The stove’s clock changed to 10:52 silently. The flat was dark, except for the dim light that shined in from outside. Sonia sat at the dining room table, spinning her 3rd glass of cognac between her fingers. The last 6 years had been the same: her husband would walk out the door for work and manage to find his way between the legs of a young co-ed. Marcus was beautiful and charming in the beginning. He’d lavished her with gifts and trips, promising that she was the only woman he’d ever loved. They consummated their relationship in the balmy waters of Santorini & they were inseparable from then on. The first year they were married was everything she’d hoped. He spoiled her, prompting to her to quit the measly desk work she’d believed was her career. He helped her mother & sister move to a better home in a better community and doted on his wife, loving her as largely as he could.
Elise knew he would be there, but she was still unprepared when he walked in the door. She’d spent the last two weeks painstakingly arranging every detail for the bachelor/bachelorette party at the secluded cottage; It was her way of focusing on something other than her missing lover.
“Oh, so you’re on that bullshit tonight, huh?” Josalyn said, watching attentively as Elise finished the large cup she’d just poured. Elise gasped and winced as the liquor burned its way past her throat and stomach.
“Long week,” she said flatly.
It killed her to keep the secret from her best friends, especially when she needed their advice at the moment.
“What’s the point of having a bachelor/bachelorette party if they’re already married?” Amara said, swigging from her own cup.
“His family is very traditional. I don’t even know if they know about the house yet,” Elise said. She poured another serving of Hennessy into her cup.
“I see what kind of night this is gonna be,” Josalyn said, still awed by her friend’s consumption.
“She’s just trying to keep pace with Liam.”
Elise found her eyes, scanning the room for him. His animation with her sister made him easy to spot, booming over the speakers and conversations. The rage that had been boiling inside her pooled into another heat that sat between her thighs at the sight of him. His beauty and charm gave him access to any woman he chose. On anyone else, the busily-patterned button-up would be played and his exposed chest from its lack of buttoning would be corny, but Liam was regal. Elise watched him like a hawk, examining his every move, anticipating her attack. She knew he’d seen her and was waiting for his opportunity to strike. He made his way to the trio to deliver his traditional greetings. He seized Amara in his arms and squeezed her as tight as he could.
“Are you drunk?” Amara asked.
“Quite,” he said, hugging Josalyn before turning his attention to Elise.
“What’s up?” he said, taking her in.
“What’s up?” she repeated before he swept her into his arms. She’d kept her hands glued to her side as he pulled her into his chest. Her icy demeanor held briefly, until it was thawed by the gentle press of his lips onto her neck. Suddenly, she was ablaze beneath her skin. “I hope you didn’t drive,” Elise said.
“Well, this is a slumber party, right?” he said, winking at Elise before he walked away.
Elise managed to drag her sister off of her husband’s lap, just long enough to pull her into the master bedroom. “I literally can’t hold this in any longer,” she said, shutting the door behind her.
“What, what happened?”
“My secret one-thing? It’s Liam,” Elise said. The words felt like she was releasing a breath she’d been holding in.
“Shut the fuck up!”
“Yeah, but I fucked up. I asked him out and now I know he’s weird about it.”
“Go talk to him! Not me!”
“I can’t! What am I supposed to say? Hi, I know I asked you out and it’s cool if you don’t like me that way, but I’d still like to hit that?”
“Yes! Say exactly that!”
“Em! Be serious!”
“What do you want?”
“5 minutes in the linen closet?”
“Make it 10,” her sister said before shoving her back out the room.
In her mind, she’d known she still wanted him. She’d plotted the whole night, from the decorations and the music, to the black dress she wore that accentuated her body. With her sister’s approval, Elise was ready to make her move.
“El, do you wanna play this drinking game?”
“Yeah, let me grab a cup,” she said, making her way into the kitchen. As she reached for the red solo cups on top of the fridge, she could feel the hair on her neck raise sharply before the hands snaked around her.
“Shit,” he whispered into her ear as he draped himself over her. “This dress is driving me crazy. I need to take it off,” he said, his hands lazily ambled across her body. Just as she settled into his warmth, he was gone, several feet from where he had once been as one of the guest wandered into the kitchen. They exchanged heated looks, before Liam went back into the living room. She’d managed to let out an annoyed sigh as Amara entered.
“Five bucks he’s passed out on the floor before midnight,” Amara chuckled, refilling her cup.
“I’m not gonna take that bet. He’s blasted.”
“He’ll be ok. He just broke up with someone and he’s a little raw.”
Elise found it impossible to mask her fury as she turned and stormed out onto the porch. She’d been saving her special friend as an after-party treat, but her anger rose in her throat like bile. Her breath was jagged as she inhaled and exhaled the thick smoke, almost immediately calming her raging brain. She replayed the last two months over and over in her head, looking for any sign in her murky memories. She’d known Liam her whole life and found it hard to believe that he’d lie to her and cheat on someone. She’d always held him to a slightly higher standard but it dawned on her that Liam was a man, just like that rest: capable of anything. The weed began to work its magic, slightly relaxing Elise, as she heard the door creak open.
“There you are,” Liam said, before he dropped onto the steps next to her. He reached out to take the cigar from her hands, when she pulled it out of his reach.
“Oh, you being stingy tonight?”
“I don’t like to share,” she said in a grim tone.
“You’ve been with someone this whole time?”
Liam sighed and rubbed his face. He’d come to the party to avoid his thoughts of Kim and her “happy” marriage.
“It wasn’t anything serious. And it’s over.”
“Obviously it was more serious than you thought,” Elise scoffed. Up close, Liam was a sweaty, drunk mess, which eliminated a lot of his charm.
“It was. Or I thought so. But it’s over and I’m over her.”
“So you couldn’t tell me you were with someone else? Or did you just want to have your cake and eat it too?”
“That’s the dumbest idiom ever…”
“Only because you don’t understand it,” Elise said, ashing the blunt and standing to leave. Liam leapt up and blocked her path to the house.
“Come on, don’t be mad. I’m sorry,” he said, running his hands over her chilled skin.
“No, fuck you. I’ve been, I don’t know, holding out hope that one day you would see me since I was a kid. I’d given up until…. I don’t know what you and ole girl had going on, but obviously you’re upset about it. You came here, hoping I’d be ok with you ignoring me for weeks now so you could get your sad little rocks off but it’s not happening.”
“Ok, I’m upset! Damn, I thought friends were supposed to be there for one another.”
“You don’t know what a friend is, Liam. Everything is always about YOU. You think the world is supposed to just stop for you and it doesn’t. I have feelings too. You don’t even have the decency to turn me down properly!”
Liam’s face changed instantly, an unfamiliar emotion Elise had never seen. He took his hands off of her and stood back. “Is that what this is about?”
Elise bit her lip and shook her head. She’d be damned if she dropped tears in front of him.
“Bro, you’re tripping. No, I know what it is. You’re jealous.”
“Jealous?! Of what?”
“Jealous that I actually wanted something with her. Terrified that you were another side piece just waiting for a ride around the block and a pat on the head.”
Elise felt as though the air had been ripped from her lungs. If her reaction time hadn’t been impaired, she might have tried to peel the flesh from his bones. She shut her eyes for a moment, trying to turn off the brewing storm.
It took Dorian a split second to react to Noelle standing at his front door. His arm whipped to his waistband and seized the gun, swinging it to her face. She grabbed the muzzle and forced his arm down, sending the gun flying. Dorian grabbed the thief by her lapels and dragged her into the apartment. She used her forearms to break his grip and block his strikes as he came at her full force. She was the reason he was out of a job & under investigation. She had seduced him, made his drop his guard for one minute, and outfoxed him, something he could proudly say didn’t happen often. Dorian hated to admit it to himself, but he had a point to prove.
He pushed deeper inside of his wife. Her gasp pushed her warm breath onto his full lips, her brow furrowed in borrowed ecstasy. He wound his arms around her, sharing the air between their mouths and the sweat on their skin. “Tell me you love me,” he said as he watched her. She squirmed on top of him, trapped like a field mouse and its slithering predator. He filled her again and again with no remorse for her moans. “Tell me. Say it.”
“I love you.”
He rolled over deftly, still tucked away but she was different, her scent spreading through the room: honeysuckle and orchids. She pushed her knees back so he could peer down and watch her love bloom for him. He pressed his lips onto her knees as he dipped inside of her. He could feel every muscle inside of her twitch around him and he felt himself unravel with every thrust. He wanted to hate her; he wanted to stop and drag her into the deepest hole the federal government could provide. Yet, he wanted nothing but to bury himself deep inside of her, to release the thick sorrow and melancholy that kept him captive. He was trapped in quicksand; a harrowing love for his dead wife and the forbidden lust he possessed for the thief.
Olivia squealed as Dorian picked her up in a bear hug and swung her around. “Congrats, baby!” she laughed. He set her down gently and kissed her cherry red lips. His graduation from Quantico was a huge achievement, however, it wasn’t the reason behind his fluttering heart. “Marry me,” he said, his forehead pressed against hers. “Shut up,” she said, slapping his chest and laughing. He caught her arm and sank down on one knee. He reached in his inner pocket and produced the blue box holding the single solitaire. “Olivia…” he began. They’d only been dating for 8 months but Dorian was sure the sun rose and set with her. “I’ve never been in love before you. I’ve never known someone so amazing, so loving, so deserving of everything the universe has to offer and if you say yes, I promise I will spend the rest of my life trying to give it to you.” Olivia’s eyes swelled with tears at the beautiful man knelt before her. Her head was nodding before she could get the words from her lips. “Yes!”
“Where the fuck is the power?!” Dorian yelled into his earpiece, making his way through the dark and panic. It was her, it had to be. As soon the power was out, she slipped from his grip and into the darkness. “I had her!” he yelled as he got closer to the Markov. “Sanchez, do you have eyes?!”
“I can’t see shit! It’s pitch black!” The party began to grow more and more anxious in the dark, escalating to some screams and raised voices. “Everyone, everyone, please remain calm! We are working on this issue as expeditious as possible! If you can all just stay where you are to prevent any further injuries,” Mayor Hayes said from somewhere in the dark.
“Maverick, what the fuck happened? We still had time!” Noelle said, pushing through the obscured guests. “I may or may not have blown the power for the entire Eastern grid. Don’t worry, I’m working on getting it back! I guess it couldn’t handle the surges I was sending to the security systems and I didn’t realize that…”
“Maverick! Focus! I wasn’t in position! How long until the power comes back on?” Noelle barked when suddenly, the lights flickered on in the manor. “The entire grid just came back live! I didn’t do this!” Noelle had nearly made it to the display holding the Markov when she noticed the glass case was already empty. “Oh my God, it’s gone.”
“My wedding ring! I took it off to wash my hands and when I looked back, it was gone!” Olivia half-sobbed. “Hey, no, it’s ok, baby, we’ll find it.”
“I can’t believe I even took it off…” she said as he pulled her into his chest. “Don’t cry baby. If it’s really gone, we’ll just get another one.”
“That’s not why I’m crying….I…I just haven’t told you…” Dorian’s heart dropped into his stomach. Her tone had changed and he immediately feared the worst. In the few months they’d been married, they’d been fighting more frequently. At first he wrote it off as the end of the honeymoon phase, but after the things she said to him last night, he slept on the couch. He silently prayed for control over his temper over whatever she told him, no matter how awful. He pulled her away and looked in her tearful eyes. “My emotions have been all over the place and making me a little crazy lately and I just decided to take a test and….I’m pregnant.” She could tell Dorian was braced for bad news and it took a few seconds for his steely resolve to melt. “You mean…I’m gonna be a daddy?”
She had to move fast when she saw the Fed making his way towards her; it would be a matter of seconds before he and his backup surrounded her. She ducked out of sight into a nearby hallway. She needed a few seconds to look over the plans for the house again when she spotted it out the corner of her eye: her father’s coin. Tied to string, it dangled on the doorknob catty-corner to her position. She crossed the hall and examined the coin closely. She instantly recognized the symbols on either side. How did it get there? Who put it there? Questions burned in her mind until her adrenaline prodded her. It had to be a sign. She pushed the door open and slipped inside.
The office was decorated warmly: pewter green wall, gray carpet and a large oak desk decorated the east side of the room. A French double door was situated on the other side, showcasing the grounds towards the main entrance. Someone had given her a way out. She had no time to contemplate the mire; she needed to run. Now. She kicked off the gold heels and pushed through the doors in a full sprint.
Dorian had made his way to the front door as the party continued on inside. He scanned the view until he spotted the woman in white hopping into her red Corvette. He drew his weapon and pointed in her direction. “FBI! FREEZE!” There was no way Noelle was giving up that easily. She peeled away from the curb, almost hitting the valet and burned rubber down the driveway. “Dammit!” Dorian yelled as he galloped down the stairs. He made his way to the Mustang being pulled around. “FBI! I need this vehicle,” he said as he shoved the valet out the way. He sped around and down the driveway after the thief.
“Shaw, where the hell did you go?”
“I am in pursuit of the suspect! Female, African American, approximately 25-30 years old, driving a red 2017 Corvette!”
“I’ll put local P.D. in the loop. Dorian, are you SURE she has the bracelet?”
“Affirmative. I’m going after her ass,” Dorian said, before hanging up the phone. The hum of their engines ripped through the air as they sped down to the expressway. Dorian remained mere paces behind her as she zig zagged through traffic trying to lose him. Noelle hit redial as she dodged a Caravan in the farthest lane. “Maverick, I need you to get me out of here. I got a Fed on my tail!”
“Whoa, FBI?! How did that…”
“Never mind, Gina! I need to lose him!”
“Take the expressway for 4 more miles. You’re close to the Casup Basin. There are a few cabins still in those woods.” Noelle stomped on the accelerator hard and shot away from her pursuer, eager to get out of sight. “Exit’s on your left!” Maverick yelled as she watched her GPS display of Noelle’s location. Noelle turned the steering wheel hard and zoomed across three lanes to get off the freeway. “Shit!” The Fed yelled, nearly having to make a U-turn in front of several cars.
“Push, Olivia, push!”
“I CAN’T!” she yelled before collapsing back into his arms. “Please…we can still make it to the hospital, Dorian,” she sobbed. Her labor began and progressed quickly, too quickly for them to make the trip to the hospital like they’d planned. “How long before that ambulance gets here?” Dorian barked into the phone. “I’m sorry, sir, but they are still 20 minutes out due to the collapse. From the sound of things, I’m gonna have to walk you through delivering your daughter,” the 911 operator said calmly into the phone. Olivia, slick from sweat, shook her head furiously. “No, no, no, no, please, I can’t—“ she began before she was overwhelmed by another contraction. She let out a scream that sent a shiver down Dorian’s spine. “Dorian, can you please look between Olivia’s legs and describe to me what you see?” He kissed his wife on the top of her head before changing his position on the bathroom floor. “Oh my God! I think I see the head!”
“Ok, Olivia, that means you’re crowning. You need to push as hard and as long as you can so you can have your baby tonight, ok?”
“No, no, we had a plan. Dorian, tell her, we had a plan,” she said, on the brink of exhaustion. “Hey, hey, look at me,” he said to her. “You are going to have our baby tonight. But I need my warrior right now. I’m not giving up on you and I’m sure as hell not letting you give up. So on my count, I need you to push hard and long so we can meet our kid, ok?” The tears welling in Dorian’s eyes were enough to convince her. “With me, one, two, THREE!”
“Shaw, what….your….-cation?” Dorson yelled into the phone. His connection faded the farther he drove into the woods around the lake. “She’s in the Basin! I’m not gonna lose her!” he yelled before the phone disconnected. He threw the phone into the seat next to him and pushed on. Noelle steered the car deeper and deeper into the darkening woods but with every turn she made, the headlights behind her followed. Dorian pushed the car next to hers, both of them casting heated glances at one another. He turned the wheel and bumped the back of the Corvette with the front of the Mustang. Noelle shot an incredulous look at the Fed before she tried to zoom away, however, the ground had become too muddy for the car to gain necessary traction. Noelle, afraid for her life, veered the car away from his last bump and steered the car over a log. The car skidded down a slight embankment and rolled twice before landing on its lid. Dorian slammed on the brakes but the mired ground sent him sailing headfirst into a large oak tree.
The wind howled on the 20th floor of the construction site. Noelle took another deep breath as she prepared the gun and grappling hook. Her next contract was located deep within the walls over 1000 feet away. The hair on the back of her neck stood erect, apprehensive to complete a job so soon and so close to the one before. “Are you ok?” the voice chirped into her earpiece, startling her slightly. “I’m fine,” Noelle said questionably. “Like I was saying, Rex Tech just went public 6 months ago. $534 MILLION, can you believe? I applied for a job but they told me I was too…” the girl rambled on in her ear. Noelle rolled her eyes and called back. “Radio silent, Maverick, until I’m across,” she snarled back to her “Eye in the Sky”. With another deep breath, she aimed the gun and fired. The hook exploded from the gun and shot across the skyline until it secured itself to the neighboring rooftop. She secured the gun to the exposed beams near her and attached the rappelling hook on the tension line. With a ‘click’, she took a running leap over the edge.
After what felt like an eternity, she landed on the gravel that covered the roof. “I’m across,” she said. “Ok, at the door, there will be a card access. Use the key I gave you and let the algorithm do the rest,” Maverick said. Noelle removed it from her pack and slid the key into the reader and waited for the handheld device to flash green. “I can only disable the cameras for 40 seconds at a time with 1 minute intervals. Any longer and a secondary security system is engaged and will send out a silent alarm. You need to get down 5 floors to get to the next blind spot, directly under the camera on the 15th floor. Got it?”
The lock disengaged and Noelle took off galloping down the stairs. “30 seconds,” Maverick said into her ear. She made it to the 15th floor and she jammed the hacked key into the reader. “10 seconds.” It felt like it took longer before the light turn green and the latch on the door withdrew. “8…7…6…” Maverick counted down as Noelle used her foot to slow the door from slamming. With barely a second to spare, she dipped beneath the security camera that was settled in the corner. “Cutting it a little close, are we?” Maverick said, her keystrokes audible from the phone. “Maybe you should rewrite this algorithm to be a little faster,” Noelle said. Another 30 seconds needed to pass before the cameras could be looped again. She was careful not to exhale too hard or move in any way. “Ok, loop is restarting…now!”
Noelle took off into a sprint down the hallway. She repeated the memorized directions from the map she studied: right, right, left, right. There were no cameras where she was going. She met with the large cherry wood door, out of sync with the other doors on the floor. She jammed the lock picker in once more and gained another accepted access. She dove into the room and waited, still catching her breath. When she stood, she surveyed the office of Vice President of Research and Development quickly. The view was breathtaking, meaning that she was in the correct place. The painting on the wall was flush against the wallpaper. The desk was tempered glass and contained no drawers. The bookcase on the opposite was awkwardly shaped; each shelf was misaligned on its intended symmetrical side. Noelle scanned it momentarily before she grinned to herself and shoved the two halves apart. Surrounding the case along the wall and floor were unmistakable tracks, used to wheel the shelves back and forth to hide and reveal the safe. “A billion dollar company and they cheap out with a McGinnick,” Noelle said as she pulled off her backpack.
“I’m in,” she grinned to herself as she removed the borescope from the hole she drilled just above the dial. “Wait, what?” Maverick said as her keystrokes furiously tapped in the background. Noelle spun the handle and the safe popped open with a dull clank. “Literally NO ONE can crack a McGinnick that fast! How did you…”
“I have my ways,” Noelle said. She had been trained by the best. Her father’s words rang in the back of her head: “Nothing is impenetrable. Patience opens ANY lock.” Inside of the safe were stacks of cash, manila folders and a group of microchips settled into a display. “Ok, which one is it?” she said as she began flipping through the nonsequential bills. “Hang on,” Maverick said, her fingers moving like lightning. “Seriously, you couldn’t have figured this out before I got it open?”
“It says all of them.”
“What? I thought you said A microchip, not 20,” Noelle said, looking back at the display. “He says it is impossible to know which is which so bring them all.”
“You make sure you let him there is an upcharge,” she said. She took the plastic display from the safe and dumped it into her backpack. She glanced at the money again and grabbed it as well. “Alright, I’m gone. Set up the meet.” she said as she swung the safe closed.
She made it back across the line a few minutes later. Just as she began to celebrate another win, she was met with a swift kick to the torso that knocked her on her back. She jumped back up and looked up at her attacker. They were dressed in all black and wore a black ski mask, but from their stature, she could tell it was a man. “Who the hell…” she began before the man attacked again. She was deft at blocking his moves; his punches and kicks were met with her own. He pulled a knife from his hip and swung it at her, causing her to jump backwards too close to the edge. He reached out and grabbed her hand to pull her back. He swung the knife again and barely missed her flesh, but he had severed the strap to the backpack she wore. He grabbed it and tried to take off running, but she jumped on his back and tackled him to the ground. He elbowed her on the side of the head and pushed her off of him. They both held a steady grip on the bag, swinging at one another for one moment of slack. As they fought, she felt her father’s coin unlodge itself from under her shirt. The mystery man glanced down at it and back to her before he snatched it from her neck and kicked her away. “Wait, no!” she yelled as she took off after him. She followed him as far as she could but he disappeared into the night with her prized possession.
The meet was scheduled for an hour later at the Zen Gardens restaurant. The man enjoyed his dinner at the back table; 4 of his most loyal henchmen surrounded him, each of them strapped with a semi-automatic gun. The bell rang to signal someone had entered. Before the man could address the woman, she had stormed inside and pushed the table right against his bulging stomach and pinned him to the wall. His henchmen had their guns aimed right as her back as she held the man in position. “Who else did you contract out for this?” she yelled. The man coughed into his napkin and tried to defuse the situation. “I placed an ad and you answered.”
“Did you send someone else after me?! To push me off a building?!”
“Now why would I do that and you’ve done what no one else could for me?” the Asian man said. He signaled to his men to lower their weapons; he felt powerful enough to not feel threatened by her. “He stole something from me and I want it back. Until I do, I’ll be keeping this,” she said, holding up the backpack. She released her grip from the table and began to walk out when the man began speaking again. “You may not want to go too far with that information. I’d hate for something to happen to that pretty little head of yours.” The henchmen moved into her path and blocked her way to the door. She spun and faced the man as a scowl spread across her face. “Sit,” he said, his hand extended toward the chair next to him. “Let’s talk business.”