I normally subcontract such work to one of my operatives. Any
one of my girls would be equal to such an assignment, but the
voice of the man who would be signing the paycheck was very
specific. Only The Businesswoman would do.

So I found myself one brisk September evening walking toward
the large glass doors of one of the Agency's uptown
safehouses--an upscale apartment building with a floor
reserved exclusively for their use. This information was not
common knowledge, by any means, but my intelligence network
is supremely thorough.

I was being paid an obscene amount of money--half of which
was already in a numbered account--to "liberate" a government
witness and deliver him into my employer's hands.
Assignments piqued my interest enough to get involved for
different reasons, but obscene amounts of money certainly ran
in the top five.

I paused to check my makeup in a small compact mirror. A
casual activity you might expect to see any woman doing, but it
also served as an opportunity for me to more closely regard the
front entrance of the safehouse, as well as the windows facing
the street. Instead of my image, the face of the mirror was
showing me magnifications of the building, as well as thermal
images as I moved it slowly back and forth. Nothing out of the

This particular government witness was not high on the priority
list for the federal law enforcement officials, which had made me
wonder why the call had gone out for my particular talents. Still,
when you want a job done right the first time, you don't muck
around with amateurs. If you can afford the best, why not

Accomplishing the objective would not be as simple as walking
in and asking the agents if I could take the target, one Adam
Matthews, for a stroll. On the other hand, I didn't expect to meet
with resistance of an extraordinary nature, either. Certainly not if
my external scan was any indication. The direct approach was
going to work nicely.

I closed the compact with a quiet snap and slipped it back into
my bag. Time to go to work.

I continued on to the front doors of the apartment building. The
apartments catered to elite, nouveau riche status climbers, and I
had arrived dressed for my surroundings. I had selected an
exquisitely tailored, feminine tuxedo number. Short, raven hair
seemed like an appropriate choice, as well. Black, six-inch
stiletto heels gave me a bit more of an imposing stature. It never
hurts to make a striking first impression.

And, of course, I had arrived with a selection of...novelties.

I breezed past the uniformed doorman, flashing him a resident
identification card that had been painstakingly produced by my
organization. The man hardly afforded me so much as a second
glance once he had nodded at my card. This told me two things:
that my disguise was on the mark, and that the doorman was not
an Agency operative.

I pressed the call button for the elevator. After a few moments of
waiting, the elevator doors opened and I stepped inside. The
doors closed silently, and I regarded the obviously weary
elevator operator. Wearing a variation of the doorman's uniform,
he smiled a bit wanly at me.

"Evening, ma'am. Floor, please?"

A smiled at him. My demeanor was distracted and pleasant, but I
was watching his face very carefully.

"Seventeen, please."

There it was. An almost imperceptable shift. The man's polite
smile never dropped, but there was now an alertness to his
bearing that had not been there an instant ago. Agent.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, did you say seventeen?"

I faced him and laughed lightly with a touch of embarrassment.
"Silly of me. That's not what I meant at all. What I meant was

Without raising my hand, I pressed the stone in my ring with my
thumb. A jet of pink, concentrated sleeping gas discharged from
my elegant bowtie with a pronounced *phhhsst*, catching the
surprised man full in the face. His eyes went wide for a moment,
as he stumbled back a step. I smiled fondly at him, breathing
through my nostril filters.

His face was already going slack and his eyes had dropped to
half-mast, but, amazingly, he was still on his feet...and slowly
reaching into his jacket. I stepped close to him and put my hand
on his arm, easily keeping him from drawing his weapon.

"Naughty," I murmured reproachfully, and gave him a second
dose of the lullaby gas.

His eyes fluttered once, then he slid quietly to the floor. I made a
mental note to mention to Marlene that the potency of the bowtie
gas would have to be strengthened. In today's economy I can't
afford to be double-gassing every young man who doesn't
realize it's naptime when I say it's naptime, I thought with some