Autumn 2017 – London
“Here’s what we’ve got from your video and description of the suspect. Amanda Thomas, 48 years old, born Zuhal Amanda Clarke, Father George Sanford Clarke, British, a nationally syndicated columnist and novelist, Mother Aliya Fowler, moderately successful painter of mixed English-Arab descent.”
Mikiko expected to be debriefed or briefed or whatever in some official government office, like the British Secret Intelligence Service building where MI6 was headquartered, but she found herself sitting in an uncomfortable wooden chair with several other people, none of whom she knew, listening to Geoffrey Colins speaking to them in a darkened room in what seemed to be an out-of-business clothing boutique, or rather the break room of said-business. A small, portable projector was throwing images on the blank wall behind him, showing a loop of the video she’d taken last night of the woman now called Amanda Thomas.
She didn’t get back to her hotel room at the Premier Inn Heathrow until after midnight this morning. She’d walked back to the nearest bus stop from the house she’d been watching and then, in her normal identity, got on board a bus traveling in the general direction she had come from. She’d received a text from Colins as to which stop she’d exit the vehicle. Once on the street and with the bus out of sight, she heard a car engine starting two blocks away and then drive toward her. At the same time she got a text from Colins stating “Get in the back.”
The dark sedan pulled up next to her and the rear door swung open. She quickly got in to find Colins in the seat beside her. She didn’t know the driver.
He got her summary of what had happened but seeing Mikiko was fatigued, decided to wait until the morning to get all the details. There didn’t seem to be a great deal of urgency at that point.
Her control over her biochemistry wasn’t limitless and jet lag plus the strain of the mission so far finally caught up with her. Even then, the predator’s senses she’d been given didn’t let her sleep easily or deeply. She kept listening for suspicious voices and attempting to detect familiar odors.
That was nine hours ago. She’d been picked up in a taxi driven by the same operative who had been at the wheel of the sedan last night, and then deposited in an alleyway behind this defunct business. As soon as the cab left, the back door opened and she was ushered in by Colins. The man probably hadn’t gotten as much sleep as she had, but he looked like he’d just returned from a two-week vacation in a relaxing tropical resort, eyes bright, full of energy, freshly pressed suit, not a hair out of place. She’d have to pull him aside sometime and get his secret.
“Amanda was named for her maternal grandmother but she’s professionally known as Amanda Thomas. Owns her own Marketing Management Company, Taswik Marketing. Widowed, Husband Chester Thomas killed in a plane crash while flying his French Mosquito replica at a rally in 2015. Daughter Sienna, age 19 is a student at Paris-Sorbonne University studying comparative languages and cultures with an emphasis on literature, and her son Oliver, age 25, is a Sales and Marketing Director at the Marriott in Milan.”
Mikiko realized she’d been letting her mind wander again but fortunately she was able to keep up with Colins’ presentation. As he introduced each character in this macabre play, their still image or a brief video appeared on the wall.
“We’re making some discreet inquiries in the neighborhood you were in last night, Mikiko. Also trying to see what more we can discover in the residence without being obvious.”
“How did you find all this out in such a short period of time?” Mikiko was working on her second cup of tea and the fast food breakfast that had been provided. Hardly palatable, but better than an empty stomach.
“Facial recognition software is quite advanced these days, Mikiko. After all, Ms. Thomas does have official identity papers and she’s a rather minor public figure to the degree that she’s had her ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’ In addition to being a business owner, her firm has done some pro bono work for various non-profits locally, so she’s periodically in the news.”
“What about the car?”
“I was just getting to that. A rental. We got a partial plate number from your video and when we ran it against make, model, and colour, it was easy enough to find. We’ve had it impounded under the guise of it being observed to be an unsafe vehicle. So far, no prints or anything we could pull DNA from but the examination isn’t yet complete.
“I’d like a chance at the house and the car, Mr. Colins. I might be able to pick up something you’d otherwise miss.”
She noticed a few of the agents or whatever they were turned toward her sporting expressions of disdain and then looked back at Colins, probably with “Is she kidding?” looks.
“Actually, I had that in mind, Mikiko.”
She knew the others in the room had been briefed on her special abilities, but not to the full extent of who and particularly what she was.
“In the meantime, our research team will continue digging into Ms. Thomas’s background and known associates. Assuming she’s not the Shadow, then she most likely knows who he or she is.”
“Besides me mentioning that she might not be the Shadow last night, why do you think she isn’t?”
“I can answer that one, Ms. Kojima.” For security purposes, only Colins knew her real name, at least among the field agents.
The person speaking was a woman, perhaps Mikiko’s age or a few years younger, dressed casually, light brown hair, ordinary features, in fact, there was nothing about her that particularly stood out, at least visually. She supposed that was the goal of a real life spy, being unnoticeable to the point of invisibility. Of course, to Mikiko’s senses, she was unique, particularly in her scent.
She had been close, very close to another woman in the last six to ten hours, tended toward spicy foods, used unscented soap and shampoo, no perfume, slight odor of some makeup, with time, Mikiko might be able to identify specific brands and types by smell. There was something about the sound when she moved, as if her undergarments did not match the rather plain exterior. The synthetic woman suspected that there were many more dimensions to this person than she presented to the world.
“Prior to this meeting, I ran her background including known whereabouts for the past five years. We know of three occasions within that time span when the Shadow was at specific locations, Rome in September 2012, Tripoli in April 2014, and Lucerne last June. Although we could get no idea of his actual identity, the fact that it was the Shadow was confirmed. On all three of those dates, Ms. Thomas was in London, so with a high degree of certainty, I believe we can say she is not the Shadow, man or otherwise.”
“Thank you, Danae.” Colins didn’t seem entirely pleased that the agent had taken over his presentation, but then again, Mikiko suspected there might be some friction between them. Colins seemed what some people called “old school” with attitudes held over from previous generations. The Japanese woman couldn’t be sure, but she thought perhaps Danae might likely harbor more modern attitudes regarding the role of professional women.
As far as Colins’ scent, it betrayed no hint of an intimate relationship as far as Mikiko could tell. He’d showered this morning, the suit was recently cleaned. No scented soup or shampoo but there was some sort of cologne that would be hardly noticeable to anyone else but one that almost overwhelmed her, especially as it interacted with his own natural scent. Mikiko had to reduce her olfactory sensitivity, but then again, she regularly adjusted her five senses as the environment oppressively imposed itself upon her.
An hour later, Colins unlocked and opened the front door of the house Mikiko had been observing last night. Then he stood aside to allow her to enter first. She could smell the scents from outside but now they were especially strong. Sebastian, Colleen, and Amanda.
“We’ve already gone over the place room by room, Mikiko.” Colins closed the door behind him but didn’t bother to turn on a light.
There was enough daylight coming through the windows and between her enhanced vision and sense of smell, she could navigate quite well. She slowly moved from room to room, first downstairs and then up. No one had used the kitchen in quite some time, nor slept in the beds, nor showered. No one actually lived here, not now anyway.
“As far as I can tell Mr. Colins, they only met here once. No one else has been in the place very recently, probably for weeks.
“Yes, that was our assessment as well and you might as well call me Geoffrey, Mikiko.”
She looked up at him. Nothing in his expression, body language, voice, or scent indicated that he was attracted to her or making advances. Perhaps he was just being friendly and he almost always called her by her first name.
“Thank you, Geoffrey. What did you find out?”
A few of our people quietly spoke with the neighbors. The previous owners haven’t resided here in about a year. The house is periodically leased to vacationers and the like. Someone from the property management company showed Amanda, or a woman matching her description as she gave a different name, the home about three weeks ago. She said she wanted it for a single night for a private business conference.”
“At least she told the truth as far as it goes.”
Geoffrey chuckled slightly. “I suppose you’re right, Mikiko. Are you picking up anything else?”
“Nothing. Just that they were here last night. I can tell which rooms they were in. Amanda was the only one to use the downstairs restroom. No eating, drinking, smoking, or other activities. They were here and then they left. The strongest scent is Amanda’s, probably because she was here the longest.”
“Well, there is the car. We can visit it next.”
On the ride to their next destination, Mikiko kept thinking about the car, but it wasn’t just that. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something had happened that night that was ringing a silent alarm bell in her head, however she didn’t understand what it was. Maybe it was something very subtle her senses detected but that her brain couldn’t process adequately, or perhaps she noticed something that, if she’d had more experience as a covert operative, she would recognize.
Mikiko stopped her musings when Geoffrey pulled the car into an underground garage. He showed his ID to an armed guard and then proceeded downward. Several levels under the street, he stopped and showed his ID again, this time to a camera. Then a corrugated metal door was raised in front of them, and he pulled into another concrete chamber, stopped, and killed the engine. The door closed behind them.
She was still walking toward the rental car when she realized what was wrong. “Two people, Geof…Mr. Colins.” She thought that in front of others, she should be more proper. There were two people in this car, one was Amanda and the other…” a person standing next to the driver’s side door and who was wearing gloves opened it for her. “…was a man.”
“That could have been someone from the rental agency, the person who received the car from Amanda.”
She got inside, sat behind the wheel and closed her eyes. “There are any number of human scents here, but all of different ages. The older ones are probably other drivers, people who rented the car, rental agency people. That man over there is the most recent scent.” Mikiko pointed to a figure standing near the door they’d come through as if guarding it. “He was the one who drove it here.”
“Yes, that’s right, Mikiko. Martins did deliver the car. Tell me more about the man. How do you know he’s connected to Amanda?”
“The…” she paused for a moment, “…age of the scents. She picked up the car and drove alone. Got out for a number of hours. Got back in, still alone. Then there was someone else. He was with Amanda for, or I don’t know, anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. Sat in the passenger seat the whole time. I smell animal fibers, nothing synthetic. His clothes, not Amanda’s. Cologne but I don’t know the type. Now that I have his odor, I could recognize him anywhere. All I have to be is within a few kilometers of him.”
“Definitely a him then, Mikiko?”
“Yes, Mr. Colins.”
“No way for me to tell. At some point, he got out of the car and she was alone again. Then Amanda must have returned the rental. I smell one of the agency people, at least I guess it is since his scent is fresh but also older, like he’s been in the car repeatedly.” She opened her eyes and looked up at Colins. “That’s all I get.”
“Well, it’s more than our lab people were able to determine. The car, like the house, was wiped clean. No residual evidence.” He offered her his hand and helped her out, an “old school gentleman.”
The person who had opened the door for Mikiko closed it behind her.
“Amanda had used another name to rent the car, and that name was associated with a driver’s license and credit card so she has access to high-quality professional resources. The driver’s license is likely a forgery, but the credit card is real enough, though bank records show it is rarely used and immediately paid off after each use through an investment company. We checked the name and it’s a phony, some sort of dummy agency used to cover her tracks. That’s where the trail ends.”
“Maybe not, Colins.” Danae walked towards them looking down at a tablet. I think I’ve found something.” She handed the device to Colins and Mikiko looked over his shoulder.
“Yes, a list of Taswik Marketing clients. Rather impressive.”
“Ah yes, I see Thomas is also charitable. She does pro bono work for some non-profits and…Oh I see, Danae. Very good.”
“What is it, Mr. Colins.”
“Well, you see this one, Legal Practitioners for Immigrants. It’s the only pro bono account Amanda handles personally. There’s even a news photo of her receiving an award for her work with them along with the Director, one Richard Price Singleton. Funny, I know the name.”
“How is that, Colins?” Now Danae joined Mikiko in taking a closer look at the displayed data.
“Senior partner of one of the most prestigious law firms in England, Singleton and Taylor, one of the Magic Circle.”
Both Mikiko and Danae gave Colins blank looks. After a moment, he noticed.
“Oh, sorry. The Magic Circle is composed of the top seven law firms in the UK. Longest established, highest earnings per partner, each one with revenues in the billions of pounds.”
“How do you know all that, Colins?”
“Before your time with the agency, Danae. One or more of the firms was briefly suspected of having ties to an international crime cartel…” His voice drifted off momentarily as he considered his own words. “Anyway, suspicions were dropped rather abruptly. Evidence, a scanty bit at that, went missing, some said it didn’t exist in the first place. Never got any idea which law firm may have been involved if any at all.”
Danae and Mikiko were staring at him.
“One of my first cases with the agency. I rather messed things up I’m afraid.”
“Maybe not, Colins. Maybe that connection between one of the Magic Circle and an unknown international crime cartel just reared its ugly head again.”
“I should be careful with that one, Danae. You’re talking about a group of people who are connected at the highest levels. The only thing that saved my skin back then was being young and naive.”
“Or someone was paid off to bury your scanty evidence.”
“Hardly much to go on.”
“Wait one.” Danae took back her tablet and started opening secure browser tabs. It took a few minutes but then her face brightened as if she’d found gold. “September 2012, April 2014, and June 2017. In each instance, Richard Singleton was absent from London, The first two times were business trips…let’s see…passport records say Berlin and Helsinki respectively. Hold on now. Last June he vacationed in…Lucerne, Switzerland. Maybe he slipped up.”
“I agree it’s all compelling Danae, but hardly conclusive evidence.”
“More like a smoking gun, Colins and I know just how to sniff it out.” She turned toward Mikiko and so did Colins.
“I’ll have to get relatively close, just to make sure.”
Geoffrey smiled. “I’m sure we can arrange something, now can’t we Danae?”
“We most certainly can, Colins.”
“Hyeon Won So to see Mr. Singleton, please.”
I had taken two days to arrange for the next phase of the operation including Mikiko’s new cover. She tried to convince Colins that her Korean was spotty at best, but her cover required her to be a British citizen of Korean descent, so the only accent she had to imitate was one that you’d hear from someone who’d lived most of her life in Birmingham.
She had adjusted her appearance accordingly, donned a pair of glasses with as mild a prescription as possible and she carried identification consistent with being an advocate for a Korean human rights organization. It was actually true that there had been a bit of a scandal a few years back, with political refugees from North Korea either being denied entry into the UK or being deported. It was alleged that some of them were not defectors at all and had not gone through the proper channels by entering South Korea first.
Hyeon Won So was going to appeal to Richard Singleton and the Legal Practitioners for Immigrants on their behalf to see if there was sufficient cause to open a case in the courts. Today however, Singleton was at the Singleton and Taylor law practice, located on the fourteenth floor of a rather impressive high-rise in the heart of the business district.
Already she thought she detected a familiar combination of odors, but she had to meet him to be sure. This would be a one shot, she’d make her pitch, he’d say he’d think about it, she’d leave her card, and then depart. All she needed was a few seconds.
The intercom buzzed. The receptionist picked up the handset and listened for a moment. Mikiko could hear a man’s voice speaking but she thought she’d be polite and wait for official permission.
“Yes sir.” She replaced the handset. Another receptionist or administrative assistant or whoever she was supposed to be. Another phony smile, ersatz friendliness, professional fakery. “Mr. Singleton will see you now.”
Before, what was her name, Angela could stand and walk to the office door, Singleton himself opened it. “Please come in, Ms. So. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”
It was him. Even as she shook his hand and allowed him to escort her inside, she knew it was him, the man who had been in the rental car with Amanda Thomas not long after she had met with Sebastian and Colleen. The man who had been away from London all three times the Shadow Man had also been out of the country. The man who for over the past two decades had amassed a vast fortune (perhaps both legally and illegally) and had been touted as one of the top legal defenders of immigrant rights.
He made sure Mikiko was comfortably seated in front of his desk. “May I have Angela get you something? Tea? Water perhaps?”
“No thank you, Mr. Singleton. I’m quite fine and I appreciate you taking the time to see me.”
“Not at all,” he was smiling as he walked around the desk and took his seat.
He was about 1.8 meters tall or a little taller, wearing a custom tailored three-piece suit, all natural fibers nothing synthetic. In fact, the carpet, the chairs, nothing in his office was made of artificial cloth. Mikiko suppressed a smile as she thought she was the only substantially synthetic object in Singleton’s domain.
His file said he was fifty-three years old, married twice, divorced twice, only one son from his first marriage, custody awarded to the mother, emigrated to the United States after the breakup. The son would be about thirty now.
Personal worth in the high hundreds of millions if not billions of pounds, but that was just in the official ledger. If he were the Shadow Man, the true amount of his wealth and power would be nearly incalculable.
“Now how may I help you, Ms. So?”
“As I’m sure you know Mr. Singleton, some ten years ago, a group of North Koreans seeking asylum here in the UK were ordered deported by the Ministry of the Interior for allegedly violating protocol by not transitioning to South Korea before applying for immigrant status here in Britain. Unfortunately, there is little tolerance for these refugees in the South and they are discriminated against terribly. There were originally about 850 defectors from the North and now there are well over 1200 in addition to their children.”
“And how may I be of service in this situation?”
He had no intention of helping her or the North Korean refugees, but that didn’t matter. Mikiko had what she needed before she walked even a meter into Singleton’s office. However, she needed to play out her role and the only thing she required of him was that he be convinced she was sincere, even if he were not.
“I was wondering if your non-profit, it has helped so many other immigrants with legal difficulties, if you could examine this situation with fresh eyes, consider the plight of these refugees, and see if perhaps there was merit in bringing their case before the court system. I sent the relevant paperwork to you yesterday by courier so you would have time to examine it before our appointment.”
“Yes, Ms. So. I did have a brief moment to look at it but business matters have been pressing and I wasn’t able to give it all the attention that it…” The cell phone in his jacket pocket rang which seemed a bit unusual.
He pulled it out and looked at the caller ID. “Pardon me, Ms. So. I’ve been expecting an important call. I’m afraid I must take this. Won’t be a moment.”
Singleton stood and walked to a door to his left, perhaps to a private office or study. He entered closing the door behind him. The voices seemed a bit muffled so there was a certain amount of soundproofing involved, but while that would be effective in preventing a normal person from listening in, Mikiko was able to follow both sides of the conversation.
“She’s a fake, Mr. Singleton. We verified yesterday that there is a Hyeon Won So working at the North Korean Refugee Center in Birmingham, but facial recognition says it’s not her. A close copy, probably a near twin with a good make up job.”
“Very interesting. I wonder what she really wants then?”
“I couldn’t tell you, Sir. What would you like us to do?”
“Follow her discreetly. Don’t live contact, just see if she meets with anyone, find out where she’s staying locally. And if she isn’t Hyeon Won So, then who is she and who is she working for?”
“Yes, Mr. Singleton. I’ll report in when I have something.”
“Thank you, Mitchell. Good work.” Singleton broke the connection before waiting for the other man to reply. A moment later he came back into the main office as he replaced his mobile in his pocket.
“I apologize for the interruption. As I said, I’ve had pressing matters to attend to. You understand, of course.” He took his seat behind the desk again.
“Yes, of course, Mr. Singleton. Then you haven’t had a chance to examine the case papers yet?”
“Not in detail, no. However I expect to within the next day or two and I would like to contact you again after I do.”
Mikiko produced one of Hyeon Won So’s actual business cards and gave it to Singleton. He took it, briefly looked at the print, and then set it in the middle of his exceptionally tidy desk. He then stood and walked over to where Mikiko was sitting. This was her cue to stand. As her martial arts instructor might say, he was giving her the “bum’s rush.”
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Singleton. I’m looking forward to hearing back from you.”
“Of course, Ms. So. I’ll reach out to your organization shortly.” He opened the outer office door for her.
“Thank you again, Mr. Singleton.”
“Have a pleasant day, Ms. So.”
“You as well, Mr. Singleton.”
He closed the door and after politely wishing Angela farewell, she left the reception area and headed for the elevators. Now it was just a matter of finding out who would be watching her.
Back on the street, it was easy for Mikiko to pick out the pair, a man and a woman, following her on foot.
“I’ll text Reynolds in case she goes mobile and we need to follow by car.” Mikiko recognized Mitchell’s voice. She pulled out her own cell to text Colins about the situation, that her cover had been blown with ridiculous ease. They’d probably had cameras on her since the minute she walked onto the fourteenth floor. Singleton must be a very suspicious person.
Text came back in less than a minute. She was to take a taxi to Waterloo Station. A contact would pass something to her once she arrived. She’d know what to do from there.
Fortunately, she was approaching a hotel with several cabs standing by. She entered one. “Waterloo station, please.”
“Sure enough, lady.” Heavily accented English. Probably from Pakistan, but she still needed to do more work on her vocal identification skills.
In this driver’s case, he put his cell on speaker and was talking to a woman in a language Mikiko didn’t understand. That was probably the woman’s photo taped to the dash, wife or lover.
She knew she was being followed, even though she couldn’t smell or hear them. She’d pick them up again at Waterloo.
Mikiko paid the driver upon arrival and went down the escalator into the station’s main floor. It was crowded, approaching rush hour. Yes, there was Mitchell’s scent and that of the woman. No third person. Their driver must be waiting outside in case she doubled back.
A minor collision with a stranger and an object appeared in her hand. A locker key. She looked at the number and then went to the information desk to inquire where that group of storage lockers might be.
Her pursuers had to keep their distance so it was unlikely they heard her conversation, although she heard every word the man and woman said to each other. Just chit chat. They were doing little more than babysitting.
She walked some distance to the lockers, found the one matching her key and opened it. A small gym bag. She unzipped it and peeked inside. Oh this was going to be fun.
She took the bag, shut the locker door, and headed for the nearest women’s room. Now if only the woman following her didn’t come inside too soon. If they thought she was just using the facilities, they’d wait out here.
“I don’t like it Mitchell, she’s been in there too long.”
“Hey, when you’ve got to go and all, Frankie.”
“I’m gonna take a look.”
“Where can she go? This is the only way in or out.”
Mikiko had walked right past Mitchell and Frankie four minutes ago and they never even noticed. Of course it wasn’t Mikiko or even Hyeon Won So. A young girl in her early twenties, dressed in her best grunge clothing, accessories, hair style and coloring strolled a meter to Mitchell’s left wearing a backpack that doubled for a gym bag and that now contained Ms. So’s apparel.
“Hey, Babe. I’ve been waiting for you. C’mon.”
Mikiko looked to her right but she’d already identified Danae by scent. By sight was another matter, since the agent was wearing grunge as well, had changed her hair color, probably a wig, and her make up was just as garish as Mikiko’s. She was grinning at the Japanese girl, grabbed her by the arm and gave her a hard kiss on the cheek.
“Just play along,” she whispered.
“Hey, I missed you, too.” Mikiko embraced Danae and held her tight for a moment wondering which one of them felt more awkward.
It was early evening as Amanda Thomas shut her briefcase and got ready to leave the office. Her cell phone rang. Caller ID was blocked but occasionally her more “confidential” associates needed to contact her this way.
She accepted the call, “This is Amanda Thomas.”
“Ms. Thomas, you don’t know me, but I want you to listen very carefully.” There was a jumbling noise and then…
“Mama. Mama they said they’re going to kill me unless you do what they say.”
“Sienna? My God, honey. What happened?”
Another moment of undetermined noise then the first voice was back. “Look. You can check with her school but she missed all of her classes today. We’ve got her and as long as you do what you’re told, we won’t hurt her.”
Amanda had been so careful, so very careful to keep her private business private, to keep her children uninvolved. Chester had somehow found out and he had to be eliminated. He’d been a reasonably good husband and it was regrettable that the plane crash had to be arranged, but those light aircraft replicas were so dangerous anyway.
“Take the next available flight to Paris but arrive no later than six hours from now.”
Amanda looked at her Rolex Datejust to see the exact time.
“You will be contacted again in exactly six hours. Failure to comply will…well you know. She’s such a lovely girl. You wouldn’t want us to have too much fun with her.”
She could practically hear his filthy leer through the receiver.
“I’ll be in Paris as soon as possible. Do not hurt her. If any harm comes to my daughter at all…”
“Leave the Taken speech to Liam Neeson, Ms. Thomas.” He broke the connection.
Amanda called her personal assistant to book her on the next flight to Paris. Before she left though, she needed to take out some insurance. She didn’t expect to live through the next twenty-four hours but if she were murdered, she’d be damned if she’d die alone.
This story is the immediate sequel to First Flight. I had intended to wrap up this story arc here, but relating the necessary details just took too many words, so there’ll be a third installment of Mikiko’s adventures in London with the Shadow Man. Hope you’re all enjoying the intrigue. So far, I’ve focused on the synthetic woman’s sensory and chameleon abilities, mainly because she hadn’t been put in a position to do anything more physical. That will change if not in the next chapter, the chapter after that.
Here are other stories so far in the order I wrote them but not in chronological order:
- The Reconstructed Woman
- Burn Victim
- Woman Under Repair
- Woman in the Shadows
- The Search for Armageddon
- The Swimmer
- Murder at 900 North Michigan
- First Flight
The next chapter will be called Hellspite.