As Nikita walked through the main briefing area, below his office, Operations gave Madeline a questioning glance.
Madeline nodded. “She’s fine. I told you she would be.”
“I ‘know’ she’s performing well on missions, but how’s her personal life. Is she ‘involved’ with anyone?” he asked with a sly smile.
Madeline permitted herself a small smile and said, “I wouldn’t know. Nikita hasn’t seen fit to confide in me about her personal life, since her initial knowledge of Michael’s marital status.”
“I thought that you knew everything, Madeline,” he said as Nikita was lost from view.
“I know what I need to know. By the way, I was wondering what you were going to do about beefing up our Class 5 operative roster. Given recent events and Michael’s prolonged absence, I think you should take some steps. Perhaps, transfers from level 4 locally, or even some transfers from one of the other Sections,” she suggested.
Operations gave her a cagey look, as if he knew she had a hidden agenda. Of course, he couldn’t argue with her reasoning as usual, C5’s were severely depleted. “Did you have anyone particular in mind?” he asked.
“As a matter of fact, I do. I think in Section One you should consider promoting either Tanaka or Ellis, possibly both. That would bring the level back up to three, with Michael being the fourth when he returns from his current mission. Section Two also thinks very highly of Wellsley, who I understand is interested in relocating. That would make five. Subject to your approval, of course.”
“Madeline, you know I always take your recommendations. Initiate the necessary paperwork, and I’ll run it by George at the Agency.”
“I’ll take care of it right now,” Madeline said as she turned to leave.
Birkoff signaled from Comm. “It’s Michael.”
Nikita wandered aimlessly into Munitions. Her last mission in Zaire had been a tremendous success, and Operations had even complimented her on her timely retrieval of a missing nuclear trigger. The last month had been quite busy with several low level missions, and now she was due some down time. She dreaded going to her empty apartment, but she hated hanging around Section. It was in Section that she missed Michael most, but at the apartment she had too much time to think.
“Hi, Walter. What’s up?”
Walter gave his Sugar a studied glance. “Not much, working on a new type of comm device. How are ‘you?’” he asked as he looked over his glasses at her.
“Oh, I’m fine. Just getting ready to go home. Thought I’d come by and say hi.”
“And maybe see if anyone’s heard from Michael? If he’s really on downtime, no one will hear from him, but if he’s on an assignment, Operations is the only one he’ll contact.”
Nikita hung her head in embarrassment. “I didn’t realize I was so transparent. I just wanted to know if he’s okay, you know.”
“Yeah, Sugar, I know.” Walter continued to work on his project, and Nikita looked around the area, not wanting to leave.
“You know, Sugar, there’s some fresh blood coming into Section One from England. New Class 5 level, just promoted and transferred. Maybe you ought to check him out. Rumor has it, he’s going to me missed by the ladies in Section Two.”
“Fine, Walter. That’s all I need is another heart-breaking, lying collection of testosterone. Count me out! I’m through with men. If I were in the real world, I think I’d become a nun.”
As he pictured Nikita as a nun, Walter threw his head back and guffawed. “Any time you want to put on a habit for me, Hon, I’m ready.” Walter continued to laugh till he wheezed and tears ran down his face. “I never saw any one less likely to be a nun than you, Sugar. Now get outta here, and go find someone to keep you warm tonight.”
Walter couldn’t resist giving Nikita a hug. Seeing her still depressed about Michael tore at his heart. He wished he could ‘fix’ the problem, but problems of the heart could only be repaired by the people involved.
“Walter, if you were just twenty years younger,” she said with a regretful shake of her head.
“Twenty years younger! Hey, I’m still a virile man,” he said in mock protest.
“I couldn’t have your death on my conscience. I’d be too much for you.” she whispered in his ear and gave him a kiss on his grizzled cheek.
“Get outta here. You won’t do, Nikita.” At least she left with a smile on her face, he thought.
Nikita walked toward the exit as she heard Birkoff’s call to Operations,
“It’s Michael.” So was he on a mission? She shook her head.
Thinking about Michael was simply too confusing to be comprehended by a
blonde, she decided.
After taking multiple precautions to see that he was not followed, Michael sat in his car in a small deserted park. Hours earlier, it would have been filled with Mothers airing their children in the bright, but crisp fall day. Stephanie probably brought Sean to play here as well. As he punched the Section One number and his access code for a secure line, he wondered if Nikita would ever speak to him again, after his precipitous departure from Section. He had barely taken the time to send an email to her home computer.
Birkoff recognized the access code as Michael’s, and responded, “Section Slaughter house, head executioner speaking.”
“Give me Operations, Birkoff,” was Michael’s brusque response.
“You never did have a sense of humor, Michael. One Operations coming up.”
To Operations, Birkoff said, “It’s Michael.” Michael didn’t sound too happy, but then it was difficult to tell with Michael, he thought. He also wondered if Michael knew that Nikita knew about his living arrangements; but he wasn’t going to be the one to tell him, and certainly not after the severe roasting he had received at the hands of Madeline for hacking into Michael’s file and giving the address to Nikita. She had reminded him quite frostily that there was more than one computer genius in Section One and Greggy could easily take his place anytime.
Operations waited until the connection was made. “I’m putting you on speaker phone, Madeline is here with me.”
“Fine, I’ve just been given total access to Fogherty’s files.
There is a large shipment of arms headed to Belfast tomorrow night.
Fogherty’s group is planning on a major disruption of the peace initiative.
Sin Fein will be attacked, as well as the British constabulary. Multiple
attacks on the citizenry are also planned. If it takes place as scheduled,
it will be the bloodiest day in Irish history. Neither side will
remain unscathed. They will
be using Kinston airport. It’s a small private airport on the south
of town. I don’t know the size of the force guarding it, but I am
part of the team. This is the first action that I been allowed any
participation. The shipment is supposed to be loaded for a 10PM take-off.”
"Well, it sounds like you went home just in time, Michael. We’ll start prepping now and will have a substantial team of our own on site,” Operations said.
Madeline spoke for the first time. “Michael, are you sure you are ready for the separation to come?”
“Of course, it was planned all along. There will be no change,” Michael answered in a monotone.
“The child wasn’t planned, Michael. Are you prepared for that?” Madeline probed. She knew Michael was very fond of the child and would have difficulty letting him go.
“Yes,” was Michael’s hoarse reply.
Operations shook his head at Madeline. That line of inquiry had gone far enough in his opinion. “Michael, you will be shot with a tranq dart during the mission. That will convince them that you were injured and taken prisoner. Mission prep will take place immediately. Another twenty-four hours and it should be over. Good job, Michael.”
Michael disconnected. Good job, he thought. He betrayed an innocent woman, betrayed the woman he loved, and would never see his son again--some job. Michael started the car and drove slowly home.
He did not see the dark gray vehicle hidden behind an evergreen, nor hear
the driver’s quiet voice as he radioed to Liam Fogherty. “He took
the bait, Liam. He used a secure line, you can bet whoever he works
for will be there with bells on.”
Operations spoke first as he illuminated the Vid Comm screen. “This is Liam Fogherty. He is the leader of Eire Fein an extreme branch of the IRA. According to our deep cover source placed in his organization, there is a large shipment of arms planned for tomorrow night. Eire Fein plans an all out disruption of the peace process with attacks on on civilians, as well as Sin Fein and the British Constabulary in Belfast. Tipton Wellsley, one of our new class five operatives will lead the mission and fill you in on the details of the profile.”
Wellsley stood and began his update in a British accent that still had an underlying northern England accent. “There will be an advance team of seven abeyance operatives, in case this is a trap, with a back up team of ten. Our deep cover op. will be taken down with a tranq dart, and ‘captured.’ This is to protect the family he leaves behind. Eire Fein isn’t very tolerant to traitors or their families.
“His family?” Nikita asked. “Who is this deep cover operative?”
Wellsley clicked the hand-held remote and Michael’s likeness appeared. “Michael is our deep cover source. I believe most of you are already ‘familiar’ with him. His wife is the niece of Liam Fogherty, but it is not likely that Fogherty will kill his own niece and grandnephew, as long as it appears Michael was taken prisoner in the raid.”
The thought of two innocent lives in danger made Nikita nauseous. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Not entirely, but that’s the best we can do,” replied Wellsley. He had heard about Nikita and her penchant for compassion. He was intrigued by her beauty and history, as well as her history with Michael.
“Should we take a chance with their lives? They’re innocents. Can’t we relocate them to a safe house and give them new identities.?” Nikita could not bear that Michael’s son and wife could be so easily disregarded. Even if her dreams had been shattered by Michael’s betrayal, Nikita was still the same person, who never understood the difference between Section’s aim toward protecting the innocent and accepting their often glib response that innocents were often classified as incidental collateral damage. It had never made sense to her, and it never would.
Operations grew tired of Nikita’s questions. “That’s enough, Nikita.
Profiles are loaded on your PDA’s. Study them and be ready.
This is no ordinary group. They are rabidly devoted to their cause.
They will not go down easily. That is all.”
“Daddy!” cried a Tazz-like whirlwind by the name of Sean. “Look what Mommy cooked for you. Home-made French fries! I already had some, but Mommy says I can have some more.”
Michael scooped Sean in his arms and hugged him. He never wanted to let him go, and the pain increased.
“Daddy, you hug hard,” piped Sean as he began to struggle in his father’s
"Sorry, little one. Where’s Mommy?” Michael asked as he looked around the comfortable house he and Stephanie had decorated together. Mostly comfortable contemporary furniture with a few antique pieces from the Fogherty family. All in all, he had spent very little of the last five years in the house, but it was the only existence that approached ‘normal’ since he had lost his parents. Tomorrow night his son would become fatherless, but at least Stephanie would still be around to love and protect him.
“Kitchen. Are you going to eat some French fries, Daddy? I’ll eat them for you.” Sean ran ahead of Michael into the kitchen.
“Hi,” he said as he gave her a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. “Want
me to make the salad?” he asked, anxious for something to do.
"Sure,” was Stephanie’s monosyllabic reply as she watched him closely.
Michael began to wash the greens and prepare the salad. “What else do we have?” he asked.
“Use your nose, Michael,” Stephanie said as she tweaked his nose. “Steaks are on the grill. They’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
As he continued with the salad preparations, Michael gave a half smile, “I’ll be working with your uncle tomorrow night, why don’t you have your mother here for dinner, or take her to dinner. That would be a nice treat for her. She stays by herself too much, since your father died. Except for keeping Sean, that is.”
“That’s really sweet of you, Michael. I think I will. You’re
right, she is alone too much.” Stephanie was both surprised and moved
by Michael’s suggestion. Maybe things would improve with them, she
thought, and maybe this was just one of those rough spots that all marriages
Michael and Stephanie spent a quiet evening. Michael read Sean his
favorite Dr. Seuss book, while Stephanie watched them as she crocheted
a baby afghan for the new couple down the street, who were expecting their
first child. As she looked at the soft pink and light blue yarns,
she wished, not for the first time, that it were for another little one
of their own.
Soon Sean began to rub his eyes and to yawn. “I’m not sleepy. I just need a little rest, Daddy, in your bed. I want to sleep with you and Mommy.”
Michael glanced at Stephanie, who smiled and said. “One night.
What can it hurt? Michael’s and Stephanie’s last night together was
spent with their son curled in a ball between them. Stephanie slept
peacefully, Sean deeply and Michael not at all.
Michael stared at the ceiling and tried to contemplate life without Sean. Tears collected in the corners of his eyes as he waited for the arrival of dawn and the final betrayal.
It was ten minutes until Nikita had to be at van access, and she was in Munitions going over her equipment inventory with Walter.
“Okay, here’s your piece with the tranq darts, and here’s your 9mm. Don’t get them confused. Shoot Michael with the tranq, not the real bullets,” he said with a devilish grin.
Nikita was unusually tense, and she showed it by her brusque response to Walter. “I’m not going to get them confused. Just give me the damn things.”
“Now look, Sugar. This is a mission like any other. Michael’s been on a deep-cover assignment, that --”
Nikita cut him short. “I don’t care what Michael’s been doing. Get it? Michael and I are through. It’s over.” Nikita grabbed her weapons, slung them in their holsters and ran toward van access.
Walter watched her as she left and shook his head. He hated what Section One did to people’s lives, albeit, it had given them new ones. He wondered if Michael would ever regain Nikita’s trust, and if he deserved to regain it.
As Nikita approached van access, she saw Wellsley standing in Michael’s
usual place, resembling a young and tall Robert Redford.
“Nice of you to join us today, Nikita,” Wellsley said by way of greeting as she walked past him.
“Five minutes to spare,” she said tersely without another look.
Nikita rode in silence until they reached the target zone. Adrenaline coursed through her system, raising her blood pressure, increasing her heart rate and respiratory rate, pumping more oxygen into her blood stream. It was the same with all the operatives. Adrenaline, a leftover from prehistoric man, to whom fight or flight was a daily reality, was a hormonal boon to Section One operatives, who knew the same reality.
An hour later, the van pulled into a small wooded area to the south of
the small private airport. “Showtime, boys and girls. Let’s
do it,” was Wellsley’s only statement as the operatives exited the van
and dispersed in silence into the dark night.
As the evening twilight fell and long shadows crossed the yard, Stephanie and her mother Moira talked and shared a cup of tea in the kitchen, while Sean buzzed around the table imitating the sounds of the airplane he held aloft in his small hands. He was having too much fun to pay attention to the serious adult conversation.
“I think we’re going to be all right, Mom. It’s been quite an adjustment having Michael home all the time. I know it’s what I always wanted, but it’s taken some getting used to for both of us,” Stephanie said.
Moira smiled. She had always like Michael, but until recently he had been away more than he had been home. “Marriage is not an easy task, darlin.’ It’s more of a journey. If you take it side by side, supporting each other, it’s easier. Having separate routes is never easy. I was lucky with your father, may he rest in peace. Oh, we had our difficult times, too, but I was having babies left and right it seemed, so I didn’t have time to worry. I just had to ‘do.’”
“I remember, Mom I loved being part of a large family. I keep hoping, now that Michael’s home and working for Uncle Liam, that he’ll want to have more children. I think a little brother or sister would be great for Sean.”
Moira patted Stephanie’s hand. “I’m sure Michael will come around to your way of thinkin.’ After all, he’s still a Catholic, and he’ll do the right thing.” Her Mother’s Irish lilt warmed Stephanie’s heart and encouraged her.
They had finished their tea and cleared away the cups, when the telephone rang. It was a hysterical Aunt Siobahn, “Stephanie, they’re going to kill Michael tonight.”
“What? What are you talking about? Michael is working with Uncle Liam tonight.”
“That’s what I mean. I overheard Liam talking to Paddy. They think Michael is working for someone else. They’ve set a trap for him, and they’re going to kill him,” said Siobahn in a whisper, afraid that someone would overhear her frantic call.
Stephanie began to tremble and sank to the sofa. She took a deep breath and asked, “All right, where and when?”
As she heard Siobahn’s answers, she looked at her watch. “I have just enough time to get there and warn him. Thank you.” Stephanie ended the call with Siobahn still protesting.
Stephanie looked at her mother, who had heard enough to be upset. “I have to go to Michael. He’s in danger. Can you keep Sean for me?”
“What’s goin’ on? I thought he was with Liam tonight.”
“He is. Uncle Liam thinks he’s working for someone else. They’re going to kill him. I have to go and stop them.”
Stephanie grabbed her light blue jacket and was running from the house, as her mother called in vain, “No, Stephanie. No.”
“What is it, Nana? What is it? Where’s Mommy going?” young Sean asked.
Moira had no answer. She gathered Sean into her arms, crossed herself and began to pray.
From her vantage point, Nikita surveyed the airport. The teams had been in place since the early evening, waiting for the Eire Fein to show. The advance team was already positioned to attack once the EF members were loading the arms. Wellsley’s voice came over her comm unit. “There is an aircraft making approach. Hold position.”
“Birkoff,” Nikita asked, “any sign of EF on the ground?”
Birkoff’s familiar voice responded, “Negative, Nikita, but you can bet they are nearby, if the transport is about to land.”
“Radio silence until I give orders for the attack!” came Wellsley’s sharp response.
Nikita’s apprehension grew as she waited for the aircraft to land.
The landing strip didn’t look long enough for a large aircraft, but her
greatest fear was that she wouldn’t be able to discern which EF member
was Michael. There was no moon, and it was pitch black, except for
the blue runway lights. Thankfully, all the operatives were fitted
with night vision glasses, but finding Michael amongst multiple men in
black would be difficult in the extreme. Her mission was to shoot
Michael with a tranq, but once the shooting started, experience told her
anything could happen.
Ten agonizing minutes later, the transport had landed and was taxiing toward the small cluster of buildings that the airport facilities. Nikita was startled to see six figures in black materialize from the shadows and walk toward the plane. She wondered how long they had been there, and if Birkoff had been aware of their presence. She hated radio silence.
She was too far away to hear any conversation between the pilots and the EF members, but apparently they were satisfied with their security. Another six figures emerged and began shuttling the cargo to the transport carrier.
Two pulses signaled the advance team to attack. Fire was returned immediately and two Section operatives were already down. Wellsley’s back up team of ten received the sharp command, “Go.”
As she ran to a closer position to fire, she began searching for Michael. Her night vision glasses gave an eerie green haze to the entire scene, but she could not see Michael in any of the operatives involved in the fire fight. She quickly took out two EF members, as she crouched and ran. It stood to reason that there were more of them in one of the buildings, and possibly she would find Michael there.
Nikita found nothing in the hangar, nor in the small equipment building, which left one other small building. With caution, she peeked into a window, and the scene caused her heart to clutch with fear. Michael was in a chair, bound hand and foot, and Liam Fogherty stood with his gun aimed at Michael’s head.