"….an exceptionally compelling Slye Temp story,
a series I never want to end."
Margaux Duke exited first from the unmarked van parked on an empty side street in east Atlanta two blocks from tonight’s target. She lowered her night vision monocular into place as the rest of the six-person team spilled out behind her.
Black figures melded into the dark shadows and chilly night, all armed and deadly.
All moving on her intel of a meeting for payoff on a suspected terrorist attack to be carried out in Atlanta.
Today, as in less than twelve hours.
The meeting was going down in sixteen minutes. Margaux had shared every detail her snitch provided, with the exception of her hunch on who was making that payment.
At one time, her intuition would have mattered.
Not these days.
Sabrina Slye’s voice came through the comm sets everyone wore. “You’re absolutely sure about this intel, Duke?”
If this was about getting retribution for Margaux’s dead cousin, Nanci, she’d go on much less dependable intel. But this was about stopping a terrorist and she would not walk the team into danger for just a gut feeling. Sabrina had never questioned Margaux’s resources.
It rubbed that she did now, but Margaux pushed the mic switch clipped to her black molle vest and answered, “Yes.” She spoke in a soft whisper. The throat mic picked up the vibrations, and the sound came clearly through the earbuds of the team. “This came from my number one contact. He’s never been wrong in three years.”
No one else said a word. Tension pulsed through the silence.
That was telling in itself when any other time Nick and Dingo would have been ragging on her that she was picking up the beer tab if this was a bust.
She hadn’t been invited to share a beer in months.
She added, “This is the same informant who gave us accurate intel on the submarine sabotage we averted in Kitsap last December.” An attack planned for Naval Base Kitsap on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington, no less.
“Ten four.” Sabrina’s brisk voice moved on with, “Time check. Oh-one-hundred.” She counted seconds until everyone on the team gave an affirmative.
Sabrina ran covert teams for secret national security operations under the cover of Slye Temp, an elite corporate security agency. A tough, but fair, leader who had zero tolerance for her agents going rogue for personal vendettas. She’d leveled Margaux with a steely gaze when she’d reminded the entire team of that unbendable rule just ten days ago.
Stop focusing on the Banker, a broker for international terrorism.
Ryder Van Dyke’s deep voice cut in on the comm unit. “One vehicle just arrived at Strident Global Imports.” There was a pause while they all waited to hear more, then Ryder said, “No one’s getting out of the car yet.”
Ryder was team member number seven. He had a sniper position on top of the building across the street from an import company where the meet was expected to happen.
The snitch had discovered a link between Tio Giovanni, the ruthless leader of a New Jersey crime syndicate, and this import company, which accounted for the location of this meeting.
What was the mob doing for a terrorist?
Margaux could feel Sabrina’s gaze drilling through her confidence. She could not screw up the deal she had with Sabrina, the only person left who knew Margaux’s true identity. More than anything, Sabrina had helped her reclaim her life and had known how much Nanci meant to Margaux.
The team knew Margaux based only on what Sabrina had built for her identity. As for FBI Special Agent Nanci Tyler, the team had only known that Margaux had a rapport with a contact in the agency, but one that had to be kept secret. They understood her loss when Nanci was murdered, but not that it had been like losing a limb.
Margaux had been spending her off-time—and her money—hunting for the Banker. But when Sabrina finally made it clear that Margaux had to let go of her quest for vengeance, Margaux paid heed, because Sabrina was right.
The Banker had cost her enough.
That’s why Margaux had told her snitch she was no longer paying for intel on the bastard.
Tonight was about protecting innocent people and doing her part.
If this operation went sideways, which was always possible with one pulled together this quickly, she would take a bullet for Sabrina or anyone else on this team. Of the six elite operatives in this unit, Margaux was the only one truly expendable. With Nanci gone, no one would mourn her death.
She shoved that load of guilt back down in the cavity her heart used to fill and checked her Sig Sauer M11-A1 holstered beneath the black windbreaker. Her jacket might look like the FBI type, but hers had no agency initials and this wasn’t a sanctioned government mission.
Hell, this hadn’t even been a mission eighty-two minutes ago.
Ryder came back on the radio. “Three males exiting the sedan. One is staying by the vehicle. The other two are at the door of Strident and ... they’re entering the code for the alarm system. No other vehicle yet.”
That meant the first group was connected to Strident.
Sweat trickled down Margaux’s back with total indifference to the cold front sweeping Georgia in early May. Adrenaline pumped hard enough through her veins that she was numb to anything as insignificant as the temperature continuing to drop since midnight.
Sabrina’s tone sharpened. “Heads up. Dingo goes with me. White Hawk backs us up at the entrance. Nick’s with Duke at the rear with Tanner as backup.”
A bad feeling niggled at Margaux, that sixth sense an operative paid attention to if she wanted to walk away to fight another day. Maybe it was a case of doubting herself after Sabrina had questioned Margaux’s intel. She shook it off, getting her head in the game where it belonged when the team needed her.
Ryder had an update. “Second vehicle parking in the lot. No one exiting yet.”
“Everyone ready?” Sabrina asked.
Affirmatives followed all around, but Sabrina would hold off sending them until both men were in the building in case one decided to blow up the other.
Nick Carrera stepped across Margaux’s line of sight, standing a couple inches taller than her five-ten height. The only part of him showing through the black ski mask was a flicker of white around the eye not covered by his monocular, and his unsmiling mouth.
Margaux would question Sabrina’s choice for her partner du jour if not for Margaux’s having butted heads with everyone else for months.
Not that she didn’t like Nick. He was a solid partner and he didn’t butt heads. But Nick played by Nick’s rules and was a bit of a wildcard on a mission. It was hard to say exactly what he’d do in any given situation, but he did make things happen that often defied all probability.
Of course, he just as often did so in a way that created a lot of chaos along with the positive results.
Dingo Paddock stepped over to show Sabrina something on his smart phone. The Aussie’s ski mask covered spiked blond hair that looked out of place against skin the color of weak tea.
White Hawk, a Cherokee female operative and new recruit, stood off to the side. Dark brown hair cut short on one side and chin length on the other framed an oval face with high cheekbones passed down from generations of Native Americans. She was quiet, but in a way that said she was constantly engaged in threat assessment.
Word was that White Hawk had a knack for languages.
And for tailing a suspect.
Nick said she practically turned into a ghost when she shadowed someone.
Ryder finally said, “Three suspects exiting the second car, leaving one man out front, two heading into the building.”
Sabrina announced, “Move out.”
Dingo, White Hawk and Sabrina left as one pack. Margaux, Nick and Tanner Bodine took off in a different direction to approach the building from the rear. Out in public, Tanner was a big rambling cowboy with an easy smile, but at night he could move like the wind when stealth was key.
Margaux entered a dark stretch of alley that had been used as a john for the homeless if that stink was any indication. She opened up her stride until she reached the tall chain-link fence surrounding the back lot of the global marketing company. Tanner stepped up and snipped an opening large enough for his wide body, which left plenty of room for her and Nick to slip through.
Sabrina’s hushed voice came through the comm. “Guards at entrance contained. Ryder has confirmation on identity of the New Jersey suspect as Tio Giovanni. Black hair, slender build, five-nine. Both guards positively identified as known enforcers for two separate crime syndicates.”
Margaux blinked at that news. Dingo could run facial recognition software if he was at a computer and if he had decent images. Had Sabrina sent someone ahead to set up a live feed at the front of the import company? Even so, Dingo didn’t have that access at the moment and Josh Carrington, the other techno whiz on the Slye Team, hadn’t been available tonight. Amanda, the research dynamo Sabrina had snaked from MI6 last year, was on vacation.
That would mean the images were very likely being sent to Ryder’s personal electronic superpower, an electronic analyst genius at the FBI who also happened to be his wife.
Sabrina would be pulling out all the stops to confirm as much as possible before sending in agents.
Tanner hung back as Margaux and Nick approached the building.
Nick spoke softly, asking, “Alarm status?”
Dingo’s voice came right back. “All clear, mate.”
If the alarm had been reset once everyone was inside as a security measure, Dingo had just disarmed it.
Nick moved silently up the metal steps to the rear door of the warehouse and went to work on the lock while Margaux covered his back.
When his hand touched her shoulder, she turned to enter a dark space that would be impossible to navigate without night vision gear. She took the lead, weaving her way with soft steps around forklifts and pallets stacked with merchandise covered in plastic wrap.
She stopped at the corner of tall metal shelving lined up in rows. A mirror set of towering gray structures loaded with inventory ran along the other side of the building, creating a wide walkway down the center.
There was enough space for two forklifts with eight-foot-wide loads to easily pass each other.
Or for two men to meet in the center of the building sixty feet away and discuss destroying parts of this city. A single mercury vapor light glowed bluish-white overhead, leaving the rest of the warehouse in pitch dark.
Nick eased forward and peeked over her shoulder. A guard stood two strides behind each respective boss.
Margaux assessed the room. Lots of metal angles for bullets to ricochet against.
But there were only two exits.
Dread clawed along her neck. Why?
This felt rushed, which couldn’t be helped since there was no way to plan for when intel would arrive. Besides, this was what Slye Temp excelled at—moving on a hot tip without red tape, then fading into the shadows so alphabet agencies took the credit.
And taking on missions that stopped powerful criminals.
Margaux’s snitch had given her pieces of intel that alluded to the Banker making the payoff tonight. But not enough information to say for sure.
Eight months ago, Sabrina would have been open to the possibility of going after that bastard on a good hunch, but not after a source—translation, Sabrina’s friend in the CIA—said agencies had been tracking the Banker’s ties to international terrorist events for years. According to her source, there was no intel to support the Banker having entered the US at any point in the past or present.
There were no known photographs of the Banker, and Sabrina’s CIA friend had shared that the Banker was believed to presently be holed up in Germany.
That settled that, which was why Margaux didn’t bring up the bastard’s name and draw Sabrina’s ire again.
Margaux’s new goal was regaining the respect she’d once enjoyed before she’d let an obsession make her team think she’d gone rogue. She hadn’t, and no way would she allow her personal issues to end with letting her team down.
Sabrina ordered, “Stand down. The second suspect can’t be confirmed as a known terrorist.”
Nick muttered, “Fuck.”
He took the word right out of Margaux’s mouth. She eyed the two men who were now shaking hands as if their business was concluded. The pause that followed stretched until Sabrina said, “Margaux I need any other intel you’ve got on this guy. Anything else from your snitch I can use.”
Son of a bitch. Decision time. Margaux swallowed and made a leap of faith, whispering into her mic, “My snitch said this might involve the Banker, but he did not have confirmation. I dismissed that as insignificant since we were told the Banker is not in this country.”
But the snitch had argued that this terrorist was rumored to have put out a hit on an FBI agent eight months ago for interfering with his operation. That fit the description of the hit on Nanci.
“What are you saying?” Sabrina asked.
Margaux regretted all the months she’d focused on the Banker, because right now everyone had to be thinking he was at the core of her investment for this op. She said, “There is a chance the unidentified suspect could be the Banker, which would explain not being able to confirm identification as a terrorist. I didn’t tell you because it was only speculation and that was never the point of this op. This is about stopping an attack on Atlanta.”
Silence answered her.
She glanced at Nick.
He rolled his eyes, an action she was sure the rest of the team mirrored at this same moment.
Nick didn’t activate his mic when he whispered right at her ear. “How long have you been suicidal?”
Margaux left her mic off as well to answer him in a hushed voice. “How is this suicidal with an entire team?”
“I didn’t mean this.” He nodded to the left toward the targets. “I meant stomping on Sabrina’s last good nerve.”
“I’m not saying it’s him.” She paused, wishing she were anywhere else right now. “But what if it is?” Regardless of what happened eight months ago, if this was the Banker they had the chance to take down someone who brokered the deaths of thousands, and they all knew it.
“Hey, I’m in.”
And just like that, Nick was at the top of her favorite partners list.
Ryder’s voice came on the comm. “We’ve got company. A sporte ute pulling into the drive. I count at least four inside. Time to move or get out.”
Margaux held her breath, not sure what she hoped Sabrina would decide, but if they pulled back they’d lose the terrorist and Giovanni, and maybe sign the death warrants for thousands of innocent people.”
Sabrina finally said, “Op is a go.” She paused then ordered, “Move in.”
Margaux nodded at Nick then she slipped around the corner with Nick on her left side. She aimed at the guard on her right. Nick would take the one on the left.
Giovanni turned to speak to his guard.
Dingo and Sabrina would be approaching from the front, one covering the terrorist and the other watching Giovanni. It was imperative to bring those two out alive.
Everything sharpened in Margaux’s surroundings. Time took on a life of its own, slowing until everything was in sharp focus.
Sabrina’s booming order ripped through the room. “Hands in the air. Now!”
Did they do that? Of course not.
That would have been too damn easy,
Both guards spun, shooting toward Dingo and Sabrina’s positions as they did.
The terrorist sank into a squat, and Giovanni dropped to the floor, rolling away, but he had nowhere to go beyond the shelves.
Margaux took out her guard with one shot to the head.
Nick hit his target but missed the kill shot only because Giovanni knocked the guard into the shelves where he continued unloading his magazine.
Bullets pinged against metal and the smell of gunpowder filled the air.
With the rapid fire reverberating, the unknown terrorist must have decided the only threat was coming from the entrance, which had to be why he made a dash for the rear of the building.
He was in his forties, twenty pounds overweight, and must not have been able to bring a weapon into the meet because he had yet to pull one.
Even better? He was heading straight for where Margaux waited. This was too good to be true. Finally, something was going right.
She told Nick, “I got this.”
The shooting stopped. Pounding footsteps were the only sound interrupting the sudden silence.
Eight feet from where Margaux hid in the shadows, the suspect looked up as she stepped out. His eyes bulged with shock then rage. She moved forward before he could react and put her weight into the motion, taking advantage of his forward momentum. She hooked an arm around his neck to clothesline him to the ground.
He hit hard. Crack-your-skull hard.
“Get up you piece of shit,” she ordered and kicked him in the side.
He groaned and grabbed his head. “You fucking …”
“The word you’re looking for is bitch.”
“You’re a woman? You fucking whore. You’re gonna burn for this.”
She smiled at him and squatted down. “We’ll see who burns.”
Sabrina came striding up with an HK 416 in her hands. “All clear. Guards inside neutralized. Giovanni is contained. Backup have the four new arrivals restrained and hooded outside. ”
Margaux searched his face for something that screamed merciless killer, but nothing magically pinged to identify him. Was this the Banker?
“Do you have any fucking clue what you just screwed up?” the suspect on the ground mumbled in a pain-filled voice.
Margaux prompted him. “By all means. Tell us what you were here to negotiate.”
He turned to her, his face twisted with more hatred than she thought a human was capable of expressing visually. “You just fucked a two-year deep undercover DEA operation that was one day from success. I’ll see every one of you buried for this.”
Sabrina demanded his superior’s name. When he gave it, she looked straight at Margaux and cursed.
The agent’s eyes rolled back in his head just as Ryder’s voice came over the comm in clipped, urgent tones. “Four Atlanta police units pulling up out front. Two unmarked units in back. Alphabet agencies. We’re burned.”
Blood rushed from Margaux’s head so fast she saw stars.
She was alive because no one knew she existed.
If she got arrested, she was as good as dead.
Sabrina still wore the same black outfit when she walked into Margaux’s apartment at six in the morning, five hours after the busted op, but her ski mask was off and her black hair fell loose around her shoulders. For a deadly operative, she had a Catherine-Zeta-Jones look about her that made men who didn’t know her act like idiots.
The ones who did know her had enough sense to respect a lethal weapon even when it wore a dress.
Margaux shut the door and turned to lean against it with her hands in the pockets of her favorite jeans. Her hair was still damp from the shower she’d finally taken after trying to find Snake Eyes.
He couldn’t hide forever.
At Ryder’s word that the op was blown, Sabrina had turned to Margaux and given the signal that meant “get the hell out.” Margaux had used her skills at stealth and evasion to do just that, but as far as she knew, the rest of the team had stayed on site. Maybe even gotten arrested.
Sabrina stopped in the middle of Margaux’s living room that she thought of as Shabby Chic, but accepted that it was just shabby. When Sabrina finally turned to her, she asked, “Did you find him?”
Margaux knew she meant Snake Eyes. “No.”
“Snitches go bad all the time.”
“It’s illogical. I was paying him well.”
“To hunt the Banker,” Sabrina said, finishing the unspoken part of that sentence.
Margaux shook her head. “I’ve paid him for all kinds of intel that we’ve used for good busts all over this country.” Finally she shrugged.
Sabrina spoke in her uber-pissed quiet voice. “I gave you warning after warning.”
Here it comes. “I know.”
“I let you leave the scene when the DEA agent passed out.”
Margaux nodded, giving Sabrina the floor, because repeating “I know” or saying “I’m sorry” while she spoke would only make things worse.
If that were possible.
“I spent the last three hours pulling out every trick I could think of to keep my people out of jail and to convince the DEA that we had solid intel that those two were meeting to discuss a terrorist plot. Thankfully, White Hawk made it to Ryder’s van before the APD showed, because the minute that agent wakes up in the hospital tomorrow, he’s going to start screaming for the head of the woman who cracked his skull.”
More head nodding. How could Margaux possibly make this up to Sabrina and the team?
Sabrina crossed her arms. “I understand about Nanci’s death, but we all lose people. Especially in this business.”
“Wait a damn minute,” Margaux snarled. “I would never, and I mean never, put the team in jeopardy for my own benefit or for anything less than solid intel. I told you everything I knew about that meeting. I was not chasing the Banker.”
“But you thought he’d be there.”
“Snake Eyes had a hunch and told me so, but I shut that down because it had no bearing on going after a terrorist with plans to kill people in Atlanta.”
“There was a time that I’d have taken that at face value, but what happened eight months ago changed you.”
Margaux started to argue, but Sabrina wasn’t finished. “I know what it is to lose someone that feels like losing a part of your body. I tried to get you to take some time to grieve, because you can’t help what it does to you. But you don’t have anyone besides this team. I made the mistake of allowing you to stay at work the entire time, and I told myself it was okay for you to spend time searching for a terrorist instead of climbing into a bottle or drugs. But you went too far this time for vengeance.”
No matter what Margaux said, no one was going to believe that tonight hadn’t been about retribution for Nanci’s death. And, to be honest, that was her own fault for not talking to Sabrina and letting her know that she’d let it go.
Margaux had actually never been after vengeance so much as trying to quiet the voice in her head that accused her of doing nothing as Nanci died alone. She had to explain to Sabrina. “Nanci transferred here to help on our case. I don’t regret asking her, because we saved Ryder from a murder rap, but I pushed her to do things that went against her oath as an FBI agent. She did all that because—” Because she loved me like a sister. She took a breath. She never let her emotions show. Ever. In a firmer voice, she said, “Nanci did everything I asked, even when it reached the gray area of her job and all because I asked her to. She got a bullet between the eyes for it and I’m having a hard time getting past the helpless feeling of doing nothing.”
“I haven’t forgotten her sacrifice and neither has the team.”
Margaux heard the compassion, but also a hard line in Sabrina’s voice. “I know you’ve been patient and given me space, Sabrina. I’m telling you the truth that I let it all go earlier this past week. I swear to you I did not mislead you tonight.”
Sabrina shook her head with disbelief. “But you didn’t tell me that you suspected the Banker would be at this meeting, did you? Then we break up a drug operation and there isn’t the first terrorist involved.”
Margaux had no idea how this could have happened. She’d gone over it in her mind a hundred times already. She’d also tried calling and texting Snake Eyes, but he hadn’t returned her WTF text messages.
Sabrina let out a sigh loaded with disappointment. “The problem is that you’ve lost the ability to think beyond any tip on the Banker, no matter how slim.”
Margaux seethed over the accusation, but this was the time to stop arguing and start putting out fires. “I hear you. And in hindsight, I can see how you think that.” Only if she wore Coke-bottle glasses, but this was her mess. She’d accept responsibility. “How bad is it with the DEA?”
“FUBAR, but I made a call I save as a Get-Out-Of-Deep-Shit-Free card and agreed to comp the DEA two missions ... regardless of the details.”
Ah, hell, that sucked. Sabrina was judicious when it came to accepting or declining government jobs. Now she’d not only have to run an operation for free, but take ops that she might otherwise pass on.
If Sabrina could do that, Margaux could grovel.
“Sorry, Sabrina. I mean it. I’ll do whatever you want whenever you need it for free until that’s paid off.” Margaux wasn’t wealthy by any standard, but she had no life beyond being an operative for Sabrina and saved every penny. She could afford to go without pay for a while.
“You don’t understand, Duke. I can’t fix this, not this time.”
Margaux had come to recognize that slight variation of anger in Sabrina’s voice as concern. “I’ll disappear.”
“Really. Then what? You’ll eventually have to tell someone the truth because your fingerprints aren’t in the system and you have no identity other than the one with Slye Temp. The days of easy cash for legitimate work are gone. Once someone figures out you’re hiding they’ll either sell you out to law enforcement or to—”
Margaux held up her hand. “I know the risks, but I brought this on myself.”
Sabrina’s gaze held something she was hesitating to say. “I made a deal with you that I’d protect your secret, but only as long as you stayed on the straight and narrow with me.”
The first hint of true terror stirred in Margaux’s chest. “I have. I’ve been on the right side of the law the entire time with you.”
“You don’t understand. You’ve hidden in plain sight as one of my people. The DEA agent you took to the ground tonight will be demanding your head. If all of a sudden you’re no longer on my team, someone will put two and two together. I could lie to them for three or four months, tell them you’re off on a mission, but eventually it would catch up with me and that would destroy the trust I’ve earned. That would be the end of my teams.”
“What are you saying, Sabrina?”
“That the safest place for you might be in the WITSEC program.”
Margaux couldn’t speak for a moment past her shock. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I go there and I’ll be in lock down or I’ll end up dead.”
“Not if we create a new identity and I pull some strings to get you in the system as a witness on a top secret case.”
Margaux argued, “If the Feds don’t know I’m the one who called in the bombing in Arkansas six years ago, they won’t know to watch for Lonnie’s father.” The man had led a group of anarchists who were fueled by rage against the government. Lonnie had said he wanted to build a better world, and after the one Margaux had grown up in that sounded wonderful … until she found out the truth about their “freedom” group. When she’d balked, Lonnie had shown her just how little her love and her life meant. One bomb had gone off, and the only reason more people hadn’t died was because Lonnie and his father’s men had left her for dead.
She’d called in time to prevent detonation of the other bombs.
Sabrina had been the one to find her.
Margaux pointed out what she saw as obvious. “If I go into WITSEC and end up working a normal job out in the open, Lonnie’s father will eventually find me and make me pay for his son’s death. And If I tell the Feds the truth about being Lonnie’s girlfriend, they’ll lock me up with crap about it being for my safety and I’ll never be free.”
Her dad had been a single parent and a mean bastard. He’d constantly pointed out how her two brothers were something because they played football and she was nothing because she barely pulled average grades in school. One brother killed a person while driving drunk and the other one got a girl pregnant then disappeared. Yeah, they were something. Then Lonnie came along and convinced Margaux she was special, that together they could change the world.
He’d only changed her world and in ways she shuddered to remember.
Sabrina said, “I’ve thought about the Feds and Lonnie’s father. Give me time to work something out.”
No way would Margaux put her life in the hands of law enforcement, not even WITSEC. Lonnie’s father had been a policeman once, and he still had friends on the force. He’d use those resources to find her. But saying so to Sabrina now would only double the guards outside. “So I’m under house arrest until you work that out?”
Sabrina’s tight features eased, meaning she assumed Margaux was on board with waiting for a plan even if it ended up being WITSEC. “Yes. If you leave this apartment, I’ll have to report you.”
That was straight-shooter Sabrina. She didn’t try to deny that those people downstairs in surveillance cars that had been here when Margaux arrived home were around for any other reason than to insure that Margaux stayed put.
“That all?” Margaux might not show emotion, but it was ripping her insides. Sabrina had been her one friend, the one person besides Nanci who knew how much this pitiful life meant to her.
And just how much it would cost Margaux to give it up.
Sabrina’s jaw was rigid, all business. “I’ll be in touch. I expect you to be here when I do.”
Margaux nodded. “Don’t leave town. Got it.”
“I’m not joking, Duke. Make one step outside this building and I’ll consider you rogue. Don’t leave this apartment for anything short of a fire, and go out the front windows even then.” That was an order.
“Whatever,” Margaux muttered. She opened the door but when Sabrina stepped through, Margaux said, “Wait.”
Sabrina stopped. “Yes?”
“Tell the team thanks for everything and—” Margaux hated to ask for anything, but she was asking now. “Please ... tell them that I told you exactly what I knew to be true. I would never hold back information pertinent to a mission or play games with the team.”
“I’ll tell them.” But from Sabrina’s tone, she didn’t expect many to accept that.
When Sabrina left, Margaux stepped over to peer out the opening between the blinds and her window.
Sabrina drove off in her Hummer. The dark sedan still parked outside appeared to hold one male and one female, but Margaux didn’t recognize either one.
How many others had Sabrina ordered to watch her?
Margaux’s burner cell phone finally buzzed. Only one person should be calling. She answered, “What the fuck was tonight about and where the hell have you been?”
“Calm down,” Snake Eyes growled in a low voice that warned he was on edge, too. “I just found out the cops busted the place. What the hell happened?”
Snake Eyes thought she was a hired assassin who did an occasional snatch job, because she let him think that. It was her persona, to be part of the criminal world. For that reason, she had to say, “What happened? You screwed me. You said it was a payoff for a terrorist attack going down in Atlanta to-day! Not a fucking drug deal.”
“I got screwed, too, but this is as much your fault as mine.”
She wanted her gun. “How do you see that?”
“If you’ll calm down and kick the attitude to the curb, I’ll explain, Duke,” he said, using her street moniker The Duke, but neither Margaux nor Duke were the names on her real birth certificate, or on her death certificate.
“This!” She pointed a finger at herself even though he couldn’t see it. “Is not attitude. This is pissed beyond sanity. Tell me something worth hearing or I’m hanging up so I can hunt you down.” False threat, but only until she was mobile again.
“You hang up and we both die. We have to move fast or we’ll lose your Banker.”
How could her heart jump with hope after what had happened tonight? She really was a nut case if she got sucked into this again. “Forget it, Snake Eyes. I already told you that I’m done with that bastard. He’s cost me more than I’ll ever recover.”
“Bull. Shit. You aren’t bailing on me now. Not after the shitstorm you’ve dragged me into.”
“What do you mean?”
“We were both set up. I heard from an associate that the Banker caught wind of me hunting for him.”
“How’d you let that happen?” She didn’t work with just any informant. Snake Eyes had been tough to bring to the table the first year she’d found out about him. He had to have far-reaching resources for some of the things he’d handed her, which was why she’d been surprised that the Banker had been so tough to find at first.
“I assure you, Duke, that I intend to find out where the breakdown in my network is, but I have to be breathing to make that happen. Back to our problem, and it is ours to fix. The contact who passed the information for tonight’s meeting was double-tapped at close range while the meeting was going on. Cost me a significant amount of money to discover I was fed bad intel on purpose.”
“To find out who’s been hunting the Banker. That would be me and you.”
Margaux turned and slid down the wall to sit on the floor. She propped her elbow on her bent knee and gripped her forehead. Talk about a sucky night. “If that’s the case, how is it that you’re still alive?”
“I wouldn’t have survived this long if I didn’t have friends in this business. We watch each other’s backs. So the hunter is now the hunted. You have to take out the Banker before he gets to you, Duke.”
“He won’t find me.” She started mentally going over everything she’d stashed just in case she ever had to make a run for it alone. She had another ID and plenty of cash, but walking out of this apartment would destroy the trust Sabrina had placed in her.
“Oh, he’ll find you,” Snake Eyes said without hesitation. “I can disappear, but eventually someone will give me up for the right price. From what I understand, the Banker has more than enough. If he finds me, he finds you. I have two choices. I either help you get him or I go to him right now and give him everything on you.”
“What’s stopping you from going to him?” she asked, curious to know what he’d say.
“Because I’m not stupid enough to think he won’t send someone to kill me once he has what he needs from me.” Snake Eyes added, “You strike me as a loner, but know this. As I understand it, the Banker will not just hunt us down, he’ll go after everyone we’ve ever known.”
The ramifications hit her in the solar plexus. She could sit here like a goat tied to a stick for slaughter, or she could run. But either way, the Banker would go after Sabrina and the rest of the team.
She had to call Sabrina.
And say what? That she’d gotten new intel and if Sabrina didn’t turn Margaux loose that Sabrina and the team would be at risk.
Oh, yeah, that would fly. Not.
Sabrina would think Margaux was making a last-ditch run at freedom. If Margaux brought everyone in on this, there would be no way to shield them from the Banker. Every person on Sabrina’s team was exceptional and capable of handling a threat, but once the Banker discovered any connection between Margaux and Slye Temp, he had the resources to wipe all of them from the face of the earth.
At this point, there was no reason for the Banker to target Sabrina and the team unless Margaux brought them in on this. That wasn’t happening.
No one else was dying because of her mistakes.
“I’m here. How the hell am I supposed to get to the Banker if I can’t find him?” Successful Assassin 101: must have target.
“I’ve been very busy tonight and put the full power of my resources on this. I have a hard lead on him.”
Her heart double-thumped at the words she’d been waiting to hear from Snake Eyes for eight months. “How could you have it now?”
“I received a call from my contact’s phone after I found out he was dead. The person calling was my contact’s people. They’re pissed and threatened to come after me until I told them the whole score about being set up.”
“You mention me?”
“I don’t share information without an incentive and they had no reason to ask about you.” He kept his voice down. “Evidently, my contact was the brother of a powerful man in New York who immigrated from Turkey. He wants whoever was responsible for offing his brother, and he has impressive resources.”
Coming from Snake Eyes, that was high praise.
He continued. “This brother in New York needed time to make some inquiries, which was why I didn’t call you until now. I just hung up with him. He didn’t have a lot of information, but what he did have is quite valuable. The Banker is here in the US, but I don’t know why. Yet. However he’s meeting with an operator—a mercenary with the skills for whatever the Banker has in mind. We have one shot at finding him before he finds us. The location where the Banker will meet with the merc is being passed off at a nightclub in San Francisco.”
She’d have to hand this intel over to Sabrina. “Where?”
His chuckle was dark and deadly. “You know as much as you need to know right now. I’m not risking anyone screwing this up before you have a chance to take your shot. Call me when you reach San Francisco.”
If she stepped outside this building, she’d become a fugitive. Sabrina would take a bullet for any one of her team, but when she warned she’d report Margaux to law enforcement she meant it.
“If you can’t do this, say so now, Duke, so I can make other arrangements.”
He’d find another assassin, who might or might not succeed, and with no motivation beyond money.
Margaux closed her eyes and considered the end result of defying Sabrina, but it didn’t matter. She’d brought death to Nanci’s door, but she could stop it from reaching Sabrina and the team. “I can do it.”