Rose locked the door once Amber and Allison left the office. She stifled a yawn as she turned back to Elena. "I'm getting to old for this."
"You've been up this late before."
"Not since Pascal started sleeping through the night. Even the last job didn't require being up past midnight."
"The last job had its own dangers. Speaking of which, what did you find?"
Rose flopped into an available chair. "More electronics than that warehouse had any right of having. Not to mention a nasty trap. It armed on touch, but a second touch activated it. Thieves go in but they don't come out."
Elena stretched. "I wish I had been there."
"Allison handled the cabling nicely, though I had her rush through near the end. Didn't want to take a chance on the next check-in being monitored or squelched."
"Wait for Sexton's call so we can return his camera to him."
"Bask in the knowledge of a job completed?"
Elena shook her head. "You are not curious about what he wants with the plans?"
"Careful, your accent's starting to show."
"It's the hour."
Rose snickered. "Anyway, to answer your question, I am curious. However, I can wait until Allie comes in with the files off her phone."
"When someone wants deck plans stolen, damn straight I do. I'm not breaching national security if I can help it."
Elena stood up. Her knees cracked with the effort. "Oh, for . . . maybe we're both too old for this. I'm going to find a coffee shop that's still open. Want anything?"
"Herbal tea. I'm going to skip out after the staff meeting, then send the kids out so I can catch up on my sleep."
St. Louis, Missouri
"Sir, you can't go in there!" Tyler's voice carried through the walls into the conference room. "Sir!"
Rose stood up and was able to take several steps towards the door before it burst open. A man wearing an off-the-rack blue suit strode in. "Rose Velasco?"
"That would be me." Anger tinged Rose's tone. "Who are you and what do you think you're doing?"
Tyler ran into the conference room. "I'm sorry, Rose, I tried to stop him."
Rose held up a hand. "That's okay, Tyler. I am still waiting for an explanation for this rude interruption."
The intruder pulled out a leather bound ID holder, flipping it open. "Special Agent Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigations. I'm also looking for Elena Gish-- Gishala--"
"Gshalaevna." Elena stepped into the conference room. "Tyler, please see to Rose's clients. Have Brandon talk to them." Tyler nodded, then ushered the clients, a middle-aged couple, out of the room.
Thompson moved so he could watch both women. "I am also looking for Allison Beattie and Amber Truswell. Are they here?"
"What do you want, Agent?" Rose demanded.
"Are they here?"
Allison stormed into the conference room, followed by a man dressed in the same manner as Special Agent Thompson. "Rose, what's going on?" She glared at Thompson.
"Sir, I found Beattie," the new agent reported.
"Where's Truswell?" Thompson demanded.
"Let go of me!" Amber yelled. She staggered through the doorway as if she was pushed. "/Baka!/"
A third man entered the conference room. "I think this is Truswell. She wouldn't say."
"I am still waiting for an answer." Rose used her angry mother tone. One of the agents shrunk a little.
Thompson wasn't fazed, though. "Rose Velasco, Elena . . . Elena, Amber Truswell, Allison Beattie, you are under arrest under suspicion of terrorism."
"What?" Allison yelled. "You have to be joking!"
"Allison," Elena warned. "Not now."
Thompson pulled a card out of his pocket. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense. Do you understand these rights?" Thompson looked at each woman. "Do you understand?" The women murmured their assent. "Good. Smith, Rollins, frisk them and cuff them."
Allison took a step away from the men. "Allie, enough," Rose said. "This can be cleared up."
The agents quickly did their search, removing cell phones, wallets, and other personal items from the women. They then handcuffed the women's hands behind their back. Special Agent Rollins left first to make sure the way out was cleared, followed by Special Agents Thompson and Smith guiding the ladies out. Rose called over to Tyler, "Call Henry and let him know what's going on." Thompson shoved her to keep her walking. Rose gave the agent a dirty look.
St. Louis, Missouri
Near Arsenal Street and Hampton Avenue
The women were lead into a small holding area. The door was shut and locked behind them. Rose sat down on a low bench built into the wall. Elena leaned against the wall opposite the door while Amber stood in shock. The only person moving was Allison. "Someone care to tell me what the hell is going on?"
"Temper, Allison," Elena admonished.
"I'm sorry, but getting accused of being a terrorist is all new to me. Not to mention that 'suspicion of terrorism' is not a crime on the books."
"We know," Rose said.
Allison spun to face the Hispanic woman. "Is that all? Remember the terms of my employment? I don't work Thursday evenings or nights. Being stuck in a jail cell counts as working." She started pacing, almost bumping into Amber. "Amber, go have your breakdown in the corner."
The redhead fell to her knees. "But I'm not supposed to be here," she cried.
Rose joined Amber on the floor. "It's a mistake."
"They're going to try to get me to spill the beans on you guys and I don't want to."
Allison rolled her eyes. "They're not going to do that. We're more likely to be sent to Guantanamo Bay or some other hell-hole."
Seeing tears well up in Amber's eyes, Rose warned, "Allison, that's enough."
"It's true, Rose."
"Enough, Allison. I am well aware of what's going on. Right now, I cannot handle your anger and Amber's tears and figure out how to get out of this."
"Rome, 1982," Elena suggested.
Rose looked over to Elena. "You have no idea how difficult that was for me."
"It worked, didn't it?"
"Alright." Rose stood up. She started wriggling, trying to get her cuffed hands past her butt.
Amber snuffled. "What does Rome have to do with today?"
"Another life, Amber," Rose said. "And it was easier to do this back then."
Allison huffed. "Let me." She sat down on the bench. "Someone help me get my shoes off."
Amber scooched over to Allison's legs. She fumbled around, feeling for the end of her co-worker's laces. After a few minutes, Amber had both shoes loosened. "There."
Allison kicked off her shoes, losing one of her black ankle socks in the process. She shooed Amber away, then stood up. The rest of the women gave her space. Allison straightened up. After some wriggling and shimmering, she worked her hands down towards her knees. She crouched down. Pointing the toes of her bare foot, Allison stepped between her arms. She pulled her other leg through. "There."
"Where did you learn to do that?" Amber asked.
"Thursday evenings." Allison smirked. She examined the cuffs on her wrists. "Standard design, should have a master key."
"Okay, I don't want to know how you know that sort of thing," Rose said. "I don't suppose you have the master key."
"Not on me. Our keepers should, though."
"But how are we going to get them in here?" Amber asked.
Elena dropped to her knees. She fell forward, gasping for breath. Amber's eyes widened. Rose ran over to the door and kicked on it. "Help! Is anyone out there? She can't breath! Help!"
The lock clicked open. The door swung in and Special Agent Rollins entered, his gun drawn. He motioned Rose to stand back, then walked over to Elena. "What's wrong with her?"
"She can't breathe," Rose repeated. "It's her asthma. She needs her breather."
Rollins knelt down beside Elena. "She's faking it." As blonde's face turned blue, he asked, "Is she faking it?"
"She needs her breather, damnit!"
"Your belongings aren't here."
"She's going to die!"
He looked over at Rose. "There's nothing I can do."
"Yes, there is," Elena said. She brought her knee up into Rollins' jaw. He fell backwards.
Rose stepped in with a kick to Rollins' gut. He grunted as his breath was forced out. Rollins gasped. Rose put the heel of her shoe on the agent's neck. "Allison, find his key."
Allison checked the downed man's pockets. "Got it!" she called as she pulled out the master key.
"Free everyone, and put a set on this bastard."
"Way ahead of you." Allison unlocked her cuffs first, then Elena's. As Allison continued removing handcuffs, the older blonde locked a set on Rollins. Rose removed her foot from her opponent once her hands were free. "Done," Allison said.
"You won't get far," Rollins said. "The moment you--" His head snapped back. The agent's unconscious body slumped to the ground.
Rose shook out her hand. "Ow. Okay, we're out of here. We're on the run, so we can't go back to the office or back to our homes. I know a few places we can go, though. In the meantime, we better leave before his friends return."
Allison and Amber filed out the door. Rose checked on Elena. "You okay?"
"'Twas acting, Rose. All a ruse." Elena left the holding cell, followed closely by Rose.
East St. Louis, Illinois
1633 Bond Avenue
The small bachelor apartment barely accommodated the four women. Amber darted into the kitchen on entering while Elena took the time to use the bathroom. Rose and Allison sat down on the futon in the main room; Rose turned on the TV, keeping the volume low.
"Okay, Rose," Allison started, "I know you and Elena have worked together in the past, but what did you do before?"
"Can't tell you, Allie."
"Can't or won't?"
"Does it matter?" Rose took off her shoes. "Much better. Besides, I can ask you about your knowledge of handcuffs."
Amber called from the kitchen, "Where's the coffee?"
"There isn't any," Rose answered. "This is a safe house, used only if someone needs to be kept safe and hidden. It can't even be traced back to the agency. It's a good enough place to catch our breath."
The sound of the toilet flushing came from the bathroom. Elena exited and joined the women on the futon. "Lovely place, really. I love what you've done with the decor."
"I've seen tenements in East Berlin, Elena. This is better."
"I wish I could have been there," Allison said. "This is what I mean, Rose. I'd love to know what agency let you travel the world like that."
"Can't say, Allie," Rose repeated.
Amber left the kitchen. "Oh, that's easy, Allie. They were spies."
Allison, Rose, and Elena all turned their head to look at the redhead. "This isn't one of your cartoons, Amber," Allison said.
"You never noticed? All those places and dates Rose and Elena use, they're from before the Berlin Wall fell. Well, most are. And look at all the neat stuff we get to use."
"I supplied some of that 'neat stuff'."
"Not all of it," Amber returned. She addressed Rose and Elena, "So, guys, you were spies, right?"
Rose exchanged a look with Elena. "We were," she said after Elena nodded.
"I knew it! Just like /Read Or Die/."
Allison rolled her eyes. "Great, Amber. Just great."
Amber stuck her tongue out at Allison. "You're not the only one with secrets, you know." She turned back to Rose. "So, which agency, CIA?"
"Half right," Elena said. "Rose was CIA."
"And you were KGB," Allison said. "Just guessing from your name. I don't get how you two ever met, though."
"It was a job," Elena said. "Nothing personal. More like a chess game."
"Fortunately, we got promoted up from being pawns," Rose added. "I was more a rook before I was cashiered."
"So, what happened in Rome?" Amber asked. "You two did mention it. At least me and Allie will know what you're talking about."