The evening was beginning to wear on everyone's nerves. Nikita decided to have a workout in the gym to rid herself of the excess energy that was building inside her. She was determined to give Michael the space that Walter said he needed. The night they had spent together seemed so long ago, and it had been only last night. So much had happened with the murders of Terrence and Judith. Michael had been held temporarily, and now he could even be a target. The results of the 5PM briefing had already filtered through the grapevine in Section One. They had brought in an Agency FP, and she had apparently made no friends at the briefing. Not happy to be there, well, join the club Dr. Lopez. Join the club.
Nikita turned the corner that would lead her to the gym and stopped short at the sight of a body lying in a pool of blood. "Mark," she said aloud, but knew it was futile. No one survived having their throat cut in that manner. Nikita hit the emergency call that was only ten feet away. "Get O'Brian! There's been another one--Marcus Redmond." Nikita paced the width of the hall until O'Brian came rushing into the area.
"Have you touched anything?" Marco asked.
Nikita's reply was an indignant, "Of course not!" The scene before her was all too familiar. The only difference this time was that she had neither seen the perpetrator, nor touched the weapon responsible for the murder. She could not help but remember the onslaught of feelings she had experienced the darkest night of her life. The man who had murdered the policeman had turned the knife on her. She still didn't know how she had managed to keep him from killing her as well. She supposed that fear had caused an adrenaline rush which had enhanced her strength and enabled her to wrest the knife from the huge bald man in that dark alley. She had still been holding the knife when the police came and arrested her.
Her bewilderment had been paramount as they had shoved her into the back of the police vehicle. The rest of her incarceration and trial had been a nightmare. The PD who defended her attempted to make her plead guilty, but she had refused. Life without parole had been her sentence, and so it still was. Only she was free to work for the government and kill on their behest, but there was no way she'd ever be free of Section. Madeline had spoken the truth again--in more than one way.
She had awakened in a white-tiled room looking into the eyes of a man.
He had unbound her wrists, and she had cowered against the wall of
cold tile,which had not chilled her as much as his green eyes had.
His eyes had been mesmerizing as he had told her he wasn't going to hurt
her. Part of her had wanted to believe him, for she had suffered
while in the women's prison. His words, "A woman with looks like
yours, who can kill in cold blood," chilled her to the very marrow of her
bones. Her hysterical denials had fallen on deaf ears, and the man,
Michael, had become her trainer, mentor and
seducer. While he never made love to her, he had seduced her to stay in Section, to do the job. He had succeeded extremely well, for her first kill had been to defend him.
Her feelings for Michael had bound her to Section. He had freed her once during a suicide mission, and she had ‘existed' outside the Section for six months. Six months of looking over her shoulder, changing her name a dozen times, drifting from town to town and country to country had taken all her ingenuity and energy. There had been little freedom. Unwilling to trust anyone, she had been unable to make friends. And always the PDA and Michael's never-ending ‘Nikita, are you there?' until she thought she would toss the damn thing into the Seine or the ocean, just to stop the annoying sound it made and the painful tug on her heart.
Her capture by the Freedom League had changed the equation. During her brief sojourn in their base camp, she had heard of a plan to attack Section operatives and that there was a mole in Section. Her fears for Michael and any other friends gave her the incentive to escape. She ended that night by saving Michael's life and seeing him again, but during a moment when his attention was diverted, she left without speaking to him.
She knew he would attempt to contact her again, and the debate in her mind continued. Would she answer? Should she answer? How could she not? Nikita had thought she would go mad waiting for his next call on the PDA. In spite of her fears of being caught, she had found her way back to her tiny Lyon apartment to retrieve it. Yes, she had answered and given him the directions to a deserted boat, where she had hidden.
She had been so weary, she had fallen asleep with a gun in her hands.
She had been startled by the scraping of the handle as Michael had opened
the door. It was reflex that she held the gun on him. After
all that had gone before, she still hadn't trusted him not to hurt her.
He had disarmed her quite simply by distracting her. He had then
captured her arms and thrown her on the bed, but instead of hitting her,
he had kissed her with a feverish passion that Nikita had known was real
and not part of any mission profile.
"I thought I had lost you," had been his breathless avowal.
"You never had me," had been her challenging reply.
"Nikita, hey, Nikita!" Marco's sharp voice called her to the present.
"Yes, what?" Nikita blushed still remembering the short and passionate night she and Michael had spent on the boat.
"Where did you go? I mean I thought I had lost you for a minute there. You were in another world.
"Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. I was in another world." Marco's use of the same words Michael had used had thrown her as well. It was an eerie feeling to hear the words in her mind and then hear them spoken aloud.
"Did you see or hear anybody, Nikita? Stay with me now. This is important. Tell me what you remember while your impressions are fresh." O'Brian had no idea what was wrong with Nikita, but he had to have his answers, and she could freak out on her own time.
"No, nothing. My mind was a million miles away. I was heading to the gym for a workout. All this had me pretty anxious, you know. Full of pent up energy. I needed to get rid of some of it. I turned the corner and found Marcus. I could tell he was gone from the amount of blood pooled around him. I hit the emergency call, and that's it." Nikita leaned against the wall, drained of energy. Would they be detaining her because she'd found the body?
At that moment, Hector appeared with his evidence case.
"Okay, hang loose, Nikita. We'll need a written statement later, and we'll need your clothes to check for blood," O'Brian told her.
"You want my clothes now?" Nikita asked.
"For the chain of evidence," Hector offered by way of explanation.
"Well, by all means." Nikita started methodically stripping in the hall, and methodically folded them before throwing them at O'Brian. "Need my underwear too?"
O'Brian shook his head said, "I didn't mean right this very minute, Nikita."
Nikita stood in her pink bikini and bra glory. "Now you tell me,"
she said as she strode down the hall to her standby quarters.
More than anything, Michael desired access to the heavily secured psych-op files, and he only knew one person who might capable of accessing them without alerting Madeline. That person was Semour Birkoff, and that person owed him a favor or two. The reason for Birkoff's presence in Section One remained a mystery to most, but not to Michael.*** Birkoff was only 21 and had been in Section One for seven years. He had been an innocent brought in at Michael's insistence after a mission with Simone to take out a Russian Mafia family. The fourteen year old had been a member of that family. He had already shown the signs of genius, especially with computers. He had also shown signs of being abused by his family, and in spite of Simone's declaration that the unfortunate youth was ‘acceptable collateral,' Michael had been obstinate and refused to leave him to the same fate as the rest of his family. Michael had been able to convince Operations of Birkoff's value, and he had been with Section since then.
Michael walked in graceful strides to Birkoff's station in Systems. Birkoff gave him a bare glance of acknowledgment as he busily continued his work. "I need something, Birkoff," Michael said in his quiet accented voice.
Birkoff looked at Michael. "Yeah. What is it? I'm pretty busy."
Michael placed his hand over Birkoff's keys. "It's important, and I'm not even certain if you can do it," he said with a soft challenge in his voice.
Birkoff had an uh-oh feeling that Michael was going to ask him to do something problematic. It wouldn't be the first time, and Birkoff doubted it would be the last. "What, Michael? You know I'm pretty slammed right now with this investigation. I have to give O'Brian all the files on the C5 ops.
"Even the psych-ops files?" Michael asked.
"Yes, Madeline okayed it."
"Then all I want you to do is copy me everything you give to O'Brian."
"That's all?" Birkoff was incredulous at Michael's request. "You know how much trouble I can get into, if Madeline should find out?"
"You're the only one who can do it." Michael remained adamant. He couldn't sit idly while the investigation took place around him. He felt the need to control his destiny more than ever and did not appreciate being in a passive role. The C5 ops had all been warned to stay away from the inquiry, but that was not in his nature.
Birkoff considered his life in Section and the life he'd had before. He knew Michael had saved his life and brought him to Section at the risk of being canceled. He hadn't understood that at the time, but did now. He looked at Michael, his brown eyes blinking behind his tinted glasses and said, "Okay."
"Thank you." Michael knew the risk he was asking Birkoff to take and added, "We're even."
Birkoff nodded. "I'll contact you when it's done."
"Fine. I'll be in my office." Michael turned to leave, when he heard Birkoff rapid intake of breath.
"Damn! Michael, there's been another one.
"Back corridor in area 14. Just now. His throat was cut. Michael, Nikita found him." Birkoff looked at Michael to see if he reacted. Michael was so controlled, but Birkoff had always had the feeling there was ‘something' between them. Who could blame Michael? Nikita was beautiful and had a heart--something quite rare in their environment. He'd opened the door to Michael's office several times and had felt like the only bast@$d at a family reunion and definitely unwelcome.
Michael's heart gave a perceptible lurch. "Is ‘she' all right?" His voice hesitated as he spoke each word.
"Yeah, I guess."
"Find out," Michael insisted in a quiet measured tone. Michael rubbed his chin, which always indicated he was upset. Occasionally, Michael's body language did reveal what he tried to hide most.
"O'Brian. Is Nikita okay?" Birkoff asked over the comm set. O'Brian's response made him giggle aloud.
"What?" Michael slammed his hand on Birkoff's desk. He was annoyed. He could see no reason to giggle. Another C5 op had been murdered, and Nikita had been found at the scene. With Nikita's history, he was very afraid she would be blamed automatically. He took a deep breath to attempt to regain his control.
"Nikita's fine, Michael." Birkoff snickered again. "Seems O'Brian told her they would need her clothes for evidence to test for any blood stains, and she took them off right there in the hall in front of O'Brian and Hector from Housekeeping. Then she walked off wearing only her ‘pink' bra and bikinis."
Michael struggled again, this time to keep from laughing. The left corner of his mouth twitched, but that was the only outward sign that betrayed him. "Really?"
"Really." Birkoff's shoulders continued to shake as he turned to continue his work.
Michael breathed a sigh of relief. Mon Dieu! He loved her. She was an original. Only Nikita would take a request like that so literally. He was sure that she did it with style as well. Who would not love her? She was the reason he drew breath each day. If only....
"A Look Back, A Look Ahead" by Marie
Nikita strode down the hall toward Madeline's office. She was wearing a black tee shirt and fatigue pants along with clunky boots. It was all she'd had left in the closet of her stand-by quarters. Nikita was sorry that Mark had been murdered. For a C5 op, he had been an okay guy. Nikita had decided he that was the father of Terri's baby by accident, when she learned that he was the only person allowed to visit her in detention. She had put the one and one together to get three for an answer. So it hadn't been an outsider at all as Terri had implied, she had thought. She wondered if someone would bother to let Terri know Mark was dead. She also wondered what Madeline wanted. She had already told O'Brian all she knew.
Madeline nodded as Nikita entered and with a graceful movement of her hand motioned for her to be seated. Madeline's smile did not reach her eyes as she said, "I see you found something else to wear. I am ‘sure' that O'Brian appreciated the alacrity with which you responded to his request for your outer garments."
Nikita tilted her head and gave a smirking smile. "I think he did. In fact, I'm sure he was impressed." Sparring with Madeline could sometimes be fun. Perhaps, this was going to be one of those times. She decided to be proactive, "Madeline, why am I here? I've already given a statement to O'Brian. I'm sure they won't find any blood on my clothes, since I was never any nearer the body than five feet."
Madeline gave a feeble smile again and sighed. "Nikita, surely the manner in which he was killed gives you some idea of why you are here. He was killed with a knife, which was your weapon of choice before you came to us. There are some similarities." Madeline looked at the report on her computer screen. "He was killed with a large sharp knife, throat cut from left to right by a right-handed assailant."
Nikita bristled at Madeline's insinuation. "I'm right-handed, so now I'm a murderer. Tell me Madeline, have I done all the others, too? Have I suddenly turned into a serial killer? Is that what you're trying to say in that oblique way of yours?" Nikita was leaning across the desk and into Madeline's face.
"No, Nikita, I am only mentioning some interesting facts in this latest murder. It is more likely that someone is trying to cast suspicion in your direction. Whoever this killer is, he is not using the same technique with each kill, which indicates to me that he is not a true serial killer. He is casting suspicion in many directions which also indicates that we are seeking a very intelligent person. It is possible that he is delusional at times and feels he has some kind of mission. Obviously, it is also likely to be someone in Section One."
Nikita swallowed at the thought of such a one loose in Section One. "How will we ever find him?"
Madeline smiled at the thought of Nikita being involved in the murder investigation. "A very thorough evaluation of all personnel is in progress, Nikita. We will find him or her, have no fear."
Nikita leveled her gaze at Madeline. "So, this is someone ‘you' missed on initial evaluation, and now we all have this ‘big' problem."
"That will be all, Nikita."
Dr. Mandelita Lopez spoke into the recording microphone as she did the initial visual examination of Marcus Redmond's body. "The current victim ID# 3A is six feet 1/4 inches in length. Postmortem weight is 195 pounds. The body is well-muscled, with little body fat. There is an area of ecchymosis left elbow, also on the left lateral patellar area. The is a gaping wound of the anterior neck. Both external and internal carotids have been transsected, as well as the jugular veins. Obvious cause of death is massive exsanguination."
"Examining the facial area I find no other contusions or areas of ecchymosis. At the left posterior temporal area, I observe a 2 x 1 cm area of edema and ecchymosis. The right side of the cranium is negative." Lopez lifted the head to examine the posterior region. "Ah," she said, "the posterior cranium exhibits a large depressed skull fracture in the lower-occipital region. This wound in itself is severe enough to cause death. Apparently cause by a strike from a blunt object. I will fully examine the brain."
The sound and odor of the cranial saw cutting through the skull was always unpleasant to Marco O'Brian. No matter how many autopsies he had observed, it always unnerved him. The heat generated by the saw cutting through the skull caused an odor that reminded him of when the dentist drilled a tooth for a filling, only magnified. It was the odor of burning hair, and why burning hair and a bone saw were the same escaped him.
Lopez lay the top portion of the cranium aside and with delicacy and experienced hands felt beneath for the cerebellum and brain stem. She quickly transsected brain stem, thus separating from the brain from the stem, and lifted the brain free of the cranium.
"There is a subdural hematoma in the area of the cerebellum. It measures 3 cm x 4cm and impinges on the cerebellum which is displaced toward the medulla. Had the victim not had his throat cut, this could have caused his death as well."
Lopez placed the brain onto a scale. "The weight is 1.365 kg, within normal limits. Gross physical findings indicate that the victim was struck in the lower occipital region with a subdural hematoma resulting. He fell to the left and struck his temple. His throat was cut from left to right, indicating that whoever did it was right-handed. The throat incision is clean and took only one stroke. Postmorten lividity as well indicates that the subject fell to the left and was not moved. Subject's time of death according to liver temperature is approximately 1 hour prior to discovery. It is doubtful that anything else will be discovered, but the rest of the examination will continue as per normal routine." She picked up the scalpel to make the large incision to open the chest and abdomen like a book.
O'Brian decided he'd heard all he needed to hear. He could wait to read the rest of the formal report. "Well, Doc, I'm gonna do a little more detective work, and I'll leave you to continue your fun here."
Lopez's brown eyes narrowed at the appellation, ‘Doc.' She had already asked him to call her Dr. Lopez, but he seemed determined to be obstinate. Whatever, she thought. At least I can leave this abysmal subterranean world when this is over. He can't.
On to Part VII