Surfacing - Part Seven
By Paul Seely and Jennifer Garza
See Disclaimers in Part
Much to her relief, Diana found Charlotte exactly where she had left her - marooned on the sidewalk amid the flotsam of her shopping spree. She was still slightly wired from the encounter in the garage, but her breathing was now even and calm. Casting only a brief glance back to the scene, her mind lingered a moment on the older agent, his familiar manner.
*Dan? Is that this name? He didn't say... Dan... I gotta call Harry.*
She pulled the car over and rolled down the window as Charlotte stepped towards her. She didn't look angry about being left there so long, her smile flashing flirtatiously as she leaned against the door.
*Maybe those five minutes didn't feel as long to her... then again, she wasn't stuffing two men into the trunk of a Crown Victoria, was she?*
"You lookin' for a date, sailor?" Charlie asked, pale brows lifting expectantly over cool green eyes.
"Naaah, just window shopping," Diana replied. "You don't look like a working girl in those clothes, miss. Way too preppy." She slipped the Porsche into park and clicked on the hazard lights, then jumped out to help load the numerous bags.
"I'll have you know that I was propositioned after no more than two minutes of standing here alone," said Charlotte, a tad indignant as she relayed one glossy parcel after another.
"I'm guessing it was an offer you could refuse," the taller woman teased.
"Oh, yeah. A veiny old perv in a white Cadillac. Said I looked like Pippi Longstocking with these braids," she said, flipping one lengthy twine of golden hair over her shoulder. "Maybe I should wear my hair up tonight. Makes me look older, less like the eternal virgin."
"That look, my dear, has nothing to do with your hair," Diana claimed. "Although I would be happy to correct anyone who suffers from that particular delusion. I'm already having a bit of trouble walking after only two days in your company..."
A stiff slap to the shoulder cut off any further commentary on that subject, though the young woman did look somewhat prideful at the notion of having impaired her lover's ambulatory abilities.
"I still can't believe you bought all this stuff," said Diana while stuffing the last of the packages into the tiny back seat. "I never would have pegged you as a clotheshorse."
"Drop it, Starrett - or I'll go back in and clean out the entire store
just to spite you," Charlotte threatened, pointing a loaded finger. Diana
held up her hands in surrender as she jogged back to the driver's side and got
"Consider it dropped. On to Treus, then?" she asked, flicking off the hazards and easing the car back into traffic.
Charlotte nodded and stretched, yawning as she spoke. "Yeeeaaahh. Grab my car, then we should head home, dress and get over to Marco's as soon as we can."
*Home,* Diana repeated to herself, mulling that over first before processing the rest of the words and managing to formulate a question. "Why the rush to get over there, Charlie? Didn't you say that guy bugged you?"
"I don't want to see Marco. I want to talk to his mother - I told you that," Charlotte answered, sounding more amused than defensive. "You have a memory glitch, there, hon?"
Diana nearly had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing at the irony of that innocent jibe. "Just a little one. Long-standing problem I hope to have fixed someday," she said, smiling toward the tinted side window. "Still, why go earlier than necessary?"
"I used your phone to call Maribel while you were trying on that little Donna Karan number," Charlie recalled. "She said she'd be happy to talk to us, but that we should get there before Marco's guests start arriving, so that we can have some privacy."
*Well, that makes sense. Thus ends the phone call mystery.* "You want to talk to her about the dream thing, right? Slipped my mind. Sorry."
"S'okay. I have trouble remembering things myself these days. I think my brain is rebelling against all the tortures I put it through in school," the attorney explained, taking advantage of a stoplight to weave her fingers with those of her driver, resting both their hands on the gear shift.
"Law school was that rough on you, eh?"
The younger woman bit back a snort of laughter. "Now, there's an understatement! I always thought of law school as being the opposite of sex - even when it's pretty good, it's still lousy. Felt like three years in a liberal gulag."
"Oooh," the dark woman moaned in mock-sympathy, "such tortures you've known." Diana pulled Charlotte's hand to her lips, kissing each finger in turn before leaning over to connect with her mouth in a soft, slow kiss. A horn blared behind them, and Charlie blinked her eyes open.
"Light's green," she murmured, without moving to pull back.
"So? Let 'em wait." Diana deepened the sweet contact, finding teeth and tongue, determined to steal a bit of peace while she could. She knew such moments would occur with a distressing infrequency over the next several hours, and was determined not to let a single opportunity pass unexploited.
One open eye caught the turning of the light from green to yellow, and she hit the gas just enough to get them through the intersection. The route to Treus translated to twelve blocks = twelve kisses, and for most of the trip, Diana was driving while intoxicated.
"That's your car? It looks more like an armored personnel carrier!" Blue eyes squinted as they took in the black, boxy shape, the toothy silver grill.
Charlotte huffed, taking offense. "Hey, don't give me shit about my Volvo! It's.."
"Safe. I know, I know," Diana interrupted, shaking her head as Charlotte disembarked. "I'll meet you back at your place. Gotta fill up the tank and have the oil checked."
"Okay. Don't be long, but be careful - drive like a sane person," Charlotte warned, then waved as she jogged across the deserted parking lot to her luxury Sherman tank. Diana watched her until the Volvo had pulled onto the street, then she peeled out of the lot and found the nearest service station, setting up her phone and coding unit while the eager young attendant popped the hood. Twenty-four dollars later, she punched in the digits for a secure connection and drove away, waiting for the call to go through.
Today, the screening service played the Richard Harris version of "MacArthur Park," and for the first time, she found herself unable to listen to a selection on the jukebox from hell. Diana held the phone away from her ear until Harry Mars came on the line, sounding out of breath.
"Running yourself ragged, Mars?" she asked, only slightly smug.
"Hey, organizing a coup is hard work," Harry shot back. "How are things on the front line?"
"Heating up, I'm afraid. Two of Riggins' goons stumbled onto me this afternoon."
"Shit. They give you any trouble?" The scrape and click of a lighter was heard as Harry lit up a cigarette to calm his nerves.
Diana chuckled, as if the answer should be evident. "You're talking to me, aren't you? I'm fine."
A long hiss of breath, like a release of steam from a swollen pipe. "You put 'em down?"
"Nope. Drugged 'em hard and stashed them for a while. They won't bother me tonight."
"Dammit, Diana! You gotta watch your ass on this one. You're out there alone, and you can't afford to play nice with everybody." Mars tried to keep his voice more angry than concerned, but failed.
Frowning as she waited at a stoplight, the agent realized that she hadn't even considered killing the men as a precaution, only as a last resort. *Just like with that little boy.*
"I know that, and I don't intend to hold to this policy if I feel I'm in danger, but these two were no threat. One was a complete amateur, and the other treated me like an old friend," she said, rousing her own curiosity again. "Skinny blonde guy, very cooperative - scared, almost. May be called 'Dan,' or something like that. Addressed me by name. Can you think of any reason why he'd do that, Harry?"
The answer was delayed by two beats, just long enough to make Diana worry. "None that I like the sound of. He's one of Riggins' men? You shouldn't have had any contact with them during your time here," he claimed. "They do a different sort of work than us."
"What kind of work?"
Mars paused, sucking the cigarette and exhaling smoke into the phone. "Wetwork," he said simply.
"Just killing? That's their specialty? Nonono... these two were not stone killers. If Riggins has all these wetwork pros at his disposal, why would he send Slim and None after me?"
"Can't say for sure - maybe my moves have cut into his selection. His staff is shrinking by the hour," Harry gloated.
"Is that a dick joke, Mars?" she asked, mustering a tiny giggle.
"No, gutterbrain," he chided, trying to stay on the subject. "All I can really offer you are rumors about his unit's proficiency, rumors of their involvement in messy situations over the past several years."
"Like what? Anything I would have heard of?" Diana was undeniably intrigued.
"You remember eight years back, that keiretsu seeking protection from the Yakuza?"
Diana came up with a hit immediately. She remembered the important points of the case. "Yeah. Matsuda Group, wasn't it? We had to turn them down because there was no national threat."
"One and the same. The Japanese government may not have thought it important enough to ask for help, but Riggins has always been responsive to private offers. Some say that he sent his crew in there and expunged the troublemakers," Mars explained. "Quite a mess. But afterwards, there was a sudden infusion of capital for the agency - it may have been a private deal with the keiretsu."
"Harry, we're not guns for hire. We're supposed to have a just purpose, something more than money," Diana insisted, though some part of her knew that this had never been completely true.
"You and me, Di. Can't speak for the Director, although I know in my gut that this Falcon thing comes down to money for him. He's working an angle, and it has nothing to do with an international trial for war criminals."
"Maybe he arranged for their escape in the first place, just so he could sell or barter them back," Diana theorized, making a sudden leap in logic. "Could be that he and Marco Falcon are team mates."
Dead silence on the line as Harry Mars worked that possibility into a probability. "If that's the case, he could show up for the meet tonight. Diana, you need to get out of there. If he spots you, there will be trouble."
She quickly weighed the risks of a personal encounter with Riggins against the benefits of busting not only Falcon, Bartok and Jamal, but the director himself. Then there was the immeasurable benefit of getting out and having a future of her own making - one which she was unwilling to set aside for anything.
"No, Harry. I'll see it through."
"You don't have to," he persisted, "It's not inconceivable now that I could strong-arm him out the door - I have the support of enough people to make it possible." Mars tried again to quell the rising anxiety by taking a long drag. Both he and Diana knew that he was lying - without something to take to the U.N., the transfer of power would not be official, and Harry's authority would not be recognized.
Diana tried again to take the yoke off his shoulders, to ease his immoderate sense of responsibility for her safety. "I'm not afraid of him, you know. If those guys this afternoon were all he has left to throw at me, then he's dead in the water - I could take the likes of them in my sleep. If he shows tonight, all the better. We'll add him to our gift basket for the U.N., along with the rest of the He-Man Human Haters Club."
The quiet told her he was probably smiling, but he refused to give her the satisfaction of knowing for certain. "I don't doubt your abilities, and I know that under normal circumstances this would be a walk in the park for you... but these are not normal circumstances," Mars began, trying to keep his courage level high enough to speak candidly.
"This is the first time you've had anything personal at stake, and while your situation may augment your motivation, it may serve as a... a hindrance to maintaining focus."
"Harry, what the hell are you talking about?" she interrupted, tiring quickly of his double-talk. She heard a defeated sigh on the line, and when Harry spoke again, he sounded different. Not just worried, but strained, reproachful...
"I'm talking about your sudden interest in quitting us after spending two nights in the sack with some chippy lawyer. I'm talking about the possibility that I could lose my best agent because she isn't thinking straight - no pun intended. My worry is that your 'good reason to live' could wreck your concentration - that could get you killed... and I'm not prepared for that contingency."
Diana waited silently, somewhat dumbstruck at the latent revelation. She heard him draw a deep breath and light another cigarette. She realized that Harry Mars had been listening to her words very carefully at their meeting the previous evening, and that he knew more about her reasons than he had let on.
*Eladio probably told him about Charlotte at first, and he inferred the rest. I know he's always had kind of a soft spot for me, but I don't need to deal with his feelings right now. Neither does he.*
She downshifted and turned sharply, scraping the ground spoiler on sloped asphalt as she wheeled into a convenient parking lot - she wanted to be sitting still for this. Finding a secluded spot, she slipped the Porsche out of gear and let the engine idle.
"You finished, Harry?" asked Diana, surprisingly calm.
"Mmm hmm," he mumbled. "I said my piece. Am I wrong?"
"You're more than wrong, you're out of line," she stated bluntly. "My reasons for wanting out are my own, and they have nothing to do with you, therefore they are none of your goddamned business. I can focus just fine, thank you, and I will complete my end of the deal. At the very least, I'll deliver the location of the safe-houses. Then I'll expect you to come through on your end - and let me out."
"I have no intention of reneging on our agreement, I'm just concerned you're doing this for the wrong..."
"Don't be. This was my idea, and I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could pull it off. Quit wondering about the whys and think about the hows. Take care of your end and let me worry about mine," Diana advised in a clipped tone, free of pretense.
Harry Mars was quiet then, thinking hard and brooding over his untimely emotional outburst. Despite his doubts regarding her choice of partners, he knew that Diana had exhibited shrewd judgment in that area, and had never compromised an operation for personal reasons. A long drag later, he cleared his throat and choked out a quick, hacking cough - evidence of his two pack a day habit.
"You outta quit smoking so much, boss. There's eight million ways to die without begging for another," she offered finally, breaking the standoff.
"Hey, you smoke," he muttered.
"Only a little, and not often. All things in moderation, right? I don't go overboard with anything."
"Does that include the lawyer?"
"I'm not gonna lie, Harry. I've never felt like this before, and although she is the main reason I want out, she's not the sole cause. Everything I told you last night about burning out is true - I just can't stand the thought of doing this until I die," Diana explained. "I want a new life, and I know that I could be happy with her. Whatever has to be done to afford me that opportunity, I'm gonna do."
"Even if that means a face to face with Riggins?"
"He won't know what hit him," she promised. "Unless he's got some mondo ace up his sleeve, he's going down. Underestimating you is dangerous enough, but if he thought those two goons could bring me in, he's misjudged me as well."
Harry shook off a second of confusion. "Wait a minute. Bring you in?"
"Yeah. The skinny one said that Riggins wanted me alive. They had a heavy dose of Morpheus with my name on it."
"Well, that speaks to how important he thinks you are. He's not known for leaving loose ends, Di," he reminded. "And you say one of the hitters seemed to know you?"
"That's what I said. And that's what he said - I dunno how much credence to give his word, though."
"If Riggins didn't stand to lose anything, he would have sent them in with guns blazing. Why would he want you intact?"
"I wondered about that myself, but I didn't have time to question this 'Dan' thoroughly," she said. "This is starting to worry me a little. Would you do some checking, find out if there are any gaps in my service record before I was assigned to you full time?"
She could hear the wheels turning in Harry's head as he processed the request.
"You think there's something to find? Some connection with Riggins?"
Tapping her fingers nervously on the steering wheel, Diana wondered if she really wanted to know.
"Mars, if I surface, it's gonna come out anyway. If that's the case, I'd like to know before it blindsides me."
A heavy exhale, and he agreed with a grunt. "I'll see what I can do."
Diana hit the clutch and shifted into reverse, pulling back onto the street to resume her trek back to Charlotte's. "You do that. I need to go."
"Gotta get ready for tonight?"
"Uh huh. I checked the trunk and was well pleased," she purred. "You stashed a little bit of everything in here, didn't you?"
"Be prepared, that's my motto."
"Ahhh. Maybe that's why Riggins hates you - deep down, you're just a fuckin' Boy Scout."
Diana waited until Harry Mars stopped laughing before saying goodbye, hoping that he had forgiven himself for the little slip in his cool facade.
*Eladio used to tease you about being 'teacher's pet.' If he were here, he'd give you such hell about this...*
As she drove on, something Charlie said that morning kept coming back to her.
She drew her hand up to her face and sniffed her own wrist.
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