“Why the bloody hell wasn’t I notified earlier? Never mind that. I want every available agent to comb Orly. Thomas might still be in the airport. And get people on her daughter’s disappearance. I don’t mean the local police, I mean our people. Tell them they don’t need warrants, they just need to produce results.”
Geoffrey Colins had been in bed fifteen minutes when the cell on his night stand rang. Amanda Thomas had abruptly left London by air over five hours ago, no explanation and certainly not on her schedule. Ever since Mikiko Jahn had discovered her identity and that she was tied to the Shadow Man, now revealed to be high-priced attorney Richard Singleton, his agency had been routinely monitoring her digital communications, but for some reason there was a foul up and the recording of her conversation with her daughter Sienna’s apparent kidnappers hadn’t been reviewed until less than an hour ago. By that time, Amanda’s flight had already touched down at Orly International Airport just outside of Paris. Agency staff reviewed Paris police computer records and discovered that her nineteen-year-old daughter hadn’t attended classes all day long. Presumably, she had been taken very early this morning by parties unknown.
After he ended the call, Colins almost slammed his cell onto the table, but the only effect that would likely produce was to damage his mobile. He missed the days when one could slam down a land line receiver as a sign of rage.
He thought they had more time. Yes, Singleton seen right through Mikiko’s cover as a Korean refugee advocate, but then again, he had no idea who she really was. He had sent people to follow her, but thanks to her unique senses and ability to change her appearance, she transformed from a young Korean professional to an even younger “grunge girl” and effortlessly walked past the two people following her and right out of Waterloo station in the company of an equally disguised agent, Danae Parker.
Thomas should have had no idea that she’d been exposed, and all Singleton knew was that a woman who was not who she appeared to be had paid his offices a brief visit.
What the hell had gone wrong?
Singleton. Could he have suspected Thomas was behind Mikiko’s visit to his law firm yesterday? No. Sienna had vanished hours before. But maybe he had another reason to suspect Amanda might be planning something. A coup, a covert move to replace him as the British head of their criminal organization?
It was a long shot, but that’s all he had left right now. Geoffrey picked up his cell again and punched in the number to a secure location.
An electronically disguised voice answered, “Hello. Seven-one-four-seven-six.”
“This is Geoffrey Colins, Two-fourteen-nine-forty-eleven. I’m activating Tango Blue. Here are their orders.”
At 6:17 a.m., Colleen Merchant had just gotten out of the shower when she heard an insistent knock at the door of her flat. She put on her robe and wrapped a hand towel around her wet hair. “Who is it?
“Police, Ma’am. We have some news about your brother Anthony.”
She looked through the peep-hole and saw an uniformed police officer. Anthony was her younger brother. Always into trouble. Was it another auto crash or back in jail again? She undid the chain and opened the door. The officer was accompanied by five other people, three men and two women, all plainclothes. The uniform pushed her back inside and the others quickly streamed in and then closed the door behind them.
“I demand to know…”
The first man who had come through the door after the uniformed officer (who probably wasn’t an officer at all) waved some sort of badge in her face. “Ms. Colleen Merchant, you are under arrest in connection with the disappearances of Amanda Thomas and Sienna Thomas. Get dressed. You’re coming with us.”
An indignant Colleen pulled her robe tight around her. “Who the hell are you and where’s your bloody warrant? I have the right to remain silent and I want a lawyer.” She was madly trying to process what she’d just been told. Amanda Thomas, the Amanda she and Sebastian took information from, orders for members of their cells, she was that Amanda? Disappearances? Who were these people? Not police. Not any other law enforcement agency. Some sort of shadow ops group?
The man nodded at one of the female operatives who was standing next to him. “Take her in the back and get her dressed. I don’t care how you do it.”
“Yes sir.” She walked up to Colleen and grabbed her forearm. “Come along, sweetie. You’ll put some clothes on or we’ll take you in with what you’re wearing or less.” The woman yanked at her arm, nearly pulling Colleen off her feet. She staggered after the female operative as the horrible realization set in that, as far as they were concerned, she had no rights.
Sebastian Wright had an early morning meeting with the Board. One of the symposium delegates had complained about their accommodations. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem for him, but the person complaining was a Senior Member of America’s Atomic Energy Commission and they had a lot of weight to throw around (not to mention he was one of Wright’s more “covert” clients, and if that ever got out…). He had just exited the elevator into the parking garage of his building when he was flanked by four people, two from each side. Then a woman appeared out of the shadows just ahead of him presenting a badge but so briefly that he hadn’t had a chance to recognize the agency represented.
“Mr. Sebastian Wright, you are under arrest in connection with the disappearances of Amanda Thomas and her daughter Sienna Thomas. Please come with us and don’t put up a fuss.”
“What? But I…” One of the men on his right drove a hard fist into Sebastian’s gut knocking the wind out of him and doubling him over.
“I said no fuss, Wright.” Then to the others she said, “Bring him.”
As he was half-carried along, he remembered the name Amanda Thomas and made the connection. He should have seen it earlier. She and her daughter gone missing? What the hell did it have to do with him?
Mitchell Cosgrove and his co-worker Frances “Frankie” Johnston were also both arrested at their respective residences within ten to twelve minutes of the others. A total of eleven other low to mid-range functionaries of the Organization, including four other lieutenants (only one of them had ever heard of Amanda let alone met her), had been detained, all within the span of seventeen minutes total, and taken blindfolded to an undisclosed location or locations approximately thirty kilometers outside of the center of London. They were being interrogated by experts for any information they had regarding both Amanda Thomas and her daughter as well as well-known attorney and philanthropist Richard Price Singleton.
While the questioning was taking place, additional personnel were sweeping their homes including all of their electronic devices for anything that might produce a lead or a connection to those persons of interest.
Last night at about the time Geoffrey Colins was receiving his disturbing call regarding Amanda Thomas, Richard Singleton was receiving similar news. He immediately assumed the visit from the impostor who had called herself Hyeon Won So must be connected to it somehow. He had sent three of his best security people to follow her and all they had to report is that she went into the loo at a train station and never came out.
“Well of course she fucking came out, your bloody moron. She just changed her appearance again. You said yourself Mitchell that she looked almost exactly like the real Hyeon Won So. She probably walked right past you and you didn’t notice. Maybe she even blew you a kiss as a joke, eh? You fucking cunt!”
Singleton was screaming more to terrorize Mitchell than because he had actually flown into an uncontrollable rage, but how the hell could she had gotten past them so easily? She had to be a serious pro.
That was yesterday afternoon. Now it was just past eight in the morning and Singleton had been informed that both Mitchell and Frankie had failed to report to work. He sent a car to their residences to see what might have happened and got reports back that cops of some sort were crawling all over their flats.
Amanda. Was the disappearance of her daughter a ruse so she had an excuse to suddenly leave London looking like a victim and not a traitor? Obviously he was suspected if two of his people had presumably been taken into custody and a search of their homes was being conducted. The problem was, his informants at the police and in the courts came up dry. Scotland Yard hadn’t arrested them and the courts had issued no warrants. MI6? No, they had to play by the rules too, at least most of the time.
What about the other side of the street? Two possibilities. Rivals Singleton had thought too timid to make this kind of move or…or he was up to something. Singleton knew he was referred to as the “Shadow Man,” but compared to him, Mzimu was invisible. If he had taken a personal hand in this, he might be dead in a matter of minutes, but then again, if the unifying head of the entire Organization had decided to eliminate him, he’d be dead already.
“So what do you expect me to help you with, Mikiko. We’ve gone over the video you took of Thomas leaving that residence dozens of times.”
It was just past lunch time. Mikiko Jahn and Danae Parker were sitting together in an entirely different closed business than the one where they had met previously. This was a defunct fast food restaurant, again back in what would have been the employee break room, a favored location in such buildings because they often had no windows to the outside.
“I don’t know, but something bothers me about the video, something I’ve missed, Danae.”
The two had developed a somewhat luke-warm relationship approaching friendship after Danae had helped her escape detection by Singleton’s people at Waterloo Station yesterday. Now, they were finishing off their fish and chips (Mikiko had always wanted to try authentic fish and chips in London) and continuing to watch the video loop.
“Mikiko, we’ve wrung every bit of information about Amanda Thomas, the rental car, the leased residence…”
“That’s it, Danae. That’s what’s been bothering me. It’s not about Amanda Thomas but the man following her.”
“Wait. The last couple of seconds of your video. You accidentally captured another car driving down the same street. You think now she had a shadow?”
“Why not? We know she left London suddenly last night. We know her daughter’s been kidnapped. We know no trace of Thomas was found after she arrived at Orly. If we rule out Singleton as the cause, what else do we have?”
“I don’t doubt the possibility Mikiko, but what makes you so certain, especially when you couldn’t pin it down before? And even if it’s a shadow, how do you know Singleton didn’t hire him?”
“I don’t know. Instinct maybe. Something about my senses…” Mikiko stopped talking suddenly remembering that only Colins and a few select individuals in their unnamed agency knew the full extent of her abilities and the real nature of her existence.
Danae didn’t say anything hoping Mikiko assumed she hadn’t noticed her slip. It was painfully obvious that Colins was holding back on who the Japanese agent was and why she was so critical to this case. She and the rest of the team had been ordered not to pursue any questioning of Mikiko but that didn’t stop her from being curious, especially about how she could so easily and completely change her appearance and why she had hearing, eyesight, and smell far more acute than any human being.
“I mean…” Mikiko didn’t want to lie but she had to choose her words carefully. The agents on Colins’s team had been given limited information about her capacities, so maybe she could feed Danae just enough without tipping her hand. Of course, who could possibly guess that the real Mikiko Jahn was actually a synthetic woman, a human with a core biological skeleton, organs, nervous system, and brain totally integrated with biosynthetic materials that made up her body and allowed her to become something more than human?
“I mean there was something about the timing of the second car, the fact that there hadn’t been any other foot or auto traffic on that street since I’d arrived, the cold look of determination on the man’s face.”
“You saw his face?”
“Just for an instant. It’s on the video, but there was something in his eyes…well eye, I only saw the left one…the feeling I got…like he was a predator…like he was stalking.”
Danae continued to watch the other woman with fascination. “We already have put the video through extensive analysis but I can call the lab and have them address the second car, something we hadn’t done before.”
“Good. If we can find out more about that car and driver, maybe we’ll have the key to the disappearances of Amanda and Sienna Thomas.
When Amanda Thomas had arrived at Orly International Airport the previous evening, as she was leaving the gate area, she had what to most people would have looked like an accidental collision with a man who then disappeared in the crowd. A phone had been placed in her handbag, what she assumed was a “burner” phone, temporary numbers, untraceable. The text she received told her which exit to take and exactly when to appear on the sidewalk in the specified parking garage. The moment she appeared, a large panel van drove forward and stopped just long enough for the side door to slide open, rough hands to grab her and drag her inside, and door to slam shut.
As the van slowly pulled away from the curb, she felt a sting in her neck. Injection. She rapidly lost consciousness.
“Is anyone there?”
Amanda had regained consciousness and became aware that she was tied to a chair. She was blindfolded. She desperately had to urinate, but doubted that the people who had kidnapped her and who held her daughter would politely escort her to a nearby loo.
“We’re here, Thomas.”
A man’s voice speaking French.
“Where am I? What do you want?”
“For the moment, we have what we want, Thomas.”
“Where is my daughter? Is she safe? I want to talk to her.”
Amanda heard small movements and a very slight set of tones, like he was dialing a number on his mobile.
“Put her on. Tell her Mama is here.” The man pressed the phone to Amanda’s ear.
“Mama? Is that you? They keep threatening to kill me if you don’t do what they want. Please help me. Mama…”
The phone was pulled back and the connection broken.
“She’s alive. We don’t hurt her. We give her food. She’ll stay unharmed as long as you do what we say, Thomas.”
“What do you want?” Amanda was horribly torn between being a mother and her duty to the Organization. Which one would she have to betray to protect the other? If she thought that bastard Singleton was behind this, she’d be glad to spill all she knew, including the information Singleton couldn’t possibly suspect she possessed.
“Right now all we want is for you to wait.” The man leaned closer. She could smell his breath. “We know who you work for. We know what sort of filthy business you are part of. You take girls half your daughter’s age and sell their virginity to pigs and perverts. Does your little girl know about any of this? Imagine how she would react if we told her, if we showed her proof.”
He moved back to where he’d been before and laughed softly. How the hell could anyone know? Who were these people? She’d assumed either someone in the Organization executing a coup or some rival, but could some government’s coverts be behind all this?
Near evening, Colins was conducting a briefing in the same location that the Japanese and British agents had met at several hours ago.
“First of all, I’d like to thank you all for gathering here so quickly. I also want to commend Mikiko and Danae for providing this new lead particularly in light of the mystery surrounding the disappearance and apparent kidnappings of Amanda Thomas and her daughter Sienna.”
Another agent raised his hand.
“Before we begin Sir, I was wondering about Thomas’s son in Milan. Any activity there or for that matter, any suspicion?”
“A good question. Oliver Thomas has been informed by local law enforcement of the disappearance of his sister. He immediately attempted to contact his mother with no success. He contacted both Scotland Yard and the Paris Police Prefecture and in both cases was told that there was an active investigation and that he would be informed when progress was made. Scotland Yard doesn’t consider Amanda Thomas as a second kidnapping victim, at least not officially, but video cameras at Orly did capture her being pulled by anonymous suspects into a panel van. The plates were stolen and the van was found hours later abandoned. Wiped clean. No fingerprints or DNA traces.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
To Mikiko, Ellis seemed young, inexperienced, and eager to please. Of course, who was she to talk about being inexperienced.
“Now to the main point of this briefing. We ran facial recognition algorithms on the driver of the car Mikiko believes was following Thomas and attempted to trace the car itself. We only got a partial on the plates, but it matches the make and model of a vehicle that had been stolen from an underground parking garage the previous morning. It hasn’t as yet been located.
“As far as the face is concerned, we got lucky but not as much as I’d like.”
A new image came on the screen, one that compared a rather blurry still from Mikiko’s video with two other indistinct facial depictions.
“We have what we believe is possible match to the Hellspite.”
There was a collective murmur from the agents which Mikiko didn’t understand.
“For Mikiko’s benefit, the Hellspite is the code name for an assassin-for-hide who has been operating in the UK, Europe, and possibly the United States for the past five years. Hellspite has accepted contracts from various organized crime cartels, as well as wealthy individuals, and even small governments. He has never been positively IDed except that he is a Caucasian male of between twenty-five and forty years of age, possibly average height and weight for a European man, but we have no other distinguishing information about him, except that is, for his calling card.”
A new image appeared on the screen, something the size and shape of a typical business card. The card stock was colored black and there was only a face-like visage or mask printed on one side. The face looked skeletal and was wearing some sort of historical hat.
“We’ve traced the image to two sources. The first is a 1963 television program titled “Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow” produced by, of all things, Walt Disney Productions. The story depicted the adventures of masked vigilantes who violently opposed the use of press gangs by the British Navy in the 18th century. The second source, is much older and the basis for the first. The 1937 motion picture also titled “Doctor Syn,” also set in 18th century Kent, but the masked gang this time is part of a smuggling operation lead by a man, a pirate presumed dead.”
“A bizarre symbol for an international assassin, Mr. Colins.”
“Indeed, Mikiko. We have no idea what it means, or perhaps it means nothing at all. Just a bit of misdirection to keep law enforcement agencies chasing their tails. Seems each victim receives such a card shortly before being killed. Custom print job, untraceable. The Hellspite must manufacture them himself.”
“Excuse me but Oliver Thomas would be about the right age and description.”
“That’s true Danae, but of the confirmed kills we are aware of for Hellspite, we also know that young Thomas was nowhere near those locations when they occurred.” Colins seemed to pause for effect. “First thing I thought of.”
“But the Hellspite is an assassin, not a kidnapper, Sir.”
“That we know of, Ellis. This is one of the most elusive men alive. He has evaded every effort to identify or capture him, and now he’s somehow involved with Amanda Thomas and the Organization. We don’ t know exactly what he’s capable of or how far he’ll go to complete a contract.”
“What about Richard Singleton?”
“You mean do I think he’s behind hiring the Hellspite, Mikiko? Possibly.” Colins paused again. “If we were to question him on the subject, do you think you could tell if he’s lying?”
It was Mikiko’s turn to pause. Colins was asking her to be a human lie detector. Machine lie detectors measured an individual’s various involuntary responses, sweating, heart rate, respiration, to determine the validity of a person’s statements after a baseline had been established. Mikiko’s senses, particularly olfactory, might be able to detect chemical changes in a subject indicating if they were lying or not, but she’d never tested the possibility before.
“Maybe. But like mechanical lie detectors, I couldn’t be positive.”
“I think it’s time to pay Mr. Singleton another visit, this time the both of us, except neither of us will be as who we appear.”
Richard Singleton had just received the afternoon mail. It had been examined for anything potentially harmful including chemicals and poisons. As the Shadow Man his identity was largely unknown, but he hadn’t lived this long by being careless. Also if Mzimu was at all involved, he dare not take even the slightest risk.
A number of his local operatives had been confirmed to have disappeared. It was presumed they were taken into custody, but not by the usual authorities. Amanda vanished, her daughter supposedly kidnapped, all six of Amanda’s lieutenants and most of their cell members now off the streets including two of Singleton’s security force. Perhaps it was time for him to take a sudden trip as well.
He opened an envelope with a return address of Dymchurch, Kent. He hadn’t been to Dymchurch or Romney Marsh since…
The only contents was a single business card, but the jet black card stock merely displayed an image, a sort of skeletal mask wearing what appeared to be a piece of headgear from the 18th century. He flipped the card over but the other side was blank. He continued to turn the card at different angles thinking maybe the light would disclose something and then he saw the words, “You’re dead! Run for your life!” He immediately reached for his handset to call the security man currently on duty.
At the moment Singleton first started puzzling over the odd business card, Geoffrey Colins and Mikiko Jahn were in an unmarked Scotland Yard police car approaching the high-rise building housing the Singleton and Taylor law offices. Colins was carrying police identification with the name of Chief Inspector Spencer Williams while Mikiko’s ID said Sergeant Melissa Wong.
She had once again altered her appearance, this time to a woman of Chinese descent. They would be making an unannounced visit to Richard Singleton in the investigation of the Amanda Thomas disappearance. Strictly routine of course, but it would give Mikiko a chance to clandestinely determine if he were somehow involved. So far, his operatives had been less than cooperative and they couldn’t be held in custody indefinitely, well at least not legally.
In the several days since Mikiko had started working with Geoffrey’s team, it was apparent that they often operated outside the usual standards for law enforcement organizations. He still wouldn’t tell her the name of his agency or their scope of authority. Then again, because Mikiko was one of the most closely guarded secrets of both the British and Japanese governments, maybe agencies such as this were required to keep confidences without legal constraints. How far would they go in order to meet their goals? So far, no one had been killed but…
“Damn this bloody traffic.”
Geoffrey rarely cursed so it surprised Mikiko. She was glad he was driving. She always took the train or the bus whenever she was in Tokyo and London was just as crowded and confusing.
There was some sort of accident just ahead that had brought traffic to a standstill. They were directly in front of their destination but prevented from getting to the entrance of the parking garage. Absent-mindedly, Mikiko looked out the window up to the fourteenth floor, remembering the magnificent view Singleton’s office had of the London skyline.
Then the window broke, not shattered, but a hole suddenly appeared. Mikiko opened the car door, got out and then looked, listened, and smelled. That residual smoke from the roof of the opposite building.
“What he devil are you doing? Get back in here.”
“A gunshot, Geoffrey. That’s the window to Singleton’s office. Someone fired from the opposite rooftop there.” She was pointing up but the smoke from the gunshot had dissipated.
He didn’t bother asking if she were sure. Obviously she was and now he could just barely see the bullet hole in the glass. Some shards had fallen to the street injuring a few pedestrians. He was already on the radio calling in his agents. Unfortunately, Scotland Yard would also have to be involved. He could have the location from which the shooter had fired sealed in minutes, if only…
“The Hellspite,” he muttered. Then Colins realized that Mikiko was no longer by the car. He twisted around to see her running toward the building she had pointed at, the location of the shooter. Did she actually think she could find him?
Wait. The video Mikiko’s phone took that night only rendered a vague image. What if, even casually, the enhanced agent’s eyesight had seen much more and it was still in her memory?
Mikiko was glad she was in slacks and shoes that let her run. Traffic was still stopped so it was easy for her to dash around or jump over the cars in the street. On the sidewalk, it was a little more difficult because of the seemingly random movements of pedestrians. She thought of producing her fake police badge and ordering people to clear the way, but her reflexes were quick enough to let her run a pattern to avoid them, much like a football player going in for a goal.
Mikiko didn’t have a plan, but the shooter, probably the Hellspite, would want to get out as fast as he could and he wouldn’t leave his rifle behind. Look for a Caucasian male with a carrying case, average height, average weight, something about the face…medium brown hair…blue eyes? If only she’d remembered this before. If only she had an odor to go on. Wait. She did. Only one person in that building would have the residual smell of having recently discharged a firearm.
The lobby. She could hear sirens outside. Police backup. Of course, Colins wanted the building sealed, the Hellspite trapped inside. But no one had ever come close to capturing him. He was a master escape artist and it had been less than three minutes since the shot was fired. If she hadn’t been looking directly at Singleton’s office, she’d never have known the shot was made. Did she hear it, register it unconsciously? She was the only one who would have noticed the smoke from the single gunshot in time, the only one fast enough to get inside the building while her prey was probably still disassembling his weapon.
Prey? Is that what he was to her now?
Minutes passed. She couldn’t cover the whole building alone and he probably wouldn’t be stupid enough to walk out of the lobby. Too many floors, air currents managed by vents and air circulating machines, unless he were close, she’d never detect the scent. If he’s trying to get out, the next most obvious exit route was through the parking garage below her.
“Excuse me, Ma’am. Officer Shannon Burley of…”
She turned to see an uniformed officer addressing her. Everyone else around her was being organized into groups. She could see officers outside blocking the exits.
“That’s quite alright officer, she’s with me.” Colins showed her a badge, and the officer backed away with a “Yes sir.”
“Nothing. No one in the lobby fitting the general profile, or rather so many “average” men that it would be hard to choose one. No one carrying anything large enough for a disassembled sniper rifle. No one of that description who also has medium brown hair and blue eyes. No one smelling of gunpowder or cordite.”
“Blue eyes? You’ve recalled quite a bit about him in the last few minutes.”
“Sorry, Geoffrey. It must have been in my memory all along, but…”
“Forget it. You gave us an excellent shot at containing him. Now it’s the long and arduous process of elimination.”
Colins’s mobile rang.
Mikiko could hear the voice on the other end. One of the agents. “Wilson here. I’m in Singleton’s office with police officials. He’s dead. A single shot, high-powered sniper round. His head’s gone.”
“Did you find…”
“Yes sir. A calling card from our shooter. Just like the other confirmed reports except for one difference.” Wilson read the message on the card aloud.
“What the hell, Wilson? Why?” The question was rhetorical and the answer would come only with intense scrutiny.
It would take an order from the Prime Minister herself to deflect Scotland Yard from inquiring about the identity of the shooter or the involvement of unknown security operatives in the case.
“Thank you, Wilson. Usual canvasing of the crime scene.”
They broke the connection.
“It’ll take hours to thoroughly search the building and a miracle if we catch the Hellspite, Mikiko. I want to arrange something with the management. Come with me.”
Fifteen minutes later, they were on the roof at the spot where Mikiko saw the gunshot being fired. In another ten minutes, Colins would have to let Scotland Yard up, but he wanted a personal look first.
“Not much to see. Perfect line of sight from here to Singleton’s office. An expert marksman with a proper scope and rifle would have a clean shot. Singleton must have taken it directly through the back of the head.”
“I still smell vague traces of gunpowder. It was right here. He stood…” She looked down and saw something small. Colins followed her gaze, then removed a handkerchief from his pocket and bent over. He recovered the card, one of Hellspite’s calling cards.
“He’s never left one behind at the location where he’s shot from before.”
“Why now, Geoffrey?”
Colins paused then Mikiko thought she could hear his heartbeat accelerate.
“Damn. What if he saw us, saw you?”
“The moment after he shot, you jumped out of the car and pointed up directly at him. He wouldn’t have used his rifle scope to look. Maybe a small pair of binoculars to scan the street below.”
“I was in disguise, still am. You were in the car so he couldn’t have seen your face.”
Colins looked having forgotten for a moment that Mikiko still bore her altered face and hair color.
“He knows someone saw him or at least where he had shot from, which normally would have been quite difficult to ascertain. He left the card for us to find. Taunting us, I suppose.” Colins turned the card this way and that. No printed message like the one Singleton received.
“Which meant that even though he knew police would cordon off the area in minutes, he still had a way to get out.”
“Let’s wait on that, Mikiko. Hellspite has been lucky so far. Maybe he’s become a little overconfident.”
The next morning, the team met at the underground garage where Mikiko had examined Amanda Thomas’s rental car. The car had since been returned to the agency and there were tables and chairs near one wall, away from the corrugated metal door.
“The card found in Singleton’s office is identical to those others attributed to the Hellspite except for the message. Don’t know why this one’s different, Sir.” Wilson was giving a report from his seat. “The Yard balked a bit at us retaining it, but as usual, there wasn’t much they could do about it.”
“Thank you, Wilson. Danae?”
“As Wilson said, the card found in Singleton’s office and the one you recovered from the roof were identical to each other and the others we’ve found except for the message. No chance of a copycat. These cards were all made through the same process with the same materials. We did find out how he got away, though.”
“Enlighten us.” Colins, as usual, was standing in front of his team but this time looking particularly perturbed. He really thought he might be the one to catch the Hellspite.
“We had to pull the original plans for the building. Constructed during the early days of the Cold War. Owner was an absolute fanatic about the Soviets nuking London so he had the architect construct a private elevator shaft known only to a few including himself. Runs from a luxury underground shelter…”
“Let me guess. To the roof.”
“Right, Colins. Doors are behind sliding panels. The complex draws power from the grid through channels independent of the rest of the building, which is part of the reason we missed them initially. The shelter has a set of tunnels leading to three different exits in the Underground. By the time you and Mikiko arrived on the roof, he was long gone.”
“I assume you are having every inch of his escape route examined.”
“Of course, but…”
“Nothing to chance. Do it.”
“It might not be left up to chance, Mr. Colins.”
“On the roof yesterday, I said I smelled residual gunpowder from the shot. I also thought I detected a man’s odor, his scent.”
“Could you identify it again?”
“I think so. If I could go over the elevator, the shelter, I might be able to pick it out, even discover which tunnel he took.”
“Danae, I want you to…”
“Got it, Colins. Okay, Mikiko. You’re coming with me.”
“Now there she is through the one-way mirror, Luv.” The other men who had held Sienna Thomas and her mother captive were French, but this one sounded British.He changed his accent periodically, probably to make it harder to identify him if it should come to that.
“You see, she’s safe and sound. We feed her. Let her go to the loo when she needs to. We’ll take good care of her, but only as long as we get your full cooperation.”
“Mama! It’s Sienna. Mama.”
“Stupid bitch, she can’t hear you.” He cuffed the side of her head just to get her attention. Her hands were still zip tied behind her but that was the extent of her restraints. “Now here’s the deal, Darlin’.”
The man turned her around to face him. He was wearing a dark hood to conceal his face and muffle his voice. “You’re going to take a little trip and on this trip, you are not going to give us a bit of fuss.”
“Where am I going? What’s going to happen to me?”
“Oh, you’re going to take a nice, long airplane ride, Dearie. One of us will be going along just to make sure you behave yourself and get to the man you’re promised to.”
“What do you mean?” Sienna had been scared her entire time in captivity, but there were moments like these when the emotion escalated to near-panic.
“You know the business we told you Mommy is involved in?”
“You’re a lying pig. My Mother would never…”
He slapped her and she cried out for an instant.
“I don’t care if you believe me or not, but you’ve heard of girls who were sold for that, haven’t you? Well, payment is owed for a service and you beautiful, are part of the payment.”
“As long as you cooperate, go where we tell you, when we tell you, don’t try to escape, and don’t call for help in any way at all, Mommy dearest will be safe. We’ll not lay a hand on her. You give us even the slightest trouble, draw public attention to yourself, or screw this up in any way, and we’ll slice your Mama up an inch at a time and leave her to die in a pool of her own blood.”
“Now don’t you fret.” He caressed her cheek and she flinched and shuttered.
She wished it wasn’t so dark here all the time, like they were underground in caves of something.
“Like I said, you’ll be taking a long plane ride and at the end of the trip, you’ll be introduced to a very nice gentleman who is looking forward to meeting you.”
“Well, he probably isn’t. Not with what he has in mind for you and all.”
“What? What is he going to do with me?” She remembered what her captor had told her about human trafficking and sex slaves, about virgin girls being sold just for that reason.
“Oh, he’ll be explaining all that to you, Sienna. A fine fellow, or so I’m told. Goes by the name of Hellspite.”
This story is the immediate sequel to The Man in the Dark. A number of my readers have expressed an interest in Mikiko’s activities in the flash fiction piece Murder at 900 North Michigan and I’ve promised to write an expanded version explaining the wider implications of that tale. That expanded version will come up next chapter.
Sorry for the length of some of these chapters but it takes that long to set up events and as I write, I discover more details I can add to the mystery of Hellspite. I will confess to having watched the 1963 television production of Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow. I was only about nine at the time and the masks seemed pretty scary to me, which is just one of the reasons I named my assassin Hellspite. You’ll find out more next chapter.
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 Man in the Dark
The next chapter is Pursuit.
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