Type of Submission
: FictionAuthor ratherastoryTitle
: Smoke on the WaterRecipient
: claudiapriscus Rating
: PG13Warnings & Spoilers
: Show-levels of violence, stuff exploding. No gore. Outsider POV. Knowledge of either canon is not strictly necessary in order to understand the story. Set between "Jus in Bello" and "Ghostfacers," for Supernatural
, and between "Comrades" and "Scatter Point" for Burn Notice
. Mild spoilers through Season 3 of Supernatural
and Season 2 of Burn Notice
: God, what would I give to own all of these people. Especially Sam Axe. Because, you know, how awesome would it be for Bruce Campbell to be mine? Alas, I am to be eternally deprived of that particular joy.Author's Notes
: I wasn't able to include as much Sam Axe in this story as I really wanted to, which makes me sad. I hope, dear prompter, that you're able to forgive me for that. Also, do you know how confusing it is to have two main characters named Sam? Very confusing! Title is taken from the Deep Purple song of the same name.Thanks and such
: My undying thanks go to my tireless beta reader, pkwench
, who put up with me for weeks, waffling and angsting and generally being all emo about this story.Prompt
: Burn Notice Crossover. I don't care how or why, or who is in it, except Sam Axe. Give me lots of Bruce Campbell. Summary
: Casefic. Former spy Michael Westen has enough problems of his own not least of which is figuring out who burned him and why. Now, on top of that, his mother is accepting jobs on his behalf. He really doesn't have time for this, but when he starts investigating the unsolved deaths of young people in Miami, he finds himself crossing paths with an unlikely pair of brothers. In Michael's line of work, suspicion is par for the course, and he has to figure out whether Sam and Dean Winchester are friends or foes before even more lives are lost.Part I
Being an international spy brings you into contact with all sorts of different people. Give it enough time, and you'll find yourself rubbing shoulders with everyone from foreign dignitaries to other spies, crooks to bank tellers, afghan militants to bag ladies. Sometimes you end up running into some pretty unusual people in some pretty unusual places.
The most common meeting place for spies is in hotels, the pricier the better. Hotels offer a wide variety of cover: lobbies, private suites, and luxurious pool sides. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Pool sides are ideal, since they provide multiple escape routes, wide open spaces, the possibility to scout in advance, and allow you to plant as many people as you can manage in adjoining rooms to keep an eye out on the place. But lobbies and private rooms provide advantages of their own: privacy, the means to plant bugs ahead of time, and the ability to corner your target if needs be.
“Mikey, we have a problem,” was the first thing I heard when I answered my cell phone. Having a contact set up a meeting in a hotel means sending in your own advance scouting party. In my case, my advance scouting party often ends up being just one guy, Sam Axe, my friend, retired Navy SEAL, and all-around 'guy who knows a guy.'
My name is Michael Westen, and I used to be a spy. That is, up until I got burned by person or persons unknown, for reasons which remain a mystery. In my line of work, you don't get fired, you get burned, and I've been trying to find out why ever since I got my burn notice. I'd received word from a friend of a friend of an acquaintance that he might have something for me concerning my situation, and a meet was set up at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, in Miami. Since I really, really hate surprises, Sam agreed to go take a quick look around for me.
“What kind of a problem, Sam?”
“A problem of the federal kind. Spotted two suits flashing badges around the hotel. Not especially subtle, either.”
“Not Harris and Lane?”
Having a semi-washed-out operative as a best friend and partner has its disadvantages. One of those is that Sam started informing on me to the FBI practically the minute I landed back in Miami. The upside is that until we managed to dump them, Sam was perfectly happy to feed the FBI whatever information I wanted him to, up to a point.
“No, we should only be so lucky. I've never seen these guys before, but they're young, look like they're fresh out of Quantico. You can still see the shine on their suits.”
“You can always see the shine on their suits. What are they doing?”
“Knocking on doors, asking questions about some guy who bit it here the other day.”
Covert meetings are always difficult to arrange. For one thing, informants are notoriously skittish, and they hate anything that looks like it might get their cover blown. Any whiff of the authorities, and they usually take to the hills and never look back. Still, Willie was a good source, and I couldn't afford for this meet to go South.
“All right, I'm coming in anyway.”
I left my perch by the poolside bar, flipped the phone shut, and made my way casually past the lobby, slipped into the elevator, and discreetly checked my watch. Sometimes you just have to take the chance that things are going to go your way, even when the unexpected has occurred. In the grand scheme of things, two unexpected FBI agents is a blip on the radar. So I went in anyway, and trusted that their investigation wasn't going to take them anywhere near my source.
Unfortunately, I didn't plan on Willie being even more squirrelly than I thought. I found him twitching and fidgeting in the hotel room, beady little eyes darting back and forth under far too much hair pomade. The trick with anxious sources is to make them feel as though they always have an escape route, to keep them from getting too edgy, but that also ends up providing them with said escape route.
“Take it easy, Willie,” I said, closing the door behind me. “Guy your age, it's not good for your heart. They make pills for that, you know.”
“Screw you, Weston,” Willie was sweating bullets. “I'm thirty-nine.”
I whistles. “Wow. You might want to watch your stress levels, in that case.”
“Yeah, well, you ain't exactly helping with that. You alone?”
I nodded. “You know I am. You said you've got something on Carla, so let's have it.”
He held up both hands. “Woah, woah, woah. Not so fast. This is the kind of thing that could get me killed or worse. I need some sort of guarantee that this isn't going to blow up in my face.”
Handling a skittish source is an art form. The problem with practising an art is that it takes time, and having someone hammer on your door in a way that just screams 'police' before you can so much as pick up your paintbrush makes it really, really difficult.
The next thing I knew Willie was in the wind, and I was facing down two very tall FBI agents. Now, I'm a pretty tall guy myself, at a whisper over six feet. The agent doing the talking could look me right in the eye, and the guy behind him? Made him look like he hadn't drunk enough milk as a kid. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Sam down the hall, just a quick glimpse of his salt-and-pepper hair and bright Hawaiian shirt, and figured it was time to cut my losses.
“Can I help you gentlemen?”
The shorter one flashed me a very white-toothed smile and shoved a badge in my face with all the assurance of a fresh-faced recruit straight out of Quantico, while his partner hung back a bit, looming all while trying to look like he wasn't six-feet-four of hulking menace. It's a fine line to walk, but he was walking it with confidence. For all the Hulk was acting the wallflower, the first agent was his polar opposite: self-assured to the point of cockiness, and the smirk he threw at me suggested he was pretty sure he was better than all of humanity combined.
“FBI, sir. Doing some follow-up work on a case here. You mind answering a few questions?”
I shook my head. “I'm sorry, but I'm just here overnight. Business trip. Just stepped in today, I'll be gone again in the morning. Sorry I can't be of help, Agent?” I let the question hang.
“Plant,” the shorter agent pushed, and I let him back me into the room. No sense in attracting attention. “My partner, Agent Page. This'll only take a moment, sir. Just routine,” the smile was bland, reassuring, authoritative, and utterly, utterly fake.
Whoever these two guys were, they weren't FBI. They were doing a pretty convincing imitation of Feds, but there was something about the way the two of them moved that belied the act. They moved in synch with each other, which pointed to a long-standing partnership, but if they were Bureau then they wouldn't have been together for more than a year, maybe two at most, and that wasn't nearly enough to account for the unspoken communication I could feel coming off them. Besides, the FBI isn't in the habit of pairing up new agents: it's one rookie and one experienced agent, to prevent screw-ups.
It was Page who gave them away, although I doubt anyone other than a trained operative would have spotted it. Plant was the decoy, all swagger and good looks and loud-mouthed questions, but Page was sizing up the room, sizing me up, and within about ten seconds I saw he'd planned all their escape routes and spotted the pistol I was carrying. Plant was going on about electrical problems, cold spots, stupid questions that couldn't have anything to do with a crime, and if Page's wary casing of the room hadn't already tipped me off, that would have. It was time to make a graceful exit, if I could. If not, I figured I could probably take them on long enough to get out, but the odds weren't exactly great that I'd get out of there uninjured. These two had obviously done more than basic hand-to-hand training in their day, I could see it in the way they stood, poised and relaxed, slightly on the balls of their feet; in the way they never moved so far away from each other that they might let themselves be flanked.
“No, I haven't noticed anything like that. If you'll excuse me, I have an important meeting to get to, and I'm already running late. Sorry to have wasted your time, gentlemen.”
“Sure thing,” Plant said, his smile turning brittle. “You got a contact number?” I handed him a fake card, which he pocketed without looking at it. “You remember anything, sir, you be sure to give us a call.”
“Naturally,” I accepted the card he gave me in return, held it up between my index and middle fingers, made a show of putting it in my pocket, and left them in the hotel room. The fact that they stayed behind spoke volumes as well: any FBI agents worth their salt would be moving on to the next witness by now, which told me they were more interested in the room than they were in me.
Sam was waiting for me outside, and waggled a digital voice recorder at me. “So that was hinky. I assume we're going to be giving a listen to what they have to say?”
I nodded. “Did you see where Willie scrammed to?”
“Sorry, brother. The guy's like a greased weasel. Slipped through the cracks.”
“Dammit,” I slid into the driver's seat of Sam's LeSabre. “All right, we'll deal with him later. In the meantime, I want to know what was up with those two. You see the way they moved?”
“I saw. Not Feds, then?”
“Nope. I don't know who they are, and I didn't get a close enough look at their I.D.s to see how good they were. Let's see what they have to say for themselves.”
The secret to maintaining control of any situation is to have as much information as possible. Since I was going to be meeting a source known for being a cowardly rat, I'd hedged my bets, and placed a bug in the hotel room ahead of time, in the form of a jury-rigged cheap cell phone taped under one of the dresser drawers in the room. Willie might be a snitch, but he wasn't in the game, and it didn't even occur to him to sweep the room for hidden bugs. Good thing too.
Sam flicked on the mic, and a voice I assumed belonged to Page since I didn't recognize it filled the car, along with a high-pitched whining noise I couldn't identify. It reminded me a little of the tricorder sound effects from the Star Trek episodes I used to watch as a kid. The sound stopped a moment later, making Page's words come through loud and clear. “... not a spirit. Dean, this is a waste of time.”
“Aw, c'mon Sam. We're in Miami, the sun is shining, and have you seen the women out there?” Plant let out a wolf whistle.
“Dean.” You could practically hear Page's eyes rolling. The tone of fond exasperation was unmistakable, which only reinforced my theory that these two were more than newly-appointed partners.
“Sounds like they're family,” Sam said to me.
“That would be my guess.”
“All right, all right,” Plant was saying now. “So the hotel's a bust. This doesn't explain the disappearances or the gruesome deaths. What now?”
“I for one want out of this room,” Page replied. It was pretty safe to assume that his name wasn't really Page, the same way his partner's wasn't really Plant, but since the only real thing I knew about Page was that his real name was Sam, I decided to try to keep the confusion to a minimum. One Sam in my life was more than enough. “Eventually the hotel staff are going to wise up, and I don't want to attract any more attention than necessary around here. Did you see the guy who just left?”
“What, Mr. I'm-An-Important-Businessman-And-In-A-Hu
rry? What about him?”
“Not a businessman. He was packing. Back of his pants.”
“Well well, Sammy, look at you, checking out other men's asses. You got anything you want to tell me?”
“Bite me. He wasn't alone, either. Patio door was open when we got in, and whoever he was with made a hell of a racket getting out.”
I looked at Sam, and Sam looked back at me. “They're pretty good, whoever they are,” Sam said.
Plant was dismissive. “Whatever, he's not our problem right now. Let's go, Sammy. The day is young, and I am really tired of wearing this stupid monkey suit.”
“It's Sam,” came the curt reply, accompanied shortly thereafter by the sound of the hotel door clicking shut.
I drummed my fingers against the steering wheel. “Okay. Whatever they're up to, it doesn't sound like it has anything to do with us. You think you can dig up anything on them, see what's what? Better safe than sorry, even if it's unrelated.”
Sam switched off the mike. “I'll see what I can do, but I didn't get a good look at them, and with fake names like that? We're gonna get squat. I bet you they didn't leave prints behind, either, and I'm not about to go dust a whole hotel room on the off-chance we get a hit.”
I tilted my head in assent. “Fair enough. We'll put that on the back burner, and if they show up again we'll dig a little deeper.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. In the meantime, I think this afternoon is pretty much a bust. I don't know about you, Mikey, but I could use a mojito. Or three. Spying's a thirsty business, and in case you forgot, I had to ditch Veronica for this little outing, and Veronica doesn't like being ditched. In fact, she's kind of giving me the silent treatment. I don't suppose I can crash at your place for a while?”
I sighed. “Yeah, fine.”
Sam gave my shoulder what I'm sure he meant as a manly slap. “Thanks, you're a pal.”
“Michael, you need to come right now, it's an emergency!”
The other drawback to being stranded in one city The consequence of being a burned spy is that sometimes you're stranded in the same city in which your mother lives. Now, for some people this wouldn't be a problem, but let's just say that having a lousy childhood is practically a prerequisite for becoming a spy. For my entire adult life, ever since I lied my way into the Armed Forces, I've made it a policy to keep a minimum of 1,000 miles between me and any member of my immediate family. My father's been dead for nearly eight years, and since he was the main source of my family-related troubles, that makes being in Miami a little easier to take. However, the fact remains that my chain-smoking, hypochondriac, very high-maintenance mother is still here and kicking up a fuss.
“What wrong, Mom?”
“I just need you to come right now!” Mom snapped, and the line went dead with a faint click.
“So much for my mojito,” Sam grumbled, as I put the car into gear and headed for my mother's house.
Being a spy also means that you paint a giant target on the back of any family and friends you have. You make a lot of enemies, and 'family' becomes a synonym for 'leverage.' So when your mother calls and says it's an emergency, you burn rubber to get there. Which is what I did. I avoided bursting through the door, since I'm not stupid enough to launch myself into an ambush, but Sam and I found ourselves unharmed in her kitchen about fifteen minutes after her call. I also found her unharmed in her kitchen, glaring daggers at me over the dismantled corpse of what looked like it had once been one of the lamps from her living room.
“Oh good, you're here,” she said, one hand on her hip, a cigarette dangling from the fingers of the other. “The bulb burnt out in this lamp, but the new one I put in won't work either, and I think it's the wiring.”
“Mom, are you okay?”
“Of course I'm not okay! I have a friend coming over in a few minutes, and the lamp doesn't work. Oh, hello, Sam,” she said, finally noting Sam's presence behind me.
“Hi Maddie,” Sam sheepishly tucked his pistol back into his belt. “We thought you were in danger.”
“Because you said it was an emergency,” I said, stressing the last word. My mother is hell on my blood pressure.
“Well, what do you think this is?”
“Mom, I'm in the middle of something. I don't have time to re-wire your lamp.”
“See, this is your problem, Michael. You've got no follow-through.”
“I can take a look at it,” Sam volunteered, thus completely undermining what little credibility I had with my mother. Not that I ever had that much to begin with.
“Thank you, Sam, that's very nice of you. Help yourself to a beer from the fridge.”
“Gee, thanks, Maddie!”
“Lush,” I muttered.
“Michael, that's not nice at all. Besides, now that you're here, there's someone I want you to meet.”
I groaned. “Mom, no!”
“Don't be like that, Michael. She's a friend, and she needs help!”
When your mother asks you to help out a friend, there's only one thing to do: hang your head, and concede defeat. “What's the problem?”
“She'll be here in a few minutes, and she'll tell you herself.”
Sam was sucking on his beer bottle with far more enthusiasm than it warranted. “Hey, Mikey, you got any wire strippers?”
I rolled my eyes, and headed out into the garage to rummage around in my Dad's old tools to find the required wire strippers, screwdriver, and electrical tape. I dumped the tools on the kitchen table, and got Sam's attention by putting a hand over his beer bottle.
“Before you start going all DIY, Sam, why don't you try plugging it in with a fresh bulb?”
“I'm telling you it's broken, Michael! I checked it myself,” Mom said indignantly, stubbing out her cigarette in a large green glass ash tray.
“Humour me, okay?” I started screwing the lamp back together, handed the remains to Sam, and hunted down a new lightbulb. A few minutes later the lamp was back occupying the dusty table it called home, and light was emanating from it in a sickly yellow haze. “Problem solved.”
Sam looked on approvingly. “That calls for a celebration! I'll get us another round of beers.”
The client perched uncomfortably on the sofa, looking dubiously from me to Sam to my mother. She was a nice-looking woman in her sixties, dressed in white linen pants and a matching jacket, and a frilly pink blouse under that with two ropes of fake pearls and earrings to match. Everything about her screamed 'white American housewife.'
“Go on, Gladys,” my mother prodded her, gesturing with her cigarette. “You tell Michael what's happening.”
Glady wrung her hands, the slim silver bracelets on her wrist tinkling together musically. There was no wedding ring on her left hand, but there were a couple of silver ones and one gold one with a semi-precious stone on a few fingers, which told me she there was no husband in the picture. Her tan lines were even, which meant there was no recent divorce, but beyond that, I had nothing. My money was on her being unmarried something about the way she dressed, the kind of purse she carried, the shoes that walked the fine line between fashion and common sense.
“It's my nephew,” she said, looking at my mother. “Greg. He's missing.”
Now we were talking. “How old's your nephew?” If you're dealing with a runaway twelve-year-old, it's not the same thing as a missing baby, or an adult who's skipped town for a while.
“He's twenty-three. He's been gone for days. His mother is losing her mind! The police won't do anything, they think he's just run off.”
Oh boy. “Why would they think that?”
She flushed. “He's a bit reckless. Fell in with a bad crowd. But Greg is a good boy: he'd never be gone so long without telling his mother where he is. He's her only son, you know. Devoted,” she said earnestly, with all the conviction of a doting aunt. Sam and I exchanged a sceptical look over her head.
A moment's hesitation, then she nodded, blinking hard. “He goes to those all-night parties a lot.”
“You mean raves?”
“I think beach parties, mostly. Clubs. He fell in with these kids rich kids,” she said, bitterness tingeing her tone. “More money than sense, and they goad him into trying to keep up. But he's a good boy,” she repeated. “He wouldn't stay gone for this long. Something's happened to him.”
“Michael can find him,” Mom declared confidently. “Can't you, Michael?”
I shook my head. Finding missing kids is one thing, but a grown man known for partying a little too hard? That was another story entirely. “This really is more of a matter for the police.”
“But they said they couldn't do anything?” Gladys wailed, and the waterworks began in earnest, then. She was a champion crier, Gladys was, all heaving sobs and shuddering breaths, and the next thing I knew Mom was on the sofa next to her, gathering her in her arms and patting her on the back, all the while looking at me like I was something she'd just scraped from under her shoe.
“There there, Gladys honey,” she said. “Don't cry. Michael deals with this sort of thing all the time, and he will be happy to take on your case. Won't you, Michael?”
“Yeah, Mike,” Sam piped up from where he was tilting the contents of a third bottle of beer into his mouth. “I'm sure you can help the lady out.”
“I can pay you,” Gladys hiccupped, fumbling for her purse with one hand while the other accepted a tissue from my mother. Her mascara was smeared and running, her eyes red. I put up a hand to stop her.
“That's not the issue, here, Gladys. Look, I'll do some asking around, see what I can find out about where Greg might be. But I can't make you any promises, all right?”
She nodded and mopped at her eyes with the tissue. “Thank you! Thank you so much. I know you'll find him. His mother needs him. He's a good boy,” she said again, her voice breaking.
I handed her another tissue. It seemed like the thing to do. Then I left her to the tender ministrations of my mother, who was coaxing coffee out of the machine I'd just fixed for her the other day yet another emergency. Then I pulled Sam aside.
“I don't exactly have time for an extra-curricular activity these days, Sam.”
Sam made a what-can-you-do gesture with his free hand. “It sounds easy enough, Mike. Track down the delinquent kid from whatever bender he's on, clean him up, fill him full of coffee, maybe throw in some intimidation to scare him straight.”
“Yeah, see, the whole wild post-college party thing isn't exactly my scene. It's going to take a lot of time and energy I don't have to infiltrate that scene.”
“You're going about this all wrong,” Sam assured me. “Clubs and wild beach parties? You can do those in your sleep. Besides, you won't have to do the heavy lifting on this. They key to getting in and getting information is the same as anywhere else.”
“Right,” I felt my heart sink a bit. “I'll call Fiona.”Part II
The problem with being emotionally involved with your team mates is that more often than not you have to watch them walk head-first into danger and deliberately not do anything to help them. In fact, sometimes you're the one sending them into danger. Granted, sending my ex-girlfriend into one of the most glamorous clubs in Miami didn't exactly qualify as dangerous, but that didn't mean I had to be happy about it. Fiona Glennane and I met years ago in Dublin, when I was working undercover there, and... let's just say that after we got involved, I had to leave town in a hurry, and Fi isn't really the forgiving type.
Tonight she was putting on a show, which I guessed was as much for my benefit as it was to get her in the club doors. She was wearing the slinkiest white dress I'd seen her wear to date, covered in sequins and shimmering nicely in the glare of the club lights. Fi is a beautiful woman, and in the spy business being a beautiful woman means you get a lot of doors opened for you. It also makes operating in secret really difficult, because every red-blooded male and not a few red-blooded females are going to be all over you in a crowded place like that.
“Remember, Fi, you're just scouting tonight,” I reminded her, watching as she held a slim little silver phone to her ear.
A little asking around via some of Sam's cop buddies and other, less reputable contacts, had revealed that there had been a number of young people reported missing over the past few weeks. No one had put all the pieces together yet, but there was definitely a pattern there. All the victims fit the same profile: young, attractive, and running with a crowd whose budget didn't match their own. They'd all either disappeared, or been found dead in various parts of Miami, drowned in pools, bathtubs, and in a couple of tragic instances either in the ocean itself or the Everglades. The pattern was rough enough to be coincidental, but I've been a spy long enough not to believe in coincidences.
It had taken two labour-intensive days to track down every person the missing kids had had in common, and that was a lot of time not spent on figuring out who had issued my burn notice. Still, kids were dying, and that sort of puts things in perspective. If there was some sort of serial killer at work in Miami and no one had figured it out yet, then it was up to us to make sure that not only did our client's nephew get home safe and sound, but that no one else's kid ended up dead somewhere far from home.
We'd narrowed it down to a particular night club, one of those trendy new places that would likely fizzle out and die when the glitterati got bored with it in a couple of months but right now was making money hand over fist and didn't exactly care how the cash came in. It had then taken a few more less labour-intensive days for Fi to find the crowd that Greg had been running with, drape herself all over one of its leaders without being too flagrant about it, playing up her part as a party girl with more moxey than money. Right now, she was shimmying her way seductively past the appreciative bouncer, acting every inch the wide-eyed innocent trying to look like she fit in.
“Of course, Michael,” she replied, her voice flirty and ironic, and I buried my face in my palm. Sometimes there's no talking to her. “I am going to be as good as good can be, never you worry.”
I hung up with a groan, and went back to watching the place from the front seat of Sam's car.
“Burrito?” Sam offered me a paper-wrapped parcel, but I waved him off. “Suit yourself, they're delicious.”
“Of all the things you could have picked to eat on a stakeout...”
“You have to learn to live a little, Mike,” he said around a mouthful of food, then made an appreciative sound as he swallowed. “The only thing that would make this better is a cold one.”
“Just keep your eyes on who goes in and out of the club, okay?”
“You got it. Where you going?”
I stepped out of the car, shoving my cell phone into my pocket and checking to make sure my gun was still properly concealed in the waistband of my pants. “I'm going to get a better vantage point,” I jerked my head in the direction of a nearby hotel, whose balconies gave out onto the night club in question.
In my line of work, you spend a lot of time waiting and watching. Mostly waiting. You set up a trap, dangle some bait in this case my very attractive ex-girlfriend and hope your intended fish will bite. I couldn't see Fi from where I was, but I had a pretty good view of the club's rear door, which gave onto one of those shady alleys that constantly seem to have puddles in them even when it hasn't rained for weeks. Sam was covering the front, and there were no other exits. I spent four excruciatingly dull hours watching horny young adults make out in the back alley, share all sorts of illicit drugs, and for the most part duck right back into the club to keep dancing. The few who left did so in cars that belonged to them, and had arrived together, which didn't fit with our working theory. I took note, just in case, but my gut told me it wasn't what we were looking for.
Around two a.m. our luck took a turn for the better or worse, depending on how you looked at it. The back door opened again, and Fi emerged, wobbling exaggeratedly on the fancy little strappy high-heeled silver sandals she'd picked to go with the dress, her earrings flashing in the glow of the emergency exit light. She giggled, hands flung out for balance, one of them clutching her tiny silver purse, and then made a show of falling against the good-looking boy who'd accompanied her outside.
“Son of a bitch,” I breathed, holding the phone up to my ear as Sam answered on the other end.
“What've you got, Mike?”
It had taken me a moment to recognize him. Out of the cheap suit and into leather pants and a shirt that might have been painted on, hair impeccably style, and clean-shaven, he looked a good five years younger than when I'd first met him. He was innocent-looking, fresh-faced and guileless, but there was no mistaking that Fiona was currently making out a little too enthusiastically for my liking with the fake Agent Plant.
“Mike,” Sam's voice came over the phone like a bucket of cold water. “Don't do anything crazy, now. Fi can take care of herself.”
“I know that,” I snapped. “I'm going to move into position anyway. I don't like the look of this guy, and I'm not planning on letting him out of my sight until I know what his game is. Fi doesn't know who he is, and I can't let her go on no intel.”
“Okay, but be careful. If he's our psycho, then he's really good at what he does.”
“All the more reason not to let Fi wander off with him.”
I flipped the phone shut again, trusting that Sam was going to be flanking from the other side of the alley, then vaulted over the low-hanging balcony which I'd been using as a perch all night. I landed in the grass below the balcony, narrowly missed spraining an ankle always a risk when you're jumping from anything higher than a few feet and loped around the hotel as quickly as I could, hoping that nothing would go down in the couple of minutes in which I didn't have a direct view of the alley.
I've always been amazed at how fast women can move in three-inch heels, and Fiona has yet to meet her match. They were already much farther than I'd anticipated by the time I got there, and there was no way to follow them down the alley without giving myself away. So I ducked back around another building, through a couple of side streets, trying to keep them within view. Fi was putting up a pretty good fight without making it look as though she was fighting, simply manoeuvring Plant against the wall, shoving her leg between his thighs and her tongue down his throat, which didn't bother me in the slightest.
Still, there's only so much that a five-foot-two girl who weighs one hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet can do against a six-foot-tall guy who's got eighty pounds on her, and even though it seemed like Plant or whatever his name was was mostly on board with whatever she'd been doing a moment before, he was also after something a little less carnal. A minute later their positions were reversed, and he had her pinned to the wall. I couldn't tell what they were saying, but whatever it was, it didn't look good, and the look on Fiona's face told me all I needed to know. Fi can take care of herself, and she put up a creditable defense, but he blocked her best hits, looking a little surprised at her sudden change in demeanour. He obviously hadn't expected his mark to be a trained fighter.
So much for a recon-only mission. It was time to step in, and that's what I did, moving forward and pulling the hammer back on my pistol for emphasis with a loud click.
“Back off,” I said quietly.
He let go of Fiona so fast that she staggered and went to one knee. I don't care how good you are at walking in heels, keeping your balance on those things is hard. His eyes were wide, tracking from side to side as he kept his hands out to the side, in plain view.
“Woah there, easy,” he said, backing up. “I don't want trouble. If I'd known the lady was with you...” he trailed off as he recognized me, but said nothing further.
“You've got a funny way of showing it,” I answered, keeping the gun trained on him. “Fi, you okay?”
“I'm fine,” she picked herself up, dusted herself off, as Sam came up from behind Plant, his own pistol levelled. Sensing the presence at his back Plant glanced over his shoulder and swore under his breath, raising both hands and lacing his fingers behind his head.
“Look, this is just a misunderstanding,” he said, his voice betraying a hint of nervousness. That can be faked just as easily as any other emotion, of course, but then again, most people get nervous with two handguns pointed at their heads.
“Sure it is,” I said agreeably. “And you can help us to understand by coming with us and explaining it all. In detail.”
Sometimes, as a spy, you get caught up in the excitement of the moment. There's a lot of adrenaline flying around, and if you're not careful, you forget that every plan has its flaws. For one, if you were planning on taking out a lone target, it's easy to forget that, for instance, your target might have a partner. I had used the hammer of my pistol as a way to emphasize how serious I was, and it had worked. Still, there's nothing quite like the sound of a shotgun being racked less than six feet away from you to make a really, really impressive point.
“Yeah, that's not going to happen,” a soft voice carried across the alleyway.
I turned my head to catch sight of the gigantic Agent Page aiming a very illegal sawed-off shotgun right at my head, and by extension right at Fiona as well. He'd positioned himself perfectly, too: poised behind a wall, so that Sam had no shot on him. Fiona was unarmed, and I'd have to waste a precious few seconds turning in order to fire at him. If we so much as moved a breath out of synch, one or the other of us was going to get filled full of buckshot, and at this range it might be both of us, and the results wouldn't be pretty. It was my turn to swear under my breath: dammit, I was better than that! I'd let us walk straight into an ambush. A one-man ambush, no less.
“Fantastic timing, Sammy,” Plant said, cocky grin back in place, though I noted he hadn't moved.
“Uh-huh. We'll talk about that later,” 'Sammy' said, and his tone promised that the talk was going to be anything but pleasant.
“Looking forward to it,” the sarcasm was impossible to miss. “Looks like we've got ourselves quite the Mexican stand-off here.”
“You okay?” 'Sammy' sounded anxious.
“She tried to kick me in the nuts, but apart from that? Just peachy, dude,” he continued, as though he was enjoying a day on the beach rather than facing down two armed men. “I don't think this is what we were looking for, though,” he added, as though as an afterthought.
His partner snorted. “No kidding. They're human, for one,” he said, which made no sense at all. Okay,” he addressed me, his voice flat, calm. “Here's how this is going to work. You're going to let my partner go,” there was the briefest of hesitation before the word 'partner.' “He's going to walk to where I am, and none of you are going to move until he's out of your lines of fire. Then the three of you are going to walk to the end of the alley, and you're not going to come after us. Got it?”
“Got it,” I confirmed with a brief nod, while I tried to figure a way out of the situation that didn't involve us scraping our brains off the far wall.
“Dean? Hug the wall.”
“Dude, I'm not an idiot.”
Another snort. “Don't start. Just don't give them any reason to grab you, or shoot you, okay?”
“I didn't even.”
'Dean' rolled his eyes and subsided. “All right, jeez.”
He eased himself to the side, slowly unlacing his fingers, and hugged the wall as instructed, keeping himself well away from both Sam and me, although it was obvious the instructions had been superfluous. He moved like a cat, all fluid grace and suspicious green eyes, but by now I knew better than to be surprised. These two knew how to handle themselves. Both sides had blundered tonight, but we'd I'd
made the worst of the mistakes, and now we were paying for it. The only up side was that Page, or 'Sammy,' or whoever he was, appeared to be as eager as we were not to attract attention, possibly even more so. I was still trying to figure out how to work that to our advantage when his partner reached his side, melting into the shadows of the alley: he moved faster than I'd anticipated, too. Who the hell were these guys? They were nothing like any of the special forces I'd encountered over the years, although some of the techniques they'd used were familiar, as though they'd just cobbled together some of the greatest hits of covert ops into a training manual.
I made a show of re-holstering my pistol, and Sam did the same. I kept myself between Fiona and the business end of the shotgun, and moved the both of us toward Sam. Fiona was looking over her shoulder, and when I turned to look for myself I saw Dean standing partially in the shadows, thumbs hooked into his belt loops. He tilted his head to the side in an expression that was half-smirk, half-regret.
“Too bad, sweetheart,” he called out. “We could have had a great time!”
“Dean, shut up, for the love of”
“Come on, Sam, did you see her?”
I grabbed Fiona by the elbow and hustled her along, trying to wrap my mind around the conflicting data I was getting off the two men. She glared at me, tripping over her sandals.
“Michael, we can't just let them go! They might be our only lead!”
“Am I the only one who noticed the shotgun aimed at our heads?”
She made a disparaging noise, but didn't argue at that. Sometimes in order to attack, you have to retreat. There's no shame in running away, when you're a spy. In fact, as a spy you probably spend a lot more time engaging in strategic retreats in order to regroup, re-evaluate, and come at a situation from a different angle. There was more going on here than at first met the eye, and in those circumstances, there's only one logical thing to do: gather more intel. I couldn't do that with a scattergun pointed at me, so I kept walking, joined up with Sam at the far side of the alley. I looked at him, waited for his nod to show he'd understood what I wanted, and on a small signal we took off in opposite directions, in the hope of coming back around and flanking the two targets.
It was a long shot, and it didn't work. By the time we were able to get even remotely close to where they'd been, the two of them were long gone.
“Well, that didn't exactly go according to plan,” Sam commented drily, breathing hard, both hands on his knees. Sam's good for a few things, but he hasn't been running marathons for a very long time. Years of living off mai tais, mojitos, beer and junk food will take their toll if you're not careful. It's why I stick to yoghurt.
Fiona was waiting at the car when we got back, looking annoyed. “I can't believe you let them get away!”
“What? I you,” I sputtered, floored by the accusation.
“It wasn't a total bust,” Sam volunteered. “While you two were out playing 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' in the alleyway, I found their car. Nice ride, too. A '67 Impala. Classic. They don't make 'em like that anymore.”
“Sam,” I interrupted his rhapsodising about the car.
“Right. Anyway, I took the liberty of sticking a bug and a tracker in there. Just on general principle.”
“How'd you know it was their car?” Fi asked, sceptical to the last. She doesn't know Sam the way I do.
Sam rolled his eyes. “How do you think? I saw Gigantor there getting out of the car to go after his partner. Seemed like a reasonable enough assumption.”
“Hmph,” Fiona refused to look impressed, then rummaged in her tiny purse and produced a shot glass. “That's not the only thing we've got.”
I could have kissed her. I didn't, because that would have been really unprofessional, but still. “Prints?” She nodded smugly. “Fi, you're the best.”
“Hey!” Sam was indignant. “I risk life and limb to track down our two main leads and nothing, but she throws herself at a guy and convinces him to drink a shot and she's the best? Where's the justice?”
I gave him an encouraging clap on the arm. “Sorry, Sam. Life's just unfair that way. Think you can run the prints for me?”
Sam pulled a tissue out of his pocket and snatched the shot glass with an aggrieved look. “That's gratitude for you,” he grumbled. “I've got a buddy down at Miami Dade. I'll see if I can pull a couple of strings.”
“You're the best,” I assured him, and even though he grumbled some more, I could tell he was mollified. The promise of a mojito went a long way toward improving his mood, too. “Okay, let's get back, see what the hell they're up to now.”
We made it back to the loft that I've been calling home ever since I burned and stranded in Miami. It's over a night club, which makes it a little loud at night, what with the base making the floor vibrate, but the rent is cheap ever since I helped out my Russian landlord with the live-in drug dealer problem he had. We set ourselves up at my workbench, or, rather, Fiona and I did while Sam raided my refrigerator for beer, and settled in to listen to what our mystery men were up to.
What they were up to, it seemed, was playing Zeppelin a little too loudly for anyone's comfort. I barely made out the sound of one of them - their Sam, by the sound of it - complaining about the volume. At least we weren't the only ones suffering. Somehow I wasn't surprised that Dean was a fan of classic rock, given what I knew of him thus far, which, realistically, wasn't all that much. Then realisation struck. I barely resisted beating my head against the table in frustration.
“What?” Sam popped the cap off a beer and shot me a quizzical look.
“Agents Plant and Page?” I raised both hands in a gesture of surrender. “Even if I didn't already know they were fake, I'd know it for sure now.”
I pointed to the mic. “Zeppelin.”
“Plant and Pa oh, Lord,” Sam shook his head, then chuckled. “That's pretty clever.”
“I can't believe I didn't spot it earlier.”
“Don't blame yourself, Mike. It's not like you were expecting two fake FBI agents to crash your little intelligence party.”
I shook my head. “I don't buy it, though. I mean, running into these guys twice in the same week, on completely unrelated cases? What are the odds? There's got to be something else there.”
The music died down suddenly as the car came to a stop.
“I can't believe you want to stop now,” Dean was saying, now that I could hear him.
“Look, the night's a bust. You just narrowly avoided getting your ass shot, and I just narrowly avoided having to fill two civilians full of rock salt. I say we quit while we're ahead, get some sleep, and try again in the morning. Besides, that's the second time we've run into that guy.”
“What, the guy from the hotel? Yeah, I noticed. And the old guy was there too.”
“Hey!” Sam nearly choked on his beer in indignation. “Who's he calling old?”
Fiona snickered, and I motioned to the two of them to be quiet.
“Can't be a coincidence. We're going to have to be more careful.”
“We're not giving this up.”
There was a huff of exasperation. “Of course not. I said we'd see it through and we will,” the declaration was followed by the creak and slam of a car door.
“Hey, watch it! You treat my baby with the respect she deserves, bitch!” Dean called out, and I heard another door open and shut, more gently.
“Jerk,” came the faint reply before they moved out of range.
Sam grinned at me. “I don't know, Mikey. I kind of like them. They've got style.”Part Two