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A Deal with a Bulgarian Devil

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Susan cringed against the loud thrumming of her cell phone vibrating its way across her nightstand. She tried prying an eye open, but quickly thought better of it. Why she had even agreed to a girl’s night with Nancy was beyond her. That woman was unhinged.

Whoever was calling wasn’t about to give up. Her landline was ringing loudly and she was forced to drag her hungover ass to the cordless.

She immediately regretted answering it.

It was Director Crocker.

“Get to your computer immediately, Cooper. We have a situation.”

So much for sleeping it off. She looked over her shoulder and noticed Rick draped over one of her body pillows, snoring loudly and cringed noticeably. It was too early to evaluate life choices.

Her cell phone started vibrating again, this time violently enough to launch itself off the edge and onto the bedroom floor.

She rolled her eyes. “Just for that, Elaine. I’m skipping pants.”

***

Minutes later, she was sitting in her bathrobe at her kitchen table using her laptop to video call Director Crocker on her newly secured CIA line.Minutes Unsurprisingly, the woman immediately started shouting information without so much s taking a breath. Susan’s poor hungover brain was sluggish in its attempts to process it all.

“So what you’re saying is that after months of interrogation,” started Susan, trying to summarize everything she’d heard, “Rayna is finally willing to negotiate?”

Crocker nodded and held up a photo of a tan balding man in an expensive suit sitting at a fancy cafe. “She’s willing to give us information that will hopefully get us this asset. He’s a well known money launderer who goes by the alias ‘The Chef’. Rayna works with him exclusively, and his operation connects the financials of a lot of key CIA targets.”

“The Chef!” She snort giggled. “Let me guess, it’s cause he ‘Cooks the books!”

There was only heavy silence as Crocker glared at her from the screen. Susan cleared her throat. “No seriously, that’s great news, sir. But, I gotta ask. Why are you calling me on this? I thought you were sending me to Vienna to check in on that Diamond smuggling op.”

“Yeah, I’m pulling you off that. This takes precedence. Rayna’s willing to work with us on one condition.”

Susan had an inkling as to what that condition was. She swallowed in anticipation. “That is?”

“She’ll only work with us if you are the Department Liaison. Rayna is willing to work topside as your eyes and ears and help you infiltrate the facility managing her secret offshore accounts. She has some personal property she wants us to procure for her, along with some account ledgers and hardcopy information that should lead us to The Chef.”

Susan smiled brightly causing a sharp dagger of pain to surge behind her eyeball.

“You alright Coop?” Crocker noticed her grimace.

“Yes ma’am, just a bit of a headache. Probably the weather.” The lie was so obvious she wondered why she bothered.

“Next time you go to the strippers, wipe the glitter off your chest before you pass out.” Susan felt her whole body flush a deep crimson as she reached up and wiped at the streak of rainbow glitter across her chest and neck that she was apparently too tired to notice. She tried laughing it off but Crocker was already shuffling a bunch of documents at her desk and passing along orders to an unseen lackey to care about her embarrassment.

“I’ll see you at HQ in one hour, Coop, for mission briefing, and tell Ford to not bother tagging along, he’s still suspended.”

Susan’s mouth dropped open as she watched the screen go black and immediately noticed the pasty white reflection of Rick standing behind her with a towel around his head and nothing else.

“OH MY GOD, RICK. HAVE YOU NO SHAME?”

He scratched his ass and took a step towards the refrigerator. “Honestly, it’s nothing she hasn’t seen before.”

Susan huffed. “I gotta ask. Why do you have a towel around your head, but your dick flopping around like a wind sock without a breeze?”

“You were out of towels.”

“But you have one on your head, couldn’t you just use that one?”

He took the carton of milk from the fridge and sniffed at its contents. “Then my head would get cold.”

Susan hid her face in her hands and listened to him continue. “And what’s this then about you going to the strippers. You told me you were going to Book Club!”

***
As predicted it took a lot of caffeine and copious amounts of pain meds to walk into HQ with any sort of dignity.

The workplace dynamics had changed dramatically since she first brought in Rayna. She had her own desk, she no longer had to the time to make all the birthday and ‘Sorry You’re Injured’ cakes for all the the desk and field agents. Tina, the latest to be recruited in the earpiece department seemed to have taken to that role with great relish (and not enough chicory if she was being honest)

Not like she was ever in here for very long these days. It was a quick briefing with the field Director and Co-Op agents and then a straight shot to Paul in R&D who no longer forced stool softeners on her for every mission. In fact she had been upgraded to deadly bottles of Midol and stealth makeup wipes. She was even given a rather fancy looking rolex with deadly garrotte wire capabilities after she brought in a drug kingpin in Russia.

“You’re late Cooper.” Crocker was tapping her fingers along the edge of the conference table. Susan opened her mouth to speak but Crocker signalled for silence and she quickly took her seat where a dossier lay unopened and waiting for her. She flipped it open to some blurry surveillance photos of The Chef, and some last sighted dates and places.

“You’re to go to our CIA lock up where we’re keeping Rayna. You have a meeting set up with her. Agent Artingstall will go with you to set up surveillance.”

Susan tried to hide her obvious excitement over having Nancy with her on this mission. Better yet, she had also dealt with Rayna. So they can skip the pleasantries and go straight to the f-bombs.

“Rayna has agreed to work with Artingstall as your eyes and ears as she feeds you the necessary intel to get you access to her safety deposit box.”

Susan was reading the dossier and looked up at Crocker quizzically. “Exactly where is her safety deposit box?”

Crocker leaned back in her chair. “Time to trim the hedges, Coop. It’s always bathing suit season in the Cayman Islands.”

There was a great deal of giggling amongst the field officers. Susan fake laughed. “I’ll have you know that I wax regularly. It’s a very well maintained…situation.” She waved a hand over her crotch as Crocker smirked and signalled for her assistant, a clear sign that the meeting was over.

One agent pulled out his cellphone and scrolled suspiciously through his camera roll while standing from his seat, muttering just loud enough for all his compatriots to hear. “Don’t worry, Ford keeps us up to date about the ‘situation’.” There was more snickering.

She stormed from her seat red faced. Rick Ford was a dead man. You know, soon as she got back from beautiful Grand Cayman.

***

“This is rather exciting, isn’t it?” Nancy was always a beacon of happiness when she had to go on ‘field trips’ away from her desk. “I’ve never been in an interrogation room before. It’s so Jason Bourne. I wonder if we’ll have to waterboard her.”

Susan felt her headache returning. “You do know that we are not qualified or authorized to do that, right?”

Nancy was still beaming. “Just imagine if we had to though! I’ve alway wanted to torture a prisoner.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I mean, what a great addition to your resume. Tortured terrorist for information, how thrilling!”

Susan gave up. She focused on the task at hand. They were setting up their secure networked computer at the stark little bench table in the gritty, grey interrogation room where they were scheduled to bring Rayna into. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t excited to see Rayna. How was prison treated her so far? Did they find confiscated hand weapons in her hair? Had she been put into solitary for stabbing someone with a smuggled Laboutin heel?

She didn’t have to wait long for her answer.

The federal guards opened the door and a very grim, haggard looking woman in an Orange Is The New Black style inmate uniform. Without makeup, hairspray or heels Rayna’s fierceness was dulled to gloomy disquiet. The guards guided her to her seat across from the two women.

“You’re a lot less scary without your clown makeup and beehive.” Rayna glowered as a hand reached up to flip her limp ponytail over one shoulder. “Susan Cooper. You’re looking abysmal. Still buying your clothes from the 99-cent rack at K-mart I see, how predictable.”

Susan feigned offense but her lips curled into a small smile. “You’re such a dick.”

Rayna smirked. “You’re still a hideous troll.”

Susan reached across the table and gave Rayna’s elbow a playful slap. “How you been, asshole? They treating you like the backwater Bulgarian carnival clown that you are?”

Rayna looked away briefly, her lips curling into a full smile. “It could be worse I suppose.”

Susan smiled back. “So apparently you asked for me specifically on this one? You want me to get your books and some personal property?”

Rayna pursed her lips. “Yes, there are some things that I want retrieved.”

“What kind of things are we talking about? Your soul, your sense of decency, your spare Dolly Parton wigs?”

Rayna lifted an overgrown eyebrow. “They are some very sentimental things along with the books we’re referring to. There is also a book of contacts that will serve as payment enough to keep me comfortable for the foreseeable future.”

Nancy who had been quiet up to this point as she fiddled with wires and set up the workstation, tapped Susan on the shoulder. “I hate to break up this loving reunion but I need to test all the equipment before we get you on your flight.”

“Right, yes.” She pointed a finger at Rayna, eyebrow raised in question. “Are you really willing to work with Nancy to be in my ear in real time?”

Rayna nodded solemnly. “You’ll need some information from me, when you get to there. Chef’s men are crawling all over the island. Security is very tight, and he has very unorthodox ways of keeping his things private. I’ll make sure you gain access.”

“I’m going to have to trust you with my safety on this, Rayna. Gonna be honest, that scares the shit out of me. Part of me, actually all of me--if I’m to be honest-- would rather trust a 9-year old with an ice cream cake.”

Rayna looked pointedly at her. “You can’t bring me back my property if you are dead. I’ll make sure that you get into the facility. I’ve already spoken to a few of my contacts, set up some things--”

Nancy cut in, “HOW? You’re in federal prison?” Rayna glared at her. Nancy laughed and continued with her station set up. “Right, crime boss connections! Forget I said anything, carry on!”

She whispered to no one in particular. “The Bulgarian Mafia”

Rayna rolled her eyes. “As I was saying, before Big Bird here rudely interrupted me, is that I’ve spoken with my contacts. There is money, IDs, passport and a reservation waiting for you in Grand Cayman. Bring back my things and no harm will befall you.”

Susan felt her heart palpitate. Crocker had made it very clear that this would be a very dangerous, on-the-fly mission. Very high risk, high reward even if it seemed simple enough from the onset. She heard the words loud and clear in her mind. “As a precaution, we’re putting it out there that you’re a burned agent who’s joined Rayna’s outside forces. You will have no CIA aid or resources other than Rayna in your ear. If you return from this mission unharmed with the necessary information intact, you’ll be promoted.”

Weirdly she didn’t feel as worried as she probably should. Somehow she was confident that Rayna would keep her word to help her. Although it really was the biggest risk of her career.

But the thought of a promotion was too good an incentive to ignore. Plus she had developed a bit of a soft spot for Rayna.

***

She arrived in George Town on an early morning flight with the rest of the visiting tourist and businessmen. Susan could hear Nancy in her ear as she strolled through the arrivals terminal.

“Look at you, Susan! I’m loving that dress! Very fresh!”
Rayna cut in, “I think they call that a muu muu and old people on holidays wear them”

Susan shook her head, “It’s a sundress, you idiot! I’m in the sun!”

“Is that why you’re wearing that hideous hat?” Rayna snarked in her ear. Susan fiddled self-consciously with the edge of the big wide brimmed sun hat she picked up at the designer store at the airport.

“People wear hats so they don’t get sunstroke...but you know what, the sales woman said I looked very continental.. Deal with it.” She huffed.

A familiar creepy voice cut in from beside her ear, “Deal with what, my beauty?”

Susan jumped noticeably. “ALDO!” he was wearing a pale cream linen suit and purple button down unbuttoned to his chest. He looked even greasier than usual and his skin was crispy tanned oily combination. Her gag reflex triggered at the overwhelming strength of his cologned and she fought the urge to throw up. Flustered, she tried to create space between herself and him but he crept closer as a moth drawn to a flame.

“Miss Susan. Bella. I’m here to help you on your little...let’s say, ‘adventure’.”

She tried clasping her hands behind her back but he snagged her hand quickly and kissed it in dramatic fashion. He had a way of making every inch of her skin crawl.

“My car. It is waiting.”

Susan nodded and followed him muttering “Of course it is.”

They were zooming down the crowded streets and Susan clutched her new hat with fervour as she shouted and demanded that pedestrians leap out of the way of his badly driven convertible.

He spoke almost calmly as he took hairpin turns and dodged street carts. “I was reassigned to the Cayman Islands, I think they felt I needed a holiday of sorts. It is good. I, Aldo, am very happy to find pleasure in such a beautiful tropical setting.”

Susan rolled her eyes at the way his voice dropped when he said ‘find pleasure’. “Of course, I’m sure there’s a few Tropical STDs you haven’t found either.” she muttered mostly to her self.

They continued on in relative silence until they turned down a section of island filled with hotels and restaurants.

Susan turned to Aldo and shouted over the din of the screaming pedestrians so that he’d actually hear her. “WHAT HOTEL ARE WE GOING TO?” She pointed at a Four Seasons. “I’m pretty sure I had reserved a room there”

A particularly bumpy spot in the road had her bounce from her seat completely sending her chest flailing, Aldo took a few seconds to oggle her. “EYES ON THE ROAD!”

Aldo smiled “Bella Cooper, we go where Rayna has arrangements. I’m afraid she is uh, very familiar with this hotel.”

He slammed on the brakes in front of a strange off-brand boutique hotel almost sending her face first into the windshield.

Aldo snatched for her hand to kiss as she tried to detach herself from his car, which was somehow in one piece. “Be careful, and good luck” His words were drawn out with his accent and it all felt very unsettling.

“Uh, thank you. You can go back to whatever weird creepy side mission that you’re on now.”

Susan grabbed her bag and walked through the hotel’s entrance as she turned on her ear piece. Nancy and Rayna checked in.

“Now that I’m at Chez Rayna. Tell me where do I pick up my passport from your ‘contact’?”

Rayna took over the microphone. “There should be a well dressed European man in the lobby.”

Susan glanced at everyone in the hotel lobby. “Wow, could you be more specific?” Rayna for all her supposed intelligence could be such an idiot.

“How about the man waving at you on the bench seat on your right?” was her snappy reply.

Susan swore under her breath and went to meet the European looking man with darker features and a crisp suit who was waving like an idiot. If this was certainly a sign of things to come, she was immediately worried for her safety and all the civilians around her.

There was the pervading fear that Rayna had set her up, and this was to be her swan song. She was going to die on mission, and it wasn’t even for some valiant reason like saving the world from a nuclear disaster. No, she was on a deluded mission to save Rayna’s personal shit which was probably a macaroni portrait of her first butler and her first credit card statement.

She sighed ruefully as the European man reached into his breast pocket. Susan visibly cringed, thinking it was a gun signalling her untimely death, but instead he pulled out a manila envelope. She took it and made haste for the adjoining restaurant. Mission aside, she was on edge knowing she was at Rayna’s mercy.

“Okay Rayna, what’s next? How do we get to the bank? What’s the procedure?”

Rayna returned to the mic. “You have a meeting tomorrow at my bank. The address in in the notes in the envelope. 9 am sharp. My men will confirm your identity. I will give you the passcode to the deposit box when you arrive. You will retrieve the items and my men will help to see you out since exiting the banks are always the most dangerous tasks. Chef has been spotted in the area but he is too dangerous to go after alone.” Susan cut in “You admitting that something is too dangerous is something.” Susan felt her panic set in.

“I meant, too dangerous for you specifically. It’d be different for someone who was competent.” Susan gritted her teeth and stepped into the lavish restaurant where only a few travellers were dining.

She took out the earpiece and sat at a table by herself, removing her fancy hat and hanging it off a chair. A kindly waiter brought her some water and she snapped at him “Whiskey, neat, two fingers.” She was rattled. It was loathsome to admit, but she wished she had Rick, or even Nancy to be here with her. Even having Rayna here to physically push around would be much more satisfying than listening to her insults over the wireless.

Susan pried open the envelope and took out the passport, documents and a billfold of cash. She pocketed the money and flipped open the passport. A glaringly bad photo of her stared up from the glossy paper, she was getting used to unflattering photos on passports thanks to the CIA. This one was actually one of the more flattering ones she’s had, sadly.

She read the name. “Renia Kielbassa” Susan put her head in her hands. After taking a deep breath she jammed the earpiece into her ear and angry whispered to Nancy and Rayna, but to Rayna in particular. “YOU NAMED ME AFTER A SAUSAGE” Rayna laughed in her ear “Isn’t it great? Your first name is Polish for ‘Queen’ as well. So you’re actually the ‘Sausage Queen’”

Susan muttered a string of obscenities but dialled it down to smile and thank the waiter returning with her drink.

The moment he was out of earshot she angry whispered again. “I hate you so fucking much you Bulgarian toad.”

There was a voice over her shoulder, a distinctly creepy and masculine one. She steered herself for another onslaught of Aldo charm. “I swear Ald--” She stopped mid word, cutting off her strange co-worker’s name. Instead she was presented with a middle aged balding man with a very dark tan in an expensive looking suit. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she felt like she’d seen him before.

 

“Hi, hello, I could not help but notice that you are drinking alone.” He smiled and it seemed to crease his face like a wrinkled prune. She avoided grimacing but his cologne hit her nostrils and she had to hold back her gag reflex. He took no notice of her inner turmoil and pointed at the chair opposite her. “May I?” She nodded assent despite wanting to hit him with bearspray and run away.

He leered. “Beautiful women such as yourself should never drink alone.” Susan laughed daintily. “Why thank you. You’re too much, but I just…” She fumbled, thinking of the perfect way to rid herself of this creep.

That’s when Rayna piped in. “Susan, that’s Chef.” her tone was oddly serious and almost plied with concern. “So be careful.”

Susan’s CIA instincts seemed to kick in with a flurry of adrenaline at those words and she flashed him a warm, flirtatious smile. “I was just waiting to see if any lovely gentlemen like yourself would join me.” She raised her glass and sipped.

“Oh god, Susan” Nancy’s voice came through. “What are you even planning here? Look for his security detail. This could be a trap. How do you even get yourself into these situations?” Then her concerned turned to whiny nattering.

Susan ignored it and just smiled as the man known to the CIA as Chef introduced himself as a man of the island and leaned over the table to take her hand to kiss it. She smiled and flipped her hair prettily. “May I ask what a divine woman such as yourself is doing in George Town?”

Susan smiled and played with her hair. “Oh you know, just tourist stuff. I needed a bit of adventure.” She hoped she was projecting bedroom eyes, but seduction really wasn’t in her usual list of CIA tasks. It was usually jumping out of planes or playing cat ladies.

Rayna shouted in her ear. “What are you even doing? I had a plan Susan, and you and your weird constipated flirting is GETTING IN THE WAY. You are cocking this up, you hag!”

Nancy joined in a grave tone. “This is all very cavalier, which I approve of, but you should really just stick with Rayna’s plan.”

The man lit up at her words, just as she hoped. “Ah, a bit of adventure. Every woman should enjoy such a thing in their lifetime.” It was noticeable that he was no longer making eye contact and instead just salivating over the low cut of her dress front and her generous bosom.

Susan’s whole body felt the chill of disgust and she continued her flirting despite her body’s temptation to roundhouse kick him in the face. “You could say I am often seduced by the sinful pleasure of the unexpected.”

Nancy whooped in her ear, “WHAT A LINE, SUSAN!”

She blushed which worked in her favour and the creepy, sweaty, raisin of a man they called Chef seemed to bluster with lust and need for viagra.

He signalled for the waitstaff and pried some money from his inside pocket, flinging it on the table and getting up to escort her from the table. “Please allow me, my lady, to be very unexpected.”

He kissed her hand and drew her with him and led her back to the lobby. His cologne once again assaulted her senses and now she could smell hard liquor and cigar smoke mingling as well. Her stomach flipped in disgust, but she was committed now.

She tapped at her head, and frowned. Her new expensive hat was left in the restaurant. Along with her dignity. Her gentleman escort took a deep inhale next to her ear. She shuddered but played it off as excitement. She laughed quietly, “I’m afraid I left my hat.” Maybe she could still get out of this before she did anything she would regret. Then again, when would she ever have a chance to be so debonair. She could take down one of the world’s biggest money launderers on a solo mission. That was front page news on the CIA Departmental Newsletter and too good of an opportunity to pass up. She steeled her nerves and got back into character.

He laced his fingers with her own. “I will buy you a new one.”

Susan dropped her lashes and dragged a finger up his greasy neck. “May I know the name of my dashing gentleman?”

He paused, and she wished she hadn’t asked. His eyes darted around the lobby where tall muscular men in suits with dark tinted sunglasses seemed to have emerged from seemingly nowhere at all the key exits. There were at least six men in his body detail. She cursed and Nancy piped in quietly to reiterate just how dangerous this was.

Chef’s body relaxed as she smiled. “I think it is hotter without names.” and winked at her. She fought the need to throw up in her mouth.

Oh what had she done? This was actually happening. Certainly he was talking sex. She would have to bed this leering slug of a man for her mission, and her department, and her country. A tiny, tiny part of her felt like crying, but it was too late. She took a cleansing breath and focused on the positives.

Truly, he was likely to have some incriminating things in his room though. However tiny the detail, she might be able to put a stop to his business and potentially his whole network.

Nancy’s voice came through, “What are you thinking Susan? You can’t do this. This is unthinkable!”

Susan just smiled and giggled as a response. How was it so unthinkable that she could seduce such a powerful man? Nancy should give her a bit more credit.

Rayna’s voice cut in. “I know you can hear me, Susan. Just FYI, though, one false move and he’ll set his detail on you. Your body will never be found.”

Susan rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth as the Chef led her past the main desk and up a private elevator to his room. She willed herself to mentally keep it together but her nerves were starting to show. She was well aware of Chef watching her as she fished for a tissue to dab the sweat beading at her forehead. He took it as butterflies, thankfully. He caressed her arm and placed a slobbery kiss on her neck. “Do not worry, my lady. I will be gentle.”

***

Once inside the room, he immediately started groping and kissing her. Not altogether surprised by his behavior considering he had been mentally undressing her since the restaurant, she went with it for a few minutes. That’s when she extricated herself with some considerable effort and a string of apologies.

He was whispering endearments and she patted him on the arm as she ran for the bathroom. “I’ll just go make myself a bit more comfortable.” She called over her shoulder.

Rayna remarked in her ear “You watch too many movies, Susan.”

Once inside the bathroom, she whispered to her accompanying voices. “What is WRONG with you two? Is it so unbelievable that I, Susan Cooper, could seduce this crazy dangerous man? Talk about not giving me any support as I’m led up into this stranger’s room to have what I’m assuming will be really awkward sex that I’m going to have to talk to a therapist about for the next two years. Just ANY kind of a support would be great right now since I know that if he even sniffs CIA on me I’m a dead woman lying in a gutter and there will be no one left at home to enjoy my HBO subscription.”

She huffed and attempted to right her breathing and splashed some water on her face to take down the redness heating up her cheeks. If she didn’t suffer a stress induced aneurysm this mission, she’ll consider it a win.

Rayna’s voice pierced the tension filled silence. “He likes women on top. Make sure you take his wallet and he might be wearing a gold chain with a key. I’ve heard that he keeps a key to one of his deposit boxes on it.”

Susan took a deep breath. That was actually helpful information. Nancy was still floundering and babbling nervously but Rayna gave her some key intel in her moment of need. She even sounded serious about it. No quips, no insults. Just matter of fact information.

“Thank you, Rayna.” She could hear Rayna cough as a response to her sincere gratitude. Maybe this was the first step to believing that she could trust Rayna with her life. Then again, maybe not, but this was a step in the right direction.

She gazed in the mirror as she stripped out of her sundress. “I guess I should be thankful I was wearing matching bra and panties today.” She was admittedly quite a vision and she fluffed her hair a bit. If she’d had time, she’d have taken a selfie for Rick. She cleared the thought from her mind. It was go time. It was now or never.

Susan floated from the bathroom with dramatic flair. Her man was spread on his back on the large bed, himself stripped down to some silk boxers and tapping his thighs excitedly.

He was smoking a cigar and drinking her in with his eyes. She felt even more naked for it, and hoped she could keep up with him without gagging or throwing up.

She crawled up and onto his lap and was disgusted with the feel of his boner against her. “Oh my, aren’t we excited” Susan tried to keep the disgust out of her voice.

His hands were already moving about like a cat pawing at a water balloon. She moved her hips experimentally and he howled through the cigar clenched between his teeth. “Oh yes, I am all ready…” She closed her eyes as she undulated her hips but the pressure between her legs seem to give way and his whole body suddenly went limp.

Susan bent forward to give him a playful slap on his face but his clenched eyes stayed shut. She jostled him purposefully and he didn’t even twitch. Susan watched as the lit cigar fell from his drooping lips, searing a hole into the sheets. She grabbed for it and threw it onto the nightstand.

“Uh, Sir?” She slapped him again, this time a little harder. “Sir?”

Rayna’s voice cut in. “Did you kill him?”

Susan laughed nervously, “No, I did not kill him.” She grabbed for his pulse point and listened for his breath, watching his chest as it stay still. “That’s....impossible.” Her nervous smile turned to a frown of realization as his chest stayed still and she could find no pulse.

She whispered. “I think he’s dead.” Her heart started racing. “Oh my god. He’s dead.” Susan felt her body start to tremble with panic.

Rayna came through again. “You of all people killed the Chef? Death by Susan Cooper’s vagina” Her voice was incredulous, borderline hysterical.

Susan pried herself away from his body, but not before she noticed the fine gold chain with the small key on it draped around his neck. Instinctively, she yanked it from his body and scrambled to find his suit, remembering Rayna’s advice to steal his wallet.

“Let me assure you Rayna, that I may be the Queen of Sausages, but his sausage got nowhere near my bread basket.”

Nancy fluttered in. “That’s a relief. I’d dread Rick’s reaction if he found out.”

Susan didn’t get a chance to explain that her and Rick’s relationship was a bit complicated before there was a clamour in the hall to interrupt her. A few heavy thumps and the hotel room being jimmied open.

Her heart stopped and she fished for the closest thing she could use as a weapon, which just happened to be the bedside table lamp. She raised it menacingly as the door flung open.

 

“Jesus Christ Susan, you look like an angry mistress who just got dumped. Where the fuck are your clothes?”

Susan’s face visibly relaxed and she let the lamp fall from her raised hand. “Rick.” His name fell from her lips with a mix of relief and disbelief, as was usually the case when they were on mission and Rick just happened to show up out of the blue, unexpected.

“Are you alright?” His voice betrayed a great deal more concern than he usually allowed and she felt her cheeks blush with that knowledge. She gave him a little finger wave as she jerked a thumb back at the bed. “I’m okay, him on the other hand.”

Rick rushed to check the pulse of the man on the bed. “What the fuck did you do? This man’s heart just fucking gave out. Did you murder him with tantric sex?” He was only half joking as he inquired.

Susan rolled her eyes. “NO! I did not have sex with him. We just got a little….fresh, and then he yelled and kinda just died”

Rick seemed to puff out his chest a bit knowing that she hadn’t just fucked this ugly old bastard. “Well, it saved me the trouble of doing it myself. The killing, I mean.” He blushed a bit but he had been worried about her and whether she had screwed the Chef. He tried to hide all the emotion and affection behind his harsh tone. “Get your clothes, we’re getting out of here.”

Susan grabbed for her sundress in the bathroom but she harshly questioned him as she did so. After all he did have a security detail outside.

“What did you think those thumps were? I used my heightened spy skills and disengaged all of the security men outside.”

Susan nodded but a more important question popped up in her head and demanded answers.

“How did you even know I was here? No one knew about this mission.”

Rick huffed, ‘Did you really think I’d let my girlfriend go on a mission this dangerous by herself? Did you think I’d be that fucking crazy?” Susan blushed at his choice of words. They’d never really spoken about the terms of their relationship. This is the first time he’d ever purposely called her his girlfriend. She had a ton of follow up questions and emotions to tackle, but they would have to wait until they weren’t in life threatening danger.

“His follow-up detail will be here any minute. We need to get out of here.” He grabbed her purse and handed it to her.

“Nancy, you have a plan to get us out of here?” Nancy knew the tone and she immediately began giving her escape routes and Rayna was nervously chatting in the background.

Rick forgot about her wireless and proceeded to explain their escape which meant a jump out of a five storey window and a parachute made of sheets. She gave him a little pat on the shoulder as she nodded and listened to Nancy give her directions to a service elevator that would get them out of the hotel unnoticed.

Rick stopped her just as she reached for the recently jimmied hotel room door. “One thing.” His hands cupped her face and her heart gave a little flutter at the intimacy of his touch.

He leaned in and spoke softly. “They think you came up here to be ravished, and ravished you will be.”

It took them a good two minutes to get out the door, both breathless with bodies tingling and the little voice in her head, along with two voices in her ear all told her that was the worst idea possible considering the present situation. However, had her life not been in immediate danger, she would have fucked him into the mattress and not regretted it one bit. He may have even required a heart monitor after she was through with him.

Rick seemed energized though, he didn’t even complain too much as she blew off his parachute idea and dragged him into the small elevator that dumped them onto the main floor of the hotel and they scrambled out through a service entrance into an alleyway.

“What next? Did you even get any intel off that guy? I can’t believe you killed The Chef.”

Susan was breathing raggedly. “Holy hell, one question at a time. I just killed a guy.” She laughed but he just stared at her. She then explained the key, and his wallet and how they still had to go to Rayna’s bank to get her contacts and her property.

Rick dragged her to a beat up delivery truck where they got in and he hot wired it into action. “Is there even any point of going to Rayna’s bank if we already have what we need about the Chef? Obviously that’s a key to his security deposit box. Let’s just cut out the middle man.”

Just then Rayna shrieked into the mic; she had been listening to the entire exchange with interest. “You will not, YOU PROMISED ME SUSAN. Plus, you don’t know which bank that belongs to. I won’t tell you unless you go to mine first. Get me my property and I’ll tell you how to claim that box.”

Susan could hear struggling as Nancy wrestled the microphone from her. “Susan, don’t listen to her. We can figure it out without her. It’s too dangerous. We don’t need this malnourished waif’s help anymore.” There was more struggling, and the sound of someone getting slapped. Nancy did love to get physical on mission.

Rick just sat wide eyed next to her as she listened to it all play out. She turned to him. “We’re going to Rayna’s bank, no matter how dangerous. We promised her.”

He was about to interrupt when he thought better of it. He’d seen Susan be stubborn before, and this was not the time or place to argue.

***

They were five minutes from the bank that Rayna’s deposit box was being stored when another familiar voice shrieked over her earpiece. Susan jerked noticeably and Rick looked over at her concerned. She pointed at her ear to indicate the new conversation.

“Cooper, this is Director Crocker. You are under direct order to go to the address that Agent Artingstall is sending your right now and you will dismiss your previous orders. You are ordered to step down Coop. The deal’s off. New orders.”

Susan could hear struggling in the background and she was sure Rayna was being restrained.

“With all due respect, Director, I’d like to speak with Rayna.”

“Denied.”

“Sir, I will not heed further orders until I have spoken to Rayna. I will not hesitate to botch this plan with finesse, sorry, sir.” She leaned in to whisper to Rick, “Since I’m so good at cocking it all up apparently.”

There was grumbling and and Director Crocker shouting obscenities. “Don’t try anything funny Cooper, everything is being monitored!”

Then Susan could hear Rayna swearing triumphantly. “Fuck you Susan Cooper! ONE chance TO get NINE little things FOR me and you fuck me over! Well screw you TOO, Susan! See you in the lower level of hell! You silly clown lover!”

“Fuck you too, Rayna.” Susan was smiling despite herself.

“Well, Director. Seems we’re back on the same path. Since Rayna is an ungrateful prissy pantsed foul mouthed twat, I’m going to stand down and resume duty with my new orders.”

Crocker was still swearing as she sorted out things on the other end. “Glad to hear it, Coop. See you, Stateside.”

Susan nodded, “Yes, sir.”

Rick looked at her questioningly. “What was all that about?”

Susan grinned. “They wouldn’t let me speak to Rayna, but I convinced them to reconsider.”

Rick asked, “Did you get what you needed from her?”

“She gave me her deposit box number, and what level it’s on and if I understood her correctly, her passcode.”

Rick put the truck back into drive. “Glad to hear it.”

***

 

They pulled up to the bank shortly after. They ditched the truck a few blocks away and strolled through the entrance with as much ease as two travellers in George Town could have. In fact, Rick was enjoying playing up the ‘Couple on Holiday’ angle and Susan found herself smiling over the extra little touches and closeness.

There was considerable security and a number of metal detectors. They made it to the counter when four armed men approached them from strategic points.

“Name.”

A tall man in a impeccably tailored suit gave her the once over as he held the pack of security men at bay.

He repeated, “Name.”

Susan swallowed hard. “Renia Kielbassa.” She fished for her passport.

He gave her a raised eyebrow and dropped his voice and snapped through gritted teeth. “Name!”

Rick was already trying to cultivate a wild escape plan, but this was Rayna’s people. There was no use in lying or using falsehoods. They wouldn’t get very far if they tried.

“Susan Cooper. Agent Susan Cooper.”

He snatched her passport and inspected it. He snapped a finger at the men and there was a cascade of guns being cocked. “You are here to retrieve contents from Rayna Boyanov’s personal security deposit box, correct?”

Susan gulped. “Yes, that is correct.”

The man eyed her severely. “Tell me, if you are the real Susan Cooper then you will know the answer to this question. When you were on Miss Boyanov’s private plane, and you became aware of being drugged, what did you attempt to retrieve in your compromised state?”

Susan scoffed and waved at him, laughing to herself nervously. This was ridiculous. Damn her stupid alias. She straightened her back. “It was stool softeners.” There was a brief giggle amongst the security men. Her hands shot to her hips. “Okay, okay, laugh it up...but not everyone drinks enough water or like, eats enough fibre. It’s a very common situation and yeah…” Her voice trailed off and Rick was giving her that look that said she had gone too far… and he mouthed quizzically ‘Stool softeners?” And she hid her face in her palm.

The man in the tailored suit seemed satisfied though. He snapped his fingers again and the security men began escorting Rick and Susan to a fancy elevator where they got in and descended to a lower high-security level..

The elevator opened up into a lower level hall with various desks where patrons were doing business, all under the watchful eye of security guards.

Together they were led down a hall to a small office where a suited man asked for her deposit number.

Rick whispered to her hurriedly. “You better get this correct, ‘cause if you’re wrong they’re just going to fucking shoot us and throw us down some kind of air vent. There’s no coming back from this, Coop.”

Susan shriek-whispered, “WOW no pressure or anything, Rick! Thanks for your imput.” He just shrugged.

The man asked again for the number. She smiled and nodded politely, recalling her hurried conversation with Rayna. “The deposit box is 12942”

The man nodded to another man who came out from an unseen room and led them to an adjoining private room where there was a large desk and two chairs.

He brought a large box and sat it on the table and on it was a digital screen and a keypad.

The man indicated to the keypad. “The passcode.”

Susan began to sweat. Already this was far dicier than she would have preferred and the only thing keeping her alive was her ability to understand Rayna’s cryptic messages and the promise that her contacts would keep her safe.

Rick leaned towards her. “Do you have the code?”

Susan grimaced. “I think I do? That one was tougher to understand. She only said Clown Lover.”

Rick knit his eyebrows together. “What the ever loving fuck does that mean? Clown Lover? God, we are so fucking dead. Nice knowing you Coop. In the regular way, and the biblical sense.”

She shushed him, but her stomach did a flip at the comment. “No, we’re not dead. I got this. Clown lover. Clown lover,...like her mom?”

Rick was just shrugging. “How the fuck would I know?”

Susan bit her lip. “I reminded her of her mom….oooh I bet it’s her mom’s name!”

Rick his his face beneath his hand. “This isn’t a fucking game of Wheel of Fortune. This is our fucking lives here.”

Susan typed the keypad equivalent of Rayna’s estranged mother’s name, which she happened to be privy to on the plane. “You’re right, Rick. This is our lives, and I’m saving them!”

A green light lit up and a lock seemed to click open. The man lifted the lid and strolled from the room, closing the door behind them. They had complete privacy.

They peered over the edge of the box simultaneously.

Rick shouted. “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? It’s empty.”

Susan grimaced since it did look empty with it’s black velvet interior but she swept a hand along the inside and came up with a three little black notebooks filled with code names and numbers. “I’m sure the CIA would know what to do with these. I bet these are the ledgers and contacts Rayna was talking about.”

Rick leaned against the table as she felt around the inside of the box. “There better be some fucking money or something in there. Make it worth risking our lives for.”

Susan felt something brush her fingers and she grasped at a metal item that was cool to the touch. It felt like a ring. She pulled it out and looked it over. It was a simple gold baguette wedding ring and it looked very old. There was an inscription inside that she couldn’t read but would assume was Bulgarian. She smiled mostly to herself since Rick had reached his maximum attention span for this part of the mission.

She gazed at him triumphantly and waved it in Rick’s face, “Looks like this is Rayna’s mother’s wedding ring. Looks like she has a heart after all.”

Rick rolled his eyes, unimpressed. “Can we go?”

“One second.” She swept her hand in the box and found that she had missed one item. It was a small black and white polaroid with what was certain to be a young Rayna with her parents. Maybe the only photo she’d ever had with the three of them before her mother was cast off from the family. She placed a hand over her heart and felt the sting of tears at her eyes.

Rick narrowed his eyes on her. “Susan, are we done here?”

She shoved all three items into her bag. “Yes, we’re done. Let’s get out of here.”

Rick scratched his bare head. “That’s the thing, getting into these Grand Cayman banks are way easier than getting out of. This might get ugly.”

Susan felt mild panic as she started to realize just how far underground they were and just how many locked doors and burly security men were in their way. It would most certainly get ugly.

They mentally steeled themselves for a fight as they emerged from the locked room, but the man from upstairs awaited them with a severe smile.

“This way, friends.”

It seemed like a joke, a very cruel joke to address them as friends but they had little choice but to follow him through a set of hallways and back up a different elevator that dumped them onto a different section of the main floor.

“We are under direct order to escort you where you need to go and back to Miss Boyanov’s private airstrip where her plane awaits your arrival.”

Rick’s eyes widened and Susan grinned knowing the choices she had made to go against her boss’ orders were indeed the right choices after all. Rayna’s power seemed further reaching than even she expected.

She double-timed her steps to catch up to the man from the main entrance and tapped him on his shoulder. “Sir, sir?” He responded with an inquiring glare. “Yes, sir, friend--if you will. Are Rayna’s men willing to take a little detour? We are in need of an escort elsewhere in town, and therein lies the possibility that things could get a little hairy.” She giggled a little but he seemed unperturbed.

“Miss Boyanov’s men are very loyal. They will see you on your ‘errand’ and then set you off to the airport for your impending departure.”

Susan winked at Rick who rolled his eyes.

This might all work out for the best after all.

***

 

They were being transported in a heavily armed black SUV type get up and hurriedly dumped not far from the bank’s entrance. Susan clutched at the gold chain in her hand that held the little key.

Rick whispered to her as Rayna’s men formed a perimeter around them. “Do you even know which box you’ll need access to?”

Susan huffed. “Not exactly, he did die before he could say much.”

“This is going to be a fucking shit show.” Rick grumbled but followed her regardless.

Surprisingly there was much less security in this bank, which was suspicious in itself. She went up to the desk and presented the key. The woman at the counter grabbed for a mini scanner contraption and had her lay the key down over it. The little machine scanned it and made a little noise.

The woman left but returned after only a minute and led them into a side hall where their box was pulled and placed on the table.

Susan got cocky. “See? Told you this would all work out!” She used the key to unlock the little box. Rick held his eyes closed and loudly prayed for money. Inside, there was a thick billfold of money and a little contraption that looked like a fancy USB drive. “This is probably important.”

Rick ignored her and instead was stuffing the billfold into the front of his pants. “Oh this is SO MUCH MORE important. Yes, fucking finally.”

Susan jerked a thumb at the door. “Ready to head? I have a few people to brag to about being right about Rayna, and like getting intel on Chef and all that shit.”

Just then there was a loud crash and banging coming from the direction of the bank direction and alarms began blaring.

They looked at each other and shouted simultaneously. “Chef’s men found us!”

Then with a dramatic explosion of smoke and shouting, Rayna’s security detail busted through the door and swooped into the room and dragged them out into the hall. They used their bodies to shield theirs as they were dragged through throngs of screaming bank patrons and workers and into a warm, sunny alleyway where handfuls of men with guns were shouting orders.

There was barely enough time to have their eyes adjust to the sunlight before their big black SUV roared to their side and they were shoved forcibly into the the back seat.

“Oh my god, WHAT IS GOING ON?” Susan shrieked as the passenger door of the SUV was shut beside her.

There was a great deal of muttering from the men up front before one turned to her to explain.

“Please take no offense for our necessary actions, we are just a situation for you. Our orders are to get you to the plane safely without any harm. We are currently getting you to the air strip.”

Susan clutched at her bag to her chest. Inside was a handful of otherwise useless items: Rayna’s ring and photo, the weird USB, the notebooks and one dead man’s wallet. They were the reasons why her heart was threatening to leap out of her chest with heaps of adrenaline. She secretly hoped that it was all worth it. The kick ass agent in her assured her it was.

They were shuffled onto the plane and Rick was offered a drink. She refused, remembering not so fondly the last time she was offered a drink on this plane. “Yeah, I’m going to skip the sleepytime champagne, this round.” The man holding the bottle just shrugged and went and took his seat.

Despite the fact that she had just somehow managed to get on the plan without suffering any bodily harm with all the necessary intel her mission demanded, she still could not find it in herself to relax. Maybe once she was sitting at Crocker’s desk, but certainly not now. Instead she just watched Rick settle in for the short flight and mentally took inventory of all the new things they had experienced together.

***

 

Three hours later she was strolling into Director Crocker’s office with Rick at her side to deliver the USB and the notebooks. She was mentally preparing herself for what she expected would be a doozy of a debriefing.

After a thorough discussion of the details of their engagements in Grand Cayman, and their swift escape, Crocker seemed mostly satisfied.

Mostly.
“You know, Cooper. I’m willing to reinstate you, promote you and send you on your mission with an actual good Alias...and overlook that bullshit with Rayna as she fed you the intel you needed to finish the deal with her ONLY if you return the rest of the Chef’s property.”

 

Susan looked surprised, “Rest of the Chef’s property? What?” As she mentally went over the contents of the box, she hear Rick start swearing in his seat next to her.

He stood up and dug his hands into his pants and dug dramatically for the billfold. Susan laughed next to him. “Oh my god. RIGHT!”

Rick pried out the hefty billfold. “Goddamnit, there was like ten grand there.” Crocker took it from him with the tips of her fingers. “Thanks for that Ford, now I’m going to have to get the biohazard team in here.”

“It’s clean, I promise.” He smiled and Crocker rolled her eyes and she let it drop onto her desk.

“Anyway, what about the rest?” She looked expectantly at Susan.

Susan flipped through her bag, muttering. “What am I forgetting?” Crocker raised an eyebrow and waited.

Then she felt it, the wallet. She had already given Crocker the notebooks, and they had been promptly handed over to a crew of expert Decoders for inspection. With all the ruckus she had forgotten about the wallet. She took it out and tossed it to Crocker. “Rayna told me to take it. I hope it was a good decision. I didn’t think I’d ever steal from a dead guy in my lifetime.”

Crocker took the wallet and dipped into her drawer and drew out an exacto knife. She immediately started cutting at the interior of the wallet. “Well I guess we have Miss Boyanov to thank for this too. She must have had some suspicions on the Chef’s techniques. I also imagine she’s really keen on having a nice room mate for the next fifteen years, if she was willing to help you that much” She cut the spine and dug beneath the lining. “Aha. Here we go.”

Then she expertly pried a metal card with a flat screen display similar to a smartphone.

“The portable drive that you retrieved from the box is important enough on its own, but it’s useless without the decoder.” she pointed at the little metal card that was so ingeniously hidden in the wallet interior. “I’d say we’re in pretty good shape to dig deep into the Chef’s business, thanks to your hard work.”

She reached out to shake Susan’s hand, and then out of propriety, Rick’s. She stuck her tongue out in disgust reminding herself where that hand had just been. “You’re the reason hand sanitizer exists, I swear.” Rick just made a hurt face.

“Well, it’s another successful mission in the books, and It’s all thanks to you Agent Cooper. I think you’re going to get a bigger office out of this one too. I’ll send over the paperwork monday. In the meantime, you should take tomorrow off.” She continued pulled the door open for them to exit.

“Maybe you could visit some friends.” Then she winked and the meaning of her words dawn on Susan who absorbed them gratefully and scurried excitedly from the room. Rick just tagged along not really knowing what was up but he had his own suspicions. For once, he wasn’t too far off.

“Are we going to see Rayna tomorrow?”

Susan reached out and squeezed his hand. “You betcha.”

***

 

The eerie quietness of the prison no longer bothered her, not when she knew she was going to visit with Rayna.

Crocker had kept her subtle promise and Susan strangely met without any problems or scrutiny as she requested a meeting with the Bulgarian Crime Boss.

Rick tagged along, feeling protective over Susan. Although in high security womens’ prison, she almost felt more protective of him. They sat at the table and waited as Rayna was brought to the table and her cuffs attached.

Susan offered a smile but Rayna’s face was drained of all colour and she barely made any indication that she was listening, let alone alive. She had become a shell of her usual annoying self.

Not really knowing how to start or what to say, she instead just reached into her bag and drew out the little clear bag that held the photo and her ring. She slid it to Rayna across the table and gave her a big smile. “I believe these belong to you.”

In a surprisingly turn of events, Rayna’s face lit up with colour and what Susan suspected was low to mid levels of happiness and gratitude and her eyes began watering. It caused her own eyes to water and tear up in sympathy.

Rayna bent forward and pressed the baggy awkwardly to her chest. She pulled back up and looked into Susan’s eyes. “Thank you.”

Susan wiped at her eyes. “Oh, you’re welcome! Just when I thought you were a soulless dolphin trainer with a bad weave, but you surprised me. Rayna, you leopard print bitch, I think you have a heart after all. Thank you for helping where you did. The CIA thanks you for all your assistance.”

Rayna chuckled warmly, only the glistening wetness in her eyes betraying her emotion. “If I do have a heart, it’s only because I tore it from the chest of another.”

Susan laughed. “Thanks for having your people keep me alive.”

“It was the only way to get what I wanted, don’t forget that.” Her voice cracked and she coughed to cover up the catch in her voice.

Susan chucked her on the forearm with her fist. “I know, but still.” They exchanged a glance and a long sigh. It was hard to really say much more without coming off as emotional or soft and neither women were willing to appear as such under the circumstances.

She pointed at Rick and then to the door. “Well, we’re going to head. Stay out of trouble, Bride of Frankenstein.”

Rayna cocked her head to the side just as she used to when they had first met. “Fuck you” she shouted as Susan rose and headed for the door. Susan could hear the smile in her voice.

Susan winked and gave her a thumbs up as she disappeared through the doorway, shouting behind her. “Fuck you too, Rayna!”

Rick rolled his eyes and Susan leaned into him and he hugged her close as they exited into the hall. “She’s going to be okay, Rick,” she sighed happily, “She’s going to be okay.”