Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Five

“I can’t believe you told him,” Shane says, his voice quiet in my ear as we sit next to each other in first class, our flight winging its way to Prague.

“What was I supposed to do, Shane?” I ask, glancing over at him. “I had to tell him something. I didn’t give up Leukos, I just told him that…”

“We were spies,” Shane finishes for me.

“He has to know the truth,” I say firmly. “It’s only fair, after everything that’s happened in the last few days.”

“The reason I haven’t told him in the last, you know, DECADE was to keep him safe,” Shane argues.

“Well, now this is the only way he’s safe,” I say, gesturing around the plane. “What we’re getting ready to do.”

“Are you going to tell him everything?” Shane asks and I shake my head.

“No,” I say evenly. “We’re BOTH going to tell him everything. When all of this is over and we get home.”

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” Shane says, settling back in his seat.

“Look, he’s not stupid. He’s known something has been going on, he’s just been too much of a gentleman to ask me what it is,” I say, adjusting my seat back. “When you showed up at the farmhouse, he was probably so turned around, he didn’t know what to think. He probably thought that you and I were having an affair or something.”

This causes us both to have a small body shudder at the thought.

“It’s better this way,” I say, convinced.

“I hope you’re right,” Shane acquiesces, and we’re silent for several long minutes.

“You last name isn’t Cross,” I say after a long pause. “It’s Croft.”

Shane doesn’t say anything for a moment, but a ghost of a smile plays across his lips. “Okay, so I changed a few letters. I’m a spy – what do you expect?”

I laugh quietly as we begin our final descent into the Prague airport.


Several hours later, we’re ensconced in a downtown hotel in Prague, going over our final mission profile. “Are you sure it will work?” I ask for the eighteenth time and Shane sighs in exasperation and the repeated question.

“Yes, it’s going to work,” Shane says. “It’s all worked out.”

“It almost seems too easy,” I say, and Shane nods.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Shane says.

“And you really think Leukos will go for it, despite being off profile? You really think they'll give us backup when we call for it?”

“They’ve wanted him for so long, they’ll go for it,” Shane says confidently, then looks at his watch. “You better get dressed.”

I glance down at the terry bathrobe I’m wrapped in, and then at Shane’s dapper, four thousand dollar suit. “What?” I say with a smile. “I can’t go like this?”


The taxi ride across town takes entirely too little time for me to mentally prepare for the mission ahead, but before I know it, we’ve screeched to a halt in front of the Klacek Přirození, an exclusive club in downtown Prague, a meeting place for executives, CEOs, businessmen, people in power, politicians…

And apparently, terrorist financiers who are able to slip out of our grasp over and over and over...

Shane exits the taxi after paying the driver, and I scoot out after him, sliding my business suit skirt down on my thighs. My hair is pulled into a tight knot, a pair of studious glasses on my nose, and I have a leather briefcase in one hand. Shane’s suit is a glossy black, his longish hair slicked back off his face, accentuating the hard angles of his high cheekbones.

He opens the door of the club for me, and we enter the dark paneled front room, where we are immediately met by the head of the club. “Pan Hruby, Slečinka Vavra, welcome to Klacek Přirození. Is this your first visit to Prague?”

Shane shakes the man’s hand, and then I follow suit. “Not my first time in Prague, but my first time here at the club. Thank you for extending the invitation to me," Shane says smoothly.

“We always welcome our brothers from the West who help bring commerce and prosperity to our great city,” the man says easily, with a slight bow. “There is a bar through that door,” he gestures, “and several conference rooms upstairs. There is a cigar bar, as well as a library, with Wi Fi access. Perhaps my staff can bring you and your assistant a cocktail as you settle in?”

“That would be lovely,” I say easily. “We have some figures to review and a report to prepare for Munich before we can really settle in and enjoy all your facility has to offer.”

“Of course,” he says. “The library is very comfortable – up the stairs, and it’s the first door on your left.”

We exchange thanks, place a drink order for both of us, then walk slowly up the stairs, noting egress points and the apparent lack of security but for discreetly placed cameras. I suppose when the clientele is so exclusive, bodyguards become less and less necessary.

Shane and I enter the library, sitting down at a long oak table, where we go through the guise of booting up a laptop and spreading out several papers. “I must use the restroom before we begin,” Shane says, and I agree that I must do the same. We both exit, my purse over my shoulder, Shane’s hand in his pocket.

We slip quietly down the hall in tandem, looking from room to room as though searching for the bathrooms, both of us freezing as we see who is in the largest room at the end of the hall.
Stepanek, several of his lieutenants, and… no guards.

How can he be here without guards?

Shane and I have a quick conversation in sign language about how to enter the room, before I turn and casually sling my cardigan sweater over the camera above the door, blocking out the view of whoever might be watching. Before I can even catch my breath, Shane walks into the room confidently, his gun raised and pointing at the center of Stepanek’s forehead.

My own pistol subdues his colleagues, who all sit back down in their chairs at an ordered bark from Shane.

“This is how this is going to work,” Shane says, his voice deadly calm and quiet. “You’re going to make a few calls for us.”

“Calls to whom?” Stepanek asks, his voice almost mocking despite the weapon pointed at him, his English heavily accented. “Mummy and Daddy?”

“No,” Shane says with a ghost of a smile. “You’re going to call off the hit on Connor Cross. And then you’re going to call off the hit on James Cross. And then we’re going to have a little chat.”

"And why on earth would I make those calls?" Stepanek asks, still not moving a muscle.

"Because if you don't," Shane says with an oily smile, "I'm going to shoot you between the eyes right here while my partner kills your colleagues, and then we are going to walk out the door, and watch your whole organization collapse from the inside out. You wouldn't want that, would you? Not after all your hard work for so many years?"

"You wouldn't kill me," Stepanek says, but with a bit more of a waver in his voice. ‘That's always the way’, I think to myself. ‘It's always the men who are most powerful who end up fearing death the most, and the peons of the organization who don't.’ "I'm too valuable."

Shane continues to smile, looking like a cobra about to strike, giving Stepanek time to examine the end of his silenced gun, which he has moved closer to Stepanek's forehead. "Don't count on it." Shane looks lazily around the room, waiting for Stepanek to make his move. "Make the calls. Now."

"I..." Stepanek falters, and I see one of his colleagues, the one closest to me, half rise out of his chair. Without thinking, I swing the butt of my gun against his forehead, dropping him swiftly to the floor with nary a groan. I resume my stance of covering the other guards, not even breaking a sweat as the man bleeds at my feet.

"We aren't afraid of you," Shane says quietly. "Make the calls."

Stepanek's hand trembles ever so slightly as he reaches across the table and retrieves his cell phone. He makes three calls in rapid succession, his Czech speeding along as he cancels the hits and reports to his second in command. Shane looks to me for confirmation - I'm the only one who speaks more than rudimentary Czech of the two of us. I nod that he's made the calls, and then Shane takes the phone, reviewing the numbers dialed. We quickly plug them into a database on Stepanek's laptop, confirming that he spoke to his second in command, and then two hit men.

The hits are cancelled.

Thank god.

"And now, we're going to have a little chat," Shane says, his voice almost teasing.

Stepanek, assuming the threat is over, resumes his cocky demeanor. "Let me guess. You want my recipe for knedlíky, no?"

"No," I say, answering in Czech. "I already know how to make Czech dumplings, thanks."

His eyes widen slightly, realizing I speak more Czech than Shane. "Instead," I say, "you're going to give us all your contacts, all your bank accounts, everything we need to shut down your organization. Do that, and we might let you live."

Stepanek studies me, obviously weighing the truth of my words, but I'm deadly serious. But I can see the flicker in his eyes that says the two of us can't subdue his entire organization.

We're just blackmailers. People out to steal a million or two. That’s what he sees.

I can already see him trying to find an appropriate bribe when Shane speaks again. "Now, Stepanek. Start talking."

"No," Stepanek says, crossing his arms across his chest. "I don't think I have anything to tell you today."

Without blinking, Shane lowers his gun and fires, a bullet slicing through Stepanek's upper leg. He howls in pain, and then Shane and I are engaged by the other men in the room, fists flying and weapons being brandished, until we make short order of them all - two with bullet wounds, two with sound knocks to the head that are going to give them a mighty headache when they finally awaken - several hours from now.

"We aren't playing games," Shane says. "You're done, Stepanek."

And with that, Shane pulls out his cell phone and dials. "This is Agent Croft, agent number 4582319. I've apprehended Vaclav Stepanek at the Klacek Přirození club in Prague. I need housekeeping, a detention crew, and secure transport to return Stepanek to England for extensive questioning before we dismantle his organization. This is priority one - I need agents to report to Klacek Přirození, right now."

I hold my breath, waiting to see what the powers that be of Leukos will say to this request - as it will take them all of two seconds to figure out this was obviously not an authorized mission. "I understand that, sir," Shane says evenly, and I tense. "But we had a lead, and quick action was necessary," he pauses, and then continues. "Agent Sutton is with me, sir," I wait, closing my eyes briefly. "This was my mission to plan and execute, sir. She was only following my direct orders."

I don't think I start breathing again until I hear Shane snap his phone shut with a wide smile. "He says congratulations on a job well done. And I think we might be in line for a promotion for 'taking initiative'."

I grin widely, and Shane pulls me into a one-armed hug even as Stepanek writhes on the floor in pain. "I told you it would work out. Don't you trust me?"

"Always, Shane," I say happily. "Always."


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