No Second Guesses, No Regrets
Three days before the start of the Tech and Mech expo, the group assembled in a briefing room to go over everything that they would need to know. Tony would be attending the expo also, as he was rather expected to attend. Taryn was provided a list of possible attendees and who to watch out for. No guarantees that Thornfeld would be present at the expo, but they needed to get their hands on the serum at any cost. Even if they didn't get it all, at least a sample would help SHIELD develop an antidote. She hoped Thornfeld would be dumb enough to show because she'd love to take him down. But she would have to be patient and at least take care of the business they were sending her to do.
Taryn rose with the sun on the first day of the expo. She kept her hair down, soft and flowing and put on a pair of designer glasses. The gray suit she wore was tailored to fit and she slid on her black leather businesslike pumps.
Before she left for the city, Steve went to see Taryn in her quarters.
"I know what you're going to say, and I will be careful. This isn't my first rodeo," she said to him before he could speak.
He sighed and laid a hand on her shoulder. "I know you will. I know this is what you do. I know that you're highly trained." Rogers stepped closer to her, gently brushing a lock of hair from her eyes. "I also know that I… I care about you. I've just found you and I don't want to lose you before we can explore … us…. I've lived through that experience once, but I don't know if I can do that again. It should be me out there, taking the risks -"
McKenna laughed out loud and put a finger to his lips. "Ha! Welcome to the 21st century Captain! I love how you want to protect me, and I love how you care. And I love the thought of spending more time with you after this is over." She moved her hand to the back of his head, and pulled him down to kiss her.
A beep in her com signaled they were ready for her. She broke the kiss and started into his bright blue eyes. "I will come back, alive, and we'll have more time to continue this. Now see me off, ok?"
He nodded and walked after her to meet the others. Natasha gave her the ear piece and the cell phone that would be used to make the monetary transactions. She was briefed on where everyone's position would be – Romanoff and Wanda would be in a surveillance vehicle. Captain America, War Machine and Falcon would be ground support if needed. Vision would provide air support and was stationed just beyond the Brooklyn Bridge and could come in fast and hot if necessary. Tony was attending the expo, using his company and knowledge of weapons as an excuse to check out his competition. Taryn had reservations at the Plaza Hotel to keep her profile high. She would be staying there until the end of the expo and out of contact except for the special ear piece and phone. Both would leave untraceable, scrambled signals.
Taryn said her goodbyes and walked to the 2003 BMW Z8 waiting for her and climbed in.
Rogers walked over to the window and bent his head down. "Take care, and we'll see you soon. How about dinner when you get back?"
"It's a date," she responded with a wink. She spun out the wheels and drove off for the city.
Steve felt a pat on the back. "I'm sure she'll be fine," said Tony. "We'll be watching out for her."
Steve smiled, still looking after the car. "We'd better. I have a date with her when she gets back."
Tony clapped Steve on the shoulder. "Well, well, well. Good for you."
Taryn pulled the BMW up to the valet parking and stepped out of the car, handing the keys to the attendant. Another attendant took her baggage and followed her into hotel.
She strode in confidently and made her way to the front desk.
"Yes ma'am? Can I help you?"
She smiled brightly, her now amber eyes batting at him. "Yes, you have a reservation for Doctor Caroline Frasier." She presented her passport for identification.
"Ah yes, welcome Dr. Frasier. And you'll be with us for five days? "
"Yes, that is correct. In the city for business."
She received her key and the porter took her bag up to her suite. She tipped him well and unbuttoned her suit jacket to get comfortable. She wasn't down for five minutes when her phone rang.
"This is Dr. Frasier."
"Good afternoon, Doctor. My name is Richard Heller. We are having a reception down in the private dining room for anyone attending the expo, and we would love to have you attend."
Taryn raised a brow. "Why that would be lovely, Mr. Heller. Thank you very much for the
"Very good, Dr. Frasier. We will see you at four pm."
"Thank you. See you then."
Well, that was a step in the right direction. She wondered if Tony would have been invited…
Taryn fixed her makeup, hair and straightened her suit, then made her way down to the room where they were holding the reception. Taking a deep breath, she became Dr. Frasier again and stepped into the room. She found it crawling with suits – mostly male with a small spattering of female. She mingled, accepting a glass of champagne and set it down to get some snacks. Taryn nonchalantly scanned it with her ring for any substances and/or drugs. Clear. One could never be too careful. She picked up some finger foods and meandered around the reception. She picked up bits of conversation, all being recorded by devices and relayed back to SHIELD. Nothing too covert would be discussed, just old friends meeting and new business partnerships being created.
She was approached by several men offering more than a business deal, but she turned them down politely, and kept moving. One woman approached her.
"It's disgraceful the way they treat women in this business, isn't it?"
Taryn turned to observed a woman, perhaps in her late 40s, smartly dressed, impeccably manicured, offering her hand. "I'm Constance Thornfeld. CFO of Thornfeld Enterprises."
Markus' sister. So it was a family business. There hadn't been much of her in the files. She might be a way in…
"Dr. Caroline Frasier, a pleasure to meet you. Does seem to be a good old boys club, doesn't it? Unfortunately I'm used to it."
Constance laughed, "Someday they'll be sorry, when women rule the world."
"I'll drink to that," she replied.
"So, what is it that you do, Dr. Frasier?"
"Caroline, please." She handed Constance her business card. "I'm in ... purchasing, acquisitions and sales."
Constance got her meaning. "Ah, I see. Perhaps then the expo will be profitable for us both?"
"I certainly hope so," she said with a smile.
Constance's phone rang. "Excuse me, will you? I hope to chat with you later, Caroline."
She raised her glass. "I look forward to it."
The reception was drawing to a close, and Constance and several other members of the board thanked everyone for being there and looked forward to a good expo. Markus Thornfeld was oddly missing from the whole affair. Taryn was about to leave and report in when Constance approached her again.
"Oh, Dr. Frasier – Caroline! I wonder if you might say for a moment. I'd like to discuss something with you and several others."
"Oh, of course." She heard in her ear that Thornfeld Enterprises had run credit and background checks on numerous people. They wouldn't find anything on her but a successful business and LOTS of capital.
She waited around and eventually Constance gathered about 15 people together and invited them to the special after-hours auction. Success! She thought at least I can see what is really on the table.
Constance handed one to Taryn. "I hope you'll be able to join us each evening?"
"Why, thank you Constance. It would be my pleasure."
With the formalities done and chatting over, she headed back up to her room. She wouldn't transmit tonight, but would to that in the early morning when she went for a jog in Central Park.
Taryn woke early and geared up for a run. Strapping her cell phone to her upper arm, she put her ear buds in and set off for the park. As she jogged, she transmitted her report through her phone on a scrambled signal. A call then came in and she stopped running. "Dr. Frasier," she answered.
"Good morning, Doctor." She smiled at the sound of his voice. "Thank you for the message you sent."
"You're welcome. It should prove useful." She reached out with her mind and could feel Rogers on the other end of the line. I miss you… she thought, knowing he wouldn't hear her.
He hesitated, wanting to say something more personal to her. "I'll speak to you later then."
"Yes, thank you for calling." She sighed, knowing he wanted to say more but didn't dare. She set her music again, and continued her jog in the park.
Steve stared at the phone for a moment after she hung up. She sounded well, not agitated or nervous. So far things must be going fine. She transmitted that she had received an invite to the auctions that they suspected would happen. She had gotten on the good side of Thornfeld's sister, and that was a plus for the mission. He just wished she didn't have to be there alone. Good thing Tony would be at the expo itself.
The week progressed and the expo was enormous. Any kind of weapon, clothing and vehicle military related was present. Taryn ran into Tony a few times and they acted like they had business knowledge of each other but that was all. Though it was a comfort to her that he was here as back up just in case things went south. She attended the after-hours auctions and spent a good amount of money on some dampening devices and clothing, and even a few diffusing grenades. The stuff actually scared the hell out of her because it was used against people like her. One wrong move and they could seriously affect her. This is why they wanted this mysterious serum off the market and gone for good. And speaking of the serum, today was the last day of the expo, and therefore the last auction.
Taryn arrived at the auction in a pair of dress pants and stretch satin blouse. Something comfortable just in case there was any action. It went on with more weapons, vehicles, clothing and the very last thing to come up was the serum.
It was explained that this serum, once injected, would debilitate the mutant/gifted etc. to the point of them losing their abilities. It seemed as though it was still in the prototype stage, but it was certainly getting a lot of attention. The bidding war had begun and Taryn managed to get in on the third batch to be offered. Per the agreement, a deposit would be made and it would be available to be picked up at a currently undisclosed location. They would make arrangements that a driver would pick them up and take them to the exchange. Taryn's appointment would be tomorrow at 3pm.
"Oh, Caroline?" Constance had been at this auction. "It was a pleasure to meet you. Perhaps we can get together for lunch sometime."
Taryn acted enthusiastic. "I'd love that. You have my business card, so please call me."
Constance nodded and shook her hand. "I will. You have a good night."
"You too!" She was glad this charade was almost over. She would have almost liked
Constance if she wasn't a Thornfeld with the same ethics as her brother. Her brother, who had mysteriously had no presence in any of the dealings throughout the expo. She wondered if he'd be at the final exchange.
Taryn dressed in leggings, boots and a tunic. She needed to be ready for anything. Pulling her hair into a bun, she put in her ear piece and grabbed the briefcase that contained the cash for the transaction. Let's get this over with, she thought. She went down to the lobby of the Plaza awaiting the driver.
"Dr. Frasier?" asked a tall, thin man.
He smiled, looking a bit like an undertaker. "I will be taking you to your destination this afternoon for the business meeting."
She nodded and followed him out to a limo waiting out front. He opened the door for her, then got in beside her. They rode in silence until they reached the warehouse district. Interesting setting, but it was large and people wouldn't ask questions. They pulled up in front of a large warehouse and she was dropped off and entered the building through the door before her. She walked into a fairly large room and found a table set up with the cases of serum sitting on it. On each end of the table stood an armed man and she could sense they were in a dampening field. Damn it, she thought. I figured this would happen. Thornfeld wants to make sure everyone is on his side who is buying this…
Taking a deep breath she walked toward the table and nodded to the men with a smile.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Frasier," said a male voice from above her.
She looked up on a cat walk. Markus Thornfeld.
He took his time walking down to her, then he approached her and shook her hand. "Such a pleasure to meet you, Doctor. It's nice to find a woman with the same interests."
"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Thornfeld. I have been quite impressed with your creations. My clients are as well."
He nodded and moved around to the backside of the table. "Wonderful to hear. I trust you have brought the balance."
She nodded and set the case on the table. Her head was starting to feel fuzzy. With the dampening field in the room, there was no way to alert any back up outside. She was on her own. She opened the case and he was visibly pleased to see all the cash. "Do you mind if I inspect the merchandise?" she asked.
"Of course not," and he opened a box for her. Lining the box nestled within foam were vials of a purple liquid. "Shall I show you how it works?" He nodded to one of the men who went off and came back moments later with a young man in handcuffs. Taryn felt the color drain from her face and tried to compose herself. "Oh that really isn't necessary. My clients trust you…"
"Oh, but it is. I provide this to all my customers." And he walked over to the man and took out a syringe and jammed it into his arm. He doubled over in pain and fell to the ground twitching. "He had the power to alter his appearance. He won't be doing that anymore."
Taryn found herself getting sick to her stomach. And her head was throbbing. She needed to get out, now, and send the others in to clean up. "Fascinating. Thank you for… for the demonstration. Now if you'll excuse me, I have clients that are waiting…"
"Are you well, Doctor? You look a bit peaked." He was starting to get suspicions and Taryn couldn't sense his next move. Damn it this was not good!
"Hmm… I think I ate some bad shellfish at lunch… Now if you'll excuse me…"
He grabbed her arm. "I don't think so. Something is telling me not to trust you."
She felt helpless. She pulled her arm out of his grip. "I don't know what you're talking about..."
"Whoever you are, if you're 'gifted'," he spat, "then you won't be for long." And he jabbed another syringe into her thigh and she screamed. It felt like her leg was on fire.
"What did you do, you bastard?!"
"Cleansed the world, one freak at a time. Take her outside."
Taryn struggled as the two men carried her out and dumped her on the pavement, where she retched. What had that son of a bitch done?!
A voice came over her com. "Taryn? Taryn are you there? We lost your signal…"
"I'm here. Need backup…"
In seconds the Vision was there, moving her away from the building to where Rogers was. He set her gently down and went back to join the others to find Thornfeld.
"Taryn, can you hear me?"
She nodded weakly. There was blood on her pants. "What did he do to you?!"
"Injected me… with serum…. He… did it to another poor kid in there too. A demonstration for the buyers… sick bastard…"
"Don't worry. We'll get him. I'll stay with you until…"
"No, I'm fine…. I…. I…." and she lost consciousness. She heard Steve's voice so far away….
Rogers blanched when he saw Taryn's condition. She passed out in his arms and he sent the rest of the team in to clean up. He picked her up and ran her to the surveillance van. Explaining what had happened, he set her gently in a seat and took off to hunt down Thornfeld.
Without effort, he ran fast back to the ware house the Vision said she came out of. Rogers saw some of his team engaging Thornfeld's men further down at another building, but he ripped the door off the warehouse the exchange had been made in. He heard a moan to his left, and saw the young man that Taryn had mentioned. He was curled up in a ball, but still alive. He picked him up and carried him outside a little way and contacted the team to come get him. Moving back into the warehouse, he set out to find Thornfeld.
He ran past the table that was set up and saw an open door at the back of the building. Cautiously he peered out side and was promptly shot at. Drawing his shield, he held that before him as he made his way through the dark alley. Steve could see one man firing at him through a second story window. He ran full speed at the wall, then pushed himself off the ladder of the escape stairwell and into the window. He plowed into the man shield first, and knocked him out, kicking his gun across the room. He carefully made his way out into the hall and noticed that a stairwell door was just closing. Rogers ran for that and opened it slightly.
Steve could hear voices up the stairs, heading for the roof. Placing his shield on his back, he took the steps three at a time until he caught up with a second gunman. Steve dodged the gunfire, then dove at the man. They struggled at the top of the stairs and Rogers punched him in the face and he tumbled over backwards down the steps. Not knowing how many were left, he guardedly made his way to the warehouse roof and found Thornfeld looking around him in a panic.
Rogers strode confidently towards him, and Thornfeld continued to back up until he was at the edge of the building. Thornfeld held up the briefcase full of money, "Don't hit me!"
Steve batted the case away and grabbed him by the front of the shirt. "You're going to jail, Thornfeld. Your days of terrorizing anyone not like you is over." And he punched him squarely in the face and slung his prone form over his shoulder. "That is for Taryn."
The other Avengers were rounding up the last of Thornfeld's lackeys as the police were arriving. Steve exited the door and not so carefully dropped Thornfeld's unconscious body on the pavement.
"We've rounded everyone up, and conveniently a fire has started at the back of that warehouse over there," Tony stated before the police came over.
Steve nodded. "Let's head back to HQ then and treat anyone who was injured."