Darkness and disorientation awaited her as Denise woke up. Only slowly, in the rate her dizziness faded away, she was able to make sense of her surrounding and situation. Her body felt weak and chilly, and her back throbbed from lying on some hard surface. Her loss of consciousness hadn’t been caused by the stun gun. That deceiving bastard must have drugged her up once she had been incapacitated!
Denise tried to rise from her recumbent position, only to find her arms and legs trapped. At wrists and ankles as well as above elbows and knees she was bound with broad leather belts. Oh, and she was down to her slip and bra.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…!”
She wiggled about on what appeared to be a sturdy metal frame, but her tethers did not reveal any slack. Frustrated, she let her head sink back on the surface, noticing that this part seemed to be lower than the foot end. Denise tried to remain calm. This was all but a huge misunderstanding. So her next step would be to find out who was the current person that had misunderstood.
The darkness wasn’t absolute. A light cone illuminated an array of technical stuff on a table next to her, obviously designed to put electricity to a dark use. Above her a spray tap mixer thingy dangled on a flexible, spring-guided hose, like in a restaurant kitchen. Denise was quite sure she didn’t want to know what all this was for and therefore decided not to confront herself with it for the time being. Instead she craned her neck around, searching for any clue as to what was going on.
Shivers ran down her spine as she realised that she was not alone. A dark-clad figure was hunching motionlessly against the far wall, obviously having watched her the whole time.
Denise swallowed hard and took what was left of her courage.
The figure did not move.
“Can you untie me? Please?”
Again no direct reaction occurred, but eventually her mysterious watcher pushed themselves off the wall and straightened up. Entering the cone of scarce light, a fit woman in her thirties revealed herself, wearing boots, nondescript tight trousers and a plain tank top. The latter allowed a look at lean muscles that hadn’t been formed by half-arsed aerobics class once a week.
“I understand you have been tasered twice so far, Ms Carlisle,” she stated in clean BBC English that almost perfectly hid a Scottish accent.
Denise wasn’t sure whether an answer was expected of her.
“That was uncalled for. Both times,” she finally replied.
“This is not mine to assess. Have you been trained to resist torture?” she asked casually, as though engaging in light conversation.
This was exactly going where Denise had feared it would go. Please let it be truth serum! Please let it be truth serum!
“Listen, you don’t have to do that.” She noticed how corny that sounded, but she couldn’t think of anything better.
The woman positioned herself at the top end of the frame. It heavily increased Denise’s sense of helplessness seeing her upside down, gazing coldly. Denise yelped as her host tightened a so far unused leather belt across her forehead.
“What I have to do wholly depends on your willingness to cooperate, Ms Carlisle.”
Just like the suite man and the voice, the woman made sure to repeatedly address Denise by her name – a subtle show of force, as Denise didn’t know the first thing about their respective names.
“I cooperated the whole time. I will continue to do so, since it turned out so well for me.”
“Sarcasm does not become you. But I can look past this as long as our conversation remains constructive.”
“Can you untie me first? Contrary to popular belief I’m not that much into bondage.”
The well-toned woman, ignoring Denise’s plea, walked over to the table with the technical stuff.
“What have you told the Housekeeper about us?”
“The secret service operative who has interrogated you at the halfway house.”
She had told the suit a lot of things, but was unsure which of them her currant captor wanted to hear about, and whether she would implicate herself by revealing them.
“Who are you guys anyway?”
“You know very well who ‘we guys’ are.”
The electro torture setup was sinister as hell, but even it paled against the ice-cold aura of the menacing woman.
“You may call me ‘R’.”
“Like the 15th letter in the alphabet?”
“A word to the wise, Ms Carlisle: When you address me, make sure I like what you have to say. And it’s the 18th letter of the alphabet.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Nope, it’s not.”
The current hit Denise with brutal force, slamming her arching body against its unyielding restrains. R switched it off after only a mere second, but that second had given her prisoner a vicious taste of what was in store for her if her cooperation wasn’t instant and absolute. Limbs and spine contorting to the breaking point. Muscles tightening until they tore themselves apart.
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes, it is!”
Nobody could say Denise wasn’t a quick learner.
“When and where was it that you learnt about us?”
Denise mind raced, her body still tingling insanely. The shock she’d just received had been much stronger than the taser discharges. The whole metal contraption she was strapped down to had seemed to come alive.
“Just tell me what you want me to say, and I say it!”
R went around the table.
“Sadly it doesn’t work like this, Ms Carlisle.”
She pulled down the spring-loaded hose from over her. A torrent of freezing water hit Denise’s freshly sweat-covered body. The woman did not spare any part, causing her prisoner to sputter and cough as water was running up her nasal passages.
R finally let go of the nozzle and granted Denise a moment.
“Do you know why I did this?”
“Because you are a mean, sadistic bitch?!” Denise spat back, head red with trapped blood due to her tilted position. She was panting hard, only partly realising that her tongue had again outrun her brain.
“The water renders your skin more conductive. The frame you are secured to is multifunctional. When used to support interrogation by electricity, its separate segments may act as anodes and cathodes, respectively. Right now the configuration is set to a single pair, meaning the current flows from one electrode to the other, with your body in-between.”
Denise, still gasping, tried to follow R with her eyes back to the table. For her taste the woman was revelling in her explanation a bit too much.
“But if I were to do this…” she clicked some switches, “… things would get a whole lot nastier. Because now your lovely body is mounted to two independent sets of electrodes, and therefore will be hit by two separate DC currents. Put simply, our muscles can tighten in sync with one shock. A second shock, administered simultaneously, will sucker-punch them into some very excruciating state of cramping. Not to mention such delights as ventricular fibrillation or electrolytic disintegration of the blood.”
Despite the fact that her forced position made this very fluid gather in her head, Denise felt light-headed. R knew how to show the instruments, she had to give her that.
“A variation of the dual current concept – and my favourite, I might add – is the set-up with the frame as earth,” the woman continued.
She again flicked some switches, then produced two sticks with cables at their ends, both insulated apart from the very tips. He held the truncheon-like probes or prods up for Denise to see.
“Positive poles are provided by these implements, allowing a more precise design of the electric pathways. In my professional opinion and personal experience this is the most agonising way to receive electric shocks.”
“Wait,” Denise croaked, distinctively meeker than before.
“I am waiting, Miss Carlisle.”
“The man in the suit, the Housekeeper, he grilled me for the Tristanium nonsense from the internet. He thinks it’s kind of real and that some ship―”
“I hate to interrupt, but that’s neither new nor of interest to me.”
Denise felt the first tingles of rekindled panic clawing their way up her spine. R rephrased her question, delivering it with a noticeable edge in her voice.
“What did you tell him about us, and how have you come by this knowledge?”
“Who are you guys?” Denise pleaded anew.
“You know whom I represent.”
“I haven’t got the slightest idea, I swear!”
“Do I really have to spell it out for you? That we are the ones aiming for the perfect balance between darkness and light?”
“We are Æquinoctium.”
Denise looked at her tormentress wide-eyed. Either R was taking the piss out of her in a very cruel way, or Denise truly had opened Pandora’s Box with her charming little fib back at Le Hussard.
“I made you up!”
“We are quite real, that I can ensure you.”
Bound, freezing and conductive, Denise only saw one way out.
“I’ve been approached by an insider. He wanted to unmask your organisation, and asked me to find someone with no ties to you whatsoever.”
“Ms Car-laaail, please…!” R groaned.
“What do you want to hear?! You are going to shock me anyway!” Denise yelled in a mixture of desperation and helpless anger.
“I am asking for the truth, simple as that.”
“I made it up! Everything. And if the government and you had just left me alone, you would never have been compromised!”
“It was you that have compromised us in the first place. You told them.”
“You told them. The question remains: how much?”
“Just give me a moment to think!” Denise begged, grabbing for every chance to talk herself out of this, no matter how small.
“Why, of course.”
To support the thinking process, R pressed one probe against Denise’s left flank, the other into her armpit and pushed the triggers.
Every fibre inside her stiffened. Back muscles straining to the point of tear pulled her body into an arch, lifting most of it clean off the frame. With her head thrown back, wire-like tendons became visible in Denise’s neck. At the same time she convulsed around her axis, torso twisting viscously against abdomen, abdomen against legs. A wheezing sound escaped through her tightly clenched jaws as all air was forced out of her lungs. It subsided with a final guttural noise, and unable to draw any fresh air in, the girl remained silent with no chance of screaming out her agony. The brutal jolts burnt through her for endless seconds. Her vision became blurry and her blood seemed to boil.
After an eternity of intense suffering that had lasted the tenth of a minute, R took the probes away. Denise collapsed hard, spasms rippled through her body as she frantically tried to suck in air and scream at the same time.
R granted her some minutes to recollect.
A new load of ice water brought her around to some degree. Her whole body hurt in the aftermath of the double shock. Only gradually she could attribute the pains to their sources. The several muscles she had pulled. The deep skin abrasions caused by the fetters. The burn marks.
“What did you tell the Housekeeper, and how have you come by this knowledge?”
Denise just shook her head.
“No? No, no more? No, I didn’t tell anything? Or, no, I won’t cooperate, no matter what you do to me?”
“No more,” Denise panted. “I don’t know anything.”
“So you are happy to stick with the story that everything is but a big coincidence?”
Denise nodded again, mainly because the terrible woman demanded an answer – and because it still was the truth. Not that she wouldn’t confess to anything right now. But where to go from there without trapping herself in a net of easily detectable lies?
R weighed the electric prods in her hands as though she had to think things over.
“I tend to believe you, Ms Carlisle. But as always, there’s always a but: To prove that you are sincere in your newfound allegiance towards us, I would appreciate for you to do a little assignment. As a sign of cooperation, if you will.”
“An assignment?” Denise replied, careful not to make R change her mind, but also heavily doubting her good intentions. The shocks were still echoing through her system.
“A mission. You know, standard covered ops stuff. Nothing wild, just to show to us you are on our side.”
“I reckon you don’t accept ‘no’ as an answer,” Denise observed with bitterness in her voice.
“See, wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
R’s smugness hit a nerve with Denise.
“You won’t get away with this – I’m an American citizen.”
“Well, in that case…”
R pressed the prods against Denise’s abs and right breast and sent another twin blast of electricity through her prisoner’s body.
The hunk who was escorting her down the hall was wearing dark combat fatigue with no coats of arms whatsoever. He stopped in front of a large double door and opened one of the segments. Dried and dressed, yet still wobbly on her beloved limited edition heels, Denise entered the tastefully lit conference room that lay behind. The voice-owner, holding a mobile phone against his ear, greeted her with a suave gesture from the far side of the large table ring.
“I’m terribly sorry, but I have to go,” he informed whomever he was talking to. “I will get back to you on that round of golf, though… yes, you, too! And say hello to Melania from me!”
He hung up and rose to welcome Denise again.
“Ms Carlisle! There you are! I’m glad you could make it!”
Denise refrained from any snappy comments as she trotted to the chair he was offering. Not everybody around here took too well to being called out.
With a “thank you” he dismissed the guard. Denise let herself slump into the thick leather, muscles sore from her all too recent ordeal. On the table top in front of her a napkin was spread out, with a glass of water and two Aspirin neatly placed on it. The voice-owner took his place again.
“Please, feel free. Conversations with Ms R tend to be a bit demanding at times.”
Denise flushed the pain killers down. No need to play coy anymore.
“Ms R…” she mused in a hoarse voice. “And your ‘name’ would be?”
“You may refer to me as Gabriel.”
“Mr G, then?”
“Oh, no. This name convention does not apply to me. Ms R is… how can I put it? Consider her a wild card.”
“You mean she’s not invited to your corporate Christmas party, sick torture-happy nut-case she is?”
“She is excellent in what she does.”
Denise pulled a face. After being excellent in operation “make that ginger bird sing”, R had released her under the condition of total obedience. Dressed again sans her soaked underwear she had been ushered through the complex to be briefed. The building bore little resemblance with the halfway house. It was cool and modern almost to the point of showy, with frosted glass and polished steel. It also seemed to be far more extensive, spreading out on several storeys. One thing it had in common with her earlier prison, though: the lack of daylight. The conference room in which Gabriel had welcomed her sported floor to ceiling windows on the left side, but Denise had very quickly realised that they were fake. The view across the city centre was brought to her by a huge screen.
“Whatever. What do you want with me?”
“Have you been following the recent development of the Tristanium affair, Ms Carlisle?”
“Sadly no. I was kind of tied up, if you know what I mean.”
Passing over her sarcasm, Gabriel aimed a remote control at the window screen. The streets and skyscrapers remained, but were demoted to a mere desktop wallpaper as a web browser opened.
“So what’s the last status of your little make-believe you are aware of?”
“Then allow me to update you. ‘Pandemic’ would be a good start to describe its current level. The latest wave washing over the social media platforms consists of videos claiming to show how to weapons-grade alleged Tristanium in a microwave oven.”
On the screen a short amateur clip depicted a microwave exploding after two French imbeciles had packed it with a daring mix of metal and gases. The next video portrayed a Korean Darwin Award winner being hit in the face by parts of his detonating kitchen appliance. The illustration closed with a montage of the twenty-five best Tristanium microwave explosions (1.2 million likes so far).
“And this is only the ‘funny’ facet. Within forty-eight hours you have managed to trigger a medium-scale international crisis, make at least a dozen secret services look like gits and get yourself a place on Europe’s most wanted list.”
Denise swallowed hard. She was a fugitive terrorist! And responsible for a medium-scale what?!
“An international crisis?”
“It seems that certain agencies became a bit over-enthusiastic and overstepped their competences. Searching harbour areas and foreign vessels without the necessary paperwork. Confiscating manifests, harassing crews. That sort of things. All because a lady had to render herself interesting.”
“I got it. Blame the redhead. Works since the witch craze. But it’s certainly not my fault that some spooks have lost their shit over a silly date lie.”
“Shits have been lost over much sillier things, Ms Carlisle. Dragged by public expectations and pushed by their own hubris, those spooks in question are hell-bent to deliver.”
“Even if there’s no terrorism whatsoever involved?”
Gabriel frowned upon hearing the T-word.
“As a matter of fact, the prerogative of interpretation is neither yours nor mine. What you are so wrongly accused of is often perceived and presented as a monolithic phenomenon. The terrorism. Yet it bears far more resemblance with cancer, and just like it terrorism is the result of an underlying condition.”
He made a grand “headline” gesture, confirming Denise’s fear that he wasn’t finished yet.
“Terrorism has become a buzz word, applicable to radical environmentalists as well as to conservative drug lords. It’s an advertisement to recruit religious warriors and sell drones.”
“I take it you don’t self-identify as a terroristic organisation.”
If Gabriel resented her this statement, he did not show it.
“Why would we, Ms Carlisle? Our goals are higher and far more complex. We are committed to ensure this delicate balance between―”
“Between darkness and light; yes, I’ve read your brochure.”
Now he was looking a tad irritated.
“Very well, Ms Carlisle. Since we are on the same page, we can discuss our next steps. You are going to enjoy another interaction with the local intelligence community. I trust you remember the gentleman who had performed the hostile interview at the halfway house…”
“That article exactly. He took your disappearance amiss, for it bereaved him of the opportunity to obtain the payload.”
Denise had a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“You want to extradite me?”
“No! Oh no, Miss Carlisle! That would qualify as extraordinary rendition. He isn’t interested in your person per se anyway – you are just a means to an end. But if he wants his Tristanium so badly, we will give it to him. You make a deal, the Tristanium against full amnesty.”
“I don’t follow you. What are you planning to use as substitute?”
“A small gift of friendship and mutual respect,” Gabriel ventured into the even more obscure.
“You want to palm a bomb off on him?”
“No, that would be vulgar. After all, Æquinoctium is an aristocratic organisation, not some desert hillbilly with a batch of c4 under his turban.”
She was pretty sure that was racist, but was glad he wouldn’t make her deliver some explosive device. Yet something that had bothered her right from the start surfaced again thanks to Gabriel’s annotation.
“How do you spell Æquinoctium?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do you spell it with that merged A-E-thingy?”
“Why, of course.”
Ere Denise could dwell on this essential subject any longer, the door opened, and in strode R. The woman, still dressed in her work outfit, walked down the perimeter of the table ring. With an unintentional screech Denise jumped up and ran anti-clockwise around the furniture, desperate to keep the distance between the interrogatress and herself. As she reached Gabriel’s place, he tried to calm her down with a “Ms Carlisle, I can ensure you there is no need for this…”, but was utterly ignored. In passing she grabbed the remote control. Once she had reached a position opposite of her chair, she wielded the device as a makeshift, if useless, weapon. R, who had come half circle now, bent down to whisper in Gabriel’s ear.
“Thank you,” Gabriel replied to whatever information he had just got received. “As I heard, our ersatz payload is ready for delivering, Ms Carlisle.”
Denise remained unconvinced, still determined to use the remote on anybody who dared lay hand on her.
“That’s all she said? That’s not what she said! Why did she whisper? Why didn’t she just call you on your phone?”
Beckoning R to leave, he rose and approached his new, if reluctant, protégé.
“This way, Ms Carlisle.”
“Why did she and none of your security guys tell you?”
He gently pried the remote from her hand.
“I take that, thank you.”
Denise let her shoulders slump.
“She was talking about me, right?”
Gabriel made a gesture to renew his invitation.
“Let’s do the walk ‘n’ talk, shall we?”
Upon leaving the conference room, Gabriel’s phone demanded his attention again.
“Excuse me, I have to take that.”
He answered it whilst holding door open for Denise.
“Osama, asama alaikum…!”
Again Denise was amazed by the extent of this complex. For an organisation nobody had ever heard of before last Friday it occupied a downright impressive hideout. After corridors upon corridors – many of which lined with air-tight doors to what seemed to be laboratories – Gabriel ushered her into a modern cargo lift. As they passed even more subterranean levels on their descent, Denise couldn’t help but comment on her observation.
“Do you know what they say about the Bond films, Ms Carlisle?”
“That in the next one Moneypenny is lezzing out?”
“That they are only as good as the villains in them. And although I find a hollow volcano or a deep sea station a bit pretentious, a villain’s headquarters should reflect a certain claim to power.”
Given the evident recourses, Denise concluded Gabriel wasn’t the sole one to thank for her escape. He’d obviously orchestrated the operation, but had outsourced all the donkeywork involving the locks and cameras, her phone and the car.
“Did you do the hacking stuff back at the safe house?”
“No, I’m here mainly because of my awesome voice and my fondness of expositions. Those hacks have been done by a cute young lady not even your age. By the way a gifted online gamer whenever she doesn’t infiltrate security networks or take over Chinese killer satellites.”
“What killer satellites?”
The cargo lift came to a halt, granting them access to a wide open tech area, only interrupted by orderly rows of columns.
They exited the lift to numerous aisles of equipment, neatly arranged in sync with the columns. Although not knowing the weapons by name, Denise past in wonder the endless racks of handguns, submachine guns and assault rifles. Beretta, Colt, Heckler & Koch, Kalashnikov, Mauser, Nexter, Smith & Wesson, Walther – all strictly sorted by class, manufacturer and calibre.
“Wow. Someone here knows his OCD…”
“You must excuse this blatant display. Our armoury is being renovated.”
Denise wasn’t sure whether his comment was whimsical, but it triggered an awkward train of thought. Did they hire an external firm for that? Were guards with newspaper hats painting the ceiling? Whom do super-secret organisations call when there’s a water leak?
The aisles ended with a final arrangement of tables and even more cool stuff on them. Night vision gear, body armour, those little melter-thingies one of which Gabriel had used to torch the getaway car. Beyond, plenty of space was at disposal for a vehicle fleet. White vans for observation were just as neatly parked as the obligatory black four-by-fours. Centre piece of this collection was without doubt the huge MAN truck. It stood in solemn solitude, undisputed by its lesser brethren. Both the tractor unit and the three axle semi-trailer sported a deep sable paint job without any décor or advertisement. Blokes in white boiler suits and hardhats were busy around the lorry, ticking off boxes on their self-important clipboards.
“And in there is that famous payload, amirite?” Denise asked, just for the sake of asking something. She pointed towards the trailer’s open double doors. With the other hand she reached behind her, towards the nearest equipment table.
“Indeed so,” answered her host not without pride. As he allowed himself to be impressed with his work, Denise’s fingertips brushed one of the melters. He spun around, facing her.
“Let’s have a look, Ms Carlisle, shall we?”
“Sure,” Denise replied innocently.
The melting device had already found a new home inside her Gucci bag – a quick slide of hand she had perfected in younger years, when the income from her side jobs after school couldn’t quite hold up with her already flourishing fashion taste.
Gabriel helped her up into the trailer. Together they beheld in all its glory the one single, half-empty palette secured within the huge cargo hold.
“It’s a bit―”
“Yes, two tons is not quite as impressive as it sounds. But the truck will make up for it!”
Denise hunched down to closer inspect the assembly of small grey ingots. Her fingers ran across the surfaces, each stamped with a stylised eagle grabbing an oak leaf wreath around a swastika.
“What is it anyway?”
“The quickest and most economical way to come up with two thousand kilogrammes. Plus, it fits in your story in that the lead may be supposed to shield the Tristanium from electromagnetic waves.”
“They will still recognise it as fake.”
“In time. But many people in hazard suits will perform many tests before even daring to cut one of those ingots open to see if anything is in it.”
“Is anything in it?”
“Has there to be?”
He walked the considerable distance to the trailer’s edge and jumped down.
“A bomb can strike only so much terror into the hearts of people. A bomb, with all its devastating effects, is something people can understand. Calculate, if you will. But the sole breath of rumour about radioactivity will cause a far deeper reaction. You know what is said about the oldest fear.”
Gabriel held his hand out to assist her, making sure not to look under her skirt.
“To what end?”
“I could tell you, but then I―”
“You would have to kill me. Safe it.”
Denise started to suspect the phrase was employed every time somebody just lucked out or the truth would be too embarrassing.
“Oh, James, how did you manage to diffuse the warhead just in time?” ― “Well, Moneypenny, I was so hammered from my martinis that I fell face-first on the control board and happened to hit the right keys. By the way, I think the exotic beauty I shagged last night might have been a lady-boy.”
He escorted her to one of the Geländewagen that had already pulled out of its designated parking space. As the driver left the engine idling, a second guard with shades was holding the door to the rear seats open.
“You drive the same cars as those secret service mugs, you are aware of that?” Denise noted towards Gabriel, and not necessarily with admiration in mind.
“Yes, but ours have way cooler rims on them.”
Before she had the chance to verify his statement, Gabriel had handed over to him a black piece of textile from the doorman. With a sinking feeling Denise recognised it as a hood. Maybe those came with the cars when ordering the optional Abduction Package.
Her heart skipped a beat as the guard took her handbag, but he only stowed it away without ever minding its content. Then her surrounding turned dark, reduced to the distance between her face and the heavy fabric.
“Turn around, please.”
Gabriel placed her hands in the small of her back. She winced as the first cuff closed around the wrist.
“Don’t be alarmed, Ms Carlisle. This is just a precaution so you cannot take off the hood.”
With her hands secured behind her back, hooded Denise was manoeuvred onto the centre rear seat and strapped into the safety belt. Just in case of an accident – or in case she bolted. Once the guard and Gabriel had found their places to her left and right, respectively, the heavy car set itself into motion. As it kept accelerating, and the outside noises became hollow, Denise concluded they had entered a tunnel of sort. Obviously she had been blindfolded so she would not be able to identify the site of her latest detention or to do some backtracking. Again the acoustics took on another quality, and she felt a change of air pressure in her ears. The car was now in the open, but during day or night Denise could not tell. The fact that she had descended through several subterranean levels to reach the garage, yet left it via a seemingly horizontal passage gave her reason to assume that she had been held captive within a mountain or rock face. However, she decided to keep this conclusion for herself.
“So, what now?” Denise finally enquired. Not only was she highly interested in the details of her immediate future, she was also desperate to break through the isolation of that bloody hood.
“I give you a set of instructions. You follow them. Stuff will happen.”
Against her active will Denise was relieved to hear his voice. It was now that she realised how sinister a mind game Gabriel was playing with her – and how little she could do against it.
“Best-case scenario? You walk away with a story to tell. For the next twenty-four hours you will be a double agent!”
“I’m not even a single agent!” Denise lamented, then dropped the ultimate question: “Why me?”
“Consider it a cruel and unusual punishment for using our name in vain and accusing us of heinous crimes. Also, it is more convincing if this deal is proposed by somebody who is already a suspect in the case. Also also, as I took it from your résumé, you are specialised in high risk field missions.”
Denise made a disapproving sound.
“Can I at least have my phone back? I promise to keep it switched off.”
“It’s never fully switched off. Ever wondered why you can’t remove the batteries from modern mobiles anymore?”
Gabriel used the opportunity to lay out some general low profile rules. No mobile phones. Avoid cameras. Do not dress like you are writing a fashion blog. Do not dress like you are living in one, either. For the mission at hand, Denise had to perform several tasks prior to the Tristanium exchange. Only if all conditions were met, the truck would set off to deliver the payload.
As their dark journey continued, her host-turned-handler briefed her quite thoroughly, making her repeat all parts numerous times.
“Do I get a code name?”
“Why, of course! Thou shalt be known as…”
“Hotwire? Silk? Mirage?
“Tami-Lynn. In whatever spelling you prefer.”
“Oh, for crying out loud…! You do know the term white trash, do you not?”
“Gingerbird would be too obvious.”
Underneath her hood Denise pulled a face.
“And your name would be?”
“Good thing we are avoiding the creepy-zone.”
For some time now the car was performing turns, lane changes and stops. They had entered urban area.
“Remember: If you get caught, deny all knowledge.”
“If I get caught, I’m so gonna rat on you…!”
The G-Class made some last slow turns, then came to a stop. Gabriel helped her out and delivered her from the hood. They had parked at the end of a back alley, broadened into the loading zone for a metalworking shop. Given the light, the temperature and the quality of the air, Denise reckoned it was shortly after dawn. At the alley’s entrance, shielded away by the car, she could see a main street slowly coming to life. All of a sudden the whole plan, theoretically during discussion, became overwhelming.
“Please don’t make me.”
She turned to Gabriel, rubbing her smarting wrists and tingling hands after he had opened the cuffs. With a crisp move he placed the handbag under her arm.
“No courage without fear.”
“I’m all courage right now.”
He pointed across the bonnet towards the street.
“Down there, then right, and you are on target.”
Denise made a last-ditch effort:
“Okay, you’ve had your fun! Now if you were so kind as to cancel this absurd operation – because we both know that I will botch it.”
Gabriel got back in the car and shut the door, but lowered his window.
“I am not the one who started it or is responsible for the outcomes, Ms Carlisle. I only provide options. And if you fail, you fail at least whilst facing up to the consequences of your behaviour. Good luck.”
The four-by-four started rolling.
“But… I’m an American citizen!”