Winters HeatBy: Cristin Harber
His simple job just became complicated. Colby Winters watched the two men who had tailed him for days. For the first time, they weren’t bringing up the rear on their cross-country caravan. Team Tagalong, as he had grown fond of calling them, pushed their way into the crowded airport ahead of him and beelined for the covert pickup location. Winters adrenaline and curiosity spiked.
He powered past a coffee shop, trying to catch Team Tagalong as they neared a jog. Business folks with rolling briefcases blocked his view for a second but cleared. His tails stood still, their faces tight and focused on the row of chairs that only Winters should’ve known about, where the package was hidden.
There was no doubt they’d learned about the pickup spot, and he needed a swift Plan B. He hated when the spy game changed in the final countdown.
Edging closer, he couldn’t see why they stopped after powering past him. He followed their hesitant gaze. A woman, dressed in khaki pants and a cardigan sweater decorated like a pink Easter egg, was on the floor, pawing at the underside of the chairs.
That was their problem. And now, his too.
Plan B now needed to account for Miss Khakis-and-Cardigan. Team Tagalong advanced toward her. The woman remained oblivious to their approach while Winters pulled back.
This can’t be happening. She had the small package in hand and was turning it like a Rubik’s Cube.
His Plan B formed. Stay to the perimeter. Move in and extract the package at a location with fewer witnesses. Team Tagalong’s apparent plan was a hand-to-hand version of engage the enemy. Manhandling the woman wasn’t the smartest option, but they’d already proven not to be the smartest team.
Her eyes were as wide open as her mouth. One man had her elbow, and she buckled into his grip. Not the type of complication Winters needed. She couldn’t look any more honest if she had a glowing halo.
Her eyes said she knew Team Tagalong would leave her dead in a dumpster. His instinct said the woman had no idea what she held. Then again, neither did he. The contents of the package were on a need-to-know basis only, and he didn’t need-to-know squat in order to secure it.
She flinched again. Time for Plan C. Waiting to engage wasn’t happening with Miss Khakis-and-Cardigan in the crossfire. His tactical pants and black shirt served as piss-poor camouflage, and their quartet didn’t need the attention, but he stalked over and squared off.
The woman wrapped a white-knuckled grip around the package. She was scared, but that didn’t seem to matter. Had he read the scene all wrong? She didn’t yell or drop the package.
Was the unlucky female really an operative playing the innocent card? He didn’t know. He didn’t care. This op was a headache and a half. Time for the next plan: secure the package, and everyone could fend for himself.
Winters ignored the men and smiled as polite and professional as a gladiator on a bad day.
“Not sure what this is all about.” He gestured to the men at her sides. “But hand it over.”
“No, pendejo. She is coming with us.” The man answered for her, flexing his sausage fingers around her bicep. Her mouth opened with unvoiced pain.
“Wasn’t talking to you, was I?” He couldn’t place the Spanish accent, and an international-fucking-incident wasn’t his idea of an easy in-and-out. Next time he was offered a cakewalk assignment, Winters would ignore his sweet tooth.
Team Tagalong pivoted away, woman in hand, and merged into the constant flow of mindless travelers.
So, it’s going to be like that.
She was dragged more than she walked. The second man hovered close, hiding her reluctance from any interested spectators.
Winters sidestepped in front again. He had orders not to engage. Extract and secure only. Extracting was a pain when he couldn’t throw down. Besides, airports weren’t conducive to altercations given their national security issues.
“Hold up. We have business to discuss. That package is leaving with me, mi amigo.” Dickhead would have worked better, but the Spanish translation for that term of endearment slipped his mind.
The woman. She was an unknown, though she looked like she sat in the front car of the world’s scariest rollercoaster. Pale color. Wide eyes. Pinched brow. He gave a once-over of the sugary outfit and superglue-grip on the package. She didn’t act like an operative, but chameleons were tricky to spot.