“Jade Phoenix,” said an almost-familiar voice. “Good to see you again.”
Xia Qin groaned. “Ah, fuck, I was hoping it wouldn’t be you. Hello, Agent Donnelly, how’s the wife, how’s the kid?”
“They're fine. But why wouldn't it be me?” He stepped out of the shadows. “You think I’d give up so easily? I’ve been on your tail for twenty years now.”
“Not the whole twenty years,” she said smugly. “I lost you in Florence.”
“Ah yes, Florence.” He came forward and leaned on the stone wall next to where she sat, her good leg dangling over the edge, her badly sprained one laid straight along the top of the wall. “How long has it been since Florence? Ten years?”
“Eleven,” she said. Her heart clenched in her chest, and she looked out over the villa’s terraces, the gentle rustle of ornamental trees and bushes all black and silver and blue in the moonlight. A waft of a breeze blew past, carrying Agent Donnelly’s obnoxious cologne.
“You went to ground pretty well after that,” he says, taking a box of cigarettes out of his pocket and lighting up. “You could have kept your head down. Disappeared forever.”
Xia Qin grins out into the night. “Nah. I couldn’t have.”
“No? Rich husband and two sweet boys still wasn’t enough for you?” He blew a cloud of smoke politely away from her, but the breeze was all wrong; it blew back in their faces. He coughed and waved his hand through the air to clear it. “Sorry.” He dropped the cigarette and stamped it out. Ah, a gentleman. She wondered if he advertised himself as such.
“Spare me the small talk, agent. Where’s your partner?”
“Eh, left him behind. He’s too impulsive--he would have arrested you on sight, read you your rights, tossed you in the back of a van. I wanted to chat first. We haven’t had a good chat in ages.”
“Yeah.” He shrugs. “Twenty years, y’know--feels like we’re practically friends. You ask about my family, I ask about yours. I look at your INTERPOL file on your birthday and hum the birthday song to a grainy photograph of you. You sent me that Christmas present that one time. Practically friends.”
“Apologies. I have no interest in chatting, agent.”
“What are you gonna do, run away?” he said.
“Not with this thing,” Xia Qin said, smacking her sprained leg. “Stupid reason to get end up getting caught. One of those things where you step wrong and your ankle just has a fit of the vapors for no reason, and suddenly you’re on the ground cursing like a motherfucker.”
He winced. “Had that happen a couple times. Sucks.”
“Mm. I sat up and thought, ‘Well, fuck, Donnelly’s gonna get here any minute and then it’s all over.’” She shook her head. “Ankles. Stupid damn reason to get caught.”
He heaved a sigh and stood up. “I hear ya, Jade. Seems like an anticlimax after all this time, huh? Wish I could give you a fair fight, at least, but that’s not how this works.” He took a pair of handcuffs from his pocket--in the moonlight, they gleamed like ice.
“I don’t care for the idea of being taken in,” she said coldly. Hah. She sounded like A-Zhao.
“C’mon, you’re not gonna make this harder than it needs to be, are you? After all this? If you cooperate and come quietly, I’ll do my best to get you a deal of some kind. It won't be a maximum security prison, and I'll try to make sure it's close enough your little boys can come see you now and then. That sounds good, right? Family visit once a month or so?”
She snorted. “Good? That’s supposed to sound good, agent? In comparison to freedom?”
“Little bit late to be thinking of freedom, my friend,” he said.
“I disagree,” she said, and rolled off the wall.
She heard him curse just before she hit the ground--only about ten feet down--and rolled to find cover. Exactly as planned, her hand landed precisely on the first of the seven firearms she’d hidden around the terraces.
What a relief to know that East Berlin hadn’t been a waste of time after all.
It was almost fun for a bit, just like the old days, before she met A-Zhao, before she had the boys and had to start thinking about the ways her body had changed, before there were people who would miss her…
But she wasn’t as young as she’d once been, and her ankle screamed with pain every time she put weight on it, and then the second Glock jammed and she had to throw it aside--
Incredibly, she almost made it anyway.
But then Donnelly got a lucky shot, winging her bad leg, and she felt the gush of blood down her thigh and thought, ‘Well fuck, he got a vein. And that’s probably the ball game.’
That motherfucker had just orphaned her sons and broken her husband’s heart. How fucking dare he, honestly.
So Xia Qin let the phoenix go out of her, and instead went to her namesake, the wren--a plain little brown bird, hurt and fluttering in the dust with a broken wing. She fell to the ground and sobbed loud so Agent motherfucking-widowmaking-childorphaning Donnelly would be able to hear her. He approached with caution, his gun still in his hand, sweat pouring down his face. “Dammit, Jade,” he panted. “Just give up already.”
“Please,” she wept, pushing her good leg against the ground as if struggling away from him. A fluttering, helpless little bird, struggling away from the snake. “Please, don’t kill me, please, my family--”
“Fuck--fuck, you’re bleeding bad, hang on--you’re going to go to trial, you absolute bitch, do you hear me?” He holstered his gun and fumbled at his belt for his walkie-talkie, barking orders into it even as he fell to his knees and whipped off his belt to tie around her leg as a tourniquet. Too late for that, probably. “Dammit, stop fighting me! Trial and prison for you, Jade, do you hear me?”
She had pushed herself bird-fluttering along the path just far enough to set her hand on the last gun tucked behind a flowerpot, and now she brought all the fury back into her voice as she said, “I’d rather fucking die.”
Xia Qin shot him, point blank.
All, at last, was quiet.
She slumped back, already getting lightheaded and woozy from the blood loss, and she looked up at the sky and laughed.
Not damn bad, for an end. If she had to end, at least she went out with style.