Part XI

        Jorge paced back and forth in front of his hostages.  Something was wrong.  He felt it.  He had separated the women from the men in order to make them more vulnerable.  It was also the best way to keep his eye on those who might prove troublesome.  He wondered why he had not been contacted by any hostage negotiators.  What was wrong with the authorities anyway? he asked himself.

        As if in answer to his question, a voice came over a loud speaker.  "You are surrounded.  Release your hostages and come out with your hands up."

        "Hah!"  Jorge exclaimed to his captive audience.  "This is like a bad American movie.   Do they think I will just roll over and play dead?"  He conferred briefly with his second in command, Bruno Ashley.  "Any news from Helmut and Tadashi?  Try to raise them again," he ordered.

        "Tadashi, Helmut.  What's going on?" Bruno said quietly into the comm unit.

        A voice answered in flawless Japanese, "Something's not right.  Errol and Gunnar are nowhere to be found.  There's no one in Security."

        Bruno looked at Jorge.  " I didn't know Tadashi spoke Japanese.  He was born in the States, right?"

        Jorge grabbed the comm unit from  Bruno.   "Who is this?  Tadashi?"

        A quiet voice with a French accent replied, "Someone you've been searching for, Jorge, but I don't think it's going to do you any good."

        Jorge looked around him.  He could see only three of his men.  The others were who knew where.  If this was the man who'd taken down René, then he had an unknown amount of resources.  Four of his men were supposed to be guarding the perimeter.  The rest were supposed to be searching the building.  He was going to have to go on the assumption that the only men he had left were the ones he could see with his two eyes.  He needed the three to guard the hostages.  He would find this Michel himself.

        "Report!"  Jorge barked into the comm unit.  "Pierre and  José, come into the casino now."  He waited.  He was relieved to see the two men hurrying from opposite directions.  "Isaacs and Kindo, come to the casino now."  Again he was relieved to see two more of his men appear.  He was elated that he still had seven men intact.  He knew the authorities would advance to the perimeter, but it was no matter.  He still had nearly three hundred hostages, and his escape plan was foolproof, provided they could stay alive long enough to enact it.

        "We're under attack from someone within the hotel," he told them.  "Remain here.  If you hear any sounds of trouble, start killing hostages. Bruno, you come with me."  Bruno nodded, as Jorge led the way to Security.

        Michael knew the time for confrontation was near.  He doubted that Jorge and Bruno would be taken as easily as the other men had been.  He berated himself for speaking Japanese when it wasn't needed.  Nikita had been correct in her assessment of him when she'd rolled her eyes and said,  "Show off."  His mother had told him once, "Pride cometh before a fall, Michel."  Well his maman had been correct then, and now.

        He turned to his love, his soul mate.  He stroked her cheek.  "Are you ready?"

        Nikita, who had an assault rifle slung over her shoulder, a gun strapped to each thigh and one in her hand, stopped checking the clips long enough to nod her head in the affirmative, then smiled at his touch.

        Together they tracked the progress of Jorge and Bruno on the security monitors.


        Madeline sat at her desk, reviewing the intel on Jorge Anselmo.  She looked at Operations as he entered, gave him a perfunctory smile, then resumed her task.  "What's the latest?" she asked.

        Operations rested his hands on the desk and leaned forward... just close enough that he could catch the scent of her perfume, but not close enough to antagonize her.  He supposed she would never forget, much less forgive, his allowing her to believe her husband Charles was dead for nine years.  As much as he preached about relationships between operatives making them weak, he knew he was the guiltiest of them all.  What's worse, she knew it too.

        "Nikita says there's a confrontation coming with Jorge and his second-in-command.  They've taken out eleven of his men so far.  What do we know about Anselmo?"

        Madeline turned the monitor around for Operations to see.  "He's completely ruthless.  His people are well-armed and devoted to him.  He is nearly psychotic about finding the ‘Michel' who betrayed his mentor René Dian.  This should prove to be quite interesting.  Michael is certainly at the top of his form.  He and Nikita have done well together, don't you think?" she asked.

        "Humph," was all Operations could manage to articulate.  He absolutely hated the thought of Michael and Nikita together.  The very idea made him ill.  Operations wanted, no demanded, that Michael owe allegiance to  no one or nothing but Section One.  That's what he'd had....  until Nikita came along.  Dammit, Nikita had been a thorn in his side from the beginning.  He'd balked at  Madeline's plan to have Michael train Nikita.  It was a waste of a class five operative.  Michael had warmed to the task set him only too well.  Now, it appeared, unless something or someone intervened, they would be inseparable.

        "We're going through the motions of negotiating.  Anselmo seems to think he's invincible. Anselmo's convinced that Michel Therrien is the Michel he's been seeking for over a year now."

        Madeline nodded and said.  "This is an excellent test of their performance levels.  We couldn't have devised anything better, if we'd profiled it ourselves.  They are the perfect example of one and one adding up to more than two."
        "I know.  I know, but I don't need to hear about it at every turn.  Now back to Monte Carlo.  Anselmo's forces are diminished and he's pulled his men from the perimeter into the casino to guard the hostages.  The on-site team has infiltrated the perimeter and is ready to storm the casino, if there's any indication that they will start killing the hostages.  Michael and Nikita should have no problem taking out Anselmo and his second-in-command.  It should be over soon."  Operations paced and smoked his cigarette.  "Join me in Systems?" he asked.

        "Of course."  Madeline rose in a fluid and graceful movement.

        Together they left her office, Operations daring to place a hand at her waist as they climbed the three steps to the hallway.  Madeline gave him a quizzical look, as a tiny smile reached her lips for one brief moment, then vanished as she resumed her usual enigmatic expression.

        Birkoff's familiar voice came over the comm unit.  The unit was nothing like the sophisticated devices that Michael and Nikita usually wore on missions, but Birkoff was audible, if not perfectly clear.  "Our team has control of the perimeter, and we've established a visual link in the casino.  There are six men guarding the hostages.  You have the leader and his lieutenant on the way toward you."
        Michael spoke quietly, efficiently, succinctly, "Section team hold.  Advance only on my order."
        Michael looked at Nikita and nodded.  She responded in kind.  A new surge of adrenaline hit her.  This was the beginning of the end.  An unusual feeling of calm swept over her as she looked at Michael.  He was in his true domain.  She could tell that he knew no fear.  Each movement he made was as automatic as breathing.  She felt that together they could accomplish anything, as long as they were together.  Twenty terrorists... a piece of cake.
        Jorge and Bruno made cautious  progress toward the security area.  Bruno advancing on point, as Jorge covered his back and flanks.  They had known each other for years and trusted each other implicitly.  Jorge knew that Bruno was more interested in the money than in the cause, but Jorge also knew how to control Bruno's acquisitive nature.
        They reached the area where the security cameras were located.  Thus far, they'd  met no resistance, but they had come across the dead bodies of several of his men.  This Michel was damn good to have taken out so many of his well-trained men.  Before his death,  René had hinted that Michel had connections in the covert intelligence community, but Jorge had not been impressed.  Instead, he thanked the fates that had delivered Michel into his hands.  The murderer of his friend and mentor would die this night, of that Jorge was certain.  He would see to it... personally.

        In spite of his confidence in his ability to overcome this undeniable thorn in his side, Jorge's awareness of his surroundings kicked into overdrive.   This was too easy.  An uneasy chill marched its way down his spine.  His gut clenched as if he'd been hit by a fist.  Bruno looked at him with a question in his eyes.  Jorge shrugged with a nonchalance he did not feel.

        Jorge and Bruno stood outside the door to security. As one, they kicked the door open, dropped and rolled, firing in all directions as they did.

        The room was empty.

        Jorge looked at Bruno, indecision mounting, then a frightful uneasiness hit him.  "It's a trap!"

        Michael and Nikita dropped from the ceiling.  Unlike the ornate and decorative ceilings though out the guest portion of the Hotel de Paris, the security area had its share of convenient operative-hiding ceiling tiles.  Nikita fell heavily onto Bruno.

        "Umph." Nikita and Bruno both said in unison, but Nikita had the advantage.  She recovered first and rewarded Bruno, who outweighed her by a hundred pounds, with the slam of a rifle stock to his brutish chin.  The light in his eyes faded as consciousness fled.

        Michael landed nimbly, like a cat, on his feet.  Jorge reacted quickly, aiming his gun at Michael, who disarmed him with a swift roundhouse kick.  Warily they circled each other.  Each of them looking for an advantage to use against the other.

        Jorge looked into Michael's green eyes and knew he'd not been mistaken.  "Michel, you will die for what you did to René.  He was your friend and you betrayed him!"

        Nikita moved to attack Jorge from the rear, but Michael shook his head.  "This is my fight, Nikita."  Nikita returned to restraining the unconscious Bruno, but kept a wary eye on Jorge...  and Michael.

        Jorge leapt at Michael, who simply moved aside.  Michael was not angry.  Anger made one careless, and it was not in Michael's nature to be careless.

        Enraged, Jorge feinted with a right hook, but Michael easily evaded the following left cross and followed with a kick to Jorge's head.  Jorge shook his head, trying to clear it.  Michael followed with a sweeping movement that knocked Jorge off his feet.  Jorge's head hit the floor.  The fall completing what Michael's kick had started.  Jorge was out.  Instantly, Michael was over Jorge's body, relieving him of his weapons.

        Nikita handed the comm unit to Michael.  "We have the leader and his second.  Are the others still in the casino?" Michael asked.

        "Yes, we are still showing six men in the casino."  Birkoff's voice was reassuring.

        Madeline's voice came next.  "Sims indicate that if they know their leader has been taken, they will surrender."

        "Madeline, do the sims show how many people will be considered acceptable collateral?" Nikita asked with a sniff.

        Michael gave Nikita a warning look.  "Send Housekeeping through the rear.  With the remaining six in the casino, there should be no resistance.  I'll take Anselmo to the balcony, to prove that he has been taken.  Have the Section point team advance slowly."

        "It's your call, Michael.  You're on site," Operations replied.

        "Michael, this could still end of hurting a lot of people,"  Nikita began her pro forma protest.

        "Nikita, I don't want anyone else hurt here tonight, either."

        Uncharacteristically, he again stroked her cheek, then bent to pull Jorge to his feet.  The man was large and semi-conscious.  It took both Michael and Nikita to maneuver the terrorist leader to the mezzanine where he could be seen by the remaining terrorists.

        Michael held a gun to Jorge's head and announced.  "It's over.  Surrender your weapons, and you won't be harmed.  Michael and Nikita watched as consternation reigned supreme in the casino below.  The terrorists looked from one to the other.

        Pierre shouted, "Start killing the hostages!  It was Jorge's last order."

        Nikita shouldered the assault rifle to her shoulder and drew bead on the erstwhile new leader.  "You'll be the first to die!" Nikita shouted.

        Michael and Nikita could hear the women start to externalize the emotions they'd suppressed for what seemed like many hours, but in reality had been less than two.  The male hostages stirred around, restless.  Perhaps, wondering if they were brave enough to repel the six lone men in front of them.

        "Point team, move," Michael ordered into the comm unit.  Chaos erupted as Section One operatives crashed through windows.  Men and women dived for what cover they could find behind the gaming tables.  Thus isolated, one by one the remaining six terrorists  lay down their weapons acknowledging their defeat.

        "Targets acquired," Michael announced.

        Nikita smiled.  As far as she could tell, there were no serious injuries among the innocents below.  Her smile faded as she caught movement behind Michael.  Another terrorist stepped from the shadows and fired.  Nikita swung her rifle and returned his fire.

        The twentieth terrorist fell... as did his target...  Michael.

        Nikita grabbed the comm unit.  "Send Medical now.  Michael's down!  I repeat, Michael's down."

Part XII