Whispers

 
 
Chapter Seven: Le Rassemblement des Limiers

"The Gathering of Bloodhounds"

- Yeah, this used to be called the Danger Room. -
- But it never really felt dat dangerous. -
- Until today. -

Gambit, Foxx in the Attic Part One

-
Mercy LeBeau walked quickly through the mahogany-paneled corridors of the labyrinthine Guild complex, passing through a grand hall with its vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, and stopped to bang the heavy brass knocker on a thick, carved mahogany door. A muffled man's voice bade her enter and she stepped into the richly appointed office of the Patriarch of the New Orleans Thieves Guild, Jean-Luc LeBeau.

She ignored the plush leather couch just begging to be sat on, instead approaching his desk and standing next to a chair. The desk itself was a hundred year old affair covered with the modern conveniences of telephones, computer, and other equipment, mostly buried under a mound of papers.

He was on the phone now, but she snapped out a file for him to read.

"Oui, mon ami. That'll be fine." Jean-Luc managed a few more reassuring comments and extricated himself from the conversation. He eyed the phone warily after hanging up but took the file. "What is this?"

Mercy leaned one hip on his desk. "It's all Marius would give me on the whereabouts of his missing daughter."

Jean-Luc frowned, furrowing his bushy brows and fumbling for a cigar. His daughter-in-law watched impassively as he lit up. Mercy had known about the LeBeau habit of smoking before she married Henri and had forced him to quit before the wedding. Her influence did not extend to Henri's father.

He drew in a long breath and blew out a long stream of smoke to curl around his mustache.

He sighed. "You verify this?"

"Personally."

"So there's an auction." Jean-Luc dropped the file in disgust. "And nothing much I can do about it."

Mercy slitted her eyes in anger. "So you mean to say you can contract out your youngest son through the Guild, but you can't manage to grant him the protections that go with it? Over fifteen assassins and bounty hunters besides the Boudreaux family, and you're telling me we can do nothing?"

The words flashed between them, instantly inciting his rage.

"What do you want from me, chère?" he bellowed. "He's exiled. I can only work with him as a Thief without a Guild."

Mercy handed him the second file. "A job came in. I said we'd look into it."

Jean-Luc scowled at her. "You've overstepped your bounds, Mercy."

She shrugged.

He yanked the folder from her grip and tore through it. He blew out another ring of smoke and grunted.

"He's coming here?"

"Oui," Mercy replied.

"I'll see him."

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Bella Donna Boudreaux took two premier Assassins with her to the pool hall. She was lucky the location was in a state like Nevada. There was no other Assassins Guild with jurisdiction, and her rank could practically guarantee her the Guild contract if the Assassins took the job.

The room was dark with a low-slung ceiling and private pools of light around the tables and booths. She eyed the crowds, the laughter, the gambling with much distaste, but knowing this was how Remy had gotten quite a few contracts. In places like this.

She followed her guide, a tiny Asian female with long, silky black hair. The two Assassins stayed at her back. They reached a door in the back. Private room. Underwent a scan.

The room held a large, oval table with the light fading out into the black-shadowed corners of the long, rectangular room. Bella could feel and almost see the people standing around the shadows at regular intervals. The Asian took her cloak. Bella let her golden hair spill down around the tight dress obligatory for such meetings.

She sat at the table. An Assassin took her right hand (the female). An Assassin took her left (the male).

Others had arrived before her. Some she recognized; most she did not. The chips were on the table.

The blood was on the table, she thought, knowing the truth of what they were all there for.

The Hellfire Club was running the auction. Ostensibly, they weren't allowed to bid, but everyone knew that Mastermind and Bogan probably would bid as individuals. Powerful mutants rarely were contracted for death. No. They were considered tools, captured, used or studied.

And in the shadows, people waited. The ones paying for all these assassins, bounty hunters, and mercenaries to come and bid on the right to take him down and bring him in. All of them had two things in common: ruthlessness and a desire for Remy LeBeau.

Bella Donna drummed her fingernails on the glossy tabletop.

Let the games begin.

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Chere watched him from the room, sitting Indian-style on the bed, and looking through the open doorway to where Remy sat at a table clacking away on his laptop.

Something had changed between them since last night and she didn't like it. No more than she liked the shades she'd discovered he liked to wear when they were outside. No more than she liked the physical distance between them right now.

He was still friendly, still Remy, but that warm, almost too warm closeness she had felt from him was gone, replaced by this comfortable professionalism that grated on her nerves.

Remy frowned, concentrating on the screen.

Chere sighed and swung her legs off the bed. She approached him warily and settled on hand on his shoulder. He made no visible reaction.

"Chere," he said.

"What are you doing?" She leaned forward ever so slightly to look at the screen.

"Working," he replied shortly, but leaned back to give her a better view.

He was working all right, looking at a database screen with names and personal information on a list of what had to be criminals. She skimmed over the Occupation fields. Bounty hunter. Assassin. Thief. Mercenary. Fed. Informant. Spy. She cocked an eyebrow.

"My, what company you keep."

He chuckled and she reveled in the sound, still not moving her hand. The tiny touch was comforting. She wanted more but it would have to do.

Remy shook his head in amusement. "You're on it."

"What?" She leaned in and ran a finger down the screen, searching frantically for her name. Then paused, realizing just how close she was to him as the smell of his cologne washed over her senses. She could even feel the heat from his body.

Chere swallowed and backed away. "What do you mean?"

He tilted his head slightly, still smiling, still watching her. "I just added you," he explained. "Your new handle is La Femme Fatale. You're from Canada with the Thieves Guild of Montreal. I sent through on a private link, and they agreed to have you, comprenez?"

"Oui." She nodded, taking on the French accent with little thought.

He frowned. "Too Cajun. Find another one."

She blinked at him and went into her mind, sorting through her own language bank and found another French speaker among the personalities. "How's dis?" she asked.

"Bien." He nodded, satisfied. "Time to turn the tables, Chere, non?"

And the wicked gleam in his eye was enough to get a dangerous sparkle into hers.

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"Whoa, man!" Jubilee stood hands on hips, surveying the damage. "Looks like a bomb went off!"

Betsy Braddock, a.k.a. Psylocke, nodded in agreement. They were standing on an overlooking bluff of rock, and below them was a vista of dead bodies, helicopter debris, and a long dead fire. Betsy had opted out of her usual revealing getup and worn hiking clothes and a backpack. Jubilee, her "daughter," matched her.

Jubilee worried on her lower lip. "Do you know what could've done it?"

"I think..." Betsy hesitated. She glanced over the area again, then answered decisively. "The helicopter exploded."

"Whoa!"

Trust the firecracker to sound like a kid at a scene like this.

Betsy took Jubilee's small hand in her own and made her way down the bluff into the actual site. She stopped at a small clear spot in the debris and reached out onto the astral plane.

Instantly, she was assaulted with pain, fear, and power. She gasped at the sensations. Someone had lost control. Power had spiraled out and destroyed everything. But some part of it—Betsy focused harder, nearly gritting her teeth—was directed. Intended.

"Betsy!"

She felt Jubilee shaking her and returned to the physical with a swell of relief.

"Are you okay?" Jubilee's eyes were wide. "You were groaning. Are you hurt?"

Betsy was about to answer when suddenly she yanked Jubilee behind her and took up a defensive stance.

A black-haired woman in a skintight black leather catsuit with only one shoulder strap was standing above them on the bluff, her eyes hidden behind red sunglasses, one hand cocked on her hip and the other hand holding a gun.

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Tessa sat at a small computer console in the shadows at the edges of the room. She had pulled her thick black hair out of her way into an updo and donned the red glasses that allowed her to interface directly with the machine. Mastermind's daughter, Regan Wyngarde, stood beside her, one hand on Tessa's shoulder, both eyes on the gathering bloodhounds. Her blonde hair spilled freely onto bare shoulders beneath her cloak. (Always a trifle more vain than Tessa.) As all women of the Hellfire Club, even the young barely in their twenties, skimpy corset tops were their primary wardrobe choice. Both women, however, had drawn their cloaks tightly around them, hiding the view.

Tessa tracked the data packets for each job posting and coordinated with the various mercenaries and their demands. Most of the job offers were closed, open only to those present for the deal. Two also allowed virtual participation. Besides the twenty-eight in the room, Tessa had to keep a handle on another eighteen joining the game via computer.

A dialogue box popped up on her screen, another participant requesting to join. She reviewed the details of the packet, including minimum fee then stopped on the name. La Femme Fatale. Tessa glanced toward a cloaked figure standing in the shadows with the employers. A sapphire broach gleamed at the neck, gloved hand resting on the jewelled handle of a dagger, and the hood was pulled down low to obscure the face. It was unheard of for an employer to also offer services, but considering affiliation, Tessa mused, understandable.

She accepted the packet.

Deal would begin in two minutes.

Tessa closed out the game, disallowing any further requests for admission. Sebastian Shaw closed the doors to the private room, turning to stand with his face toward the table. Tessa moved to the middle of the oval table and settled her computer in front of her. Regan took her place opposite. Tessa wore black; Regan wore white. Around the room stood eight employers and nine other members of the Club, interspersed evenly. Tessa signaled Regan.

The Lady Mastermind straightened in her seat and dropped four decks of playing cards on the table. She gestured magnanimously at the gathering. "Thank you all for coming." Regan flashed her brightest smile. "We are pleased to host this round table event and to inform you that another nineteen members of our circle will join us virtually. Tessa?"

Tessa looked around the table, giving each a measuring glance. The Assassins Guild had weighted down one end of the long oval, and several Japanese mercenaries along with Blindspot held the other end. Between them were the middleweights, the bounty hunters that did a good job, the mercenaries and assassins not trained from the cradle by a real guild or clan. Basically, the ones whose skill would be barely enough. The only exception was Fontanelle, who would certainly be enough to find Remy. She sat next to Regan.

"Joining us virtually," Tessa began and read off the names, slipping La Femme Fatale in the middle. No one really reacted as the names were read, merely nodding at those they recognized.

There were a few startled glances though when she stopped. Not a single mercenary known to take Fed jobs was present. Which meant the governments were running their own hunt.

Lady Mastermind, or Regan, returned her own gaze to the group and slid each deck to the formerly chosen dealer: Bella Donna Boudreaux, Blindspot, Elektra, Fontanelle. All of the starting dealers were female.

Regan smiled coldly. "Let us begin."
 


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