Chapter 4

May 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm (The Job) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Parker walked along Oxford Street, staring into the shops as she passed. She wasn’t there for the sales. She’d spent the better part of the past three days scouting the area surrounding Carlson’s London apartment and lab and the entire time she’d felt eyes on her. As she hopped a taxi to head into the city, she sensed that someone was close by. As she made her way back to her own hotel, she could tell someone was watching her.

It pissed her off. She knew who it was. Well, not precisely who, but who in the general sense. The agency didn’t trust her to see the job done, so they’d sent a spotter. She hadn’t had a spotter on her after her third job. The spotter had gotten a little too close and her target had gotten spooked. Parker had done the job and then she’d put the spotter in the hospital. The agency had gotten the message.

This job was bigger and there was potentially more fallout, but the bones of the thing were the same as any job. Get in, kill the target, and get out. She had accepted the job, so she would do it. It was as simple as that, for her. First she had to lose the spotter.

This guy was better than the ones the agency had used in the past. Parker had yet to determine who he was. Searching the crowds behind her, using the shop windows as a mirror, wasn’t helping. It being London and a Saturday, the streets were packed with people. She needed an edge. Scanning the streets, she tried to determine a better vantage point to spot her spotter and found something infinitely more useful. Whipping out her cell phone, Parker punched in the number for her geek friend.

“Petrillo,” he answered on the second ring.

“I need you,” Parker said.

“Oh, if only your definition of that phrase matched mine, I would be a truly blessed man.”

Parker snorted. “You’re married, Tony, and I don’t poach.”

“What my wife doesn’t know, won’t hurt her,” Petrillo suggested.

“Oh she’d know. And I’ve met her. She scares me.” Parker was only half joking. Ava Petrillo was about five feet tall in heels and had the voice and bearing of a drill sergeant.

“Yeah, she scares me, too,” Petrillo admitted. “Ok, what do you need?”

He was all business now. Parker asked him how difficult it was to break into the CCTV camera feeds and had to wait a full minute while Petrillo laughed in her ear.

“Does that mean it’s a piece of cake?” Parker asked, sweetly.

“A piece? Try the whole damn cake and the ice cream to go with it! You can’t just tap into the line and bleed off some feed, Parker. They have security up the yin-yang, bots to chase you out and better bots to fuck up your shit as a matter of course!”

“So you’ll do it?” she asked.

“Fuck yeah! Give me twenty minutes to get set up.”

***

She knew he was there. Seth ran his fingers over the soft leather of the coat in the shop window. He knew her tricks. The windows wouldn’t help her find him. The shops worked more in his favour than in hers. He could step inside and pretend to be shopping while still keeping an eye on her. Purchasing a small item, a scarf or a hat, allowed him to change his appearance on the move.

When the clerk approached him and asked if he needed assistance, Seth stared at her for a full ten seconds without blinking. A slight shake of his head and a whispered no sent her scampering back to the cash desk.

It intrigued him that Parker could sense his presence. He had experienced that very same phenomenon only two other times in his career. It heightened the intensity of the chase. Soon, that ever-present feeling would make her sloppy. She would forget her task in an effort to rid herself of her shadow. Seth hoped that she succeeded at her task. She was his either way, but the euphoria of a job well done would make her ultimate defeat even sweeter.

***

“Walk outside that Starbucks so I can find you on the feed,” Petrillo instructed her.

Parker picked up her Americano and headed for the front door. Standing off to the side, she looked up and down the street. The crowds hadn’t let up and the light was starting to fade a little, creating shadows on everyone’s faces. Checking her watch, she chose a direction and started walking down the street.

“Ok, I’ve got you.”

Petrillo’s voice whispered in her ear. She’d switched her phone over to Bluetooth, to keep her hands free and to make it less obvious that she was no longer working alone.

“Just head down the street at a regular pace and take the first left.”

“I’ll be heading for the lab if I go that way,” Parker reminded him.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Whoever is on your ass will expect you to do that.”

“I’ve already been there today and this jackass was there for it, too.”

“So you’ll look indecisive. Or thorough. Either way, who cares? As long as I can get a decent enough recording of the people around you, it makes little difference.”

Parker sipped her coffee and made her way through the throngs of people. Her regular pace was to power ahead at full steam, but that wouldn’t work for Petrillo. At the corner, she turned left and automatically started scanning the faces of the people around her. Her senses picked up her shadow, but they weren’t honed enough to determine if her spotter was in front of her, behind her, or right beside her.

Halfway to the lab, she determined that if she was going back there anyway, she may as well make the trip useful. She had her gear with her and she wanted a closer look at the inner workings of the place. The security was a bitch. There were roving guards on the grounds, with dogs. Cameras were posted on the fence posts at fifty-foot intervals. Everyone entering and leaving had to pass through a metal detector and were subject to a pat down.

Parker swiped her card through the reader at the gate and pushed it open once the red light switched to green. Clipping her badge to her lapel, she breezed up the short path and stood in the short line near the security desk. Her card’s original owner, one Barry Stump, was resting comfortably, albeit unwillingly, in the bathroom of his tiny fifth floor apartment. His surname turned out to be prophetic, but Parker hadn’t gone in expecting the big O from Barry. Still, he’d given it his all. Then Parker had stuck a tranquilizer dart in the side of his ass and pushed him off the bed.

Petrillo had doctored Barry’s personnel file to include Parker’s picture and a fake name. Parker had changed his ID card to match the information in her new file. Barry’s file still existed, but his ID number had been changed. Someone searching for him by name would have no trouble, but if they searched by number, they’d get the file for ‘Kelly Blatt’.

The ID card would get Parker into the building. After that, she was on her own. Barry knew people on the inside. Parker wouldn’t know a soul. The lab employed 600 people, so she would be able to blend in fairly well in the hallways, but the hallways were useless to her. She needed to get into the lab and she needed time to look around at her leisure.

Lab staff worked in 9-hour shifts. The lab was open from 6am-midnight. Petrillo had noted in her file that Parker, known to the lab as Kelly Blatt, preferred to work the 3pm-midnight shift. She had access to all areas of the lab, including the containment areas, decontamination suites and the vet clinic. Petrillo had obtained the blueprints to the building, but they were old, dating from a time well before Wagner had purchased the building. The façade had remained untouched beyond superficial repairs. Parker had no idea what to expect on the inside.

“Analyzing the data from the recording,” Petrillo announced, just as Parker stepped up to the metal detector.

Clicking the disconnect button, Parker tossed the Bluetooth into a basket along with her bag and her keys. Stepping through the detector, she collected her belongings and walked down the hall. Fitting the device back in her ear, she pressed redial to connect with Petrillo once more.

“I’ve got a program running facial recognition on every still image from the video. It will take several hours to complete,” he warned her.

“I’ve got plenty of time to kill.” Parker wandered down the main hallway, reading the signs on each door. After a full lap, she approached the guard station by the front door. “Today is my first day at this location. Can you tell me how to find the library?”

The guard studied her from head to toe before pointing to the elevator. “It’s on the third floor. Take a left off the elevator, go to the end of the hall and then take a right. It’s halfway down on the left.”

Parker smiled and thanked him for his assistance. Barry’s ID card had listed his title as Librarian. Petrillo had confirmed that Barry held several degrees in library sciences, with a minor in Biochemistry. Parker had changed from her usual jeans and a t-shirt into a knee-length black pencil skirt and crisp white shirt. Walking along Oxford Street in her sensible heels had given her a blister on her right heel. She was glad, now, that she’d had the foresight to alter her outfit. She’d never have passed for a librarian’s assistant in jeans.

As she walked down the third floor hallway, she took in the names of the other offices around her. None was the main lab. Pushing open the door to the library, Parker mentally prepared herself for the game.

Expecting a layout similar to the public libraries she’d been in, Parker was surprised to find that the room was quite small. Less than a thousand square feet, she guessed. There were hardly any books. One wall had floor to ceiling book shelves filled about three-quarters full. The rest of the room had desks with laptop computers on them. Barry’s desk was tucked into a back corner, near the book shelves. The room was completely empty.

Parker crossed the room to Barry’s desk and sat in his chair. His computer was turned on, but he’d locked it. A quick search of the top of his desk proved that he didn’t need to write down his passwords. Checking the phone directory taped to side of the monitor, Parker called IT.

“This is Kelly up in the library,” Parker spoke firmly to the man who had answered. “Today is my first day and I don’t have a login for the computer. Barry hasn’t logged off, either.”

“We’re a little backlogged at the moment, but I can have a guy up there in about an hour.”

“Ok that will be fine. Thank you,” Parker hung up and leaned back in her chair. Petrillo had all of the paperwork set up to show that ‘Kelly Blatt’ had transferred from the Louisiana location and would be starting work that evening. If HR was still in the building and IT thought to consult them, their search would show a file stuffed with commendations and personal references.

The IT guy arrived forty minutes later and stuck around for twenty. It took him about two minutes to tinker with the computer and get her logged on. Since she didn’t have a proper login code, he created a brand new one for her. Once she’d logged on and was ready to begin working, the IT guy perched on the edge of the desk and started to chat her up.

Parker sighed, silently, but gave no outward appearance of being annoyed. If the guy was a little cuter, and she didn’t have other things on her mind, she’d have put some effort into it. Instead, she remained polite while she imagined various ways to kill him and dispose of his body. Undoubtedly someone would come looking for him and that would prove more hassle than the temporary enjoyment of killing him would be worth. It was a thoroughly frustrating realization.

***

Petrillo twiddled his thumbs while he waited for his computer to finish its run. Parker had killed six of the eight hours she had until the staff went home for the night. He would trick their system into thinking that Kelly Blatt had also left for the night. Parker could then scout the building and search the lab for the new dart gun prototypes. Petrillo would have a little extra work to do each time she scanned her card to enter a room, but he wasn’t worried about that.

When his computer pinged, he turned to it and sighed. Of the thirty minutes of footage he had, his computer had found over fifty images of people who had appeared for more than five thousand images, or about three and a half minutes. Isolating the best full-face images of each individual, Petrillo began a second search through the databases for known subjects.

Less than an hour later, he got another ping. Calling up the file his program had highlighted, Petrillo was startled to see it belonged to the agency. He didn’t have the clearance to open it, but Petrillo easily hacked his way through each of the security features.

Seth Nester, 38, had silver eyes and dark brown hair with a hairline that receded all the way to the back of his head. The picture, taken when he’d first joined the agency thirteen years ago, gave Petrillo the willies. He looked like a serial killer. Under occupation, the agency had written the code SN-A-S-98. SN stood for Seth Nester and 98 was the year he’d joined the agency. The A meant that Seth was an assassin, like Parker. The single letter S before the year denoted Seth’s specialty.

Parker had a sniper on her ass.

“Parker!” Petrillo’s voice yelled in her ear.

Parker winced at the piercing sound. “Yeah, I can hear you, loud and freaking clear, Petrillo.”

“That guy who’s following you is a hitter named Seth!”

“And?” she asked.

“And? What do you mean ‘and’?” Petrillo demanded.

“He’s a hitter. What’s your point?” Parker asked.

“You have a hitman on your ass. Doesn’t that concern you?”

“Petrillo, I’m a hitman, remember?”

“Yeah, but Seth is good,” Petrillo replied, then winced. “I don’t mean to say that you’re not, I just mean that he has more experience than you do.”

Parker chuckled. “I’m not worried about Seth. Send me a picture of him, so I know who I’m looking for, but otherwise, just ignore him.”

“How can you be so blasé about this?”

“It’s all part of the job. There will always be a hitter with more experience than me. And there will always be a hitter who is younger and more ambitious than Seth. It’s just a question of which one will get the job done, experience or ambition.”

“How will you know?”

“When I face him.” Parker wasn’t entirely blasé about Seth, but she couldn’t allow his presence to distract her from her job.

But Petrillo thought Seth was good. Better than she was, certainly. But how good? Parker shook her head, trying to quell the blast to her confidence. Her mentor had always reminded her that the single most difficult obstacle to overcome was her own lack of confidence. She knew she could do the job. She had to know it, or she would never be able to achieve success.

But what if Seth really was better than her? Parker had always chosen jobs that allowed her to stay below the radar, because she’d been good at them and didn’t want the target on her back. Was that true? Or did she take those jobs because she feared failure at a bigger job?

“Fuck, Petrillo!” Parker growled. She’d been doing fine until he’d informed her of Seth’s aptitude for the job. “Get into his file and tell me whatever you can about him.”

“Already on it,” Petrillo admitted.

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