Captain Rogers sat in the back of a SHIELD rapid response vehicle, receiving treatment for his wounds. All around him, SHIELD personnel set to the task of trying to put the streets of Tangier back together again. The chaotic scene matched Rogers’ dark mood. He had failed to secure the stolen weapons, and now they could be anywhere. In the wrong hands, those weapons could reap untold destruction -- the kind that made the damage in Morocco look pedestrian. He had
to set it right… He just didn’t know how. So, when his earpiece buzzed to life, he found himself sitting up straight.“How would you like another crack at Rumlow?”
Director Hill asked.
Rogers immediately stood. “What have you got?”“I’ve been reading through files all morning,”
Hill explained. “Turns out the Diamondback was recently acquired by a company called the Apex Group.”
Rogers raised an eyebrow. “Should that sound familiar?”“Not likely; it’s a shell corporation. But looking at the incorporation paperwork gave me a name: Edmund Galloway,”
Hill continued. “Galloway is a suspected fence with ties to Robinson Sinclair, a South African philanthropist who moonlights as an international arms dealer. As it so happens, British intelligence has been building a case against Sinclair. They recently intercepted a message from Galloway to Sinclair, promising delivery of ‘the Italian merchandise.’”“Meaning our weapons,”
Rogers nodded.“Well, they’re not talking about heels and handbags,”
the Director agreed. “Sinclair is holding a fundraising event tomorrow night in Dubai. You’ll meet up with our contact in the Secret Intelligence Service there. I’ve already sent the flight information to your phone.”
DUBAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Steve stood before the customs agent, a balding man with a bushy, gray mustache. The agent surveyed the passport before handing it back across the counter, saying, “Thank you, Mr. Nasland. Enjoy your stay.” Steve accepted the phony passport with a polite smile and went on his way. Sometimes, it paid dividends to have multiple documented identities; it afforded Captain Rogers with the ability to travel discreetly, to mask his whereabouts and be able to insert himself wherever he was needed. As of yet, the world had not discovered that Steven Grant Rogers was the same man in the footage of Captain America's fight with the Colonel, but he aimed to remain cautious all the same.
Stepping outside, Rogers scanned the arrivals at passenger pickup. As promised, SHIELD’s contact arrived in a powder blue Mercedes. The car cruised to a stop along the curb, and the tinted passenger side window rolled down. Inside sat a young woman with long, blonde hair and a pair of reflective sunglasses. Steve wasn’t sure what he had been expecting… but it wasn’t that
. As if sensing his hesitation, the woman said, “William Nasland? I’m your ride.”
She beckoned him with a nod. “Hop in.”
As soon as Steve got inside, she rolled the window back up and zipped into the flow of traffic. Eyes on the road, she spoke, “Captain Rogers, welcome to Dubai. I’m Agent 13 with MI6.”
Her lightly-accented voice was all business.
Steve relaxed a little. Sinking into the plush leather seat, Rogers put his hands on his knees and surveyed the car’s interior. After a moment, he scratched his beard and said, “I thought you guys always drove Astons.”
Even behind her Ray-Bans, Agent 13’s raised eyebrow could be seen. “Come now. You can’t believe everything you see in the movies,”
she replied. The corner of her lip curled into a smile.
Leaving the airport behind, they began their journey downtown. Dubai was a sight to behold, the shining jewel of the Arab world. Rogers felt himself feeling less a secret agent and more a tourist as he stared up at the twinkling skyscrapers that each seemed to rival the others for supremacy among the clouds -- with all bowing to the undisputed king, the Burj Khalifa. The extravagance on display was almost mind-boggling; even the local authorities drove luxury cars. Even the mission
was an exercise in glitz and glamour. Sinclair’s fundraiser dinner commanded a hefty price at twenty-five thousand a plate. Which reminded Steve of something. “I, uh… I didn’t bring a suit,”
he explained. When Agent 13 looked at him, he added, “Well, not that kind of suit, anyway.”
Again, she smiled. It was a good look on her. “Director Hill sent me your measurements. There’s a suit waiting at the hotel,”
she assured him.
He nodded. There was a bullet dodged… Although, it did raise the question of why
, exactly, Director Hill knew Steve’s measurements. He supposed recent events had shown that to be the least of what she might know. At the same time, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Agent 13 had been sizing him up, too. Not that he was entirely innocent in all this; even now, he found himself wondering what sort of dress Agent 13 had lined up for the evening. His impropriety nearly made him blush. Looking away, Steve began, “You know, this isn’t entirely fair.”
He met Agent 13’s gaze. “You get a name, and I get ‘Agent 13.’”
She considered that a moment. “Sharon,”
she responded, “You can call me Sharon.”
Sharon. It was a nice name.
* * *
Before they had time to talk any further, they arrived at the hotel. As Sharon turned over her keys to the valet, Steve collected his bags and followed her inside. The hotel lobby was beyond
ornate. The ceiling stretched at least three stories, accommodating the largest crystal chandelier that Rogers had ever seen. The massive, curved reception desk was flanked by a shimmering wall; upon closer inspection, Steve realized that it was an enormous man-made waterfall. And if the decor left any doubt as to the hotel's preferred clientele, the fashionable -- and expensive -- outfits worn by the bustling guests affirmed that they were in the presence of great wealth. Steve felt dangerously underdressed.“Shall we?”
Sharon asked upon returning with the keycards. It took Steve a moment to shake himself from his awestruck stupor and follow her to the elevators. Their room was on the twenty-third floor, just two below the Grand Ballroom where the fundraiser was being held. The elevator dinged
their arrival, and they stepped out into a hallway with almost uncomfortably white walls. Marching down the curved hall, they reached their door at last. Sharon swiped the keycard across the lock before throwing it open. Upon seeing their room, she remarked, “I've certainly stayed in worse.”
True to form, the room was the height of luxury. Steve was almost certain he could fit the entirety of his Georgetown apartment in the bedroom alone. At the far end, floor-to-ceiling windows granted a breathtaking view of the Dubai skyline. Steve stepped inside and shrugged off his bag. Behind him, Sharon wheeled in her own luggage. She crossed in front of him towards the bed, throwing down her suitcase and beginning to unfasten the latches. “Do you need the bathroom for anything? I'm going to start getting ready,”
she said, looking up briefly to consider him.
Steve shook his head. “All yours.”
He walked to an untouched corner of the bed and had a seat. The fundraiser wasn't for another hour yet, so he had a moment to relax. He offered Sharon a little smile as she collected a makeup kit and hairbrush from her suitcase. As she disappeared around the corner to the bathroom, Steve stretched out and let his head hit the pillow. He hardly had a chance to close his eyes before there was a knock at the door, however. Rising with his hands on his knees, Steve crossed the valley to the front door; he opened it to find a bellhop holding a black garment bag.“Mister… Nasland?”
the young man said, reading aloud from the card attached to the bag. Steve nodded and accepted it. Out of reflex, he reached for his wallet until he realized that he hadn't exchanged any of his cash. He passed the bellhop an American five, for which he seemed plenty grateful. “Have a good night, sir.”
Lugging the suit back inside, Steve was surprised to hear the sound of running water. Sharon was using the shower? The thought made him somewhat bashful. Trying not to focus on it, Steve brought the garment bag to the bed and opened it. If Director Hill had picked out the suit herself, then she had surprisingly good taste. It was a classic ensemble: charcoal black single-breasted jacket, starched white button-down, and a royal blue tie. The bag even included a pair of black wingtip shoes, already polished to a mirror shine. Rogers laid out the entire outfit and began to undress.
By the time Sharon emerged from the bathroom, adorned in an embroidered bathrobe courtesy of the hotel, Steve was in the middle of tying his tie. He turned to look at her, her hair still damp from the shower. She smiled at him, saying, “Well, don't you clean up nicely?”
She crossed the room and rifled through her luggage, eventually producing a garment bag of her own. “Although, you'd look much younger without the beard,”
Sharon added playfully. She then retreated to the bathroom once more.
Sometime later, Sharon stepped out in a black cocktail dress with a diamond necklace and her hair up. If the goal of surveilling Sinclair was to avoid
attention, then Rogers had to imagine they were off to a bad start. Without seeing the other ladies in attendance, Steve felt confident in saying that she would be the night's breakout star. He contemplated telling her as much until he thought better of it; they were working tonight, after all. Putting on the finishing touches by adjusting his cufflinks, Rogers consulted the clock next to the bed. The fundraiser was beginning soon.“Let's go get our guy,”
* * *
The Grand Ballroom was every bit as advertised. Stretching as far as the eye could see, the cavernous room was a sight to behold. Rows of tables, all adorned with white tablecloths and carnation centerpieces, faced a stage near the windows. A string band filled the air with pleasant music. As Sharon and Steve entered, they found themselves having to yield to passing caterers with trays of drinks and unidentifiable hors d'oeuvres; Steve swiped a pair of champagne flutes from one and passed the additional glass to Sharon. He quickly downed his drink, knowing full well that his heightened metabolism would burn off the alcohol to no effect.“Any sign of Sinclair?”
Steve asked, realizing he was unfamiliar with the target.
Sharon peered over the edge of her glass. Taking a moment to survey the room, she blinked and, bringing the flute to her lips, answered, “Not yet.”
For her part, she sipped the champagne more carefully, needing to keep a clear head. Dabbing a finger against her lip, she linked arms with Steve and led him deeper into the ballroom. As they walked, she kept her eyes up, saying, “You know, before I forget, I wanted to say how sorry I was to hear about Colonel Fury. I do hope he makes a full recovery soon.”
Steve shot her a curious look. “You knew Fury?”
Sharon shrugged. “Not personally, though certainly by reputation. I don't think there's an intelligence agent alive who hasn't heard of Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos,”
she replied. She paused, offering Steve a fleeting glance before whispering conspiratorially, “I've always wondered, though… how did he lose his eye?”
Steve had to laugh. In the thirty-or-so years that he had known Nick, he had heard no less than a dozen stories about “the day Nick Fury lost an eye" -- usually propagated by rookies and recruits buying into the mythology of the enigmatic Director. Fury, of course, never spoke on the issue. For one, the circumstances were highly personal, but truthfully? Fury didn't want to shatter the illusion. As long as the true story remained untold, they were all
true. “It's gonna take more than one drink to get that out of me,”
Steve teased.“Duly noted,”
Sharon smirked. As she turned her attention back to the fundraiser, she suddenly stiffened. “There he is.”
Steve followed her sightline to the stage, where a rugged-looking gentleman was stepping up to the microphone. Robinson Sinclair had shoulder-length brown hair -- though more gray near the temples -- which he tied behind his head. His square features were accented by a meticulously groomed five-o-clock shadow. He wore a blue suit with no tie, opting instead to leave his collar unbuttoned. Sinclair smiled brightly at his guests, many of whom were now offering light applause. He tapped the microphone once and stood with his hands folded behind his back.“Good evening, everyone,”
Sinclair began, “So very happy that you all could join me here. I know this time of year is particularly demanding, so it means a lot to see so many generous faces before me.”
Sinclair paused to clear his throat before continuing, “You know, ten years ago, if you had asked me how I wanted to spend my life…”
At that point, Steve tuned him out. He had no doubt that Sinclair's charitable organizations had
done a lot of good for the world, but good acts did not cancel out the bad; how many lives had been endangered, even lost, because Sinclair put weapons in the hands of dangerous men? No more. It ended tonight.
Sinclair's speech drew to a close, and both Steve and Sharon joined the applause this time. As Sinclair exited the stage, shaking the hands of eager benefactors, he was approached by a large man. It took Steve a moment to place him, but the peculiarity of seeing Brock Rumlow in a suit did little to hide that distinctive scowl. “That's Crossbones,”
Steve announced for Sharon's benefit. Rumlow and Sinclair talked a moment longer. When their conversation had ended, Sinclair patted Rumlow on the arm and surreptitiously passed him something out of Rogers’ sight.
Sharon saw it, too. She asked, “What did Sinclair just give him?”
Steve was already hedging in the direction that Rumlow turned. “I don't know, but I'm going to find out. Stay here, and keep an eye on Sinclair,”
Steve instructed. The crowd had dispersed following Sinclair's speech, putting dozens of minglers in Rogers’ path. Luckily, Rumlow's unusual frame made him an easy mark to follow. As Steve squeezed past socialites and caterers, he watched Rumlow beelining for the kitchen entrance. Steve increased his pace, drawing a few offended snorts as he nearly bowled people over while racing for that door. He reached it mere moments after Rumlow marched through.
The kitchen was a mess. Overcrowded with caterers and cook staff, every counter was covered in some combination of ingredients, food, or waste. So distracted were the workers that they paid neither Rumlow nor Rogers much mind. Rumlow trudged through the cramped space, heading in the direction of a neon “EXIT” sign. Steve wasn’t going to let him slip away -- not again. Spotting a nearly empty catering tray, Rogers picked up the silver dish and hurled it like a discus. It collided with the back of Rumlow’s bald head, knocking him forward a step. As it clattered to the tiled floor, the assembled staff finally took notice of the intruders in their midst. Rumlow turned and locked eyes with Rogers.“You shoulda stayed in Morocco,”
Rumlow snarled. Advancing on Rogers, he snatched a large knife from a butcher’s block. Closing with impressive speed, Rumlow cut through the air with a swing that Rogers easily ducked. The staff began to panic, ducking behind countertops or running for the exit outright. Rumlow flipped the knife and came around on the backswing; Rogers blocked with a forearm and drove the other fist into the mercenary’s solar plexus. The man stumbled back, slashing wildly. A lucky hit caught Rogers across the upper arm -- tearing through jacket, shirt, and finally skin. Emboldened, Rumlow redoubled his efforts with a series of rapid swipes that Rogers narrowly avoided.
Ducking under another high swing, Rogers shrugged out of his suit jacket and quickly twirled it into a makeshift rope. He caught the next slash against the knotted fabric and turned it away. With Rumlow momentarily vulnerable, Rogers threw a shoulder into his chest and followed with a sharp kick to the outside of his knee. Rumlow buckled but refused to fall; he came up swinging, nearly removing Steve’s nose from his face. Rogers caught a jab to the ribcage and a headbutt to the chin. He fell back, losing the advantage to Rumlow. The mercenary slashed him across the abdomen. With all his adrenaline pumping, Steve hardly felt the cut.
Rogers was quick to recover. When Rumlow came in for a stab to the gut, Rogers entangled his knife hand in his rolled-up jacket. Yanking Rumlow forward off-balance, Rogers kept his wrist restrained and delivered three successive blows to the head with an elbow. Blood trickled down Rumlow’s face as he sneered at his opponent. Rumlow kneed Steve below the belt but lost his knife for the effort. He grabbed the doubled-over Rogers by the head and slammed him into the nearest counter; Rogers left an indent in the thin, metal surface.
Rumlow spat blood. “If you wanted to die, all you hadta do was ask.”
He bent low to pick Rogers up off the floor.
Rogers surprised him with a chop to the throat. Choking for air, Rumlow was defenseless. Steve sprang up and charged him back into a freezer; the appliance threatened to topple from the force of the slam. Rogers went to work on Rumlow, delivering a combination of body blows with impunity before the mercenary finally managed to swerve out of a punch. Rogers’ fist slammed into hard metal, and Rumlow cracked him over the head with his elbow. Stumbling towards a counter, Rogers spotted a saucepan -- and opportunity. He braced against the countertop and waited for Rumlow to close on him. Taking the pan by the handle, Rogers spun.WHAM!
Rumlow fell like a sack of bricks. Sweating and bloodied, Steve stood over his fallen opponent and caught his breath. Dropping the saucepan unceremoniously, Steve knelt over Rumlow’s body and began patting down his pockets. He reached into one and produced a hotel keycard. Stopping to check Rumlow’s pulse before he stood, Rogers pocketed the keycard and assessed his injuries. Nothing too serious, though he certainly couldn’t go back out into the fundraiser like this. Retrieving his discarded suit jacket, Rogers hastily threw it back on. The fabric was torn in multiple spots, but it would have to do. He straightened himself best as he could and returned to the party.
The look of concern on Sharon’s face told Steve everything he needed to know about his appearance. Waiting for him by the kitchen door, she looked him over before reporting, “Sinclair left. I tried to follow him, but he got into an elevator.”
Noticing curious glances from those nearby, Sharon positioned herself between Steve and the onlookers.“Well, I think I know where he's going,”
Steve answered, producing the keycard he obtained from Rumlow. He nodded towards the exit. “Come on. I think it’s time we changed.”