The Hooper-Adams Hotel, 16th Street, Washington, DC. 1:36 PM, Friday.
“Watch where you’re going, dammit,” snapped the woman.
Doctor Nita Parris had bumped the woman’s shoulder as she passed through the revolving door, rushing from the street into the hotel lobby.
Parris turned halfway around, raising an open palm. “Sorry.” But she wasn’t. The woman had the audacity to blame her. She was the one texting on her mobile while walking, and in a crowded room on top of that. Her teenage self would’ve cussed her out rudely, or even slapped the phone out of her hand. Not the typical behavior of a woman with a PhD in biochemistry and microbiology. She could hear her aunt being vexed and breaking out the Barbadian accent. “Why yuh gunnah stoop to she level for? You better than dat.”
Those were the days when Parris was quick-tempered and got into a lot of fights—and won them. Even some of the boys didn’t dare trouble her. She’d proven repeatedly that she could stand her ground with them, and even out-sprint them. When she’d wound up in the headmaster’s office—which had been frequently—he’d always ranted on about how bright a future she had, considering that she was one of the school’s top students. He’d pointed out that with her aptitudes she ought to be setting an example.
But that was the past. She wouldn’t stoop to the level of some self-absorbed socialite. Especially when her asset was eight floors above, fearing for his life.
Despite having spent the last five years living in the DC area, she had never been inside any of its hotels—even for an op. To anyone else in the lobby who happened to notice her, she was probably just another twenty-something black woman.
She wore a navy blue pantsuit with a cool belt that looped through silver-toned grommets, a pair of low-healed Blahniks, and a bumblebee-shaped brooch, pinned below the mandarin-style collar, on the left side. Her black, shiny hair—not too long, just enough to reach the base of her neck—was tied back in a ponytail. Observers would likely think that she was either a guest, there on business, or a lawyer meeting a client. Either one was fine by her.
Parris scanned the lobby on her way to the elevators. Aside from catching the occasional whiff of perfume or aftershave, she spotted two Wall-Street types, laughing over a beer, through the doorway of the hotel restaurant. On the opposite side, two children were chasing each other around their suitcases while their parents addressed the receptionist. She then passed an Asian family, speaking Mandarin, followed by an elderly Italian couple. She couldn’t speak the languages, but she recognized a few words.
One man stood out from the others. He was to her left, leaning sideways against the adjacent wall. His profile screamed gym-nut, wearing jeans and an unzipped windbreaker to show off his pectorals. All he appeared to care about was what was on his iPhone. Either that, or, seeing that he had a clear view of the elevators, he was keeping an eye on who went in and out.
She didn’t stare at him, or anyone else, because of the potential that any given person in the lobby could be part of a surveillance team. She spotted a decorative mirror on a support beam, a few feet away. She walked past it, turning her head toward the mirror as though she happened to spot it by chance. She stepped back to look at herself. To the casual observer, it would appear as though she was fixing her hair, but she was buying time. She straightened the brooch while she watched Gym Boy.
One mistake she’d seen from fellow agents in the past, while doing counter-surveillance training, was that once they lost a tail, they settled into their comfort zone—a position ripe with a false sense of security, never thinking there might be a second, or even third, pair of eyes on them.
Parris knew a lot about being in a non-surveillance comfort zone. While she had done her tradecraft training, she’d wound up with two stinging paint-gun blasts—one to the chest and one to the side, above her hip. Not a mistake she’d made again. After all, she was used to being a perfectionist. It’s also what got her recruited into the CIA as a weapons analyst before becoming a field agent.
Parris licked her fingertip and ran it across both eyebrows. “Dewan, you see me yet?”
“I got you.” Dewan Douglas—her newest tech support—answered through her earpiece. He would’ve hacked into the hotel’s closed-circuit television long before she arrived—playing big brother from his safe haven at Langley, Virginia. It helped, but it wasn’t perfect. There were always spots the CCTV was blind to, and a professional would’ve been smart enough to hang out in those areas to avoid being seen.
Parris brushed a strand of hair from her jacket sleeve. “Gym fanatic at seven o’clock.”
“I saw him,” Dewan replied. “He arrived there with some chick, who’s now on her way down from their suite. They’ve been guests for the past four days, so I wouldn’t worry about him.”
She trusted that Dewan would’ve used face-recognition software, to locate and identify Gym Boy through the hotel’s CCTV archives, and cross-referenced it with the hotel’s guest list.
She headed for the elevator, grabbing her cell phone from her belt, “Timothy?”
“You know who it is. I’m on my way up.”
“Are you armed? Because I know they’re going to be coming for me with some very big guns.”
He must be scared shitless. “You’re going to have to calm down and let us worry about who may be coming after you.” Parris pressed the elevator button. One of the six doors opened but it was already going down. She did a quick once-over of the three people who walked out. Nothing suspicious.
“How can you tell me to calm down?” Timothy Weyland still spoke at warp-speed. “You’re not the one they’re trying to kill.”
Parris sighed as she hit the elevator button two more times, as though that would make it arrive faster. “Stay in your room. I’m coming to get you. Got it?”
There was a brief pause on the other end. “Y-y-yeah.”
An elevator’s door opened with a ping, and Parris got in, then hit the eighth-floor button, followed by the close-doors button—hoping that they would shut before anyone else could enter. Yes, it was easier for her to say what she’d said to Weyland than it was for him to live it, but what was she supposed to tell him? All she cared about at the moment was getting him away from this hotel and handing him over to the FBI, who’d take him to one of their safe-houses.
The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. Parris checked both directions as she stepped out. “You still there?”
“I’m here,” Weyland answered.
“Good, I’m almost there.”
She headed to her right, where the hall connected with another in a T. Footsteps echoed toward her, followed by Weyland popping out from around the corner. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, a knapsack, and a Green Lantern shirt under his unzipped windbreaker.
Oh for the love of…
There were so many curse words that she wanted to shout out right now. She’d told him to stay in his room—for several good reasons. The main one being that the floor had not yet been cleared of potential hostiles.
Weyland had inadvertently made himself an easy target. He was supposed to have met her at Union Station two hours before, only to stand her up.
She’d had a team search his apartment and monitor the police bandwidths. Nothing. When Parris had called him on his cell all she got were messages telling her that the number was no longer in service—which only worried her more. Fortunately, Weyland had made contact with her, letting her know his whereabouts.
He pointed behind Parris as he approached. “Are we taking the elevator or the—”
An electrical surge shot through Parris’s nerves as she grabbed him by the front of his jacket and threw him against the wall—putting her weight behind her forearm to pin him. “Listen to me, because I won’t repeat myself. When I tell you to wait—whether it’s at Union Station or in your hotel suite—it’s not a request. You got that?”
His lower lip trembled as the blood rushed from his cheeks. Weyland rapidly nodded.
That was too easy for her tastes. Parris pushed harder against him, watching his face go paler. “Are you sure?”
He nodded with his mouth agape. “Yes, I understand. It won’t happen again. I swear.”
“Good.” She released him. “I hope you didn’t shit your drawers.” Parris checked their flanks before she looked back at Weyland, who took a deep breath and straightened his glasses.
She grabbed his arm. “Come.”
He nearly dropped his knapsack after being yanked so ruggedly. He was five feet nine, had unkempt, sand-colored hair, and weighed roughly a hundred sixty pounds when Parris first met him. But right now, he appeared to have lost ten to fifteen pounds. It was as though he hadn’t eaten well for the past several days. She wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what set off his employer’s radar. It was his employer whom she had recruited him to spy on—thus putting a hit on him.
There was a ping from the elevator and the chambermaid exited with her laundry cart. She was around the same age as Parris, standing about at five feet eight. Although her movements weren’t suspicious, Parris still had every reason to be paranoid. In situations such as this, hyper-vigilance was often a life saver. For instance, the laundry cart was the ideal place to hide a firearm with a suppressor.
The maid knocked on the first door. “Housekeeping.”
“Dewan,” whispered Parris as she kept walking. She slid her hand behind her and under her jacket to the Springfield EMP in her hip holster.
“Go ahead,” Dewan answered.
“Is there anyone registered in room ten fifteen?”
“Timothy’s the only person on that floor.”
They were less than forty yards away as the maid reached inside the laundry cart, then swung a firearm in Parris’s direction.
She drew first, sidestepped in front of Weyland, then disengaged the thumb safety, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. The bullet caught the would-be assassin in between her eye and left ear—throwing her into the wall before she slumped to the floor.
Parris turned to see Weyland ducking, with both hands covering his ears.
“You okay?” Parris asked.
The shock was all over his face as he breathed rapidly, nodding a few seconds later.
She scanned both ends of the hall. “Stay close.”
She ran to the woman, keeping her sidearm pointed toward her target. She noticed her weapon. It was an HK USP Tactical with suppressor—not a bad choice for this situation. It was both small and light.
Parris kicked it away, out of habit, even though the threat had been eliminated. She turned at the sound of running and saw her asset bolting in the opposite direction.
“Weyland,” Parris yelled, holstering her weapon and taking off after him. Being a former NCAA champion sprinter, she closed the gap quickly.
He skidded as he made his way around the corner at the T-junction, heading to the emergency stairs.
“Weyland, stop,” Parris yelled again after she rounded the corner. But he didn’t listen. Poor guy, probably never saw someone get shot before, and right in front of him too. And now he was in a state of fight or flight.
“Parris, you’ve got to stop him now,” Dewan cried out as Weyland was less than twenty yards from the emergency exit. Her heart skipped a beat when a tall, bulky man wearing a waist-length jacket exited the staircase and collided with Weyland. She saw an object fall from the man’s hand. It was a sidearm.