rear on her desk, “let me give you a little advice, Elisa. Contrary to your opinion, I’m sure, I actually like you. When you have your temper under control you’re an asset to this company and one of my best agents. Now, if you’re not comfortable talking to me about this, I’ll understand, but Elisa, please get some help keeping your temper. I want you to do well with Themis and go as far as I know you can go. But I can’t recommend you for anything other than lateral transfers to Computer Intelligence or Internal Security if you can’t keep that temper of yours on a leash.” She sighed and shook head. “I’m not trying to lecture you, Elisa, you’re a grown woman, just think about what I said, alright?”
Diaz felt a smirk pull at the corner of her lips. “What should I think about; the part about me keeping my temper or the part about you asking me out?”
Diana smiled an odd smile and shooed her out with a wave of her hand as she returned to her seat once more.
Vangie Blake whistled from her cubicle as Diaz emerged from the Shark Tank. “Hey, Elisa? How’s the case with this year’s Newberry Award candidate going?”
“Not funny,” Elisa growled. “I swear that man couldn’t be more aggravating if he tried!”
“What makes you think that he’s not trying?”
“Hey, you must have picked up by now, that Satan Klaus is a stone-cold wise ass, getting his rocks off by mooning the entire world.”
“I’m sure that there’s a lot more to this, than Klaus being a galactic threat pain in the ass.”
“Hey, that’s what wise asses always want you to think. I never met an asshole who didn’t like to be thought of as the victim.” Vangie paused, “Come to think of it, Klaus’ earlier work kinda reminds me of Angel and Slick.”
“‘Angel and Slick’?” Then Elisa paused and looked coldly at Vangie. “You read Klaus’ work?”
“Oh, not the stuff that he puts out now, no.” Vangie grimaced. “No, before he figured out how to bring his two passions together, Klaus used to write ‘Outlaw Porn’.”
“Outlaw porn? Caper crime fiction?”
“Yeah, only it was more like ‘how I beat the system and screwed over everybody’, and like that. Ol’ Bernie used to be very popular with the ‘thug for life’ crowd. Used to write books about this hard ass called ‘Walker’ who went around basically pissing on the world and making everyone look stupid. I read his stuff, ’cause it was damn near a ‘how to beat the system’ handbook for career lawbreakers.”
“Sort of like what he writes now, only for an even more disgusting audience.”
“Yeah. I read the stuff cause I knew that the hard boys read it, and I wanted to know what tricks they thought might work. Now, here’s the thing — for professional criminals, Prison Apes got some surprisingly straight-laced ideas about some things. Short-eyes still take pretty hefty chances inside.”
“So, Klaus alienated his entire core readership, when he started writing ‘how to fondle six-year-olds and make their parents take the heat for it’ books.”
Elisa shrugged. “I understand that his books fetch twenty times per unit what he’d get for his old stuff. Even if he’s selling to only one-quarter as many people, he’s still making five times as much.”
“Maybe, but like I said, it kinda reminds me of Angel and Slick.”
Elisa let out a martyred sigh. “And who were ‘Angel and Slick’?”
“They were a pair of wise asses in my old dike-town neighborhood.”
“I didn’t know that you used to live in a lesbian ghetto,” Elisa said with a grin.
“Very funny,” Vangie returned. “Diked-in neighborhood, twenty feet under sea-level, cheap rents, no maintenance, you grow up with the sound of substandard concrete cracking under the weight of seawater?” Elisa nodded. Every poor district in the world had a dike-town or two. They were usually formerly upscale neighborhoods that landlords bullied the local municipality into rescuing from the rising waters, but then turned around and let rot.
“Anyway, Angel and Slick were as prime a pair of smart-asses as you could ask for. They were always going around pissing everyone off, just because they got off on getting away with it. They picked up some cash doing it, when they could, but they did it even when there was absolutely nada in it for ’em.”
“Vangie, every neighborhood has an Angel or a Slick, if not two of them. What—”
“Bear with me. Anyway, I was one of their favorite targets-nothing like picking on a blind kid for some safe giggles — so I learned to keep track of them. When I was 11, Angel and Slick went too far and got the cops after them. Now, from what I hear, they could’a got away with it, but Slick set up Angel to take the fall for it.”
Vangie grinned ferally. “That’s just it. As near as I can tell, he did it, just ’cause he could. ’Cause Slick was bored with pissing on other people. He wanted a BIG reaction, and the only person that he could be sure would have that big a reaction, and who would be totally surprised, was Angel. ’Cause he got off on the idea of sticking to other people, and the biggest kick was sticking it to his best friend. But it had a happy ending.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Angel managed to avoid the cops long enough to get his hands on Slick and mash his head in with a plumber’s wrench.”
“You call that a happy ending?”
“Hey, we never had to put up with Angel or Slick again. In my patch, that was a happy ending.”
Elisa chewed on that. “So, you think that Klaus has something up his sleeve?”
“I’d be amazed if he didn’t.”
“So, who do you think he’s setting up? The Hefner Awards people?”
“Me? Why me? I’m his bodyguard!”
“And Angel was Slick’s best bud and partner in crime. Look, Klaus obviously loves having people screaming at him, wanting his hide. Makes him feel important or lets him forget that he’s got this teeny-weenie or something. Now, from his point of view, what’s better than having all those people fuming at him as he sticks out his tongue at them? Having these killer babes with guns, ready to shoot anyone to tries to give him what he’s got coming. What’s better than having killer babes with guns guarding your sorry ass? Having killer babes with guns guarding your sorry ass in kinky black latex cat suits! And what’s better than that?”
Elisa’s face went hard. “Arranging it so that those killer babes in kinky black latex cat suits kill someone for you, so that you don’t take the heat for it.”
“Or he arranges it so that you violate your contract somehow, so you do any or all of that, and he gets to stiff us for the fee.” Vangie shrugged. “Either way, you’d better watch your back.”
“Thanks for the heads up, I’ll catch you later.” Elisa made her way back over to the holding tank and let herself in. “You’re free to go,” she announced tonelessly as she crossed to Janet’s side of the table and removed her handcuffs.
The housewife was stunned. “What?”
“As the Agent in Charge of this detail I have decided that there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute, further it is not in the interest of the People of the Boston-Atlanta Metroplex.” She paused significantly as the handcuffs were returned to their keeper on her belt. “Stay away from Berndt Klaus and you and I can continue to pretend this didn’t happen, right?”
Janet rubbed at her wrist as she stood and appraised the Erinys before her. “Thank you,” she said at last as she laid a hand on Elisa’s shoulder. “And I’m sorry for what I said.”
“Go home to your husband, Mrs. Hastings,” Elisa told her softly. “Hug your children, cook them something nice to eat and forget about the ugly places in the world.”
Father Leonard was glad of a bit of break in his favorite parishioner’s confession to catch up on the notes he was taking on his PDA. The story that had tumbled from her lips came in such a torrent that keeping notes to assist his failing memory had been difficult. Now, however, he was caught up but there was still silence coming from the booth. “Elisa?” he called softly.
Her shadowed eyes returned to his through the screen. “Sorry, Father, I guess I ought to add envy to my list of sins,” she managed around a sniff and a forced lopsided grin.
“Ah, Mrs. Hastings,” the Priest replied with a chuckle. “I feel very confident of telling you, Elisa, she is probably far more envious of you, than you are of her. Still, envy is not something to take lightly so before you sleep tonight I want you to recite the Rosary and count all the blessings you have received from Our Heavenly Father.”
The priest nodded to himself as he notated the penance in the small computer in his hand. “I can certainly see why you’re upset about this. For myself, I must apologize to you for keeping you in the dark concerning the nature of Mr. Klaus’ work. I’m sure you understand my reasons for doing so.”
“My temper,” the young woman answered softly. “Father, do you think Diana is right? That I let my temper control me?”
“Elisa, you’re still a young woman, biologically, if not by the calendar. If I had to guess I’d put your physical age somewhere around 24. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve counseled enough of your peers to know that young people, young women especially, are just bubbling with hormones that us ‘old farts’ can only vaguely remember. Your body is practically demanding you do things that society frowns on.”
“There are days,” Elisa whispered, “where I’m so afraid that I’ll do something I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting.”
“But you haven’t,” the priest responded. “That’s what I want you to remember, Elisa, you haven’t. Now, could you work on keeping your temper? Who couldn’t? I think that’s something we can overcome together with God’s help.”
“Amen,” she replied softly.
Father Leonard sighed and glanced over his notes. “Back to the task at hand, however. What happened after you released Mrs. Hastings?”
“I went back to the Canard hotel,” the Agent said, her voice growing cold. “That… that thing was bouncing back and forth over gloating that I’d subdued Mrs. Hastings and outrage that I’d let her go.”
“What do you mean you let her go!” thundered Klaus, the outrage painting his face scarlet. Elisa counted to ten mentally as she wiped the droplets of spittle that had escaped his lips from her uniform.
“Mr. Klaus,” she replied in an even tone, voice completely devoid of its normal lilting emotion. “The inner operational details of Themis Corporation are no concern of yours.”
“That woman attacked me!”
“And you don’t have a mark on you,” interrupted Tom with a martyred sigh.
“You stay out of this, hübscher junge!” Klaus started and would have said more but Tom drew his arms across his chest and drew himself up to his full, more than formidable height.
“Let us be perfectly clear, Mr. Klaus,” he growled, his voice low and menacing. “You paid our company to protect you. Agent Diaz and my team were assigned to protect you, so you will be protected. You don’t have to like us and we don’t have to like you.”
“How dare you…?”
“And just so everything is out in the open, we don’t answer to you. What occurs within Themis Corporation, who that body does or does not charge with law breaking, or any other internal matter is none of your business.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “I demand to know who your supervisor is and be put in touch with them right now!”
Tom grinned as he took out his cell phone. “That would be Rupert MacDonald, Supervisor in Command, old D.C. Detachment, Cerebus Division, Themis Corp. I have him on speed dial.” Klaus went to take the phone but Tom kept it from his grasp. “Of course, it would be unprofessional of me not to inform you that if I have a worry of being in Dutch with the boss, well, that will occupy my mind very considerably. I might miss someone with a gun, or a knife, and an itch to use either on you.”
Tom held out the phone which Klaus batted away with a growl of, “Get out!”
“Sleep well, sir,” Vannoy told him with a grin and he and Elisa withdrew. “Asshole,” he muttered once the door was firmly shut between them and the object of their ire.
“It would be unprofessional of me not to warn you if you tattle on me I’ll do a slipshod job of protecting your sorry ass?” asked Elisa with a chuckle as they walked next door to the makeshift command post they had set up. Tom grinned like a school boy being told finals had been canceled.
“Every action has an equal and opposite re-action,” he quoted around his grin. “Besides, I learned long ago the best way to deal with a creep like Klaus is to use their own weapons against them.”
“I think we can count on not getting an ‘extremely satisfied’ rating on the customer service survey after this one,” she replied.
“Ask me if I care.”
“Elisa? Elisa wake up,” Coaxed Tom’s voice into a tumbled and chaotic dream.
“No quiero ir a la escuela,” she murmured as she scrunched down into the sofa where she’d fallen asleep in an attempt to get more comfortable. Tom smiled down at her sleeping form, so angel like relaxed in slumber as it was now. A number of hairs had escaped the braid she’d set it in the night before to fit into her helmet and these framed her face and made her look vulnerable. The armor, so similar in appearance to a black latex cat suit hugged every curve and left no doubts as to her magnificent form underneath. The Cerebus commander couldn’t help but smile at the object of his affection, even as he reached over and tipped the sofa with a free hand.
The primary advantage of the Erinys armor, other than its visual appeal, was that the fabric was molecularly locked. This gave it a glossy appearance, but more importantly it meant that it made her impossibly slick and next to impossible to grab. In combat, this was a must; however it meant that she slid off the sofa like warm butter off a non-stick pan. The flop turned into a roll as she slid across the carpeted floor and vaulted to her feet, mayhem in her eyes. “Good morning!” greeted Vannoy with a smile.
“You didn’t have to flip me onto the floor,” she groused as she accepted a cup of coffee from Murphy as the medic passed.
“Shake you while you’re asleep?” demanded Tom around his grin, “no, I like my bones in one piece, thank you!”
She humphed and planted a hand on her shapely hip as she took a gulp of the coffee. “What time is it?”
“Seven twenty,” he replied as he walked to the other couch to shake awake one of his troopers for the morning shift. “You’ve got plenty of time for a shower and to get ready for a fun filled day of being Herr Klaus’ ‘date’.”
“Don’t remind me,” she mumbled as she drained the coffee before plucking her overnight bag from the small pile of luggage and made her way to the bathroom.
It was as palatial as the room had been, nearly to the point of being gaudy to her way of thinking as she removed her shampoo, conditioner, and the other toiletries from the bag to a shelf in the shower stall. Still, she noticed there were four nozzles for the shower which would make for a very interesting experience. Once the various soaps and body washes were as she liked them she reached her thumb into her armpit to the hidden pad there that would read her finger print and open the armor down her side to her hip.
From there it was like peeling off a second skin as the various machines built into the armor, bio-monitors, stimulant and pain suppressive injectors, released themselves and she was once more in the condition that she’d entered the world. As usual the neck collar had destroyed her braid and she found herself meeting her own reflection in the full length mirror in one corner, her head surrounded in a halo of ebony tresses.
It was always a subconscious thrill to catch her reflection in the mirror and see her inner self staring back out, curvy and taunt and so wildly female. To be as she’d always felt she should be outside and in was a feeling that never failed to send a shiver down her spine. Still there was work to be done, however distasteful. The piper had to be paid for the reflection in the mirror so she rushed through the shower and, as much as she didn’t want to she used the hotel’s ‘complimentary’ hair dryer to be ready that much faster.
Finally the bag gave up its final secret.
Everyone even remotely knowledgeable about police subcontractors in the modern world knew about the Erinyes Combat Armor. How a fabric so remarkably thin could stop the incredible amount of firepower it could, or that it’s molecularly locked state acted as if the material was made of Bucky Balls that allowed her the nearly impossible mobility that the Erinyes were famous for. Some even knew about the built in gimmicks and tricks that, along with the cybernetic implants in her body allowed her supervisors and team leads to know where she was, what her physical state was, IFF transmitters and a host of other little toys that gave her an edge in combat.
But everyone knew they were black, liquid latex.
No one knew about the other Erinyes armor. The suit that was painstakingly matched to the agent’s skin tone where it needed to be opaque and was a slick transparent oddity where not that allowed the Erinyes to dress however the assignment might demand and still be ready to be as lethal as needed. Indeed, most of the Cerebus guards outside that Elisa worked with were ignorant of it.
Once she was certain she was dry she pulled the armor on made sure her actual nipples were under the pair that had been painted onto the armor while ruefully shaking her head at the macabre sense of humor some designer had had to ensure even a wardrobe malfunction would appear to be accurate. That accomplished, she pulled on a white silk tank and, even though the armor served as all the bra she would need, got the one built into the top settled and a pair of tight designer jeans and four inch heels.
Now dressed as the expensive ‘professional girlfriend’ that was the role she would play for the next few days, Elisa relinquished the bathroom for one of the boys to use while she did her makeup in the sitting room of the suite that served as their command post. “Any updates from corporate?” she asked as she fished her makeup bag out of her purse.
“There’s some net chatter about our favorite author,” replied Tom from the act of donning the soft armor he’d wear under his clothes. “And Murphy gave us the URL of a web ‘journalist’ that Klaus says has been stalking him.”
“Why wasn’t that in the initial report?” Diaz demanded from making sure her lipstick was evenly applied.
“Ask computer intelligence,” Murphy said with a chuckle as he presented the Fury with a tablet that already had the Net channel pulled up.
“This goes back quite a ways,” Elisa murmured as she flipped through the website. “It seems our boy here is on his own personal crusade. Any criminal stuff linked to him?”
“Nothing violent,” the Medic answered. “Slew of harassment charges and restraining orders, but nothing like what Crimson Jihad or The Hand of Allah are known for.”
“Make sure the others get a good look at his photo anyway,” she ordered from applying her mascara. “He doesn’t look like much, but no sense taking chances. Who’s with Fatso now?”
“Sam,” informed Tom as he brought over a bagel that had been stuffed and topped with every imaginable ingredient and thickly slathered in cream cheese. “Mr. Popularity is having breakfast in his room. When you’ve eaten we’ll go relieve him and get started.”
“My hero,” she enthused as she took a huge bite out of the bagel. “What kind of goodies did Operations spring for us?”
Tom waved over one of his men with a hard plastic case. “I knew you’d want that Beretta 93R of yours, but I also knew there’d be no place to keep it on how you’d be dressed.”
“A woman appreciates a man who can dress to match her,” she mumbled around her mouthful. He placed the case down and opened it. Nestled in protective foam were two small pistols, one a silver revolver with an enormous chamber wheel, the other what appeared to be a black semi-auto pocket pistol.
“First, your primary, an oldie but a goodie,” Tom enthused as he took the revolver from the case and opened the wheel. “Taurus Judge a .45 Long Colt pistol and a 410 shotgun all in one tidy little package.”
“My favorite jurist.”
“I’ve alternated the chambers for you,” he went on, “the 410 shells are upland game loads and bird shot out of a one inch barrel will expand into a nice cloud quite fast if you have to discourage a crowd.”
“Ouch,” she sympathized as she took the pistol and closed the wheel.
“The .45 Long Colts are actually tungsten sabots in .357. With that much powder behind them they’ll punch through most hard suits up close and any soft armor on the market.”
She tested the heft of the pistol, her middle finger finding a plunger hidden in the grip. “What’s this?”
He chuckled darkly. “Can’t get anything past you,” he said around his laugh. “Ops added that so you could select which chamber you use. Give it a squeeze and it rotates the cylinder without dropping the hammer.” She nodded appreciatively as the pistol disappeared into a holster that was hidden by the bunches of the tank top’s silk and the waist of her jeans.
“What other toys do you have for me, Q?” she asked in a most lamentable imitation of Sir Sean Connery.
“Knowing your fondness for automatics I’ve included a Kel-Tec P01 Pocket Protector. Rotary magazine holds fifty, one millimeter rounds.” A perfectly arched eyebrow ascended her forehead.
“One millimeter?” she asked drolly. “.22 long rifle would be 5 times larger and still worthless…”
“Yes, but there are fifty in each magazine, and the pistol only fires in full auto mode,” he replied. “Probably not something you’ll want to use against a person, but if there’s technology you need to wreck, this will do nicely. And, after all, it is a hold out.”
“True,” she admitted as the pistol was carefully slid into a pocket on the jeans, safety on. “What’s the ring?” He reached in and carefully withdrew a silver ring with a gemstone so large as to obviously be costume jewelry and carefully placed it on the ring finger of her right hand.
“It’s a shock ring. Squeeze the band and your next punch has a fifty thousand volt extra. Battery is only good for one shot, so make it count if you need it.”
“I’ll likely end up using it on you,” she teased him.
“Only if my luck changes,” he shot back as he closed the case and began to pull on a shoulder rig system that had a pair of holsters under each arm pit. “And yes, since I know you just won’t be comfortable without it, I’ll have your 93 with me if things get that bad right here,” he said patting his right armpit.
“How can a girl sleep at night without her security blanket?” she demanded as she dropped the few touch up items she’d need from her makeup bag into a clutch purse. “We ready?”
He pulled an obnoxiously loud floral print shirt over the shoulder rig system and purposefully didn’t button the shirt up. Tom started to answer but Klaus’ strident voice echoing through the hall outside cut him off; the author screaming for help. Faster than any woman in four inch heels had a right to move, Elisa had relieved him of her pistol and bounded out the door into the hallway.
There she was just in time to see Sam forcibly separate Klaus from a mousy looking young man whose scruffy clothing, the microphone he was desperately trying to keep Klaus from taking away from him and the camera built into a pair of glasses labeled him admirably as the aforementioned web journalist. Finally Sam separated the two, the young journalist retaining his microphone allowing the Cerebus to shout, “What the furry fornication is wrong with you?” at Klaus.
“Gun!” Shouted the Author. “He has a gun! Shoot him!”
On hearing this, the journalist, obviously no stranger to altercations with the law, and law enforcement subcontractors promptly dropped the microphone and threw both hands into the air. Elisa slowed to a more leisurely stroll while tucking her pistol behind her jeans in the small of her back. “Oh yes, a regular menace to society here,” she observed. After a withering glance at the author she turned back to the young man and ordered, “Put your hands down and go talk to the steely jawed boy toy behind me. And don’t do anything stupid or he’ll hurt you. A lot.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he acquiesced meekly in a voice slurred with a mild Germanic accent. Elisa watched him go for a moment, then, as Tom took charge of him with a surreptitious sweep of the chemical sniffer built into his hand checking for firearms and explosives, turned back to Sam.
“Exactly what happened here?” she asked softly and, sensing Klaus building up to a tirade held up a meticulously manicured finger. “Mr. Klaus, the English Language does not have words for the contempt with which I hold you. Don’t speak to me. Don’t interrupt my team member and don’t try what little patience I have left for you. Sam?”
Sam’s eyes darted between his team leader and their client. He was old guard, close to the end of his current contract and not far from retirement. After a quick moment of thought his action plan quickly materialized in his mind. “We were having breakfast, Miss Diaz. We got an unexpected knock on the door and before I can even think of getting up, Mr. Klaus is rushing the door, yelling, ‘I got it’ and then as soon as he gets the door open he starts screaming and wrestling with the kid in the hall.”
“And you didn’t stop him because…?”
“I was hard on his heals, ma’am, but he was closer to the door than I was.” She thought for a long moment and sighed.
“Mr. Klaus did you receive, read and understand Themis pamphlet 48–10527A entitled Cerebus Guards, Rules for the Protected?” Klaus’ face was red with suppressed anger; however like most men who prided themselves on being as obnoxious as possible, he had a keen sense of how far he could push someone before they would react in a manner contrary to his best interests.
He was also smart enough to know that Elisa Diaz was at that limit and leaning over it badly. “Ja, Agent Diaz, I read and understood the pamphlet.”
“Then I do not need to remind you that you just committed a contract nullification action and, had the young man at the door been an assassin, Themis would incur no liability to your estate for your death. That, as we say in America, was your one freebie. If you commit another breech of contract action, our contract will be null and void as of that instant, no matter the situation on the ground and we will leave.”
The author’s jaw ground his teeth under the rolls of fat. “Apologies, Agent, I will not forget myself again.”
“No, Mr. Klaus,” she told him, her brown eyes cold and hard. “No you won’t.”
Much to his dismay, Father Leonard’s stomach growl interrupted Elisa’s confession. “I’m so sorry!” they both said in unison. From her side of the confessional the priest could hear her gathering her belongings. “I’ve kept you far too long Father,” she continued. As quickly as his old bones would allow him, Joshua got out of the booth before her and managed to catch her as she exited, still offering apologies for how long her story had tied him up.
“That’s enough,” he told her firmly, catching her short in her making her exit. “Now,” he said a fair bit more jovially, “as it was my stomach that interrupted things, it’s only fair that I spring for lunch. So, why don’t we continue this conversation over a meal that will silence my anatomy and, as I promised you, we will find an answer to your problems.”
“My daughter, this is where you meekly say, ‘Yes, Father,’ and we walk to your car.”
Her dark eyes rolled, but much to the elderly priest’s relief she was smiling again and her smile was genuine. “I don’t do meek, but, ‘Yes, Father,’ will that do?”
“Close enough,” the old man replied with a chuckle as the pair began walking to the door of the chapel. “So, who was the boy? The web journalist you’d heard about?” She nodded thoughtfully as she adjusted the drape of her Cool Cloak over the bat winged blouse and jeans she was wearing. The dark fabric of the cape was impregnated with nanotubes through which compressed Arctron gas was allowed to expand then pass through the barrier of the inner and outer fabric where it was re-compressed and the entire affair was powered by micro solar cells throughout the outer face. Inside the cape it would quickly be twenty degrees cooler than the outside air.
“Johann Gevalia,” she said with a sigh. “Wannabe Edward R Morrow, still I can’t be mad at the kid he’s determined to ‘out’ Klaus for the ladrón humano del oxígeno he is. For all I know he’s one of Klaus’ victims.”
The tall Jesuit looked down on his favorite parishioner as an eyebrow ascended his forehead. “You’re not exactly Methuselah yourself, Elisa.”
“There are days I’d argue that, Father,” she replied as she slipped on a pair of large sunglasses to protect her eyes. Joshua made do with a Fedora he had rolled up in his suit jacket that snapped back into shape thanks to the memory material it was from. In short order the pair were getting comfortable in Elisa’s powder blue BMW and rolling towards the M Street Flood Lock. “We found out later that because of Johann’s personal crusade against him that Klaus had leaked some of his schedule to the internet. He’d hoped that Johann would show up and Klaus would use us to commit murder for him.”
“I think I’m starting to agree with your assessment of this… person… Elisa.” He admitted, both to her and to himself as he fretted over how he would be able to keep not only a murder from being committed, but a conspiracy to cover it up as well.
The BMW raced up the ramp to the top of the canal dyke and splashed into the transition pool. There it converted itself into a speed boat and was soon roaring down the canal. “D’angelo’s’?” he asked.
“Best Italian in the metroplex,” she replied with a grin. “And don’t worry about the cost, I’m buying.”
“I thought I said…” he started before the emotionless lenses of her sunglasses fixed him into his seat.
“Call it my tithe for missed weeks at mass, Father and just say, ‘Thank you, my daughter,’ meekness optional.”
“Thank you, my daughter,” he quoted with a chuckle.
“We didn’t know it then, but that leak would come back and bite Mr. Klaus in his fat… rear… later, but I’m getting ahead of myself.”
“What did you do with Johann?”
“Nothing,” she replied as the BMW cleared the canal and began to make better time on the less regulated Pennsylvania Inlet. “He was in the country legitimately on a Press Visa, he had no wants or warrants and he had credentials to the Hefner Awards so he had a right to be in the hotel. There was nothing we could do with him, other than a bit of empty threats about staying away from Klaus.”
“Our first bit of excitement occurred in what we thought would be one of the high threat times, the ‘meet the authors panel’ that day…”
The World Fiction Awards drew a curious dichotomy of people, hipsters, literary mavens, Nouveau Bohemians, not that any of them wanted anything to do with the Hefner Awards. It seems the Hefner brought out the real weirdos. While there was no shortage of strange at any convention, the attendees of the Hefner took this as licenses to out do each other.
In a particularly cutting piece of irony, the bondage crowd seemed to be the most dressed and leather, latex and rubber where the fabrics of choice. At least their genitals are covered, Elisa thought to herself, an official issue vapid ‘date’ smile glued to her face as she stood behind Klaus and watched with growing disgust as his fans fawned over him.
Distorted and tinny, Tom’s voice sounded through the implant,
Look on the bright side, said his thoughts broadcast to her. Their eyes locked as three corpulent men who were leashed together to a woman paraded by. The men were all nude, their ‘modesty’ contained with little metal cages while being led by the woman who had managed to squeeze into a latex cat suit that highlighted every roll of fat on her body.
Nobody is going to have an easy time sneaking a weapon in this way.
Diaz swallowed forcefully as the woman laid on the praise to Klaus thick and heavy while ordering her compatriots to clean his shoes… with their tongues.
I don’t think I’ll ever want to have sex again, she thought at the amused body guard.
I’m going to pour bleach in my eyes and then take vows in a convent.
His mental voice chuckled.
The village idiots are just looking for attention, he assured her.
These poor devils have as much to do with love as mud has to do with rocket science.
A woman who was almost good looking enough to have been an Erinyes walked by, waving a cat o’nine tails and while the uniform ‘armor’ suit she was wearing was a good facsimile, there were just enough details off that Elisa knew it to be a fake.
Cosplayers, she thought, sniffing in disdain.
What is it about conventions that bring out cosplayers?
Tom’s mental voice only chuckled without an answer. Before he could, Sam’s voice broke into the circuit. “Alert one, potential hazard.”
Report Status, Elisa thought, one hand casually shifting to allow easy access to the revolver in the small of her back.
“Two black SUVs just came through the water lock to the front door. I have one male, young, mid-teens on a guess, dressed in classic Arabic clothing with two individuals in burqas, gender unknown, getting out and entering.”
Tom and Elisa shared a glance.
We have any face recognition on the male?
“Stand by one,” Sam’s voice replied. As the minutes drug out while Elisa waited for an answer, the phone in her implant rang and, superimposed over her vision was a medium close up of a caller ID from her contact list. The ghostly figure of an older woman, obviously stunning in her day and still aging extremely gracefully floated transparently with various facts to call her to memory.
Karen! What a pleasant surprise!
“Elisa, your IFF has you at the Canard Hotel, is that right, hun?,” Karen’s smooth Texas drawl whispered in her ear.
A chill ran up Elisa’s spine. Karen Astor had always been one to observe the social niceties. Even when called to the carpet there would be five to ten minutes of polite chit chat before the ass chewing would start. It was one of her quirks that had made her a very pleasant boss to work for. She only went straight to business when bullets were about to fly.
Yes, I’m on station for a Sideman job. What…?
“No time, sugar, wanted to give you a heads up. Intel made me aware of a possible threat with a punk we’ve had our eye on, Kareem Abdul Azhiz. He’s been very sloppily trying to worm his way into the Hand of Allah. He’s thrown a lot of flags, gun buys, charter jets some other stuff and now he’s brought vehicles where you are…”
“Got him” Sam’s voice interrupted. “Kareem Abdul Azhiz, he’s a fifth son of an eighth son of some minor noble family in the Trans-Jordan Arabia Sultanate. Daddy dearest still manages to be richer than the Catholic Church.”
“Alert two, the burqa wearers are breaking off from the man…”
Where are they headed? Tom and Elisa demanded at the same time.
Karen, you’re a life saver! Can you roll…?
“The cavalry is coming, hang tight!” she replied before the line dropped.
“Your way,” Pete replied from his perch in the lobby where he was pretending to be a bored businessman reading a newspaper.
Birdcage, Elisa thought.
All units, birdcage.
So casually, only those who knew would have taken the gesture for anything other than a lightly placed delicate hand on the author’s shoulder, Elisa leaned forward and pouted, “Berndt, sweetie, I’m hungry…”
The code phrase caused Klaus’ normally flushed face to pale and he began to sweat. Last night he’d been diligently instructed in a series of innocuous sounding phrases that would give him orders without alerting those nearby, or inciting a panic. Then, he’d waxed eloquent about how smooth and debonair he would react to keep the appearances up. Now, having been told they had identified a threat that was heading his way, his acting abilities failed spectacularly to live up to their advertising. He stammered something incoherent as the Fury guided him up and out of his chair towards the kitchen door the hotel’s wait staff where refreshing the buffet table through.
The Ki that had been awakened in Elisa by the Dragon’s Blood process allowed the Erinyes to perform seeming superhuman feats of agility and strength. And while the ‘flashy’ abilities of the Furies made them famous, it was the quiet abilities that kept them alive. The Ki responded to feelings of aggression near her that caused the hairs on the back of Elisa’s neck to stand up, despite the armor that actually went up to the base of her skull. In the space of a heart beat, the world around her seemed to slow down and every sense sharpened to razor focus.
Elisa looked up and saw the wait staff that were working the buffet, realized for the first time that all of them were dark complected with black hair and eyes, but none had Latin features. She saw the contempt those eyes were filled with as their gaze swept the room that went beyond working class envy of haves by have-nots. She felt more then heard the doors to the room be kicked open by the ‘women’ in the burqas.
Her hand collected a large chunk of Klaus’ suit jacket and she pulled, hard. Off balance, the author began to fall to Elisa’s right, his cry of pain and surprise drowned out by the shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” that began to sound both from the door of the conference room and the ‘waiters’ who had begun to produce aging AK-74s. Ironically, the first shot fired was a verdict from the Judge whose tungsten gavel descended on the precise center of the forehead of the closest waiter to Elisa.
The young terrorists head exploded, leaving a stump of a neck that fountained blood all over the buffet and everyone around him. This was lost in the general commotion of the waiters firing the machine guns into the ceiling. Fire retardant tile bits mixed with the blood and gun smoke as the crowd slowly began to realize the seriousness of the situation.
Madman! Madman! Tom’s mental voice shouted into the radio, announcing the go word for his team. Unchained for fast and hard action, the hard suits began to spill from the van. Vannoy threw himself on top of Klaus with sufficient force to push the author the rest of the way against the wall that Elisa had already thrown him towards. As his body dove past her, Diaz twirled, retrieving her Beretta from the armpit of the object of her affections and coming in line with her next target.
His eyes widened to nearly impossible lengths as he realized he was staring down the barrels of a pair of pistols. The machine gun he held was pointed at the ceiling still and across his face Elisa could see him realize he was looking at his own death. The Beretta spoke striking him in the eye and pulling most of that side of his head off. It pulled the corpse to the left, causing it to launch the rifle it was holding in Elisa’s general direction.
She used the muzzle of the Beretta to loop into the sling of the flying rifle and flipped it towards Tom who, used to somewhat showy things like this from her caught it began shooting terrorists while protecting the prone and cringing form of Berndt Klaus.
The crowd finally realized they were in the middle of what was likely to be the lead story of the evening news, doubtlessly spattered with words like dead hostages, collateral damage and unavoidable casualties, which instantly converted the crowd to a mob. This added to the general confusion the terrorists, yelling in a collection of languages, none of which was English, trying to get the mob under control kept them several further critical seconds from realizing someone in the crowd was shooting back.
Elisa used this as she ran, part parkour, part dance along the wall, trying desperately to circumvent the mob before, like cattle, they stampeded in place and turned the room to a charnel house. A soaring back flip over a particularly confused looking matron in an outfit that was unspeakable in it’s tastelessness, allowed her to kick off the high heels that was impeding her speed and send another final judgment this one to the gun wielding waiter that was blocking the fire exit. The sabot shattered both his head and the glass of the door behind him, giving the mob a way out. The mob seized on it and began to push forward.
The sound of battle from the kitchen caused them to surge faster, despite the terrorists trying to stop them as the Cerebus team fought their way to their team mates. Barefoot, Elisa landed in front of surprised looking man trying to peel out of a burqa. Their eyes met and the Fury snapped out a knife hand strike against his throat that was given solidity by the pistol she was holding. His cry of agony was turned into a wet gurgle as his trachea collapsed under the blow and he fell, clawing at his throat, drowning and suffocating at the same time.
His cross dressing partner was faster on the uptake, firing his rifle in full auto and sweeping it across the crowd to get it in line. The 5.45mm rounds struck Elisa across the stomach, both knocking her down and the wind from her lungs. She happened to fall next to the woman she’d noted earlier who was dressed as an Erinyes, a confused looking expression still on her face. The armor saved Elisa’s life, the pain cut short as her suit injected her with enough Dopeine to not care about the pain in her stomach, but not cost her reflexes too much.
Gasping for air to refill her lungs, she fired a burst into the man who had shot her. He fell to his knees in surprise as she sat up and snarled, “Bastardo!” and shoved the Judge into his face to complete his journey to the here after.
Elisa percieved the faintest of mechanical whines before the implant in her head completed it’s Friend or Foe challange to the little drones that were spilling out of the kitchen hallway and interrupted the nerves that connected her ears to her brain. Suddenly deaf, Diaz didn’t hear the ultrasonic tone the drones emmitted, and brought a halt to the combat, crowd and terrorists alike falling to their knees, clutching their ears. The stun effect lasted long enough for the remainder of Tom’s team to storm in through the kitchen and begin binding up the fake waiters. “Six more hostiles down in the kitchen,” Sam said through the implant’s radio.
Clear in here, Elisa thought at him.
Take Tom and Klaus to the safe room.
Suddenly her hearing was restored as the drones ceased their sonic assult and the cries of wounded and dying people returned.
Pete? Do you still have eyes on Azhiz?
“Yes ma’am, he’s headed for his car looking mighty worried.”
Arrest him and toss him in a hurt locker, Elisa’s mental voice snarled.
Not central booking, you understand?
Elisa accepted Sam’s help to her feet and looked down at the two dead burqa wearing terrorists at her feet. “George, you’re demolition rated, yes?”
“Get over here. There’s enough BoomX on these two to take out Hover Dam. Diaz to Central…”
“DC Central, go ahead agent.”
“I’m declaring a level 3 incident, roll ambulance and fire assistance, multiple wounded and killed, option Themis for the resultant contract, initial responce suggests envolvement of the Terrorist Organization Hand of Allah.”
As the seas rose early in the century, there were many different methods of dealing with it as there were people. A popular method was to build dikes to protect areas against the rising waters. The Unincorporated City of Travilah had chosen that method to protect the expensive homes of its fifteen square miles of bedroom ‘community’ for the Old DC area. Despite the money spent, most of the well to do residents either quickly sold off their properties or abandoned them outright for safer places to live. So, like many regions of the country, the growing urbanization had turned the neighborhood into a maze of abandoned streets, lined with once expensive homes and exclusive shops that were slowly deteriorating back to nature.
Or, at least that’s how it looked to the casual eye.
Because Travilah had been purchased through a holding company, that was a subsidiary, of a division, of a partnership of a wholly owned branch of Themis through an accounting maze of trusts, foundations and LLCs that would drive an accountant mad to try and sort out, it was exactly the kind of place to train people, warehouse equipment and otherwise stage for activities that weren’t exactly legal.
While Themis refused to engage in any kind of wet work, governmental or free lance, there were plenty of contracts that were questionable at best and one a hazy shade of gray above open warfare at worst. For work in the northern hemisphere, those contracts started in Travilah. Under the abandoned subdivisions was a complex that had been very discreetly built with great care taken to leave the above ground fixtures untouched. Themis maintained several warehouse distribution centers as discreet entrances and exits of the facility so there was a reason for folks to be coming and going without raising any eyebrows.
In a dimly lit room, dozens of feet underground, Kareem Abdul Azhiz sat, handcuffed to a table and despite the cool, somewhat clammy temperature, was sweating profusely. His cheek ached from where who he had taken as an innocuous Am-FED businessman had punched him and he had a splitting head ache. He’d been able to get the black bag off his head that he’d suffered the journey in, but it really did him no good as the walls of the room were bare and had no windows.
Kareem desperately needed a water closet.
The door opened and a woman entered, wearing one of the decadent westerners wickedly immodest ‘uniforms’ that clung to her in such a way that she might as well have been naked. She carried a folder that she threw onto the table and a gun and gun belt that Kareem told himself that if he could get his hands free, he would be able to take from her after easily overpowering her. “I have diplomatic immunity; I demand you release me at once!”
The woman said nothing, but opened the folder and began to lay out photographs in front of her. They were horrific pictures of corpses, blood spattered, organs ejected, brains exposed, with rulers placed in them for scale. Despite his manly pride, Kareem felt his stomach roll in protest and he turned away, desperately trying to keep down his lunch. “I would have been here sooner,” the woman finally replied in an off hand manner from the pictures. “But as you can see, you made quite a mess; it took a long time to clean up.”
She raised her gaze and her dark eyes flashed. “I’m glad we’ve established that you speak English. So we’re clear, every time you try to pretend you don’t understand what I’m saying, I’m going to break a bone. Every time you answer in any language other than English, I’m going to break a bone.”
“I do not know what you’re talking about, I…” Kareem couldn’t continue because the woman had slowly stood backhand slapped him with sufficient force that his lip split and a spurt of blood went flying from his head. Her gloved hand grabbed his face and covered his mouth, cutting off his screams of pain while forcing him to meet her cold, remorseless eyes.
“Do not ever lie to me again,” she told him softly, forcefully enunciating each word. She squeezed his jaw painfully to emphasize her command, then released him and turned to walk back around to the other side of the table.
Kareem inhaled to spit in defiance at the American bitch, but before he could let fly his eyes crossed, trying to focus on the barrel of the pistol. She had drawn it faster than he could follow and it was now pointed squarely at the bridge of his nose. “Spit at me,” she commanded. “I dare you, you pathetic, maldito burro sin pene. Go ahead, hombre!” She moved the pistol so the he could see her face and the smile she wore sent shivers down his spine. He knew that smile, been around paid men his father had hired who wore it to do violence and evil in his name and it erased any fantasy he had about ‘overpowering the helpless woman.’ “Spit in Death’s face and see what it gets you…!”
For the first time in his pampered, sheltered life, the ‘prince’ felt fear. Not the fear of not getting his way or what he wanted, or even the fear of men, like her, that had been bought and paid for, they had all been properly deferental. This was fear as deep and bitter as he had laughed about hearing from his father how he had shown his mother her place with the back of his hand, on their wedding night. As total as he imagined those same violent men caused in his father’s victims, the fear of anyone who knew they were looking their own death in the face. His bladder let go and Prince Kareem urinated on himself. “I… I come from a wealthy and powerful family. If you harm me…”
“If I kill you,” she corrected him, returning the pistol to it’s holster. “Your ‘wealthy and power family’ will never know it, and you, they won’t ever find you. Well, what’s left of you…” She noted the darkening stain on the front of his thawb and the grin widened. “I’m going to take my time with you,” she promised. “Days, at least, weeks if I can.” She crossed around behind him and leaned to whisper in his ear. “I have a paramedic friend that’s wanted me for years. I bet if I give him what he wants he’ll help me keep you alive.”
“Please…” Kareem stammered. “My family! They have money, power! Whatever you want, they can give it to you!”
The door opened again, revealing a tall man in a suit with close hair and a tanned, weathered face, before she could answer. His lip curled in disgust at what he saw. “That’s enough, agent,” he ordered, causing her to pout and return to his side of the table. He glared at her for a moment, then turned his attention back to the captive. He produced a key and released him from the handcuffs. “Your highness, my name is Smith, John Smith, I’m with the State Department. I see you’ve met Agent Mary Jane.”
“You have to get me away from here! I have diplomatic immunity!”
Smith nodded. “Yes, I know. Unfortunately, your highness, you’ve been involved in a very serious diplomatic incident.” He collected up the photos and returned them to their folder. Then he removed a new set of photos and began to lay them out. “There are a number of fatalities and your highness has been very outspoken in support of groups my government considers outlaw terroristic organizations.” He sighed. “Your immunity may not be recognized.”
“And when it’s not, you’re mine,” agent Mary Jane purred.
Real terror lit up behind Kareem’s eyes as he took in the pictures. They were all pictures of him; in night clubs and stripper bars around Old DC. Pictures of him out side the headquarters of the Pan-Islamic Brotherhood that was a front for the Hand of Allah; then there photos of him at Clinton International recieving the dead waiters he had flown in from Arabia. Photos of him with a certain gun smugglar in a certain alleyway he thought he had been very discreet with. “No! You can not! She threatened…!”
The prince ground to a halt as Mary had produced a knife from somewhere, a long, wicked black instrument of war, and was running her tongue down the flat of the blade. After a moment Azhiz realized Smith was talking. “If your highness could give us something to counter balance the doubtlessly innocent, but unfortunate cooincidence of being in the Canard Hotel exactly when agents of the Hand of Allah attacked. An organization I must remind your highness you have been most vocal in supporting, both with words and, rumor has it,” he said, tapping the photograph of him at the airport, “considerable funds.”
“It is entirely innocent!” Kareem declared in a panic. “I… I may be sympathetic to certain principles, being a faithful and dutiful servant of Allah…”
“Of course,” Smith agreed, returning the folder to his brief case. “But, your highness must realize how this will play out in the media. So many people dead, there will be a demand for action.” He shrugged. “Now, if your highness might have noticed other men who might have been traveling at the same time as you, men that perhaps your highness might have noticed did not seem to be as peaceful. If they were to turn out to be criminals, well, your highness’ cooperation would make you something of a hero. My government could then explain your highness being present. We would have no difficulty honoring your highness’ diplomatic immunity.”
Kareem’s eyes darted back and forth between Smith and Jane as he frantically processed the offer. They knew he was tied by the hip to the men who had done this. He knew it was a pleasant lie to save himself by sacrificing the rest of Allah’s soldiers that were with him. Well, they would be martyred and have their reward, while he would be returned to be able to finance other warriors to the fight against the Great Satan. The Hand knew there were always casualties. “There… there may have been some…” he started, trying to concentrate on the man.
He noded sagely as he removed a recorder from his case and put it on the table. “Go on.”
“Agent Smith?” demanded Elisa as she and Tom walked down the hallway away from the detention room that held Azhiz. “Agent Mary Jane?” she added with a rueful chuckle.
“Well, as far as he knows,” Tom replied with a smile as he loosened his tie. “And, by some miracle if he does get loose of whoever we sell him to he won’t know we are. He might be a useless piece of dog shit, but he does have money and money buys professionals.”
“Speaking of, how is the bidding going?”
Tom made a stylized gesture that his phone recognized, causing the holographic emmitter in his watch to paint a ‘screen’ hovering ghostlike before him. A few more gestures got the icon he wanted. “Shin Bet wants him pretty badly. I doubt they’ll show him much mercy either.”
“After all that time and effort this brat put in to coozying up to Hand of Allah? I bet he has plenty of beans to spill about them, if I worked for Shin Bet I’d want him too,” Elisa agreed. “Still, we don’t know what they’ll do to him.”
“We can guess,” Tom retorted. “You ok with that?”
She hugged herself and then leaned into him for support. “I’m not sure how much of that was an act, Tom, but it wasn’t much.”
“It was enough,” he assured her.
“You call that a little excitement?” Father Leonard demanded, one eyebrow raised as he buttered a slice of the fresh loaf of bread they were sharing. Elisa shrugged from her sip of tea and favored the priest with a radiant smile.
“Compaired to most of what I’ve had to deal with in my career, it was little,” she said sadly her mind on old, bitter memories.
“True,” he admitted, his mind on old confessions and long forgiven sins. She sighed and put the glass down, looking at him expectantly. As he chewed, Leonard came to recognize the expression on her face and ask, “Are you waiting for something, my daughter?”
“We may not be in the confessional any longer, father, but I did believe you’d have something to say about my treatment of Kareem,” she replied softly. “I was waiting for my pennance.”
“I do have something to say,” he said finally, fixing her with a steely gaze. “This boy is responscible for getting six people killed, wounded two dozen more, some for life, isn’t that right?” She nodded, not quite sure where he was going with this line of questioning. “So, you surrendered a criminal into the hands of a governmental, anti-terrorism taskforce, isn’t that right?”
“Not my govern…” she started, but he waved her into silence.
“I didn’t ask you that,” he scolded her. “You delivered a multiple murderer to a government where he will face justice for his crimes, yes?” She nodded. “Then my only regret is that you did not hit him more and harder,” he declared with deep finality.
“Father Leonard!” he repeated, mimicing both her surprise and the mild spanish accent that tinted her voice. “I may be a Priest, and I am happy to live peacibly with any one who will also live peacibly, but I have no use for cut throats and murderers who sneak knives into my house while claiming to be my friend. I am also a Jesuit. I will not tolerate evil being done in the name of God.”
The waiter arrived with steaming plates, laden with pasta and sauce which silenced the conversation for a while as both enjoyed themselves. Finally the priest sighed and asked, “What about the other accomplices Kareem named?”
There was nothing pleasant about her smile. “We didn’t have time to deal with them ourselves, so corporate dispatched a Myrmidon dynamic entry team to round them up. The few that resisted won’t trouble anyone else ever again. The rest are being… debriefed.”
The priest raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Debriefed?”
“Aggressively,” the Fury replied. “Kareem’s little stunt has delt the Hand an major set back in their NorthAMFed operations. I imagine he’s actually safer in the custody of Shin Bet than on the street.”
Leonard seemed satisfied with that answer and returned to the original narriative. “What happened after you got back to the hotel?”
“Well, Tom and I didn’t go back to the hotel directly,” she replied. “We were both hungry and were talking about getting something to eat before we had to deal with Klaus again, and that’s when things got really strange…”
“So, I’m still owed a working date,” Tom said as he slipped his arm around Elisa’s shoulders. Her BMW was in speed boat mode, zipping along the eveing chop of the bloated Potomac Inlet on it’s way back to Arlington and the Canard Hotel. And while the car was a comfortable size, it still could be quite cozy and intimate. His arm, sliding effortlessly between the slick armor she wore and the leather seat instantly made things more intimate.
Elisa quickly put the armor mentally into stand by mode lest it interpret her elivated heart rate and growing arousal as signs of combat stress and start injecting her accordingly with preformance enhancers. She carefully licked her lips and tried to sound aloof. “What did you have in mind?”
“Well, I am in this monkey suit, and dressed like that you’ll get in anywhere, so we could go somewhere a little more upscale if you’d like. There’s this new seafood place on the docks called Nemo’s I’ve heard good things about…”
Tom couldn’t continue as Elisa’s phone finished a quick discussion with the computer in the car and routed the call it was receiving through it. Between them, the ghostly image of a hologram of a young hispanic man took shape, grinning at the camera with a smile that doubtlessly earned him more than his share of attention from the ladies. Elisa sighed. “Hold that thought, Tom, I have to take this. Hello?”
“Should I be jealous?” he asked with a laugh.
“Hola, chica!” The young man’s hologram ‘looked’ between the two of them and he switched to English. “Oh, sorry, sis! Bad time?”
“You’re fine, Juan,” she replied. “This is Tom, he’s… well, he’s a co-worker and a very good friend who has saved my life more than once…”
The hologram’s face split into his grin once more. “Then hombre is family! We’ll get together soon, amigo, and to show you my gratitude for saving my favorite sister, the tequilla is on me!”
“You should be studying, not drinking!” she snapped at him.
“I’m learning,” Juan replied and it became obvious to Tom that his smile let him get away with quite a bit. “That’s what college is about, no?”
Her voice became just a bit meanicing. “Juan…”
“Bien, bien, voy a golpear los libros!” he conceded with a laugh, but then his features became more serious. “Sis, are you busy?”
A warmth entered her voice that managed to change Tom’s opinion of her yet again; a motherly tone that put him in mind of Normal Rockwell paintings and white picket fences. “Never for you, hermano menor,” she told him. “What’s going on?”
His face fell a bit more. “I’m, not really sure. Now, don’t start, chica, but Juanita called and asked me to arrange a meet for…”
Her face darkened in what Tom knew was her keeping her temper on a short leach. “I don’t have time for…”
“Sis, she sounded really desperate!” Juan interrupted her. “I’ve never heard her like this, and I’m really worried! Please, Elisa, for me?”
Her knuckles went white as she gripped the steering wheel. Finally, tightly under control she asked, “Where and when?” Juan’s face split into his heart breaking grin once more.
“You can pick me up and I’ll tell you! Knowing you two, you’ll need a referee, and it’s not fair to Tom,” he added with a wink, “to make him do it! Phone says you’re not too far from my dorm. See ya in a few!” The line disconnected and Tom used his arm across her shoulders to give her a reassuring squeeze.
“I can get a cab back to the hotel…” he started, but she shook her head, ebony hair whipping back and forth from the force of it.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she told him, her eyes on the water as she changed course back towards old DC. “And, truth be told, if you want to be a part of my life, Tom, you might as well find out about this mierda now.” She sighed and finally looked him in the eye. “What do you want me to do?”
“I would like to be a part of your life,” he told her, giving her shoulder another squeeze. “I also don’t want to intrude on family business, so the question is not what I want, but rather what you want, Elisa?”
She sighed and rubbed his knee in gratitude for the solidarity. “Juan is the youngest of my siblings,” she said. “He was a ‘surprise’ to my folks, mama thought she was too old, but…” She flashed a smile hinting at her deep feelings for the young man. “Modern medicine has come a ways, but he was still a hard pregnancy for my mom, we all kind of babied him. I was already with Themis and a month out of the tank when he was born. We started our lives together you might say. He’s the only one of my siblings that never knew me as Edwardo.”
Tom snorted in amusement. “Hell, I didn’t even know what your old name was.” He favored her with a measuring glance. “I’m going to guess, based on what you’ve already told me, your relations with your siblings are ‘strained’?”
“Oh, they run the whole gammut,” she replied. “Of my brothers, I’m closest to Juan. Diego and Jesus are content to exchange Christmas cards, nod at Easter and pretend I don’t exist the rest of the year. My sister Carmen was the blacksheep of the family until I came out of the closet with the help of Father Leonard and so now we’re pretty close. I’m the Godmother of her son and we get together pretty regularly.”
She sighed again. “Juanita and Carlos blame me for our parents deaths,” she said softly. “I haven’t spoken to Carlos since he enlisted eighteen years ago. My letters were returned unopened and I don’t expect to ever speak to him again.”
The silence drug out and he rubbed her shoulder again. He knew her well enough to know that this was hard on her. Where some men might try to say something consoling, Tom elected to use a touch and keep his eyes on her and stay quiet, letting her decide when she was ready to go on. The BMW transitioned through the waterlock at the Georgetown Campus Inlet entrance and became a car again to slowly navigate the streets of the Georgetown Bowl to the dorms. “Juanita is the reason I don’t go to any family events,” she said finally stopping for a red light and looking up at him, her eyes moist with tears. “She follows me around the event, shreiking like a banshee calling me everything from pervert and fag to murderer. It got so bad that she started following me to Mass, trying to drive me from the Church. Father Leonard threatened to have her excommunicated if she didn’t stop it. So she transfered from Holy Trinity to St. Patrick’s.”
He shook his head. “Suddenly, the squabble my brother and I have about who broke my bike when we were kids seems so petty and trival.”
She snorted a laugh, caught off guard by his quirky sense of humor and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Thank God for you, Thomas Vannoy!” she exclaimed and their lips met long enough that the car behind them had to honk to let them know the light had changed. She quickly composed herself and shook her head. “Of course when that crazy bitch finally, finally goes through Juan, the one person in the family I’ll listen to concerning her to ask to talk to me, I’m wearing my uniform!”
“It could be worse,” he told her.
“You could be naked,” he replied with a smile. “I’d be willing to bet you look better than your sister, and that probably doesn’t help.”
“Small victories,” she agreed with a smile that was almost evil.
Juan was waiting for them outside of his dorm and happily tumbled into the back seat, giving his sister a hug around her chair as he did so. “Good to know you, Tom!” he declared, thrusting up a hand to be shook. If he was old enough to drink, it wasn’t by much, Tom decided as he took the hand and shook it. The young man had won a genetic lottery, tall without being threatening, dusky perfect skin that gave exotic color, not the weathered tan Tom wore. And of course, the regular, handsome features that were legendary for Latino lovers of film and fiction. He was dressed just well enought to be fashionable, but not so much as to cross over into narcism or the obsessive ‘metro-sexual’. “Of course, being the brother I have to say if you mistreat my sister I’ll really mess up your knuckles as you beat the crap out of me!”
“My manicurist will never speak to me again,” laughed Tom, instantly taking a liking to the youngster, much to Elisa’s consternation.
“Where am I going?” the Erinys demanded, her tone softened by her obvious delight in being around her baby brother.
“Martin’s” Juan replied, struggling with his seat belt. “N Street and Wisconsin Ave, she’s waiting for us.”
“Let her,” growled Elisa as she pulled of the dorm and began to wind her way through the confined streets. “You have no idea what this is about, Juan?”
“It must be important,” Juan declared. “She begged me to get you over there.”
“Perhaps she’s had an ephaniy,” Tom offered.
Elisa contented herself with a snort of diression and drove.
Martin’s Tavern was cream colored building with green shutters and highlights and a red store front in the timeless way that Georgetown was famous for and might have been there since colonial Williamsberg times. In short order they were led to the table of hispanic woman on first blush Tom might have taken for Elisa’s mother. She was obviously well over thirty, and while not being vain about it, took pride in her appearance. She hadn’t been a great beauty in her day, and it was likely as Tom had predicted that she resented Elisa both for her beauty as well as her apparant youth. The table was in a corner, well away from other patrons which gave a notion of privacy. She was dressed an a manner that indicated she was at least as well off as her sister, perhaps a bit more so and kept her face neutral as the group arrived. “¿Quién es él?” she demanded as they sat down.
Diaz sniffed and retorted, “Speak English, or I’ll leave now. This is Thomas Vannoy, Squad Commander, Old D.C. Detachment, Cerebus Division, Themis Corp. He’s saved my life three times and if you insult him I walk, entender?”
“How do you do, Squad Commander, I am Juanita Ayala Diaz de Sewarza.”
“Charmed Señora de Swarza,” he replied. “Thomas Vannoy, at your service.” She inclinded her head in appreciation for his manners.
“You have excellent taste in friends,” she told her sister, then after a slight pause, added, “¿Usted quiere tener una crisis de la familia con un extraño en la mesa?”
Elisa frowned. “Él no es un extraño. Y sí.”
“You’re both supposed to be speaking English,” Juan reminded them. Juanita sniffed and after a glare at the young man, opened her purse and slid a piece of paper across the table. Elisa picked it up and read it, her demeaner changing at once.
“When did this happen?”
The stone that Juanita’s face was carved from cracked and a single tear rolled down her cheek. “I went to pick him up from school they couldn’t find him and told me he must have walked home. He’s not answering his phone and he’s not at home or any of the friends he’s allowed to visit.”
Tom blinked. “What’s happened?”
“My nephew, Raul,” Elisa replied, “he’s been kidnapped.” She handed him the paper which was a poorly scratched out ransom demand of N$500 to be delivered by the Fury, Elisa Diaz. Turning back to her estranged sister, she asked, “Have you contacted the police, or any police services provider?”
“The school’s lawyer may have,” Juanita admitted. “He was frantic when they finally made him understand they had no paper account of him being properly released from supervision.”
Elisa snorted in derision. “Law suits come later. Is there any reason he could have been taken to get leverage over you? Is anything going on at work, any special project or pending anything…?” Juanita shook her head.
“No!” she wailed, balanced precariously on the edge of tears. “I swear, nothing out of the ordinary for months! We’re a probate firm! We just prepare contracts, titles and deeds! We don’t do anything in secret, it’s all public record!” She leaned forward and for the first time in nearly twenty years, took Elisa’s hand. “‘Dwardo, this is what you do, isn’t it? You can save my son, can’t you?”
Diaz looked down and then back up at her sister. “My name,” she said softly, “is Elisa Maria Ayala Diaz, which is legal and binding through out the North American Federation, so appears on my passport accepted in every nation on this world and written out in the Book of St. Peter on the authority of Pope Gregory the Seventeenth himself. If God will judge me under that name, it is good enough for you to call me!”
Juanita blushed and nodded. “I… lo siento.” With an effort, she composed herself and met Diaz’s gaze. “Elisa, this is what you do, is it not? Tell me, I will suffer any pennance you name for how I’ve treated you, but save my son! Save your nephew!”
Elisa sighed and covered her sister’s hand with hers. “Yes, ‘Nita, it is what I do. And I will do everything I can to save Raul.”
“This is an oftly low ammount,” mused Tom from the demand. “Señora de Swarza, forgive me for asking, but how much money do you make?”
“I… excuse me, is that relavant?” she demanded, cagily.
“Five hundred nubucks strikes me as awefully low for someone of your station,” Vannoy replied. “You dress well, you work for a law firm…”
“I am a lawyer,” she corrected with a sniff. “Well on my way to making partner,” she said with obvious pride. “To answer your question, Mr. Vannoy, I make more than that in a month.”
“It’s a lot of money to me,” Juan interrupted. “Pay my expenses and tutuion for two sumesters!”
“Tom has a point,” Elisa told him, taking back the note to examine it. “To someone of our level of income, N$500 is not a significant ammount of money. Ransome demands are usually much higher, thousands, if not tens of thousands…”
“Tens of thousands?” Juan asked with great incruduility. “Who has that kind of money?”
“You’d be surprised,” Elisa told him with a smile. “Alright, the drop is due to take place tomorrow at 9:00PM. Tom and I will do some planning and get set up. I’m going to have our intell group put a trace and forward on your phone, ‘Nita.”
“But, the confidentality of my clients…!”
Elisa raised a calming hand. “When the calls come in, if you recognize the number just press the ‘known’ button that will pop up, no trace, no record, no forward to me. Otherwise, answer as normal and I’ll be listening in, alright?” Juanita nodded finally, distressed.
“There’s nothing you can do tonight, Elisa?”
“I’ll be doing lots of things, Juanita,” she assured her. “But there’s practicality no chance of finding Raul tonight. But that won’t stop me from trying, ok?” Despite being two years younger than Elisa, Juanita still appeared to be the elder of the two and Tom wondered if that reversal was part of their issues. He didn’t wonder long because Senora de Sewarza found the courage she was looking for.
“Dwardo, why did you do this to yourself?”
Elisa stiffened, but kept her temper on a short teather. “Were you not listening when I told everyone, ‘Nita?”
“Why?” she pressed, ignoring the question. “You had everything! You were the pride of Papa’s eye! Carlos was sick with envy wanting to be you! First born, first place, first son! Por el amor de dios, ’Dwardo, why!”
Elisa closed her eyes, took a deep breath and leaned forward to emphasis her point. “Juanita, I don’t think I will ever be able to explain to you in a way you’ll believe me. This,” and she made a vague gesture to indicate herself, “is who I always was, inside Edwardo, screaming to get out. I know you don’t believe that, I know you don’t understand that. So let me boil it down to something you can understand. I am the best Catholic I can be. I take my vows seriously and my duty to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ But I had a problem, I like men and I’m not gay.”
She shrugged and presented herself again. “Problem solved.” From the glare she got, it was obvious Juanita didn’t appreciate her humor. For Juan’s sake, she choose to ignore it and turned to Tom. “Alright, let’s get a quick bite, here’s as good a place as any, then we’ll pick up some gear from headquarters and head back to finish babysitting Klaus.”
“This late?” he demanded, shaking his head. “Let’s head and head back to the Hotel. We can pick up gear in the morning.”
Juanita’s eyes darted between the two. “Hotel?” she demanded.
“It’s not what you’re thinking!” snapped Elisa. For a moment, her sister considered that, then a sly grin settled over her face and the sister Elisa remembered came out for the first time in many, many years.
“No?” she snorted in amusement and fixed the body guard with an appreciative, somewhat lustful gaze. “What a waste!” Tom’s tan darkened and found his menu immanently fasinating.
“I do not have to put up with this!” thundered Klaus, spittle flying in all directions. “I am paying good money and this is how I am to be treated?!”
Elisa had learned to be well back from the rotund author’s drenching tyrades, which in and of itself seemed to be fueling his rage as she was not allowing him within arms reach which was leading to an interesting circuit of the room until he realized he wouldn’t be able to get into the Fury’s face. “The awards ruined, ruined! What am I paying you incompentants for? The high point of my year and now the only headlines are about corpses and crybaby misanthrops who barely get nicked with a bullett…” Klaus stopped because his nose had run into the sole of the Erinyes’ foot. She hadn’t kicked him, just snapped her foot up and stopped short of striking him all so fast he actually walked into her foot. His eyes lost focus as he stumbled backwards as she held the poise of a perfect side kick. Slowly, showing off her absolute control of her body, she lowered her foot and crossed her arms over her magnificent bosom.
“Mr. Klaus,” Elisa interrupted him coldly, all hopes of quietly sneaking into her rooms and getting a good night’s rest gone… “You are suffering under a delusion, several in fact. First, the delusion that we were retained to provide security for the entire function, we were not. Second the delusion that your contract gives you the right to abuse my team or myself, it most emphatically does not. Finally, you suffer under the delusion that I will meekly put up with your tirade, which, sir, I will not. You don’t like that you’re still alive? There’s a window! Jump! You don’t like how we are keeping you alive? Fire us! We’ll be happy to refund a pro-rated portion of your retainer this very moment and leave!”
“Now see here you…”
“But I will not tolerate being yelled at by you any longer!” she shouted back, over awing the man into silence as he continued to glare. In a more sedate tone of voice she continued, “If you raise your voice to me, or any member of my team again…” she trailed off raising a pointed finger that promised mayhem.
Tom cleared his throat and slowly interjected himself into the confrontation. “Agent Diaz is quite correct, Herr Klaus, and you are alive which is how we were paid to keep you.” The author turned, finding a new target, but before he could unload, Vannoy continued. “And, if you want to stay that way, I heartily encourage you to keep your mouth shut. You have provoked an Erinyes more than anyone I’ve ever heard of that also lived to tell about it. I note, that Agent Diaz’s hand is on her pistol and if she decides to kill you, none of us are fast enough to stop her.”
Both Klaus and Elisa looked down to see that, in fact, her hand had taken the butt of her pistol, almost without her realizing it. With great dignity she took her hand off the weapon and announced, “I am going to bed. Squad Commander Vannoy, would you be so kind as to work out the watch rotation, please?”
“I’d be happy to, Agent Diaz.”
“Thank you.” She glared at Klaus a final time, daring him to say a word; he, however, wisely remained silent. She walked from the room to the suite where the Cerebus detachment had set up shop, back rigidly straight. Alone in the bathroom, Elisa peeled off the armor, turned on the shower, letting the multi nozzled luxury beat on her until she slid down the warmed tiles in the corner and clutching her knees to her chest let herself cry.
She cried for the cosplayer and the other five people she wasn’t fast enough to have saved. She cried for the wounded and maimed as their faces joined the mental list she kept of people that were proof she wasn’t superhuman. She cried for Raul and the desperate, impotent anger that raged within her that kept her from ordering her thoughts to pray for her nephew’s safe return, no matter what she thought of his mother. Mostly she cried for herself, and the part of her that fantasized about torturing a seventeen year old monster to death, not because he was a monster, or that he deserved death, but the part of her that would have enjoyed giving it to him.
Even though the steam had fogged the glass of the shower, her Ki told her Tom had entered the room. She kept crying even though for some reason she desperately wanted to stop, to show him she was strong, that she was above going to pieces like this. But when he stooped and picked her up and held her close in the warm water against his hard, muscled body all she could do was cry and be held.
It was exactly what she needed.
While the dress code of the Erinyes divison of Themis was one of the most permissive in all of the companies that Infax owned, wearing field gear when you weren’t on your way out to an assignment, or on your way back in from the field, was considered gauche. Generally it was a social sin only those fresh from the tank committed until they ‘got’ that everyone around them had gone through the same thing and weren’t wearing skin tight cat suits all the time.
Elisa noted with a smirk that there were eight new girls, ‘Miss Peelers’ in the office slang for them, obviously fresh from the tank as denoted by their all wearing the skin tight ‘fury’ armor and preening the way new women and pubescent girls did who had just blossomed. She rolled her eyes as she passed, wondering if she had been as bad as some of them in her just starting days and the memory of a scathing rebulk from Karen Astor reminded her she’d been worse. For herself, she’d worn what looked like a leather miniskirt and dark stockings under a ruffled white silk blouse.
The other armor was underneath it of course. No place was completely secure after all, the assault on the Themis Medical Center last year was certainly proof of that and while fashion was a hard task mistress, she did nod to prudence. Subtle was the difference between a retired Fury and one’s photograph being added to Memory Wall. As she passed, Elisa touched her finger to her lips and then touched the photograph of Catherine without looking.
She arrived at her cubical, only to find a girl who at first glance she’d call ‘elfin’ or ‘waifish’ there, until she turned and Elisa found she was eye to eye with the girl. Which was in itself disturbing as Elisa was five eight and wearing boots with a four inch heel and the girl was wearing sneakers. She was a lovely thing, who obviously understood the concept of subtle, as she hadn’t gone over board for the porn star good looks. The pale, oval-ish face had fine cheekbones and a delicately pointed chin. Her mouth was somewhat small and the lips weren’t big, nor were they particularly small either. Her nose was slightly long, and aquiline, framed on either side by a pair of slightly large, doe-like hazel eyes, framed by a mop of russett curls.
She was dressed in a baggy Myrmidon T-shirt and jeans that were doing nothing to show off the girl’s athletic figure. “Normally,” Elisa said, offering her hand to be shook, “I’d start a conversation like this with ‘Welcome to Erinyes, sister,’ but circumstances require I begin with ‘Why are you unpacking your stuff onto my desk?’”
The girl quickly shot a glance at the cube name plate, which troublingly did not have Elisa’s name on it, verified it’s number and shrugged. She held up a piece of paper that was a New Hire orientation sheet. “Sorry, Elisa, this is where they told me to go.”
Diaz blinked. “Have we met?”
The girl shrugged again. “Not like this. It’s Mike. Mike Holtman.”
“Oh, Mike,” Diaz replied, suddenly realizing who the girl was and sweeping her into a hug. “I didn’t realize you were finally up and around!”
The intimate contact clearly bothed her and she took a step back when released from the embrace, blushing fiercely. “Yeah, they said you were out of the country or something.”
The Spanish fury turned to see Diana, dressed casually for a change in Jeans and a sporty blouse who was making beconing motions. Diaz politely excused herself and met the office manager. She stood by the wall of offices that where opposite the main bank of elevators, these were normally occupied with the various account managers and other bean counters that had to pick up the accounting pieces of the Erinyes. “What are you doing here?” Diana demanded without fanfare.
“I needed to pick up some gear and Boom-Boom for a project after we boot Klaus into his airplane ride back home. And good riddance!”
Diana’s face pinched into a frown of displeasure. “You’re working a side project in the middle of a detail?”
Elisa bit down on her emotions with some difficulty. “My nephew was kidnapped yesterday,” she said quietly. “I don’t know if this has anything to do with the fiasco at the Hefners or not, but the ransom demanded that I deliver it in person.”
“What can I do?” she asked, her demeanor changing at once. Elisa shook her head.
“I was planning to have Kaitlyn come out to give me a triad. Tom will be there as well.” Diana winced and shook her head.
“I’ve had to cut Kaitlyn loose. Chai needed backup on something she was working on in New York. Anyway, I think you’ve done all you can with Boom-Boom, so I have a new hard case for you.”
“Is that why Mike is unloading his things at my desk?” she asked sweetly.
Diana was not taken in. “No, that’s why she unloading her things at her desk. I warned you corporate wasn’t going to let me continue to bend rules keeping you a field agent. So, I’ve been pushing this concept for a while and they’ve finally decided to use us as the test center. If they like the results, it will go national.”
She stepped aside from where she had been blocking the view to the office behind her. On the glass, nanites ‘etched’:
Next to her photograph from the company personnel webpages. It was a ‘glamor’ head shot where her hair and makeup had been professionally done. And while both were significantly more than she normally wore, the result had been a stunning photograph. Down the row were four of the other girls that were ‘old hands’ like Elisa was, though she was the only one that had cleared her process debt. “So, let’s talk details,” Diana said with a smile as she led the way into the office. It overlooked the buildings parking deck, but beyond was a nice view of the Chesapeak Bay.
Her things had been tastefully arranged around the office which also sported a leather couch and two matching chairs that faced the desk. “The entire office will be split into ‘teams’ for large events like the Smithsonian heist last year, however for a day to day operational process, the girls will still largely bid and work on their own. You will be responsible for yearly review reports to me, but I’ll actually deal with the interviews and disapline for now. You will recieve a ten percent raise to cover the extra work. There are nine new girls rotating in, you’ll each have two, but I am also assigning you Holtman. I want you to take a special note of her and help her transition.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Elisa replied. “I suppose this means I’m in management now?”
Diana wiggled her hand in dimissial. “Technically, you’re exactly what you were, a supervisor, though instead of ‘rating’ we’re going with a permanent position. There are perks,” she spread her arms to indicate the office. “And cons, I want you to limit your bids to soft stuff to help train Mike and your other two newbies. You can assign the others to your team if needed. But I want you to stay off the high threat stuff from now on.”
“Corporate doesn’t like having to pay out the full bid because they can’t dock my pay in fines?” she demanded with a smirk.
“A quick mind is how you got to be a supervisor,” Davenport replied. “Your quick mouth is what kept you waiting so long.”
“With Boom-Boom in New York, I’ll need a replacement. Got plans?” she asked. Diana winked.
“A very hot date I’ve been trying to score with for a while.” She sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Elisa. If you need me, I’ll reschedule with him.” Diaz turned and looked at Mike still unpacking her things at her old cubical.
“How is Mike coming?” she asked softly. “Is she up to subbing?”
“Her profile is on your desk,” Diana replied. “Look it over and if you want to invite her, I don’t mind. Mike was always good to have handy when the bullets fly. If you don’t want to risk it, call me and I’ll clear my plate.” She put out her hand which Elisa took. “Congratuations, Elisa.”
“Thanks,” she laughed. “I think.”
“Who is… was… Catherine?” asked Father Leonard from stirring sugar in to the strong Italian coffee they were enjoying after the meal. Sometimes he deeply regretted how invasive he was required to be as a priest. He told himself her soul was more important than her feelings and asked, “A lover you’ve never mentioned? You know, while His Holiness has yet to make a formal pronoucement, the story of Ruth and Naomi…”
She blinked, and forced herself to swallow the moutful of coffee to keep from laughing and sending it everywhere. “Catherine LaBeau,” she said, shaking her in amusement. “I never met her. You might not have already know this, father, but the costs Themis puts into us, even with usury and over charging is significant. World wide, the company maintains a set number of Erinyes at any given time. So, the only way to get in, is for one to retire, or… Well, we call it carrying the shield. Catherine was a first generation Erinys. She was killed in a fire fight at the inauguration of the first NorthAMFed President, it was one of the first high profile jobs we’d gotten.”
She reached into her purse and produced her gold shield and showed it to him. “She held badge 2107 first, and now I do. Until I retire, or I’m called home.”
Father Leonard sighed. “I see. Please forgive an old man for his foolishness.”
Elisa smiled and patted his hand in consolment. “Father, there is nothing to forgive. You didn’t know, and we try not to advertize our supersitions. I have it fairly lucky. Some of the shields are on their eight or ninth owner.” He forced a smile as his acceptance of her statement.
“Now, help my failing memory, my daughter, but who is Mike? And why doesn’t she have a more feminine name?” Elisa nodded and finished her current sip of coffee.
“Poor Mike. You remember the break in at the Themis Medical Center on Loughboro Road, last year?”
“Yes, terrible thing. So many people killed and injured.”
“Mike was the security guard who stopped it, but his injuries almost killed him. He was injected with the Dragon’s Blood Stage One Nanites and they went active through a perfect storm of cooincidences engineered by the mastermind of the break in.”
The Priest sighed and took a sip of the coffee. “I’ve never really understood this ‘process’ you go through. Dragon’s Blood you call it?”
Elisa shrugged. “Well, we didn’t name it that. Back at the turn of the century the British were experimenting with some of the prototypes of the nanite revoloution, trying to create super soldiers. They ‘succeeded’ in a way, even though their process killed 80% of the women that underwent it and turned all of the men into women. The Brits thought that was a ‘failure;’ ask a man to lay down his life for King and Country and they don’t bat an eye, but manhood?” She rolled her eyes. “In any event they shelved it for thirty years. Infax, Themis’ parent company found it through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests it had run concerning budget expenditures of that time frame.”
The Priest was perplexed and it showed on his face. “Why would a multinational just run FOA requests?”
“Infax’s business is information,” Diaz told him with a grin. “All kinds, secrets, patents, customer profiles, data mineing, it’s all information. When they found out about the process, they bought the patents from His Majesties’ Government thinking that they could make it work, thirty years of progress and all that.” She shrugged and took another sip of coffee. “They couldn’t, but by then they knew why, it has to do with how the nanites awakened the Ki of the person undergoing it. Wierd, machines, waking up something that was once considered metaphysical. Anyway, Infax decided it had a product it could market to the one group of people who would pay anything for it and thus the Erinyes were born.”
Father Leonard shook his head in amazement. “The things I have lived to see,” he said softly, then cleared his throat. “So, when this criminal injected Mike…?”
“It was either finish the process, or die,” she said softly. “I spend the better part of two hours going over his…her…file. In the three weeks she had been out of the tank, she’d done nothing but paperwork for the other girls. It was obvious Mike was on a slide into self destruction. It wasn’t something I was prepared to allow.”
Like many paramilitary organizations, police departments, espionage agencies and old fashioned armed forces units, people without a proprer work ethic were rarely a problem. This type of work depended on self starters who identified issues and started on them without needing direction from above. And while every organization had it’s share of layabouts, the amount of psych profiling that went into hiring decisions for most of Themis’ divisions insured this ‘share’ was a small one.
By the time Elisa had gone over her file, Mike had finished moving into her old cube, decorated it, gotten the worksation up and running and was walking Kallie the intern through the torture that was bureaucratic form completion. “There you go, kid, one Myrmidon task sheet that even the grunts won’t be able to get confused over.”
“Thanks Mike!” The office’s youngest intern and mascot grinned as she scampered off to Diana.
“She’ll be in a tank within a week of her eighteenth birthday,” Elisa opined, watching the teenager depart.
Mike looked over to Elisa, nodding. “Thanks for being patient with me there. How can I help you?” Diaz favored the new woman with a measuring gaze. She was almost sitting at attention. On the floor, it was apparent this was far too superior to subordinate and Mike was falling into NCO mode.
“I would like to speak to you in my office for a few moments, if you have the time.” While it wasn’t the best option, hopefully it could defuse things a bit.
“You got it.” She stood from the desk and nodded to the smaller woman. “I’m not expecting another paperwork glut until after the Apocalypse Twins get back in from that kidnapping investigation.”
She nodded patiently. “Thank you for assisting Kallie.”
“I was the one who had to process most of those requests when me and Jake weren’t out on rotation. Ain’t much call for heavies in the states here unless something goes completely stupid.”
Elisa nodded as they entered her new office and she shut the door before walking over to the desk and leaned back against it. “This isn’t a formal talk, but I do need to discuss a few things with you.”
Mike sighed an almost pathetic sigh. “This is pertaining to some of my bad habits?”
Elisa thought quietly for a moment of how best to proceed. “It’s about a number of things, hopefully all of which will be to your betterment. We have you here filing papers, but the company cannot afford to have someone as heavily augmented as you flying a desk forever, and it’s not exactly fair to you, as your administrative skills are rather… lacking beyond the capacity to expedite paperwork.”
Mike chewed on her lower lip for a few moments, not meeting Elisa’s gaze. “So when do you think would be an appropriate time to throw my hat back in?”
Diaz shrugged some of her own frustration. “You represent a bit of a dilemma as I have been going over your training file with Diana and Tyson. You’ve adapted rather well to your new condition, given the circumstances better than we expected in fact.”
“If this is adapting well, I don’t want to see adapting poorly.”
She nodded. “Agreed, but you aren’t going to be able to get past anything if you stay cloistered in the offices and the coffins.” She held her hand up as Mike started to form a protest, “Yes I am aware that you can’t afford anything else, being as strapped for cash as Kait usually is, which is quite bluntly one of the things that needs to change.”
Mike didn’t respond and taken to looking away again. Hiding from the truth of things from what Elisa remembered was primarily how Mike dealt with the world. Ignore problems, until they blew up and bit him. She decided to try a different tack. “Both the Erinyes and Myrmidon boards are open, Mike, why you haven’t bid out for any of the contracts?”
Rapidly, almost so fast that if she hadn’t been watching for it, Elisa would have missed it, Mike’s eyes met hers then flashed away again. “Partly being nervous as hell, I’ll admit, but partly the training. I’m having problems re-adjusting tactically to…” She made a vague gesture at herself to indicate her condition.
“Alright, please explain to me these training problems in your own words.”
Mike took a breath and collected her thoughts. “We have two types, that our offices care about anyway, Myrmidons and Erinyes.” Elisa contained a chuckle at the purposeful exclusion of the Cerebus Division, an old Army/Marine rivalry neither division commander seemed interested in discouraging. “I was a heavy myrmidon, and the training I went through was intensive in it’s own right, but I didn’t get drilled in investigative techniques, forensics, interrogations or any of the other law enforcement operational procedure, which leaves me floating in the ‘more hindrance than help’ category there.”
“On top off that, yes the Dragon-Blood shit I got dumped in me did make me faster, a lot faster, but because I’m still cybered up like a heavy myrmidon my reflexes and speed aren’t up to the level the Erinyes operate at. I can’t get any of the Ki techniques Chai’s been trying to drill into me down, and the only girls from this office here that can’t run rings around my ass are the thundering new-bloods who are still too impressed with themselves to pay attention to what they’re doing.”
Elisa nodded mildly. “Ah, how well I remember the joys of humiliating ‘Miss Peeler’. Those are good answers, and more complete and honest than I would have expected from you.”
“Blame the hormones, I do.”
“I’ll take that under advisement.” Elisa purposefully remained silent, letting it draw out until Mike licked her lips, uncomfortable and ground on.
“On the Myrmidon side of things I can’t maneuver in the heavy plate as well, or use the power frames properly because every time I do I start getting headaches and vertigo. I don’t know why, as I’ve never had problems before. I can wear the light plate just fine, and it doesn’t screw my mobility because I’m actually too strong for it. The problem there is every time I try to do a squad training run I wind up getting too far ahead of the rest of the team because they can’t keep up. I can’t ratchet it back enough to keep from getting into bad spots. For me, slow and steady seems to actually run in the range of a hyperactive five-year-old rolling in a pile of sugar once I start getting mentally geared up for training.”
She made a mental decision and shrugged, “So I’m falling somewhere between an Erinyes and a Heavy Myrmidon capability-wise, but without the real advantages. I’m a lot stronger and tougher than an Erinyes, but I have a problem keeping up. I’m a helluva lot faster than any Myrmidon, but I can’t roll back the hyperactive need for speed to function.”
Elisa nodded. “All right, very complete, and very thorough answers. Chai mentioned that you felt like a mule with no one to kick and nothing to do.”
“That’s about the size of it. Add to that the lovely little psych problems and I’m not exactly enthused, even though I’m chomping back the urge to get out and just DO the shit.”
“Well I can shed some light on your problems with the Heavy Plate and power frames, as it goes hand-in hand with your inability to slow down when you start moving and your Ki problems.”
Elisa returned to her desk and brought up her workstation. A few gestures had the various reports called and floating in ghostly full color holograms above her desk. She got the charts big enough to be comfortably seen and began to tick off what each meant. “This is all Chai and Evangeline’s notes, and those two have spent a significant amount of time on you. Your Ki is there, but it’s not as outwardly strong as normal, and Chai thinks you’re internalizing it, which might account for your recent coping skills and… other things.”
“Quite frankly that Ki problem is why we never try to outfit Erinyes for heavy armor. In fact the only power frames we operate are the Gorgon power armor units which are built to accommodate that problem using the same materiel sheathing for the pilot as the Fury armor, which enhances the Ki effect around the wearer.”
“So I need to train and get checked out on the Fury armor?” From the intense lack of interest, it was obvious Mike would rather go have a root canal without pain killers than put on a body stocking. “I mean, I like the body-hugging, slick, latex-like suits on the other girls but I’m not exactly bouncing with girlish delight over the thought of actually wearing one myself.” Elisa laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Yes, I think that would be best, although we may need to do some reinforcement of the armor to account for your lessened mobility. Do you think you’re ready to out into the field again?”
She sighed and finally met Elisa’s eyes. “I think I can cope. Just the thought of running around in damn near glittery latex doesn’t exactly fill me with glee.”
“I can understand and appreciate that Mike, however, you’re going to need to use the equipment best suited to you, no matter how obnoxious it feels.”
Elisa could see the NCO swallow the order, no matter how delicately phrased and make it her own. “Is there anything else, ma’am?”
Diaz made a gesture and the charts floating above her desk changed to pictures of the Georgetown Super Mall, the morning after. They might have been pictures coming out of third world hell hole that had constantly been at war, not an upscale shopping Mecca. “It goes back to your last mission. I do understand and appreciate why you did what you did, but your methods were atrocious and caused more damage than needed to happen.”
It was apparent Mike had not seen these pictures before, and other than morbid curiosity there was no real reason he should have. The bodies had all been identified as terrorists, or civilians killed by terrorists so both Mike and Jake had been cleared of any manslaughter or accidental shootings, the damage was just numbers on a spreadsheet of debt. Until now, until she actually saw businesses destroyed. “It… it didn’t seem that bad at the time,” she said weakly. “Of course, I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the collateral damage either.”
Mike flipped through the photos grimly and then stopped, staring at the image, shaking slightly. “This was the first thing me and Jake saw when we came through.” The image Mike was fixated on was the body of a child, no more than ten years old, probably younger, autopsy report showed death by gunshot wound.
“Oh.” The word was weak, and didn’t exactly convey the depth of how she felt, but it wasn’t hard to imagine what was running through the former Myrmidon’s head.
“When we saw that, we clicked off the safety interlocks and pretty much decided we were going to kill everything. Didn’t even have to say a word. We saw that kid and it was Ecuador all over again. Maybe if they hadn’t shot him in the takeover or whenever things would have been different. Probably would have stuck to sidearms; they would have done the job as well.” Mike just shook her head. “But we weren’t ready for that when we kicked in the door. We were ready for a fight. Not dead kids.” Elisa remembered belatedly that myrmidons had recorders built into their cyberware, and the new woman’s voice was distant, reliving a small nightmare as she reviewed everything again. Mike was probably watching it all happen again as she spoke.
The supervisor decided to press things home. “What could you have done differently?” She had to get Mike’s mind off the child, and fast. That train of thought was a death spiral that would have gone straight back to the seeming nightmare her life had become. At least Holtman was still human.
“The mini-gun was SMART linked to the rig. I could have used the interrupter in something closer to semi-auto after tagging all the IFF targets.” Mike seemed to snap out of it, at least regain her composure at being asked to think technically rather than emotionally.
“Why didn’t you?”
Mike’s eyes met and locked with Elisa’s as she accepted her responsibility. “I target fixated on getting to Kait and Chai after seeing the kid. Nothing else mattered.”
A gesture dismissed the images the new woman sighed in relief. “Good. I want you to remember that so you don’t fall into that trap again.”
“Now, I have some payback to dish out on a personal level. There’s no coin, but it would get you out and used to things. Someone kidnapped my nephew and I need help getting him back. Think you’re up to doing things subtle?”
A demonic fire lit behind Mike’s innocent, hazel eyes. “You need someone to hurt? I’m all in.”
Elisa smiled. “Good, let’s get you suited up.”
There’s security, and then there’s security.
There are, in fact, few places as difficult to access as a regional Main Armory for a Themis facility. Between enough small arms and ammunition to equip a medium sized army, which was, infact a fairly accurate description of a Themis Regional HQ, the power frames and a few vehicles that weren’t legally tanks, there were plenty of dour faced rugged men to discourage casual shopping by non-employees. The first stop was Uniform division for the Fury Armor Elisa guessed correctly that Mike had not picked up yet.
She stared at the plastic wrapped suit on the counter after signing for it for a full minute before Elisa prompted her with, “I promise, it won’t bite.” Mike jerked and picked up the package, the clear sealed plastic it was incased in making it easer to casually grab, then followed the supervisor into the locker room.
Despite expectation, Mike was rapidly learning that women’s toliets, showers or locker rooms were not, in fact any nicer than the men’s versions. Elisa went directly to her locker and opened it. Then with the purposeful, yet relaxed movements of someone completely at ease with herself, she began to disrobe.
Even before his encounter with Kudzu, Elisa wasn’t a woman Mike would have persued. Their ages were somewhat markedly different, but more to the point, from the few times Mike had worked with the Fury, her rigid professionalism had cemented her as respected veteran in his mind, not a possible bedmate. Now looking at her curvy form, with her perfect light brown skin, Mike finally got some of the scrawlings that had been on the restroom stalls in the barracks. She removed her own armor and walked over, nude, revealing three ugly looking bruises dotted across her stomach around her navel. “Everything alright, Mike?” she asked, jolting the new Erinys out of her appreciative stare.
“What… I’m sorry, I don’t mean…”
She looked down and smiled. “Ah, yes, those still kind of hurt. AK-74, caught a burst at about two meters.” She shrugged. “Wasn’t fast enough. Maybe I’m getting too old for this.”
Blushing fiercely, Mike got her own locker open and stripped down and though she made a brave face of it, she was no where near as comfortable being naked as she was. “I didn’t think the armor was that good,” she managed from facing into the locker.
“I hope you never find out, but I doubt that will be the case. The fabric is remarkably tough, though. It is rather like the biofeedback suit in the powerframe sims,” she told him “You’ll feel some hard things lining it, autoinectors, bio monitors, etc. Try not to think about it.”
“Believe me,” Mike replied around a fierce blush, “I’m desperately trying not to think about hard things touching me.”
She reached out and placed a comforting hand on Mike’s shoulder, causing the blush to deepen to burning hot levels. “Be whoever you want to be, Mike, that’s ok. I will advise you to try it before you decide, but no one here will force you to.” Mike forced a nod, unable to met her gaze. “And we all know what it’s like to be a stranger in our own body. I wish we had a cure for you like the one we got, but we…I…am here for you, ok?”
Mike nodded, the blush finally begining to fade from her skin. “Thanks, Miss D…Elisa, thank you.” She made a gesture at the fury armor Elisa was holding. “Any tricks to pass on?”
“No,” she admitted with a smile, and holding up the slinky armor. “Putting this thing on is a challenge, but you get used to it. It opened on the right side here, see? From the armpit to hip this seam will close by a nanite assembler. Now, right here is a thumb pad reader, that’s how you open it.”
Mike pressed her thumb against the spot in the armpit Elisa indicated and the suit opened along it’s seam. “I’d always wondered,” she muttered as she began to gather up the left leg like a stocking, mimicing Diaz’s motions. The suit had a ‘foot’ attached to it, that, having been made to her exact measure made it literally a second skin. Pulling the garment on was far more sensuous than Mike was prepared for. The biosuit she’d mentioned was a simple cotton/spandex affair, no where near as form hugging and embarrisingly intimate as this was.
Holtman watched, fasinated as the suit closed on Elisa her last name appeared above her right breast along with ‘Supervisor’, then her badge, shiny gold came up out of the inky black garment then on her left and right shoulders what appeared to be patches bearing the snarling Medusa Head wreathed by a crown of snakes, that was the symbol of the Erinyes took shape.
New Hardware Discovered, Fury Armor SMART assist Active, Install?
Mike looked down in fasination to see the black latex ‘ripple’ amost as if it was having an arguement with itself as the onboard computer worked out which protocol to use. Finally it stayed it’s original midnight black, but ‘Holtman’ came up over the modest swell of her right breast and, instead of a badge, her combat jump wings and Power Frame Driver awards from her old Myrmidon uniform took up residence on her right. The left shoulder ‘patch’ was the hissing Medusa of the Erinyes, her current assignment, but the right, her ‘combat’ patch was the ringed Shield of Achilles resting over the warrior’s spear and crossed sword, the unit insignia of the Myrmidons. “I don’t get a badge?” she asked with mild amusement.
“You haven’t been sworn yet,” Elisa replied from adjusting the straps of her gloves.
Fury Armor Protocols are now active
Instantly, Mike knew everything that was going on in her body, her tempreture, blood pressure, blood oxyagen levels, EKG and a host of other medical information she had no basis for undertanding, but somehow also ‘knew’ they were all within the accepted Erinys norm. Once she got the information her implant was being flooded with down to a prioritized dull roar, Mike shook her head. “It must be a bitch getting in and out of this thing to use the crapper.”
“Just go in the suit,” Elisa told him from taking out a tactical gun belt and holster from her locker and pulling it on. “The nanites will convert it all to power or recycle what it can’t into something else it can use, chemicals for the auto-injecters, mostly.”
“You’re shitting me!”
“Nope,” she replied. “You should actually take a dump in the suit at least once a week so the reserviors are topped off.” She lifted her leg to the bench that ran down the row of lockers and got the theigh straps for the holster and knife secure. “It’s a sealed wetsuit that’s an impermious outer layer. No one will hear or smell a thing.” A devilish gleam lit her almond colored eye. “And when an Erinys says the Dopeine her suit injected her with is good shit, she means it.”
Elisa walked back over and Mike realized they were still eye to eye. He looked down and saw that the foot pads of her suit had ‘grown’ a four inch wedge heel. Diaz followed the other woman’s gaze and smiled. “What can I say, this is armor made for a woman, and we like our heels. Not to worry, they go flat when I need them to. Ready to go shopping?”
Mike looked down and watched her own foot pads take on the appearance of a set of jungle boots. “I am now,” she replied with a grin. She followed the Hispanic woman through a set of doors marked ARMORY: Authorized Personnel ONLY and with an echoing series of clacks threw the breakers that lit the room.
It was a massive space, the size of a foot ball pitch and lined floor to almost ceiling with rows of caged racks containing a dizzying array of fire power. “Guns,” whispered Mike, reverently. “Lots of guns…” Elisa snorted her amusement and went over to a holographic pedestal. A few gestures brought up the current inventory and she stepped aside.
“So, pick one,” she invited.
Holtman grinned and her hands quickly restricted the search until a somewhat bulky looking device floated in the light of the pedestal, rotating slowly clockwise. It had a pistol grip, but had the body of a large search light. It was labeled Def-CAD Persuader Micro-Missile Launcher. Mike’s grin was somewhere between a sadist being given a new sub and bad kid who just found out they’re still going to get what they want for Christmas. “Can I?” she begged.
Elisa rolled her eyes. “This is Old D. C., Mike, not Beruit. Pick something a bit more subtle, ok?”
“You’re no fun!” Mike pouted, as she went back to browsing.
“Shows what you know,” Diaz purred, causing the new woman to blush again. She stepped forward and gracefully edged Mike out of the controls. “If you want versatility, allow me to recommend…”
Diaz trailed off as she flipped through the lists until a new weapon began to float in the light. It was big, larger than most handguns, but smaller than most SMGs, despite having a second hand grip to help stablize it. A small LED screen was built into the left side. “The Armaments Technologies 219, a bit old, but one of the most reliable selective munitions weapons on the market. SMART assist rigged, double stacked thirty round mags of 9x19 and selective fire of single, burst or full auto.”
Mike raised an eyebrow. “This is your idea of subtle?”
“No, it’s yours,” the supervisor shot back. “Knowing you, I figured this was the least ‘bang’ you’d take.”
“Daddy likes,” she replied, pressing the ‘Issue’ button. With a groan of machinery, one of the racks left it’s place and moved effortlessly down a track to the two women. It opened to Elisa’s thumb and she then touched the authorizer pad, causing a soft click of a releasing lock. Mike examined the group and finally picked one, his thumb causing the rack to release it. She cleared the weapon, being sure it was unloaded before uplinking the SMART assist. The computers in the suit, the weapon and Mike’s head had a conversation and the pistol acknowledged itself and being Mike’s.
She caught the tactical system with a holster that would accept the 219 Elisa threw her and quickly strapped it on. “Shiney,” Mike enthused. “Let’s go be bad girls.”
“Did you folks save room for dessert? Can I bring you something else?”
The waitress’ gaze flipped from the priest to the breathtakingly beautiful woman sitting with him. “I think I’d enjoy another pot of this excellent coffee,” she replied with a smile. “Father?”
The Priest chuckled. “Caffiene isn’t a vice… yet…” he replied. The waitress withdrew while Father Leonard removed a handkerchief to clean his glasses. “So, you took this young woman, you admit was not entirely emotionally stable, gave her a weapon and went looking for trouble?” he asked dourly. He watched her skin darken slightly in her nearly invisible blush. If he had not known her as long as he had, he would have missed it himself.
“When you put it that way, it sounds…”
“Foolish,” he chided her. “In the extreme. What were you thinking, Elisa? Or your manager, this Diana Davenport, what was she thinking, letting you?” Her face lost all expression, not that she held it neutral, more like it went slack like her soul has gone elsewhere.
“Have you ever been in combat, Father?” she asked in a curiously toneless voice. “Watched men die? Killed them?”
The priest reigned in his annoyance and kept his tone civil. “I fail to see what that has to do with anything.”
She blinked and suddenly her expression was back. “If you had, you might understand better, so forgive me father, for I must sin to explain this to you. Right now, you and I, here, in this place, I’m only a little bit alive. I talk, I sit, I laugh, I have remorse for the evils I’ve done, but at my heart, father, I am a warrior. Strange to hear from someone who worked so hard at getting to be a woman, but it’s true. If you’d ever been in combat you would understand how unreal this seems to me.”
She shook her head and began to discreetly point out things at other tables. “Let me finish, Father. This is unreal, because the world is just as primal, just as kill or be killed as it always was. This? Civilization is an illusion, a lie, a candy coating over the ugly reality. The lawyer over there who’s negotiating a contract, the couple behind me who desperately trying to pretend they’re happily married even though they’d rather be screaming at each other. Even the little boy behind you who really wants to steal the lollypop from his little brother but thinks with you here Jesus will see him do it.”
Leonard startled and looked around the room at people he hadn’t taken note of before, right down to the ten year old who was being good so hard he was practically holding a halo over his head. Elisa leaned forward to press her point home. “They’d all rather be open about it father, to kill, to take, to rape, but we dress things up and smile and pretend we’re civilized.” She shook her head. “I’m barely alive here, father. God help me, I’m alive in combat, and I’m alive when I fuck. Mike is the same way, put her on the tip of the spear and she’s alive and getting better. I don’t expect you to understand it.”
The Priest’s normally florid complexion went pale. “God forgive me,” he whispered. “That’s why you had so much difficulty conquering your lusts…?”
She shrugged and looked away. “It’s part of it. Part of it was simply I was being a whore and I had no self control, for giving me that, Father, I am grateful to you.” Her dark eyes came back and she forced a smile that didn’t reach them. “Oh, don’t worry about, me father. I may be a soldier, but I’m God’s soldier. In somewhere between two weeks and six months from now Tom Vannoy will give me a ring and propose marriage. I’ll pretend to be surprised and burst into tears and say yes and give him a pile of beautiful little babies that I will dutifully raise as good Catholics.”
She leaned forward, her features a strange and somewhat terrifing cross between the killer and the vulnerable young woman she appeared to be. “But, remember Father, just because the lioness is behind bars in the zoo, doesn’t mean she isn’t wondering what you taste like.”
“Elisa Maria Alya Diaz,” Joshua replied, softly, leaning forward to cow the killer back into her cage. “You are not a lioness, or a killer, or anything like the fiends you have brought to justice and to think of yourself so is an insult to your parents, God bless their memory, myself for the time I have put into you, and God Himself, for His love and sacrifice for you.”
The fury blinked and subconsciously leaned backward as the Priest walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death without fear. “What is more as a confirmed Catholic who should detest her sin I admonish you for wallowing in it and agrandizing yourself with it! You may have whored yourself, but you were forgiven for it and have defeated that demon! Do not give it power over you again! And no matter how many times I must tell you, this answer will not change, violence in self defense or defense of society is no sin!”
“Yes, father!” she stammered, awed at this fearless side the Jesuit had suddenly shown.
“I may not understand what sense or gift God has given you with this miracle He brought about so that you could become the woman He crafted your soul to be, but do not judge this poor civilization by the failings of us trying to live up to it’s ideals. Judge it by how much we strive to repeal the law of the jungle with the Rule Of Law, of ideals, and governance, and jury where we punish killers and theives and rapists!” He waved a thick finger under her nose in admonishment. “Tonight, as penance for this…outrage…which I as your priest command you to put from your mind you will twice recite the rosary and you will thank God for all the blessings He has granted us in the Civilization we have built. The only illusion here, is your inability to see it. Am I clear?”
She reached up and took his hand in hers as she leaned forward and kissed the Jesuit ring he wore. “I hear and obey,” she acquiesced. “Forgive me, Father, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Of course you did!” Leonard snapped back, but with a grandfatherly smile to soften the rebuke. “I questioned your judgement and you were going to put the nosy old man in his place! And no matter how well deserved I was for that putting, you my daughter cannot wallow in sin. You are better than that.”
She nodded, her eyes down cast. “Yes father, thank you.”
The new coffee pot arrived and Josuha pour her cup first as a peace offering, then his own. While stirred in the heavy cream from the decanter they were sharing he asked, “Now that we have that sorted, what happened when you returned to the hotel?”
She stirred softly as she shook her head in rememberence. “Well, you can imagine after the shooting the awards were in complete dissarray. No one wanted to risk being shot and most of the weekend was canceled. They gave out the awards but in an empty auditorium with a small handull of die hard fans and one extremely loud little protestor who held that writing was going to depopulate the Earth of trees.”
Joshua rolled his eyes. “Some people.”
“Klaus was livid, of course,” Elisa replied with a chuckle. “Plough The Tender Green, was awarded last and all the other authors and publishers blamed Klaus personallly for what happened, so he was completely snubbed.” She sighed in contentment. “It was a beautiful thing to watch, Father…”
“A good Catholic should not take pleasure in someone else’s misfortune, Elisa,” he admonished. “No matter how well deserved or karmically balanced…”
“Are we not called upon to celebrate and rejoice in the works of God, Father?” The Priest snorted, but managed not to spit take his sip of coffee. “So, now there was just the long wait for putting the as… ah, ahem, the client back on his flight to Germany. Tom, Mike and I headed to the Mall.”
The old captial of the former United States had been built in a swamp. Before the invention of air conditioning, the Ambassador to the United States from the British Empire and his staff recieved ‘Tropics Dispensation’ pay for the swelters they endured. Now that the seas had risen because of dislodgement of most of the Anartica ice shelves, most of what had been swamp was now ocean inlet, if not bay. Fortunately the seas had risen slowly enough that measures could be taken to fight it.
There were many places were dykes and sea walls had been constructed, but in some instances, such a dyke would be nearly impossible to make long enough, so the ‘bowl’ had been invented. Massive earthen and concrete dams had been constructed, not keep water in and make an artifical lake, but to keep it out and make an artifical ‘island’, below the new sea level. These dotted and criscrossed the old capital, saving historic landmarks and buildings, some having their basements fortifed and letting them flood creating an American ‘Venice’ with buildings seeming to rise up out of the bay.
The largest of these new ‘Bowls’ was the Smithsonian Mall. A roughly T shaped sunken island that ran from the water lapped steps of Capital Hill incasing the entire Smithsonian Musium complex, all the way over to the Lincoln Memorial, then north to encompass the White House which was now the most exclusive Hotel in Old DC.
In the exact center rose the obilisk of the Washinton memorial, ringed in the collection of flags of the former nations that made up the new North American Federation, Canada, Mexico, United States, over and over around the pillar. Elisa stood infront of the bench that the ransom demand had indicated, a small bag of cash in her left hand, freeing her right to get at her pistol and tried to look calm. The Mall still had a number of tourists wondering about, any one of which could be the kidnapper, or someone working for them.
Or just some wage slave who came here on their vacation. A shoot out here would be hip deep in ‘non’combatant victims easily, doubtlessly what the kidnapper hoped. A number of men and a few women had taken appreciative stares of the Fury in her armor, which Elisa had to admit did her ego a world of good, but none had aroused her Ki as though they might be the criminal she was looking for.
I hate this, Elisa thought that the radio implant in her skull.
Too many targets, and too many innocents.
“It works both ways,” Tom’s voice soothed her. “While the kidnapper is hiding in the crowd, the crowd is also hiding us.” Elisa didn’t look for her ‘guardian angel,’ indeed, didn’t know where he was. Only that he was somewhere within two miles looking at her through the scope of a rifle that end the life of anyone he choose with a single round, even from that distance.
“Jesus,” Mike swore, “How do you girls put up with all this?” she demanded. “Do I really need to know how well my kidneys are functioning?”
From the tone of his voice, it was obvious that Tom tried valiently and failed to resist making a comment, noting, “Yeah, all these shiny lights and buttons must really confuse an ex-Myrmidon. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you to catch up.”
Mike’s voice dripped a saccharine honey that had Elisa wondering if the two were going to become steadfast friends or the most bitter of enemies. “Remember,” she drawled, “once you pull the pin, Miss Grenade is no longer your Friend…”
Set your alert filter to important, Elisa thought into the radio.
That should take care of the stupid stuff. I’ll help you do up a custom later.
“What is he doing here?” demanded Tom’s voice, right as the hairs started to stand up on the back of Elisa’s neck. With the casualness of coiled spring, Elisa turned in the direction her Ki was nudging her. In that direction was a DC Park Ranger on a horse looking the other way, a small gaggle of teenagers doubtlessly looking for a dark corner of the bowl to start molesting each other and…there.
There he was, still mousy, still wearing clothes too big for him, but there was no mistaking the crooked nose of Johann Gevalia. Their eyes met when he stole another glance and he froze for a moment, knowing he was ‘made’.
Mike, if he rabbits…
“I’ll be on him like stink on shit,” the other replied. Elisa tagged the freightened looking young man with a question mark in her IFF system before reaching up and making a beconning gesture with one finger. The reporter took a hesitant step backward, working himself up to flee, right into the gloved hand of Mike who collected a handfull of the other’s jacket and frog marched him over the bench.
“What’s your hurry, newshound?” demanded Mike as she dealt with the squiriming journalist. “Come over and get the rest of the story!”
“Johann,” greeted Elisa far more calmly than she actually felt.
“Fräulein Diaz,” the boy stammered. “Wh… what are the odds of meeting you…?”
“Indeed,” drawled the Fury with weighty meaning. “Johann, there is a long tradition of cops and reporters dancing around the truth with each other, but we’re going to skip all that tonight, alright?” The young man nodded vigoriously as the color drained out of Elisa’s face and her vissage became terrifying to behold. “Because if you lie to me in the mood I’m in I’m likely to do something rash and permanent to you!” She leaned forward and the shadows made her face a demonic mask every bit as terrfying as the logo of the Erinyes. “Verstehen?”
“Ja!” the boy stammered. “Ja, Fräulein!”
“Good, now, I’m going to count to three, and if I don’t have a satisfactory explination as to what you’re doing here, well, my boss keeps telling me I should see someone about my temper…”
The reporter held aloft a slip of paper like a talisman to ward off evil. “This, I have this from my hotel room! I packing to go home and this under the door!” Elisa took the paper from him and unfolded it. There, in the same scrawl as the ransome note:
If you want the proof of the evil Klaus is neck deep in, keep an eye on the Fury Elisa Diaz. Washington Monument, 9:30.
“The ransom note said 9:45,” Mike thought out loud after she read the note. “The kidnapper knew you’d be here early.”
“Ransom?” squeaked Johann. “Kidnapper?”
“Yes, Kidnapper,” snapped Elisa. “And if I find out you’re working with…?”
“Nein! Nein!” the reporter swore. “I just follow a lead! Ich schwöre!” Diaz stabbed the young man with a finger in his chest, rooting him to the spot. Her Ki told her the young man was truly terrified and not acting.
Trusting the almost supernatural sense, she made a decision. “You stand where you are and don’t run. There’s nowhere on this planet you can run to that I can’t find you anyway.” She looked up at Mike. “Let him go, I think he knows what’s good for him now.” Mike shrugged and released her hold on the jacket. The diminutive reporter straightened it, but didn’t run.
“Think the kidnapper used him to flush who ever was backing you up?”
“Probably,” Elisa agreed. “Still, they might show. Leave Johann and get back out of sight. Maybe we can convince them he came up to me to ask what was going on.”
“Your play,” Mike replied as she faded back into the shadows.
Gevalia worked his courage up to ask, “Fräulein Diaz, may I ask who has been kidnapped?” Elisa scowled at the small man, then shrugged which immediately brought the reporter’s attention from her face. Whatever else the young man might be, he wasn’t gay.
“My nephew,” she replied with a sigh. “And I better not read about that on the webnews you work for.”
He blinked as his eyes came back up to hers once more. “Ich… I do not think I have ever heard of a Erinyes mention family before. Althought with what is known of the process, I imagine that would strain many bonds of family.”
Elisa snorted. “You have no idea.”
His eyes went far away before he turned back. “Was it worth it?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your die Zuckerstange, Scheisse… how do you say in English? Your… manly organ… yes?”
Diaz rolled her eyes. “My penis? Is that the word you’re risking your life for?”
“I do not mean to offend!” he protested. “I am a journalist. I ask questions. Questions lead to stories which lead to understanding! In my way, I make the world better!” In some way, Elisa saw the zeal in the young man’s protestation, and knew that far from being a garden variety muck raker, he was answering a call to a vocation. He believed in what he was doing. Over come by a sudden sense of seeing something of herself in the young man, Elisa’s over developed, but underutlized mothering sense welled up in her and she couldn’t resist ruffling his unruly mop of brown hair in affection.
“I never wanted it, Johann, so how do you miss something you don’t want? Ask me if it was worth what it did to my family. I am Spannish and I come from a big, catholic family, some of whom won’t speak to me anymore. It hurts me, deeply, my brothers who either don’t speak to me or refuse to. I still love them and I miss them, but despite that hurt, I would undergo the Dragon’s Blood again. You spread understanding, I stand on the thin blue wall and hold back the monsters that prey on civilization. Yes, it is and always will be worth it.”
“Kreuzfahrer,” he whispered to himself. “You believe in what you do, ja?”
“I believe what I do must be done,” she replied. “That I was compensated is only fair.” She paused at Mike’s voice in her mind through the implant and then fixed Johann with a steely gaze. “Keep moving your lips and arms like you’re talking to me, but don’t make a sound,” she ordered. The reporter didn’t pale much as he began to gesture with surprising realism.
What’s up, Mike?
I’ve got a chick that’s really interested in you, Mike thought at her own implant. Another mental command took a picture of the woman and the phone quickly linked to the Themis mainframe for a comparison search.
She’s looked at you and Cronkite wannabe four times now, longer each time and then she’s scanning around. She’s also keeping tabs on the Ranger.
“What’s the description and location?” demanded Tom from his nest.
White female, middle thirties with dark hair, Mike replied.
Jeans and a Kool Kloak ™, forty meters north north east of the old US flag directly in front of the Monument entrance. I’m doing a recognition search now.
“Got her,” Tom replied. “Save the bandwidth, Mike, I know who that is. Elisa, it’s that crazy woman you let go from the air port.”
“Hastings?” demanded Elisa in surprise.
What is she doing here?
“Heads up, Elisa, she’s coming your way. Your eight o’clock.”
“Don’t get between me and her,” Elisa warned Johann quietly as she turned suddenly, causing the woman to stop with a jerk. “Mrs. Hastings, what are you doing here?”
The woman opened her cloak. “I’m unarmed,” she said, obviously working up the courage to continue to come closer. “Please, Agent Diaz, you have to help me…” She looked fearfully over her left shoulder. “He’s watching us!”
Mike, ordered Elisa. “Who is watching us, Mrs. Hastings?”
She came over, obviously upset. “The man who has my Daughter, Sara, and your nephew, Raul! Do you have his money? Tell me you have his money!”
“I have the ransom for my nephew and I want to see Raul,” Elisa told her tightly. “Now.”
“Raul isn’t here,” she replied, slowly reaching into the cloak to produce another folded piece of paper that she held out. “He… he said to give you this.” It was a Smartfilm™ that showed a blindfolded Raul holding a tablet that was set to the New York Times website. Today’s date was prominent. And while Raul had obviously been crying, he was currently putting on a very brave face. The picture shifted to another note, this one stating:
If you want to see your nephew alive again, you will locate the man known as Joshua. He testified in the trial of Gus Danner and when you have located him, alive, you will bring him to Janet. Once she verifies the identity, your nephew will be released.
“You’re in league with this monster?” Elisa demanded quietly.
Janet took a step back. “No! He has my daughter!”
“And he just happens to be interested in the mudlark that put Gus Danner away? The same pedophile that murdered your son?”
“He’s insane!” Hastings hissed back. “He says there is a conspiracy that Joshua can prove! That Klaus and Danner were part of a white slavery ring that is still operating here in DC! He’s constantly going on about how it goes to the highest levels of the Metroplex government! The Mayor, the Chief of Police, they’re all in on it!” Janet swallowed, obviously close to breaking. “Please, please, my daughter…!”
“Alright,” Elisa said finally. She handed her the sack. “Here’s the demand. How does he contact you?”
“He calls me, but you can’t do anything to my phone! He’ll find out! Please, just find this Joshua!”
Elisa made soothing motions. “Stay calm. You have my number, yes?” Hastings nodded. “Good. Call me the moment he contacts you. You can assure him I’m off to find this ‘Joshua’ just keep me informed of everything he says. He may let something slip that will point us to where he has our loved ones.”
“I will.” She sighed, clinging to her emotions by a thread. “Thank you, thank you Agent Diaz.” Janet turned and walked hurriedly back the way she had come.
Once she was completely out of sight, Johann looked up at the Fury. “You believe her?”
“Not for a second,” Elisa replied. “Now, I suppose if I turn you loose you’ll just follow me, won’t you?”
“For the chance to link Klaus to something like this?” Gevalia replied honestly. “Through Hell itself!”
She sighed. “Fine. Consider yourself embedded. I can’t have you unaccounted for if bulletts start flying, but you do what I say, when I say it, agreed?”
Elisa looked after Hastings for a moment, then sighed. “Alright, follow me,” she ordered and led the way back to where her car was parked.
“Not for a second?” Father Leonard asked from his sip of coffee, an eyebrow being raised in question. Elisa smiled a small, private smile.
“They don’t advertise much, but there are questionable services and ‘industries’ for lack of a better word that both cops and crooks make use of. A professional kidnapper would have made use of a Ransom Escrow Service and a Hostage Hotel.”
“I beg your pardon?” the Priest exclaimed. “Hostage Hotel?”
Diaz fought back a chuckle. “Once the ‘Patriot Act’ was repealed in the twenties, the Privacy Restoration Act made a number of changes to banking privacy laws, the use of numbered accounts and such. Large chunks of it rode the ‘end of the Drug War’ wave as Cannabis was being legalized. But, ironically enough, Chase, Goldman, and Sachs began to offer a secure transaction service, no names, no ID, just an encrypted password and a number for the account. Well, a kidnapper used it and the Feds tried to make them reveal who picked up the money. They refused and it went to court. The old US Supreme Court held that the saving of human life outweighed the State’s interest to punish lawbreakers. So on that ruling came the ‘Hostage Hotel’. They take your kidnapped victim and verify their health, safety and smooth exchange so your loved one isn’t hurt.”
The priest shook his head slowly, remembering older times. “And because this was more ‘old school’ made you suspect Mrs. Hastings?”
Elsa shook her head. “This wasn’t old school, it was strictly amateur hour, though I admit I didn’t realize just how much until we got back into the car and started tracking the cash.”
“You hid a transmitter in the money?” he asked, worried. “Wasn’t that dangerous?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Father, do you have a Nubuck?” The priest shifted and produced his wallet. After a search of the various compartments found a much folded note and handed it to her. From her purse, she produced a small device and held it over the note, when after a moment, a green light illuminated on the device.
Leonard was flummoxed. “My Nubuck was used in a crime?”
“No,” she replied, “they’re all bugged. Embedded in the fibers of the paper is a nano-transmitter and WIFI antenna with a set of micro solar cells for power. It’s part of the bill’s anti-counterfeiting measures. A professional would know that, a tech geek who could ‘hack’ her phone would certainly know that. But the ransom demand specified cash and while cold hard currency is many things, it hasn’t been anonymous in close to a hundred years.”
Tom was waiting on the two girls and their tag along reporter at Elisa’s BMW, carrying an innocus looking case you wouldn’t have thought contained a sniper rifle. Introductions were made and hands shook, despite a firm glance or two from the professional body guard. The case carefully esconsonced in the trunk, the group barely had gotten comfortable before the phone rang and the ghostly head of Juanita de Sewarza was firing off questions like a run away machine gun.
“Elisa?! Do you have Raul? Is he alright? Are you safe? Why don’t I see him…?”
“Juanita, calm down!” snapped Elisa, but not as harshly as she once might have. Even with the compartively low resolution of the hologram, it was obvious that Juanita had done nothing but cry since her son was taken. “I’m sure Raul is safe, and no, I don’t have him yet. I told you I would call the moment I had him.”
“What’s going on?” de Sewarza demanded in a near panic. “I thought that…”
“I have proof of life,” Diaz told her sister in the most reassuring tone of voice she could. “And I’ll have Raul in a little bit, you just have to hold on, ‘Nita.”
With great effort, the hologram composed herself. “I’m trying to, Elisa.”
Elisa worked the controls and a new hologram appeared, this one a map of old DC with a dot that was moving away from the Smithsonian Mall. After a moment it was tagged with the make and model of an older car with it’s license plate and transponder sqwak code. She fixed her sister with a firm gaze that was meant to be reassuring. “My pidgeon is leading us to Raul as we speak, so don’t worry, ok?”
Juanita forced a nodd and a smile to go with it. “I will, I mean, Dios es difícil! Why me? I don’t understand it!”
“There is a piece missing,” Elisa agreed. “I was certain it had something to do with something going on at Tanner and Lakeson…”
“Tanner and Lakeson?” demanded the hologram. “I haven’t worked there for two years, Elisa!”
“What?” the Fury demanded. “Then where…?”
“I thought everyone knew!” Juanita protested. “I had the announcement and the big family party at…”
Diaz frowned. “The big family party you didn’t invite me to? That I found out about from Juan a month later? That party, Juanita? Goodness, how could I have forgotten?!”
The hologram had the grace to look embarrased. “Lo siento mucho,” she said, then after a pause added, “mi hermana” which brought tears to Elisa’s eyes such that she had to quickly engage the car’s autopilot to wipe them.
After a sniff to clear her sinuses, she asked, “Where are you working now, ‘Nita, it could be important.”
“Nolan, Parker and Weinstein.”
It was good that the car was already on automatic, or Elisa’s startled reaction might have caused an accident. “Now it all makes sense!” she shouted. “Juanita, did you work with a woman named Janet Hastings?”
“Janet? No, I don’t think so, but there’s a Michael Hastings that does title work…”
“I have to go, Juanita, stay safe and I’ll see you with Juan in a little while!” she cut the line and quickly pulled up the directory service for Old DC, found the number she wanted and dialed. On the third ring it was picked up and and man’s voice asked,
“Yes, who is this? Do you know what time it is?”
“Mr. Hastings, my name is Elisa Diaz, I am a special agent with Themis, a licensed police services provider for the Boston-Atlanta Metroplex. This is an offical call, do you know where your daughters are…?”
The man’s voice sighed. “Janet put you up to this?”
“Agent Diaz, my daughters are fine. They’re both here and had dinner with me and are now asleep in their rooms. My soon to be ex-wife is insane. We’re legally seperated and I’ve taken out a restraining order against her. If you are a PSP, you’ll have access to the database to show that’s legitimate.”
Elisa and Tom shared a glance. “Sir, I would not be doing my full due dilligence…”
“…If you didn’t have me check,” he finished over the sounds of him getting out of bed. “Yes, I know. One moment.” There were muffled sounds of movement and knocking on doors. “Girls, I want you to take the phone and Identify yourselves…”
“Again?!” a pair of young female voices demanded. Then, “Hi, My name is Michelle Hastings and I’m fine and missing sleep!”
Then a younger voice, “I’m Sara Hastings, is my mommy getting better? Can you help…?” The phone was taken from her then the man’s voice returned.
“Mommy won’t get better until she has some help, sweetheart. There, are you satisfied, Agent?”
“I’m very sorry, sir,” Diaz told him. “Try to have a pleasant night.”
“Was war das?” whispered Johann from the back seat. “I do not understand.” He looked over at Mike who shrugged her own ignorance. Elisa angrily flipped off the autopilot and kicked the BMW up to its top speed. She awkwardly drew her pistol and handed it to Tom.
“I have a muffler in the glove box,” she informed him. “Put it on for me, would you?” For a moment, it seemed like Tom would argue, then he shrugged, cleared the pistol and opened the glove box. From the confusion of the car’s owner’s manual, insurance and registration documents, napkins and the other clutter within it he withdrew the cylindrical muffler and began to screw it onto the muzzle of the pistol.
The firearm muffler, or by its more popular misnomer, the silencer, has been making guns quiet since 1902 in prototype and was commercially patented in 1909. It worked on the same principals as the muffler of a vehicle; the gases of the round are allowed to expand before leaving the barrel. And while they weren’t perfect, most weapons were reduced the simple sound of the action cycling.
From screwing the suppressor onto the barrel, Tom noted that the dot they were following had stopped. “She’s in Duchess Court,” he observed.
“Of course she is!” snarled Elisa. “Will anything about this go right?”
“We can’t go in after her,” Tom protested. “Not after that shake up with Vangie and the Apocalypse Twins!”
Johann turned to Mike in confusion. “Duchess Court?”
Mike chuckled and whispered, “A pair of decommissioned ex-cruise liners; the Caribbean Duchess and the Antilles Duchess, they’ve been turned into cheap housing by being rafted together. Last year some co-workers of ours got into a fire fight discovering a cache of weapons terrorists had hidden and the explosion seriously damaged the Antilles Duchess.”
“She has my family, Tom!”
“And those of us in management got told in no uncertain terms to give this place a wide berth! Don Gessati may not own the place, but he’s hip deep in it!”
“I’m not Boom-Boom!” Elisa growled back at him. “Are you going to help me or not?” He glared at her for a long moment before he shook his head, picked up the pistol’s magazine from the drink holder in the console between them and returned it to the pistol with a snap.
Presenting it to her grip first, he asked, “When have I ever left you without your six covered?”
She smiled and reached up to gently caress his face as she said, “If you take my picture, Johann, you’ll be picking that camera out of your teeth for a week.” The journalist brought his PTN to ear.
“I have call, not taking pictures. Yes, Miezekätzchen?” Tom turned in his seat and gave the journalist a raised eyebrow.
“Pussy cat?” he asked sardonically, but Johann waved him to be quiet.
“I working, beloved…” The phone chirped and a hologram of a strong featured German girl about Johann’s age appeared out of it.
“Working?” the hologram demanded, looking around the car. It lingered on the two Erinyes and its transparent eyes narrowed. “I suppose this is research, ja?”
Elisa reached back and plucked the phone from Johann’s grasp, and stared the hologram in the eye. “Your boyfriend is not cheating on you, Fräulein…?”
It was clear the hologram wasn’t convinced. “Katzen,” she said finally. “Trudle Katzen.”
“And now the pet name makes sense,” chuckled Tom.
“Trudle,” Elisa continued, “I’m 38, so I’m a bit old for Johann, and I prefer my boy toys, er, well, this way,” she said turning the hologram to show her Tom. The body guard shook his head in amusement, but smiled and waved. “As for Mike,” she said, indicateing the other Erinys, “Well, she has only been a she for a couple of weeks, didn’t want to become a she in the first place, and having come from a life where he was busy bedding a host of very female partners, who looked as good or better than me, well, no offense to Johann’s charms, but I think we’re both out of his league.”
Trudle opened her mouth to argue in defense of her boyfriend, realized what she would be arguing for and shook her head. “My apologies, fraulein?”
“Diaz, Elisa Diaz. I am a police service provider, about to go on a raid, and Johann is embedded with us for the story, that’s all.” Trudle considered this for a moment and nodded.
Turning to her man, she said, “Have a safe flight home, Liebhaber!” She purred and the line disconnected. Elisa returned the PTN to Johann with a smile.
“So, Mike and I will go get Raul, while, Tom, you keep over watch, keep an eye on Walter Cronkite here and drive the get away car?”
“I get a key to your car? Does this mean we’re going steady… liebhaber?” he asked with a sardonic smile as he pulled the control console to his side. Elisa said nothing as she and Mike climbed out and walked up the raft from the slip she’d pulled up along side. Presently they were climbing up the gang plank of the Caribbean Duchess.
The liner was a shadow of her former grandeur, dingy stained carpet and dead or dying plants in the planters. There was no graffiti, which almost made it look more worn down in the flickering light of compact florescent bulbs that were on their last legs and flickered like off white neon. A large woman muttered in Spanish, clutching her two children to her as the gun wielding armored Furies crept by in an over lapping tactical formation.
Elisa’s implant had already had a conversation with the main server on the boat and was displaying a map in glowing green over both Erinyes’ vision, guiding them. The server had obligingly offered up a blue print and a little star that was taking them straight to it. Janet had been foolish enough to rent the room in her own name. Surprisingly though, her quarters were above the main deck, in the areas of the ship that once had been more upscale and ‘1st Class’ in the boat’s traveling days. “Are we maintaining a former status?” demanded Mike darkly from behind Elisa.
Before Diaz could answer, she turned a corner to find her way blocked by a small mountain of a man in an expensive looking suit that still didn’t manage to hide the half dozen weapons he had on him. He was dark complected and what hair he had was slicked back with eyes hidden behind dark glasses that Elisa knew from looking at them were smart goggles that were doubtlessly giving the goon information about her.
She heard a door open behind her, and even at Mike’s, “Uh, Elisa…?” she didn’t take her eyes off the goon in front of her.
He nodded. “One professional to another, if you put that away and keep your cool, you’ll walk out of here,” he said. “Otherwise, well, looks like we’ve both danced more than once.”
Elisa raised an eyebrow. “And I’m supposed to just trust…?”
A smile cracked the frosty demeanor, “Hey, thug’s honor!” Another door opened down the hall showing he had a number of friends, all willing to dance to whatever tune the Fury called. She did the math and found she didn’t like the answer to the violent equation. She shrugged and slowly returned the pistol to her thigh holster.
“Play it cool, Mike,” she ordered.
“Your play,” the NCO returned. The Ki that flowed between the groups slowly cooled from the hot, imminent action, to one of a more guarded alertness. Elisa actually began to wonder if she and Mike might just get out of this in one piece. The guard nodded again and opened the door he was guarding, that the map in her vision had said belonged to Janet Hastings.
“He’s waiting for you.”
Diaz carefully made her way around the guard, into an office that was easily the best maintained area on the boat she’d seen, rich panels, sumptuous fabrics and a carpet that was neither thread bare, nor had likely been on the boat when she launched. Behind a desk any 3rd world dictator would have loved to own sat a Made Man who beckoned the ladies deeper into his lair.
“Agent Diaz. Why don’t you and your friend come in and we can discuss things.”
Elisa’s implant superimposed information over her vision in a discreet corner. “Capo Tony ‘The Tiger’ Russo; you’re Don Gessati’s second cousin, by marriage.”
The Tiger, a beak nosed classically featured Italian smiled a smile his name sake would be proud of. “Field Supervisor Elisa Diaz, Old DC Special Operations Team One, it’s nice to know that both of our intelligence groups are earning their pay, right? Congratulations on the promotion, by the way. But, hey, we’re both just middle managers. Let’s all sit down and talk about how we can get out of this without any blood shed, ’cause that will ruin everybody’s day, right?”
Elisa and Mike shared a glance and settled into the chairs the Capo indicated facing his desk, which made his grin widen. “Great, great. Cigar?”
“I don’t smoke,” Diaz declined, earning only a shrug from Russo.
“Too bad,” he replied, helping himself to one and getting it lit. “So, ladies, I have to say, given the conversation I had with Mr. Stoner, you know, your regional VP, I was certain we wouldn’t be having visits from Themis employees.” He dropped the smoldering match into an ash tray and glared across the desk. “Wanna tell me what you’re doing here?”
“What do you care, Tony?” snapped Mike. “It’s not like Don Gessati owns this place.”
“That’s very true,” Russo agreed. “Mr. Gessati, my beloved Cousin, in fact has no holdings or interest in this raft, or any other properties on the water front. I work for a management firm and we run the raft for the owner, a very respectable businessman who values both his privacy and the calm tranquility Duchess Court is famous for.” The smile faded away. “Tranquility certain employees of Themis are famous for…disrupting.”
Elisa shot her partner a ‘keep quiet’ glance and started again. “We’re not looking for trouble, Tony. Truth be told I’m not even here on official business.”
“We offer a discount on rent for police,” Tony returned. “And PSP Contractors, but, then most people don’t apartment shop with guns drawn.”
“Did she tell you we were coming?” Elisa asked. “Your mainframe led us here.”
Tony sighed and made an encompassing gesture, the smoke from his cigar making lazy circles. “I had the tech guys set up an automated response, if the computer was polled by a Themis authorization code it was to say whoever you were looking for was here. So we can have this little chat. You tell me you’re off the reservation, that’s fine, just shifts my beef from your boss to you directly, that’s not a nice position to be in, Ladies.”
Diaz considered for a moment then decided on a different tact. “I’m here for a kidnapper and, I hope, the hostage. It’s personal, as the hostage is my nephew and as the kidnapper isn’t playing by any kind of a professional playbook, I’m understandably worried about my nephew.”
Russo chewed thoughtfully on the end of his cigar for a long moment. “Paulie?” he called to someone behind him. “We got anybody playing a snatch and grab?”
“Not that you OK-ed, boss,” the well dressed Goon replied. Tony tiched between his teeth.
“Hoods today, huh? That’s disrespectful. First, you ladies know we don’t play the game that way.” Elisa nodded, as clichéd as it sounded, cops, cop contractors and crooks did in fact go out of their way to leave family out of business. “So, that was this Janet you were asking about, right? Paulie, we got a Janet rooming with us?”
“Yeah boss, Janet Hastings, rented cabin 212 on the Leo Deck six months ago. She’s paid up through the end of June.”
“The Leo deck?” Demanded Mike.
Russo shrugged. “Hey, blame Harland and Wolff, not me. Paulie, you and Vinnie go pay Mrs. Hastings a visit. How old is your nephew? What’s his name?”
“Raul Miguel Diaz Sewarza,” Elisa answered. “He’s ten.”
The Tiger nodded. “So if Mrs Hastings does have Raul, she’s disrespected me, you two bring them both up here. If not, she gets a free month for the inconvienece and Agent Diaz and I will have a chat about how she’ll make that good.”
Paulie was a good Lieutenant. He kept things organized for Tony, prioritized you could say. When Tony needed something, Paulie was there to see he got it. And Tony wouldn’t have risen to head of the crew if he didn’t have the smarts to recognize talent and reward it. Most of the soldiers on Tony’s crew were solid guys; they knew what was what and that before long they’d get Made too. Tony was good about rewarding his boys.
Tony understood that loyalty was a better bond for a crew than fear. Paulie understood it too. That’s why when one of the boys fucked up; it wasn’t something that was likely to be permanent. Sure, a guy had to take his licks to know he fucked up and not to let it happen again, but it was never something unmanly and everybody forgot about it once you did your time. So when Paulie nodded to Vinnie as he went past, Vinnie didn’t ask a lot of questions. He just fell in behind the Lieutenant, ready to back whatever play he had in mind.
Hey, you couldn’t testify to what you didn’t know, right?
It didn’t surprise Vinnie that Paulie took the stairs. Paulie was getting on in life and he was at that time when a man decided to either let him self go and take the easy way, or step up his game to stay hard. Paulie took the stairs to stay hard, and Vinnie respected that. The Leo Deck was where most of the solid folk lived; folks too proud to get on the dole and scraping by on what work they could find. No body batted an eye at him or Paulie walking through, other than a hopeful glance of a job.
A lot of solid guys came out of the Leo Deck.
When they got to room 212 Vinnie gave the looky-loos the eye and they knew to make themselves scarce. Paulie didn’t knock, he had a master key to the boat and just let himself in while Vinnie stayed loose outside. Paulie’s entrance surprised the older woman who was in the process of handcuffing a kid to her table. Paulie sighed; this meant there would likely be unpleasant work in the future. “Hey, Janet, right? Do me a favor and let the kid loose, k? Your name Raul, son?”
The boy nodded, giving Mrs. Hastings a fearful glance. Paulie sighed again. Nobody should pick on kids, it wasn’t professional. “Yeah, don’t put up any fuss and we’ll all be smiles, right? Mr. Russo wants a word with both of you.” Paulie saw her eyes dart off to his right and figured she had a piece there. He opened his jacket, revealing his own. “I wouldn’t,” he advised. Reaching out, he quickly locked up the woman’s arm in a pain compliance hold and frog marched her out to Vinnie who took over the hold.
Paulie got the kid loose and finally turned towards where she was looking and saw something that, for the first time in his life, understood what crazy really was.
“Well, don’t leave an old man hanging in suspense!” chided Father Leonard. “What was it? What did he see?”
“I’m not shining you on deliberately, father,” she apologized, deftly scooping up the check before he could and handing it back to the waitress with her American Express card. “But, we did just eat and I’m not sure you’d want to hear about it on a full stomach. It’s…disturbing.” His bushy eyebrows ascended his bald pate.
“That bad?” he demanded while the waitress swiped the card through the reader on her ticket pad.
“Janet was obsessed with some very dark aspects of the underworld; stuff that even the mob guys shy away from. White slavery and kiddy porn were the tips of a very deep ice berg. When she lost her son, she started digging at something normal people aren’t really prepared to see. Nice people don’t like to hear about some of the hideous things some people are into.” She sighed and shook her head. “As her mind became unhinged, she saw this grand conspiracy where what she was really finding were the isolated little pus filled pockets of the purveyors of this filth and the monsters that consume it. To call this stuff ‘niche’ market aggrandizes it to biblical proportions.”
A cloud passed over the priest’s face. “And… Raul… saw…?”
“I can only assume so, Father.”
The priest removed his phone from his jacket and tapped at. “Tell Father O’Neil I need to speak with you about a parishioner who will need special counseling and handling. Call me this evening at your convenience to discuss this.” The phone chirped that the message had been sent while Elisa wrote out the tip and pressed her thumb to the receipt. He sighed. “That’s why you didn’t try to find this… uh… Joshua was it?”
She smirked and shook her head. “Find a homeless guy from eight years ago with only a first name to go on? Chances are excellent he’s been dead a long time, and while I’ve worked some obscure leads in my time, I know when I’m beating a dead horse.”
He stood and held her chair for her and then helped her back into her cool cloak before leading the way back out to her car. “What about these ‘pockets’ you said she found? Where they real…?”
She shuddered and nodded. “There are four separate investigations ongoing from that evidence orgy of hers. I really, really hope the scum resist when we kick their doors in.”
Father Leonard realized he’d found a topic he should shy away from, so asked, “So the, ah, businessmen running Duchess Park gave you no grief?”
“Being good family men? Not really.”
“They’re on the up and up, boss,” Paulie announced as he brought the two before the mobster. The big lieutenant began to inform his boss of what he’d seen while Mrs. Hastings sank into the nearby couch and looked around as if lost. Raul walked over to the two women.
“You’re an Erinys,” he declared with the certainty only a ten year old can muster. “The tube says you’re policemen.”
“We’re Police Services Providers,” Elisa corrected with a smile. “When the police have a problem they can’t deal with on their own, they call us.”
“Mom says my Uncle Edwardo worked for Erinys, but they killed him.”
Diaz sighed and shook her head. “No Raul, your mother… your mother misunderstood. It’s complicated, but I was your Uncle Edwardo, Raul and now I’m your Aunt Elisa.”
“Will you take me home?” He asked, making a very brave face, but obviously frightened. “I really want to go home.”
“I will.” Elisa replied. “I promise.” She stood and exchanged a glance with the two mobsters that were finishing their conversation. “We good, Tony?”
The Tiger grinned. “Good? Baby, we’re great! I love a happy ending! You want us to take care of…?” he trailed off, giving the now sobbing Janet a glance. Elisa shook her head.
“Tempting, but no. From what I’ve heard and learned, she’s almost a big a victim here as Raul.” She walked over and got Janet to her feet. “Janet Hastings, as a sworn member of a licensed Police Services Provider I am placing you under arrest for kidnapping in the first degree, use of a PSP in custodial interference and giving false statements to a PSP officer, pending a complete psychological evaluation.” The handcuffs clicking was drowned out by the sobs of Janet Hastings.
“So Klaus really did have nothing to do with it,” Father Leonard said wth some relief as he untied the mooring line on his side of Elisa’s BMW. “And I assume you got Janet Hastings the help she so desperately needed, so that’s also good news!” He turned to find her sitting on the finger doc by the mooring cleat, tears streaming down her face. “Elisa?!” he exclaimed, quickly making the line fast again and moving as quickly as the floating courtesy dock would allow. “Elisa, my daughter, what’s wrong?”
“It’s my fault!” she wailed. “Don’t you see that father?” She buried her face into his shoulder and wailed, “God forgive me! I let him go!”
“It will be alright!” he soothed her, stroking her ebony hair in a slow, gentle motion. “Tell me, daughter, tell me what happened. God will make it right.”
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you all to Lufthansa Flight 18 from the Old D.C. Air and Seaport to Stuttgart, Germany EU. At this time we’d like to invite our first class passengers to begin boarding. All first class passengers, please have your boarding pass, passport and carry on items and report to Gate 71 of the International Concourse B.”
Klaus was in an unusally chipper mood as he stood from the cluster of armored men that had been protecting him for three days. He even shook hands with the team, though he had the sense not to offer his hand to Agent Diaz when he reached her. “I am in your debt, fraulein Diaz,” he proclaimed in oily exuberence.
“I’d say we are even, Herr Klaus,” Elisa returned. “You paid to be kept alive until now and we have kept you so.”
“Of the trivalities of money and business you are correct. But I owe you a debt I cannot repay! In saving my life you showed me how truely short life is! From this moment forward, I intend to live every minute. And I have you to thank for it.”
Elisa smiled her offical issue smile. “It is an honor to be of service,” she told him through clenched teeth. The author bowed stiffly from the neck, scooped up his belongings and marched over to the desk, cutting in line to the protests of the businessman who’s turn he’d coopted without a second thought.
Tom leaned down and whispered, “I’ve been reading some of those books you pointed me to. The ones you said you’d read when you realized you were a transsexual. Seems like I’ve heard that expression before.”
“It’s from the Care Givers Universe series,” she replied, never taking her eyes off Klaus until he dissapeared down the boarding ramp and her spine decompressed.
“Yeah, I thought so!” Vannoy replied. “Isn’t that what a Care Giver says when she really means…”
“…Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, ass hole?” she finished with a sigh. “Yep, it sure is.”
“Ready to get Raul back?” he asked.
“You have to let me kill him, father!” she wailed into his coat. “You have to say it’s alright!”
“Elisa!” he scolded her, clutching her tightly to him, “I will do no such thing!” With her augmented strenght it should have been nothing to her to break his feeble grasp, but hold her he did while she wailed over and over it was her fault. Finally the weeping subsided and he could loosen his grasp a little. “Tell me, daughter, what is the piece I am missing?”
The Fury said nothing, but opened her purse and removed her PTN while activating it. There, floating in transparent, ghostly images from the internet. Images that all had been emailed to her. The priest crossed himself. “God in heaven, protect us,” he whispered as he read.
Der Spiegel: English Edition May 16th
Der Spiegel mourns the murder of a fellow Journalist. Johann Gevalia, at large reporter for the World Web Truth.de was brutally murdered at his home in Birkach by Hans Ritter. Ritter claims that Gevalia mollested his son and has proof of this. Ritter was taken into custody at the scene after being subdued. Luftenant Gruber of the Stuttgart Stadtpolizei made no comment as yet to the alligations of child abuse on the part of Gevalia. Our deepest sympathy goes out to Trudle Katzen, Johann’s fiancee.
››Breaking News Update!‹‹
Sources close to the Stuttgart Stadtpolizei confirm that officials are investigating a possible inappropriate relationship between an unnamed youth, the son of suspected Murderer Hans Ritter and Berndt Klaus. Independant sources confirm the existance of photographs and video of Klaus aproaching a young boy in Scharnhauser Park. Trudle Katzen, fiancee of the murdered journalist Johann Gevalia vehemiately states that Johann had no interactions with, or even knew of the son of Hans Ritter.
When Johann came back all he could talk about was you! The great crusader! You monster! You guarded that piece of filth, you kept him alive, protected him from God’s judgement! For what? Money?! Was it worth it, you Jezebel? You whore!
You let him at that little boy! You put the knife in Hans Ritter’s hand!
You did this! I hope you burn in hell!
“Don’t you see?” Elisa wailed. “He went and he touched that little boy because I saved him! Because I kept him alive! And because he’s the monstruo de mierda he is he did something so that poor boys father would think Johann did it!”
“You aren’t responcible for this, child!” he swore to her. “This is not your fault!”
“It is!” she yelled, bursting into tears once more. “It is, father, please, please let me kill him! I have to make this right! I’ll turn myself in…”
“Elisa Maria Ayla Diaz, on charge of excumunication from the Holy Roman Catholic Church on pain of your immortal soul, I forbid you to touch, harm, molest, or cause harm to come to this miscreant. You are forbidden from taking his life or causeing him harm in any way, or to pay to have others do it for you. Do you understand me?”
“Please…” she begged, “Please, father…”
“Do you understand me?!” he thundered, taking her head into his hands and forceing her tear filled eyes to meet his own. “You are forbidden! Say the words and obey, child!”
The tear streams became a torrent. “Please, father, I can’t let…!”
“You WILL obey me, child!” the priest thundered in a fire and brimstone oration that would have made a southern baptist preacher sick with envy. “Vengence is the sole province of our Lord!” Her eyes closed on her torment and the torrent of tears became a flood. Joshua Leonard’s heart broke, but in the vice of his own conviction he held the pieces in place until at last her will bent and she nodded her head.
“I hear…” she gasped around her sobs, “I submit…” She crumpled against his jacket and shook with her pent up emotions. “…I obey…” Then her voice broke only into the wail of anguish as she gave her grief voice.
“The sin on my head, my beautiful daughter,” he whispered, kissing her shaking head as he worked her PTN. “The sin on my head.” Finally he found the entry in her contact book he was looking for a fought a wave of jealousy at the ruggedly handsome man that smiled out of the hologram. “May God give you the strenght to be the man she needs you to be,” he whispered as he instructed the phone to dial. “You lucky bastard,” he muttered under his breath.
“Hey there, beautiful, I was just thinking of you!”
The priest chuckled. “I doubt it, son. I’m Father Leonard, Elisa’s parish priest.”
“What can I do for you, father? Why are you calling on Elisa’s phone…?”
“Never mind that, son,” the Priest ordered. “I need you to get to D’Angelo’s, yes the Italian place in Alexandria. She’s here and she needs you, son, that’s all you need to know.”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
Joshua Leonard made up his mind and put his eyes skyward. “The sin on my head,” he told the God he had served so faithfully for nearly forty years as he stroked his daughter’s hair.
Thomas Vannoy arrived in a flying wake of water fourteen minutes after the line disconnected. He gave a firm handshake and a steady, clear gaze right into the priets eyes that told him in no uncertain terms he was the kind of man Elisa deserved. With stern instructions to keep any conversation light, cheerful, and brief, the priest gave the custody of his spiritual daughter to her beau and watched them drive off towards her apartment. Joshua was certain she would be pampered and well looked after and sighed. It was time to do the Lord’s Work.
“DC Cab, where you at and where you going?”
“Yes, this is Father Joshua Leonard, I’m at D’Angelo’s resturant in Alexandria. I need a taxi from here to Dutchess Court.”
The Waterford building had some wonderful views of Mt. Vernon Square, usually lit up in the convergence of the various flooded canals, bowls and dykes that dotted the former Capital of the United States. Of course, those apartments were quite expensive and so, ever practical, Elisa had selected an apartment on the opposite side of the building, over looking the muddy waters of the K Street Canal and the flooded office buildings that had once housed the movers and shakers of an old nation. Most were now lower rent housing projects, some had nice biestros or cafes in an attempt to attract a more bohemian and thus upscale clientel.
Elisa had picked it because the K Street Canal made her commute easier both to Themis and Holy Trinity. It had taken time to get her apartment cleaned and restored from the search of Saeder-Krupp agents that had raided it two months ago. So many memories damaged, not to mention the destruction of most of her wardrobe. The corporate spies hadn’t been vicious or spiteful, just through. Still, President Loen had been very generous in his remunerations over the incident.
On her new couch in the living room, Tom Vannoy was making himself comfortable. A word would bring him to her, to her bed, but as Elisa’s eyes fell on the safe that dominated her closet, she realized she had other words to say and it was best to be alone for them.
Fortunately, her gun safe had stymied the two ruffians and protected Diaz’s greatest treasure. She opened the safe, returning her pistol and its magazines to their place and from the top shelf removed a small rosewood box, inlaid with scrimshaw and ivory. It was a old box, it’s wood oiled and rubbed smooth by the hands of the daughters of the Alya line, passed mother to eldest daughter for hundreds of years all the way back to Castille.
Elisa’s possession of it was part of what had caused the feud between her and Juanita, and the fights they’d had over it were legendary. She took the box out to her balcony and knelt down on a cusion she kept there. In the distance, she could make out the steeple of Holy Trinity. The light from the Old Capital and the Dragon’s Blood within her let her see the box easily as she opened it and withdrew the priceless heirloom from within. The rosary was simple affair, pollished alabaster for each decade and simple polished garnets for the beads. The crusifix, doubtlessly stolen Mayan gold glittered in the reflected street and city lights. “So many things to ask forgiveness for,” she whispered to herself as she bowed her head and crossed herself.
She took the rosary in her hand and looked at it once more. “Perhaps, it is time for you to go to your rightful owner,” she admitted to herself. A thought activated the phone portions of her implant and dialed a number she didn’t call often. It was late and went to voice mail, which perhaps was for the best. “Juanita, it’s Elisa. I… I’d like to meet for coffee sometime, whenever you’re free. I have something for you. Call me? Thanks, bye.”
Diaz sighed as she got comfortable on the cushion and looked out onto the city, finally up into unusually clear night sky with stars blazing over head. Settling the beads in her fingers, Elisa began her penance. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost, amen. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”
“Bless me father, for I will sin.”
It was not a pleasant voice, and it belonged to a man who wasn’t pleasant either. But then, this kind of work wasn’t accomplished by pleasant men. Father Leonard sighed and steeled his own resolve. “Under the cushion of God’s love, all things are forgiven, my son.”
Soft noises drifted from the other side of the partition, as if the cushion on the bench was being shifted and a small data chip that might have been meticulously cleaned of any kind of forensic evidence was found and put into a reader. The unpleasant man grunted as a fountain of information might have flooded his mind from the reader. His breath sucked between crooked teeth, knocked that way by a rough life, lived with rough men who fought for what they needed. “You’re not pulling my chain, are you, Father?” he asked finally. “You sure this information the straight dope? We’ll find out if it’s not.”
“My belief in the Gospels is the center of my life, my son,” the priest replied, letting just enough steel enter his voice to show he wasn’t intimidated. There was a long pause such that Joshua wondered if the man had left, then the unpleasant voice drifted through the divider once more.
“Don Gessati sends his compliments, Father.” With a soft click, a plastic Secur-Cred™, an anonymous device that took the place of cash for larger transactions among those who either couldn’t or wouldn’t use normal banking methods, was placed on the window the voice was coming through. “He asks you to see that the orphans get something nice; no charge for the public service.”
“I’ll remember the Don in the service on next Sunday, and pray for the salvation of his soul.”
The laugh that was just heard over the confessional opening sent chills down Leonard’s spine. “You do that, padre. It’ll make his wife happy.”
›››K-WASH NEWSDUMP! SPECIAL REPORT!‹‹‹
Tragic news in the Literary World tonight from the European Union that noted erotic author, Berndt Klaus was found dead in his home in Berlin. Klaus, author of the controversial Plough The Tender Green had run into legal trouble by being accused of an inappropriate relationship with a ten year old boy whose name has not been released. Mr. Klaus died of a heart attack brought about by an overdose of barbiturates.