Michael garnered his strength of will and said, "Nikita, we have to stop playing games. There are too many eyes and ears that would love to spread what Birkoff saw. Too much is happening right now for us to indulge our need for each other. We're all under suspicion of murder...."
"All I see, Michael, is another excuse for us not to be together." Fury blazed in Nikita's blue eyes. Nikita acknowledged to herself that PMS may have been a factor in her angry response, but Michael's continual excuses were wearing thin.
"Nikita, it's not an excuse," was Michael's stoic answer. He knew another storm of emotion was coming. Why could she not keep focused and not take every word he said as another rejection, he wondered. He tried to stroke her face, but she stiffened in his arms.
"Never mind, Michael. I'll see you later," was her cool response as she waltzed from his office.
Michael sighed as he watched Nikita and her derrière in tight spandex leave. His office encounters with Nikita always meant trouble, but now that she had left, perhaps he could continue his investigation into the C5 files.
Isaac Agbenohevi was the last Class Five Operative to be researched. He had been recruited from the Ghanaian security police over twenty years ago. His performance record was stellar, and Michael was impressed. He was also curious that Agbenohevie had remained in the African Section Five all these years and had not been brought to Section One. Was there something more, he wondered as he continued to delve into the file.
He found that Agbenohevie and Dwyer had clashed on two different occasions, and Dwyer with his ‘connections' at the British sub-Section had been instrumental in keeping the African operative in Africa--in his ‘place' as Dwyer would have phrased it. Agbenohevie, however, had no negative connections to any of the dead operatives. Michael supposed that was a blessing considering all the other interconnections he had found during his search.
Michael paused and sipped his coffee. The brew was strong and kept him alert. He had never needed any other drug. Caffeine--true, he considered himself addicted to it, but he never contemplated giving it up any longer, once the piercing, morning headache hit, if he didn't have his usual cup or four.
Michael wasn't sure how he would ever sort the confusing relationships between the living and dead Class 5 Ops. No one operative seemed to have a reason to eliminate the other operatives. Michael considered, was this a power play?
Was is someone's idea to eliminate half the competition and have a better
chance in the future of taking Operations place? Was this someone
though? Michael didn't think so. In spite of Operations manipulations
and constant threats, Michael knew he was a favored contender for the position.
Was ambition the reason for the deaths of five high level operatives?
Was ambition and the influence the position would bring , that powerful
Michael knew it was, and he wondered if he were next.
Michael considered the names before him--Damico, Abgenohevi, Dwyer, Black. Which one of them was determined to become the next Operations. Michael knew his name belonged on that list, and knew as well that ‘he' was the most determined to become the next Operations. His and Nikita's future depended on it. Was he looking at the wrong motive? Was there yet another reason that someone other than a Class Five operative would want to eliminate five high ranking operatives within Section One?
Was it a plot to destroy Section One from within? That question raised more questions. Who? Why? Michael groaned as the myriad of possibilities unfolded in his mind. He needed help--who? Birkoff? No, he eliminated Birkoff. Michael felt he'd done enough to endanger him. O'Bryan? Would he consider working with a prime suspect in the case, doubtful. Lopez, an unknown in the equation? Given the time, he was sure he could ‘persuade' her, but time was of the essence, and he was in no mood to ‘persuade' the arrogant forensic pathologist. Hector, the cleaner? Hector had been around a long time, but Michael had never bothered to develop any relationship of trust with him. Michael still considered him an unknown factor as well.
Michael carefully considered his options and decided that he would keep his own counsel in this matter. Too many questions would be engendered by the knowledge he now possessed from the copied disc.
It is time to enact the coup de grace of my plan. I must wait no
longer. Michael must die for his sins.
O'Bryan still fumed after Lopez's tirade about the bungled evidence. He knew beyond a doubt that the knife used in Redmon's death had not been mishandled. He had not been there for the tagging and bagging of evidence in Terrence Carrey's death, but he had been present for the others. He was as disturbed about the many discrepancies as Lopez, but he would not admit it to her. He decided to explore another option.
He decided he would report his concerns to Madeline. She had offered him free access, and by damn he would take it. He placed the call to her office.
Madeline's response was typical, "By all means, Mr. O'Bryan, I have been wondering when you would see fit to report your findings to me."
O'Bryan retrieved his file of notes on the murders and squared his shoulders for the meeting with Section One's executive strategist.
After leaving Michael, Nikita sought Walter in his armory. It appreared
to her that he was working busily on one of his secret projects.
"Hi, Walter," she said with a soft whisper in his ear.
"What's up, Sugar?" he asked as she graced his presence, still in white Spandex. He watched her toned body in appreciation and wished he could be decades younger--not for the first time.
"Nothing. All this Close Quarters crap is getting to me. I want some fresh air. I want out of here!" Nikita slammed her fist on the work table, then was ashamed for showing her weakness. "I didn't damage anything, did I, Walter?" she asked with a sheepish grin.
"Just my old heart, Sugar. What's the problem? You look like someone just took away your favorite lollipop." Walter wondered if the downcast look on Nikita's face was due to Michael. Walter knew Michael loved Nikita. Hell, all of Section knew that!
"Something like that," she grinned. "More like the lollipop took himself away." Nikita half wondered what Michael would think of being called her ‘lollipop.' He might not find it very dignified, but there were some very apt reasons for the analogy.
"Mmm. I see. Well, there are no missions on tap with all the ka-ka that's coming down, so what's the deal, Sugar?" Walter also wondered if Michael had a clue about how to treat a ‘real' woman like Nikita. Communication seemed to be a problem with the two of them. He despaired that Michael and Nikita would ever have the relationship that they deserved, but Section One wasn't to kind to relationships, as he had good cause to know.
"He's ‘busy,' Walter. He's always ‘busy.' I know I'm impatient, but I am so tired of his shutting me out of his life." Nikita's face was one of despair and resignation.
"Nikita, I've told you before, you have to give Michael his space. He has a reason for everything he does. He loves you, Nikita. More than likely, he's only trying to protect you from the suspicion that surrounds him right now." Walter gave a surreptitious look around the area. No one seemed to be paying them any attention, so he continued. "You're under suspicion, as well, Nikita, and everyone is very jumpy with what's been goin' on. Watch yourself, Sugar. I don't want anything to happen to you, either."
Nikita gave the old man a kiss on his cheek. "I don't know what I'd do without a friend like you, Walter. You're one of the reasons I can stand this life--other than the fact that I don't have much choice in the matter," she added with an ironic cast to her voice.
"Ah, same to you, Sugar. Same to you." Walter felt tears gathering in his eyes. "Go on, get outta here. Go have a workout. Make those young studs drool in the gym."
Nikita giggled and threw her arms around Walter for a hug. "All right,
Walter. That's exactly what I'm gonna do. See you later."
Nikita turned and left for the gym in better spirits than before.
Marco O'Brian keyed his I.D. code at the entrance to Madeline's office, and he was rewarded by a prompt opening of the door. Marco walked in slowly and surveyed the austere surroundings of her ‘web.' The only signs of life, other than Madeline, were her bonsai trees and a couple of drooping jungle orchids. The bonsai were artfully modeled with twisted branches, which made O'Brian think of the lady herself. The fleshy orchids were not doing as well as the bonsai. They did not appear to thrive in this artificial and eerily contrived environment. They belonged in the cool, moist jungles from which they came, not languishing on a plastic shelf, under artificial light in the office of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci."
Marco inherently knew that Madeline lacked both gratitude and mercy. While he blamed Nikita for his presence in Section One, he also knew that without Nikita's influence, he would be one dead cop and not a recruit in the anti-terrorist organization.
Madeline watched Marco as he walked with bravado and an underlying caution towards her. It was good that he had tempered his usual manner. Madeline expected awe, if not downright fear, from all operatives who entered her presence. Even the few, who no longer held her in awe, respected the power she represented in their lives. When an unguarded word or mannerism could land an operative in the abeyance pool, caution was always a good thing.
Madeline looked at Marco with her doleful brown eyes and said, "You have something to report?"
"Yes. Something is happening to the evidence. It is not being mishandled as Dr. Lopez thinks. Someone is deliberately interfering with this investigation.," Marco said with a definitive presence.
"What do you mean, interfering. What's going on Mr. O'Brian?" Madeline asked, never losing her equanimity.
"Evidence is disappearing from under our noses. The files from Michael's and Carrey's hard drives are missing. Nikita's fingerprints are all over the knife that killed Redmond, but there wasn't a drop of blood evidence on any of her clothing, when she was found at the scene. The garrote used on LeBlanc is missing, as well as the fiber evidence from LaFontaine's apartment. All of that cannot be chalked up to simple mishandling. Someone is ....."
Madeline interrupted, "Tampering with the evidence. Any ideas who that someone might be, Mr. O'Brian?"
"One or two. In fact, I want surveillance on the entire investigatory staff and offices. That's why I came to you. I don't want to voice my suspicions to anyone else," Marco said as he ran his hand through his hair, making it wilder than before.
"It will be done," Madeline said as she keyed in the communications that would make it happen. "How long since you had any sleep, Mr. O'Brian?" she asked taking in his disheveled appearance. "You can't be expected to perform at your best, if you don't get some sleep." Her voice said concern, but her eyes said his best performance was expected at all costs.
"Look, I'm afraid to sleep, Madeline. The last time I fell asleep at the computer, I had the feeling when I woke up, that someone had been there and accessed some files. No proof, but a gut feeling."
"I see." Madeline gave a small smile at the ‘gut feeling' remark. She knew that the ‘gut feelings' of an experienced police officer were not to be taken lightly. "Would you like to tell me ‘who' you suspect of tampering with the evidence?" she asked.
"Not yet, but the surveillance should help. Thank you," he said, looking for a quick way to leave of her office. His skin was starting to crawl, and he had the eerie feeling that if he stayed any longer, he would be exploding to tell her exactly who he suspected.
Because Madeline was feeling beneficent, she gave him his quick out. "All right, Mr. O'Brian, I will expect to hear from you soon. That will be all for now."
"Uh, right. Okay," he stammered and left her office.
Madeline smiled at his hurried departure. He was definitely in awe
of her, and that was a good thing.
Michael sought Birkoff in Systems. The computer specialist was laboring under a deadline, trying to reconstruct the missing files from Carrey's and Michael's computers.
"Birkoff, I need your help," Michael said softly as he leaned over the younger man's shoulder.
"Can't. Busy, get lost," was Birkoff's reflexive reply, until he realized it was Michael. "Geez, Michael. I'm really in a bind here. O'Brian is toasting my butt to reconstruct the lost files--pronto. What do you need now?" he asked, never taking his eyes from his work.
"Only one file, on one person, but I need everything, even the psych-ops evaluation, and I need it now," Michael said with firm precision.
"Okay, who?" Birkoff knew the sooner he gave Michael what he wanted, the sooner he could return to his assignment.
A raised eyebrow and another "Okay" was Birkoff's response after Michael told him whose file he wanted. Birkoff didn't have time to waste trying to second-guess Michael. He gave him what he wanted.
Michael left Birkoff in Systems and returned to his office. He checked
his coffee supply. Enough for another cup, he thought as he poured
the last of the pot into his cup. He expected the bitter taste since
it had been sitting there most of the day, but not the blurred vision and
dizziness. Poison was Michael's last coherent thought as he hit the
newly installed office emergency switch and collapsed on the floor.
The klaxon that rang, when Michael activated the switch, was loud and nerve-shattering. While the switches had been installed by the electricians in the last day, no one had yet heard one activated. Operations from his office aerie, demanded, "What is it, Birkoff? Who's hit their switch?"
Birkoff's strangled reply was, "It's Michael's office."
Operations rushed down the steps from his office two at a time, while Birkoff was summoning MedLab, Madeline, O'Brian to the scene. As an afterthought, Birkoff called Nikita as well.
Operations reached Michael first, and found him in a full tonic convulsion. His face was turning blue as the rictor of the convulsion would not allow him to breathe. Michael's severe thrashing movements prevented the lone Operations to perform an emergency tracheotomy, and he stood there helplessly as he watched another of his Class Five operatives begin to die.
MedLab personnel arrived a minute later. "We've got to intubate him,"
ordered Doc. As the second physician intubated, Doc said, "Administering
10cc intracardiac of Methylsynestrolamine STAT." She plunged the
intracardiac needle with the prepared drug through his chest wall and into
Michael's still beating heart, and waited.
On to Part XI