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Against the Odds by RIgirl
Against the Odds by RIgirl
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Emboldened by her smaller successes over the past few weeks, Kaori decided it was time to try something a bit more daring. Being neat and efficient, Warren’s office and desk usually did not have anything out in plain view that he was not working on at the time. Which meant that he would be sitting there, hunched over it.

Not exactly ideal for spying purposes, though a few times she was able to read phone messages upside down. Although Warren’s primary concerns were of an environmental nature, there was apparently something else going on which involved several calls from both the primary Hontworl police force and the Secret Police. It was this last that made Kaori decide to attempt further investigation.

Waiting until she knew he would be out of the office, Kaori approached Annette, Warren’s young secretary, timing it so that she approached just as Annette was getting ready to go to lunch. Kaori gave Annette a conspiratorial smile.

“Is there any way that you could let me into his office for just a quick minute?” Kaori asked the woman, quickly showing her the small folded paper she held cupped in her palm. Leaning close to the girl, Kaori whispered, “I just want to leave him a little something to find when he gets back, you know?”

Annette flashed her a bright smile, her eyes lighting up at the thought, and immediately retrieved the key to Warren’s inner office door from her purse. “Of course! And take your time, there’s no rush. He shouldn’t be back for a while.”

Kaori straightened up and watched the twenty-something year old open the door. Annette was a big fan of romance novels, and had just begun dating herself, so any romantic gestures were met with great enthusiasm, especially when they involved her single boss.

Annette turned and winked at Kaori, who merely nodded her head in thanks. Once Annette left, Kaori softly closed the door, dropped the square of blank paper into her pocket and went to work. She booted up the computer first, then typed in his pass codes. She sighed inwardly.

A creature of habit, he used the same pass codes on a rotating basis; if one failed, Kaori simply tried the other. Within a minute, she was in. She really needed to tell him that he needed to be better about changing the codes. After she got what she needed, of course.

Scanning quickly, Kaori copied the documents that looked to be of particular interest to a blank USB key she had inserted into the computer. Just as it finished downloading, she heard a voice directly outside the door and could see a man’s outline through the frosted glass.

Warren! She glanced at the clock. He had come back early and there was no graceful way out …

* * *

“Just e-mail me the changes,” Warren called out to the Minister of Transportation, “and I’ll look them over tonight.” Warren unlocked the door and swung it open, then stopped short at the sight before him.

“Well, this is a nice surprise,” he said, his eyes taking in the sight of Kaori standing before his bookcase, a large volume held open in front of her. She had stripped off her jacket and unbuttoned the top three buttons of her blouse. She had bit her lips for a dark pink, pouty effect, which she now rounded to an innocent ‘o,’ her eyes widening as if just caught red-handed.

“Warren! I thought you weren’t supposed to be back yet,” she said in a breathy and breathless voice, holding the book close to her as if hiding behind it.

A corner of his mouth lifted in a smile as he stepped into the room. “I wasn’t, but a dignitary from Ameris overbooked himself and we had to cut the meeting short.” His eyes pointedly grazed over her figure. “To what do I owe this visit?”

Kaori licked at her lip. “Well, I … just thought it would be a perfect time to … read up a little more on …,” she quickly glanced down at the book she held and read off the title, “ … the effects of offshore sound waves on aquatic life.”

Warren blinked. “Really? I didn’t know the subject interested you.”

“Oh, yes,” Kaori bluffed. “In fact, I was watching a program about it last night, and I knew you would probably have more information on it – who better, really? – but I didn’t want to bother you, so when I saw you were out, I just thought I’d come in and see if I could find something …”

“Oh, sure,” Warren said, moving past her to the bookshelf, “in fact, there are some other books here, then, that you might also be interested in. Here’s one on sonar testing …” he pulled one weighty tome off of a middle shelf, then leaned down, “ … and one on dampening offshore energy sound.” When he straightened up, he held the two thick volumes out to her. For just a moment, she saw his eyes drop to the V of her blouse.

“So, uh, anyway,” he stammered, trying to find the thread of his thoughts once again, “you could borrow these, if you’d like.”

Kaori gave him a deep and knowing smile, then quickly moved and grabbed her jacket from the chair. “Thank you, Minister. That’s very kind of you.”

He gave her a puzzled look at her sudden formality, then belatedly realized that there was someone standing at the door.

“If you gentlemen will excuse me,” she murmured as she quickly stepped out and hurried back to her own desk.

Warren watched her leave with a decidedly disappointed look on his face. The Director of Community Affairs chuckled beside him.

“Sorry to have interrupted, Warren,” he said with a grin, “but I really do need to talk to you ….”

* * *

“All I’m asking for is one day,” Warren pleaded.

“I just don’t think we should,” Kaori held out, knowing full well where this would lead and not really wanting to go there. It was one thing to go out to dinner with him, and to accompany him to concerts and movies and such, but time away, even for one day ... just the two of them alone ... made her feel as though she were standing at the edge of cliff deciding whether or not to jump. What they had now was enough. Couldn’t things just stay that way?

Warren blew out a sigh and ran his hand through his hair before he tried one last time. “Please, Kelly, it’s a holiday weekend. You said yourself that you had no plans and you’ll be all alone anyway. Does it really matter if you’re with me instead of alone for just one day?”

Yes, she answered mentally, it matters a great deal.

“Just come with me and at least let me show you the cabin. You would only have to stay the day,” he bargained, “and I promise I will drive you right back again. What do you say?”

What could she say? Kaori turned her attention to the window. Outside, the first few flakes of snow were beginning to fall.

* * *

They made it to the cabin just before the flurries turned into a full scale snowstorm, turning the world a pure, clean white. With the roads treacherous with black ice and mounting snow, it was clear that neither of them would be returning to the city any time soon.

After an early dinner, they bundled up and went for a walk. Warren, engrossed in pointing out different landmarks and telling her of the stories connected to them, never saw her bend down briefly to scoop up some loose snow in the palm of her hand, nor pack it. He did not realize what she was up to at all, until the snowball hit him squarely in the back of his coat.

“I cannot believe you just did that,” he admonished.

Kaori grinned back at him, another snowball balanced innocently on the palm of her hand. “Why? You really think me incapable of throwing a snowball?”

“No,” he said, a wicked smile lighting his face and he bent down, “I just thought for sure that I would be the one to make the first pitch.” And with that, he threw a snowball at her. She dodged, but need not have bothered as it went wide and low. Kaori quickly threw the one she held, then packed another snowball and threw it, this time striking him on the shoulder.

“Oh, that is it, missy,” he teased. “The gloves are coming off, now!”

“Better not,” Kaori called back, “or you’ll get frostbite!”

By the time they went back inside, the darkness falling as fast as the snow, they were both flushed and breathless and soaking wet. They were also still laughing as they shucked off their boots and wet outer things.

Reaching over, Warren swiped at a bit of snow that clung to Kaori’s hair, just as their eyes locked. Without seeming to, without meaning to, before she could think, or act, his lips brushed against hers, then hesitated just a moment before returning, demanding, daring her to pull away.

Not that she wanted to. But she did anyway.

“It would seem that a warm bath would be in order,” she commented softly, suddenly conscious of her wet hair and clothes.

“Uh ...” Warren tried to think of a fast response, but his mind went blank.

“There are bathrooms here, right?” she said with a smile.

“Uh, yeah. Uh, you can take the upstairs bathroom, I’ll use the one down here ...”

“ ...and I’ll be on the couch before you?” Kaori quipped.

Warren nodded. “Sounds good. There should be a bathrobe in the closet ...” he paused a moment, a wicked light in his eyes, “if you really need it.”

* * *

Her hair was still wet, though this time from just having been newly washed, as she padded back into the large common room where Warren crouched before the fireplace, a cheery fire blazing. His hair, too, was still wet and slicked back, and he wore a robe similar to hers, except his was of a dark flannel.

“Well, don’t you look all rugged,” Kaori said as she took a seat on the couch, folding her legs up beneath her. He blinked when he saw her, dressed as she was in the white, fluffy, full length bathrobe and slippers she had found.

“Thanks. I see the robe fits.”

“Oh, yes, very well, thank you. Hopefully, it won’t take long for our clothes to dry.”

Warren shrugged. “It’s not as though we’ll need them fast. No one’s going anywhere just yet. There’s hot chocolate in the mug there, if you want it.”

Kaori took up one mug and held it for a moment, letting the warmth of the cup seep into her cold fingers.

“I take it that it’s still snowing out?” Kaori asked, as she watched Warren stoke the fire, his muscles moving with an economy of motion, the fire warming his complexion and his bathrobe gaping open at the neck ...

“Yeah, it’ll probably turn out to be the last storm of the season too,” he answered as he turned to look at her.

Suddenly self-conscious, she quickly took another sip of the cocoa.

“Is it hot enough for you?”

“What?” she nearly choked.

“The cocoa,” he clarified as he rose to his feet and joined her on the couch. “Is it hot enough for you?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, taking another sip for show, “it’s fine. Great.”

“If you’d rather have tea, or coffee ...”

“No, no. This is fine. Really.”

The fire filled in the silence as they each sat on their side of the couch, unsure as to what to do or say next. Kaori swirled the cup and watched the liquid spin. When she looked over at Warren, she blushed to find him staring at her.

“Did you have any marshmallows?” he asked in a sudden non sequiter.


“I completely forgot about them,” he said as he reached to retrieve a small bowl that Kaori had thought was a sugar bowl. He held it out to her. “Would you like some, for your cocoa?”

“That’s okay, but thanks anyway.”

Kaori smiled as Warren helped himself to two, one of which he popped into his mouth. Before he could do the same with the other, however, Kaori impulsively arrested his wrist and led it to her mouth, and after she took the mini marshmallow from him, licked off the powdery sugar dust from each finger. Warren felt his breath catch at the back of his throat.

Leaving his one hand in hers, with his free hand, he lightly brushed his fingertips against her cheek.

“Warren ...”

Moving slowly, he leaned in to her, his eyes never leaving hers. Kaori gripped the mug in an effort to keep from spilling it. From her cheek, he drew his fingers down to her mouth and traced along her bottom lip, letting it linger there for just a moment before placing his lips there, as though his finger had merely been marking the spot.

Kaori felt the feather light touch tease hers, and wondered at the response it drew from her. She returned the kiss, tasting the sticky sweetness as their lips met, and, just at the moment she thought he would take full possession of her mouth, he broke it off and placed his forehead to hers.

“Please,” he whispered, his eyes studying hers.

“Please what?”

“Just … please,” and he covered her mouth again, deepening the kiss just as she had hoped he would.

It would be so nice, she thought, to just give in, and give over, just once more.

She felt his hands slip beneath her robe and he gave a throaty growl.

“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” he asked, his voice harsh with emotion.

“No,” she said, swallowing hard, “but I wouldn’t object if you wanted to tell me.”

He reached up and stroked her still damp hair as he looked at her as though trying to memorize each and every detail of her face. “So what tipped it in my favor?”

She shrugged as she placed a hand on his arm, felt the latent power of muscle and bone beneath the robe’s flannel. The fire’s heat brought a hot blush to her face.

“You ...” she breathed out, all of her desire conveyed in a single word.

He stood then, taking her by the hand, and taking the cup from the other. With knowing anticipation, she let him lead her upstairs to his own bedroom.

It had been so long …

* * *

“You look like the cat that swallowed the canary,” he teased the next morning as she awoke.

“Not possible,” she yawned. “The cat would be full and I am decidedly hungry.”

He gave her a wolfish grin and slid closer to her, one questing hand finding the curve of her bare hip. “I guess, then, it would now be a question of what kind of hunger, because I am ravenous as well ...” his words trailed off as his hand continued on its way.

As his hand slid over her stomach, caressing the smooth skin, his fingertips trailed down, eliciting the desired moan. Her eyes were closed, head tossed back against the pillow as she reveled in soft touch of Warren’s hand on her body. Then he stopped.

“Were you injured here?”

Kaori’s eyes snapped open. “No. Why?”

His fingers stroked her lower abdomen again, this time with deliberate concentration. “What happened to your skin here ...”

Her heart skipped and she followed his gaze towards the marks. “Oh, that,” she replied, swallowing hard. A lie was always more believable when there was a kernel of truth to it ...

“It’s from when I was pregnant.”

“You have a child?” Warren exclaimed, his eyes widening as he struggled to sit up.

“No. I bore a child, but I do not have a child.”

“You gave it up for adoption?”

Kaori licked at her bottom lip as she thought about how much to tell him. “I was too young, really, for such responsibility.”

He blinked at this news, this woman who was such a mystery continuing to surprise him at every turn. “Kelly, I had no idea. To think that you ...”

“Warren, please,” Kaori glanced away, the sudden tears in her eyes blurring her vision. The pain of the truth lanced through her, while at the same time she felt a sudden need to not reveal too much. Even now, even with him, she did not dare. Anyone and everything was still suspect. “Can we please not talk about this any more?”

“I’m sorry,” he apologized quickly. “It’s just that ... you really take me by surprise with things, you know?”

He relaxed back beside her, taking her into his arms once more.

“Was it a boy or a girl?” he asked a few minutes later. “Do you know where the child is now?

“No, I don’t know,” she replied honestly, quietly adding, “and I was never told of its gender.”

Shock registered openly on his face as he rose up once again. “You bore a child and you don’t even know whether it was a boy or a girl?”

“No,” she responded swiftly, turning her head to stare him in the eye. The complete lie came fast and easy to her. “When I went into labor, I requested that no one tell me and they obliged. Afterwards, it was as though I had merely had a medical procedure and nothing more.”

“But how can you stand to not know?” he insisted. “I would want to know ...”

“Yes, I know you would, but you have to understand that it just ... made it easier ... things being this way,” she said, pressing her lips together a moment, the fleeting image of Ken the last time she saw him rising up in her mind.

He returned to his place beside her again, his body pressing against hers as he slid one arm under her shoulders while the other took possession around her waist. He leaned in close and whispered, “Do you think that, perhaps, with the right temptation, you would be amenable to eventually having another?”

She locked her mouth onto his, moving her hands such that he groaned and moved into her. And through it all, Kaori hoped that he would not remember that she never answered his question.

* * *

It was a large gathering, larger than he cared for, but in his capacity as Security Chief in the ISO, attendance at such things were called for, especially in the political climate within which they now found themselves. Nambu waved away a server bearing a silver tray of champagne flutes, as the Secretary to State of Ameris greeted him. As the man talked, Nambu saw a couple enter and his mind barely registered them. Until he looked again.

It was her. Wasn’t it? Granted, it had been a long time since they had seen each other face-to-face, but he could recognize the shape of the nose, the curve of the chin, for he saw them all the time in the face of her son. It had to be her.

Tall in the high heels she wore, but still slightly shorter than the man standing beside her, Kaori wore her now light ash blonde hair in a loose bun, ringlets falling charmingly around her face and down the back of her head. Still thin, now elegantly so, in a dark blue column gown that hugged every curve. From the front, the dress had a draped boat neck collar to her shoulders, and she turned around, it plunged to the small of her back, where it stopped in a small, gathered drape of fabric, then fell in a straight line to the floor. A dramatic slit up one side revealed one leg to mid-thigh. The only jewelry she wore were a sparkling pair of diamond earrings.

Nambu watched as the man beside her placed a hand to the small of her back. Possessively. As if he had the right. And, remarkably, she let him do it as he guided her over to the next small clutch of party attendees.

Nambu took the proffered glass and had consumed half its contents before he remembered that it was champagne. He coughed as the alcohol hit the back of his throat.

“Are you okay, Hakase?” the Ameris Secretary asked, a ripple of concern on his features. Nambu waved him away.

“Just ... swallowed wrong. If you will excuse me, I think I need to step out for a breath of air.”

“Certainly, certainly,” the man said jovially, immediately turning to his left and inserting himself into the conversation of the people standing behind them.

Nambu walked out onto the large esplanade and went to the thick stone balustrade that encircled it. He placed his half-empty glass on the stone top and breathed in the warn summer air deeply. From where he stood, he could still hear the spill of laughter, talk and music from the ballroom, but it was quieter here, and no one was around. Until she stepped beside him.

“I would be remiss in my duties if I did not say hello to you, Nambu Hakase,” she said, loud enough so that anyone listening nearby would not find it strange that they should be there together. “My name is Kelly Winslow, and I am personal secretary to the Defense Minister of Hontworl. How do you do?”

He took her hand, shaking it briefly as he turned to face her directly. “You think this is wise?” he asked sotto voce.

“It would look very much out of place if I did not,” she replied in an equally low tone. Together, they turned so that they stood side-by-side, gazing out over the city lights.

“You are looking well,” he finally said after a time.

“Thank you. You as well,” she returned. She paused a moment, then said, “I should tell you now that I have come to a decision.”

He glanced over at her, but did not move his head, nor did he speak.

“Once this part is done, I am finished with this. I want out.”

“That’s not possible. Your position ...”

“Then make it possible,” Kaori interrupted.

“It’s not that easy and you know it. You’re the only one who knows all of the angles and the details ...”

“Long ago you said you would bring other agents. Well, start bringing them up to speed now so that whenever this is finished, I can step out. Permanently.”

“May I ask what brought this on?”

“I’m tired of this, Nambu, and I want to try to have a life as other people do, while there is still life yet left to live.”

“With him?” he guessed.

She nodded her head. “Yes, with Warren.”

Nambu’s eyes narrowed as concern washed over his face. “Does he know? About you? About what you’re doing?”

Kaori sighed and looked Nambu in straight in the eye. “No. Not everything. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Right now, he only knows that I ... that I had a child. But that is all.”

“It could enough. Suppose he is a double agent ...”

“He isn’t,” Kaori snapped impatiently.

“Really, I don’t think this is a wise idea. And as your colleague, I can’t understand ...”

“Then try to understand as my friend,” Kaori said gently, firmly, “and just be happy for me.”

“How can I? What about him?” Nambu asked pointedly.

“What about him?” Kaori repeated. “He will simply come with me, of course. I know we won’t be able to pick up where we left off, but still ...”

“He isn’t some pet, some pliable baby any more, you know.”

“Of course I know that,” she countered. “I’m well aware of the years. But that still doesn’t mean ...”

“You can’t just drag him from pillar to post and completely uproot him ...”

“We can work out, Nambu,” Kaori argued. “We still have time. We can always come up with something, so that it won’t be so jarring or disruptive to him.”

“You’re not understanding me. His training can’t be interrupted now ...”

“Training?” Kaori slid a sidewise glance at him. “What training? I thought you said he was at the Academy.”

“He was, but he has also been in, ah, special training, in addition to what he has learned at school.”

“But ... training for what?”

“He’s been selected for placement on an elite team.”

“He’s that good?”

“Good enough.”

“And what, exactly, is this team for?” Kaori persisted. “And what type of special training are we talking about here ...?”

Rapidly approaching footsteps halted Nambu from replying.

“Nambu?” When he did not answer, Kaori turned then, following Nambu’s gaze and saw a man -- Warren -- step up to them. A warm smile lit his face as he caught Kaori’s eye.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I need to borrow Kelly for a moment. We’re having a bit of a lively debate and I need her to be our referee.”

“Certainly, Warren,” Kaori said with a beaming smile of her own to him. She turned to Nambu. “It was very nice meeting you, Hakase. I trust that we will take up this topic again soon?”

“Perhaps,” Nambu replied faintly, his eyes meeting hers unflinchingly. Then she turned and they walked towards the ballroom doors. Once again, Warren had placed a proprietary arm around Kaori’s waist. Together, they were the picture of a glittering, perfect couple.

Was this really righteous indignation that he felt, on behalf of Ken, that his mother could behave so thoughtlessly? Or was it because of a jealous envy?

Nambu grabbed the glass in front of him and downed the rest of it, hoping that it would dull his senses just enough to keep him from thinking and get him through the remainder of the evening.

* * *

Kaori stopped in the hallway a few feet before the open door and listened.

“I know what I saw … no. No, absolutely not ... that’s an insult! I will not ... I refuse ... Yes, absolutely ... who do you think are, to say such things to me? ... oh, really? ... and if I choose not to? ... you think so? ... yes, that’s correct ... No, I do not wish to hear any more of anything you have to say ... yes, you can directly me quote me all you like to your captain.”

Kaori held her breath as she listened to Warren’s side of the telephone conversation. When she heard him hang up, she waited a few seconds, then walked in.

“Hey there,” she said, walking around the desk to where he sat. “I missed you.”

Warren sat back in his chair and reached for her, pulling her by a hand until she was seated on his lap. He stroked the filmy, silky fabric of her nightgown against her thigh.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, nuzzling her shoulder as he breathed in the smell of her lilac-scented shampoo on her hair. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“You didn’t,” she said, then, “is there a problem?”

“Nothing you need to worry about,” he said abruptly. “We’ll handle it.”

“But maybe I can help …”

“It’s nothing, Kel,” Warren said tightly, “just drop it.”

“But, Warren, it almost sounded as if you were being threatened ...”

Warren pulled back and stared at her with a fixed intensity, then his features softened. “It’s nothing. It’s all just verbal sparring. You know how it is in politics ...”

“No, I don’t,” Kaori said, her voice hard. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“Because you don’t need to about such ... petty pissing matches. And besides,” he said firmly, “I don’t want you involved with this. Trust me … the less you know, the better.”

* * *

She grabbed the phone receiver on the second ring. “Ministry of Defense.”

“Hey, Kel, it’s me.”

“Yeah, Warren, what’s up?” Kaori glanced at the clock on her computer monitor and frowned. 12:35. “Aren’t you supposed to be at a lunch meeting?”

“I am,” he said and she could almost hear the smile in his voice, “but I forgot the environmental impact studies in my office and Annette’s not answering her phone.”

“She must have stepped out for lunch.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Anyway, would you do me a favor and go into my office, get the studies and bring them to me here?”

Kaori frowned in thought. “Sure, where’s ‘here’?”

“Our restaurant.”

“On my way.”

Within minutes, Kaori grabbed her purse, walked down the hallway to Warren’s office to retrieve the requested documents, and was on her to the restaurant where they had gone on their first date. They frequented it so much since then that they knew the owners and staff by name and, though the restaurant was not normally open during business lunch hours, they would make exceptions for Warren, all so that he could entertain the heads of governments from around the world in their humble little restaurant.

It was here that Kaori now headed and strolled in through the front door without a thought. Warren rose to his feet at the moment he saw her, and she handed him the file. A murmured thank you, a furtive, quick kiss on the cheek, and Kaori turned to leave, when on second thought, she headed back towards the kitchen. She was deep in conversation with Maria, the head chef and owner’s wife, when she heard the unmistakeable sound that had her moving without even realizing it.

“Everybody get down,” she yelled in strained whisper. “Down! Down!”

Maria looked at her with large, frightened eyes. “What was that noise?”

Kaori shook her head and placed a finger to lips to indicate that no one was to speak. She waited a moment, then, using hand gestures, indicated that they were to leave through the back door. Instead of allowing them to remain huddled at the door, she led them back, farther into the alleyway.

“What was that?”

“What just happened?”

“Just stay here,” Kaori snapped. “Just stay put until I or the police come to get you, all right?”

Taking the nods of assent as their promise, Kaori returned to the rear of the restaurant, staying in a low crouch and keeping close to the walls. She pulled out the small handgun that she wore in a thigh holster. It lacked the fire power she would have preferred, but it was a gift from Warren and he meant well.

Holding the gun braced with both hands, she re-entered the restaurant kitchen, then slipped into the small hallway, stopping short of the double hinged doors leading into the dining room. One door was closed, but the other stood propped open at an angle. From her vantage point, Kaori could see into the room. Several bodies were on the floor, including Warren’s.

Her breath hitched in her throat and her heart pounded double time. He had taken four bullets, one in the stomach, two in the chest ... and she would have been the first to administer first aid were it not for the fact that the final bullet took half of his skull with it. Even from this distance, she knew that glassy look in his eyes meant that he was now seeing a world beyond this one. Tears momentarily blurred her vision and then her attention was snapped back at the sound of voices.

Moving noiselessly, she eased as close to the door as possible without actually stepping through it, using it as shield. She could now see the people in the dining room through the double reflection of the mirrors lining the room’s walls.

To her surprise, she recognized several men as being from the Secret Police. How had they gotten there so quickly? No one from the restaurant had thought of calling before she herded them out ... and surely no one from a neighboring building could have heard the bullets ...

Kaori’s blood froze in her veins as she recalled Warren’s conversation only the night before.

“... you can directly me quote me all you like to your captain.”

That explained why Kaori could not find anything leading to a third party. It was not that they were looking the other way; that someone was paying them off to cover up, have evidence appear or vanish on demand, and allow things to drop quietly. They were the ones doing everything internally. And now they killed him ...

“ ... and the woman? Where is she?” a voice demanded. “We know she came in here. We saw her.”

Without waiting, Kaori ran back through the kitchen and into the alleyway.

“Go home,” she instructed to the small group without pausing as she ran down the alleyway. “Just go home and, if any one asks, say you never left.”

Keeping to the alleyways, Kaori stopped only once, to pull out a scarf, which she used to carefully cover her hair. A pair of dark sunglasses followed. When she reached a certain area of the city, she was forced onto the main sidewalk but fortunately, the icy blast of winter winds meant that most people kept their collars turned up, their heads down, and no one was particularly interested in anything other than getting to their destination to warm up.

She wandered around, ultimately seeking out a secluded part of the park. A rush of tears came as she remembered that first date, when they came here and watched the fireworks. Pushing the thought away, she walked around in circles until her cell phone rang. Flipping it open, she just started speaking.

“They killed him ...”

“I know, I just heard ...”

“ ... the bastards murdered him!”

“I know. Where are you? We’ve got to get you out of there.”

“I want them dead! Do you hear me? I want their balls in a bag ...

“Will you listen to me?” Nambu’s hand shook at the sound of hysteria in her voice. “We need to get you out of there now ...”

“No,” she said flatly. “This isn’t over yet ...”

“For you it is,” Nambu ordered. “As of right now, I’m pulling you out of there. Do you hear me?”

“I won’t go,” she refused again. “Not until that filthy scum pay for this ...”

“You need to leave. You’re not safe there and you won’t be doing anyone any good the way you are now. You need to get away, just calm yourself down...”

“I am calm!”

“ ... and when the time is right, we can get you back in. You’ll still get your chance, I promise ...”

“I can hunt them down right now ...”

“Please, listen to me ...” Nambu paused for a breath and waited a moment. When she did not reply right away, he continued. “Do you know where the Pondieux air strip is?”

“I-I think so.”

“Can you get there immediately? Or are you with others right now?”

“No. No, I can do it.” Her voice was more subdued now, if still slightly strained.

“All right. Go there and a contact will be waiting for you.”

“Understood,” she acknowledged. Then, “how will I recognize him?”

“Them,” Nambu corrected, “and trust me, you’ll know them when you see them.”

* * *

Boritz had suspected there was something off about her. Something that he did not like and did not trust. His instincts, as always, were right on the money. And he did not like the thought that she had played him for a fool. He was pacing when the group of Secret Police entered his private home office.

“It has all been done as you requested, Minister,” the Head of the Secret Police reported. “It should be all over the internet and the news that the murders of several high officials has been committed.”

“And you have her in custody, yes?” Boritz demanded. The Head of the Secret Police hesitated a moment. “Please tell me that that traitorous bitch is going to be the next one through that door, dead or alive!”

“Actually, no,” the man said, giving a small bow. “With all due respect, it would seem that she had escaped our initial foray into the restaurant and has not been seen since. We have all units on alert ...”

“Not good enough,” Boritz declared coldly, then reached under the desk to pull out a small handgun. “With all due respect, when you work for Galactor, you do everything properly the first time, because there is no second time.” With that, he shot the man squarely in the chest.

As the man fell to the floor, Boritz turned his attention to the dead man’s second in command. He had heard things about the tall blond man with the small, hard eyes and long, thin face. Apparently he had certain proclivities that involved riding crops and whips. To Boritz, however, that was neither here nor there, so long as he got the job done. He made up his mind in that instant. “You there. You are now the new Head of Secret Police.”

“Thank you, sir.” He gave a little bow in Boritz’s direction.

“I trust that you will be able to succeed where your predecessor has failed?”

“I will try, sir. I mean, yes, sir!” the man said nervously, eyeing Boritz’s dark look and obviously quick trigger finger.

“I want you to find her. Find out who she is, all of her aliases, everything there is to know. I want everything about her.”

Boritz stood there a moment, one hand clenched behind his back, as his other hand held the cigar that he now chewed on thoughtfully. “One more thing. Your official report will read, in part, that whoever she is, when you find out her real identity, a k a Kelly Winslow, and whatever other false names she has used, is to be assumed and approached as armed and dangerous, wanted, in part, for various crimes of treason against the country of Hontworl, up to and including tampering and/or theft of official government documents, to be used or sold to known enemies of the country, as well as being the primary suspect in the murders of several of its most prominent citizens, all of whom served in a governmental capacity to the good of the people.”

“Yes, sir,” the newly appointed head of the Secret Police said with a slight bow. “Anything else?”

“Yes,” Boritz said, fixing the man with a hard stare. “When you find her ... and I do expect you to find her ... I want her brought in alive, you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I want to be the one who brings that bitch to heel,” he said, snapping his teeth tightly into the cigar, “and then I want the pleasure of seeing her die ... slowly ... at my hand.”

“Yes, sir,” the man repeated, then turned to leave.

“Oh, and on your way out,” Boritz added as he stepped over to the window, “be sure to take that one with you,” here he made a vague gesture with his hand towards the corpse on the floor, “and dispose of him as you see fit. Hell, add him to the list in your report. Died in the line of duty. That ought to make his mother proud.”
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