It was late when Mikiko Kojima checked into the Four Seasons Hotel at 900 N. Michigan in Chicago.
The building was known as Bloomingdale’s given the shopping establishment’s significant presence, including its name on the structure. It contained some of the most upscale stores in the nation and the rather luxurious hotel in which Mikiko had been booked occupied the 30th through the 46th floors of the building.
There had been a sudden mix up in reservations at the last-minute once unknown government agencies requested that a room be made available for Ms. Kojima’s stay. Accommodations for at least one guest had to be made elsewhere with certain financial incentives added in order for Mikiko to have room 3014 open to her at two hours notice.
Her suitcase had been sent ahead of her, although it wasn’t actually her luggage. A large Louis Vuitton case had been purchased and clothing in Mikiko’s size was bought, packed, and then sent to the Four Seasons and placed in her room. She would seem a more legitimate guest this way since she had left England only with a small handbag and a carry on.
The Japanese woman signed her name electronically at the front desk. The room had already been charged to “her” account, paid for a full week in advance, and she was actually looking forward to getting some rest.
She felt with reasonable certainty that she wouldn’t be needed tonight but she would have to be alert tomorrow. As the steward escorted her to the elevator, she felt a pang of guilt knowing that she had once again abandoned a human trafficking victim to the “tender mercies” of the Organization for another night. Sienna Thomas would be held prisoner in an anonymous warehouse in Cicero while Mikiko slept in divine comfort some ten miles away.
That couldn’t be helped though, she kept telling herself, and he believed that Sienna would be left unharmed and unmolested since she was ultimately the “property” of the international assassin known only as the Hellspite. He would expect to take delivery of his merchandise in pristine condition.
He was the reason she had checked into this particular hotel. While floors 30 through 46 were used by the Four Seasons, the 21st through 29th floors had been converted to condominiums ten years ago. One of the operatives at the warehouse had referred to Hellspite as “Mr. 900 Michigan Avenue,” and from this, Mikiko reasoned that he resided here or at least received his special “guests” in one of the condos on the floors beneath her.
Of course, it could also mean a dozen other things, but after reporting her findings to the local Agency contact who preferred to remain nameless, he agreed with her assessment and sanctioned this course of action when Mikiko suggested it.
She was encouraged when she detected hints of his scent in the building, growing stronger as she rode up in the elevator. He was somewhere nearby. Mikiko was sure of it.
The operative was glad she was spending someone else’s money. Once in her room, she signed the slip that would charge the generous tip she gave the steward to her credit card, he nodded politely, wished her a pleasant evening, and left her to her peace.
“It’s going to be okay, Sienna. Here, let me untie you. Sorry about the blindfold, but I’ll take you to the bathroom now.”
This was the first woman’s voice she’d heard since being taken captive barring her public outings.
“Who are you? What is this place?”
“You can call me Mary if you’d like.” Mary had finished removing the nineteen-year-old’s ties and helped her to her feet. Sienna almost collapsed due both to the drugs she’d been given and because she hadn’t walked in hours. “You’re supposed to wait here for tonight.”
An American accent, but that didn’t surprise Sienna. She knew she was in the U.S., Chicago to be specific. She couldn’t tell anything more about her from her voice, though.
Sienna felt herself being guided along. Mary seemed pretty strong, the girl felt her tight muscles and her strong grip. She tried to count how many steps and how many left and right turns but she was still too groggy. Eventually they reached the bathroom. The girl felt the toilet at the back of her legs.
“Sorry, I can’t leave you alone, but we’re both girls so don’t worry about it.”
Sienna had to pee too badly to argue, pulled down her jeans and panties and sat.
“The toilet paper is just to your right, Hon.”
The young student felt for and then immediately found the roll. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Mary seemed calm and gentle. Maybe, just maybe…
On the way back, Sienna thought she’d try. “My Mom has a lot of money. If you can get me out of here, she’d pay you whatever you want.”
“That is a tempting offer Sienna dear, but I’m afraid I must decline. I could lose my job and probably my life if I accepted. Besides, you’re just in my care for tonight, my temporary guest.”
“What do you mean?”
They crossed through a doorway and Mary turned Sienna around and sat her on what felt like a bunk or cot.
“I’m going to just bind you by your right wrist, Sienna. I expect you to be a good girl. I’ll be back with a little something for you to eat. It’ll be cold I’m afraid and you’ll have to eat with your fingers. Can’t be helped.”
“Can’t you tell me what’s going to happen to me?” Sienna felt the fear rising within her again as the effects of the drugs continued to wane. She started to sob and then stopped herself.
“That’s not for me to say, dear.”
“The man said something about a person named Hellspite. Who is he? What does he want with me?”
“I’m going to get some food for now, Sienna. All your questions will be answered soon, but not by me.”
She heard Mary’s footsteps receding. A door was closed. She heard a lock turning. Then she was alone again in the dark and quiet. She reached up with her left hand and removed the blindfold. What? They didn’t expect her to take it off? At least she’d get a look at Mary when she came back with supper or whatever kind of meal it was. Sienna had no idea if it was day or night. She’d slept through most of her trip and then they drugged her again before she got to wherever she was now.
“Oh Mama, what did you do so that I deserved this?”
Her cell was small, maybe six by six. It only contained the cot she was sitting on. A chain was attached to some sort of metal ring on the wall. The other end of the chain also had a metal ring and Sienna’s right wrist was zip tied to it. There was enough slack in the chain to let her lie down on the cot, though she didn’t feel like it right now. Nothing around her suggested any way for her to escape. As nice as Mary’s voice sounded, she made it clear she was just her glorified nursemaid, not a potential source of salvation.
An indeterminate amount of time passed, though not particularly long when Sienna heard the lock on her door turn again. The door swung open. She supposed this was Mary because of the somewhat feminine figure cloaked under a loose, black pullover sweater and dark pants, but her face was covered by a ski mask. Mary was white but that’s all Sienna could tell from her eyes, mouth, and hands.
“Here’s dinner.” Mary put the paper plate on the floor a few feet from Sienna. The girl thought about kicking the other woman, but even if she could muster enough force to knock her out, she was still restrained and it would probably make things worse for her.
Mary stepped back and Sienna was just able to reach the plate with the fingertips of her left hand.
“Sorry about that. You look pretty awake now and I don’t want you getting frisky with me.”
Sienna pulled the plate to her, lifted it and put it beside her on the cot.
“I’d still be stuck here so what good would that do?” Sienna was starting to feel defiant, but she realized this wasn’t a game and there were no rules. She looked down. Some sort of cold pieces of chicken and chips, what they called “french fries” in America. There was also a portion of lettuce and pieces of tomato.
“Fast food is all we’ve got for you, I’m afraid. You’ll probably start getting better meals once you leave here.” With that, Mary started to turn.
“Wait! Can’t you tell me anything? What’s going to happen to me tomorrow?”
Mary stopped and turned back to face Sienna. “Not much I can say, little one. You’ll be taken good care of but life as you knew it is over, completely. You better get used to that. No white knights in shining armor for you.”
The woman in black turned again and started walking back to the door. Sienna opened her mouth to object but shut it again. Then the door was closed and locked.
She looked down at the plate, realizing that the light in her cell came from a single dim bulb in the ceiling, too high to reach, even if she stood on the cot. “Bloody chicken and chips,” she muttered to herself. Momentarily, the girl thought of hurling her plate at the door in defiance, but it had been too long since she had eaten and she was starved. She decided she’d need to keep up her strength for whatever ordeal lay ahead and started eating, licking the juicy bits off of her fingers.
Human trafficking. She remembered what her captor in France told her about Mama, her business, the Organization, he called it, what they did to young girls and women. This was some sort of revenge. She was being sold to someone named Hellspite and…and…
And then Sienna started to cry.
Daniel Hunt woke up with a start as he felt his flight touch down. Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport. Including his layover in Frankfurt, the Lufthansa flight had taken over seventeen hours. Fortunately the eccentric scientist was quite adept at sleeping on aircraft or in just about any environment. The ability had served him well during this trip, as it had on many previous occasions, when he had to visit multiple countries, spend long periods of time in hospitals, medical research facilities, and government buildings waiting for paper-pushing bureaucrats to give him what he wanted.
His package had arrived ahead of him, already well on its way toward maturity thanks to Dr. Yael Selinger and his team. Yael had been one of Daniel’s top students back in the day, and it was gratifying to be able to benefit from his talents which helped to accelerate the synthecon process with this subject and probably would with the subsequent ones.
He faced at least an hour-long trip after being picked up at the airport which was far too long for a man who was anxious to enter the next phase of his life’s work.
It was just before six in the morning local time when Mikiko heard the telltale sound of a text arriving at her cell. It wasn’t her cell, it was the one her contact had issued her less than a day ago. She rolled over and picked it up from the night stand.
“No activity throughout the night.”
The text was accompanied by a photo of the warehouse site. It was taken at some elevation which meant the camera had been in an upper floor of an adjacent building or in a flying drone.
Mikiko got out of bed barely noticing the magnificent view of the Chicago skyline out her window and went to the bathroom to relieve herself. She turned on the light to wash her hands and while drying them, looked at her reflection in the mirror.
When she opened the suitcase last night, she discovered not just random clothing items as she’d expected, but a full ensemble of outfits for a number of common occasions, including the rather feminine and somewhat alluring nightgown bearing a “Victoria’s Secret” label. Was this someone’s idea at humor? It’s nothing she would have worn before the accident, and nothing that would have occurred to her to wear since then.
Mikiko slowly reached up to her face with her right hand and gently allowed her fingers to caress her cheek. She put both hands behind her head and ran the fingers of both from back to front, then pulled her hair back out of her eyes.
She touched her neck and then downward toward her breasts, noticing her nipples becoming erect.
Then she stopped.
She was continually surprised to find that her skin didn’t feel any different from what she remembered. Mikiko expected that the synthecon skin either wouldn’t feel like real skin or her artificial sense of touch wouldn’t process the sensation correctly. Neither seemed to be the case.
Right now, her eyes saw just the way her original eyes saw, her brain processed the images in an identical fashion, she inhaled and exhaled and her lungs felt like they always had, what she could hear sounded the same as before, what she tasted, what she touched, what she smelled…
Mikiko breathed in again. She remembered Hellspite’s scent from the rooftop in Tokyo. She couldn’t detect it now, but she had last night. Not in this room though.
The mission. Remember the mission. “Forget everything else, Mikiko. At least for now.” She was surprised that she’d uttered those last words aloud.
Mikiko found the Oak Tree Restaurant to be a quiet place to have breakfast. As expected, Americans tended to serve far too much for any meal, but the tourist in her always wanted to try new things, which was one of the few benefits of her current assignment. She ordered the Fruit and Yogurt Bowl which would be more than enough for her appetite, though the Baltic Eggs Benedict did sound quite tempting, apart from the amount of food it represented. What America called “tea” didn’t meet her Japanese expectations, but then what she had been served in London wasn’t quite on par either.
She could have ordered room service, isolated herself from the rest of the hotel guests, restaurant and shop patrons, but she wanted to try to pick up Hellspite’s scent again. It was there but ill-defined. He was within 1000 to 5000 meters of her at any given point in time, but the air circulation systems in large buildings made it difficult to pinpoint a location unless she was much closer. Between forays to the lobby and shops and then back up to the hotel level, she felt confident that he was residing in one of the condos she’d learned about last night.
Should Mikiko attempt to find him now, or at least the particular floor he lived on? She didn’t want to alert him prematurely and Sienna wasn’t here yet.
She was currently “wearing” her usual appearance and had registered as Mikiko Kojima. Days ago in London, she had seen the shot fired by Hellspite break the glass of the window in Richard Singleton’s office, which had killed him instantly. She saw the brief cloud of smoke from his rifle’s muzzle, noted the exact place on the adjacent roof where he had stood and fired.
As her London team leader Geoffrey Colins pointed out, it was possible and even likely that Hellspite had used a small pair of binoculars to scan the street for potential witnesses immediately after his shot. She had stepped out of the car right then and pointed up toward Hellspite, but she had been wearing another face, different colored hair, and didn’t remotely look like who she was right now. He should have no way of identifying her.
She knew what he smelled like and had a vague impression of his appearance from a video she had accidentally taken of him last week which matched other ill-defined photos of the assassin, but by sight, he could walk into the restaurant right now and pass in front of Mikiko and she wouldn’t recognize him.
However, his odor would give him away instantly. All she had to do was get close enough to him.
Mikiko finished her breakfast and had the meal and tip charged to her room. Now she better start acting like a tourist. The best place to begin was among Bloomingdale’s many shops and she wouldn’t seem out of place wandering from one to the next. She would appear to be a young, upwardly mobile professional in Chicago on business, or perhaps just taking in the sights, although the latter might seem a bit unusual for a woman alone. Maybe she was married to a business person who was in meetings all day and she was simply “killing time.”
Mikiko was always more conscious of how she appeared to others than she needed to be. Her heightened senses painted a landscape of humanity around her who gave her not a second glance. She was just a face in the crowd, and everyone in her vicinity had more important things to think about than her or any of the others gazing at the very expensive merchandise around them.
Hellspite was near, she could smell him, but no nearer or farther than she previously determined. How could she narrow down his location without drawing attention to herself?
Mikiko was in luck. One of the forty-eight condo units had just come up for sale. It was a two-bedroom which would be a perfect fit if she were playing the role of the wife of an upper-level executive who was about to be transferred to Chicago. She looked up real estate offices that could get her a viewing and explained to Bonnie Reese, the agent she was connected to, that she was in the city only for a few days and needed to see the vacancy as soon as possible.
They met in the lobby at 11 a.m., Reese no doubt smelling Japanese corporate money and a quick sale. In fact the scent of what Mikiko interpreted as ambition, eagerness, or greed was almost overwhelming when the woman entered the building.
Bonnie was about Mikiko’s age, Caucasian, medium brown hair, shoulder length, hazel eyes, wore her make up tastefully and in her dark jacket and medium toned slacks, she appeared just like the scores of other young professional women she had seen here so far.
Mikiko explained that her husband had been delayed in San Francisco and would be joining her in Chicago in the next day or so. Fortunately wedding rings were not as common in Japan as in America or other western nations, so she hoped her lack of such jewelry would not be unduly noticed by Bonnie.
She escorted Mikiko into the elevator and they rose to the 25th floor where the available condo unit was located. He was above her, she could smell it now that she was this close, sharing the air that circulated among the floors in this section of the building. He was ten, maybe twelve meters above, which would probably mean the 28th or 29th floor, just one or two levels beneath Mikiko’s hotel room.
Mikiko tolerated Bonnie’s guided tour and asked what she hoped were insightful questions about the amenities offered, the neighborhood, and even the crime rate since Chicago was noted for its gun violence. Of course the real estate agent downplayed such hazards, especially in this part of the city, and in addition to showing her the condo, took her to visit the exercise room, sundeck, yard and even the gas grills available to residents.
She would never be able to get back up to the condo levels without explicit entry being granted. There was no direct connection between them and the hotel. Normally, a doorman would have to permit guests access to the elevators to the condos. Mikiko would have to find another way when she was ready.
Sometime during the transaction, the scent shifted. Hellspite was moving. He had left his condo, but to go where, the warehouse? Not likely. The conversation she’d overheard last night seemed to indicate that Sienna would be delivered to Hellspite, but that didn’t have to mean here. Yet this address was known to those holding Amanda Thomas’s daughter. How did they expect to get her here unnoticed?
Mikiko cursed her bad timing. She was stuck with this real estate agent viewing the park-like area near the building that was available to those living in these condos while her target was probably in an elevator descending toward the lobby. He could become lost among the shops or worse.
“Excuse me, I have to take this.” Mikiko feigned a text message and quickly walked back inside. Bonnie was following her and Mikiko waved her off. “Sorry, its private.”
She walked as fast as she dared back to the main lobby but it was too late. He wasn’t there. He’d just left. If Mikiko ran outside, she might be able to tell which way he had gone, if he had walked or taken a car, but she was here to locate him surreptitiously, not to tackle him at first sight. However, she had an idea.
Bonnie caught up with her and Mikiko apologized for her abrupt disappearance. She didn’t bother to explain since Bonnie should assume that it wasn’t any of her business what sort of text she’d received.
Mikiko indicated an extreme interest in the property but that her husband would have to see it and give final approval, not uncommon even among American couples and certainly it fit what people in the west thought about a Japanese husband and wife.
She knew she could only hold Bonnie’s interest for a limited period of time. No doubt a condo in this location would be highly popular and if Mikiko waited too long, another customer would put a bid on it. That didn’t matter to her, but she needed to maintain the facade she had constructed.
Mikiko had a light lunch at a small cafe in the building. She didn’t want to be tied up in a restaurant too long and miss an opportunity should Hellspite return.
She sent a text to her contact explaining the situation, leaving out her ability to detect the target by only his scent. He was coming to assist. If he arrived in time, they would have an excellent chance of identifying not only exactly where Hellspite lived but the man’s name and face.
Mikiko was concerned that people would begin to notice her loitering in the condo lobby area, but again, all of her senses said no one cared, not even the staff. Her contact had arrived an hour ago and was seated in a completely different place but one in line of sight with the elevators to the condos. They had exchanged texts and as per their plan, and she seated herself as close to those elevators as possible.
She had recognized the contact by his scent the moment he entered. He couldn’t possibly know that or that she was observing him. She was only supposed to know he was here because he had texted her upon arrival. Average height, Caucasian, dressed in what amounted to “business casual,” tan slacks, a dark shirt and light jacket consistent with the overcast but reasonably warm weather outside given this time of year. Dark hair, thirty to thirty-five years old. clean-shaven, no glasses or jewelry, average looks, nothing to distinguish him from the dozens of other men walking in and out of the building.
It was after one when the contact assumed his position and nearly four when Hellspite entered the lobby. Mikiko texted the contact so he could sight on the target and follow him visually.
His hair was lighter than she remembered, but he may color it when on assignment or perhaps it is dyed now. Caucasian, about two meters tall, athletic build, like a long distance runner. Pale complexion, no facial hair, no jewelry. No eye glasses, though that might be a pair of sunglasses sitting in the breast pocket of his jacket.
He seemed quite casual, relaxed as the transversed the space between the doors and the elevators, He reached inside for his keys, arrived at the elevator banks, used a key card to activate it, and then pressed the “up” button. Timing was important now. Mikiko stood and slowly started walking in his general direction, looking down at her cell as she moved.
Someone else started for the same elevator as the doors opened. She needed to get closer.
“Oh, excuse me,” she said after she collided with the middle-aged woman who she’d caused to drop her two packages and handbag. She made sure her English was heavily accented since that tended to make westerners feel sorry for her, as if she didn’t quite understand what was going on around her.
“I am so sorry, so very sorry,” she feigned a bow while looking up. Hellspite had entered the elevator and turned to face out toward the open doors. She had to see which button he pushed. Good. Twenty-nine. Hellspite had been momentarily distracted by Mikiko’s “accident” and turned his gaze toward her. He shouldn’t notice the contact taking photos of him with his cell ten meters away using a built-in telephoto lens.
The doors closed and she smelled Hellspite’s scent ascending.
“I am so sorry,” Mikiko continued to repeat as she helped the woman pick up her packages, drop them, and pick them up again, pretending to be a bundle of eastern social anxiety.
“Really Ms, it’s alright. It was just an accident.”
Mikiko half-expected the woman to fly into a rage but she was very polite and compassionate. It was clear she’d missed her elevator but Mikiko needed Hellspite to be alone so she could have an unobstructed view of which button he pushed.
The woman, once again composed and with her items in hand, used her own key card to call an elevator. That was going to be Mikiko’s next problem. She smiled at the woman as the elevator doors closed and as the car rose, she could hear the woman mutter, “Oh brother, those dumb Orientals.” So much for her being a polite American.
At about the same time, she noticed the contact’s scent changing. She looked and he had already left. He’d gotten what he’d come for. Would it be enough to identify one of the world’s most wanted assassins? She texted the contact the floor number Hellspite had pushed. Now should she wait for Sienna to arrive or find a way to confront Hellspite first?
“I want you to remember something, Sienna. If you give us the slightest problem during transit, we can make one phone call and your mother will be shot.”
Mary was in her cell again. Sienna had just returned from the bathroom, a different one this time. She was allowed to shower, although only with Mary present, and then dress in fresh clothing. She was given the use of a hair dryer, toothbrush, and make up, the latter she applied sparingly. She tried to think of different ways she could use any of this to disable her guard long enough for her to escape, but Mary had made it a point to show her the three armed men standing just outside. Even if she could overpower Mary, which she doubted, she wouldn’t get a foot outside before being stopped and maybe even shot.
“I want to talk to my Mama.” The demand had worked when she was being held in France but she hadn’t heard from Mama since.
“No dice. She’s being questioned.”
“Tortured?” Sienna’s lower lip quivered.
“We aren’t animals. Drugs. She’s told us everything we wanted to know and then some, but she’s in no shape to carry on a casual conversation just now. Maybe later.”
Sienna knew there would be no “later.” Once she was taken to this Hellspite person, just like Mary had said, life as she knew it would be gone forever.
The young student was still a virgin not that it mattered she supposed. She had opportunities enough, but was waiting for someone special, not just some guy who thought she was attractive or who was fun at a party. Now “Mr. Special” would be Hellspite, and there would be no love or romance about it. Then again, even if she had let a hundred men into her pants, being raped by a killer wouldn’t be any more tolerable.
She thought about killing herself. If she could grab a guard’s gun, she wouldn’t be able to shoot her way out of the place like the old American cop shows, but she could shoot herself.
But Mama. If she somehow escaped or was released, it would destroy her to know Sienna was gone.
She was gone anyway.
Besides, the guards held onto their guns and left her no opportunity to get one.
They didn’t drug her again like she expected. Mary told her he wanted her clear and fresh. She still seemed kind if very definite toward Sienna. The girl almost wanted to thank her for that, though she knew it was crazy.
She was outside again. It was dusk. She had only a hazy memory of arriving here. A man opened the rear door to a sedan and Mary helped her inside. There was another man already in the back seat.
“You probably don’t remember me but we met last night when you were brought here.”
Sienna shook her head “no” but didn’t say anything.
She turned. It was Mary, still under the ski mask.
“Good luck, kid.”
The door shut and the driver started the engine.
No blindfold or gag. No drugs. She’d know where she was going, be able to see everything, maybe tell the police if she managed to escape. But then again, if they were letting her see everything, they knew she would never escape, or they believed it anyway. Was there a way to surprise them? No. Mary said they’d kill Mama. Maybe Mama was already dead. She probably was, but she couldn’t take the chance. No matter what it meant for her, if cooperating, letting Hellspite do whatever he was going to do with her gave Mama a chance at living, she had to do it.
She hated herself, hated them, hated Mama for all of it. Why wasn’t Mama what she said she was? Why did she have to be this…this thing, trafficking human sex slaves? Why Mama?
The car turned right onto Highway 50 headed toward the Stevenson Expressway and toward the heart of Chicago.
The one passage way connecting the hotel to the condos was the emergency stairs used only to evacuate the building in case of fire. All Mikiko had to do was to open the door in the 30th floor hallway near her room, walk down one flight, and exit on the 29th floor. The problem was that the moment she opened the door, not only would a loud alarm sound, but the exact door opened would appear on the control panel in the building’s security department. Hardly a way to sneak up on Hellspite.
Mikiko had ordered room service and ate while pondering this problem. Then she received a text accompanied by several photos.
“The package is on the move.”
The first photo was a telescopic shot of a recognizable Sienna being escorted to a waiting car by hooded figures dressed in dark clothing. The one nearest the teen was a woman but the rest appeared to be men.
In the second shot, she was being helped inside, in the third, the car was moving toward the inner gates, and in the last photo, the car was exiting the outer parking lot. She was headed this way.
A few moments later, she received another text from a separate source, her contact. It too contained a photo showing the driver’s license picture of a Chicago resident, address 900 N Michigan Avenue, Unit 2920, Chicago, IL 60611.
His name is Timothy R. Fleming, born 27 August 1987, Height, 6′ 2″, Weight, 185, Caucasian, Brown Hair, Brown Eyes. Matched perfectly the description of Hellspite. Now he had a name.
Another text, more data but not from his driver’s license. Born Dymchurch, Kent, England, mother Eileen Nancy…Singleton. Father Richard Price Singleton.
“Singleton,” she whispered. “Richard Singleton’s son. The one he had from his first marriage.” She remembered the briefing. Married twice, divorced twice, only 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.
Hellspite was Timothy Singleton. Mother’s maiden name was Fleming which he took as his own. He murdered his own Father, but why? Hired to do so? Doubtful. What else then?
She read the rest of the bio, how Eileen Singleton settled in the Chicago area, returned to using her maiden name. Registered her son in school using that name, successful career in medical research, died of cancer just over five years ago, just over five years ago. Hellspite had been active for the past five years. Mikiko requested a comparison of the dates but she didn’t doubt that Hellspite made his first kill not too long after his mother’s death.
Why? What was the connection, and why was he summoning Amanda Thomas’s daughter to his condo right now? Was Hellspite behind the whole scheme, kidnapping first Sienna and then Amanda, assassinating his father, using Sebastian Wright’s own security man as his pawn to transport the younger Thomas to America?
Another text, “Transmitted to UK contact for analysis. Stand by.”
That could only mean Colins. What time was it in London? After midnight. How long until an answer arrived? Too long.
She texted, “Package on the way to target now. Must intercept.”
Reply, “Negative. Package may guarantee other’s life. Only intercept at target.”
They thought Sienna’s good behavior was due to threats against her mother which was a reasonable assumption. The contact was saying they wouldn’t intercept the girl out in the open. She’d have to wait until she was with Fleming…with Hellspite.
She texted, “How to get from current location to target? Stairs?”
There was a pause. Then another text. “Wait one hour. Suit up. Approach door to south stairwell. Wait for signal. Execute.”
Mikiko chuckled dryly. “Spy shorthand” for wait one hour, take your firearm, go to the emergency exit to the stairwell, wait for another text, and then go through. She assumed that her contact or someone adept with computers would hack Bloomingdale’s security office and turn off the alarm to her door. In fact, it was going to be a lot more low tech.
Jaylan White lifted his 235 pound, six-foot, five-inch frame out of the chair sitting in front of the security monitors even before he heard the knock at the door. Two men, suits, probably feds but certainly cops were approaching.
“Cover the monitors, Brady.” Adam Brady, his partner for the last three years, nodded grimly and then turned back to the flickering screens which periodically shifted scenes showing different public areas of the building.
Jaylan looked through the door’s peep-hole to see a Homeland Security badge being held up to it. “Agent John Williams and Agent Bill Martin. We’ve got a court order. Here it is.”
The badge was replaced by an official looking piece of paper signed by a judge.
“We just need in for a few minutes.”
“Hold on, Agent Williams.” Who the fuck did he think he was fooling with this “Agent Williams” and “Agent Martin” crap? His five-year old could make up better fake names. Badge and the court order looked pretty real though. He unbuttoned his jacket and unsnapped the strap holding his .45 in its holster, then opened the door.
“And you are?”
“Jaylan White, Chief of Security. My partner’s Adam Brady. What’s going on?”
“We have a security operation in progress and just need a few minutes of your time.”
“Sure.” Jaylan stepped aside and let the two agents in, then shut the door behind them. At no time did they unbutton their jackets or do anything hostile and a closer look at their badges and the court order said they were legit.
Williams was a white guy, average height and weight, clean-cut, like some fresh-faced college boy. Martin was black, a little shorter, hair thinning but the way he moved, you could tell he was packing plenty of muscle under that cheap blue sports jacket. For that matter, though Williams didn’t seem like much, if you knew what to look for, you saw that the guy had more moves than Muhammad Ali, who his old man said was a fucking legend. After he showed Jaylan videos of some of Ali’s fights when he was in his prime, he believed it.
These two weren’t Homeland and whoever they were, Jaylan figured if you fucked with them, you’d end up dead a couple of seconds later.
“What you guys need, anyway?” Brady decided the best way to handle the agents was to friendly them up and see what happened next. Williams seemed pretty friendly in response, which made the hairs on the back of White’s neck stand straight up.
“Just a little cooperation. Can you show me to the fire alarm controls, particularly the ones for the emergency exits?”
“Yeah, sure.” Brady got up and moved around to the right to a separate panel. “They’re right here.”
“Good,” Williams smiled at Brady while Martin stood back a respectful distance, one that allowed him to see everyone in the room. “I need the controls for an emergency exit to the stairs on the south side of the 29th and 30th floors.”
“Right here.” Brady waved his hands at the specific section of the console. Williams grabbed a chair, pulled it over, and sat down.
“Won’t be a minute. Just need to deactivate those two doors so they can be opened.”
“That’s a violation of the fire safety laws, Williams.” Jaylan said the words because he had to, not because he thought they’d do any good.
“It’ll be just for a few minutes, Mr. White.” It was the first time Martin spoke and his voice was far less appealing than Williams’s. “Court order makes it right. It also makes it so you don’t tell anyone about this, not your boss, not your wife, no one.”
So much for Homeland Security. Even the FBI wasn’t this shady. CIA? NSA? Whoever these guys were, they were part of a business Jaylan didn’t want to touch.
Brady looked up at White with eyes that asked if he should do anything about it. If something fucked up, it would be both their asses.
“Go right ahead gentlemen, but we have to be present and before you leave, those doors have to be reactivated.”
“Not a problem,” Williams looked up and smiled. Martin moved so he could get a better view of the video monitors, particularly the ones for the 29th and 30th floors.
The car pulled up in front of a tall building with the name “Bloomberg’s” on the outside. A doorman came and opened the right side rear door and Sienna’s “companion” got out. “We’ll just be here a moment. Please allow the car to wait.”
“Yes sir,” the doorman replied obviously not only knowing who he was but conditioned to do anything he asked.
The man leaned back down and looked at Sienna still in the back seat. “Come, my dear. We can’t keep him waiting.”
She hesitated, thinking about opening the door facing the street and running. She thought about screaming at the doorman to call the police. She thought about Mama.
Sienna obediently moved over on the seat and took the man’s hand. He helped her out and then took her by the arm.
“Come with me, Sir.” The doorman closed the car door and then led the two of them into the main lobby toward a bank of elevators and then up to the condo level. Once they had arrived used a key card to call another car which took some twenty or so seconds to arrive. The doors opened. The man slipped some bills into the doorman’s palm and then led her into the car. Pushing the button for the 29th floor, the doors closed on them both and on any hope of freedom Sienna might have nurtured.
In the building’s security room, Williams was just sitting down in his borrowed chair when Martin moved into position to view the emergency exits on the 29th and 30th floors. Martin’s and Williams’s phones both received the same text from their operative in the condo lobby, but only Martin took out his phone to look. Then he nodded at the expectant Williams and said, “Package just arrived.”
“Tell her,” instructed Williams and Martin began to send a message.
Mikiko dressed in dark slacks, a pull over sweater, and running shoes. She had her cell, the Glock, silencer attached, and the extra clips in her small handbag. She adjusted the straps so that she would wear it at her side. It was dark enough to nearly blend into her clothing, especially if she were being observed on security cameras which tended to render a low resolution image. She also remembered to take the key card to her room with her, but other than that, the best resource she had was herself.
She walked down the hall. It was after seven, so most of the hotel guests were either at dinner or out on the town. Bloomingdale’s was within walking distance of a number of stores and attractions, so she was almost alone on the 30th floor, and hopefully would be on the 29th as well. Then she heard a text message coming in.
Pulling out the cell, she read the message. “Package arriving. Stand by for delivery.”
Terrific. She’d be stuck standing in front of an emergency exit armed to the teeth, as the Americans might put it, waiting for a trafficker to deliver Sienna Thomas to Timothy Fleming’s condo. She would look incredibly conspicuous should someone come out of the elevators down the hall or out of one of the rooms.
“Standing by,” she keyed.
Martin saw the elevator open on the 29th floor. A man and a woman. They walked to 2920 and the man rang the bell. Even over the lousy security feed, Martin could tell how nervous the girl was. He almost felt sorry for her but he knew if everything went according to plan, the asset would liberate her and they had an exit strategy ready once the target was secured.
Sienna watched her captor press the doorbell and heard a faint tone coming through the door. They waited several seconds. He was about to press the button again when they heard one lock and then another being turned and then the door opened.
“Right on time, I see.”
He wasn’t exceptionally handsome but then he was more attractive than average. The shirt was off white and silk, the slacks were dark blue wool. He was what Mama might have called a “gentleman of breeding,” although when she used the term, it was with a bit of contempt for the days when British men believed that tradition, custom, and a hint of style meant they had command of women. This man looked to be just that type.
He offered his hand to Sienna. “I promise I won’t hurt you, but we do have some business together. Please come in.”
The words didn’t match the feeling she got from him and Sienna found herself placing her right hand in his. His flesh was warm but the palm had callouses which surprised her. She didn’t think of him as a man who worked with his hands.
“That will be all and thank you,” the man inside said to the captor dismissively.
“Yes sir.” He would check his account with this cell once in the elevator, but his employer always paid well and on time.
Sienna let herself be led into the luxury condo several meters. Then the man left her for a moment to lock his door again. He briefly pulled his mobile out of his trouser pocket, checked it, and then replaced it.
“Don’t be afraid. This isn’t what you think. My name is Timothy and we have something in common.”
Mikiko’s anxiety was high enough that her implants had to suppress her emotions twice. So far, no one had entered the hallway and seen her, but time wasn’t on her side. When would the contact release the doors? Sienna could have been with Fleming for fifteen minutes or more by now. What was he doing to her?
A text message, “Exit strategy in place. Acquire the target and secure. Release the package. Go.”
Mikiko pushed the bar on the emergency door and nothing happened except the door opened. She moved through quickly, shutting it behind her.
She walked quickly and quietly down the stairs. Steel and concrete. The little seen practicality behind a luxury multi-purpose Chicago building.
29th floor. She opened the door which from the stairwell side should probably have been locked. She was here. Hellspite’s condo was only meters away. He knew she was being watched, probably by the contact. The security cameras were easy enough to spot now that he had told her where to look. The camera that was harder to see was installed at the joint between the wall and ceiling just opposite of 2920.
She could smell him. It was strong. She could smell her, too. Their scents dug deep into Mikiko’s brain. For an instant, she felt like a predator, her mouth wet with saliva, her hearing acutely aware of every sound around her, her eyesight seeking out the slightest motion.
Mikiko was opposite the door. She could hear Fleming’s voice, the voice of the Hellspite. What was he saying? He’d stopped talking. She couldn’t see through the door but between her hearing and smell, she could pinpoint their locations. They were both seated. By the sound of his clothing, breathing, he was standing up. The sound of an object being pulled along cloth, then an electronic noise. He was checking his mobile. She could almost feel the camera revealing her from behind. It was too late. Fleming knew she was here. But what did he really know?
She started pounding on the door. “Ollie. It’s me Katie. C’mon. Open up. We’ve got to talk.” She was speaking in English but the first accent that occurred to her was Cockney, and she wasn’t sure she was getting it quite right. The Glock was still hidden in her small pack so hopefully he’d think she was drunk and harmless rather than armed and pursuing him.
Fleming was close enough to the door for her to see his body heat. His smell was overwhelming. Outside, she was still pounding on the door and begging for “Ollie” to open up. Everything else about her was ready to kill Hellspite the second he let her in. She couldn’t hear or smell any real distress from Sienna so she’d arrived before he started hurting her. For a brief instant, the image of the dead refuge, the fourteen-year-old Syrian girl, the one killed in an orgy gone wrong and then dumped into the Thames flashed in her mind. She’d been raped, tortured, and murdered. A man just like Fleming had killed her. Mikiko was pounding with her left hand and reaching into her pack with her right. The camera was behind her. He wouldn’t be able to see when she pulled out the Glock.
“You’ve got the wrong place. Ollie doesn’t live here.”
“Oh, you can’t pull that on me, Ollie. I know it’s you.” She was loud and obnoxious and was disturbing the neighbors, or so she hoped. Now if only they didn’t call security to get rid of her. Most people became embarrassed under these circumstances. If he only…
One lock clicked, two, doorknob turning.
Professor Daniel Hunt once told Mikiko that she had the fastest reflexes of any human being alive. She wasn’t a “superhero” he insisted, but she was significantly faster, stronger, more agile, more coordinated, than even the finest athlete, not almost the best, but in a class all her own.
Certainly more than enough to surprise even an internationally notorious assassin.
Fleming had opened the door only a few centimeters when Mikiko jumped back and kicked out with her left leg, sending it flying open and Fleming tumbling backward. She got in while he was still trying to get his balance and he slammed the door shut behind her. To his credit, the assassin had almost completely recovered his footing by the time Mikiko delivered three kicks in short succession to the center of his chest.
Blood would momentarily stop flowing through his heart which would render him briefly unconscious. If Mikiko had used more force, she would have killed him. She’d felt two of his ribs crack on the third kick.
She aimed the Glock at the center of his chest. “Don’t move or your dead.” She wanted to kill him. Her finger was tight on the trigger. She could almost taste blood in her mouth.
She spared a brief glance in Sienna’s direction. The girl was distressed, tearful, then she suddenly jumped up and lay her body over Fleming’s. “Don’t shoot him, please. He didn’t hurt me. Whoever you are, don’t kill my brother!”
Mikiko froze. Her what?
The extraction team should be here in less than sixty seconds to take Fleming into custody and get Sienna out of the building unseen. There was still a chance to find Amanda in France but not if word got out her daughter had been rescued.
“Get out of the way, Sienna. He killed his own Father, had you and your Mother kidnapped. He’s a murderer.”
Fleming’s eyes were fluttering. He’d only been dazed. His hand was reaching for something she couldn’t see. If it were a weapon, he could kill Mikiko or hold Sienna hostage to guarantee his escape. She had less than a second to act. She aimed for his head and her finger started to pull the trigger.
An unknown location in rural France. Amanda Thomas had regained consciousness only to be greeted by silence. No one spoke to her nor did she hear those subtle little sounds indicating someone was in the room watching her. Were they behind an observation mirror? She was bound and blindfolded, helpless. She barely remembered the interrogation. They didn’t have to torture her, just wait until the truth agent took effect and then wait again until it eradicated all of her training and will power. Then she would have told them anything they wanted to know.
Amanda was surprised to find herself alive. There might be some reason to keep her that wau for now. Sienna? When was the last time she heard her daughter’s voice? What had they done to her?
The door opened. “Hello, Amanda.”
She recognized the voice.
“It’s about time. I see you’ve got my message. Is Sienna safe? You’ve gotten her out of here, right?”
Amanda didn’t feel confident with this confrontation given her current predicament. Obviously her ploy worked, but then why didn’t she hear others in the room, feel hands removing her blindfold, the zip ties restraining her wrists and ankles?
“We didn’t appreciate your insurance policy gambit, Amanda. I’m sure you realized that when you made that particular move.”
“I didn’t have time for anything else. I was locked down, couldn’t send any other kind of message out. I had my daughter to consider. I’m sure you can understand that.”
“Understand, yes. Approve of, no. You swore an oath when you joined us, Amanda. No sacrifice is too great, not even one’s own family. I thought you’d proved that when you had your husband killed, but then a husband is one thing and your children are another.”
“Yes, Sienna’s my child. I couldn’t let her be taken. I had to do something.”
“You did do something, Amanda. You violated your allegiance to the Organization and to Mzimu. There are penalties, you know. We must maintain discipline.”
“If you want me, fine. Just let Sienna go. She has nothing to do with this.”
“Your daughter isn’t part of the equation Amanda, and I owe nothing to her or to you.”
“I suppose it’s good this is all happening just now. A purge has been long overdue. Time to bring in new blood.”
She heard the first shot. Didn’t even bother with the silencer. Amanda Thomas was already dead when the finger pulled the trigger five more times.
“Take her body someplace where it can be found. I want everyone to know what happened to her.”
“The rest?” A man’s voice coming from the doorway.
“Get rid of the other corpses. Their employer meant to cause us considerable trouble, but I think he may have done us a favor instead.”
“Let him do what he wants with her. He’ll probably get bored in a few days. I doubt her body will ever be found. We’ll deal with the Hellspite another day.”
The man left and footsteps echoed in the room approaching the still warm corpse. Gloved hands removed the blindfold. Amanda Thomas’s lifeless eyes stared in vain at her killer.
This story is the immediate sequel to Pursuit and is the long-awaited expansion of the flash fiction tale Murder at 900 North Michigan. It does end on a cliffhanger and makes what I hope are surprising reveals. The suspense isn’t over yet, either for Mikiko or for Timothy Fleming, AKA Singleton, the man known as the Hellspite.
Here are other stories in Mikiko’s overall saga 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 The Most Dangerous Predator.