Thursday, April 14, 2016
Let the Games Begin
Stefanya lay in the quiet peace before dawn, drowsing and only semi-awake, curled in Yuri’s arms. His soft breathing stirred her hair. She sighed into the pillow. She cherished these moments, because there were so few of them. Quiet moments in the dark, awash in the forgetfulness brought on by Yuri’s passionate loving. For a handful of seconds, the world and its tensions simply didn’t exist.
As if to mock her, the phone on the nightstand buzzed.
Stefanya’s fingers hooked into talons. Only one caller used this phone. Her quiet moment was over. Careful not to disturb Yuri’s sleep, she reached for the phone. “Yes.”
Her employer’s electronically-filtered voice spoke to her. She listened.
# # #
An hour later she called her team together. This time they met at the diner, where the clatter of plates and chatter of customers would mask their words. No one asked what was up. They knew their leader and could read her eyes and energy. No longer seven individuals, they came together, focused on the mission.
“It’s time,” Stefanya said over the lip of her coffee mug, in a voice that didn’t carry beyond the table. “We move tonight. Can you disable the security systems, Alec?”
“On the Hancock and Ghan buildings, yes. Everything’s in place. The Fledermaus house, I don’t know. I couldn’t get in. I couldn’t even get near it.” He turned to Castor. “How about you?”
“I got right up to the ranch house before the bats chased me off. No signs of electronic security that I could see. Remember, it’s bats. Maybe Fleddy doesn’t have an outside security system. Maybe the hands just squeak and see if anything funny bounces back.”
“They saw you?” Stefanya asked.
“Relax, boss. They think I’m a coyote. A real one, not a shifter. I know how to fake the body language and I hang out around the garbage cans. Nobody’s taken a shot at me yet. As far as indoors, no idea. I got a peek inside the kitchen once. It looked like a kitchen. Best I could do. Whoever goes in will be going in blind.”
Which meant they might not be coming out again. Stefanya raised that possibility. Nobody voiced any objections. They knew the risks. They were professionals.
“Not a problem,” Cloyd said. His teeth gnashed through his fried eggs. “I’ll take the bat. What’s life without a bit of risk?”
“Keep an eye out for a way downstairs. A panic room. A fortified cellar or something,” Castor advised. “Bats like to go underground. Don’t forget to watch out for the vampires. They go right for the eyes.”
“So do I.”
“Enough,” Stefanya said. “Cloyd, you’re not going to the ranch. And no one is to kill anybody. Our employer was quite specific in who was to attack where, and what they’re to say once the target’s secured.”
“Say?” Cloyd sputtered egg.
Fastidious Irwin brushed off his sleeve and edged his chair away from the sheep. “We’re just supposed to talk to them? Bloody hell. If that’s all he wanted, he could have sent emails. Save us the trouble and himself a wad of cash.”
“This is how he wants it to go down. It’s not our place to ask questions.” She handed out the assignments, and read them their brief scripts. “No one dies,” she emphasized. “Not yet. I assume that will come later.”
“Damn well better,” Cloyd muttered, and assaulted another egg, this time with gusto. It was clear he was happy with his target. Those who would also be on the move tonight showed no emotion one way or the other. This was a job, nothing more.
Alec had visibly relaxed. He had the easiest job, disabling security. He didn’t even need to be on-site. “Once the Ghan and Hancock systems go down, I can fly to the ranch. If I keep the bats busy—”
“You’re needed at communications,” Stefanya said. “If the bats need to be dealt with, I’ll handle it. Is everyone clear on their instructions?” She looked around the table. No one had any questions. “All right. We’ll meet at the inn at sundown. I expect you all to be at the top of your game.”
“Can’t wait.” Cloyd giggled. Irwin edged a little further way.
They stayed at their table through a second cup of coffee, chatting and laughing like regular patrons. Like they were no different from anyone else in the diner. Stefanya picked up the check, and left a generous tip.
# # #
Once he’d dispatched his instructions to his team of international killers, the man on the other end of the line dialed a second number. Time to put his final player on the board. For this call he didn’t bother with the electronic filter. They knew each other’s voices, and each other’s hates.
The other picked up on the third ring. “This better not be another tease.”
“No tease. He’s here, and he won’t be leaving any time soon.” He gave coordinates. “Wait twenty-four hours and then move in. They’ll be much too busy to notice you. When you’re finished with your tasks, you may … indulge yourself. Make sure he dies slowly and painfully.”
The other chuckled. “It will be my pleasure.” The phone clicked off.
And that was that. By this time tomorrow Talbot’s Peak would be at war. The man laughed softly to himself. It was going to be glorious.