(Mercenary) Oz: Still Got It

It must have been a good fifteen minutes or better. Just sitting in the front seat of her rented Ford Taurus and staring out the window, lost in thoughts of nothing in particular. This had been happening quite a bit lately. “More frequently than is probably healthy”, she thought to herself as reality came calling. These days it was tough to stay focused; on track. Once upon a time the job itself was enough to keep her flying. Adrenaline coursed through her veins like fuel for life. Her heart would race. There was an excitement to it all, an excitement that has slowly but surely dissipated over the last few years. Now it was simply a job. A means to and ends. A living.

The set-up had gone smoothly enough. Bypass had delivered as promised and she had all the requisite materials before hopping on the early morning flight to Denver. Sondra generally hated flying, for multiple reasons, but this particular flight was tolerable, even with the nosy guy sitting next to her. Thankfully he proved himself to be enough of a dimwit during the opening stanzas of their conversation that she was able to load up on the doublespeak and turn him off in a hurry. She really did have work to do and couldn’t afford to waste any time with some simpleton salesman with a fear of silence. Having the prison files handy actually turned out to be a blessing in more ways than one. You’d be surprised how effective a few grisly photos are in getting people to leave you alone. He seemed preoccupied with his catalogs after that. Touching down she ran into the usual problems at the rental counter, but nothing she didn’t expect. The movies always make it seem like everything runs smooth as silk in the espionage business, but the truth is, even mercenaries have to deal with shithead clerks and incompetent managers. “It’s a shame we can’t just kill them all”, she often thought.

As for the prison itself, it actually came as a bit of surprise when they accepted her explanation without fuss when she called to schedule her appointment with Needledick. The drone on the other end of the line took down her name and title with all the enthusiasm of, well… a government worker. 3:15 he’d told her. “And don’t wear anything too revealing. He may be a child molester, but at this point he’d assault a toaster if he thought it’d get him off.” Charming.

She checked her watch. 2:55. Technically she had another twenty minutes before the interview, although it probably wouldn’t have mattered had she shown up early. Still, another ten minutes staring off into space seemed like a better alternative at the moment. The afternoon sun was overhead and the temperature was easily still in the low 90’s. She watched as shimmers of heat radiated off the pavement. Her mind began to drift off again. Memories of childhood seemed to be the order of the day. Simple things. Summer things. A picture of her and other neighborhood kids jumping through the lawn sprinkler in her front yard soon materialized. The sounds came flooding back too. The giggling, the squealing. Everything was so carefree back then. No worries, no stress. Just life. She had loved being a child. But then who didn’t? What was not to like? Suddenly a new thought entered her mind. New pictures, although these not snapshots from her own past. The photos from the file.

“Little Billy” she spoke out loud. “I bet he didn’t like being a child.”

The sound of her own voice startled her, as though she had spoken involuntarily. At the same moment a car door was heard slamming shut in the distance. She shook her head once and re-checked her watch.

2:58.

“Screw it. Let’s get this over with.”

* * * * * * * * * *

The security check was pretty standard. The metal detector, the pat-down, the fat guy with the sweaty hands rifling through her bag. It was a quiet Thursday afternoon and everybody seemed to be on autopilot. Sondra wondered if they had the slightest clue their little world was about to become the meeting ground for any number of try-their-luck hitmen looking to make a quick score. Obviously they didn’t. They were merely doing their jobs. Just like her.

The plan, as it were, was simple. She’d made the call the previous day after checking into some no-name motel. Bypass was off doing his own thing so she had to forego his usual rerouting and make the call directly from the motel room.

“Too many risks”, she thought. “I’m getting lazy.”

Not that the risk was big, a fact brought home by the nonchalant way the conversation had gone. They’d have no reason to trace the call. She knew this. Still, she didn’t like leaving so many things uncovered. The game seemed to be growing daily as technology advanced and the rules were changed. Gone were the days of the simple con. You had to cover your tracks better. Guys like Pass were the future. “Sooner or later I’m going to either have to adapt, or give it up altogether.” She pushed the thought out of her mind. Now was not the time.

The first appointment would be a scouting mission. She needed to know how quickly she would be able to get in and out of the joint, and just how much she’d be able to get away with in terms of smuggling items in. Not that she needed much. If everything went according to plan, she’d need little more than her pretty face and a ballpoint pen. But there were other things to learn. Needledick for instance. The word was that prison had pretty much destroyed what few fragments of sanity he had left going in, so it shouldn’t be that hard to provoke the reaction she wanted. All it was going to take was the right buzzword. Once she had that it was merely a matter of hoping the guards played along. Sure, it was a gamble, but once again she knew it was a safe gamble. She’d dealt with their type numerous times in the past and they could always be counted on to respond to certain situations in a standardized way.

With the check-point cleared, Sondra was moved down a hallway to one of the interrogation rooms and told to wait. She had gone against the recommendation she had received the day before and intentionally worn a blazer/skirt combo that showed just enough leg and accented her figure well enough to draw the looks she wanted without seeming blatant. Sure enough, the twenty-something stud who had been assigned to escort her to the room seemed to linger a little bit longer than needed. He smiled like a tiger on the prowl and looked her over as she pretended to fumble with her files.

“Nice to know I still got it”, she said, her back turned towards her appraiser. He was of course caught completely off guard.

“Uhh… excuse me, ma’am?”

Sondra spun around slowly on her heel and gave the kid a look, peering out over the tops of her glasses and sneering slightly. “Oh, nothing.” Sometimes the game was still fun.

She turned back to her papers and heard the door shut behind her. A few moments passed before the sound of latch being disengaged was heard once again. She spun around expecting to see Needledick, but instead came face-to-face with a grim looking man armed with a nasty scowl. Sondra chirped.

“Oh! Excuse me. You startled me.”

The man made what appeared to be an attempt at a smile, although the results were less than successful. His faced was ragged and worn, with a coarse skin that suggested years of working under the sun and shaving with a worn razor. His eyes were a bit sunken, giving his entire face an air of suspicion. What little hair remained on his head was buzzed short and graying. She speculated on his obvious military background. Her guess was Marines.

“Forgive me, Ms. Whiting. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” His words did little to comfort.

“Not at all. Just caught me a tiny bit off-guard.” The reality of her own statement wasn’t lost on Sondra. She had been caught off-guard, a fact which was extremely disturbing. She had been so proud of herself and the little scene with the young guard that she had let her defenses down, even if briefly. She made a mental note to get her act together.

“Frank Mundy.” He extended his hand. “I’m the head of the watch.”

Sondra returned his hand shake and they exchanged a few quick pleasantries before getting down to business. It was then that he introduced the first kink in her plan.

“I’d hate to have to turn you away after you’ve already made the trip out here…”

His words caused alarm bells to ring in Sondra’s head. Something was about to go very, very wrong.

“…But our records indicate that inmate Scagnatelli has already been interviewed by someone from CASCI.”

CASCI was the Colorado Association of Sex Crime Investigators, the local organization she had claimed to be representing when she had made the call the previous day. It had been standard operating procedure for all sex offenders to be interviewed by a CASCI psychologist after their initial three months in the facility. The records Bypass had furnished had said that no such interview with Anthony James Scagnatelli, aka Needledick, had been conducted. Looks like those records were a little out of date. Either that or they were somehow on to her cover and this Mundy character was getting cute. She looked him over once again. Nope. He was obviously too dumb to go that route.

“I’m aware of that”, came Sondra’s reply.

“So then what brings you here?” He smirked. “Needledick doesn’t seem like your type.”

She resisted the temptation to fire back with an insult and instead searched for an intentionally lame excuse.

“They felt a follow-up was needed.”

“Who’s they?”

“The board.”

“Since when do they do follow-ups? Lady, I been here for 15 years and I ain’t never heard of no follow-ups.”

He was playing right into her hands. She deliberately stumbled her way through a few more thinly veiled cover-ups, even going so far as to stutter her speech in order to ram home the fact that she was lying. There was great satisfaction in making this bozo think he was the one figuring her out.

“Tell me another one.”

Sondra breathed a heavy sigh. Her counterpart smiled a victorious grin.

“Alright, lady. Out with it. Why are you really here?”

Hook, line, sinker. Sondra Nobles had long ago learned that one of the keys to any good lie was to bury it beneath a bed of really bad lies. Once the good lie was unearthed, it seemed so much more plausible than the crap that was dug through to get to it. This was a textbook example.

“Alright”, she sighed. “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but what the hell. The truth is, the doctor who performed the initial evaluation…”

“Doctor Mooring”, came the interruption. And just like that he had provided her the one piece of information she didn’t have. Sometimes these things worked out better than expected.

“Right. Doctor Mooring. Anyway, Doctor Mooring has recently developed some, how to put this… problems of his own. His standing within the psychological community has been called into question and there are some concerns with the quality and reliability of his recent work. Needless to say the CASCI would like to keep this quiet. As a precaution we’re going over most of his recent work, including the re-do of a number of his case profiles. Hence the reason for my visit. Mr. Scagnatelli was the last interview Doctor Mooring conducted.”

The lie floated freely from her lips and was met with a look of mild surprise followed by a chuckle. This Mundy character had bought it. Problem solved.

“I see. Well, ahhh, that certainly changes things. I’ll get one of the boys to bring Needled… I mean, Mr. Scagnatelli up. Sorry about the interrogation. Got to cover all our bases, you know.”

“Certainly, Mr. Mundy. Obviously I’d ask that you keep this information confidential.”

“Of course”. He made another feeble attempt at a smile and dismissed himself from the room. Sondra smiled a satisfactory grin of her own and turned back to her papers. Yup. She did indeed “still have it.”

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