Near Miss

Near Miss edit_two

Near Miss

by

AriettaCharles

July Spencer stood at the tree line surveying the dark building. It had rained all day and had just let up. Her black jeans, boots, teeshirt, and leather coat blended into the darkness. Her long brown hair was tied up in a bun as it always was whenever she was on a job. She could feel the leaves on the trees drip water onto the top of her head every time the breeze moved them. It felt to her like they were doing their best to bring down her good mood.

The parking lot was completely empty. It didn’t have any lights of its own and the street lights couldn’t breech the darkness. It was like they were asking for their perimeter to be breeched.

“July, this is completely bonkers. You don’t have to do this. You don’t owe that guy anything,” Gemma said with something close to annoyance in her voice.

“No, but having Weston Abernathy in my debt would be advantageous. I can at least get the information he wants. That costs me nothing. Are you ready?” July asked the voice in her ear.

“Of course. Do you have an eye out for extra rent-a-thugs?”

“No. I thought I would make things exciting and get caught while on a job for a Scotland Yard cop,” July said.

“We don’t actually- never mind. I hear sarcasm there but I’ve seen you do equally wild things boss.”

“It was sarcasm. I’m not normally reckless. Let’s go,” July said.

“The rent-a-thugs that I can see are practically sleeping,” Gemma said. “Hang on. Never mind. There was a shadow on the fourth floor. Go ahead.”

July moved quickly and quietly through the darkness. She was careful not to step in any puddles so that she wouldn’t track water into the building. It was a simple job. July could do simple jobs in her sleep.

“So,” Gemma said. “The Scotland Yard cop. Whats going on there?”

“Nothing,” July hissed quietly. There wasn’t supposed to be idol chitchat mid mission.

“It didn’t sound like nothing. It sounded like there were serious sparks.”

“Sparks? You’ve been watching The Hallmark Channel again haven’t you?” July asked quietly before she pulled open the door Gemma had remotely unlocked. “Why are you eavesdropping anyway?”

There was silence on the other end. Gemma didn’t say anything for a full fifteen seconds. “You don’t always tell me everything. Sometimes things are more dangerous than you let on. I needed to know if this job was more than simple. And I sorta took a look at his file. Which there isn’t much of by the way because that guy was some kind of deep cover secret agent until a year ago. Which is totally crazy because he doesn’t look like he could go undercover anywhere. He looks like a model. And I’m talking about one of those scruffy models with a perfect body that girls like me go after.”

“Next time stop at “I don’t tell you everything”. There is a thing as too much information,” July whispered.

The building was a modern monstrosity. The inside of the building took minimalism and clean lines to a whole new level. July decided that sterile could never be hip and fun. She entered a large common room with bright white walls. The cubicles were only three feet high and made of glass. There wasn’t a sticky note in sight. The glass fronted interior offices had all white furniture and possibly the most uncomfortable looking chairs July had ever seen.

“And so what if I have watched too many of those movies? I love love,” Gemma said. “You’re just trying to change the subject away from tall, dark, and handsome. You can move faster btw. The rent-a-thugs are in the control room watching the football game. They rely too heavily on electronic security and not heavily enough on actual security guards. This was way too easy.”

“You hear yourself right?” July asked turning down a hallway. “I believe I’ve finally done it. I’ve rubbed off on you at last.”

“There’s that sarcasm again. I could bring all security back up if you’re really looking for a challenge.”

“I think I’ll pass,” July said pulling open the door that led to the administrative offices. “Do you see anyone in the office at the end of this hall? The lights are on but I can’t see in. It isn’t a glass house.”

“The camera’s don’t show anything beyond where you are right now. Maybe the cleaning crew forgot and left it on. I bet they’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer if they managed to pass the background check. Probably one little old granny to clean the whole place.”

“Open the door to the office on my right,” July said softly. “Now.”

She heard it unlock and she turned the handle. She shut the door and backed into the shadows. There wasn’t anywhere to hide. The people who worked in the building were like lab rats in a maze. The wall that ran along the hall was glass. So was the door. It looked onto a neighboring office and a bank of elevators. July was so still she barely breathed. She watched as a tall man in a dark business suit walked pass the office. He didn’t look in her direction. It was as if he was being drawn to the elevator by a mystical force.

He pushed the down button. July had given it little notice when she had passed its big chrome doors. She had taken the stairs for obvious reasons. She never backed herself into a corner that she couldn’t get out of. She learned on a job in Hong Kong exactly how hard it was to get out of an elevator when you were taking fire.

The elevator dinged and the man entered. July got a good look at him as he turned around and waited for the doors to close. He looked like every corporate suit she had ever seen. His face was stern, as if he had long ago accepted that middle management was to be his lot in life. She waited for the doors to close and shoved the thumb drive into the computer on the work area.

“Why couldn’t you do this from your office? I believe that it says hacker-extrodinare at the top of your resume,” July said.

“Specialist, July. I am a specialist. And I could have but they actually have some wicked security preventing that very thing. Not that I couldn’t have done it. But you wanted it now and direct access is best if you can manage it. Which I can because of you.” July could hear the smile.

“Thank you for not boring me with the details. I take it that you have some program on the drive? I just plug it in and you do the heavy lifting for once?” July asked slipping the drive into the computer.

“I know you hate my geek speak. And I was trying to save you from it. We’ll have what we need in a second. And…we’re done. See, it was easy. I had no idea that the field of research and development was so cut throat.”

“Every billion dollar business is cut throat Gemma. Just ask your father.”

“Let’s not bring him into this,” Gemma said. July could just imagine her eye twitching. It always twitched when her father was mentioned.

“Alright then,” July said on a exhale of breath. “I’m going to get out of here and I’ll call you when I’m on my way back.”

“I’ll bring the security back up when- huh?”

“What is it?”

“Nothing. I think. Why does tall, dark, and handsome want this file? I mean, he could have gotten it through proper channels. He’s a cop. He could have gotten one of those warrant subpoena things.”

July shook her head. “I’m not sure but it would have taken years. You know who likes paperwork more than the government?”

“Corporations?”

“They would have fought him in court. From what I can see here, it looks like they want to keep everything they do here a secret.”

“How did he know this file existed?” Gemma asked.

“He wouldn’t say which means that he has someone on the inside who either doesn’t have access to it or can’t risk getting caught. My bet is that it’s someone’s assistant. In a place like this they probably aren’t alone or off camera long enough to do it without being seen.”

“What the hell?” Gemma said. July could hear something beeping. “Can you get out of the building?”

“I’m almost to the door.”

“You need to hurry.”

“What’s going on?”

“We are in the middle of something. I don’t think that guy you saw worked there. I’m seeing-,” Gemma began and July cut her off.

“Plain English,” July said as she pulled open the exterior door and ran for the woods through the dark parking lot.

“Someone was in there using my hack as cover.”

“So someone else, besides the police, want what BioStorm has. I do enjoy a good round of corporate espionage,” July said.

“Yea, but they know we’re here too. And they’re not going to think we’re working for the police. BioStorm is going to know too.” Knowing that July would want to know why she continued. “It’s like if a cute little mouse walks across cheese. If only one does it very carefully it most likely won’t get caught and no one will ever know. If a couple of them do it and one isn’t as gentle because they don’t care if the cheese maker knows that cute little mice have been in the cheese, then it’s a problem because it’s noticeable.”

“Is that true?”

“Sort of- not really, analogies aren’t my thing.”

“Thanks for trying. The long and the short of it is that they’re going to know someone was in there. Got it. I’m on my way back,” July said starting her motorcycle.

There was almost no traffic at three a.m. on the deserted road. She was just before the over pass when something big fell into the road. She swerved and managed not to hit it. She parked her bike and went back to take a better look. It was the man in the corporate suit. She took out her phone, dialed, and then rifled the dead man’s pockets while she waited.She had seen a lot of death in her life. She had watched a lot of people die and ended most of them herself. It was something that she tried not to think about. She didn’t enjoy killing. She wasn’t a psychopath or a sociopath. It was simply something that she did in the course of making the world pay. What lay in the road, however, was impossible to ignore.

“Are you calling to say that you have it?”

“I’m calling because the guy I saw in the building took a swan dive from an overpass,” July said.

“What does his id. say?”

“What makes you think I looked?”

“You looked,” Weston Abernathy said.

“Seymour Schulz.”

Weston let out a stream of expletives that brought even July close to a blush. “His real name was Morgan Jordaine. He was my inside man. Stay with him. I’m going to call it in.”

“And if there are questions?” July asked.

“There won’t be any questions. You’re a consultant.”

“A consultant. “July sighed. “Stay with him.” She shook her head. She slowly looked up. She climbed up to the over pass and looked around. She knew she only had a couple of minutes. She pulled a small flashlight out of her jacket pocket and searched the ground. There was the usual gravel fragments that you found by the side of any road anywhere in the world. There were bits of plastic that had fallen off of who knew what. The piece of paper, however, was what caught her eye. It was mostly crumpled and dirty but she knew what it was. She didn’t hesitate, she began to hear sirens. She picked it up and slipped it into her pocket. She ignored the car with the open door and went back down to the body.

July stood next to her bike and watched the cacophony of responders. Dozens of people walked around talking, taking pictures, and gathering evidence. It looked like a mass disaster had taken place instead of just one guy dying. July reminded herself that it wasn’t just any ordinary murder scene. First, she hadn’t done it. Second, cops showed up in force to prevent an international incident. Third, it had been called in by a guy who was a legend on both sides of the Atlantic. Three fantastic reasons that didn’t explain why July was still there. Only one did. He sent her a text; please wait for me.

“I have to admit that I didn’t think you would still be here. You didn’t answer my text,” Wes said.

“You asked nicely. You even said please. Besides, I didn’t have anything better to do at three a.m.”

“Your assistant sent me the file. Thank you for getting it,” Wes said looking at July, taking in every detail. “You changed your hair. You were blond the last time I saw you.”

“Back to boring brown I’m afraid,” July said.

“Nothing about you has ever been boring.” He cleared his throat. “So you didn’t see anything?”

“I’m afraid I didn’t. He was practically going splat by the time I saw him. If I had been speeding I would have run him over.”

“Do you know who he is?”

“You said his name is Morgan Jordaine.”

“He’s J.J.’s cousin,” Wes said.

“Damn it,” July blew out a breath.

“Have you talked to her since Belgium?” Wes asked.

“How do you even know about that?”

“I keep an ear out.”

“Not exactly. I hear from Alex now and again. He sends an email to let me know they’re still alive. They’re still looking for her,” July said. “But they won’t find her.”

“Why?”

“Because Alex sent an email a week ago that said they were searching central America.”

“And you don’t think she’s there.”

July shook her head. “I know she isn’t there. Because she’s here.” She pulled out the crumpled paper and let it rest in the palm of her gloved hand. “This says that Jorja killed Morgan Jordaine.”

“What does the crumpled card tell us exactly?” Wes asked.

“It was how we would signal each other. Bright white cardstock left in a place we were sure to find it. It’s her.”

Wes let out another stream of expletives. “She must have been who he was working for. He came to me because of a case I’m working on. He wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to help.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. That family is either really good or really bad,” July said.

“Do you have any idea how I go about finding her?”

“We,” July said continuing to study the paper so that she didn’t have to look at Wes.

“You want to work with the police?”

“No, but I’ll work with you. You don’t have a chance of finding her without me.”

“She’s one of Interpol’s most wanted. I’m capable of tracking her down.”

“You’re no more able to track her down than you were able to find me,” July said. “Let me help.”

“I found you,” he said.

“You found me because I allowed you. Jorja Jordaine doesn’t want to be found. She doesn’t even want her sister to find her. How good is she if the great Josephine Jordaine can’t find any trace of her? J.J. is the best specialist there is and she can’t find her own sister.”

“Specialist?”

“They prefer to be called specialists. At least mine does.”

“Why do you think you can find her?” Wes asked.

“Because we’re the same. We had the same job, even if she did do it for the government. Multiple governments if my information is correct.”

“What are you thinking?”

“She left the paper because she wanted someone to find it.”

“You think she wanted you to find it,” Wes said moving his gaze from the paper to July. “How does she know you would look for it?”

“How does Jorja know anything?” Wes looked at her with raised eyebrows. Waiting. “She’s thorough. It’s almost compulsive. Anyone who does what we do, did,” she amended and shook her head. “The point is we prepare. You wouldn’t just walk in off the street and expect to be taken in by the Russian mob or a South American cartel. You have to have an air tight cover. The object, even for criminals, is to come out of it alive. Most of the time.” She slipped the paper back into her pocket. “Mitigate the risk,” she said quietly on an exhaled breath.

“Do you miss it?” He asked quietly.

She slowly nodded once. I was very good at what I did.”

“Why did you stop?”

“That is a story for another time.”

“Alight. Let’s not pretend that I have any say in this. What do you need from me?”

“Don’t become collateral damage,” July said and turned to walk back to her bike. Wes caught her arm and turned her back to him.

“I won’t let you freeze me out of this. We work on it together,” he said.

“Or what?”

“Or nothing. I’m not going to stand aside and let you take on Jorja Jordaine alone. Let me help,” he said as a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I’m going to do it anyway.”

“Call me when you’re done here.”

Dawn was breaking by the time July parked her bike in the garage. She used the app on her phone to close the door then walked around to her front door. The house was dark and quiet. Gemma had either gone home or found a place to sleep. July made her way to her office intent on the same thing.

A chair had been pulled in front of her door. Gemma was asleep with her arms wrapped around her tablet and clutched to her chest as if it were a teddy bear. She looked like she fell asleep angry. Instead of being a coward, July poked her arm. Gemma’s blue eyes flew open as she sat up straight. Her artfully windblown blond hair didn’t have a strand out of place. July always wondered how she did that.

“You didn’t call and you didn’t answer your phone. If you weren’t you I would’ve been worried.” She declared but yet sounded worried.

“I’m sorry,” July said. “It was a rough ride home.” She watched Gemma’s face contort with each new detail of the story she told.

“Ew. He just fell from the overpass? That’s disgusting. Who does something like that?” Gemma asked.

“Jorja Jordaine. Be extra careful with everything you do for this one,” July said.

“I’m always careful.”

“This is different. And I’m giving you fair warning, if I think you’re in danger I’ll pack you off to Central America.”

“You realize that isn’t a threat to anyone but you. Sun, fun, sand, and heavy drinking? Sign me up.”

“You would be in a safe-house without any of those things.”

“Are you going to let me in on the secret? This is why I eavesdrop.”

“There isn’t one. You wouldn’t be in on this at all if you weren’t as good as you are at what you do. Jorja Jordaine is dangerous. She is quite capable of doing anything Gemma. You’re not going to get killed because of me.”

“I think you’re over reacting.”

“You haven’t seen what she’s capable of. Trust me when I tell you-”

“Then tell me what happened. I can help,” Gemma said. Gemma was right. She deserved to know what she was up against.

“Fifteen years ago I was young and dangerous. Worse, I was angry. Sam, the man who raised me, had been killed and I was listless. An angry, grieving, drifting, girl with my particular skill set is a truly terrifying thing. Jorja and I crossed paths and became something like friends. My parents had died and Jorja was young when her parents did too. Sam had raised me. Jorja’s oldest sister had raised her. We had a lot in common. We were united in our despair. We forged a kind of friendship rooted in shared pain and anger. I was too young and in too much of my own pain to understand that combination could be nothing but explosive.”

“You had a bff?” Gemma asked.

“We didn’t call each other and cry over our heartbreak or anything but we drank on occasion.”

“You don’t drink,” Gemma said.

July smiled. “I didn’t then either. That goes against all of my training. I did what I was trained to do. I used it to my advantage.”

“You waited for her to slip up,” Gemma said. July nodded.

“I waited for her to over share. You can’t blame the scorpion for doing what is in its nature to do. I wanted to watch the world burn back then. I lashed out at anyone close. Including Jorja. I made sure I was the natural choice when she needed help with a job for her sister. I didn’t hesitate. I got on the plane and met Jorja and her sister J.J. who were working for the government at the time.”

Gemma’s eyes went wide. “You know J.J.?” She asked in a loud whisper.

July considered her for a moment. “Have you heard of her?”

“Are you joking? She’s my hero. I belong to her unofficial fan club. Is it true that she likes cats, her favorite flower is a daisy, and her boyfriend Alex took a bullet for her?”

“How could you possibly know about the bullet? There were only four of us on that cliff.”

“Super fans talk,” Gemma said.

“Who were you talking to?” July asked.

Gemma set her tablet on the corner of July’s desk. She shrugged. “I don’t know. The simple fact is that when you get to this level you can’t tell what continent the other person is on let alone who they really are. Not that it would do any good in some cases. We’re a paranoid lot.”

“You can’t find out?” July asked. Gemma shook her head. “Can you try?” Gemma nodded.

“So, he really took a bullet for her?” she asked.

“Yes, but before you fangirl over him you should know that he was weird to start with about her.”

“It’s romantic,” Gemma said.

July just shook her head. Her take away from that experience was not to get so wrapped up in someone that you ran in front of bullets and fell off cliffs.

“Where does tall, dark, and gorgeous fit in to this? He wasn’t in Belgium three years ago. He was doing super secret things in Istanbul.” Gemma asked. Her tablet made a buzzing sound. “It’s like he knew we were talking about him,” she said looking down at it. July spun the tablet around and looked at it. Weston Abernathy stood at the front door with two white bags.

“The rest of the story will have to wait,” July said and stood up.

Gemma followed July through the house toward the front door.

“Is something the matter?” Mrs Mert called as she came up behind them in the hall. “One way or the other you’re usually asleep this early in the morning Miss Spencer.” July rolled her eyes at the housekeeper even though she see it. She kept walking. “Gemma dear, would you like me to make up the spare room?”

“No, thank you. I’m fine in my office,” Gemma said.

“Breakfast will be ready in a half hour. Would you like for me to bring up the coffee?”

“Not just yet. I’ll text you,” Gemma said.

“That woman missed her calling,” July whispered to Gemma as Mrs. Mert retreated back down to the kitchen. “She would have made a very good assassin. She moves like a ninja. Run some interference with her. I need to talk to him.”

July couldn’t help it. She smiled when she answered the door. He must have left the scene just after she did because he had obviously showered and changed clothes. He held up the twin white bags.

“Are you still in love with the powdered donut?” July asked.

“Yes, but you love croissants. And that is what is in the bag. What kind of guest would I be if I turned up with my favorite breakfast treat?”

July picked up the coat she had discarded on a chair by the door. She stepped out onto the front stoop and closed the door behind her. “Let’s walk.”

“If you like. There is the best little bakery a block from my hotel. Best coffee in the world,” he said taking the coffee cups out of one of the bags. He handed her one and kept the other for himself. He handed over a croissant wrapped in bakery paper and they walked down the steps to the street. The city was just coming alive. “This is nice. I would say this was like old times but we never did this.”

“When would we have had time to do this? Everyone was on edge from day one. Jorja and J.J. didn’t make things any easier.”

“I feel like an old man talking about that mission.”

“Me too. It feels like we’re a lot closer in age now.”

“We were only eight years apart. I guess youth has a way of separating us all,” Weston said.

“Jorja Jordaine has a way too,” July said. He stopped walking and looked at her.

“I didn’t-”

“I know,” July said stopping him.

“I don’t think you do. Nothing ever went on between Jorja and me,” Wes said.

“I know,” July said. She didn’t get to say anything else.

They both heard the motorcycle at the same time. It was somehow out of place so early in the morning. Especially in July’s neighborhood. They turned and bullets started to fly. They dropped to the ground just as bullets hit the bricks of the house behind them. July rolled and came back up with her gun but the motorcycle was already to far away.

“Was that Jorja?” Wes asked.

“Who else? She just committed murder three hours ago. You would think that would be enough for one day. I have neighbors.”

“I think it’s time to call J.J.,” Wes said brushing off his jeans. “If we don’t do it now she’ll find out and I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that reaction.”

“J.J. would never have that kind of reaction. You just don’t want to deal with Alex,” July said.

“No I don’t. He’s an annoyance at the best of times. I’m not looking forward to seeing him in any situation where Jorja is practically in front of him.”

“That’s why I think we should hold off. He’ll kill her and he won’t care who gets in his way apart from J.J.. Let’s see if we can find her. Gemma has a lead and this city has a lot of traffic cameras. Let’s just try buying Gemma some time to do her computer thing.”

“Agreed but I want something in return,” Wes said. The corners of his mouth curved. “I want you to be careful. Jorja just tried to kill us in braod daylight. I think it has more to do with you than me. You two have history. None of which was good. I think she left the paper for you to find. She knows you’re here. I think the two of you have unfinished business. I also think that she’ll try again.”

“Agreed,” July said. She caught his arm when he turned to go. She motioned at his spilled coffee and bent to pick up her own cup. “I have neighbors.”

“So,” Gemma said plopping down in the chair across from July’s desk. “Is his tall, dark, and hotness staying indefinitely?”

“His name is Weston. And he hasn’t moved in. We agreed that he should sleep for a while and it was easiest for him to stay here because we are easier to pick off if we’re alone. Did you miss the part where I told you Jorja shot at us?”

A smile bloomed on Gemma’s face. “He’s sleeping in your room.”

“And?”

“Nothing,” Gemma said with a face full of innocence. “Nothing at all. It was very practical for him to sleep in your bed. It wouldn’t be nice to have Mrs. Mert make up the spare room. You know, the ones she always has ready. Are you going to take a nap too? You were up all night. Maybe you want to-”

“Gemma,” July said cutting her off. “Are you insinuating something?”

Gemma leaned over July’s desk in a dramatic fashion. “Come on. Tell me the truth. Did you two fall in love and have a desperate affair?”

“What? Why is everything a desperate love affair with you?”

“He’s obviously in love with you. If you weren’t in love with him he wouldn’t be in your bed. Even if he is alone. What gives?”

“There genuinely are times when I think you’re mad,” July said. She looked at her computer screen so quickly that her long pony tail swung over her shoulder.

“Sorry, it’s just that this is the first peek behind the veil I’ve ever had. He knows you from when you were still an assassin. Can you really fault me for being curious?”

July wanted to fault her. She really did. “Do you have a pressing question?” July asked.

“No, I just-sheesh. I’m curious about who you were. I’ve only ever known this version,” Gemma said with gesticulating hands as if July were a new car. Or maybe a juicer.

“And count yourself lucky. The July Spencer you’re so eager to meet was a villain by anyone’s standards. She would never have saved you. She would have left you in that room to die. And what’s more, she wouldn’t have given you a second thought.”

“I don’t believe that. You had to be in there somewhere,” Gemma said flopping back down in her chair. “No one can change that much.”

“Yes, someone can. Given the proper motivation.”

Gemma’s tablet started dinging again.

“You may want to wake up your boyfriend. I found Jorja Jordaine’s hiding place.”

July and Wes crouched behind a rooftop wall. It only offered four feet of protection but it was all they were going to get. The rooftop was their best option for surveillance. The street angled just enough for July to see three buildings up and across the street. She looked up at the sky and shook her head. Even in Manhattan the sky was gray and threatened rain.

“How does Gemma know Jorja is in there?”

July smiled. “Gemma is every bit as good as J.J. ever was. That building belongs to a holding company that Jorja owns. Gemma can find out anything. Literally. If the information is on a computer, Gemma can get to it. Jorja also made the mistake of entering the front of that building twice in the same hooded sweatshirt. She was trying not to draw attention to herself by wearing the sweatshirt. This isn’t the part of town where you wear hooded sweatshirts that cost less then two hundred dollars.”

“You taught Gemma to look for clothing?”

“Of course. I want her to be the most successful criminal she can be.”

Wes smiled.”I knew the old you was in there somewhere. Do you think Jorja’s alone in there?” Wes asked looking though a camera lens.

“No. If we’ve learned anything from our last encounter with her it’s that she’s never alone.”

“If she really is here for you she may have come alone.”

“It’s possible but unlikely. Jorja likes to feel important. She needs to show off. Besides, I’m not totally on board with your theory. If I were the target why didn’t she try harder to kill me?”

“Jules, she’s a coward. We learned that from our last meeting with her too,” Wes said handing July the camera. She looked through it and snapped a picture.

“What do you want to do here?” Wes asked.

“I want to wait. You know me. I don’t like to be at a disadvantage. We need to get a head of her.”

“How are we going to do that? We haven’t a clue as to her end game.”

“I don’t know yet,” July said.

“How would someone get ahead of you?” Wes asked.

“By watching me if they could find me,” she said.

“That’s been the secret to your success?”

“I didn’t think it was a secret. I though it was common sense.”

“Maybe for you,” he said taking the camera back from her and he took some pictures for himself.

“I can do the surveillance alone you know. You don’t have to sit here in the rain,” she said.

“We agreed on the buddy system.”

“I wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable in the field,” she said smiling. She was teasing him and they both knew it. He lowered the camera and turned to look at her.

“Still with the sarcasm.”

“You’ve been in your ivory tower for a whole year,” she said not taking her eyes from the building.”

“And in the field for the previous ten,” he said. She shrugged a silent “so”. “I could be tempted to remain here. New York suits you. It could suit me too.” He turned so that his back was to the wall. He put the camera down beside him. She reached for it and he caught her wrist. His fingers were so light on her skin she wasn’t sure it hadn’t been her imagination. Her eyes held steady with his.

There was the sound of a soft sole crunching on the tiny pieces of gravel that littered the rooftop. They both looked in the direction of the door. July motioned for Wes to circle around one way and she took the other. The rooftop wasn’t flat and barren. It had the remnants of a rooftop garden. It was horribly over grown. It looked like no one had taken care of it in the last twenty years. The shed was still standing as were some of the raised flowerbeds. There were wildflowers in some of them but most were full of tall wild grass. July noticed as they passed that they were covered in tiny water droplets from the sputtering rain.

She ran silently to the edge of a planter. She crouched. Waiting. She expected Jorja. She got a man in a rainproof windbreaker holding a gun. She surprised him and grabbed his gun.

July grabbed his arm to bring him in closer to her but he pivoted in an effort to shake her off. He tried to use her momentum to send her backward. He thought that because he had size on her she would be easy to beat in a fight. He wouldn’t have been the first to misjudge the situation. His preconceived notion of how the fight was going to go was possibly going to get him killed. July had had enough.

She let him think he was winning and when he tried to get a hold of her, she sent her knee into his thigh. It unbalanced him on the wet roof. She delivered a kick that sent him strait to the ground. She looked willowy but she was all muscle and power. He slipped and twisted as he fell. She heard his head hit the ground when he landed. She didn’t stop to see if he was still breathing. She didn’t care. Jorja’s followers deserved everything they got.

She turned and saw that Wes had things well in hand. Literally. He had the other man in a headlock. Wes made the man scream when he rammed his thumb into the mans eye.

“What are you doing?” July asked.

“Getting information,” he said.

“He won’t tell you anything. He either doesn’t know or would rather be skinned alive than disappoint Jorja.”

“I don’t want to know where she is. We know where she is. I want to know why she wanted us alive.” Wes made the man scream again. “She wants her,” the man said pointing at July and panting from pain and fatigue.

“Why does she want her?” Wes asked. The man did his best to shake his head. Wes tightened his grip.

“I don’t know has never been a good enough answer for him,” July said to the man. “You may want to try harder to remember.”

“I think she wants revenge.”

“For what?” Wes asked.

“I don’t know.” Wes made him scream again. “I don’t know,” he said gulping air. “I swear. She’s really angry.”

“Why is she angry?” July asked.

“I don’t know but you can ask her.”

July heard the door to the roof close. She turned towards it as Wes looked up. Jorja walked towards them. She held a Glock in her right hand and pointed to the man Wes still had in a head lock with the left.

“Let him go,” Jorja said. Wes hesitated. “Let him go or I’ll shoot her right here right now.” Wes let go of the man. He stumbled as he held his eye. Without hesitation, Jorja lifted her gun. July heard nothing as a small hole in the mans forehead began to seep blood. The thud he made when he fell to the floor was the only sound on the rooftop. It was as if the rest of the world had fallen away. What struck July most was that there wasn’t any shock on his face. It was as if he expected nothing less. Jorja then turned the gun on July.

“July, July, July,” she said on a sigh. “You just can’t stay out of my way can you? You just keep popping up.” She passed July and walked toward the dead man. “This one was a good one. If you hadn’t interfered with him he would still be alive. He was loyal,” she said with regret. “But what was I to do?” Jorja poked the man’s body with the toe of her shoe. She carefully stepped around the pooling blood around his head. “His name was Joseph,” she said motioning to Joesph’s lifeless body as she passed him. “Regrettable but he would never have been the same again. You do that to people.”

Jorja took three steps towards Wes. When July started to do the same she grabbed him. She jerked Wes in font of her so she could put the gun to his head just below his ear. Jouja was five ten and looked like a supermodel. The three inches her heels lent her made up for the slight height difference between her and Wes. To his credit he didn’t flinch. July had to force herself to do the same.

“You ruin people July. You twist them so that they do what you want. You always get what you want. Have you ever wondered what I want?”

“I couldn’t possibly guess,” July said watching the crazy bloom in Jorja’s eyes.

“I just wanted a little information. Just a tiny bit from that little company. Morgan was just supposed to get the information and turn it over. Turn it over to me. Not turn it over to Weston Abernathy.” She had begun to speak faster with every word. Her anger becoming more evident with every jab of the silencer into Wes’ head.

“He looked at the real time camera feed during your little B&E and what do you think he saw? That’s right; you. He knew you had seen him. You would have thought he would just suck it up like any other Jordaine but no. He quakes at the very sight of the great July Spencer. He tells me that we need to cut and run. He tells me about Weston and how he’s been giving him the information I’ve been paying good money for. He tells me that he found that the company is doing shady things. He decides that’s why you’re there. That you’re on to us. As if I would care about some shady dealings but your conversion three years ago is legend now and he’s afraid. It’s always about you, you, you,” she screamed flipping the gun around and bringing it down on Wes’ head.

July didn’t move. She worried that if she did Jorja would turn the gun back around and put a bullet through his brain. She could see him breathing. It would have to be enough until she could stop Jorja.

“I didn’t kill him,” Jorja said looking down at Wes. “I may need him later. He’s hot but he’s going to be another casualty of you sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. He may have done all of this crime. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Can you blame me for worrying? You put a bullet in me the last time we saw one another,” July said.

“You’re a trader. You joined my sister the first chance you got.”

“You shot me before that.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore anyway. You’re going to die and I’ll be free from you forever,” Jorja said with enough glee mixed with relief that July knew she wasn’t in her right mind. July put her hands up.

“If you’re going to kill me anyway maybe you could answer a question for me. It’s actually what we have all been wondering for the last ten years.” Jorja nodded. “Why? What has this all been for? You faked your death ten years ago. You showed back up three years ago.”

“That was just bad luck,” Jorja said cutting her off. She took another step toward July. She put the gun right between her eyes. “I had no way of knowing that Alex would be on a job in that bank. Who looks through their own surveillance video anyway? He had to have an intern for that right? He’s an over compensating son of a bitch. I used to tell Jo that she could do better but did she ever listen to me? No. Not ever.”

July waited for just the right moment. She wrenched Jorja’s wrist. The gun went off. July knew the bullet only missed her by an inch. Jorja’s left fist made contact with her jaw. July stepped back. She kicked the gun out of Jorja’s hand. It went flying. July had the satisfaction of watching Jorja wince. She must have broken Jorja’s wrist. She moved to kick Jorja again but Jorja blocked her. Jorja blocked the next three punches then sent July sprawling with a kick of her own. July could feel that her lip was cut and bleeding. She grabbed a handful of the fine gravel that littered the rooftop as she made her way to her feet.

“You know what your problem is Jorja? You blame everyone else for your problems,” July said and threw the gravel in her face.

July pushed Jorja hard before she had a chance to recover. Jorja stepped back and July delivered a kick that sent her over the wall. She didn’t check on Jorja. She didn’t want to see the mess below. She and Wes only had minutes before Jorja would be discovered.

July ran to Wes. He was starting to stir. She checked the back of his head and realized that Jorja hadn’t hit him quite as hard as she thought. He tried to get up on his own but ended up back on the ground.

“Easy,” July said. “You probably have a concussion.”

“I’m fine. Where is she?” Wes asked.

“She went over the side. We need to get out of here. She fell on the alley side but someone will see her soon.”

“Show me,” he said. “I want to see her.”

July helped him walk to the edge of the roof. They both looked down at the alley littered with garbage cans and miscellaneous trash but no body. July turned around, closed her eyes, and took a deep frustrated breath. “She landed on the fire escape?”

“She’s like a damn cat. She must have caught it on the way down,” Wes said.

“Let’s go. She’s long gone by now.”

“What do you want to do about her?”

“I’m done playing games,” July said and took out her phone.

“Boss, what are you going to do? Jorja is probably long gone by now,” Gemma said. She typed furiously on her keyboad as she spoke.

“I don’t think there is anymore that we can do. Wes can help make his case with the information we procured for him. We don’t know who Jorja’s buyer was for the information that Morgan procured for her. We don’t know what she stole and we can’t even turn her in without exposing ourselves.”

“She killed someone,” Gemma said. “Her own cousin. She lacks empathy. She’s a monster.”

Wes slipped an arm behind July and leaned in to whisper in her ear. “What does that make us?”

“Professionals,” July whispered back. “Gemma, sometimes the bad guys win and the good guys lose. I’ve been on both sides so I can tell you that the division is pretty even.”

“We always win,” Gemma told them.

“You have been working with the master,” Wes said. “I can promise you that the good guys lose as often as they win. And sometimes you can’t tell the difference.”

“Let’s not go that far. I called Alex and gave him Jorja’s last known location. He’ll keep her on the run for a while. He may even find her. Either way she’s out of our lives for the moment. Let’s get back to living them.”

“About that,” Wes said taking July’s hand and leading her to the hall. He closed Gemma’s office door behind them. “What if I stayed in the field?”

“In New York?”

“In general.”

“Are you looking for employment?” July asked.

“I guess you could say I’m looking for redemption.”

July could relate.

Copyright © 2016 Arietta Charles