The countess woke up with a headache.
Disoriented, her ears ringing horribly, she tried to sit up. Failed. Laid back down.
She tried to piece together where she was, and how she’d gotten there. Then it all came back to her. She noted dumbly that it was the second time in as many weeks that she’d woken up this way.
She’d felt almost immediately that there was something wrong with her contact. She’d been so happy have anyone to help her that she’d ignored it when that feeling came. The woman had the code. She was wonderful. She was like an angel, a savior, and at that moment, she felt she would have killed or died for the woman. She almost did.
When they’d walked from the drop point, her hands in Tereshkova’s like old girlfriends, she’d been so reassuring. She spoke in her own native tongue, in her mind, she sounded just like her mother. She’d began pouring out her terrible story, babbling like a child, the tears she’d struggled to contain brimming out in tiny rivulets.
“There, there little one.” that Russian bitch had cooed, “now, where is the valise?”
She’d almost forgotten the whole purpose of the mission. “Oh, yes” she managed, her words punctuated by sobs, “The man . . . . .he told me not to bring it. . . he said it would be dangerous. He said to give it to him, but then they killed him . . . . . right there in front of me . . . . . they shot him with something . . . . . I was so scared . . . . . . .I didn’t know what to do . . . I was in a panic. . . . .that poor man . . .”
“Yes.” Tereshkova had said, more insistently then perhaps she’d intended “but what did you DO with it??” Her voice seemed now nothing like her mother’s. Had she honestly thought it so? She looked at the woman more closely. She had a certain look about her. She seemed lovely and at the same time . . . .predatory. And the nagging feeling that something was wrong would not leave her.
She hardly noticed the bicycle messengers pass them.
She looked down at their intertwined hands, Tereshkova’s so beautiful, and so strong, making her own seem small. She was missing something. What was it? She observed absently “What a lovely bracelet.”
Tereshkova smiled. It was a beautiful smile. That look of a savior had returned. “Valentina, you must concentrate, dearest. It’s very important. Where is the valise, little one?”
She smiled herself, and reached into her pocket to retrieve the locker key when it hit her. This woman had a look about her. This WOMAN. Her conversation young man with the blue eyes and the bad teeth began to replay in her mind: “We don’t think they know who he is, but they know that the drop is today. . .”, “. . . won’t be long before they’ll figure him out”, “We’ve got to get him out of there.” Who HE is. Figure HIM out. Get HIM out of there.
She’d not known anything about her contact at the start of this mission. But when things had started to go wrong, the agent had obviously not thought it necessary to hide her contact’s gender. She was supposed to be meeting a MAN.
The jewelry had told her the rest. She was in the hands, literally, of Svetlana Tereshkova.
Which meant her only hope of surviving . . . . was to stall.
She forced another smile which didn’t feel at all convincing and said “I’ll take you to it.”
“Where, my dear. It’s important that I know.”
She was trying to think of some brilliant diversion, something like they did in the movies, but nothing came to her. As it turned out, nothing needed to. As if to aid her in this capacity, all hell broke loose.
Svetlana was moving. A sharp whistle. Before Valentina could even register the sound, she was laid out flat, the wind knocked out of her. The key flew from her hand. She didn’t see it bounce down a sewer grate
At first, she thought it must be her father’s people. They’d come to save her. But the woman beneath her locked her in a sleeper hold, rolled and began choking her, and that pretty much blew that theory. Who were these people then? Not that it mattered much if she choked to death. She kicked wildly to free herself, but to no avail. The woman’s grip was like a vise. Then she’d felt a sharp sting in her left thigh. She hoped it wasn’t one of those blue darts. Then she felt the warmth of her own blood trickling out, and she realized she’d been shot. As if to add insult to injury, the woman strangling her jammed something sharp into her ribs.
Things started to swim out of focus. She struggled to maintain consciousness. Then Tereshkova was over her, lifting her under the arms. Svetlana looked like she’d taken the brunt of rather a tough beating herself. Good. Russian Bitch.
Things were slowing down now. Valentina realized she was dying.
“Where is the valise?” Svetlana hissed as she dragged her along.
Valentina tried to spit in her face. She wanted to do at least that. To die with that dignity. But she only managed to gurgle, which Tereshkova no doubt mistook for some attempt at an answer.
“Damn” Svetlana hissed, and hurled her indoors somewhere. Noise. Lots of broken glass. Her eyes closed. Someone on top of her. Rolling. Something shoved into her mouth. Taste of marzipan. Then darkness.
She woke up in a small room, the sound of Rachmaninov playing softly outside the door. The wound in her leg, and the smaller puncture under her ribcage were dressed. She was about to sit up, when the door opened.
“Ah, you’re awake child. I’m so glad. How are you feeling?”
It was Svetlana. She was suddenly glad she didn’t manage that spit after all. She knew that the only reason she was alive was that the Russian bitch needed to know where she’d hidden the valise. She thought the countess pampered and stupid, and that was good. She also thought that the countess still believed her to be the contact. Also good. Very good indeed.
She managed a smile. “I’m fine, other than a headache.”
“Yes, well. I gave you rather a large dose of anti-venom. I wasn’t sure how much you’d been poisoned. Your headache is one of the side-effects. Can you tell me where the valise is, pet?”
“I can take you there.”
Svetlana toyed with the rather ornate marquisette brooch on her left lapel. “Yes . . . . . well . . . . .it would be rather helpful if you could tell me where it is, though – dearheart.”
Valentina wanted to gauge her eyes out. Instead, she smiled, and tried to play dumb. “I’m so bad with directions. I get so turned around when I’m in a big city. I’m sure I could take you there.” She threw in a childish giggle for good measure.
Svetlana frowned. Then smiled again. “Very well. Let’s hurry. Then this nightmare finally be over for you.”
Yes you’d like that, wouldn’t you, you slutty pig dog, Valentina thought, and got out of bed.
Valentina favored her leg much more than she needed to, leaning on Svetlana heavily. She wanted the bitch to think she was much weaker than she was.
They got to the street, hailed a taxi, and Valentina feigned a dizzy spell.
“Oh my, can you help me into the taxi dearheart?” she said breathlessly. She thought her acting was improving.
Svetlana didn’t even bother to hide her irritation. “Fine.” She said, and turned the countess to face her. Svetlana took her under the arms, and as she lowered her into the cab Valentina struck, kicking her in the jaw. It was a good kick, but the bitch rolled away from it at the last second. God she was good. It was meant to knock her out, but at least it knocked her down (thank heavens for the element of surprise.) She slammed the cab door and screamed “Drive!”
The cabbie rolled away, just as Svetlana regained her feet and leapt for the car.
The driver gunned it at the last second, leaving Svetlana in a cloud of dust.
Valentina was so elated that she’d made it (Just like in the movies – she’d thought proudly), that it didn’t even occur to her to wonder why the driver would have helped her in that way. She was high on victory, and puffed up with pride.
It wasn’t until she saw the bicycle messengers fall in line alongside the car that she realized her folly.
Her heart sank. Not one of her father’s people. Not with Svetlana.
“Who are you?” she asked dully.
“The name, my dear, is Anders Inkling. I must say, you have been rather a clever little countess, haven’t you?”
“You’ll kill me then?”
“You know I can’t do that. You’re the only one who knows the whereabouts of a certain valise. Of course, I don’t expect you to offer that bit of information voluntarily. But we’ll talk more about it later.”
Then he turned, a small toy-like pistol in his right hand and shot her with a dart.
Her last conscious thought was: Yellow. Thank God it’s not blue.