Triple Cross: The Dread Nought Book 1
Cassie thought she was being a good samaritan, stopping a kidnapping. It seems Remy not only did not need saving but had this whole thing planned out.
2 – A Conundrum
Cassie was stupefied. “How the hell do you know my name? What kind of a setup is this?” She looked around in concern. “Let me out.”
“At least let me ditch the van first.” Remy pointed out the window at a passing video camera. “You probably don’t want to get recorded hopping out of a stolen van.”
Cassie clenched her fists. “They already recorded me hopping into a stolen van! While it was being stolen!”
Remy conceded. “Ok, valid point, but that video will be scrubbed clean. AID is not going to let anyone see a recording of them trying to kidnap me.”
“Which brings us back to the question, just who is AID anyway?”
While slowing down for another red light, Remy looked at her thoughtfully. “You still want to know? As you wish.” The light changed, and they accelerated again. “AID is a covert black ops division of the NSA.”
Cassie shook her head. “Hold on. I don’t know much about the government, but I know the NSA doesn’t do ops. They’re just computer nerds, collecting data from all around the world.” She squinted into the distance, trying to remember more. “They aren’t even allowed to collect surveillance here in the United States.”
Remy shook her head at her naïve partner. “You really believe they don’t spy here in America? When the surveillance satellites spin over our heads, do you think they shut the cameras off? When a possible terrorist on an airplane or a boat crosses into American airspace, do they stop watching?”
Cassie frowned. “OK. But they still don’t do ops. The CIA is the one that tries to assassinate enemy leaders and stuff.”
Remy’s voice turned triumphant. “See what a great cover story that is? Who’s going to believe there’s an NSA assassination squad?”
That shut Cassie up. She knew there was something screwy with the logic, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on the problem.
As they turned into a parking garage, Cassie realized Remy had done a great job of deflecting her from the real question. How the hell did Remy know who she was?
Up and up, around and around the circular drive Remy wheeled. Almost at the top, she parked the vehicle into a corner slot.
Cassie climbed out of the van and watched as her new friend—or new enemy?—went through several antics.
First, Remy slid the rubber ball back up over the end of her baton, snapping the rubber tip into place. Then she slammed the baton tip-first into the concrete pavement with an outsized bang. The baton collapsed to its original size, one-third the length of a regulation baton.
She then pulled off her jersey.
Cassie blinked. A smug thought passed through her mind that, based on what she could see filling the bra, her own pair was at least as nice as Remy’s. She objected, “Hey! Keep ‘em holstered!”
Remy paid no attention but continued turning the jersey inside out. Once she had wriggled it back into position, she presented a different persona to the world. The inverted sweater showed a full-face portrait of Christina Aguilera.
A pair of dark sunglasses virtually identical to Cassie’s followed, and her long blonde hair was wound up in a bun hidden beneath a black cap. She frowned at Cassie. “You are not adequately protected,” she muttered. “Let me see what we’ve got.” She shuffled stuff in her purse until she found a face mask imprinted with the visage of Bette Midler. “This’ll do.”
Cassie, more bemused than irritated, pulled on the mask along with her glasses and her cap. “What’s the point of this?”
Remy stared at her. “Faces on clothes play havoc with the facial recognition systems used by the public video camera networks. With a shirt like mine or a mask like yours, we can’t be tracked by automation. They have to go with a full-up manual manhunt.”
She clucked her tongue. “Really, I’d expect you to know things like this, given your line of work.”
That led Cassie back to wondering how the hell Remy knew so much about her. But she needed to defend herself. “I always figured a simple mask, glasses, and a hat would do the trick.”
Remy sighed. “Sure, sort of; that works most of the time. But just covering your face marks you with a suspicious non-identity, whereas giving them an alternate face gives them an incorrect identity. Much better.” She started walking down the circular drive at a pace that made Cassie trot to catch up. “Let’s go.”
Remy took the stairs, not the elevator, and two levels below, she guided Cassie to a bland unmarked white van with very dark tinted windows.
Cassie stopped a few feet away. She stood uncertainly. “Well, you seem to be safe now. I guess I’ll be going.”
Remy laughed. “Nonsense. Let me at least fix you lunch.” Her voice turned sober. “Besides, they’re looking for you too. You’ll be much better off with me for a while.” She beeped the doors to unlock, circled the van, and slid into the driver’s seat.
When Cassie continued to stand there, Remy rolled down the passenger-side window. “Hop in.” She laughed once more, the sound somehow coaxing despite the sarcasm the words that followed could have conveyed if spoken by almost anyone else. “Really, where else do you have to go?”
Cassie continued to stand there, growing angrier by the moment. How would Remy know where she did or did not have to go? Really, this bitch rated as the most annoying person she’d met in the city.
Of course, upon reflection, Cassie hadn’t exchanged more than ten words with anyone since getting here, so how would she know if anyone else was more annoying?
Eventually, Cassie acknowledged to herself the much deeper reason for her incandescent irritation. The worst thing about Remy at this moment was that she was right. Cassie had nowhere else to go. She’d rented an apartment for thirty days—not bad, but far from a penthouse paradise. “Aargh.”
She accepted Remy’s invitation and slid into the passenger seat.
* * *
They ditched the new van in another parking lot and walked two blocks to an apartment building. The building looked superficially like the one housing Cassie’s own studio apartment, but the antique gold leaf edging the windows and ornamentation set off her opulence radar. “Snazzy place,” she muttered.
Remy smiled brightly. “Think so? Wait ‘til you see the apartment.” She walked up to the man at the reception desk. “Hey, Dennis. Any packages or anything?”
The man, who had looked like a normal surly New Yorker moments earlier, responded to the cheerleader’s charm with a smile. “Not today, Remy.” He pointed at the image of Christina Aguilera on her sweater. “She’s one of my favorites.”
Remy smiled even wider. “Really? If I can get you an autograph, would you like one?”
The man laughed. “That would be great, Remy.”
As they entered the elevator, Cassie whispered, “Do you really know Christina Aguilera?”
Remy turned sad. “Everybody should have a little unexpected hope in their days.”
Cassie shook her head. “Do you scam everybody?”
Remy frowned. “Not hardly. I’ll see about getting Dennis an autograph. And I’m not really scamming you. Not exactly, anyway.” She smiled again. “I’ll make it up to you when we get to the Abernathys.”
The elevator door opened and Remy shot down the hall. By the time Cassie caught up, Remy had slid inside.
Cassie stepped hesitantly into a roomy foyer. A pair of elegant women’s wool coats hung on a rack on one side, and a couple of umbrellas stood furled on the other. Beyond the foyer, a vast expanse of living room beckoned, a bright space in off-white with pale blue accents. Cassie found herself afraid to touch anything lest she leave a mark. She looked around, then shouted, “Where’d you go?”
An answer echoed back, “In the kitchen. Black tea or green?”
Cassie followed the voice down a hall lined with kitschy knickknacks and pastel paintings to a kitchen merged with an informal dining area. “Black tea.”
“Most excellent. I have a Russian black tea from the Caspian Sea. I’ll give you a touch of honey.”
While Remy worked, Cassie wandered around the dining area. “What do you do for a living, anyway? How do you afford this?” A cynical thought crossed her mind. “Or did you get this with Daddy’s money?”
Remy disregarded the barb. “Oh, it’s not mine. It belongs to the Abernathys. A very sweet little elderly couple. They’re vacationing with their grandson in Tampa for a few months. I’m house-sitting and taking care of the cat.”
“The cat?” Cassie looked around a little wildly. “I’m allergic to cats.”
Remy laughed. “Well, the cat is allergic to people too, so don’t worry.” She rifled the cabinets, collecting cookies and plates. “Anyway, I’m glad you like the place. I think you should stay here for a few days, ‘til AID cools down.”
Cassie shuddered. “No, thanks. I can take care of myself.” She spoke the words with confidence but wondered if she really believed them in the face of a top-secret government agency hunting her.
Remy bounced across the room to gently touch her shoulder. “Stay here with me for a little while. Please.”
Cassie sighed. “I’ll think about it.” She said it distractedly since her attention had acquired a new focus. Her wanderings had taken her to a mantle on the far side of the kitchen, backed by a mirror and covered with trophies from a collector’s long life of endless acquisition. She stifled a gasp as she looked more closely at a cat statue. Real emeralds blazed as eyes, and a diamond clung to the collar. She glanced at the mirror to see that Remy had returned to the stove, intent on the tea.
Cassie turned casually, blocking the view of the cat with her body while her hand slowly twisted up behind her to grab it.
Remy pulled the teacups down and began pouring, still facing away from her. “Cassie, you really shouldn’t steal from the Abernathys. As I already said, they are very nice people.”
Cassie slumped and stepped away from the mantle.
Remy brought the tea tray with a plateful of lemon cookies to the table, a work of art crafted in ebony. Cassie couldn’t even guess how much it had cost. Impossible to fence, though, even if she could figure out how to physically move it.
Remy smiled benevolently upon her. “Much better.” She slid a teacup and saucer over to her. “Besides, you should focus on what you’ve earned today.”
Cassie took a sip. “What I earned?”
“Of course. For helping me.”
Cassie smiled suspiciously. “Cool.”
Remy reached into her purse and pulled out three money orders, each for a thousand dollars, and made them out to Cassie Parker. She slid them over. “Here you go. And thank you.”
Cassie started to reach for the checks, looked thoughtfully at Remy, then scooped them up at lightspeed and vanished them into her purse. “That’s great. Thank—”
Remy held up a finger. “There is a condition, however.”
Cassie froze. She knew it couldn’t be this easy. Her voice turned sour. “What?”
“You have to deposit them at a specific ATM machine in Bushwick.”
Cassie stared at her. “Bushwick?”
“It’s in Brooklyn. I’ll give you the address, though we should probably go together. And you have to deposit them at a specific time too.” Remy touched Cassie’s arm. “The time and place are really important. Otherwise, the checks will bounce.” She gave Cassie the time and the address.
Cassie pursed her lips as she tried to figure out if Remy’s demands were bogus. How could the checks be invalid except at this location at this time? Still…best not to underestimate the woman who’d outsmarted AID. Who’d outsmarted Cassie herself, for that matter. “Whatever.”
Remy’s cheerleader smile returned. “Most excellent.” She swallowed the rest of her tea. “Come, let me show you your bedroom. Then I think I’m going to take a shower.”
Minutes later, Cassie found herself standing in the doorway of an opulent master bedroom, straining to hear the sound of the shower running in Remy’s own master. Cassie looked mournfully at her surroundings. It would be a great place to crash.
But she really had already journeyed far from her comfort zone to help. Vague though deep unease warned her this entire enterprise had been a mistake, even if it had turned out well, and she now had three thousand bucks in her purse.
Time to depart. She’d wander around town a bit, find Bushwick, deposit her check at the appointed time, and go home. This plan offered a simplicity she liked. What could go wrong?
Well, this definitely left us with more questions than answers. Remy is way more than she seems and Cassie is pretty much exactly as she seems. Don’t worry though all our questions will be answered on October 4th, when Triple Cross: The Dread Nought Book 1 is released. Also available for pre-order now.