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Rogue Agent: Chapter 4
FOUR

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[10:16] <@The_Baroness> Web ninja!
[10:16] <@teh_leet_haxor> o/
[10:17] <@The_Baroness> I was wondering what happened to you
[10:18] <@teh_leet_haxor> work thing, couldn't be helped
[10:19] <@The_Baroness> btw, Maggie said some British person called earlier asking for me, but didn't leave a message. Sam said it wasn't him, so was wondering if you knew anything about it?
[10:19] <@teh_leet_haxor> erm
[10:19] <@teh_leet_haxor> no
[10:22] <@teh_leet_haxor> BL?
[10:23] <@The_Baroness> mmm
[10:23] <@The_Baroness> wants to say yes, but is also currently working on a work thing
[10:24] <@teh_leet_haxor> >_>
[10:25] <@The_Baroness> well, you were the one who was late. RCM doesn't run itself.
[10:25] <@teh_leet_haxor> do it tomorrow
[10:25] <@The_Baroness> can't
[10:26] <@The_Baroness> I just found out I may be out of town for a few days, so this needs to be done before I go
[10:27] <@teh_leet_haxor> ...
[10:30] <@teh_leet_haxor> where are you gong?
[10:30] <@teh_leet_haxor> *going?
[10:35] <TheOlive> Iceland
[10:36] <@The_Baroness> wishes
[10:36] <@teh_leet_haxor> is it something that requires my assistance in any way?
[10:36] <@The_Baroness> no
[10:37] <@The_Baroness> well
[10:37] <@The_Baroness> not that part, but both of you need to keep an eye on your email the next few days.
[10:37] <@The_Baroness> an announcement is being made today
[10:38] <TheOlive> RCM named Ben Affleck as its new president.
[10:38] <@teh_leet_haxor> ?
[10:38] <@teh_leet_haxor> tell me
[10:38] <@The_Baroness> can't
[10:38] <@teh_leet_haxor> is it RCM-related?
[10:39] <@The_Baroness> not exactly,
[10:39] <@teh_leet_haxor> tell me or I'll hate you
[10:39] <@The_Baroness> though it involves someone at RCM. Someone who is not you
[10:39] <@The_Baroness> And no you wouldn't. It's not my secret to tell, though if you pop on Teamspeak in about an hour I'm sure you'll hear all about it
[10:40] <TheOlive> Wolfie was supposed to be CFO, except Baron killed him
[10:40] <TheOlive> It was a hostile takeover
[10:40] <@The_Baroness> facepalms
[10:41] <@teh_leet_haxor> TELL ME.
[10:41] <@The_Baroness> NO.
[10:41] <@The_Baroness> You will find out soon enough
[10:42] <@The_Baroness> Anyway, I need to go take care of some things. I'll have my mobile on while we're away.
[10:42] <@teh_leet_haxor> we?
[10:43] <@The_Baroness> Good night
The_Baroness disconnected (Leaving)

Hax pushed back from the desk, frowning at the screen. Ever since their eventful time at RivalCon, Baroness had gone through periods of withdrawing for a bit, but this felt...different. The pending announcement didn't bother him so much - he respected the fact that whatever it was, she could keep business private until such time that she was clear to share, and even then only divulged if relevant to do so. It was one of the things he liked about her. But it was exceptionally odd for her to dodge questions about travel plans, especially what appeared to be last moment ones.

The whole conversation just felt...off.

"Mrrrrrowr?"

Hax looked down to see Darth Rasus sitting next to the desk, its white face staring up at him disdainfully. A salve from the local veterinarian had helped the animal's wounds heal nicely, though in general the creature tended to limit human contact only to what was necessary. The web ninja was pleased to see Rasus fill out a little over the preceding weeks, and having a better diet and care meant its grey coat was growing in thick and soft. House life suited the cat much better, Hax felt, than shivering out in the damp hedge - not that the creature would ever admit to such things. Even Rupert, who in general was not keen on the idea of having a new housemate, had started bringing little treats and toys, which the cat had accepted with its usual regal haughtiness. Now, however, it was staring at the web ninja with two big yellow eyes and an expression that clearly said "My food dish is empty and requires a fresh helping of Fancy Beasts, preferably sardine flavoured. Chop, chop!"

Hax stretched, giving Rasus a little pat on the head before rising to fill the animal's simple needs. "You are so much easier to understand than humans are, Rasus," he muttered as the cat trotted gingerly in front of him down the stairs.

A voice from the study replied, "A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not."

"Astute observation," Hax smiled.

"Hemingway." Rupert lowered his evening paper to peer at his housemate. "Really, Hax, you ought to read more. Broaden your horizons."

"Says the man who ordered the same tikka masala takeaway every night last week because he couldn't be arsed to go to Sainsbury's."

His friend grinned as he followed Hax into the kitchen. "I never said I wasn't a hypocrite. And besides, that masala was rather good." He tried to pet Rasus, but the cat just glared at him and sauntered over to the cupboard where Hax was dishing up the evening meal. "So what people are vexing you this evening?"

Hax finished spooning the tin of food into a bowl, chuckling a little as he replied, "It might be less labour-intensive to list the people who aren't vexing me." He hesitated, tapping the spoon against the dish a bit harder than necessary as he considered what information he felt comfortable sharing. "Mary came to see me at my office today."

Rupert let out a low whistle as he pulled a barstool up to the kitchen island which sufficed as a table. "Fancy that. Did she finally drop that skirt-chasing chav she'd run off with and come begging your forgiveness?" Noting his housemate immediately tense, it occurred to Rupert that despite protests to the contrary, his friend wasn't as over Mary LaFaye as he'd have others believe.

Rasus, however, would not allow for dinner to be detained on account of human problems and meowed his protest accordingly. Released from the momentary spell, Hax put the dishes down for the cat and took another stool. "It was work related, but...unnerving. Without going into detail, she met with me very shortly after I'd returned to the UK to ask for help on a case with which she felt I had some degree of familiarity. The problem was, it felt from the onset that I wasn't being given all of the information available, and my direct queries to that effect were met with the type of bureaucratic nonsense one might expect from a government ministry official. I couldn't do anything further under those conditions, and so..." He sighed, trying to shake the image from the morning's crime scene photos from his mind. "This morning there was a development which, the more I think on it, I'm sure was meant as a direct threat toward someone I know. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it, and it's incredibly frustrating being bound by confidentiality to speak nothing of it with the very persons who I feel may actually be able to help."

His roommate closed his eyes, ruminating on Hax's words for a few moments as Rasus loudly lapped at the gravy in his food. "It sounds to me," Rupert said finally, "that you first need to assess the level of threat, and then decide whether it's more important to protect Mary's secrets, or your friend's well being."

Hax looked up sharply and scoffed. "That's hardly a difficult decision."

"In which case, your next step needs to be determining what information has been withheld, and how to get a hold of it." Rupert opened his eyes again, gazing sadly at his friend. "And here I thought we'd gotten you out of the spy game."

"So did I," the web ninja responded quietly. "So did I."

*****
Parker Bennett eased his Jaguar into the garage, grumbling with annoyance as he noticed Mrs. Abbot-Jeffries peering nosily over the hedge as she took her Corgi for an evening stroll. It was strange, he thought, how his bachelor pad in the heart of London, a city teeming with people, afforded so much more privacy than the cottage he'd taken in Cobham. If he'd had his way, they'd still be living in the city, rather than commuting back and forth every day. It made no sense to him. But she was insistent, and now they lived under the ever-watchful gaze of old Mrs. Abbot-Jeffries and her blasted corgis. No doubt the old bitch was gossiping around the village about their lack of marital status; the impish part of him wanted to host some sort of occultist orgy in the side garden and really teach her to mind her own business, but somehow he felt his superiors might frown upon drawing further attention to himself.

Not that that would matter for much longer, if things went according to plan.

Glaring in his rear-view mirror, Bennett jabbed at the button to close the garage door and waited as the metal gate blocked him from prying eyes. He sat a moment in the dim light, compartmentalising the events of his day before grabbing the packages on the seat next to him and fumbling with the kitchen door.

The shit he had to put up with for domesticity.

His irritation lessened a bit as he got inside, his nose instantly alerting him to a savoury steak pie baking in the oven. He put the milk she'd asked for into the refrigerator, noting the low notes of a Lennie Tristano piece wafting from the study. Suddenly overcome with a strong feeling of want, Bennett didn't bother to remove his shoes or coat before grabbing the single red rose he'd brought for her and following the music to where Mary was reading.

She was stretched out on the divan by the fireplace, scribbling something in her notebook by the light of the fire when he appeared in the doorway. If she noticed, she didn't let on. Bennett leaned lazily against the polished wood frame, admiring the way the firelight shone off her glossy black hair while her pale blue eyes followed her pen across the page. She finished whatever she was scribbling with a flourish, smiling as she gently blew over the wet ink. As she slipped her pen back into its soft leather pouch, she nonchalantly asked without looking up, "My heart, will you stand in the doorway twirling that flower all evening? Or were you planning to kiss me?"

Mary looked up at him finally, the warmth of her smile washing over even the coldest regions of Bennett's soul.

He shifted awkwardly from the doorway. "You seemed inspired," he mumbled. "I didn't want to interrupt."

She shook her head. "Just taking notes. How was the lodge meeting?"

"Same arguments. The dinosaurs want to sit on their arses, reliving the good old days, and generally stymieing the younger generation from getting anything accomplished." He grimaced, recollecting the protests of those weak-minded fools. "At any rate, there wasn't much worth talking about. What have you been working?"

Mary frowned, looking back at her notebook. "The case I've been working appears to have had an escalation this morning, and I was cross-referencing against some thoughts we had."

"Ah," Bennett said softly as he ventured closer. "So you think Tor had some significance, then?"

Her smile stiffened. "Word travels fast."

He brushed off the comment as he sat down at her feet. "There were mutterings about it just before I left the office. Someone in research said the markings you found looked like a variation of Cyrillic, which immediately sent someone in SIS to asking if it could be some foreign plot. Nasty business, however one looks at it."

Mary drew a deep breath as she gathered her books into a pile. Her lover raised an eyebrow, questioningly.

"It's just..." she started, trying to swallow her annoyance. "I just hate the imperiousness of your department sometimes."

"My department? Until recently, you were a member of that outfit as well."

"True, but I actively worked with other departments to facilitate better use of resources. They get so bureaucratic and territorial over their assets and intelligence, yet if we have something going on, they try to take over as soon as we start making headway. It's infuriating. I wasn't even permitted to consult Haxor until after he returned from the States; it's ludicrous."

Now was Bennett's turn to stiffen. "You brought Haxor into the investigation?"

"Don't you start," she sighed. "There are aspects of the case to which Charles is our best chance of gaining any sort of meaningful insight. You're familiar with the BiomedAlchemist case; we've been finding messages at the various crime scenes that seem to relate to the strange numbers station situation they uncovered in that matter. Charles happened to have done a research paper on the subject whilst at uni; it's actually what got him on the special services radar in the first place."

Bennett harrumphed. "What, he figured out the broadcast schedule for the Lincolnshire Poacher?"

"No," Mary replied, "he cracked their cipher and submitted a suggestion for a better one."

Bennett was quiet for a few moments, his eyes closed as he contemplated what impact teh_leet_haxor's involvement in these investigations would have in his own plans. There were contingencies built in, of course - Bennett was too careful an agent not to have back-up plans in the event of embuggerances such as this - but he wondered if a different course of action might be prudent. One that might eliminate his problem of the troublesome web ninja once and for all.

From the other end of the divan, Mary watched, interpreting his silence as jealousy and wishing to quell it as quickly as possible. "My heart," she mumbled softly as she shifted closer towards him, "if you're worried about... you've no need. My relationship with Charles Haxor at this point is solely business." She kissed his hair gently. "I've everything I could ever want or desire right here."

Bennett allowed a ghost of a smile come across his lips as he continued to privately plot his rival's destruction. "Do you now?" he murmured. His steely grey eyes opened slowly, locking onto the genuine expression of love reflected in hers. He absentmindedly brought the rose to her cheek, tracing its soft petals down her jawline. "And how might I be convinced?"

Mary batted her eyes slowly, leaning in to kiss him. She gasped as in one fluid movement, Bennett dropped the rose, scooped a hand under the small of her back, and flipped her underneath him on the sofa.

"Parker," she protested breathlessly as his lips worked their way hungrily down her neck, "dinner will be ready soon, and I don't want it to burn."

He let up just long enough to tug open the front of her blouse. "I'm a little more focused on something that's already burning."

Any further objections she may have had got lost in a moan of pleasure as he made his way to the milky skin under the unbuttoned silk.

*****
An hour later, Mrs. Abbott-Jeffries was in her back garden having a cigarette when the door to her neighbours' house opened. The smell of smoke wafted over as she saw the young Mr. Bennett run something out to the bins before disappearing back inside.

"Stupid sods," she muttered to her Corgi.

*****

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Chapter 4 Heathrow International Airport, London, England 31 July, 2012 06.00 GMT/1 a.m. ET Somewhere over Greenland, Jaclyn fell asleep. She spent ...

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