From her vantage point at Walter's armory, Nikita could see the briefing area. All the Class 5 operatives had been called in, and Operations was going over what was known about the death's of Carrey and LaFontaine. Nikita's elbows rested on Walter's work table, and her chin rested on her folded hands as she looked at Walter, who happened to be watching them with as much curiosity as she. "So have you heard anything, Walter? Does anyone know what's going on yet?"
"Nothin' Sugar. There's supposed to be another briefing at 5 with the prelim autopsy report on Carrey. O'Brian may have something from his investigation, too. Guess we'll have to wait and see like everybody else."
Nikita had a pensive look as she said, "I know, but I'm just worried, you know." Nikita's eyes had not left Michael during the briefing. Walter knew exactly what she meant.
"You're worried about Michael? I uh heard you were his alibi last night." Walter leered at the beautiful blonde. He was thrilled when he'd heard through the grapevine that Michael had spent the night Carrey died with Nikita. His sugar needed a break once in a while, and it didn't seem to him that she had many. "I suppose the two of you were going over some mission pa-ram-e-ters."
Nikita smiled and told him, "Yeah, that's exactly what we were doing, Walter." Nikita could feel her skin flush as Walter grinned at her. "What do you think, Walter? What's really going on here?" She still had a feeling of foreboding that disturbed her.
"Early days yet, hon. It'll take some time to sort all this mess. DNA tests take a couple of weeks. This is a first-time event around here, Nikita, but don't you worry about Michael. He's been around a long time, and he can take care of himself."
Walter's words of encouragement meant a lot to Nikita. He was the one person in Section that she had trusted over time with some of her secret concerns, and he had never betrayed her. Madeline has spoken truly in their first interview. Section was her family now, and Walter was her father figure or maybe more of a favorite uncle. Nikita's own family life had been dismal. She didn't remember her father and wished she could forget her mother. There hadn't been anyone else to her knowledge. The fact that her Section family consisted of a father/uncle, a brother, and a what--what was Michael in her Section family? Well, that was still yet to be determined. She knew he cared, but there were still too many mysteries about Michael for her to pigeon-hole him.
The rest in Section were like distant cousins, around for short visits (missions). Operations and Madeline defied description in her view of the Section One family. There had been a time that Nikita had considered Madeline a mentor, but now she was more of a inquisitor.
"Looks like they are breaking up," Nikita said as she straightened to her full 5 feet-10 inches.
Walter could see her intention to seek Michael. "Sugar, give him a little space right now. He's under a lot of scrutiny, and he doesn't need any additional pressure. Know what I mean?"
Nikita sighed and nodded her head in agreement. "Yeah, I know." Nikita walked down the hall and headed toward her standby quarters. Well, she thought. I may need to give Michael some space, but I can find out what O'Brian knows. With this new destination in mind, Nikita smiled as she strode quickly to find the former homicide detective.
Marco O'Brian was ensconced with Hector French in an extra office near the research lab. He was going over the plethora of evidence that had been collected thus far. "I've never seen so much ‘stuff' from a supposed crime scene. Are you sure all this came from Carrey's office, Hector?"
Hector drew his slender frame to its full medium height, "Of course. I was a police officer myself, you know, and I know how to preserve the integrity of a crime scene. Everything is neatly labeled as you can see. I omitted nothing, because anything could be something of value in this investigation." Hector was offended by having a raw Section recruit placed in charge of the investigation. That position should have been his.
"Yeah, yeah. Spare me the lectures on forensics, Hector. I've heard of few of them already." O'Brian ran his hands through his hair again. Hector and his prissy mannerisms were already getting on his nerves. The little jerk had probably been a small town police officer and thought that prepared him for a real murder investigation. It was true everything was labeled, tagged and bagged, but O'Brian knew his sense of unease had been triggered by something, as yet undetermined.
He heard a soft tap at the door, which was followed by the entrance of a tall blonde. Marco caught his breath. He hadn't seen her this closely since she had recruited him a over a year ago. "Nikita." He didn't know what else to say.
"Hi, O'Brian." Nikita had the grace to blush under his wide-eyed gaze. "How's it going? The investigation, I mean." Her stance was awkward as she remembered how ruthlessly she had tricked him into Section One in order to prevent her own involvement in a murder investigation leading to Section. She'd seen the anger and hurt in his eyes as she revealed the frame-up that would blame him for the murder of a serial killer. Work for Section or die, and he had chosen as they all had--life at any cost.
"Sorry, Nikita. This area is off limits to all operatives, especially one who is the alibi for a possible suspect," O'Brian was officially correct, and he knew it. Moreover, he didn't want to be around Nikita--too many memories of his life before.
Nikita felt the rebuff, but nodded. "Sure. Sorry. I guess I'm used to sticking my nose in where it's not wanted. Uh, see you around then." she said as she slowly backed from the room.
After Nikita left the office, Marco punched the number for comm. "Get me Madeline, now." He waited a moment and the connection was made.
"Yes, O'Brian. What is it? Have you found something definitive?"
"Two things. One, I need you to keep operatives out of this office and two, I need a forensic pathologist down here--a real one. I'm a detective, not a scientist. There's too much evidence for me to sift through."
"Too much evidence? All right, your forensic pathologist has already been detained and is on the way. What operatives are invading your space, Mr. "O'Brien? I assure you that is an easy fix." Madeline's curiosity was piqued. Was it someone trying to tamper with the evidence already.
"Well, only uh, Nikita, so far, but I want to nip this in the bud. This space needs to be off limits." For some reason, Marco felt like a traitor for ratting on Nikita. That was totally illogical, too, he thought.
Madeline smiled, "No problem. I'll speak to Nikita privately, and make a general announcement as well." Madeline certainly knew Nikita's motivation and doubted evidence tampering entered into it.
"Is that all, Mr. O'Brian?" her soft voice asked.
"Uh, yes." Marco disconnected and shook his head. That woman had a damn seductive voice, and she was reputed to be deadlier than Operations himself. No wonder her nickname was the ‘black widow.'
Michael was the first of the Class 5 operatives to join Operations at the briefing area. Operations nodded at Michael's arrival, but did not speak. Michael sat in his usual rigid posture and waited patiently as he returned Operations' nod. After an uncomfortable minute, Madeline joined them accompanied by O'Brian and a tall brunette. Madeline motioned for her to be seated, which she did with a sullen graceful movement. The woman looked at Operations with disdain and rolled her eyes. Michael fell under her mournful gaze next, and she was treated to his blank stare in return. Hm, she thought, wonder what his story is.
The remaining C5 Ops quickly assembled around the table. When their number was complete, Operations cleared his throat and began. "We are here to update you on initial findings in the death's of Terrence Carrey and Judith LaFontaine. The agency has loaned us Dr. Lopez, who is a noted forensic pathologist. The complexity of this situation demands the best and we have her for as long as is necessary. Luckily, her security clearance is sufficient, that we will not have to kill her once her findings are complete."
Operations brief attempt at humor fell on deadened ears. Lopez rolled her brown eyes again, and imagined she saw the tiniest twinkle in a pair of green eyes.
"Well, as I was saying, Dr. Lopez will now give you her findings.
Mandelita Lopez stood with a slow languid movement. "Well," she began, "I've had about fifteen minutes to go over the evidence collected by your people on site. All I can tell you is that LaFontaine died of a direct shot gun blast at very close range, and Carrey did not commit suicide. The paraffin tests done on his hands and clothes were negative. When I've had more time with the evidence and the bodies, I will no doubt be able to tell you more. Now if you will excuse me, I will go back to my duties here. I have no desire to spend anymore time here underground with you charming people than necessary." With this arrogant announcement, Lopez turned and left the briefing table accompanied by O'Brian, whose shoulders were shaking with suppressed laughter.
Operations shut his mouth. Madeline blinked and allowed a minuscule smile to reach her lips. "Any questions?" he asked.
Michael asked, "What about Coriascue? Have we received a report on his death?"
"Yes, I was just going to cover that. Coriascue was ostensibly lost on a mission in the Balkans, however, no one saw him go down. It is under investigation as a murder. Whether it will tie in with the two here is unknown. That is all for now." As he turned to leave, Operations smiled and took Madeline by the elbow.
Nine Section One Class 5 operatives looked at their fellow operatives. Michael was the first to leave, buttoning his jacket as he did. One by one, nine people left the briefing area, each with their varying backgrounds and differing agenda, but they each had two common questions in mind, ‘Was one of them a murderer?' and ‘Was one of them next?"
Waiting. I am waiting for the next
one. He will be in my hands shortly, and I will prevail over his
skills and his intelligence. Once again I will be superior.
The elite tier one cadre will fall, one by one, until there are no more
to stand in the way of my vision.
He had not known about the baby until he had seen her being escorted to detention by two security guards. The Section One grapevine had told him the rest of the details. Terri and he had been very discreet--more so than Michael and Nikita. The sexual tension between that pair consistently raised eyebrows. It was a pity they didn't have better control. Marcus guessed that Michael and Nikita would have to pay for their passion at some time, and he hoped the price wouldn't be as high as Terri's and his. Marcus no longer cared that Operations knew he was the father of Terri's baby. Operations had assured him that a superior home and family would be found for his child, but he had no soft assurances for Terri. Marcus knew exactly what Terri knew when she first decided to try to leave Section--she would be canceled if caught.
Marcus's last visit with Terri had been emotional. She had been resigned to her fate, but begged him to take the baby and flee after it was born. Marcus was, in spite of his usual humorous outlook, a realist. He had told her what she asked was impossible, and she had started crying. It had taken all his strength and self-control not to promise her whatever she wanted, in order to make her stop. He was not looking forward to this visit either, but he cared for Terri and feared the end of her pregnancy would bring him face to face with how ‘much' he cared.
Marcus did not expect the savage blow that felled him from behind and rendered him unconscious. He never felt the knife that slit his throat in one swift and neat stroke. As the blood gushed from his carotid arteries, no last thoughts of Terri and their baby crossed his mind. He was already dead, and the knife lay on the floor beside him.
The simplest thus far. I am invincible.
I shall prevail. I need a better challenge to my skills than this.
Who shall it be? Who shall it be? Someone comes! Oh,
how rich. How absolutely rich!
O'Brian shook his head quietly as he followed Dr. Lopez back to ‘her' office. In his mind she was one arrogant babe. She had made it very clear on her arrival in Section that she did not intend to share the space with him.
"And where is ‘your' desk, Mr. O'Brian?" she asked as she pulled herself to her full 5 feet 11 inches and sat on the edge of the desk he had been using.
"Well, until now ‘that' was," he said with some exasperation.
Mandelita smiled. "You will need to find another space. I like this one. Its proximity to the evidence room and morgue are excellent. I do not intend to jeopardize the security of this investigation by having anyone from Section One near my files. In other words, I do not intend to breathe the same air as you do, anymore often than I have to do so. When I have pertinent findings, I will summon you for a briefing. Moreover, you can plan on a daily briefing and planning session at 6AM. Any questions?"
"Yeah, do I have to raise my hand to be excused, or do I just bow and back out, your highness?" However, the cocky O'Brian did not wait for an answer as he pivoted on his heel and with his characteristic swagger left her presence.
Lopez laughed aloud after he predictably slammed the door. These covert types were all alike in some ways and so different in others. The one true constant she had found from working around them in the last seven years was that they were never quite what they appeared to be. She had been educated in the best schools Europe and the United States, and why she had allowed herself to work for the federal government still eluded her.
Her first experience with the government had been a temporary assignment, but for the past five years, she had come to work for them exclusively. Her primary function was to ‘handle' situations much like this. In her opinion, there were too many covert organizations, and they all were horribly paranoid. It was a miracle that Section One hadn't self-destructed before, considering that almost all their operatives were killers recruited from death row and lifers. The upper levels didn't appear to be much better, either from what she had seen of Operations and Madeline.
Mentally she reviewed the intel she had been given after accepting the assignment. Operations was supposedly a dead war hero from the Viet Nam era. She wondered why he had chosen to assume this secretive existence instead of resuming the life he had before the war. Was he really so dedicated to destroying terrorists, or was he hiding something?
About His second-in-command, Madeline, Lopez knew little. Madeline appeared to be as big a mystery as some of the lower level operatives, and Lopez assumed that she had committed some heinous crime as well. She did not underestimate her, for Madeline had an aura of danger that was accented by her beauty. Her deep brown eyes had given away nothing during their introduction, and her constant Mona Lisa smile was unnerving.
They had met in Madeline's spartan office. The only life in the room was the green of several bonsai plants that were displayed in an sterile-appearing environment. Lopez had not decided if Madeline was alive or not. That might take some time to determine.
"I hope you will be comfortable here with us, and that the investigation will not take an inordinate length of time," Madeline said, as she observed the haughty demeanor that Mandelita exuded with every movement of her body.
"I am never uncomfortable five hundred feet below ground, and my investigation will take exactly as long as it needs to take. I do appreciate your desire that I be comfortable, but my requirements are few. I will need a secured office space and a place to sleep, food and water. That's it."
Ooh, a spark of life, Lopez thought as Madeline's eyes had flashed. Madeline had looked at her for a moment as if she had wanted to throw her a bone because of the food and water remark, but Lopez saw her take a deep breath and apparently the impulse passed. Lopez chuckled at the memory. She doubted that anyone had ever bested Madeline in her own office, till now.
"We will be taking care of you, I assure you," had been Madeline's response.
Lopez had wondered then, if Madeline had made an assurance that her needs would be met, or that there was an underlying threat in that simple phrase. No matter, Lopez was here to do her job, and minor skirmishes with underground inhabitants were only part of the fun.
Lopez's thoughts turned to the Class 5 operatives that someone seemed bent on eliminating were more intelligent and polished than their lower level comrades, and because of this were twice as deadly. The silent, brooding one, Michael, intrigued her the most. He seemed to be challenging Operations in some understated way with his question at the end of the briefing. She had heard rather than seen the challenge in his voice as she had already left the table. She wondered which one of her peers was involved in the investigation of Coriascue's death. They might need to make contact and share intel.
Enough of this conjecture, she thought. Let's get down to hard facts
and evidence. Slowly she began the tedious sorting of facts, fictions
and the mountain of paper already collected on ‘her' desk. She supposed
that some might find the actual nuts and bolts of a homicide inquiry boring,
but she saw it as a puzzle. If one piece of evidence didn't fit here,
then turn it and look at it in another way. She meant to make all
the pieces fit.
On to Part VI