Much Ado About Nothing
Murphy’s Ninth Law: Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
“Oh, my god! I am so bored,” whined the purple-haired agent standing in a line—so close, yet so far, from the entrance to the building—with several groups of people in front of her. All of them were waiting to have their invitations checked by the large, scary-looking pair of men at the front door.
“Oh, c’mon, Louisiana. You’ve only been standing there for— ”York tried for diplomacy with the unhappy young woman, but she cut him off.
“A good ten minutes! I’ve pulled entire jobs that have taken less time than this fucking line!” Agent Louisiana whisper-yelled the complaint into the earpiece at her companion currently residing on the rooftop of a building on the other side of the street.
York didn’t respond to her immediately but she heard his muffled voice, so she assumed he was engaged in a conversation with Wyoming who was, thankfully, several blocks away. His job was to alert them if any unwanted visitors (namely Insurrectionist backup) were heading their way.
After a minute, having wrapped up an argument about flirting on the mission (he was not flirting!), he finally got back to his conversation with the irate Freelancer down below.
“Hey,” he started, a thought having struck him (and having lost track of his place in conversation). “What was your job before joining the Project? I mean, I know I was there when you agreed to join up, but you didn’t really look like you were working there. You looked more like you were just, I don’t know, hanging out.”
“And kicking a little ass on my downtime?” Her voice carried a hint of sarcasm, but it was overwhelmed by amusement mixed with a warm friendliness York had never heard before.
He grinned in response. “Well, naturally. I wouldn’t expect anything less.” Another moment of silence went by.
“So… what did you do?”
“Well, I was a…” Louisiana’s nerve failed her and she felt embarrassed without really knowing why. She’d always taken pride in her work, one of the only good things she’d been taught growing up, in her opinion. Or bad, depending on which side you were on; her's or her mark's.
“I …was a… um…. I was a con-” She cleared her throat unnecessarily. “I was a confidence woman.”
“Oh,” said York awkwardly. “So you were a, um…” He trailed off uncertainly, not quite sure what the term meant but thinking it sounded like a… lady of the night.
Louisiana caught on to his train of thought. “Oh, gross! No! ‘Confidence woman’ is just a prettier term for a grifter.” She was annoyed that his mind automatically went to fucking prostitution and offended that he would think she was that easy.
“Yes, I got paid by rich men in suits but it was to steal things from people they didn’t like. A couple… friends, for lack of a better word, would help me sometimes but I was mainly solo.”
She thought of Rogers, her main employer since she got into the business, as well as their deal. “I gave them a cut of my earnings to keep open their nightclub, mostly ‘cause it was a good place to crash when business was slow, but I didn’t do much except occasionally tend the bar.”
“Oooooh,” York said slowly. Light dawned and Louisiana was grateful, if not still irritated.
“Honestly,” she muttered, still miffed. “What is it with boys that they can’t keep their mind out of the gutter?”
York mimicked the girl on the ground and cleared his throat awkwardly, while casting around for a different topic of discussion. He felt extremely uncomfortable when Louisiana was mad at him. Maybe it was because she could quietly kill him 100 different ways while he slept, and that was without a weapon.
Maybe it was because her lower lip jutted out slightly (not enough to be considered a pout) and invariably drew his eyes.
“So, what’s your plan for getting inside? I’m sure you don’t exactly have an invitation.” York chuckled at the thought, but she didn’t laugh. Instead, her voice gained a very superior tone.
“Actually, I do have an invitation.”
“What? How?!” York was dumbfounded.
“Um, hello! What do you not understand about the term ‘grifter’? I have at least 20 different identities!” She didn’t know if he could see it, but she quirked an eyebrow in his general direction.
Evidently, he did see it through his sniper because almost immediately he huffed in voice half-annoyed and half-amused, “Don’t look at me like that!”
“Anyway,” she continued, looking back at the front of the line then checking the three couples behind her. “I had an old… buddy of mine, Kale, hack into Beauregard’s system and send one of my aliases an invite.”
Thinking about the conversation she’d had with her friend right after she was briefed about this mission, Louisiana felt… well, homesick.
She fell silent for a moment, missing her old life and friends, wishing they were here with her and that she was only doing this for the sapphire pendant and diamond tiara tucked away in a safe in Beauregard’s office.
York, sensing her mood with his magical powers—or paying attention to her expression (she wasn’t sure which)—tried cheering her up by changing the subject. “So… Who are you pretending to be?”
It seemed to work because she shook herself and gave a reminiscent smile. York was beginning to think he might be on a streak, with her smiling so much.
“Lucille Essex. She’s known in certain circles, like these ones, as a highly reclusive…” She hesitated, not wanting to lose her tenuous status as a badass even if it wasn't really her, and then finished lamely, “Person.”
It was York’s turn to raise an eyebrow at that point. He could sense the tables had turned and that it was a good opportunity to get her back for all her sarcastic quips.
“Person?” He said skeptically. “Certainly, she must have something to add to high-society for people like Beauregard to recognize the name, respect it, and not even question it.”
Louisiana blushed, making York all the more curious.
“Oh, please! You just told me you’re a con. What could be embarrassing at this point?”
Louisiana grumbled unintelligibly in response.
“I’m sorry, what was that?” York prompted, pleased that he wasn’t the one blushing this time.
“I’m…” Not one to give out information about herself (even a fake self), she changed her answer and started again. “I’m a-”
But before she could finish what was sure to be an absolutely horrendous lie, she reached the front of the line.
“Name,” droned a six-foot-two, bald-headed male in a black suit and dark sunglasses, bored with the lack of action on his end and wondering if he could sneak some pie on his break.
Louisiana cleared her throat before speaking clearly into the microphone he offered her.
Her voice rose slightly in pitch—also becoming more inviting, less ominous, and generally more empty-headed—and her north-western accent morphed into a seamless impersonation of the pseudo-British git she was denying communication to.
“Lucille Essex. Access code: Essex-Pi-Alpha. Security clearance: Echo-5.”
She then leaned forward slightly to allow her blue-green iris to be scanned by a small, handheld sensor, much like the ones used to scan bar-codes in 21st century stores.
After a moment of waiting there came a small beep and the large man carelessly waved a hand toward the large, glass revolving door. Louisiana took that as a sign to enter and proceeded to do so.
She looked around the lobby of the building in awe.
The floors were a beautiful white marble veined with gold, and twenty feet above her was twinkling crystal chandelier.
Louisiana gave a low whistle, impressed and able to admire the beauty of modern architecture that was complimented by the mid-20th century-esque décor, despite the circumstances.
“Dude, I so wish you could see this right now! It's amazing!” She murmured excitedly to York, who had been waiting for her to finish her explanation. If there was one thing she could appreciate it was diamonds, secrets, and architecture.
It was obvious that Louisiana wasn’t going to get back to what she had been saying, so the tan-armored soldier simply expressed his bewilderment at what had just transpired with the guard. “What was that all about?”
Louisiana tore her gaze away from the beautiful room, turned right, and walked quickly to catch the empty elevator that had just arrived. Then she simply punched the button for the seventeenth floor and settled in for the ride.
“This is a very exclusive and high-class function and as such there are extensive measures taken to ensure that it isn’t crashed.” She rolled her eyes in exasperation at the ridiculous measures, but continued to explain.
“That was me allowing them to compare my voice with that of ‘Lucille’s’, to make sure that I’m the same person or something, and also me giving my password. SOP is super paranoid.”
After a few seconds of silence, Louisiana was prepared to drop her good mood like a sack of potatoes and demand why York was being so quiet (normally she could never get him to shut up!) when he finally responded.
“Ok, first question: What?! Second question: What?! And my third question: Sop? Followed immediately by: WHAT?!”
She couldn’t contain the small giggle that escaped her at his frustrated tone. Apparently, this was a night for breaking York’s streak of calm assurance and, at times, roguish teasing. Then she sighed when she realized what his questions signified.
“Did Leonard not tell you guys what was going on here in this building?”
Long past the novelty of one of his subordinates referring to the Director by his first name, York felt cold dread creep into his veins. If Connie was to be believed then this was somewhere around the umpteenth time that their commander-in-chief had sent his forces into a mission without giving them all of the information.
He gave a defeated sigh.
“Hmph. Well, it looks like I lost that bet with Connie.” The resignation in his voice made Louisiana’s heart squeeze. It always made her feel bad when she realized exactly how much Dr. Church’s guinea pigs trusted him.
Knowing it wouldn’t be right to expose the Director’s plans (no matter how… questionable) this early in the game, due to the fact that she still had questions that needed to be answered, Louisiana made an effort to lighten the mood and draw attention away from her slip.
“That’ll teach you to gamble with Connie. She’ll take your money or dignity, as the case may be, every time.”
Shifting her feet in embarrassment, Louisiana smiled in the memory of an ill-advised wager she (as well as a couple other fellow agents) had made with the sly, brown-armored woman her first few weeks as a recruit.
The reference got a dry chuckle seeing as he had been there to witness the debacle, but York still had an important question.
“So, what else has the Director neglected to share with us about this little escapade?”