That Paul Harvey Quote
you think you've got friends in high places, with the power to put us on the
Well, forgive us these smiles on our faces—you'll know what power is when we are done."
London, England. Two days earlier.
The phone rang. Constance Connelly rolled over, stretching across the bed to answer. Then she realized that it wasn't her cellphone ringing.
It was the other one. The one hidden in the lining of her headboard.
Her thin fingers scrabbled at the edge of the linen material, pulling it away to retrieve the sleek black cell—a basic, practical burner phone.
She answered, but didn't speak.
"Direct from Tel Aviv."
She already knew. She sat up, hand automatically going to pull back the hair from her face, "What news, Tel Aviv?"
"You have been chosen. Be prepared to leave at any time."
She didn't ask questions. That wasn't her job.
"Understood," she hung up. There would be another phone call soon, with more logistics—travel plans, meeting points, everything she would need to know. She didn't know when the call would come (fifteen minutes, an hour, a day, a week, soon), but she would be ready when it did.
She rose, padding on bare feet across the wooden floor to her closet, where her go-bag was waiting. She pulled back the clothing hanging across the bar, revealing the metal safe built into the wall. She punched in the code, opened the box, checked her weapons—the brass knuckles, the matching curved karambit knives in their shoulder harness, the sleek black Jericho 941 with its clips loaded and ready to go. Her fingers lightly trailed over them, a lover's touch, but she didn't pack them yet (you never took your weapons out until it was absolutely necessary). There were various national currencies, passports under different aliases, and sundry cosmetics—liquid latex, hair dye, self-tanner (how many times had she changed her appearance, the shape of her nose and cheeks, the color of her hair, the shade of her skin, to slip past authorities completely undetected?)
With another anxious sigh, she glanced around the room. She'd liked it here—the loft was minimalistic, yet homey, filled with old farmhouse furniture that reminded her of her childhood in Northern Ireland, a few books and a solid, well-weighted vase here and there, but no photos, no trinkets or other personal effects. She'd learned that lesson the hard way—never have anything that was hard to leave behind.
Her fingers moved to her mouth, lightly playing over the old scar on her lip—a habit she'd developed over the years. Her body was still but her mind moved, thinking of all the things she'd have to line up in order to leave. She'd cite a sudden illness with her mother—Clyde couldn't deny her leave, he wouldn't.
A sudden shiver ran down her spine—her boy shorts and tank top were insufficient for the drafty loft, but she didn't move to grab a sweater or duck back under the covers.
Someone's walking over my grave, she internally repeated the old adage.
That wasn't a good sign at all. No good could come of this mission, she felt it. Still, it wouldn't stop her from taking it, and more importantly, fulfilling it.
Not that she would be given the option to refuse, anyways.
She set her hands on her hips. Now it was time to wait. It wasn't the most enjoyable task, but she was rather good at it. After all, she'd been waiting in this room for almost three years now. Ever since Clyde Easter had found her and brought her back into the fold at Interpol.
Nairobi Police Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.
"Don't run yourself into the ground." Clyde Easter's voice was gentle, and she knew that was as close as he could ever come to telling her that he was worried about her.
Constance allowed herself a small smile (after all, he couldn't see it), "I won't."
"Is that all we've got, so far?" Clyde always was good at maneuvering back to the place of professional and proper—it was a trait she'd always admired in him, his ability to be a good steadfast little soldier. For years, men had seen her as beautiful. Clyde saw her as a set of brains with awesome potential. She'd always been grateful for that.
She feigned indignation, and they had a short back-and-forth. Then she hung up the phone and glanced over at the body on the table.
She'd worked like a fiend, getting this reconstruction done in record time so that she could steal a few hours—everything had to be measured and timed, like a ballet, a grand symphony. She discarded her gloves, set her glasses on top her head, slipped off her labcoat, then dragged her go-bag from underneath the metal counter.
If she had ever doubted the saying friends in high places, she certainly didn't now—less than six hours after her activation call, she'd been standing in front of Clyde Easter as he dryly informed her that they were going to Nairobi. She'd received another call shortly after that (confirming her suspicions that there had to be another inside man at Interpol). Being sent in as an Interpol agent had been an absolute salvation, because when flying with Interpol on a private jet, your bags weren't searched before boarding the plane. After all, you were a government agent—you were expected to have weapons in your bag.
She took her hair down from its twist, rubbing the aching spots on the back of her skull left by the bobby pins. Slipping the small black burner phone from her back pocket, she dialed a number that she now knew by heart as she rummaged through her bag.
"It's me. I can't hold them off much longer—if we're going to meet, it needs to be now."
Constance Connelly took a deep breath as she clipped her way down the empty sidewalk—the sun was on its way, turning the sky a faded sickly black-blue, and the city wasn't fully awake yet. The heels of her low boots rapped the pavement, sharp and determined. She gave a deft tug of her jacket sleeves, readjusted her shirt—she was wearing her padded bra, the one that pushed her up a cup size and kept her shirt looser, further away from her torso, allowing her to keep a small tactical jackknife under the curve of her right breast. She would have preferred simply wearing her harness with her two karambit knives, but she didn't want to spook Ade. She still had her Jericho 941 strapped to her ankle, tucked into the top of her low-cut boots, hidden beneath the wide flare of her pants leg. As the saying goes, Never bring a knife to a gunfight. She would have preferred a little more firepower on her side, but it would have to suffice, if things got out of hand.
She glanced around again. No one was out on the streets at this hour, not in this neighborhood. Ade had chosen the meet site well.
She rounded another corner, and a man came out from a doorway behind her. She didn't slacken pace.
"A lovely lady shouldn't walk unaccompanied at such an hour." The accent was thick, with hints of French.
"Then how lucky I am to have found you," she replied, not even glancing over at her companion.
"You are even more splendid in person."
Now she looked, taking a moment to regard the tall Senegalese man walking next to her—young, well-toned, amiable, good looking. "You don't look too bad yourself, Mr. Ade."
"Please, call me Andi. All my friends do."
"So we are friends now?"
"We are business partners, for the moment. But who knows? We may become better acquainted after all the boring business stuff is taken care of."
She simply smiled. It wasn't the first time a man had hit on her—and as long as her looks got her what she wanted, she really didn't care.
"Your business must be very important, to bring you all the way from Ireland," the Senegalese continued easily.
She nodded. That was the backstory assigned to her—Irish rebel, looking for a mastermind to hire for an attack. Her assignment to this mission had immediately made sense—she was the only Kidon agent who could pull off the Irish backstory. She didn't mind, but it was still an interesting notion, thinking that someone in Tel Aviv had pretended to be her for weeks, cozying up to an international terrorist, without her knowledge at all. It. That was part of the sacrifice she'd made as well—her identity, her life wasn't her own any more.
Ade had been an easy target, because he was a young lion who'd grown restless—Wasaki had promised him the world, but in actuality hadn't given him a single grain of sand. He'd agreed to do business with Constance, on the condition that she take out Wasaki.
"So, ma belle," Andwele's voice was pleasant, almost musical. "Tell me what I can do for you today. Ask anything, and it shall be yours. After all, I do owe you my life."
It was less than two hours later that Andwele Ade was begging for that self same life, globs of gooey bloody slobber dropping from his lips onto the dirty concrete floor. A few broken bones, a few pulled teeth, a black eye—still, it wasn't enough, not in Constance's book.
He deserved worse. It wasn't her best work, to be sure—she didn't have time to pack all of her tools, so most of it was based on pure improvisation.
Constance watching him with the critical eye of a master painter observing his latest work, carefully donning a long coat over her bloody clothes. She'd have to burn them all, once this was finished, but she'd packed a spare set in the car that Tel Aviv had procured for her.
She moved quietly on bare feet (she'd taken off her boots to avoid the blood spatter—they were her favorites, and she really didn't want to have to get rid of them), exiting out the back door of the ramshackle building, instinctively glancing around before opening the trunk of her dingy, nondescript vehicle (so completely unnoticeable in this neighborhood, in any neighborhood—because flashy got you noticed, and noticed got you killed).
Part of her request for a car had included a trunk filled with all the tools that she would need to perform her task, which Tel Aviv had beautifully fulfilled. She'd left the car a few blocks away from the meet site—they had agreed to meet on foot, and she couldn't risk changing the plan. Men like Ade and Wasaki were still alive because they were cautious to the point of paranoia, and when they made a plan, they wanted it to be followed to the letter.
However, once Ade was securely subdued, Constance had brought her car back around—it wouldn't do to be spotted hauling large containers of various acidic liquids while walking down the street in broad daylight.
Again, she wished that she'd been given more time. She could have set up a safe room, had all of the necessary tools and materials already in place, ready to go. She could have truly taken her time, could have exacted full and weighted vengeance upon the target of her particular brand of justice.
Constance Connelly didn't have time for wishes. The clock was winding down—she needed to be back at the lab in two hours, and there was still so much work to be done. She grabbed another ten-gallon bucket of industrial cleaning solvent and went back inside.
Ade was still pleading, offering her anything—money, a new life, more weapons, anything.
Constance ignored his pleas with her usual brusque efficiency, pouring the chemical mixture into a huge rusted metal container—she preferred bathtubs for this sort of thing, but she was on a limited time frame and improvisation was the key, so she had to settle for a large metal trash can that she'd found on the street corner.
The average person would just bury the body somewhere and hope that it would never be found, but Constance Connelly hadn't become the best by using such sloppy tactics. When she killed a man, she made him a ghost—no physical evidence of any kind remained, ever.
Besides, Ade was a traitor—he'd planned to betray his own mentor, to turn Wasaki over to the international task force in hopes of shoving him out of the way and becoming the next new king of terror. To add to the distastefulness, he'd also folded like a house of cards after some of Constance's rather painful promptings, giving up a great deal of information in the futile hope of saving his own skin. Constance had a special dislike for men of such ilk.
"Plee….plee…" Andwele was crying too hard to even finish the word anymore.
The Irishwoman shook her head in dismay, "You reached too high and got too greedy, my friend. Hubris, it's what gets us all, in the end."
She leaned over, lightly wiping away some spittle from the side of his face in an almost-motherly fashion. Then she picked up the teeth she'd removed, gingerly cleaning them with them hem of her shirt. More items that would have to disappear soon.
"Was…Wasaki will kill you," his terror was slowly muting into defiance. "He will know it was you."
"My darling," she placed her hands on her knees, bringing her eyes to his level. "Have you not been reading the labels of all the lovely stuff I've been putting in that bin over there? When I'm done, you will be bones. Nothing more. And when I pull out your bones, I'm going to grind them into very small pieces and scatter them in some old lady's garden. There will be no body, no evidence, nothing at all."
He grew ill at the thought. She gave a small smile, all cat-that-ate-the-canary. Here it was, the true moment of defeat.
Time for one last blow.
She leaned forward, her lips ghosting his ear, "By the way, Wasaki's the one who told me to kill you in the first place."
It was a lie, but one that served its purpose well. He didn't fight after that.
She finished the job, with an air of easy of efficiency. Wasaki's heir apparent was dismembered and set into the chemical concoction to dissolve. The bin was dumped, the solvents disappearing down a grate in the floor (Ade really had done a wonderful job in choosing this location), the bones were ground up, tossed back into the metal trash bin with Constance's bloody clothes, and set on fire, melted down with the empty plastic containers from the chemicals. The trash bin was washed out and returned to the street, slightly charred but generally no worse for wear.
In the end, there was no trace that Ade had ever been there. Another ghost on her list—and hopefully a sign of things to come for Mariatu Wasaki's reign.
Yet, for some reason, she took it as a sign of how her own career would end.
She hadn't been lying to Agent Shir-Del when she'd mentioned upping her cigarette count. The stress of trying to be two places and two people at once was fraying her nerves—she wouldn't slip (she'd never slip), but she'd definitely push mind and body to their ultimate limits with this high-wire act. She was used to going long periods of time without sleep, and when combined with copious amounts of coffee and nicotine, she was nigh near unstoppable.
Her cell had buzzed while she was continuing her subtle and searching seduction of the lovely Ahoo—a sad loss, but a necessary sacrifice.
Tel Aviv wanted her to act now. They had a location on Wasaki (which she had given them, thanks to Ade) and they wanted to move quickly.
Constance preferred more time to finesse her approach to a target, but her concerns were overruled.
"This may be our only chance." Her contact at Tel Aviv reminded her.
"I assure you, I only need one." There was no pridefulness in her statement, only fact. After all, her skill and prowess had been what brought her onto the Kidon's radar in the first place.
"Of course. That's why we chose you."
This time, she did take her karambits, the harness snugly wrapped around her frame in a way that was both familiar and comforting. Her Jericho was strapped to her hip, and two small spear-tipped throwing blades were encased in the lining of her ankle boots, should all other weapons fail. She wore a grey leather jacket to cover her arsenal, though anyone who glanced at this slim and slight woman with her sober face and practical hair would never assume that she was an assassin of the highest order. Her lovely curved tactical knife that had accompanied her on the trip to meet Andwele Ade had been destroyed—she'd messed up the blade badly, trying to hack him into smaller pieces so that his body could fully fit into the trash can filled with her homemade acid mix—and it had been rendered useless. She'd made it disappear, almost as well as she'd made Andwele vanish. She hated losing it, and took it as yet another sign that this mission would be the end of many things for her.
She said a prayer and touched the mark on her lip before she entered the building. It was a thing of nightmares—unfinished rooms and winding hallways, the sheer size of it all, the stacks of building supplies that were perfect for a man with a gun to hide behind and take perfect aim.
Her cover story hadn't been compromised, but she didn't want to take chances—she slipped her sleek black pistol out of its holster, keeping her grip loose but steady as she opened the door to the stairwell.
Fourth floor, Apartment 11. That was where Wasaki was supposed to be.
She stood still for a moment, allowing her eyes to adjust—there was no electricity, only feeble shafts of sunlight that struggled their way through the small slits in the doorways to illuminate the blackness. The stairwell was hot, muggy, stiff from lack of fresh air, and she could feel her own pulse hammering at her jugular, her ears almost ringing at the immensity of the silence. It reminded her of time spent in sensory deprivation (she'd tried to build up her tolerance to such tortures, once upon a time, back when she wasn't just a sleeper tucked away in Northern Ireland with her roses).
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she was sorely tempted to ignore it. Now wasn't the most opportune time to take a call. Still, she slipped it out of her pocket, face scrunching in confusion at the number.
Tel Aviv was calling again. They never called when they knew that she was in the field like this. It had to be important.
She answered, but didn't speak.
"Interpol knows where he is. They are sending a team. You must get out."
"I am completing my mission."
"You haven't the time."
She fought back a noise of frustration. "Permission to go off-course."
"Granted. What are—"
"The point of going off-course is being allowed to operate without having to answer to superiors," she kept her voice low, yet the haughtiness in her tone was still audible.
"Understood. Happy hunting."
She hung up. She'd already wasted too much time—she doubled her pace, pulling back for a moment before opening the doorway to the fourth floor.
Wasaki was not expecting her, but he recovered from his surprise very quickly.
"I fear for Andi," he informed her. "He has not returned all day."
"If he's been taken, it's all the more reason that we should move," she added an air of urgency to her movements.
Wasaki stopped, looked at her, alert as ever—he reminded her of a panther, large and curious and cunning. He was a survivor, and he sensed that his survival was threatened.
"Interpol has a team en route," she ran her fingers through her hair, agitated but undefeated.
"Your inside man has been a life saver." Something in his tone was edged with the beginnings of suspicion.
No, not yet, Constance prayed. She was not a stupid woman—she knew that she didn't have the physical strength to subdue Mariatu Wasaki and drag him down four flights of stairs. He had to go willingly, and he had to go now.
Still, Wasaki followed her instructions—after all, she'd proven her loyalty by saving him before. He still had the hubris of a man who's outsmarted his enemies for far too long. He thought that even if she proved false, he would be able to overcome.
They split up—Wasaki went up, across the skybridge to another building. Constance stayed behind, quietly removing any trace that anyone had been there. To many it may have seemed like a futile gesture, but with the joint task force at their heels, she couldn't afford to give them any indication of where Wasaki might be next—or that she was on his trail as well. Hopefully she could still make this bust look like a dead-end, the way she did the last one.
She was moving quickly now, quietly making her way to the fifth floor. She heard noises, light shufflings—the tactical team had already made it.
Her pulse skyrocketed again.
You're slipping, you're slipping. You can't get caught. Die or disappear, those are your options.
Naturally, she chose disappearing. She waited, listened, then quietly peered around the corner. The team was down another hall, not near her yet. She moved to the skybridge, easily slipping past the heavy glass door.
She couldn't take the bridge yet—the door was nothing but glass, and anyone coming down the hall could see whoever was walking across it. So she shifted to the corner, hiding behind the twisting pillars of steel and concrete.
She heard Emily Prentiss' voice giving the all-clear, then heard the stairwell door open up again.
Constance's nerves went down a notch. Perhaps she'd made this one by the skin of her teeth. She shifted slightly, moving closer to the main section of the skybridge—eventually, someone would think to come back up here and check the bridge, and she needed to be out of here as soon as possible.
She heard a slight noise, something almost imperceptible—she stopped, frozen, heart pounding as every muscle ached with uncertainty.
Emily Prentiss was entering the skybridge.
Oh. Constance felt a moment of regret. Of all the people, it had to be Emily. She liked the woman, from what little time they'd spent together over the last three years.
It was easier than it should have been—Emily made a fatal mistake. She turned back to her fellow agents.
Constance stepped forward, resolute and unafraid. If she had to do it, she'd do it while looking the other woman in the eye. It was a point of pride, her own twisted morality.
Emily turned back around, her face registering first shock and then recognition. In a mere heartbeat, Constance read the entire story playing across those big brown eyes.
Her cover was blown. Her mission was compromised. She did the only thing that she could.
She raised her gun towards Emily Prentiss.
And she pulled the trigger.
"Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires."