Sunshine streamed between suede vertical blinds, casting a pattern on the carpet that reminding Remy of a print he bought last year. In fact, if memory served him right, he bought that print from the owner of this thirty-eighth-floor suite. She owned a several galleries along the east coast that specialised in early twentieth century art.
Remy's tastes ran the gamut from classical oil paintings to contemporary abstract sculpture but that wasn't the reason he bought the print. He was actually on the lookout for a good forger and this woman knew some of the best. The only reason Remy knew his print was a fake was because he was looking for it. And the reason why he was in her condo right now and using her internet connection as a base for his anonymiser was because she'd tried to stiff him one too many times.
Remy checked his palmtop computer for an update. Not quite a Blackberry but not as robust as a notebook, the sixteen-ounce rectangle flipped open to reveal a 320x320 screen buzzing with information. Thanks to the mark's laughably hackable connection and the scrambler built into the palmtop, the wireless signal was quite cleverly disguised. No one at the school would be able to find his bug in time.
Interesting reading, the school files. Xavier had so many connections mere business and family ties couldn't account for them all. Remy scrolled through a separate window. The student files were a great read too, especially the alumni. That Bavarian hamster bit was going to haunt them for the rest of their natural lives. His dream, however, was to hack into Cerebro which was why he was taking such good care of this little techie toy. Another few days and he'd have two of the five-part encryption code. Information that protected had to be worth a lot.
Three hours later, data safely tucked in his portable harddrive and another zipped and emailed to one of his protected accounts, Remy took his leave of the condo. As luck would have it, the nicest rack in Manhattan sashayed past him at that exact moment. A sign from Up There that he needed to be rewarded for a job well done. Remy figured he deserved to give himself a gift after the past month, what with setting up a crooked art dealer, looking out for Adam, and retrieving valuable information.
Remy trotted to a hot dog stand and bought a jumbo chilidog, keeping her in his peripheral view. Jesus wept, those were some nice boobs. Michelangelo couldn't have sculpted better ones. They had the little walking shiver to them too that was sadly lacking in fake breasts. There was something about a lacy camisole playing peek-a-boo with a suit that just drove Remy wild. You could see bare skin everywhere these days but hidden skin, ah, that was like coming down to a tree full of presents on Christmas Morning.
Power Sexy strode past the hot dog stand without looking left or right. Remy slipped the vendor a five and followed hr a discrete ten feet away. Just as she approached the intersection, he made his move.
"Cassie! Cassie, two-bit, don't you walk past me with that Big City stride." He dashed through the crowd to sweep her up in his arms.
"Let me go, asshole!" The woman rammed an elbow into his stomach. Fortunately, Remy knew it was coming so he tightened his abdominals even as he hunched over and gasped for effect. "Creep!" the woman added along with a decent right hook.
Remy pulled a horrified expression on his face. "Oh, my Lordy," he said, letting his drawl loose. "Oh, Lordy, I'm so sorry, ma'am. I thought you were my cousin, Cassie. We were supposed to meet up on this here street an hour ago and from behind, you look just like her. Oh, shoot, look at the mess I made of your clothes." He pointed dejectedly at the chili splattered all over her suit. "Let me pay for your dry cleaning at least."
"Damn straight you will," said the woman, still stiff. "Get yourself some glasses, too."
"Yes, ma'am," said Remy, head bent in repentance. "And I'll just go over and play a little bit of traffic with the cabs 'cause I'm just so plum embarrassed, I don't think life's worth living. Mind giving me a little push?"
The ice around her mouth cracked. "Well, everything's jammed up. I don't think anything will hit you hard enough to kill."
"Right." He looked around. "Any nice buildings you think I can throw myself off of?"
"The Empire State Building's a little clichéd."
"How about the Trump Towers?"
Remy grimaced. "No, ma'am, I can't do that to the competition. How about the Chrysler Building? That's got a great look-- Oh, excuse me, ma'am, that's my phone." He flipped on his cell phone which had been programmed to ring. "Cassie! Girl, where are you?" he demanded of the poor, innocent phone. "Yeah, I've been waiting long. I went and hugged a complete stranger, thanks to you! Yes, I know what New Yorkers think of that now."
When Remy threw his target a sidelong glance, she smiled back, unconsciously angling her hips to one side. Gotcha! He gave her a shy but exasperated smile as he continued his one-sided conversation.
"Yeah, well she's either gonna sue me or push me in front of a truck; I think she's still trying to make up her mind." He paused. "Couldn't you have told me that an hour ago? Lordy, girl, you're a trial." Another pause. "Fine, fine, if he's that 'hot' then go on and have coffee. Mind you don't let him get too... hey! I don't care if you've moved to the Big Apple, you're still my Cassie-twit. Yeah, yeah, you hush too. Bye-bye."
Remy snapped the cell-phone closed. "Well, that's solved that then."
"Kids," the woman agreed. "You should have seen me the first time I moved here. I couldn't get enough of everything."
"It's a fine city," he agreed, "when hicks aren't accosting you and smearing you full of beans. Let me just get my wallet so I can pay your bill. That'll be, what, forty, fifty--"
After a brief hesitation, the woman pushed his arm down. "Forget about it. It's not a real suit anyway; I can throw it in the laundry and it'll be fine."
"But I want to make it up to you," Remy said. "Take a twenty and buy yourself lunch at the very least. My treat."
The target placed one foot deliberately in front of the other so that her figure turned into a perfect hourglass. "If you really want to make it up to me, why don't you have lunch with me?"
Five hours later, Remy pushed the fine cotton sheets from around his waist and scratched at the bite mark she'd left on his bicep. A hand pressed against his back. "What are you doing?"
He plucked a condom packet out of thin air. "Just preppin' for a glorious evening with you, chere. You and these lovely legs." He traced the sweet curves of her calves and thighs with his eyes. His fingers mimicked his gaze much to his subject's appreciation.
"Hi, beautiful," he whispered in her ear as he drew spirals around her stomach.
"Hello to you, too," his bedmate purred. As she bent her other leg, the covers slipped off, treating Remy to a fantastic view of the Boobs from God. "I'm starving."
"So'm I." Remy nipped at her shoulder, making her laugh.
"I meant for food."
Eyeing a smear of raspberry syrup on the sheets, Remy said, "Me too." He hitched one of her legs over his shoulder. "And I know just where I want to eat."
She positioned her other foot at the crease where his leg met his torso. "Oh, really?"
He lifted her other leg over left shoulder. "Mais yeah, cherie." Slicking a hand between her thighs, he moistened his fingers then spelled his name across her stomach. Then he erased the letters with his tongue. Winking as he moved lower, he said, "Breakfast is served."
Even if Gen. Nicolas Fury still had two working eyes, he still wouldn't be able to believe what he was seeing.
"Sierra Three, what the fuck is going on down there?" he barked.
"Total fucking chaos, sir," was the cool, measured reply. SHIELD agents didn't panic. Not outwardly.
"I can see that, Sierra Three. What I'm wondering is why we aren't the ones behind the chaos."
"Sir." The agent caught her breath. Two seconds later, she unloaded a third of her extensive ammunition into the targets. "They've got a nutshell, sir."
"We've got nutshells!" Fury said, unimpressed. "Better yet, we've got nut crackers. So go and crack 'em already."
Another radio snapped in attention. "Foxtrot One, sir. We've never seen this type of nut. There's no source, no concentration, nowhere to set the cracker."
"Bullshit in a shingle, Foxtrot. All nuts have a source. You just aren't looking hard enough."
"Sir, yes, sir."
Fury marched leisurely down the communication consoles, his practiced
ear picking up relevant information, eye flicking through dozens of monitors.
When he snapped in front of one console, the commo snapped in attention
Fury leaned closer. "Focus on D7."
"Sir." In a few clicks, the chosen sector appeared in a higher monitor. Three SHIELD agents crawled behind a broken wall. On the other side, a sole rebel threw debris at the agents hunkered down behind a truck, curling over to protect their weapons.
"F5," said Fury.
The commo clicked another button. The fighter on screen had one hand on a gun and the other stretched out as far as he could reach. More debris rained down.
The agent at the communication console squinted along with Fury. "Where's his weapon, sir?"
Fury felt for his cigar case. Snapping the worn leather open, he expertly cut the end off. He knew exactly where the weapon was. He just didn't believe it.
Dr. Michael Milbury seriously freaked Alex out. He popped up everywhere with a knowing arch to his thick black brows and the faint scent of disinfectant hanging about his pristine person. He was in the produce department five days ago, sniffing avocadoes as Alex threw a bag of bananas in his cart, then again in the snacks aisle and the frozen food section. He pulled into the same gas station a day after that. Twice on Thursday, Alex spotted him on the other side of the street, staring vaguely in his direction.
It was worse on campus. Milbury had become as ubiquitous as palm trees; eating meals in the same restaurants, walking across the main mall, passing through the same hall. He hardly ever acknowledged Alex-- that would have been grounds for harassment, surely-- but those mere coincidental encounters grated on Alex's nerves.
"It's not that big a campus, darling," Lorna said, eyes smiling. "It could really just be coincidence."
"He was following me around in the grocery store!" said Alex, his hands an explosion of agitated gestures.
"Maybe he's staying in the same area."
He was not convinced. His blood boiled whenever Milbury was around. His dad once told him that when Alex chose to, he had eyes like daggers, cutting the object of his wrath into a gibbering ribbon by simply a look. So it was a surprise when Milbury met his eye in the library and smiled.
"Mr. Summers." He stuck his hand out. Alex pointedly did not accept but instead of being insulted, Milbury just smiled wider. "You really don't like me, do you? I appreciate your honesty."
"Is there something you wanted?" Alex asked. "'Cause I have to study and we're disturbing everyone else in the library."
"I'm glad you asked," said Milbury. He nodded to the doors. "There's a café just outside the grad lounge; I would like to speak with you. After that, you can be sure I will no longer park my car where you can damage it."
Alex couldn't say why he followed. The man's words piqued his curiosity, true, but Alex was smart enough not to go after everything that looked dangerously interesting. Maybe it was Milbury's tone-- cool, faintly condescending-- that promised a strange sort of satisfaction should Alex have the opportunity to smack it off.
"I knew your father," said Milbury as soon as they took their drinks-- Alex's dark roast and Milbury's tea-- to a booth in the far corner of the café. An indulgent smile threatened his cold face. "He truly did earn the name, Corsair. There was one raid during the Gulf War when he single-handedly chased down--"
"I've heard the story," said Alex flatly. "Is that all you wanted? To reminisce about my Dad? Go hang out in one of the local vet halls."
Milbury's brows rose fractionally. "I beg your pardon. Of course you have. It must get a trifle tiring hearing people go on about him."
Alex gulped down his coffee. "Look, I'll let you yak all you want if it'll stop you from following me around. If you'd only told me before, I'd've said okay. Now I'm just pissed off."
Milbury tilted his chin. "Granted. I've always had an interest in you and your brothers. I was especially pleased to meet you because, you see, I delivered you."
This took Alex aback. Milbury didn't look like he'd seen forty yet. "Yeah?"
"Quite. I'm afraid I was a newly minted military doctor and quite envious of the dashing reputations that the pilots had. I was very pleased when I could be there for your mother when your father wasn't available." His smile grew as did Alex's discomfort. "Your brother was inconsolable when we took your mother away. Nothing would quiet him until the labour ended and we could bring him in the room."
Taking another sip of his coffee, Alex shifted his gaze to the table. He started to speak but nothing came out.
Milbury continued. "You were an impatient infant: three weeks early and prone to call out when your needs weren't met immediately. I had my hands full those that first week. Your mother was right in the middle of a vicious bout of the flu when she went into labour and so we couldn't let you breastfeed for fear of infection. Your brother couldn't visit for very long either and that made him very upset, let me tell you. To top it all off, your father didn't return for another two weeks."
He shook his head. "I'd always thought the military life was hard on a family but never was it more underlined than when I spent that time as your mother's personal doctor. In a way, I have you to thank for my career."
"What do you mean?" asked Alex.
"Meeting your family, taking care of the three of you, convinced me of my duty as a physician in those days," said Milbury. "I'd become a doctor because it was expected of me but I grew to love it because I saw a strength in your family that inspired me. I sound maudlin," he said hearing Alex's snort, "but I am sincere."
Alex finished off his coffee.
"As it is, I'm afraid I will have to ask a favour of you." Milbury pulled a large manila envelope and a thick file folder from his briefcase. He pushed them to Alex's side of the table.
Warning bells rang out in Alex's head. He wasn't going to like this, whatever it was. "What the hell is this?"
"Open it and see," said Milbury. "I assure you it will only benefit your family."
With his sense of foreboding clamouring, Alex flipped the file folder open. Remy's face stared back at him, his perpetual one-sided smile captured with clarity, his red-on-black eyes unmasked. It was pinned to a sheet recording his vital statistics, social security number, and all his known addresses. Behind that were other pictures-- these grainier-- of three masked men, one crouched over a computer, the other two acting as lookouts. Behind those pictures were lists of names, phone numbers, addresses... Alex's throat tightened.
"What the hell is this?"
"What do you know about your brother's business?" asked Milbury.
"He trades antiques," said Alex, answering with the usual cover story. It had been used so often, they'd half-convinced themselves it was true.
"His other business deals with something more than antiques and you know it."
Alex leaned back and narrowed his eyes. "So what are you, really?"
"I'm someone with connections," said Milbury. "Someone who has access to this material and would really hate for Corsair's name to get dragged through mud because one of his boys has... a penchant for... dangerous activities." Glancing briefly at the picture, he continued, "He was ID'd in the heist of a major government installation. The material he's carrying is very sensitive and worth... far too much money for the higher-ups to be comfortable with." He tapped the manila folder. "That has a CD of the security camera and digital files of all of this and more. If he's lucky, he'll go to jail for the rest of his life. If not, you'll be filing a missing persons case in a few weeks that will never get solved. One that will continue until everyone you know has disappeared as if they never existed."
"Oh, please, this isn't the eighties! Spies and covert ops are over."
"Is it?" Milbury wouldn't break eye-contact. It was unsettling.
Swirling his coffee dregs with one hand, Alex shut the file gingerly as though it would bite him. "Why are you giving it to me?" he demanded.
"I told you; I've always admired your family. I don't want your brother to be incarcerated any more than you do." Milbury leaned forward, lacing his fingers together earnestly. "I want you to give this to him. I don't care how much you tell him about this but he has to know that we're onto him."
"My brother is a big boy," said Alex. "If what you say is true, he can take care of himself."
"Not in this case he can't." The finality in Milbury's voice was implacable. "You have no idea the things we've done in the name of national security, Alex. Your brother is playing a very high stakes game and, sadly, I don't believe he's aware of it. We've made entire families disappear. Corsair is valued but not so much that the higher-ups will ignore treason."
Alex thought back on his mysterious attacker a month ago. Still, he couldn't trust the words of someone he didn't like. "Why don't you tell him yourself?"
Strangely, that only amused Milbury more. "If I get anywhere near him, the higher-ups will grow suspicious." He finished his tea, setting down his cup with a delicacy that seemed at odds with his entire character. "I've learned a lot from watching you, Alex. You have a strength your brothers seem to lack. I know you'll do what you think is right. I can only hope you agree with me." He slipped out of the booth in a feline way, his dark figure blotting the dazzling Hawai'ian landscape beyond the café windows.
When he was certain Milbury couldn't see, Alex took the files. He weighed them in his hand for a moment then slipped all them into his backpack.