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Rogue Agent: Chapter 7 (Part 1)
SEVEN (Part 1)

"Vampy, meeting in ten," Varyar said as he poked his head into her office.

"'Kay. I might be a minute." Buried in catalogs and busily scribbling notes, Vampy glanced up at the clock on her wall. It read exactly ten minutes to nine. "Wait, since when do you show up to meetings before 9:08?"

"You are the third person to say that to me in the past half hour, and you know what? Fuck you guys. I go out of my way to be courteous and punctual, and I get nothing but shit from you people."

"Ignore him, Vamps," Baroness called out. "I told him he needed to be in his seat at five of tonight."

Varyar's eyebrows furrowed into a growl as he snapped at her over his shoulder. "You are not my supervisor!"

"No," Baroness agreed as she came into view, pushing a utility cart. "But I am your COO, which means it falls on me to make sure everybody knows what they need to be responsible for and what the chain of command is while we're away, which means you need to be in your seat at five of to ensure we didn't miss anything. Now get your ass in there, Marine, and take this beverage cart with you."

He stared at her a moment, his blue eyes narrowing while his lower lip pushed out into a defiant pout. He warily eyed the cart. "Are there cookies?"

"Yes, Maggie baked some fresh this afternoon."

"Are they the good cookies? You tricked me one time with those weird healthy things."

"I warned you those were oatmeal raisin and not to touch them because they were mine. And no, she made chocolate chip today."

Varyar thought for a moment, never breaking eye contact with the Baroness, then huffed and grabbed the cart. "You're still not my supervisor," he grumbled under his breath as he shuffled to the conference room.

Baroness ignored him and turned back to Vampy. "And how's it going in here?"

Vampy sighed and stuck another tab onto the catalog she was looking at. "Better, in some ways. Candi's still pretty non-committal as far as planning is concerned. I thought when she brought her friend with her that maybe it would help get her more interested, but... I dunno. There's something about Anise I just don't like. She did get Candi to finally give me some colors she likes, and helped with the date. Apparently Candi's parents were married in May, and it happens that this year the anniversary falls on a Saturday. So she wants use that as a sort of tribute, since they've both passed on and won't be here except in spirit." She tucked a strand of hair back behind her ear as she glanced over to her email again and frowned. "But it would really help if I could find one venue that was open for that weekend so I can get a plan for what decorations need ordered. It seems like every damn place in a hundred miles of Cleveland has either an anniversary party, a high school reunion, or a little kid's birthday party going on that day."

"What about the Metroparks?"

"An outdoor wedding in late May? It rains too much to not have a nearby shelter. Even then, everything in the Metroparks is already booked. So are all the party halls and rec centers. I even tried your friend at that hotel downtown to see if we could rent their lobby for a couple of hours."

"And?"

"Some fundraiser by the Browns backers."

"Damn. Even in the off season, the Browns manage to disappoint me." Baroness leaned against the doorframe, closing her eyes as she thought. When they opened again, she looked around the large common room of their suite. "Why don't we just have it here?"

Vampy's head perked up. "Here?"

"Yeah, think about it. We shove the couches back a little, rent some cocktail tables, and there will be plenty of space for a reception. We could get ready in the offices, take a few days to set up if we needed to and no rush to clear up afterward. If you have it towards evening, there's plenty of parking next door..."

"...and we have that little park with the gazebo across the street," Vampy chimed in. "We could rent chairs and have the ceremony outside with the sunset in the background, but still be near enough the building to just walk back over for the reception. Which, honestly, if Lyserg has a few before the ceremony, the walking instead of driving might be very helpful."

"True. And if it rains, we just have it here. Maybe deck out the doorway to Varyar's office like a wedding arch."

"YES." Vampy grabbed her coffee mug and walked with Baroness toward the conference room, eyes glittering as she took in the layout of their suite with a new perspective. "We can string twinkle lights all over the ceiling, set a bar up over by the kitchen...this will work!"

"What will work?" Killer asked as they entered the conference room. Dee, Bio, and Velvet were already in their usual places around the table, while Bubba was sprawled out on the sofa and Varyar was still poking at the refreshment cart.

"We're hosting your wedding at the RCM studios," Baroness told him.

"Oh, okay."

"Also, I need to know who you're choosing for your groomsmen," Vampy reminded him. "Which means you need to start asking people. Lyserg's a given, but you need to tell me who your other three are."

"Well," Varyar butted in from his seat at the table, "we already know Baron and I will be on that list..."

"What am I on a list for?" Baron asked as he came in.

"Groomsman."

"Oh, yeah," Baron replied as he grabbed a drink on his way to his chair. "Killer asked me about that last week, and I said yes."

"Wait, what?" Varyar looked genuinely surprised. "You didn't ask me about that..."

"Hey, I didn't get asked either, so whatever," Dee shrugged from his spot near the end of the conference table.

"Erm, asked about what?" Hax's voice came over the speakerphone as he logged in.

"Yeah you did," Bubba reminded him. "Killer asked you, me, and Val last week if we would get the band back together and play that song."

Dee scratched his beard as he thought. "Oh, yeah..."

"Evening, web ninja. We're talking about Killer's wedding," Baroness answered.

"Ah, right! So Killer, I did get your message about that, and to answer...or, well, not really answer, but the current status is that I don't know yet. It really depends on how my work goes and the timing for the ceremony."

Varyar's face flushed as he tried to keep his breathing even. "You asked Hax before you asked me?"

Killer's eyes went wide. "No, I asked...I asked Hax if he would come to the wedding..."

"I am your goddamned battle buddy..."

"I'm not gonna be in it," Bio announced, crossing his arms across his chest. "Killer said something about wearing a 'monkey suit,' which I find highly offensive."

"Oh, for God's sake, Bio," Vampy exclaimed.

The veins at Varyar's temples pulsed as his voice trembled, "Has everyone in this room been asked to be a groomsman besides me?!"

"No," Bubba shot back, gesturing at himself and Dee. "Musicians. God, does no one in this room pay attention?"

Killer's face was a portrait of confusion as he squeaked, "But I only..."

Baroness took a deep breath. "Alright, before this gets even more out of hand, I officially call this meeting to order. We have a lot of stuff to go over, plus making sure everyone knows what's happening while Varyar, Killer, and I are out."

Now was Varyar's turn to cross his arms. "To be honest, I'm not sure I want to spend eleven hours in the air next to this disloyal cumrag anymore."

"Well, nobody else has a passport, so it's the three of us."

Hax cleared his throat. "I have a passport."

For a second, Vampy thought she saw Baroness's expression flicker before she replied, "Yes, but you aren't here, which does me no good at the moment. Now, as most of you know, Mr. Bippy is very anxious to get this interview wrapped. Apparently the guy we're meeting is a very reclusive type, not unlike Bippy himself. Killer, Varyar, and I will be flying out as soon as we get our visas cleared, so..."

"Wait," Hax interrupted, "you need special visas? Where the hell are you going, the Middle East?"

"Trust me, Hax," Varyar chimed in, "the Middle East was a breeze to get into compared to this."

"Brazil," Baroness responded. "We're being sent to interview a Brazilian businessman by the name of Enrique Rocha. Rocha rarely gives interviews, refuses to even use video chat because he doesn't trust the security, and apparently listed one of his terms for agreeing to this meeting was for me to be the one conducting it. One of my conditions was having private security..."

"Smart, actually," the web ninja mused quietly, trying not to think of the Tor murder victim. "I wouldn't trust a security team with whom you aren't familiar."

"...which means even more special permits to bring weapons into the country, adding additional hoops to the bureaucratic quagmire. So Bippy's sending us on the first flight available once our visas are cleared, which, thanks to his and Rocha's influence, could be any day. That means we need to make sure everyone knows the chain of command and responsibility to keep everything running while we're away." Baroness paused to take a sip of her cola as she looked around the room. "Miggnor's already taking care of the writing team, and Baron, they'll have those script edits you wanted done over the weekend so you can start filming your skit thing on Monday."

"Cool cool," Baron nodded.

"So Baron and Dee will be tag-teaming video editing and getting material released...nothing you guys haven't done before. Velvet toured the warehouse earlier today..."

"Yeppers," Velvet affirmed. "They showed me where the strapping tape was, I've got this."

"Salad Booty is super excited to be working in the warehouse, by the way," Dee added. "He keeps talking about all this shit he wants to buy with his paycheck, and I'm just thinking about all the life lessons he's about to get smacked with."

Across the table, Bubba shook his head sadly. "Banks don't give loans to sixteen year olds," he lamented. "It's going to be very hard to bite my tongue when he asks for advice on purchases."

"...anyway," Baroness continued, "Velvet will help Bubba manage the RivalStore, and Vampy is point person for all day-to-day operations. Which means while we're away, Vampy's in charge."

"I will rule with an iron fist," Vampy smiled, thudding her fist on the table top with an air of supreme authority.

"Any questions, concerns, comments before we move on?" Baroness looked around the table.

"Can I make a suggestion?" Varyar asked.

"Sure."

"Can I suggest Killer's being a douchebag and motion to not speak to him until he apologizes for insulting me?"

"Jesus Christ," Killer muttered, sinking his head to the table.

*****
Hax was dreaming of rocking out at another super-secret TLH concert when his wicked guitar solo was interrupted by the simultaneous ring of his mobile and a crash of thunder outside. Rasus came flying from his spot at the foot of the bed, diving toward the web ninja's closet and almost taking out the digital alarm clock en route. Hax's bleary eyes barely registered the numbers: 3:58. He'd been asleep for barely an hour. "Fuck it," he grumbled, smacking the decline button as he rolled over. But in less than a minute the device started ringing again. It was Mary.

Hax groaned, closing his eyes again as he answered. "This had better be important."

There was a crackle of static along with what sounded like some feedback from a radio. Faint voices swirled together for a moment before Mary's voice came through clear. "I need you."

The web ninja's eyes popped open and he sat halfway up. "Wait, say again?"

The interference continued for a few more seconds, cutting off her first few words before clearing up. "Damn the reception out here. I said I received a phone call from someone claiming to be in Genevieve Petersen's coven, who is insistent she has information on our case but says she is in danger. I need you to come with me. I'll be at your house in twenty minutes."

"Oh."

There was a pause on the line. "What did you think I said?"

Hax took an exasperated breath. "I really don't know. It's four in the bloody morning, and you just woke me out of a dead sleep to start making demands without any damned pretext whatsoever, so I have no idea what you might have meant. Also, who the devil is Genevieve Petersen?"

"The murder victim at..." She cut out again as another burst of crackling came over the line, sounding more whispery this time. "Look, I'm sorry, Charles, but I didn't know who else to turn to. The MP of Swindon received one of the same type of letters received by the others, so I've been there most of the evening with a full squad of constables waiting for our cultists to show up. Then I received this message from someone claiming to be in a coven with the late Ms. Petersen, my instincts are telling me this is important and may be the only chance we get to talk to this witness, and..." Her voice trailed off into the static.

"And? Mary?" Something was starting to make the web ninja feel uneasy. He crossed the few paces to the tall, narrow window that looked out over the front garden, peering out into the driving rain as he tried to decipher her rapidly deteriorating message.

"More---off the phone. I've been
signs.
bad feeling, is all, and
you -- come--- me."

Even through the storm's rage, Hax could hear the tension in her voice, and he felt his heart soften in spite of himself. "Well, just...don't expect me to be very animated," he said finally. "And drive carefully. I'll be waiting when you arrive."

"Oh-Ch--than--u"

Hax shuddered as the line went dead.

He watched the rain a moment longer, then tried to shake the uneasiness that had settled over him by consoling a terrified Rasus as he picked out a clean shirt and trousers.

Had he still been standing at the window for the flash of lightning an instant later, Hax might have noticed the tall, dark-cloaked figure standing motionless on the other side of the lane.

*****

All the way to the beginning
Crap, what happened last time?
ON WITH THE STORY!
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