The Retrieval... Ch. 01byloverofFUN©
Author's Note: Hopefully y'all know by now that my stories tend to take a few pages to develop and get to the good stuff. With that in mind, this is a complete work of fiction - some of the general details might be loosely based on reality, but pretty much all of the government stuff, departments, titles, people, etc...are from my imagination so any errors, inconsistencies with the plot or missteps in general are no one's fault but my own. : P
And of course this story includes sexually explicit material and is intended for adults, so if you are not at least 18 years of age or are offended by sexual material, blah, blah, blah - you know the drill...for the rest of you, thank you for reading, I appreciate your feedback and please remember to vote. Enjoy!
Julia "Jules" Bradford glanced at her watch, sighed and then gently leaned her head back against the wall.
She was ready to do just about anything to ease the throbbing headache she'd been battling ever since her alarm clock had gone off. She closed her eyes. Ugh. Nope, closing her eyes was not a good idea as her stomach let her know that yes, it was still in fact very nauseated. She sighed again...this was starting to look like it was going to be a long day. Trying to deal with a hangover in her own little cubicle sucked bad enough, but sitting in her boss's waiting room in one of these stupidly uncomfortable chairs for over thirty minutes? This was starting to feel like some new form of torture.
Jules glanced over at her superior's administrative assistant who was busy typing on her computer. The woman had pretty much ignored her for the last half an hour. She would give Jules the occasional glance when she paused to answer her phone via one of those fancy headsets, but otherwise...nothing. Huh, Jules made a mental note as she continued to surreptitiously check her out. She'd never really noticed before that Atwood's assistant had that conservative, sexy librarian look going on. Jules waited until the woman glanced her way again and when she finally did, Jules flashed one of her patented "hey, since we're both sitting here, why don't we take a few moments to chat" smiles.
The secretary didn't even crack a smile. She just politely ignored Jules and went back to typing. Jules shrugged to herself and sighed again. It's not like she was at the top of her game this morning anyway. A moment later the assistant's phone came to life with a slightly different sounding ring. The woman punched a button and listened to her headset for a moment before turning her attention to Jules.
"Secretary Atwood will see you know."
Finally. Jules stood up and began to stretch, but had to put her hand on the wall to stave off a sudden bout of dizziness. She'd been sitting too long and she had consumed entirely too much alcohol over the weekend were the only two things she was absolutely sure of right at this moment. She steadied herself and then popped a breath mint in her mouth before pushing on the door that led into Atwood's office. Jules missed the disapproving little shake of the secretary's head.
As Jules entered the expanse of her boss' private sanctum, she tried not to grin. It never failed to amuse her that Henry Atwood seemed to have followed the blueprint for a government office right out of the DC handbook for government offices. There was the massive oak desk that was obviously the centerpiece of the room. On one side of that monstrosity stood the matching bookshelf with all of the appropriate American history volumes and autobiographies crammed onto the shelves. Above that was the obligatory framed American flag. On the opposite wall were various degrees, achievements and certificates perfectly hung in wooden frames that matched the rest of the furniture. And of course on the wall directly behind the man were about a dozen framed pictures of Homeland Security's Deputy Under-Secretary for Analysis Henry Atwood shaking hands with the President, the Homeland Director, foreign dignitaries, world leaders and any other VIP that was worthy of a photo op.
"Have a seat, Jules," Atwood instructed as he hunted and pecked on a keyboard that sat off to the side.
She sat down as instructed in one of the much more comfortable leather chairs facing Under-Secretary Atwood's desk. She took a deep, steadying breath and fought the urge to throw up in his trashcan. She mentally made a note that tequila was not her friend as she politely waited for him to finish typing whatever super-secret national security communication he was working on. Or he could have been updating his Facebook status for all she knew. Whatever, Jules concentrated on ignoring the feeling of nausea by studying the photos behind her boss's head.
"So," Atwood turned away from the flat screen monitor and keyboard combo that sat on one side of his desk on a little pull out shelf and faced forward in his chair towards his employee. "How many times have I pulled your ass out of the fire, Jules?"
"Is it bad?" Jules winced.
"Yes, it is," Atwood confirmed with a solemn nod and then continued. "But I'm curious - do you actually know the number?"
"I guess I've never thought about it."
"Take a guess."
"Um," Jules tried to read his expression, "I'm going to go with...three?"
"It's six, Jules," Atwood said flatly. "I've come to your rescue and somehow figured out a way to salvage your career on six different occasions."
"Oh...wow..." Jules was literally surprised by the number. She really hadn't kept track. "Uh...I'm not exactly sure what the proper response would be at this moment, but I'm going to go with thank you. I mean, seriously, thank you, sir."
"I'm going to be honest," Atwood looked at her with a grave expression. "It probably won't be seven."
"It won't?" Jules sat up straighter. "Am I being fired?"
"No, it isn't that simple," Atwood explained. "I did what I could, but...well, we'll get to that. But first I need to understand - what the fuck were you thinking?"
"I, uh, I can't honestly say that I was, sir," Jules admitted miserably and then grimaced as she stifled a burp and tasted tequila...this was definitely shaping up to be a long day.
"So you had no idea that she was the youngest daughter of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Material Readiness?" Atwood was starting to show some irritation.
"The Assistant Secretary of...Defense for - what?"
"The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Material Readiness," Atwood repeated.
"I can say in all truthfulness that I had no idea," Jules replied.
"Okay...I believe you. So let's set aside the fact that she's the daughter of somebody important from the Secretary of Defense's office," Atwood went on. "Were you aware that it was the night before her wedding? That she was at her bachelorette party?"
"I think I remember something about a party," Jules mumbled quietly as she studied her shoes. She probably shouldn't mention that the young woman had been wearing a sash that said 'I'm the Bride, bitches!'
"Un-fucking-believable," Atwood laughed harshly, but there was no humor in it. "I swear, your reputation as a womanizer is not only well-deserved, but underestimated - and that's saying a lot in this town."
Given the current circumstances, Jules chose to remain silent on that particular topic of debate.
Atwood just sat there and looked at her.
"I...uh...I mean, in my defense, she came on to me." Jules offered hopefully. She vividly remembered the young blonde pinning her up against the bathroom wall and then being kissed by those incredibly luscious lips. That bride-to-be had been so ripe for a woman like Jules that she had been practically ready to burst. "Shouldn't that at least make a difference or something?"
"Not even a little," Atwood answered truthfully.
"Shit," Jules mumbled. "So...what happens now?"
"I did what I could," Atwood shrugged. "You know the drill - if we had a Siberia, you'd be headed there. I did manage to keep your banishment in house, so you'll still be technically working for Homeland."
"So I'm not fired?" Jules perked up just a little.
"You may wish you were," Atwood raised an eyebrow. "You've been assigned out into the field. You'll be working for the Logistics Group."
"What?" Jules couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Me?"
"I'm afraid so."
"But...why? I don't know the first thing about logistics."
"It's simple," Atwood continued. "He wants you to quit. It's the prick's way of getting around all the red tape and bullshit paper trail of building a case and firing you for something that happened while you were off duty on your own personal time."
"But that's not fair." Jules complained.
"Are you serious?" Atwood looked at her like she should have known how the game was played. "What did you expect, Julia? The Assistant Secretary of Defense for LMR's daughter cancelled her wedding...on the morning of her fucking wedding - because of you."
"You can't blame me for that shit!" Jules replied defensively. How could this be her fault?
"There's a video, Jules," Atwood replied through clenched teeth, "of you and her on top of the bar and then she declares her undying love for you right into the camera."
"Someone took a video?" Jules asked quietly almost as if she were questioning herself.
"Of course someone took a video - it was a public bar," Atwood almost spat.
"I - " Jules began and then stopped.
"As if that video wasn't bad enough," Atwood continued, "The next morning - which if you're taking notes was the morning of her wedding, the young lady locked herself in a bathroom and refused to come out while she hysterically called out your name over and over."
"She did that?" Jules winced.
"Yes, she did," Atwood nodded. "And she never did come out. Hell, maybe she's still in there, I don't know and really don't care. But what I do know is that her father - her very important, very powerful father - lost over a hundred grand in non-refundable deposits alone not to mention the social and political scandal he's having to deal with."
"Oh," Jules replied miserably. "I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Atwood barked that humorless laugh again. "You're lucky you didn't disappear in the middle of the night!"
"Like that was going to happen," Jules snorted and then caught herself and suddenly felt like she might throw up again when she realized that by the look on his face, Atwood might not be kidding.
"As I said before," Atwood resumed in a calmer tone, "I did what I could. You've been assigned to the Retrieval Team. Those guys work alone, so you're basically in control of your own destiny."
"What the hell is the Retrieval Team?"
"They're tasked with a lot of different...assignments," Atwood seemed suddenly hesitant, but then caught himself and quickly continued. "But you will be delivering Congressional subpoenas and then escorting those individuals being called to testify back to DC."
"Just great...lucky me," Jules rubbed her temples and then realized how that must have sounded. "Shit, I'm sorry, Hank. I didn't mean that towards you. I really do appreciate you going to bat for me."
"Don't worry about it," her now former-boss replied gruffly, but then softened his tone. "Look, you're one of the best analysts I have. Besides, you know I went way back with your Dad. I promised him a long time ago that I'd always try to look out for you."
"I know," Jules nodded and the little crack in her heart that constantly reminded her of how much she missed her father hurt a little more than usual. "Thank you. I think Dad would agree that you've more than lived up to that promise."
"Well, I probably would have thought twice about making that promise if I'd have known how much of a challenge you'd be," Atwood tried to joke. Jules forced a polite smile and her boss knew it had been a mistake. "Look, just keep your head down and do your job."
"If you're successful on this first assignment, there's a chance that this thing might eventually blow over," Atwood offered hopefully. "Keep a low profile and I'll try to pull some strings and get you back over here in Analysis where you belong."
"Wow," Jules was shocked. "I haven't even reported for duty yet and I already have my first assignment?"
"That is correct," Atwood nodded grimly and grabbed a manila file folder off the corner of his desk and handed it to her. "Needless to say it was handpicked just for you."
"Perfect," Jules mumbled as she accepted her fate in the form of file folder.
Yeah, this was going to be a very long day indeed.
Leah Hartsall kept her head down as she stood in the express lane of the grocery store, patiently waiting her turn.
She had her money in hand so she could quickly pay for the three bottles of water, three cans of tuna and a pack of gum that were sitting in her basket. To the untrained eye she was just another shopper minding her own business, but a keener observer might have noticed the way her eyes constantly moved and assessed, gauging the position of everyone and everything around her. In fact Leah was acutely aware of the exact position of the other eleven shoppers who were also waiting to check out at the three open registers. More than just aware of them, Leah knew their exact positions and could have given a basic description of each one of them including their clothing, distinguishing features and what they had in their buggies.
This high degree of situational awareness wasn't something Leah did intentionally - half the time she wasn't even completely aware that she was clocking exits or mentally marking the position of everyone and everything around her. It was just something she did. It was more than a habit, it was instinct that had been born from long months of grueling training and then etched into her DNA from years of real world experience. It was a way of life for her, but she didn't like to focus on it. Whenever her mind went down that path it was too easy to think about the details of the how, why and where she honed her skill-sets - and those were memories that she wasn't particularly fond of dwelling on.
At the next register Leah could overhear the cashier giving the woman she was waiting on another exaggerated sigh of frustration as the young mother tried to console the crying baby on her hip. The child couldn't have even been a year old yet and the woman would do her best to quiet the baby and then go back to counting out her change. It was the third dramatically passive-aggressive exhalation the cashier had unleashed to make sure this woman in front of her knew she was not happy with her for holding up the line. The only two items the young woman was trying to buy were Children's Tylenol and diapers. The young woman kept quietly apologizing to the cashier who wouldn't respond to her with anything more than an annoyed smack of her lips.
Leah paid for her items and as she was receiving her change she heard the man who was next in line after the struggling mother say something derogatory about her under his breath. Leah turned her head slightly and out of the corner of her eye saw him share a knowing look of disgust with the irritated cashier. The young woman had been counting out change and dealing with the fussy infant ever since Leah had gotten in line. She had a pretty good hunch that it was going to be a financial stretch for the young mother to pay for her items.
Leah grabbed her meager plastic bag of groceries and stepped away from her check-out lane. She turned towards the far entrance where she had parked her truck, took two steps and suddenly bent over to touch the floor near the young woman's feet. Leah smoothly stood back up, stopping briefly to place a twenty dollar bill in front of the woman. Leah nodded once as she resumed walking and said, "Sorry ma'am, you must have dropped this."
"I don't think that's-- " the young woman began to respond but stopped when she saw that the athletic looking stranger wasn't going to wait around to debate the issue.
"Yes, I believe it is," Leah called over her shoulder and didn't even pause as she walked towards the exit.
The young woman paid for her items and had every intention of thanking the stranger, but by the time she got out to the parking lot, the tall woman was nowhere to be found.
"Hank, they can't be serious," Jules was on her cellphone pacing back in forth in her kitchen. "Did you even read this file?"
"I did," Atwood replied calmly into his phone. "Keep in mind that I really didn't have much say in the matter."
"This woman is a trained killer, Hank!" Jules raised her voice. She didn't feel like anyone was listening to her. "Hello? Did you hear me? She's a fucking assassin!"
"No, she isn't, Jules," Atwood kept his tone firm and quiet. "You know as well as I do that per Executive Order 11905, no employee of the United States shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination. By policy this country doesn't condone nor employ assassins."
"Oh, we both know that's utter bullshit," Jules stopped pacing.
"And we both know this is an unsecured line!" Atwood shot back angrily. She could hear him clear his throat and regain control over his breathing before he continued. "Your assignment is to retrieve a former covert operator. I stress the word former. Yes, she worked on the dark side for a long time, but she's been out for over a year. She's a civilian now."
"Civilian my ass," Jules mumbled to herself as she stared down at the open file on her kitchen table. "So if she's so former this and former that, why exactly am I bringing her back in?"
"She has to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee," Atwood explained. "If I'm not mistaken, it states that in the details of the assignment, does it not?"
"Why yes, yes it does," Jules confirmed. "But what doesn't it say?"
"What isn't in the file that I need to know, Hank?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Jules."
"Hank," Jules paused and let her voice grow quieter. "Please?"
"Hypothetically," Atwood sighed heavily. "And I do mean hypothetically, Jules...a certain former covert operative might be subpoenaed to testify if, hypothetically, that testimony might be crucial if it were to dispute the hypothetical testimony of this hypothetical operative's hypothetical former team leader regarding the collateral damage of civilians. That is if such a former operator hypothetically existed."
"Does she even --"
"Jules," Atwood sternly warned.
"Sorry...does this hypothetical operator know what he or she is hypothetically testifying about?"
"Doesn't matter as in that's not your concern. Retrieval only - you're basically just her ride back to DC," Atwood replied dismissively dropping the charade. "I have to go, Jules. Goodbye."
"That's just perfect," Jules laughed as the Deputy Under-Secretary for Analysis disconnected the call. She paused to blow an auburn curl out of her eyes and looked down at the file again.
She started chewing on her thumb nail as she stared at the picture of the blonde woman she was supposed to bring back to DC.
Leah was in her zone as she pulled her last order of the day.
She saw the 10 digit part number on the pick-sheet, visualized where it was on the shelf and then she'd automatically go to that aisle, pull the requisite number of parts and box them up for the customer. She went about finding each line item deliberately and methodically, letting her mind focus on the task rather than think about anything else. She liked it when she didn't have to think too much and she was able to let the part numbers consume her thoughts. Leah found the repetitiveness and physicality of it soothing. She wasn't the fastest order puller, but somehow she managed to consistently pull more orders day in and day out than almost all of her coworkers. The old adage of "slow is smooth, smooth is fast" served her well doing this detail-oriented job.