The air was alive with energy, and smelled moist and sweet like honey. She had always enjoyed this after the thunder storm smell. It stirred the memory of countless evenings spent on her front porch steps, enjoying the serenity of a storms aftermath. What she had never realized, was that at thirteen thousand feet, the smell was ten times more electrified then it was down on earth. Funny what you notice even when your free falling at one hundred and twenty miles an hour.
There had been no time to second guess, no time to think about safety. A year in a secret identity while in the midst of an organized crime family had suddenly ended with one fatal error. She had infiltrated the Russian Mafias close ranks while in the role of an information specialist. In reality the CIA provided her with just enough information to dangle in front of the Kotova family, giving her leverage to become one with them.
A brotherhood involved in illegal oil trade, smuggling weapons and nuclear materials and of course contract killings. But the reason she was undercover, was to uncover solid proof to the rumors behind the Kotova’s trading of youth in the sex slave world. It had taken her nearly nine months to be welcomed into the darkest recess of the family’s trade, then another three to come up with the documentation solid enough to stand up against the family’s billion dollar lawyers and to put every member behind bars.
Just a few minutes ago, inside the Kotova’s luxurious Cessna, Sergei, the big daddy of the crime family, had choked, literally, and gave her the rare, unwatched moment she needed to swipe his personal computer, and within fifteen seconds, while the small aircraft had been a hustle of chaos, she had the documentation she needed, saved to her memory card.
However, before she could leave the small office Dmitry, Sergei’s eldest son had walked in. He had taken one look at her and the memory card in her hand, then his eyes crossed to the awake computer screen and just like that her year of careful manipulation came crashing to an end.
The bullet which had been aimed at her heart only grazed her arm as she moved for cover. Behind the desk, and missing a second bullet, she withdrew Sergei’s hidden gun beneath the desk then returned fire. A well aimed shot hit Dmitry in the chest.
He was alive, but quickly loosing blood. She pulled him to his feet and used his body as a shield as Sergei’s other goons barreled into the room with weapons drawn. With a gun aimed at Dmitry’s head she walked her way toward the back of the Cessna, opened the emergency door, grabbed one of the two parachutes, shoved Dmitry toward his colleges then dove out of the plain.
Bullets whizzed past as she rolled head over heels, doing her best to avoid another bullet. Within twenty seconds she was free from the spray of death. She pulled out of the somersaulting spin, positioning her body for the ride, and then kicked off her high hills. If only Sergei did not have a thing for women in slim fitting skirts and stilettos, this might have been a more comfortable fall. Her attention was captivated then upon noticing the second figure leaping from the plain above her.
Maxim- he was the only other member of the Kotova crime family, beside herself that was not a blood relation. He had been in with the family much longer then she, and was always at Sergei’s side there to do whatever was bid of him. He preferred to work alone, kept to himself, and carried an air of infinite tolerance tightly concealing a dangerous man within, and it had oddly stirred her interest and curiosity. He was a lean mass of secrets, his golden eyes daring anyone to question his commitment or his own personal agenda.
There had been one night, after they had completed a job for Sergei; together they shared dinner at a small fish house in a decrepit part of town along the Hudson. The diner was dimly lit, private, and nearly vacant at one in the morning. Their politely boring conversation had somehow escalated into an onslaught of personal questions that neither one of them had ever mentioned after that night. Ever since she had a suspicion that there was more to Maxim then he let on, much like her own secret identity. But what she did not know, assuming her intuition was correct, was whether or not he was on the side of the good guys or not?
She desperately despised the Kotova family, especially after learning of their cruel and inhumane crimes. But somehow Maxim had always managed to avoid the most debauched of the family’s sins. Despite this, it did not mean he would be averse to killing her to satisfy his position within Sergei’s ranks.
One minute of free falling in this early twilight hour. To her west the sun was beginning to set, blazing the horizon in vivid orange and purple bursts of light. It was time to pull the parachute and stop her descent, but with Maxim in hot pursuit she would have to avoid doing so until the last possible moment.
It had been over five years since her last jump. In her mind she went over all procedures as she calculated how long she could hold off from pulling the cord and still make a safe landing. Below her the earth was rapidly growing closer. What was a mass of square and rectangular divided land sections just a moment ago, now was taking shape into more discernible images. In the distance houses, roads, buildings took shape, but her drop zone was an undeveloped slot of land. It was perhaps a hundred or so acres of trees and brush.
Her heart rate began to accelerate with adrenaline as she gripped the cord. Her eyes remained focused on the ground, as the muscles in her arm flexed and waited for the command. She had been falling for nearly three minutes and was entering a danger zone of death.
Pull. The parachute exploded out and took a freighting moment to fully open. Her body was jerked as her descent suddenly slowed, just in time too, as she was now passing the tree tops. Another few seconds and her feet hit the earth hard, sending her stumbling to her knees.
She cut herself free of the parachute, then wishing she had the hardened feet of a child used to running barefoot, she sprinted toward the cover of the thick brush and distanced herself from the drop zone, knowing Maxim would be upon her in another few seconds if she stuck around.
She focused initially on speed and distance, but after a few minutes she stopped, placing her back against a tree as she focused on the sounds around her. The gurgle of a nearby brook, a gentle breeze rustling the tree limbs, water droplets falling to the ground with a very faint splat which had been brought by the heavy rain that had crossed by an hour ago. But no cracking of twigs under a man’s booted foot, no brush of clothing, nothing to hint as to Maxim’s location.
She pushed away from the tree; this times her movement slow and cautious. He appeared out of nowhere, grabbing her shoulder and wrenching her around. She bit back her shriek of surprise as she bunched her fist and aimed for his face.
He blocked the strike, but she had been trained well in one on one combat and was prepared with a counter attack. A swift blow to his low abdomen, and then she kicked out intending to bring him to his knees in pain. But he caught her ankle, twisting it, forcing her to roll to prevent broken bones.
Leaves crackled beneath as she fell upon the moist ground. She rolled to the side as he moved to grab her. However to her aggravation he had expected that move and she found her body pressed into the ground with the weight of his body. She lay face down, her senses consumed with the earthy scent of soil and decaying foliage, but she was also quite suddenly aware of the scent of his cologne, something musky and rustic.
“Who are you working for?” Maxim asked as he gripped her arms.
“Who are you working for?” She countered.
“Sergei Kotova.” Maxim answered without feeling.
“Bull!” She breathed in a deep breath. “That lie might pass muster for Sergei and the family, but to another infiltrator it is completely false.”
“So you admit your working for someone else.”
“I’d be beating a dead horse if I sought to string it out any further at this point. Much like yourself.” She answered her voice a growl of irritation.
“I have not been discovered.” He leaned down close, his mouth quite near her ear. “What do you plan on doing with that memory card?”
A ripple of desire coursed through her body as his warm breath touched her skin. “Destroying the Kotova’s.”
“I believe Sergei would flee back to Ukraine before the Heat could terminate his life as he knows it.” He said slowly almost seductively.
His mouth was so close now, she was certain it was more than just his breath on her skin. She clenched her teeth as she fleetingly imagined herself rolling over in his arms, their bodies molded together, lips lost in fevered kisses. “I have to finish this.” She said softly.
His hand brushed her hair to the side, and then his lips pressed onto the back of her neck. She shivered from the heat of his mouth and the powerful yearning for more. “Then do it," his voice softened with an unlikely understanding, "but remain in hiding until it is completed, Sergei will have a price on your head so high you won’t be able to walk down a street without a hired killer on your heels.”
Maxim pushed himself off of her and walked away. She stood and watched him slip into the darkening night. As she made her way through the backwoods with the priority of finding a land line phone, she wondered again whom he worked for.
Perhaps fate would be gracious and someday bring them together again under different circumstances so that she might delve a little deeper into the unknown of Maxim.