Skin in the Game : By Melissa Price

PROLOGUE

2003

Kenna Waverly shivered when the Russian poked her bare back with the cold barrel of his Walther 9 mm. She stumbled on her high heels when he shoved her forward—her head still woozy from his chloroform cologne.

“Get up on the stage now—both of you,” he said.

“You don’t want to do this, Ivan,” the other woman began, “they’re going to come looking for us.”

Ivan waved the Walther between them. “You’ll be gone by then. I take no prisoners.”

Kenna glared at him. “And here I thought we had nothing in common.”

She and Elana stepped up onto the stage in the abandoned strip club.

Ivan tossed two pairs of handcuffs at their feet. “Cuff yourself to the pole.”

“No,” Elana protested. “Why should I?”

“Because I can make death quick and painless, or I can make it feel like dying a hundred times. Your choice.”

Kenna put one cuff on her left wrist and slapped the other end around the pole. She looked at Elana and flexed her right eyebrow. “Do it, Elana.”

Elana stared into Kenna’s eyes and then locked herself to the stripper pole, the handcuff scraping against the metal.

The women stared into each other’s eyes, grabbed the pole with both hands and Elana followed Kenna’s lead as they performed a slow and sultry spin around it.

“Yes,” Ivan said. “Now you dance only for me. I am the last person who will ever see you dance.” He stood at the edge of the stage and lowered the pistol while he watched them spin sensually in tandem. They stopped.

“Can’t dance without music, Ivan,” Kenna said.

Ivan lumbered off the stage, trudged to the boom box on the dusty bar and turned it on.

“Pole Melt?” Kenna whispered.

Elana nodded.

“Dance!” Ivan shouted.

“Well, turn up the volume!” Elana said.

Kenna grunted. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What?” said Elana. “‘She’s Outta Control’ by Steel Eyes is perfect for a Pole Melt.”

They gripped the pole. “Top or bottom?” Elana whispered.

Kenna hid her smile. “Seriously? Top.”

“Dance,” Ivan yelled again over the loud music.

Kenna whispered, “Don’t move until he’s close.”

“I said dance!” Ivan stomped back to the stage, his face now crimson with anger when the women still hadn’t moved.

“Wait for it,” Kenna said under her breath.

Ivan jumped up onto the stage and nudged Kenna again with his gun. She stared at him playfully, seductively, as she and Elana began to rotate around the pole in their skimpy two-piece fringe stripper costumes.

Ivan stood there smiling.

They performed two full rotations and stopped.

“Ivan, I can’t hook my elbow to the pole with this handcuff on,” Kenna said. “If you want us to do your favorite routine…”

He unlocked the handcuff and Kenna climbed to the top position on the pole, hooked her elbow around it and extended her legs straight out in front of her.

Elana began her Spinning Straddle, holding the pole with both hands. Below Kenna, she spun around it with her legs spread apart. Picking up momentum with each rotation, she pushed Kenna’s foot sending her into a spin where she turned upside down. In one perfectly timed simultaneous strike, Elana kicked the Walther from Ivan’s hand with her stilettos, and Kenna’s calves locked him in a choke hold. Ivan struggled, but not for long before he collapsed on the stage.

Kenna straddled his body and stared down at the Russian. “You’re right, El, that is the perfect song for this.” Then she thought, though I never would have guessed when I wrote it.

Kenna searched his pockets and tossed Elana the handcuff key while she fished out the keys to Ivan’s SUV—the vehicle he had used to kidnap them.

“Is it me or is it damn cold in here?” Kenna said as she slid across the stage toward the Walther.

Elana cuffed Ivan’s wrists behind his back. “Not according to the Steel Eyes song. We’re so outta control that we’re hot.”

“Maybe that’s not what the lyric really means,” Kenna said a little defensively, her register almost a full octave above her natural voice.

They both whipped around toward the clatter coming from outside.

“What was that?” said Elana.

Kenna kicked off her heels, chambered the Walther and slapped Ivan awake. “On your feet!” she commanded him.

“It’s coming from the front,” said Elana.

“Go out the back and get that SUV. I’ll use Ivan to hold them off and then meet you at the door.”

“No—” Elana began.

“Dammit, El. Go! Now.”

CHAPTER ONE

Three weeks earlier

Sunset at Quarter Moon Resort in Montego Bay was always the end to a perfect day, because any day spent at Quarter Moon was inevitably perfect. Kenna sat quietly beside her old friend Myron—My-RON, as he pronounced it. She dug her toes down into the cool, end-of-day sand, then brushed dried Caribbean salt off her sun-drenched skin.

Painfully quiet at times, Myron only spoke when he had something to say, and even then it had to be important to him.

Dark-night, ya know?” he said with a Jamaican accent as thick as his body was thin.

Kenna nodded. “The waxing crescent will be back tomorrow. I miss the moon during dark-night. No glimmer off the waves.”

Myron spoke with clipped words that were never kind to the American ear. “A few more minutes and I will be hard for you to see.” And even when he joked, his face remained smile-free.

She grinned at the reference to their first meeting, when Myron’s title wasYoung Beach Man; when the hair on his head was black instead of snow white. Kenna had long admired his economy of expression, and his keen, mostly silent observations. Tall like a spindly tree, his skin blacker than anyone she had ever seen, a very serious young Myron gave eleven-year-old Kenna her first sailing lesson. Menacingly silent apart from the instructions he spoke, his dark and serious mood had unnerved her. He would observe her, saying little, and even then she could barely understand him.

Offshore enough that everything on land had appeared dollhouse-size, they’d gotten caught—been engulfed—in a squall that swirled up around them without warning. The two-man sunfish they were sailing would have repeatedly capsized in the whitecaps and erratic wind were it not for the sea-savvy Myron.

Frightened by the ominous cloud that had swallowed the sun, young Kenna hoped Myron knew what he was doing. But it seemed to her they were still heading out to sea and she said so. Myron glared at her, seemingly unfazed by the waves, or the wind, or the rain—or her. He fixed his obsidian stare, his expression cold. “Do you want to go to Cuba, little white girl?”

“Myron, take me back to shore!” she answered.

Myron laughed so hard that Kenna could see the spaces where teeth were missing in the back of his mouth. That moment sealed the deal on a lifelong friendship. The Cuba remark had been their private joke ever since. But Myron was much older now. They both were.

They’d never been closer than the past few years, since her rock star alter ego, Steel Eyes, had gone underground. The assassination attempt on her at the height of her fame wasn’t part of her life plan, but then, in her experience, life had a crude way of doing whatever the hell it wanted to anyway. She had swum, windsurfed and stared out to sea for longer than she thought possible. At times longing to get it all back, she continually tried to bargain with the universe—tried to make peace in every breath that the music was gone—just up and gone.

Not unlike her parents’ fate, an assassin had come after her too—with one exceptional distinction. She was still alive. Kenna questioned if at this point it wasn’t sheer fantasy, to think she’d ever find the people who had killed her family—and changed her forever. Then she wondered if revenge and vengeance were the same things, because if they weren’t, she wanted to double down on both.

Myron flicked his hand in the direction of their windsurf boards. “You’ve become a good sailor, you know the good wind now.”

“Thanks to you.”

He reached into the pocket of his sand-coated beach shorts, took out a tiny bag and held it in his closed hand. “Miss Lola gave me dis fayou. The lady come and give it to her like you said.” He slipped her the velvet pull-string sack. “Miss Lola said to thank you for the money to fix her house after the storm. And for dat she’s going to find you the sweetest sugar pine ever grown on the island.”

Still gazing out to sea, Kenna nodded. “Now there’s an offer I can never refuse, Myron. No one knows how to pick a sugar pine like Miss Lola.” She glanced at him and gave him a wink. “Don’t tell her I did it for the sugar pine.”

Myron laughed. “You’re a good friend.”

“You are too, Myron. Thank you for doing this.” She slid the sack into her pocket. “I wouldn’t have asked you unless it was important.”

“Ya know, everytinggonna be okay as long as you nuh fall out of da tree.”

“Meaning?”

“When you live in da tree, life is good…life is beautifulup in da tree…as long as you don’t fall from da tree.” He reached out with his long arm and patted her shoulder. “You have a dangerous jobDon’t fall from da tree.”

“I know.”

Myron gazed up at the palm canopy under which they sat. Slowly, he lowered his eyes until they met hers. “I remember your parents—you, as a girl. They raised you to live in da tree. You stay in da tree, my friend.”

She stood, hooked her sandals between her fingers and looked down at him. “You know what to do if it all goes bad.”

“Yea, mon. I nuhfall from da tree!”

“Exactly.” Kenna shook his hand and left toward the eastern gate where she had parked her Jeep. She was in no rush to pass the prehistorically large foliage and bright flowers, nor the ackee tree that had survived every tropical storm and hurricane for as long as she could remember. Its hand-painted sign still warned guests to nevereat an ackee until it had opened naturally.

Poison never looked so artful to her as an ackee. The pear-shaped fruit in all their colorful stages, turning from green to bright red, then to yellow-orange before naturally splitting open to reveal the creamy flesh. It seemed to her that ackee was the erotica of the plant world—both dangerous andbeautiful. Her favorite combination.

Farther down she stopped and looked hard in every direction. Certain she was alone on the path, she reached up and snatched a ripe naseberry from its branch. From the shadows, Nathan, the young security guard appeared.

“You picked a good one tonight, Miss Kenna.”

“Nathan, how do you do that! I was sure I was alone this time.”

“Ya can’t get anytingby me, miss.” He smiled. “Have a good evening.”

She bit into the sweet fruit and waved as she passed him. The ritual of roaming this property flowed deep through her, slow and sweet like the viscous naseberry nectar on her lips. More than Quarter Moon’s inherent and manicured beauty, her bittersweet memories tied her to this place. Indelible flashbacks of her childhood were splashed on Quarter Moon’s canvas in fuchsia, yellow, turquoise and every imaginable state of green. The imprint of the way life once was before she was orphaned lived on in this place. Here, her parents were still alive instead of cheaply stolen by an assassin.

The path ahead of her grew darker. The sun had finally set.

CHAPTER TWO

Six months earlier

Ivan Mikhailov made it under the radar into the United States by the pure luck of timing. Russian criminals were neither the thugs du jour, nor the commie spies of the Cold War that they once were. Although well beyond September 11, 2001, yet still in its emotional wake, the Eurasian Mafia became small potatoes to national security; more accurately, teeny tiny potatoes.

Titles like RussianMafiawere almost irrelevant compared to words like ‘al Qaeda’ and ‘terrorist.’ The Soviet Union’s collapse more than a decade earlier and the mess that was now Moscow, had rendered Ivan and his organization useless in the eyes of the Americans.

Ivan cleared customs at JFK airport and grabbed a cab to the Russian enclave called Little Odessa, after the port city on the Black Sea. There, he would report to his only superior, and his oldest friend, the infamous Vladimir Sergeyev—the badass of Brighton Beach.

At last—America, Ivan thought as he lit a Sobranie cigarette and stared out the window catching his first glimpse of the United States. He liked smoking Sobranies because he thought they made him appear sophisticated. It distinguished him from the street thugs back home. They smoked the old-school Russian papirosi-style cigarettes like Belomorkanal, with the cardboard tube filters. A modern man like him smoked modern cigarettes, with westernfilters.

“No smoking in the taxi, buddy,” the cabbie said.

Ivan sneered. “I pay you extra.”

“There’s no smoking in the taxi,” the cabbie repeated.

Ivan glared at him in the rearview mirror, then crushed the cigarette outside his window and put the unsmoked portion in his jacket pocket. He stared out at Jamaica Bay as they sped along the Belt Parkway, wondering what this new land of opportunity would bring to an old man such as himself.

He smiled. Leopard is back!

His code name in the old days, the KGB had summoned the leopard to do their dirtiest work. It was finally Ivan’s moment to become Leopard once again. No longer was he doomed to inhabit the leftover communist tenement apartment. Never again would he suffer such disrespect by the swarm of young gangsters who had flourished in the wake of the Soviet demise.

He had been promoted—the number two man in America! America, where he would finally show them all what he was made of. As the taxi drove through the streets, Ivan read the business signs in his native Cyrillic alphabet. Cafés with names like “Moscow” and “Taste of Russia,” were populated with round-faced Russian women and bulky men. He laughed when he read the sign that said, “All dogs must be leashed on the boardwalk.” To him, the name dogwas reserved for the people he’d interrogated.

The taxi turned off Brighton Beach Avenue just short of the Atlantic Ocean. “This is it,” the driver said when he pulled into the tony three-building complex.

Ivan looked up to take in the height of the structures. As big as the communist apartment blocks, but much nicer!The sign read, Welcome to Atlanticaand it advertised “Luxury Amenities.” Whatever thosewere, if it was a good thing, he was certain that Vladimir Sergeyev had plenty of them. When he was satisfied that he had seen as much as he could see from the car, he placed the cab fare into the cup in the plastic divider that separated him from the driver.

“Keep the change,” he said, parroting his Muscovite superiors. They had reminded him, “Don’t do anything to make yourself stand out, Ivan.” He did as he’d been instructed. Ivan had been good—he hadn’t bashed the driver’s head in for making him extinguish his cigarette, even though he wanted to. He carried his heavy suitcase inside the middle building and rolled it into the elevator, following the directions he’d been given.

“Ivan Mikhailov! Come in, come in,” said the brick of a man who answered the door to the penthouse.“Kak dela?”

“Vladimir Sergeyev! I am well, thank you.”

“Welcome to Atlantica, Ivan, where two million dollars buys you a million-dollar view.”

They hugged like brothers; still two ambitious boys from the wrong side of the tracks, who had made good thanks to prostitution, money laundering and some new enterprise that had caused Vladimir to send for Ivan.

“Vova, it’s so good to see you,” Ivan said just before each man tossed back a shot of Stolichnaya vodka—not like the cheap stuff they had grown up on. This was the high-class crap. They sat on the plush sofa in Vladimir’s lavish parlor with the gold-leaf furniture and high-back upholstered chairs. The very objects that Vladimir had scorned as a boy, now decorated his million-dollar view.

They reminisced while they drank, reliving their glory days. All the money that Ivan had made in that corrupt cesspool was gone. It was time for new endeavors, in a new land, with more money. And not rubles either, but dollars. Green American dollars.

“You know, Ivan, you are the only one who still calls me Vova. Not even my wife calls me that anymore. And to everyone else I’m Sir.” He laughed. “It makes me feel young again to see you.”

“I can’t help it. We’ll always be the boys from Vladivostok. Where is your wife?”

“She’s in Los Angeles. That’s where we live most of the time. I only flew to New York for the weekend to meet you.”

Ivan’s eyes opened wide. “You only live here sometimes?” Ivan stood and took in the breadth of his surroundings.

“Wait until you see our places in LA. Bring your drink out to the terrace.”

Ivan followed his friend outside, and when he looked out at the ocean view, he took stock of the property he was on. Below him sat three swimming pools, two Jacuzzis and signs for a spa entrance. “What luxury, Vova,” he sighed. “The ocean is so close I could fire only a handgun and still hit it.”

“You can have this too, old friend.”

“It’s a far cry from the Moscow tenement. So, how is your daughter? Last I saw her she was getting ready to graduate from university.”

Vladimir smiled proudly. “After university, she got a big job and then got married.” He paused and stared into Ivan’s eyes.

“She was always a smart girl. And beautiful too—like her mother, of course.”

Vladimir laughed. “Yes, thank God she takes after her mother in that regard.” He led Ivan back into the living room. “Have a seat.”

“So tell me, Vova, what is it you need me to do?”

“I need someone I can trust, Ivan. I need you to run the strip clubs while I undertake something new, something important.”

Ivan smiled. “Strip clubs?”

“Yes, I want you in charge of the money and the women in Los Angeles. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with the money. The girls I can replace.”

“What is this new endeavor, Vova?”

“I can’t tell you yet. I cannot tell anyone. But I promise you that if it works out, you will have great power and more money than you’ve ever hoped for. The kind of money we used to dream about as boys. You have always been my loyal friend, Ivan, and I want you to be my partner. If you’re tempted to accept, we leave for LA in the morning.”

“But, Vova, what about the men you already have? How will they take this news?”

Vladimir chuckled. “Don’t worry, Ivan. Compared to you, they’re like playing chess with a woman.”

“Then we shall agree to this as two menwould do!”

Ivan leaned forward and poured two more shots of vodka from the bottle on the coffee table into their glasses, then handed one to his friend. His sinister smile was still almost boyish, mischievous. He raised his glass. “To great power and more money, Vova. Na Zdorovie!

Na Zdorovie, Ivan.

CHAPTER THREE

Kenna rinsed the sticky nectar from her fingers in a Quarter Moon fountain while savoring her last bite of the naseberry. Now, the only place left for her to go was home.

“Good evening, Miss Kenna,” said a maid who meandered toward the exit in no apparent hurry to catch her bus.

“You have a good evening, Miss Myrtle.”

An American didn’t exist who could naturally walk as slowly as a Jamaican—it had taken Kenna years to master the pace. A breath, a thought, a vision—a lack of vision—they all figured prominently into how slowly one should walk, how acutely one should notice every lizard, stray crab or belching bullfrog. She’d learned long ago that in Jamaica, the concept of time was negotiable.

She often wondered if moving that slowly made people live longer, or simply made it seem that way. Regardless, when Steel Eyes had gone underground in Jamaica at the height of her fame, that pace had felt like slamming into a wall doing 150 miles per hour.

But now, after her long and challenging ride out to sea, with Myron’s sailboard upwind of hers, Kenna meandered marginally faster than Miss Myrtle. No manner of thought plagued her from her past when she was surfing the faces of waves; steering the board with her feet, tilting the sail to stay in the good windas Myron called it. That’s what wind and water were for—to wash away everything but her present moment. No matter how pressing a thought was, to not exist completely in the moment was dangerous offshore, when all that existed between a girl, the forces of nature, and the predators below, was a Popsicle stick and a tall sail.

Kenna got into the Jeep and checked the velvet bag that Myron had given her to ensure the lead-lined waterproof container inside was intact. She stuffed it down into her pocket, then cranked up the engine and headed up the road to her villa.

While eating dinner, she couldn’t help but wonder what was on the thumb drive Myron had passed to her. Her handler, the man she had called Uncle her whole life, possessed the encryption codes, and she would find out once aboard his yacht. Listening to a set of waves roll onto shore in front of her veranda, she wished on an early star that Mel, Rich and JJ—the Steel Eyes Band, would come for another visit. Even though Kenna Waverly was no longer the world’s anonymous rock guitar legend Steel Eyes, she still missed the band. More than that, she missed her best friends.

Her longtime bodyguard Jean Claude entered the dining room holding the phone, the long black cord trailing behind him. He pointed the receiver at her. “Bonsoir, Boss, it’s Hunter.”

The former Steel Eyes band manager, Hunter van Bourgeade was the handsome man she called her brother—and her espionage partner.

Kenna abandoned her food and took the phone into the other room. “You’re early, Hunt. Everything okay?”

“Hi, Wave,” he said. “I wanted to ask how you made out today and to remind you to stay healthy.”

She knew what he meant. Stay healthy was their euphemism for don’t get dead.

“I saw my beach friend today, and the ocean was clear and calm. I brought home fresh fish.”

Hunt would understand that meant she’d retrieved the thumb drive. He remained silent until she finished the code.

“Then I picked a naseberry from a tree at Quarter Moon.”

“Huh?” Hunt paused. “A naseberry? What the hell does that mean?”

Kenna laughed. “It means exactly that. I picked a naseberry off a tree and ate it.”

“You’ve been down there too long. You’re starting to make as much sense to me as a Jamaican.”

“Really, Hunt? You know, sometimes a naseberry is just a naseberry.”

Hunt chuckled. “So are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Jean Claude will get you there and I’ll see you soon.”

“I’ve been leaving messages for Maman but she hasn’t called me back.”

“You’ll see my mom tonight,” said Hunt.

“I didn’t know Phyllis would be aboard.”

“I should probably prepare you. She’s going to hit you up to come back to LA and move into the family estate.”

“Thanks for the warning, but I could afford a mansion if I wanted one.”

“I don’t think that’s the point, but having you around her is great for me. When she focuses on you, she stops asking me when I’m going to give her grandchildren.”

Kenna laughed. “It’s part of her DNA. I don’t know of a Jewish mother who doesn’t want an answer to that question.”

“I even told her I was dating someone.”

“Is it true?”

Hunt hesitated. “Yes. I met a nice woman last month. I probably should have already asked her if she plans to have my children.”

“Now that’s just creepy.”

“Exactly! You want to explain that to Mom?”

“I’ll see what I can do. And Hunt, stay healthy.”

After Kenna finished her dinner, she did a final walk-through and stood in the grand foyer.

“It’s time to go, Boss,” Jean Claude said from the doorway.

She shifted her gaze to his in the mirror before her. “Do I still have what it takes to do something this big, Jean Claude? I mean, I couldn’t even steal a naseberry at Quarter Moon without getting busted by a security guard.”

“I think if you don’t have what it takes then the whole world is in trouble,” he replied with his French accent. “If it helps to know, I believe in you.” He nodded. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Good-bye for now, Jamaica,” she said under her breath. She walked to the mahogany French doors of the beachfront villa and paused, knowing that nothing, especially not her safe return, was ever guaranteed. She flicked off the light switch and followed Jean Claude to the dinghy that would usher her out to his sailboat. He would then motor to the offshore rendezvous. The time had arrived, the time was now, and they were waiting for her out on Uncle’s yacht—the Allons-y.

Jean Claude started the engine and the veil of dark-nightcloaked their passage.

CHAPTER FOUR

Elana West entered the retro city diner with the worn Naugahyde booths, and walked to the farthest one. She sat opposite the brunette in the suit. “Deputy Director,” she said.

“Thanks for getting here so fast,” said FBI Special Cases Deputy, “Sonny” Sonnenheim. She signaled the waitress before she began.

Elana ordered a cup of coffee and unzipped her hoodie. “It sounded important.”

“I’ll get right to it.” Sonnenheim opened the manila envelope on the table and slid a photo in front of Elana. “Do you know this man?”

Elana didn’t have to think about it. “Nope. Who is he?”

Sonnenheim paused until the waitress served the coffee and left. “His name was Jiang Lee.”

“Was?”

“I’ll get to that. Have you ever heard of a company called Physio Dynamics?”

“Sure, the silicon chipmaker.”

“More accurately, a government contractor who, as it happens, made the chips that wound up in our computer system upgrade.”

“What is the FBI investigating?”

“Jiang Lee worked for Physio Dynamics as a Project Manager. His body turned up in a dump with all the signs of a professional hit, including either a lack of, or contamination of the evidence.” Sonnenheim swept their surroundings with a glance before she continued. “This is the point where I need to know if you’re in or not before I go any further.”

“Hell yes, I’m in.” Elana took a sip of coffee.

Sonnenheim breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. My pool of off-book agents I trust is almost nil at this point.” She leaned forward and continued in a hushed voice. “Shortly before Lee was discovered, our new computer system exhibited some glitches that we think could trace back to the chips made by Physio Dynamics. The bad news is that the FBI computer system didn’t alert us to a major breach.”

“More iced tea, hon?” said the waitress with a pitcher hovering over Sonny’s glass.

“No thanks.” Again they waited for the waitress to leave.

“We were hacked. So were NSA and CIA, but to a lesser extent since we caught it.”

Elana’s eyes darted to a man passing by. “Shit,” she whispered. “What was the breach?”

“Identities, personnel files, from Social Security numbers to psych profiles, to what those folks eat for breakfast. Code names, stations of covert operatives, and on and on. It’s why we really need you. There’s no file on you.”

Elana’s shocked expression ended with a passive nod.

“Exactly, Elana. While we try to shut this thing down, there’s something I need you to do.”

“Name it.”

“Do what you do best. Investigate.”

“Investigate what?”

“Sabotage. Jiang Lee was involved with our government contracts, and if that had anything to do with why he’s dead, we could already be more compromised than we guessed. He had security clearance for his projects, but Physio Dynamics is a Chinese company. If our American operatives were to be outed, every agency would be devastated. You’ll be coordinating with another off-book consultant on this. Someone you already know.”

“Who?”

“Sierra Stone. You know her pretty well? I mean…still?”

Elana smiled. “You know how well Sierra and I knew each other. She recruited me for you.”

“She didn’t just recruit you—you worked at the same club.”

“I haven’t seen her since we busted the sex trafficking ring a few years ago, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“No, I’m asking if there are going to be any issues working with her. This is a matter of national security.”

“No, Sonny, no issues.”

“Sierra won’t be happy about me interrupting her weekend in New Orleans to send her to Montana. I’m ordering her to pick up a thumb drive from a Canadian asset. That thumb drive contains the list of operatives who may have already been compromised. The Canadians made a deal to secure it for us. You’ll meet with Sierra after she delivers the package to DC—probably in a few days. I’ll let you know when and where.”

“Why is the FBI wasting a valuable cyber asset like Sierra Stone by making her an errand girl?”

“We have our own cyber team working on the hack. Sierra’s only a consultant. An erratic consultant.”

“But how many of your people have lived on the dark web? Sierra eats code for breakfast—and late night snacks.”

“It isn’t worth the risk.”

“You’re at greater risk without her.”

Sonnenheim slid the manila envelope in front of Elana. “From this moment on, everything that can be, is done on the ground, in real life. No emails, no phone calls unless it’s made using the phone in here to another secure phone. Sonny glanced down at the envelope. “To activate the phone, dial three stars, two pound signs, spell out ‘sonnenheim’ and press the star button three more times. I’m programmed in as Pizza Place. Homeland Secretary Zwarnick is programmed in as Chinese Food. Watch your every move, Elana.”

Elana nodded.

Deputy Director Sonnenheim threw some cash on the table, and as she slid out of the booth she added, “Keep that phone with you at alltimes.”

“Even during sex?”

“You won’t have the time, even if you weren’t kidding.” Sonnenheim stood to leave. “Good luck. I’ll be in touch.”

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