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Rogue Agent: Chapter 8 (Part 1)
EIGHT

In the world of espionage, a solid cover story is the most important defense an operative has at their disposal. James Bond's main cover was a businessman for Universal Exports, a reasonable profession for someone jetting all over the world. George Smiley, when not pulling strings in the shadows, was known to have taught university courses on his beloved German literature as he looked for potential recruits. Real-life spies have posed as everything from students to doctors, engineers to farmhands. It's far easier -and safer- to obtain information when the person doing the inquiry appears as though they belong.

Baroness had always found education and writing to be the most useful of cover stories, and it wasn't exactly a lie. She was a university student during her first, short-lived forays into intelligence, and she did, on occasion, still teach, although since RivalCast had expanded to full-time operations that mantle had been mostly passed to her able protege and assistant editor, Miggnor. And of course, her writing work was well-established. Whatever story she said she was covering, she did actually write, which helped tremendously with her credibility. It allowed for reasonable access to the widest range of targets, without having to come up with special reasons. "I'm writing an article about X and was hoping to get some expert input" was usually enough to get her in the door, and if not, she found a little charm went a long way.

That charm, she thought to herself with a groan, might be the only thing that was keeping her and her friends out of a Brazilian prison at the moment.

"With all due respect, ma'am," she heard Varyar snap, "I have in my hand a signed order from your governor himself, authorizing myself and my colleague to bring these firearms into your country. I'm sorry that some bureaucratic monkey neglected to call ahead on top of overnighting the order, but I would think the signed permission slip from the goddamned Governor's Palace would have been enough."

Killer rubbed at his aching forehead, trying not to think of the late hour or how much longer it might be before they finally got to leave the customs checkpoint and head to their hotel. "Varyar, you really aren't..."

"I don't care, Killer! I have been waiting for three weeks with a bag packed to come here, only to be finally given an hour's notice of our flight time, just as I finished an all night stream. I expected to have dinner and crawl into a nice, warm, comfortable bed, and instead I got wedged between two screaming infants on an econo-flight that served tiny packs of peanuts and ran out of dinner long before it got back to our section. I'm tired, I'm hungry, I'm really jonesin for a cigarette, and I will be damned if I'm going out into the crime-laden streets of Rio de fuckin Janeiro without at least a Mark 18."

Baroness tried hard not to notice the nearby security guard placing his hand on the grip of his own sidearm. She, Killer, and the customs agent all heaved a sigh of relief when the head customs official returned to the holding room.

"Ah!" the man said in heavily accented English, "I thank you for waiting. There had been some miscommunication which is resolved now. You will be free to leave momentarily, and His Excellency has sent a private car from his fleet to ensure your safe travel to your hotel."

"Now that's more like it."

"Your pistol cases will be taken directly to your car. However, because there were some missing papers in regards to your entrance visas, I'm afraid you will not be permitted to bring your other weapons into the country."

"Are you kidding me?!" Killer exclaimed. "I filled out like twenty forms for this! I run a private security firm!"

"Alas, Senhor," the official lamented, "it appears in your paperwork you filled out the form stating the specific use and personnel using your registered sidearms, but forgot to fill out the form for the rifles."

"Ha ha," Varyar snorted. "Looks like I'm not the only one who forgets things. Not so easy keeping track of all those government applications, is it, Killer?"

"This is such bullshit," Killer grumbled.

"As a courtesy," the official continued, handing Killer a certificate, "we will hold your property for you here in our secured area until you leave our country. Present this when you arrive for your return voyage, and your equipment will be loaded back on your plane. Sejam muito bem-vindos - enjoy your stay in Brasil."

"Obrigada," Baroness smiled in reply, tugging gently at Varyar's arm as the guard opened the door to the holding room.

Killer stared at the official a moment more, then sighed as he took the receipt.

*****
Hax checked his watch again and grumbled to himself. He was used to adding in minutes for the Varyar Time Differential, and also accounted for the fact that his American friends would take longer to get through customs even without the added complications of their weapons permits, but this was now getting ridiculous. To make matters worse, at the other end of the lounge was a man in a striped shirt and beret that Hax swore he had seen before, who surreptitiously glanced frequently in the web ninja's direction. It wasn't entirely out of the realm of possibility that Bennett had sent someone to spy on him while he spied on the others, but something about the man's nervous energy seemed very off.

Hax was just about to get up to go find another cup of coffee when he heard Killer's voice over the din of the lounge. Quickly, he grabbed a nearby newspaper and used it to shield himself as they approached.

"One stinking paper," Killer was still muttering as the guard escorted them past the throngs of people picking up luggage and waiting for their cars in the arrivals lounge.

"That's okay, Killer," Varyar replied coolly. "All I really need to kill someone is a shovel, anyway." He grinned innocently as the guard shot a suspicious look in his direction. "Besides," he continued as they passed through the automatic doors, "your MDR-C was just a bullpup anyway, so it's not like it's that big a deal if gets impounded."

Killer glared. "You son of a..."

"I'M STILL MAD AT YOU!" Varyar snapped.

"Boys..." Baroness warned as the guard's hand slid toward his club.

They stepped into the humid night to find a dark Mercedes noiselessly idling curbside. As the attendants loaded their luggage into the car and Varyar finally had his long-coveted smoke, Baroness's sleepy eyes wandered over the new landscape in front of her. She had never been to Rio before. The area immediately outside the arrivals lounge looked pretty close to every other arrivals area she'd seen; taxis circling, valets bringing up the few rentals and luxury cars for late arrivals. She admired a sleek black Aston Martin that pulled to the curb a few spots down from their vehicle, pausing for a moment as the valet got out to wait with a sign that read "Jesus, lol" until she remembered that "Jesus" was a common name in Latino countries.

A warm breeze fluttering through the palm trees brought with it the scent of carnival food and the faint notes of a samba. "Senhor," she addressed the guard, "is there some sort of festival going on? I thought Carnival was over, and didn't expect anything this late at night."

"Si, senhora," the man replied, reluctantly looking away from the other two Americans. "That is the street party around the Arcos da Lapa; on weekends, the festivities can last until dawn."

"Do you ever go?"

The guard smiled. "No, senhora. I have been in the policia long enough to remember when tourists and locals alike avoided those neighborhoods. It is much safer now, but not a place I prefer to visit." He looked up as a firecracker sounded in the distance, accompanied by shrieks turning quickly to laughter. "Rio is a beautiful place, dona," he continued, "but even beautiful things can cast dark shadows."

"Alright," Varyar announced as he approached the car. "I feel a little better, but I will feel a lot better after we can finally get some shut-eye. Sir, I'd shake your hand if I weren't fairly certain you'd shoot me at this point, but I thank you for your hospitality and will look forward to seeing you again when we leave. Killer! WE RIDE!"

The guard shot another harsh look at Varyar, then opened the door of the Mercedes for the Baroness. "Tome cuidado, dona," he said quietly. "Whatever special business brings you to Brasil, avoid the shadows."

*****
Hax waited until his friends were inside their car before ducking out of the airport, keeping his head down as he quickly closed the few paces between the exit and where the valet waited with his keys. The web ninja did a double-take when he read the sign; he hadn't intended the "lol" part actually be printed, and was somewhat surprised no one had mentioned it. Still, as he slid into the soft pocket of Italian leather behind the massive V-12, he had to grin to himself. If he was going to have to slip around in the shadows spying on his friends like James Bond on some exotic mission, he was at least going to have a car that helped play the part. The knowledge that Parker Bennett was paying for it for it made it that much better.

Safely buckled in, he merged into traffic, deftly manoeuvring through the sporadic pockets of late-night traffic to catch up to the Mercedes. It wasn't until their rear lights were in view that Hax allowed his mind to meander over the events of the past few days.

"Enrique Rocha," Mary had said as she delivered a rather large dossier in response to his enquiry, "is a slippery little eel that the Service has kept an eye on for years. On the surface, he's a very successful businessman, positioned to be in a role of great power in a country known for its corruption issues. However, he's never been caught, nor even conclusively implicated, in anything that wasn't above-board. He's been seen in the company of a number of questionable persons over the years, but all of it appears - again, on the surface, at least - to be circumstantial. We've never been able to pin anything to him; no business connections, no shady social circles, not even a bloody parking ticket. He pays his taxes. He shies from politics, despite being in a position to win handily. He holds vast and diversified assets around the globe, with a wealth and portfolio rivalling that of Richard Branson. No family, not religious in any outwardly palpable sense of the word. No one knows what he spends his fortune on. The only time he ever appears in the society pages is during a yearly gala he throws a few weeks after the end of Carnival season."

"What's the gala for?"

"No one knows."

"Can you get me in?"


Hax quickly shifted lanes as the Mercedes took a left, barely slowing as it sailed through the red traffic light. He started to grumble to himself about the driver's recklessness when he noticed some suspicious-looking hoods eyeing the intersection and realized what the other fellow was doing. He'd only had a cursory look at the travel tips and cautions for visiting Rio de Janeiro, but seemed to recall something about not stopping at intersections at night due to the number of carjackings that took place. Bennett hadn't mentioned it, but that was hardly surprising: Hax suspected the spy wouldn't mind the web ninja coming to some misfortune, not to mention Bennett wouldn't bother with obeying traffic laws anyway.

What was surprising, however, was that Bennett had agreed to help in the first place. MI5 balked at sanctioning an operation on foreign soil, the director rather churlishly reminding Mary that their focus was domestic issues. Without a clear connection to their case, he admonished, such requests were a waste of his and the Service's time - just the sort of bureaucratic bunk one would expect whenever extra expenditures were required, even when it was clearly apparent there were very few mysterious South American businessmen holding large galas in a short time. Bennett, however, offered use of his travel budget with minimal hesitation, echoing Mary's comments about Rocha having been on the SIS's radar for years; they could never prove anything, but the consensus was that the whole thing seemed a tad too above board. Bennett had agents in Rio who could procure an invite to the gala if Hax was willing to stoop to doing a little spy work in the name of Queen and country.

It was a little too convenient.

The Mercedes slowed a moment, confusing the web ninja until he noticed the sign announcing the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional and remembered who was in the car. From there they drove on a few minutes, slowing though not stopping for intersections as they cut through the tropical night. They took a sharp right at the Arcos da Lapa, zipping up the avenue and away from where the street parties were in full swing. After a half a mile they veered left, then left again as it headed south towards Santa Teresa. When they turned onto Rua Monte Alegre, the Aston hugging the tight S-curve of the tree lined street, Hax couldn't help but be taken by the beauty of the silver moonlight peeping through the palm fronds overhead.

Shortly past the curve, the Mercedes pulled up into the drive of one of the houses, a bed and breakfast which looked a bit too artsy for his taste. Hax cut the lights, pulling silently to a stop under the cover of some trees a short distance away. Keeping an eye on the other car, he reached under the seat and wrapped his hand around the cold steel grip of his Glock, its weight reassuring in his hand. Whatever the reason for Bennett's sudden generosity, he knew it was something more than just simple intelligence work, and wasn't about to take any chances.

He kept the gun on his lap, finger resting lightly on the trigger, hoping he was just being overly cautious as his eyes scanned the shadows. Varyar got out first from the rear driver's side, his bushy beard recognizable even in the moonlight. To make matters worse, his yellow tee-shirt stood out conspicuously against the dark while Hax quietly groaned and prayed there weren't any snipers about. A light went on in the house in time to catch Killer's silhouette emerging from the other side of the car, his lanky frame and military-style cap clearly distinguishable even from a distance.

The web ninja's finger curled around the trigger as a figure came from around the side of the house, readying himself to spring into action until the man went to the rear of the car and began taking the luggage.

It wasn't until after the innkeeper emerged from the front of the house to help with the bags that Hax finally saw the Baroness's head poke around from the passenger side of the car, her dark hair shielding her face as she grabbed her trusty blue rucksack from the boot before quickly disappearing inside the inn. The porter and innkeeper followed close behind, carting the various suitcases with them. Killer seemed to say something to Varyar as the Mercedes started to pull back out of the circular drive; whatever it was, Varyar waved it off. Though the car windows were up, Hax could almost swear he heard Killer's sigh anyway as the man turned and retreated into the building.

Hax sat back in his seat so as to be out of sight as the Mercedes pulled back out. It was difficult to see detail in the dark, but the driver to his surprise seemed to have a female silhouette. He didn't realize until after it had gone that he was holding his breath, his grip on the pistol tight as the barrel twisted to follow the path of the passing car. He quickly loosed his hold, giving himself a little shake as he returned his attentions to the house. Varyar was still outside, the tip of his cigarette glowing from the shadows. It seemed to Hax that the Marine was being awfully still, gazing in the web ninja's general direction, and for a moment he wondered if he had been spotted. Then the cherry gleamed bright as the noble leader took a last puff before grinding the butt into the brick driveway and going inside.

Teh_leet_haxor waited until the lights in the house were out again before he, too, slipped quietly back into the night.







*****

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