St. Louis, Missouri
198 Addison Avenue, Inside
Upstairs, Rose reached the back door. Staying low, she used the hole Elena made with her shot to peek outside. Unable to spot Sexton, she pushed the back door open. She waited a moment, letting her quarry shoot if he was going to. The Hispanic woman rolled out on to the back porch, Colt M1911 outstretched. She heard feet running awkwardly on gravel. With a curse, she got to her feet and ran back inside.
Dodging her furniture as she tore through her home, Rose reached the front door. Seeing Sexton, she fired her Colt twice. The slider remained cocked back, signifying an empty clip. Rose threw the pistol aside and leapt down from the front porch. Sexton whirled around and squeezed the trigger on his shotgun. Both the rogue agent and Rose were surprised at the lack of booming report from it. Sexton swore under his breath as he returned to running, limping on his wounded leg.
Rose recovered from her jump. She put her head down as she ran full out, trying to intercept the rogue agent. With Sexton's limp, Rose easily cut the gap between them in half. Sexton tried to hurry; his wounded leg only slowed him down despite his efforts. He veered left, half running, half hopping towards a gap between two houses. Rose veered around her van, using the wide turn to keep her speed while changing her direction. Sexton's footsteps echoed between the walls on either side of him. He glanced behind him and saw his pursuer bearing down on him. He braced himself for the collision.
Rose slammed into the rogue agent, not slowing down at all. They both fell to the ground, hard. Sexton's breath was forced out of him. Rose sprawled on the rough pavement, scraping her hands, arms, and legs. Her right knee screamed in protest as she tried to stand back up, threatening to collapse under Rose's weight. Ignoring the pain, Rose straightened up and turned to face Sexton. The rogue agent also managed to stand back up. He smirked. "You should have just given me what I wanted, Velasco," he sneered.
"You know my history, Sexton," Rose said. "I've done far more for our country than you could ever imagine. But I've never, ever, threatened anyone's children. That's just low."
"A tool is a tool, Velasco." Sexton reached behind his back and pulled out a SIG P239. The silver pistol glinted in the sunlight. "This tool will help me escape."
"Don't be an idiot, Sexton," Rose said. "The cops are a few blocks away. Shoot me, and SWAT snipers will have you down before you can blink."
Sexton shrugged. "Maybe, but my operation will still go as planned. Haven't you figured it out yet, Miss Private Dick? Once the operation is rolling, not even I can stop it. You, a washed up CIA field agent? Do you really think you can stop something bigger than you?"
"I just have to stop you," Rose growled. "It's one thing to try to kill me. But my children, my family? No, Sexton, you're not some great American hero. You're worse than a rabid dog that needs to be put down."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Velasco." Sexton raised the SIG. "I hope you've made peace with yourself."
Rose stared at the barrel of the handgun, then laughed. Seeing Sexton's puzzled expression, the Hispanic woman laughed harder. "Oh, man, Ray, that has to be . . .." Rose trailed off as she fought to control her giggles. "I've seen way too many movies. Ray, you have to lay off the drama." Rose started laughing again. She staggered during the gale of giggles.
Sexton raised the SIG's barrel, pointing it up at an angle. "What are you, crazy? Velasco, is this how you want to die?"
"No, Ray." Rose reigned in her laughing. "It's not." She launched herself at Sexton.
Surprised by the sudden move, the rogue agent tried to bring his pistol back in line with Rose. The gun went off as Rose grabbed Sexton's arm. The shot ricocheted off the wall with a ping. Sexton tried to push the woman away. Rose held on to the agent's gun arm with both hands. The two wrestled, each trying to keep the gun away from the other. Sexton slammed his fist into Rose's gut. The woman grunted from the blow. The rogue agent followed up by smashing the palm of his free hand into the Hispanic woman's face.
Rose staggered back a step, losing her grip on Sexton's arm. She dove back at the agent. Sexton lowered the SIG, pointing it at his opponent. Rose grabbed the arm and forced it down with her full weight. She glared at Sexton, then dug her heel into his foot. The agent pushed against Rose, shifting her off the foot, but the woman kept her balance and the hold on his arm. The gun shifted slightly between the two combatants as they tried to wrest the weapon away from the other. Slowly, the pistol twisted upwards as both Sexton and Rose tried to get the SIG pointed at the other.
The pistol fired twice. Rose and Sexton looked at each other, waiting. Neither let go of the other or of the SIG. Sexton smirked. A trickle of blood leaked out of his mouth. "I win, Velasco," he gasped. His knees buckled. His arms fell to his sides, leaving Rose with the pistol. The woman stepped back, letting the agent fall lifelessly to the ground.
Sirens filled the air. Rose tossed the P239 on to the body of Ray Sexton. She limped back across the street to her home. Elena stepped outside on to the front porch. "Where's Sexton?"
"Dead. It's over."
Noticing Rose's limp, the Russian woman asked, "Are you hurt?"
Rose looked down at her ripped clothes without stopping. "No, just the damned knee again. Where's Maria?"
"She's inside. Paramedics are on their way."
"Paramedics?" The Hispanic woman quickened her pace. "What happened to Maria?"
Elena got out of her partner's way. "She's fine, Rose. Shaken and probably needs to see a doctor to be sure, but she wasn't hurt. Just scared."
Rose entered her home. The last of Sexton's men lay on the floor, groaning, two wounds bandanged. Amber stood over him, watching him. Maria sat on the stairs. She looked over as her mother stepped further into the living room. The teen got up and ran over, embracing Rose in a tight hug. "Mom!" she sobbed. "Oh, God, Mom, I . . . I . . .."
Rose held her daughter close. "It's okay, Maria. It's okay."
The teenager started crying, the weight of the day's events finally too much for her. "I shot him," she cried. Her body trembled.
Rose looked over at Amber. The green-haired girl answered, "She used that gun in your office downstairs."
"It's going to be okay, Maria," Rose soothed. "You're safe. It's over. It's all over."
Police sirens grew louder until they drowned out all other sounds. Elena laid down her rifle on the floor. Lepinski ran into the house, knocking on the remains of the front door. "Velasco, are you here?"
"She's in here," Amber called back.
"We need paramedics in here, Detective," Elena added.
Lepinski entered the living room. He took in the scene. "Right. Anyone else hurt? Amber, is that blood yours?"
"No, Detective," Amber replied. She pointed at the dead body of Agent Smith. "It's his."
The detective knelt down beside the corpse and felt for a pulse. Finding none, he said, "I'll call the coroner." He stood back up. "Where's Sexton?"
Still hugging Maria, Rose answered, "Across the street, between the two houses. He's not going anywhere."
Lepinski returned outside. Amber left the wounded agent to watch outside the front window. Elena followed the detective outside to give some privacy to mother and daughter. Rose kept Maria in her embrace, even when the paramedics arrived, letting the girl cry herself out.
St. Louis, Missouri
2410 Harrison Street, Apartment 1701
The lock to Amber's apartment clicked open. The door swung wide open. Amber sat in a wheechair, looking glum. Elena stood behind, ready to push. Rose stood beside Maria, mother and daughter both carrying a number of bags. Allison stood at the back, trying not to appear impatient and failing. "Can't I just walk in on my own?" Amber asked. "I could go put some coffee on."
"No!" Allison said, louder than she wanted. "I mean, no, Amber. The doctor said you had to take it easy. Let Elena at least roll you inside,okay?" She peered into the apartment. Seeing the clutter, the brunette sighed. "Amber, your place is a mess."
Elena looked in. "Good lord, Amber. I thought your desk was bad."
"What?" Amber asked. "Did someone break in?" She started to get up.
"Down, Amber," Rose ordered. She looked inside as well. "I think a robbery would make things cleaner."
"I'm not going to get this wheelchair any farther," Elena said. "Amber, you might as well walk in."
"But no coffee," Allison said. "You heard the doctor. No stimulants while you recover."
"But--" Amber began.
"I think it's for the best, Amber," Rose said. She shifted the bags she carried from one arm to the other. "It's not healthy to go through a pound of coffee every week."
Amber sighed. She got out of the wheelchair and walked into her apartment. Her co-workers and employers followed, the wheelchair pushed out of the way. Rose and Maria set the bags down on an overstuffed chair beside one of many bookcases in the living room. "How did you get so much stuff at the hospital?" Maria asked. "You were there for only three days."
"I had to get out of bed before I went crazy," Amber explained.
"Went crazy?" Allison sniped. She found a clear space on the couch to sit down on.
Amber stuck her tongue out at Allison. "While walking around, I found the gift shop. They had such adorable stuff there that I went back a few times."
Rose looked at all the shopping bags, then at all the cluttered surfaces around in the living room. "Do you have any space for all the stuff you bought?"
"Oh, sure," Amber said.
Elena walked into the kitchen. "Does anyone want something to drink?" she offered. "You do have glasses, yes, Amber?"
Amber waved vaguely. "Somewhere. Check above the sink. There's water in the fridge."
Maria walked around the room, looking at the various wall scrolls and posters featuring brightly painted cartoon characters. "How many kids do you have living here?" she asked.
"Just one overgrown child," Allison answered.
"Allie, be nice," Rose said. "Amber's still recovering from her surgery."
Elena returned, a jug of water in one hand and a stack of plastic cups in the other. "I couldn't find your glasses, Amber."
Amber gave Elena a confused look. "They're in your hand."
Allison rolled her eyes. Rose patted Amber on her uninjured shoulder. "I'm taking you shopping when you're feeling better."
"Shopping for what?" Rose walked away from the wounded woman. "Shopping for what?" Amber repeated.
Elena looked for a clear spot to set the jug and glasses down. She shook her head in amazement at the shear amount of stuff the young woman could fit into her apartment. Giving up, she placed the jug beside a stack of books on the dining table. She poured herself a cup of water. "Anyone else want a glass?" she asked.
"Please," Allison said as she got up off the couch. "Before all the cheeriness kills me."
"It's not that bad in here," Rose said. "Sure, there could be more plants and maybe someplace to set a glass, but Amber's comfortable." She looked at the younger woman. "You are comfortable, right, Amber?"
Amber nodded. "Of course. It's a little cramped at times, but I don't need a house yet. Oh, Rose, what happened with the Canadian frigate? They wouldn't let me have a radio in the hospital."
Allison poured herself a glass of water. "That's because you kept disturbing everyone else there with your dancing, when you were supposed to be resting in bed."
"I was bored, okay?"
"Girls," Rose warned, letting her mom voice into her tone. "As for the Canadians, I called someone I used to work with."
Elena sat down on the couch, taking the space Allison vacated. "You called Bolton?"
Rose shook her head. "Nah, he retired eight years ago. He and his wife summer in the Bahamas now. Remember Patterson?"
"I think so. Scrawny kid, just out of college when he started working with you?"
"Not so scrawny now. He's in the Diplomatic Corps, has a wife and three kids."
"Now I feel old," Elena said.
"How do you think I feel? Anyway, I got in touch with him and passed along Allie's research. That was Saturday. I heard from him yesterday. His people found explosives and weapons stashed where Allie suspected, and managed to surprise one group by accident. The Canadian ship is safe." Rose applauded. "Congratulations to all of you."
"We're not getting paid, though." Allison took a sip of the water. "Tap water? Really, Amber."
"We have Sexton's advance," Elena said. "It could get a bit embarrassing for the National Security Agency to try to get the money back, seeing that it was being used for an unapproved project under the noses of their own auditors. I'm sure that they won't want to risk the public scrutiny of a court trial."
"What's wrong with the water?" Amber demanded.
"It's fine," Allison said. "At least you filtered it."
"Don't be so picky, Allie."
"Picky? I watch what I put into my body." Allison picked up a box and read the label. "It's definitely not whatever this Pocky is."
Amber's face brightened. "So that's where I put it."
Allison rolled her eyes as she put the box down. "I don't know why I even bother."
"Allie, now's not the time," Rose started.
"No, no, it's okay," Amber said. "Allie's just upset because she missed her chance to be a knight in shining armour and is just venting."
"Okay, whatever meds the doctors gave you," Allison started, "get them to cut the dosage." Seeing Amber only grin at her, the brunette continued, "And don't start that again."
Rose walked over to her employee and put her arm around her. "Allie, can I see you in the kitchen." The Hispanic woman started leading Allison out of the living room.
Maria's tour stopped at Amber's electronic entertainment centre. "I don't believe this. You have a Wii and a PS3! How did you do that?"
"I got my name on the order list when they were announced," Amber said. "Want to play them with me?"
Elena cleared her throat. "You're supposed to keep your shoulder still, Amber. No video games."
Amber pouted. "Not even the Wii? I can use the controller in my left hand."
"Why do I feel like a mother right now?"
"What?" Allison's voice carried over from the kitchen. "You have to be kidding!"
All eyes in the living room turned towards the source of the shouting. "That has to be the most-- No, I won't lower my voice!" The brunette stormed back into the main room. "Amber!"
Amber smiled. "Yes, Allie?"
"About what you told Rose."
"Oh, that." Amber waved a hand dismissively. "I thought about it, really. Not like I could do anything else at the hospital, and I came to a decision. You're not really my type."
Allison's face reddened. "Not your type?" she exploded.
"You're very loud, for one reason."
"It was a distraction, you ditz!"
Amber half-shrugged. "If that's what makes you feel better, go ahead and believe it."
Rose ran in behind the irate brunette and pulled her away. "We should go and let Amber rest now."
Elena stood up. "Agreed. Perhaps a light lunch downtown?"
"Sounds good to me," Rose agreed. She guided Allison towards the front door. "Maria, can you help Amber settled in and make sure she eats."
"Okay, Mom," Maria said.
"I'm not going to hurt her now, Rose," Allison said through gritted teeth. "I'll let her heal. Then I'll smack her around. It'll be for the best."
Elena let Rose and Allison leave first. "Amber, remember, rest. Okay?" She closed the door behind her as she left.
Amber got out of her overstuffed chair. She looked over to Maria. "I don't think Allison took it all that well. Do you?"