Part XI

        The leader of the terrorists was a tall man with a barrel chest.   His musculature was massive, but it was his face that inspired the most terror.  While he had been considered quite handsome as a youth, his face had matured and hardened with deep lines that ran from the sides of his nose to the corners of his mouth.  His brown eyes were flat.  Pity did not reside in them, nor in him.

        Jorge Anselmo strutted around the room casting fierce looks at his captives.  He did not fear being recognized.  He wanted to be recognized, for recognition would carry power in his future endeavors.  He hated the cowering jet setters huddled in front of him.  He hated them for their privileged lives, the ease with which they moved through those lives, and for the fear they so plainly displayed at what was likely the first time they had ever experienced it.

        It would be his honor to divest them of their money, their jewels, and their lives, if it would further his cause....the cause of the underprivileged everywhere.   The herd of sycophantic cattle grazed in comfort while there were masses who went to bed hungry every night.  The jet-setters played in luxurious hotels, while millions had no roof.

        His late  mentor René Dian had instilled in him the fire of the revolutionary.  Jorge burned to clean the slate of inequality and institute the same privileges for all, instead of a fortunate few.  He was the only surviving member of Dian's cell.  He would have died with his mentor had he not been delayed that evening by a redhead.  While he had lingered in Kira's warm embrace, René and the others had been betrayed and killed by the mysterious Michel.

        Jorge remembered René's excited call the year before.  His old friend from University had resurfaced after supposedly having died in prison fourteen years earlier.  Michel was going to join them in their mission of death and destruction.  L'Heure Sanguine would re-emerge to world prominence with Michel's added dedication and strategic skills.

        It had taken a year for Jorge to assimilate a new group, and it would not have been possible without the lovely Kira's generous bank account or her tenuous ties to a Red Cell faction.  Jorge lived for two things...  to realize the mission of his mentor and to repay the treacherous Michel in the same coin that he had so cavalierly paid René.

        Jorge had been unable to locate any intelligence on the whereabouts of the elusive Michel, but the day would come.  He had plenty of time, and he would have plenty of money.  René had once shown him a photograph of the traitor.  It had been taken years before, but he could not have changed that much.  He would never forget the piercing green eyes or the long chin on the sincere face of Dian's protégé.

        One of his men rushed to his side.  Remy Arneau was short and slight, but he had proved his usefulness and bravery.  "Someone has taken out Rico.  I just found him dead on the balcony," he said breathlessly, pointing upward.

        Jorge looked about in anger and shouted, "One of you has killed one of my men.  Search them for weapons," he demanded.  "If I find that anyone here is responsible, that life is forfeit, as well as," he paused for effect, "the ten people standing closest to him."

        The hostages began to look at each other in alarm.  Several began to weep, and not all were women.  One elderly woman attired in mink and diamonds clutched her heart and collapsed with a wail.  Her husband begged as he knelt beside her, "We need a doctor!"

        Jorge walked to their side and pistol whipped her husband with his 9mm.  "Another word and you both die," he shouted, pointing the gun at the elderly man's head.   He gave him a kick to the ribs for good measure before striding away.  "Anyone else want a physician?" he threatened, holding his gun high above his head.

         "At least I got another gun and some extra ammunition," Nikita said, producing the shiny 9mm handgun from her voluminous skirt.

        "Good.  That really evens the odds," Michael responded with a quirked half smile.  His relief that she was all right was palpable.  This had to be the reason Section frowned on bonds between operatives.  He was having difficulty separating his emotions from the woman he'd held in his arms only two hours before.  He ordered his mind to focus, but it was useless.  All he wanted to do was get her the hell out of there and to safety before a Section housekeeping team took care of the problem....namely him and Nikita.
        "Well, it's better than nothing," she hissed at him.
        "Shut up, Nikita," he said, pulling her to him for an unprecedented embrace.  His arms shook.  His entire body shook with the effort it took not to lose himself in her scent and warmth.  His words were soft, but intense.  "Look, we have a choice..  We can get out of here and let the authorities and Section do whatever they will, or we can try to distract them, and pick them off one by one."  Please, please, pick the first choice Nikita, his eyes begged.   I want you to leave.  I  want you to be safe while there's still time."

        "Right, I'll distract them, and we'll pick them off when they come after me,"  Nikita said.  "They won't send that many at a time, because they'll need the bulk of their crew to control the hostages.  It should be a cinch."

        Michael sighed.  He had known Nikita wouldn't run from the fight.  She was brave, his woman.  She always had been. "I don't like using you as bait.  It's dangerous."

        "Duh, Michael.  It's not the first time I've been used as bait.  You've never batted so much as an eyelash before. Why I could name...."

        "Later, Nikita," Michael interrupted.  Damn! This trip wasn't supposed to end like this.  Two days, two days!  That's all he'd wanted was to spend some uninterrupted downtime with her, loving her, treasuring her, and now they were engaged in a life or death struggle with the added complication of their new deeper relationship.  It made him want to zone out every time he saw her.  Visions of her perfect body as it lay open to him, and the sensations of sinking into her silky warmth kept his mind working overtime, when he should be shoving her out a back door into the clear night air.

        "Michael, are you with me?" Nikita asked.

        Michael knew his distraction had been obvious.  Fear gripped him again.  He was not 100%, not where she was concerned, but he forced the separation in his mind through a familiar mantra.  This is a mission.  Nikita is an operative. Innocent lives are at stake.  He snapped into reality with a sudden jar.  "Of course.  Let's move."

        In the casino the search for weapons revealed only two guns.  Both belonged to body guards, and it was easily determined that neither gun had been fired recently.  Jorge knew then that his men had missed at least one person, if not more, in their hurried search for any hotel guests not present in the hotel public areas.  He turned to Arneau, "We've missed someone.  Take three teams of two and disperse.  I want him found, NOW.  Bring him to me.   I need to know if he has company."

        Jorge turned to the  trembling concierge.  "I need to know the number of guests registered, and I need to know now."

        "But M'sieur, the number of registered guests will not help you.  We have many here who have come from other hotels to gamble at our casino.  Our guests could be anywhere.  It would not mean that all our guests are even on the premises tonight.  There are many activities here in Monte Carlo, the Opera..." she protested.

        "Shut up, you sniveling bitch!  Give me your guest roster now, and no more excuses."  Jorge wanted to slap her, but he would save that for later.  He had other plans for her.  She was quite attractive.

        "I-I need to..."  Natalie Gascoigne stuttered.  "I need to access a computer."
Madame Gascoigne was petite and brunette, stylish as all French women are reputed to be, and very scared.

        "Gunnar, take her to a computer and bring me back the guest list," Jorge motioned to the tall blonde man on his left.  Jorge knew the logical truth of the concierge's statements, but he was not prepared to back down in the face of all his men.  There might be something to be learned from the list.

        Michael and Nikita listened to Jorge's plan.  "This is ideal.  We can eliminate six of them quickly.  That should draw more of them away from the main casino.  Let's go after the first pair."

        "No, Michael.  We need to split up.  We can eliminate them even quicker that way," Nikita insisted.

        Michael knew he'd taught her well.  Nikita had proposed exactly what he should have proposed, if it were not for the overwhelming need he felt to keep her at his side.  This is a mission.  Nikita is an operative.  He nodded his agreement with her plan. "Take any weapons and communication devices you find on them.  Meet me by the pool after you take out your pair.  We'll go after the third pair together."

        Nikita nodded and slipped down the hall in the direction of the first team.  Michael eased into the hall and up the stairway after the second team.

        Nikita quickly found her two terrorists.  They were actually laughing as they looked into each room in a desultory manner.  Nikita cleared her throat.  "Are you fellas looking for me by chance?" she asked them, simpering and leaning gracefully against the wall.

        They spun at the sound of her feminine voice, raising their weapons as they did.  Nikita's two well-aimed shots took them down.  Nikita stepped to their bodies and relieved them of their weapons and comm devices.  Nikita knew Michael should be able to re-program the units in order to communicate with Section.  They would also be handy for eavesdropping on their targets.  There was no discernible reaction to her shots, but she saw no reason to dally and headed for the pool.

        The team that Michael followed was more alert, each covering the other at each guest room, constantly checking behind themselves, but they were no match for the man who stalked them with panther-like grace.  Michael walked to the first, who was waiting for his partner to emerge from a guest room.  He swiftly encircled the man's head and broke his neck.  Michael eased him to the floor without a sound, save the crunch of his breaking cervical vertebrae.  After sliding the body from view,  Michael waited for the other to emerge.
        The terrorist exited the room and looked for his partner.  As Michael stepped from the man's left side, he gave Michael a puzzled stare.  "Where's...."

        The terrorist never managed to utter another word.  Michael gave him a screw punch that drove the terrorist's nasal bones through his sphenoid sinuses into the base of his brain.  The man sank heavily to the floor.  Michael quickly finished him with a sharp snap of the neck.  Constantly, on guard for other terrorists, Michael divested them of their weapons and comm devices.  Michael brushed the dust from his sleeve as he heard the comm device crackle to life.

        "Team two, this is team three.  Team one is not reporting in.  Errol, we're on three.  Have you found anything?" a voice asked in German.

        "Nothing, team three.  We are on the second level.  Maybe their comm unit is down," Michael replied in gruff, fluent German.  "Where are you now?"

        "Heading toward the fourth floor.  Third is clear."
         "We will take the fifth floor, then," Michael responded again.  Good, he knew exactly where they were, all he had to do was eliminate them.  He wouldn't take time to meet Nikita until after they were eliminated.  There wasn't time.  Team three might get suspicious, if he waited any longer.

        Jorge was scanning the computer-generated list of current guests.  Oddly, there was a Michel Therrien listed, as well as a Madame. Therrien.  The name Michel was an anathema to him.  He would leave no stone unturned.  He would see this M. Therrien for himself.  He turned to the concierge.  "Show me M. Therrien," he demanded.

        "Well, I'm not sure.  We have so many guests.  I do not have time to learn them all, and he and his wife only registered here today."  She shook her head, seemingly afraid that he would react violently.

        "I want M'sieur Therrien now," he yelled.  "Find me M'sieur Therrien."  He began to walk about the room waving his gun.   "Which of you is Michel Therrien?" he ordered.

        No one spoke.  No one dared to breathe.

        Finally, a bellhop stepped forward, fearing worse consequences if he did not, "I don't see him.  He and his wife don't seem to be here.  They were here earlier.  His wife lost a lot of money at roulette."

        "Describe him!" Jorge thundered.

        "About six-feet tall, well-built, athletic, I think, and very green eyes.  Very handsome, and very much in love with his wife."

Part X