Circle of Life
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Ania and Porter are staking out one of Viktor Stanislav's properties when they must switch operations.

WHERE ARE WE EVEN

April 8, 2013

"Well, once you're done perving out the windows at rich Russians, I thought you might want to do a job for us."

There's far less gunplay, seduction, and high-stakes gambling in a spy's day-to-day life than most people seem to think. Gathering intelligence is usually a lengthy, arduous process. It's about putting in hours. Watching your targets. Planting bugs so you can listen to phone calls. And, when necessary, changing the batteries in bugs so you can keep listening to phone calls.

To this end, Ania and Porter are going on their third hour of watching Viktor's private garage. The bug in his Bentley has malfunctioned and needs replacing, which means they need up-to-date info on the positions and rotations of guards, angle and panning speed of cameras, and a thousand other variables that are best viewed through binoculars. They have an ideal position, at least. One of the rooms in the empty carriage house across the street has a small, triangular window that overlooks the garage. It's here that's they've posted up, and it's here that Porter groans, passes the field glasses to Ania, and rubs his eyes. "Your turn," he says. "If I squint for one more second, I think I'll go blind."

She takes them almost faster than he can pass them. She's eager for the task. The room is making her restless in her particular way; quiet, contained energy. Ania is not the best stakeout buddy; not when it comes to passing the time. She is dedicated to the art of observing. She is precise to the point of obsessive about collecting details. Her eyes upon their tasks seem to cut glass, laser walls, X-ray buildings. While she is engaged in this artform — while she is doing anything at all; breathing; existing — Ania is a terrible conversationalist. When she says, "Maybe you need contact lenses," lowly, plainly, in her distinct Ukrainian accent, it's the first thing she's said for a long stretch of time save for an acknowledgment here and there over marking down a detail. "Squinting gives you wrinkles." Her owlish eyes stare through the each specialized lens and hone in on the garage and all its seemingly mundane angles.

Now that it's getting warmer, Porter has taken to wearing the lightest clothing he can that will still effectively conceal his gun. Today that means denims, a fitted t-shirt, and a loose, buttoned shirt over it to cover his SOB holster. He has his sleeves rolled back, and wipes a dab of sweat from his brow with one doubled cuff. "I think I have enough wrinkles, thank you," he replies dryly. "I'm glad you love this so much. Take all the time you want on this turn. I'll make us a snack."

Chuckling under his breath, Porter moves toward a small table that has a cutting board, a loaf of fresh bread, cheese, and some fruit on it. After sterilizing his field knife using a dribble from a flask of whiskey, he starts slicing things up into bite-sized portions so they'll both be able to eat and observe at the same time.

There is zero response from Ania, but if she follows trend, she'll soon be eating Porter's snacks with the ravenousness of a wild dog without taking her eyes off the window or giving any particular thanks. While one of her hands keeps the field glasses perfectly situated, the other is flat against the side of her left leg, running odd patterns like she's drawing or clawing her way through the black fabric. Perhaps the task of watching the garage is not so quick to ease her restlessness after all.

Across the street a car passes by. It's a sleek black town car, nondescript and with a limousine license plate. It's going slowly, as if checking each address for the right one. In the passenger side back window - the one facing the carriage house - is a piece of paper tacked to window. It looks like the last name of the desired passenger and then the name of the cab company with a phone number underneath it. The passenger's last name? Kirilov. The Car Company? Porter's limos. The number has been written in easy to read block letters. The car keeps going down the block at its glacial pace before stopping and waiting outside a house around the corner. After a few minutes a man with a briefcase gets into the limo and it drives away.

Meanwhile, Porter continues his slicing and dicing. He pauses when he encounters a slab of bleu cheese. Blue cheese?

"Ania. Is this cheese supposed to be blue?" He sniffs it experimentally, then wrinkles his nose. "Nevermind. That definitely doesn't smell like food."

"Put down knife, take number." Ania leans closer to the window; she doesn't need to — she can see fine. Her energy shifts. "There is a limousine outside, Porter's limos." She recites the number precisely. "Who knows you're here?" It's this question that shoots a glance over her shoulder before she returns sharply to the all-important window. "What is the name Kirilov to you?"

"It's one of my cover IDs. An old one." Porter blinks, shakes his head, and thumbs the number directly into his phone rather than scramble for pen and paper. His thumb hovers over the SEND button. "Whoever that is, they must know me pretty well. What do you think? Shall we see what they have to say? They already know where we are. If they wanted us dead, we probably would be."

At first, Ania's only response is the faint twitch of her jaw and the deepening of the slim crease by the corner of her mouth, the tinge of dislike. "It's your ID." His contact. His call. His problem … but his problems are hers now, aren't they. She casts the quickest of looks aside, hopping from Porter's phone to his face, expectant. Get on with it.

"Have I ever told you how much I value your sparkling conversational skills?" Porter quips. He thumbs the button, sets the phone to speaks, and puts it on the table while it rings.

After only a few rings, someone picks up. "My dear boy." It's a very posh British accent of a man. It sounds almost like John Cleese, but most likely isn't. Unless he's very high up in British Intelligence and the Monty Python thing was just a cover. "I do hope I didn't alarm you. Old names and such. I don't think you've used Kirilov since the Ukraine, but wasn't sure what you've been using nowadays. God I was young, then. Still had hair. Fairfax told me your general area. Been sending that car 'round for ages. Haven't had the pleasure of meeting your new protege - is that the proper term for her? Do tell her Hollingberry says hullo."

"Jesus, Holly." Initially a bit tense, Porter relaxes once he realizes who's on the other end of the horn. He leans forward, placing his hands on the table and letting out a snort of laughter. "Good to hear a friendly voice. My 'protege' isn't really a talker. She's more of a team member, anyway. So. As much as I love talking about that one time in Kiev when we almost got shot by those hookers, I doubt you went to all this trouble so we could shoot the shit. What's on your mind?"

"Well, once you're done perving out the windows at rich Russians, I thought you might want to do a job for us." There's some rustling as Hollingberry goes through files and the phone switches ears. "Got ourselves a bit of a pickle and I remembered you always had a thing for those. Your young lady, Miss Evanko. Is she clearance protected?"

Ania, true to Porter's description, says nothing, refuting none of his claims; the voicing of her name, however — at least, one of her names, its truth questionable as all in her line of work — produces something of a faint snarl in the base of her throat.

"I'll vouch for her. She's trying to go off the grid. If you'd agree to have her record wiped from your database, I think I could talk her into helping." Porter pauses and glances over at Ania, one eye cocked questioningly. "What do you say?" he asks them both.

"My database, darling boy, is a blank slate. I only know of Miss Evanko's pseudonym through other channels. When one is in the business of intelligence, one doesn't like to call people by simply 'you there.'" Hollingberry's smile practically transmits itself through the phone. "This one would, indeed, be a favor for old time's sake. So, of course, if your price is to have what we have of her wiped from our records that is most certainly on the table. Wouldn't be the first time we cleared dubious personages of their dubious pasts for our own gain."

Honing in on the tiniest movement on the street delays Ania's response for but a second. She has one simple question that she deems important; not dissimilar to the question that got her here in the first place, another mysterious phone call ago. "The job?" What is it; her straightforward voice demands at least a clue. Solid payment; vague task ahead. It sets the organized young woman's teeth on edge. "I don't have your— memory lane to walk down."

"I'll do it. I owe you one, and I need to get out of this shithole, anyway. But yeah, what's the job?" It's a reasonable question for Porter to ask. In this line of work one can be tasked to do just about anything.

"Of course, of course. She's quite right." Hollingberry switches the phone again. "It's an extraction. I'll send you coordinates and details on a more secure backchannel. This is one of those things that's been gnawing at us for awhile. And, well, we'd like it to not be done by someone in our own backyard." If they mess up, well, the Americans messed up. "Also, time is of the essence. If you're amenable, there's a package waiting for you at Porter's limos. I'm sure you remember the old passkey, just slip it into conversation and we'll make sure you have a very comfortable ride to your next location."

The thin, abrupt sigh that sounds from the window to Porter's ears, too faint for the phone, isn't a gung-ho agreement from his 'team member'. It's not a negative, either. A second later, it transforms without warning into an out-of-place, wild little chuckle — ha, ha! Oh, something is funny, Ania's humour dredged up from some sideways place, and then gone; then, her silence.

"Understood. I'll use a new phone to contact you after we review the intel. And Holly? Good talking with you. Porter out."

Once the call is cut off, the American spy shoots Ania a sideways look. "You're crazy, you know that, right? Here. Give me the glasses and have some fruit. We might as well eat before we pack up."

"I was only thinking," Ania explains far more casually than her fit of amusement, handing Porter the glasses succinctly. "The last time I got a phone call like that— " She picks her way through the room to pluck a piece of fruit up, put it down, and choose another. "I wound up extracting you. Before that, you extracted me. We are evolving. What next."

Porter skewers a piece of apple and some cheese on the point of his knife. "We extract some British agent, I imagine," he says as he chews and swallows the apple. "You get a fresh start as far as Her Majesty's Service is concerned. I'll probably get to blow something up. The circle of life continues."

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