Disclaimer: I don't own Human Target and intend no copyright infringement.

~ out of the depths ~

"Let me get this straight, Miss Cleves…" Winston paused, a sure sign to everyone who knew him a little better that he was having trouble keeping his composure.

"…you want to hire us because you think that you will stir up so much trouble that somebody might want to kill you?"

"Exactly", she chirped and beamed at him.

"Wouldn't it be… I don't know, this might be just me… easier to simply refrain from stirring up trouble?" They all recognized the familiar tremble in his voice. Talk about a volcano about to erupt.

"But then I would forever remain Penny Cleves of Orange County Weekly News. I want to be PENNY CLEVES of New York Times, Washington Post or Boston Globe." She was still beaming at him, as if she couldn't even imagine somebody not wholeheartedly agreeing with her plans.

Well, she definitely didn't lack the attitude to achieve her ambitious aims. The rest, however….

"Could you… just one more time…" Winston's voice was taking on that extra sweet note that indicated an imminent rant just as reliably as thick dark clouds on the horizon indicate a thunderstorm "…explain your project to us?"

"Of course", she exclaimed happily, opened her purse and began rummaging around for her notepad.

Women's bags, Winston thought as he watched her, are like black holes in carry-around size – they eat everything up. Watching the client dig around reminded him of a situation with Michele and he quickly pushed the thought away.

It still hurt, although months had passed.

As Ms Cleves finally managed to retrieve the pad from the depths of the bag a small box of chocolate mints got entangled with it, the lid came off and a few dragées fell out. They hit the floor and started rolling in all directions. Carmine, as usual alert for everything edible, immediately jumped up to help the client gather them, well-trained dog that he was. Ilsa, who had made it her pet project in the literal sense to reduce the animal's weight, rushed forward to beat him to the fallen sweets but couldn't prevent one mint from disappearing forever in Carmine's muzzle.

She could swear the dog was grinning at her.

Guerrero, meanwhile, was grinning wolfishly at her backside. At least one thing to savor from this tedious meeting.

Penny Cleves sat up straight again and opened her notepad. "In the summer of 1982 a DC-9 with eighty passengers on its way from Miami to Puerto Rico suddenly disappeared from the radar screen, on a wonderfully sunny evening with no rain at all, moderate wind, great visibility… Last pilot radio communication with Miami tower only 30 seconds earlier, no indication at all of trouble on board. Two days later pieces of the wreck were found at the bottom of the sea, and about forty dead bodies floating around. The cause of the accident was never fully determined, machine failure due to bird strike was assumed in the end."

She smiled at them as if expecting praise for successfully summarizing the Wikipedia article. When none came, she continued, still unfazed.

"I'm going to write an article stating that the airplane fell victim to a bomb, placed by the mafia in the context of a gruesome war between two rivaling families. Tony Belvilacqua's favorite niece Donatella perished in that incident. It is not beyond imagination that the Belvilacqua's archenemies, the Galottis, killed her to weaken their biggest competition."

"But you don't have any evidence for this", Ames stated, in tone that clearly added an unspoken seriously? to her sentence. "As in, you know, none at all."

"That doesn't matter", Penny explained happily. "Mysterious crash, mafia, bomb, innocent victims, that's the stuff careers are made of! This is all about drawing attention."

"And in case you draw too much attention you want us on board, right?", Chance chimed in, the first time he said anything since Miss Cleves had walked in.

"Well, better safe than sorry, wouldn't you agree?". She smiled broadly at him.

Ilsa quickly led the woman into the lobby. Winston looked as if he was about to explode, yes, but Guerrero's face had taken on an alarmingly thoughtful expression.

And, sure enough…

"We could give her what she wants…." He sipped at his tea. "A couple of adjustments to her bank account… a bit of rearranging on her harddrive… she could make it into the evening news…."

"At least we all agree that we're NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS JOB", Winston interrupted him impatiently, pacing the room up and down. In his cop days he had had more than one run-in with journalists who would have sold their soul for a good story, ruining cases, influencing witnesses, attacking the police's work in their articles…. He was so not going to help this hyena-in-the-making out there.

"Can I tell her? Can I please tell her?" Ames, hopping up and down on her seat.

Chance smiled at her and took a sip from his coffee cup. "So we only help people we like?"

Collective groan from the rest of the team.

"Dude, I really thought you'd gotten rid of that redemption bug…"

"Pity we can't just lock her up in a jar imbued with an Unbreakable Charm..." Ames.

Ilsa completely agreed with Guerrero: "Seriously, Chance, that woman is practically begging for trouble…"

"Maybe we should put a sign up at our door: Christopher Chance is the guy you go to when no one else can help. Unless you're dumb."

"Someone else might need our help. Someone who not stupidly created the mess we have to sort out", Ilsa pointed out, shaking her head. So many years of working together, and still Chance could leave her completely puzzled. Why the hell did he want to help that woman, of all people?

"So next time Harry calls we tell him to fend for himself?"

This would have justified another collective groan, but everybody except Guerrero was too busy making small, surreptitious gestures of metaphysical defense: Ames quickly crossed herself, Winston knocked on wood, Ilsa looked at the remaining glass pear on her desk. With Harry it was a "speak of the devil" thing and they really could do without another manifestation of his ability to attract trouble like a magnet.

Chance, however, was still not done. "Look, stupid and thoughtless or not, if she squares off against Belvilacqua, she will very soon have a problem on her hands, one of the killing kind…."

"CARMINE!"

Ames jumped up so fast, her chair crashed backwards to the floor. The others, now seeing too what had shocked her so much, followed suit.

"OH MY GOD, CARMINE!"