Surfacing - Part Eleven
By Paul Seely and Jennifer Garza
"The big black hat. So the other team captain is hedging his bets," Charlotte observed, adding in a conspirator's whisper, "That means trouble for us, right?"
This was not a time when Diana wanted to hear the word "us." In the dining room alcove, blocked from the view of the few remaining occupants, she gently pulled Charlotte to her and whispered low, firm words.
"Yes, his being here makes things a bit more complicated. I can handle this, but I'll need you to promise me something."
Charlotte, still buzzed from the dangerous knowledge recently imparted to her, unconsciously leaned closer as hot breath tickled her ear. "Anything."
"If I get the sense that something is going wrong - or I feel at anytime that you're in danger - I'm going to give you a signal and you will leave without questions. Here, take these." Diana pressed something into her hand - a black plastic square dangling two silver keys. "I left the car in automatic, so you just fire it up and get gone. Promise you'll do that for me, Charlie."
Laughter curled around the corner as Quentin entertained the small group of diners, and the two huddled women cringed at their proximity. The blonde heaved a short sigh. "Maybe I should have said almost anything. You're not alone in this anymore, and I won't be leaving here without you."
"Believe me, that's what I want too," Diana said, trying not to sound agitated as her left ear was filled with voices from the conference room, chattering idly about drinks and cigars. "But you've gotta understand that things could get out of hand real fast with that man here. I honestly don't know what he's going to do, and I have to be ready for anything - and that means not worrying about you getting hurt."
"You should have thought of that before you spilled your guts in the bathroom," Charlotte shot back. "I know you have a lot to deal with, but don't worry about me. I can take care of myself, and I won't get in the way. You do what you have to do, but we'll walk out of here together, or not at all. Got it?"
Though the attorney spoke in a confident manner which brooked no arguments, Diana shook her head and clutched at her arm to get her full attention. "Charlie, you don't understand. I'm telling you that I don't know what I might have to do tonight, either. I will get that information, no matter what it takes. If it doesn't come easy, this could turn into a real mess..."
"And you're worried about me seeing you at work, that it might change my mind about you," the younger woman finished, all but reading her mind. "Don't be. My opinion of you is locked in tight." She tapped two fingers against her heart, and Diana was struck speechless, wondering what she had ever done to deserve this woman.
"Thank you," she said reverently. "I'm gonna have to keep one ear on what's happening down the hall, so anything you could do to help cut down on distractions would be greatly appreciated." Diana touched her left ear, and Charlotte got the message.
"Will do. Quentin should be leaving soon enough. He has an early hearing tomorrow on a contempt charge Judge Pamela Rundberg hit him with, so he'll be out of the way. I'll stick close to Maribel until you're ready to go. Next to you, she's the only person in this house I trust - plus, she'd kick Marco's butt if he tried anything with me."
"Jesus," Diana muttered. She then heard Falcon trying to impose order on the meeting.
"Starting to wish you'd kept lying to me?" the attorney asked, a sly smile creeping across her face.
"No way. Just glad you're on my side - you handle pressure amazingly well."
"Comes from years of faking it. You pretend to be cocky and impervious long enough, you start to become that way for real. Now get on with your mission, double-oh-seven, and come get me when you need a ride home. Then be prepared to stay up all night... talking. You still owe me a shitload of answers." Charlotte lifted onto her toes and kissed the spy who loved her, then moved into the main room and took her seat between Quentin Carver and Maribel Falcon.
Diana stared after her a moment, cursed softly in awe, then returned to her seat and easily assumed a lopsided duality which would have taxed most minds. While a fraction of her feigned interest in polite conversation and spiced nut cake, the majority listened closely to every word transmitted from down the hall, where Marco Falcon had just made five men very angry.
"You can't be serious, Falcon! You expect us to bid for custody of our leaders as if they were pieces of property? You are insane!" The Rwandan delegate was indignant, as were his two large companions. All three men strained against the confines of cheap suits and chairs built for less imposing persons, making them all the more irritable.
"I agree. This is totally unacceptable," rumbled the Bosnian envoy - a grizzled, graying bear in unseasonable black wool. His leather-jacketed, linebacker-sized guard nodded mutely and cracked his knuckles.
"Gentlemen, please," Falcon interrupted, "I know this is a departure from our original terms, but things have changed. I know as well as you do how crucial your leaders are to the survival of your nations. Without General Bartok's connections, no weapons are available to your soldiers, and you are impotent," he said to the Bosnian, who nodded ruefully while his guard scowled.
"And without the imaginative economic ventures conceived by President Jamal, Rwanda would never have developed her highly profitable capacity for producing recreational substances." He smiled toward the African contingent, who jointly refused to meet his gaze.
"You need them, if not at home, at least in an advisory capacity. And you are not the only ones interested in these trailblazing men. Face it gentlemen, the market price for such comic-book villains is at an all-time high, and I am only following the trend by allowing other concerned parties onto the exchange floor." Marco looked toward the silent man milling around behind his antique desk, studying patterns in the rugs. The man brushed stray bits of ash from his pinstriped charcoal lapel and ignored everyone.
"Who is this man?" the Rwandan demanded, "And what is his interest in President Jamal?"
"And General Bartok," added the Bosnian, silently furious over the
description of his national liberator as a 'comic-book villain.'
"His name is of no concern to you. You should take his presence as a sign that world government is serious about prosecuting war criminals, and adjust your bids accordingly."
"You are full of shit, Falcon!" The Bosnian pounded his fist on the table, causing everyone to flinch except the gray-haired man, who merely smiled. "The United Nations does not do business this way, they do not buy arrests!"
"They might if it were the only way to obtain them," Falcon
responded. "They have failed in their attempts to steal information from
me, so they are now open to other, more direct options. When it comes to
undercover work, they are just as inept as the CIA."
In the dining room, Diana Starrett felt her blood heat up as Marco smugly admitted that he had caught an agent trying to infiltrate his organization, and had killed the man in his own home, with his own gun. The truly alarming part was that he made this admission with the director who deployed that agent in the room, evidently with no fear of repercussions.
*You son of a bitch! I'd bet my life now that Riggins told you about Eladio to blow the op on purpose. It's obvious you're in bed together... but why? We were so close to making this work, and now he wants to buy what he could have had for free! That can't be right...*
She noted that Charlotte gave her only an occasional glance, choosing to steer the conversation away from Diana at every opportunity. When Quentin whisperingly inquired if there was trouble in paradise already, Charlie explained that her quiet friend was suffering from a headache tonight. The older attorney looked Charlotte square in the eye and said, "Oh, honey - I'm ever so sorry for you." Charlotte cuffed him hard on the arm and Diana managed to shoot her a quick smile, which vanished abruptly as Joshua Riggins finally began to speak. Despite the quick-fade job her mind was doing on her memories from the warehouse, his slithering voice still chilled her blood.
"Gentlemen, I understand your displeasure," he began magnanimously, "You don't want to see your esteemed leaders dragged through the mud and imprisoned for life. Nor do you want to suffer the wrath of massive sanctions - which will doubtless be imposed on you by my superiors." Riggins came form behind the desk and paced around the conference table, blowing billows of foul smoke over the group. The heads of the three foreign guards poked through the haze like mountain tops through smog, and they employed formidable stoicism in not showing how much the pollution bothered them.
"This is the situation - I want Bartok and Jamal, and I am willing to pay top dollar. As Mr. Falcon has noted, our efficiency has suffered of late and we were unable to obtain them by traditional means, therefore we are now amenable to employing a financial solution. He has been most welcoming of our efforts. If you are unable to compete with the offer I have been authorized to make, well... that is not my problem. This is a buyer's market, gentlemen, and tonight I am a buyer. So ante up, or go home."
Silence reigned in the conference room as Riggins let his ultimatum sink in while he lit another of his hideous cigarettes. Low murmurs began to flow between the envoys as they weighed their options, then each nodded at Falcon in turn. They would stay in the game.
"Good, good," Marco purred, greed flashing dollar signs in his dark eyes. "We will begin the bidding at double the present rate. Eight million - do I hear eight-five?"
Diana could not believe what she was hearing. It was impossible, surreal. *Just too fucking strange.* She listened as the head of the most underpublicized, underfunded agency in the game made exorbitant bids, driving the price higher with each round. *We don't have that kind of money! Harry's always bitching about how we have to scrape and bow for every dime, and Riggins is in there pledging Fifteen Million Dollars? What the devil is he up to?*
Quentin Carver and his friend said their good-byes at last, forcing Charlotte to receive a welcome kiss on the cheek from her boss and unwelcome advice about how to "cure whatever's ailing that amazon cop of yours - wink wink, nudge nudge." One of the guards walked them out, apologizing for the delay as the front door alarm was disarmed. He saw them to their car and returned to his seat after resetting the sentry.
The three guards splayed out around the dining room were evidently assigned to watch over Falcon's mother, because their eyes followed every move she made as she stood and began to clear dishes. They also assumed that the two young women were waiting for their boss, and they shared a few leers and snickers over Marco's incredible luck.
Charlotte took a seat on the banquette and leaned in to whisper, "Is everything okay so far?"
Diana waggled her hand in a so-so motion. "Can't tell yet. Stay ready to bolt, though."
The blonde jangled her tiny purse, keys to the chariot tucked inside. She then went to help Mrs. Falcon pile up the dishes, again utilizing the same excuse for Diana's lack of participation - she had a headache and was still disoriented from the 'trip' she took in the kitchen.
Maribel eyed the tall woman curiously, then gave her a warm smile and fretted over her a bit. She promised to make her a cup of tea guaranteed to cure anything short of a migraine, and relocated her to a comfortable banquette near the door.
"Thank you very much," Diana murmured, wincing as she followed the bidding. Finally, it slowed and tapered off as Riggins apparently reached his limit, and she found herself oddly disappointed that he had burned out so quickly.
*As long as you're bidding with money you don't have, you might as well go all
the way, you cheap bastard. Unless you were driving up the price on purpose,
bluffing them to raise the stakes higher... uh-oh. That money would fund
a lot of unauthorized ops. Marco, you'd better watch your back.*
"So we have a deal at twenty-two-five? Excellent," Falcon said, trying not to salivate. Both victorious envoys gave curt nods to the vulture and glowered at the defeated U.N. spook.
Riggins sighed dejectedly and took a seat in the corner, enduring hard stares from most of the room.
"You are prepared to execute the wire transfer tonight?" Marco asked. Both the Rwandan and Bosnian groaned affirmations as they retrieved the necessary codes from locked cases.
The banker and accountant moved into action. They booted up the Powerbook on Falcon's desk, and entered a series of keystrokes and passwords until, at last, the security protocols were satisfied and they logged on with the foreign accounts officer at Marco's bank in the Caymans.
"Ready," said the two anxious, pencil-necked anglos, almost in
unison. Despite the cool temperature in the house, they were both already
sweating through their Brooks Brothers suits, and the banker's glasses looked
"Let us be done with this," the Rwandan grumbled, then took his turn first, scrutinizing the secured web document before entering the authorization data requested by the bank officer. Minutes later, the Rwandan treasury was twenty-two and a half-million dollars poorer, and Marco Falcon's numbered offshore accounts swelled dramatically once again with the addition of the Bosnian contribution.
Although he knew it was not prudent to poke at angry bears, Falcon could not help thanking them for the easiest money he had ever made. This was forty-five million dollars, for hardly any work at all.
"The American Dream, gentlemen. Money for nothing and
chicks for free," he laughed, capped teeth shining through Havana smoke.
"Now that our business is concluded and my tenants are secured for a
long winter's nap, I'd like all you ugly bastards to get out of my house. There
are a couple of lovely young ladies who are desperate for my company."
Stifling a snort of laughter, Diana listened as the foreign envoys hastened from the room and Marco dispatched his flunkies to let them out. He sent Virgilio and the two money-men out as well. From what she could hear, the accountant and banker were going home. The four guards, Virgilio, and Paz the Doorman milled around in the hall waiting for Marco to dismiss his final guest.
*Don't let him leave yet! Dammit! That can't be all there is to it...* She barely noticed as Charlotte and Maribel came back into the room bearing the promised cup of tea. Diana nodded her thanks and sipped, hanging from the padded edge of her seat.
Riggins didn't seem to be going anywhere, and Falcon told Paz to stand watch and make sure they were not disturbed. The huge man grunted and closed the door behind him. Alone in the conference room, they cut to the chase rather quickly, and Diana felt ill as her worst suspicions were confirmed.
*Sometimes, I actually guess right. God, why did I have to be right about this?*
"You needn't have been so disparaging in your indictment of my agency, you know. Most of those criticisms were unwarranted," Riggins was saying. "You would have never found the mole agent if I hadn't rubbed his identity under your nose."
"I had to sell the story to them, didn't I?" Falcon responded defensively. "They bought it and paid out big, so it doesn't really matter." He moved to his desk and leaned over the computer, tapping away at the keyboard. "Now let's finish this up - I was serious about those young ladies. Where do you want your cut to turn up?"
A pregnant pause as Riggins lit up again, then he moved to the heavy oak door which led into the hall. He took two brass keys from his trousers and used them to throw the deadbolts on two solid locks, effectively sealing the room from outside intrusion. Marco Falcon looked up for a response to his query, and his jaw dropped as he realized he was being locked in.
"What the fuck are you doing, man?"
Riggins removed the keys as he produced an asthma inhaler from the pocket of his vest, and squeezed off two rounds of mist into the locks. The mist turned to foam, which permeated every crevice of the lock and hardened like stone. The gray haired man then tucked away his tools and addressed his young confederate with almost paternal patience.
"We need to talk, Marco. I'm afraid half is no longer sufficient - I'll be taking all forty-five million. If you'll step aside, I can take care of the transfer myself." He walked toward the desk with quick, purposeful steps, not even noticing the sudden fury spreading over the flustered Falcon.
"Well, fuck me. Well, just FUCK ME!!" Marco caught on very quickly. "You think you gonna take my money? You got another thing coming, cabron!" He opened his desk drawer and reached for his gun, which was not there. He rifled through each drawer in turn - no pistola.
"Looking for this?" Riggins sang, dangling the missing Glock from his pinkie as he perched on the edge of the desk. "Don't worry, kid. I won't shoot you unless you make me. I'm taking the money and Bartok and Jamal as well. You see, I'm in kind of a pinch, so I need that money and those men - and I will have them. If you try to stop me, you will regret it," he stated, cold as death coming for a helpless child. "Now step aside."
Falcon did as he was told, for the moment, and Riggins logged on and started the process of draining forty-five million dollars from that heavily-trafficked Caymans account. Determined not to panic, Marco remembered that the odds were stacked in his favor - after all, this was his turf, crawling with his people.
"Oh yeah? And how you planning to do that, old man? You came here alone. No bodyguards, no backup - not that those pussies who work for you would be much help. I got eight men in this house, all packing, all perfectly willing to kill your ass if you so much as... why are you smiling?"
"Because I know something you don't know. I'm not alone here, Marco. In
fact, one of my agents is standing by waiting to assist me in taking you, your
mother, and all your men into custody - dead or alive - if you don't comply
fully with my demands."
*What the hell is he talking about?* Diana thought, dutifully sipping Maribel's therapeutic tea. Sickened as she was by this development, the tension was killing her and she tried to look relaxed as the confrontation down the hall escalated.
"What the hell are you talking about? Everybody in this house has been checked top to bottom - ain't nobody packing in here except my boys. So your agent can go play with himself..."
"I didn't say that my agent had a gun. Neither did I reveal my agent's gender. The fact is, my ace in the hole could be anyone from your Lieutenant to your mother - and they wouldn't even know it. I just say a few magic words, and Shazam! Here comes the cavalry." Riggins gave a chilling smile and a harsh, staccato laugh as Falcon puzzled over that one.
In the dining room, Diana Starrett was now very worried, and she coughed to
get Charlotte's attention. She slid one hand along her thigh and jerked her
thumb toward the exit. Charlie did not acknowledge her, but rose and took
Maribel by the arm, ostensibly escorting down the back hall to the kitchen to
discuss recipes. Two guards went with them, leaving the youngest of the litter
behind to watch out for the "sick lady" who sat quietly sipping tea.
Diana relaxed enough to whisper a quick prayer for Charlotte's safety... and for
her current suspicions to please be wrong.
"You're talking bullshit now, Riggins," the angry young man declared. "Paz! Get in here!"
"I wouldn't recommend that, Marco. You cause me trouble, and I will make certain that you are laid to waste, and then laid to rest. I have the weapons to do just that. Don't make me use them."
Muffled shouts from the hallway as Paz struggled with the door. He butted a massive shoulder against it repeatedly, and it would not budge.
"The keys won't go in, goddammit!" Virgilio shouted. "Cut the alarm and go through the library!"
Riggins twirled the Glock around his thumb and walked calmly across the room, stopping in front of the only other entrance. "You really don't believe me, do you Marco? That's a mistake. You're making me reach up my sleeve." He sprayed the library locks with the inhaler, and smiled at the sounds of Virgilio and his ilk scuttling around next door.
"Go ahead and reach up your sleeve, motherfucker!" Marco was starting to lose it. "PAZ! Break it down, you mongoloid fuck!"
Joshua Riggins sighed and took a seat midway between the library door and the shared air vent. His voice crawled low and confidential as he addressed his alleged accomplice.
"Diana, I hope you brought enough party favors to go around. Marco isn't
*No. No. No. Not me. No. No. No. Not me. Is he singing? Why is he singing? No. No. No...*
"Incense and peppermints, the color of time... Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone... He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year... All I want to do is have a little fun before I die... L.A proved too much for the man..." Riggins sifted through snippets of song openings, camouflaging the trigger phrase just as Mangano advised. Once the keywords were uttered, the door would open and there was no going back.
The agent picked up her purse, reached in a grabbed her make-up kit, extracted the pair of rubber-tipped tweezers, and slipped them into her ear, latching onto the live monitor, nearly tugging it free... then she heard words which made her breath catch and her muscles tense and harden like cement. Shaking, her hand withdrew and dropped open. And she waited.
Marco Falcon looked at Riggins as if he were the poster child for insanity. "Goddammit, old man! Are you crazy or something? Shut-up! PAZ! Get in here!" More thumping on the solid doors, now from both sides of the room.
Riggins kept talking, preparing to loose the beast on the unsuspecting
villagers. "And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain
rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him."
*No. No. No. No. Please...*
Diana looked to the one guard who remained in the room with her. He smiled and fidgeted with his napkin, wiping crumbs from his fuzzy upper lip. He was going to die soon, and she would be the one to kill him. Blue eyes watched him with forced detachment, powerless in their knowledge, waiting.
She could not move her body, and yet she felt herself moving inside - sliding off and down and away, into darkness, into oblivion, and the voice drew her in further still until it was the only thing she knew.
Then came the pain. A resentment, an anger, a hatred, a rage, a fury, an apocalypse - all building, existing and exploding in seconds as the words poured over her, scalding, entombing and fortifying her with guilt like molten steel.
"And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Ethan thy brother? And she said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground, and now thou art cursed from the earth. And Diana said unto the Lord..."
"My punishment is more than I can bear." The young guard eyed the muttering the blue-eyed woman, wondering if she was talking to him. She couldn't see him anymore, sliding down, down, and under.
Riggins was cooking now, emoting like a Baptist lay preacher, ignoring the futile thumps assaulting the doors of his stronghold, ignoring the pacing and cursing of Marco Falcon. Absently fondling the pistol in his hands, he was in the zone...
"Come to me, so that I may ease your burden. My cause is your cause, my goal is your goal. Come to me, give me aid in my time of need, and I will ease your suffering. Slash and burn, my child. Slash and burn."
The sound of her own voice surprised her - it was like talking so loudly in your sleep that you wake yourself up. Diana's body stood and walked toward the dining room door, seeing everything, hearing more. Her own breathing became a loud, harsh whistling in her ears, and she could hear her own heartbeat accelerate as she receded further into the blackness, scrambling for a hold on wet stones, slipping down a deep, deep well. She could see now, but it was a distant, impossible view. Watching the shore from the bottom of the ocean.
Sensing a presence coming up behind her, Diana waved off the peach-fuzzed young man. "I'm fine. I just need to go to the bathroom. You should wait here."
He wouldn't listen. The young bodyguard intended to escort her to the rest room, the kitchen, wherever she wanted to go. This was his job, and he explained that it was a simple matter of necessity - strangers don't walk around Marco Falcon's house alone.
When she turned and looked on him with an adorably flummoxed expression, he blushed and almost apologized - then her hands were shooting at his neck, pushing hard on his skin. Then he couldn't breathe, and his knees gave out, and his head felt like it was being crushed between comets. Blood trickled from his nostrils, and he realized in his final moments of life that Diana Starrett really didn't want company.
She stepped over his body and dragged him by the collar through the double
doors, his shoes squeaking against the glossy hardwood floor. Diana opened up
the hall closet and tipped the body inside, shutting the door and leaving no
signs at all.
"Slash and burn. I'm coming..."
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