There were a lot of places in which Caroline Romero could envision being murdered—a dark alley, a parking lot, even a nature preserve—but a shopping mall in broad daylight wasn’t one of them. Especially not one just steps away from the Pentagon. Nevertheless, here she
The team following her appeared to be made up of three men, one of whom she recognized, a tall man with almost translucent white skin and a head of thick, white hair. The trio took turns rotating in and out of view. There was no misconstruing their intention. The speed with which they had uncovered what she was up to and had locked on to her was astounding. As good as she was, they were better.
It wasn’t a matter of simply being careful or of properly covering her tracks either. She had done all of that. The organization was just too big, too omnipresent to escape. Now it was coming after her.
She needed to work fast. When the team moved in, there’d be nothing anyone could, or would, do to stop them. First they would interrogate her and then they would kill her. She couldn’t let them take her or what she was carrying.
The mall was large, with lots of upscale shops and closed-circuit cameras. They would be tapped into that system, watching her. She knew it because she had done it herself countless times. Knowing how they worked was the only thing that gave her an advantage.
She walked with a moderate pace, purposeful, but not frightened. If they sensed any panic in her, they’d know she was on to them—they would close ranks immediately and snatch her. She couldn’t allow that to happen, not until she finished one last thing.
All around her, shoppers ambled in and out of stores, woefully unaware of what was taking place in the world just outside. It was their world too, after all, and she wanted to shake them. She wanted to wake them up. She knew, though, that they’d only look at her like she was crazy. In fact, until very recently, she probably would have agreed with them. What she had discovered, though, was beyond crazy. It was insane; frighteningly insane.
Her job had been pretty simple, with one primary directive: to tie up loose ends by clipping the loose threads. But along the way, she had committed a cardinal sin. Instead of clipping threads, she had begun to pull on one, and now she was about to pay the ultimate price.
In the first store she entered, she paid cash and bought multiple items in order to hide what she was doing. She politely told the clerk that she didn’t need a receipt.
Back out in the mall, she merged with the stream of people and tried to keep her anxiety under control. She took a deep breath through her nose and shoved the fear as far down as it would go. Only one more step, she told herself.
Before that step, though, she needed to lay a little more cover. Paying cash again at two additional stores, she emerged toting two bags filled with nonessentials that would hopefully further mislead her pursuers. Her plan was to fill the figurative theater with so much smoke that no one would know where the fire was until it was too late.
The last store was the most important. It was also the biggest roll of the dice. Everything depended on it, and if it didn’t go perfectly, her entire operation and everything she had risked would be for naught.
Entering the lingerie store, Caroline scanned for cameras. There were three—two covered the store itself, a third was trained on the sales desk where the registers were.
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