Rain. Fucking. Everywhere.
It coated the city, a flood that washed out all color and made the whole world gray and wet. It crept into every hidden crevice of the metropolis, taking away the sheen of the brand new buildings that seemed to pop up daily, slowly breaking down the old ones crumb by crumb until some poor sap was given the job of holding an entire urban jungle together by fighting against nature herself with concrete and spackle. It rained everywhere. It rained in the ivory corporate towers of midtown, the tenements of the alphabet city, in the slums of East New York and on Wall Street.
Kathryn Ekblad stood at the exit of the Delancey Street stop on the JMZ subway line. Looking up, Kathryn saw the deluge that hadn't been going on when she'd left the apartment and felt the weight of no umbrella in her purse. She pulled her trench coat around her neck, put her newspaper over her head, took a breath and ran out of the subway station.
During her stint in the French Foreign Legion a Moroccan officer had once claimed that she could walk between raindrops. Not quite, but if anyone could come close, it was Kathryn. Slight and graceful, Kathryn darted from cover to cover, edging along buildings and bounding from awnings to construction covers finding relief where she could. She even shadowed a fat man for an entire block, walking so close behind him that she stayed dry underneath his giant red umbrella without his ever noticing her presence. When she ducked into the office building on Chrystie Street she was barely wet.
The office for Dunlap Enterprises resided at the top floor of a shabby old building that their real estate agent had described as having "a lot of character." Bridgette Dunlap, the CEO of Dunlap Enterprises, had agreed. "It does have character," she had whispered to Kathryn as the real estate agent continued ahead of them on the tour. "Sinister character! Bwahahaha!" she cackled, wiggling her fingers creepily and then bouncing off after the agent, holding her hands above her head like an old movie werewolf. She'd bought the place that day, and it had become their second home.
Kathryn walked up the five flights of stairs to the top floor where the office was located. She approached a small metal box beside a large metal door, then punched in a six digit code and pressed her hand against a scanner. There was a brief flash of light, and then the large door opened. Inside was the main office of Dunlap Enterprises - a large, open studio space that looked less like an office than the basement in a museum of oddities. In one area there was an operating table from the eighteenth century and shining metal cabinets filled with medical equipment of every kind spanning the past few centuries. In another area there were stacks of armor and (mostly) disabled weaponry, from long swords to assault rifles. There was a large replica of the solar system, maps, tables and charts of all kinds, timelines, card catalogues. There was a chunk of the hull of a ship, which housed within it models of ships, aeroplanes and automobiles. All along the walls, from carpet to ceiling, were books. Stacks and stacks, books of all sorts. In the middle of the room was a tower of technology. It looked like a volcano. Ten feet tall, with a diameter of 28 feet, the tower was comprised of CPUs, modems, servers, hard drives, soldering equipment, scanners, printers, hardware, software, wires, disks, microprocessors, compilers, debuggers, rebuggers, A.I. systems and rumor had it there was a secret spintronics prototype. Kathryn was fairly certain she'd seen an Atari 2600 while cleaning one day, but when she went back to look for it, it was nowhere to be seen. At the top of the technocano a large, flat screen monitor was suspended from the ceiling and two smaller screens to either side propped up by poles. There was a large, high back desk chair at a desk with three keyboards on it, each attached to a different processor and screen. On the chair, her legs folded under her in the pose of a meditating Buddhist, sat Bridgette Dunlap.
"Is it raining out?" asked Bridgette.
"Brilliant deduction," said Kathryn, shaking off her newspaper. She looked at it, saw the ink run, turning paragraphs about wars, pestilence and greed into black, flowing rivers. She threw the paper in the garbage.
"We've got a job," said Bridgette. "A lady - rich lady - has an itch she wants us to scratch."
"You gonna need me?" asked Kathryn.
"Of course!" said Bridgette, throwing up her hands, her eyes getting wide. "You're my muscle! I need you to go out! And... muscle!"
Bridgette seemed excited, which bothered Kathryn. Usually when Bridgette got excited, Kathryn got in trouble. "What are we in for?"
"Information!" shouted Bridgette, turning on the giant computer screen and bathing herself in a luminescent green glow. "The currency of the new century, Kathryn!"
Kathryn sat on a sarcophagus and lay down, staring up at the ceiling. "I don't see why I have to go out for information when you've got Mission Control right here in the office."
Bridgette put on a pair of aviation goggles and stared into the green screen, lines of code filter past her, reflected on the goggles' lenses. "We're in a technological age. Our memories are digital, our mothers are motherboards and our communities are in cyberspace. Yes, I am a technological genius. Yes, I can play these electronics like instruments and make a symphony, but so can thousands of other people. This is microwave information, quick, easy and accessible. But someone needs to do the actual harvesting, the true, organic information, the kind of thing you can't do from a computer. And as that skill becomes increasingly rarer, that information becomes more..."
"Expensive," said Kathryn.
"Exactly," said Bridgette. She climbed down from her post and handed Kathryn a manila folder. "Someone's up to shenanigans. We have to find the whos, whats, wheres and hows. These are the leads. Do your thing."
"Her thing" led Kathryn back out into the rain and over to O'Malley's Bar, a dive at the south end of the meatpacking district, the part that still actually packed meat. The folder hadn't provided much. The client was the daughter of a wealthy engineer who specialized in cutting edge scientific equipment. The father had gone missing, and his daughter suspected foul play. The fold contained pictures of the man, a short biography, a list of friends and associates, as well as a shorter list of some of the more shady elements her father engaged with. One of the names on the list, Maxwell Spoonbottom, was a name Kathryn knew, and knew how to find.
Due to the early hour, O'Malley's was only lightly populated by career drinkers. As such they were all lined up at the bar, heads bowed over their glasses in a mock penitence, as though taking communion. The tables were all empty, as career drinkers are self-starters and good independent workers, preferring to drink alone. Kathryn shook out her umbrella and set it in a bin beside the door, then saddled up to a weathered man in a wrinkled suit and sat on the stool next to his.
"What are you drinking, Max?"
"Orange juice, sprinkled lightly over vodka."
"No thanks, I'm trying to quit. I just came down here at ten in the morning to have one little taste of the stuff to remind me how wicked it is."
"One more for the charming hobo, and I'll have the same, only without the vodka."
Maxwell Spoonbottom finished off the drink in his hand and turned his eyes to Kathryn. "What brings you to my little slice of heaven?"
"I've got a job," said Kathryn. "Scientist fellah's gone missing. His daughter gave me a bunch of names. Yours was on the naughty list." Kathryn pulled out the scientist's photo and passed it over to Max. "Recognize him?"
"Ah, shit. That's Henry. Henry Neptune. He's gone missing?"
"Nobody's heard from him for three days," said Kathryn, taking back the picture and returning it to the manila folder. "Want to tell me why you're on his bad list?"
The bartender came and set down the drinks. Maxwell threw down one heavy gulp, then eyed Kathryn. "I move things, that's what I do. This guy, he wanted some things that aren't too easy to come by and cost a penny as pretty as the nose on your face. I worked with him a few times, found him a few crates that fell off of a few heavily guarded trucks, but that wasn't good enough for Mr. Neptune. He didn't seem to understand that if you wanted to get something without paying the full market price, especially the kind of things he wanted, especially at the amounts he wanted, it takes some time. So the guy threw a fuss, threatened to refuse payment, all that rigmarole." Maxwell took another sip.
"How did that end up working out?" asked Kathryn.
"I got paid."
"Yeah?" Kathryn asked, leaning in slightly on Maxwell.
"Yeah," Max sneered, leaning in towards Kathryn. "Won him over with my charm. Look, I may be on Henry Neptune's shit list, but he's on mine, too. I stick my neck out, I don't need some MIT jackass withholding payment. It's bad for business, and it's bad for my blood pressure. I got my money, then I made Henry persona non grata. You know what that means?"
Kathryn rolled her eyes. "It's Latin for 'An unwelcome person.'"
"What it means, smart ass, is that he won't be getting a birthday card from me anymore. What it doesn't mean is that he gets murdered or kidnapped or whatever it is you think happened. Not by me."
"Know anyone who might want to hurt Mr. Neptune?"
"I only ask one question of my clients. 'When do I get paid?' Seeing as how Mr. Neptune couldn't even answer that, I don't know nothing."
"When was the last time you saw Henry?"
"Year and a half ago, I guess?"
"When you got your money?"
"When I got my money, yes."
"And what was that money for, exactly?"
Kathryn paused. She tapped a finger against the rim of her glass. "Diamonds?" she asked. "What for? Was he building a very scientific tiara? Maybe something for the Little Miss Microscope Pageant?"
"Industrial diamonds. Jesus, aren't you supposed to work for some kind of genius or something? Don't some of that rub off? Industrial diamonds, used for machinery and whatnot."
"What was he using them for?"
"I don't know. He needed a lot of them, though."
"Hmmm," Kathryn jotted down "industrial diamonds" on the manila folder. "Did he come alone?"
"No, he usually had a couple guys with him. One big guy, bulky, looked Dominican, I think? Then there was another guy, tall too, but wiry. Kind of weird looking. Bulgy eyes, you know? He called them his 'lab assistants.'"
Kathryn stood up, finished the rest of her orange juice, then threw ten dollars on the bar.
"You got any invoice or something for those diamonds?"
"I might be able to find some paperwork."
"Send it to the office. You think of anything else, you let me know."
Outside the bar Kathryn opened her umbrella to fend of the continuing downpour. As she began walking she took out her cell phone and dialed Bridgette.
"Just checking in. Max doesn't know much. Sold Neptune a bunch of industrial diamonds a year and a half ago, then cut off business ties when Neptune got cranky with the payment."
"You believe him?" asked Bridgette.
"Yeah, he's telling the truth."
"Hum hum hum. Industrial diamonds, that's interesting."
"I thought so."
"You know what else is interesting? If I eat a handful of hot wasabi peas and then drink Mountain Dew I can very distinctly feel the back of my eyes. I wonder if there are other food combinations that can isolate sensation. I want to distinctly feel my knees."
"You know what ELSE is interesting?"
"Does it have something to do with the case?"
"Mr. Neptune hasn't paid taxes in twenty years."
Kathryn stopped walking. "Oh really?"
"Yeeeeah," said Bridgette. "He's been contracted for multiple high-profile government projects, but it's extraordinarily difficult to find him on the books."
"Well, that is interesting."
"I thought so. Where are you going now?"
"Max mentioned something about two goons Neptune used to bring with him, called them his 'lab assistants.' They were probably protection, but it got me thinking that I should go check out the lab."
"I'll send you the directions," said Bridgette.
"Am I going to have trouble?"
"Maybe. I don't know. It's in a rented warehouse in Brooklyn, not the best part of town. Be careful."
"I will. Anything else?"
"When you come back, can you pick up some food? Things that make your knees tingle, if you can think of something. I'm thinking ox tail in a sweet and sour sauce, but mixed with what?"
Kathryn hung up. When she was in the Israeli Army Kathryn had been given the nickname First Alert because of her ability to feel when something wasn't right. She could feel those same sensations tugging at her now. Her phone beeped and Kathryn noted the directions to the lab. She went to the subway.
Inside the subway station in Brooklyn Kathryn again looked up into the rain. With all the money Bridgette had sunk into the House of Wonders that their office had become it seemed to Kathryn that they could spare a little money for a car. She hated the subway. She hated the rain. Not her day.
It took Kathryn twelve minutes of walking to find the warehouse. The building was looked old and worn, yet when she approached the front door she saw security cameras and a keypad to a SecuriTech security system. Kathryn shrugged her shoulders and went to the large doors. She rang a bell that she heard echo inside the building. Nothing happened. She waited a moment, then rang again. Still nothing. Kathryn walked down a small alleyway off to the side of the building to the back. There was a fire escape about twenty feet off the ground. Further down the back of the building was a large extension ladder.
"Dumbasses," said Kathryn.
Kathryn sadly put aside her umbrella and climbed her way up to the roof. She stood before the door to the roof access, rain drenching her from head to toe. She pulled out her phone and dialed.
"The doors and windows are locked into a SecuriTech system, but SecuriTech sucks and frequently doesn't do roof access unless specifically asked and for a ridiculous fee. I'm about to do some breaking and entering," said Kathryn. "Thoughts?"
"Engage," said Bridgette.
Kathryn kicked open to door to the roof. She entered, checking the doorframe for security wires. Finding none, she proceeded down the stairs. The top floor was a long hallway of rooms. As Kathryn walked she peeked into the handful of rooms, which were all set up as one room apartments, mostly decorated like dorm rooms.
"Any specifics on what I'm looking for here?" asked Kathryn.
"Business papers would probably be best, although if you can find some info on exactly what our good Mr. Neptune was up to project-wise, that would probably help, too."
"All I'm seeing right now are some sort of staff quarters, I'm guessing." Kathryn reached the end of the hallway and turned to a stairway. She stopped short. Instead of a short staircase taking her down another floor, there was one long staircase that wrapped all the way around the rest of the building, which was one giant open laboratory. At the bottom two large men, one Dominican and one with large, bulging eyes, were taking down the lab, disassembling and packing up the equipment.
Kathryn backpedaled into the hallway.
"Get this," she whispered into the phone. "Those goons Max was talking about. Looks like they actually are lab assistants."
"Huh," said Bridgette. "Lab goons."
"I'm going to go see what they know," said Kathryn.
"If things get rough, don't hit them in the throat!" Bridgette yelled into the phone. "I know how much you like hitting people in the throat, but you hit them in the throat they can't talk!"
"Noted," said Kathryn. "I'll call you back in a bit."
Kathryn hung up the phone. She remembered what her sensai had taught her during her dojo training on Yoronjima. "Hot headed frog captures no flies, cool headed frog is fat and gassy." Granted, her Japanese wasn't spectacular, but she's pretty sure she got the point. She walked out onto the long staircase.
Below her the two lab assistants kept working to break down the lab. Kathryn got a lay of the land, and then loudly cleared her throat. The men looked up.
"Don't you boys know it's rude not to answer the door when a lady rings?"
The wiry man with the bulging eyes pulled out a gun and shot. Kathryn ran along the descending stairs, bullets clanging off the staircase behind her. Once she got close enough Kathryn jumped the rail, landing on a wheeled office chair and rolling across the lab. The chair hit a lab table and Kathryn jumped off, sliding across the table, sending equipment flying in all directions.
"Get out here, bitch!" yelled the wiry man.
"It's hard to hit a moving target from far away, isn't it?" Kathryn yelled back. She kicked off her sneakers. "Don't worry. I'm about to get a lot closer." Kathryn tied the shoes' laces together. She got on her knees and crouched behind the table. With one shoe in her hand she began twirling the other shoe like a slingshot. Once she built up momentum she moved from her crouch into a beginning sprint position. As she continued spinning the shoe she listened closely. After a moment she heard movement about 14 yards in front of her. "Go," she said to herself.
Kathryn leapt up and launched the shoes at the wiry man with the bulging eyes. Before he could fire a shot the shoes wrapped around his neck and sent him toppling. The Dominican man panicked and picked up a Bunsen burner and threw it at Kathryn, missing by a good few feet. Kathryn picked up a beaker and spun around, launching the beaker at the Dominican. The Dominican opened his mouth to yell, but was muzzled by the beaker going open-end first into his mouth, draining its contents into the man's mouth. The man spit out the beaker, then began hacking and coughing up blood. The beaker's acidic contents began eating the man's throat. The Dominican ran to a cabinet and took out a container of calcium gluconate gel. He poured it in his mouth and began gurgling with it, which proved difficult while he sobbed with pain.
Kathryn walked over to the wiry man on the floor. The man was grabbling with the laces wrapped tightly around his neck, cutting off his breathing. Kathryn kicked the gun away, then dug her fingers under the laces at the front of the man's neck and used them to pull the man to his feet. She unwrapped the shoes, then pushed the man against one of the lab tables.
"Why were you shooting at me?"
"We thought you were them!" gasped the man. "They're coming!"
Kathryn shook the man by his shoulders. "Who? Who are they?"
"Whoever, man!" said the wiry man, his head twitching and jerking as he spoke. "Feds, spooks, homeland security, whoever they're sending out on cleanup duty today."
Kathryn slapped the man. "Government boys don't ring the bell or announce themselves on a staircase, you dipshit, they just blow the door down."
At that moment the front door exploded open in a cloud of smoke. A half dozen red laser sites cut through the haze, searching out targets. While Kathryn was distracted by the explosion the wiry man gave her a sucker punch to the kidneys. Kathryn dropped to the ground. The wiry man grabbed the gun and with a scream began firing towards the front door. There was a grunt and one of the red laser sites faltered, then fell to the ground. The other five sites instantly honed in on the wiry man with the bulging eyes, and in an instant he was torn apart by a hail of bullets.
"Hold your fire!" yelled Kathryn. "We're not armed!"
Kathryn was answered by more bullets.
"Well, then," said Kathryn, picking up the wiry man's gun. "Let's have a dialogue."
Kathryn put her head around the side of the table. She checked the gun. Only a few shots left. Fortunately, laser sites worked both ways, giving Kathryn a line to follow back to their owners. Kathryn stood up and with the calmness of a Zen master squeezed off four shots at as many targets, and then the bullets were gone. Three of the men dropped, the fourth merely grazed. The grazed man yelled out in pain and dropped his gun. Kathryn ran over where she heard the man grunt. In the haze she could barely make out the man's profile. Walking on the balls of her bare feet Kathryn crept forward until the injured man was between her and the final laser site.
"Shoot me now, fucker!" yelled Kathryn. The final laser site pointed in her direction, but rested on the injured man. Before he could identify himself three bullets ripped through his torso and sent him to the ground. Kathryn dove behind a table.
"Fuck," Kathryn heard the last man mutter. He turned off his laser site.
"Smart," said Kathryn. "Caught onto my little trick there, did you? I've got a lot more, trust me, but you're only going to see one of them. Unless you put that gun down and talk to me. You going to put that gun down?"
Silence. Kathryn reached up onto the table and found a row of small glass vials. She took them silently out of their container and then tossed them all high into the air in different directions. A few moments later glass began shattering all over the laboratory. The final gunman let out a few rounds in various directions, unsure of where anything was anymore. Kathryn used the gunfire to place the shooter and then ran; fast, silent and low to the ground. She connected hard with the man's stomach, knocking the wind out of him and pushing him back against the wall. Kathryn reached between the man's legs and grabbed his balls with one hand, then grabbed the collar of his Kevlar vest with the other. She put the man on her shoulders and lifted him up, and then threw him so the small of his back hit the hard corner of one of the lab tables. The man's gun went sprawling on the ground. He lay on his side, his hand on the small of his back, twisted in pain. Kathryn grabbed the back of his bullet proof jacket and drug him outside, tossing him down the steps. Kathryn went back inside and got the man's gun. She walked out onto the porch and stood, looking down at the man lying on the cement. Rain ran through Kathryn's hair and made long, slow trails down the muzzle of the gun.
"Who do you work for?" she asked. "Why did you come here? Do you know Henry Neptune?" The man sneered. Kathryn walked down two steps. "I know you're not government. Not NSA, CIA, FBI, none of them. I want to know who the fuck you are."
"I ain't telling you shit!" spat the man.
"Then what good are you," said Kathryn, raising the gun and firing two shots into the man's crotch. The man screamed. He went to hold his fresh wound, but then shot backwards as he reawakened the pain in his back. Kathryn walked the rest of the way down the steps and stood over the man. Her face was hard and her eyes were cold. She put the gun up to the man's mouth.
"I don't take well to being shot at. It puts me in an awkward position. If I let you go, some people might get it into their heads that they can shoot at me without repercussion, but if I kill you I don't get anything more than another check mark on my bad-ass rep. So I'm going to need you to give me a really, really good reason not to kill you."
"Go to hell," said the man.
"Not good enough," said Kathryn, and pulled the trigger.
Kathryn walked back inside. She tossed the gun aside and went to find the Dominican. He was crouched in the back of the lab, curled into a ball sitting in a puddle of his own urine. Kathryn pulled him to his feet.
"Information," she said to him. "I need it. What in here is going to tell me the most about what I need to know?" The Dominican pointed to a box in the back that was opened and contained a handful of Mac Mini hard drives. "Good. You got a car?" The man nodded. "We're taking it. Come on, let's go."
Kathryn grabbed the box and pulled the man outside. He led her to a nondescript gray sedan parked on the street and opened the door. "I'm driving, you're shotgun," she said.
Going into the city over the bridge Kathryn turned to the man. "All right, spill," she ordered. "I need you to tell me everything you know."
The man looked at her with big, scared eyes, then pointed to his throat and waved his hands in a 'no good' gesture. He opened his mouth to speak and only wheezed.
"What?" yelled Kathryn.
The man mimed the bottle of acid getting thrown in his mouth.
"Oh, right," said Kathryn. "Great. Bridgette's going to love this."
Kathryn pulled into the back alley behind the office building. "Stay here," she told the Dominican. She ran to the bodega on the corner and then came back with a pad and pen. "I'm looking for Henry Neptune. You're going to write down everything I need to find him. I'm going to run upstairs and get my associate. You stay here. Write. Don't move. Those men are looking for you, and if you don't stay in my protection, they're going to find you. I'll be back in a minute."
Kathryn went into the back entrance of the building and ran up the stairs. At the top she put in her code and pressed her hand against the scanner. The doors opened.
"Back up the bare essentials," she yelled to Bridgette. "This is getting ugly."
"What did the lab assistants tell you?" asked Bridgette as she began shutting down the system and gathering items in a large duffle bag.
"Neither of them are really speaking at the moment," said Kathryn, packing a bag herself.
"No! Not with the throat punching!" yelled Bridgette. "I thought we talked about that!"
"I didn't punch anyone in the throat!" Kathryn yelled back. "I just, I mean, okay, I accidentally threw acid down this one guy's throat." Bridgette looked at her with disappointment. "But the other guy got shot, and that was totally not my fault! Besides, I've got Mr. Acid Influx writing a statement in the car right now, which is exactly where we should be, so let's GO."
Kathryn finished packing her bag and closed it. Bridgette was waiting by a humming server. "What are you waiting for?"
"Downloading everything I need to an external hard drive. It'll take a couple minutes, that's all."
"So," said Kathryn, taking a full breath for the first time in what felt like ages. "Did you find out anything interesting?"
"Only nothing," said Bridgette. "Which is actually everything!"
"Explain," said Kathryn.
"You know when paranoids and conspiracy theorists talk about 'Them'? Those unnamed people who are the puppet masters behind all the little pulleys and levers of the world? Well, one of them just got a lot less nameless. Henry Neptune. At one point or another he's been in the same room with every major technological innovator in the past fifty years and been on-site for every great discovery and exhibition in just as long, and yet he's not officially on anyone's payroll, he's not in any government agency and he's not a part of any University. He's a ghost in broad daylight. Kathryn, this is some spooky, spooky stuff."
Just then the doorbell rang. Kathryn ran over to the security monitors. Two men in suits stood outside the office door.
"Shit!" said Kathryn. "I think these might be the same guys that attacked the lab!"
"Maybe if we don't answer they'll just go away?" suggested Bridgette.
The man closest to the door, a severe looking man who held more gravity than his partner though he appeared to be about five years younger, looked up at the security camera. He then took a pad from his jacket pocket and scribbled a note on it, then held it up to the camera. It read, "We know you're in there, Ms. Dunlap. Open up."
Bridgette checked on the external hard drive. "We're nearly done," she said. "What do you think we should do?"
Kathryn reached into her bag and pulled out a small hand gun. "We let the wolves in."
The door opened. The two men stepped inside.
"Ms. Dunlap," said the younger man, bowing slightly to Bridgette. "And you must be Ms. Ekblad."
"Charmed," said Kathryn.
"My name is Agent Michaels," said the young man. "This is Agent Burkle. We'd like to ask you all a few questions."
"Unfortunately we were just leaving," said Kathryn. "You'll have to excuse us."
Agent Michaels put out his hand to block Kathryn's exit. "I'm afraid these questions are a bit... mandatory, Ms. Ekblad."
"I see, Agent Michaels. By the way, I must not have caught it, you're an agent of what, exactly?"
"NSA," said Agent Michaels.
"Aha," said Kathryn. "You wouldn't mind if I asked to see some credentials, would you?"
"Of course not," said Agent Michaels, taking out a badge and showing it to Kathryn.
"Might I ask what all this is in reference to?" asked Bridgette.
"There's been a high-level security breach," said Agent Michaels. "I think you know what I'm talking about."
"I suppose I might," said Bridgette.
"Now will you please come with us," said Agent Michaels.
"We will," said Bridgette. Kathryn looked at her accusingly. "But only on one condition. You must promise us safe passage for our client, Mr. Neptune."
"You have Henry Neptune?" asked Agent Michaels.
"No," smiled Bridgette. "And apparently neither do you."
Agent Michaels frowned. "Let's go. Now."
"I have a question," said Kathryn. "Who taught you to lie? Because they did it very well. There are about eight fairly reliable body language tells for when a person is lying, and you've got most of them beat. Most of them. But you're not NSA. I think the only reason you've left us alive is because you want to know what we know, so once again, who are you?"
"I can assure you, we're from the NSA," said Agent Michaels, not nearly as convincingly as the first time. "All your questions will be answered in due time, now please, come with us."
"Just one more question before we go," said Kathryn.
"FINE, what is it?" said Agent Michaels.
"It's not for you, Mr. Ego Trip," replied Kathryn. "It's for my associate, Bridgette. Bridgette?"
"I was wondering if I could punch these men in the throat."
"I think that would be entirely appropriate."
Agent Michaels reached for his side holster, but before he could remove the fire arm Kathryn delivered a left-right-left two-finger throat jab that crushed Agent Michaels windpipe.
Agent Burkle pulled out a radio. "Help! Help! Agents requesting back..." Kathryn delivered a roundhouse kick to the man's neck, slamming him against the wall. With incredible poise Kathryn raised her leg and placed her foot on Agent Burkle's neck, pushing it against the wall.
"When I was training at the Russian Ballet they worked our lower body strength so hard that we could crack a wooden plank between our legs." Kathryn pushed her leg forward and up, raising the man slightly up the wall. "Who'd you call, Burkle? Who do you work for?" Burkle only shook his head. "Fine," said Kathryn. She pulled her lower leg back, and as soon as Burkle's feet were on the floor her foot snapped back out again, connecting to the man's neck with an audible thump. Burkle crashed to the floor in a heap. Kathryn took out her gun then leaned over and picked up the radio.
"Your boy called for backup," she said, then threw the radio aside. She motioned for Bridgette to grab the bags and get behind her. She walked slowly to the door and put her hand on the "open" button. She turned back to Bridgette and signaled with her fingers, "four... three... two... one..." She punched the button.
The hallway was empty. Kathryn stepped outside and glanced over the stairwell. No one. She came back in to Bridgette. "Guess they've got some pretty shitty backup."
There was a whistling sound, and then an explosion as a shoulder-launched missile blew a hole in the outer wall of the office. Kathryn stared out through the hole in the wall and saw two men on the roof across the street. She fired her gun but hit nothing. She saw one of the men come up for another launch.
"Go, go, GO!" she said to Bridgette, pushing her out the door as a second whistle screamed through the air. Kathryn and Bridgette were half way down the stairs when the second missile connected with the technology tower, turning it into ashes and scrap. Charred bits of technology and rubble crashed down the center of the stairwell as Kathryn and Bridgette descended. Kathryn saw a man in a suit step into the center of the downstairs level to look at some of the debris. He then looked up. Kathryn put a bullet through his head. A second agent came out with his gun drawn. He saw Kathryn and fired. Kathryn fired back. The agent moved back to take cover and Kathryn used the pause to jump over the handrail. She landed on the body of the first agent. She stood and emptied the gun into the second.
"COME ON!" she yelled to Bridgette. Bridgette hustled down the rest of the stairs. "Out the back!" ordered Kathryn.
Kathryn ran to the car, then stopped. The passenger window was smashed, and inside the Dominican was slumped over with a bullet hole in his temple.
"Stay there!" Kathryn yelled to Bridgette. She opened the door and propped up the body. She grabbed the pad of paper, then let the body slump back over and shut the door. She went back to Bridgette.
"They know about the car. Do you still have our friend underground?"
Kathryn reached behind a dumpster in the alley and pulled out a crowbar. She walked over to a sewer grate and pried it open.
"You first," she offered to Bridgette.
"No, no," said Bridgette. "You first. I hate sewers."
"Yes, but I'm the one who's going to have to close the lid," reasoned Kathryn. "You first."
Bridgette climbed down into the sewer, then Kathryn climbed in after, closing the lid. Underneath the street was a large round subway tunnel in which sat an object chained to the access ladder and covered by a musty sheet. Kathryn threw off the sheet to reveal a vehicle that bore a striking resemblance to a four-wheeler. She took out her key ring and undid the chain, then hopped into the driver's seat. Bridgette climbed on behind her and wrapped her arms around Kathryn's waist. Kathryn started the vehicle.
After they'd driven for about twenty minutes through the winding tunnels of the New York Sewer System Kathryn stopped. She turned to Bridgette.
"What do we do now," she asked.
"I don't know," replied Bridgette. "I'm a little out of my element here."
"Well, if I were you," said Kathryn, "The first thing I'd do would be to find the daughter. If they're coming after the lab and they're coming after us, they're probably coming after her too. Once we get the daughter, if we get the daughter, we follow our lead the Dominican gave us."
"And what's that?" asked Bridgette.
"One name," said Kathryn, handing Bridgette the bloodied note pad. Bridgette read the name aloud.