Looking at them, one might think they are lovers. The way they dress, the way they stand, the way they walk. Everything about them screams of fitting together. The kiss under the streetlight does, too, but that is only a deception.
They are not lovers, but reluctant partners. Until this night, they'd never even met in person. But they are being hunted, and they are each other's only chance of survival.
Todd Grayson was not his real name, but it suited him. The alias was a not-so-subtle nod to his favorite comic book character and it reminded him that there was always someone else pulling strings. Even now, as he prepared to pull the strings of one of his charges, someone pulled his.
He sat by himself, alfresco, at a French-Italian cafe in Tunis. His appearance was somewhere between disheveled and clean-cut - really, it depended on the angle - and he both stuck out from and faded into the background. Passers-by had a tendency to see him, notice him, then forget him. And all in a few steps. Of course, that was the intent.
Grayson resisted the urge to check his watch (he had long since trained himself not to do so) and instead glanced at the sky as if in mid-thought. She was late, which was unlike her. Then again, he had made her wait the last time they met in public. Perhaps she was simply returning the favor. He finally noticed her as he signaled a waiter to refill his glass of water. He had turned to do so and saw her sitting three tables behind him and to the left. Clever girl. Though he felt the red hair didn't suit her.
She smiled, stood, and walked over to him. He would admit that she startled him and she would joke that he was getting old and sloppy. He would hold his tongue, knowing that it was the last time he'd ever see her.
The kiss over - she notes that his lips are soft - they break their embrace. Before he was interrupted by a passing black sedan, he was asking a question. "Why Merlot?"
She gently places her hand on his neck. Anyone watching from a distance will think they are continuing their intimate conversation. Anyone listening, however, will be thoroughly confused.
"Why not?" She winks. "It matches my hair."
He laughs, leaning in to her ear, gently exposing her neck. She must really think he's an amateur. "That's a wig. And you missed some roots."
That hits her sensitive spot. He notices the subtlest of winces, as if her professionalism is insulted. She turns into him and kisses him again.
No, she feels no insult. Merely alarm that she may have underestimated him. Thieves usually rub her wrong way, but this one is different. "We should go."
"You're Coffee?" Grayson was tired of operatives with silly code names, but didn't dwell on it long. Everyone went by stupid aliases these days, it seems. Blame it on the Internet and screen names.
The man called Coffee chuckled as a waiter quickly ran over with a mug and fresh pot of actual coffee, obviously having mistaken Grayson's question for a request. Must be security. That was just way too fast for a Tunisian waiter. Coffee waited for the "waiter" to leave, then leaned forward.
"You know I don't trust you."
Grayson smiled. "That one's mutual. Can you do it or not?"
Coffee thought about something for a few moments - he was secretly relieved that, like himself, Grayson preferred to get right to business - then nodded. "As long as your prep is as good as you say it is."
"She's the best."
Coffee's eyebrow raised at "she." He so very rarely got to work with female keys. Grayson took notice and smirked. Coffee's profile report clearly fit him like a glove.
Twice they both thought they had tails, and twice she lost the cars in question. Coffee hates that he's not driving, but he's extremely impressed at how quickly - and subtly - she maneuvers their vehicle through traffic. He couldn't do any better and he knows it. Hell, were he driving, they'd likely be engaged in a high-speed getaway. But Merlot barely brought their speed over the posted limit signs.
"Where'd you learn to drive?"
"Nevada. My dad taught me." She's well aware that's not what Coffee is asking, but she can't resist. Evasion and deception are built into her psyche, ingrained by years of training and experience. Of course, she loves sarcastic humor, as well, which she did get from her father.
"You're not from Nevada," Coffee says as he checks the rear-view. She keeps underestimating him on purpose, and it's starting to piss him off.
She tilts her head. "How do you know?"
"Quit asking rhetorical questions."
Yes, she pronounced Nevada like a non-local. And he picked up on it immediately. So, either he's from there or just, like her, well-traveled and/or well-versed.
"Start asking real ones," he almost commands. "I will answer, you know. You don't have to distrust me."
Interesting, she thinks. He broached the topic of trust from the opposite direction than nearly everyone else would. He's letting her know that he doesn't expect her to trust him, but they are in their current predicament together, and they're going to have to work together.
"It's my favorite wine. Barefoot, actually."
"What?" Coffee's caught off-guard, but only for a split-second. Ah... she's answering his earlier question. He grins. "I figured you for an expensive girl."
"All part of the deception. Why Coffee?"
"It's my name."
Grayson smiled as he listened to the scanners. All Hell had broken loose. It had been a few days past schedule - he had to admit that he had started to get worried - but if the reports from the Algerian National Police were to be believed, it appeared that the wait was worth it. Grayson was competent at speaking Arabic, but the rapid screaming over the radios had made it hard for him to translate everything he heard in his head. Still, he managed to make out "stolen" and "there is no suspect" and couldn't prevent the shit-eating grin that crossed his face.
Satisfied, he turned to the silhouette behind him, seated across the desk.
"We're back in business," Grayson said, his tone not even bothering to conceal his glee. It had been his error that caused the incident in the first place, but it will be recorded that it was he who also rectified it. And there would be no loose ends.
He slid a manila envelope to the silhouette. "Tie these for me, will you?"
"Of course," the silhouette replied as it pulled two pictures from the packet. One was of Merlot - the silhouette paused to admire how beautiful she was - and the other was Coffee. There was a wink and another acknowledgment, and Grayson was soon alone in his office.
It almost seemed like a joke. A spy and a thief, chased by an assassin.
He'll laugh later. Of this, Grayson was sure.
*Continued in Your Machete; My Cleaver