Disclaimer: The characters portrayed in this story belong to me. This story may not be copied in whole or in part without my express permission. Any resemblance to real or fictional characters is purely coincidental. ;-)
Violence Warning: This is set in the world of spies where intrigue and death can be two prominent factors. There will be stray bullets flying and people meeting a bloody and violent end. Harsh language is also used which may be offending to some. Reader discretion is advised.
Saturday July 1, 2000 -- Present day
A lean, blond-haired woman doing arm curls with some free weights noticed that the local gym she was working out in remained relatively empty this morning. Another arm curl and she was able to catch a glimpse of her watch and noticed that it was only 8 am. She figured with the heat wave hitting her fair city of Toronto, people would be flocking to any building with air-conditioning and probably shun the gyms.
But, here she was with only five other fitness enthusiasts doing her exercises in peace before she had to be at her book signing for 11:00am. She didn't much mind the fact that there weren't very many people here. She much preferred it this way. 'At least I don't have to wait to use the equipment.' She smiled to herself as she brought the lightweight up once again, finishing her third set of 15 repetitions.
With an audible sigh, she lowered the weights carefully and moved to start her next exercise on the weight bench. She adjusted the weights on the bar to suite her, and secured them. She called over to a tall muscled man, Mike, to spot for her. The gym owner smiled his lopsided grin and took up position behind the bench. The young woman positioned herself on her back directly beneath the bar to start her bench press. Her hands gripped the bar shoulder width apart and heaved the weights up once and brought them down to her chest and back up. She managed two reps before she heard the shrill beeping from the pager she wore at her waist.
"Aw. What now?" She murmured beneath her breath, slightly annoyed at being interrupted in the middle of a workout.
"I told you that should have been left in your gym bag." Mike joked as he gestured to the small pager with his chin.
She looked down at her pager and noticed the number was that of her publicist James Riley. "Mike, do you think I could borrow your phone for a minute?" The cheery blond asked the brown-haired man behind her.
"It's all yours Haley."
She abandoned the weights and walked over to the front desk to use the phone there. She picked up the receiver and began dialing the number that appeared on her pager. The phone rang once before it was quickly picked up.
"What's up James." She asked casually.
"You're beautiful you know that right?" James said in his 'suck-up' voice.
"What, they finally threw you in jail for all those unpaid parking tickets and you need me to bail you out right." She laughed jokingly into the phone.
"Oh, a novelist and a comedian. You could make a killing in the entertainment field!" He shot back with his own retort. "Actually, what I was calling about was to ask you for a small favor."
"As long as it doesn't involve having to eat your wife's cooking again." She chuckled, into the phone remembering the pre-dinner party incident almost two years earlier.
Haley had arrived a little earlier than her friends James and Barbara had expected, intending on helping out with the early Christmas meal. Knocking several times and receiving no answer, Haley took it upon herself to push the unlocked door open and announce herself. Upon entering the quaint apartment, the sounds of a muffled hair dryer coming from the kitchen reached her ears. Curiously, she made her way through the fair sized living room towards the kitchen forgetting to announce herself. The sight that met her eyes nearly made her split her side in laughter. There, standing by the stove was James holding the turkey and Barbara with a hairdryer stuck up inside the turkey.
"What are you doing?" Haley exclaimed as her uncontrollable laughter spilled over at the unexpected sight.
Jumping at the unexpected voice, Barbara nearly dropped the hairdryer, surprised to see Haley standing in the kitchen doorway. James quickly dropped the turkey in its roaster and pretended as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on.
"Haley! You're early. Great you could come! How's it going?" came James too casual greeting as he desperately fought to keep the blush from coloring his face.
"What are you guys doing?" Haley managed to utter as she laughed at the ridiculous sight.
"James," Barbara called to her husband, "you get back here and hold this turkey for me to thaw it out! If you would have reminded me to take it out the other day like I told you we wouldn't be in this mess." Almost as an after thought, she added. "Hi Haley, you don't happen to have a hair dryer on you hmm?" She asked rather hopefully.
Both Haley and James laughed into the phone, each apparently remembering the incident quite vividly. Even to this day, Barbara never hears the end of it with the two of them around. It was a long-standing joke and probably will remain so for quite some time to come.
"Listen Haley," James said changing to a more business like voice, "the bookstore called me a few minutes ago and told me they have a monstrous line-up for your book-signing and they were wondering if you'd be able to make it in for 10:00 instead."
"Sure, no problem. Just give me time to get cleaned up and meet me outside the gym in 20 minutes." She replied without hesitation. She loved her fans and knew that without them, her success as a novelist would be meaningless.
"Good, see you then." Came James' quick response before he hung up.
"Well, that's it for today I guess." Haley said to Mike as he came up behind her just as she replaced the phone back on its base.
"I expect to see you in here later on in the day. You can't keep that body lean by skipping your exercises!" Mike said to her retreating back with a smile.
"I would never think of skipping my exercises!" she called back over her shoulder with a wink as she entered the changing rooms for her shower.
The drive to the 'World's Largest Bookstore' just up from the Eaton Center downtown Toronto was mainly uneventful. James went on and on about how excited he was that Haley's latest novel was such a smash hit. He kept saying to her how he knew she would hit number one and how the fans would love her. Haley smiled and listened to his praises all with a grain of salt.
James finally pulled his blue mustang up around the back of the store and they both entered the bookstore through its rear entrance. An eager dark-haired woman wearing a tag with 'salesclerk' on her blouse greeted the two guests personally.
"Haley Connors!" She started with an excited air of exuberance; "I am so glad to finally meet you. Thank you very much for agreeing to come in early." She said still shaking the novelist's hand. "My manager should be here any second, he asked me to greet you while he took care of some last minute security details."
"It's my pleasure...uh, Peggy." Haley smiled as she read the short salesclerk's nametag. "So, where is my cage going to be?" She joked.
Peggy smiled at the joke, but before the young salesclerk could respond, a tall, skinny man wearing slacks and a wool vest despite the heat, walked into the backroom where they all waited. With an air of superiority, he pushed his wire-rimmed glasses back up his nose. "Miss Connors," he started with an extended hand and a serious tone, "my name is Jonathon Kowalchuk, the manager of this store. May I extend the gratitude of the store for your timely arrival and cooperation."
The snobby, fake British accent he tried to imitate almost made Haley burst out with laughter. If it weren't for the discrete jab in the ribs, compliments of James, she would have ended up doing a publicity 'no-no'. Instead, she held her tongue and smirks in favor of returning the handshake Mr. Kowalchuk extended her.
"I'm just glad to be here, thank you." She replied courteously.
"Yes, yes." He said unimpressed ending the handshake. "Your 'fans' are waiting. Shall we?" He said in a hurried manner as he motioned with a sweeping arm towards the door leading out of the stockroom and into the main store. He left the room without waiting for his guests.
Haley glanced back to James with a surprised look as her eyebrows shot up into her bangs, but said nothing. The young salesclerk however had plenty to say.
"Don't mind him. Ever since he was promoted to manager of this store, his British accent has gotten worse, his ego sky rocketed through the stratosphere and took up orbit around the planet turning him into a bigger assh....um, I mean, jerk than before." Peggy blushed slightly as she realized to whom she was complaining to.
"Don't worry, ol' Haley here can handle anything. Right kiddo." James chirped in on her behalf with a slap on the back.
"Um, ya, sure James. Whatever you say." She said rolling her eyes with exaggeration and a lopsided grin.
Peggy smiled and was just so excited to be in Haley Connors' presence and actually talking to her. Seeing the novelist so relaxed and friendly was really a bonus. This was one of the perks of her job here at the bookstore; meeting the various authors that came to do the book signings. But, she snapped out of her star struck daze because she knew she had a job to do. "Anyway, I should really show you out before he comes back here and tries to kick you out of 'his' store for loitering." This earned the salesclerk a chuckle from both the novelist and her publicist as they were escorted out of the stockroom.
Stepping out into the large, neatly organized bookstore the amount of people waiting in a line-up caught Haley's eye immediately. Seconds later, she caught sight of Jonathon behind the cash register serving a customer, eyeing his watch with annoyance and then back to her. She ignored his rude stares and took her time seating herself.
The gathered people were quiet and respectful as they remained in the line-up and didn't crowd or mob her. However, Haley still noticed the plain clothed security guards hovering within a heartbeat just incase. As she walked past several people in the line-up on her way to the fair-sized wooden desk near the sidewall, she stopped and briefly chatted with some of her fans as she passed them by.
While talking to one of the young ladies in the line-up, who babbled on pleasantly about how she loved Haley's books, Haley caught sight of people in-between the low row of bookshelves trying to cut into the line-up. Before she bent her head back down to personalize the hard cover copy of the book in front of her, she spotted the plain clothed security guards moving in. Despite the low murmurs of people in the line-up, she was still able to make out the guards politely tell those people to go and wait at the back of the line like everyone else or they will be asked to leave.
A quick, inconspicuous glance towards Jonathon showed him fidgeting with agitation as he kept glancing at his watch and back to her. This renewed the already pleasant smile on her face. As far as she was concerned, she didn't give a rat's ass what he thought after he acted like such a jerk only a few moments earlier. 'It's not like I told him to bow down and kiss my feet!' She thought with a touch of annoyance. 'Guess he'll just have to suffer through me greeting my fans and for thanking them for all their support.'
After several more minutes, Haley finally took her seat behind the desk. 'There are so many books.' Haley thought as she eyed the neatly stacked copies of her novel. Pleasantly, she began her signing session with James at her side.
By early afternoon, Haley lifted her long blond locks up from the desk and looked about the crowded bookstore hoping to catch a glimpse of a certain tall, imposing dark-haired woman. She secretly hoped she would see her, but no luck. With an inaudible sigh of disappointment, Haley continued her scan of the store and took in the amount of people that had gathered. Since this morning, the amount of people in the store seemed to have doubled in number. She still couldn't believe that all these people were waiting in a long line-up for her signature and to meet her. Even despite the humid heat engulfing the area, the World's Biggest Bookstore was almost filled to capacity with eager fans to meet the comely, long blond-haired novelist. The smiling novelist just couldn't believe how good everything was going as she signed yet another copy of her best selling novel 'Unsuspecting Target', and was simply flattered by the response.
Suddenly a familiar face popped into view in front of her, one of the two people she was hoping to see here today. "Liz!" Haley exclaimed with joy as she stood up and hugged her sister. "I didn't think you were back from Europe yet."
"Just flew in around eleven." Liz said as she returned the heart felt hug. "Did you really think I'd miss my kid sisters first book signing of the number one best seller in Canada and the US?!"
Their embrace ended and Liz gave her sister a sly smile. "Do you think I could get the famous Haley Connors to sign my copy of her book?" She asked as she pushed a copy of 'Unsuspecting Target' in front of her.
"Sure." With a grin, she sat back down and autographed her sister's book.
Over the last 6 years, Haley had written many novels, several of which have found their way onto the top 20 best sellers list. But this was the first time she had ever been the number one author on this prestigious list. Heck, it was the first time she has ever had a number one best selling novel period. And a couple months after the release of her novel, sales were still going strong. She was glad Liz was able to make it. Her sister was always there with encouraging words to keep her going.
Once Haley finished signing her sister's copy of her book, they made a quick date to meet for brunch the next day. Watching her sister walking away, Haley watched as a new, eager fan approach the medium-sized table.
"Hi." She greeted the young woman with a warm smile.
As the day was drawing to an end, she had autographed so many books, some with little personalized messages, that her fingers were cramped by the end of her session. But she wouldn't have changed a thing. Talking with her fans, learning what they liked and disliked about her books was very informative.
She learned that many were fans of her earlier mystery/suspense novels and were surprised by the sudden change of genre. Many agreed whether they were new fans or old, that the sudden change wasn't far from the type of novels she wrote before and that they were very pleased with the results. Many were even surprised by the in-depth descriptions of events that they could have sworn were real. These comments made Haley smile a secret smile. If only they knew the truth.
Friday June 5, 1998
It was 5:15am and the sun was barely beginning to rise as a secret meeting was called together at the headquarters in Ottawa Canada of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, also known as CSIS. One grim faced man in his early fifties walked into the main lobby through a back door and proceeded towards the Director's office on one of the upper floors.
The silent man climbed into the lobby elevator and rode the lift up until it reached the floor he was looking for. Quietly and purposely, he strode down the carpeted hallway and passed by the empty secretary's desk and into the Directors office.
The bearded man ran one hand over his baldhead and then without hesitation he reached up to the painting of the Queen of England and pushed the painting aside. Behind it was a small panel consisting of a thin strip to slide the proper identification card through, a number pad to key in the appropriate code sequence and finally a thumb print pad which would only work for authorized personnel.
The bald man reached into his pocked and hauled out a plastic white identifier card with a magnetic strip on the back. He swiped the card through and a small green light appeared. Simultaneously, the small digital screen above the number pad began a countdown. The aging man quickly keyed in a 6-digit code. Another little green light illuminated as the countdown continued. Finally, he pressed his thumb up against the thumb pad where the final green light appeared and the countdown stopped. Seconds later, a whole section of the beige wall slid away revealing a metallic door.
Again, another small keypad was on the frame next to the metallic door. Quickly, the bald man swiped his card through it and punched in another 6-digit code. With a slight swooshing sound, the metallic door parted revealing a small elevator. With brows wrinkled in thought, the husky man stepped into the elevator.
'What could be so important that I had to be hauled out of bed for a meeting so early? And why all the secrecy?'
With a mechanical response, the bald man turned to face the front of the elevator as the doors swished closed. The interior of the elevator was much like the closing doors, all metallic. No floor buttons were present inside the elevator. Within mere seconds of the doors closing, the elevator automatically started its path downwards to a predestined stop.
He didn't have long to wait before the elevator came to a stop and the doors automatically slid open revealing to him a short sterile white hallway with a metal door at the end of it. As he proceeded down the hallway, the echo of his own footfalls sounded loud to his ears amidst all the silence. The entire length of the hallway was filled with similar metallic doors on either side of him. Six in total he noticed. Finally, he reached the door at the end of the hallway and walked in without hesitation. An older man with rectangular shaped glasses sat at a large oval table in the center of the room with his hands folded in front of him. Quietly sitting next to him was an imposing looking woman.
A quick glance around the room was all it took to take it all in. With little registered emotion, he noticed the walls remained the same sterile white as those of the hallway outside, devoid of any decoration. It was the same as every other room in these secret lower levels. He barely took notice of the light blue office type carpet beneath his feet as he made his way towards the table. Instead, he concentrated on the gray haired man sitting at the head of the large metallic table.
"Why have you called this meeting Samuel? And why here?" The husky bald man asked in an authoritative voice indicating with his eyes the secret room.
"Please take a seat Mathew. We have a problem." He looked at Mathew over the rim of his small glasses with a meaningful look. "A big problem."
As Mathew studied them briefly, he realized he did not recognize who the woman was. He also knew that neither of them would give away any hints through their facial expressions as to what exactly was going on either.
Pensively, Mathew glanced over to the strikingly beautiful, long black-haired athletic woman who casually sat to Samuel's left. She was dressed rather casually as he caught a glimpse of blue jeans under the table and saw she was wearing a white denim long sleeved shirt, her hair loose about her shoulders. She possessed an air about her that suggested power and a keen intellect, while her steel blue eyes seemed to be looking into his soul.
Samuel on the other hand wasn't as imposing, but still powerful in his own respect. He looked very professional in his black business suit. However, the knowledge he possessed in his head, which could possibly mean life or death for many people, weighed down on him heavily. Dark circles beneath his eyes, premature wrinkles and graying hair was the price he willingly paid to preserve the freedom and well being of his country and its citizens.
Finally, Mathew took a seat in the gray cushioned, tall back chair nearest him affording him a full view of the two other people present at this meeting. Calmly, he leaned back into the chair as his elbows rested on the arms and his fingers were pressed together in a steeple like position.
"Go on." He beckoned.
Samuel leaned forward meaningfully. "I believe we have a breech of security that is costing us our top agents their lives." He stopped deliberately to let the information sink in and waited for a reaction. When a slight expression of surprised confusion appeared on Mathew's face, Samuel continued. "Since those three Kynak officers defected to Canada for fear of their lives in exchange for information on the supposed nuclear weaponry that they were aiding in obtaining, there's been trouble brewing." Samuel wet his throat and continued. "As you well know, agents were sent over to Germany and various other locations in Europe to confirm or de-bunk the refugee's claims." He paused once again to look intensely at the Director of CSIS. "Two nights ago, we lost contact with field agent Rashka and Kasselman. In Rashka's last communiqué before he disappeared and presumably dead, he mentioned that the Kynak had installations reaching up into various regions of Europe. According to Kasselman's last report, he was enroute to one of the major installations near the Czech Republic. However, before either agents were able to give any specifics, communications had stopped." Samuel took a deep breath before continuing on. "So far, that part of what the defectors told us about the Kynak doing their dirty work in Europe was true. Let's pray to God that's all that is true and not find the Kynak in possession of any nuclear weapons."
Mathew thought this disturbing information over in his head for a moment. The balanced pyramid his fingers formed so eloquently collapsed under the weight of his chin as it settled down upon his hands. "They were both in deep. How could they have been discovered? They were there for years before the Kynak officers defected."
"I know. That's why I'd like to find out what's going on. That's why we're meeting here now. And that's why our top agent is here with us as well." Samuel stated as he nodded to the tanned, stoic woman sitting off to his left. "Mathew, I'd like you to meet Katherine McGregor."
The expressionless woman gave a silent nod to Mathew, preferring Samuel to do the talking.
"I'm sending Kat here to work some of her magic on a reconnaissance mission, concentrating her efforts near the Czech Republic. She's here now because I wanted to inform her of her mission and brief her in person in the only place I feel is one hundred percent bug free. Only you and I will know of her mission. And she will be reporting only to you and I unless otherwise stated. We can't afford to lose any more agents than we already have."
Mathew gave a silent, grim nod of agreement.
"Good." Samuel said with one firm nod towards Mathew at the opposite end of the table and then turned to address his top agent. "There are a few things you will need to know before you go."
And with that, Samuel began Kat's briefing and eventually supplied her with the equipment and identification she will need for this dangerous mission.
Friday June 5, 1998
"...Slowly, her soft footfalls on the paved road came to an abrupt stop. The gust of wind that had been howling only moments before mimicked her and quieted. The large flakes of icy-snow that had been thrown about by the wind and stinging her face slowly thinned and was no more. The shutters on windows and open doors fell silent. The seemingly deserted town somehow sensed her presence and..."
"Miss..." called the taxi driver over his shoulder to his preoccupied customer. "...We're here."
Slowly, the blond head looked up from her laptop, and the novel she had been working on, to eye the gruff unshaven taxi driver with only a slightly annoyed look at being interrupted and then gave him a forced smile. She stole a quick glance out the cab window and noticed all the people entering the airport's main entrance. She looked up to the dark, early morning sky and saw the words "Halifax International Airport" looming over the doorway. She sighed, still a little sleepy.
"Hmm, we're here already?" she mumbled under her breath as she glanced at her watch. '5:24am.' She thought with a groan at the ungodly hour. 'It should be illegal to fly out so early.' She thought as she closed her laptop and packed it away in it's carrying case, shouldering it before getting ready to exit the cab.
"What do I owe you?" she asked the cab driver as she thumbed through her wallet.
"Twelve fifty." he replied.
The young blond quickly went through her bills and hauled out a twenty and gave it to the driver. As he went to make change she shook her head and waved away the change much to the driver's delight.
"Can I help you with your bags Miss."? He offered, already getting out of the cab without waiting for her response.
"Sure." She said to the now empty driver's seat. She took one last quick glance around to make sure she had her laptop and her carry on bag. It was only then that she noticed the unpleasantly faint smell of body odor in the cab that emanated from the driver. He was pleasant enough and didn't bother her while she was working on the laptop. But being as preoccupied with her writing as she was, she didn't notice the odor and was more than relieved when she stepped out of the cab into the fresh late spring air. 'Well, as fresh as the air got in the city.' She thought to herself.
Upon stepping out of the cab, she found her suitcase and duffel bag were already out of the trunk and in the taxi driver's meaty hands. She winced imperceptibly at the thought of his smell getting on her stuff, and courteously told him she could handle it from here.
"Are you sure? It's no problem at all!"
"No, no. It's alright, I can handle it, thanks." She replied with another generous smile as he handed her the luggage.
She thanked him once again and then turned towards the airport entrance. Before she could take two steps, she heard the cabby's deep voice addressing her.
"Scuse me miss," he said almost hesitantly, "could I ask you a question?"
She stopped and turned to face the taxi driver with a patient look. "Sure. What's on your mind?"
"Well, um, I was just wondering...you wouldn't happen to be Haley Connors? You know, the Haley Connors of those horror/mystery novels would you?" He asked hopefully with childish excitement.
"You found me out." She said jokingly, blushing slightly at the unaccustomed recognition.
"Wow!" He exclaimed enthusiastically, "I have all of your books! Do you think you could autograph one of them for me?"
"Great! Hold on a sec!" he cut her off before she could finish as he bolted towards his cab and threw open the passenger side door, jumping in with child-like exuberance. He rummaged through the glove compartment, which was filled with books, picking out several novels and placing them on the dashboard and on the driver's seat.
Haley glanced around at the people walking past her and noticed a few of them giving her some curious looks, but otherwise left her alone. When she turned her head back to regard the cabby she wondered how all those books could fit into that small glove compartment. As she spied the books he was hauling out, she recognized, with some amusement, that half of the books were some of her earlier works that were under her pseudo name Winthrop Jhessail.
Back then, she felt that the only way her books would be taken seriously and not as some woman's mushy tales of love was to have a man's name on the cover. She chose her grandfather's name 'Winthrop' and her mother's maiden name 'Jhessail'. And so, Winthrop Jhessail was born and her successful career in both her home country of Canada and neighboring country the United States as a horror/mystery novelist had begun.
"Got it!" He exclaimed as he held up her latest novel with excitement. He jumped out of the car, reached into the shirt pocket of his worn denim shirt producing a pen and handed both book and pen to her with a smile.
Haley sat her baggage on the ground as she graciously reached out and accepted the proffered items with a smile and asked as she opened the cover of the book. "Who would you like this made out to?"
"Roger." He said immediately with a huge grin. "Put, 'To my adoring fan Roger with love, Haley Connors'."
The novelist looked up at him for a moment and then, with a grin, she began writing out the desired statement.
"You know, you're much shorter than I imagined you would be." Roger stated matter-of-factly as he looked down at her autographing her latest novel for him 'Shattered Minds'.
That comment coaxed a smile from the novelist. Without looking up from her writing as she was putting the finishing touches, she responded to his statement with a chuckle. "You know, lots of tall people say that to me all the time. 5'6 isn't all that short you know! You're just that tall!" She laughed as she scribbled her name and handed the pen and book back to the taxi driver. "There you go. It was nice meeting you Roger. I'm glad you enjoy my books."
Haley bent down to retrieve her baggage as Roger mirrored her actions and grabbed her bags first, clumsily offering them to her.
"You were working on your new novel on our way here weren't you?" the 6-foot tall driver asked curiously as he handed the novelist her luggage.
"Yup." She confirmed as she shouldered her duffel bags.
"Do you think I could see some of it?" he asked hopefully as he handed her the last of her luggage.
"Sorry, top secret stuff." She joked. "Besides, I'll miss my flight if I..."
"Sure, sure, no problem! I forgot all about your flight! You better get going." He said shooing her off. "It was nice meeting you Miss Connors!" He called to her just as she made her way into the airport, too far off to hear him.
"Wow, I met Haley Connors! Wait till I tell the boys!" He said excitedly out loud to no one in particular as he read the inscription written to him from his favorite novelist. "To my adoring fan Roger who got me where I needed to go, love Haley Connors". He walked back to the cab, reading and re-reading the inscription with a silly grin on his face. What a great way to start out an early Friday morning.
Nearly an hour passed before Haley and the other passengers were able to board the 737-jet airplane. She boarded the plane wearing her comfortable blue jeans and white T-shirt knowing that once they left Toronto it was going to be a long flight. 'Might as well be comfortable.' She thought to herself as she seated herself in first class seating. Finally making herself comfortable, she hauled out her laptop just as the stewardess came over the PA system.
The soft female voice began stating the safety rules and how their flight would be taking them to Toronto, Ontario for a 3 hour stop over before continuing on over to Frankfurt Germany. Haley looked down at her laptop and knew this 'vacation' was probably going to be more work than relaxation. How her sister Elizabeth ever convinced her to go with her on this trip she'll never know. But, she did know one thing: when she flew back home to Toronto to meet her sister, Liz better not try to set her up with another guy if she wanted to reach Europe in one piece.
Haley recalled the last time her sister Liz tried something like that; Haley ended up going on one date with a man who was more concerned about his hair and looks than he was about the world around him. Needless to say, she ended up sitting through a whole meal listening to him bragging about himself. She knew she should have just got up and left, knowing he probably wouldn't have noticed her missing, but she just couldn't bring herself to be so rude. Luckily for her, he forgot her name and number and she's never heard from him since.
She continued working on her word processor during the PA announcement, barely paying it any attention. Only when a tall, slim red haired stewardess interrupted her did she look up from her computer.
"Excuse me ma'am, but you'll have to put your computer and any baggage you have with you away until after we're airborne." The stewardess said pleasantly and with a smile despite the early hour.
Haley took a quick look out her window and noticed that they were just being taxied out to the runway. "I'm sorry, I didn't notice." Quickly, Haley got up and slipped her laptop into its case once again and slid it under the seat for easier access later.
"I hope you have a pleasant flight ma'am." Came the stewardess' cheery voice before she was off down the aisle checking in on her other passengers.
Haley sat back in her comfortable reclining chair tensely. Her laptop was the only thing to occupy her mind during the flight. Sure she could get it after they were airborne, but what to do during take-off. How she hated flying. Actually, she deduced it wasn't the actual flying part that bothered her. No, no, surprisingly she enjoyed that. It was just the fact that they were so far up off of the ground that made her stomach turn. She rummaged through her pockets and found the little bottle of Gravol she had forgotten about.
She looked about for a flight attendant, but noticed everybody was tucked away in his or her seats as the plane taxied down the runway. The young woman looked back down to the two anti-nausea pills she shook out into her hand and knew she was going to have to take them soon. Making a slight face of disgust, she popped the two pills into her mouth and swallowed them dry. Yuck. She hated having to do that. She leaned back into her seat and tried to get comfortable in the spacious seats until the plane took off.
'How did I ever let Liz talk me into this?' Haley thought miserably to herself yet again as she waited for the plane to take off. A sudden shudder went through the plane as it came to a stop on the runway it was to use for take-off. Haley's eyes fell shut as her hands rested on the arm rests breathing deeply as she waited.
She had only 15 minutes to wait before the plane roared and sent them on their way. She looked out the window as the jet airplane rolled down the runway, slowly beginning to lift off the ground. When the plane was completely off the ground and was gaining altitude, Haley couldn't watch the ground disappearing from her anymore. As much as she tried to get use to the thought, it still made her a little nervous.
The captain had just announced the current altitude of the plane; the weather conditions and then wished everyone aboard a pleasant flight. She noticed the red seat belt light was now off, indicating that she could now unstrap herself.
Haley patiently unbuckled her belt as she closed the window blind and stiffly sat back in her seat with her eyes closed for a few minutes until she got use to the idea of leaving mother earth behind. 'Hmm, these chairs sure are comfy.' She thought moments before sleep snuck up and claimed her.
"Miss," voiced a husky male voice in gentle tones as strong gentle hands shook her awake.
One emerald eye slowly cracked open, soon followed by the other to look into deep brown eyes and a clean- shaven face, which was adorned by a pearly white smile.
"Miss, the plane is making its final approach for Toronto. We're asking all passengers to please buckle up."
"Final approach?" She asked the handsome steward with a look of confusion. "You mean I slept through the whole flight?"
"It would appear so." He smiled down at the sleepy novelist with a glint in his eyes.
She groaned softly as she checked her gold plated Mickey Mouse watch as Mickey's arms pointed out the hour to be 8:35 am.
"Thanks for the wake-up call." She said more awake now.
The steward smiled as he moved on down the aisle and stopped to wake up one other passenger before landing.
The young novelist stretched her arms in the air while her legs stretched out in the spacious legroom allotted between seats. She rubbed some of the sleepiness from her eyes then buckled her belt and sat back once again. She remained still for a moment and then felt the plane slowly starting its descent. She flipped open her window blind to watch the plane's descent back to earth. This part always had a soothing effect on her knowing she was going to be walking on terra firma soon enough.
Before she knew it, the plane touched down and all its passengers disembarked. Almost as soon as she walked through the gate leading into Toronto's huge airport she heard her name being called out. She readjusted the bag on her shoulder and then gave the busy terminal a quick, but thorough scan. Her eyes caught sight of a woman not much taller than her, though slightly fuller, as her brown shoulder length hair bobbed up and down as she jumped waving her hands in the air trying to get her attention.
Haley smiled a broad smile as she recognized her sister jumping up and down trying to get above the crowd. When the two sisters made eye contact, Liz suddenly disappeared below the crowd. Within the next second, she reappeared with a blue duffel bag shouldered and making her way towards her younger sister. Haley weaved her way in and out of the crowd and met her sister half way.
They both dropped their bags and embraced in a sisterly hug. "Oh it's good to see ya shorty." Liz said in an affectionate tone.
"I missed you too sis." Haley said, her words slightly muffled as she spoke into her sisters shoulder length hair.
They parted and Liz held Haley at arm length. "Let me look at you. Do you know you've been cooped up in daddy's back woods cabin over in New Brunswick for almost three months without a phone call? I was ready to ring your scrawny little neck!"
"I love you too!" The shorter sister joked. "Really, I'm sorry. I just got hung up on this new novel I'm writing. It just doesn't want to work for me. Usually the old family cabin is inspiration enough. Guess I need new material."
"And a vacation." The slightly overweight brunette scolded. "When was the last time you had a vacation missy?"
Elizabeth waited a moment while her sister thought about it and then added before Haley had a chance to get a word in edgewise. "That's what I thought." She said with a triumphant smile accompanied by the familiar rumblings of her younger sister's insistent stomach.
Liz looked down to the white T-shirt covering Haley's stomach and back up to her face with a smile. "Some things never change." They both laughed at Liz's statement. "But I do believe it's getting louder and grumpier as you get older." She winked as she easily dodged a playful swat from Haley.
"What?! It's not my fault I fell asleep on the plane and missed breakfast. Besides, have you ever attempted to eat the food they serve on a plane?" Again, the two sisters laughed as they both bent down and gathered their things.
"Come on," Liz said still grinning, "I'll buy you some breakfast to feed that bottomless pit you like to call a stomach."
"I never refuse free food. Especially from my cheap sister." Haley laughed as her sister gave her a sour look, which softened almost immediately back into her smile.
"I'm not cheap," she was saying with a smile as they wove their way through the crowd, "You're just too expensive to feed so I never offer."
"You make it sound like I eat like a pig!" Haley was saying defensively as they walked deeper into the crowd, searching for a decent place to eat.
"Well, if the shoe fits..." Laughed Liz as Haley playfully slapped her sister's shoulder successfully.
The trip over to Frankfurt, Germany was long and relatively uneventful. As the plane landed and they were disembarking, a handsome, dark haired steward was at the exit to give a friendly smile to passengers on their way out. As Haley passed him, she found herself blushing profusely and found she couldn't look directly at him. Not two hours earlier, Liz had tried setting the two up when some of her embarrassing questions revealed that the young man was single. And when Liz started naming off why the two of them should get together, Haley was about ready to kill her sister. Liz made it sound like she was at an auction trying to sell a good breeding mare! When the kicks to her sister's shins didn't work and the dangerous glares she shot her failed, the embarrassed novelist conveniently had to go to the bathroom and just continued on down the aisles.
By the time she returned Liz was wearing a huge smile on her face. She later found out the steward now had both her New Brunswick number and Toronto number and would be giving her a call next time he was around those areas. How she hated it when Liz did that to her. Just because Liz had a wonderful husband, who missed the trip because of some last minute work, she figured it was time her younger sister had the same.
And now, as she walked on past the steward whom she noticed was eyeing her appreciatively, she could hear her sister behind her saying "...and she loves yellow roses, so don't forget..."
"Liz!" Haley almost growled as she grabbed her sister by the arm and hauled her along giving the steward an apologetic look.
"I hope you have a nice vacation Haley." He said with an amused smile as they stepped off.
Walking down the crowded hallway with all the other passengers, Haley walked at a fast pace dragging her sister along. A bump here and an 'excuse me' there earned her a few annoyed stares from some other people as they brushed past. "What were you thinking Liz?" Haley scolded as she glanced back to her sister over her shoulder slowly returning to a normal pace as she let go of her sister's arm. "He looked like he was only 20 years old for crying out loud!"
"Actually, he's 19." Her sister grinned.
"19? Liz, I'm 26. That'd be like robbing the cradle!" Haley said exasperated.
They walked on in silence for a few moments reaching the end of the corridor and into the airport where English and German announcements could be heard all around them. As Liz quickened her pace to walk up alongside her sister, she saw the growing smile on her sister's face.
"He was cute though wasn't he?" Liz said with a grin.
Slowly, Haley began to shake her head from side to side as a low chuckle began to form. Quickly, with a life of its own, it grew into laughter. The sudden laugh immediately turned infectious as Liz began laughing right along with her sister in the thinning terminal. They had to stop walking momentarily as they waited for their laughing fit to subside. Both Haley and Liz dropped their shouldered bags and let them sit on the floor as they held onto the strap.
Several people moved around them and some gave them strange looks. The peculiar stares they got from people passing by were ignored. Not because they were being ignorant, but because they just didn't notice them. One woman, an employee of the airport by the uniform she wore, even stopped and asked them in German if they were all right. Liz, fluent in the language, assured the woman everything was fine and that they were just giddy because of the late hour of their arrival and their tiredness. The woman smiled and almost laughed right along with the two Canadian women before she turned and went about her work.
"What did she say?" Haley asked, wiping away the tears from her eyes as small giggles slipped out periodically.
"She wanted to know if we knew any cute 19 year olds." Liz joked, almost spilling over in another fit of giggles.
From what she could make out of the conversation, she knew that is not what the woman had asked. Even still, Haley felt a new wave of giggles coming on and fought to contain them. As soon as her sister started up again, she knew she was fighting a losing battle as her giggles tore through her defenses.
"Ok," Haley said taking a deep breath trying to recompose herself a few minutes later as she absently wiped away another tear "We have to get our stuff and get going or we'll be kicked out!"
"Ok, you're right." Liz smiled, wiping away her own tears.
They re-shouldered their bags and went about their business as their giggles began to subside. A few errand looks from the people in the spacious airport were focused their way but nothing else. Finally, they made their way to the escalators and rode them to go to the baggage area and pick up their luggage.
On their way to the pick-up area, they grabbed a cart to haul their luggage with them to their next stop at the car rental outlet.
"Geez Liz, what the heck did you bring?" Haley asked incredulously eyeing the two large Sampsonite navy blue suitcases, 2 large duffel bags of the same make and color and one smaller duffel bag. "We're not moving here!"
"Just the necessities I assure you." Her sister smiled. "And what about you? Two suitcases? That's enough to pack your underwear in. Where's the rest of your stuff." Liz teased her sister, knowing she only ever brought the bare necessities and nothing more.
Haley just smiled and shook her blond head as she gathered the last bag and placed it on the cart. "Where to now smarty pants?"
"Avis Car Rentals." Liz stated as she grabbed hold of one side of the cart while Haley took a hold of the other side and they both pulled it along with them. Finally, after a bit of walking, they caught sight of the Avis Rental sign.
"Oh nuts." The eldest of the two said with a frown. "We're too late. Guess we're just going to have to call a taxi to get us to our hotel for tonight. We'll pick up the car tomorrow."
"Where are we staying again?" Haley asked as she tried to hide a yawn. The long flight over had taken more out of her than she realized.
"The Steigenberger MAXX hotel. Don't worry, it's only about 15 km from here." She smiled with a yawn of her own as she noticed that the hyper mood they were both in earlier had quickly faded away and was being replaced by sleepiness.
A little more walking through the large partially glassed-in airport and they found a way out of the monstrous building. To their relief, there were a few available taxis just outside of the airport. Liz quickly flagged one over, spoke briefly to the driver in German and then came back to Haley with a smile.
"Load her up!" She exclaimed as the driver walked over to them to help them pack their baggage into the trunk of his car.
"Oh goody." Haley said sleepily as they began to pack their stuff into the trunk. However, much as she expected, not all of their luggage would fit into the trunk. Correction. Not all of her sister's luggage would fit into the trunk.
Once they finished piling Liz's two remaining duffel bags into the back seat of the car, Haley opened the passenger side door and sat down in the front seat.
"Wait a second there Hale, how do you expect me to sit in the back seat with all that luggage? I'll be squished!" Liz complained as she straightened out from the back seat after she just finished piling in her stuff.
"Your luggage, your problem sis. Toldja to pack lighter." Came Haley's smiling response as she got comfortable in the front seat.
"Why you little..."
"Ah-ah. Temper, temper." Haley grinned as her sister reluctantly resigned herself to sitting in the little space her luggage afforded her.
As Haley sat comfortably in the front seat, she could hear her sister grunting to fit herself in with the luggage. Once the grunting stopped, she figured her sister must have made enough room for her to sit in. Then Liz tried to close the door. Without looking back, Haley closed her eyes and let the little noises of her sister's ordeal form a mental picture in her head bringing a wider grin to her comely face. Listening, she definitely thought the image in her head was much more entertaining than the real thing. Besides, she was too tired to twist around and watch. Finally, she heard the door unwillingly close and felt a slap in the back of her head, which only brought on a wider grin to her already smiling face.
Haley knew she was the thinner of the two and that she probably would have fit better in the back but tonight, she felt like being a little stinker. After all, the little set up Liz tried to arrange for her against her will with the steward was embarrassing enough to earn Liz the uncomfortable seating arrangement. It was only just. 'All's fair in sibling rivalry.' She thought humorously to herself as the taxi pulled away from the airport.
Before she knew it, the taxi was hauling into their hotel parking lot and coming to a stop in front of the main doors.
"Time to wake up." Liz said with a gentle nudge from behind.
Haley was already on her way out of the car when Liz opened the door and practically spilled herself onto the ground. A snort sounded from the blond haired sister as she tried to hold back a quick laugh. A dangerous glare warned her not to say a word. She heeded the warning knowing full well how grumpy Liz could get when she was tired. A quick glance to the driver showed her he had seen the near spill as well and was trying hard not to be rude and burst out laughing. Which, he successfully accomplished she noted with a grin.
Finally, the young novelist was out of the taxi and only then took notice of the tall, glass building that they pulled up to. Her head craned back to see the top of the building, which was a bit tricky to see in the dark despite all the lights around.
"Liz, this place must cost a fortune!" Came Haley's shocked words as she finally leveled her head and regarded her sister.
"Only $250 Deutsch marks per night." She smiled mischievously. "Your bank account can handle that."
'$250' Haley mouthed with shocked surprise at the unexpected price.
"Don't worry, I booked us one room with two twin beds in it. And we're only staying here for the weekend. After that, we're off to Switzerland!" Liz said with a grin.
"$250 Deutsch marks." Haley repeated in a shocked whisper as she shook her head in disbelief. She should have known this was coming. Especially knowing her sister's preference for the finer things in life. 'Oh well, I don't do this often. Might as well enjoy it and make the best of it.' She thought to herself with a growing need to check this place out.
This being Haley's first time in Germany, she was still impressed with the few things she did see on their short taxi drive in the dead of night. A lingering glance over to her sister, who was preoccupied with retrieving her luggage, and then to the hotel had her thinking 'how casual Liz seemed. I suppose visiting Europe on a regular basis because of Heinrich's job kind of makes this her second home.' She thought silently to herself mentally noting that very good international interpreter's like Liz's husband Heinrich, keep getting called back.
"Are you gonna help out or what?"
Haley snapped out of her thoughts just in time to catch the duffel bag Liz tossed her way. With an audible 'Oof', the bag was caught against her chest and held there until she found the shoulder strap. Finding what she was looking for, she slipped the bag over one shoulder and went to gather a few more bags to haul into the hotel.
As they entered the hotel with the taxi driver trailing behind them with the heavier luggage, Liz headed straight for the main desk in the lobby to check in. While Haley waited for her sister to finish up, she took a look at where she was going to be staying.
The first thing Haley couldn't help but noticing was the large lobby with its high ceilings and old classic 30's and 50's hits playing in the background. With the music playing, she almost felt compelled to start dancing to the Big Bands music right here in front of the main desk. Like a tourist, which she was, her eyes roamed the lobby and noticed its décor was beautifully done with a mixture of a nostalgic 30's and 50's interior design. It was like taking a step back through time. Everything was perfect from the Jukebox in one corner, beautifully restored classic plush brown leather sofas and chairs off to the side. A conservative amount of ferns and other large plants decorated the lobby just enough not to make it look too crowded. Even the colors were bright and cheery. With an approving smile, Haley decided she liked this place.
"We're all set." Liz announced as a bellhop made his way toward them with a cart to carry their luggage up to their room.
The skinny, dark-haired taxi driver approached Liz, said a few words in German and then she hauled out some money and handed it to him with a smile. With a smile of his own and a nod of the head, the taxi driver helped the bellhop load on the suitcases and then left.
They made their way into a set of elevators that looked as authentic as the rest of the place to the era they were trying to imitate. A large wrought iron gate had to be pushed open before they could enter the elevator. Inside the modern elevator with its ornate decor, Haley was relieved to hear 30's era music playing instead of the mind numbing elevator music most places play that she was accustomed to hearing.
When the doors closed, the bellhop pressed the 6th floor and they were on their way. As her sister talked pleasantly with the young man, Haley found herself leaning against the elevator wall still a little sleepy, but enjoying the music in the elevator as her foot tapped along to the beat.
Quietly, the elevator came to a stop on their floor with a low 'ding'. The doors slid open and the young fair-haired man opened another set of wrought iron gates to let them out and led his two guests down the cheery hallway to their room.
Liz unlocked the door with the card supplied to her from the front desk when they first checked in, flicked the lights on and held the door open for the young man to bring in the cart with their luggage. Haley walked in behind him just as he was unloading the cart. Within a minute, everything was unloaded and piled neatly on the floor. He asked Liz something in German and she shook her head and gave him some money. He thanked her, from what Haley could make out, and left the room.
"What do you think?" Liz asked her younger sister motioning to the room she had picked out for them to stay in for the weekend.
Haley walked further into their room and noticed the soft carpet under her feet as she kicked off her Nike sneakers. The two twin beds in the room looked unnaturally comfortable and inviting to her tired eyes and quickly noticed the sheets covering the bed also had the era look to them.
'Very fancy. It all matches.' She snickered to herself as she stood in the middle of the room taking it all in. Making a half turn, she saw the large wood desk in the corner to work on and a ceiling fan to make the room a little more comfortable.
"Not bad." She nodded with approval. "Not bad at all sis."
"I figured you'd like it." Liz smiled.
Giving the room one last appreciative look, Haley turned and made her way towards her luggage. "I don't know about you, but I am exhausted." She stated with a bit of exaggeration as she found the suitcase she was looking for and started to rummage through it. In no time at all, she hauled out a gray and red trimmed nightshirt with Bugs Bunny on the front. Another quick search through her bag and she found her toothbrush and toothpaste.
"I know what you mean. I could sleep standing up!" The older brunette said with a yawn as she stretched her arms out above her head.
"Well, just don't expect me to pick you up when you fall over." Haley smiled as she found what she was looking for and headed into the bathroom next to her with her nightshirt draped over one arm and her bathroom accessories clutched in her hand.
Before long, the two sisters had settled comfortably into their beds and were fast asleep. Each slept quietly as their own private dreams played out in their sleeping minds.
Anybody who would have been unlucky enough to happen across this dangerous group would have noticed they all wore various types of army fatigues and carried various small arms on their person. Their ready weapons varied between mini Uzi's, AK-47's, M-16's and several PK 7.62 machine guns, while holstered pistols sat in waiting at their hips. Several of the group also carried grenades strapped across their chests. And if all else failed, concealed knives were always within easy reach.
Years ago, roads like the one being used now were used by invading armies who came to wage war on Romania and surrounding countries. Now, there was a new use for some of these secreted roads. Now these roads were used to smuggle in illegal weapons and supplies for the Kynak.
The Kynak, a Russian terrorist group made up of various ethnic groups, were hungry for power. Despite some of their conflicting natures, they all worked together in relative peace. Of course, strict discipline and an even stricter penalty for failure to comply with the rules helped keep things in perspective. That and the added promise of wealth and power also lured in greedy men and women and helped keep them in line.
With the various fields of expertise of the Kynak's membership, which ranged from the sciences to business helped keep the organization growing strong. Some of its members were openly part of the 'army' and therefore were wanted for various terrorist acts committed in different regions of Europe. Others still, manipulated businesses and institutions to do as the group wanted, while managing to keep their own involvement concealed.
The Kynak had been amassing their legally and illegally obtained monies towards their goal: purchasing a nuclear weapon to make the people who weren't with them to start listening to what they have to say. And as they walked on through the rain soaked mountains under the cover of early darkness, they were one step closer to their goal.
However, one man who's been with the Kynak for nearly two years isn't quite what he seems. As he trudged along the slippery rocks and through the mud with his fellow comrades, he ran his free hand over his short-cropped hair to shake some of the rain out as he mentally went over everything he knew.
The leader of the growing faction was an ex-Spetsnaz with the Russian Special Forces by the name of Viktor Petrenko. Petrenko, as it turned out, was a double agent working for both the former Soviet Union and the Americans during the Afghanistan Conflict in the late 80's. Something got botched up and he was left for dead after a fierce battle over an arms shipment from the States.
Unfortunately for him, the guerrilla group, known collectively as Mujahideen, came across him and knew what he was. They were notorious for their ruthlessness and cunning in battle and with their prisoners. Petrenko ended up enduring weeks of torture at their hands as they searched for information that he didn't know. Finally, they gave up on him and once again, Petrenko was left for the vultures. How he survived in the desert was anybody's guess. But presumably, through connections he had made with the Russian Mafia and other such organizations, he managed to survive and form the Kynak.
It was no secret among Petrenko's men that he hated the United States and the former Soviet Union. And any country foolish enough to stand in his way also earned his wrath. What had gone so wrong to give birth to such hatred was unknown. But few of his men questionned his actions. Some say that three high ranking loyal officers to Petrenko had asked questions and were never heard from again and presumably killed by Petrenko himself. Others whisper that they betrayed Petrenko to his enemies.
Marco continued walking with little expression as he held his PK7.62 in a relaxed grip. He knew what had happened to those three and how they fled to Canada and began telling CSIS Petrenko's plans of gaining nuclear weaponry to use against his enemies in a grande scheme of revenge. His Lieutenants had thought him mad to risk all the wealth and power they have accumulated just to exact revenge. He would hear none of their words and before he had a chance to kill them, they escaped. Or so their story went. Marco knew what he was told by Canada's secret agency, but what he needed to do now, was to find hard evidence.
Nearly a day had passed since they first set out on their mission to acquire the new component for Petrenko's plan, which was largely unknown to the regular soldiers. With little sleep, Marco barely noticed the time pass as they traveled, his body now accustomed to the stress he put on it everyday. Before he knew it, they arrived at their destination near the outer edge of the Carpathian Chain. Orders were beginning to be signalled to everybody to be alert as their contacts came out of hiding and showed themselves for the purchasing to begin.
Saturday, June 20, 1998
Nearly two weeks had passed since Haley and her sister Elizabeth visited Switzerland and traveled through Austria to their current destination in Vienna. As usual, Elizabeth managed to find one of the finer hotels in the area: the Hotel Park-Villa. Haley learned that the Hotel Park-Villa is an original Jugendstil-building built in 1888, during the times of the "Belle Époque". The beautifully decorated rooms had a sturdy balcony just outside their rooms overlooking the immaculate gardens a few stories below. She noted that their excellent service coupled with old Viennese charm and style, was very impressive for this privately run, family hotel.
Upon their arrival to the hotel, Liz had a message waiting for her from her husband Heinrich. It turned out that he finished his job earlier than anticipated that another job was lined up for him in Germany in a few weeks. He decided he was going to fly over early to enjoy a little vacation with his wife and sister-in-law before he was back to work. And today was the day he was going to be flying in to the airport in Vienna where Liz had gone to meet him.
Haley took this time to sort through her mini disks from her digital camera and label them by the area they depicted. As she popped a new disk into her laptop, and scanned the pictures on them, she recognized the pictures to be those she took when they were on their hiking trip in Switzerland. By the looks of the picture, it appeared to be pictures of their hike through the Kandersteg area at a beautiful mountain lake. In the picture, both Haley and Liz posed near the edge of the lake with the mountains in the background while another hiker took the picture for them. The majestic scenery brought a smile to her lips as she remembered its beauty. She took the disk out of the drive and quickly labeled it 'Swiss Hiking Trip.'
Grabbing another disk and going through it, she found the pictures of the Imperial Palace in Innsbruck, the Kaiserliche Hofburg. Again, she sat there for a moment, unable to tear her eyes away from its majestic beauty. She knew she had at least one full disk just of the palace!
Finally popping the disk out and labeling it, she suddenly realized that she was spending more time looking at the pictures and remembering everything than actually labeling them. In an hour, she had only managed to go through a handful of disks and still had at least a dozen more left. She couldn't believe the amount of pictures she had taken!
Stealing a glance out the large glass French doors to look upon a picturesque early morning sky, she took another look at her labeling chore and made up her mind. She threw on a pair of casual blue denim shorts, a gray tank top and a baseball cap hauling her long blond hair through the hole in the back. She glimpsed the mirror, stopped, walked over and evaluated her attire for the little outing she was planning through the city and its markets. With a grin she came to the conclusion that she looked every bit the tourist.
She grabbed her digital camera and hung it around her neck and then grabbed an over sized beige, woven handbag, which she slung over her shoulder. Before heading out, she grabbed a few blank mini disks and threw them into her handbag and was off.
She walked down the stairs and came to the main lobby and approached a young light-haired woman who stood behind the desk sifting through papers. As Haley approached the desk, the young clerk looked up from her papers with a smile.
"Guten Tag Fräulein." The desk clerk greeted her with a smile.
"Guten Tag." Haley replied with a smile as she hauled out her German/English dictionary. She flipped through the pages and found the words she was searching for. "Können Dich anruf einen Taxi für Mich Bitte?" She asked with a strong English accent, a little unsure whether or not her query for a taxi to be called was understood.
"Sehr gut." The smiling clerk said before switching to a very Austrian accented English. "Ja, I call you taxi. Vhere do you vish to go?"
The question caught Haley off guard. She hadn't really honestly thought about it. She had read about Austria's famous cafés and figured that was as good a place as any to start. "How about downtown where the cafés are."
"Ah, you like our cafés, ja?" The clerk asked as she picked up the phone and dialed a number she knew without searching for.
"Actually, I hear some of the best pastries can be found here and I was hoping to sink my teeth into some." Haley said with a wry grin.
"Ah, Du gern Süßes mögen! You have a sweet tooth!" She laughed before turning her attention to the phone and began talking in German.
"The taxi vill be here in few minutes und take you downtown. Do not forget to see the Stadtpark. It is vonderful." She announced with a smile as she hung up the phone.
"Thank you! Danke Schön!" Just as Haley turned to go and wait out in front of the well-tended hotel grounds for the taxi, she remembered one more thing. "Excuse me."
"Could you leave a message for my sister Elizabeth Liebsch in room 19 and tell her where I went?"
"Nicht eine Problem, I write that now." Replied the desk clerk as she hauled out a note pad and began scribbling down a message.
"Danke Schön." Haley thanked her again with an appreciative smile and a wave before heading out to wait for the taxi.
"Bis Später." The clerk called back in a very friendly manner as she waved good-bye to the young Canadian.
The taxi driver dropped her off on a busy downtown street in front of a tall stone building with beautiful architecture. On a sign above it said 'Café Central'. She turned and paid the taxi driver and thanked him for suggesting so many interesting things not to miss while downtown. Even with his explanations in broken English, she understood that the Rathaus, city hall, was not far from where she was among the numerous buildings that towered above her. He also mentioned many other coffee houses that she should check out along with the Stadtpark and market. He explained as best as he could, that everything is pretty much in walking distance and whatever wasn't could be easily reached by taxi or bus in only a few short minutes.
She stepped away from the taxi as it took off and she was quickly integrated into the hustle and bustle of walking pedestrians, armed only with her camera and handbag. As she stopped on the sidewalk looking at the buildings she stood in front of, she couldn't resist taking pictures of all the beautiful architecture that surrounded her. After taking several pictures and satisfied that she captured everything she wanted on film, she finally worked her way into Café Central.
Upon entering the coffeehouse, its elegant, cathedral-like setting had her in awe. Its high ceilings and hanging art nouveau frosted glass fixtures were stunningly beautiful. Again, she hauled out her camera and had to capture the beauty.
She took several pictures and when she was finally done, she found herself a small round table to seat herself at. Sitting down on a small round-seated chair with a wood back, she noticed a paper sitting on the table neatly folded as the wonderful classical music from a piano met her ears. Taking a quick glance around, she noticed an elderly man playing the piano off in the corner producing the beautiful melody she now enjoyed.
A female waitress wearing black dress pants and a white blouse approached her and asked her something in German as she held out a note pad in front of her. Not understanding a word the dark-haired woman asked, Haley suddenly remembered a phrase Liz had taught her to ask if the person could speak English.
"Sprechen Sie Englisch?" Haley asked, hoping she had pronounced the words right.
Being that English was one of the languages taught in schools, the waitress was able to communicate a little bit in English with her.
"Café?" The waitress smiled as she pointed to a list of beverages on a sign on the wall.
Haley looked over to where the waitress was pointing and smiled in acknowledgement. Just as she went over the list, a waiter walked past her pushing along a cart brimming with baked treats. Haley's eyes went wide with delight as she spotted what looked to be applestrudels, one of her favorite treats.
Quickly she hauled out her dictionary from her handbag and pointed to the cart. "Apfelstrudel?" She asked questioningly.
"Ja." The waitress nodded with a grin as Haley's face lit up even brighter at the confirmation.
"Einz Apfelstrudel Bitte." She said holding up one finger and pointed to the dessert. "No no, nein. Zwei Apfelstrudel und eine Karamell Kaffee Bitte." She corrected herself as she held up two fingers with a smile. She was a hopeless slave to her demanding taste buds and to the sweet, flaky pastry, washed down by a cup of caramel flavored coffee. She simply could not resist.
The young Canadian had spent a little over half an hour in the spacious café enjoying her pastries and caramel coffee before she finally called for the bill and left to see more sights.
She had been wandering the downtown area for several hours. Along the way, she had gotten great pictures of the open-air markets they have Saturday mornings. The atmosphere, colors, and the people were all wonderful! As she walked through she just couldn't keep the look of joy off of her face. She only wished Liz and Heinrich had been there with her so she knew what people were saying as they tried to sell her their wares. She loved to haggle for prices. 'Next time.' She thought to herself with a thoughtful smile.
The day was stretching into late morning before she reluctantly extricated herself from the market crowd and moved onto the other sites this beautiful city had to offer. With the aid of a city map she purchased from a merchant at the market, she was able to find her way to the Rathaus.
She walked down the sidewalk, again in awe of all the beautiful architecture and had her camera out, her trigger finger taking pictures of everything within sight. There was a slightly larger amount of people walking the streets with her now, but she barely noticed them as she took pictures of all the old architecture that surrounded her.
Finally she turned her camera down the road towards the Rathaus, city hall itself. She couldn't believe how beautiful it was contained within the walls of the tall, intimidating cathedral like building. Supposedly, it was a beautiful sight to behold at nighttime when the lights on the building were all lit up bringing out the multi-faceted features of this well kept building.
Also from here she could even see the beautiful Stadtpark. Through the carefully sculpted tall shrubs, which lined the outer perimeters of the park, she spotted beautiful statues peeking out from where she stood. The desk clerk was right. Even from where she stood across the busy street from the park, the entrance alone was magnificent. She couldn't wait to go and take a walk through the beautiful park.
Lifting the camera once more to take a picture of the entrance to the park, tires screeching and car horns honking which drew her attention away from the pictures she was taking. Curiously, she lowered the camera and watched with a look of stunned surprise as a man in dirty, sweat soaked clothes frantically ran onto the street and swerved around the oncoming traffic. While spreading his hands out in front of him several times to stop cars and occasionally sliding over the hoods of cars, his fearful eyes persistently kept glancing behind him and all around him.
In the quick minute or so it took the man to avoid injury as he crossed the street, Haley's eyes locked with his desperate eyes. The man was scared that much was apparent. But there was something else behind those dark eyes. Suddenly, quicker than she thought possible, the man who was running off to her right unexpectedly veered and was now heading straight for her.
Haley backed up a few steps and tried to turn around and get out of his path. Unfortunately, she turned around and walked straight into the lamppost at her back. Momentarily stunned her hand shot up to her head where a small bump was now forming and tried to correct her course. Suddenly, before she took a step, a surprising whistling of air by her head froze her on the spot. A soft thud and a low groan from very close behind her made her turn around hesitantly.
Everything suddenly seemed to move in slow motion as she turned around and the man slowly took one step closer to her with one hand clutched to his chest. The desperate look was still in his brown eyes, but a mask of shocked pain covered his face as he looked down to the hand covering his chest. A trickle of blood seeped through his fingers. He looked back up to Haley with pleading eyes and then fell forward.
In her shocked state, the only thing Haley could think of doing was reaching out to stop his unrelenting descent to the hard sidewalk. His hard body crashed into her arms as the force of his fall and the weight of his body dragged her down to the ground with him in a slow descent.
One knee touched the sidewalk as Haley struggled to stay upright and not fall backwards by the force of the dead weight in her arms. The man's head slowly slumped forward and came to rest on her chest. With a grunt and a gentle heave, she managed to turn the man over to his side, resting against her torso and legs.
"SOMEBODY CALL AN AMBULANCE!" Haley shouted furiously as she looked up around her to a sea of unfamiliar faces, her eyes pleading for their help. "HE NEEDS HELP! Please!" She begged with her eyes as she noticed people shuffling and hopefully understanding what she had asked.
She focused her attention back down to the man in her arms and the wound in his chest. Her hands worked around the wound without touching it trying to figure out what to do. "I-I don't know what to do." She breathed with dread as she looked down into the man's half closed eyes and listened to his shallow breathing. She knew the bleeding had to be stopped but didn't know how. Hesitantly, she pressed her hands over the dying man's hands and tried to put pressure over the wound to try and slow the bleeding.
"Y-you...speak...E-English?" The man asked weakly as blood slowly trickled from his lips.
Not knowing what else to do, the young tourist engaged the man in conversation to try and keep him alive long enough for the ambulance to reach him. "Ya," she said with a forced smile to try and comfort him. "Ya I do. I'm visiting from Canada."
Haley began talking about anything she could think of to try and keep the man's attention on her voice rather than the wound. So when the stranger slipped his free hand into her handbag, Haley never noticed as she continued talking to him in reassuring tones. Suddenly, the man's face took on a very calm look.
"It doesn't really hurt anymore." He murmured. Another short breath later, his head and the hand he held to his chest lolled off to the side limply as his eyes closed in death.
Frantically, her eyes swept over the man searching for any sign of life as her eyes began to water up with unshed tears. She grabbed a hold of his wrist and checked for a pulse, hoping beyond hope he had just fallen unconscious. There was nothing. Thinking she mustn't have checked properly, she grabbed a hold of his other wrist and searched for a pulse. Again, nothing.
"No, this isn't happening!" She said in a whisper as a tear rolled down her cheek and shook her head slowly from side to side.
A middle-aged man and a younger man from the crowd stepped through and approached Haley. The older man touched Haley on the shoulder while the other one eased the dead body off of her. She looked up at the older man blankly as he gently picked her up from the ground and away from the dead body as they heard sirens approaching. He was speaking soothing words to her in German, but she didn't hear them. Even if she could understand what he was saying, her mind was stuck on the image of the man dying in her arms. She'd written about people dying in her novels, but never in her young life has she ever experienced it first hand. The shock of it all left her feeling numb inside.
A lone figure secretly hiked her way back from the Carpathian Mountains on foot under cover of darkness to her waiting jeep just outside the city of Brno where it was hidden. It didn't bother her to hike through the rocky terrain; she just had to make sure she had a good hiding spot for her jeep and the gear she couldn't carry in her backpack.
Because she had spent a couple of weeks in the city of Brno, she knew her way around the city pretty well and had the time to find the best hiding spot to keep her vehicle while she set out on her trek. The foot of the mountains had many obscure areas for just such a purpose. However, she was slightly taken aback by the unexpected amount of useful information Brno had to offer her. It was because of the information she came upon there, which led her to the parts of the Carpathian Mountains in the first place.
When she first arrived in Brno, she knew that it was the center of the Czech wool-manufacturing industry, which was common knowledge. But what wasn't so common knowledge was that among the other things manufactured here, were machine guns and chemicals. For this, the city had piqued the Kynak's interest.
The fear in the people's eyes as Kat McGregor secretly spied on them was evident. The ledgers and note books she found during her search confirmed her initial suspicions of the unwilling allegiance between Brno and the Kynak. She also discovered that the terms of agreement was that they cooperated and kept quiet about their dealings or both the company employees and their families would be tortured and killed. Luckily for her, she didn't have to rely on the people to give her information because she knew they wouldn't supply any to a stranger.
A little more searching and determination and she found a clue to one of the Kynak's many bases. Though the clue was very vague, and encrypted, she had managed to decipher bits and pieces of it. That was why she was headed into the Carpathian Mountains in the southeastern part of the Czech Republic. Somehow, the mountains played a large role in everything. Unfortunately, she hadn't had the chance to go far into the Mountains before receiving a communiqué from Samuel ordering her to halt what she was doing and to head to Vienna ASAP.
To say she was frustrated at being pulled off her current assignment would be an understatement. If the reason to leave her reconnaissance were anything other than to investigate another top, under cover CSIS agent's untimely demise, she would have been downright pissed. But Marco had been a great ally and friend to her. She wouldn't have trusted anyone else to investigate the murder; save for Seth Kasselman who was missing and presumed dead probably murdered by the same bastards who got to Marco in Vienna. But if she knew Marco, he didn't die empty handed.
She quickly made her way back towards the South Eastern part of the Czech Republic where 5km's away from her current position was where her jeep was hidden near the confluence of the Svitava and Svratka rivers. It would take no time at all for the athletic woman to cover the distance. Right now, time was of the essence.
Kat McGregor arrived in Vienna at approximately 5am. She was holed up in a small, non-descript hotel in Vienna that she had visited before and found to be to her liking. No frills, not too fancy, very private and centrally located. Her room gave her a full view of the street below so she could keep an eye on people coming and going.
As she sat on the single bed half dressed in a white blouse, underwear and stockings, she was bent over her plain black briefcase putting the finishing touches on her fake identification card. Absently, she tucked a loose strand of her ebony hair behind an ear as she waited for her ID to be printed. She had done the finishing touches on her very compact laptop and transferred the file to the small printing machine that was also in her briefcase. Within minutes, an authentic plastic identification card, complete with her picture and position, was printed out.
Though she had done this too many times to count, she still examined the identification card with a critical eye. She looked for spelling errors, made sure she used the appropriate department and no flaws on the plastic card itself. Though she proof checked it before printing it out, she knew she could never be too cautious. She flipped the card over between her fingers and gave it a final examination to make sure it met her demanding standards. With a self-satisfied grin, she slipped the ID into a small leather wallet and proceeded to finish getting dressed.
Within minutes, she was dressed in a dark blue blazer and skirt topped off with matching heels. Her hair was left loosely about her shoulders and very little, to no make-up adorned her face because it wasn't needed and she hated the stuff. She grabbed her ID card, pinned it to her blazer and turned around to find a mirror. She studied herself in the mirror across from her bed on the dresser. Satisfied, she neatly put everything away until her return. She strapped the holster of her gun in the crook of the small of her back where she then slipped her .357 SIG Sauer. Walking the distance to the small desk with two long strides, Kat examined the papers neatly spread out upon it.
Her hand reached out and picked up a black and white photograph Samuel had faxed to her of the woman who had witnessed Marco's murder. Along with it was a description of the incident, a short biography of the woman and where she was staying while in Vienna and for how long. She was also sent the name of the hotels the young Canadian was booked to stay at in the Czech Republic, Poland and finally Germany during her vacation in Europe.
She stared at the picture of the young woman for a few moments, memorizing her face. Satisfied that she'd be able to recognize her anywhere, she lowered the picture back down to the desk and picked up a pen and paper. She studied the address of the hotel the young woman was staying at and committed it to memory. She turned away from the desk and papers and within three long strides of her long, strong legs she was out the door.
"Are you awake?" Asked Elizabeth as she felt Haley kick the thin bed sheets off of her warm body. She rolled her head slightly to her left and saw the clock was showing the hour to be and early 7:35am.
"I've been awake all night." Haley mumbled into her pillow, her voice cracking from being so tired.
It was a little cramped with the two of them in the double sized bed, but neither of them complained. Even though Haley would have preferred to be alone that night, she was grateful Liz had stayed with her. After experiencing first hand the interrogation sessions of the police in a foreign country, well, her experience, to say the least, was not exactly something she wanted to have to go through again.
Initially the language barrier was a problem when she was first brought in for questioning, but was soon rectified. Elizabeth had been contacted and was there from the start with fresh clothes for her sister at her sister's request. Because of the day's incident, Haley's clothes had all been stained with the blood of the man who died in her arms. She wanted nothing more than to be rid of them as soon as possible.
Once someone had arrived who was fluent in English and Haley had changed into a clean pair of jeans and a white T-shirt, the questioning began. At first they were your standard, run-of-the-mill questions: What is your name? Where are you from? Why are you in Austria? Then the real questions started.
They had drilled her with questions of the murder for hours. Their line of questioning had almost insinuated as though they expected her to know more than she was telling. They wanted to know who the man was. Why was he murdered? Who would have had a motive to kill him? She kept telling them she'd never even met the man in her life and that she was just out site seeing. Despite this explanation, they had continued to ask her their questions again and again. By the end of the night, the mental strain of the questioning had given her a headache.
When they arrived back at their hotel around 9pm that evening, her headache had grown into a migraine. Haley had to drag herself out of the car, through the hotel doors and up the stairs. Heinrich and Liz walked on either side of her to make sure she didn't topple backwards. When they reached her room, Heinrich said something to Liz and Liz nodded. Liz then offered to stay with her sister that night and Haley accepted because she was just too tired to refuse. Heinrich had bid them both goodnight as he gave his wife a hug and a kiss on the lips. One step over and he hugged his sister-in-law and gave her a quick peck on the forehead and left the sisters alone.
Haley had taken the two Extra Strength Tylenol Liz had offered her and laid down on her back with her arm draped over her eyes. She had fallen asleep quickly enough, but the nightmares that followed had kept her up the rest of the night.
And now here they were, getting up to a new day and a bright new morning.
"How're you feeling now kiddo?" Liz asked as she brushed back some of Haley's stray hairs from her face as her younger sister rested in a fetal position.
"I'll live." She replied with a weary sigh.
"I'm going to make myself some coffee, want some?"
"Liz, I don't like you're coffee." She mumbled into the pillow.
"I know. Just making sure you really were ok." Liz said with a grin as she tried to lighten her sister's spirits.
Finally, Haley turned over and looked at her sister face to face. "Thanks." She said with a small smile as she gave Liz a heart felt embrace. "Why don't you go on down and eat some breakfast with Heinrich, Liz. I think I'm going to get dressed and go for a walk or something." Haley stated with a small yawn. "Try to wake up a little you know."
"Are you sure Hale? I can stay if you want." Liz said with a slight look of concern for her kid sister. Despite everything that happened, Haley seemed to be holding up pretty good. Haley always was the strong one of the two.
She knew that if she were in Haley's shoes, she would have been a basket case. It was many a stormy night when they were just kids that Elizabeth would sneak into Haley's room and crawl into Haley's small bed and sleep with her to keep the fear down from the storms outside. The cracks of thunder and streaks of lightning always terrified her when she was alone in her dark bedroom. But when she was with Haley, she always felt so much safer. And now, Liz saw this as her opportunity to offer her baby sister the same comfort and safety Haley use to give her.
With a smile, Haley waved off her sister. "Go on. You have to change anyway, you fell asleep in your clothes and you're starting to smell." She said with a dull half smile.
"So are you." Liz pointed out with a half smile of her own.
Haley looked down to the jeans she wore and the loose white T-shirt and smiled. "Go on, get outta here."
With a quick hug and final look to make sure Haley was going to be fine, she turned to leave. Just as she reached out for the door handle, she glanced back over her shoulder and added. "Make sure you have something to eat ok?"
"Yes, yes. Stop worrying about me. I'll be fine!" Haley assured her sister as she shooed her out of the room.
Haley watched her sister go down the hallway and finally disappeared into the stairwell. She closed the door with a sigh as she leaned her back up against its cool, hard surface. 'Come on Haley, you still have a life to live.' She chastised herself as she pushed herself away from the door.
"A shower. That's what I need. A good hot shower." She groaned to herself as she went for her bags and rummaged through them. She hauled out a fresh set of clothes and headed for the bathroom.
She closed the door behind, as was a force of habit, and switched on the water faucets first thing. In the few moments it took the shower to warm up, she had shed her clothes and stepped into the hot steamy shower.
The rejuvenating beads of water poured down her head and over her body. She leaned forward into it, her hands outstretched in front of her to support her weight as she stood there as still as a statue. Her wet hair matted to her head and fell in her face as the minutes silently passed her by. The steam that filled the medium sized bathroom and the hot water that cascaded down her body helped clear her mind and relax her body. And with this relaxation and clearness of mind, she was finally able to put her jumbled thoughts together and let her mind process the details and information of the past day. During this process, she also came to a conclusion. With her mind made up, her stone like body finally began to move and go through the normal process of washing up.
Several quick minutes went by before she was finished and shut off the faucets. Just as she stepped onto the grayish bathroom mat and grabbed the towel to dry herself, she heard a light knock on her room door. She stopped for a moment and regarded the knock with a thoughtful look.
'Probably Liz coming back to check in on me.' Haley thought with a smile as she resumed drying herself with the large white towel supplied by the hotel. "I'm in the bathroom Liz." She shouted. "I'll be right out."
She quickly dried herself, dressed in a relaxing pair of shorts and T-shirt. She combed her hair somewhat, mostly to get out the knots and left it hanging in wet strands about her shoulders as she answered the door with a knowing grin. "Liz, I told you that I'm all..." Haley trailed off as a tall, dark-haired woman stood in the doorway instead of Liz. Her grin fell a notch to more of a curious one at the unfamiliar woman now standing in her doorway. She lingered for a moment on the bluest eyes she had ever seen. It was such a contrast to her jet-black hair that the eyes caught Haley off guard as she stared at them for a moment.
Tearing her eyes from the intense gaze, she gave the stranger a quick look and wondered what she was doing here. Her tall frame sported an immaculate business suit with a white blouse underneath. Beneath one arm she carried a brown leather file holder and a small discrete black purse draped over her opposite shoulder.
'She must have the wrong room.' Haley thought a little perplexed as they once again made eye contact.
"May I help you?" The young woman asked.
"Miss Connors?" She asked in a business-like tone.
"Yes." Haley replied with a slight drawl, her curiosity running rampant now.
"My name is Sandra Watson..." The dark haired woman said in perfect English. Without missing a beat, she reached into her purse and hauled out a small wallet. She flipped it open and revealed an identification card with her name, picture and with whom she worked for. Haley glanced down at the identification and noticed, with surprise, that this woman was from the Canadian Embassy. Her eyebrows crinkled slightly in confusion as she glanced back up to the intense sky-blue eyes.
"What's this all about?" Haley asked before the woman was able to finish what she had begun to say.
"May I come in for a moment?" The statuesque woman asked as she returned her ID to her purse.
"Um...ya, sure. Come on in." She stammered as she held the door open for the tall woman to enter.
As Haley followed Miss Watson into her room, she couldn't help but notice how graceful and purposeful she walked. It was almost as though she was a predatory cat ready to pounce in an instant. Her gut feeling told her that this woman had a sense of danger about her, but for some odd reason she wasn't scared. She was rather intrigued. But how a pencil pusher like Sandra Watson could come across as dangerous baffled her.
Oddly, Haley wasn't the type of person to get the 'feel' of a person within only a few moments of meeting them. Usually she had to talk to them for a little bit before she received any kind of vibe from them. Pushing these feelings aside, she went and sat on the bed as Miss Watson sat in the padded wooden chair at the desk in her bedroom and began talking.
"As you already know, I work for the Canadian Embassy and word of your incident yesterday reached us. With you being a foreigner here, a few complications may arise in a case such as this. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions concerning yesterdays shooting? Just to make sure you cannot be implicated in this incident other than that of an innocent bystander."
Haley's mouth nearly dropped to the floor when she heard the word 'implicate' used. The direct bluntness and no nonsense this woman displayed was unbelievable. But the possibility of being implicated in such a disturbing crime was mind-boggling. How could they even think of implicating her? And then, as if reading her facial expressions (which she probably could she thought), Miss Watson gave her a slight smile.
"Don't worry. The possibilities of them actually implicating you in this crime are remote. These questions I'm about to ask are just standard questions meant for clarification and your own personal protection."
Haley let out a small breath she hadn't realized she was holding. This woman was just so intense. She just wasn't sure what to make of her.
Haley watched with interest as Miss Watson displayed such calmness and a cool collective as she undid her file folder case and hauled out forms and papers. But when she turned back to her, there was something in her eyes. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. Call it intuition or a gut feeling, but whatever it was told her there was something more behind those sapphire eyes. Haley stared deep into those eyes and lost herself for a moment. Deep in those eyes there was a quiet sense of power.
"Miss Connors, would you like me to repeat the question?" Miss Watson said patiently.
"What? Oh, sorry, you were saying?" Mentally, Haley kicked herself. This woman was here to help her and all she could think about was that something about the woman just didn't feel right. 'Get a grip Haley. Your over active imagination is creating something that just isn't there! Too many mystery novels and not enough real life!' She silently scolded herself.
In the last few years, Haley knew most of her time was spent writing her novels and little was spared for a social life. More than once, Liz chided Haley for that. Thankfully, Haley finished her computer-programming course and Liz had thought that would free up some of her sister's time. But not Haley. She took time out of each day to do her workouts and then was back to her writing.
For most of the year, Haley was cooped up in the middle of nowhere in the family camp in the woods of Northern New Brunswick in Canada. This vacation was the first real chance Haley had to just stretch back and do absolutely nothing if she so chose. And now, at this very moment, she began to realize perhaps just how right Liz had been. After this, she would have to make it a point to relax more and pick up a social life when she got back home.
As Miss Watson asked her questions, Haley was relieved to note that these questions were less accusing than those asked by the police the day before. One thing did bother her though and she wasn't afraid to ask.
"Why wasn't someone from the embassy contacted when I was brought in for questioning yesterday?" Haley interrupted Miss Watson in-between questions.
Expecting this question to come up sooner or later, Sandra Watson had a ready response. "Unfortunately, we are unable to keep an eye on all visiting Canadians to the region. Nor do the police always call us until after their interrogation is completed. I was sent out at the earliest possible moment upon receiving the news."
Haley nodded her head slowly with acknowledgement, figuring that to be a very plausible explanation. Accepting the reply, she resumed answering Miss Watson's questions for another half hour before the embassy employee was satisfied she had all the information she was looking for.
Miss Watson neatly gathered her notes and forms and replaced them back into her leather file holder. Before getting up from her seat, she reached into her purse and produced a small plain looking business card. It clearly showed the mark of the Canadian Embassy upon it and the name Sandra Watson and a phone number at which she could be reached.
"If you need anything or remember anything at all, no matter how small or insignificant, you can reach me at the number on the card." She said as she handed the business card to Haley with a tight smile.
Haley looked down at the card and took the proffered card with a thankful smile. "Thank you, I'll make sure to do that."
"If I have any other questions to ask, can I reach you here for the next week?" The embassy representative asked as they walked to the door.
Haley hesitated for a moment before responding. "Probably not. I'm planning on cutting my vacation short and heading back home on the next available flight."
Sandra Watson was a little surprised by the news but not entirely as she continued walking without hesitation until she reached the door.
"That's a shame you'll be cutting your vacation short. There are still many sites and forms of entertainment that Austria has to offer you. You shouldn't let an incident like this ruin your plans."
With a slight smile Haley added. "I've got lots of work ahead of me back home anyway. I can always come back and pick up where I left off."
With an approving nod, Sandra Watson agreed with Haley's way of thinking. Then, as Miss Watson reached out and turned the knob, Haley added. "And Miss Watson..."
"Yes?" She said, turning to look at the shorter woman.
"I appreciate the concern the embassy is showing me." Haley said with a sincere look in her green eyes.
"We protect our own." Miss Watson replied with a comforting confidence in her voice. "Have a good day Miss Connors."
And with that, Miss Watson strode confidently out through the door and down the hallway. As Haley stood arms crossed over her chest in the doorway watching the retreating figure, she saw Liz and Heinrich pass Miss Watson halfway down the hall. Liz looked at the woman whom she just passed and then shot her sister, from where she was down the hallway, a curious look.
"Who was that?" Liz asked curiously once she reached her sister and made sure the woman was out of earshot.
"Sandra Watson, from the Canadian Embassy. She wanted to clarify a few things about yesterday's shooting." Replied Haley, who then took on a serious look as she remembered she hasn't yet informed her sister of her new travel plans. "Liz, why don't you two come on in and I'll fill you in on everything."
"Is everything all right Hale?" Liz asked with growing concern as she watched the seriousness wash over Haley's face.
"Come on in. I'll tell you everything." She assured her sister.
From the first moment Kat McGregor first saw Haley Connors under the guise of Sandra Watson, she could almost feel as though the young woman could see right into her soul. It was a very unsettling feeling for someone in her line of work. Fortunately, this was the first time she's ever come across such a strange feeling. However, she was confident that her disguise as an embassy representative worked.
Upon first appearing in the doorway, Kat could feel the young novelist's eyes on her, taking in every little detail that she could soak up. That didn't bother her. She was inconspicuously doing the same thing. But the young Canadian also had a certain sense of confidence about her as well.
Her first take on the young woman was that she was a good soul and maybe perhaps a little naïve in certain matters. That, in no means, insinuated she was stupid. Quite the contrary actually. From the intelligence she gathered about her before coming here impressed her.
Upon graduating from high school in Toronto, she went on to study computer sciences at the University of Toronto. During her four-year tenure, she managed a 94 percent average in all her courses. Her apparent knowledge of computers was extensive as well as impressive. So much so that she even managed to find spare time to dabble in fictional writing.
In her second year of university, she found herself an agent and had submitted her manuscript to several publishers. It wasn't long before someone picked up her novel and published it. Since then, she's been producing novels that kept hitting the top 20 best seller's list. She graduated university second in her class and continued on with a writing career making enough money to live a very comfortable life style.
And now here she was in Austria, possibly caught up in something bigger than she ever could have imagined. She hoped for the young Canadian, that she wasn't involved. It could mean big trouble if she was.
As Kat walked through the tidy room, she carefully examined everything. She was searching for something, anything that Marco may have given her before he died. She spied the young tourist's suitcase and duffel bag of clothes. One was neatly zipped up while the other was still open with some clothes peeking out by the desk she was planning on sitting at. The bed hadn't been made yet as the blankets were strewn all over the bed and partly on the floor.
Further inspection with her trained eyes revealed to her a laptop computer sitting on the nightstand between the bed and outer wall with several mini disks laying about it. Standing at the desk, she glimpsed a large handbag sitting on the floor next to the same nightstand partially hidden beneath the tossed bed sheets. All these things she noted and stored away for future reference in her photographic memory.
And then she began asking the young novelist carefully thought out questions to determine the extent of her involvement in Marco's demise. She had little doubt Miss Connors wasn't involved in Marco's death, but one never knows when caught up in her world of espionage. And since nothing was found on Marco's body, she had to presume he passed off whatever information had gotten him killed to someone before his untimely death. Haley Connors was as good a place as any to begin her search.
After a little less than an hour of questioning, Kat was able to mentally envision what had happened through Haley's well drawn out description of the murder scene. She would later need to check ballistic reports and head back to the crime scene to confirm her theory of what had happened. However, Kat also surmised that if Marco had passed anything off to her, Haley Connors didn't know anything about it.
By the time she was ready to leave, she had unconsciously taken a liking to the young woman. Haley's sincerity and honesty were refreshing and increasingly rare in her line of work. However, the young woman's plans on an early departure came a little unexpectedly. She was going to have to speed up her schedule and conduct a search of the room as soon as possible. It was imperative that she found whatever it was that Marco had died for.
As she appeared to be organizing her things before her departure, Kat stealthily slid one hand under the desk and stuck a small bug underneath. This way she was able to listen in on any conversation that took place in the room, possibly catching something useful. It will also help her determine when the best time to come back and conduct her search would be without Miss Connors around.
Later that morning, Kat managed to obtain the ballistic report from the police in her own unique way with very little trouble. Another fake ID, a little story and great acting got her the information she needed. Now, here she was, standing in the exact spot beneath a lamppost where Haley would have been, in front of the Rathaus across from the scenic Stadtpark dressed in comfortable jeans and a light sweatshirt.
The streets and sidewalks were once again busy with vehicles and pedestrians going about their daily activities on this overcast Sunday afternoon. Several people looked her way; their curious stares were ignored except for a cautious eye, which remained alert. She studied her surroundings carefully and then looked down at the ballistics report in her hands.
Reading the report over once more, she saw that it indicated that the bullet's point of entry was through the front of his chest coming in on a straight 45-degree angle from the right side of the body. There was no exit wound. Later, during the autopsy, pieces of the bullet were found still lodged in his chest. It was determined to be a .308 hollow point bullet. Deadly, getting the job done without a big mess. 'A tidy murderer.' Kat thought to herself as she again looked down at the chalk outline and the little bit of blood that wasn't washed away.
She stared at the outline for a moment in silence as her mind worked out the trajectory of the bullet. She turned around and regarded the lamppost and the tall buildings behind her. Any of which could have housed the murderer. She took a baby step over to her left, lining her torso up with the lamppost, right about where Haley described her position to be when she heard the shot whiz by her head. The hand holding the ballistic report fell to her side, forgotten as an image formed in her head. Turning her body slightly to have a clear view of both the chalk outline and buildings brought everything into focus. She knew finally knew exactly where the murderer had himself hidden. There, in a little alleyway between the Rathaus and the stone building adjacent to it. He would have almost been in plain sight of everybody and everything.
'Tidy and cocky.' She thought with disdain for the murderer of her friend.
With a purposeful stride and dangerous look in her eye, she marched over to where she believed the gunman was holed up. She barely thought of the pedestrians in her way as she made her way down a cleared path to her destination, oblivious to the stream of people walking around her. Initially, some looked at her with annoyance as she pushed her way through the first couple of people. But soon, the others caught the dangerous glare in the woman's eyes and were all too eager to clear the way for her.
Within seconds, the dark-haired woman reached the corner of the cathedral like city hall, which towered high above her in beautiful spires of magnificent architecture. However, all this went unnoticed as she bent down to examine the ground just around the corner of the building.
With the dark clouds looming overhead threatening rain, the darkness of the sky despite the early afternoon threw shadows all over the place. She reached into her pocket and produced a small steel mag-light and flashed its light on the ground to help her find any clues at all to show her who committed this crime.
As she searched and searched to no avail, Kat could feel her frustration growing with each passing minute. And with the frustration, she could feel her rage mounting. Normally, she did not allow anything to become personal. But this was different. She and Marco shared a history together. Though things between them had happened several years ago, and had long since ended, she still cared deeply for him as a trusted friend. With the threat of betrayal loomed over CSIS's head, coupled with Marco's murder, she sometimes allowed the rage to fuel her need to find those responsible.
Suddenly, she stopped what she was doing and stood up straight as rain quietly began to pour down on her. People on the sidewalks scurried to find cover as they ran past her holding whatever they could over their heads to keep from getting wet. Kat however merely stood where she was, unnoticed by most, with her face upturned towards the sky. The cool raindrops splashed down on her face and soaked her clothes as she closed her eyes and deeply breathed in the smell of the rain on the city. She felt her frustration lessen and her rage subside as she let the rejuvenating rain work its wondrous magic on her tired body.
Just as quickly as the rain had started, it suddenly stopped. The roads, buildings and people bore the mark of the rain. Where those caught in the rain's tantrum felt annoyance, Kat only felt refreshed. Her mind and body were calmed and refreshed. With purpose, she gathered her few belongings and planned her next course of action. There were yet a few things left unchecked and Haley Connors was top on her list.
After a quick stop to her room, a short shower and a refreshing nap after having gone two days without sleep, Kat now felt less edgy and ready to take on her next task. The long hours she was going to have to wait hidden in the plentiful trees and bushes on the private grounds of the hotel Haley Connors' was staying at were made easier after getting that little bit of sleep.
Finally, after waiting patiently for the occupants in Haley's room to leave, she heard the magic words spoken. Heinrich Liebsch, Haley's brother-in-law, offered to take the two sisters out for a late supper before Haley flew back to Canada on the morrow. The bug she had planted in Haley's room earlier that morning had served its purpose as she now listened in on Haley while she readied herself. She was just waiting for the young novelist to be on her way so she could make her move.
Continuing her eavesdropping on the small group, she unfortunately overheard that they will be dining in the hotel's restaurant. Kat knew she would have to stay alert and quick in finding whatever it was she was looking for.
Half an hour later, through the earpiece she wore, she heard Liz and Heinrich returning to Haley's room to get her. A quick little conversation, some laughter and then she heard the door shut. All had gone quiet as she looked up from her hiding spot to Haley's room and saw the lights flicked off. She waited another moment before making her move. Still nothing.
'Good.' Kat thought as she made her move.
She emerged from her hiding spot, barely rustling any leaves. She stole a quick glance to the sky and sighed. Working under a full moon was not her first choice of ideal conditions for sneaking around. The brightness of the moon took away much of the advantage of doing such things under cover of complete darkness. But she seldom got to do things the easy way and this was definitely not the first time she had to work under such conditions.
She purposely looked at her watch, pressed a button and it lit up in a red light to show her the time without giving away her position. Eight o'clock on the dot. As she stealthily emerged from the bushes and made sure the coast was clear, she hauled out a small grappling gun from her boot. She quickly and noiselessly loaded the weapon with a small grappling hook, which was attached to a strong rope. Her gun leveled on its target without having to really take aim. This was child's play as far as she was concerned.
Taking one final glance around and seeing no one, she pulled the trigger. A soft muffled force of air sounded as the little hook flew through the air and wrapped around the railing of the small balcony just outside of Haley's room. Kat gave it a strong tug and found it to be secure. Another automatic glance around and then she was climbing hand over hand up the rope, her strong arms easily carrying her the distance.
As she climbed up the side of the white building, the various shades of gray, black and white of her military type camouflaged suit blended in nicely with the bright night and shady building. Where her suit did not cover all the fleshy areas, namely her face, she had expertly applied the same shades of cam stick to keep her tanned skin from standing out.
Barely a grunt escaped the athletic woman's lips as black-gloved hands continued to carry her up the four stories, her tightly braided hair gently swaying to the motion of her body. Finally she stretched a hand up and grabbed the railing. With one strong heave, she was up and over the railing onto the balcony and reaching into one of the leg pockets on her thigh. She quickly produced her lock picking tools and was through the glass French doors almost instantly.
She cautiously closed the door and the horizontal blinds to make certain nobody accidentally saw her skulking around the room. Next, she carefully looked about the dark room to make sure she was truly alone. Satisfied, she reached into another thigh pocket and produced the same black mag-light she had used earlier that day. Deftly, she turned the head of the flashlight and a bright sliver of light shot forth, illuminating only where she pointed.
As she noted from her earlier interview with the writer, she remembered that the large handbag she had seen earlier was the same handbag she had been carrying at the time of the murder. Considering what the young woman had been wearing at the time, denim shorts and tank top, it was more likely that anything that may have been passed on would be in the handbag. She walked over to the side of the bed where she remembered seeing it half hidden beneath sheets only to find it gone.
She flashed her small light over the night desk and the neatly made-up bed. She noticed several mini disks laying about on the nightstand, but still no handbag. She bent down and examined the disks on the nightstand and noticed that they had all been labeled. She thumbed through them and recognized the names on the disks. There were several disks labeled 'Switzerland', another few called the 'Swiss Alps' while others still were named after various tourists sights in southwestern Austria.
Turning around, she lightly walked over to the desk she had occupied earlier that morning. Sitting on the desk was Haley's laptop computer with several other mini disks strewn about it, all of which were yet unnamed.
Quickly taking a seat in front of the small laptop, Kat twisted the head of her mag light to turn it off as she reached over to turn on the computer. After a few moments, Windows 95 loaded up and wallpaper of a pod of dolphins were swimming through a mythical world, possibly Atlantis itself. Kat noticed that no password was used. Either she trusted people and didn't worry about someone breaking into her computer or just never bothered to put one in. Either way, this just made her job easier.
Appearing on the screen with the dolphins were only a few icons. Giving them a quick once over, she noticed 'My Computer', a trash bin, an Internet connection, a browser and a shortcut to Word. Had she more time, she might have gone through the computer to see what was on her hard drive just to make sure. Unfortunately, time was of the essence and she had to be quick.
Knowing the young woman was out site seeing and probably taking pictures on the day of the shooting, it was possible these disks may have information that could be useful to her. And she knew that Haley had been taking pictures of the Rathaus only moments before everything went crazy, which lent credence to her assumption. Too bad she hadn't finished labeling her disks. It would have made her job that much easier.
She grabbed one of the six disks on the desk beside the small computer, mentally remembering its place, and popped it into the disk drive, which it only partially occupied. With her index finger, she moved her finger along the touch pad below the space bar to move the cursor to where she wanted it to go. Within a heartbeat, she had a window displaying the contents of the first disk on the screen in front of her.
"Damn." She muttered quietly, just below her breath. 'I'm gonna have to go through them all of them to find out what's on them.' She thought with annoyance as she noticed the pictures went by numbers and not names.
She single clicked on the file and a small quick view picture appeared on the left side of the window. She made sure she didn't actually open the document because if Haley were observant, she would notice someone was snooping around on her computer. First of the thumbnail pictures to be brought up was of the famous Lipizzaner Horses. A large number of them were captured in a large field, lazily grazing off of the grass. There were such a large number of the beautiful white horses that Kat figured this picture was taken at a stud farm for the animals.
The small yellow cursor clicked on another picture to open its thumbnail. This one showed a building on a beautiful green, grassy hill overlooking a city. Kat sat back a minute and tried to remember where she'd seen this picture before.
"The clock tower in Graz." She whispered out loud to herself.
After viewing two more pictures on this disk, which were from the clock tower overlooking the city below, she surmised that this disk only contained photos of Graz. This was not what she was looking for and knew any more time spent looking through this disk would be a waste of valuable minutes.
Promptly returning the mini disk to its protective case and returning it to its exact position from whence it came; Kat chose another disk to browse through. After several minutes of rapid clicks, this disk was also replaced to its spot on the desk, it not being what she was looking for and grabbed for another disk to view.
As the skilled spy went about her studious search through the disks, her lack of findings was only mildly annoying. All these disks held nothing but pictures of Graz and Innsbruck.
'I know she visited more of Austria's cities than Graz and Innsbruck.' She mentally stated to herself as she sat back in the chair and looked about the room, going over the details. 'If I can find her handbag, I might find the disks of Vienna as well and maybe a clue to the murderer.'
Absently, she grabbed her small mag light and quietly pushed herself away from the desk and stood to her full 6-foot height. She left the computer and these disks alone for a moment while she went off in search of the handbag. Rounding the corner of the bed, she found what she was looking for. There, on the floor, sat the handbag she had been searching for on the opposite side of the bed.
She quickly walked over to the handbag noiselessly where she then switched the mag-light from her hand to her mouth. Kneeling down beside the bag, she deftly opened it with her free hands and pointed the small light into the opening.
She thumbed through the contents of the bag quickly and efficiently. As she rummaged through the bag, she regarded the first items with a raised eyebrow. There, sitting on top of everything was a pair of clean black Nike sneakers accompanied by a pair of clean white socks in the bag. Digging some more, but not enough to look as though someone had gone through everything, she found several Archie digests, a notepad, a Pez dispenser, an English/German dictionary, some Kleenex, a new digital camera and several unnamed disks. Her eyes lit up as she caught sight of a few more mini disks.
"Bingo." She whispered to herself as her eyes settled on the item she was searching for.
With a self-satisfied smile, she reached down into the bag to gather up the disks to examine them further. Suddenly her hand froze as her fingers brushed the surface of one of the disks. Her head shot up and listened attentively to the sounds around her. Her keen hearing and instinct were rewarded as they forewarned her of someone approaching the room by the soft footfalls on the carpeted hallway floors.
With only seconds to act, she quickly shuffled the items in the handbag to their original positioning, shut her mag light off and flew over to the computer and shut it off without going through the shut down sequence.
The doorknob turned and the door began to swing open as the sounds of someone mumbling beneath their breath started to walk into the room. Kat knew there was no way she'd get out onto the balcony without being seen or heard. Fast eyes scanned the room as her mind went over the situation. Her eyes quickly settled on the floor and the space between it and the underside of the bed. It looked to be just about enough room for her to squeeze under.
'Only one way to find out.' She thought with quick resolve.
Just as the bedroom lights came to life, Kat's body had reluctantly squeezed completely under the bed. Resting on her back, her head turned sideways so that it would fit and her arms out to her side laid Kat. She concentrated on slowing down her breathing and relaxing her muscles until she became deathly still. With her head turned towards the door, her piercing blue eyes were allotted a fairly clear view of the main floor.
"Haley, they were just standard questions and the soup was an accident." Haley's sister's voice drifted down to Kat's ears. Motionless, Kat continued to eavesdrop on their conversation as she watched three pairs of feet walking around. A pair of black heels and men's loafers remained by the hallway as beige women's loafers walked towards the closet.
"I know Liz, but just seeing that detective in the dining room giving me those accusing looks just made me lose my appetite." Haley said with weariness in her voice as Kat heard the closet door slide open.
"Haley, I do not think the man intentionally meant to make you feel as you do." Spoke a soft baritone voice. Kat figured it was probably Heinrich Liebsch, Haley's brother-in-law.
Kat listened to the shuffling of clothes hangers stop briefly. "Sure, just like he didn't mean to 'accidentally' walk into the waiter spilling that soup all over me!" Came Haley's biting words. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear that man thought I was the murderer!"
For a moment, there was an awkward silence. From her vantage point, Kat could see the two pairs of feet by the hallway fidgeting restlessly, while the one by the closet walked towards the bed.
Suddenly the bottom of the bed pressed up against Kat's face and chest uncomfortably, but not unbearably, as she felt weight drop onto the bed. The strings of lint on the bottom of the bed rested on her face, while loose strands tickled at her nose. Annoyed, she softly blew at these strands to try and force them away from her nose and mouth. A little squished in her tight spot, she was relieved that she managed to get the annoying strands away from her nose and mouth as she continued to listen in on the conversation.
"I'm sorry guys." Haley started to say. "I guess maybe I'm a little on edge. Maybe all I need is a vacation from this vacation."
Kat could almost hear the smile in the young novelist's voice as she spoke these words, which brought a mild grin to her face as well. Then she noticed the other pairs of feet making their way towards the bed as well. Kat braced herself as she prepared to receive the added weight on the bed, which she figured would come.
She was right. The bed sank down a touch more just above her head while she felt an added pressure on her legs near the end of the bed. From what she had previously seen of Heinrich she figured that it was him and his muscled 6'3 frame that settled down on her legs. She was just grateful he sat there and not where Haley sat just above her chest.
"A vacation from a vacation...now there's an ingenious thought!" Laughed Heinrich who was soon joined by the other two women.
"Just make sure it's cheap so you're not complaining all through that vacation too!" Liz added, still laughing.
"All right you two clowns, get out of here! This soup is starting to stick to my skin!" Haley said playfully as Kat noticed Haley's weight lifting off of the bed quickly followed by the other two bodies. Her body felt relieved by the removal of the weight it was forced to endure.
"Go on...Git!" Haley said with a chuckle as Kat watched all three feet shuffle towards the door.
"We'll be by tomorrow morning to get you out of bed and catch your plane." Liz added as Kat heard the bedroom door open.
"Don't even think about waking me up early!" Haley scolded playfully. "My plane only leaves at one."
"Whatever you say little sis." Kat heard Liz say with a tone of mischief in her voice. "Night Hale."
"Sleep well Haley." Heinrich added.
"Goodnight you two. Try to keep the noise down k? You had me and half the hotel up all night Friday."
"Haley!" Liz said incredulously.
"Just kidding." Haley giggled. "See you in the morning."
With the final goodnight's said the door closed and Kat saw Haley kick off her shoes.
Sigh. "This was my favorite pair of dress pants." Kat heard Haley say to herself just as she saw the black pants drop to the floor and kicked away towards the bed.
After mumbling a bit more to herself, Haley was on her way towards the shower.
Kat hastily wiggled herself out from under the bed and began to head towards the balcony doors. Quickly she stopped and altered her course towards the handbag to retrieve the disks.
"Damn it!" Kat cursed beneath her breath as she discovered the bag was moved once again. Just as she was about to conduct a quick search for the bag, she heard the faint sounds of the locks on the French doors being picked from outside.
Her surprise from the unexpected sound was short lived as she kicked her body into gear and jumped in the only other available hiding spot. One long quick stride backward and she was in the open closet. She shut the open door till there was only a small crack for her to spy out of.
'Maybe there's more to Haley Connors than I thought.' Kat thought with a little disappointment at the possibility of the young Canadian actually being caught up in this whole fiasco came to mind.
Haley's shower was one of her quicker ones. She had tied her hair back and up to avoid getting it wet because she hated going to bed with wet hair. She always woke up with what she called 'bed head' in the mornings, leaving her hair completely unmanageable. And after tonight's little incident in the dining room of the hotel, she didn't have the energy to take a long shower. Right now, her body just wanted to crawl under the sheets and go to sleep.
Drying herself off leisurely and then wrapping the towel around her, she stepped out of the bathroom to find her comfortable pair of shorts and T-shirt to wear to bed. Upon stepping out of the bathroom, she found herself immersed in complete darkness.
'I could've sworn I left the lights on.' She thought with a mild look of confusion on her face.
Her hand reached out to the light switch on the wall and flicked on the main light. Before she could draw her hand back, someone had reached around the corner and grasped her hand in a vice like grip. The strong hand quickly swung her around the corner and slammed her body face first into the wall next to the closet; her arm-twisted and held behind her back. As Haley began to struggle, a strong forearm pressed against the back of her neck painfully holding her firmly in place.
"If you want to live through this night, you will cooperate with me and do as I say." The hoarse whisper of a man said dangerously into her ear. "Is that clear?"
"If this is a robbery, just take everything. I don't want any trouble." She replied through painfully clenched teeth.
"Good girl." He said in a condescending tone, still whispering uncomfortably close into her ear. "Now tell me where you've hidden the disk."
Haley thought frantically and wondered what he would want with her disks. There was nothing on them except the pictures she'd taken. But if he wanted them, he could have them and the damn camera too! Just so long as he left her alone.
With a noticeable gulp, she answered him. "There are a few on the desk, the night table and my handbag beside the desk. You can have them all."
"Don't fuck with me girl!" He growled as he quickly pulled her away from the wall and slammed her back into it with a resounding thud.
"I told you what you asked for! What more do you want?!" She cried back in a fiery tone to her assailant with growing anger and fear.
"Oh, I see you're going to be stubborn one." He said with a sneer as he hauled her away from the wall once again continuing to hold her arm behind her back as his other arm wrapped around her neck. "I love it when my victims put up a struggle."
With a sudden quickness she wouldn't have thought humanly possible, he swung her around face to face and struck out with the back of his hand hitting her painfully across the cheek. Her body spun dizzily to the ground, forcing her down to her hands and knees before her mind had time to register what had just happened. Then the sharp pain reached her senses. Furiously she fought the stinging tears forming in her eyes as her hand frantically grasped at the towel that was slowly coming undone and slipping off of her body.
From the corner of her eye, she could see the masked man dressed in black from head to toe advancing towards her for another attack. As she quickly gazed up sideways into the man's dark hazel eyes, she saw nothing but her own death within. With a frantic resolve, her instincts for survival or die took over.
As she felt his hands reach out and grab her shoulder, she jumped up to a crouch and delivered a strong elbow to his mid-section. She heard a satisfying 'oof' as she connected solidly with his hard torso. Refusing to give him a moment of rest she leapt to her feet, held onto her towel with one hand, and delivered a strong sidekick to the face.
His head snapped back as a trail of blood spurted from his nose. Haley took no pleasure in fighting, but she was glad she had taken those martial arts classes. However, she didn't stay and wait for her assailant's retaliation. Instead, she turned around and bolted for the door.
Before she took two steps, she felt her hair yanked back violently putting her at the mercy of her attacker. "You bitch!" He spat down into her face as he looked down at her partially naked body, one hand clutching his bloody nose. "You little bitch!" He repeated as his knee came up and delivered a gut wrenching kick to her side, releasing a painful cry from Haley.
"I'm going to enjoy killing you!" He sneered, still holding his bloodied nose.
Haley was still gasping for air as she felt herself being roughly hauled to her feet by her hair. The novelist's mind barely registered her towel slipping from her body down to the carpeted floor as she was once again face to face with the masked intruder.
She saw the fisted hand fly towards her face seconds before it connected and painfully sent her reeling back towards the wall headfirst. With a painful thud, her head connected with the corner of the merciless wall. Slowly her naked body slid to the floor, darkness beginning to cloud her vision. The last thing she saw before succumbing to the darkness was a shady blur streaking out of the closet and then nothing. The darkness had claimed her.
Kat watched the unknown intruder enter the room just as she had earlier; only his search wasn't as thorough as hers. Peeking through the sliver she allotted herself to spy through, she noticed that the new intruder was rather thin. The toned, sinewy muscles that appeared to be part of the tight fitting black suit made it apparent that the intruder was a man. And by the sound of his frustrated sigh at not immediately finding what he was searching for told her that he wasn't a very patient man either.
Since Kat's hiding place in the closet had the bathroom directly behind her, on the other side of the back wall of the closet, she heard shower being turned off. Her eyes never left the intruder as she watched him react to the same sound of the shower being turned off.
Without hesitation, he flew over to the light switch with light feet and flicked it off. The room then plummeted into complete blackness except for the tiny sliver of moonlight shining through the now open drapes of the French door. The next second, she heard his body lightly settle back around the corner of the small hallway right in front of the closet door from which she was spying.
Her eyes squinted to tiny slits as her mind flew through possible courses of action this sloppy intruder presented her. In the blink of an eye she could reach out and snap his neck before he knew what hit him. Of course, she knew this plan of action left her with more questions than answers. She also thought of a few pressure points she could use to immobilize him and spirit him away to question later. But that course, she knew, could possibly prove to be futile, especially if he was associated with the Kynak.
Through past experiences, she knew their assassins and agents would rather die than give away any information. And because they usually worked in pairs, their partner would kill them if not captured him or herself, whether they wanted to live or not to prevent any information from being leaked. This presented another problem. If there was another involved, where were they?
No. She knew her most prudent course would be to let this scene play itself out and take what information she could from the encounter without getting involved. If Haley Connors were involved, she would deal with her later.
Suddenly, she heard the bathroom door open and within seconds the light was switched on. That's when the intruder made his move. The next second, she heard a body being unceremoniously thrown against the hard wall so close to the door that she could smell the soap off of Haley's skin.
By straining her eyes sideways to study Haley's face for a reaction to this surprising treatment, she could just barely make out the panic in the young Canadian's eyes as her face winced in pain. Now, after hearing the hoarse whispers of Haley's attacker, Kat was starting to get a different picture of what this meeting is really about.
Still, she kept quiet. If Haley was a smart girl, she would play along and would probably walk away whole and alive, so Kat let the scene before her run its course. Already she figured out one piece to the puzzle. Whoever this man is, he's definitely working with whoever killed Marcus and that Marcus had uncovered something. More than likely, it was contained on this disk the intruder was inquiring about.
'Marcus, you old dog.' Kat thought with an inward smile as she surmised that he probably had slipped something to Haley before he died. Judging by her reaction to the question, Haley had no idea about this little bit of information.
Then something changed. The thinly veiled anger, which lurked just beyond his eyes, exploded into crazed madness. She's seen this exact look enough times in the eyes of murderers and crazed radicals to know that Haley's time was short. He meant to kill her whether he 'coaxed' the information out of her or not. Her anger nearly peaked as she recognized Haley's precarious predicament. She knew she couldn't just stand by and watch an innocent person being brutally murdered for something she has no idea about.
Just as she was about to throw the door back and burst out to the novelist's aid, she hesitated. Her keen eyes caught a quick glimpse of the fire in the young woman's eyes as she delivered a nicely executed elbow to the solar plexus followed by a devastating sidekick to the face. To her ears, the sound of the crunching bone indicated she had definitely broken his nose.
'Good girl.' She thought approvingly, realizing that there may be no need to reveal her presence.
However, Haley's good fortune quickly dissipated as the more experienced fighter recovered from her attack before Haley could flee. The closet door flew open just as she saw Haley's exposed body fall vulnerably to the floor, her eyes closing into unconsciousness.
Kat knew she had taken the intruder completely by surprise by the wide look of alarm in his eyes as her leading fist connected with his shattered nose. The powerful punch lifted his body slightly off the floor and sent him crashing onto the bed behind him.
Surprisingly, he kept rolling with the momentum and kicked out towards her as his legs flipped over his head to land feet first on the opposite side of the bed.
With a cat like prowess, she easily avoided the smooth kick, jumped onto the bed with her hands leading and somersaulted to the other side. Landing with cat like grace, she reached out and grabbed the intruder's shoulder as he opened the French doors and was about to make a hasty retreat.
"What's the matter?" She spat as she spun him around to taste her fist once again.
"I thought you liked it rough."
As she hauled her fist back to deliver another powerful punch, she heard the muffled shot of a gun with a silencer being fired. Despite all her vaunted skill, Kat could not avoid a bullet, which delivered an all too real flash of pain through her shoulder. Instinctively, she rolled backwards with the shot to try and find cover before another bullet came at her.
Ignoring the stinging pain in her shoulder momentarily, she hastily slid to the other side of the bed for cover. A frantic glance to where Haley lay sprawled out on the floor revealed the danger Haley was in. Without a second thought, she quickly grabbed hold of Haley's body just as a bullet imbedded itself into the wall just above her head. The bullets near miss had Kat working to haul the unconscious woman safely behind the bed with her in record time.
Protectively, she crouched over the motionless body as she hauled out her .357 from her back holster, bringing it up in a ready position. Slowly, Kat lowered her head to the floor and looked under the bed to watch for anyone stepping through the open doors into the room.
The seconds crawled by and nothing happened. Faintly, she heard the branches on the ground rustle slightly. Cautiously, she crept over to the side of the desk staying under cover and listened further. The crack of a twig further away from the rustling branches told her that their attackers were well on their way to a hasty retreat.
Still, experience told her she should check and make sure they were gone before exposing herself carelessly. Jumping from her position by the desk, she bolted towards the light switch and threw the room back into darkness. Moving back behind the bed in a low crouch, she waited for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Blinking several times, she found her eyes quickly adjusting to the lightless room. Depending entirely on her sharp hearing for the moment, she listened for any evidence of the attackers. Nothing. Quietly, with her gun at the ready, she maneuvered herself to the French doors. A quick glance out the doors revealed no one about. Her sharp senses, keyed to the presence of danger, weren't ringing their familiar warning alarms. Even still, she proceeded with caution as she checked the grounds for any signs of her attackers.
After a thorough search, Kat was satisfied that whoever had attacked them were well away from here. She quietly returned to Haley's room through the French doors to see how badly Haley was hurt.
She re-entered the hotel room, switched on the light and was slowly becoming aware of the stinging pain in her shoulder again. As she walked towards the still naked prone body lying on the floor, she casually inspected her own injured shoulder. Much to her relief, she found that the bullet had only tore through her skin and grazed the top of the underlying bone where her arm met her shoulder. She ignored her own injuries once again as she bent down to inspect the extent of Haley's injuries, her nakedness put aside for the moment.
Kat noticed a trickle of blood that was beginning to congeal nicely as it ran down the side of Haley's face. With gentle hands, she parted the soft hair and found a nasty little gash on the blond scalp, but nothing life threatening she observed with relief.
Continuing her inspection down the gentle face, Kat winced as she saw the dark bluish purple bruise beginning to form on the side of Haley's jaw line. Expertly, her fingers gently examined the damaged area for broken bones. Checking the area carefully, she determined that Haley had gotten lucky and suffered from no fractured bones.
Gently she lifted Haley's head and turned her face to check the other side. On her cheek was a bright red mark; the obvious result of her assailant's backhanded strike. By the look and feel of it, there was nothing broken. And if Haley was lucky, it might not even bruise badly. Only time would tell. As her eyes examined Haley's face, she could see a dark bruise forming around her rib area from the corner of her eye.
Tentatively, Kat's fingers examined the underlying ribs around the damaged area. A small moan escaped Haley's lips as her fingers pressed on a particularly sensitive spot. Her fingers froze above the injured area, not touching it, as she waited to see if the woman would regain consciousness. Languidly Haley's eyes weakly fluttered opened for only a few seconds before drifting close once again.
Kat let out a relieved breath at almost being discovered. Undeterred, Kat turned her attention back to the dark purple bruise forming on Haley's ribs. Again she prodded the area searching for any broken ribs.
'Lucky kid. Not a single broken or cracked rib.' Kat thought casually as she examined the prone body for any wounds that would require medical attention.
The rest of her examination turned up no other injuries besides a few small bruises on her arms. Gently, Kat laid Haley back down on the floor as she got up to find her some clothes.
'Can't leave her laying around naked as a jay bird.' With that thought, Kat found a long nightshirt and hauled it out of the bag.
Carefully, Kat brought Haley's body up to a sitting position. She slipped the garment over Haley's head and slipped her arms through the armholes and then hauled the shirt down to cover her body. She held Haley in place as she stood up and turned down the bed sheets. Kat dipped back down and easily picked up the smaller woman as though she were a porcelain doll and laid her down on the bed. Kat grabbed the sheets and tucked them loosely around Haley.
For a moment, she stood back and watched Haley's placid face. If she hadn't known better, she would have guessed Haley was sleeping peacefully. However, the dark bruise on her gentle chin stood out like a sore thumb, telling the story of this night's ordeal. Luckily though, she would be all right, albeit very sore come the following days.
As Kat moved away from the bed she suddenly heard a knock on the door.
'Jesus! This place is worse than Grand Central!'
Kat hastily flicked the lights off as she slowly backed away from the door towards the balcony door. From the bed, she heard a soft moan as Haley began to stir.
"Haley." She heard Heinrich softly call out from the hallway. "Is everything all right?"
"Haley, we heard a commotion over here. Are you all right?" Liz called out after her husband.
'Sigh! I'm gonna have to catch her tomorrow before she leaves.' Kat thought with exasperation at all the obstacles that had kept popping up all night long.
With practiced ease, Kat exited the room the way she had entered it making sure everything was back in their proper places. One last glance towards the unconscious woman and she was gone.
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