Kiss And Say Good Spy – Diane Henders

Driving through the cold grey November morning, I belted out an off-key version of ‘My Own Way To Rock’ along with Burton Cummings. The bouncy tune might have been enough to energize me for a day at the office, but it couldn’t dissipate the perpetual current of low-level anxiety buzzing in the back of my mind. I stopped murdering the song and switched to foolish optimism instead. No need to worry. I could just relax and be myself: Aydan Kelly, ordinary middle-aged bookkeeper. My undercover assignment had dragged on for months with no discernible progress, so maybe my potential arms buyer had lost interest. Or gotten arrested. Or better yet, killed. Or maybe he’d seen the error of his ways, repented, and joined a monastery to spend the rest of his days ministering to the poor and infirm… The ring of my burner phone shattered my fragile bubble of wishful thinking. Heart thumping, I swerved over to stop by the side of the road. After a single deep breath that was supposed to be calming, I thumbed the Answer button and barked, “Arlene Widdenback” in my best hardass-bitch voice. “Good morning, Ms. Widdenback.” Frederick Labelle’s rich radio-announcer’s tones oozed through the small speaker like warm butterscotch syrup, stirring queasiness in the pit of my stomach. “I hope you are well.

” “Fine,” I said shortly. “I’ll be even better if you finally have a deal for me.” “Not quite yet.” He infused the words with all the synthetic regret of a weatherman predicting hail, tornadoes, and plagues of locusts. “However, you’ll be pleased to hear that our client will be coming to Calgary soon, and he’d like to meet you face to face.” Fear tightened my throat, and I held onto Arlene Widdenback’s no-bullshit voice with an effort. “You’re supposed to be my broker, so do your job and bring me a deal. I don’t do face-to-face meetings.” Annoyance chilled his voice, congealing its former sweetness into something quite a bit less pleasant. “That’s what I told him.

I’ve been working on this deal since August, and I don’t appreciate being cut out at this late date.” “So tell him to go piss up a rope,” I snapped. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. He was quite… insistent.” Mentally agreeing that gangland bosses could be remarkably persuasive, I sat in silence that I hoped would radiate disapproval. Should I just repeat ‘I don’t do face-to-face meetings’ and hang up? But the last time I’d refused a meeting, Labelle had sent a very cranky man with a gun to collect me. And if a middleman arms broker like Labelle kept a cranky gun-toter on staff, a high-ranking gang member like Benoit Riel probably had a whole stable of cranky gun-toters. And even that thought didn’t scare me as much as what the Department might do to me if I bungled this mission… “He hasn’t given me an arrival date yet,” Labelle said into the silence. “Likely early next week. I do hope you’ll be able to meet him.

I think his visit is a positive sign that he’s ready to move the deal forward.” Stall. I grunted, putting as much contempt into the sound as I could. “Maybe. Call me if he actually shows up.” I pressed the disconnect button and collapsed back in my seat, willing my pulse back down into normal range. After a few moments of fruitless yoga breathing I abandoned the effort and activated my small bug-detecting device. Its indicator light glowed a green ‘all-clear’, and I pulled out one of the Department’s secured phones and hit the speed-dial. As usual, Director Charles Stemp answered on the first ring with a crisp, “Yes?” “It’s Aydan,” I said, trying not to sound as anxious as I felt. “I have a development.

Benoit Riel might be coming to Calgary to meet with me in the next few days.” “Excellent. Briefing at zero nine hundred.” I checked my watch. Eight thirty. My civvie clients would have to wait. I held in my sigh. “Okay. I might be a few minutes late, though.” “Very well.

I’ll inform your partner.” The click of his disconnect sounded before I could utter the words, “Wait, what partner?” Uh-oh. As I jogged across the frosty parking lot to the entrance of Sirius Dynamics, my heart thumped in a rapid rhythm that had nothing to do with exertion. Who would I get? Please, let it be someone I liked and trusted… Dammit, I didn’t want a new partner; I wanted my first and best one back. A vision of John Kane’s steady grey gaze and reassuringly broad shoulders warmed my mind. If only he hadn’t resigned… I puffed out a harsh breath as I hurried into the building. Too late for that. Get over it. The security guard gave me a cheerful ‘Good morning, Aydan’, and I managed a smile while I jittered through the sign-in procedure. I took the stairs two at a time, then paused at the top to dry my sweaty palms on my jeans and give myself a mental pep talk.

I could do this. I was getting closer to being the experienced agent I’d been impersonating for the past year. I’d taken some courses, and I had a few missions under my belt. And despite turning forty-eight a couple of months ago I was in the best physical shape of my life. Everything would be fine. Piece of cake. I headed for the meeting room with my feet dragging as though I was already knee-deep in doom. Outside the door, I plastered on a smile that I hoped would look convincing, then stepped inside. “Hi…” I began. My greeting faltered at the sight of the occupants of the room, and I faked a cough to cover my dismay before continuing, “…Greg; Ch…” I added another strangled cough when my attempt to force Stemp’s first name from my lips failed.

“’Scuse me; something in my throat,” I croaked. “Director.” I nodded to Stemp and slid into the nearest chair, hoping I hadn’t sounded as idiotic as I felt. “Hey, Kelly!” Greg Holt greeted me, his steel-blue eyes glinting like broken glass in the craggy landscape of his face. “Long time no see. Team Anger-Management, boo-yah!” Forcing a laugh, I reached across the table to reciprocate his proffered fist-bump. His gaze flicked behind me and I spun, but let out a pulse-calming breath at the sight of Clyde Webb’s beanpole figure. Thank God. At least I could count on Spider. “Hi, Spider!” My relief burst out on my face in a wide smile and I jumped up.

“Here, take this chair. I’m going to-” “…sit with your back to the wall,” he finished along with me, his mischievous grin making him look more like a high-school kid than a twenty-seven-year-old techno-genius. Then he turned a repentant expression toward Stemp. “I’m sorry I’m late. I got, um…” His cheeks went pink. “I was a little late leaving the house this morning…” Holt guffawed. “Three months married and the honeymoon’s still not over, eh?” Spider blushed scarlet. Dropping into the chair I’d just vacated, he mumbled, “Sorry, it won’t happen again,” with a guilty glance at Stemp. Stemp’s impassive façade eased enough to allow a quirk at the corner of his mouth. “You’re forgiven.

Agent Kelly just arrived moments ago, too.” “Oh, good…” Spider gave me a flustered glance. “I mean, um… not that I’m glad you were late, too, just… I’m glad you weren’t waiting on me.” Giving him a smile and a pat on the shoulder, I rounded the corner of the table and sat down with my back to the protection of the wall. “Now that everyone is present…” Stemp began. Shit. I had been clinging to the hope that my real partner would arrive at any moment. But no; apparently I was getting Holt. Good God. As if I wasn’t already scared enough.

I dragged my attention back to Stemp’s voice as he brought Holt up to speed. “…Agent Kelly has been posing as Arlene Widdenback, a dealer in arms of all kinds, but particularly in technologically advanced designer weapons. Three months ago Frederick Labelle, a former broker for Fuzzy Bunny’s now-defunct arms empire, initiated contact on behalf of one Benoit Riel, who is high in the gang hierarchy in Montreal.” Holt glanced over at me. “What did you sell him?” “Nothing, yet.” I slouched a little lower in my chair. “It’s been frustrating as hell. Labelle keeps hinting that Riel will put in a big order, but it hasn’t happened. Then this morning he called to tell me Riel is planning to come to Calgary and wants to meet me.” Hiding my fear at the thought, I added, “Who knows, though? He doesn’t know when Riel is supposed to arrive, so it could be just talk.

He’s been oozing butterscotch-flavoured bullshit for months now.” “That’s weird,” Holt said. “If Riel’s using Labelle as his broker, why would he want a face-toface?” “No idea. I told Labelle I didn’t do face-to-face meetings and he should do his job as a broker and bring me a deal.” Holt raised an eyebrow. “Huh. Are you going to stick to that if Riel shows up?” “Probably not,” I mumbled. “Good call,” Stemp said. “Keep playing hard to get, but you should definitely meet with Riel if he comes. Holt will be your backup.

” Holt’s lips tightened, and I could almost see the thought-bubble above his head. He was a top agent. He should have the leading role. Stemp continued smoothly, but I knew he hadn’t missed Holt’s reaction. “The analysts have uncovered a complex web of interrelationships, so it will be ideal that Holt is unknown to Labelle, Riel, Tawny Harchman, and James Helmand.” I blinked. “I see the potential connection with Tawny Harchman since we know she had ties to Fuzzy Bunny, but what does Helmand have to do with this? He’s in prison, and he never even knew about my Arlene Widdenback cover. He only knew that Fuzzy Bunny wanted me as Aydan Kelly and he was going to make a tidy profit by handing me over.” I didn’t bother to add ‘after he beat me and tried to rape me’, but memories of pain and terror stirred darkly in the back of my mind nonetheless. “Helmand was incarcerated with the former members of Fuzzy Bunny and they got to know each other,” Stemp replied.

My mouth went dry. Oh, shit… Stemp went on, “The latest intel indicates that Tawny Harchman also had contact with Helmand through her connections with Fuzzy Bunny; and we’ve discovered that Helmand knows Benoit Riel through his gang connections.” My heart thudded to the bottom of my belly. “They all know each other. Great. Absolutely fu-” I bit off the incipient f-bomb and substituted, “…fine. Marvelous.” I massaged my temples, where a tension headache was already throbbing. Stemp nodded. “Not ideal, I agree.

Now that Helmand has been released-” “What?” My voice came out in a strangled squawk, and I cleared my throat and forced a level tone. “It’s only been a year.” Stemp gave one of his infinitesimal shrugs, his mouth flattening into a sour line. “We couldn’t prove he had intent to jeopardize national security, so the money laundering and assault cases were tried in civilian court and the charges were plea-bargained. He has been a model prisoner, and yesterday he completed two thirds of his sentence and was released on parole.” Oh, God. That vicious bastard was free. Sick fear flooded my belly at the thought of him coming after me. But at least I was armed. What about Nichele? He knew where she lived.

After brutalizing her once, he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Shit, I had to call her right away… “So do we know where he is?” I tried to hold my voice steady but it quavered slightly despite my best efforts. “He’s in Calgary, but the conditions of his parole prevent him from contacting his victims, including you, your friend Nichele Brown, and Helmand.” Holt frowned. “Helmand? Isn’t that who we’re talking about?” “James Helmand is the parolee,” Stemp replied. “I was referring to his younger brother, Arnold Helmand. For clarity, let’s refer to them by their first names.” “Arnold… oh. Hellhound?” Holt asked. “Big ugly bearded guy covered in tattoos; sniper and weapons specialist?” Stemp nodded and Holt’s frown deepened.

“His brother is a gang kingpin? Isn’t that a hell of a security risk?” “Arnie would rather die than even give James the time of day,” I snapped. “He doesn’t associate with James at all.” “Arnold’s loyalty isn’t in question, nor is it relevant to this briefing,” Stemp said. “But it is relevant that James knows your cover story and your subsequent dealings with Fuzzy Bunny. He’ll think that Arlene Widdenback’s connections with corrupt law enforcement were what resulted in his arrest.” “Great,” I muttered. “So not only is he going to be pissed that I escaped and he didn’t get his money from Fuzzy Bunny, he’s going to be super-pissed that I got him arrested.” “Very likely,” Stemp replied, as though he wasn’t the least bit concerned that I was the target of a murderous lunatic with a vendetta. And why should he worry? He thought I was an experienced agent who could easily handle the situation, not a bookkeeper scrambling just to stay alive… “Inform me as soon as your meeting with Riel is scheduled,” he went on. “Webb, get wiretaps on Riel’s and Labelle’s phones as soon as possible.

Holt, I’ve given you security clearance to access the complete dossier on Arlene Widdenback and the developments in this case to date. Questions?” Mute headshakes were his only reply, and he rose with a nod. “Dismissed.” As he strode out the door, I sprang up and followed him. Hurrying down the hallway, I tried to pluck some reasonable arguments from the storm of fearful protests hurtling through my brain. Why did I get saddled with Holt? How could I request somebody I trusted? “Yes?” Stemp inquired, and I realized I had trailed him into his office and he was regarding me with a quizzical eyebrow raised. “Oh. Um… I was wondering if Carl Germain might be available for my partner. Or maybe Jill Francis?” “No, they’re both assigned to other missions.” Stemp’s eyes narrowed.

“Why?” “I, uh… I just… I haven’t worked with Holt very much, and, um…” “So this will be an excellent opportunity to remedy that,” Stemp said. “Was there anything else?” I nearly blurted, ‘Yeah, he scares the shit out of me.’ But that would only make me look like a coward and a whiner. And besides, Holt wouldn’t have been reinstated to active duty if his psych evaluation didn’t show he was over his anger issues. Theoretically. Although if he knew how to game the evaluations like I did… Defeated, I mumbled, “No, nothing else,” and plodded out the door. Chapter 2 Creating mental priority lists, I hurried back to my office. First, call Nichele and warn her about James Helmand. I dropped into my desk chair and hesitated, hand hovering over the phone. No, maybe calling Nichele should be the second thing.

I picked up the phone and dialled, then sat jiggling my knee up and down while the ringtone sounded over and over. At last a clipped but welcome voice came over the line. “Dave’s Trucking, Dave here.” “Hi, Dave, it’s Aydan,” I began. “Hi!” The shortness in his tone vanished and I could hear his smile when he spoke again. “Good to hear your voice! How the heck are you?” “I’m fine, but there’s a bit of a situation…” The phone made a hollow sound as though he’d cupped his hand over the mouthpiece, and he dropped his voice. “Where are you? Do you need help?” Thankful as always for his unhesitating loyalty, I replied, “No, thanks, I’m okay. Where are you?” “Moncton, New Brunswick. What’s wrong?” “Shit, you’re days away…” I hadn’t meant to speak that thought aloud, and a crackle from Dave’s end sounded as though he’d clenched the phone in his fist. “What the hel… heck’s going on?” he demanded, tension vibrating in his voice.

“Sorry, Dave, I didn’t mean to scare you. It might be nothing to worry about, but James Helmand has been released on parole and even though he’s not supposed to contact Nichele I wanted to make sure she was being careful. I was hoping you were in town with her.” “Shit!” I knew how upset he was when he didn’t censor his language. His voice rose. “I’m hauling in the Maritimes this week and even if I start home right now it’ll still take me four days! You gotta protect her! Promise me you’ll…” He bit off the words and the sound of his deep breath hissed on the line. “Sorry,” he said tightly. “I know your duty’s gotta come first, but…” “No, this time it doesn’t,” I interrupted. “I’m going to call her as soon as I get off the phone with you, and then I’m going to drive down to Calgary right away. I’ll make sure she’s okay.

” “But… you’re still in Silverside?” At my ‘uh-huh’, he muttered, “Two hours away…” He hesitated. When he spoke again, I understood why he had wrestled with the decision. “Can you get Hellhound to go over and stay with her ‘til you get there? I still think he’s a jerk, but… you trust him, don’t you? And he knows how to handle himself…” “I’ll call him right away. Don’t worry. Arnie won’t let anyone get to Nichele. He hates James as much as we do, probably more. And James’s parole conditions prevent him from contacting either of them, so he won’t risk getting sent back to jail.” “Yeah, right.” On that dubious note, I offered one last feeble attempt at reassurance before disconnecting to dial Hellhound’s cell phone. He picked up on the first ring with a brusque, “Helmand.

” “Hi, Arnie, it’s Aydan,” I said cautiously. His tone changed to a warm and cheerful greeting. “Hey, darlin’! How ya doin’?” “Hey, yourself,” I said, smiling in spite of my worry. “Why are you all bright-eyed and bushy- tailed? It’s only nine-thirty. Usually I get nothing but a groan if I call you before noon.” “Had an early job.” He didn’t elaborate as to whether the job involved killing people, and I didn’t ask. Instead, I got to the point. “Can I hire you?” His gravelly chuckle tickled my eardrum. “Hell, darlin’, ya know how easy I am.

Gimme a kiss an’ I’m yours.” He added hurriedly, “I mean, s‘long’s ya ain’t askin’ for a commitment.” “Bite your tongue,” I chided, grinning at our long-standing joke. My smile slipped away as anxiety overcame me again. “No; I just found out that James is out on parole, and I’m worried about Nichele. She’ll be at work by now, so could you please go over to her office and stay with her until I get there in a couple of hours?” “Fuck, I can’t.” His chagrin came through loud and clear. “I’m outta town an’ I ain’t gonna be back ‘til late today even if everythin’ goes slicker’n shit through a tin horn. If anythin’ fucks up, well…” He trailed off and I shivered. He hadn’t specified location or details, so I knew exactly what kind of ‘job’ he was doing.

If anything fucked up, he might not come back at all. Dammit, now I was worried about him, too. “But I thought you’d know Jim was gettin’ out,” Helhound added. “Didn’t ya get your call from the Parole Board?” “No…” Memory dawned and I smacked my forehead. “Shit! I remember you telling me to register with them for notifications, but I got tied up on a mission right then and didn’t get a chance. And by the time the mission was over I’d forgotten. So, no, I didn’t find out until this morning. And Nichele doesn’t know either, or she would have called me.” “Well, try not to worry about it,” he comforted. “Jim’s smart, an’ he ain’t gonna take a chance on goin’ back to jail.

Nichele ain’t got anythin’ he wants. I’m more worried about you. If Jim thinks there’s still a price on your head…” I let out an unladylike grunt in an attempt to clear the large hairy lump of fear clogging my throat. “That’s the least of my worries. Intel says James thinks I got him sent to prison. Never mind profit; he’ll be out for revenge.” “Fuck.” Before Hellhound could speak again, I heard a crackle that sounded like a radio command at his end of the line. “We’re buggin’ out; gotta go,” he said rapidly. “Watch your six.

I’ll call ya soon’s I can. Be safe. Love ya. ‘Bye.” The connection went dead. “Shit,” I muttered into the silent receiver before slapping it back onto the cradle. My nerves twitched with the need to run to my car and drive as fast as possible to Calgary, but I forced myself to draw a deep breath. Kane was living in Calgary. If anybody could protect Nichele, he could. But was it fair to ask him to put himself in danger after he’d quit the Department? I drew another deep breath.

Let him decide for himself. I dialled. The phone rang a couple of times at the other end before the connection clicked open and a deep but wary voice said, “Kane.” “Hi, it’s Aydan,” I said, attempting a light tone. “Oh… Hi. How are you? It’s been a while.” He still sounded cautious. “I didn’t expect you to be calling from the office.” “Um. Yeah, sorry about that…” Guilt squirmed in my belly.

This was just sleazy, asking him to risk his safety when I hadn’t even had the grace to call and say hi for weeks. I couldn’t do it. Resolve squared my shoulders and I kept my tone warm and casual. “I just realized I hadn’t talked to you for ages, and I had a few minutes so I thought I’d call. How’s everything down there?” “Oh.” His voice warmed and deepened, smoothing into his usual velvet baritone. “It’s nice to hear from you. Everything’s… fine.” His tiny hesitation set off my alarm bells. “That’s not the word I expected you to use,” I probed gently.

“Well, no, I meant… it’s good. Really good. Great.” “What’s wrong?” The sound of his exhalation carried clearly over the line. “Nothing. I’m still adjusting. So are Daniel and Alicia. It’ll just take time.” His voice firmed. “Now, are you going to tell me what’s wrong at your end?” “Nothi-” “What’s wrong, Aydan?” he demanded.

I blew out a breath of my own. “You’re ‘way too good at reading me. Sorry, it’s just that… I just found out James Helmand is out on parole and I’m worried about Nichele even though he’s not supposed to contact her. I’m leaving in a few minutes to drive down but-” “I’ll stay with her until you get here. Will she be at work today?” Gratitude swamped me, putting a catch in my voice. “Th- Thank you. But… I don’t want you to put yourself at risk. You promised Daniel you’d always be there for him, and it’s not fair to-” “It’s all right, Aydan, I want to,” he interrupted. “And it’s not going to be dangerous. If James shows up, I’ll just call the police like any other citizen.

Tell Nichele I’m coming, and then call me back with her location.” I drew a breath of relief. “Thanks. I’ll call you right back.” When Nichele answered the phone a few moments later with a crisp, “Nichele Brown, how may I help you?” I slumped with relief. She was still okay. Thank God. “Hi, Nichele.” “Aydan!” Her business voice vanished, replaced by her usual squeal of delight. “How are you, girl? Long time, no talk!” “Um, yeah, sorry about that…” I mumbled.

“Look, Nichele…” Her voice went flat except for a faint vibration like an electrical current. “What’s wrong? Is it… ohmigod, Dave…?” “No, no, Dave’s fine, I just talked to him,” I reassured her with slightly too much heartiness. “What is it, then? I can tell it’s bad by the sound of your voice. Spill it.” “Um…” I couldn’t think of any good way to say it. “James Helmand is out on parole.” If not for the tiny squeak at the other end of the line, I would have thought we’d been disconnected. “But he’s not allowed to come near you,” I added hurriedly. “If he even thinks about it, they’ll throw him right back in jail. I’m coming down to stay with you, I’m leaving right now, and John will stay with you until I get there…” “Aydan…” Her voice was breathy with terror.

“Ohmigod… what… what… how could he be out? So soon?” “I’ll explain when I get there,” I said firmly. “I’m leaving now. Tell your secretary to cancel your meetings for the day. Tell her you’re working on an important investment plan. Close your door and don’t open it until you hear the secret knock.” A puff of air that might have been a sob or a giggle floated over the line. “Girl, we made up the secret knock when we were five years old. Everybody knows shave-and-a-haircut. And you can’t do anything to stop him if he comes for me.” Her voice firmed into the determined Nichele that I knew.

“Don’t come. You’ll be safer if you stay away from me. There’s no point in giving him two targets for the price of one.” “I’m coming,” I snapped. “I’m not going to leave you to face him alone. John will be there as soon as he can, and I’ll be there in two hours. Wait for the secret knock.” I hung up on her protests, wishing I could tell her about Kane’s deadly martial arts skills and the Glock strapped to my ankle. But I couldn’t blow my cover, not even for my best friend since childhood. I sighed and called Kane before jogging out to the parking lot.

Fifteen minutes later I was scurrying around my bedroom, stuffing overnight essentials into my small backpack while fearsome images of James’s grinning face flashed in my mind’s eye. His fists balled and dripping with Arnie’s blood. Nichele’s small body blackened with bruises from those same brutal fists. What if he was stalking her right now? What if he was armed and I’d just sent Kane into the path of his bullets? Dammit, I shouldn’t have involved Kane… Muttering worried obscenities, I locked my front door, raking my usual glance over the farmyard and fields beyond in case of snipers or spies. Hurrying into my garage, I almost skipped checking the car for tracking devices. After all, I’d checked it before I left Sirius only half an hour ago… I hissed out a breath between my teeth and did it anyway. Check everything, every time. My new mantra. I would get good at this spy stuff, dammit. The reassuring green light glowed on my detection device, and I slid into my car and headed for the highway.

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