Michael's internal body clock awakened him as usual at 4AM. He groaned and pulled the sheet over his head. He estimated that he'd only been asleep for an hour. In spite of Operations' remark about having a ‘couple hours of sleep,' Michael was certain that Operations had not awakened since he had fallen asleep at midnight.
For years, sleep had been a difficult proposition for Michael. If his dreams were not peopled by those he had lost or been responsible for killing, then they were filled with Nikita. If the former, he would awaken in complete depression, but if the later, he would awaken with longing for her and scenes of seductive torment still ever-present in his mind's eye.
This one morning, Michael's body exhausted from hours of tension won the battle for control, and he fell into a deep slumber. A slumber so deep that he never heard Operations arise at 0530 and head for the shower, nor Christopher arrive for breakfast preparations. Nor did Michael hear Madeline enter for her usual power breakfast with Operations.
Madeline could hear the shower running and decided to partake of her favorite pastime--Michael watching. Madeline smiled as she saw him lying there with his sheet twisted. He looked younger, almost innocent, much like he had been on his arrival at Section One. His arrival in Section had caused quite a buzz among the female operatives. She, of course, had already seen his file, and while the mug photographs had failed to do him justice, she had recognized something in him. Maybe it was his haunted expression or his crystal green eyes.
She had been thrilled as she had watched him walk into the main training area behind Jurgen. He was innately graceful, but moved with the power of a large jungle cat. Every female operative in the training area either broke into giggles or emitted bursts of pheromones that threatened to cause havoc for many days to come. The women simply would not leave him alone, and not just the younger ones. Michael had seemed bewildered then, merely content to conform to Jurgen's wishes and stay alive. Madeline had made sure that Jurgen knew of her intent for Michael to become a Valentine operative.
Madeline smiled, for she had briefly underestimated him. He seemed to have a natural ability in hand-to-hand combat and weaponry, and to find that his greatest strength was in the area of strategy and logic had been an added bonus. At that time, as far as Madeline was concerned, he would make the most superior operative that Section One had ever recruited. And she had not been disappointed until her sessions with him had commenced. He had fallen in love with her, and she had been forced to treat him rather brutally. At least it had appeared to be brutal treatment in the eyes of the young and sensitive Michael.
She watched as he stirred on the sofa. He was more appealing now than ever, Madeline thought. A man in his early thirties is at his prime, and Michael was no exception. More muscular and charismatic, with an added air of mystery as well--now that was an unbeatable combination.
Michael stretched, yawned and slowly opened his eyes. He froze.
"Good morning," Madeline said enjoying the effect she'd had on him.
Michael's voice was hoarse as he replied, "Good morning." He could see her eyes traveling the length of his body, and he wondered if he were inappropriately exposed. He dared not to look down, so gathered his sheet around his waist meaning to escape, but where. He could hear that Operations has stopped the shower. He rose with reluctant grace and walked down the hall, still feeling Madeline's gaze on his back.
"You know, Michael, if I were the enemy, you'd be dead now."
And if I had any brains, you'd be dead now, Michael thought, as he waited for Operations to finish his morning ablutions. Coffee, I need coffee, he thought as it took all his strength not to bang his head repeatedly against the wall.
Michael was more than happy to flee Operations' apartment after he had showered and shaved, and he vowed he would not spend another night like the last. The final blow had been to awaken and find Madeline staring at him like he was the meat course on the power breakfast menu. Madeline's early morning appraisal had brought a surge of unpleasant memories that threatened to disrupt his concentration. He'd even foregone Operations' gracious offer of coffee in order to escape.
Michael slipped the duplicate disc Birkoff had made for him into his computer drive. He had hoped to do this at home on his private computer, but the order for CQSB had eliminated that option. He knew there would be traces of his activity on his office computer, but he would have to take that risk.
As he waited for the disc to load, he sipped the coffee he had abandoned the night before. The microwave had reheated it, but the bitterness was galling. It was, however, still caffeine, and Michael downed it as if it were a nasty-tasting dose of medicine.
Michael added an encryption code to the file. While it wouldn't be foolproof, if Operations or Madeline were determined to access the file, but they didn't know that Birkoff had the duplicated file for him. The early morning quiet, before the daily inrush of operatives, suited Michael. It was always a peaceful time that required no pretenses, and he could relax somewhat as he reviewed the intel previously denied him.
This morning, however, a soft knock sounded at his door. Michael said, "Come in" as he continued to scan the privileged data.
Jonathan Dwyer, the British Class 5 stood there with a pained expression on his usually sullen face. His clothing was immaculate and well-tailored. It was Michael's guess that the Brit. had a Savile Row tailor. "Michael, where in blazes does one find a decent cup of coffee in this place? I know tea is too much to ask, but hot fresh coffee surely even here...."
"Sorry, the surf who makes our coffee doesn't come in till seven, so if
you need it that badly, I suggest you go make it yourself--in the lounge
across from the training area."
Michael motioned with his right hand as his left continued to arrow down through the data. Michael gave a slightly malicious grin, "If you want tea, I suppose you could see Madeline. She's very fond of tea."
Dwyer coughed, "I think coffee will be quite adequate for my needs. Thank you, Michael." Dwyer turned and left Michael's office and missed entirely Michael's shoulders as they twitched with suppressed laughter. Michael wondered what the fair Madeline had done to make Dwyer so reluctant. Maybe it was her unnerving habit of pruning her new bonsai trees while she delivered ultimatums or bad news.
Michael's eyes widened as he read his own file. There were no real
surprises, but many of his suspicions had now been confirmed.
Madeline had been very amused by Michael's discomfiture caused by her early morning presence. His hasty retreat without even coffee only magnified the scene in her mind. Michael without his morning coffee was a sight to behold, but also one to be avoided at all costs, if possible. She knew that when he was in Section, he kept a pot brewing at all times as his drug of choice.
"Well, Madeline, did you enjoy seeing your old protege in his state of dishabille'?"
Operations asked as he entered the living room in his usual dapper state of dress--gray trousers, charcoal gray shirt, and black tie. His gray-blue eyes exhibited a slight twinkle as he teased Madeline. He looked at her with approval. At six AM she was sitting in his living room with her makeup perfectly applied and her hair immaculately dressed, if a little dry-looking today, he thought. Her dark brown suit was perfectly tailored and pressed, even if she did wear a low-cut blouse, she looked professional and to him, as always, a treat.
"Paul, why dredge up the past? My sessions with Michael ended years
ago. It's time you put it behind you. It was part of my job."
Madeline affected a bored tone to signal Operations to drop it, but he
"I'll put it behind me, when you do," he challenged.
Madeline was incredulous. "Surely, you're not serious. I don't intend to discuss this any further. Do you want me here for breakfast or not?"
"Of course, you're here for our usual breakfast briefing of overnight intel, as well as because I want you here. It seems to be the only time you allow us to have together anymore." Their recent night at The Tower had been a renewal of their old relationship, or so he had thought at the time. Madeline, however, appeared to be rethinking her position. Damn! The workings of her mind were still a mystery to him after all the years he had known her.
She had been a skinny teenager when recruited by Section One--unformed and scared sh##less, but with a promise of beauty that had taken a couple of years to come to fruition and a blazing intelligence that had left them all in awe. Madeline had been his material until Adrian had decided to totally take the girl under her wing, as well as to see that she obtained a first rate education.
Their ‘relationship' had not blossomed until Madeline was in her early twenties on their first real mission together. He had been foolish enough to still think of her as the teenager she had been, inexperienced and scared. She had ‘seduced' him, much to his surprise--and delight.
Madeline could see the pensive look in Operations' eyes. "Paul, it doesn't do to dwell on the past, for either of us. There's too much happening here in Section for us to be distracted." Madeline rose and walked into the sterile, high-tech breakfast room. The contrast between this area and the living room was so great that she felt like she had entered another world. She enjoyed her new office, as it was in the same style, but she much preferred her own eclectic taste for her living quarters decor.
Operations sipped at his cup of fresh steaming coffee left by the ever-present Christopher. "All right, what do we have on pad?" he asked with grumpy ill-humor.
"Nothing, all missions are being rerouted to the other Sections, but I am not sure they can sustain that level of activity for very long. It is essential that we conclude this investigation quickly," Madeline said as she sipped her cup of Earl Gray tea.
Madeline's propensity for stating the obvious irritated Operations this morning. "Well, of course, Madeline, that plus the fact that if we don't, we may not have any Class 5 operatives left."
Madeline smiled. She liked irritating him occasionally.
Michael was sure that if his psych-ops file had been on paper, it would have taken an entire file drawer. Madeline's fourteen years of copious notes in his profile were enlightening to say the least. The lies and the manipulations that had been perpetrated on him were incredible--some that he'd been too naive at the time to suspect. Simone had been a manipulation to end his early fixation on Madeline, but apparently even she had been unaware of her true role. Years of illusions were displayed in front of him, and they sickened him.
Yes, Operations and Madeline had both been aware that Simone had been held prisoner by Glass Curtain for three years before her discovery by Nikita. No wonder, Operations had wanted Nikita to penetrate their compound, instead of him. Nikita was more believable as ‘disaffected youth,' indeed. His relationship with Simone and her eventual loss had been calculated by Madeline and Operations to complete his evolution into the perfect soulless operative.
He continued to read. He was not surprised to find that it had been Madeline's idea to give him Nikita as his material, for he had always suspected her of being the force behind that decision. He also sensed from her cryptic notations, that Nikita had been a little too successful in bringing Michael back from his black hole of depression. His anger mounted as he read of Madeline's suspicions that he had allowed her to escape the Freedom League explosion. He wondered if Operations were privy to all of the intel that Madeline had collected. Some of it would have been embarrassing to almost any man, for the early notes charted ‘in great detail' his progress in ValOp. training. Michael shook his head. Researching his own file was a waste of time, since he knew he wasn't the murderer.
He decided to research the remaining C5's and see what connections might exist between them and the operatives already slain. Desmond Black's file was the first one he accessed. Michael already knew that Desmond and Marcus Redmond had been friends, but what he had not known surprised him. Marcus had been the father of Terri's baby, but Des had also been in love with Terri and blamed Marcus for her pending cancellation. A motive for one murder, but not for the others. Other than their all being C5 ops, there were no other relationships that lead Michael to believe that the calm Desmond Black had a reason to murder any of them.
Michael keyed in Sylvia Damico's name and brought up her file. He didn't expect to find anything that would concern him in his old friend's file, but he did. She had a somewhat remote connection to the first C5 op. to die, Coriascue. They had been on a joint mission behind lines in the Balkans over a year ago. There had been a disagreement between members on their teams that had finally had to be settled by Korda and Sylvia.
Michael accessed the file on that mission. There he found that Sylvia and Korda had come to blows during their deliberations on behalf of their team members. It seemed that one of Sylvia's team had been lost on the mission, and another member of her team had accused one of Korda's team of compromising the entire mission with his negligence. Vicious epithets, threats and a couple of punches had been tossed before their team members had pulled them apart.
It was not resolved, according to the mission file, and the acrimonious
feelings had followed them to the debrief where the argument had resumed.
That time it took a Section Three security team of five to pull them apart.
And Sylvia had been in Europe at the time of Coriascue's loss on a mission.
Michael was sure it was a coincidence, but he would ask her about it all
the same. It was not necessarily a motive for murder. Missions
were of necessity filled with tension that sometimes erupted in such manner,
but in the cool light of day and with the passage of time, they were forgotten.
Michael continued to search her file, but there were no other questionable
connections that he could determine.
Michael rubbed his eyes. He knew he needed more coffee and looked at his empty coffee maker and sighed. He had been so anxious to access the disc that he'd neglected to make any. He headed to the lounge where he had directed Dwyer earlier. The joke on Dwyer was, there were no peons who made coffee for the operatives--excluding Operations, of course.
As Michael returned to his task of amateur detective, he inhaled the heady aroma of fresh coffee as it was streaming into the glass coffee pot. He grew impatient as he waited for it to finish filtering and rose from his chair to slip his coffee cup under the fragrant stream. For Michael this was a frequent maneuver, and only one errant drop sizzled and danced on the heated surface, as he filled his cup and switched the pot back to its proper place. He blew, then gingerly sipped the hot brew. Heaven, he thought.
Once again, he accessed the C5 files. Jonathan Dwyer--British, former MI6, who was so disliked at MI6, that they offered him to Section when the first opportunity presented itself. Dwyer, in spite of his British public school background, had a neo-Nazi thug mentality cloaked by good manners and an upper-class accent. Madeline's counterpart at Section two had noted, he so disliked working with anyone he considered his inferior, that he frequently risked good operatives because they had the wrong ethnicity.
However, Operations' British counterpart had the same type of background and had apparently protected Dwyer through countless enquiries. Because of his background, Dwyer was able to blend into many situations, where other operatives could not, and in spite of all his ‘flaws' he had proved to be an very effective operative--in other words, ruthless. Michael felt soiled by reading Dwyer's file, and it seemed to him that there was an undercurrent of duplicity rampant in the British sub-Section that was a reflection of British society. Still he wondered if Madeline had any input in the file, for her observations would not be tainted by British snobbery.
As he continued his search, Michael found a subdirectory entitled ‘TL-11.' The entry had Madeline's initials attached, but as Michael attempted to access the subdirectory, he received an "Access Denied" message.
"Birkoff, I have a problem with access on the TL-11 subdirectory on Dwyer's file," Michael said into Birkoff's comm.set. "Is there anything you can do to get me in there?"
Birkoff with a feigned air of casual boredom looked around the systems area. "Michael, hold on," he said as he tapped in a few keystrokes. "Try it again."
"Okay, I'm in. Thanks." In Madeline's file, he found a detailed list of hate crimes confirmed to have been committed by Dwyer during the past seven years outside of mission parameters and Section guidelines. Madeline had recommended his cancellation more than five years ago. Someone was protecting the slimeball, he thought, or he had damaging intel on someone in the upper echelons of the Section Two. He thought that Nikita would love to have a go at this guy, and he considered it a good thing that she didn't have access to the file.
Michael looked at the door as it opened and saw Nikita as she stood there in white spandex. "Hi, I thought you might want a workout, since we aren't exactly pressed for missions," she said hopefully.
Michael, in a movement born of many repetitions, keyed in the code that would secure the office from eavesdroppers. "I'm busy," he said quietly as he reduced the TL-11 file so that Nikita would not inadvertently see it. He knew he was in trouble. Nikita wouldn't show up in spandex, if all she wanted was a cup of coffee or a workout. She normally wore a tee shirt and loose athletic shorts for her workouts in the Section gym. She was a vision in white, and he struggled to maintain his outward composure, while his heart hammered in his chest.
Nikita advanced on him as if she were a tiger stalking her prey. "Don't give me that ‘busy' bullsh#t, Michael. There are no missions, therefore, no missions to prep, no profiles, no contingency reports." Nikita's voice was husky as she walked behind him. She began to massage his shoulders and his neck. "Let's go have a workout. You're all tense, and I think you- need- to- relax." Nikita stooped to press her lips to his right ear lobe in a light teasing kiss that ended with a nibble.
Michael spun in his chair and had her up against the wall, before she could react.
"Nikita, when I say I'm busy, I am." His frustration mounted as their lips were only inches apart. "I don't have time for playing games with you." His eyes looked into hers. He could feel her heart's staccato beat against his arm. Her breath came as raggedly as his. Her lips were dry and she ran her tongue over them as he watched in fascination.
Michael moaned and leaned the two inches forward necessary to kiss her. Nikita's response was immediate. She thrust both hands into his wavy hair and cried, "Oh, Michael, I can't stand this. We have--." She began tugging his shirt from his pants.
Michael stopped her with another kiss, this time deeper and demanding as his hands worked their way under her spandex top. He wanted to devour her an inch at a time, as leisurely as if she were a five-foot, ten-inch, seven-course dinner. Michael tried to summon his powers of rational thought. He knew he was close to losing control. If he kept kissing and touching her, he would soon be making love to her. He had lost control. He was not going to stop, and he knew it. Section be damned.
"Michael, here's the--" Birkoff broke off as he saw what he had interrupted. His face turned red, and he dropped his eyes, not wanting to look either one of them in the face, and especially not wanting Nikita to realize he had already seen her breasts. He quickly laid a new disc on Michael's desk and beat a very hasty retreat.
Nikita was vibrating with fury and frustration. "You've got to get a lock for that door, Michael. I mean it, and I swear, if Seymour ever interrupts us again, I'm gonna cancel him personally. You don't think he saw anything, do you?"
Michael sat down weakly in his chair and tried to breathe and keep from laughing.
"Probably." He felt like jello inside. Leave it to Birkoff to interrupt them. Thank heaven it was Birkoff. Anyone else and the story would be all over the Section in five minutes.
Michael took a deep breath and pulled Nikita to his lap. He wrapped his arms around her as they cuddled. "Nikita, we can't continue like this," his softly accented voice caressed her ear.
A pout crossed Nikita's face as she asked, "Any ideas?"
"One or two, but you will have--"
"To be patient, I know." Her tone started as frivolous, but grew sad. "Michael, I'm so tired of being patient. I'm afraid we'll never be together. It seems further away, instead of closer," she said as she buried her face in his shoulder.
Michael stroked the soft silky strands of her long blonde hair, as he silently
agreed with her.
Marco walked into Lopez's office and asked, "Well, what can I do for your highness this morning?" He sported a two day growth of beard, that some women found attractive, but Lopez thought looked grimy. She'd told him so, not fifteen minutes before.
He'd told her, "Look, you don't get it, do you? So unless you're going to cancel me ‘cause I haven't had thirty minutes sleep or time to shave, you can pi$$ off. I'm not here to do public relations. I'm here to find a killer, and he's not gonna care what I look like."
Mandelita looked at him in annoyance. If he didn't have such an attitude problem, he wouldn't be half bad. It had been her experience that a lot of men didn't like having women in positions of power. O'Brian must be one of those. She couldn't see any other reason for his belligerence. "There are some discrepancies in the Redmond case. The operative who found him didn't have a speck of blood on her clothes, but her prints are all over the knife. It doesn't compute, and discrepancies bother me. Are you sure the knife was preserved properly?"
Marco was insulted that Lopez thought he had bungled part of the investigation.
"I'll have you know that Hector and I tagged and bagged it at the scene, and the same with Nikita's clothes. She took them off and handed them to us without ever leaving the scene." Marco's face grew a little redder as he remembered Nikita's nonchalant strip.
"She did?" Lopez tried to hide her smile. She could visualize
the blonde amazon stripping in a hallway and handing her clothes over to
the two ogling troglodytes.
"She certainly did," added Hector who had come to watch the fun between O'Brian and the good doctor.
Lopez gave a Hector a look that said, ‘you are a fly in my universe, so fly away,' but the little man appeared to be oblivious to her disdain.
"There are other discrepancies in this case as well. There is no fiber evidence from the LaFontaine murder, but it is documented as being catalogued along with the blood stain evidence. Now to make things worse, the murder weapon is missing from the LeBlanc case. Are you deliberately trying to sabotage this case Mr. O'Brian? I want an explanation," she demanded.
O'Brian was dumbfounded and more than a little indignant. "What are you talking about? I know how to gather evidence, and I know how to maintain it. If someone is tampering with the evidence, it's not me. Maybe your Agency lab is the one that screwed it up, Doctor. Hector and I were both in law enforcement before we came here. We're not in the habit of sabotaging our cases."
"Then why ‘are' you here, ‘Mr.' O'Brian and not out there working for the
people.? I'm sorry but your past history is of no interest
to me. All I can see is the evidence before my eyes, and gentlemen,
it is appalling the way it has been handled. Now see if you can find
the computer files from the operative Michael's hard drive, as well as
from Carrey's office." Lopez returned to her chair as the two
men left her office. She had never seen such a bewildering case,
and she did not intend to be made to look ridiculous by two bumbling Keystone
On to Part X