In the interest of the game and expediency I propose the following "How you met":
You are a hand-picked team of troubleshooters. You were either approached by a fellow team-member, or a covert head-hunter, and hired to participate in, what you believe to be, a UN sanctioned covert operation. Your handler is, Donald Carroll, a specialist in the Balkans and Black Sea region.
You have worked a couple of intelligence gathering and black-bag operations, this is your third operation together.
Post by Rigil Kent on Aug 22, 2019 11:20:02 GMT -6
This ... got a little out of hand. Good thing the office is without power at the moment ... I don't feel as bad writing it.
The genial atmosphere of the club was oddly soothing to his jangled nerves and Charles finally began to relax.
Blades was a gentleman’s club here in London, situated on Park Place off of St. James Street, and had been active since the American Colonies decided to throw off the shackles of Good King George back in 1776. Officially, it had a limit of 200 members with only two real qualifications to be a member: behaving like a gentleman and being able to “show” ₤100,000 in cash or gilt-edged securities at any time. Members were also expected to win or lose at least ₤500 a year in cards on club premises, but no one was ever so gauche as to openly admit that unspoken rule. Charles’ father had been a member, and his father before him, and so on and so forth, back to the founding of this quaint little club, so it was a fait accompli that Charles himself would be accepted as a member. And getting the money? For someone with his skills, that was easy.
“I’m surprised to see you here.” It was James, one of his old co-workers at SIS who had, ironically, attended Oxford at the same time as Charles, though their paths had never crossed to his memory. Even when they’d been in the Service together, their respective jobs had rarely intersected.
“Less surprised than I am,” Charles replied as he finished his bourbon and signaled for another. “Can you afford the entry fee, James?” he asked with a smirk. His former co-worker smiled his shark’s smile.
“Hardly,” James replied. “Doing a favor for Sir Miles.” He turned to the approaching bartender. “Could I trouble you for a special order, my good man? Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”
“Very good, sir.” The bartender moved with the stealthfulness of a trained SAS operative and Charles idly wondered if the Service had ever considered recruiting from the ranks of Blades. He doubted it - a government stipend was rather less than what the lowliest janitor made here.
“I sincerely hope I’m not the favor,” Charles said once they were alone again. James’ reputation in the Service was for assassination and wetwork, and the bloody Circus had gotten a rather significant black eye when Charles walked away after that fiasco of a mission in Russia. He tried not to scowl, tried very hard to not see the pictures of the bodies strewn upon the floor following the FSB’s attack, but clearly did not succeed based on James’ reaction.
“You’re not even on my radar, old man,” the SIS assassin said with his hard smile. “I did hear about that mess in Saint Petersburg. Right cock-up sounds like.” Charles shrugged, finished his third bourbon in the last thirty minutes and signaled for a fourth. It arrived alongside James’ atrocious martini - what had he called them? Vespers? Yes, that sounded right. “And there is my target,” James said. “Do be a good chap and try to stay off my radar, won’t you? I’d hate to be sent after a fellow Oxford man.”
“I shall do my best.” Charles did not bother glancing back to see exactly who it was that James was after - in all honesty, if Sir Miles was involved, then it could be anyone, even though the SIS wasn’t supposed to be operating inside England proper. If Charles had to guess, it was probably that Sir Hugo who’d recently joined Blades and was so blatantly cheating at cards to bilk the other members. In the end, he simply didn’t care. He’d come here for peace and bourbon … and because his father’s estate held too many ghosts at the moment.
Ghosts. That made him frown again. If he closed his eyes, he could see Katerina and her children, laughing at something he’d said. She’d been his entry vector into the Solntsevskaya Bratva cell operating out of Saint Petersburg and Charles had known from the get-go that her hands were just as bloody as her late husband’s. The man had been a pakhan, after all, and no one rose to the rank of brigadier in a bratva without first getting their hands thoroughly filthy. Using her had been a cruel necessity, no matter that she was trying to get out and provide a better life for her children. Charles had gone in knowing that there would be collateral damage - the FSB was involved with that op, after all, so how could there not be? - but as days became weeks, and weeks became months and Katerina fell more deeply in love with the mask that was Piotr Sergeyevich Volkov, that cold, dark place inside him began to squirm in discomfort. Not since Nadya had he felt this uncomfortable … and when he broke away from the bratva cell to report his findings and try to get Katerina free, the bloody FSB moved in.
And killed them all.
Six bourbons had burned away most of the pain by the time Charles pushed himself to his feet - he was pleased to see that he was still in control of his faculties, then irritated when he realized that such a tolerance indicated high functioning alcoholism; he’d have to watch that in the future - and threw down a handful of notes. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted James at one of the card tables with several locals that Charles did not recognize and one - Sir Hugo - he did. For a moment, he considered joining them before recalling how good of a gambler James was. He was not in the mood to lose several hundred thousand quid to the man.
Outside, the London air tasted every bit as disgusting as it normally did, but it was cool with a hint of rain in the near future. A familiar-looking man fell in step alongside him as Charles began walking toward the taxis.
“Something I can help you with, Officer Battle?” he asked flatly.
“I understand the Circus officially cut ties with you,” the CIA agent said as he tapped out a cigarette and lit it.
“I walked away from them,” Charles corrected. “And if you think you’re going to flip me,” he began angrily.
“I’m not with the Agency these days.” The American shrugged, as if none of that mattered. “I’ve got a line on a new job … you know Donald Carroll?”
“I know of him. Haven’t actually met the man.”
“I’m putting together a team for him; it’s UN sanctioned but they need people with … certain skillsets.” Battle smiled through the cloud of cigarette smoke. “People like you.”
For a moment, Charles almost told him to sod off. It was so very, very tempting to just turn around and go back into Blades where he could drink himself into oblivion and just maybe forget the whole Saint Petersburg affair. The memory of Katerina's smile or baby Ivan's infectious giggle or Piotr's expression when he was up to mischief or Mikhail's stubborn refusal to go to bed at the proper time … they all hit him at once and Charles knew he couldn't just walk away.
I have little to do at work today so I wrote a blurb as to how I imagine Nadya was introduced to the mission. I did take some liberties with Giger's character, but wrote him more reserved since I didn't know his personality.
Nadya punched the callback button on her phone as soon as she got into the cab. Someone picked up on the second ring and a without pleasantries simply stated, “You are bound for Bosnia.” The voice was a rich baritone and held command without trying.
“What makes you think I want to go to Bosnia?” Nadya pushed back.
She could feel the smirk in his voice, “You’re already in a car bound for the airport, aren’t you?” Okay, he had her there so she said nothing, and he continued with little pause, “Donald Caroll is your orchestrator. Pay is standard. There will be someone waiting for you when your flight gets in.”
“Who will be waiting for me?” Nadya asked, knowing full well he probably wasn’t going to tell her.
“You’ll know,” was all he said before hanging up without another word. Well, no surprise there, Nadya thought to herself before settling in to the back of the cab. She closed her eyes while fiddling with the key on her necklace, a habit she picked up while she was thinking. Nadya wondered what awaited her in Bosnia, though the name Caroll did ring a very distant and rusty bell in her mind. It gave her an inkling of indication that this job will be more on the up and up. She sighed before putting in her earbuds and queuing up her favorite audio book. No sense thinking about it now, it will all be revealed soon enough.
Nadya grabbed her bag from the carousel and adjusted the strap on her backpack before surveying the throng of people in front of her. She knew she was looking for someone specific, but she did not know whom. She wished she was given more straightforward information, and less cloak and dagger. Wouldn’t it be much easier to say Joe Smith will meet you at the baggage carousel at 1630 with a red carnation in his lapel?
Nadya leaned up against a pillar casually and pulled out her phone as if checking to see if her ride is here, all the while keeping an eye out for someone she knew. It wasn’t long before she found her target, a familiar face in a sea of people. It was Brad Battle: US special forces, and sniper extraordinaire. She circled around and approached the man who hadn’t yet seen her from behind before slipping an arm around his and giving him a dazzling smile. “Hi honey, did you miss me?” She asked brightly, giving him a little squeeze.
Brad didn’t even flinch. “Ayres,” he regarded her cooly, “moves like that can get you killed.”
Nadya rolled her eyes, “Oh come on Brad, as if you weren’t expecting it. Here, help me with my bag, and then to the bar. I’ve been cooped up in a plane for six hours stuck behind a screaming baby and my nerves are shot.”
Nadya didn’t wait to see if he was following before she walked up to the small ramshackle bar and ordered a bourbon. She paused a moment, knowing what was going to happen. It always happened. Every. Single. Time.
“Not vodka?” Battle asks with an arched brow as he joined her. Ding! There it was. Nadya never cared for the stuff, often preferring, The Englishman’s Drink as her Baba would disdainfully call it. Nadya responded with a smile that was all teeth and a voice that was saccharine sweet. “Shall we go somewhere else? I don’t think that they serve McDonald’s here.”
Battle gave a ghost of a smile and inclined his head as if saying Touche! Nadya grabbed her drink and selected a small cafe table away from most of the crowd. Battle joined her. They made small talk for awhile in order to reconnect and feel one another out and soon both of them found out that little has changed since their last op. They had worked together a few times with good results, and soon they eased into that comfortable space between acquaintance and team member.
“Has Carroll told you anything?” Nadya eventually asked.
“Yes,” Battle replied simply but didn’t go into any further details. She knew he wouldn’t, as she expected. She may not have had any formal government training, but she knew better than to blatantly ask questions in the open.
Maybe that’s why she didn’t mind working with him; he didn’t seem to hold it against her that she didn’t once have a 3-letter acronym attached to her name that meant she was a part of a much bigger picture than just herself. Operatives from other jobs treated her like a wild card that was dealt with by exercising extreme control. She wasn’t part of the club, and so they treated her as such. Brad was wary but more willing to seek out and pinpoint her own strengths. So what if she didn’t entirely know the ins and outs of foreign and domestic affairs, he just pointed her at the target and let her get to work. She knew Brad didn’t quite understand her but in the past he had given Nadya the breathing room she needed to do her job, and that was just fine by her. For Nadya, Brad was predictable, much like other people in his line of work. Everything was curated from his dress, to his mannerisms, even his haircut; she had seen it all before. Governments were a religion in their own right, but their disciples were predictable and therefore safe.
“Seems like it is a small event if it is just the two of us,”Nadya replied in a soft voice, but kept things light and pleasant just in case anyone were to listen in, it would merely seem like a couple making plans for the weekend.
Battle merely looked at her, and an unspoken conversation took place, something that Nadya found it easy to do with him. It wasn’t just the two of them.
Nadya arched an eyebrow, “Who?” she asked.
“duBois,” Battle replied simply.
Nadya cross her arms over her chest and gave a Tsk! of disapproval. Freaky Felix is what she called him in her head. It wasn’t like the man wasn’t charming, but his charm was slick as oil. It just felt wrong sliding across her synapses. That man didn’t undress women with his eyes, instead he seemed to dissect them. Granted he has always been professional and well behaved, but still, he set her on edge. Nadya blew out a breath.
“Okay,” she nodded as if convincing herself of something, “I can work with that. It won’t be a problem.”
Battle gave his own small nod but still remained silent. The seconds ticked by before Nadya caught on.
“Who else?” She asked, clearly guarded.
To that question, Battle said nothing, but gave her a look. The look; one that was full of knowing. He could see the moment Nadya caught on right before she groaned and buried her head in her arms on top of the table.
“Do you want out?” he merely asked as if he wasn’t witnessing a grown woman having some sort of dignified internal temper tantrum.
“Is there hazard pay?” She mumbled back, her face never leaving the safety of her arms.
This tore a bark of laughter from Battle as he adjusted his questioning tactics. He grew somber, and easily slipped into the role of a team lead before he asked, “Can I count on you?”
The question was obviously loaded, and meant way more than face value. Battle was met with silence for a long while, and deciding that was his answer, he got up to leave.
“Nuh-uh,” Nadya sat straight up and kicked the chair across from her with enough force so that it slid out from under the table. “Sit,” she commanded as she motioned with two fingers to the waitstaff for another drink. Battle made no motion to move, his standing there was question enough.
“I am not saying yes until I’m good and drunk, and you’re going to help me” Nadya answered with a tone of finality. Battle paused for a moment and then sat with a wry expression, watching as the server set down another Bourbon in front of her, and one in front of him as well, “I have called a meeting with the rest of the team this evening. You have four hours, Ayres.”
Nadya picked up her glass in a mock salute before taking a drink, “Sir, yes, Sir!”
Very nice! Rigil, I think you have a challenger on the board! FYI the Englishman's drink is gin btw.
Challenge accepted! (Also, I really don't want to actually work today so...)
After three and a half hours' sleep, Charles was woken at 5 a.m. by the electronic tone of his cell phone receiving a text message.
The soft murmur of last night's companion - bloody hell, what was her name? It started with an A, of that he was ... mostly sure - reminded him that he was not alone, but she barely stirred when he crawled out of bed and began dressing. His head ached from too much bourbon and too little sleep, but he ignored it as he gave the flat a quick once-over, taking in the expensive furnishings but not really focusing on them. Antje. That was her name. And she was a ... lawyer? Or was it an actress? Something like that. Satisfied that he was leaving nothing behind that could be used to potentially track him, he headed for the door.
Of the sleeping woman he left behind, he gave no further thought.
Outside, Berlin was starting to wake up itself and, by the time he reached the hotel he'd been using, dawn had finally arrived. He nodded to the chap at the front, then proceeded in a roundabout way to his room. Old habits died hard and the simple presence of a cleaning lady on his floor caused him to deviate two flights up so he could watch her. The woman's body language was right - she seemed tired, sore, and not especially interested in drawing notice - but he could easily fake that as well, so he waited until she passed his door, noted the Do Not Disturb sign, and continued on without pausing. Only then did he relax and then, very slightly.
In his room, he took an absurdly long shower, letting the hot water wash away some of the previous night's aches, then shaved and dressed. Today was a navy-blue Canali suit, a white sea island shirt and a burgundy grenadine tie, the latter two from Turbull & Asser. His shoes were black and, despite appearances, were actually designed for running. He'd learned that lesson years ago when his quarry had eluded him. Once dressed, he checked the time before powering up a second phone. The text on the disposable phone had let him know to stand ready - to most people, it looked like just another spam message from the cell provider with some new deal or another ... and, in fact, would actually check out as such if some dug into it, but to Charles' trained eyes, the phrasing was subtly off.
He passed the cleaning lady's trolley on his way out, dropping the disassembled pieces of his first phone into the waste bin as he did. The elevator deposited him on the ground floor and, as he approached the front desk, he instinctively gave the lobby a visual scan. There were the expected people present, mostly hotel employees going about their routine but also several vacationing pensioners heading out for an early morning breakfast. More interestingly, Charles noted an undercover BND agent he vaguely recalled working with once or twice keeping an eye on another fellow in the bar area who was definitely CIA, by the looks of that atrocious suit and was perfectly aware of his watcher. Neither seemed aware of the pretty journalist watching them both or the other BND operative keeping tabs on all three while posing as one of the hotel's employees. For a moment, Charles was tempted to make a scene just to see how it would shake out, but he did make a mental note to ditch his luggage at the airport, just in case he'd missed any bugs.
The girl at the front desk was really quite lovely - dark eyes and darker hair with an expression that somehow straddled the line between shy and seductive - and Charles gave her a winning smile as he approached.
"Checking out already, Mister Devon?" she asked in her oddly accented English. He doubted that she was native German, not with that pronunciation.
"Afraid so," Charles said. "Duty beckons and all that." He handed her the credit card in Jack Devon's name - that legend would have to be retired after this; he'd used it twice in the last ten years - and that was far too many times.
"I do hope you enjoyed your stay, sir," the girl said before blinking at something on her screen. "Oh. It appears we have a package waiting for you. One moment, please." Charles gave her another smile, then accepted the manila folder when she offered it moments later. He recognized Battle's distinctive scrawl immediately and wondered if he should be amused, annoyed, or irritated that the man had known how to get in touch with him and which cover he was using. This early in the bloody morning, though, he decided he couldn't find the energy for any of the three.
He waited to open the envelope until he was in the taxi taking him to the airport, and then, only gave it a quick, rudimentary glance. As expected, details were non-existent, but then, that wasn't really the point. He spent a few moments mentally translating the code before finally deciphering it. Charles then opened up the Gmail app on his phone and logged into an account he rarely used. He spent a few moment sifting through the junk before noting one with the proper time code from ; it looked like a phishing attempt with a promise for an all-expenses paid vacation to historic Dubrovnik, to be exact. Charles frowned - nothing good ever happened in the bloody Balkans. And Dubrovnik ... that probably meant Georg Rudek. Bollocks. Charles hoped the man had forgiven him for that incident with the stewardess. It really hadn't been his fault and everything did turn out fine after the fact which was what really counted.