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Pulling into the parking lot of Starbucks, I’m lucky enough to find a vacancy next to Agent Chandler’s silver BMW. It’s crowded, seems everyone comes here on their lunch hour. I see her from the corner of my eye as I enter. She’s sitting at a corner table, and I purposefully walk past her.

“Mr. Varro, are you stalking me?” Agent Chandler asks, playfully.

If she only knew how true her statement is.

I face her, acting surprised. “Agent Chandler,” I say, smiling. “Small world, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. I see your ankle is better,” she says, looking down at it. I look down at my ankle as well before walking over to her.

“It is. Thank you. You never got a hold of me, Agent Chandler,” I comment, pulling out a chair, making myself comfortable.

I stare at her. Studying her, trying to figure out why she won’t make eye contact. She looks up then away, but never holds my gaze. When she does look up, briefly, I catch glimpses of her moss green eyes. They’re outlined with a thin ring of black, but it’s still noticeable, and quite beautiful. She has her curly hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, leaving her oval shaped face and high cheekbones clear of obstruction. She wears very little makeup. Her full, pouty mouth has a very light lip gloss with a hint of brown to it. She’s striking, and she’s not even trying. Her outfit, I notice because of how she wears her black pant suit. It’s form fitting, accentuating her very curvaceous figure. The white camisole is cut low, allowing the smallest amount of cleavage to peek through the jacket.

“I had no further questions for you, Mr. Varro,” she amends.

“Is that a fact?” I muse, but before she can answer I change the subject. “Why won’t you look at me? Do I make you nervous?”

The question is innocent enough, but my motives aren’t so pure. I want her to admit her attraction towards me. By the look on her face my question catches her off guard. Good. I don’t think she realizes how obvious she’s being by not looking me in the eyes. Most women can’t help but stare. My eyes cause most people to stare, and the fact that she won’t makes it more apparent she’s trying not to.

“No, Mr. Varro. You don’t make me nervous. As I’m sure you’re aware, your eyes can be quite captivating. I didn’t want to be rude by staring,” she explains.

“I wouldn’t mind if you did . . . stare,” I return her honesty in a playful tone. “I also wouldn’t mind if you called me Michael from now on. In fact, I must insist.”

That got a smile out of her. “Only if you call me Shyira in return.”

“Done. So, Shyira, are you in a relationship?” I ask, skipping straight to the heart of the matter. Playtime is over. I need my target.

“Wow, Mr. umm . . . Michael, you don’t believe in small talk, do you?” She looks down as she starts tapping her pen on the table. A nervous habit, I think.

“When the occasion calls for it. Right now, I’m more interested in being straightforward.”

I startle her with my line of questioning. Let’s see how she performs under pressure.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I am,” she states.

Not what I was expecting. So, she can lie.

Now it’s my turn to feign surprise. I know her profile like the back of my hand. There’s no way in hell she’s in a relationship. Agent Chandler continues her thought only after noticing the surprise on my face.

“With my job,” she clarifies, narrowing her eyes at me.

Clever girl.

She continues to watch me and only when I seem to relax does she speak again, “I don’t appreciate the surprised look on your face when I said I was in a relationship. Do you think I’m not capable of landing a man?” She asks, clearly irritated.

I stifle my laugh because that’s not what I’m thinking at all. “No, on the contrary,” I clarify. “More like disappointed.”

I smile inwardly. She quickly smiles before straightening her face, but I notice.

“Well, that wasn’t an invitation, Mr. Varro,” she replies curtly, ceasing the pen tapping.

I slouch in my seat a little. “So, we’re back to ‘Mr. Varro,’ are we? You’re making me regret telling you my last name, Agent Chandler,” I retort.

I’m under her skin, finally, and that’s exactly where I plan on staying. She isn’t falling for the Mr. nice guy act, so let’s see if she falls for the smart ass, I don’t give a shit act instead.

“Is that a fact?” She asks, standing up, gathering her belongings. “I have to get back to work, now. Perhaps if fate finds it so, I’ll see you again, Michael.” She winks at me as she makes her way to the front door.

What the hell, who is the mark here?

I press my lips together in a straight line out of frustration. She’s weakening, but still isn’t taking the bait. Never have I had to work so hard to get a woman interested before. What is wrong with her?

She isn’t going to get rid of me that easily, after all, I have a job to do.

“Shyira,” I yell after her, getting to my feet. “At the very least let me walk you to your car,” I suggest, opening the door for her.
“How very chivalrous of you,” she replies with a crooked smile.

“I find it comes in handy at times,” I say jokingly, artfully playing both sides of the coin.

Agent Chandler fishes her keys out of her purse before pushing the button to automatically unlock the door. I grab the handle before she can get her hand on it.

“Before I let you get away from me, again. I have to ask, will you have dinner with me tonight?” I can’t get any more straightforward than that.

“I’m sorry, Michael. I have plans tonight,” she replies.

I nod before shrugging my shoulders. “Can’t say I didn’t try.”

I turn around perplexed, but more pissed that I can’t get close to this woman. As I leave my blood begins to boil when I hear her car engine roar to life.

What the fuck? Why won’t she cooperate?

Hearing the door close, I almost lose it, but I don’t. I keep my cool. Good thing I do because she calls out to me.

“Michael,” she yells over the noise of the traffic.

I smile slightly before I stop. I turn around, but don’t come any closer.

“Some of the guys from my unit are going to meet at ‘The Three Clubs’ on Vine in Hollywood for drinks. If you want, you could meet me there at ten,” she smiles as she rolls up her window, driving off. I stand, watching as she drives down Melrose Blvd. I can’t help but feel a little victorious about this one. She was no easy feat. I unlock the door of the Escalade, getting in. I immediately take the comm unit out of my computer bag, pressing the button on the signal channel ground and airborne radio system, or for short S.I.N.C.G.A.R.S. unit. This unit is highly sophisticated, enabling us to hop frequencies one hundred and eleven times per second if necessary.

“Vivian, you copy?”

“I’m here, Michael. Go ahead,” she replies.

“I’m in. I’m meeting her at a bar called ‘The Three Clubs’ on Vine in Hollywood at ten. Send the schematics of the building to my phone. I need to know where all the exits are located. Send in team two to sweep the perimeter. Have them notify me when the perimeter is clean,” I instruct.

“Already sent. They should be on your phone now. There are two main exits to the building and three ventilation ducts,” she explains.

“How big are the ventilation ducts?”

“Not too small that you couldn’t pass through if absolutely necessary.”

“Okay, I’ll contact you when I’m on my way to the bar.”

Vivian doesn’t reply, but I don’t need her to. We all have a job to do. I respect Agent Chandler for not falling down at my feet like most women do. Truth be told, if this wasn’t a job I’d welcome the chase, but this is a job and she hasn’t been cooperating. Tonight the Collective will have Agent Randolph, and I will be on a plane back to London. As the thought enters my mind I feel the tiniest twinge of regret. A feeling I’ve long done away with. I might actually miss not being able to talk with her. I file that thought away in a separate compartment, along with so many other unwanted feelings, and move on. Looking at the clock, it reads 8:25 P.M. It’s time to start getting ready for my date with Agent Chandler. I turn on the shower, stepping in. It isn’t a long one, just long enough to soap up and get out. But as I stand in the hot spray of the shower, out of nowhere, I’m bothered at the thought of her being a POI. I don’t understand why it bothers me, all I know is it does. I quickly wrap my head around the fact that’s all she is.

I dry off in a hurry, dressing in a tailored Italian black suit. The shirt I choose is a turquoise button up long sleeve dress shirt. I leave the top few buttons open, allowing the leather necklace which holds a silver sea turtle amulet, to peek through. The turtle’s back is made of black pearl, varying in colors from: purple to green to turquoise. It looks like something you would find in the tropics, and not at all my style. The turtle has a single purpose, to allow Vivian to have visual contact of my surroundings.

The parking lot of the bar is full, with a small line leading to the inside of the bar. I step out of the vehicle, whispering into the PRC-126 unit at my wrist, “Alpha team to first mark. I’m going in.”

The inside of the small intimate bar is dimly lit, with a few low res lights here and there for ambiance. The bar has a bit of a grunge vibe to it. A live jazz band is playing in the far right corner as the patrons mingle. I notice Agent Chandler right away sitting at the bar, and I head in her direction. There’s a strong need--that’s the only way I can describe the feeling--to memorize every nuance about her. She’s wearing a long form fitting black skirt that stops just below her knees with a slit up the right side, stopping mid-thigh. Her blouse is sea foam green with a high neckline, ribbed with ruffles. It has one faux pearl button fastened at the base of her neck. There’s an opening from the base of her neck to just above--what I imagine--is a black lace bra, allowing her cleavage to show. Elastic makes it gather at the waist right where the top of her sleek skirt ends and the rest of the shirt spills over the top of the skirt, softly ribbed with ruffles. Her black boots have a spiked heel about three inches high, stopping mid-calf. Her hair is straight, making it longer than the last time I saw her. She has it parted on the left, allowing it to partially cover her right eye. I tell myself this is part of the job. Knowing everything about my mark makes me a better operative, but it isn’t until I get close enough to see her moss green eyes stare back at me, I know different. I stop before reaching her, and smile. She looks down sheepishly, then up through her curtain of hair with a crooked smile. The room goes quiet, and I almost don’t notice the people bumping into me as I stand and stare.

“Mr. Varro,” she calls me by my surname. “You made it.”

She doesn’t sound at all surprised. Hearing her voice snaps me out of my haze. I can’t believe I actually let this woman, momentarily, steal my focus. She caused me to drop my guard, making me . . . weak. I frown at the thought as I start to feel more like myself again. I continue to watch her, not moving forward.

Agent Chandler laughs, “Okay, okay . . . Michael. Come here gorgeous, there’s a few people I want you to meet,” she says, summoning me over with her hand.

My guess is she thought the frown was due to her calling me Mr. Varro, not the fact that I allowed myself to get distracted. She sets her glass of wine down on the bar and stands to greet me. She’s different . . . looser.

“My, Agent Chandler, you’ve had a few,” I say, steadying her. She doesn’t even notice I called her Agent Chandler. She only nods her head, giggling. How many has she had?

I continue to watch her, still a bit mesmerized. She’s different than any other woman I’ve ever come in contact with. That need is back. The need to look her over so thoroughly. To make sure I memorize every curve, every trace of her face. I want to imprint her into my mind, so when this is over I can recall the memory of her. Not realizing, or meaning to, really; I reach up stroking her arms slowly and carefully with the tips of my fingers, raising little goose bumps on her arms. Her laughter comes to a halt. She’s sobering up. She finally looks me in the eyes, and holds my gaze for the first time. A voice comes from behind, shattering our moment.

“Shy, you going to introduce us to your friend?”

I drop my arms to my side. Hmm . . . Shy, I like it.

I stare into Agent Chandler’s eyes for a moment longer before looking around her to see the man standing a few feet from us. He’s standing there with--whom I assume is the rest of her unit--glaring in our direction. He’s rigid in a room filled with inebriated people. A real Debbie downer, while the rest of her unit seems not to notice our presence. Agent Chandler turns smiling at the man before audibly clearing her throat to respond, “Of course, this is Michael Varro.” She turns to the side gesturing at me, “Michael, this is my partner, Agent John Randolph.”

I walk around Agent Chandler to shake the man’s hand, getting a good view of him on camera for facial recognition. My time with Agent Chandler was fun, but allowing her to interfere with the mission is never going to happen.

“We got him. All teams standby. We move on Michael’s signal,” Vivian says, through the comm.

It’s time to go to work.

“It’s nice to meet you, Agent Randolph,” I lie, shaking the man’s hand.

“Please, call me John. Any friend of Shy’s is a friend of mine.”

He’s cocky. I already don’t like him. I can’t release his hand fast enough. Taking a step back, I stand closer to Agent Chandler. She leans in close to me, so I can hear her over the noise.

“I have to go to the little girls’ room. I’ll be right back,” she shouts.

I nodded, watching as she weaves her way through the sea of people. No longer able to see her, I continue scanning the area, gauging my surroundings. The live band has changed out. The new band is playing something I would use more as a torture technique. The clientele has also shifted to something a little more suspect. It seems the later it gets the more insane it gets. This is not a place I picture her frequenting, but then again, I don’t know her. The more I look around, the more I feel I’ve overdone my appearance. The women are scantily dressed and the men are casual. It’s a very laid back type of vibe.

“She’s quite beautiful, isn’t she?” I hear Agent Randolph ask.

I turn my attention toward him, looking him in the eyes. He actually holds it for a few short seconds before I answer. The guy’s got balls. I avert my eyes slightly to the right before speaking, making sure my exit is clear.


Agent Randolph narrows his eyes, moving in closer. “I know your kind, Michael,” he says my name with disdain, looking me up and down. It takes everything I have not to pull out my gun and shoot him in the face.

“You pretty boys think you can have, and do whatever you want. I’m here to tell you, Shy isn’t that kind of woman. You take advantage of her and I promise, you won’t be so pretty anymore,” Agent Randolph warns.

I hold his gaze the entire time he makes his threats. I’m completely unaffected by it. I can tell Johnny boy is the kind of guy who gets off on making others squirm. I’m not one of those others, and it’s John who looks away when he sees the opposite of fear in my eyes.

“I think it would be a good idea if you left. I’ll take care of Shy.” Agent Randolph still has an edge of menace in his voice. Still not impressed.

This asshole has about two seconds to get out of my face before I end him, orders be damned. I’m not here to make friends. Once Agent John Randolph is at the Collective he won’t be the one making the threats, anymore. is first, last, and only priority will be . . .

How do I make the pain stop? Answer: DEATH.

I take the slouch out of my stance when I answer, “That’s Shyira’s decision, not yours.” My tone is low and quiet.

Still scanning the crowd, I noticed Agent Chandler coming towards us from the bathroom. She stops in front of us.

“You boys getting along?” She asks, jokingly.

Neither of us answers. Her face suddenly becomes serious, causing her to look from me to her partner. John pushes himself up off the bar. “I’m going outside for a smoke,” he comments, walking away.

I smirk, relishing in the pleasure I’m going to get in ridding the world of one more asshole. Agent Chandler turns all her attention to me. I assume she’s waiting for an explanation she’s never going to get. What she does get is the truth about why I’m really here, and it’s not for her.

As I make my way through the crowd I give the order, “Alpha team move in, second team to first mark.”

Agent Chandler follows me, but I don’t have time to deal with her. She’s far enough back she won’t have time to react anyway. Reaching behind my back, I pull out my Glock 18 from underneath my sport coat. I pop out the thirty round magazine, checking it before popping it back in, out of habit not necessity. I always check my weapons before a mission, so this is more for piece of mind. My arsenal consists of a minimum of two guns at all times. My backup gun of choice is my XD9, which is snug in my shoulder holster with a seventeen round mag. I quietly come up behind Agent Randolph as soon as he hits the exterior of the bar. I put my Glock flush against the back of his neck.

“Come with me please,” I ask, politely.

I force Agent Randolph into the custody of my team as Agent Chandler barrels through the door of the bar. I look up. She draws her weapon. I start toward her, but she’s already flown past me. She doesn’t see me. All she sees is her partner being taken away at gunpoint.

“Stop, FBI,” she yells as she opens fire.

I’m shocked. Bodies begin to whiz past me in a blur as gunfire resounds into the night. There’s screaming. Another shot rings loud, and I see Agent Chandler go down, blood streaming from her thigh. McDaniel’s shot rang true, and he hit his target. A white haze blankets my mind. Another shot rings out. This time McDaniel goes down. I lower my smoking weapon. I run over to Agent Chandler, picking her up off the ground and place her in the van.

“Target secured send in housekeeping. We have one loss, McDaniel,” I tell Vivian.

“Perimeter secure. You’re clear to precede, Michael,” she reports back.

Agent Chandler looks up at me clearly distressed. Her eyes, glassy from loss of blood. I can’t look at her for long. She’s in this situation because of me. All I can do now is help with the pain. I grab the morphine, letting the darkness take her.

“Michael, what are you doing?” Delaney asks. “This isn’t part of the profile.”

Delaney is a member of alpha team, and the closest thing I have to a friend.

“It is now,” I order. “Drive.”

No one dares question me after that. Delaney simply drives away.

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