BRAVO by Greg Rucka

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Be prepared for action, deceit, and the threat of terror from an unremitting foe.

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Agent, come in from the cold. We have no time left...

Chapter Seven

Heath comes back with more ice. She’s five years older than Nessuno, has crossed over into her thirties, blond hair cut short and neat, and a Laura Ingallis Wilder face that makes people who meet her think words like ‘sweet’ and ‘innocent’, an illusion that’s shattered the moment she opens her mouth and begins to swear in a way that would make the entirety of the marine corps blush. Right now, she’s not doing a good job of hiding her concern.
    Nessumo holds out her glass for ice.
    “You need to reintegrate,” Heath says.
    Nessuno takes the bottle, refills her drink. “I thought that was what we’re doing.”
    “No, we’re getting drunk. This is off-the-record shitface time.”
    “Fuck official. I saw your medical, did I tell you? You’re clean.”
    “You said.”
    “Did I? The bourbon must be working.” Heath takes her seat on the couch again, tucking her feet beneath her. She swallows some of her drink. “So tell me.”
    Heath indicates Nessuno with the glass in her hand, gesturing vaguely at her shoulder. “Scarring along the shoulder, consistent with bullet track or similar projectile injury whatever the fuck that means and which, I note, you failed to offer an adequate explanation of how you came to have such a mark when questioned by the examining physician for such and shit I am drunk. You know how I know I’m drunk?”
    “Run-on sentences.”
    “Run-on sentences,” Heath says.
    “You always talk in run-on sentences, ma’am.”
    “Call me ma’am again and I’ll club you with this bottle. Tell me.”
    Nessuno shrugs. “He didn’t do it, if that’s what you are asking.”
    “That was kinda what I was asking, yes.”
    “I didn’t duck fast enough.”
    “I didn’t think Tohir used you like that.”
    Heath winces. “Not what I meant.”
    Nessuno actually grins, is surprised by how good it feels. It passes fast. “There was a deal – heroin – and he wanted me to go with him and look like arm candy. They were selling to some Italians.”
    “December.” Heath nods. “I remember the report.”
    “So Tohir wanted me there to look good, but also to listen in on what was being said in Italian because his Italian is shit. We finish up, and I’m being a pretty hostess and clearing the drinks, and I overhear one of these guys saying they’re going to fuck us over. So I told Tohir.”
    “Bullets were employed.” She says each word clearly, aware that she, too, is now quite drunk. She looks into her glass. There’s a fingernail’s depth of bourbon remaining, but she thinks it’s less, because of the displacement from the ice.
    “You left that part out.”
    “What were you going to do, ma’am? Come take me home? Kiss it all better?” Nessuno empties her glass and sets it down, harder than she intended to, and it knocks loudly on the surface of the coffee table. “Yeah, I’m drunk, too.”
    “You fucking well better be, you just called me ma’am again. And you killed the fucking bottle. That bottle was full when we started, Chief.”
    Nessuno is staring at the empty glass, the ice cubes slowly melting. The wave of sudden self-pity she feels is followed by a surge of anger that she suspects is directed, more than anything, at herself but that she points at Heath instead.
    “That’s not my fucking name,” Nessuno says.

They end up in a briefing room attached to the hanger, with Nessuno seated at one side of a long table and Danso and Harrington opposite. Warlock stands. On the table is a pitcher of water, three plastic cups in a stack, a cardboard box about the right size for shoes, and a thick envelope, catalog size, stamped with declarations of secrecy and warnings of exactly how much trouble your ass will be in if you open it and aren’t authorized to do so. There’s a routing sequence on the envelope and four signatures, arranged by date, ending with the most recent. Reading upside-down, she’s pretty sure the last signature is H. DANSO. The first one she knows is A. HEATH. There’s also a small monitor-like unit that resembles nothing so much as a View-Master, except it’s molded ballistic black plastic and probably costs a hundred times as much as the toy.
    “We’re going to ask you some questions, Chief,” Danso says, breaking the seal on Nessuno’s proof-of-life envelope without ceremony and pulling a sheaf of papers free. He hands the envelope off to Harrington, who empties the rest of the contents on the table, a set of eight-by-ten photographs, and begins laying them out in front of her.
    “CI?” Nessuno asks.
    She knows the answer already, knows she’s asking only to buy herself time, though she’s had the entirety of the flight in to get her head straight. It hasn’t been enough, and while she knows absolutely that nothing in what she has said so far, in anything that she has done, has betrayed the fact, she is scared. She is as afraid as she ever was in the past sixteen months, as frightened here in Florida as she was in Tashkent, or Vienna, or Moscow, that she will be revealed as an impostor, as a fraud, as a spy. She knows, absolutely, that she shouldn’t feel these things. She knows that she is home, that she is safe.
    But she cannot make herself stop feeling what she feels, and that, in turn, makes her feel all the more adrift.
    “We are counterintel, that is correct.” Danso pats his pockets for a moment, and Harrington stops moving the photos around long enough to shake his head and produce a ballpoint, handing it over. Danso clicks the pen alive, begins running down the first sheet, and Warlock takes the opportunity to reach in for the pitcher and pour. He sets one of the cups in front of her, takes another for himself. She’s oddly touched by the act, tried to find a smile to give him, but by then he’s already backed off, and Danso is ready to begin.
    “What’s your name?” Danso asks.
    “Nessuno,” she says. “Petra Graziella.”
    “CWO Two.”
    She needs a moment before she can tell him.
    “And where were you born?”
    This comes a little faster. “Philly, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.”
    “Your father’s name?”
    She tells him.
    “Your mother’s maiden name?”
    She tells him, feeling marginally more confident. All the answers are there, waiting in the back of her mind. Covered in dust, hidden in corners, but there. She just needs to stay calm, she thinks, and it’ll all come back.
    “Your mother’s place of birth?”
    “Name of your first DI?”
    “Sergeant Mandoza.”
    “Where did you have your first kiss?”
    “Wrigley Field.” Feeling more confident now. Nessuno can practically see the game in her mind’s eye, remember it like yesterday, the view from her seat on the first-base line. She can smell the beer, taste the peanuts. “Cubs were playing the Pirates.”
    “How old were you?”
    “I was eleven.”
    Danso, who has been making tick marks on the sheet, looks up at her. “How old were you?”
    She blinks, guard instantly in place, rising on instinct. No change in her expression, no darting eyes, no shift in posture, all the things she knows to keep her lies looking like the truth. Outside, what she is showing Danso and Harrington and Warlock looks like nothing at all, she knows. Just a pause, just a woman taking a moment to reconsider.
    But inside, a piece of her is writhing, fighting rising panic. Remembering Tohir, when he asked her the same question, his arms around her, flushed from their lovemaking. He’d told her the first time he’d had sex he was eleven, and she’d said something about him starting early. He thought himself a good lover, his performance had mattered to him. She remembers what she said, how she’d told him that he was probably fucking before she’d even kissed a boy for the first time, and he had laughed and buried his face against her neck and told her he loved her foul mouth.
    “I was eleven,” Nessuno says again, and the part of her that watches during these moments, that looks to both her performance and its reception, relaxes. “Maybe twelve. I’m sorry I don’t remember.”
    Danso holds his gaze on her a moment longer, and she gives him nothing in return. He goes back to his sheet. Harrington, still silent, hasn’t looked away from her once, and she thinks that he is the more dangerous of the two, that he is the one she needs to worry about convincing right now.
    “Last one,” Danso says. “Who is Elisabetta Villanova?”
    Nessuno answers without thinking and without hesitation. This question is easy. This answer holds no doubt. There is no need to plumb memory.
    “Me,” she says.

Chapter Eight

“… Why didn’t you know we were coming? If he has all this reach, why don’t you already have a bullet in your head?”
    “New guy.” Tohir looks at him with patent disappointment. “It’s coming. This is what I’m saying, listen, fuck you, listen to me! He doesn’t want to free me. He doesn’t have a choice now. He knows you have me and he knows I’m talking to you right now, because he knows it is my only option. I still breathe because he hasn’t done it yet. Why do you have me at all? Because you got fucking lucky. You had Elisabet, and she gave me to you, and that’s all. You got lucky. Your good fortune and my bad. But that’s not enough; it will run out. It is running out even now. He will find me and he will kill me. He’ll kill everyone here if he has to.”
    “That doesn’t sound smart,” Bell says. “That sounds insane.”
    “No, not insane. Pragmatic.”

Copyright © Greg Rucka 2014