Felicity fell silent as Marco joined them. He acknowledged her with a hint of displeasure, and spoke to James. “The hotel security cameras captured a few images of him,” he said. Turning his phone towards her, he added, “This is the clearest.”
The policeman was young. Attractive. “Do you recognise him?”
Marco shook his head. “No. I’ll run a search when I get back to the office.” He turned to go, then hesitated. “The CIA are even less welcome here than the British, Miss Leiter. Tread carefully.”
Felicity rolled her eyes and said nothing. She waited until he was out of sight, then nudged James. “Let’s see.”
Elizabeth had always preferred high street fashions, and had always been an expert at blending in with crowds. It made her a very effective assassin, but James had always believed the Double-Os needed to be more than that. A Double-O needed that in-your-face, devil-may-care, I’m-a-spy attitude that changed the rules of the spy game. There were plenty of other people to do the run-of-the-mill wetwork and espionage.
The shoes were cork wedges with a two-inch lift, but inside them were the same high-tech gadgets as in James’s designer heels. Using her own smartphone to connect wirelessly with Elizabeth’s shoes, James typed in the long passcode used by the Double-O branch, and waited for the files to download and decrypt. There was a GPS record of everywhere the shoes had been for the past three months – James decided to leave examining that for later – and a string of photos taken in and around a container terminal, presumably in the Port of Venice.
A blue container that looked old and battered by the elements and a rough life of mishandling featured in many of the later photos. In some of these, seen from a distance, two thickset men in ill-fitting black suits supervised the loading of the container onto a truck. The last few photos were in a marina somewhere – Sant’Elena, judging by the bits of Venice James could see in the background – this time focussing on a luxury yacht. Again, these were long-distance photos and unclear, but two men in black suits – almost certainly the same two men – could be seen on the deck.
Also on the deck was an attractive young man, wearing a white suit with a red bow tie.
“Who is he?” Felicity asked.
James shrugged. “No idea. But if he’s the Red Queen, I’m disappointed.”
She e-mailed all the photos to Felicity, copying in Kacie. “Thanks,” Felicity said. “I’ll hunt down the truck. You take the yacht.”
Standing, they embraced a little awkwardly. “Good luck,” James said.
“You too. Oh, and watch your back, James.”
Marco phoned in the middle of the night. “I found him,” he said, and gave her the address.
“Twenty minutes,” James said, and dressed hurriedly in the same Dolce and Gabbana – it was dark clothing, warm and covered her well, perfect for night work – but swapped the designer heels for black running shoes. Within two minutes of ending the call, she was outside the hotel, across the Rialto Bridge and into the shadows, moving swiftly as she spiralled in toward Campo San Polo, watching always for any sign she was being followed.
Marco was waiting for her, almost invisible in a doorway across from the policeman’s house. The city was quiet. No signs of life at any windows nearby. James picked the lock with ease and crept in, wishing once again she had her gun. Marco closed the door behind her, and in almost pitch blackness they moved through the kitchen – James pausing briefly to take a chef’s knife from the wooden block on the counter – towards the bedrooms at the back. From the sound, only one bed was occupied, and that by only one person. A man.
James knelt by the bed, and pressed the sharp blade lightly against the sleeping man’s neck. Marco switched the light on so that they could confirm they had the right person. They did.
The policeman, Pietro Morelli, woke with a cry, struggling in a disorientated way and hitting out blindly at James until the blade at his neck persuaded him to be calm.
Marco sat on the bed, firing questions at him in rapid Italian. Whenever Pietro hesitated, James increased the pressure. Blood trickled from the deepening cut almost as fast as tears flowed from the young man’s eyes.
Switching to English, Marco explained, “He says he has known Elizabeth for two years, that they often spend time together when she’s in Venice. He says he didn’t know she was a spy. He thought she was a private investigator. He helped her get access to the Port.”
It all sounded very innocent, but she could see the calculation in his eyes. It was clear to her also that Pietro understood English. With one hand, James took out her phone and found the photo of the man in white. “Who is this?” she demanded.
“I don’t know,” he said. James cut deeper – any deeper and she’d be in danger of breaching the jugular, which would just be messy. Pietro screamed. “I don’t know! I only know that he plays poker at the Casinò. The other guys – the Russians – they pay me – not just me – for information. About investigations. Unusual visitors.”
“You told them Elizabeth was taking photos of the yacht.”
“And you told the authorities she was a British spy.”
“No.” She could see the lie in his eyes.
James sighed, and relaxed. “It’s your call, Marco. I’d really love to end this worm’s life, but I have no authority here.”
Pietro scrambled away from them, clutching his neck, looking fearfully back and forth. “I didn’t know they would kill her,” he said. “I’m –”
Whatever he was, Marco’s bullet denied it. “Let’s get out of here,” Marco said wearily, slipping the handgun back into the deep pocket of his coat.
Moments later they were closing the front door behind them, uncomfortably aware of the lights in the windows around them. The shot had been too loud not to arouse curiosity.
What they weren’t aware of, until too late, were the shadows in the doorways opposite. The crack of an airgun firing was James’s only warning before the tranquilizer dart punctured her neck.
She was aware for a long time before she was awake in any useful sense. She was aware of the cold, hard floor. Aware of the smell of blood. Aware of the faint light through the church windows that brightened as dawn approached.
She found the strength to move, and pushed herself into a sitting position. Her hands were dark and sticky with drying blood. She turned, and saw.
She was in San Martino, the church where Elizabeth had been found. Murdered. Crucified. Except it wasn’t Elizabeth bound to the cross now. It was Marco. Clothed. His neck sliced open. The knife on the floor beside James, no doubt with her fingerprints all over it.
A symbolic revenge killing of a senior Agenzia operative by a British government assassin. A holy site desecrated again. The political fallout would be catastrophic.
And Marco was dead. Elizabeth too. James needed to move, to run, but all she could do was cry, and even that hurt too much.
Her training reasserted itself at last. She picked up the knife and slipped it into a pocket – her phone was gone – and staggered weakly, dizzily, to an alcove where she might escape notice. At least until she was able to think and move.
Slumping to the ground, she gave in to tears again, and sleep followed swiftly.
Intense writing, Frank!
For something that started out last week as a bit of nonsense fun, this story has been extensively rewritten in the interim, and I’m still wrestling with it. I have also learned a surprising amount about nuclear missiles, and I’m sure I must have been flagged by the NSA… 🙂
Ha ha ha. I think most writers are on NSA lists, Frank. Happy Writing.