If Starling didn’t respond to a prompt within 48 hours, Smith would assume she was either dead or in the wind, which would be a whole different headache, but that never happened. And when it did, he would deal with it.
As it was, she responded to his text prompt within 37 hours and proceeded to check the dead drop by the Memorial.
From a cheap hotel at the edges of DC, she reviewed the information. She knew of neither operative, her intelligence exposure was very limited, she only ever knew names of those who needed to go away or be disposed of. Here were two more. And this, Smith promised, would be a challenge. They were, at present, whereabouts unknown. With a whole country to hide in. He reassured her that they were likely still in the country, as both of their identities had been flagged. There was, nor would there be, any more outside support than that. If they were identified at a border, they would likely be detained, so they would avoid borders. It was possible they could escape the country otherwise, but unlikely. Smith’s speculation, and The Freak agreed, was that they would go to ground and wait for the heat to die down.
The Freak smiled. She’d never had an unlimited assignment before. She would be given no support whatsoever, she always worked alone. No Ops, no hardware, no safe houses...just a credit card that drew on a Swiss bank account that was, effectively, bottomless.
She made notes in a small journal in a personal code, everything she knew she’d need. She watched the sat video of the gunfight over and over. They had a plan but weren’t afraid to improvise. More opponents just seemed to make them fight harder. They were very good.
Better than she would have thought, looking at the pictures Falconer had sent back to Smith. Baxter was overweight, old, it should have been easy. But he didn’t just succeed, he picked up a defector along the way.
Psychology profiles said that the relationship between them had deteriorated when they had finally slept together, breaking a sexual tension that had maintained their relationship for years. Baxter went back into the field as an on-call contractor, rather than training more agents. He opted out of a close relationship with anyone after that. If you’d have been looking for it, you might have thought he was getting ready to break away as he did but who could predict the circumstances under which he made his escape.
Baxter trained her, and the her, Falconer, was a much less interesting read, if for no other reason that until a few days ago, she’d been ideal. She’d done as she was told, learned what she was supposed to, and always got the job done.
She looked at their two pictures one last time before destroying the memory stick. Two targets. One who couldn’t take the life and ran from it, and one who was a sad, light version of her. A agent with no life, but the job was not her life. For The Freak, there was nothing else. Well, except her experiments, of course, but that was part of her job, as far as she was concerned. It was a perk, and if anyone knew it was only Smith, and he would never complain. She purged the hard drive of her laptop, dumped the cache, and ran scrubbing software.
She didn’t know where they were yet, but she would figure it out. It was what she did. And after she figured out where they were, she would kill them. It was what she did.
She had long ago forgotten Freddy’s warning. She had never come up against anyone better than her. The few who were almost as good provided a challenge, a satisfaction, that she found more and more uncommon in her line of work. The surprise challenges were more diverting, more engaging, more satisfying, but the conclusion was always forgone.