February 11, 2017
Part of Meghan missed going to high-end nightclubs. The deep booming rhythms, the vibrant strobing lights, that intoxicating energy that glides through the crowd as the night goes on, sweeping away inhibitions in a cascade of expensive liquor and deceptively powerful mixers…
Being twenty-five was fun.
Not that she would give up the life that she had to do it all again, Lord knew she couldn't drink like she used to anymore, but the night's mission had her reminiscing on days past. She sat up a little straighter in her chair to better focus on the feed.
On the other end, a sharply dressed man donning a pristinely pressed three-piece suit stood in front of an enormous bathroom mirror, fastening his ornate golden cufflinks with a clearly practiced dexterity. His strong jawline – Meghan had to force herself to not use the word chiseled – was elegantly shaved, the silver-flecked beard blending perfectly into the sideburns framing his face.
"Meg, you're staring."
She waved a hand. "Shhh… it's not illegal to look, Miles."
He chuckled. "Fine, but we do have a job to do."
A sigh made its way through her nose. "Alright, alright." She opened the communication line.
"Jackal, this is Valkyrie, how copy?"
"I hear you loud and clear, Valkyrie."
"Good. Looks like you're a fan of your disguise, how's it fitting?"
"As I'm sure you can see, it fits perfectly. Such a shame that I have to wear it for work."
"You won't catch me complaining, either way."
Meghan flinched as Miles jabbed her side with his elbow. He cocked his head, peering over the top of his glasses with the 'you should know better' eyes. She raised her hands in resignation as Ryad chuckled at her.
Miles cleared his throat.
"Alright Jackal, I know we went over this before you shipped out, but just to reiterate – we don't know how long the target will be staying at the club tonight, so you'll have to move quickly before things have a chance to unravel."
"Remember who you are talking to, Señor Campbell, I am an expert at getting things done quickly."
"You know, most women would see that as a negative, but I won't tell anyone." Meghan chortled.
Miles pinched his nose, smirking. "You really can't help yourself, can you? I'm telling David."
Ryad peered up at the mirror. "…I feel as though I've missed something."
A second female voice spoke up. "No te preocupes (Don't worry), Ryad, I'll tell you when you're older."
Elena Alvarez, known amongst Rainbow as Mira. Her mechanical prowess was second to none, and her fierce intelligence and wit created one hell of a potent combination for Team Good Guys.
Everyone on the communication line shared a brief laugh at Ryad's expense, minus the man himself. He didn't fire back, settling for an exaggerated eyeroll.
"Estos malditos niños…; These damn children…"
Meghan took a breath to compose herself. "Alright, alright, anyway…" She tapped away at the keyboard. "The primary target is El Halcón, the facilitator of Red Dragon business in Spain and Portugal. We don't have anything on his identity, but we know he'll be here tonight. Your friends at GEO came through with a bit of info that'll help us out, so—" Her fingers went to work once more. "The secondary target is Lisia Perez, her picture's on your HUD. She's a co-owner of La Perla Blanca, and a secret mistress of El Halcón. She's likely to know where you can find him, and just about every scrap of dirty laundry he's got. If you can get her to turn herself in to the supporting ground team, we can get her to sing like a canary."
"And by 'we,' I assume you mean 'La Gringa' that is also listening in on us, hm?" Ryad had a devious smirk on his lips.
Meghan shared a glance with Miles, who shrugged. "I… don't follow. There aren't any other gringas on the—"
"She knows who she is, and what I'm doing." Ryad teased.
"Tch. At least you do it on purpose, not like the Americans that can't tell Spanish and Portuguese apart." Taina drawled into her microphone.
"For those of you not in the know, Brazilians call any foreigner a gringo or gringa." Elena clarified.
"Isso fere nossos sentimentos, Taina; That hurts our feelings, Taina." Meghan looked at Miles in mild amazement; his fluency in Portuguese wasn't anywhere on his profile…
"Whatever." She cut off the line.
Meghan could practically feel the eyeroll. She took a look at the mission clock. "Mira, get to work on casing the perimeter. Watch the people, watch the bartenders, watch who goes in and out of the bathrooms, everything. If someone breathes when we're not expecting it, I want to know about it."
"Copy that. They'll never see me coming." She closed the channel.
Meghan nodded. "Jackal, you ready?"
"Sí. Let us begin."
"Good. Perez is in the Sunrise room, near the bar. She's alone, so you should be good to go."
Ryad hummed in acknowledgment, putting the finishing touches on his styled hair. With a satisfied smile, he pushed his way out of the restroom and casually strolled down the main hall of La Perla Blanca. As nightclubs went, this one was ritzy, even for Ibiza. Meghan couldn't help again but wish that she had the opportunity to spend a night in such a place. She watched as Ryad passed under the CCTV camera nested above the corner entrance to both Sunrise and Azul, the twin bars on the first floor. He looked up to the lens and gave a subtle thumbs up before moving out of sight. Meghan switched to the camera on Ryad's heads-up display, which showed the operator taking a spot next to Perez.
"Te ves como si estuvieras esperando a alguien; You look like you're waiting for someone." He spoke with that same experienced elegance that told Meghan he'd definitely done this a time or twelve before.
The woman, not taken by surprise, looked Ryad up and down before flashing a pleasant smile. "Por suerte para mí, no lo soy. ¿Está aquí para pedirme que me entretenga, señor?; Luckily for me, I am not. Are you here to ask to keep me entertained, sir?"
"Quizás lo soy. ¿Te importaría bailar? No lo he hecho en algún tiempo, y solo estoy ansioso por sentir el ritmo; Perhaps I am. Would you care to dance? I haven't in some time, and I'm just itching to feel the rhythm." Ryad extended a palm.
"Dios mío, ¿cómo podría rechazar una oferta así?; My my, how could I refuse such an offer?"
She took his hand graciously, allowing him to guide her into a swaying movement in time with the song. They remained on the edge of the packed crowd, blending right in with the mass of partying patrons.
Minutes passed by, turning into the better part of an hour. Meghan and Miles watched on with mild interest as Ryad went to work, leaving him to pull out all his suave charms. Meghan was willing to bet that, if pressed, he'd say it's only for the sake of the mission, but he was just too good to be someone who never practiced. She kicked her boots up on the desk and crossed her ankles, keeping one eye on the monitors.
Miles sparked a cigarette, leaning back in his seat. "What's your read on these guys, Meg?"
She peered over at him. "Professional, well-informed, work well with others, know how to dress sharp if the situation calls for it. What's not to like?"
He snickered. "Fair enough, but I meant as candidates to join the team. Six was real eager to get them brought in, but it was a bit of a lucky coincidence that they already had a lead on our target."
Meghan shrugged. "Makes them useful, if nothing else. If all goes well tonight, they'll have my vote." She checked the screen again. "I'm grabbing a coffee, be right back."
As time rolled on, Meghan found that the coffee was more of a need than she thought. Miles was already on his second, too. They waited, absorbing everything that the GEO operators uncovered from their reconnaissance. From where Meghan sat, Elena's end of things seemed to include a fair bit more hard-earned intel, not to mention more than one unsolicited groping.
More than one broken nose, too.
The atmosphere in the war room had become quiet, bordering on uneventful, until a menacing whisper rumbled in their earpieces. The Americans looked up at Ryad's camera.
"Cuidado, señorita, llamará la atención. No quisiéramos causar un escándalo, ¿verdad?; Careful, señorita, you will attract attention. We wouldn't want to cause a fuss, now, would we?"
Meghan watched with bated breath, pulse elevating, as his hand slid along his beltline and pulled a sound-suppressed pistol, digging it into the woman's back.
This isn't part of the plan, what on earth is he pulling?!
"Jackal!" Meghan hissed into the microphone. "If El Halcón catches wind of this, or the crowd starts to panic, this op is toast! What are you doing?!"
Ryad gave nothing away indicating that he'd even heard her, keeping his attention on the nearly frantic woman in his arms. "Solo diré esto una vez, chica. Si no me dice dónde puedo encontrar El Halcón, me temo que no volverá a casa esta noche; I will say this only once, chica. If you do not tell me where I can find El Halcón, I'm afraid you won't be returning home this evening." He placed a finger on her lips when he felt her shifting to call out.
"E-estás mintiendo, no me matarías, aquí, con esta multitud tan cerca; Y-you're lying, you wouldn't kill me, here, with this crowd so close by."
"Considere esto: si no estuviera preparado para matarlo, ¿para qué me serviría esta amenaza? Pasé de contrabando un arma dentro de La Perla Blanca y voy tras uno de los hombres más peligrosos de España. Si cree que dudaría por un solo testigo, claramente está delirando; Consider this – if I were not prepared to kill you, what purpose would this threat serve for me? I've smuggled a gun inside La Perla Blanca, and I am going after one of the most dangerous men in Spain. If you think I would hesitate because of a single witness, clearly you are delusional."
"No te diré nada. No puedes intimidarme; I won't tell you anything. You can't intimidate me." Her tone betrayed little of the abject terror that her body language exuded.
"Ah, tal vez no, pero ¿qué sería del pequeño León si no volvieras?; Ah, perhaps not, but what would become of little Leon, if you did not return?"
Bringing her only child into this, that's dirty…
The woman froze, the air rushing from her lungs. Tears formed in her eyes. "Por favor ... no tengo la información que busca ...; Please… I don't have the information you're looking for…" Her voice, just above a whisper, cracked as she spoke.
"Pero lo haces, solo tienes que decirme dónde está. Podré seguir el rastro desde allí; But you do, you only have to tell me where he is. I will be able to pick up the trail from there." Ryad shifted his stance as the panicking woman hyperventilated against his grasp. "Sea razonable, señorita. Es su vida lo que busco, no la tuya. Puedes salir de aquí sin un rasguño. Piensa, ¿te protegería como eres él?; Be reasonable, senorita. It is his life I am after, not yours. You can walk out of here without a scratch. Think, would he protect you as you are him?"
Perez was silent for a long time, but still Ryad waited patiently as she wrestled with her response. "¿Cómo sé que no me matarás de todos modos?; How do I know that you won't just kill me anyway?"
Ryad relaxed his grip. "Tendrá que creer en mi palabra. Si desea alejarse de esta vida, camine por la ladera hacia la costa sur de la isla, justo detrás de las ruinas. Mi amiga estará ahí, dile que te envió el Chacal. El entenderá; You will have to take my word for it. If you want to get away from this life, walk down the slope toward the island's southern coast, just behind the ruins. My friend will be there, tell him that the Jackal sent you. He will understand."
"Multa. Está arriba, en el costoso salón, probablemente sintiéndose como una puta repugnante. Aparentemente no fui lo suficientemente bueno para él…; Fine. He is upstairs, in the expensive lounge, probably feeling up some disgusting whore. Apparently I wasn't good enough for him…"
If Perez could have seen his face, the uneasy guilt brewing in his gut would have been evident. "Lamento las molestias, señorita. Gracias. (I am sorry for the trouble, madam. Thank you.)"
The malicious pressure on the woman's skin eased, as did the hand restraining her side. She wheeled around with a wild look plastered on her face, only to be met with empty space. The man who had threatened her mere moments ago and then offered a disturbingly malevolent salvation had simply vanished. Her racing mind clung to his final words – tell them that the Jackal sent you. With a shaky breath, she strode from the orange-tinted room and made for the door, pushing past everyone in her way – including the partner of the man she had just been dancing with.
Meghan watched Elena's eyes follow Perez as she strode out of the door and broke into a run toward the coast. She marched up to Ryad, who'd already acquired a drink and for all the world looked nothing like someone who'd just threatened to kill another person. Meghan released a breath long held, only then realizing the sharp burning sensation in her lungs.
"¿De verdad lo habrías hecho? ¿La habrías matado sin pensarlo dos veces?; Would you really have done it? Would you have killed her without a second thought?" Elena said, staring knives into him.
"¿Qué respuesta preferirías?; Which answer would you prefer?" Ryad matched her gaze in time with the last word, his tone eerily even.
"La verdad, Ryad; The truth, Ryad." She seethed, taking care to keep a low volume.
"No. Pero ella no necesita saber eso; No. But she does not need to know that."
Meghan took note of the annoyed grunt that came through the comm channel as Elena mumbled to herself.
Ryad took hold of Elena's shoulders. "You can be angry at me later, Mira. We have a target to apprehend. He is upstairs, in the VIP lounge. I suspect he has been granted use of the penthouse as well. Make your way up the western stairs and investigate."
Elena shook him off. "Fine."
Several tense seconds passed as Ryad watched her storm off.
Miles cleared his throat and opened his channel. "Cav, reposition and see if you can get a view of the VIP lounge."
"Jackal, do we need to talk about that?" Miles uttered, slowly.
The line was silent for a long pause.
The Rainbow operators didn't press the issue.
"Got you on cams, Jackal. I see a guard at the door into the lounge, but I'm blind to the room itself and the penthouse."
"I hear you. Keep me informed."
Meghan leaned back in her seat, cracking her knuckles. The lights went down, theater going quiet. The maestra was ready to orchestrate a winning symphony, and her mind went to work. The camera eyes darted this way and that, absorbing information at a speed frightening to even her. She'd been asked more than once to describe how her uncanny electronic information siphoning sorcery came to be, but the answer was always the same.
You either can, or you can't. Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.
Miles silently watched the melodic poetry in motion as she worked the angles and directed traffic at her discretion. The free show never failed to amaze him; he was more than satisfied being a student. Before he knew it, Ryad had reached the second floor, stalking the scent of blood.
"Remember we're trying not to kill anyone." Meghan lectured.
"I know," He growled, "I have just the idea."
Ryad slowly walked around the corner, his head on a swivel, and caught eyes with the large man down the hall. "Oy, senor!" He scratched the back of his head, trying his best to look lost. "I can't find the restroom, do you know where I can go?" He noted the thick black curtain blocking his view into the VIP lounge.
"I can't help you, sir, please go back to the party."
"Please, don't make me beg!" He kept approaching the disgruntled guard, who sighed and stormed at Ryad.
"You should have just listened to me the first time—!"
Ryad snagged the guard by his shoulder and delivered a swift punch to the man's throat. His eyes bulged as the air left him before he found himself spun around and being strangled, a hand bracing the back of his head. Ryad held the guard in place for several seconds through his stunned thrashing until the body in his arms went limp, unconscious. He guided it down the wall so as to avoid making noise and looked around. No partygoers seemed to be coming to check on any sounds vaguely reminiscent of a scuffle. The hallway was devoid of any rooms or recesses that could feasibly hide a body, but Ryad's eye caught the edge of a black marble platform extending out over the courtyard where the modern-style open air windows parted from the lattice frame. Perfect for some intoxicated stargazing…
Or for a man to enjoy a brief siesta…
He grunted as he shifted the body's weight to his shoulder, taking care not to make a scene for those drinking themselves stupid below. "Dios mío … I'm getting too old for this." As luck would have it, the platform meshed with the wall of the building, allowing Ryad to prop the guard against the corner in a sitting position. Ryad dusted himself off, stepping over the low barrier and back into the hallway.
"Nicely done, Jackal. No spooked civvies, no suspicious bouncers."
"Gracias, Valkyrie." Ryad looked again at the curtain. He put his ear to the fabric. A few muffled voices sounded through. He dropped to one knee and pressed a finger to the orbital of his eye, blinking twice. An array of colored footprints illuminated his vision, all showing up on Meghan's feed as brightly as the neon signs adorning several walls in the club.
"Now what do we have here…" His voice had a low, predatory eagerness dripping from every word. This was his element, tracking down unsuspecting targets using nothing but razor-sharp wit and a wealth of experience.
And ultra-high-tech gear co-funded by the CIA, but I'm not about to rain on his parade.
The two pairs of footprints left over from his tangle with the guard were the freshest, but one set stood out amongst the several others. He ran a finger along the ground and rubbed it against his thumb, recognizing the telltale glint of gold flakes. The analysis running through the database in his HUD drew only one result, but Ryad already knew who this terrible, gaudy shoe belonged to.
"El Halcón…" He mumbled, taking the former guard's pose next to the door. "Mira, this is Jackal. The target is in the VIP lounge with three unknown civilians. What is your status?"
"I copy. I am in the theater. I had to sweet talk my way inside, but with Valkyrie's assistance there was no trouble. Moving through the penthouse now, standby."
Ryad waited, hands clasped, keeping his eyes forward as Elena spoke again. "Dios mío, this man has absolutely terrible taste in… well, everything. Alright, I'm near the opposite door. On your go."
Ryad yanked the black curtain aside, brandishing his sidearm in the direction of the group of people on the white circular couches. The women huddled near the man at the middle let out a simultaneous gasp, leaning as far into the upholstery as they could manage. Elena stood at the far side of the room aiming squarely at the target.
"El Halcón! ¡Levanta las manos y ven con nosotros! Estas bajo arresto!; Put your hands up and come with us! You are under arrest!" Elena flashed her pistol at El Halcón.
The man leaped from his spot on the couch and snared the back of a woman's dress, pulling her to his side, pistol pressed into her neck. His finger hovered just off the trigger of the gun. The other two women bolted from the room, whimpering all the way out the door. Ryad tightened his grip on his own weapon, glaring as he studied the man in front of him. His face was rugged, in the sense that it had seen its fair share of scarring, and played host to a nose that had clearly been broken more than once.
"¡Ni siquiera lo intenten, cerdos, o esta pequeña perra no se irá a casa esta noche! ¡Me voy y no me vas a seguir!; Don't even try it, pigs, or this little bitch won't be going home tonight! I'm leaving, and you are not going to follow me!" The pistol in his hand boomed loudly as a bullet pierced the glass, showering fragmented crystals all around him. The vibrant colored lights in the room glittered off the glass, casting a veil of rainbow light over the once-spotless lounge.
Ryad registered a brief glimpse of a shadow outside the bay window, and he resumed his focus on the man. "¿Y adónde espera correr, señor? No crees que estemos aquí solos, ¿verdad? Tu rastro termina aquí, rata, así que déjala ir y ríndete; And where do you expect to run to, sir? You don't think we're here alone, do you? Your trail ends here, rat, so let her go and surrender."
The man lifted a leg to climb out the window, his back still facing the outside. "Ahí es donde te equivocas, cabrón. No tienes idea de con quién estás hablando, pero te prometo que pronto lo harás— ; That's where you're wrong, asshole. You have no idea who you're talking to, but I promise that soon you will—" The hand holding the pistol was wrenched away and tugged halfway out the window. As the pistol clattered to the floor, the man reeled in shock as his trapped hand was roughly shoved against the window frame. He roared in pain as a knife was shoved through his hand.
Blood ran freely down his arm as tears welled up in his eyes. His blubbering grew soft and pathetic as the mighty Falcon was stripped down to nothing more than trapped prey beneath a predator's heel. The former hostage stumbled into a run out of the room, brushing shoulders with Ryad as she went hurtling for the nearest safe haven. Nearly as quickly as the situation had escalated, it was snuffed out and returned to relative tranquility.
"Nice timing, Caveira." Ryad holstered his weapon.
Elena followed suit before turning her attention to the contents of the room, scanning for anything that looked important.
Taina shrugged and leaned against the wall. "Valk said you could use a hand, so I took his."
"I'd say it's a better use for it than he ever used it for." Meghan chimed in.
A disgusted scoff from Miles occupied the radio. "Alright ya group of comedians, fan out and search the place for intel."
"Interpol has his identity as Kilroy Ross. Not much to his criminal record, but he does show up on a few databases for drug and contraband trafficking." Monika droned on the channel.
Ryad rubbed at his chin. "Contraband, hm?"
"I'm guessing you're thinking the same thing I am." Elena mumbled, leafing through the disheveled stack of documents in Ross's briefcase.
"Sí, it seems this may have been the man that our American friends were chasing after all."
A thousand miles away, Meghan massaged her temples. "Glad to know this wasn't a total waste of our time…Cav, can you escort our new friend to the secure transport?"
"With pleasure." Taina shoved Ross in the back, swearing after him as he stumbled into the hallway."
"At any rate," Monika interrupted, her voice thick with sleep, "I believe we have a few solid leads to pursue. Twitch and Echo will finish sifting through the contents of the hard drive in the morning, but for now, I am going back to sleep. Gute nacht; Good night."
"Understood. Jackal, Mira, the police are headed your way now. See if you can pull anything useful from Ross's stuff before they get there. Let me know if you see anything that might link to Red Dragon." Meghan said.
Elena nodded. "Sí, we'll get to work."
Silence reigned in the penthouse as Ryad and Elena continued delving through the pile of papers. There didn't seem to be any sort of organization to them, like Ross never expected anyone except for him to be in the same room as his briefcase and laptop. The sounds of shuffling pages and tapping keys melted into a soft, rhythmic melody before sliding toward a white noise.
Elena hummed, intrigued. "Not that I'm surprised, but much of what is written is in code. I recognize some of the terms from the cypher that Rainbow created…"
"And," Ryad added, "it seems that El Halcón had a few favorite destinations, based on his flight history." He slid the flickering laptop screen over so she could see it. "Including regular trips to an amusement park in Hong Kong."
"Peculiar…El Halcón does not strike me as the type to spend his evenings riding a Ferris wheel with cotton candy."
Ryad snorted, shaking his head. "You know what they say about a book and its cover…But no, look again. This amusement park has been shut down for over ten years, and is a site known by la policía (the police) as a source of drugs and other contraband."
She leaned toward the screen, squinting at one particular detail in an image of the park. "I don't suppose it's a coincidence that the largest building has a red dragon built onto it?"
"If it is, I'll play El Gordo for the next month." Ryad's ears perked up. "Speaking of la policía, they are here. I will call Valkyrie, you go meet with our compañeros (companions). I will catch up."
The Jackal looked back at the computer. They'd managed to secure their target and find a solid lead for Team Rainbow to track down, but a worrisome thought stuck in his mind.
Hunting a falcon is much different than hunting a dragon. If our friends are not prepared when entering its den, what horrors may await them?
Note: El Gordo is the name of the Spanish lottery.
A/N: Hey everyone! Thanks for coming in to check out my latest chapter, I hope it was worth the wait! At this stage, I'm not sure how much longer I will continue this series in the same structure as I've been using - between lack of time and fading interest in the game itself, my original plan of one to two chapters per season feels more and more far away. It's a shame, because I feel like I just got going with a more expansive world, but for the sake of giving this saga more meaningful and complete content (and an ending!), I'll have to pull that back. I've got a few chapters in mind that I still want to do, though! Stay well, everyone!