Rachel crouched in the darkness, tasting the damp tang of nearby loam and distant air-pollution, wondering at the figure moving stealthily before her. The stranger could not see Rachel, she was sure of that, as the stranger breathed and she smelled warm, but that was no excuse for laxity.
A thorn bush pricked through several layers of dark clothing at Rachelís side, but she ignored it and continued to watch the person who was unwittingly approaching. The stranger was a woman, quite tall, slender and, from the strands that had escaped her woolen cap, red-headed. That did nothing to explain why she was creeping around the lush garden that sprawled out beside an ever-so-slightly rundown Georgian manor house at 1 AM in November. A sharp ear could detect the faint swish of traffic passing on the carriageway from London to Cambridge, but at this time of night, traffic was minimal.
Rachel had just been about to enter the careworn property - an occasional safehouse for British Intelligence - when she saw the redhead walking out. As Rachel watched, the stranger had walked a spool of wire from a ground floor window, and was now crouched in the same shrubbery as Rachel, splicing wire and humming tunelessly to herself
Thatís a detonator, Rachel realized. Time to step in.
Moving as carefully as she knew how, Rachel moved close behind the stranger and manifested herself. Fifteen years of vampiric obfuscation had taught Rachel how to be quite discreet. She leaned close to the redheadís ear and said as quietly as she could. "Itís very important that you donít press that button just yet."
The stranger stiffened, but did not gasp nor whirl around, which Rachel noted. Professional, she observed.
"And can you give me one good reason why?" she asked calmly, her voice low and young. What the hell? The stranger, Marlena, thought, frantically. I didnít see anything, or even hear it. Marlena reminded herself of her job and focused on the stranger behind her. It took all of her training to keep her from whirling into a combative stance which would definitely end bloodshed and possibly cause mission failure. Nasty business, that. Marlena killed only when necessary and hated botched missions. She reviewed her steps. No, she had not made a mistake. Therefore, this must be another operative. Damn good one at that, Lady. You didn't even hear her. Sloppy. She did not move at all as she waited the female voice to continue.
Rachel summoned her coldest tone. "Because I have a knife in your back." she replied, pressing the point of a short dagger against the strangerís right kidney.
Marlena took a deep breath and felt the metal point press against her. "So you do." she acknowledged. She quickly calculated her options, one at a time, and dismissed them. This building had to be destroyed and, currently, the woman with the knife had an advantage. "So what do you want?" she asked, a moment later. The woman had to want something that did not involve stopping her. Otherwise, Marlena was sure she would have been wounded or dead by now.
"Hm." Rachel didnít reply for a second. Marlena wondered why she couldnít hear the womanís breathe. "Who are you?" she asked, suddenly.
"I canít tell you that." Marlena said tightly. She could hear the strangerís smile. And so it begins, the question game.
"Of course. Well, I need a name for you, little bomber."
Marlena frowned at that. She was right. "Why? Are we beginning an acquaintance?" Tension made her tone surly.
"We could be. Unless you would rather I gut you?" her opponent asked sweetly. Marlena did not dignify that with a reply. "Well, then." Rachel sighed. "Little bomber, I need something from that building. Whatever you do with the rest of it, I donít particularly care. As long as Iím not in it when the balloon goes up."
An idea occurred to Marlena, but first, she wanted to satisfy her curiosity. "What do you need?" One had to try. She was really curious about this player.
"No." Rachel chided. "You donít give me your name, I donít tell you what I need."
That made sense, Marlena admitted. "Melanie Smith." she said, reluctantly. Perhaps she could get away with an alternateÖ?
"Ah." the knife did not move. "And whatís your real name?" Rachel persisted.
Marlena stifled a sigh. Guess not. "Alright. Marlena. Marlena Whittaker." She did -not- appreciate being bullied like this. It had been a long time. Time for a refresher course, I think. Maybe I'm getting soft, slow.
"Whittaker...Whittaker..." the stranger mused. "Ah yes, Iíve heard of you."
"What?" This time, she could not hide the surprise nor could she decide if it was a good or bad thing.
"In professional circles, of course." Rachel said quickly. "Iím Yasmin Soufri." she said graciously. It was the identity she used in the United Kingdom and most of Europe.
"Never heard of you, sorry." Marlena grumbled. Damn. She has me coming and going. She reluctantly felt her respect for - Yasmin, grow. As if that's her real name. Hah.
"Of course you havenít. My work doesnít involve explosions." Rachel replied tartly.
Marlena became irritated. "Can you get to the point?" the damp ground was beginning to seep through the knees of her trousers. And preferably not the one in my back. She added mentally.
Rachel nodded. "Of course. Give me ten minutes, and you can blow this place sky-high. I donít care why - and I know you wouldnít leave any humans in there. I just need a box. A little blue box."
Marlena frowned. That made no sense to her, and, therefore, was probably unimportant to her task. What did she mean by Ďhumansí? Marlena wondered. And how the hell does she know how I work? Well, She admitted internally, thatís probably no news to another player of The Game. Another moment. Alright. She snuck up on me, thatís pretty good. Sheís serious, too...
"Fine. Ten minutes. Exactly." Marlena begrudged, glancing obliquely at the watch on her wrist. It was still within her time frame. Good. She made a show of moving slowly her arms up, and clicking the timer on her watch. She set it for ten minutes.
"Good." Rachel did not bother to thank her and disappeared. Marlena was rather startled by that. She had heard that some member of the US Special Forces and the British SAS could pull off tricks like that, but... She's like a bloody ghost!
"Ten minutes." Marlena muttered, looking at her watch. "And then professional courtesy goes out of the window." Respect or no respect, her mission still needed to be completed.
Rachel heard the mutter and set her own watch to eight and half minutes.
Six minutes later, Marlena heard the now familiar voice in her ear, again, this time without the accompanying knife point. "Iím back. Have at, with my blessing."
"Thanks so much." Marlena replied dryly, connecting the final wires and setting the timer. "Weíve got half an hour to get out of town and get an alibi."
"Already got one." Rachel replied quickly. A moment passed. "We?" she asked curiously.
"Sure." Marlena shrugged. "You donít think Iím going to let a sneaky player like you get away without further acquaintance, do you?" She smiled to herself. "Hell, I owe you at least a drink for getting the jump on me."
Rachel suppressed a smile. "What makes you think you can follow me?"
"Oh, Iím sure I couldnít if you put your mind to it." A little flattery never hurts. "But I think youíre curious, too. Otherwise you wouldnít be here. Not too many women in our association." Marlena noted. "We should stick together."
"Hm, more Ďprofessional courtesyí?" Rachel asked.
Marlena shrugged. "Why not?"
I could think of a dozen reasons. Rachel thought. But.... "Alright. Meet me at the Kingís Head in Whitehall tomorrow, nine PM."
"What? That den of retired spies?" Marlena scoffed. She checking me out as a newbie. I hope I don't have to go through too much of that.
"I see youíve heard of it." Rachel sighed, ticking off another item on her mental list of what she could guess about this Whittaker woman. "Fine. Antonioís in Soho. Donít wear anything too suggestive, or youíll be fighting off the patrons."
Marlena allowed herself a little grin. "Nothing new."
Rachel sighed. Whippersnappers. "That doesnít matter. Antonioís at nine, alright?"
"Alright." Marlena was surprised at how much she was looking forward to the meeting. It was not often that one fem got to chinwag with another. Perhaps she could learn a thing or two.
"Good, look for a blonde wearing a black miniskirt, gloves and checkered shirt." Rachel faded back into the darkness, smiling at Marlenaís final comment.
"And she tells me not to wear anything suggestive..." Marlena gave Yasmin two full minutes before she wrapped her stuff up. More professional courtesy and safety precautions. People remembered two females leaving a place at the same time more than they remembered the occasional single one. She gave a silent salute to the now-gone Yasmin. "Until tomorrow." She murmured and disappeared into the night.