Chapter 8

June 27, 2011 at 12:14 am (The Job) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Ingram slammed his fist against the desk. What the hell had Seth been thinking? If Parker had died in that lab, they’d have lost their opportunity to get the job done by the date required. It was too damn late to start with another hitter now. And now the fucking imbecile wasn’t answering his goddamn cell phone!

Ingram paced a quick path from his desk to his window and back. Rubbing his hands over his face, he felt the stubble there. Once Parker had agreed to take on the job, he hadn’t left his office. It was easier to handle situations as they arose when he had access to the agency’s resources.

He hoped to God Seth didn’t become a situation. Ingram knew of no one who could effectively track him. If the decision came down to leave Seth out in the cold, it would fall to Ingram to convey that message. It wouldn’t matter how he worded it, Seth would see him as the enemy. Ingram would spend the rest of his days looking over his shoulder.

The knock on his door was not unexpected. Ingram took a deep breath, but it didn’t ease the pressure that was building up behind his eyes. Striding across the room, the plush carpet dampening the sound, Ingram pulled his office door open. He barely managed to conceal his surprise.

“Jack, what are you still doing here?” Ingram stepped back, allowing the larger man to enter.

Jack Tunn was head of international operations. At 6’7” and 250 pounds, he was an imposing figure. In the early days of the agency, Jack had been one of their best operatives. When he’d retired, Jack had accepted a position at HQ, running ops across the pond. Now, at 58, Jack held the third highest position within the agency as Head of International Operations.

“I understand you have an asset working a job in England.” Jack took a seat on the couch, gesturing for Ingram to join him. “Care to explain why my department knows nothing about this job?”

It rankled that Jack would offer him a seat in his own office. Ingram couldn’t afford to piss him off. Not until the Wagner job was complete anyway. Stepping around the coffee table in the middle of the seating area, he took a seat in the chair across from Jack.

“The reason you don’t know about the Op is because you don’t need to know. This comes from the top, Jack.”

“The top? You mean Leland?”

“No,” Ingram replied and left it at that. Chris Leland was one step above Jack on the power scale, but it was a very shaky step. In the right situations, Jack could veto Leland’s orders simply by asking the board to vote on it. The board consisted of ten people and five of them didn’t care for Leland.

Jack leaned back against the couch. He knew the board wouldn’t vote on an Op that he wasn’t aware of. That meant the orders came from the president of the agency. Giving Ingram autonomy was unusual, but not unheard of. Still, the whole thing smelled funky.

“Who is the target?” Jack asked.

“You don’t need that information.” Ingram tried to keep from feeling smug, but some of it carried through in his tone.

“Careful, Ingram,” Jack warned him. “You’re not a popular person around here.” Jack stood up and walked over to the door. “If anything happened to Leland, you’d be out in the cold. I can think of a few operatives who would like to see that happen.” Without the backing of the agency, Ingram’s safety would be his own to see to. There were just enough female operatives still working for the agency who had a score to settle with Ingram.

Ingram scowled as the door closed behind Jack. He couldn’t wait until Leland was in power and Jack Tunn could be retired, permanently. Ingram would take Leland’s position as Vice President. He ignored Jack’s threat. It would never come to pass. They had everything in place to ensure that their agenda was the only option for the agency.

Ingram’s door opened without the visitor knocking. Leland was expected. Ingram walked over to the sideboard and poured two tumblers of scotch and passed one over.

“What did Tunn want?” Leland swirled the amber liquid in his glass a few turns before belting it back in one shot. Enjoying the burn of the first shot, he held out his glass for another.

“He’s heard about our Op going international and wanted to know why he wasn’t in the loop. I told him it came from the top.” Ingram passed the replenished glass back to Leland and took his seat once more.

“He wasn’t pleased by that, I assume,” Leland smirked. His second glass was for casual sips, though he preferred the sharp hit of a shot.

“He suggested I watch my back. Be careful of who I put my trust in.”

Leland took a careful sip of his scotch, allowing the amusement to fade. Jack wasn’t such a fool as Ingram thought him to be. A man couldn’t be a fool and hold the position he did in the agency. Ingram had a lot left to learn.

“Are you concerned about that?” Leland asked.

“No, I’m not. We have a smart agenda and so far it’s going off without a hitch.”

“You don’t think Jacob was a hitch?”

“A minor one, but I dealt with it. Parker is much better suited for this job than Jacob was.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Jacob wanted the prestige that the kill would have brought him. Parker doesn’t give a shit about that. She wants to go back to the way things were. She thinks that this job will be a one-off and then she can do that very thing.”

“Parker doesn’t have the experience that Jacob had.”

“No, but she’s handling herself quite well so far.”

“Yes, I heard about that mess at Wagner’s lab. Care to explain what happened there?”

“Seth got a little overzealous, is all.”

“Overzealous?” Leland asked, incredulously. “He triggered a full scale lock down in the lab. If Parker had been a little slower on the gun she would be dead and we’d have a big fucking mess to deal with. We don’t have any time to get another hitter up to speed on this job.”

“We won’t need one. Parker will get it done and then she will disappear.”

“You have to rein Seth in. He has to be there to finish the job once Parker’s part is completed.”

Ingram bristled at being told his job, but he quickly swallowed it. He understood that Leland was under a lot of pressure to get this job completed. There was a lot riding on it and a lot of asses on the line if it failed.

“Seth will be there,” Ingram assured him.

***

Seth had temporarily lost sight of Parker as she’d vaulted over the wall and headed into the city. He knew where she was staying, but she hadn’t returned there yet. He wasn’t concerned. He knew where she would be two days from now. The Ides were almost upon them.

Ingram hadn’t been pleased with Seth’s decision to lock down the lab. He wished he’d remained behind to watch her battle that gorilla. He was glad she’d come out on top. She’d passed his test. She would be a worthy opponent.

He missed Josie. He should have brought her with him. Was she still sitting in that office, unmoving? He didn’t think so. The police would have gone over the place top to bottom by now. Josie would have been bundled up and taken in for questioning. He hoped she handled it well.

He would have to see her again.

***

Parker exited the taxi and stepped up to the entrance of the building. She’d been serious about that drink, but she’d delayed the gratification of it by one evening. Her surveillance of Wagner’s London townhouse led her to the [] club. It was open to the public, in a sense. Money was required to get in the door. Not a bribe to the doorman, but the look of money. And an invitation; one did not simply show up and expect to be allowed entrance.

Parker had stopped to do a little shopping earlier in the day after overhearing Wagner on the phone announcing his intention to go to the club later that night. Petrillo had confirmed the name and address of the club which Wagner was likely referring to. Parker hoped his information was correct.

Her dress was by Alexander McQueen and Parker was just feminine enough to hope she didn’t get any blood on it. It was black satin with a deep V in front and back. The skirt was a respectable length, coming to an inch above her knees. It fit like a second skin and showed off her ample curves to perfection. Peacock blue Louboutin’s and a matching purse were her only accessories. The purse was large enough for her knife, a lipstick and her credit card. The dress didn’t allow her to conceal any firearms.

Parker arrived early to the club. Handing her invitation to the doorman, she was pleased to see that it easily passed muster. Petrillo’s recommendation for a counterfeiter had been right on the money. Easier than faking a passport, the invitation to the club meeting had been ready inside of an hour.

Each woman invited to attend the meeting had to meet a few certain criteria. They had to have recently passed several health exams, to ensure the club members didn’t catch any unwanted and difficult to explain sexually transmitted diseases. The club members were required to pass no such exams. The women could not be older than thirty years of age. There was no lower limit.

And, above all, they must be discreet.

The men of the club were powerful, wealthy and highly connected, socially, as well as politically. If a woman left with one man and a week later was seen leaving with another, she was forbidden to discuss the previous engagement with the current club member. Even the whispered suggestion that a tongue had wagged would result in the woman’s immediate blacklisting. She would be barred from the club for life, with no trial and no chance for reinstatement.

Parker’s invitation assured the club members that she had passed all of these criteria. Passing her wrap to the coat check girl, she tucked the claim ticket in her purse and made her way inside. A few young girls milled about, but the men hadn’t arrived yet. She wasn’t much of a drinker, but Parker ordered a glass of red wine to keep her hands occupied. Occasionally she sipped from it, but after an hour her glass was still mostly full. Her mentor had drilled it into her head that a drunk operative was an ineffective one. You made mistakes and took unnecessary risks when you were drunk. The agency took a hard line against alcoholism and any form of drug use. On her own time, Parker could turn into a raging alcoholic if she wanted, but when she was under agency time, she had to be clean and sober.

Parker knew there were a few operatives who were trying to balance the two and some were starting to fail. When the agency determined that an operative was becoming a liability, they were terminated with all due haste. It was safer to avoid the temptation altogether.

The place was starting to fill up. More women were arriving and it didn’t take long to determine the sort of club she’d wandered into. It was a sugar daddy pickup place. The women were all younger even than Parker and the men were mid-50s at their youngest.

“Hello.”

Parker managed to hold back the eye roll, barely. The man was 65 if he was a day and his greeting was directed at her chest. Considering they were almost the same height, the direction of his gaze was distinctly noticeable. He wasn’t a handsome man. His nose stretched the boundaries beyond hawkish into beaklike. His eyes were small and spaced a little too close together. He had thin lips and yellowing teeth. His hair was good. He still had a full head and it had turned a lovely silver colour.

Parker flipped an errant curl from her fire engine red wig back over her shoulder and gave the man almost her full attention. Wagner hadn’t shown up yet so she had time to kill.

“Well, hello.”

“I’ll buy you a wall full of Louboutin’s if you come home with me tonight.”

“Talk about cutting to the chase,” Parker chided, wagging a finger in his face. She enjoyed a very healthy sex drive, but the idea of sleeping with a man over twice her age made her dry up on the spot. Parker continued to flirt with the man, without ever letting him get his hands on her. It required every subtly evasive manoeuvre she could muster to keep him at arm’s length. After twenty minutes she cut him loose.

Wagner had arrived with two men in tow. Ignoring the bar, the three men stood on the threshold of the room and surveyed the offerings. Wagner was the fittest and most attractive of the three. Parker knew him to be married with four children, the oldest being three years Parker’s senior. He’d aged well, but held no appeal for Parker. He was still just a job.

Working her way through the crowd, Parker glided across the room, heading for the ladies room. The sultry swing to her hips set a few old hearts racing dangerously. Before she could slip from the room, Wagner stepped in front of her. His stare was direct and focused on her face. He didn’t try to touch her, didn’t assume he had that right. It was a unique tactic.

He introduced himself and held out his hand to shake hers when she gave him her name. His grip was firm but gentle and he released her hand straight away. He still hadn’t looked at her chest. He asked her to join him for some quiet conversation and led her over to a cozy corner once she’d agreed. Gesturing to one of the wingbacks, he waited for her to be seated before he took his own.

Waiting for him to open the conversation, Parker reflected on the job. If not for that stupid condition regarding the date of the hit, Parker could have led him on, gone home with him and killed him before he’d dropped his trousers. Idly, she wondered if Wagner dipped into the spider venom reserves to test its potency as an alternative for Viagra. A man his age, even in excellent condition, would need some assistance to keep up with a woman half his age.

“Tell me a little about yourself,” Wagner encouraged her.

With an inward sigh, Parker realigned her thoughts to the character she was portraying and began a brief litany of her interests.

***

Jack stood at the window of his office, staring down at the lights of the city without really seeing them. His brief meeting with Ingram hadn’t gained him the knowledge he’d expected it to. Why would the agency’s president shut him out of an Op? What didn’t they want him to know?

Whatever it was, it had to be big. The president didn’t get involved in the day-to-day operations of the agency. A sharp-witted, no-bullshit type of man, Howard Donovan ran the organization like any other business. The menial work got done and he didn’t need to know how or by whom.

Picking up his telephone, Jack placed a call to the president’s office. His assistant, Erica Lincoln-Mollett, answered on the first ring. She had started with the agency straight out of university and worked her way up to the top job for her field. At fifty, she had been with the agency longer than half of the upper management.

“Hello Erica, Jack Tunn here. I’d like to speak with Howard if he’s still in.”

“I’m sorry, Jack, but Mr. Donovan hasn’t been in all day.”

A tiny alarm started to sound in the back of his head, but Jack ignored it for the moment. “Can I reach him at his home number?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Erica admitted. “I haven’t heard from him today. He didn’t call in and when I tried to reach him on his cell phone it went unanswered.”

“Did you mention this to anyone?” Jack asked. That alarm was starting to ring a little louder.

“Yes, of course. I mentioned it to Mr. Leland, but he didn’t think it was anything to get worked up over.” Her voice took on an edge when speaking of Chris Leland. “When I tried to insist that we send someone to Mr. Donovan’s residence to check on him, Mr. Leland vetoed it.” He’d gotten downright rude with her, but Erica wouldn’t spread that sort of talk around. She had her opinions about everyone, but few were privy to them.

“Interesting,” Jack murmured. That alarm had started to clang inside his head now. To have an Op that was sanctioned at the highest levels, marked Need to Know, and the man who supposedly gave the orders was now missing, definitely smelled funky.

“I’ll look into it,” Jack assured her before hanging up the phone.

***

Parker picked her way through the conversational minefield, careful to keep her responses sincere, but neutral. The women attending this event were there for a purpose, as she was supposed to be. She still intended to leave alone at the end of the night.

Wagner had said very little about himself. Parker thought he seemed distracted, but could care less. If he wasn’t interested, it would make things easier when she took her leave. Her seat afforded her a terrific view of the door. She could watch as men arrived and scanned the crowds. A few had already coupled up and taken their leave. It took a brave or desperate woman to agree to sleep with a man fifty years her senior.

Tuning back in to her suitor, Parker asked another inane question about his interests. He had already mentioned his pharmaceutical company. She wondered how he’d dealt with the lock down the previous night. She assumed that a few dead gorillas would be difficult to cover up from the staff.

“Why don’t you tell me about–”

“Enough of the bullshit, Parker,” Wagner cut in, startling her.

Parker barely managed to maintain her neutral expression. She hadn’t given Wagner her real name.

Leaning across the distance, Wagner looked her straight in the eye.

“I need to know who your target is.”

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