Chapter 32

October 28, 2011 at 10:21 am (The Job)

Leinster had drawn out the meeting as long as he could. Leland wouldn’t complain, but the members of the board might. He’d have to wrap up his speech and get on with the reason for the meeting. He found he was having second thoughts about leaving Donovan out in the jungle on his own. And how little good did it do to have those thoughts now, he chided himself.

Leinster tucked away the cue cards he’d drafted for his presentation and then he turned off the projector. Pressing a button on the hidden console of his chair raised the screen from the window, providing them with the gorgeous view once again. Turning to address the board, he opened his mouth to announce the details of the vote when a knock sounded at the door.

He frowned, annoyed at the interruption. Pressing another button on his console to unlock the door, Leinster waited to see what could possibly be so important that his assistant would disobey his strict orders not to disrupt the meeting. The door opened and instead of his assistant standing there, Jack Tunn leaned in.

“Excuse me for interrupting, but there’s someone who belongs in here.” Jack stepped out of the way and Donovan walked into the room.

Donovan looked quite the worse for wear. He had blood and other unknown substances on him. His face was scratched and bleeding. He smelled, which Leinster didn’t appreciate, even knowing where he’d come from. Still, his rightful place was in Leland’s seat.

Leinster turned to stare at Leland. “I find it interesting that you’re here when Mr. Donovan is still alive. Care to explain?”

Before Leland could utter a peep, one of the members of the board jumped in. Frank Bellows, owner of a mid-sized computer chip manufacturing operation based out of Silicon Valley, had been a member for the past five years. Leinster wouldn’t have brought him on and hadn’t voted for him, but he’d been overruled. Since he’d joined, Bellows had done everything in his power to change the operational objectives of the agency.

“We asked Mr. Leland to come in Mr. Donovan’s stead, when Mr. Donovan couldn’t be contacted. It was merely a precautionary measure.”

Leinster accepted that for what it was, a bold-faced lie meant to save face. Whether they wanted to save face with Donovan or him was unclear. “Well, since Mr. Donovan has arrived, safe and sound, I’ll ask Mr. Leland to leave the room.”

Leland was both embarrassed and angry, but he couldn’t show either emotion in front of the board. He rose and graciously offered his chair to Donovan. He even shook the man’s hand. He couldn’t offer any false congratulations. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything at all. Leland walked out of the room without a backward glance.

“Mr. Donovan, welcome to the board. If you’re ready, we were just about to take the vote.”

“Thank you, Mr. Leinster. I am indeed ready to vote.”

“Very well,” Leinster approved, sensing that Donovan was a like-minded individual. “We’ll begin.”

Leland would have continued to walk down the hallway and straight out of the house, but Jack wouldn’t let him. Instead, Jack had several of his guards detain him, prepared to transfer him to the prison on the third floor. He could join Ingram until Donovan decided what was to be done with all of them.

“How did you hope to get away with it?” Jack asked.

“It was a sound plan,” Leland muttered. “If we’d managed to get to Donovan, it would have worked beautifully.”

“Then it’s a good thing one of the board members tipped him off.”

Leland’s jaw dropped at the news. He didn’t know the board members well, but he knew that half of them were on his side. They’d approached him. Still, that left four others to work their own plan to achieve the result they wanted. It’s amazing that with all of the resources that the agency had, one man could still fuck up the works. Technically, it was two people who had fucked up the works. Parker didn’t die when she should have, which led to her feeling compelled to assist Donovan.

Now, with Donovan in the room, the vote would likely be split and then they’d have to call on the new head of the agency to decide it. Leland assumed that position would be offered to Jack. The best that Leland figured he could hope for would be to get his walking papers and not be sanctioned for his part in the Wagner affair. He didn’t want to think about the worst case scenario.

Jack motioned for the guards to take Leland away. Accepting the coffee that Leinster’s assistant offered him, he seated himself on the couch outside the meeting room and prepared to wait for the result.

***

Parker had loitered too long in the infirmary. One of the nurses had inspected the spider bites and determined that she needed to be treated for them. The antivenin was working perfectly, but the bite wounds were still inflamed and oozing a puss-like substance. They refused to take Parker’s word for it that she was fine. Ordering her behind a curtain, they made her strip to her skin and don a hospital gown.

The bites on her neck and shoulders were bad, but the ones on her lower legs were disgusting. The spiders must have ganged up on her and bit her in places that already had bites. Some bites had swollen to twice the size of a quarter. When the nurse told her that the puss was actually the venom being forced out of her body, she almost gagged. After that, she let them do their work in peace.

Simon brought her some coffee when the nurse pulled the curtain back so she could see the room. She sipped it appreciatively, but decided she would kill someone if she didn’t get some real food soon. Simon reached into a pocket of his jacket and removed a wrapped chocolate chocolate chip muffin and handed it to her. He smiled when she snatched it from his hand and tore into it. Setting his coffee on the table next to her bed, he pulled another from his pocket and dug in.

Jack arrived an hour later. Meals had been served to the patients and Simon had requested extra food for the soldiers who were still able-bodied. It was surprisingly good. Steak, French fries, a side salad and a piece of raspberry cheesecake for dessert. Everyone tucked in with enthusiasm until Petrillo joked that it was gorilla meat. Parker chose to ignore him and believe that the cows were flown in specifically so she could have real beef.

“How did the meeting go?” Simon asked.

“Leland was a little shocked when Donovan walked into the room. I’ve since had him detained on level three, along with Ingram and all of the men he’d had guarding the exterior of the house. It seems he had plans to shoot anyone who came up via the outside elevator.”

“He must have been pissed to learn that this facility was kept secret from him,” Parker said, grinning.

“This complex was none of his business and no, I don’t think he took that knowledge well at all,” Jack agreed. “The vote was cast and the result is a 5-3 split in favour of changing the agency’s mandates on political assassinations.”

Parker choked on her steak. Simon pounded on her back to help dislodge the meat. When she could speak again she had to take a deep breath to keep from yelling at Jack. She could see from his expression that this wasn’t news to him. “You knew all along what his vote would be.”

“Yes, I knew.” He waited to see how she would take the news. He didn’t know her well enough yet to anticipate her reactions.

“Why does the board want this?” she asked, buying herself time to determine just what she felt.

“The agency needs to remain competitive. There are a lot of other organizations out there vying for the same work we are and if we can’t offer the clients everything they need, they’ll go elsewhere.”

Parker couldn’t decide if she felt used, or lied to. No one had actually told her how Donovan would vote and she wouldn’t have expected them to, but she admitted that she’d made the assumption he would vote it down.

“You’re angry,” Jack surmised.

“I don’t know what I am,” Parker confessed. “I’ll need some time to process all of this and then I’ll decide. What’s to be done with Ingram and Leland?”

“They’ll be stripped of their positions within the agency.”

“Sanctions?” she asked.

“None,” Jack replied.

“Ok, now I’m angry,” she muttered. Simon’s eyes had also narrowed with Jack’s words. “And Seth?”

“Same. He was following orders, as you were.” Jack could tell the news did not sit well. “Look Parker–”

She held up her hand for silence. “Spare me the corporate rhetoric. I’m fucking pissed that those two assholes basically get off Scott free after cooking up the assassination of one of the board members. I’m taking a leave of absence,” she announced.

Jack tried to placate her. “You’ve been through a worse hell than most people can ever expect to experience and you’re exhausted. You should definitely take some time to recuperate. When you’re ready, we can sit down and discuss this. But,” Jack said, “the agency will need your expertise. You’ve earned the fee for the Wagner job and it will be paid into your account by the end of the week. There’s no going back to the jobs you did before.”

Parker glared at him for pointing out what she’d already realized. Jack offered Simon a similar deal and then took his leave. Parker flopped back against the bed, steaming. She didn’t want to get into it here, with all of the wounded soldiers nearby. Still, she turned to Simon and whispered in his ear.

“I know exactly where I’m spending the first part of my convalescence.”

***

The agency had escorted Ingram back to the US and allowed him to clear any personal belongings from his office before seeing him to the door. He had his salary paid for one year as severance. He knew that getting another job would be a simple matter of going to the next organization and outlining his qualifications.

He was pissed that he’d not had the foresight to save the data he’d collected in each hitter’s personal file to a USB key. It would have proven valuable to the competition. What he could remember would still be worth a lot of money to them. Ingram was determined to make the agency pay for screwing him. He’d been following the board’s orders. Of course the actions hadn’t been sanctioned by the entire board and he knew that. The risks had seemed minimal given the strength of the plan.

Ingram sat at his desk in his home office and booted his laptop. Opening a new document, he began listing names of hitters and the details he could remember about their personal lives. Every hitter had a past. They had a real name, family, complications. The agency knew and kept track of every detail.

Ingram knew their agency names, the aliases they had access to and where they lived. He couldn’t remember the data on all of the hitters, but he had the top ten memorized. He’d added Parker to that list once they’d bumped her up the pay scale. He took great pleasure noting down all of her information. She had more complications than most.

Thirsty, Ingram padded barefoot into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He had several bottles of water he couldn’t remember buying, but then he hadn’t been home in several weeks. Everything else he’d kept in the fridge had grown mold long ago. Grabbing a bottle, he twisted off the cap and guzzled several mouthfuls before heading back into his office.

Several more entries and half the bottle of water later, Ingram started to feel uncomfortable. He was starting to sweat and it felt as though his throat was closing up. Never prone to allergic reactions, he assumed he had caught the flu on the flight home. Stumbling to his feet, he shambled down to the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. Swallowing several cold pills hurt his throat. His knees felt watery and he had to lock them in place to remain standing. Using the wall as support to get to his bedroom, Ingram collapsed on his side, on the bed.

He started to hallucinate several minutes later. He thought he saw Parker standing over him. He felt her fingers on his neck, checking his pulse. She lounged on the edge of the bed, watching him. He tried to speak to her, but his voice wouldn’t come. His throat had almost completely closed over. Breath was getting harder to take in. His heart rate had accelerated and he felt as though he might faint, even though he was lying down.

It hit him in a moment of clarity. The autopsy had proven that the water had killed Wagner and Ingram didn’t remember buying bottled water. He stared at Parker, blinking furiously, but she didn’t disappear. He worked up what little spit he had left to speak.

“You’ve killed me,” his voice was barely a croak.

Parker nodded, but didn’t speak.

Ingram felt panic stab through him. It kicked up his heart rate, sending the spider venom racing through his bloodstream. His stomach cramped painfully and he coughed, spraying bloody phlegm onto the bed sheets. He felt the bed move and sensed more than saw Parker move away. He tried to roll toward the phone, but his body wouldn’t respond. He couldn’t turn his head, couldn’t blink his eyes. He was aware enough of what was happening to his body that he felt acute frustration and anxiety at not being able to move.

Parker knew that Ingram would live for several minutes before the venom would finish him off. Wandering through his house, she noticed that his laptop was on, though the screen was black. With a gloved finger she tapped the spacebar to bring the screen up. Reading the information about her that Ingram had listed made her want to finish him off, painfully.

She had no doubt he’d intended to use the information to blackmail her and the other hitters. Reading the words again caused an ache in her heart that she’d thought she’d suppressed. What would she have done if Ingram had tried to blackmail her? She’d have killed him, of course. Would he have kept a backup plan in case he disappeared? She doubted he’d have felt he could be outmaneuvered.

Closing the file without saving, she accessed an agency website and downloaded an app that, once run, would destroy the hard drive beyond any possible repair. One last check on Ingram confirmed that the venom had nearly done its job. His heartbeat was irregular and he panted for the tiniest bit of oxygen. Another ten minutes and his body sighed out its last breath.

Slipping from his house and leaving the area, Parker pulled out her cell phone and called Simon. He answered on the second ring.

“Mine is done,” she said.

“Yeah, mine too.” Simon had paid a similar visit to Leland.

“We may have another problem.” Parker made plans to meet with Simon later in the day. Jack Tunn had called her to provide some information on her mentor, Jacob. She was going to pay Jacob a visit and asked Simon to meet here there.

***

The cemetery was deserted. It was well kept, as most cemeteries were. The grass was neatly clipped and the headstones had been recently weed-wacked. She’d called the cemetery’s office to get the approximate location of Jacob’s grave. He’d been interred in a shady spot beneath a large maple tree. It was a lovely spot, if one cared to think about it.

She wondered if he was actually in there. Ingram had cleaned the site where Jacob had been killed. Normally, that meant disposal of the body by means not conducive to leaving anything behind for burial. It didn’t really matter if Jacob was in there or not. He wasn’t living and that was the main point.

He’d died because he’d taken the job they’d eventually given to her, but he’d asked too many questions. Jacob had drilled it into her that the less she knew about the reason for a targeted killing, the better. He’d not taken his own advice and it had gotten him killed. If he’d been smarter he would have been the one hunting Wagner and then trying to outsmart Seth. She’d still be in Vegas or wherever, doing low level jobs and wondering how long it would be before she’d died of boredom.

She’d brought flowers and placed them against the headstone. She had no words to say. Jacob knew them all anyway. She stepped back a foot and stared into the distance. Simon moved up beside her and dropped his own flowers next to hers.

“He asked me to keep an eye on you,” Simon admitted. “A few years ago. I would check in from time to time, but you were always doing the same jobs. Nothing particularly risky.”

Parker grimaced, though he’d not sounded accusing.

“He thought you were something special. He was proud of you. I wasn’t so sure about you, at first.”

Parker snorted in amusement. “When was that, back in Amsterdam when you had your face in my crotch?”

Simon smiled. “No, I’d already changed my mind by then. He was right, there is something special about you. I’m always going to be looking out for you.”

She took his hand and led him away from the cemetery. She didn’t want to spoil the mood, but he needed to know what she’d found. She spelled it out quickly, giving him as much information as she felt he needed to know. She’d not read the bio on him. Hers had been enough. She wouldn’t fill him in on her past. It wasn’t relevant to the conversation.

“I don’t know what to think,” she admitted. “Clearly the agency is keeping a file on each of us and it has details that could make things pretty ugly for us later. Proof of jobs we’ve done and evidence linking our real world personas with our agency identities. Can I trust them not to use that information?”

“No, you can’t,” Simon said. The news angered him, but it didn’t really surprise him. It made sense that the agency kept some sort of backup plan in place. If a hitter went rogue, it would be just as easy to put their name in the paper and supply a few nasty details about past jobs. Public opinion would do the rest. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t still do your job. The longer we go along as though we know nothing of this, the better chance we have of doing something about it.”

Parker immediately thought of Petrillo and wondered if he could access the file. She had no doubt that he could get to it, but whether or not he could actually alter it was another question. She knew that Simon was right. They needed the time to think of a solution. She wasn’t sure she was ready yet.

“Take the time they’ve given you,” Simon suggested. “But make the decision that’s right for you.”

Parker nodded and walked into the parking lot. At her car, she popped the locks but didn’t open her door. “Where are you going?” she asked.

“I have no desire to set foot on a tropical island anytime soon, but I need sun, sand and surf. I’m going to the French Riviera.”

Parker recalled her desire to go to Nice after she’d finished her last Vegas job. It seemed so long ago now. The idea appealed to her still. Perhaps the warmth of the sun would help ease her mind and allow her to finally think things through logically.

“You want some company?”

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