Innocence Lost

A Bionic Woman fan fiction

by

Douglas Neman

Jaime hopped awkwardly into the living room, struggling to put on her right shoe and eating the last of her toast at the same time. She saw Becca standing with her back to her, obviously doing something with Jaime's purse.

"Wha are you doee wi-i ur?" Jaime asked through a mouthful of food.

Becca turned around and mocked her. "Aar ooh wa wa ruh."

Jaime swallowed the toast, got the shoe on, and tried again. "What are you doing with my purse?"

"Returning the forty dollars I borrowed for shoes last week," Becca said. "Why? What did you think I was doing?"

"Oh," Jaime said, snatching up her purse and heading for the front door. "Nothing. Sorry. Thanks. I'm late. Be good."

Jaime stopped at the door, thinking she was missing something, and turned to find Becca right behind her, backpack over her shoulder.

"It's a school day, isn't it?" Jaime asked.

"Friday usually is."

Jaime shook her head. "I could have sworn today was Saturday. Okay. I guess I'll be even later." She ushered Becca out the door.

"They're not going to fire you, are they?" Becca asked.

"They haven't yet."

 

Becca watched the familiar, drab neighborhood slide past. She and Jaime sat in a comfortable silence, which they'd had to do ever since the car radio had broken eleven days ago. Becca knew it was eleven days because she counted them. She needed her radio.

"Monday after next, I can have a driver's permit," she said. "You should start letting me drive so I can get some practice."

"The whole point of a driver's permit is to get some practice before you get your license," Jaime said. "Getting some practice before you're allowed to get some practice is pushing your luck."

Becca sighed and knocked her head back against the headrest, looking at the roof. "I can't wait to get my license. Then I can drive myself to school."

"In whose car?"

Becca gave Jaime an appraising look, but refused to admit she didn't have an answer for that.

"Today's your field trip, right?" Jaime asked.

"Yep." Becca let out a huge sigh. "We get to go see diiiiiiiinosaaaaaaaurs." She paused. "Not real ones, just their bones."

"Try not to get too excited."

"I'm pumped up."

"I can tell."

Jaime pulled up at the corner. "Get out here," she said. "It's easier for me to turn around. Saves me a whole two minutes."

"Uh!" Becca said. "I have to walk a whole 'nother hundred yards!"

"Exercise is good. Go on. Have fun."

"Yeah," Becca said, getting out. "Don't get fired."

Jaime made sure Becca crossed the street safely, then made an illegal U-turn and took off. But instead of going to Wolf Creek, she headed for the Winston Hotel. It took her forty minutes, and she knew Jonas would be upset she was running behind. Luckily, she also knew the bulk of her work wouldn't start until around noon.

She parked in the rear, clipped on a fake name badge, and used the magnetic access card she'd been given to enter the hotel through the employees' entrance, near the kitchen. She'd memorized the floor plan, so she just acted as if she'd worked there for years, even casually greeting a few people. She took the back stairs and, listening with her bionic ear to make sure no one was around, walked quickly down a corridor and knocked twice on the door of room 203. It opened immediately and she was ushered inside.

It was rather large for a hotel room (in Jaime's opinion, but she realized some people would be used to rooms this big). Even so, Nathan (with a lollipop in his mouth), his computer equipment, his soda, and his donuts took up a third of the room, and he seemed to be doing about five things at once. A large monitor was propped on the back of the sofa, leaning against the wall. Jae and Jonas sat at a table; Ruth had let Jaime in. To one side was a kitchenette; a door on the opposite side led to the bedroom.

"Nice of you to join us, Miss Sommers," Jonas said, not looking up.

"A suite," Jaime said. "Nice." She and Ruth sat at the table. "Sorry I'm late. What's the score?"

Jonas nodded at Nathan, who hit a keystroke to send some data to the large monitor. He made it seem like such an effortless part of his grand choreography. Jaime wondered how he did it.

On the monitor appeared the photo of a clean-shaven man with light skin and dark hair in an expensive leather jacket. The photo had obviously been taken without his knowledge from a hidden camera about chest height as he had walked along a city street.

"This is Sergei Markov," Jonas said. "He's one of the most not-nice people you could ever meet, one of the worst products of Russian organized crime. He's so vicious that some members of the Russian mafia are actually afraid to do business with him. When his own men screw up, even once, he prides himself on finding a new and creative way of punishing them. He makes sure they die slowly, in great pain, and he forces the rest of his men to watch so they'll be inspired not to endure the same fate."

"Please don't tell me he's in the United States," Jaime said.

"He's in the United States," Jonas said.

"I said don't tell me that."

"I said you needed to be here by nine. I guess neither of us get what we want. Not only is he here in the United States, he's two floors above us in room 418."

"How could a man like that enter our country?" Jaime asked. "If he's as bad as you say he is, the FBI must know about him."

"FBI intel is good, but not great," Jae said. "He got himself a new Ukrainian passport under the name of Alexander Abramov and slipped in under the radar."

"I thought passports had electronic gizmos attached to them these days to make them hard to fake," Jaime said.

"They do," Ruth said. "The fact that Sergei got ahold of a real one means he has powerful friends."

"Or he's blackmailing government officials," Nathan said around his lollipop. "You know, a few photos of a man with his trousers down in a hotel room with a hooker go a long way."

"And what would you know about that?" Jaime asked.

Nathan shrugged. "Hearsay."

"So if the FBI don't know he's here, how do we?" Jaime asked.

"Indirectly," Jonas said. "We had an agent following the trail of some plutonium-238 being smuggled into the U.S. from South America. We don't know who's doing the smuggling, but we do know the plutonium is already in the country and Sergei is the buyer. We did some digging into him, and found he was on our doorstep."

"He wants to blow something up?" Jaime asked.

"No, he wants to open an ice cream stand and make children happy. What do you think?"

Jaime just made a face of mock exasperation. "What else did our agent say?" she asked.

"Nothing," Ruth said. "We haven't heard from him in two days. We think he's dead."

Jaime nodded, trying to keep calm. Someday it might happen to me, she thought.

"So do we have a plan, or are we going to wing it like we always do?" she asked.

"Sergei's attending a party soon, in the hotel," Jonas said. "We think the reason it's a lunchtime party is because Sergei has somewhere else he wants to be tonight. We don't know where he's going, but I have my suspicions, which makes it all the more important we find out ASAP.

"A local crime boss is throwing this shindig, and he's invited all his friends. They'll probably arrive a little later in the afternoon, but Sergei should be there from the beginning. The local boss is a Russian immigrant, and he and Sergei are related by marriage. Apparently, it's a family thing; it would have been rude or dishonorable for the guy not to do something for Sergei while he's in America. A number of women from two different escort services have been hired. You'll blend in with them and keep Sergei company during the party, and keep him there. While he's there, Jae and Nathan will get into his room, find his computer, and Nathan will work his magic. He's got plenty of muscle-"

"Who, Nathan?" Jaime asked. Nathan and Jonas both gave her withering looks, but for different reasons.

"Sergei has plenty of hired muscle," Jonas continued pointedly. "So if anything goes down, you'll have to help. We need to know exactly what Sergei plans to do with his hunk of plutonium, but more importantly, we need the plutonium itself. We can't touch Sergei until he leads us to it."

"Why not just ask him politely where it is?" Jaime asked.

"Sergei's about as tough as they come," Jae said. "He's not the type to talk. Playing him is our best option."

"What about any bodyguards Sergei leaves in his room while he's away?" Jaime asked.

"They'll come with us," Jonas said. "Hopefully, Sergei will think they've taken the opportunity in a foreign country to run out on him. We can't leave witnesses. We can't let him know his computer's been compromised. If he does leave bodyguards in his room, they'll be the weakest of his team. He'll keep his best men around himself."

"Why would a Russian crime boss want plutonium in America?" Jaime asked. "It's not their thing."

"We think he was hired to do this," Jonas said. "Someone with a big bankroll wants to do some serious damage, and he's using a gangster just like a hired assassin. A hired mass assassin. It's someone else's agenda, but Sergei arranges the transfer of the plutonium, plants the bomb, and takes all the risk."

"It's just business to him," Jaime said flatly.

"Pretty much."

"Great," Jaime said. "So – I'm a hooker."

"Escort, Jaime," Nathan pointed his lollipop at her. "There's a difference."

Jaime gave him her own withering look.

 

Becca bided her time, pretending to be deeply interested in the sign detailing the probable diet of the triceratops, in front of a glass case containing a re-creation of the creature. A button next to the sign would play a short video. She didn't press it. Watching the teacher and the rest of the school group in the reflection of the glass, Becca finally saw her chance and casually wandered around the nearest corner.

Freedom, Part One. She walked quickly to the front doors. No one called her name. She didn't dare risk a backward glance. Out the front door and down the steps, to the corner. Freedom, Complete. Becca in the big bad city.

She found the nearest fast food place and ordered a triple cheeseburger and a super large drink. It was only about ten in the morning and the place wasn't very crowded. She sat as far from everyone as she could, pulled out her phone, activated the tracker app, and searched for the GPS locator she'd slipped into Jaime's purse that morning.

Selling time shares, my ass, Becca thought. You're keeping secrets, Jaime, and I'm going to get to the bottom of it.

A map appeared with a blinking light and an address. The Winston Hotel.

She didn't have much money. She'd have to take the subway.

 

Jaime emerged from the bedroom in a knee-length silver skirt which sparkled and showed some cleavage. She wore matching shoes, and hanging on her left shoulder was a matching dainty purse which was so tiny it seemed absurd.

Nathan held his hands up like a movie producer planning a scene, and turned them from landscape to portrait. "Elegant, yet trashy," he said. "I love it."

"You picked this out, I'm sure."

"Nah, not me," he said, turning back to his equipment. "They won't let me in the women's department store any more. Not after what happened last time."

"You still have your watch on, Jaime," Ruth said. "Leave all your personal effects here."

"Oh, right," Jaime said. She quickly returned to the bedroom and put her watch in her purse, which lay next to her clothes. She shoved the watch all the way to the bottom to hide it. Not because she distrusted her coworkers; it was simply a lifelong habit to hide valuables at the bottom of her purse, and she did it without thinking. Unbeknownst to her, her hand brushed against the GPS locator, which Becca had also hidden at the bottom of her purse, and accidentally switched it off.

Ruth followed her into the bedroom with a makeup kit. Jonas, standing in the bedroom doorway, said, "Since they're using more than one escort service, and these girls probably aren't rocket scientists, no one should question your presence."

"What if they do?" Jaime asked.

"You'll think of something."

"Right." Jaime sat on the bed. Ruth angled a nearby lamp and made ready to apply makeup to Jaime's face.

"Turn your camera on now," Ruth said. "Let's get the nosebleed over with before the makeup."

Fifteen minutes later, Jaime was ready. Nathan verified all her systems were working. Everything Jaime saw appeared on the monitor. When Jaime looked at it, it showed itself into infinity.

Ruth opened the door and gave a little mock bow. Jaime stepped out, dressed to kill.

 

Becca knew she couldn't just wander around the lobby of the Winston Hotel indefinitely, but she didn't really know what to do. The locator had stopped transmitting while she was five blocks from the hotel, which was disturbing. She had picked up a courtesy phone and asked for the room of Jaime Sommers, but she wasn't staying here. There weren't any signs announcing a time share sellers' convention. Jaime wasn't in the restaurant. Becca couldn't think of anything else.

She had just decided wandering the hallways aimlessly was as good a plan as any when she spotted Jaime down a long, wide corridor. She got a glimpse of her just as she walked through a doorway and out of sight. And she was dressed to dazzle!

What is going on?

Becca headed in that direction and found Jaime had entered a conference room, inside which were tables laden with food and drink, men in dark suits, and a gaggle of women in...sleazy cocktail skirts was the best way Becca could describe them to herself.

Becca spotted Jaime and gasped. Jaime had linked elbows with some guy and was laughing like a brainless prat, obviously snuggling up to him. His arm was around Jaime's waist.

Becca's head reeled. She backed away from the door before Jaime could see her and made her way back to the lobby in a daze. She sat down in an easy chair next to a family of tourists and tried to understand what she had just seen. The family's baby, sitting in its stroller, looked at Becca curiously. The man and woman were having an intense discussion about which sites they wanted to see, poring over a map of the city. Becca didn't notice any of this.

My sister's...a hooker? Becca thought. Really?

No way, she thought. It can't be true. But the more Becca thought about it, the more it explained everything. The lies, the new job, the bizarre hours, the fake business trips out of town, the calls in the middle of the night, the fact that Jaime wouldn't talk about her coworkers, the moderately great pay.

It all added up.

What should I do? Becca wondered. I can't just let this go!

With a look of steel, Becca stood up, turned on her heel and marched back down the corridor, into the conference room, and right up to Jaime.

"We need to talk."

Jaime froze. The look on her face was priceless. Becca had that much satisfaction, at least.

In room 203, two coffees had just been spilt.

"Oh, shit!" Ruth exclaimed, while Jonas just said, "No no no no no no no no."

"What is it?" asked Jae over his earpiece communicator, tying up the second of two bodyguards in Sergei's room. Behind him, Nathan was already plugging a flash drive into Sergei's laptop and powering up.

"We got trouble!" Ruth snapped.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Becca demanded. All conversation in the room had stopped. Sergei, his arm still wrapped around Jaime, gave a subtle nod to one of his bodyguards, who ushered the wait staff out of the room and closed the door.

Jaime turned to Sergei. "I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry. This is one of the girls I used to work with, and unfortunately, she got herself strung out on heroin. She's supposed to be in rehab. You can see how big her eyes are."

Becca was so enraged she was speechless.

"Let me take care of her," Jaime said. "I feel responsible for this disruption. I'll take care of it." She made to take Becca away.

"Wait," Sergei said. To Becca he asked, "How old are you?"

"Fifteen!" she ground out through gritted teeth. "So don't you even think about laying a finger on me!"

Jonas watched the horror unfold through his fingers, his hands plastered over his face in disbelief. Russian crime lord, meet American teenager, he thought.

"Hmm," Sergei said. He seemed to be mildly amused, and looked back and forth quickly at the faces of the woman and the girl. The resemblance was evident. "You are family?"

At the same time: "No," said Jaime. "Yes!" said Becca.

"Interesting," Sergei said. "I've known a few people in my time who have abused heroin badly. You look nothing like them. I think we should continue discussing all of this in my room."

"Jaime, do not make a scene," Jonas said, his voice grave. "Go to his room quietly. Jae's already disabled his muscle. He doesn't know that."

"I can't take her there," Jaime said aloud.

"Oh?" Sergei asked menacingly, thinking she was talking to him.

"If you tackle Sergei and tell Becca to run, she won't do it!" Jonas said quickly. "And not even you can take out a room full of thugs! Go with him, and we'll take care of it. She'll be all right. I give you my word."

Jaime, her face pale, said, "Very well. Let's go to your room." She gave a small smile, desperately trying to salvage the situation. "It was where I was hoping we'd end up, anyway."

Becca made a sick noise and looked at Jaime with revulsion. "That's disgusting. I can't believe this."

"Let's go," Sergei said.

"I'm not going anywhere with you, you creep!" Becca snorted.

Three men surrounding her showed her their guns.

"Yes, you are," Sergei said quietly.

Jaime hadn't thought Becca's eyes could get any wider. She was wrong.

The sisters, Sergei, and two of his henchmen walked out of the conference room, and Becca endured the most terrifying, and awkward, elevator ride of her life. She did not look at Jaime. Jaime did not look at her.

All Becca could think was, I'm going to die because my sister's a hooker!

They got off on the fourth floor and walked to room 418. One thug led the way. Jaime and Becca were behind him, with Sergei practically breathing down their necks. The other thug brought up the rear. As subtly as she could, Jaime made sure Becca was in front of her.

As soon as the bodyguard in front unlocked the door, it was yanked open out of his hands and Jae's foot sent him into the far wall. At the same moment, Jaime elbowed Sergei in the gut with her right arm and pushed Becca to the floor with her left. The moves had been coordinated over their communicators on the way to the room.

Jaime then spun and shoved Sergei hard with her bionic arm, intending to push him into the thug behind him and send them both down the hallway. But the thug didn't cooperate. He had stepped around his boss to get in on the action, so Sergei sailed down the corridor alone, landing thirty feet away on his back.

The first bodyguard – no doubt fearing Sergei's punishment should he fail – was putting up a good fight against Jae in the doorway, leaving Jaime to deal with the second goon. She wrenched the gun out of his hand and crushed it, then dropped it as he slammed her against the wall.

Jaime returned the favor, slamming him against the other wall. But a lot harder. He fell, out cold.

Sergei was already sprinting away. Jaime saw him round a corner and disappear. Only she had the power and speed to get him now, but priorities had changed. She turned to find Jae dragging the other unconscious bodyguard into Sergei's hotel room.

"Get him in here, quick," he said. "We only have seconds until security shows up."

Becca was still on the ground, trying to take in what had just happened. With her face buried in the carpet, she hadn't actually seen most of it.

Jaime snatched up the mangled gun and shoved it into her little silver purse, then grabbed the second bodyguard with her right arm, and with her left hustled an unprotesting Becca into Sergei's room. She wasn't particularly delicate dragging the unconscious man through the doorway.

Nathan was ready to go, Sergei's laptop under his arm. The mission had gone from quietly hacking Sergei's computer to loudly stealing his computer. It was the best they could salvage from the disaster Becca's appearance had caused.

Sitting on the floor, tied hand and foot, were the two bodyguards who had been in the room when Jae and Nathan had arrived. They were awake and definitely unhappy. In a moment of pity, and with a flash of inspiration, Jaime addressed the two captives.

"You have two choices: you can come with us, or you can stay and ask your boss to forgive you."

Their faces said it all. "We'll come with you," one of the men said.

Jaime ripped apart the cords around their ankles in two swift moves with her right hand. If the men thought that was an unusual feat, they didn't say.

Jaime turned to Becca and said, "Keep your mouth shut. Walk in front of me, go where I tell you. If anything happens, run as fast as you can and don't look back."

Becca started to say something.

"Do it!" Jaime half shouted, half ground out the words through gritted teeth. The look on her face was of such rage that Becca nodded and remained silent.

With her bionic ear, Jaime knew no one was in the hallway, but she could hear other noises. "Security's in the elevator."

"Take the stairs," Jae said.

They walked out of the room silently, Becca in the lead, followed by Jaime, the two bodyguards, Jae, then Nathan. The bodyguards' hands were still tied, and they didn't try anything. Only Jaime spoke, and that was only to give Becca directions. "Second floor," she said when they entered the stairwell. Upon reaching the second floor, Jaime said, "Two-oh-three."

They reached room 203 unseen by anyone and filed inside. Only when the door closed did Jaime allow herself to breathe. Jae rushed the two captured bodyguards into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. Nathan connected Sergei's laptop to his equipment and went to work.

Becca found herself looking into the eyes of Jaime's boss.

"Good afternoon, Becca," Jonas said. "You're supposed to be in school." He held out a GPS locator. "I believe this is yours."

Becca reached out and took it lamely, giving a tiny nod.

Jaime didn't notice the exchange; overwhelmed with relief and leaning on the door, she was busy listening to the outside world. Two floors above, hotel security was trying to make sense of what they had found. One floor below, Sergei was telling his remaining bodyguards what had just happened, and all the escorts were being told to go home. She listened for a few moments, making sure none of these people had any idea who they were or where they'd gone. Satisfied they were all equally clueless, Jaime turned Becca around to face her. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"No," Becca said, her lip quivering.

"Physically, are you okay?" Jaime asked. "Are you hurt anywhere?"

Becca shook her head, barely whispering, "I'm fine." Jaime pulled her into the tightest hug she had ever given her, and held her for what seemed like forever.

When she let go, Ruth pulled out a chair and gave Becca a warm smile. "Have a seat. You've had quite a day." Becca gratefully sat down. Jonas sat opposite her. Ruth and Jaime sat down also. Jaime kept a hand on Becca's back.

"Becca, look at me," Jonas said. Becca did so. "You've been through quite a shock. Nothing that just happened is your fault. None of it. It's just one of those crazy things. You have just come through a very dangerous situation, but you're safe now. Do you understand?"

Becca nodded.

"I imagine you have a few questions," Jonas said.

Becca gave a little awkward laugh. She was close to tears. "Yeah. Just a few."

"Well, let me make it easier for you. You want some coffee? A donut? Sandwich?"

Becca shook her head.

Jonas leaned back in his seat, trying to make the situation as comfortable as possible for the poor kid. "Your sister doesn't sell time shares."

"Huh," Becca said. "Yeah. No kidding."

"But she does work for us. We're a private organization specializing in criminal investigation, counterterrorism, and counterespionage."

He let that sink in for a moment. Becca couldn't think of anything to say except, "Okay."

Jonas nodded to the large monitor, which once again showed a photo of Sergei (and not the view from Jaime's eye implant, she was grateful to see). Becca turned in her seat to see the monitor.

"That man is a vicious, cold-blooded killer, one of the nastiest people you could ever meet," Jonas said. "Your sister was operating under cover as part of an operation to find out what he's up to. When you arrived here today, you blew her cover."

There was a long pause. "Sorry," Becca finally whispered.

Jonas laughed. "It's okay. The important thing is, you didn't know. You were doing what you thought was best, based on what you knew. Like I said, it's life, and crazy things happen. But you're safe, and that's all that matters."

"What are you doing here?" Jaime asked.

Becca couldn't quite meet her gaze, so Ruth answered for her. "She placed a GPS tracking device in your purse."

Jaime stared at Becca, who became defensive. "I wanted to find out what you were up to! I knew you were lying!"

Jaime sighed and closed her eyes. I should have seen this coming, she thought. I really, really should have.

"I'm...I'm really sorry," Becca said to everyone. "It won't happen again."

"So you weren't really returning the forty dollars you owe me for the shoes," Jaime said.

"No, I actually did that, too."

"Oh. Well, how did you get ahold of a GPS locator?" Jaime asked.

"I bought it."

"Yes, but with what money?"

"Your credit card."

Jaime's eyes narrowed and her face became a storm cloud.

"Your...company issued...credit card," Becca said weakly.

Jaime hunched her shoulders and gave Becca the look of death. Ruth stifled a laugh.

Jonas sighed. "You shouldn't be here, Becca. But we don't want to set foot outside this room until the fuss has died down, especially since Sergei's men have seen your face. Can you sit tight for a little while?"

Becca nodded.

"Jonas, you need to see this," Nathan said, and an image appeared on the large monitor. It was the floor plan of a building, but there was no definitive text to accompany it, just rooms color-coded and marked with letters. "Just decrypted the first file. He's got stuff here about placing a bomb for maximum fallout, maximum casualties, maximum property damage, maximum underwear pooping, maximum this, maximum that, blah blah blah. It's like he's pretending to be a freakin' physicist. Put it together with the fact that the plutonium's on this side of the Rio Grande, and we have a problem. From the numbers he's running, it looks like a dirty bomb."

"Where?" Jonas snapped, getting out of his seat.

"That's just it, I don't know where. All I got is a building."

"Well, find out which one," Jonas said testily.

"Sure. I'll just match this floor plan against all the ones in my floor plan database, which holds the floor plan of every building in the world. It's a good thing I brought it today." He saw Jonas glaring at him. "Hey, if we were Hawaii Five-0, we could do that sort of thing. But we're not that snazzy or well funded."

Jonas opened his mouth for a snappy comeback and found he didn't have one. "Ruth, see if Jae can get the info out of those men." Ruth went to the bedroom.

In the silence which followed, Jonas made another attempt to make Becca feel at ease. He was irked Nathan had said all that sensitive information in front of her, but now that harm was done, he could at least make the girl feel included by telling her what she was no doubt already figuring out, anyway. "This man is trying to get ahold of some plutonium, which we know has already entered the United States."

"Wow," Becca said. She looked back at the monitor with genuine interest.

"Is a dirty bomb what I think it is?" Jaime asked.

"It's a cheap man's nuclear weapon," Jonas said. "It's not a weapon of mass destruction, and its power has been exaggerated in the media, but it's still something to take seriously. It's designed to cause sickness and death through the dispersal of radiation. It can do a fair bit of damage if detonated in a highly populated area."

"Looks like Sergei wants to detonate it near some kind of travel center," Nathan said. "I'm having to use Russian translation software, but I think he's hoping the fallout will land on people in fast-moving cars or trains, and on a body of water."

"Why cars and trains?" Jaime asked. "Radiation isn't contagious."

"Not from something like this, no," Jonas said. "But if a large number of people experience the fallout, then scatter as fast as possible, the CDC would have to track them all down in order to treat them. It would make their job harder by a factor of a thousand, tie up more resources. Same thing with the water. It might flow into other areas quickly, spreading the damage as far as possible. Drinking water, fishing, agriculture, and tourism might be ruined for hundreds of square miles, even if only through public perception rather than actual harm."

Ruth came out of the bedroom. "They claim they don't know what Sergei was up to."

"Do you believe them?" Jonas asked.

Ruth nodded. "They're just bodyguards."

"Look at his web search history," Becca said.

They all looked at her. She gulped, but continued. "That floor plan had to come from somewhere, and almost everything in the U.S. is public knowledge. Maybe he just Googled it like the rest of us."

Jonas looked at Nathan, who tilted his head in acceptance of the idea. He typed for several seconds, grunted, cursed under his breath, typed some more, then grinned. "Ha! He's been very interested in Boston lately. About half a dozen places in particular. Sergei, you should really clear your history. Every good little boy does."

Another five minutes passed in agonizing, awkward silence. Jaime could hear one of the two captured guards sobbing, telling Jae in broken English that he was in love with a girl back in Russia, and he couldn't bear the thought of never seeing her again. He said if she wasn't brought to America to be with him, then he would go back to Russia, even if it meant Sergei would kill him.

Jaime didn't know what to think of that. Was the guard telling the truth? Why would he lie about such a thing? She had no idea, and was insanely glad it wasn't her job to figure it out.

"Well stop your grinnin' and drop your linen!" Nathan exclaimed, quoting one of his favorite movies. "Would ya look at that? Out of the mouths of babes." With a final keystroke he sent another image to the monitor. It was a floor plan, and it matched the other one perfectly.

"The Brightman Convention Center in Boston," Nathan said. "Thousands of people every day, on the harbor, 200 yards from a high speed rail station. Everything Sergei wanted. Made. To. Order."

Nathan looked at Becca. "That was pretty good thinkin', kid. Sometimes it's the simple things, and we overlook them."

Becca blushed.

"All right," Jonas said. "We know where. Do we know when? What about the plutonium?"

"Nothing yet," Nathan said. "But there are more encrypted files. I'm crackin' 'em."

"Won't he abort his plan now he knows we're onto him?" Jaime asked.

"Maybe," Jonas said. "Or he might accelerate his schedule and hit his target as quickly as he can."

"Sergei's a practical businessman, and his own safety will be his top priority," Ruth said. "But he was also paid to do a job, and professional pride is important to him. His entire life depends on not losing face. He's also a sociopath. We can't expect him to think rationally in every situation."

"Another file decrypted," Nathan said. "Jackpot. I don't have a name, but I can tell you when and where he's meeting plutonium man, and it's nowhere near this hotel. I don't think there's anything more we can do here."

Jonas nodded, grateful Nathan hadn't revealed more details in front of Becca. He could practically strangle him for saying the words dirty bomb, plutonium, and this side of the Rio Grande in front of her already. All the girl had to do was tweet something and the shit would hit the fan.

"Dismantle everything, get it in the van," he said. "Ruth, stay here overnight. If we check out immediately after a disturbance, it'll be suspicious. You're just an ordinary sales representative on a business trip, and none of Sergei's men saw your face. You should be okay."

Ruth nodded. She and Nathan began shutting down the equipment and unplugging it.

Jonas sat next to Becca. "That was a pretty good idea, which may have helped save the lives of hundreds of people. Thanks."

Becca smiled faintly and looked down in embarrassment.

"I want to reiterate that you didn't do anything wrong today. You were just following your instincts, and it's obvious you care about Jaime a great deal. Just as much as she cares about you. And you're just as clever as she is. It clearly runs in the family."

Jaime gave Jonas a very, very hard warning look, and Jonas held up a hand. "Don't worry, I'm not trying to recruit her. Even I have my standards and I don't go around recruiting children. But she is just as clever as you are."

He addressed Becca again. "As best as I can tell, there are three reasons a person will tell a lie. The first reason is the one everyone instantly thinks about – the bad reason. Malice. Someone wants to do someone else harm, or he's done something awful and he wants to escape the consequences, or he wants more than his fair share. That kind of thing.

"The second reason is out of politeness. Like when your neighbor asks what you think about the painting her little boy did, and you lie and say he's the next Picasso when it's actually a piece of crap."

Despite herself, Becca laughed a little.

"The third reason is to protect someone. Like...say there's a boy who's in love with your best friend, and this boy is really sweet, a good guy. And he comes over and wants to see your best friend, but you know she's upstairs making out with someone else. Well, you're not going to tell him that, are you? It would rip him to shreds, and hurt him deeply for no good reason. So you lie. You say she's already gone home and gone to bed because she was feeling ill. You lie to protect him, to keep him from getting hurt."

Becca looked at Jonas, and swallowed hard with the emotion building inside her.

"Jaime's lies hurt you, and your natural instinct was to fight them. But the lies she told you were not told out of malice. They were designed to protect you. You're not even old enough to drive, yet, so she didn't want you to know about any of this, and she certainly didn't want you to worry about her all the time, which is what you'll do now. Because now that you know, you can't go back to not knowing. You lost a lot of your innocence today, Becca."

Becca smiled weakly, but she was obviously warming to him. "Don't worry about it. Both of my parents are out of the picture. I lost my innocence a long time ago."

Jonas gave a wry smile. "I suppose that's true."

"Is Jaime a good spy?" Becca suddenly blurted out.

"Hey," Jaime said. "I'm still in the room, you know."

Jonas scratched his chin. "Jaime's still green. She's only been in the game a few months. She makes the typical mistakes we expect a new person to make. But she's slightly ahead of the learning curve, and, yeah, I think she's an outstanding asset to our team. Gets on my nerves, sometimes."

"Yeah, tell me about it," Becca said, rolling her eyes.

"Hey!" Jaime exclaimed.

"In all seriousness, Becca, Jaime has helped save the lives of countless people," Jonas said. "You should be proud of her."

Becca looked at Jaime, her eyes shining with tears.

"But we don't put her in any real danger," Jonas said. "Even today, had something happened, we were just around the corner, as you saw. We leave the really dangerous stuff to the veterans, the ones who have been around for many years."

In her heart, Jaime silently thanked Jonas a million times.

"Do the rest of you lie to your families?" Becca asked.

"Sort of," Jonas said. "Here's the thing: most of us are married, and we certainly don't still live with our siblings. We tell our spouses the truth, but usually not our parents, not our siblings, and certainly not our young children. We might tell our grown children, but each agent makes his or her own choice in that matter.

"Jaime's situation is unique in my experience: an agent still living with her teenage sister. You're close enough to Jaime to know something is going on, but not close in the way a spouse would be, and therefore not privy to the same knowledge. You're old enough to know something is going on, but still very much a child, and therefore not old enough to be let in on the secret. You were caught in some kind of weird No Man's Land. Jaime's situation is tricky, and at times, I'm sure she didn't know how to handle it. Very few people in her position would. I certainly wouldn't have known. It's not like there's a manual to teach you how to deal with such a strange situation.

"Listen, Becca, I know you can't forget what you've seen here today, but I'm going to ask you to do it anyway," Jonas said. "We're in a dangerous line of work. Our secrecy keeps us safe. Our secrecy keeps us alive. It keeps your sister alive. Forgive me for saying so, but teenagers have never been reliable when it comes to keeping secrets, yet that's precisely what you'll have to do. You're now on the inside of this secret, looking out. And just like Jaime, now you'll occasionally have to lie, perhaps to your friends, perhaps to Jaime's friends. It'll seem strange, but any loose talk – even the slightest stray remark – anywhere you are, anywhere at all, could have devastating consequences that will hurt forever. Do you understand?"

Becca nodded. "Yes, sir. I understand."

"Good. Stay in school and keep your grades up. You're worth it." He turned to Jaime. "Take her home, then call me."

"Actually...," Jaime said, thought for a second, and turned to Becca. "Am I going to get a call from the school?"

"I dunno," Becca said, suddenly ashamed again after what Jonas had just told her. "I ditched the field trip, but I answered roll on the bus. I don't know if they've missed me yet. They'll do another roll call when everyone gets on the bus for the trip back. They'll at least know then."

"I'm taking you back to the museum," Jaime said. "If we're really, really lucky, they haven't even missed you, and you might actually get through this day with no consequences."

Becca's eyes met Jonas's and they shared the lightest of smiles. Then Becca lowered her eyes. "No," she whispered. "There are always consequences."

Jaime gathered her belongings from the bedroom (the lovestruck bodyguard was still blubbering), turning off her eye camera as she did. She reassured Jae everything was all right, thanked him for his help rescuing Becca, and changed clothes in the bathroom as quickly as she could. She still didn't entirely trust Jonas. For all she knew, he was recruiting Becca at that very moment. The thought spurred her on.

She emerged from the bedroom and tossed the silver skirt playfully into Nathan's face as she walked past. "Keep it," she said.

"It doesn't match my eyes and I don't think it'll fit."

Jaime placed the little silver purse in front of Ruth, subtly motioning to her that something important was inside. Ruth gave a tiny nod.

Jonas accompanied Becca and Jaime to the door. Jaime gave him a subtle nod, indicating that she couldn't hear anything alarming or suspicious anywhere in the hotel. They both knew enough time had passed that Jaime was probably safe leaving the way she came in. There was a slight risk, but they had to get Becca away.

Becca suddenly blurted out, "You will keep her safe! Do you understand?" The terror in her eyes burned into Jonas.

"That's been my plan from the beginning," Jonas said. "And it will never change."

Becca nodded, her face tight with worry, and turned to Jaime. "I'm really, really glad you're a secret agent and not a prostitute."

Jaime snorted.

"Jaime's not a secret agent," Jonas said. Becca looked at him. "She sells time shares." He opened the door.

Becca smiled, and it was a smile of pure joy. "Bye," she said, and walked out. Jaime raised her eyebrows at Jonas briefly and followed her.

Jonas closed the door and shared a look with Ruth. They both let out enormous sighs of incredible stress.

Ruth opened the silver purse and pulled out a pistol which had been crushed by a human hand.

"And what," she sighed, "are we supposed to do with this?"

 

Becca followed Jaime through the hotel. As they walked, Jaime thought about all the aspects of her job Becca still didn't know about, especially the biggest secret of all. Jaime wondered if she could ever tell her. If she ever should.

As they approached the door by the kitchen marked Employees Only, Jaime said, "I have a name badge. You're with me, so act like you own the place." Becca found this easy to do, and no one stopped them. They reached the car without another word and without incident, and Jaime drove them away. The moment they were on the road, Jaime truly relaxed for the first time since Becca had arrived.

They were silent for a few minutes. Finally Becca asked, "So what are you doing tonight?"

"Dunno," Jaime sighed, grateful to talk about something. "Probably go to Boston with the gang. Unless they find some more intel which tells us differently."

"So you don't know when you'll be home?"

"That's right. Sorry."

Becca was silent for a moment. "But you will stay safe, right?"

Jaime smiled at her. "Always."

"Because I want you to stay safe," Becca said, choking up.

"Hey," Jaime said softly. "And I want you to stay wonderful. So, I'll make you a deal. I'll stay safe if you stay a normal teenager."

"I can't stay a normal teenager. I have this big secret now."

"Well, okay. Aside from that. I want you to be normal. I want you to have crushes on boys, and go to dances, and gossip with your friends, and have sleepovers, and hang out at the mall, and text until your fingers fall off, and do all those stupid, wonderful, corny things teenagers do." Tears suddenly sprang to Jaime's eyes and she got choked up, too. "Because you only get to do it once. Nobody comes down from the sky on a magic cloud and says you get to do it over again. And if your teenage years were ruined, it would break my heart and ruin everything I've ever worked for, because nothing else in the world matters to me except you. So I'll make you a deal. I'll stay safe if you stay normal. Deal?"

Becca grinned at her through her tears. "Deal."

And they talked about everything else, and about nothing at all, the rest of the way.

Upon arrival at the museum, a few inquiries led them to the theater. Inside, Becca's school group was watching a film about the Cretaceous. They were due to get out in about fifteen minutes. Jaime bought two ice cream cones, and they sat outside the theater and laughed and ate ice cream. When the theater doors opened, the sisters hugged, then Becca went to join her classmates. She merged seamlessly with the crowd, and Jaime saw her joke a bit with her teacher, who reacted normally. Apparently, no one had noticed Becca's absence. Jaime knew she should have found that disturbing, but today, she was just grateful.

Becca's eyes met hers one more time, and they gave each other a surreptitious little girly wave. Then Becca was around the corner and gone, with her classmates where she belonged.

Jaime called Jonas, who ordered her to meet them in Boston ASAP.

She pulled her billfold out of her purse and checked her cash. Sure enough, she had forty more dollars than she'd had the night before. She smiled.

 

Becca spent the rest of the day in a bizarre mixture of joy, emotional release, and terror, but she was an expert at faking her way through things, and did so again.

She took the bus home from school. Both she and Jaime disliked the bus because its route was long and circuitous, but sometimes it was all she had. She let herself into the building and exchanged pleasantries with Sarah Corvus, their neighbor, who was just on her way out.

She went up to the apartment she shared with Jaime and tried to concentrate on her homework. That didn't work. She tried to enjoy some music. That didn't work. So she thought about the fact that she had been briefly captured and surrounded by ruthless gunmen who would have killed both her and Jaime in an instant without the slightest remorse, and curled up into a ball on her bed and sobbed for a long time.

That seemed to work.

Her big new secret weighed on her so much that she was afraid to get on line, lest it somehow leap out of her of its own accord and betray everyone. And she realized one of life's great truths: having a deep secret made a person feel alone.

But feeling much better after a good cry, she lay on her bed and tried to do some homework for once, aware of how badly she'd been doing lately.

She could have died today. What would everyone have said about her? "She was your typical rebellious teenager with a C average. She really wasn't going anywhere."

Right.

She opened a textbook and read about American history for a while. When she got hungry, she made a plate of nachos and nuked a frozen Mexican dinner, brought the food and a lemonade back to her bed, opened another textbook, and learned some geometry while munching on enchiladas.

At 9:36 the phone rang. She snatched it up without even looking at the caller ID, her heart racing. "Hello?"

"Hey girl!" Jaime said, and it was the sweetest sound Becca had ever known. "What's up?"

"Oh, nothing." Becca twirled her hair, sounding like she'd had the most boring day in the world. "I'm lying here staring at some math problems. There's this triangle with the instructions "Find x," but it doesn't appear to be lost."

Jaime laughed. "I love you."

"What are you doing?" Becca asked.

"I'm in Boston, and I am so dog tired I can hardly keep my eyes open. I'm staying here tonight. I'll be home in the morning."

"Cool. How are things?" The question was loaded with meaning.

"Wonderful!" Jaime enthused. "We closed on the big sale, and we found the buyer a nice new place to stay with wonderful roommates and an enclosed concrete yard, and it looks like he'll be there a while. We got what we came for and everyone's going to be just fine."

Becca grinned. "Awesome!"

"So, we're all safe and happy," Jaime said. "Get some rest, because tomorrow, I'm going to treat you to a super special day. I should be in by nine, ten at the latest."

"Okay. You get some rest, too," Becca said. "You've earned it."

"You know it," Jaime said. "I love you, sport."

"I love you, too," Becca said.

"See you tomorrow," Jaime said. "Bye."

"Bye." Becca hung up the phone and rolled over, clutching her pillow to her chest, trying to still her beating heart.

Would this ever get any easier?

"And she certainly didn't want you to worry about her all the time, which is what you'll do now."

Jonas had known what would happen. Jaime had known what would happen. And she had gone and screwed it all up, and now she would pay the price.

Becca rolled out of bed, took her empty dinner plates and glass to the kitchen sink, and brushed her teeth.

She returned to her room, turned out the light, opened the window shade and looked out on an ocean of Friday night city lights. Behind every light was the story of a person. So many people. She looked at her own reflection in the glass, superimposed over those lights. She was just one tiny person in such a large world. A world in which she would have to grow up. Fast.

Jonas was right. She had lost a lot of her innocence today.

She left the shade open. She wanted to see the lights, to let them mesmerize her, speak to her as she drifted to sleep. And she wanted the sunlight to wake her in the morning.

Jaime was safe. That was all that mattered.

She put her textbooks to one side in a neat stack, climbed into bed, and was asleep within minutes.

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