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The Chrysalis Project Book 7: Iron Dolphin Book 2
A routine server penetration reveals
a threat is valid so
Krystel deploys to London.
WARNING: The Chrysalis Project may be hyper-violent for some readers!
"Report." Dannigan said over the video link.
Krystel replied. "Aye Sir. Yesterday I finally infiltrated the mobile system for True Freedom, that new international militia group. That's what they say they are, total bullshit. They're Tangos and definitely have targets in the U.K."
That got Dannigan's attention. "They just hit the priority list then. What targets?"
"Waterloo Station, the EYE, Her Majesty's Theatre and some girls' school. That's London alone. There's several more scattered around." Krystel listed.
Dannigan was thinking. "Can you get that intel into a form that can't be traced back specifically to us? By that I mean, our group in particular. Can you make it look like its coming from another agency?"
Krystel nodded. "Yes sir. I can introduce standard NSA, DIA or CIA coding. There's a catch. To do that it'll require the intel be hand carried."
"Stand-by to deploy. I need to touch base on some things. How long to prep the package as DIA?" Dannigan asked.
Krystel smiled. "Ten minutes."
"Out." Dannigan closed the window.
Kimberly looked over. "Fun, fun, fun."
"I don't know Kim. I think I'd rather have gone on that Japan Op with Lyssa. You know how I love Shibuya and Tiffany sent back a real sword." Krystel shrugged.
Lyssa spoke up from behind them. "Getting you TO Shibuya isn't the problem, Krystel. Getting you OUT is. If we did foreign posting, we'd station you there just to shut you up."
All three laughed. Currently of the O.I.C.A., only Tiffany and Shawna were off the island. Rodrick, Pete and Carl didn't count as they were on a hop. LoneStar was currently teaching the girls in the classroom and Maria was with Anna in Freeport as Anna had physical therapy. The remaining Black Badge Deputies were getting ready to take the girls' next classes.
Lyssa turned around. "Krystel. Who would you be meeting with over there?"
"Any of about two thousand people." Krystel replied.
Kimberly leaned back in her chair. "Get specific. Who could make the most of it?"
"MetPol. MI-6." Krystel answered.
Lyssa shook her head. "The Rumpus Room Krystel. Where do they keep their divers?"
"Oh! Room 40." Krystel giggled.
Kimberly nodded. "That's who. The Brits' World War One crypto-group. That's the background. It went back in action not long ago as their front line cyber-ops unit. They're the sword and shield."
"I like it. Find the key players. Krystel, learn who's who and be ready to go in. Find out who their Cat-lady is, who cosplays as a Spice-girl, you know the drill. These guys and girls won't be much different than our own so they'll have digital footprints. Track them down and learn their quirks. I want you ready for anything they throw at you, including nothing. I want you to hit like a 30 mike-mike Tungsten Jacketed Depleted Uranium round. Hard, clean and leave them wondering what just happened." Lyssa ordered.
"Kim will give you some friendlies. She knows who."
Krystel laughed. "Aye aye."
Krystel began working her terminal as the super-array came to life behind the glass wall.
Theodore Grimes answered the phone's intercom. "Yes Cynthia?"
"Sir. I'm sorry to disturb you, but there's a strange call." Cynthia said.
Ted involuntarily looked to the door. "Strange? What do you mean?"
"An American, claiming that he is making an 'Obscene Phone Call', Sir. Sir, this is a DIRECT call. It rang straight through." Cynthia informed him.
"Put him through. If he knows how to get directly to the office, it must be important." Ted replied.
Cynthia was still unsure but said. "Line four Sir."
Ted switched off the intercom and keyed the line. "Yes? Who is this?"
"Somebody that knows you write slanderous things on the bathroom stall doors at the football games." Dannigan replied.
"PATRICK DANIELS! You renegade Yank!" Ted laughed. "What have I done to warrant a call out of the blue? It MUST be something outrageous."
Dannigan laughed back. "It DEFINITELY is! It seems you, and I can't believe I have to say this, are owed a favor."
"Right." Ted hedged.
"The thing, with the guy, in the place, sometime ago. You hit the lottery." Dannigan said.
Ted caught on quick. He was being vague deliberately. The whole point of it was this was payback for a favor done previously that had serious ramifications. This payback was on the same scale and should be taken gravely.
"My lucky day. How EXACTLY do I go about claiming my winnings?" Ted asked.
Dannigan explained. "Person to Person. Details within the next 12 hours, direct to you only."
"Will they be able to provide details personally?" Ted asked.
Dannigan knew he was asking, in order to determine who met Krystel. "Definitely. To satisfaction, Ted."
"Fantastic. I'll be looking forward to counting my good fortune with a smile." Ted replied, now knowing that the person coming wasn't a courier.
A cyber-operative was coming and quite possibly the one that had found whatever was being brought.
"Take care Ted." Dannigan signed off.
"You too, you filthy-minded Yank." Ted replied then disconnected and leaned back in his chair. "So the American D.I.A. are paying back some favor they owe us and sending one of their best to hand it over personally. Why do I feel as if I just agreed to let in a Rider of the Apocalypse?"
"WAIT! You mean YOU are going to London? On a Mission?" Kasey asked.
Krystel had to inform the girls that their advanced system classes would be suspended during her absence. They seemed to be taking it in stride.
Mindy, of course, kept things in perspective. "Aunt Krystel, will you be able to do stuff while you're there?"
"I'll take some time to pick up something for each of you." Krystel laughed.
All three of the girls loved their care-package from Tiffany's trip to Tokyo. The extra package, which turned out to be a sword, went unnoticed by them. That sword now resided in the new cottage built for Tiffany. Krystel had one too, as did Hunter, Carl, Pete and Eddie. The cottages were built to withstand the force of a Category 5 hurricane just as The houses for Lyssa and Rodrick, the DeMarcos and Everbrites. All of the housing was on a separate electrical grid, powered by a battery bank recharged by solar panels and wind turbines.
The trick had been bringing them all onto the Island's power from the underwater power line to spike usage then taken off. Now the increased demand by the array was camouflaged.
Kristine was excited about the prospect of new things from far away places.
"COOL!" The girls cheered.
Kimberly came up from the Command Center. "Ok. I've got your travel plans. Tonight, LoneStar will take you up to Eglin Air Force Base and catch a hop to Andrews. Madison will meet you there and give you the credentials and paperwork en route to Dulles Airport. You'll need your Glocks on this trip. You're pretending to be D.I.A. attached to Army CounterIntel."
"Mrs. Kimberly, I thought D.I.A. didn't have Armed Status?" Kristine asked.
Kimberly smiled. "They don't. But our very Special Agent Kerri Emerson of the D.I.A. is seconded to U.S.Army Counter Intelligence, which DOES have Armed Status."
"Why all that?" Kasey asked. "Why not N.S.A.?"
Lyssa answered the question. "Camouflage. Counter-Intel people come and go from other Agencies and Services quite a bit. It's known that happens. Now Krystel, with her Navy background, could go in as N.C.I.S. Unfortunately they have a television show which makes hiding as one of them a problem. Krystel doesn't need that."
"OH." All three girls said.
"The easy way is not always the best. Sometimes Red-Tape and bureaucracy can be effective. A wall of silence doesn't work as well as an unending road of nonsense answers." Krystel smiled.
"We'd always go for the locked door instead of millions of unsecured files." Kristine said with understanding. "Not Allowed is our catnip!"
Kasey groaned. "Telling us we can't go somewhere is an open challenge. We'll do it just to spite! Free rein to nowhere works better!"
"They're learning." Lyssa said with satisfaction.
Krystel nodded. "They ARE learning."
"The world of Intelligence girls. Smoke and mirrors. Things that make no sense, can be made to. If things make enough sense, they are believed." Lyssa told them. "That's were Black Intel comes in at. The best lies are ninety-nine percent truth. Krystel, break it down."
Krystel looked to them. "Think of it like fishing. Hook them with truth, reel them in with facts and they will go head-long into a net of fantasy. What does that mean? It means I get to spend most of the day creating my Legend. It's not hard, but it is time consuming. All three of you girls have a Legend that took a month to create. Our Legends were harder, because much of it isn't digital. Get it now?"
"The whole time they were training, their Legends were being made. The whole time I was retraining myself, I made my Legend. Halls of Records were physically entered and hard files planted. Hospitals, Census Offices, City Halls, Court Houses, Social Security offices, Newspaper Morgues, Libraries, Schools and Colleges. D.O.D. was the easiest. You three girls were a breeze." Lyssa told them.
"Maria was a nightmare. One hundred and twelve points of hard file."
Kimberly nodded. "And the files have to look authentic. Aged paper and inks, type-face of typewriters. Think about it. You can't just laser-print the documents and stick them in the drawer. Stands out like a grenade in a basket of Easter eggs."
Mindy had wide eyes. "WOW! ALL THAT?"
Lyssa smiled to Mindy. "You took a few hours and nine incursions. Shawna did yours. Speaking of, Shawna sent you all a package of DVDs and CDs. It's in the Hangar lounge."
All three girls squealed with glee and ran off for their new treasures.
Kimberly shook her head. "Why can't it be that easy with the Brass?"
"For one, they're not that cheap and second; they don't know about us. The more hoops we make them jump through to get what we need, we have to jump through four times more to hide it from them." Lyssa remarked.
"Oh god, ain't that the truth." Kimberly agreed.
That evening, LoneStar was piloting the Lear and took off heading Northwest to Eglin Air Force base. Krystel caught a hop on a C-17 heading for Andrews Air Force base. Madison met her there and drove to Washington Dulles Airport. Krystel's flight was scheduled to arrive at 0800 London time.
Tamara Smart waited just behind the Baggage Claim area, ahead of the Green Channel. In her bag was an airside pass, although she had no intention to show it unless that was strictly necessary. She checked a monitor, a flight from the Unites States had landed and a woman she was meeting was supposed to be on it. Tammy knew all international arrivals had to clear customs after collecting their luggage from the conveyor, her job was to ease her contact through that minor administrative irritation.
Today Tammy really felt the full the meaning of an American idiom she had heard once. She was the 'low man on the totem pole'. Late the day before, she had been pulled into James Townsend's office.
"Tammy, your curriculum will be suspended for a couple days. I have a bit of a task for you." The head of Room 40 stated.
Tammy looked confused. "Task, Sir?"
"Yes. We're going to be visited by an American. A woman with their Army's Counter Intelligence. As I understand it, they are 'repaying a favour' or some such thing." Townsend said.
"What favour, Sir?" Tammy asked, curious.
James shrugged. "To be honest, I haven't the foggiest. Apparently it's one those things above my pay grade, if you can believe that! The more you play in the Intelligence game, the more you'll come across it. We do a favour for someone, they do a favour for us and vice versa, it's off the books and officially never happens. Many times the details are deliberately murky for security reasons; need-to-know and all that. Things like this usually come from the result of back-channeling Tammy. It works on the concept of informal relations, instead of going through the Ministry officials and all that paperwork, a personal connection is used. It saves time and keeps us on friendlier terms on working levels."
"This happens alot?" Tammy asked.
Townsend nodded. "Quite a bit. All the time back in the Cold War days."
"Learn something new and didn't have to read a book." Tammy commented, mostly to herself then asked. "So what do I need to do?"
"You'll meet her at Heathrow, get her settled in then bring her here. More than likely she'll be jet-lagged. I'll be honest, I'm not expecting much. Probably hand us a drive-stick and that be all. I suspect she's merely acting as a courier. However, if she's not immediately turning back, look after her. Think of it as a weekend." Townsend said airily. "It counts as overtime and you're on full expenses, got it?"
Tammy did indeed get it. Townsend needed to delegate someone to babysit the American courier. As she was only being trained up, that meant she didn't have any pressing matters and the least important person, therefore the obvious choice. That her face was largely unfamiliar was useful.
"And it gets me out of your hair for a day or two." Tammy surmised.
Townsend nodded and referred to a page. "If you want to put it that way. Her flight arrives tomorrow morning at 8. Name is, there it is; Kerri Emerson. 8 A.M. Tamara. That will be all."
Now she was Heathrow, waiting. She saw the luggage carousel turning and people lining up around it. Bags began to descend onto it and the owners began claiming them. She tapped the small sign against her leg, waiting for people to start approaching.
"I'm not going to know you're here for me, unless you hold up the sign." A feminine voice said beside her.
Tammy turned and saw a pretty blonde woman with a carry-on bag beside her. "Miss Emerson?"
"Why don't we skip that part and you just call me Kerri. Ok?" Krystel asked.
Tammy nodded then remembered that she shouldn't just take face value. "Might I see some identification?"
Krystel chuckled. "Sure. Why not."
From the inner pocket of her suit jacket she produced a leather credential wallet and showed the badge then the ID. Tammy had looked up the Unites States Army's CounterIntelligence online the night before. The design of the badge and crest on the card looked authentic enough. The fact the woman provided the correct first name on her own was also in her favor.
Krystel laughed and whispered. "Maybe we should have agreed on a challenge and password?"
"That would have been cool. cliche', but cool." Tammy laughed. "I didn't drive over so we'll have to cab it."
Krystel nodded. "Fine by me. I'm ready. Didn't get your name though."
"Oh. I'm Tammy Smart. This way." Tammy said then led the way out, flashing her own pass at a bored Customs officer.
Outside they chose a taxi from the line and got in.
"Where to, ladies?" The driver asked.
Krystel answered. "Black Lion, please, the one off the Great West Road."
"Black Lion it is, Love." The cabby affirmed and pulled out into traffic.
Tammy was surprised. That was the last place she would expect an American to stay. Didn't they usually stay at the Marriot or the Millenium?
"So this isn't your first trip to London?" Tammy asked.
Krystel shook her head. "Nope. It's my third."
Tammy took a minute to discreetly look Kerri over. Even her shoes looked high-end.
Krystel noticed and smiled. "They're Prada and my suit is Carolina Herrera."
"Very nice." Tammy commented and thought to herself. 'Is it regular practice for American Intelligence service women to dress like that?'
Soon they were at the Black Lion Guest House and Krystel checked in. She waved Tammy to follow up to the room. Inside she set her case on the stand then went to the en suite bathroom and came out a few minutes later.
"Something on your mind?" Krystel asked.
Tammy shrugged. "Looking pretty flash for a spy. Is that regular?"
Krystel laughed. "When traveling it's a good idea to look 'flash' as you put it. They think businesswoman, not spy. Spies want to blend in and not be noticed. I stand out so in truth I do blend in. Once I get here, I can dress down if I want. I carry electronics, a businesswoman is expected to. If I wore an off-the-rack wash-and-wear suit and shoes from a chain store, I would stand out. Instead, I look like my take-home is over a hundred grand a year. Nobody is looking at me as more than some hot bitch they'd like to nail on the conference table."
Tammy's jaw dropped with that statement. "Wow. That is blunt."
Krystel detached the laptop case from the front of her carry-on. "Hide in plain sight Tammy. It works more times than you think. As a woman, it's more effective. You wouldn't believe how many times the guy in the loud suit with a bluetooth in his ear, randomly complaining about somebody named John or Fred goes ignored."
"That's crazy. Oh God! I've seen guys like that. I wanted to get as far away as I could!" Tammy admitted.
"Right. Now you know. Get four obviously designer suits. Two winter and two summer. A pair of Christian Louboutain black heels and a pair of white Manolo's. Wear one suit and pack the other, depending on the weather. A good pair of boots and coat for winter. Don't be easy through security, but don't be a nightmare either. Have a bluetooth in your ear and bitch about Barbara or Margaret." Krystel advised.
Tammy couldn't but laugh. "Really? That'll work?"
Krystel nodded. "Look like money and complain about your boss, people will leave you alone out of sympathy. When you get older, change it around; complain about useless assistants and other flunkies. Nobody wants to cross some uppity bitch that acts like the world is full of assholes in her way. Look like a corporate hatchet bitch out for scalps and nobody will give you a second thought. They'll treat you like that."
Tammy thought about it. It did seem to make sense. "I can pull that off. I do have the wardrobe, except the shoes."
"Well, let's get going. I'm sure your Big Chief Muck-a-muck is about ready to tear his hair out wondering what's going on." Krystel said and led the way out.
A tube ride brought them to a quiet neighborhood. At the corner Tammy led Krystel down the crossing street for almost half a block. She stopped at a wrought iron gate and let them in. At the well weathered door she rang the bell. It opened a moment later and a man in suit greeted them.
"Hello ladies. Do come in." The man invited them inside.
Krystel followed Tammy inside and took out her credentials.
The man closed the door and asked. "Might I see."
"These?" Krystel cut him off and held her credentials out.
He took the wallet. "Those, indeed. Thank you."
He looked them over and handed the wallet back. "In order, Agent Emerson. Miss Smart will see you up. I do need to inspect your case, though."
"Of course." Krystel handed over her laptop case.
He looked it over and saw nothing out of the ordinary. "Would you mind leaving it here?"
"Kind of hard to show your boss why I'm here if I do that." Krystel said pointedly.
The man sighed. "I see."
Krystel nodded. "I understand OpSec and being cautious, however, I'm not here to pick up. I'm here to give. I hate to put it this way, but time is critical. You don't have time to mess around."
"What I don't have, Agent Emerson, is time to screw up. OpSec, is paramount here." The man said. "At the very least, you'll have to leave your pistol with me."
"No argument." Krystel pulled the Glock from the small of her back and handed it over.
Tammy had noticed the faint outline and was curious what kind of pistol an American would carry. Her gaze focused on it, she was surprised when a second was handed over as well.
The man gave her a wary look. "I think I should ask for anything else."
"No problem." Krystel pulled the Mad Dog Operator from her sleeve and handed it to him. "That's everything."
Tammy took interest in the knife. "Excuse me, but what exactly is this knife?"
"I'm not sure what it's called, Miss Smart. I believe it's made by Mad Dog knives in America." He replied.
Krystel answered them. "It isn't a new Frequent Flyer. It's called Operator. The blade is ceramic."
"I thought ceramic knives still set off detectors?" Tammy asked.
The man shook his head. "Commercial knives do. Mad Dog has government contracts and do not add the metal to the ceramic mix for government issued blades. Our people that travel commercially on a frequent basis are issued similar equipment. I do admit, I like the look of this model. The Operator, you said?"
Krystel nodded. "Yes. Can we get to it?"
He nodded, so Tammy took the lead. "This way."
Tammy led up the stairs and after pausing for the secretary, went into James Townsend.
"Mister Townsend, Agent Kerri Emerson." Tammy introduced. "Agent Emerson, James Townsend."
Krystel shook hands in the Euro-fashion. "Thank you for seeing me Mister Townsend. I won't waste your time. You have a verified threat of Imminent Hostile Action. Right here in London."
"WHAT?" Townsend blurted.
Krystel took out her laptop and a single page from her sleeve. "Here's the list for the next 48 hours. On my laptop I have more and the key to an encryption I know you'll be interested in."
James Townsend was by no means, a stupid man. "Follow me, now!"
Tammy, having no other instruction, followed as well.
Townsend led them to another staircase and led them down into a deep basement.
Krystel looked around and nodded in approval. "So this is your Arena. Not bad."
"We call it something else here, Agent Emerson." Townsend replied. "Shall we?"
"In the immortal words of Tone Loc; Let's Do It." Krystel said and took out her laptop. "I need a cable."
One of the technicians handed her the end of a cable while the laptop booted up. She keyed in the password and nodded to him. He typed in a command as well. A screen on the wall lit up and began to scroll code.
Krystel put on a headset, plugged into the laptop and spoke. "The code you now see is the encryption currently securing the network for True Freedom. They call themselves a militia group. That is incorrect. They are a terrorist group and their current target zone is the U.K."
Several began nod their heads and point up at the screen. The screen split and another set of code began to scroll.
"The second set of code is the key to that encryption. They have no idea their security is compromised." Krystel explained as the encryption shifted into coherent data.
Suddenly the room became agitated.
"BLOODY HELL! Those four places are targeted for tomorrow!" Townsend exclaimed.
Tammy noticed the locations. "Most of those are tourist hotspots!"
"High value soft targets. Those will grab serious media attention. International media attention." Krystel remarked. "Do not be fooled, these guys are pulling pages out of all the major players' books. This is their opening bid to make the big time and they're serious about it."
"Bloody fucking serious I'd say." One the technicians remarked.
Krystel fixed him with a look. "It's 'Go big or go home' when it comes to terrorist action. They count success in bodies same as we do, only the bodies they want are civilian. We want combatants' bodies."
Krystel slipped the headset off and stepped into a position, better viewed by the room at large. "Ladies and gentlemen, let me be very clear. Other agencies may marginalize, but my group doesn't. I may not not be up on all your procedures, but I am held to a particular standard. Anything other than complete destruction of the hostiles with NO civilian loss, is FAILURE! These are YOUR civilians and visitors to YOUR country. I found these terrorists that are about to cut loose in your front yard. I'm told that you were owed a favor, so I came here personally, to see to it that you got this information. My job is now done. The rest is ALL you."
Townsend said nothing, just snatched up the nearest phone and dialed. In moments he was in heated discussion.
"Excuse me, but just how in Bloody Hell did you get the encryption key?" One of the technicians asked.
Krystel smiled. "I stole it from them after I phased through their ICE. That's how I also know, they are unaware of the penetration. Go ahead and copy the data."
Over the next three hours, Krystel simply stood back and watched. This was the Brits' show now. Her mission was done.
"So what now?" Tammy asked.
Krystel shrugged. "Once I leave this building, I'm on my own time. My part is done now. Sometimes I get to watch the song and dance, other times I don't. Since this is your show, I don't have a ticket option. I'm surprised I'm still here."
Tammy nodded. "I see your point. Though I guess it could be a bit rude to just throw you out now."
"Report in! First two cells are down!" Townsend called out, after answering a phone.
A chorus of cheers called out. An hour later he reported that the other two London cells had been eliminated.
Tammy sighed in relief. "That's over."
Krystel shook her head. "It's only the first of many. Like the poet said; miles to go, before I sleep."
Tammy giggled. "We use kilometers these days, helps with European collaborations."
Krystel smirked back. "Wise-ass."
James Townsend walked over. "The other cell locations will be sometime. Thank you Agent Emerson, Miss Smart will look after you until your return flight. When is that?"
"Day after tomorrow. My schedule is irregular so I'm being allowed 'off days' here. I was going to get in some shopping tomorrow." Krystel remarked.
"I see. No matter, Miss Smart will still look after you." Townsend stated.
"Right." Krystel drawled then turned to Tammy. "Why don't we grab an early dinner."
They left after collecting Krystel's personal effects. I.E., her weapons.
Krystel followed Tammy's lead and together they rode the Tube into another section of town. Back on street level, Tammy gestured around.
"Take your pick." Tammy said.
"This is quite the assortment." Krystel laughed. "Even a McDonald's. How about something with color? Asian flair?"
Tammy thought about it. "Well. There's a Thai place close by. I've never been in though."
Krystel nodded. "Let's investigate."
Tammy led the way and turned down what looked like an alley. The scent of Asian cooking practically grabbed them by the nostrils.
"OH YEAH!" Krystel groaned.
"This is it." Tammy announced, stopping at a door then looked as Krystel started laughing. "What's so funny?"
Krystel pointed at the sign. "This is a Thai place?"
"I guess so." Tammy shrugged. "Why are you laughing?"
Krystel smiled and pointed at the sign. "That's Vietnamese! Come on."
Krystel took the lead and pulled Tammy inside and stopped at the inner doorway and bowed slightly to the young woman. Tammy's jaw dropped when Krystel spoke in a language she didn't know. The young woman working there looked to be very pleased and spoke back in the same language then led them to a table. The hostess left and came back with an elderly woman. Krystel and the woman talked, apparently a joke was told and the old woman laughed, swatting at Krystel's shoulder. Krystel laughed as well. The old woman was still smiling as she left and began yelling to the people in the kitchen.
"I'm going to take a wild guess here, you speak Vietnamese?" Tammy asked.
The hostess laughed. "You're American friend does, and she has quite the mouth on her! Grandma hasn't heard that joke since the Americans got her out of Saigon."
Tammy looked confused. "I don't follow."
"The older woman was a nurse during the Vietnam Conflict. It was an old joke the soldiers used to tell back then. You wouldn't get it, but it got my point across. Grannie is going to take real good care of us." Krystel explained.
A young man came from the back and set down two beers and poured them. Krystel thanked him and drank. Tammy drank and had to fight the urge to pull a face.
Krystel giggled. "Vietnamese beer tastes different than other beers. A word of warning, the rice wine will put you on your ass fast. The beer is safer."
Plates were brought out and set in front of them. Grannie chattered away at Krystel, nudging and pointing. Krystel giggled and replied back, seeming to egg her on. The waiter couldn't hold back anymore and started to laugh, only to be swatted himself, making him laugh harder.
Krystel looked over to Tammy. "Grannie brought us shrimp, Nha Trang style."
Tammy picked up the chopsticks and pointed to a plate. "What's this?"
"It's called Bahn Cahn Trang Bang. Pork, tapioca noodles, herbs and peppers." Krystel explained between bites.
Tammy tried it and nodded. "This is good."
Krystel looked over to old woman and said something.
The old woman patted Tammy's shoulder, nodded and said with a thick accent. "I easy on you. Not her!"
Krystel began laughing again and clicked her chopsticks. "Thanks Grannie."
The old woman swatted at her again and went back to the kitchen.
Tammy ate some more and asked. "What did she mean by that?"
"Oh. Grannie is going easy on the peppers for you. Not me, she's going the way they do in Vietnam, away from the tourist spots. Some of the stuff there will melt through a steel bowl." Krystel warned with a smile then tapped a bowl beside her plate. "I even asked for extra peppers."
Tammy looked at the bowl and figured she was being set up for a challenge, but Krystel shook her head.
"Bad idea if you're not very experienced with the cuisine." Krystel warned. "If you can't take a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce without crying, never get extra peppers in a Vietnamese resturaunt."
The old woman swatted Krystel's shoulder again. "BAH! You talk like Green Beret!"
Tammy decided it might be a good idea to try making nice. "I like the food Grandmum."
"Hmmmph. You behave better." The old woman said in approval and cupped Tammy's cheek. "A good girl."
Krystel giggled as the woman walked back to the kitchen. "She likes you."
"Is that a good thing?" Tammy asked.
Krystel nodded. "Yeah. You come around frequent and she'll take care of you personally. You know you're in good with Grannie if she brings you to the back to eat with her. She'll build up your tolerance easy and treat you like one of her own grandkids."
Tammy was about to ask another question when a bowl of soup was set down in front of her. She looked up and the old woman patted her shoulder and said something in Vietnamese.
"Grannie said, eat up." Krystel told her then added quietly. "I'd bet that it's the family's main dinner tonight. It's a big gesture."
Tammy tried it and discovered it to be very rich and tasty. "Wow, that's really good."
"Don't be surprised if you never get a table when you come in by yourself from now on." Krystel commented.
Tammy looked up. "They won't serve me?"
Krystel shook her head. "Nope. Grannie will come out and pull you back there to eat with her and the kids. Want some advice?"
"Sure." Tammy said.
"Eat here at least once every two weeks." Krystel said. "They'll probably start teaching you Vietnamese."
"I only heard of this place in passing." Tammy remarked.
Krystel took another pepper and munched. "This is what we call 'a hole in the wall place'. There's no tourists in here. Notice that?"
Tammy discreetly looked around and nodded. "Now I do. Is that a good thing?"
"Yep. Get yourself in a bind and you're on Grannie's good side, you can hide out. Grannie was an ARVN nurse. Army of Republic of Vietnam. She's a tough ol' bird. You get hurt and she'll patch you up too." Krystel said. "She was a Hail Mary."
"Hail Mary?" Tammy asked.
Krystel nodded. "After Saigon fell, which was the last city the U.S. pulled out of, a lot people friendly to us got left behind. Missions went in to get as many out as possible. Grannie was one of the last ones to get pulled. Didn't get to the part of how she wound up here instead of the U.S."
The hostess had the last part of Krystel's explanation and spoke up. "Grandmother is always grateful to the soldiers who sneak back to rescue her. Brave men that kept their word to protect her. It was a Colonel named Butler, no matter how much money the North offered, he kept going back to bring people out. Grandmother was the last one. He brought her to Thailand and somehow got her permission to come here. She made her life here, but never forgot the Colonel and his men. Grandmother thinks it funny, such a young American woman knows how to talk to her."
"That's quite the story. Have you heard of this Colonel, Kerri?" Tammy asked.
Krystel shook her head. "Before my time. I know the type though."
"I'll have to come by more often when I'm in London." Tammy told her.
The hostess nodded. "You will always be welcome."
The old woman came back out and looked at Tammy. "What your name?"
"Tammy. Tammy Smart, Mum." Tammy answered.
The old woman nodded then said something to the hostess and went back to the kitchen.
"What did she say?" Tammy asked.
The hostess smiled. "Grandmother said that you don't sit out here anymore. You eat with her in the back from now on."
Krystel smirked. "Told you so."
"I look forward to it." Tammy said, going for diplomacy.
Krystel called out in Vietnamese and the old woman returned. Krystel pulled money from her purse and handed it her then stood up and hugged her. the woman hugged her back then smiled finally.
When Tammy stood up she was immediately hugged by her as well and told firmly. "You come back, Tammy."
"I will Grandmum." Tammy said returning the hug.
Together they walked out. Tammy saw Krystel back to The black Lion then went home for the night.
The next morning Tammy met Krystel in the lobby.
"Did you already have breakfast?" Krystel asked.
Tammy nodded. "Yes. Have you?"
"I've been up for hours. No pool, so I had to extend my run." Krystel chuckled.
Tammy led the way out. "You run and swim everyday?"
"I bike too. Twenty-five mile bike ride, seven mile swim and fifteen mile run. Six days a week."
Krystel said as they went down to the Tube.
That impressed Tammy. "Are you training for an event?"
"Yeah. It's called 'staying alive'." Krystel commented.
The station was practically empty so Tammy asked. "I'm curious about something, may I ask a professional question?"
"You can ask, some things I can't answer. You know how that goes." Krystel replied.
Tammy nodded. "I get that. What I wanted to ask is, do you shoot very often?"
"I'm on a range twice a week." Krystel answered. "Is that what you really wanted to ask?"
"I saw you carried two pistols. I got curious." Tammy explained.
Krystel nodded. "Oh. Yeah, that would get you curious. You have tight gun laws here. Have you ever handled a sidearm before?"
"I took a course, I qualified." Tammy sidestepped.
"Right. Well, I travel a good bit. Not everywhere has those kind of laws. I can expect to get into a spot, anytime, anywhere. Shit happens Tammy. It can, and probably will, happen to you. There's only one thing you can do about it. Prepare and train for the worst, hope for the best and pray it evens out at the end of the day." Krystel said heavily.
Tammy understood that. "I get it."
"Shooting is a perishable skill. Especially if you use heavy calibers. They probably taught you with a nine millimeter. Standard NATO issue. I carry two forty calibers. It has more stopping power. That means it hits harder and makes more damage. That comes with a price though. You have to shoot more often to stay accurate. If I didn't shoot often enough, I'd lose strength in my hands, wrists and arms. That means I can't shoot very long. Not all firefights are over in a couple of seconds. Some can drag out. Don't shoot enough, you're in trouble fast." Krystel said.
The train came and they had to hold their conversation around the other riders. Krystel said she wanted to hit Harrods, then Picadilly. Tammy was surprised at the purchases. It seemed that Kerri was buying for multiple ages and both genders.
"You must come from a large family, Kerri." Tammy remarked.
Krystel laughed. "You'd think that. Some of this is for friends and their kids."
"Oh." Tammy nodded, then realized it was a side-step.
Kerri answered her question, without answering the question.
Krystel looked around. "Let's stop for a while."
"There is a Starbucks. Fancy a coffee?" Tammy asked.
Krystel agreed. "Why not?"
They went in and Krystel paid for both coffees and some pastries. Their conversation was casual, mostly about fashion. Tammy learned that Kerri preferred American designers for her business wear, but Italian shoes. Her lingerie ranged from American sportswear to French designers, depending on her activity.
Tammy had noticed that Kerri was not wearing, nor mentioned hosiery and was about to ask when Kerri's expression changed. She took on a hardened look.
Tammy asked. "What is it?"
"How many people have we seen wearing bulky long coats?" Krystel asked.
Tammy found that odd. "None I recall. Why?"
Krystel shifted in her seat. "Our day is about to go to shit."
"What?" Tammy asked then found herself yanked out of the chair as Kerri dove to the side.
"CONTACT, RED THREE!" Krystel yelled pulling Tammy to the floor and behind a wall.
Automatic rifles cut the usual din of the coffee shop and people began to scream in fear.
"BLOODY HELL!" Tammy stated.
Krystel put her back to the wall and pulled a pistol from behind her. "Tammy are you carrying?"
"I damn well am!" Tammy pulled her handbag closer and brought out the Glock.
"Get ready to go hot." Krystel instructed and picked up a metal spoon and tossed it against a window.
The smack and clang of the spoon drew all eyes to the window, including the four gunners. Krystel dropped to the floor into a line of fire as Tammy leaned around the corner. Both fired. first one, then another dropped screaming. Number three looked unaffected and turned to the real threat. Krystel's pistol shifted and spat out two rounds that brought him down. Tammy shifted to the last gunman as he fired toward them. A stitch of bullets chewed toward Krystel as she fired again and dropped him.
"SHIT! I hit him Kerri. Why didn't he go down?" Tammy asked angrily.
Krystel stood up. "Everybody stay down!"
Tammy followed her over to the downed gunmen as they struggled to reclaim their dropped rifles. One managed to get his hand on his rifle, only to have Krystel shoot into his shoulder.
"FORGET IT!" Krystel ordered then turned to the other. "You think that hurts. I can shoot you somewhere else and prove otherwise. Secure those rifles."
Tammy moved to gather up the rifles. That's when she noticed the wounds. Krystel had shot them in the hips and neck area.
'Why would she do that?' Tammy wondered to herself.
Police arrived calling out.
Krystel called out. "SECURE! FRIENDLY, FRIENDLY!"
"Put the gun down!" An armed officer called out.
Slowly Krystel put her pistol down on a table and turned to Tammy. "Gun on the table."
Tammy complied, putting the rifles on one table and her pistol on the same table as Kerri's.
Five armed officers slowly entered.
Krystel called out. "The police are here, please stay where you are. They'll get everybody cleared soon."
"We'll give the orders." The lead officer said.
Krystel nodded slowly. "Fine by me, but I'd rather these civilians not get shot by mistake, thinking it's safe now that you're here. I'm going to reach into my pocket slowly. I'm getting my ID."
"Slow and this better be good." The lead officer nodded.
Krystel slowly opened one side of her jacket with one hand and slowly reached in with the other to bring out the wallet. She held it out.
The officer took it and looked at both the badge and card. "Bloody Hell. This is going to be a hell of a mess. You can relax. What about your friend there?"
"I'll have to get my purse. It's over there." Tammy said and at his nod, retrieved it.
Carefully she extracted her firearms certificate and her special authority - the ubiquitous 'Get Of Of Jail Free' card.
The officer groaned. "It just keeps getting better."
"BOLLOCKS! These bastards are wearing body armour!" One of the other officers remarked.
Tammy looked over. "That's why he didn't go down!"
The lead officer noticed Krystel smirking. "You knew, didn't you?"
Krystel shrugged. "Bulky coats in this weather, it's a gimme."
Slowly the other patrons were brought out after clearing them.
A supervisory officer came in. "What happened?"
The lead officer went over and spoke quietly then pointed to Krystel and Tammy. The wounded were removed under guard and the dead was taken out covered with a sheet. Finally he walked over.
"Agent Emerson. Why is an American Intelligence officer shooting people in London?" The Supervisor asked.
Krystel gave him a flat look. "Just trying to stay alive."
"That's far from funny." The Supervisor stated.
Krystel glared at him. "You see me smiling?"
He was about to say something but was cut off.
"Here's how this can go down. You can raise hell about it and all the big government types get involved, that would create some very hard feelings and you get into eighteen different kinds of shit. Or 'the terrorists were taken down by officers that happened to be on a routine patrol' and there is no mention of any kind of intelligence people. Your people look good for the media and compliments go all around." Krystel said. "Unless you like sitting in offices of people in suits with no names that can make your career no longer exist? Oh, and I'll still be leaving tomorrow."
Tammy was quick on the uptake and added. "It does make things a bit sticky, two countries cooperating with each other, and one of those people get caught up in a terrorist attack and then harassed for saving all those civilians."
Tammy was following Kerri's lead, hoping they could fast-talk their way out of this. She could see the gears shifting in the officer's head when it all came to a grinding halt. Three men in suits walked in and called him over.
"Kerri. Why do I feeling that we almost got out of this?" Tammy whispered.
Krystel winked. "What do you mean 'almost'? This just got even more fun. We're about to be told to clear the area."
Suit One came over and handed their IDs back. "Out. Take the back door."
Krystel took her wallet and picked up her pistol. "We were never here."
Tammy followed suit and three minutes later they were in an alley walking away.
"I can't believe that worked. I'll probably be in deep tomorrow." Tammy said.
Krystel laughed. "Nope. If they mention your name, then have to bring me in and then that starts a whole slew of shit. No country wants to admit an American agent had to save their people during a terrorist attack. You won't even get a post-it note in your file over this. Especially an agent that has already helped them take down terror cells in their own country before they even launched attacks."
"Politics." Tammy said flatly.
Krystel shook her head. "Diplomacy. When people share Intel, the last thing anybody wants to do, is make it stop."
"What's the phrase? You've been here before?" Tammy asked.
Krystel smiled. "I think I know a place we could get a drink tonight. Meet me at seven. We'll grab a bite at the hotel then go out for drinks."
Tammy was surprised to see Kerri out of business-wear and definitely dressed for a night out. She was glad she had taken her sister's advice and wore her little black dress. Kerri wore a light blue dress that hugged her curves and silver sandals with stiletto heels. This time, Tammy followed Krystel's lead. They got off the tube at Embankment and walked down the street, drawing looks and comments of appreciation. When Kerri turned up a cobbled alley, Tammy wondered where they were going.
"Ok Kerri, I give. Where are we going?" Tammy asked.
Krystel stood at a door and opened it. "Here."
Inside Krystel could feel it and smiled. This was the right place. It was quiet and most of the conversations stopped as heads turned to note the newcomers.
Krystel walked straight to the bar. Tammy stay right on her tail.
"Evenin' ladies. Get you something?" the bartender asked in an obvious Australian accent.
Krystel smiled. "Evening. My friend and I would like scotch."
"Any in particular?" The bartender asked.
Krystel looked over to Tammy. "Wolfburn alright with you?"
"Sure, a decent twelve year old, if I recall." Tammy answered.
"Wolfburn, neat." Krystel said then looked around and settled on a man staring at her. "Send one to that gentleman as well. Make it a double for him."
After the glasses were set in front of them Tammy looked to Krystel. "Not many know about Wolfburn. What made you order it?"
"It's won three awards recently." Krystel said then said quietly. "I hear it's bad form to not drink scotch in a bar over here. I asked at the hotel, they recommended it. Why, you don't like it?"
"I like it just fine. I've drank it several times. What do you drink?" Tammy asked.
"Whatever is local. Otherwise I drink Crown and Seven." Krystel said.
An older voice with a strong Scottish accent said. "That's mighty nice o' you, but I wonder why you'd buy me a drink?"
"Oh. You just reminded me of my Uncle. Paul." Krystel remarked.
The old man smiled. "I see. Well my name just happens to be Sean, what's yours Darlin'?"
"You can call me Kerri." Krystel smiled.
Sean nodded. "Fine name. What about you?"
Tammy replied. "Tammy."
Sean nodded, taking note of the hint of accent to Tammy. "Fine name on you as well. So what brings you girls here?"
"Oh, just looking for a place with a respectable crowd." Krystel replied, putting stress on the word respectable.
Tammy discreetly looked around. She noticed almost all the men had the close haircut of being military. They all stood easy and confident. Kerri had brought them into a pub for current and ex-military.
"This uncle of yours, fair man with a drink is he?" Sean chuckled.
Krystel nodded. "Upon occasion, in the tropics. Seems like good company here, fine lads?"
"The finest, of course darlin'." Sean replied.
Krystel smiled. "Nice. London is so busy lately. Lots of noise. I could do with a bit of pleasant company. I'm sure Tammy feels the same."
Sean turned around and caught a young man's eye, who came over.
"Ladies." The young man greeted.
Sean introduced them. "Wade, this is Kerri. And this young lady is Tammy. Tammy could do with engaging company."
"Glad to, Colonel." Wade nodded to him then said to Tammy. "Hello Tammy. Marcus Wade, ever been to Afghanistan?"
Sean nodded. "Carry on Captain."
Tammy found herself steered away and talking with an obvious officer in the Army.
Sean turned back to Krystel. "Tropics, huh? So you're one of Dannigan's people?"
"Uncle sends his regards." Krystel said.
Sean nodded. "What else does he send?"
"Me and your latest bit of business. Hope the lads had a good time." Krystel remarked.
Sean chuckled. "Ask Wade."
Krystel looked over and smiled. "He looks busy."
"So he does. Heard a story today. Somebody took issue over a coffee. Wouldn't know about that would you?" Sean asked.
Krystel shrugged. "I went shopping with Tammy today Colonel MacTaggart. A turn around Picadilly. Can't visit London and not go there. I did see some gentlemen all done up in their suits."
"I'm sure you did." Sean nodded.
Krystel added. "They may have taken interest in Tammy and I. I don't think she could handle more than one admirer at a time though."
"Right you are. And yourself?" Sean asked.
Krystel smiled. "I'm the love 'em and leave 'em type. I'm not worried."
MacTaggart understood. By the time her plane crossed out of airspace, she would no longer exist. "Well, being that Tammy is a local girl, perhaps I should look after her best interests. Like an Uncle would."
"That would be very kind. A girl can always do, with an Uncle looking after her best interests." Krystel commented. "Bartender. A round for us, and include my two friends over there."
He nodded and filled glasses for them and traded for the ones they had emptied. Tammy did find the officer a good conversationalist. Before she and Krystel left, he slipped her a card.
In the Tube, Tammy asked. "Why do I get the feeling you wanted to go to that bar on purpose and knew exactly who would be there?"
"Got his number or did you give him yours?" Krystel smiled.
Tammy rolled her eyes. "I got his, now you."
"I just like being around military. Don't you?" Krystel gave Tammy a dreamy look.
Tammy shook her head, she knew she wasn't going to get anything out her. What she found strange, was that Kerri didn't seem to want anything out of her either. She said goodnight at the Black Lion and caught the Tube back home.
Tammy stood in Heathrow the next morning, this time saying goodbye.
"Well Tammy. It's been nice meeting you." Krystel said.
Tammy nodded back. "It's been an adventure. Maybe one day I'll visit you. You can show me some American excitement."
Krystel laughed. "I doubt you'll find it that interesting. Shootings, stabbings, beatings. And that's just to claim your luggage. You want real crime, just wait until you fill up the gas tank of a rental car."
An announcement was called out.
"That's for me." Krystel said.
Tammy decided to see what Kerri would say. "Where could I write to you at?"
"P.O. Box 1142, Arlington, Virginia." Krystel replied. "Take care."
Krystel turned and went to the gate, presenting her ticket. Tammy watched as the plane finally took off twenty minutes later. Krystel retraced her route, Heathrow to Dulles then a quick ride over to Andrews to catch a hop back down to Eglin to be picked up by Pete to go back to Ram's Rock island. She was barely down the steps of the Lear that evening, when three girls swarmed her with hugs.
Krystel laughed. "Yes. I brought presents. For everybody."
In the lounge of the main hangar Lyssa gave a sad look.
"Can't even let you go for coffee Krystel." Lyssa said in a disappointed voice.
Maria looked over. "Indeed. Weren't you going over there just to give data, not solve the issue personally? I thought you were the more reserved of this insane collective"
"What gave you that idea? Hey, I can't help it if they can't handle the frap." Krystel said. "Keep up the critique and you won't get your presents."
Three girls chorused. "PLEASE!"
Krystel began handing out packages.
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