"You’re all set, Mr. Rodchenko. Your room is 418. The elevators are just to the right, past the lounge. Enjoy your stay in Vancouver."
He smiled, taking the card from her outstretched hand. Her delicate, perfectly manicured finger brushed his. “Thank you,” he looked at her through dark sunglasses, “I’m sure there’s plenty to uh, do.” He accentuated the last word, playing on his heavy UK accent, just enough to make her blush. As he walked to the lift, he could feel her eyes following him. He grinned to himself. Sometimes it was just too easy.
Once in his room, he started the shower, cracking open a bottle of wine from the mini-bar, and peeled off his clothes, pulling a robe from his suitcase. He’d been traveling for 18 hours and he was desperate for some hot water, a drink, and some down time while he went over the assignment brief.
Less than an hour later, he was sound asleep on the bed, papers loosely clutched in one hand, the other tucked behind his head. He did not dream, but on his lips was the faintest trace of a smile. His last thought before sleep and alcohol took him down, was much the same as the thought he’d had when the clerk had checked him in. Sometimes, it’s just too easy. A small gun taped to the back of the headboard, he slept soundly knowing that he was the right man for this job.
The alarm bleated on his phone and he was momentarily confused. The room was so dark. He was pulled a little farther out of sleep and he remembered the hotel room. The blackout curtains were drawn. Clad in his boxers, he sat up, running a hand through his hair, and shut the alarm off on his phone. He rubbed at his eyes and looked around the room. After a moment, he reached behind the headboard and felt for his gun. He clasped his hand around the holster and pulled it free, checking the magazine. He slipped the gun into his suitcase and stood up, stretching.
On his way out of the building, freshly showered and wearing a flannel shirt, tee shirt, and jeans, he emerged onto the street. He signalled the doorman and asked him to flag down a taxi. En route, he checked his phone. Satisfied, he leaned back and watched the buildings roll by outside.
"First time in Canada?" The driver asked.
"Aye," he replied.
"Oh yeah? Well enjoy your visit. You going over to the island?"
"Yeah, you know. The island."
“‘Fraid not. I’m here for work.”
"What do you do?"
"I’m a software engineer."
"Computers! My son is into computers. Jeez, he goes on Google and gets me what I need in like 5 minutes and I’m just like, ‘How did you even find that?’"
He laughed quietly. “Yes, they can be quite overwhelming.”
They drove in silence for several more minutes until the driver turned down several side streets and rolled to a stop in front of a storage facility.
"Here we are."
"What do I owe you?"
He handed the driver a $20. “Keep the change.”
"Thank you! Here, let me give you my business card." The driver scrambled to fish one out. "Name’s Benedict. You call me any time. 24/7."
"Thank you." He stepped out of the taxi.
When the car had left his line of sight, he pulled out a key from his front pocket. Inside the facility, he signed in at the front desk and wandered back down the parking lot to a building with a series of large, roll-up doors. When he found what he was looking for, he bent down and pushed the key into the padlock. He turned it and the lock popped open. He forced the metal door up and smiled. Inside was a shiny black Audi S8. He went to the driver’s side door, pulled it open, and slid down inside the car. He found the keys taped just under the front seat, starting it up and revving the engine. After a moment spent familiarizing himself with the vehicle, he put it into first and drove out of the storage unit, not bothering to close the door behind him. He left a pair of black tracks as he exited the parking lot, savouring the wind in his hair; a sensation he rarely got to experience back in the UK.
The dining hall was whisper quiet. From an unseen room someone clanked glasses and metal. He stood just beyond the double doors leading in and tried to appear heavily involved with the pages of text in the file through which he slowly perused. Every so often, he would pretend to notice a text and check his phone, dismissing whatever he saw on screen and stuffing it back into his jacket pocket, studying the pages in his hand once more.
A woman cleared her throat.
He glanced up expectantly.
"They’re ready for you, Mr. Rodchenko."
"Huh?" He turned to face her, smiling brightly. He reached out and grasped her hand. "Oh! Thank you, miss."
She directed him through the doors. He stepped inside the dining hall, and had to force himself to keep walking toward the table when he saw a third person sitting with the man he was meeting. In his mind, he called up the notes he’d been given. There would be 2 men present. Roland Abernathy and Grieg Holden. Both of them were here, and a third; a man he did not recognize. He smiled, approaching the table with confidence he hoped he radiated.
"Anatoly! Good afternoon!" one of them said, standing up and greeting him.
Rodchenko offered his hand first to Roland Abernathy, the man in charge of everything happening in this room; the only one who had risen to greet him.
"How was your flight in? Sit down, please." Abernathy gestured at the empty chair.
He grasped the back of the chair, pulling it out for himself. “Oh it was fine, sir. Very relaxing.” He sat down, shaking hands all around.
"Good! Anatoly, this is Devon Larkey," Abernathy said, draping an arm around the shoulders of the man seated beside him. "He’s in charge of our Asiatic software security division."
"Really?" Rodchenko arched an eyebrow.
"Indeed. He’s the best at what he does. We’re all quite proud of him."
Rodchenko reached over to shake his hand. Larkey reciprocated, but his skin was ice cold. Rodchenko made a note of that, though he attributed it to the temperature inside the building. Outside, Vancouver was experiencing an unseasonable heat wave in mid-October, so the hotel had the A/C cranked.
"Well, let’s get this ball rolling," Abernathy said. He signalled for the waitstaff and a pretty young Asian woman in hotel uniform approached the table. She greeted them each by name and took their drink orders. Abernathy and Holden opted for Chivas, Rodchenko asked for a glass of Pinot noir, Larkey took a triple espresso, and Rodchenko decided right then and there that something wasn’t quite right.
"So, Anatoly," Larkey began, "you’re something of a paradox. Your name, Rodchenko, doesn’t seem to match your uh, well, your accent." He leaned in close to the young man with a curly reddish mop atop his head, levelling him with a pair of impossibly blue eyes.
Rodchenko smiled graciously. He lifted his wine glass and tipped it toward Larkey. “My mother was Scottish. She was on holiday with her parents in Barra. She met a boy. A Belarusian. They fell in love. Two months after they returned home to Edinburgh, she told her parents she was pregnant. They tracked my father down. But by the time I was born, he’d been killed in the Russian-Afghanistan conflict. His parents, my paternal grandparents, died in a house fire less than a year later. So, all I ever knew of him was this picture I keep in my wallet.” Rodchenko pulled out his billfold, flipping it open, and showed Larkey the faded photograph of his father in full military regalia.
Larkey took his hand and examined the picture. “He’s barely lost his spots in this.”
"Well my mother was only 16 when they met. Is my heritage a problem?" Rodchenko looked at him squarely.
"If there was a problem, you’d be bleeding out by now. I’m very thorough."
"Good. Then can we discuss the job at hand, or would you like to pick apart my upbringing some more?"
Larkey’s eyes widened. “By all means, let us discuss the task at hand. Mr. Rodchenko.”
Holden cleared his throat.
"Anatoly, Mr. Larkey is simply covering all our bases."
Rodchenko arched an eyebrow. “Is that so?”
"It is." He nodded. "We have the utmost confidence in your skills as a driver."
"As you should." Rodchenko drained his glass and signalled for another.
Rodchenko slipped the card into the lock on the door of his hotel room. The light turned green, he turned the handle, and pushed the door inward. Once it was closed behind him, he breathed a sigh of relief. He plucked his phone from his pocket and thumbed in several numbers. Placing the phone against his ear, he crossed the room, grabbed a bottle of champagne, popping the cork with one hand, and pulling the belt off his pants with the other. He draped his jacket over the back of a chair, and flopped onto the bed.
A man answered the other end. “Toly. I got your email. What’s going on?”
"I’m the driver they want."
"I just don’t think this is job you think it is."
A pause. Then, “Say that again?”
"There was a third man with Abernathy and Holden. Devon Larkey. I’m sending you his picture right now."
"Don’t bother. I know who he is."
"You don’t sound pleased, Mr. Corvid."
"He killed four of my people on a mining site in Arandis."
"You want me to pull out?"
"What was he doing at the meeting?"
"They said he’s their Asian security software director."
"And you believe that?"
"No. Not for a second. He’s a walking gun. Nothing more."
"Will he be there tomorrow? At the exchange?"
"Corvid, he’s the one I’m supposed to drive."
Corvid’s grin could be heard through the phone. “Splendid.”
Rodchenko poured himself a second glass of champagne and flipped through the channels before watching the last half of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and falling into a deep and easy sleep.
There was a knock on his hotel room door at 8am, right on schedule. Rodchenko moved into the bathroom and, turning his head just enough to be heard, he asked his caller to identify himself.
"It’s Larkey, Mr. Rodchenko."
He smiled. He opened the door and gestured him inside. “I’m almost ready, sir. Just have to grab a couple things.”
"My shoes. There’s a decanter of coffee and an extra to go cup on the desk. Help yourself."
"Abernathy certainly speaks highly of you, Anatoly." Larkey poured himself a cup of coffee, added three sugars, and took a sip.
"He ought to. I am very good at what I do."
"Where did you learn how to drive? The way you uh…do." He cleared his throat.
Rodchenko laced up his shoes and grabbed his watch from his nightstand, slipping it onto his wrist and closing the catch. He smiled. “I got in with a rough crowd in my younger years. Driving stolen cars. You know how it goes.”
Larkey eyeballed him. “Anything the statute hasn’t expired on?”
"Ha! Noooo sir. I’m clean. All my passports are spotless. I am, for all intents and purposes, a ghost."
Larkey grinned wolfishly. “Let’s get going. Clock’s ticking.”
Rodchenko sat behind the wheel of his Audi, the radio playing quietly. Larkey had been inside for almost 20 minutes. Rodchenko had on a pair of black leather driving gloves and he tapped the wheel lightly with one hand, watching the door. His attention was so focused, he didn’t see the uniformed police officer coming up behind his vehicle until she knocked on the window.
Startled, and severely annoyed, he rolled down his window. “Morning, Constable. Can I-“
"This isn’t a parking lot, sir." She said from behind a pair of darkly mirrored sunglasses.
She snapped her gum. “Picking someone up?”
"My boss will be right out."
"Oh I doubt that." She looked past him, into the car.
"Step out, sir. Please."
"Not until you tell me what I’ve done wrong."
She looked at him squarely. “Get out of the car. Now.”
Rodchenko exhaled audibly. He wanted to reach into his pocket and hit the panic alarm on his phone, which would notify Corvid, but he dared not put his hands where she couldn’t see them. He shut the car off and opened the door. She backed up, placing her hands on her hips, chewing her gum loudly. He stepped out into the street, closing the door behind him, and glanced back, surprised to see a large, red, ancient Jeep Cherokee with oversized tires parked a few car lengths back. But no squad car. He bristled.
"Let’s see your ID." she said.
He took his wallet out from his back pocket and showed her a British Columbia drivers license.
She looked at the picture, then at him. “Randy Martell?”
"Yes, ma’am." His Scottish brogue was long gone.
"What year were you born?"
"Just a pup."
"I guess. Look, what is this-"
"What’s your boss doing in there?"
"He’s in a meeting."
"What’s his name?"
"What kind of meeting?"
"A business meeting. Why are you questioning me?"
"Because I can." She handed him back his license. "Come with me, son."
"I haven’t done anything wrong. And I want your name and badge number."
"Turn around." She gripped him by one arm and spun him, kicking his feet apart. He struggled, but she had him in handcuffs in seconds. He was unnerved at the brute strength in her legs.
"What the hell?!" he snapped, his accent sneaking back.
"If you want to live to see your next birthday, you’ll behave yourself." she snarled in his ear, pushing him towards the Jeep.
"Did you just threaten me?!"
She did not respond. They got to the Jeep and she pushed him against the side, gripping the back of his neck, opening the passenger side door.
"This is not a police issue vehicle!" He tried to step away, but she caught him and pushed him up roughly against the side of the vehicle.
"Shut up, Anatoly." She reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone, sliding it into her own front pocket.
His expression did not change. “Are you insane? My name is-“
"Hey!" A man hollered from behind her.
Rodchenko craned his neck around as she turned and saw a large man in a suit running across the hotel drive to the street.
She turned to face him. “This doesn’t concern you, sir.” she said loudly.
"Like hell it-"
His words were severed instantly as she drew her sidearm and cut him down midstride with two shots.
His Audi exploded, and the world went black.
"Toly? Why are we breaking radio silence?"
"Corvid, how the hell are you, old chap?" she said, holding Toly’s phone between her chin and shoulder as she lit a cigarette.
Silence. Then, “LeCroix?”
"How you been, lover?"
"What the fuck are you up…no. HOW are you even alive?"
"That’s putting it mildly."
"You can thank me later."
"Somehow I doubt that."
"Oh ye of little faith."
"ZERO faith, LeCroix. Zero. Everything you touch ends in bloodshed and triplicate insurance paperwork."
She took one last drag and flicked away the cigarette. “I guess I had a good teacher.”
"Is he alive?"
She looked behind her, into the Jeep. “Ish.”
"I’m a quick study, LeCroix. After our last encounter, I started Lo-Jacking my property."
She held out her hand and looked at the tiny capsule in the quarter-sized drop of blood on her palm. “You mean the thing I just dug out of his shoulder?” She chucked it into the lake.
"If he dies," Corvid seethed, "you’d best follow him to the other side because otherwise, I will hunt. You. Down. I will raze everything in my path until you’ve got nowhere left to hide and then I will end you."
"No you listen, Corvid, you fuck with me, I’ll put a bullet in his brain and leave him on the side of the road like a dog and then I’m coming right for you, you son of a bitch."
Corvid sighed loudly. “Now that I know you’re alive, I’ll find you, Shawn. And then I’m coming to collect what’s mine.”
"Oh I’m counting on that. Bring a warm jacket." She hung up the phone, pulled out the SIM card, and hurled them both off the dock, into the water. "Game on."
She climbed back into the Jeep, turning the key twice before the engine would start, and drove away from the water, north, toward the mountains.
The first thing Rodchenko became aware of was pain. His head pounded like an exceptionally crippling hangover and his entire body felt like he’d been pummelled by…he remembered his car going up in flames and opened his eyes. He gasped, closing his eyes again and shielding them with one hand against the sunshine.
"Morning, Toly." She looked over at him a smiled.
He peered out from under his hand, grunting as he tried to shift in his seat. He was aware of a deep searing pain in his left shoulder. He thought he’d taken a piece of shrapnel from the explosion, until he remembered his RFiD chip. He groaned. “LeCroix.”
"You’re welcome, kiddo, by the way."
"Yeah. Thanks. Where the hell are we?" He gently rubbed his arm.
"In my truck."
"No shit." He looked over at her, still shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight outside. She was now wearing cowboy boots, jeans, a flannel shirt over a tee shirt, a bright orange down vest, and a cowboy hat. The small bird tattoo still visible on her neck. She’d changed her hair, but that was it. Everything else was the same. Especially the attitude. "Where are we going?"
"My place. There’s a Thermos of coffee and a couple doughnuts for you, just behind my seat. Bottle of Tylenol in the glove compartment."
Groaning in pain, he reached behind her. A dog snarled and he snatched his hand back. Looking into the back seat, he found a large German Shepherd staring back at him. He tried to reach again, but the dog growled. “Well he’s a friendly one.”
"At least he’s faithful." she said flatly.
"Ouch. Suppose I earned that one."
"Yes, you did." To the dog she said, "Avez tranquil. Il est un ami. D’accords?"
The dog sighed and laid back down.
Rodchenko took the Thermos and the little brown bag. He peered inside and frowned. He hated pastries. From the glove compartment, he removed the bottle of Tylenol.
She handed him a bottle of water from one of the cupholders.
He fished his sunglasses from his jacket pocket, noticing he still had his gun in his shoulder holster. He pushed the glasses onto his face and swallowed 4 of the red pills, savouring the cool water. His face felt hot and tight, a residual effect of being too close to a big boom. “How did you know?”
"Devon Larkey has been strategically taking out Corvid’s key people for almost 3 years now. He’s working his way up the line. After you, he’ll go for Darrack Pinhill."
"That creepy fucker."
She nodded once. “As soon as I found out Corvid had planted you in Abernathy’s employ, I knew your days were numbered. Corvid has no idea for whom Larkey works.”
"And you do?"
"Who the hell is that?"
"I have no idea, my friend. He’s a Scandinavian. But he lives everywhere and nowhere. I’ve had reliable intel that he’s been in Moscow and Panama at the same time."
"Then I’d say your intel is hardly reliable. You’re slipping, Shawn."
She cracked open the window and lit a cigarette. “No. He’s…something else entirely. He’s been responsible for terrorist attacks all over the world. Seemingly, random. People that have absolutely nothing to do with anything. Or each other.”
"They must somehow be connected."
"Indeed. All I know for sure is that Møller has been strategically crippling Corvid. Using Larkey, and others, but Larkey has never actually met him as far as I can tell. But he’s not taking you, Toly. I came back from the dead to save your ass."
Rodchenko looked at her directly. “Why?”
She did not take her eyes off the road. “Because I care about you. Because you were there, when Markov was…killed. You,” she bit down hard on her bottom lip, blinking several times, her knuckles turning white as she tightened her grip on the steering wheel, “knew how unstable the operation had become and you could easily have left. Corvid and I would have assumed you were killed in the gunfire, outside Kursk. Or dragged off to some gulag. Same result. Eventually.”
He did not take his eyes off her. “Thank you, Shawn.” He touched her arm.
She half-smiled, reaching over and brushing one of his curls away from his face. “Don’t thank me yet. Corvid is gunning for me.”
"What’s your plan?"
"We’ve got a couple days before he figures out where I live. Right now the plan is to get you back on your feet."
"Are we almost there? Your house?"
"No way. We’ll be on the highway a few more hours. And then it’s another 90 minutes to my place. Eat your breakfast, then try to rest. I’ll wake you when we stop for gas."
He opened the bag and removed a large jelly roll with a glob of red sticking out from one side. He frowned, but after a moment, he took a bite and chewed rather morosely.
When he opened his eyes again, he was disappointed to note that, though the sun was already falling past the mountains behind them, they were still on the highway.
"How you feeling, kid?" she asked, cracking her window and lighting a smoke.
He shifted himself up and groaned. At least his head wasn’t pounding anymore. “Don’t call me that. There isn’t even 10 years between us. Also, it’s weird. Considering we-“
"Did Corvid still send you in knowing Larkey was on the scene?"
Rodchenko sighed. “Yes.”
"And you went?"
"Corvid changed the game plan to have me kill Larkey after the exchange. He is aware that Larkey killed 4 people of his in Arandis."
"The uranium mine."
"They weren’t digging for uranium."
"I know. What were they looking for?"
"I don’t know. Something they weren’t willing to disclose to the Namibian authorities."
"Do you know? I mean really?"
"No." He wasn’t lying.
"He isn’t aware of the other people Larkey has killed?"
"Collateral damage as far as Corvid is concerned."
Rodchenko said nothing. Several minutes later, he grew suddenly more nervous as she pulled off the highway onto an unnamed, but seemingly well maintained gravel road. “Hey,” he said, “I have to um, use the facilities. In this case, a tree.”
She drove another minute and pulled over, turning off the radio. She waited.
"Aren’t you…going to keep an eye on me?"
"No," she said absently, "you’re old enough to cross the road by yourself."
"Fuck you." He got out of the truck, wincing as he landed on the ground some two and a half feet below the underside of the truck.
After more than an hour on the gravel road, which seemed to climb impossibly high, and only became narrower and sketchier as they ascended, she turned off an an unmarked double track that cut through the tall trees. He saw no power lines.
"Where the hell do you live?" he asked her, removing a cigarette from her pack. He placed it in his mouth.
"Don’t smoke that here."
"And why not?"
"Because you’ll start a forest fire."
"It’s October. And very cold I might add. Have you got any heat?" He stuffed the cigarette back in her pack.
"Sure. Doesn’t really work, but it takes the edge off."
"You’re really living up your retirement." he sneered.
"It’s paid for. But it doesn’t have fancy seat warmers. Like your Audi."
He narrowed his eyes at her and she smiled. After a moment he did too.
From the double track, she turned further north onto a barely discernible trail that was barely wide enough for their vehicle. In the back seat, her dog sat up and yawned, his tail thumping against the bench.
"Hang on a second," she said, putting the truck into park and getting out. She opened up the rear door and said, "Vas-y!" Gesturing with her head for the dog to jump, which he did. He snaked up into the trees and was gone within seconds. She climbed back into the truck, engaging the 4L drive and continued up the rocky, heavily overgrown double track.
"Uh…is he…?" Rodchenko pointed to where the dog had disappeared.
"He’ll beat us to the house. Probably catch himself a rabbit along the way. Don’t be surprised if he’s on the front porch with blood all over his snout."
"Are you kidding?"
She pulled up into a path cut through the woods.
Rodchenko looked ahead and saw a huge, deep puddle of water that had almost washed out a portion of the trail. “Whoa!” He gripped the dashboard.
She gunned the engine, climbing easily over a felled tree. “Relax. I can make it through that,” she pointed at the washout, “but the bottom is like sand dunes. We’ll be out in just a minute.”
Rodchenko hung on for dear life until she pulled back out onto the trail and continued north.
Just as the last of the light disappeared from the sky and Rodchenko was beginning to think they would be driving forever, the trees opened up to a breathtaking scene.
Less than a hundred feet in front of them stood a large, two and a half story house, all dark grey and black stone facade and siding. The entire main floor was lit up in blazing, welcoming light, and behind the house, seemingly thousands of feet below, the ground fell away and ended in the distant, sparkling lights of a small town. She stopped the truck less than 10 feet from the front door and sure enough, there was her dog. His snout was clean.
"This is…beautiful." Rodchenko said, marvelling at the bright stars overhead.
They walked toward the front door, LeCroix digging out her keys.
Rodchenko noticed she had a fairly pronounced limp. “You all right?” He touched her shoulder as she put the key in the lock.
She glanced at him. “Old sporting injury. I’ll be fine.” She pushed open the door, ushering Rodchenko in, and to the dog she said, “Arkady, viens-ici.” He trotted in amicably, sniffing Rodchenko’s shoes as he removed them. She closed the door and went into the kitchen, immediately banging around the cupboards. “You hungry, Toly?”
"God I’m starving." He followed the sound of her voice, the dog following him. "Have you got any wi-"
She handed him a glass of dark red wine. “Pinot noir, right?”
He blinked once, taking the glass. “Thank you. And cheers.” He tipped the glass toward her and took a long sip. He glanced around the house, noting the wood and stone making up almost every surface. “Quite the flat, Shawn.”
"Markov left behind one hell of an insurance policy." She poured herself a glass of wine and removed a large Dutch oven from the fridge. From that, she began to spoon some of the contents into a bowl.
"Hey I didn’t mean-"
"I know. It’s all good, Toly. We’re all friends here. Right, Arkady?" She slipped a spoonful into his bowl and he happily dug in.
Rodchenko sipped his wine. “Is it always this cold up here?”
She put the other bowl in the microwave and turned the dial. She picked up her glass and clinked it against his. “Colder, usually.”
"I realize this is rather tactless, but per chance have you any of Markov’s old clothes?"
She chuffed. “Ken was 6 foot 3 and 210 pounds of solid muscle. You’d drown in his left pant leg.”
"Thank you for that."
"I bought you some clothes. They’re upstairs. Guest room."
"Good. I’m bloody freezing. Which door?"
The microwave dinged. She removed the bowl, holding the sides with a dish towel, and placed it on the counter in front of him. She plucked a spoon from a drawer and stuck in the mixture, smiling coyly. “Second on the left. Eat up. It’ll put hair on your chest.”
"But you…you fed this to the dog. It smells delicious. You don’t cook."
"I learned. It’s Lamb Bourguignon. I’m going to have a shower." She walked out of the kitchen.
Rodchenko looked down at the bowl, sniffed it again, and, ravenous, shovelled a spoonful into his mouth. “Oh my god that’s hot!” He chewed, and his face brightened with surprise. “And it’s really…good. Hey LeCroix! This is spectacular!”
"Enjoy." she called back.
He tucked into the food with enthusiasm, savouring every bite and washing it down with wine.
There came a loud thump and a crash from upstairs. Rodchenko froze, looking upward. He put down his dish and drew his sidearm, quietly chambering a round as he moved silently toward the stairs. He ascended slowly, listening for further noise. He noticed the dog following him just as quietly.
Rodchenko raised his hand, palm out, and whispered, “Taisez-vous.”
The dog let out a low, almost indiscernible growl.
"Whatever." Rodchenko went up the stairs and scanned the hallway. He saw one room, last door on the left, had light spilling from it. Gun raised, he moved quickly down the hall, aware of potential movement from the other 3 doors off the hall. He rounded the wall and peered into the room, sweeping it with his gun. Seeing nothing except a slightly unkempt bedroom, he entered the room.
"Oh god." He holstered the gun and went to LeCroix. She was collapsed halfway between the bedroom and the attached bathroom; the wine glass shattered on the bathroom floor. He rolled her onto her back, carefully, and checked her respiration. Finding her airway clear, he moved to assess the rest of her. The first things he noticed were some strange metal implants on her right leg, they were veinous, dark, and raised under her flesh and the metallic pieces protruding, yet flush, appeared to be several parts of a larger unit which comprised her entire knee, part of her thigh, and most of her lower leg. The second thing he noticed was that her entire midsection was soaked in blood. Gingerly, he peeled back her shirt and found her abdomen wrapped in bandages. The amount and colour told him she’d likely taken a piece of shrapnel from his exploding car. And she’d been bleeding this entire time.
"Christ." He hoisted her up into his arms, turning toward the bed.
The dog snarled at him from the doorway.
"She’s hurt. And what the hell is inside her leg?"
The dog approached the bed, resting his chin on the edge. He whined once, watching Rodchenko work.
Rodchenko went back into the bathroom and opened the drawers one by one until he found a first aid kit. He brought it back to the bed and pulled out the scissors, beginning to cut away her shirt. He then removed the bandages and assessed the wound. The shrapnel was a chunk of glass, though the largest piece has already fallen out. Or she pulled it out. Would she be that stupid? He decided he didn’t need an answer to that.
Working quickly, he removed the bits of detritus from the wound, applied bone sealant powder to the seeping tissue inside, and sutured it closed. Washing his hands afterward, he found his eyes using the bathroom mirror to stare at her strange, half-mechanical leg. He knew she’d been badly injured on her last job with Corvid. He went downstairs, checked the doors and windows to ensure they were locked, grabbed the wine bottle and a clean glass, and went back to her room to keep watch.
As she slept on, her breath low and deep, he remembered seeing her coming down the road toward him, at the facility in the Russian countryside, north of Kursk. She hadn’t walked to him that day so much as she’d staggered. He was only 22, she’d barely turned 31 and her partner, Ken Markov, had died on that mission. So had Corvid’s right hand man, Allan Brickle. That entire operation could not have gone more wrong. One of Corvid’s men (What was his name? Joachim…something.) turned out to be a plant. Whoever Joachim had actually been working for, they never found out. Shawn had killed him with her bare hands and with Corvid fleeing back to the UK, the trail went cold. Rodchenko had driven her to an independent contact who supplied her with travel documents, and she was gone. She asked him to go with her. She’d find him work in her own country, Canada. She’d practically begged, convinced Corvid would get him killed sooner than later. But his loyalties were with Corvid, and there they’d parted paths.
But what the hell had happened between then and now that her leg was more machine than Shawn?
He emptied his wine glass and lay down next to her, watching her chest rise and fall. After awhile, once he was certain her bleeding had stopped, he fell asleep beside her. The dog on the floor at the foot of the bed.
©2014 Lelial Thibodeau https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=72wpyMUaZ9w