“You want me to what?” Rinda McDougal stared across the table in disbelief at her state-appointed attorney. She looked pale without her customary make-up. Her short hair was brushed back instead of styled in its usual edgy manner.
“It’s your only chance, Rin. Either work for the Fed’s special unit or go to prison.” Lance Berkvist hoped Rinda would take the plea bargain. “They need someone with your talents.”
Rinda snorted. “Me? Work for the same people I fight against? Whatever!” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. She looked around the sparsely furnished room, anywhere but at the lawyer.
Lance sighed through his nose. They’d been at this for a while now. “Look, they want an answer by tomorrow morning. Otherwise, they’ll start the proceedings for a trial. I’ll be honest with ya, Rin, your chances aren’t good.”
“How much prison time are we looking at?”
“At least five years. Probably more.”
“Shit! How the hell’m I going to do anything if I’m in the clink?”
“But if I slip up even once, I’ll be there anyway.”
“Maybe’s ass! I will and you know it.” She closed her eyes. “All right.”
“You’ll take the bargain, then?”
“Good,” Lance said and stood. His relief showed on his face. This would have been a tough case, but he would’ve done his best, even with the charges and evidence against her.
* * *
It was raining in New York City when Rinda’s plane landed. Sure beats the hell outta Phoenix! she thought, looking out the plane’s window.
Inside the terminal, she was greeted by a man with short-cropped brown hair, a crisp white shirt, khaki Dockers, and brown loafers. His whole stance and attitude screamed “cop.”
“Rinda McDougal?” he asked, scrutinizing her attire and noticing the carry-on bag that she carried with the strap over one shoulder.
“Yeah.” She wondered briefly what he thought of her appearance. Did she silently scream “anarchist” as he did “cop?” Hell with it. Who cares!
“Good to meet you. I’m David Greene. You have anything in baggage claims?”
“One suitcase.” That was all she had been given time to pack. And truly, she didn’t have much more. Not with living with friends and having to be ready to leave on the spur of the moment, being the runner for her group.
“Just one? I’ll go with you to get it.”
“Don’t trust me here?”
He laughed. “Not that at all. Most people get lost easily. Even those of us who are used to it.”
He raised an eyebrow at her comment, but said nothing.
After claiming her suitcase and leaving the airport, David drove Rinda to an apartment complex on the Lower East Side.
“This is where you’ll stay for the next couple weeks,” he said, unlocking the door. “Everyone will come to you. You won’t have to leave.”
“House arrest, huh?”
“No. You can leave if you wish. But no sense in broadcasting to everyone what we’re about.” He opened the door, revealing a furnished living room.
She stepped inside and stopped. “Welcome to Motel 6.”
“More like a scaled-down Embassy Suites.”
Rinda smirked. “Same difference.” She walked in farther and threw her bag down beside the sofa. “Now what?”
David put her suitcase beside the front door. “This apartment is pretty simple. Living room you know, kitchen’s off to the left, bedroom straight back, and the bathroom with a shower only. Small balcony, that’s about it.”
“Home sweet home.”
“You won’t be here long. Two weeks tops. We’ll get most of your paperwork sorted. You’ll get your ID photo done here.” He hesitated.
“And?” Rinda prompted.
“A cyber tattoo.”
David coughed uncomfortably. “Tracking.”
“You assholes really don’t trust me, do ya?”
“Well, the decision was made by the top brass. And that’s what’s going to take longest. Getting the tat done. Those guys are busy! If you don’t want to do it, we can get you on a plane back to the federal prison in Arizona.”
Bastard. “No. I’ll do it.”
“Good. Believe it or not, Rinda, we need you here.”
“Have it your way. Believe me, or not. Get settled. Get some rest. I’ll be here in the morning to get started on your paper work and other appointments.”
* * *
True to his word, everything was completed and ready for Rinda to start work in two weeks.
On a Sunday night, the phone in the apartment rang. Rinda didn’t know it could ring, only that David had made some out-going calls on it. “Be downstairs at 7:30 sharp.” She was to have an escort to the unit’s headquarters in Queens.
As Rinda waited, a police cruiser pulled up to the sidewalk in front of her. The passenger-side window was rolled down. “Ms. McDougal?”
Shit! Another cop? “Yeah. That’s me.”
“Get in, please.” An order veiled as a request.
Rinda opened the back door of the cruiser and got in. As soon as she fastened her seatbelt, the car pulled away from the curb. She wasn’t happy about having to ride in a cruiser, like a common criminal, but she had to make do. And it was better than walking through some of these neighborhoods dressed as she was in her stylish black pants, shirt, and jacket. The cy-tat itched. That fat little oriental tattoo artist didn’t say how long it’d itch.
The cop up front opened the partition separating them. “What’s the address they gave you?” It started to rain lightly.
Rinda repeated the address the voice on the phone gave her the night before.
The cop nodded. “That’s what I have, too. Just wanted to be sure. What do they want from you there?”
“I don’t have a clue,” Rinda half-lied.
“Well, it’s none of my business anyway. I was just curious.” They drove the rest of the way in silence. Within minutes, the cop pulled over to the curb in front of a five story building, dwarfed compared to the skyscrapers around the city. Its black-tinted windows gave no indication of what went on inside. There wasn’t even a sign out front.
“Incognito,” Rinda muttered.
“Well, here you are,” he said, finally coming to a complete stop. “Should I wait for you?”
“Probably not,” Rinda said, reaching for the door handle. “I have no idea how long this could take.”
“If you need a ride back to the apartment, just give a yell.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that,” she replied, getting out of the car. It couldn’t hurt to be nice to the cop; he was just doing what he was told. And he could very well report her if she was even the slightest bit rude.
She walked up the sidewalk to the front door. She pressed the button and waited. Behind her, the cruiser pulled away from the curb.
The speaker mounted above the button hissed. “State your name and step back where the camera can see you.”
“Rinda McDougal,” she said, taking a step back.
The speaker hissed again. “Thank you.” There was a metallic click. “The door will lock itself behind you.”
Rinda opened the door and entered the foyer. A few feet away was a reception desk with a glass partition. One guard was seated and the other stood behind and to the side of an elevator. Two scanners -- retinal and palm -- sat on the counter outside of the partition.
“Place your palm on the scanner and your eye up to the eyepiece, please. Someone will be down for you shortly.”
As Rinda put her palm on the glass surface, the numbers on the elevator started to click down. She placed her right eye up to the eyepiece and waited.
“Thank you,” the seated guard said after the scans were complete.
Rinda stepped away and blinked. Her right eye watered a bit from the light in the scanner.
The elevator doors opened and David Greene stepped out. “Rinda, good to see you again. Come with me and we’ll officially get you started here.”
Rinda looked at the elevator. “Don’t you have stairs?”
David chuckled and shook his head. “The elevator’s the best way. You’ll have to circle the long way around taking the stairs. Come on.”
“I hate elevators,” she commented even as she stepped into it.
David followed and pushed the button for the second floor. The doors swished shut behind them. “The official story here is that you’ve come to us from MIT. I didn’t figure you wanted everyone knowing your background. Of course, you can tell them whatever you want. I thought this might help to ease the transition a bit.”
“Whatever you say, boss.”
The elevator stopped and the doors swished open. The second floor was an open-plan office layout. Desks were situated in groups of five with an ultra-modern computer on each. David led her over to one such group.
“The only people who know about your background are your teammates. You’ll be meeting them later. In the meantime, here’s where you’ll be, when you’re actually here.”
There was a leather billfold, a pocketsize container of pepper spray, and a Taser stun gun. “This is my stuff?” she asked.
“Yes. And there’s something else you might want.” He bent down and picked up a case from beside the desk and gave it to her.
“My computer?” Her surprise registered in her tone and on her face.
“Yes. I got it from your probation officer in Arizona. We figured you might need it and it’s best for our agents to have all the tools they need to do their jobs.”
Rinda smiled. “Great!”
“I’ll leave you to look around here a bit. I’ll be back in a few minutes with a couple more papers you need to read and sign, then we can take a tour of the place. How’s that?”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
“Good. I’ll see you in a little bit, then.” David left, weaving through the maze to his own office.
Rinda sat down and looked in the drawers of her own desk. The standard office supplies, nothing to be excited about. The five desks shared a printer.
She switched on the computer. As it went through the setup process, she put the Taser and pepper spray in her pockets. She picked up the billfold and opened it up. Inside were her photo ID, a hologram badge, and a business card with the different numbers to the unit and local law enforcement.
She shrugged and put the billfold in her jacket pocket. The computer beeped, prompting her to choose a password.
Invalid password. What the hell? she thought. The cursor blinked, still waiting for her password.
She tried again. “Runner935559.”
Verify password: “Runner935559.”
The e-mail icon blinked. Interoffice e-mail. Rinda clicked on it. A couple welcome messages from the brass and David. She closed it back. She’d read it later.
She put her notebook computer case on the desk and unzipped it. The battery pack needed to be charged, but everything else looked to be in good shape. She plugged the one-inch thick notebook computer in and powered it up.
None of her documents had been deleted. Everything was still as it had been at the time she was arrested. She figured they’d erase everything. Must be one of the perks of that agreement Lance got, she thought.
Even her custom-mixed CDs were there. Each CD was a mix of music and data. The trick was, some of the data was mixed in with the music so unless someone really knew hat they were looking for, the CDs appeared to be just music CDs. Much smaller and more compact than those popular in the 90s and early part of this century. That was a good one on her part, mixing them up like that.
She was startled by someone slapping some papers down on one of the other desks. She jumped.
“Didn’t mean to scare ya,” a man dressed in camouflage pants and a black t-shirt said in a Texas drawl. “You’re Rinda?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“I’d heard you’d be coming in. I’m Brent Goodson. David give ya the tour of the place yet?”
“Not yet,” David said from behind her. “Getting ready to, though. Coffee?”
“We’ll get some from the staff lounge upstairs. It’s better than the tar they keep down here.”
© 2003 Jenifer Nipps