SMS watched Cyber drive off in Brenda Bailey’s old van. For the first time in years, he felt the sensation of being alone in enemy territory. He’d been working to get close to Innis for so long that he’d internalized the pressures and stresses, but now that he had found an ally all of the anxiety was coming back to him. He was no longer the only one responsible for keeping his intentions secret, for keeping himself alive. Could he really trust Cyber with this?
No choice, now. For better or for worse, he and Cyber were in this together. There would be time later to figure out exactly what that meant, and what it was going to look like. For today, SMS had to worry about the task in front of him. If the afternoon was anything like the morning, staying alive was going to be a big part of that. Especially with Brenda Bailey around.
Oh, Brenda. One of Innis’s more recent recruits. Innis had a pretty thick file on her, but SMS had only seen parts of it. She’d been living in a trailer at the western edge of Esquimalt for a few years, ever since the court martial. She paid her bills with an allowance from an estranged rich uncle and spent hours every day at a shooting range. SMS figured she probably laid around crushing beer cans on her forehead the rest of the time.
Most importantly, to Innis, Bailey’s body produced unnaturally high levels of steroids and growth hormones that allowed her to punch a hole through a brick wall and heal small wounds at an accelerated rate. These qualities had made her very attractive to the military, but what they hadn’t liked were the aggression-inducing pheromones she produced. People around Brenda simply got angry and did things they wouldn’t normally dream of doing, especially in moments of heightened emotion. SMS had heard a rumour that her court martial had involved the mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, but he’d never found out for sure.
Why had Innis sent Bailey to take Cyber’s place on this job? Sure, she knew her way around a gun and would be handy in a fight, if it came to that again, but she was just as likely to get them into trouble as she was to get them out of it. Maybe that was what Innis wanted. Maybe Innis was starting to suspect what SMS had been up to all these years and was hoping he’d get killed off today. That was a chilling thought.
All SMS could do, though, was play the cards he’d been dealt. “So, let’s go,” he said, gesturing to Pavelec’s car.
“Mind if I take the front seat?” said Brenda.
“Well, I… Yeah, sure,” said SMS. No need to start things off by cramming Brenda into the back seat and putting her in a bad mood. He stepped around to the driver-side rear seat. Pavelec was almost a foot shorter than Bailey; he’d get a few inches more leg room on this side.
Pavelec turned to her new passenger. “Do you know Esquimalt well?”
“Who are you?” said Brenda.
“This is Mia Pavelec,” said SMS. “We’re working for her today.”
Brenda looked Pavelec up and down. “Uh huh. Fine.”
Pavelec’s eyes flashed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’d better not make any stupid calls today, or I’m gonna walk right out on you.”
Pavelec leaned towards her passenger. “You’ve been assigned to me by your boss, and that means I’m in charge, so—”
“Whoa,” said SMS. “Let’s calm down, here. Pavelec, just let it go.”
“I’m not used to dealing with this kind of disrespect.”
“It’s just part of what she does,” said SMS. “Everyone around her gets a little, uh, disagreeable. She can’t help it.”
Brenda spun in her seat. “Don’t make me sound like some kind of victim,” she snarled.
SMS felt his blood starting to boil, but he’d been expecting it and choked down his anger. “That’s not what I meant. You know the effect your pheromones have on people, Brenda. We don’t need that today.”
Pavelec had settled down a bit and was looking at Brenda in curiosity. “Hmm,” she said after a minute. “Interesting. So, back to the first question. How well do you know Esquimalt?”
“Lived here for over three years,” said Brenda.
“Can you guide us to this address?” Pavelec produced the scrap of paper Rufus had scribbled the address on.
“Sure. It’s only five minutes away. Take a right out of the parking lot.”
“Great.” Pavelec started the car up, put it in gear, and pointed it in the direction Bailey had indicated. While she drove she gave Bailey a brief rundown of their encounter with the soldiers at the Hole and the information that Jovo had given them about the gangster who had found Walter Carton’s body.
Soon they found themselves on a residential street lined with houses built in the 60s and 70s, standing in various states of disrepair. “Not the ritziest neighbourhood,” observed SMS. Seeing the body of a car sitting on cinder blocks in someone’s front yard, with a spatter of bullet holes in the open hood, he added, “At least our shot-up car doesn’t look so out of place, though.”
“High crime rates around here?” asked Pavelec.
“Why?” said Brenda. “You want in on something?”
Oh, right, thought SMS. Innis probably didn’t tell her she’d be working with a cop today.
“Not today, thanks,” said Pavelec dryly.
“Your loss. Okay, take a right here,” said Bailey. “Should be a couple of houses down.”
Just as they turned the corner they saw a black SUV squeal into a driveway. Four masked figures wearing urban camo gear and holding assault rifles piled out and stormed towards the front door.
“Huh,” said Pavelec. “Looks like our friends beat us here.”