Chapter 13 – Raid
In the late summer Helen Shaver phoned Sasha.
“Helen. How the Hell are you?” She had picked up that salutation from Storm Cloud. She was trying to break herself of the habit but it still came out occasionally.
“Fine. Look, I wonder if you’d see a colleague of mine. He has a problem I think you could help him with.”
“Sure. What is it?”
“He needs your bloodhound abilities. Or so he said. I prefer to let him tell you the details.
“So is it OK if I give him your number?”
“Sure. Everybody at home OK?”
“Kids are driving me crazy about going to Disneyland before the summer ends. But everything else is fine. See you at the barbecue in two weeks?”
“Love you. Bye.”
“Me too. Later.”
Sasha met Special Agent Carson Cullers at a Chinese restaurant a block from the Manhattan FBI building.
“Thanks for seeing me, Ms. Canaro.”
He was a lean wiry man a couple of inches taller than her own five foot ten height. His dress was a dark blue business suit and light blue shirt and red-and-blue striped tie. Polished black shoes. His black hair was short but not ruthlessly so, with a touch of grey on the sides. He seemed to have some Slavic ancestry.
She shook his hand and they sat opposite each other in a booth with high backs. The isolation from others, she was sure, was deliberate. Even she had to ramp up her ears’ sensitivity to spy on nearby people’s conversations.
Her brief hand contact had told her much about him. He was very fit and healthy, needing no boost from her. If she’d been inclined to give it, which she was not. He was a stranger.
He was also a bit embarrassed, though only she with her extra-human abilities could tell.
“How can I help you?” she said.
“I’ve heard you called The Bloodhound. Some say you have psychic powers. Others that it’s a physical quirk.”
“That last is true. I shrug off the psychic. Truth to tell, I welcome being dismissed as a phony. I’m getting so many requests for help I’ve bumped up my fees very high. And yet I still get requests. Nowadays, I only take jobs where a life is at stake. And if I think I can help. I’m not in the business of holding hands.
“Or providing scapegoats,” she add thoughtfully.
“This job would be a little different. Can you smell other things beside people? Such as drugs?”
“Sure. It’s a general talent. I basically have a very good nose. I can change sensitivity, too. Thank God. A city has a lot of stinks.
“If you wanted me to detect something specific, it would have to something I’ve encountered.”
Despite their obvious isolation he looked around the interior of the restaurant. It was typical of a lot of Chinese food places she’d visited, lots of gold and red, tables scattered around the floor, well-dressed people of both sexes seated about.
She guessed he needed to nerve himself up to confiding something more sensitive than he’d yet spoken of.
He looked back at her. “It’s a tailored version of heroin. The chemistry is a bit strange, but it wouldn’t make any sense to explain to a lay person.”
“I should have no trouble. I’ve smelled several varieties of heroin over the years.”
“Where?” His expression was sharp.
She laughed. “You know my work. I meet all kinds of people who can afford it. And who are stupid enough to try it.”
“And you didn’t report it?”
“What? Go to the police and say I SMELLED it? Even the people who know me still have trouble believing what I can do.
“Though, if any of the users I met were a danger to anyone I’d have gotten the story out somehow. I haven’t yet met anyone like that.”
He subsided, though still unhappy. That suggested to her that his need was great.
He took a deep breath.
“We’ve gotten some tips, and surveillance has narrowed our search to four city blocks. We need to narrow it down to one building, however.
“Drug-sniffing dogs would do that. They’re conspicuous, however. And they can’t talk. You could dress down and walk through the neighborhood. And be specific what you found.”
“That’s up to the DEA who have primary responsible for this.”
“What would they do?”
He paused. “Probably send in a SWAT team.”
“Very well. Let’s do this.”
It wasn’t as simple as that. The DEA had to be convinced this was the right action to take, as a first step.
Much discussion and some arm-twisting and calling in of favors must have taken place. But finally a meet was set up with the leaders of the DEA and the FBI task force which was cooperating on this job.
She met with a half-dozen people near the top floor of the DEA building in Manhattan. The seven-story building took up the entire block. From the conference room those inside could see out over the Hudson river to New Jersey.
The room had beige walls, a long conference table in a dark brown wood, and comfortable padded chairs. Photos were in a row on the two long walls.
She was amused at how the seating was designed to put everyone in their place. The head DEA man sat at the, of course, head of the table. A cohort sat at his left and right hands. Two FBI agents sat further down from them with a seat between them and the nearest DEA man. They were all, DEA and FBI, men.
Carson Cullers led her in and took an empty seat one down from the nearest DEA man, opposite his FBI colleagues. She was intended to sit beside him, farthest from the head of the table, and so in the most inferior position in the room.
The shapechanger had heard her mother’s tales of social dominance in organizations. She was not going to be dominated.
They were all dressed formally. She was not. She wore a tee-shirt, shorts, and tennies. Her long platinum hair was in a pony tail. She wore a billed shooter’s cap and light-sensitive shooter’s shades.
She did not sit. She went to the head of the table. He twisted in his seat and looked up at her, annoyance clear on his face.
She leaned down and sniffed at him.
“You’re a smoker and have recently smoked. Probably a half-cigarette. You live with a family of…four kids. One of them is young enough to have pooped his—no, HER, diaper. My guess is you changed it, or were in the room near to your wife—no, probably a nanny. She’s young and…Polish, maybe. Some middle European country, anyway.”
She walked around the DEA man nearest the two FBI agents. She didn’t bother to lean down and sniff. She just kept walking.
“No other smokers in this room, but someone likes lollypops. Lollypops, for a grown man? Someone has had sex this morning.”
She walked behind and beyond the two FBI men, giving more details. She came around the end of the table and walked toward Cullers. He had seated himself and was watching her with a combination of amusement and amazement. She guessed he’d still had doubts about her abilities.
She stood behind what was to be her chair. The head of the table opened his mouth to say something. She cut him off.
“Somewhere in this room you’ve brought some drug samples. Four of their containers have been opened enough to release odors. There are two heroin types, one very crude, the other very refined. There’s a sample of marijuana and one of some drug I’ve never encountered. Whatever it is, an overdose will kill you quick. Nasty stuff. I hate the taste.”
She sat down, took off her shades, and assumed a look of sweet innocence to rival one of her younger sister Gia’s best.
Cullers laughed. The DEA man on the head DEA man’s right smiled. Other looks were variously appalled, annoyed, and very, very vacant.
“Sasha Canaro,” said the DEA head man, shaking his head slightly. “Quite an entrance. I guess your reputation isn’t as exaggerated as we’d thought.
“I’m Special Agent in Charge Jameson Holloway of Task Force Red Rose. The name is not arbitrary. The particular drug we’re concerned about has been modified by a chemical found in roses. It’s very strong, addicting, and possibly lethal. This has caused us to assign a high priority to interdicting it.
“Let me introduce you around the table. This—” He waved to his right and went around the table. He introduced the FBI men as well, showing that he’d already assimilated them into “his” task force.
The ice broken, they got down to business. Sasha was soon part of the group. She’d always been able to work as a team member. And since becoming a shapechanger she’d learned to use her esoteric powers to bend other’s emotions. As now, toward friendliness. She couldn’t make big changes in people’s personalities, but she could influence them slightly and—over time—quite a lot.
Four days later, on a Friday morning, she joined the team at the DEA headquarters. Lower in the building in a room devoted to makeup and disguise she was made to look like a much older woman. Her hair was temp-dyed to a dull brown and teased into a rat’s nest. The hair-dresser was not as skilled as those at fashion shoots. Sasha had to complain when the woman was too rough with her hair.
Of course she could make her hairs tougher than tire rubber, but that limited their mobility. She normally kept it more vulnerable.
Dressed in worn jeans and blouse and a ratty coat she walked around the room. With coaching she was able to walk with a barely noticeable limp, to walk looking up and around with a restless unseeing gaze, and talk to herself.
The acting coach said, “Very good. Remember, don’t overplay. Imagine you’re playing to a TV camera close up, not to the upper balcony over a stage.
“Now here, swish this in your mouth and gargle and spit it out.”
He handed her a glass her nose told her was whisky. She did as commanded. Then the coach spilt a few drops on her coat front.
“Notice it’s only a little. Same idea. Don’t overplay.”
At the same time three men and a woman were being disguised. They would walk two ahead and two behind as she walked. They were well-armed and highly trained agents who would make sure she was safe. The Department of Justice was taking no chances on such a famous personality.
She got to meet her four body guards in the staging area before they set out. She shook each one’s hand and made sure they were in top health and alertness.
“Don’t be too quick to come to my rescue. I can take care of most threats and make it look like an accident.”
They agreed, somewhat dubiously. “Remember,” she said with a straight face. “Don’t overplay.”
At that one man snickered. The woman grinned.
A last minute short briefing by SAIC Holloway and the five were loaded into an SUV. It crossed from Manhattan under the East River to Long Island.
A couple of miles further they got out, walked to the nearest subway station, and took a train to a dilapidated Queens neighborhood. They walked up the stairs into the outside air. Two of the men walked ahead of her, took opposite sides of a street, and disappeared into the crowd.
Sasha followed after giving them about a hundred feet of lead. Behind her the woman and the third man gave her a lead on them the same distance and followed.
They walked a half mile, zigzagging to take them into an even more dilapidated area. This one was lined with tired apartment buildings and down-at-heels office buildings and factories, some of them vacant.
At one point Sasha heard behind her the female and male bodyguard get into a loud fake argument. This signaled her they’d reached the target four blocks, though she didn’t need the reminder. She’d memorized the map of the four and the surrounding blocks as well.
She turned left, north, and walked a block, turned right, and proceeded an unsteady path east two blocks. There she turned right again and walked almost a block to a liquor store. She bought a bottle of cheap whiskey, taking her time counting out crumpled one-dollar bills, then even more slowly counting out small coins, including a whole dollar in pennies.
Patiently the balding Russian clerk waited. Finally he gave her the bottle in a brown paper bag.
Sasha trudged out, a tiny spring in her step as if she was eager to find a safe place to take a drink.
A block to the south she stopped and looked all around her. There were not a lot of people here. She opened the bottle, carefully shaped the neck of the brown bag so only the bottle lip projected. Then she took a long swig of the drink.
The fiery liquid poured down her throat. She caught it in a sac made on the instant. It would not be absorbed into her blood. Instead it would be available for her to vomit on anyone who accosted her. She added a little neurotoxin that would put any human to sleep within a half hour.
Now she slowly took the last leg of her rectangular journey. This took her back west toward Manhattan. She stopped after a block and took another long swig. This one she let into her gut where it was almost instantly burned.
The scent of the Rose Red heroin was clearly coming from the nearest, south-west, building of the four-block rectangle.
To be sure she leaned against that building and spent some time drinking from her bottle. She boosted her hearing. There were people in the first floor of the drug-dealers’ building. Their scent told her they were all men. And young.
Sasha walked unsteadily westward to the cross street. She turned north, walked a block, turned right, and entered the street to the north of the building. Yes, the wind off the Long Island Sound told her the building to the north, one of the four possible target buildings, was clear.
She’d completed the rectangle. She was sure of the target building.
The shapechanger walked a mile to the west to a rendezvous.
There near a small deli she leaned against the side of a building until she saw her trailing bodyguards nearing her. They stopped at fifty yards, the limit they were to approach. The woman and man were now together, supposedly their loud differences forgotten.
Sasha approached the two. She pretended to be begging the woman for money. What she actually said was different.
“I know which building it is. It’s time to call this a day and re-plan.”
The woman was shaking her head as if to say no. Instead she said, “Are you sure? We’re supposed to take another pass in an hour.”
“It’s unneeded. I’m leaving for the home base.”
The male gave her a push, spoke as if angrily. He didn’t have to pretend. “OK, if you’re sure. But it’s your responsibility and your ass if you’re wrong.”
Sadly “poor rejected drunk” turned and wobbled off to the subway station they were to use to return to the DEA HQ.
“You’re absolutely sure?” said DEA SAIC Holloway.
“Yes. I smelled the Rose. It’s very strong. They have a lot of it there. I also scented actual roses, or something very close to it. I smelled gun metal, gun oil, the brass of ammunition. I also smelled several volatile fluids, alcohol and something like dry-cleaner fluid.”
“You’re sure it’s that building?”
“I went to the north side of it. The wind from the Sound swept over the buildings to the north. They were clean.”
There was one woman on the task force in addition to the female bodyguard. She was a chemist specializing in drug-making.
“The odors match the manufacturing process. Had you heard about them before now, Sasha?”
“No. This is all new to me. Most of my previous actions have involved natural organic material. Blood, semen, tears—”
The immortal looked at her. “Rape victims weep. And they are distinctive tears. They carry hopelessness and shame and— If you don’t mind, I’d rather not dwell upon it. This ‘gift’ of mine is sometimes a curse.”
The woman, older, grey-haired, seemingly quite tough, looked a bit sick. A few men hid the same reaction.
Holloway looked at the SWAT officer who would head the capture team. Captain Demir was squat, powerful, graceful. His scent suggested he had some Turkish blood in his ancestry, and he had a matching Middle-Eastern look. His head was shaven. His uniform was all dark blues, jacket, shirt, pants. His tie was black and tucked beneath the third and fourth buttons of his shirt, the rest of it out of sight.
His three companions wore the same uniform. Two were his lieutenants; Sasha didn’t know the function of the last.
“I still think we’re relying too much on this voodoo stuff. But I’ve got my orders.
“We go in early Sunday morning, 3:00 am. If any of them party Saturday night they’ll be less alert then. And later in the week there’s too much chance they’ll disperse with a new shipment.”
Holloway said, “But then we could grab them piecemeal. Concentrate our forces on each smaller group.”
“No. Too much chance one would use a cell-phone before they’re caught, warn their base.”
The shapechanger spoke. “What if they’re already warned? Did we check for remote closed-circuit cameras? Or some roving gang members who might have noticed all the surveillance and put two-and-two together?”
“Of course we checked for such. Don’t teach your elders how to suck eggs.”
He was already annoyed with her. No further remarks she made would change his mind. Given more time her biochemical persuasions could ease his antagonism. But they worked slowly unless she wanted practically brainwash the man. And then he’d be useless.
It was late Friday now. Sasha just had time to make some preparations for the raid. She wasn’t supposed to be on it. But she would be.
She showed up at the action gathering place at an anonymous building in the Lower East Side, almost on the eastern edge of Chinatown. She had a temp badge for the DEA building and it worked here as well. A guard just inside the door inspected it and her photo closely, then did the same for her.
She was dressed in a light brown work shirt and dark brown jeans, wore work boots, and had her hair up in a bun. She was carrying a bag. He inspected the contents, weapons, body armor, and an over-sweater with big white FBI letters on it. He called over an FBI agent.
“This is one of yours.” He turned back to his post.
Sasha had zipped up the bag. The FBI man, one she’d seen around but whose name she’d forgotten, did not inspect it.
“You’re on this detail, Ms. Canaro? I thought your work was done.”
“Nope. I’m supposed to observe. From far back. A mile far back I’m guessing.” She grimaced.
He nodded, beckoned her to follow him.
Sasha was relieved. She’d been ready to supply heavy biochemical persuasion and maybe a 15-minute short-term memory wipe, but preferred not to when simple deception would do. But she was going to be in on this action—if they needed her.
If not she would fade away as only she could.
She stashed her bag with a lot of other similar bags and stayed near invisible for the next two hours. Hurry up and wait seemed to the order of every military or police operation she’d ever heard of or participated in. Though there was plenty of busyness by the bosses. Another anonymous troop sitting on the floor against a wall was ignored. That there were two groups, FBI and DEA, helped her. Few of them knew everyone.
At 3:00 am minus an hour people began to move. All the troops had long ago taken off the civilian clothes they’d worn to the gathering place and dressed in all-black uniforms. They’d geared up with weapons, armor, helmets, comm equipment, and all the other paraphernalia of a military force.
They peeled off into several vans and SUVs. Sasha wedged herself in between the two biggest FBI men in one van. As she was an “observer” she had not geared up.
A half-hour drive brought the vans to rendezvous points. Those of the attacking elements bracketed the target building from two blocks away. Surveillance agents had been around the scene for hours. Far overhead, silent and invisible to anyone on the ground, a helicopter flew in a circle.
Sasha was with the FBI team when it stopped five blocks away and let two men off, wearing civilian clothing and carrying weapons and other equipment in gym bags. She left with them but walked away from them, her equipment bag swinging as easily as if it were empty.
Turning a corner she began a slow transition. Her skin darkened, her body fat expanded to give her a bit of the look of great strength her compact super-efficient muscles gave her, and her face became the harsh knife-blade of a Xulu warrior. Hard and fierce emotion swelled within her. As in every one of her competitions she was now on the rails of a track no one had better try to derail.
She worked her way around to the downwind side of the target building. That side was still to the south. The north wind from the Sound had let up a bit but not much.
As she ambled into the wind and closer to the target building she began to get warnings. She could smell the surrounding forces. But she could also smell the drug gang. It was all awake. It was excited. There was a tinge of hate and readiness. And the smell of weapons was strong.
The enemy was ready for them.
She took out her cell phone and called the SWAT captain.
“Captain Demir, they’re waiting for us. Something has warned them.”
“Canaro? What the Hell are you doing on the phone? Get off! Don’t call again!”
“Sir—” But he’d hung up.
There was no one around to see her. The shapechanger opened her bag. She put on straps and holsters for weapons and ammunition. Geared up she changed the skin on her feet to boot-leather toughness. She sat, removed her socks and boots, put them in the bag with her armor and over-sweater, and secured the bag as a backpack.
She sped up her metabolism and time seemed to slow.
She crouched, leaped, caught a rusty iron balcony with a hand, and boosted herself to stand on the railing top. Pivoting she leaped across the narrow street to the middle level of a fire escape. She raced up six stories to the roof and swung over its edge. Then she ran to the side nearest the target building to the north.
The next building was a little higher. At a run the shapechanger jumped up and across the forty-foot gap onto that building. Her vision was heightened. The roof ahead, lit only by stars and the night glow of the city, was like a very grey day to her. Near monochrome but perfectly clear, especially when she magnified what she saw.
She repeated this once more and slowed to come to the lip of the last building south of the target.
At each building next to the target’s corners a sniper was looking down at the sides of the target. None seemed to notice that behind the roof edges of that building gunmen were slowly rising to aim at the snipers.
She slowed time, zoomed her eyes to 3x magnification, targeted the eye sockets of eight men, and began firing her M5 carbine as fast as she could.
To those listening the sound of her firing was like the ripping, buzzing sound of a machine gun.
The snipers’ head jerked toward her. She lifted a free hand and waved at them, jabbing the hand toward the target building.
Eying the snipers carefully to make sure none aimed at her, she could see them turn to look at the gunmen’s bodies, a couple still falling in (to her) slow motion. A couple had been close enough to the low parapet around the top of their building to have slumped over the top of the parapet.
Slowly the snipers’ heads turned toward her. One by one they nodded and lifted a hand in an OK sign.
She waited till sure all four of them had their rifles pointed toward the target. Then Sasha ran to the corner of her building closest to the front of the target building. That was where the SWAT team below would deploy and she could see them well from up here.
And soon it did. Though not very soon to Sasha, still in slow time.
They came out of an adjoining building in orderly pairs of shooters, the lead pairs holding shields in front of them. They moved fast but carefully, guns swiveling toward the front of the target building, some aiming high, some low.
Sasha saw it first, coming out of a middle window, the grey tube of a rocket launcher, pointing down.
It was moving into view too fast. Even she, in slow time, could not keep it from firing.
The shapechanger began firing along the path the rocket would take, moving her M5 barrel in a zigzagging path upward. Sparks flew on the street beyond her as her bullets struck, shattering and ricocheting.
A flash from the launcher and a streak of fire behind the emerging rocket. Sasha kept firing, the zigzag path of her bullets narrowing as she better judged the path of the missile. The two paths converged. The rocket exploded, showering the deploying SWAT team with stray fragments.
She swiveled her weapon to take out the launcher and its trigger man. But other weapons were firing. The SWAT team below and on the roofs had fast reflexes and weapons already aimed at the building.
The tube tilted down and fell spinning end-over-end. The torso of a man flopped half out of the window.
Sasha was already running back the way she had come, toward the center of her building and of the target building across from her. There she swerved toward her roof’s edge, toward the opposite roof top.
She launched herself. Upright, legs windmilling, she sailed over the parapet of the target building, her M5 pointing toward anyone who might come up from the central stairwell below and in front of her.
She landed on the roof top, ran several feet, losing momentum and getting her balance. Then she ran to the stairwell entrance, slammed through it and began rapidly descending the stairs beyond.
At the first floor down from the roof she went to the door to the floor. Listening at the closed door, she heard no one moving in the hall beyond. Then she was through it, crouching, her weapon swiveling left and right.
There was no one in the hallway, which ran all the way through the building. Doors on each side of the hall were closed.
The shapechanger walked quickly to each door, opened it, and peered inside. She saw much furniture and some junk, but no people.
She cleared the floor, approached a second stairwell entrance at the far end of the hall. Entered the stairwell. Took the stairs down to the next floor down.
There she encountered a couple of opponents. They didn’t have guns. She sped by them, striking each of them lightly on the head. She didn’t concuss any of them, just injected them with go-to-sleep messengers.
The next floor she met some opposition, three men with guns. Each died with a bullet through an eye socket. None had been fast enough in turning a weapon toward her to keep her from being surgical.
The next floor, the seventh from the ground, contained more men and several women and children. Those with weapons died, also surgically. The survivors were made to kneel while she tapped each on their heads, putting them to sleep.
Done, she looked around. The children touched her heart through her battle fog. She went to each and to each woman, adjusting their positions so they lay on their sides so they wouldn’t drown in their drool. She also adjusted their bodies to more comfortable positions.
The sixth floor had three women and seven men. Every man had a weapon. They died, their heads exploding from her bullets. The women were carrying ammunition or some other burden. Them she merely put to sleep.
At the fifth floor entrance she heard shooting beyond, the sound of shouts. Some were from SWAT members, demanding surrender.
She began running the way she had come, ascended the stairs, reached the roof top. A helicopter was descended toward it, a searchlight splashing the roof in erratic swings. Before the light could target her she launched herself onto the next roof over, then traversed several roofs beyond. Behind her a searchlight was swinging her way. It never found her.
A fire escape took her to the street level. No one was about. Anyone near who had heard the gunfire was staying inside the buildings.
Sasha sat down, returning to regular time. She pulled on her socks and shoes, put her M5 and remaining ammunition, not much, inside the bag. She removed one of her two pistols from a holster and lay it on the sidewalk. The battle straps, holsters, and extra pistol went into the bag. She zipped it up. Standing, she put the pistol inside her belt, pulled her shirt out of her pants to cover the pistol.
Then she went home, gobbled half the food in her refrigerator, and fell into bed and sleep.
At 10 am she was alerted by her door chime. She walked to it and opened the door. Two FBI agents, a man and a woman, were standing there in her apartment’s hall way.
“Ms. Canaro, would you please come with us?”
“Certainly. Come in. I was just having toast and coffee. Want some?”
“No, thank you. Come with us, please. Now.”
She was dressed in a silken white dressing gown. She turned to look at them fully.
They seemed determined. She smiled. Long platinum hair curled down one side of her body. Seemingly perfectly made up, barefoot, she was every straight man’s and Lesbian’s dream.
She let her gown slip open and slide down off her body. She was perfectly and gloriously nude. Her arms were perfectly relaxed at her sides.
“No. Put that back on,” the man said.
“Please,” said the woman. Both were young, for agents, about 30. They looked even younger to her, all scrubbed and polished and made up for a day at the (Sunday) office.
“No. If you’re arresting me you get me exactly as you see. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone took pictures of me. And they somehow got on the Internet. And in newspapers and magazines and God knows what all. The FBI will get all sorts of interesting publicity.”
“Oh, shit, Horace,” the woman said, turning to him.
He looked stubborn for a moment. A smile struggled, then won into a chuckle.
“Oh, Hell.” He turned away, not without a sweeping look down and up her body. “Please get dressed and come with us.”
“Ms. Canaro,” he repeated after her.
The female FBI agent bent, picked up the gown, and offered it to Sasha. She took it but did not put it on.
“I’ll get dressed. But I’m not leaving until I’ve dressed properly and finish my toast and coffee. You two may as well have some. There’s plenty.”
And there was. Sasha’s breakfasts were mere appetizers to her, but they were not small.
No casual dress for Sasha this morning. Unless “casual” included fashionable leisure clothes worth thousands if they hadn’t been cast-offs from fashion shoots. She wore a silken lime-green dress, a golden belt, matching golden heels, designer eye shades, and a light open jacket with vertical forest-green and aqua stripes. Her hair cascaded in curls down her front and back and she was perfectly made up.
Supermodel Sasha Canaro glided into the DEA briefing room, an FBI agent escorting her on each side. She was in full charisma mode, not only in stance and attitude but aided by subtle biochemicals she exhaled.
It was packed with DEA SWAT and officials, and FBI officials and agents. Many of them had been up all night and showed it.
SWAT captain Demir said to the male FBI escort, “I thought I told you to bring her right away.”
The man lifted an eyebrow. He had regained his agent air of inexorable authority. “Ms. Canaro is not under arrest for any crime. In fact, she is cooperating with the FBI and the DEA.”
Sasha waved a hand. “Actually I’m a paid consultant. But, yes, I’m also cooperating.
“Now, where will I sit?”
Instantly chairs were offered her. The Most Beautiful Woman on the Planet (several magazines said) accepted one.
The DEA officials took over and the SWAT captain subsided into the background. A successful operation had been concluded and they were determined to put the best face upon it, sloughing over the fact that there had been casualties.
SWAT operations rarely had any. They were carefully planned and swiftly and efficiently done with overwhelming force. The fire fights so beloved of movies almost never happened, and rarely were any agents hurt.
Several agents had been, one seriously but not critically. Twenty of the drug gang had been killed or wounded, most by Sasha, though no one knew that.
She had been suspected of interfering at first. Her hyper-accurate seeming machine-gun bursts of fire with semi-automatic weapons was well known, and something of that same sound had been heard in the take-down of the building from the unknown woman who had descended like a Heaven-sent avenging angel.
But she had been dark of face and skin, and many of the drug gang had seen her hawk-like Xulu face and black helmet of wiry hair.
Sasha was asked about the woman. She admitted that she had called her in the day she had reconnoitered the drug gang’s building. The scent coming from it, she said, had not been right.
“Who is she?”
Sasha shrugged one elegant shoulder. “I just have a text address—” “What is it?” “I don’t give it out.”
“I don’t give it out. I don’t know her name. I call her Bitter. After that dark dark chocolate.”
“Where did you meet her?”
“In Africa, on a shoot. Years ago.”
And that was all they could get out of her.
The briefing lasted an hour, till noon. Then everyone retired to a buffet set up in another conference room. The tension in the first room had decreased during the briefing. Now at the 45-minute lunch it dropped still further.
Part of this easing was that once the briefing had started Sasha had sat forward and paid close attention, answering the few questions sent her way briefly and to the point. Part of it was the “let’s get along” biochemical she had early added to her breathing.
Most of the FBI men and a couple of the DEA men made her acquaintance. So did all of the women, higher-officials and several experts and agents in both agencies.
The female FBI agent who’d helped escort Sasha from home had given the model her card in the car on the way to the meeting.
The briefing continued after lunch.
An hour and a half later the DEA official managing the briefing called a halt. He stood up.
“I think everything else we have to deal with today is pretty routine. We don’t want to make Ms. Canaro sick of our company. Who knows, we may have to ask her to cooperate with us again some day.”
“Consult, sir. Consult. For money, you know.” Her smile was glorious and a chuckle ran around the room.
It was a good thing she had quit emitting the “get along” chemical earlier. Soon everyone would be too relaxed to work.
She stood and said. “I’m glad I could help. I was highly impressed with everyone. Especially with Captain Demirs. Once the situation changed he instantly was on top of the new situation. Matters would have gone much worse without his able leadership.”
The captain looked at her, startled. He had said almost nothing during the briefing, relegated to the sidelines.
Sasha was rarely resentful. And she might have to work with him again some time. She’d much rather they then meet on friendly terms.
He nodded at her stiffly.
“Well, gentlemen. And ladies. Have a good day of it.”
The two FBI escorts had been sitting through the briefing, none too enthusiastic about it. They quickly go to their feet and followed her out to take her home to her apartment.
And that was Sasha’s first job with the DEA. It was not to be her last.