28 Jul 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 2

Working with a group of British agents, Ione's mission goes up in flames, literally, after an unknown man with a sword causes a warehouse to explode.
Ione held on to the back of a chair in her manager's office to stand up.  Sleep was fleeting since the explosion in Paris.  The Canadian Consulate managed to get a last minute flight for her, a SN Brussels Airlines flight through Brussels and Montreal, followed by taking VIA rail from Trudeau Airport to Ottawa.  Ione managed to grab a short catnap in a chair designed with function over comfort in the basement office CSIS maintained, waking up stiff and feeling worse.  She also managed a short sleep before the turbulence grew to be too much.  Even before the turbulence, her dreams replayed the events at the warehouse, ending on the shadowy man unaffected by the flames.

"-- and are you listening to me, Ione?"  Her manager, Lawrence Miller, stood up.  "You look dead on your feet.  Get a taxi chit from Olivier and go home.  Take the rest of the week off.  The investigators have your report."

"But—"  Ione cut herself off.  She gave her head a shake to try to chase away the fatigue.

Lawrence walked over to his office door to open it.  "Ione, you're an analyst, not a field agent.  Take the time to recover.  You still have sick leave, right?  Use it."

Ione nodded.  "Thanks."  She pushed away from the chair towards the door.  "Jet lag after being afraid for my life."  The brunette forced a chuckle.  "A shower and a good night's sleep should help, right?"

"That's the spirit."  Lawrence ushered Ione out of his office, then closed the door with a gentle click.

Ione wove her way through the cubicles of her co-workers.  A few had left early for the day, but most were waiting for four o'clock to start their commute home, the same time Ione would usually leave.  She tried not to meet her co-workers' eyes, not wanting to deal with questions.  Ione reached Olivier's desk, a larger cubicle than her own but filled with cabinets holding various office supplies and stashes of chocolate.  The admin assistant looked up at Ione and beamed.  "I see Lawrence didn't completely chew you up."  Olivier's Outaouais accent could barely be heard.  "What do you need?"  He reached under his desk and brought up a plastic pumpkin filled with candy.

"Lawrence asked me to ask you for a taxi chit," Ione said.  She picked out a chocolate kiss from the pumpkin.  "I don't suppose you have a vodka cooler hidden around here?"

"If only, honey."  Olivier opened his desk drawer and brought out a chit.  "Here," he said, handing the chit to Ione, "you go downstairs and rest.  I'll call a cab for you."


"And try to rest.  I'd hate to have my Hallowe'en partner have bags under her eyes.  Picked out a costume yet?"

Ione slipped the taxi chit into her jacket pocket.  "Not yet.  I'll let you know Monday.  Bonne soir, Olivier."

Giving Olivier a wave before leaving, Ione worked her way to her cubicle to grab her luggage before heading to the elevator.  The ride down involved two stops to let others ending their day to get on; but, soon enough, the elevator reached the main floor.  Ione let the other people in the car out first, then walked out the front door.  A dark blue taxi pulled up along the sidwalk.  Ione confirmed with the driver that it was her ride, then got in, tossing her gym bag and purse in before sliding into the cab herself.

The ride home was a blur for Ione.  She remembered leaving her office and pointed to the cab driver where to turn off Preston to reach her home.  In between, the driver could have driven south to Cornwall and back without Ione noticing.  As the cab rolled to a stop in front of her home, a narrow house shared with a friend, Ione pulled the chit out of her pocket.  She handed the chit to the driver to fill out, then added a ten dollar tip.  The driver helped her get her luggage out on to the sidewalk before leaving.

Ione hauled her bags up the steps to her porch.  She noted that the driveway was empty; Karen must have driven to work.  Ione unlocked the door and stepped inside.  She dropped her luggage just inside, too exhausted to carry them further.  Kicking off her ballet flats, Ione padded in her bare feet to the couch, where she flopped down.  She felt a pull on the couch's upholstery, then, with a tiny mew, a huge grey cat pulled himself up on the arm.  "Oh, Diesel, don't climb like that."

Diesel wormed his way under Ione's arm to get on her lap.  He turned and looked up at the woman with golden eyes, then mewed again.

"I missed you, too."  Ione scritched the cat's ear.  "Is Mommy Karen out still?  Did she feed you properly?"  The cat began to purr, a low rumble that was first felt through his fur then grew louder.  Ione stretched out on the couch.  "Are you going to let me nap?"  She closed her eyes, letting Diesel's purr soothe her as she absently stroked his fur.

The next thing Ione was aware of was the sound of the front door unlocking.  Diesel poked his head up to see over the arm of the couch.  Ione pushed the cat's head away from her face.  "Thanks," she muttered, brushing grey fur from her mouth.  She stroked the cat, keeping him close.  The door opened.  Diesel squirmed out of Ione's arms and ran to the door to meow in a tiny voice.

"Diesel!" Karen called.  She swooped the cat into a hug.  "Were you a good boy today?"

Diesel rubbed his cheek against Karen's, his purr growing in intensity.  Karen set the cat down to close and lock the front door.

Ione rolled off the couch, sleep still fogging her head.  "Hey, Karen."

Karen looked over at her housemate.  "Ione, hi, you're home early."  She set down her large purse.  "I thought you were supposed to get home Sunday."

"Things got rushed at the end."  Ione shrugged.

"That sucks.  I mean, Paris, right?"  Karen set down her large black purse on an end table.  "And you didn't have to pay for the flight.  All the sights, the food, the-- oof!"  Karen staggered on her high heels as Diesel threw his weight into her legs.  She reached down to grab the cat, holding him up to see him eye to eye.  "Look, you.  You're not tiny.  You can't just lean against me like that."  Diesel mewed at Karen.  "I know, dinner time.  Why didn't you ask Mommy Ione to feed you?"  Diesel only blinked his golden eyes in response.  Karen set him down again.  Diesel tore into the kitchen.  "Pushy brat."  Karen took off her heels before brushing grey fur from her panty hose.  "Speaking of dinner, I had nothing planned.  Want to go find something on Preston so we can talk without being rudely interrupted?"

Ione processed the question, working through the fatigue.  "Sure.  I just need to grab a shower."

"And new clothes.  You look like you've slept in what you're wearing.  I'll go feed the brat and change into something comfortable."

Ione picked up her luggage and trudged to her room.  Her bed called to her.  With all the will she could muster, Ione ignored the call and pulled out a change of clothes.  Over near the window, her computer sat silent.  Ione connected her work Blackberry to recharge and grabbed her personal cell phone to check for messages.  Over the past three days, and Ione couldn't believe it had only been three days since leaving, only a few calls and messages came in, mainly family.  She filed the information away for when she was far more awake and set the phone down.

The ten minute shower did far more to revitalize Ione than the hours of restless sleep at the Consulate and on the flight to Montreal had.  When she stepped out of the shower to towel herself dry, Ione felt more herself than she had in the past twenty-four hours.  Fresh clothes, a plain black t-shirt and her favourite pair of faded jeans, helped, letting Ione feel human once again instead of the exhaustion.  She stepped out of the bathroom and almost on Diesel.  Ione picked up the cat.  "You know better than that, silly."  She raised him up to let him touch her forehead with his.  "How was dinner?"  Ione shifted him to let him hang on to her shoulder.  She felt the cat's rumbling purr.  "You're friendly tonight.  Did you miss me?"

Karen came out of her room, her long black hair tied back into a pony tail.  "I caught him sleeping on your bed a few times.  I don't know if that means he missed your or he's taking over your room."

"He missed me."  Ione hugged Diesel before setting him down again.  "Where to?  Don't make me choose.  I'm on autopilot right now.  Just point me in the right direction."

"The Prescott?  Food and beer?"  Karen reached down to stroke  Diesel as he saunter between her legs.  He brushed against the denim of the woman's jeans.  "Oh, thanks, cat."

Ione laughed.  "The Prescott sounds good."

The women walked downstairs, the grey cat preceding them step by step.  Diesel parked himself in front of the door as his people put their shoes on.  Ione reached for the door, stopping when the grey cat mewed.  "You can't come, Fluffybutt."

"Besides, they don't serve anything you like."  Karen finished tying the laces of her running shoes.

Ione scooped Diesel up with one arm.  "Okay, you're going on a diet.  You're getting round, Diesel."  She walked over to the couch and set him down.  When the cat started to get up, Ione pushed back down.  "No.  Stay there."  She rolled Diesel on to his back and rubbed his tummy.  "We're not going to be long."

Karen grabbed her purse and keys.  "I'll drive.  I know, it's not far, but you need the pampering."

"Here that, Diesel?  I get the pampering this time."  Ione gave the purring cat one last rub, then followed Karen out the door.

Karen spent most of the time driving finding a parking spot on Preston.  The on-street parking was filled near the Prescott, and many of the nearby roads had signs banning parking altogether.  Karen did find a spot a few blocks away and neatly pulled her copper Fiat into the small space.  Together, she and Ione walked up to the restaurant, where they were shown to a table almost right away.

As Ione leaned back in her chair, stretching her legs, she looked around the restaurant.  Three televisions were tuned into the World Series while two others had hockey games.  Karen raised her head up from reading the menu.  "You already know what you're having?"

Ione nodded.  "At least that decision I could make."

"Your sister called last night."

"Oh?  What did Amy want?"

Karen closed the menu.  "You to turn on your phone.  She never said why."

"Did she say anything else, like why she was looking for me?"

"Nothing."  Karen shrugged.  "She sounded rushed."

"I'll call her in the morning."  Ione watched the waiter as he approached the table.

"Good evening, ladies.  My name is Mark and I'll be your server tonight.  Is there anything I can start you with?  A drink or appetizers?"

Karen appraised the waiter with her eyes before answering.  "Do you have Guinness on draft?"  When the waiter nodded, she continued, "I'll have one of those and," she looked over at her roommate, "want to split an order of breadsticks?  Garlic butter and dip."

Ione felt her mouth start to water.  "Sounds good to me."

"Okay, an order of Prescott breadsticks, and I'm ready to order dinner.  Can I get the chicken scallopini?  With vegetables on the side."

The waiter wrote down Karen's order then looked over at Ione.  "And for you?"

"The same.  Even the Guinness."

"Sure thing.  I'll be back with your drinks."  Mark disappeared.

Karen leaned forward over the table.  "Okay, how was Paris?  Did you get to see anything there?"

"Not much.  It was all work related."  Ione sighed.  "I did see the Eiffel Tower.  I asked the cab driver to take me past it to get to my hotel when I got in."

"What about after work?  Did you at least get out for drinks?"

"Does the bar across the street from the hotel count?"  Ione shrugged, then sat up in her chair.  "I got to meet people I had only talked to over email, so it's a plus.  The trip just turned out badly."  Ione closed her eyes to try to black out the fireball the warehouse turned into.  She faked a yawn, trying to cover.  "Sorry."

Karen reached over the pat Ione's arm in reassurance.  "It's okay.  Long days happen.  How was the weather?"

"Colder than here.  I thought it'd be warmer and had to buy a couple of pullovers."

"Weird."  Karen shrugged.  She leaned back to let Mark set down the breadsticks and beer.  "Well, with all that work, you deserve a proper vacation there to see all the things you missed, like the Champs-Elysées and the Louvre and a proper bistro or two with single Parisian men.  Because, really, Ione?  You don't get out enough.  I'll bet that's why Amy called."

Ione laughed.  "Probably.  Ames needs to mind her business.  I get out."  She picked up a breadstick and pointed it at her housemate.  "And that goes for you, Miss Busybody.  I do get out.  I'm not looking to date right now, is all."  Ione bit the end off the breadstick for emphasis.  "Besides, Nate's supposed to come back to Ottawa first week of December.  I can make my move on him then."

Karen picked up her pint of beer.  "To December, to Nate's return, and to you being as aggressive as your LARP character."

"Here, here."  Ione raised her pint, clinking it on Karen's, then swallowed a mouthful.  She let the alcohol linger, savouring the taste.  As she set the pint back down on the table, she felt a shiver course through her, up and down her spine and into her arms and legs.  She sat straight up.

Karen arched a perfectly formed eyebrow.  "The beer isn't that strong."

Ione glanced around the dining room, not moving her head.  "It's not the beer."

"What is it?"  Karen craned her neck to see what was happening.

"Don't look," Ione hissed.  She forced herself to slouch in her chair.

Karen reached for her housemate's beer.  "You're cut off."

"It's not the beer."  Ione slapped at Karen's hand.  "Mine."  The shiver faded.  "It just felt like someone was watching me, okay?"

"Watching?  I didn't see anyone."

"The feeling's gone now."  Ione gave her head a shake.  "Maybe I'm overtired."

"Probably.  Look, let's have dinner, relax a bit, then I'll take you home and put you to bed."

"Can I get a bedtime story?"

"The only books I have will keep you up."  Karen smirked.  "Your choice, horror or smut."

"Pass."  Ione finished the breadstick in her hand.  "Don't worry about waking me in the morning, either.  Lawrence gave me the day off."

Karen grabbed a breadstick for herself.  "That was nice of him.  Sleep in."  She munched on the end of the stick.

"Yes, Mom.  I was thinking that."

"Just saying."

Ione smiled.  "Ignore me.  I'm tired.  I get cranky when I'm tired.  This is just me being cranky."

"You get repetitive when you're tired, too."

"Ask Amy about that one time in high school.  Three final exams in a row.  Amy avoided me for a week after that."

Next Week:
"Come on, kitten, I want up."
"Thanks to me, several people are dead."
"Do you know how fast you were going?"
"Sarah Ione Mackenzie, about time you answered your phone!"

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