© 2018, Jack H. Tyler
Cleaning expert available.
Dirty jobs a specialty.
Wire Chameleon, Ipanema.
The girl was average. Average height, average build, average face; unremarkable, though not unattractive. Her curly red hair was bound into a ponytail that hung outside her ¾-length military-style jacket, and her rubber-soled boots crunched in the gravel outside the rundown warehouse. Hands in the big cargo pockets, she quietly climbed the steps to the loading dock and peered through the window of the personnel door at the top.
What kind of meeting is this, anyway?
She tried the door and, finding it open, stepped inside. Waiting patiently for her eyes to adjust to the dim light, she found herself in a cavernous storage space with a prefab office structure to her right. A glance through that window showed only more darkness, and she walked down to the end of the office, still seeing no sign of habitation.
“Mr. S?” she called, and immediately a pair of strong arms wrapped around her from behind as a shadowy form menaced her from the front.
Raising her right knee high, she stomped her heel down on her captor’s instep. As his grip loosened, she bent forward to pull him off balance, then straightened her legs, rolling him over her back to crash to the concrete floor in front of her. As she aimed a vicious kick just below the belt buckle of a third man coming from her left, a Balisong, the Filipino butterfly knife, unfolded in a graceful, fluid motion in her hand. As the second man closed from the front, she swung the knife in a high horizontal arc. The man’s arm deflected her hand, barely, and instead of cutting his throat, the razor-sharp blade sliced through his cheek, widening his mouth by an inch.
“God!” the man shouted, recoiling away from her, hand pressed to his damaged face.
The one she had thrown reached up and grabbed her wrist. Shifting the knife to her left hand, she drove the blade completely through his forearm. He screamed and jerked away.
The cheaply constructed office was festooned with studs, projecting bolts, and mounting hardware. Without waiting for her attackers to regroup, she leaped up and attached herself to this jumble of hooks and angles. She began to climb, and just as she felt a hand grasp at her heel, she launched herself backward, twisting in midair to catch a light fixture. Curling her legs up, she hooked a heel over a piece of framing and levered herself up.
She scrambled to a standing position and was measuring a leap higher into the metal rafters when a calm male voice said, “All right, that’s enough,” and with a distant thunk, lights began to come on throughout the huge warehouse. A chorus of click-clicks, like a swarm of metal crickets, sounded all around her, and she found herself looking down into eight drawn gun barrels. Two suits stood off to one side, and the two she had cut sat on the floor holding their wounds.
“Thank you, Miss O’Reilly,” the older suit said with a slightly British accent. “You may come down now.”
“I’m fine, thank Your Lordship,” she replied, her rich brogue tickling his ears, “and who’s this Miss O’Reilly you’ve gotten me confused with?”
“If you prefer, I can address you as Colleen.”
“Colleen O’Reilly,” she said, tasting the sound. “That’s a pretty name, then.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that, considering the trail of aliases you’ve left across three continents. You know, that lamp is going to get quite hot.”
“Never mind that. Who the devil are you? Coppers? Are you here to nick me? Do you think to throw in the slam?”
“That would be a waste of our time and yours. I doubt there’s a third-world slam that could hold you, and besides, we need you out here. You see, I represent your client. Now, be a good lass and come down so we can talk.”
“I can hear you just fine. You think you know my name, so what’s yours?”
I’m Four Twenty Seven. This is my associate, Two Eighty Three. Our other colleagues have similar names. You wouldn’t be interested.”
“There’s something we can agree on, then. If you’re not the nick, then what’s all this floor show about?”
“The client is prepared to compensate you handsomely for your services, Miss O’Reilly, but he demanded a practical demonstration of your skills.”
“What’s your role in all this, then?”
“I’m a procurer.”
“Ah, what our American cousins call a pimp.”
“Your talent for guttersnipe humor isn’t on trial here, Miss O’Reilly. I find people with problems and unite them with problem solvers.”
“Well, and I suppose I’d be the one with the problem, then.”
She waved her arm around to indicate about half of the gunmen.
“I have the distinct impression that I’m about to be shot.”
“Oh, a thousand apologies,” he said with a slight bow. “Situation in hand, gentlemen. Why don’t you take your mates out for some medical attention?”
Immediately, guns were safed and disappeared into clothing, and without a word, they helped their two casualties to rise and move out the door.
“Now, Miss O’Reilly,” he said as the henchmen moved off, “I have an old football injury that plays hob with my neck, and before we go any further, I really must insist that you come down!”
“All right,” she said, doing a forward roll around a bracket. “Before we part company, you must really tell me more about this Colleen O’Reilly woman you’re so obsessed with.”
“Oh, yes,” he sighed, “you must have dropped that name in your childhood. What is it now? Darkfemme? Chameleon? The Great Artiste? It must have put the IRA back a generation when they lost your services. Won’t you step into the office where we can get comfortable?”
“Oh, please yourself. Mr. Three, fetch me a chair, would you?”
“Of course, Mr. Seven.”
Three stepped into the office.
“Nice little army you’ve got here, then,” she observed. “What do you need me for?”
“Believe me, Miss O’Reilly, if it were simply a question of firepower, neither of us would be here. Ah, thank you, Mr. Three.”
He took a seat in the chair his associate had brought, removed an envelope from his jacket, and held it out to her. When she made no move to take it, he gave it to Three, who stepped forward and extended it from full arm’s reach.
Taking the envelope, she removed a half-dozen photos of a dark-haired, dark-skinned boy in his late teens, one portrait and five candids. She studied them for a moment, then looked up, waiting.
“The young man in the photographs is Amitabha Takeri, age eighteen, a senior at Crockett High School in El Paso, Texas. Spends most of his time in cyberspace, we’ve been told. He’s a computer whiz, a brilliant hacker, has no close friends, and is socially immature. He has a penchant for really harmful practical jokes, and is, by all accounts, a thoroughly disagreeable little shit.”
“Let me guess, then. He needs a baby-sitter?”
“Hardly, Miss O’Reilly. His father is Sahan Takeri, an ethnic Indian of British citizenship who emigrated to the United States some six years ago. He is a gifted chemist employed by Levinson Labs of Texas. More on him in a moment.
“The boy, in one of his piques of humor, hacked into a private business net. We believe it was selected in an opportunistic manner, but in any case, he changed passwords and account numbers, deleted files, and moved millions of dollars around the world.”
“He can be hauled into court for that, can’t he?”
“If he is exceedingly fortunate, Miss O’Reilly, and this is where you come in. The network he trashed was the operations management site of the Espectro Solar drug cartel. Its kingpin, a typically heartless trafficker named Lorenzo Rodriguez, employs the most skillful experts money can buy in his more sensitive areas, and this includes his computer activities. His experts managed to trace the source of the disruption, money changed hands, and a Mexican street gang from Ciudad Juarez crossed the border and spirited young Amitabha from the bosom of his family. He is now believed to be in Rodriguez’s fortified villa in the hills above Barranquilla, Colombia. At this point, the father knows he is missing, but no ransom demand has been forthcoming.”
“But if the father doesn’t know where he is, and you do… The client is a government, isn’t it? One with a well-staffed intelligence service.”
“That sort of question is off-limits, Miss O’Reilly,” Two Eighty Three put in. “If the client wished you to know who he was, he would have come himself.”
“Thank you, Mr. Three,” Four Twenty Seven said, then continued with the briefing. “Mr. Rodriguez may have already killed the boy, or he may intend to do so shortly, but we cannot afford to wait and see. The simple fact is that the boy’s father has developed a doomsday weapon, an airborne, undetectable chemical catalyst that attacks brain cells. The details are unimportant. The point is that if Rodriguez learns of the little subplot, and uses threats to the boy to obtain the formula… Well, we simply can’t have it, that’s all. We are prepared to offer you one million U.S. dollars in the currency of your choice to go in and bring the boy out, or if that can’t be done, to kill him, ending his value as a bargaining chip.”
“So again, why me? You have MI6, or the CIA, or some similar world-class players to utilize. What do you need one poor little orphaned waif for?”
“You are reputed to be the best, Miss O’Reilly. You have access to extralegal procedures that our people, who are accountable to their taxpayers, simply cannot follow. Your skills with disguises, as well as your talent for hair-raising escapes, are legend. Those are the skills we require, and the simple fact is that we don’t have time to train an agent up to your level of expertise. Now, come, Miss O’Reilly, there are a million dollars lying on the table. Won’t you pick them up?”
“Two million U.S. dollars paid to a numbered Swiss account.”
“Mother Mary! I should have asked for ten.”
“And you’d have gotten it.”
“One other thing,” Two Eighty Three added. “The boy’s father took Amitabha to America at the age of twelve, just weeks after the mother was killed in London in the explosion of an IRA bomb, one you might well have delivered. Should the boy get wind of your background, he may decide that the drug dealers are the good guys, so mum’s the word, all right?”