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In a world of double-dealings and hidden identities, who can you trust? And what if the only way to survive is to betray someone you love? The year is 2020 and a new form of drug called INK is sweeping the nation. The only hope in stopping this plague of terror is Catherine Wildman, a super sexy RCMP Officer, who finds herself caught in the middle of a dark world of double-dealings and hidden identities. Thrown together by fate and deception, Catherine’s only hope is trusting a demoralized Journalist, a stranger, who has fallen hopelessly in love with her. A man she will betray as she learns she is not only a pawn, but a target in an international game of terror and greed. A game where the players on both sides may not be who they seem. A game where her only way out will be to burn the ones she loves.
GREEN EYED BURN Written by David A. Lloyd (This eBook has been revised and expanded from the print edition) Published by The Cousin Company. Smashwords Edition Copyright 2011 by David A. Lloyd This novel is a work of fiction. The characters and events portrayed are the product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Cover art by Pam Marin-Kingsley Perseverance! I would like to dedicate this eBook to the girls. Caitlyn, Kira-Lynn & Tammy who have been there since the beginning. “Believe in yourself.” This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. PART ONE "In the wrong place…" Prologue Near Fairbanks, Alaska, United States of America 02:16 hours 21 April, 2020 The flickering oil fuelled lamp sat on the uneven floor of the old general store. Its hot blue glow sent shadows, hinting of secrets, dancing across the dusty walls. Lighting himself another American cigarette, Probably the only good thing to come out of that over commercialized country, Russian Federal Security Service Operative Vladimir Zadneprovsky hoped to calm his nerves. He inhaled deeply and wished his skin would end its parody of his mysterious doppelgänger on the walls and ceiling. Vladimir glanced at his watch. Even that simple motion sent frightening images from his childhood in the slums of New Moscow around the room. Why did they pick me for this? I’m just a paper pusher, not a frigging spook! Vladimir crushed out the cigarette beneath his snow boot, then stood up and crossed to the log structure’s lone window. Lit by the faint yellow glow from a street lamp was a snow-covered parking lot. It was silent and still, save for the fat snowflakes that drifted lazily through the night. Where is she? The reluctant operative slowly returned to his creaky chair and was about to light up another Camel when the door abruptly swung open. Vladimir dropped his forgotten vice and sprang to his feet. "Vladimir!" cried the figure in the doorway. "Nikita?" The tall Russian woman kicked the door shut behind her and stepped into the dancing light. "What’s happening? Why did you want to meet here?" Vladimir asked. "We were to be back home yesterday morning." Nikita ignored the question and knelt down before an overworked space heater. Kneeling beside her, Vladimir tried to study her face still hidden beneath the hood of her parka. In the darkness, he could catch a glimpse of her shimmering blue eyes, "What is it?" he asked carefully. Her temper was legendary. "Nothing. I am fine," she replied without emotion. Then after a moment, she unbuttoned the top of her parka, reached in and withdrew a small silver box. Nikita studied it a moment then handed it over to Vladimir, "Take this." "What is it?" he asked, turning it over in his hand. "Death," Nikita replied solemnly. "What? What do you mean?" She ignored him again and rose to her full height. Vladimir watched silently as she crossed to his chair and shoved it aside. It was then he realized her legs and feet were bare. She was out in the snow like that? "Nikita!" Vladimir cried as he rose to his feet, "What the hell is going on here?" "Help me with this," Nikita ordered. She reached down and flipped the throw rug aside. Hidden beneath was a trap door. Vladimir helped her as she struggled to open it. "What is this?" he asked as the rusted hinges finally gave. "Your way out," Nikita said as he stared warily into the inky darkness below. Vladimir squinted at her, "What is it? Why-" Nikita grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and pulled him close, "Vladimir!" she snapped. His eyes, wide as plates, stared into the shimmering blue fire of her eyes, "Listen to me. There is no time. They are coming. Go to Toronto and give that box to Paul Forrester at CSIS and nobody else. Do you understand me?" "Nyet, but I will do it," Vladimir said. His voice cracked, "What is it?" Nikita released him, "A data disk with information that may topple three governments." Before Vladimir could respond to that pronouncement, the high-pitched drone of snowmobiles sliced though the icy still. Nikita dashed to the window and cautiously glimpsed outside. "They are here," Nikita said, "Now go. I will hold them off." "Who? How?" Vladimir stammered. Nikita tore open her parka and withdrew a .357 Magnum. Vladimir realized she was completely naked underneath. "There is a jeep hidden at the end of the tunnel. Drive straight for the Canadian border. Do not stop for anyone!" The time for debate was over. The drone of the snowmobiles grew steadily louder then dropped to a dull hum. Vladimir scrambled into the darkness, then stopped and looked up at his sister. She flipped him a "thumbs up." Her jaw was set with determination she did not feel. Vladimir nodded and moved deeper into the blackness below. Nikita pushed the trap door shut and replaced the rug just as three powerful spotlights burned thorough the faded curtains and cracks in the logs. Keeping low, she scurried into a shadow near the door and chanced a glance out the window. Eight shadows all armed, all dangerous, all after her. One shadow moved forward. "We know you’re in there. Make it easy on yourself and come out before this develops into something messy." Nikita smashed the barrel of the .357 through the frosty glass and fired three rounds into the lights. Two spots shattered and faded. She then pulled back and pressed herself into a crouched position with her back against the wall. She knew that negotiations in front always guaranteed an attack from behind. The Magnum bucked twice in her hands and a white clad figure back-pedalled out the rear door with blood spurting from his chest. Breaking glass. A pair of hands reached through the remains of the window and grabbed Nikita’s arm as two men crashed through the front door. The first man backhanded her across the face with such fury that both Nikita and the weapon flew across the cabin. The Russian struck the floor next to the rug. The weapon dropped just out of her reach. Then as the two men stepped toward her, Nikita rolled to side and scrambled for the Magnum. Both men brought their weapons to their target too late as Nikita’s finger clamped down on the trigger. The left side of the first man’s head was blown clear away. The second man managed to squeeze off a shot. It tore through the floorboards between Nikita’s knees. The Magnum bucked again and his chest exploded open. Movement in the doorway. Nikita swung the Magnum around as gun fire ripped through her legs. She screamed and crumpled to the floor as the weapon slipped from her fingers. Another shadow stepped into the cabin and stood over her, the smoking weapon still in his hands. Nikita knew this was it and awaited her fate. I did all I could. Vladimir must have reached the Jeep by now and is gone. Soon my pain will end… Nikita clamped her eyes shut. She was exhausted and had been running purely on adrenalin since the recall came from Moscow. A gun will be pressed to my temple, or a knife will skate across my throat. Soon…. Someone else had entered the cabin. She sensed it and opened her eyes. Nikita looked up into the ugly face of the man she humiliated. Somewhere deep in her heart she tapped a final reservoir of purpose. The ugly man knelt down so his face was in hers. The diamond in his front tooth glinted, taunting. "Where is it?" He growled with breath that stunk of spoiled meat. "Where is what?" Nikita mocked his slight accent as she slowly slipped her left hand from sight. "Don’t give me that crap. I know you took it." "I do not know what you are talking about." The ugly man grabbed her long fiery mane, hair that he had balled in his fist in passion mere hours before, and twisted, "I know you have it! I want it now!" Spittle sprayed from his mouth. There was a flash as Nikita produced a straight razor from the lining of her coat and carved open the right side of the man’s face from the temple to his chin before he knew what she had done. The ugly man screamed. He stumbled back and cried out, "Kill the bitch!" The other man raised his weapon and pointed it between her eyes. This time Nikita did not flinch or turn away. She was now ready to stare death in the face. Nikita felt a silent satisfaction that her fierce gaze unnerved her soon-to-be assassin. As his finger began to squeeze down on the trigger, a new voice as smooth as velvet said, "Stop." Nikita’s eyes moved toward the speaker. He stepped over the body of one of his men and approached her. "Where’s the other one?" he asked her. Nikita said nothing and refused to let her eyes betray her by glancing toward the trap door. He kicked Nikita’s bullet-riddled shins, waited until she finished screaming, and calmly repeated his question, "Answer me. Where is your partner?" Nikita chomped down on her lower lip. She would not give him the satisfaction by crying out again. The man stepped back and turned toward the man Nikita cut, "Take her back to the camp." "Yes sir." "And Smyles..." "Sir?" He produced a handkerchief and handed it to the ugly man as he stood up, "Have that scratch looked at." He glanced back at Nikita and smiled woefully, "It’ll be a pity to see such a beautiful woman go to waste." He then turned and, stepping over the corpse again, walked out. With the handkerchief held to the gash on his face, the man called Smyles crouched next to Nikita again. However, when she took another swing at him with the razor, he grabbed her wrist. Nikita never saw his hand move. It was as if pain gave him an edge. "Now, let’s try that again," Smyles hissed in her face. "Where is it and who has it?" Nikita remained silent. Using simple brute strength, Smyles twisted her arm back and placed the razor next to her own throat. This time fear flickered behind her wide eyes. My God… She looked deep into his grey eyes, and found nothing. No clue to tell her what he was about to do. Never before had she met a man so comfortable with pain. "Mr. Stein wants her alive," the other man said. "I know Max, I know," he slowly twisted her wrist until the razor slipped from her grip. It left a crimson impression across her throat. "Still tight lipped, eh? You’re screwed." He broke her wrist. Then finally, Nikita screamed. Chapter 1 The Kieran Crudup Estate South of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 03:02 hours 25 April, 2020 "They promised us a better future, but here it is and nothing has changed," the young woman whispered to herself. She stared past her reflection at the large ominous dwelling spread out before her, lit only by the reflected luminosity of the fat moon hanging overhead. Her destination. The limousine eased to a stop at the base of a long curving pathway. The driver climbed out, circled the vehicle, and opened the door for her. "It’s cool tonight," he said bowing slightly. Catherine Wildman shivered slightly as the chill of the air tickled her spine. Gene Hatton closed the door behind her. "I shouldn’t be any more than an hour," she said. "If you are," Hatton smiled, then added with a Cockney accent, "I’ll mount my trusty steed and rescue thy fair maiden." Catherine laughed quietly, "Oh, you bet’cha." She then kissed him softly on the lips. "Back as soon as I can." "Be careful." She flashed him a knowing smile then turned and began to scale the stone pathway, eyeing the grounds as she proceeded. There were very few trees and almost no foliage to speak of in the yard. With the exception of a large fountain off to the north side and a maze of low, neatly trimmed shrubs circling the driveway, the grounds reminded her of a graveyard, with small tombstone like rocks. Catherine patted her arms slightly to fight off a chill as she stepped beneath the red security light above the front doors. She snuck a glance back at Gene, when a light flicked out in the distance beyond the estate snared her attention. What? Just then the enormous oak doors swung open before she could consider the light further and a tall man in a tuxedo stepped through the threshold. "Good evening," he said and gestured for her to enter. "We have been waiting." Catherine handed him her overcoat and followed the tall man, What’s his name? Rae? up the wide spiral staircase and toward a set of double doors overlooking the front foyer. They opened automatically as they approached. Catherine fought back nausea as the pungent stench of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and sex assaulted her nostrils, followed by a deafening blast of hard core chi music. She struggled to hold the moment as a portly man waddled toward her. He snapped his fingers and Rae left, the doors closed automatically behind him. "Cat, baby! How nice to see you!" his eyes ravaged her voluptuous figure, "Wow. Vacation was good, eh?" he cupped her chin with his sweaty palm and inspected her face as one would a prized pet. "Bonjour, Monsieur DeCoteau. Oui. Merci." "That new?" he asked eyeing the small gold ring through her left nostril, "You know how Mr. Crudup feels about anything that damages the face." "I’m sure he won’t mind," Catherine flashed her best diplomatic smile as she contorted away from his offensive grip. "Where is Monsieur Crudup?" she asked, glancing past the fat man. "In South America," DeCoteau said hooking his arm through hers. "I want you to meet some people. After all, you are our best girl." He aimed her toward a large group of Japanese men. "Merci, tout a l’heure," Catherine said slipping from his clutch, "I just spotted someone I have not seen in a long time. I’ll be back shortly." Catherine ducked away from the repulsive man and wove through the crowd toward a small table in the middle of the room. Hide in plain sight, Catherine thought. The lone occupant looked up nervously as she approached. "Cathy!" Vladimir exclaimed. He stood and clasped her hands; his were shaking. "Vladimir Viktorovich," she said and kissed him on the cheek. Instantly a waiter hovered over them as they sat down. Vladimir ordered two vodkas and faced Catherine, "You still look as lovely as when we last met, but that dress?" Catherine glanced down at her spaghetti strap black satin slip dress with plunging neckline and slit to the hip, "It’s what Crudup likes his girls in. So when in Rome…." The waiter returned with the vodkas, sat them on the table, and left. Catherine studied Vladimir as he gulped down his drink. "We’ve both been resigned, Vlad. OSA crashed and burned. Why did you insist I meet you here of all places?" A memory seemed to flash behind his eyes before he answered. Then Vladimir glanced around quickly before pulling a small silver box from his jacket. He slid it across the table toward her, "Take this and hide it." Catherine picked up the box, studied it, then placed it in her small handbag, "What is it?" she asked. "Death," the Russian replied. "Vlad?" Vladimir licked his dry lips and eyed the untouched vodka before her, "It’s a data disk," he said after a moment. "I don’t know what’s on it. But people have died for it, good people." Gears in Catherine’s head kicked in as her nerves began to tingle. She watched a droplet of sweat roll down his temple. "Someone followed you." His eyes snapped up, "How did you know?" The fear that started in his voice began to take root in his actions. "Where?" Vladimir motioned toward the way she came in, "One is over by the door. Blue suit, dark glasses, and a moustache." Catherine scanned her memory, checking all the faces she saw as she entered. She found him. "Look at me, Vladimir," Catherine said, her voice taut, her words sharp. "Keep your eyes focused on me. Anyone else?" "Two more," he said scarcely able to maintain eye contact with her. Catherine’s eyes were piercing, "One is standing about five meters behind you. His jaw dropped when you sat down. Dark suit, sunglasses, a very nasty scar on the side of his face. Diamond in his front tooth." Catherine cocked a dark eyebrow, "Diamond?" "Da. There is a third, but I don’t see him." "All right, Vlad," Catherine squeezed his shaking hand as reassurance, "This is what we’re going to do. Keep looking at me. We are going to stand up and dance. Then you are going to proposition me for sex and we’ll go upstairs to the bedrooms." Vladimir swallowed hard, then nodded. Catherine stood and led Vladimir by the hand onto the dance floor. Across the ballroom the leather- and chain-clad band terminated their bump ‘n’ grind on stage and eased into a somewhat gentler tune. Catherine’s eyes darted from face to face as she eased Vladimir into step. We have to get away from all these people. She pulled Vladimir close, nuzzled her head onto his shoulder, and whispered into his ear, "Do you see the third man yet?" "Not yet…" Vladimir replied. Suddenly his entire body shuddered. "I… I think I…" his voice sounded hollow, "I better… sit down… I feel sick…." Vladimir tried to speak, but his throat had dried up. "Vlad—" Catherine said. Then one look at him told her all she needed to know. His face was flushed and he was perspiring profusely now. Catherine helped Vladimir back to the table and sat him down in his chair. She picked up his glass and sniffed it. There was a slight coppery-almond sent. "Merde!" she spat under her breath and dropped the glass. Without wasting any more time, Catherine yanked Vladimir to his feet. "I’ve got to get you out of here," she said and slung her arm around his waist. Vladimir felt the contents of his stomach climbing, "Cathy—help…" Catherine probed the room for the three men as she half helped-half dragged Vladimir to the nearest door. She glimpsed the man in the blue suit pushing his way through the crowd toward her. "Merde," she whispered and quickly hunted around for another exit. Finding one hopeful, she pulled Vladimir toward it, but halted as the man with the scar started to close in, "Merde!" Just then Vladimir’s legs gave out and he collapsed, dragging Catherine to the floor with him. "My legs…Cathy… help…" his voice was faltering as his breathing came in gasps, "I can’t… feel my… legs…" "It’s all right, Vlad, I’m here," Catherine said. He is going to die and there is nothing I can do about it. Whoever did this, the son-of-a-bitch must pay. Catherine kicked off her stilettos heels, seized Vladimir under his arms, and slung him over her shoulder. Vlad was heavy, but she was able to handle his bulk easily. Catherine skirted the dance floor and slipped out the first door she found. *** Raymond Smyles’ jaw dropped as he watched the dame carry the Russian across the dance floor. Fuck me. He glanced at the guests oblivious to the scene. DeCoteau was right. Nobody cares. They’re all too stoned to give a flying flop. The man in the blue suit approached, "Well?" he asked. Symles blew out a low wolf whistle, "Man-o-man DeTully! Do I want a piece of that. Where’s Max?" "Still behind the bar making drinks." "Tell him to move his ass, then meet me over there," Smyles pointed at the door the woman and the Russian left through. "Right." Smyles smiled. The diamond glinted. *** The track lights automatically activated as Catherine pushed the door shut with one shapely hip. Lowering Vladimir to the carpet she knelt down and cradled his head in her arms. Catherine gently stroked his cheek with the tips of her fingers. His eyes were screwed shut and his face distorted in a grimace of agony as the strychnine burned through his body. "Vlad," she pleaded, "Please wake up." His eyes cracked open slightly, "Cathy… I… I don’t want to die…." Catherine caressed his cheek. "Where did you get the disk?" She felt tears well up behind her eyes. "Death…" he smiled. That simple motion caused him pain. "Beautiful death…" Vladimir coughed up blood. It dribbled down his chin as his fingers found hers. Feebly he squeezed her hand for reassurance. "Vlad…" Catherine said. Non… non…. "You have such pretty eyes, Cathy. I’ve always wanted to tell you that," Vladimir said. He then vomited up something solid and died there in her arms. "Vlad! Non! Non, non…." The tears flowed. "Vlad, I’m so sorry. You needed my help and I let you die." Catherine kissed him gently on the cheek. "Au revoir, mon ami." For a moment there was no sound but her gentle sobbing when a voice whispering from the other side of the door snapped her mind back to the task at hand. Catherine eased Vladimir to the floor, looped her handbag over her shoulder, and glanced around the room. She was in a small office being used for storage. On her left was another door. Catherine sprung to her feet and crossed the room. She pulled the door open. It led to a washroom shared with another room. She paused and whispered a prayer for her friend, then entered the room and locked the door. *** With his toe Smyles slowly pushed the door open, "The lights are still on," he whispered under his breath. He knew they were programmed to shut off after ten minutes of inactivity. He then saw the body and waved Max and DeTully over. "Yeah?" DeTully asked. "Go and see if he’s dead." DeTully, weapon leading, entered the small office. Then, certain he was alone, squatted next to the body. Careful not to touch the vomit, DeTully poked Vladimir with the gun barrel. "Croaked," he announced, then looked at Max, "What the hell did’ya use?" "A strychnine mix." He noticed their faces. "So I’m a traditionalist." "Frisk him," Smyles said to DeTully, then to Max, "The boss is getting hissy. Do your bit with the car." "Yes sir," he said and jogged away. *** In the washroom, Catherine closed the silver box and placed it back in her purse. She then destroyed a small plastic tool kit and flushed the remains. *** Smyles and DeTully swung around at the sound. The weapons in their hands pointing the way. DeTully glanced at Smyles’ pistol. "You know," he said, "it’s not the size. It’s how you use it." *** Catherine gently eased open the second door and stepped into a darkened boardroom. She eased the door shut behind and pressed the lock on the knob. The lights, she noticed, had been overridden to remain off until manually switched on. Better not turn them on anyway. In the brief illumination from the washroom Catherine spotted a slightly open patio door on the far side of the room. Silently she padded toward it. "Oh, yeah…." Catherine froze. A man’s voice drifted from somewhere in the boardroom. Merde! Quickly she dropped to her hands and knees and started to crawl. "How’s that?" Another male voice. "Oh yeah!" Both voices came from the large table in the centre of the room. Catherine fought the urge to peek. Reaching the window, Catherine carefully slide the glass enough to slip through and crawled out onto the small balcony. The night air tore through the thin fabric of her dress and chilled her to the bone. A soft pop from a silenced weapon grabbed Catherine’s ears as her pursuers shot out the lock on the washroom door. Didn’t think a locked door would hold them; time to move it, chick! Catherine looked down, but the moon was hidden behind some clouds and the yard below was a sea of darkness. Another pop. This time from the boardroom door. Mounting the stone banister, Catherine sucked in a lung full of the icy night air to help clear her brain. I have to make sure they see me and ignore the guys on the table. *** Smyles kicked the door open. *** Now! *** "The window!" he cried and bolted across the room. *** Catherine leapt blindly into the void. *** DeTully slammed his fist down on the light switch. "There!" Smyles cried. He raced for the balcony. In the dim light from the patio door he pointed at a figure sprinting across the yard. Smyles and DeTully opened fire. Catherine dove through the air and rolled behind the fountain as clumps of grass beneath her naked feet burst in dull pops, demonstrating how close death was. "Shit fuck!" Smyles hissed. "We missed," DeTully informed him. "Shut up." Smyles glanced over the edge. "If she can do it, so can we." Holstering his weapon, Smyles climbed up on the stone banister, then slipped and tumbled into the darkness. DeTully, upon hearing a sound, spun with his Smith & Wesson cocked and pointed. The two lovers rolled off the table and cowered underneath. DeTully thought about forcing them to continue, but reconsidered and followed Smyles. *** Smyles struck the ground, hard. A moment later DeTully landed on top of him. "Sorry," he said, helping Smyles to his feet. *** Hidden behind the fountain, Catherine watched and cursed her actions. Merde Chick. Whether they saw you or not they still could’ve killed those two guys. You’ve got to get them away from the main building. Catherine glanced to her left. She was about one hundred meters from the parking lot, and Gene! With a plan forming in the back of her mind, Catherine steadied herself against the side of the fountain and retrieved her pink 9mm Beretta from her purse. Squinting, she lined the ugly one up in her sights. A smart woman once said to me, ‘Take out the leader and rest should fall like dominoes.’ Catherine’s finger eased around the trigger and she slowly started to squeeze when a third man approached the first two. He was dressed as a bartender. Catherine backed off the trigger ever so slightly. She wanted to know how this was going to play out. The bartender suddenly pointed at the fountain and yelled. "Merde," Catherine hissed and squeezed the trigger twice. The first discharge of lead chafed the bartender across the back of his skull. With a spray of gore he spun around and struck Smyles in the face with his flaying arms. The ugly man staggered and fell. The second slug ripped a hole in DeTully’s jacket and chipped a nugget out of the Estate wall. He dove for cover. Her head low, Catherine sprinted across the ground and toward the parking lot. "Christ! Max!" Smyles cried out. DeTully rolled and yanked the body of his partner off Smyles. "He’s a goner." "Shit," Smyles cursed. Using the fresh corpse as cover, he rolled over onto his belly next to DeTully. "Where did he say he saw her?" Smyles whispered. "He said something about the fountain, I think." "Then lets give her something to remember. On three." "And do what?" "Rush her." Smyles shook his head. "Christ. One, two, three!" Both men leapt to their feet and charged with guns blazing. Chips of imitation marble shot off into the night. "Yeah-Ha!" Smyles whooped. They dropped and rolled in unison behind a shrub a meter from the fountain. The night air was still and quite, save for the sound of their own breathing. "I think we got her," DeTully whispered. "Goddamn it!" Smyles exclaimed, "I love this. It’s just like Rondônia. Remember that? Yeah! Cover me." Keeping low to the ground, Smyles moved toward the pockmarked fountain. There was nothing on the ground but fragments of their wild gunman-ship. "She’s gone!" he squawked. DeTully rose to his feet and joined him, "Well," he said pushing what looked like a marble hand with his shoe, "If damage counted, we did pretty good." "Did you see where she went?" "Nope." "Shit." *** Catherine kept her profile low and her breathing even as she darted across the parking lot. The sound of gunfire echoed behind her. She told herself that it was the icy fingers of the night, not the gunfire, that seeped through her skin and drummed chills down her spine. At least with the gunfire they can’t hear my teeth chattering. I hope Gene didn’t hear the hullabaloo and try to charge to my rescue. He can be stupid that way. Just then Catherine found her waiting limousine. The engine was idling. Good! He waited and is ready to cut out! That’s my man! Catherine yanked open the door, "Gene!" she cried and leaped into the passenger seat, "We’ve got to get—" The image she saw would haunt Catherine’s dreams for nights to come. The body of the man she had fallen in love with during the past few months toppled onto her lap with a wet smack. Blood and gore oozed from where his face should have been and onto her lap as his heart beat for the final time. Catherine shoved her fist into her mouth to force herself not to scream and fought to focus, to keep her mind on the mission and purpose that brought her here. There would be time for grief later. Non… Keep it together. Then something snapped. "Non! Non! Non!" Catherine screamed frantically shoving and kicking the body away. Her mind refused to believe what had just happened. Non, non. A small flashing light next to the gas pedal managed to snare her attention. Non…. Catherine’s mind shifted gears and her training took over. She seized the door handle, twisted, pushed, and fell from the limousine, striking the pavement with her shoulder. The sudden jolt of pain fired adrenaline through her body and burned the numbing fog from her brain. Move! Catherine scrambled to her feet and bolted toward the centre of the circular driveway. She dove into the shrub maze as the limousine exploded behind her. A low brick partition was all that protected her from being shredded by shrapnel, but the blast sucked all the air from her lungs and blackness enveloped her mind. Chapter 2 "Do you think she was in the car when it blew?" DeTully asked. Both he and Smyles raced toward the driveway when they heard the explosion. "Max liked to arrange the charge to go off when the body is moved," Smyles explained. They stopped about five meters from the burning wreck. DeTully held his hand up against his face to ward off the heat, "I didn’t hear a scream." "We’ll wait for the fire to die out. Then we’ll check it out," Smyles said eyeing the driveway. There were eleven limousines parked in front. The one that exploded was far enough away from the others that it did not set off a chain reaction. Smyles’ primary concern was if she survived, the other cars in the lot could provide cover for her to escape while they stood and waited for the heat to die. "Do you think anyone in the house heard the explosion?" "No. Crudup had the place soundproofed and there isn’t a living soul for miles around." "What about the other drivers?" "They’re inside. Crudup doesn’t like anyone lurking around outside." They both fell silent as the flames licked the sky. "Kind of romantic, isn’t it?" DeTully said after a moment. "Shut up," Smyles sighed as he stared through the pyre at the maze, "Circle around. Check the perimeter." *** Oh, oui… right there… deeper… deeper… oui, oui, that feels good. Oh…you’ve got the touch. No one have ever touched me like that…oh…that hurts… oh…stop…that hurts…no... no... stop... No! Non! Non! "Non!" Catherine’s eyes snapped open, sending spears of pain rocketing through her brain. Oh God, how long have I been out. She closed her eyes again and forced the misery aside before slowly opening them and staring up at the night sky. Smoke and licks of fire flickered in the corner of her vision as the smell of burning rubber and metal invaded her nostrils. The car… oh God…Gene.… There was something damp and squishy under her back and head. His face... where was his face? Non! Catherine squeezed her eyes shut. I’m in the maze. It’s wet. That’s all. Forcing her mind to focus, Catherine opened her eyes and tried to sit up, but the world started to pirouette in her skull. She clutched her head with both hands, twisted onto her side and vomited. Oh God chick, you can’t do this. You’re not cut out for this… damn you St. James. After a moment, Catherine unsteadily sucked in a chest full of the cool night air mixed with the thick oily smoke, and burnt flesh, from the limousine. Don’t go there…. Focus. Catherine gritted her teeth and forced herself to sit up. The shift caused her stomach to protest. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard to combat the urge to vomit again. Proud that she won that small battle, Catherine eased a peek over the brick lip of the outer boundary of the maze. She was struck in the face by a wave of searing heat. Catherine squeezed her eyes shut and retreated behind the rim with her back pressed to the mossy bricks. I’m not getting out that way. She took a quick inventory and was relieved to find she still had her purse and Beretta, but her cellular took a hit. Catherine caressed her forehead and pushed her hair back from her face. I’m sweating. She pulled her hand away and gazed at the moisture on her skin. It must be close to zero tonight and I’m sweating. Catherine watched the reflection of the flames dance in her palm. Then she remembered. Light. I saw a light. Catherine turned and peered over the lip again. The sweat on her brow evaporated and the smoke seared her eyes. Catherine pushed the pain from her mind and stared through the flames. There. Through the smoke and the tears she spotted two shapes walking away from one other. That would be the bad guys. Catherine rolled back behind the edge and began to crawl toward the road. *** Smyles pointed past the fire, "Did you see that?" "What?" DeTully called back. He and Smyles were at opposite ends of the burning wreck and beginning their perimeter check. "I’m not sure. Crap. I’ve told Crudup he needed spots out here, but he likes keeping the place dark. Fat prick." Smyles pointed toward the far end of the driveway, "Go around that way and follow the driveway to the road. I’ll do the same from this side." "Roger," DeTully smirked and, stroking his weapon, moved off. *** Catherine tightened the grip on her Beretta. She heard their voices as if they were standing next to her. They’re on the move. Catherine counted to ten then continued to crawl through the dewy grass. The skin on the back of her neck started to dance. Picking up her pace, Catherine kept low and hugged the small, poorly trimmed shrubs. They were dead and thinning, but they were the only cover she had. Reaching the poor row of greenery that bordered the road, Catherine stopped and risked a glance at her two mysterious pursuers. Without realizing it, the two men kept pace with her. They were now at the ends of the ‘U’ shape driveway where it met the road. Catherine was between them, huddled in the foliage. The palms of her hands and knees were getting numb and a jagged brick had broken the skin on her right thigh. Behind her, the flames were fading and the moon was starting to slip behind some clouds. The already dark night was growing darker, and colder. Okay chick, this is it. Make a decision. Sneak back into the building and hope I can find a phone before they realize where I am, or take a shot in the dark and search out that light near the highway and pray to God it’s help. Silently Catherine watched as the moon disappeared, then sprung to her feet and fled into the night. *** Smyles touched the transmitter/receiver stud next to his ear, "DeTully," he said, "Any thing?" "Nothing." "It’s too fucking dark," Smyles grunted. "Run back to the sin pit and hit up DeCoteau for some flashlights." "Right." The soft crunch of DeTully’s shoes on the gravel informed Smyles that he walked away. "Where the hell are you, woman?" Smyles whispered. "You aren’t one of Crudup’s hookers. I can feel you’re going to be a major pain in the ass." Standing there in the dark, bitter memories from the past forced themselves into his thoughts. *** Wilber J.P. Goldwater, Jr., the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, slammed his fist down on his large oak desk, upsetting a forgotten mug of tea. "Smyles, you stupid son-of-a- bitch! How dare you!" Raymond Smyles shifted his weight from one foot to the other, "Sir, I thought—" "Horseshit!" Goldwater bellowed. "If you thought for one fucking moment about what you did, none of this would have ever happened!" Goldwater dropped his massive frame into his chair and raked his fingers through thinning grey hair. "Sir—" "Shut the fuck up. You’re in shit, Smyles. Deep shit. But worst of all, you put me and the whole fucking company in shit." "Sir—" "Where the hell do you get off? Nikolai Konstantinovich was a very powerful member of the new Russia Commonwealth. You had no fucking right to liquidate him. Now Moscow is screaming bloody murder. The lame duck ’crat in the White House is bending over for them and the Joint Chiefs already have most of my ass in a jar." Spittle dribbled from his lower lip. "It’s a brave new world order we have out there, Smyles. I’m pulling you out of the field." "With all due respect—" Smyles began. Goldwater exploded back to his feet, "If you respected me we wouldn’t be having this conversation!" "Sir, Konstantinovich was a threat to our national security," Smyles continued, "I was only doing my job." "Your job is surveillance, not murder!" "But sir—" Goldwater dropped back into his chair, "You are suspended, pending an investigation." then with a limp wave of his hand, Raymond Smyles was dismissed from the only life he knew. *** A dark mass suddenly loomed before her and Catherine struck the object with a blunt thud. She landed roughly on her backside. Catherine pressed her hands to her face to try to dull the pain. That’s going to hurt in the morning. She shook the fuzziness from her brain before slowly returning to her feet. With her fingers out before her Catherine moved toward the mass until she touched cool metal. The tips of her fingers followed the curves until the object started to feel familiar. It’s a van. This must be the light I saw. *** Smyles stood on the edge of the driveway and looked up at the moon. It was still behind the clouds, its illumination dulled by the approaching storm. His grey eyes narrowed as he peered into the darkness before him. Soon. *** Her fingers rested upon what felt like a door handle. She gave it a gentle tug. It was locked. Nothing’s ever easy anymore. From a hidden pocket in her handbag, Catherine produced a door pick. Gently she slipped the rake in the keyhole and, while making a gentle sawing motion, listened. There was a soft click and the lock gave. Three seconds. My best time. Catherine cautiously slid the door open and climbed in. Crouching on the balls of her feet she eased the door shut behind her. *** DeTully had returned with a couple of flashlights. He handed one to Smyles. "Did you hear that?" Smyles said suddenly. DeTully listened for a moment. "Yeah. It sounded like a car door or something." Smyles turned on the flashlight and swept the beam down the road, "Keep sharp. There’s a lot more to our little hooker than what meets the eye." "Not in that dress." *** The interior of the van was dimly lit with the rainbow colours of a test pattern illumining from a television screen. Where the hell am I? Mounted on the wall across from Catherine was what looked like a video control board. Next to it, fastened to a metal rack, was a stack of recording devices. To her right a tartan curtain separated what would be the driver’s seat from the back of the van. Next to it was a row of narrow shelves. Stacked on the top shelf was a collection of books: Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, plus a book of Shakespeare’s complete works, were some of the titles she was able to make out. On the shelf below was a stack of comic books. Her left hand rested on a small counter with a hot plate and coffee maker. Beyond it, at the back of the van, was a bed. With her senses focused Catherine listened. She was not alone. As she gently twisted her body toward the sound of gentle snoring, her fingers brushed a switch on the control board. The interior of the van was suddenly aglow with the bright static noise from a half dozen video screens. Suddenly blinded, Catherine fumbled unsuccessfully for the off switch. *** The sleeper stirred and woke and felt the presence of someone watching him. He realized he was no longer alone. There was someone in the dark. "Aide moi," the presence whispered, "Please help me." The voice was husky but feminine, almost musical. Yet the tone said more that the words. It touched him. There was a fear contained behind the words, a secret horror that only she had witnessed. "Who’s there?" he asked. There was movement, and the face of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen appeared out of the shadows. "I’ve died and you’re an angel," he whispered. Despite the fear, she smiled, "Hardly." The sleeper would not have thought it possible, but her beauty intensified with just the slightest flash of teeth. In that singular moment of time her face was fused into his memory. Her vibrant dark hair, flowing with a natural unruliness and highlighted with streaks of strawberry-gold that seemed to have a life of its own; her ears, trimmed with two gold hoops on the left and three on the right; a pert nose, adorned with a tiny jewel on the left, and the slightest bump hinting that it has been broken at least once before; her mouth, with moist scarlet lips, was slightly parted as she was breathing heavy. Her chest rose and fell with each breath. There was a characteristic cleft in her strong jaw. But most of all, it was her eyes that engrossed him and seized his will like a vice. Two radiant emerald orbs that held him hostage and spoke of integrity and pride. "Who are you?" he asked. "Catherine Wildman, RCMP Special Operations. I need your help!" Chapter 3 Union Cemetery Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Six Months Earlier It was raining, but John Riel did not care. He had no umbrella. His hair hung limply over his face, in his eyes, and he did not care. John Riel was cold and soaked to the bone and he did not care. All John Riel really cared about was tucked in a pine box and being lowered into the muddy ground. "…has gone to her rest in the grace of our lord…' Kristina was dead. There were only a few people around. He did not know any of them. They were Kristina’s friends and co-workers. He stood slightly apart from the small group. He had no relatives, she was as close as it got. And she was dead. "…in your presence, in your mercy and love…" Drugs. Ink. It was over eight weeks since John had last seen his fiancée, and now he would never seen her again. John could not remember what they talked about when they last saw each other. We hadn’t even set the date. But he did remember when he heard. It was raining then too, when Constable Terry Osborn of Vancouver’s finest showed up at his door. He told John how Kristina’s partly decomposed body was found early that morning during a police raid of a suspected Ink house in South Vancouver. "…forgive whatever sins she may have…" "No!" John cried aloud. He struggled to wake up, but it was not a dream. It was real. Kristina was gone. At first his mind refused to accept the truth. No! Then it slowly sank in, bit by horrible bit, but it was not until he saw the remains of her battered and abused body on that cold metal table that he fully broke down and accepted. Yet still, he did not cry. "…ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen." A gentle hand touched his shoulder and jarred John Riel back to reality. The minister had already closed his Bible and left when Madhuri’s soft voice whispered into his ear, "It’s over John. Time to go." John Riel asked; "Why does it always rain at funerals?" *** The coffee shop on Baker was quiet. The steaming mug John held in his hands warmed his skin. But not my soul. Madhuri Sahni sat across the booth nibbling on a tuna sandwich. John had not touched his. "Thanks," John whispered. Madhuri smiled, "Ah, monolith speaks. For what?" "Just being here." "You’ve been my leaning post more than once," she sat her sandwich down and dabbed her lips with a napkin, "What are you going to do now?" With his thumb and forefinger John rubbed his eyes, "Go back home." "Go back? To Ontario?" "My parents left me a home there. Kris and I were going to live there." "That’s not what I meant." John avoided her eyes, "I gave my notice this morning. I’m returning to the CWN. They made me a good offer to come back." "Going global on the Canada-World News Network. Cool. You realize Mitch is going to pitch a fit." "So what?" John said. "He has been riding me for the last year; trying to ‘promote’ me to ‘special features.’ Screw him." "He still mad over the Payne press conference?" Vancouver East member of Parliament Albert Payne held a press conference the previous week and announced that he was gay. A predictable media frenzy ensued that John walked out of. When he arrived back at the station, News Director Frank ‘Mitch’ Mitchell exploded. "Where the hell is the goddamned story?" "There was no story," John replied, "Payne is a politician. If we are going to do a story about him it should be about his performance in Ottawa, not his sexual preference." "He announced that he’s a faggot with the election only two weeks away. That’s news!" Mitch barked. "That’s not news, that’s polling the elective. You hire people for that. His numbers were slipping, and his riding has a large homosexual community, while the front runner in the race has a wife and three kids. If we cover Payne’s announcement, then all we’d be doing is his campaigning." "He’s a fruit loop and a member of Parliament," Mitch snapped. "I’m straight and a member of the media," John shot back. "There’s no story!" They remained at odds over the event ever since. "The CWN agreed to my conditions about returning," John said, "The face of broadcast journalism is changing, Madhuri. This time in the right direction." "You’re preaching to the converted, John." She smiled briefly, then asked, "When are you leaving?" John lowered his eyes for a moment, "Madhuri, you are my friend, my best friend, we’ve known each other for years. Please understand why I must do this." "I don’t think I have to be convinced, John." Madhuri squeezed his hand. "You need direction. You’ve been aimless since that mess in Pôrto Velho. I think you leaving the CWN in the first place and hooking up with CKKC was a mistake. You need to dive back into real news, and with the puff pieces Mitch has been dumping in your lap, I’m surprised you’ve stayed here as long as you have." "I don’t want you to think I’m abandoning you here." "Damn it, John," she snapped, before catching herself. "I’m a big girl now," she said gently. "You’ve pulled me out of a deep descent once and I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that, but I’m here because I want to be here." "I’m sorry, Madhuri. I didn’t mean to imply—" Madhuri touched his cheek with the tips of her fingers. "It’s okay John. I shouldn’t have snapped like that." She slowly pulled her hand back and brushed an untamed cluster of hair from her eyes. "What are your plans?" "I’m packing up Baby and spending some time on the road. See the country and all that. I’ve got some time to kill before I have to report in at the CWN bureau in Toronto." John gulped down the remains of his coffee, "I think I need the time to think about, you know, stuff," he avoided Madhuri’s eyes again, "The rent is covered until the end of the year, so you shouldn’t have any problems." "When are you leaving?" John reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a small wrapped box. He handed it to Madhuri, "Here. Please take it. I saw you looking at them last Friday." Madhuri found herself grinning. He never ceased to amaze her. Even in the midst of all this turmoil and grief, he still remembers to think of someone other than himself. That’s John Riel through and through. Madhuri removed the paper and opened the box, revealing two large pearl earrings, "God John. They’re beautiful. You shouldn’t have." John stood up and placed a twenty down on the table to cover the lunch. "You’re leaving now?" Madhuri asked. Her voice wavered for the first time. "Yeah…" John answered, staring at the floor. Madhuri placed the earrings on the table, then stood and faced her best friend, "So, this is goodbye?" "Not goodbye. I promise I’ll keep in touch." John, who had always been uncomfortable with endings, fidgeted before holding out his hand. In one swift motion Madhuri took his hand and pulled him close. She kissed him fully on the lips. It was not a kiss of passion, but of love. They remained like that for a long time. Then Madhuri pulled away first. Her wide blue-green eyes were moist. John understood. It was time to go. Silently he turned and walked out of the coffee shop, out of sight, and out of her life. A single tear caressed her cheek, "Goodbye buddy." *** In the middle of the night while parked on a back road, John Riel was awakened by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. "Who are you?" "Catherine Wildman, RCMP Special Operations. I need your help!" Chapter 4 Near The Kieran Crudup Estate Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 04:42 hours 25 April, 2020 A life time passed before John Riel realized he had a voice to answer with. "Uh, what?" he said. "Do you have a phone?" the beautiful woman whispered. "I, uh, I have a mobile, but I’ve let the batteries run down. It doesn’t work." That was lame. "Sorry." John was not sure, but he thought he saw a physical change cross her face as her mind shifted gears. Then the dazzling work of art crouched on the floor of the van grasped at her final straw, "This van; it runs?" John stared at her slack jawed. Her eyes are… Snap out of it, "Van? Van," he whispered, "Baby, yes it works. Why are we whispering?" "There’s a bad situation brewing," Catherine said, "We’ve got to get out of here." John sat up and clutched the sheets to his chest, "Just a moment. Did you say you were a cop or something?" "You bet’cha." A badge appeared in her hand. "Royal Canadian Mounted Police." John nodded. He had seen enough badges in his life to know where he stood now. "Just wanted to clear that up," he said and yanked away the sheets. John scooped a terry cloth robe from the floor and pulled it over his shoulders. Catherine noticed all he wore was a pair of plaid boxer shorts decorated with dancing penguins. Despite the situation, she found time to smirk at the image. She slipped her badge back into her purse. "How do you turn the TV’s off?" John tightened the sash on his robe and a touched a button on the control panel. "You use the off switch." "Oh." Good one, chick. Catherine stood and followed him through the curtains. She slid into the passenger seat as John climbed behind the steering wheel. Catherine gently touched his shoulder. "Please tell me you don’t have automatic running lights?" "Yep, but I can override. Why?" "Good. Do it," she said, "For the moment, no lights and no questions please." "Fine," John removed the key from the ashtray and placed it in the ignition. The van coughed twice then sputtered to life. Catherine cocked an eyebrow. "It may not sound like much," he said, "But Baby’s got it where it counts." Catherine accepted that, "What way are we facing?" "North." "Good. There’s a trailer park about five kilometres up the road." "Yeah. It’s closed. That’s why I’m parked here." "There’s a pay phone at the gate. That’s what I want." "Out of order. I checked last night." "Merde." Catherine whispered under her breath. She then remained silent for a moment, "Can you turn this thing around without the headlights?" He looked at her. "You mean to face south?" The soft orange glow from the dashboard reflected the desperation in her eyes. "Sure," John said and before he realized it carefully executed a three point turn using the sloping edge of the road as a reference. He turned to Catherine, "Here we go." "Without the headlights, do you think you could slowly follow the road all the way to the main highway?" she asked. John looked at her with a flippant remark on his tongue, but it evaporated in his throat as their eyes locked. John realized he could not refuse her. Not for any practical reason. There was something else. Something deeper. It was something in her eyes that confessed to him that she was desperate, more desperate that she let on, and that she needed someone to help her. That someone was him. With a silent nod, John carried out her instructions. *** Smyles cocked his head. "Stop." "What is it?" DeTully asked. "A car, or something, started up just ahead of us." DeTully pointed his flash light and squinted into the darkness. "I can’t see a thing. You think she had another car waiting?" "If she gets to the highway, we’ll lose her." "Even with the light I can’t see an inch in front of my face." Smyles fingered his scar and thought. "The road between here and the highway is straight, but snakes between Crudup’s and the trailer park, right?" "Yeah, but..." "If she’s running without lights she’ll have to take it slow, so if we meet her at the corner of the highway we can cut her off. We’ll be able to see her coming." DeTully giggled. "That’s why you the Man." *** "Thank God for the cloud cover," Catherine whispered. "Why?" He suspected, but needed to hear her say it. "They won’t be able to see us until you turn on the lights or the moon reappears." "Who’ll see us?" Catherine ignored the question, "How much pickup does this thing have?" "It’ll move." *** Huffing, Smyles dropped to one knee, "Goddamn cigarettes." He and DeTully had just run the three kilometres to the corner. "Huh-hun... Here’s what we’re going to do. Hun-hun... I want you crouching on the other side of the road. Then when we see the headlight blow out the tires. Got it?" "Got it." Smyles thumbed the safety off his weapon. *** Catherine placed her hand on John’s shoulder, "Can you flick the lights over to bright without turning them on?" He flicked a switch, "Done." "Good. Stay alert. When I give the word I want you to turn on the lights and floor it." "Okay." Catherine rolled down her window and leaned out. Only the soft crunch of the gravel beneath the wheels told her she was moving. God I hope we don’t find ourselves in a ditch. *** "Hear it?" Smyles whispered. "Yeah. Whatever it is, it’s coming closer. Still can’t see any lights." She’s running dark. The bitch must suspect we’re here. "Stand ready," Smyles instructed. *** Catherine glanced at her driver. His window was down and, like her, he had his head out in the night air keeping an eye on the road, "How are ya’ doing...uh?" "John." "John." He risked a quick look at the woman next to him, "I’m ready." "Good," she glanced back out the window as John returned his attention to the road ahead. A voice. That’s gotta’ be them. The closer we get the better chance they’ll have of seeing us first. I know they can hear us, but the sound travels erratically out here. Damn, I hate this job. Gene and Vladimir are dead. Now I’m risking the life of a civilian. Damn it, chick, do you know at all what the hell you’re doing? What? That’s it! "John," she breathed. "Yep?" He tried to hid it but his voice gave him away. Damn. He’s scared. Well, duh chick, "Are you ready?" "Yep." "Stand by…." *** Smyles’ ears perked up. What the hell? The Goddamn thing is right on top of us! His watch beeped. "Christ!" *** "Lights!" John clicked on the headlights. *** Suddenly bathed in light, Smyles’ and DeTully’s hands instinctively flew to their faces. DeTully dropped his gun, stumbled back and fell into a hedge lining the road. Smyles twisted away from the light, tripped over his feet and splashed into the ditch. His weapon discharged upon striking the asphalt. *** John yanked on the wheel and the van turned onto the highway. "Oui!" Catherine whooped with delight as they scooted past. She then sensed John’s anxiety. He heard the gun shot. She rolled up her window and faced him."Well. That certainly was an adventure." "Who were they?" John asked evenly. Catherine shifted closer and unconsciously touched his bare thigh with her naked knee, "Please John, right now the most important thing is for you to take me to a phone." John was silent for a moment then nodded. He was about to say something when he glanced into her eyes. He knew then she was in control. Catherine placed an open palm in the air between them, "There’s a gas station not far from here. They’ll have a phone. Please just take me there." She then slumped back into her chair and gazed out into the night sky. John nodded, not trusting his voice, and turned his attention back to the road. But there was a magnetism about her that forced his attention back her way, "If you’re cold there’s a blanket on the bed," John offered. "It’s all yours." She smiled gratefully, "I think I might." Catherine slipped though the curtain and after a moment returned cocooned in a patchwork comforter. She slid back into her seat and looked at John, "This is much better. Merci beaucoup." John smiled. All he could see of Catherine was her nose and eyes. Those eyes…. Catherine caressed her dark brows and felt some of the tension ease from the back of her mind. Vladimir... fifteen hour drive... Vlad... dying in my arms... gun fight... Gene... non... non... Gene.... The exhaustion, added with the warmth of the comforter, caught her unprepared. Before she could prevent it, Catherine was asleep. *** John eased the van off the road and stopped next to a phone booth, then looked over at his passenger. Who are you? Why are you here? Who were the two yahoos on the road? Why are you dressed like that? John shook the thoughts from his head, but he could not tear his gaze away. Chapter 5 Smyles glanced up at the slowly brightening sky, then back at his watch. "Shit!" he spat, "Where is he?" "I don’t know," DeTully said. "Crap." Smyles was frustrated. After the girl escaped they returned to the car, only to discover that Max had the keys. The body was right where they left it, but the keys were nowhere to be found. "What’s keeping him?" "Why didn’t we just swipe a car and go after her?" DeTully asked. "Because ‘shit for brains Stein’ wanted us to wait here until he arrives," he looked at his watch again. It suddenly stopped. Smyles just groaned. DeCoteau looked cautiously at Smyles. The fat man had seen the ugly man angry before and did not want to be on the receiving end of his rage, "Well," he said, "if you don’t need me any more today…I’ll be off." "Are you sure you don’t know who the skirt was?" Smyles snapped. "I told you sir, Mr. Crudup has over sixty girls working the Estate at any one time." At the sound of his boss’ name, DeCoteau suddenly felt brave. "If you can’t tell me any more than she’s white and has big cans, I can’t give you a name. That describes almost half the girls," he started to feel more sure of himself. "Maybe if you caught her in the first place." "You greeted her at the door," DeTully said. "In Mr. Crudup’s absence I greet all the girls at the door. It’s good for morale. I met seven girls during your little escapade around the grounds. Six of them fit that description." Smyles gritted his teeth. "Get the hell away from me." DeCoteau realized he may have pushed too far and quickly waddled away. He muttered, "Shithead," under his breath. "Why is he on the payroll?" DeTully asked. "The same reason you are," Smyles said, "We need to fill our quota of assholes." He then spat out the stub of his cigar drew his .357 and squeezed the trigger. The back of DeCoteau head exploded inward. Blood and brain bits erupted out of his eyes and nostrils. DeTully sprang back and stared at Smyles. "That was senseless. Care to explain?" Smyles slipped his smoking weapon into his holster and grunted, "He was really pissing me off." Moments later a grey stretch limousine turned into the parking lot. It stopped roughly fifty meters from where Smyles and DeTully stood. DeTully started toward it but Smyles stopped him. The limousine’s light flashed three times. "It’s him," Smyles said. As they reached the limousine, the rear door swung open and a pair of extremely shapely legs swung out, followed by an intensely female form, "This had better be good," the hourglass said. "Where’s Stein?" Smyles grumbled. "Mr. Stein has more important things to deal with than to coddle you two pricks," she spotted the body on the ground and raised an eyebrow. "I don’t want to know." She looked back at Smyles and continued, "So he sent me." She was visibly not pleased. "Handling pricks is ideally suited to your talents, my dear." "Screw you Smyles," she spat. "What the hell do you want and why the hell are you limping?" "Mr. Smyles pitched a fit and stubbed his toe," DeTully said. "Zadneprovsky passed off the computer chip to some skirt," Smyles said, ignoring DeTully. "She was dressed like one of Crudup’s girls, but we think she was CSIS or RCMP or maybe another Russian or something," DeTully put in. "And?" Smyles swallowed some pride, "She got away." After a moment she smiled, "You’ve been bested, Smyles." "She took off in the dark," he pushed on. "We heard an engine start up, but then nothing." Smyles paused, waiting to see if DeTully was going to challenge him. When he didn’t, Smyles continued, "I think she’s heading to Sudbury." "Fine," the woman said. "Get in. We have plans to change." Chapter 6 Images of blood and gore flashed through Catherine Wildman’s mind. Glimpses of Vladimir’s life slipping like so much sand through her fingers, again and again and again. The image repeats and each time she sees herself not able to help. Not able to stop the pain. The image branded into her mind. The death. The dying. The loss of a friend... the loss of... loss of... Gene. Catherine screamed in her mind. Non! Her eyes snapped open. "Good morning," John said cheerfully. Suddenly disoriented, Catherine’s heart skipped a beat. She glanced about and realized she was still wrapped in the comforter and sitting in the front passenger seat of the van. The man she met, John? was his name, sat next to her. A look of concern crossed his features. The sun had crept over the horizon behind them and now glinted off the side mirrors. In the van’s shadow before her was a lone phone booth. "We’re at the phone like you asked," he said, "I was just about to wake you when you jumped. Bad dreams?" "No more than usual. How long have I been asleep?" "Just a few minutes. We just got here." "Merci. I’ll be right back," Catherine slipped out of the comforter, opened the door and stepped out into the chilled morning air. John watched her walk toward the phone booth and inwardly smiled. Her solid body almost made her look stocky. Yet she had a light elegance and a delightful swivel as she walked and breasts that were more abundant than usual for the typical bodybuilder. She’s perfect. *** Aware of the attention she drew, Catherine discovered a smile on her lips as she slipped into the booth. She picked up the receiver and punched in a sequence of twenty-two numbers. After one ring a monotone voice answered, "Yes?" Catherine spoke in an even tone, "Wildman, Catherine S., number 099984-A." "One moment," the voice replied. A clicking sound indicated that the call was now scrambled, "Go." "Place me through to St. James. ASAP." "St. James is unavailable. Curtis is second." "Do it." Irritation crept into Catherine’s thoughts. She glanced back to the van and spotted John’s silhouette through the curtains. He was getting dressed and had just bumped his head on something. Catherine was forced to muffle a giggle. *** Smyles pulled the limousine door shut behind him, "Change what?" "We’ve been forced to abandon our Alaska location," she answered. "The Russian escaped." "How?" DeTully exclaimed, "She could hardly walk when I left her." "I don’t know. I got a call from our Fairbanks safe house a few hours ago. Said she disappeared." "Man," DeTully fingered his thick glasses, "She was a tough nut to crack." "You’ll get another shot at her. She couldn’t have gotten far," she said, then caught the glint in DeTully’s eyes and involuntary shivered. "She was fun to play with," he cooed. "What about our immediate problem?" Smyles reminded them. The limousine’s cellular phone chirped. She snapped it up relieved to consider something other than DeTully’s way with women, "What? Oh." A sly smile suddenly slid across her face, "One moment." She placed her hand over the receiver. "Start a trace Smyles," she said and switched on a hidden speaker. Catherine’s voice filled the compartment, "Hello, Lydia?" "I’m here Cathy. What can I do for you?" "I’ve got a situation brewing here." "Elaborate please," Lydia said watching Smyles run the trace. "I’ve been involved in a shoot out with, and pursued by, three unknown assailants. They have killed my partner and at least one foreign national. I may have also killed one of them. Copy?" "Copy. Anything else?" The smile on her face transformed into a snarl. "Oui. The national has given me some…advice. Copy?" "Copy. In need of a courier?" "Oui." "Confirming. Standby." Lydia muted the transmission. "Where is she Smyles?" "Got her," he scribbled down her location. "Perfect." She touched the mute switch. "Pick up confirmed in twenty." Lydia broke the connection. "Right, here is what you are going to do. I’ll stay here at Crudup’s. You two take the limousine and the driver. Has she seen your face?" "Yes," Smyles said. "Right. There’s a kit in the trunk. I want you to tell her that you’re taking her to see St. James." Lydia poked Smyles in the chest with a long red painted finger nail. "Don’t screw it up again. We want her alive and we want that disk." Chapter 7 John Riel’s van, ‘Baby’ South of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 05:01 hours 25 April, 2020 Catherine replaced the receiver and walked back to the van. Something about that conversation gnawed away at the back of her mind. It’s just my nerves. As Catherine climbed into the passenger seat, John handed her a steaming mug of coffee. "Get everything straightened out?" he asked. "Oui, merci. Oh, this smells good. Merci." "Only the best instant. Black, right?" "Oui. How’d you guess?" "Easy. I’m out of milk and sugar." Catherine smiled and sipped her coffee. John silently stared at his coffee, then risked a glance over at his passenger. A slight smile slid across his lips. Who are you? Where do you come from? You are the most- "John?" "Yes," he answered quickly. If Catherine noticed, she did not react. It was if she knew the effect she had on him. "I guess you would like an explanation," she said. "No, not really." Catherine arched an eyebrow and looked at him. That’s not what she expected, "Why’s that?" "Well," John explained, "You’re obviously with the government. I know a real badge when I see it." He paused and shuffled through his thoughts. "Therefore, in a time of crisis you may confiscate transportation, and since time was tight I ended up coming along for the ride." He looked at her beautiful face and smiled. "How’s that?" Catherine smiled back. "That’s correct. Media right?" "Canada-World News. I assume the set up in the back gave me away." "The spaceship. You bet’cha." She smiled again. John felt his breath catch and quickly turned away. Catherine watched him closely. "What were you doing parked back there?" she asked evenly. John was silent for a moment. "I didn’t realize the trailer park was closed, and I was too tired to drive back to Sudbury. So I camped out." He risked a glance. "I’ve been on the road for a while now. I’m on my way to Toronto." John looked back at his coffee mug. "I own a house about an hour east of the city." "So you hopped in this mobile studio and drove here from Vancouver," Catherine said flatly. John looked at her, "How did you know I was from Vancouver?" She nodded toward his license fastened on the sun visor. "Oh, right." John’s gaze drifted off into space. "My fiancée and I inherited a place from my parents." "Where is she?" "She’s—" He couldn’t finish. Catherine picked up on it instantly, "I’m sorry." John was silent for a moment, then went on. "After the funeral I needed time to think. So I packed up my life and drove across the country." "Have you finished thinking?" John looked at the woman sitting next to him, "Excuse me?" Her eyes scrutinized him. John felt them peer deep into his soul and peel away the lies he told himself. "You can’t mourn forever," Catherine’s voice hardened. "People die. As a journalist you should know that as well as I do. Her life ended, yours didn’t." John was aghast. He found he could do nothing more than watch his reflection in the eyes of the lovely stranger who had just told him to wake up and get a life. "I see I struck a nerve," Catherine said softly. John clenched his jaw and turned away. "More like blown it away." He found himself drawn again to her eyes. "Who are you?" "Catherine Wildman. I’ve already told you that." "I know. I also know you probably won’t tell me who you really work for or what exactly is happening. That’s fine. I can understand that. What I want to know is, who is Catherine Wildman? The person. What makes her tick?" John closed his eyes and ran his fingers across his scalp. "I don’t know why but I just told a complete stranger about a traumatic event in my life and was shot down in mid-pity." He bravely looked into her eyes, "I’ve never met anyone like you before. Who are you?" Catherine glanced away and subconsciously bit her lower lip. Do I do this? Do I tell him? I don’t know him, but something about him makes me feel so… comfortable. Catherine looked back at John and was surprised at the sudden urge—passion?—she felt. If I do this and I’m wrong I’ll be slitting my own throat. But something about that man felt right. Catherine made her decision. She straightened her back and laced her fingers together on her lap. "Just a few years ago I was assigned with Vice in Toronto-Metro. Due to my age and appearance, I was often placed undercover in schools." John silently watched her talk. He observed the flicker of her eyelids, the quiver of her lips, and the rise and fall of her chest. "There was an increase of the new designer drug Ink coming out of one of the schools in the Projects. I was sent in to find the dealer and within a week I shut ‘em down. It turned out that I stumbled across an organization that the RCMP and DEA have been after for five years. Five years, and I stumble in and cap it. The feds freaked because outta’ nowhere this rookie chick cop popped the biggest ring since the Quebèc City bust in ‘16." She leaned back and cradled her head on the neck rest. "The rest of the year with Metro was a blur. Paul, my partner, and I were transferred to the Mounties. We were there for six months before Paul transferred to CSIS and I was recommended for Special Operations. Man, I don’t even know who recommended me." "Special Operations? Was that Operation Arctic Snow?" "That’s right." "I read about that. It was one hell of an achievement. A handful of Canadian and Russian police officers working together to bust a ring shipping Ink." Catherine’s eyes started to mist as memories slowly drifted back, "There were four of us working as the core team. Nikita Triska and Vladimir Zadneprovsky, from the Russian Federal Security Service, and Gene Hatton and myself representing the RCMP." She turned and stared past her faded image in the glass. Catherine was no longer talking to John but to herself, as if trying to make sense of Gene and Vladimir’s bizarre murders and the events that lured her to this point. "The rest of the team are dead, or missing. I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t do anything but watch him die." A single tear rolled down her cheek. She batted it away, "All my life I watched people close to me… drift… shouldn’t get involved with anyone… the danger… Gene…." Her voice drifted away as a thought flickered across her eyes. Then it was gone. John, not sure what he should do, cleared his throat. Catherine jerked in her seat, "Oh God!" she looked at John. "Did I just do that? I’m sorry Mr. Riel. I’ve never done that before." "It’s the adrenalin rush," John said, "You’re coming down. When I’m like that I tend to ramble myself." He flashed her a lopsided grin. "Or maybe I just have one of those trusting faces?" Catherine was surprised when she laughed aloud and found herself enjoying his company. There was something about this man that she could not place her finger on and, regardless of the situation, she was relaxed. They both slid into their own thoughts. All seem to have been said. *** A grey stretch limousine slowed to a stop some fifty meters away and blinked its headlights twice. "Flash your high-beams three times," Catherine instructed. She was relieved, yet disappointed, at the arrival. "I guess this is your ride," John said as he followed her instructions. "Oui. You know all that we have talking about is…" John held up his hand, "I understand. I may be a journalist, but I do know the value of discretion. I establish my facts before I do damage." Catherine looked at him for a moment, "Merci," she said. They have reached an understanding and she knew he would respect that. Then suddenly, not sure what to do, Catherine decided to act on the first thought that came to mind. She leaned over and kissed John gently on the lips. "For everything," she said, and then was gone. The inconceivably lovely creature was halfway to the limousine before the kiss registered. "Bye...." *** A man in a dark suit climbed out of the limousine and greeted her at the door with his identification in hand, "I’m Marsden. Curtis sent me." He motioned to the van, "Who’s that?" "A… friend. He knows nothing," Catherine said. The bell in the back of her head started to ring. She mentally shrugged it off. Relax chick, it’s almost over. The man held out his hand. "Do you have anything for me?" "Non. St. James’ eyes only," Catherine replied. She stepped around the man and climbed into the limousine. The bell rang louder. Marsden climbed in and sat next to her. A little to close. Is he smiling? The bell rang ever louder. The driver, out of sight behind the opaque partition, turned the limousine out onto the highway and pointed the big car north, to Sudbury. "A chopper is waiting for us. It’ll take you to Ottawa," Marsden informed her. "Trés bien, merci," Catherine replied absently. "Right." The bell was now deafening. Catherine could no longer ignore it. How many are in the front? Two maybe? It looks like two shadows. I should’ve checked before I committed myself. Marsden. Something about him. From the corner of her eye she studied the big man. He was in his late forties, maybe early fifties, and a head and a half taller than her. He had a dark blond moustache and light sandy hair with grey roots. Dark glasses covered his eyes and a cheap after shave lotion concealed something else. It was a moment before Catherine identified the second scent: Spirit-gum. Catherine grabbed the moustache and yanked. The big man yelped as the fake hair tore away from his upper lip. "Toi!" Catherine cried. "How’s it hangin’ Sweetheart?" Raymond Smyles said as he grabbed her wrists with one hand and peeled the fake skin from his cheek with the other. For the first time Catherine clearly saw the fierce scar that ran down his face right to the corner of his mouth, forcing his lips to seem turned up on one side in a grotesque grin. Catherine’s response was her knee to his jaw with a tooth grinding crunch. Eyes wide with shock, Smyles’ head snapped back and he lost his grip. Catherine fumbled for the door handles. There were none. Stupid chick, really, really stupid. A Smith & Wesson gun barrel that appeared in her face halted her from any further action. DeTully grinned down its length at her from the front seat, "Don’t even think about it," he advised. Smyles scraped the remaining make-up from his scar and snarled, "Where is it?" "Where is what?" Catherine shot back. She knew it was not wise to mock him, He killed Vladimir and Gene, but she was too angry at him and at her own incompetence. "The fucking disk you little bitch!" Catherine spat in his face. His eyes burnt with rage. Smyles wrapped a large calloused and tobacco stained hand around her face and shoved her into the limousine door. Lights exploded behind Catherine’s eyes as a crimson haze filled her vision. The unheeded bell ended its chime and with it the world grew dark and silent. *** Catherine. Even the name was beautiful. It means pure one. He envisioned her in his mind’s eye, her solidly sculptured symmetry. John shook himself from his fantasy and revved Baby. He steered the van out onto Highway 11 north to find a gas station. After a few kilometres he spotted the grey stretch limousine ahead. It slowed and turned off the highway onto a dirt access road. Without really knowing why, John yanked on the steering wheel and followed, "Catherine," he whispered under his breath. *** Sam DeTully had a dilemma. Smyles gave him strict orders. He was not to be interrupted while he was interrogating the fresh meat. Yet, even through the partition, DeTully could hear moaning and grunting noises. Noises he knew well. But the girl had remained silent throughout the ordeal. She was out cold when Smyles issued the order. What the hell is he doing to her? DeTully chuckled with sudden realization. The sly old bastard. Then he remembered the dilemma. Shit. DeTully pressed the intercom switch, "Boss." "Fuck! What?" Smyles rasped over the tiny speaker. "I think we’re being followed." "By who?" DeTully glanced in his rear view mirror, "The guy in the van." "Crap," Smyles grunted. DeTully could hear him lower the window. The roar of the wind crackled over the speaker. Then Smyles spoke again, "Damn it! Don’t stop." DeTully looked at the driver. "You heard the Man." *** "Shit," John cursed under his breath. He had caught up to the limousine and was just repeating to himself how stupid he was acting— She’s fine—when somebody appeared in the window and pulled a gun. John yanked the wheel hard to the right as his side mirror exploded into a billion glass and metal splinters. A shard of glass nicked his chin, "What the hell are you doing John?" he said rolling up his window. John heaved on the wheel again as a headlight burst into fragments. *** Pain... <Flash!> An explosion echoed through her skull. She could feel something sticky on her breasts and throat and the back of her head throbbed. Pain... <Flash!> Catherine eased her eyes open and saw the sheen on her chest. Her mind instantly absorbed what had happened to her. What he had done to her. Non... non... son-of-a-bitch... Smyles was in the window leaning out with his weapon in hand. She knew. The bastard... Her eyes flamed. The fucking bastard... Her pulse raced and her hatred flared forever, branding the experience into her being. There he is! With her jaw set Catherine braced her naked back against the leather seat and brought her feet up. Sensing something was amiss, Smyles glanced back. What he saw chilled him to the bone, "No." Her face twisted in a feral rage Catherine snarled and slammed both feet into Smyles’ side. The blow contained such force he was propelled out the window and across the road. *** John watched the man bring the gun up to bear one last time. He knew there was no way he could avoid him this time. John braced himself for impact. Then suddenly the man was no longer there, but spiralling across the dirt road. John gleefully scooted past him. *** An escape plan had started to jell in her mind. Catherine collected her Beretta from the limousine floor, shoved it into her purse, and threw it over her shoulder; however, her dress was nowhere to be seen. She then popped her head out the open window and waved at John. *** "Hello there," he whispered and pressed the accelerator to the floor. The van screamed in distress as John forced it alongside the limousine. *** "What the hell?" DeTully cried as the van jounced the big car. "Shit!" The driver cried. "Who the hell is this guy?" he winced as sparks shot past his window. *** Catherine reached through the open window, mindful of the spray of sparks, and yanked on the van’s side door handle. Inertia pulled it open. This is not the smartest stunt you’ve ever pulled chick! Only one shot at this! *** "Open the Goddamn window!" DeTully screamed at the driver who was hard at work trying to keep the huge car on the narrow dirt road. "You fucking nuts?" the driver cried, straining to keep the car on the road. *** John risked a glance over his shoulder. The wind roared through the back of the van. Loose papers spun madly around before getting sucked out the open door. Through the maniacal whirlwind and the wrathful shower of sparks, John spotted Catherine. "Jump!" he cried out. *** Now! Catherine ignored the searing agony as the white hot pokers of light bounced off her naked flesh and grabbed the side of the van. No thoughts crossed her mind. She just acted. *** DeTully raised his weapon and fired a round into the glass partition. *** Catherine was thrown back into the leather seats as the car jerked. The partition spiderwebbed, but did not shatter. "Merde!" *** "What the fuck are you doing!?" the driver screamed. "That’s bulletproof glass!" DeTully pressed the smoking barrel to the driver’s temple. "Open the fucking thing!" "Oh? That window!" *** John risked one more look back then fixed his eyes on the road ahead, "Oh shit," he swore as a single lane bridge appeared on the horizon. *** The driver fumbled and found the button for the partition. *** Catherine closed her eyes for a split second and placed both hands on the open edge on the limousine window. Do it! She pushed with her legs and shot herself through the open window. *** DeTully’s jaw dropped as the naked woman disappeared. "Uh…" *** Catherine struck the floor of the van and rolled. Her back and shoulder collided with the metal shelving. "Catherine!" John cried out. "Brakes!" she screamed grabbing the base of the rack, "Hit the brakes!" John obliged. Dirt and gravel was thrown forward as the anti-lock brakes protested. With a whine and a sigh, the van ground to a halt and stalled. Catherine lost her grip and rolled into the bookshelf. The strap on her purse snapped and it, with her gun, vanished from sight, "Merde!" Catherine pulled herself to her feet, "Do you have a weapon?" "In the closet by the bed," John called over his shoulder, "Whatever it is you’re planning, you better make it fast. They’re trying to turn around." "Start her up but hold this position," Catherine cried. "I’m trying!" John called back, twisting the key until it was ready to snap. Catherine flung open the small closet door, shoved his obtrusive floral print shirts to one side and found a polished oak case. A Japanese made SKB M-7300 Slide Shotgun with a 762mm barrel was inside, "Whow," she blew out. Catherine tore open a box of shells, "Where are they now?" "About two hundred meters and closing fast," John cried as the van sputtered to life, "Find the shotgun?" Catherine grinned wickedly to herself and popped four shells into the magazine, "You bet’cha." The sound of smoothly oiled metal on metal told her the weapon had never been used. "Put the van in drive and wait for the word." John glanced down at his hands. His palms were soaked with sweat. He wiped his hands on his shirt. Then with his foot on the brake, John placed the van in gear and firmly took hold of the steering wheel, "Ready," John whispered. He watched the approaching limousine, "There is someone hanging out the window," he said, "He has a gun." Catherine yanked the curtain aside and mentally judged the distant between them and the charging limousine, "That would be the bad guy," she said and then whispered into his ear, "Standby." "Right." With the shotgun firmly in both hands, Catherine leapt from the side door of Baby and landed, feet wide apart, on the dirt road. Ignoring the sharp spurring from the gravel, Catherine pushed all thoughts from her mind as she squeezed the trigger. The SKB bucked wildly in her hands and slammed into her hip. DeTully ducked back into the limousine as the radiator suddenly vomited steam. Catherine ejected the spent shell, tromboned the slide repeater to chamber a second shell, then squeezed the trigger again. The limousine’s windshield shattered. Catherine dove back into the van, "Go!" she cried. Tired Firestones bit into the earth, and gravel spat into the sky as Baby tore past the staggering limousine, "Yes!" John whooped. He glanced back at the big car. It had swung around and soon hugged the rear of the van. "No!" "Keep it floored and on the left side of the road. I want to force them to pass on the right," Catherine called out behind him. "Left?" "Right." "What?" "Trust me." "The map says it’s a dead end." "Don’t say dead." John swallowed. Catherine switched the shotgun to her left hand and steadied herself with the bookshelf. She looped her arm around the hand hold and leaned out the side door. What the hell are you doing, chick? The limousine driver held the car directly behind the van so they would not fall into Catherine’s line of sight. DeTully propped himself in the window and aimed at the van’s rear tires. Catherine spotted the movement and cried out, "Brake hard now!" She braced for the coming jolt as John slammed both feet on the brake pedal. When the brake lights flashed on DeTully’s eyes widened like saucers, "Jesus H. Christ on a burro!" The driver reeled on the steering wheel and slammed the brakes. When the big car pulled into sight Catherine fired, tromboned the slide repeater, and fired again. The driver’s hand was torn from the steering wheel as a cluster of lead blew away most of his face. The second spray peppered the side of the car and blew out both tires. "Oh man…" John choked as the big car cascaded past. DeTully was ejected from the car and collided with a row of baby pine trees as the limousine flipped on its side and slammed into the side of the bridge. The gas tank ruptured and the car exploded into a brilliant ball of fire, showering the area with flaming debris. "Let’s get the hell out of here!" Catherine cried, yanking the side door shut. "That’s a plan," John agreed and pulled on the steering wheel. The van turned around and sped away from the burning wreck. A few moments later they were heading south on Highway 11. Catherine edged into the passenger seat and John looked at her. Her eyes were wide and vacant as she stared at John. Then slowly she whispered, "He… he… did this to me…." In the seat, that seemed much too large for her now, Catherine sat with her knees pulled up to her naked chest. John opened his mouth to say something, something to make the pain go away, but nothing would come. He averted his eyes. Wordlessly, Catherine picked up the comforter she left at her feet less than a hour ago and pulled it over her shoulders, "Johnny…" she whispered. John looked over and found the strength to meet her eyes. The light that he saw burning brightly in her had faded. Tear flowed freely down her cheeks. "Thank you," she said. John nodded gently then returned his attention to the road. The next time he glanced over she had passed out. Chapter 8 An old C.P. Rail access road, North of Barrie, Ontario, Canada 15:04 hours 25 April, 2020 "Non!" Catherine screamed. She bolted upright in the bed with her eyes wide and spine straight as a board. John instantly dropped his note pad and knelt at her side. Her face buried within her hands she sobbed, "Non... Je ne vais pas pleurer." "Catherine?" John gently brushed her shoulder with his hand. "Non!" Catherine screamed and recoiled from the touch. She pulled her legs to her chest and hid her face between her knees. She seemed unaware of his existence. "Non... non...." John slowly moved around and faced her, "Catherine..." At the sound of his voice, she cocked her head at an angle and seemingly looked right through him. Her lips started to move and a mist seemed to lift from her gaze. "Johnny?" she asked, her voice thin, feeble. John gently displayed an open hand. Catherine gingerly reached out and touched the tips of his fingers with hers then accepted and pulled him close, "Oh God, Johnny..." John held Catherine in his arms. "It’s okay, everything’s okay," he whispered, "You’re safe now. Let it out." He gently cradled her as she cried. The limousine was still smoking. DeTully had tried to urinate on it through an erection. Thrilling near death experiences always excited him so. He was surprised that he was still alive. After waking up in a bed of pine needles he scurried off into the nearby woods and waited for the local police and fire crews to arrive and clean up the mess. It had been several hours since they had come and gone, leaving a lone Ontario Provincial Police Constable stationed at the taped off wreck. On the far side of the limousine DeTully finished his pee and zipped up, glancing at the cruiser. Then from his vantage point he spotted Smyles walking toward the Constable. The cop greeted Smyles in the middle of the road. They talked for a moment then walked together back to the cruiser. As the Constable lifted the door handle, Smyles shot him twice in the head. He was dead before he hit the ground. "Nice shootin’, Tex," DeTully twanged. Smyles spun around, with the Magnum pointing the way, looking for the voice. DeTully stepped out from behind the wreck. Smyles lowered his gun as he approached. "Where the hell have you been?" "Just pissing around. What happened to you?" Smyles grunted and slipped his weapon back under his jacket, "Must have slipped and fell out of the car. What happened?" DeTully scratched the back of his neck and explained about the naked woman with the shotgun. "Now what are we going to do?" "We’ll take the cop car back to Sudbury then ditch it and get a hold of Miezlaiskis." "She’s going to be P.O.ed," DeTully said looking at the wreckage. "Screw her," Smyles snapped, climbing into the cruiser. "Love to, but that ain’t going to get us out of this mess." "Shut up and drive." Moments later they raced their way from the smouldering wreck at a fair clip. Smyles slouched in his seat and closed his eyes. *** "Raymond Smyles?" Smyles dully glanced over his shoulder at the finely manicured hand resting there. He shrugged it off and returned to his double bourbon. The man eased himself onto the bar stool next to Smyles. He pantomimed to the bartender to bring him the same. "Raymond Smyles," the man stated, "Born February fifth, 1976 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Sheridan, Wyoming. Mother was Grace, formerly Paterson, and your father was Raymond Sr." Smyles looked at the stranger through an alcoholic haze. "Wha’da want?" "After high school you joined the Marines, where you were all that you could be in the high north. Afterwards you were recruited by The Company." "So ya’ read my bio ‘ow phiss off." The double bourbon arrived. Smyles stared at the tumbler as the man paid for it. "Three days ago you were suspended," he said. "You liquidated Nikolai Konstantinovich. I know a lot of people who will applaud that." "Will any of t’em be at ‘da hearin’?" "Sadly no, but if you want to meet them we should talk," he slipped a card in Smyles’ shirt pocket, "If you sober up, call me." Without touching the drink he stood and left. After a moment Smyles retrieved the card and stared at it. On the front was an address. Penciled on the back was a name. Stein. *** "Here comes a car." "Wha...?" Smyles groaned. "Here comes a car," DeTully repeated slower. "We can ditch the cruiser now." The car turned out to be another grey stretch limousine. DeTully flashed the cruisers lights gestured for the limousine to pull over. He then stopped the cruiser behind it. As Smyles and DeTully approached, the rear window powered down and Lydia Miezlaiskis appeared. "Hi," DeTully grinned, "We were just coming to see you." "Where the hell did you get that?" she asked. "Trade in. You like?" Lydia’s expression silenced DeTully, "Where’s the girl?" she asked Smyles. When he did not respond DeTully said, "Uh, well, funny story that..." "She got away," Lydia said. "She got away," DeTully repeated. "Assholes!" she hissed. "How? You give her the limo or just called her a cab?" DeTully looked over at Smyles. His jaw was clenched and the vain in his temple started to throb. "She had help," DeTully protested, looking back at the tall brunette. "Who?" "We don’t know." "Where’s Fred?" "Who?" "The driver." "Fred’s dead. Shot in the head." Lydia shook her head. Lord save me from the idiots. DeTully had arched up on his tiptoes and caught a glimpse of her cleavage. When he realized she was watching, he dropped back down and cleared his throat. "How did you know to come looking for us? The rendezvous wasn’t until tonight." "I heard on the scanner about a wreck on this road and since this is the only way to our air strip I put two and two together and came up with stupid." She looked back at Smyles, who had not said a word since she arrived. "Why so down in the mouth, Smyles? It’s not like you." "Fuck you!" Smyles exploded. He slammed his fist on the roof of the car. "Where the fuck is Stein? I want some words with that asswhore! What kind of fucking operation is he running here?" Smyles was on a tear. He kicked the side of the limousine, putting a good size dent in the door. "Why the fuck didn’t he tell me from the start we’d be going after a Goddamn Mountie! I would’ve been better prepared! Goddamnit! You tell him that! I’m pissed!" Somewhere in the distance a dog howled. "Raymond," Lydia cooed calmly, "You just did." The door on the far side of the limousine opened and Stein’s handsome features appeared over the roof of the car. "Get in," he said with barely controlled rage. Smyles and DeTully quickly climbed into the car. *** "Thank you Johnny," Catherine said gently pushing away. "How are you feeling?" he asked, handing her the comforter. Suddenly self-conscious, Catherine accepted it and pulled it around her naked self, "Hungry," she said. John stood and crossed to the stove where the content of a small pot was starting to boil. "I don’t have much here. I was just making some instant soup. Want some?" "Please," she said. "I don’t seem to be dressed for dinner," she quipped, bidding for some levity. John looked at her sharply with a puzzled expression then saw the forced smile and realized what she had attempted. John inwardly smiled at her strength and gestured toward a large bowl on a small shelf. "There’s hot water and soap if you want. In the closet are some shirts and jeans. Grab what you need. I’ll wait outside." With that John pulled open the side door. "Johnny," Catherine called out. John stopped in the threshold, but did not meet her eyes. "Thank you," she said. After a moment John nodded and stepped outside. *** "There in the centre of the screen. You can see the tail fire," John’s voice crackled from the speakers. "Our military liaison had told us to get down." The image bounced, but the approaching missile remained on the screen. "I’m not sure if you can still hear me Connor, but this one is going to be close." The camera followed the missile as it struck a building. The top three floors blew apart like toothpicks. "The missile struck the hotel the United Nations Peace Keeping troops have been using as Headquarters. What? What’s that? I’ve just been told that the Rondônian rebels are pressing their advantage and we have been ordered to bug out. I plan to remain broad—" another explosion bounced the audio levels into the red "—is John Riel in Pôrto Velho." Catherine remembered hearing about that report. One journalist was killed during that particular skirmish. Another faced a war crimes’ tribunal for his involvement. The screen faded to black then the next report appeared. The CKKC icon was in the top left corner while across the bottom of the screen the time code dated it eight months ago. John’s voice dialogued from the speakers, "A man who had been kicked out of this bar in downtown Victoria yesterday returned two hours ago with a friend and opened fire using a military issue submachine gun, killing twenty-two people and wounding seven." The video image shifted from the exterior of the nightclub to a close up of a man being lead by police into the back of a cruiser. "The first suspect, Ronnie Everson, 49, of no fixed address and a known dangerous offender, produced a valid gun license he acquired on the day of the slaughter." Catherine cued the video tape forward then pressed play. The image was of a vicious four- car collision. "-gency workers move a victim from the first car. Police said Kanler was not wearing a seat-belt when he was hit from behind by Shelly Boview, 32, of Chilliwack B.C." The video image shifted to a close of a shattered vial next to the chalk outline, "The police believe drugs were involved with the crash. Anyone who witnessed the accident is asked to call Vancouver Pol-" she cued the tape ahead, "The body of an infant-" Catherine pressed stop and ejected the tape. She thought it odd that never once did John appear on tape during his reports. Only his voice. Catherine stirred the tomato soup and peered through the blinds. She saw John sitting at the base of a street light watching the afternoon traffic. She studied her Shining Knight. Johnny Riel. Age, late-thirties maybe early forties. About 170 centimetres, with a bit of a belly. Too many meals on the road. Dark brown hair, silver at the temples and thinning on top, pulled back into a ponytail. Left ear pierced. Gentle blue eyes and a crooked grin. Dimples arise when he smiles. The slight smirk slowly slid from her face as she realized that for some unknown reason, she already trusted this man. *** John opened the side door and found Catherine perched on an inverted milk crate. She was dressed in a faded pair of his jeans, with a belt wrapped around her waist, a white shirt tied off displaying her six-pack abs, and a denim jacket with the collar turned up. The cot had been folded away behind her and the small table laid out with two bowels of soup, some slices of multi-grain bread and two steaming mugs of coffee. Catherine smiled at him as he pulled the door shut. The effect was devastating, as John felt his heartbeat slam into overdrive, "Yes?" he queried quickly before she finished taking his breath away. Catherine pushed the thought from her mind and slipped onto the bench behind the table. "Could you get me up-to-date please?" she asked. "Where are we and why have we stopped?" John sat down across on the stool across from Catherine. "We are a couple of hours from Toronto. I stopped because Baby needed gas and I needed sleep." John sipped his coffee. "Black. How did you know?" He smiled. "Easy," Catherine smiled back. She found his smile contagious. "You still don’t have any milk or sugar." John felt as if he could listen to the sound of her voice forever. "What time is it?" Catherine asked. "Threeish." "Je vous remercie. Let’s eat," Catherine vigorously attacked her soup. John watched her eat for a moment. Catherine put her spoon down. Here it comes. "Can I ask you a question?" "Shoot." "What the hell is going on? And please don’t give me anything about it being better that I don’t know. I’m now in this up to my ass." She placed her hand down on the table next to the bowl. "You’re right, but first I need to know something." "Fine." "Why are we here? Why didn’t you take me to a hospital or call the cops? You’ve been shot at. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been… assaulted… you almost ran over someone. We may have killed at least three people. Yet we’re sitting here eating soup." Catherine looked him straight in the eye. "How do you justify that?" John leaned back against the side of the video panel and paused to gather his thoughts. "When you called for help you were, no doubt, set up. I don’t know who’s after you, or why, but I know they must’ve had help finding you." John looked everywhere but at her for a moment then said, "I played a hunch." Catherine had patched together as much. "I think you’re right. Off the record?" "For now," John replied flatly. Catherine studied him for a moment, then conceded. "For now," she said. "It’s about drugs," Catherine said after a long moment. "Drugs? What kind?" John asked. She looked at him, "Ink." Catherine noticed a definite reaction in John, but he hid it well, "Ink." "Oui. Ink, mixed with murder and prostitution by former members of the Central Intelligence Agency." John raised his eyebrows and leaned forward, "The CIA?" "A group of rogue CIA operatives, who call themselves The Group of Ten, are responsible for the creation of Ink and about 65% of all illegal narcotics entering Russia and most of the C.I.S." "No shit?" "No shit." "How?" Catherine sipped her coffee, "I don’t know," she lied. "What I do know is that the men we ran up against are members of the Group and they have killed people close to me," Catherine leaned back and rested against the folded cot. She closed her eyes for a moment then looked right at John, "Two years ago the Moscow police nabbed an Ink dealer. He told them about a pipeline from the north. The Federal Security Service investigated. During their search they found over seven million dollars of Ink poured and ready to travel stored in a brothel in Anadyr." "I remember that." "The raid also turned up one suspected CIA agent." John whistled, "That part never made the news." "No surprise," Catherine said. "The Federal Security Service secretly took that information to the U.S. State Department." "Secretly?" "What I understand is that the raid on the brothel was not exactly legal under present Russian law." Catherine sipped her coffee. "The official story was that the agent, one Raymond Smyles, was discharged three months earlier for medical reasons." "And the real story?" John asked. She was silent for a moment, "Do you remember Nikolai Konstantinovich?" "The peace activist. He was killed last year in a skiing accident." Catherine shook her head. "Shit." Catherine leaned closer to John, "There was no hint of assassination in the reports. Not even the usual conspiracy web-sites suggested that. Which, in retrospect, is suspicious." Catherine swallowed a mouthful of coffee and crossed her legs under the table. She noticed that John had not touched his soup or coffee. "Langley cut Smyles loose. Soon after he went underground. No one heard squat from him since." "Until now. Recruited by the Group." "The Group of Ten was formed in the early 1990s by a handful of emancipated CIA agents. For almost twenty years they operated on the fringe of society. Sponsoring various terrorist groups with the sole intent of collapsing what remains of the Russian government." "Why?" "Old prejudges die hard," Catherine said. John was not convinced, "There must be more than that." "The money was good." "How did they get that much Ink across the Russian border? From what I know about the stuff, it’s very unstable and dangerous. How could they move such a large shipment?" "Parts of the Russian border are in such a state of flux, particularly across the Sino- and Mongolian frontiers, so smuggling in is not that difficult. Even today someone will still look the other way just for a pack of Western cigarettes." John shook his head in disbelief as she continued, "The Federal Security Service realized that the Ink was entering across those borders through Canadian companies and approached the RCMP. Working together they formed Operation Arctic Snow." John remained silent and gestured for her to continue. "My new partner, Gene Hatton, and I were assigned to work with two Russian security officers during the investigation." Catherine shifted her weight on the bench. "My opposite number was Vladimir Zadneprovsky, a good man, but not cut out for some of the messier aspects of the job." Catherine continued, "Gene was placed with his opposite, Nikita Triska. But for some reason never made clear I was not to have any contact with Nikita Triska. She could walk past me and I wouldn’t know her, and Gene was to have no contact with Vlad. Deniability if we were somehow caught I suppose. "We split into teams. Vlad and I spent six months in Russia while Gene and Nikita remained here, then we switched to retain a fresh perspective on the matter. We had the resources of two countries behind us and the best support team in the world backing us up. We made progress. Some minor busts. But I felt we were getting close to the big one when it all fell apart." She looked at John who was watching her intently, "Nikita Triska apparently defected to the United States." "Apparently?" John spoke for the first time since Catherine began her narrative. Catherine shook her head, "I didn’t believe it, but Gene said he was there when she jumped the fence at the U.S. Consulate office in Edmonton. From what I read in her dossier she was fiercely proud of her heritage." She sighed, "Nevertheless, the team collapsed. Vlad returned to Moscow for debriefing and Gene and I were given desk jobs." Catherine glanced at her cold soup. "I can only guess at what happened since." She looked back at John. He was still silent, but there was a gentleness in his eyes. "Out of the blue, Vlad called me. He said he was in Sudbury and he needed to see me…" Catherine’s voice trailed off. John leaned forward and softly urged her on. This was what caused her to barge into his life in the middle of the night, "Go on." Catherine’s eyes were closed and her jaw was set, "He was dead before I arrived. The Group of Ten killed him." She looked directly at John. There was a hint of fear in her eyes. "Now they are after me. They killed Vlad and they killed Gene." Catherine fought to keep her voice under control. "Now they want to kill me because they believe I can blow open their entire operation." And I can! "So the yahoos we had a run in with are renegade spies." "Don’t treat it lightly. They’re dangerous." "I’m not," John rubbed his temple. "Man, how do I get myself into these things?" Catherine leaned forward and touched his hand, "Because you are a caring soul. You didn’t have to come after me, but you did. There are very few people left in this world who would’ve placed themselves at risk like you did over some chick who hijacked him in the middle of the night." With her eyes bright she squeezed his hand heartily. "You saved my life Johnny. I owe you." His face unreadable, John was silent. Then he slowly asked, "What’s our next move?" Catherine let out a breath she did not realize she was holding, and felt her eyes moisten. She was still not sure of his motives, but she felt she could trust him. "Merci," she said. "First we have to get, uh...?" "Baby." "Right. We have to get Baby on the road." "Roger," John threw her a mock salute and slipped into the driver’s seat. After the third attempt, Baby roared to life. Chapter 9 The Office of Lydia Curtis Mackenzie Federal Building # 4 Toronto, Ontario, Canada 16:34 hours 25 April, 2020 Raymond Smyles shoved open the large office door. He still raged, and traveling by helicopter from Sudbury to Toronto in damp clothes did not help his posterior. All the way back to the city with Stein bitching at me. Shit, most of it was DeTully’s screw up. Then as soon as we get here, Stein pisses off back to Ottawa, leaving me to do the crap work with the fucking locals. Fuckin’ wonderful. Asshole. He spotted Lydia Miezlaiskis with her back toward him. She stood staring out the window at the CN Tower. The glass was speckled with moisture. The sky outside was dark and heavy clouds lumbered toward the city. Smyles cleared his throat. "God I hate this city," Lydia said. "It’s so depressing and cold. I don’t understand how anyone could live here." Lydia, like Stein, was born and raised in the heart of Texas. Although she spent years learning to lose the accent, the Lone Star state would always be home. She turned around and faced the ugly man. A crack of lightning suddenly lit the sky behind her. "Well Raymond?"—she seldom called him by his given name— "What have you got for me?" "I used the code name Stein gave me and called the provincial and regional police. I had them place an A.P.B. on the van." Smyles hated answering to her. I should be calling the shots. Not her. "Did you tell them that they were looking for British Columbia plates?" Lydia asked casually brushing her long auburn hair from her shoulders. She wore an almost sheer blouse, with a black bra supporting her ample breasts, and a matching power skirt slit high on the thigh. "Yes. Yes I did." "Good," Lydia purred moving toward her desk. "Did you give them anything else about the van that might be useful?" "I gave them a full description," Smyles said tightly. Lydia cocked a hip up on the corner of the desk and crossed her long sleek legs, very much aware that he was ogling them. "What a charge you’re getting," she said. "What?" His eyes snapped back to her face. She smiled slyly. "I said what charge did you give them?" Smyles loosened his tie. Is it hot in here or is it me? And when did she dim the lights? "I wanted to be creative." Lydia casually dropped her lower lip to a pout, "Yes?" "I told them they were cop killers. Uh..." he stammered as Lydia fiddled with the top button on her blouse, "T-the police believe she killed RCMP S. O. Staff Sergeant Gene Hatton." Smyles pulled at his tie again and choked out, "They’ll call me when they find them and wait for my arrival." Lydia slid from the desk and sashayed closer. "That’s very clever Raymond." She threaded his tie through her long fingers and whispered with a throaty purr, "Nice irony that. Anything else?" "Un, yeah. I told DeTully to wait in the car." Lydia caressed the inside of his thigh. "Good Raymond. After this little loose end is wrapped up tight, I just may have to recommend you to Stein for promotion." "Thank you," he said, his voice rising. Lydia yanked on his tie and the two of them dropped to the floor. It had been too long since she had a man in her and Lydia was getting that itch again. She needed it and she needed it now. Stein would be good, Shit he’d be great, but he acted as if I were not even present. How could he not feel the burning lust that crackled through the air when we are together? If he said the word, I’d go down on him in a second, but the man acts like a fucking eunuch. DeTully? Not a chance. After what he did to the Russian woman? That man is demented. His ideal of a good time involves pain, and not the pain that comes from pleasure. Now Smyles. Once we get past the personal hygiene problem, he might be worth a quickie. Smyles squeezed a firm breast with one hand, groped up her skirt with his other and pulled on her panties. Lydia’s red tipped fingers found the brass bullhead belt buckle, pulled it away, and soon had his penis throbbing in the palm of her hand. Probing her mouth with his tongue, Smyles suddenly shifted his hips and delved into Lydia. She gasped and threw her stockinged legs up and locked her ankles tightly around his waist keeping him inside until she was ready. Lydia heaved his shirt off over his head and raked her nails through the thick tangle of hair on his back. Smyles grunted as she squeezed his buttocks. He grunted again and Lydia started to gyrate her hips. Slowly at first, then more and more frantic. Lightning cracked and thunder howled as the storm unleashed its fury on the city. *** Lydia had lit up a cigarette when the secure phone rang. "Curtis," she answered, "Yes. Yes, one moment." She tossed the phone across the room at the still naked Smyles. "It’s for you, Quick-draw." Smyles snatched the phone from mid-air and turned his back, muttering something vile, "Smyles," he snapped into the receiver. "Where? Right. Don’t do a thing I’m on my way." He tossed the phone back at Lydia and said, "I’ve got them." Chapter 10 Somewhere on Highway 11 17:58 hours 25 April, 2020 Plump raindrops pounded hard across the windshield of the van as the wipers struggled in vain to keep the glass clear. The road ahead was a dark grey slick. For the last forty minutes, neither John or Catherine spoke a word. Both were deep in their own thoughts. Despite her mental training, Gene’s grisly death replayed over and over again in her mind. Gnawing at her, taunting her. Catherine realized she will soon have to confront the pain before it shattered her sanity. Oh Bonita, how I wish you were here... Crack. Gene! We’ve got to get-! Smack. Non... non... "Catherine?" Who? Oh Mr. Riel... "Oui?" Catherine managed a weak smile. She was tired. Mentally and physically tired. "You were saying that the Group of Ten is politically motivated?" "If you don’t like a government, fight the government. Don’t take it out on the people," Catherine said tightly. "You tell me. They don’t do it for the money. They do it because they hate," she tried to stroke away the pain in her skull with the base of her thumb. "I thought that kind of thinking was dead when the Wall fell. Thousands of people, innocent people, kids. All hooked on Ink. Do you know what that crap can do to a person? Convulsions of the brain so severe you shatter your spine." "I know..." "How can one human do that to another? It’s a sick world Johnny. Sometimes I wonder if I do any good at all. You bust one punk for pushin’ and three more take his place. Then the first is back on the street by the end of the day. But now, now ex-CIA agents. CIA! Peddling that crap. I just don’t know," she stroked her dark brows with her thumb and forefinger. "I was working undercover in a school. On my first day a dope deal went down in the front foyer. Two boys, only twelve. The whole scene was so open that it only took me the afternoon to find the supplier. It turned out to be the school secretary. "When we arrested her that night at her apartment, her ten-year-old son attacked me with an electric carving knife. He was doped up with enough Ink to kill a full grown man." She looked over at John as if looking for something, anything. Her lower lip quivered. "I had to shoot him three times." "Oh man… Catherine, I’m sorry." Here I was feeling sorry for myself. This young woman has seen more up close than I ever will, and she is still going. I wanted to pack it in. Time to wake up and— "Are we being followed?" Catherine asked. She was sitting up straight and her eyes were suddenly wide and alert. "What?" John checked his mirror. The flashing crimson cherries of an OPP cruiser reflected back in his face. "Damn." "Relax," Catherine whispered touching his shoulder, "Pull over and let him come to the door," she slipped from her seat and ducked through the curtains into the back, "I’m not here." John pulled Baby over onto the muddy shoulder and slowed to a stop. Behind him he heard Catherine load the slide action repeater. He swallowed hard. Oh crap. His heart leapt into his throat as a lone Constable in a bright yellow rain slicker suddenly tapped on the glass. John lowered the window and forced a smile, "Nice day, eh Constable? What can I do for you?" "John Riel?" the Constable asked. The hood of the slicker hid his features. "Yes. What’s the problem?" "Are you alone sir?" "Could you identify yourself please?" John asked. The Constable pushed the hood of his slicker back and revealed a ruggedly handsome young face. "Constable Tom Hoffman, OPP." "Tom?" Catherine called from the back. She pushed the curtain aside, "Tom? Is that really you?" "Hello Cathy." The constable smiled. "It’s been a long time." Catherine reached past John and touched Tom just to make sure he was real. "Oh God, Tom. Am I glad to see a friendly face." Hoffman held her hand for a moment then let her go. "You need some help?" "Oh, you bet’cha," Catherine beamed. She felt as if a great weight just dropped from her shoulders. "Okay. Just follow me. Up the road ahead is an intersection leading to a service road," he pointed, "turn left and about a klick down you’ll find a waste filtering station. I’ll meet you there." "Super!" Catherine exclaimed. Constable Hoffman flipped a "thumbs up" then turned back toward his cruiser. Catherine leaned across John and stuck her head out the window, "Tom!" she called. Hoffman turned around, his face once again hidden beneath the hood. "It’s good to see you," Catherine said. Hoffman stood motionless for a moment. Only the sound of the rain and passing traffic broke the stillness in the air. He then waved and climbed back into his cruiser. "How’s that for an incredible stroke of luck?" Catherine said as she watched the cruiser ease into traffic. She ducked back into the van and out of the rain. It was then Catherine realized she all but climbed onto John’s lap to talk to Hoffman. Her lips were just centimetres away from his, and parted ever so slightly. For the first time Catherine noticed the enormous body heat John radiated. She felt bathed in his essence and discovered she could not move away. John felt a stirring, but then deep in her eyes he saw it. He saw the confusion and the pain she felt. Feelings he realized Catherine must struggle to deny. John averted his eyes giving her the reprieve she needed. Catherine backed away slightly. Oh Johnny, maybe in some other circumstance. "We should follow your friend," he said. Fragilely, Catherine regained her composure and slid back into her seat, "Oui." She turned toward the rain-streaked window and withdrew back into herself. Oh no... I cannot let my feelings... not again... it’s cost me to much in the past... She glanced quickly at John as he turned the van into the highway. I’m so sorry Johnny. *** John followed the cruiser as it turned off the highway and onto the narrow service road. The muddy path was lined with a thick forest on the left and with a deep ravine on the right. He could not find it on his GPS monitor. "I don’t like this," John whispered to himself. He noticed Catherine stroking her eyebrows, "You suspicious?" "Non," she said quickly. Catherine did not make eye contact with John, but remained looking out the window. "When you stop I want you to stay in the van," she said quietly. "Place the transmission in neutral and set the emergency brake." "Understood." John replied, and then added, "How well do you know this guy?" Catherine glared at him. "What the hell do you mean by that?" she snapped. "I didn’t mean to imply anything," John said. "It’s just—" "We’re both on edge," Catherine said terminating his concerns. "Our nerves have been rattled enough today." She turned back toward the window. "It’s almost over, then we can get on with both our lives," she added coolly and inwardly sighed. She did not mean to sound so bitter. John set his jaw. That was tactful Riel. Up ahead the path widened slightly. The cruiser stopped next to a squat brick building. Across from it a metal grate staircase dipped down into the ravine. John stopped five meters behind Hoffman. He left the van in natural and set the emergency brake. John felt uneasy. There was something missing here but he couldn’t put his finger on it. John glanced at the dash board. The cruise control light was still on. He pressed the stud and shut it off. John used the cruise control all the time. He didn’t want to mistakenly drive over the speed limit. It was easy to do in Baby with the LED speedometer on the dash. When the sun was at the right angle he couldn’t read anything off the dash. So he would set the cruise control. "How’d he know?" John asked. "Know what?" Catherine replied absently. "How did Hoffman know my name?" Catherine raised any eyebrow, puzzled by the question, "Tom would have run your plates of course." John looked at her, "Why?" Catherine looked at him. "Why?" he repeated, "I wasn’t speeding." Catherine was silent. Then all colour suddenly drained from her face. She had screwed up too many times over the last few days and her confidence was now at the shattering point. Catherine frantically looked around, suddenly disorientated. If I’ve lead us into a trap! She looked at John. He said, "Your friend was looking for us." Catherine’s eyes were wide. Whatever discipline remained started to slip away, "Oh my God! How could I’ve been so blind? I’m going to get the both of us killed!" Just then an enormous midnight black limousine appeared behind the van. Simultaneously the cruiser’s doors opened and two figures stepped out. One was clearly Hoffman. John could not make out the second. "Oh God, non!" Catherine squealed at the sight of Raymond Smyles. She fought back the pain, the helplessness, the humiliation of what he did to her. She told herself she would be strong. She said she could deal with it. After all, she told herself, it was only a physical assault. She was wrong. The sight of that man again shattered the frail mental barricade she erected and Catherine felt her sanity seeping through the cracks. "Catherine!" John grabbed her arm and whisked her around like a rag doll. "Catherine. What do we-?" Her eyes were wide with fear and revulsion. He followed her gaze to the second man and an image fell into place. He was the one Catherine pushed out the car window. He was the one—Son of a bitch! John turned back to Catherine. She started trembling in his grasp, "I’m sorry. I’m sorry." John grabbed her by the shoulders. "Catherine!" he yelled. "Snap out of it! " The shock snapped her control into place, if only for a moment, "Johnny?" "Come on Catherine. What do we do?" Catherine Wildman looked at him and in that eternal moment she forgot all her pain and analyzed the man before her. She looked at his face, then into his eyes. Deep into his eyes. It was there she found it. It was there she saw their chance. Immersed deep within his soul was a spark. A spark buried deep beneath personal tragedy. The loss of a loved one. Yet, beyond the tragedy was an emotion fuelling the spark, a passion struggling to break free, struggling to live. An intensity she now realized he desperately wanted to share with her. Catherine smiled. The mist had fully lifted. She understood now. His motives were crystal clear to her. She seized his head with both hands and pulled him close. "Time to kick ass!" Catherine said and kissed John passionately on the lips. Then before he could react she turned away and rolled down her window, "Hi Tom," she called, "What’s up?" Constable Hoffman raised a bullhorn to his lips, "Cathy Wildman?" "You know who I am, Tom," Catherine called back. "I have to talk to you Cathy. Please come out." "Sorry Tom, no-can-do. You come here." "What’s going on with you, Cathy?" "What are you talking about, Tom?" "You’re wanted for murder. You killed a cop. I’ve given you the benefit of doubt, but you’re testing my patience." Catherine’s brows knitted as she looked at John. He shrugged. She then turned back to the window, "Who Tom?" Hoffman glanced at Smyles. The ugly man nodded. Hoffman raised the bull horn, "Gene Hatton!" the name was followed by a crash of thunder. Catherine looked at John. "What do you think?" she asked. "I think the compost has sat to long." Catherine did a double take, and then smiled. "You bet’cha." "Now what?" John asked. "Do you pray?" she quipped. "No. I’m an atheist." Catherine made a clucking sound with her tongue, "We’ll have to work on that. Keep an eye out. I don’t want the bozo in the limousine creeping up our backside." "Right," John rolled down his window and peered out. A stocky moustached man with thick glasses stood by the limousine. He had an Uzi slung over his shoulder. "We’ve got us a bozo," John advertised. "Okay, with Tom that’s three. Let’s hope that’s it." "You’re the man. What do we do?" "Make a run for it," Catherine said flatly, "Ease off the emergency brake but don’t touch the brake pedal." "Right. The brake lights will tip them off." Delighted to have her back and firing on all cylinders, John carried out the instructions. "Did you suspect something was up when you asked me not put it in park?" Catherine watched the two men standing in the rain. "Woman’s intuition. When I give the word, slam it into drive and give it all you got." "Set and serve. Ball’s in your court," John said. Catherine looked at him, "What?" "Ready when you are," John clarified. "Good." Catherine returned to the window and leaned out. "Yo, Tom!" "Yes Cathy?" he called back, competing with the echo of thunder. "What was your price?" Catherine cried out as the shotgun roared. John didn’t even see her pick it up. Hoffman and Smyles dove to the ground as the cruiser’s rear window exploded. Catherine looked at John, "Do it!" The van rumbled and bucked forward, spraying mud and gravel at DeTully, knocking him off his feet. "Cathy! What the hell are you doing?" Hoffman screamed, forgetting about the bull horn. John cranked on the wheel and the van spun into a wide turn, spraying Smyles and Hoffman with a wave of mud. Catherine slid the repeater and fired a wad of lead into the limousine’s radiator. "Fucker!" Smyles cried, spitting out a mouthful of mud. The van suddenly jerked as the two left side tires blew out. DeTully, grinning like a lunatic, had riddled the side of the vehicle with Uzi fire. John fought with the wheel, trying to keep the van moving. Behind him electronic equipment exploded and sparked as lead chewed through the van. John eased off the brake and turned into the spin, fighting to manoeuvre on the narrow road, but despite his best effort Baby sideswiped a tree. Sweat stung his eyes as John fought with the wheel. Then something cracked and he managed to swing the van back on the muddy road. The Uzi fire continued. "Next?" John cried out. Small holes suddenly appeared rhythmically across the windshield. "Down!" Catherine yelled. The glass spiderwebbed as Uzi fire burst through. One slug shattered the stock of the shotgun, tearing it from Catherine’s hands. It stuck the floor and discharged. John cried out as the steering wheel and a chuck of the dashboard exploded in his face. A shattering crack rippled through the van as it collided with the support blocks anchoring the stairs. The right front wheel tore away from the axle and the fragmented metal chewed into the mud blanketed concrete. The van jarred to a stop on the edge of the ravine. "Hold on!" Catherine screamed as the soft earth beneath them started to crumble. For the span of a heart beat the van teetered on the brink. John and Catherine managed to clasp hands as certain doom started them in the face. Then, preceded by a flash of lightning, they tumbled over into the ravine. Chapter 11 "Sweet Jesus!" Hoffman whispered as the van slipped over the edge. Like a bolt of lightning in the yellow slicker, he raced across the muddy ground and slid to a stop where the van vanished. Hoffman peered into the ravine. The shattered van was wedged between a clump of trees and tangled within the steel grating at the base of the stairs. The back half of the van was submerged in the swollen river. Hoffman realized they only had seconds to act before the force of the river pounding at the van would dislodge it and pull it under. Smyles and DeTully arrived at Hoffman’s side. The constable pointed at DeTully. "Was that really necessary?" DeTully grinned widely as Smyles spoke, "My associate relishes his work." Hoffman looked back into the ravine. "We’ve gotta’ get them out of there before they drown. You," he said to DeTully, "you’re coming with me." DeTully looked at Smyles, who nodded in agreement. DeTully frowned. "You, Mr. Smyles," Hoffman said, "I want you to call this in then get the rope from the trunk of my cruiser, tie it off and toss it down." "Sure," Smyles said. Holding the twisted railing tightly, Hoffman, followed by DeTully, carefully, but quickly, descended the slick stairs toward the van. When Hoffman reached bottom he climbed onto the hood of the van. He found footing within the twisted metal of the railing and eased himself around to the side. There Hoffman was able to yank open the passenger side door. "God," Hoffman whispered as he saw Catherine. Her face was a mess of blood. He reached in and gently felt her wrist for a pulse. It was faint, but there. Hoffman blew out a breath. There was no time to check for any more injuries. The raging water was already tearing away the roots that held the van in place. He glanced at John. The water level was already at his chest. Time was running out. Hoffman slipped into the van, disengaged her seat belt, and gently slipped his hands under her arms. "The windshield!" he yelled at DeTully who stood on the hood. The roar of the flooded river made communications almost impossible. Yet DeTully understood and kicked away the remaining spiderwebbed glass. "You got her?" DeTully asked. "Her jacket is caught on something," Hoffman said. DeTully produced a Bowie knife from an ankle sheath, leaned in, and sliced open the front of the denim jacket. "Shit!" Hoffman cried as Catherine’s weight shifted in his arms, "Careful you dolt! I almost lost her." Hoffman supported his back with the door frame and lifted Catherine up into DeTully’s arms. Then while DeTully held onto her, Hoffman climbed back onto the hood. He shouldered Catherine’s limp form from DeTully, "Get the other guy and hurry. We don’t have much time. The ground’s eroding fast." "Yadda-yadda!" Hoffman found the rope Smyles tossed down the stairs and used it to climb back up. When he reached the top, Smyles attempted to take Catherine. Hoffman held her away, "No! I’ve got her!" he snapped, "Open the car door!" Smyles complied and Hoffman gently laid Catherine down in the back seat of the limousine. He then darted over to his cruiser. Smyles waited until Hoffman was out of earshot then leaned forward and yanked Catherine’s head up by the hair, "Where is it?" he hissed. Hoffman slammed the trunk shut and returned with a blanket. Smyles stepped back as the constable gently wrapped it around Catherine. The hammering rain washed most of the blood from her face, but she was still bleeding from somewhere along her scalp above her hair line. "God, Cathy," Hoffman muttered. "How is she?" Smyles asked innocently. "She’ll live to see trial if that’s what you want," Hoffman said tightly. DeTully approached the limousine with John over his shoulder. He then dropped him to the ground and leaned against the fender wheezing, "Heavy prick." "Careful with him!" Hoffman barked, "Where the hell is the back up?" "Tom…." Hoffman turned at the sound of her voice, "I’m here Cathy." Catherine coughed and spit out a mouthful of water, "Johnny? Where?" "He’s right here." "Hello, Miss Wildman," Smyles said. Her eyes snapped wide as the sound of his voice. "Toi!" Renouncing the pain Catherine sat up and, using the door for leverage, struggled to her feet. "Cathy you—" Hoffman began. Catherine shoved away his helping hand and limped toward Smyles. All her fear of him was now gone. She had faced and conquered her demons and found a new purpose. She had someone to protect, someone who would not leave her. She vowed she would not fail him like she had failed so many before. Catherine halted centimetres from the ugly man’s scarred face and glared into his cold grey eyes, "Who are you?" she asked. "Raymond Smyles," he said arrogantly. "Raymond Smyles," Catherine replied, ignoring the blood flowing into her eyes, "You are under arrest." Smyles laughed in her face. "You, my dear, are the one wanted for murder. I am only here to protect federal interests and make sure certain procedures are followed." "Who was Gene Hatton?" Hoffman asked Catherine. Her eyes did not waver from Smyles’ ugly face, "He was my partner," she said, "This man is not whoever he told you. He’s rogue CIA." "What?" Hoffman exclaimed. "A hired gun and bag of mucus," Catherine hissed. "A go-boy for The Group of Ten. An international narcotics ring. He ordered the murder of my partner. He lied to you and…" her voice quivered just for a moment, "… raped me." Hoffman placed his hand on the handle of his service revolver, "All right. I want some straight answer from both—" he saw a spray of red shoot out before his eyes and felt a sharp pain, like a paper cut, on his throat. DeTully twirled the stained knife between his fingers. Constable Tom Hoffman slumped to the muddy ground, his life pumping out with each beat of his heart. "Non! Tom! Smyles toi bâtard!" Catherine screamed and lashed out, but Smyles had already grabbed her wrists. "You are coming with me, you little bitch!" he hissed. Then Smyles turned to DeTully, "Kill her boyfriend." Catherine spat in his face. Smyles just grinned and raised her arms up over her head. That was a mistake. Catherine used the leverage he just gave her and swung forward. Her foot connected with his genitals. He exploded with a squeal and they both tumbled to ground. Catherine rolled to her feet and bolted for the cover of the nearby trees. DeTully drew his weapon and aimed. John’s foot shot out and dislocated his kneecap. DeTully cried out and stumbled against the limousine. He gun discharged harmlessly into the ground. "No fucking way," Smyles growled. He drew his .357, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. The Magnum roared. A spray of lead tore into her lower back and erupted out below her left breast. Catherine, carried by the momentum of her sprint and the deadly power of the .357, was hurled through the air before landing with a sickening spat on the grimy road. John twisted around on the ground and saw her sprawled out in a pool of bloody water. She did not move. Desperately he reached out with his hand. "No…." Then everything went black. PART TWO "Betrayals" Interlude The dream ended. She opened her eyes. The harsh light of the naked bulb burned. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples and realized, I’m still here. She opened her eyes again and stood only to discover that the ceiling of her door less and windowless room was so low that she had to stoop. She stretched out her arms and her fingers brushed the opposite walls. In the corner was a plastic box. She reached down and opened it. Like always a tray of food was inside. Toast, coffee, orange juice and an apple. Breakfast? Then it must be morning again. She sat down on the floor and looked at spattering of marks on the wall. Did I make them? How many? One, two, three... five... ten... fifty-one. Fifty-one? Fifty-one what? Days? Could that be...? Yes. That’s it. I’ve been here fifty-one days. That’s if I remembered to mark each day. Where is here? She picked up a piece of chalk-Where’d that come from?-from the floor and scratched another line. Fifty-two. Fifty-two days where? Again, for the same time in as many days-That’s if I remembered-she examined her room. I’m not very tall, yet the ceiling makes me stoop. She picked up her coffee and sipped it. A realization then struck her and she put the coffee back down. Why would someone put me here? She looked at her plastic coffee mug. What would they do to keep me here? Something in her chest fluttered. "Ou suis-je?" she cried and heaved the mug at the wall. Coffee sprayed across the white walls and floor. Frightened by her outburst she dropped her head into her hands, "Non! Non. Je ne dois pas laché contrôle," her hands raked through her hair and rested on her shoulders, "D’accord, premier." She flipped the tray over, upsetting the remainder of her breakfast, and studied herself in the reflection. Where is that light coming from? Her face showed signs of a beating. There were faded bruises around her cheeks and jaw. Just above her hair line was a deep cut that had been stitched up. She touched the stitches with a finger. It was tender to the touch. She moved her hands down her body and found a compress below her left breast. She poked at it with her finger. A sharp pain shot through her chest. Oh God! That felt like a... a... She flexed her left shoulder and felt another compress on her back. What happened to me? Who did this? Why can’t I remember? Someone help me! Someone please help me. Don’t leave me here. Johnny, help me! Please don’t leave me here! Johnny! Johnny? "Johnny..." she whispered. In the back of her mind she felt a fog swirling and starting to lift. I’ve got something. Hold onto it, chick! Think! Her stomach heaved. She threw her head back and fought the urge to vomit. Her arms wrapped around her belly. She doubled over and all went black. *** She opened her eyes. The harsh light of the naked bulb burned. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples and realized, I’m still here. She opened her eyes again and stood only to discover that the ceiling of her door less and windowless room was so low that she had to stoop. She stretched out her arms and her fingers brushed the opposite walls. In the corner was a plastic box. She reached down and opened it. Like always a tray of food was inside. Toast, coffee, orange juice and an apple. Breakfast? Then it must be morning again. She sat down on the floor and looked at spattering of marks on the wall. Did I make them? How many? One, two, three... five... ten... fifty-two. Fifty-two? Fifty-two what? Days? Could that be...? Yes. That’s it. I’ve been here fifty-two days. That’s if I remembered to mark each day. Where is here? She picked up a piece of chalk-Where’d that come from?-from the floor and scratched another line. Fifty-three. Fifty-three days where? Again, for the same time in as many days-That’s if I remembered-she examined her room. I’m not very tall, yet the ceiling makes me stoop. She picked up her coffee and sipped it. A realization then struck her and she put the coffee back down. Why would someone put me here? She looked at her plastic coffee mug. What would they do to keep me here? Something in her chest fluttered. "Ou suis-je?" she cried and heaved the mug at the wall. Coffee sprayed across the white walls and floor. Frightened by her outburst she dropped her head into her hands, "Non! Non. Je ne dois pas laché contrôle," her hands raked through her hair and rested on her shoulders, "D’accord, premier." She flipped the tray over, upsetting the remainder of her breakfast, and studied herself in the reflection. Where is that light coming from? Her face showed signs of a beating. There were faded bruises around her cheeks and jaw. Just above her hair line was a deep cut that had been stitched up. She touched the stitches with a finger. It was tender to the touch. She moved her hands down her body and found a compress below her left breast. She poked at it with her finger. A sharp pain shot through her chest. Oh God! That felt like a... a... She flexed her left shoulder and felt another compress on her back. What happened to me? Who did this? Why can’t I remember? Someone help me! Someone please help me. Don’t leave me here. Johnny help me! Please don’t leave me here! Johnny! Johnny? "Johnny..." she whispered. In the back of her mind she felt a fog swirling and starting to lift. I’ve got something. Hold onto it, chick! Think! Her stomach heaved. She threw her head back and fought the urge to vomit. Her arms wrapped around her belly. She doubled over and all went black. *** The dream ended. She opened her eyes. The harsh light of the naked bulb burned. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. Here we go again. Why’d I say that? She opened her eyes and stood, but the ceiling of her door less and windowless room was so low that she was forced to stoop. She stretched out her arms and her fingers brushed the opposite walls. Reaching down she opened the plastic box in the corner and withdrew her breakfast. She placed the tray on the floor. Toast, coffee, orange juice and an apple. It’s morning again. She sat down cross-legged and looked at some marks she made on the wall. How many? One, two, three... five... ten... fifty-three. Fifty-three? Fifty-three what? Days? Could that be...? Yes. That’s it. I’ve been here fifty-three days. That’s if I remembered to mark each day. Where is here? She picked up a piece of chalk-Where’d that come from?-and scratched another line. Fifty- four. Fifty-four days where? Again, for the same time in as many days-That’s if I remembered-she examined her room. I’m not very tall, yet the ceiling makes me stoop. That I know. She picked up her coffee and sipped it, then suddenly put the coffee back down. Why would someone put me here? What would they do to keep me here? "Ou suis-je?" she cried and heaved the mug at the wall. Coffee sprayed across the spotless white walls and floor. They should be permanently stained by now. Frightened by her outburst she dropped her head into her hands, "Non! Non. Je ne dois pas laché contrôle," her hands raked through her—My hair’s longer—and rested on her shoulders. "D’accord, premier." She flipped the tray over, upsetting the remainder of her breakfast, and studied herself in the reflection. Her face showed signs of a beating. There were faded bruises around her cheeks and jaw. Just above her hair line was a deep cut that had been stitched up. She touched the stitches with a finger. It was tender to the touch. She moved her hands down her body and found a compress below her left breast. She poked at it with her finger. A sharp pain shot through her chest. Oh God! That felt like a... a... She flexed her left shoulder and felt another compress on her back. What happened to me? Who did this? Why can’t I remember? Someone help me! Someone please help me. Don’t leave me here. Johnny help me! Please don’t leave me here! Johnny! Johnny? "Johnny..." she whispered. In the back of her mind she felt a fog swirling and starting to lift. I know him? She bit down on her tongue. The sharp jolt of pain helped her focus. I’ve got something. Hold onto it, chick! Think! Who is Johnny? Who is he to me-? The cold fingers of fear brushed across the back of her neck—Me? I don’t know! Oh God! Who am I? Like bile, panic rose and singed the back of her mouth. Oh my God! Non, non, non, non... What’s happening? Who did this to me? Why? Why? What? Stop! Don’t scream. He’s probably watching me. He? Why did I say he? Johnny? No, that does not feel right. She felt a warmth creep through her body. I would like Johnny watching me. No ‘he’ is evil... I don’t want him watching me... touching me... touching me... Smiling at me! Smiling at... Smile. Her stomach heaved. She threw her head back and fought the urge to vomit. Her arms wrapped around her belly. Fingers... Fear... In his hand... Death... He was... he was... Flesh... He... on... me... She looked down at her hands. They were touching naked flesh. Her flesh. I’m naked. I didn’t notice that before. Naked? Johnny? No... smiling... smile! Sm... Sm... Smyles. Smyles! Oh God! She doubled over and dry-heaved. The racking pain and the cold floor jolted the pieces in place and memories burst though the narcotic-induced barriers in her mind. She rolled to her feet and screamed, "Smyles! You son of-a-bitch! I beat you! I know who I am, you Asshole! You thought you could steal my identity! My soul! I beat you! I know who I am! I’m Catherine Wildman! You hear that? I am Catherine Wildman and you are dead, Smyles! Dead!" *** The dream ended. Catherine opened her eyes. Her head throbbed with pain, and bright pinpoints of light spurred behind her eyes. As her full senses returned, Catherine realized she was in total darkness and enclosed in a very small space. A box, or crate of some kind. She fought off a brief attack of claustrophobia and forced herself to remain calm. Catherine flexed her fingers gently outward and encountered the smooth surfaces of polished wood on either side. A similar surface pressed down on her breasts and made breathing an effort. Catherine pushed up on her toes and could feel the top of her head tap hollowly against the ceiling of her cramped prison. Catherine knew she was no immediate danger of asphyxiation as the air she breathed in was dry but pure. Gently Catherine tapped on the side of the box with her knuckles. Listening carefully to the sound she deduced that the wood was less than a couple centimetres thick. Then like a lightning strike flashing through the dark places of her mind, Catherine realized the shape of the box was familiar. She was shut up inside a coffin. A crate is one thing, but a coffin? Catherine shuddered involuntarily. She slowed her breathing and focused her energy. With her eyes close she pictured the world outside. Then she let it rip. With a single convulsive explosion of mental and physical energy, Catherine’s fist exploded through the front of the coffin, followed by a tearing and splintering crash of wood as the panels of the coffin burst asunder and the enclosing structure fell apart around her. Catherine Wildman stood in a door less, seamless, white room. The parts of the uneven ceiling was so low that it touched the hair on the top of her head. She stretched out her arms and her fingers brushed the opposite walls. "Crap," she whispered. Out of the frying pan…. Catherine proceeded to tear away the Virtual Reality imagining equipment and electrodes fastened to her skin and hurl them against the wall, all the while screaming into the air, "Come and get me you pricks!" Chapter 12 Somewhere "Christ," spat Raymond Smyles. His eyes hurt. For almost two and a half months he had been watching Catherine Wildman on the television monitor live out her V.R. existence. He had fifty bucks that said she was ready to crack. Lydia Miezlaiskis swivelled around on her chair and faced the scarred man, "Looks like your plan isn’t working." More than a hint of sarcasm dripped from her tongue. "It wasn’t my plan. Stein came up with it. Beats the hell out of me why," Smyles lit up a cigar. "What I want to know is what does Stein hope to get out of this?" "A weakening of the mind," Jefferson Stein answered as he entered the small surveillance room. "You should know that, Ray." "Good morning sir," Lydia said sweetly, giving up her chair. Stein sat down and stared at the monitor. "How is our little trouble maker today?" "She seems to have broken out of her shell." Lydia tapped the monitor screen with a long red nail. "And then some." The ruined V.R. equipment was scattered across the floor and Catherine sat cross legged in the centre of the room. Although the surveillance camera was carefully hidden in the corner, she seemed to be staring right at them. "She didn’t crack," Smyles said. "Oh, no. No, not so you could notice Ray," Stein replied, eyes still glued to the image on the monitor. "But on the inside…" he trailed off then smiled and turned to face the two agents. "We’ll see." Stein opened his briefcase and retrieved a thick folder. "This file," he said tapping it, "is six months work of study done by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service." Smyles snorted. "What is it?" Lydia asked stepping closer. "Wildman’s psychological profile." "Psych pro? How did you get it?" Lydia asked, "That is highly confidential information. I couldn’t even access it with my level of clearance." "I have my ways," Stein said. "Since little Miss Wildman has stumbled back into the scene I thought it was time to prove a little theory." He flipped open the file. His long tapered fingers skimmed across a page until he found what he was looking for, "Monophobia." "Monophobia?" Smyles asked, "Fear of mono?" Stein sighed. "Fear of being left alone," Lydia said. "Very good Lydia. You’ve done your homework. A happy face for you." "Thank you, but how is this useful?" "When she was assigned to the RCMP Special Operations unit, CSIS started a file on her and this little nugget in Wildman’s personality popped up." "I don’t understand," Smyles said and flung his arms in the air. "What does this have to do with anything? It’s just psycho bullshit. If you gave me and DeTully a few minutes with her we would have found out where the disk was months ago." Stein exploded, "It was your fuck up that lost the disk in the first place! So shut your pie hole!" Scowling, Smyles sat down and listened. "Now, she has not cracked," Stein continued calmly, "because we have given her no reason to believe that she was alone. I suspected she might break out of her cocoon about now so we shall begin with phase two." "So what are we going to do now?" Smyles grunted. "What have you done with the guy she was with?" "Riel? He’s stashed in one of the rooms upstairs. You said you wanted him alive. His only contact has been with DeTully," Lydia said. "You want him?" "Yes. Strip him naked and move him to the interrogation room." "I’ll see to it," Lydia said and left the room. "Why do you want him?" Smyles asked, feeling more and more left in the dark. "He knows nothing." "Oh, I’m sure that’s true, but he still could be useful as a tool to work Wildman. Now pay attention, Ray. This is what I want you and Sam to do." Stein filled Smyles in on his plan. "Do you understand?" "Yeah," Smyles said. "Good. Snap to it." Smyles stood and turned toward the exit, "One questions though." He halted and faced Stein. The handsome man watched Catherine intently on the monitor, "What is it?" "What images were you feeding her through that V.R. unit?" With a glint in his eye, Stein turned away from the monitor and looked at Smyles. A smile slithered across his face. Smyles realized it was better that he did not know and left the room. "Idiot," Stein uttered under his breath. He turned back toward the monitor and studied Catherine’s image. "You are not as strong as you think. I’ll break you. Mark my words." He flicked off the screen and sat in the dark for a long moment before punching in a twelve-digit number on the video-phone. Instantly the small screen flickered and an image of a sole figure obscured by shadows appeared. "I’m proceeding with phase two of the plan as we discussed," Stein said. "Good," replied an electronically altered voice. "Any further orders?" he asked. "Not at this time." "I have one concern," Stein said. The figure did not reply so he continued, "I believe we may have to eliminate Mr. Smyles. He is becoming too much of a loose cannon." "No. He still has his use." Stein tapped the arm of his chair with his index finger. "As you wish." The transmission ended. Stein made a clucking sound with his tongue. *** Naked, save for a pair of boxer shorts and the kind of slave hood used by a dominatrix, John Riel waited in the dark. The routine had been the same. The man with the guinea hen voice would enter the room and unchain him from the bed and move him to the toilet. He would give John ten minutes then chain him to the wall. He would leave only returning to feed him something through a straw. After twelve hours John would be taken off the wall and returned to the bed. Today he was already on the wall when the door opened too early for the first feeding. John Riel tensed. The sound moving across the room was different. This is someone else. "Now that’s a sight," a sultry voice cooed. Definitely not the guinea hen. "Who’s there?" John asked, trying to keep the sound of his voice even. A throaty chuckle was the response. Suddenly there were two soft hands with long nails playing with his nipples. "Who are you?" John asked again. A tongue caressed an exposed ear lobe, "A wild fantasy you once had as a teenager," she purred. "I don’t think so," John replied. Finger nails gouged into his nipples. John bit back any further comment. "That’s better," she breathed. "I like my men the helpless silent type. Hung and helpless. Now let’s see what you’ve got for me." Her fingers tugged at his boxer shorts. "Adorable," she said. Moments later the shorts were at his ankles. John futilely struggled with his bonds. He knew he was about to be raped. As sharp tipped fingers slowly massaged his genitals, John concentrated on anything but what was happening. One hand kneaded his scrotum as the other fingered his rectum. Then she started doing something with her mouth. "Stop... please..." John gasped as she totally engulfed him. He was powerless, overcome and forced into submissiveness. She had him. She won. *** The icy sting of cold water shocked John Riel awake. He tried to open his eyes, but the left one was swollen shut. A throbbing reminder of the events of the last hour. Squinting, John was greeted with a glinting diamond within a demonic smile. He tried to move only to discover he was still naked and bound at the wrists and ankles to a chair. He was somewhere else. "I see you’re back with us, Mr. Riel." The voice perspired menace. "You…" John choked through a dry throat. "My name is Smyles, Raymond Smyles," he said and lit a cigar. Smyles then motioned to someone standing behind John. "That’s Sam DeTully. We are with the Central Intelligence Agency." "Where’s Catherine?" John demanded with all the will he could muster. Smyles grinned and snorted smoke in his face. "Where is she?" John repeated. DeTully smacked John in the head with a closed fist. Lights sparked across his vision. "I’ll ask the questions here," Smyles said calmly, "How do you know her?" "Why are you doing this?" "My, you are a persistent bugger," Smyles commented. He slid another chair over, straddled it backwards, and faced his prisoner. "Give it up," he suggested calmly, "I simply want some answers." "Piss off," John said. "Tell me if this hurts," Smyles said and pressed the lit end of his cigar to John’s Adam ’s apple. John screamed. "A simple ‘yes’ would have sufficed," Smyles said, sucking back a drag on the cigar, "Now, once again. How do you know Wildman?" John limply shook his head. Smyles removed the cigar from his mouth and placed it over John’s right eye. John tried to twist away but DeTully held him firm. The foul smoke from the cigar made his eyes water. "Tell me," Smyles prompted. "I-I... Don’t! We met when she stumbled into my van," John sputtered, ashamed in betraying her. "What else?" "Nothing. Nothing." The cigar drifted closer, "Are you sure?" Smyles taunted, dancing the fiery tip before his face. "Yes! Yes! I’m sure. I don’t know anything," John tried to close his eyes but DeTully’s fingers prevented him, "She didn’t tell me anything!" Smyles slowly moved the glowing tip closer and then dropped it and singed the skin just below his eye. John’s scream cut through the room like a blade. Blue sickly-sweet smoke curled up though the air and stung his eyes. Smyles flicked the cigar to the floor and butted it with his heel. He nodded to DeTully and stood up. With all his strength draining away, John slumped in the chair. "Now what?" DeTully asked. "I’ll have to be more persuasive." Smyles turned toward John. "Mr. Riel?" Through his tearing eyes John glanced up and felt his nose flatten against his face as Smyles lashed out and drop-kicked him square in the face. DeTully leapt out of the way as John and the chair flipped over and struck the cement floor with a dull smack. A nova of stars flashed throughout John’s brain. Then all went black. Smyles stepped over him, placed a foot on his chest and grabbed John by the hair. He yanked him closer and bellowed, "Don’t fuck with me! I’ve had a really bad day!" Smyles then noticed that John had lost consciousness. "What the fuck is this?" He let him go. John’s head thumped against the floor. "He’s out cold." "Maybe you hit him too hard," DeTully offered. "No shit Sherlock." "Now what? Mr. Stein wanted him awake for his entrance," DeTully said and heaved John and the chair upright. Just then a door creaked open and a sliver of light cut through the dark room. Jefferson Stein slowly entered and walked casually yet directly toward John, "Mr. Riel," he said, "I am Jefferson…" Stein noticed John slumped in the chair and the blood on his face and floor. "What the hell happened?" "DeTully hit him too hard," Smyles said. "I did not hit him! You hit him!" DeTully protested. "You were supposed to catch him!" Smyles shot back. "Shut up the both of you!" Stein growled. "Christ Smyles, you stupid shit-stick. Wake him up!" Stein turned and stormed out of the room. DeTully crossed to the sink and filled a glass full of cold water. He returned and threw the water in John’s face. Coughing twice, John glanced up as a ray of light sliced through the smoky room. Jefferson Stein entered. The tall well dressed man closed the distance between them slowly and stood before John. His eyes steely yet bored. When the door closed, the only light remaining was a naked bulb that hung from a cord behind Stein, giving him a ghostly halo. "Who...?" John managed weakly. Stein did not reply. He stood before John and gestured toward DeTully. The handsome man grabbed John in an iron grip and stabbed him in the arm with a syringe filled with a greenish liquid. "What… what did you…." Stein walked away and found a chair in the corner of the room. He dragged it back toward John, letting its legs scraped across the floor, forcing everybody to wince. Stein casually sat down and faced John. "I’m Jefferson Stein," he announced politely. "Who are you?" "John- you should know." Careful. Keep alert. Oh man I’m tired... "Yes I do," Stein said, "Your name is John E. Riel. You are one of those tiring new breed of video reporters. You were formerly with CKKC, the Vancouver super-station. You are now, or pardon me, soon will be a freelancer with the Canada-World News Network. You worked for them in the past but left under interesting circumstances. You were camped out near Sudbury when a not unattractive young woman stumbled into your life and royally fucked it up." Stein smiled. "That was Cathy Wildman of the RCMP Special Operations Unit. I believe that brings us up to date." "What do you want from me?" "I want to know what the ‘E’ stands for." "Eat shit." Stein smiled again. "Being a smart ass does not improve your situation." John did not reply. "Yes, I see you agree. Now let’s get down to brass tacks." Stein turned his attention to the hangnail on his left index finger. "Where is the data disk?" he asked. John shook his head wistfully, "I don’t know what you are talking about." "If you plan to stick to that story, fine. But I warn you I believe I can persuade you to change your mind," Stein leaned toward John. His breath smelled freshly gargled. "Pain is a wonderful weapon and you are at your most vulnerable. Naked, tied down, three mean men with guns and an unknown substance floating through your system." Stein leaned back in his chair and watched John sweat. "Think about it." John felt himself start to shake. His chest tightened and he knew his bowels were about to cut loose. Fight it! Think! If they didn’t need me, I’d be dead by now. They need me alive because... because... Catherine didn’t talk... she didn’t talk so they need me alive... hold on.... John saw a slight downward tug in Stein’s lips when he smiled at the handsome man. "Fuck you asshole." Stein quickly regained whatever composure he thought he lost and leaned toward John again. "Did you know that there is three different categories of pain?" He gripped John’s little finger. "The first and least effective is the pain of fear. At this moment you fear I am going to break your finger. Something that will cause you pain." Stein broke John’s little finger. "See?" "Bastard!" John cried out. Stein stood up and casually fixed his tie. "Now that was the second category of pain. Bones breaking. Ligaments tearing. Blood vessels rupturing. All-in-all pretty messy stuff. What I like about the second category is that it’s made up of several levels. What you just endured was a very low level. Now I’m sure that hurt, but that is nothing compared to what Mr. Smyles and Mr. DeTully excel in. They forgotten more levels in the second category that I could have ever dreamed of." Stein, in a brotherly fashion, put his hand on Smyles’ shoulder. "Mr. Smyles has a thing about his cigars. I see you’ve discovered that. He can be rather phallic at times." He gestured toward DeTully. "Now Mr. DeTully’s favourite was... what?" Stein snapped his fingers, "Oh yes, the charged wires to the testicles." He chuckled. "You should watch someone squirm with that one, but don’t worry, I’m sure things won’t come to that." Stein smiled as he watched John struggle to hide his fear. "The third category," Stein’s eyes flashed as he continued, "The third is my favourite. It’s what I call ‘real pain, for real people.’" He sat down again before John. "To inflict it I don’t even need to touch you and believe you me, it is a pain that will never go away." "What… are you talking about?" John asked carefully. The throbbing in his finger was starting to ebb but sweat flowed freely down his back. Stein, visibly pleased that he had John’s undivided attention, turned to DeTully and nodded. The other man left. Stein faced John again. "It is one thing to be a victim of pain Mr. Riel, but it is quite another to sit back and watch it. Oh, some people, like Mr. Smyles here, get off on it." Stein absently glanced at his finger nails again. "I find that personally distasteful," his eyes locked on John’s. "I enjoy inflicting it." DeTully returned with a television monitor. He placed it on a small table and wheeled it over to John. "What the hell do you want from me?" John screamed, wrestling with his bonds. "I only want your attention," Stein answered. DeTully flipped a switch on the monitor and the screen flickered to life. John found himself looking through a birds-eye lens into a colourless room. Sitting with her legs crossed in the middle of the room was a naked woman. "Catherine…" John whispered. "Good eye," Stein said. He removed his jacket and tie, carefully folded the tie and slipped it into the jacket pocket then passed them off to DeTully. "You see, Mr. Riel, I have been toying with little Miss Wildman’s mind for quite some time now. Over the last year I’ve slowly isolated her from her friends, then have had them suddenly disappear or die." Stein removed his shirt and folded it neatly. "It’s been a pet project of mine." He looked at John. "You see this quaint little Operation Arctic Snow was formed to bring down my pipeline." A hint of anger crept into his voice. "My pipeline!" Smyles cleared his throat and Stein shot him an acrimonious look before handing his folded shirt to DeTully. John noticed the exchange. "A pipeline I’ve spent years setting up," Stein continued. "Well, we couldn’t have that now can we?" DeTully handed Stein a blood-soiled shirt then proceed to tear at the sleeves and lining of the jacket. "That’s why I started messing with the mind of one of the three people heading up the operation," Stein said as he pulled on the shirt. DeTully then handed him back his jacket. John was puzzled, "Three? There were four people heading up OAS." Stein chuckled softly, "Yes, of course there were." He mussed his short blond hair. "First there were the Russians. Vladimir Zadneprovsky. He is dead. Then there was the female, Nikita Triska." He glanced at Smyles and DeTully. "She is also dead." Stein faced John again, "Thirdly, Cathy Wildman." He smiled, "She is still alive, for the time being anyway. Lastly, Gene Hatton. Also dead, mutilated and blown up I believe. Never properly ID'd I believe." With that Stein turned and walked away, DeTully at his heals. John cried out as Stein’s meaning became clear, "You bastard!" *** A hidden panel slid open. Catherine opened her eyes as somebody smacked the concrete floor before her. Then the panel slide shut with a clang. Catherine reached out and tuned her guest over, "Gene!" she exclaimed as a flood of conflicting emotions threatened to sweep her under. "Oh my God!" "Cathy?" Stein said. Catherine uncoiled her legs and pulled him close, "Oh God, Gene! I thought…" she kissed him longingly. "Cathy? But how…" Stein wrapped his arms around her naked frame and held her close, "I thought you were dead. What’s happing here?" "I don’t know…" she replied, "I’ve been shot. Smyles shot me, I think, in the back. I don’t know… long ago. I—I can’t remember." "God, what have they done to you?" Stein slipped out of his jacket and placed it over her broad shoulders. "It’s damp," she said, then realized the odour. "That’s blood." "It’s not mine," he said. "It’s from some guy they tortured and killed. They slit his throat right in front of me." Catherine pulled away slightly, "Oh God, that’s horrible," she sobbed. "Who? Do you know who it was?" No please don’t let it be... "Some reporter. Poor bastard was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Catherine’s hands shot up to her face, "Non... God no. It’s all my fault." "You knew him?" "Oui..." her hands fell from her face and into the pockets of the jacket, "Il a sauvé ma vie." Catherine turned away from Stein. "Oh Johnny... I’m sorry. I’m so sorry." She lowered her head and whispered a silent payer. "Cathy...." Stein reached out to touch her shoulder but Catherine spoke before he could. "He didn’t know anything about this. It’s my fault he’s dead." She turned and faced him. There was something in her eyes he could not place. Something he did not like, "Who killed him," she demanded. Her voice cut through him like glass. "Smyles," Stein said before he could think. Shit! I wanted to say that Lydia did it. "Smyles," Catherine repeated. Smyles, "I am going to kill him," she vowed. Her voice was scarcely above a whisper but there was a fire burning in her eyes. A green-eyed burn. Stein was taken aback. He did not expect this. She seemed to have found a long lost tap of strength. "Smyles said something about a data disk," Stein said carefully. "I don’t know what he’s talking about," Catherine said flatly. Stein pressed on, "You told me that you were meeting Vladimir before you disappeared. Does that have anything to do with that?" "Non. Vlad never showed up," Catherine said. "What happened to you that night?" Caught flat-footed by the change of her train of thought, Stein stammered, "Uh, Smyles jumped me after you… went into Crudup’s place." He carefully held his rage in check. This was not going the way he planned, "I’ve been here ever since." Catherine suddenly embraced him warmly, "Oh Gene, I’m frightened." Stein held her and caressed the back of her neck. Damn it! "Cathy?" "Oui?" "I overheard Smyles talking earlier." She did not reply. "He said something about leaving and setting up shop elsewhere." He felt Catherine stiffen in his arms. Good. "What about us?" "I don’t know." Just then the hidden panel slid open and DeTully stepped in. He grabbed Stein by the collar, "Move your ass Hatton. We still have a use for you," DeTully barked and dragged him from the cell. "Hasta Miss Wildman. Enjoy your stay." Catherine dug into the pocket of Stein’s jacket. The hidden panel slid shut with a thud. "Non!" Catherine screamed out, then waited a moment before getting to work. *** The door flung open with a crash and Stein stormed in. "You shit!" John cried out. His eyes burned as rage swelled up within him. Stein ignored him and faced Smyles, "I’ve sent DeTully to get the car. We’re pulling up stakes and hauling ass." "What? Why?" Smyles asked and rubbed the top of his head. "This set up took us months. We can’t leave all the equipment here. Most of it is marked." "Shut it!" Stein snapped. "She knows something was up. I don’t know what she suspects, but she knows something." "Faked you out," John volunteered. Stein backhanded him across the face. His nerves were taut. Stein never suspected she could have rattled him so. "You!" Stein placed his hands on John’s wrists and shifted his weight there, "You Mr. Riel, are in no position to shoot off your fucking mouth!" "What are we going to do with him?" Smyles asked. Stein straightened up and fixed his hair, "Kill him," he said. "I think not." All eyes shifted to the door. Chapter 13 All eyes shifted to the door. Catherine Wildman, silhouetted by a halogen light, stood poised and naked. Her feet straddled the motionless DeTully while his Smith & Wesson was held firm in both her hands. A rush of pity pumped through John. What have they done to you, Catherine? Her eyes and aim did not sway from Stein as Smyles slowly moved toward her. She either did not see him or did not care. Then as Smyles opened his jacket and touched the handle of his .357 there was a blur of motion and the .38 roared. Blood sprayed from Smyles’ shoulder as he slammed into the wall and slumped to the floor. Stein stepped forward but froze as Catherine pointed the weapon at her initial target. "Don’t," Catherine said. Her voice was flat, official. "You are under arrest. Turn around, hands on your head," she ordered, closing the gap between them. "What are you doing, Cathy?" Stein asked naively. His voice had an unusual gentleness to it. For a moment Catherine wavered, "Tu m’as utiliés," she whispered under her breath as the focus seemed to leave her eyes. Then suddenly she screamed, "You son-of-a-bitch! You used me!" "How?" Stein asked flatly. "You opened my eyes. I never told you I was meeting Vladimir. I never said anything about a data disk. I just told you I was using my prostitute cover to meet a contact." Stein’s handsome face seemed to melt as an almost mystic change slid across his features. All the hardness and anger melted into a reflection of innocence. Now that he had the time to gather his thoughts, Stein slowly, gently, reached out with an open hand. "Cathy," he said softly, "we’re partners, remember? You’re ill. Smyles pumped you so full of drugs you’re hallucinating. Please give me the gun before someone gets hurt." Again Catherine wavered as a kaleidoscope of images streamed behind her emerald eyes. He had no idea how she felt about him. Or did he? The night they first met was magic. He was... he was... The night they first made love was enchanting. Snowed in - how quaint - in that cabin of his in the Rockies. She had made love before, but this was different. This time it was with a man. He introduced her to new experiences. He opened new doors. All she had known or wanted before were women. Maryam, Bonita, Mademoiselle le Point... Gene would always be her first. He was witty and charming and handsome beyond belief. Gene was supportive when she needed it. He was her partner. Their lives were in each other’s hands. Catherine’s grip on the weapon eased as a flood of emotions started her nerves to fray, "Gene... non... don’t... please..." "Just give me the gun, Cathy. Then everything will be fine. Just like before. I’ll see to it." Charm oozed from his smile. "You remember the times we had together," he stepped closer, "Trust me." "Non... arrêter..." her voice became no more than a whisper, "Non... please..." "The gun Cathy," Stein said with a little more authority, "Hand me the gun," his fingers were only centimetres away. Catherine felt his eyes pulling her in. They were strong, sure. His eyes. Grey... hypnotic... trust him. I’m doped up. Trust my partner. Trust Gene. Frozen in time, John watched the drama unfold before him. The harder he tried to speak, to shout, to something, the harder it was for the sounds to come. No! No! No! Catherine! Fight it Catherine, fight it! Fight.... please... don’t give in. "Trust me Cathy... trust me," Stein preached slowly, evenly, tonelessly, "You can believe in me." Trust... trust... me... trust him... he... he... lied... he lied to me... lied... lied.... "You lied to me Gene," Catherine wept. Hot tears flowed freely down her cheeks. Catherine started to blink rapidly as tears blurred her vision. "Lied... you lied... about everything I believed in... everything..." Stein realized he was about to lose her and lunged for the weapon. Catherine felt her soul tear open and found herself floating in her mind. So frail. So tiny. So helpless. Helpless... I need help... Oh God I need help.... Her mind’s eye looked skyward. Oh God I can’t do this myself. Please help me please help... Catherine. Johnny? He’s coming. The fog suddenly burned away and her world snapped back into focus. Catherine squeezed the trigger as Stein grabbed for the weapon. The hammer slammed down and with a defying crack a wad of metal discharged. Stein’s eyes were wide with disbelief as a crimson flower blossomed from his chest. His lifeless body slumped to the floor. Catherine felt the hot sting of tears on her face as she lost him a second time. When she knelt down to touch his face, Catherine watched her tears mix with the blood on the floor. It was like a piece of her had been torn from her soul. The gun was a dead weight in her hands. Chapter 14 "Catherine?" There’s no one here by that name. "Catherine?" She blinked, "Johnny?" "Are you okay?" Catherine suddenly whirled on the balls of her feet and faced Smyles, who was curled and whimpering in a corner. "No… don’t kill me," his hand was pressed to his shoulder and blood seeped between his fingers. Catherine grabbed Smyles by the tie, "Donnez-le moi!" she said and yanked him to his feet. "Key!" "In-in my p-pocket," Smyles stammered. Catherine retrieved the key then shoved him forward. Smyles stumbled and fell on his face, screaming in agony. With the key in hand, Catherine freed John from his restraints. In sync with her train of thought, he bolted toward Smyles, scooped him up by his shirt and pitched him into the chair. Catherine fastened the restraints on his wrists. John stepped back from the bleeding assassin and faced Catherine. "What happened?" "Later," she said and pressed the dangerous end of the .38 to the ugly man’s temple, "Où sommes-nous?" "What? Talk normal," Smyles said with a feeble attempt at defiance. Catherine pressed the barrel deeper into his temple, "Where are we?" she hissed. "You won’t kill me," Smyles whispered. His voice told her he believed she would. Catherine thumbed the hammer back, "You ready for the next life?" she snarled. His eyes locked with hers. That was all he needed. "Toronto. In The Projects near Spanner Park," he squeaked. Catherine smiled. The image chilled Smyles to the bone. "This is for me. And this is for Vladimir, and Tom, and anyone else you screwed you bâtard," she said tonelessly. "Catherine," John said softly. It was a moment before she could glance into his eyes. She knew what he was going to say and every instinct told her he was right. But... She felt his spirit reach out. His warmth encompassing her. His heart beating for her. His every breath for her. Catherine looked back at the slime of a man whimpering before her. She looked at the mindless instrument of death in her hands. I could take his life. Piff and it’s gone. Squeeze the trigger and I could take his life like he has taken so many others. She felt John’s eyes on her. She remembered she enjoyed the sensation that it brought. Her soul weighed heavy with the weight of what she was prepared to do. Catherine looked at John. She looked into his eyes and understood. Thank you, Johnny. This won’t return Vlad, or Tom, or anyone else. "This would sink me to your level," Catherine said after a moment before easing the hammer back into place. She let her arms, weak from exhaustion, drop to her sides. As John removed the weapon from her grip she offered no resistance. "Let’s get out of here." John blew out a breath he did not realize he was holding. Her left arm slipped around his naked waist as they moved toward the door. "Hey!" Smyles cried out, "You can’t leave me here!" Catherine flicked off the lights and shut the door behind them, leaving Smyles in total darkness. *** Catherine and John found themselves at the end of a dimly lit hall in what looked like an old apartment building. At the far end was a rickety stairway leading up. On each side of the hall were a half dozen sets of numberless doors. Catherine gestured toward the third door on the right, "That’s where they kept me locked up," she said. "I was somewhere else," John replied. "I remember the stairs when they brought me here." Then after a moment he added, "How’d you escape?" "Stein left his tie in his jacket pocket. It was that and his name dropping that told me he was not who he seemed," Catherine explained. "When DeTully opened the door to pull him out I shoved the end of the tie in the doorjamb to offset it enough for me to find the seam. It was pretty much invisible from the inside, but once I found it the rest was easy." "That was quick thinking." Not quick enough I’m afraid. Catherine opened the first door, "Bedroom." she said peering in. The apartment was largely Spartan, with only two beds and some cardboard boxes for clothes and toiletries. It smelt heavily of body odour and cigars. "This must be where Smyles and DeTully stayed," John said. The next apartment on the left was used for storage. In the middle of the floor by the door was a large cardboard box marked, ‘To be burned’. Catherine opened it and found all their clothing. Catherine handed John his clothes, then gathered hers. They did not turn away as they dressed. *** The rest of the apartments were empty, but behind the last door was a surveillance room. Stacked across one wall was a row of video monitors. John sat down at the control panel before them and punched up the video. Catherine remained standing behind him. "You know how to work this stuff?" she asked watching his hands fly across the controls. "What am I saying? Of course you do. You were living in a TV studio when I met you." "Very funny. I—" John’s words choked off in his throat as the monitors flicked to life. The top row of screens each showed a different apartment, but the scene was the same. Rooms with three or four people sitting on the floor smoking or shooting up Ink. "Oh man," he breathed. The windows were boarded up in each apartment and naked bulbs provided the only light. The walls and floors were stained with blood and urine. Beer and wine bottles, cigarette butts, glass vials and dirty needles were scattered everywhere. Garbage hid the floor in the halls. John cupped his mouth and nose with his hand. "You’ve never seen an Ink house before," Catherine said. It was a statement as much as a question. "I’ve seen one too many." In one room a sweaty fat man was photographing a woman masturbating. "I’ve seen them before. I…" his voice trailed off. Kris died in a place like this. In another room a pregnant woman was rummaging through a plastic garbage bag looking for food. "I think I’m going to be sick." Catherine placed a soothing hand on his shoulder. "I think it’s time we left." "Yeah," John turned in his chair and his foot bumped into Stein’s briefcase, "What’s this?" Catherine sat down in the chair next to him and placed the case on her lap. Satisfied there were no booby traps, she opened it. Inside she found her badge, weapon, and a thick file folder with her name written in marker across the top. "What’s that?" John asked. "I don’t know." Catherine picked up the folder. She thumbed through it. "Oh my God. It’s my psychological profile. "Where the hell did they get that?" "I don’t know." But I have an idea. Catherine picked up her pink Beretta. "My gun. I thought I lost it." "Nine millimetre Beretta Model 84 short barrel," John said. "I like the colour." "You know your guns." "No, not really. Hate them." Catherine looked at him. This from the man with a SKB M-7300 Slide Shotgun with a 762mm barrel. Don’t think I didn’t see that scar on your thigh. I know a bullet wound when I see one. I think I’ll ask him about that later. "We have to go," Catherine closed the case, "Hand me the phone." John obliged, "Who we calling?" "911." "Oh. Right." Catherine dialled and identified herself to the operator. She then explained that she was calling from an Ink house and told them to trace the call because she didn’t know the exact address. After that Catherine called Special Operations and requested an emergency pickup. Twenty minutes later Catherine and John were directed out of an armoured van and into a freight elevator by four large Mounties in body armour. Moments later the doors opened and deposited them in a plush lobby on the thirteenth floor of the Snow Chatéau Building where they were greeted by a small attractive Asian woman in a lab coat. "Hello," she said to John, "I’m Doctor Bonita Yen-ping." She studied the blood caked on John’s face. "You’ve seen a bit of trouble." "I think my nose is broken," John said. "Don’t worry about it," Catherine grinned, "It’ll add character." "Thanks a lot," John found himself laughing, then regretted it as pain shot through his sinuses. Dr. Yen-ping turned to Catherine, "Hello Cathy. How about you?" "We better talk in your office." *** In the small eggshell coloured office, Catherine briefed Bonita on the events of the past few months. She described what she could remember about Smyles shooting her in the back, her confinement and the incident in the limousine. Catherine did so without tears and kept just to the facts. When she finished, Bonita stared at Catherine silently for a moment then began her physical examination. "Whoever operated on you did a hell of a good job," the doctor said, examining the exit wound on her back. "All you need is a change of dressing. I’ll do that for you now." Bonita changed the compress, then prepared to draw some blood samples. "What for?" Catherine asked. "You said Smyles indulged himself." When Catherine paled, Bonita pulled up a stool and faced her. "When Smyles molested you, was there any penetration?" "No, no... I don’t think so. He just took photos and…" Catherine whispered. A fresh new horror settled upon Catherine’s shoulders when Bonita’s question became clear. When Catherine described the event moments ago she was able to remain detached from her feelings. "He just..." this time, however, the horror started to settle in on her. What he did became more real, more palpable. Her stomach soured as the image of Smyles straddling her in the limousine spewed back into her mind. Don’t! His penis clenched tightly in his fist. Please don’t. His nakedness gleaming with sweat as he worked himself. Faster, faster. Harder. Until... "Oh God…" Catherine sobbed. "Non." Dr. Yen-ping drew four vials of blood then placed them in a small cooler. "I’m sorry," she said softly then pressed the intercom button, "Send in Mr. Riel." "He doesn’t know about what Smyles did," Catherine said pulling her shirt on. "I understand." John entered and looked at Catherine sitting on the examination table. "How are you doing?" he asked. "Fine. Good as new," she chirped. "So Doc, is that all?" "Yes. You may go." Catherine hopped down and trotted toward John, "Be good for the doctor," she said and give him a kiss on the cheek. "I’ll see you in a bit." Catherine left and closed the door behind her. She scarcely made it out of the office before her emotions exploded through her fragile facade. *** Dr. Yen-ping examined John and discovered his nose was not broken, just really squished. She cleaned up his face, set his finger and drew some blood. Bonita carefully broached him about his interpretation of events, but John refused to provide much detail and none about what happened between him and who Catherine referred to as "the mystery woman." "Thank you Mr. Riel," she said and removed her gloves. "The gentleman outside will let you know what happens next." "Thank you Doctor." John left the office and was greeted by one of the Mounties who escorted them from the Ink house. The big man in armour held out his hand. "I’m Sergeant Kurt Burton, RCMP Special Tactics." John accepted his hand, "John Riel, no title." Burton smiled. "That’s good." He motioned down the hall. "This way please." John fell into step alongside the big man. "What happens now?" "The Deputy Commissioner of Special Operations, Sylvia St. James, will be flying in tomorrow morning. She requested that the two of you remain here until she arrives for the debriefing." "Do I have a choice?" John asked. "To be honest, no," Burton replied. John liked the cop instantly. "Well as long as you’re honest, but I’m going to want some answers." "Understood," Burton said and stopped at an unmarked door. "Tomorrow," he pushed open the door, "Welcome to your home for the next few days. I’ll have some fresh clothing sent in shortly." "Thanks." Burton nodded, then turned and disappeared down the corridor. John stepped through the door and into a small apartment. On his left was a living area with two plush chairs and a couch facing a tinted bay window overlooking the city. Beyond the living area and sunken three steps into the floor was a bedroom with a queen-size bed partially hidden behind a vanity. Fastened to the vanity was a desk with a phone. On John’s right was a small kitchenette and a second door leading to the washroom. The apartment screamed "open concept." He figured he knew where two of the surveillance cameras were hidden. "Well, here we are," Catherine said from behind. She circled his waist with her arms and cupped her chin on his shoulder. "Wonderful," John said solemnly. He slipped from her embrace and stepped into the apartment. Her dark brows knitted together, "You don’t sound very happy." She pushed the door shut behind her and followed him in. "We’re alive. Kurt just told me Metro’s got Smyles and DeTully in lockup. It’s over." "Is it?" "For us." John did not reply. Catherine glanced around the apartment, then back at John. "I’m going to take a shower. What about you?" "Later," he said and remained standing in the middle of the living area. Catherine sashayed toward the washroom. Then with a slight glance over her shoulder she entered, leaving the door slightly ajar. After a moment John heard the water running. He crossed the apartment and peeked around the vanity. Yep, one bed. John found a smile. He cast a glance toward the sound of running water. He then touched the spot on his arm where Bonita took the blood and the smile slowly left his face. John crossed the couch and dropped heavily into it. What are you doing Riel? Something big is happening. No shit. He felt his eyes grow heavy and within moments he was fast asleep, unaware Bonita slipped him a mild sedative. *** Catherine gingerly stepped out of the shower stall and unfolded a large pink towel. She dried her hair then wrapped the towel around herself. Peering around the doorway, Catherine spotted John sleeping on the couch. She knew better but still felt the pains of disappointment. Catherine slipped back into the washroom and shut the door. What are you doing, chick? She turned and faced her moisture-slicked image in the mirror. You shouldn’t have teased him like that. What the hell were you thinking? Catherine dragged her fingers down her face. Just get on with it, chick. Catherine adjusted the hot water and filled the sink. She then retrieved a personal grooming kit from the medicine cabinet. From it she picked out a pair of eyebrow tweezers. Twirling the tweezers between her fingers, Catherine glanced at the door. It was still shut. Catherine then removed her towel and slung it over the mirror facing her, knowing she just blocked out the only camera able to see what she was about to do. With the tweezers Catherine removed the tiny jewel clipped to her left nostril. She gently lifted the jewel from its base and exposed a five-millimetre micro-data disk coated in wax hidden underneath. With the base pinched between her thumb and forefinger, Catherine used the tweezers to pick up the disk. She studied it closely. This is what all the pain and suffering has been about. You better be worth it. Catherine placed the disk in the soap dish and replaced the jewel. She then gently fixed the accessory back on her nose. Catherine rummaged through the medicine cabinet again and found a tin of painkillers. She dumped the pills down the toilet and placed the disk in the tin, then returned it to the cabinet and the flushed the toilet. Catherine removed the towel from the mirror, wrapped it around her body and left the washroom. Beside the front door was a plastic box, left by Burton, filled with clothing for her and John. Catherine dug out deodorant, underwear, a bra, a pink T-shirt and denim shorts, and carried them back to the washroom and dressed. She placed the tin in her shorts pocket and left the washroom. As Catherine was about to slip out of the apartment and retreat to her office, she stopped. She glanced at John, nibbled on her lower lip, and made a decision. Crossing the apartment with purposeful steps, Catherine sat down on the windowsill across from John, pulled her knees to her chest and watched him sleep. Why? You have done more for me than I ever had the right to ask. Why is that Johnny? Are you one of those individuals who will go out on a limb for a pretty face? ‘Cause you sure the hell went way out on a limb for this pretty face. Oh Johnny… while we were at the river I saw something in your eyes. A spark. Did you fall in love with me Johnny Riel? "Catherine?" John whispered sleepily. "Right here." He yawned, "How long have I been asleep?" "Not long." He noticed her change of clothing, "Nice legs." Catherine smiled, "Merci beaucoup. I’m proud of them." She then gestured toward the box by the door, and said, "There are some clean clothes here for you." "Thanks," he said, "There’s only one bed…I’ll sleep here…." Then he was out. "Bonne nuit, Johnny," Catherine whispered and for a long time she just sat there and watched him. *** Carefully, so she wouldn’t wake John, Catherine manoeuvred her way through the darkened apartment toward the door. As she reached it, Catherine opened it a crack and peeked out into the hall. There was no one in sight. Barefoot, she slipped into the hall and eased the door shut behind her. Catherine padded along guilefully until she reached her office and quickly slipped inside. With her back to the door she blew out a low breath. Catherine turned on her small desk lamp and sat down. Before she powered up her iMac, Catherine reached behind the tower and disconnected the jack linking her terminal to the network. She then opened the auxiliary access drawer and placed the disk in. The drawer automatically slid shut. Catherine typed: ENTER ACCESS DRAWER CODE? ENTER: WILDMAN, CATHERINE S. 099984-A REQUEST? LIST: FILE. UNKNOWN COMMAND. LIST: THE GROUP OF TEN (10) 1).XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX 2). STEIN, JEFFERSON PHILIP 3). SMYLES, RAYMOND ARCHIBALD 4). MIEZLAISKIS, AMBER LYDIA 5). DETULLY, SAMUEL ORVILLE 6). WILSON, FRED DENNIS 7). TAURIS, MAXWELL THOMAS 8). JOHANSON, BERRY PATRICK 9). CHAPLIN, RICHARD ALBERT 10). D’ANGIO, ALPHONSO VICTOR END LIST Catherine sat back and studied the list. She was right. Even with the top man’s name encrypted she already knew who most of them were. Catherine typed: LIST: VLADIMIR ZADNEPROVSKY ZADNEPROVSKY, VLADIMIR VIKTOROVICH 76598712-B MEMBER: FEDERAL SECURITY SERVICE ASSIGNMENT: RUSSIAN/CANADIAN TASK FORCE C/N - OPERATION ARCTIC SNOW BORN: 01- DEC. - 87 NEW MOSCOW, RUSSIA HEIGHT: 5’9" WEIGHT: 150 LBS. EYES: BROWN HAIR: BROWN RISK LEVEL: 4 STATUS: TO BE TERMINATED JS LIST: NIKITA TRISKA TRISKA, NIKITA VALTINA KARISHMA 26451094-A MEMBER: FEDERAL SECURITY SERVICE - BUREAU # 4 ASSIGNMENT: RUSSIAN/CANADIAN TASK FORCE C/N - OPERATION ARCTIC SNOW BORN: 11 - MAY - 85 NEW MOSCOW, RUSSIA HEIGHT: 5’8" WEIGHT: 130 LBS. EYES: LIGHT BLUE HAIR: RED BUST: 34 WAIST: 24 HIPS: 36 RISK LEVEL: 9 STATUS: TERMINATED JS Again Catherine sat back. She studied Nikita’s file. So they killed her. I didn’t believe she defected. From what Vlad told me about her she was fiercely proud of who she was. Catherine scrolled back between the two list of statistics. Where the hell did they get this information? My God, her measurements? What the hell did they need that for? Some sick fantasy Smyles and DeTully got off on. Crap. LIST: CATHERINE WILDMAN WILDMAN, CATHERINE SOPHIA 099984-A MEMBER: ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE SPECIAL OPERATIONS DETACHMENT ASSIGNMENT: CANADIAN/RUSSIAN TASK FORCE C/N OPERATION ARCTIC SNOW BORN: 09 - NOV. - 89 BERLIN, GERMANY HEIGHT: 5’5" WEIGHT: 128 LBS. EYES: GREEN HAIR: BROWN BUST: 38 WAIST: 26 HIPS: 36 RISK LEVEL: 10 STATUS: STILL USEFUL JS Her heart skipped a beat when she saw her status. Son of a bitch. LIST: GENE HATTON NO DATA LIST: JEFFERSON STEIN NO DATA LIST: RAYMOND SMYLES NO DATA LIST: SAM DETULLY NO DATA Merde! What’s on this disk Vlad wanted me to find. I knew that he and Triska were compromised, and I figured so was I. What I need to know is where all the Ink is stored and who is behind it. ENTER INK NO DATA ENTER CRACK NO DATA ENTER COKE NO DATA ENTER COCAINE NO DATA ENTER ROCK NO DATA ENTER CRYSTAL NO DATA ENTER BLOW NO DATA ENTER LEAF NO DATA Merde! Maybe. ENTER SHIT NO DATA Merde! Merde! ENTER ERYTHROKYLON COCA NO DATA Catherine pushed herself away from the keyboard. She rose to her feet and started to pace. Vlad knew there was information on that disk. If he knew it was coded he would have given me the code. Did he? Think, chick! What did he say? Right before he died he said... Catherine pulled her chair around and dropped back in. She wheeled herself before the keyboard. ENTER NIKITA WORD INCOMPLETE ENTER NIKITA TRISKA TRISKA, NIKITA V STOP Merde! That’s not it. Wait a— How could I be so stupid. It was right there! ENTER BEAUTIFUL DEATH CODE APPROVED GOOD MORNING MR. STEIN. LIST Y/N? Y The list illuminated before Catherine’s eyes in glowing yellow letters. The names and locations of everybody involved with The Group of Ten. From the low man on the totem pole to associates of Khun Sa’s successor within The Golden Triangle. The addresses of Ink houses and drop sights in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia were listed. The location of each member of the group was listed. Smyles, DeTully and Miezlaiskis were all listed in Toronto. Buried deep within all the information, Catherine scrolled through was one name she never expected to see. One name that answered every question she had with frightening clarity. "Oh my God," Catherine whispered. Her finger shook as she punched in a number on the video-phone. It was answered on the first ring. "Il faut absolument que je vous vois," Catherine whispered into the mouthpiece then severed the connection. For almost a hour Catherine remained at her desk, sitting in the dark. Her mind was a whirlwind of abstruseness and pain. One thought leading to another and all of them ending where she did not want to go. Catherine realized the futility of it all and returned the disk to the tin and left her office. Back in the apartment, Catherine sat on the floor and watched John sleep. The slow steady rise and fall of his chest helped clear her mind, yet she felt the need for some human comfort, be it man or woman, but realized the danger it held. Alone with her thoughts and fears, Catherine slid into the cold bed and eventually drifted into a very troubled sleep. Chapter 15 The Snow Chateau Building Toronto, Ontario, Canada 03:59 hours 14 August, 2020 Her subconscious first alerted her of the movement, then pushed the sleepy shadows from her brain. Catherine opened her eyes with a start, but the room was still. She rolled over and glanced at the bedside clock. She had been asleep for almost twenty hours. Oh lord, I can’t believe I’ve slept this long. Where’s—? In the pale grey glow from the city, Catherine spotted John. He sat silently on the couch before the window. She pushed the sheets off, pulled a terry cloth robe over her shoulders and joined him. "How’d you sleep?" she asked pulling the sash tight. "Fine," John said, "I’ve been up for a couple hours." Catherine nodded and followed his eyes out the window. The sky was dark and angry. A hard rain silently pelted the glass. "What’s happening?" he said. "What do you mean?" "I want to know why I’m here," John said. Catherine felt a hardness creep into his voice as he continued, "I want to know how long I’m going to be here. I want to know what will happen next." Catherine wondered about that herself. Why weren’t we separated? That’s SOP. Filing that aside for the moment, Catherine leaned back into the soft cushions of the couch and crossed her exquisite legs. "We’ll both be debriefed later this morning. Other than that, I’m not sure. We’ll find out." After a moment John glanced at the lovely woman who sat next to him. "Do you ever feel like a pawn on a chess board?" he asked. "There is something about this that stinks. This is not the end. It is not even—" "—even the beginning of the end," Catherine interjected, "But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Ten, November, 1942, Winston Churchill." John looked at her. He couldn’t hide the surprise on his face. She simply greeted him with a knowing smile before leaning forward and placing her hand on his knee. "Your part in this is over Johnny." "Is it?" John asked, looking back toward the coming storm. "What do you mean?" John stood and pressed his hand to the cool glass. He felt all the heat drain away from his finger tips, "I’m not sure. I…." Catherine rose to his side and placed a soothing hand on his back. "Do you want to talk about it?" "No," John said sharply and pulled back from her touch. Then after a moment he turned and faced Catherine. "I’m sorry. I guess I’m just feeling sorry for myself. In one way I’m glad my part’s over. Yet, in another way I’m sad." John found he had trouble maintaining eye contact. "I don’t want the way I feel about you to end." A soft smile slid across Catherine’s face. She rose on her toes and tenderly kissed him on the lips. "Catherine?" "That’s for being honest," she said softly. "I saw something in you Johnny. Something I realized I’ve never seen before in anyone." "What was that?" Catherine smiled. "Did you fall in love with me Johnny Riel?" John tried to answer, but his heart skipped a beat and his mouth suddenly went very dry. The words were there, yet he could not get them out. Her mouth widened into a comfortable smile as his eyes told her all she needed to know. Any further consummation was halted by a hardy rap on the door. Burton stuck his head in. "Decent?" he asked. "St. James just arrived and she wants to see you both pronto." *** Catherine, dressed in black leggings, with a white blouse and a black short cut blazer that Burton had retrieved from her apartment, and John, in an oversized orange and yellow sweat suit, with "Butt Warmer" stencilled across the front, liberated from someone’s locker, entered St. James’ office. The room was not what John expected. The Deputy Commissioner’s office was a small windowless room with a desk and two chairs placed before it. Behind the desk sat a stocky woman in her late forties. St. James looked up as Catherine, John and Burton entered, then returned wordlessly to the file in her hands. Catherine sat down and crossed her legs. John followed suit while Burton remained on his feet by the door. After an uncomfortable silence St. James finally looked up and spoke. Her voice was cold and had the air of someone who was accustomed to having her orders followed without question. "First; I am required to inform you that everything said in this room will be recorded. Now, for Mr. Riel’s benefit, my name is Sylvia St. James and I’m the Deputy Commissioner of the Special Operations Unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Staff Sergeant Wildman’s superior." She laced her fingers together across her desk, then continued, "Conducting this debriefing will be myself, Sgt. Burton, and Paul Forrester from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. Any questions? No. Good." St. James turned her attention to Catherine, "I understand you know Mr. Forrester." "Oui." St. James looked at John, "You will wait in the outer office, Mr. Riel. This initial debriefing should not be more than an hour or so. Then we’ll call you in." John glanced at Catherine. She avoided his gaze. "Sure," he said and rose to his feet, "I have several questions." "I surmised as much," St. James said tonelessly. "Right," John glanced at Catherine again. Her eyes were directed at the floor. Puzzled by Catherine’s sudden disposition, John turned and left. In the outer office John stood silently for a moment. What the hell was that all about? Before he could finish his thoughts, John was indifferently brushed aside by a handsome black man rushing into St. James’ office. As the door shut behind him John caught a glimpse of Catherine hugging him warmly. Chapter 16 "Bonjour Paul," Catherine said. "It’s been a long time." "Still with the Horsemen, eh. Come over to CSIS. We could use someone like you." "I’m content where I am Paul, but thanks," she replied, slipping from his embrace. Forrester just shrugged and sat next to her. "Sorry I’m late Sylvia. Traffic was a bitch." "Fine," St. James said, "We were just about to start." "I didn’t know the two of you knew each other," Catherine said. "I’ve been CSIS’ liaison with Special Operations for the last three months," Forrester said. "Really? I didn’t know." St. James tapped her pencil, "May we get on with this?" Catherine tugged on her blazer, crossed her legs and began. She explained in precise detail the events starting with Vladimir’s phone call, yet omitted any reference to a data disk and claimed that the Russian was dead when she found him. Catherine described her encounter with Johnny Riel, the set up with Smyles, and Johnny’s unselfish rescue. She left out any reference to his feelings toward her. Catherine continued her description with their encounter with Tom Hoffman and how DeTully killed the constable. Catherine finished with a vague description of her experience in the V.R. unit. St. James leaned back in her chair and pressed her first fingers to her pursed lips. "So Jefferson Stein wasn’t the only member of the Group of Ten to infiltrate the RCMP," she said. "I agree. I think Linda Curtis and our mystery woman are one and the same." "That explains several things," Burton added, "Curtis vanished three days ago. Her desk has been cleaned out, her apartment is empty and the hard drive on her computer had been wiped. I have the geeks working the drive, but I doubt they’ll manage to pull anything." "How the hell could Stein and Curtis breach RCMP security, let alone rise so high in Special Operations?" Forrester asked. "Wasn’t Curtis your assistant, Sylvia?" St. James brushed aside the petty contempt in Forrester’s voice. "There’s a theory that dates back to the first cold war," she said. "The American Intelligence community decided that if they had their own people in the Intelligence organizations of their allies they could put a cap on secrets leaking though through to the East." St. James shot a glance at the CSIS man. "I’m sure there is one or two in your camp. The bottom line, people, were less leaks and international relations remained good." "Stein and Curtis simply took advantage of the opening," Burton said. "Do you think that there any others within the RCMP?" Forrester asked. "Non," Catherine replied. "Okay. This is what I want," St. James said. "Burton, I want security bumped up in the building and all calls in or out randomly monitored." "Yes ma’am." "After we debrief Mr. Riel I’m to going to ring Goldwater at Langly and ream his ass about Stein, Smyles, Curtis, and DeTully. Then, Mr. Forrester, you and I will return to Ottawa. I have to report to the PM and I want everything CSIS can dig up on the Group." "What about me?" Catherine asked. "Clear your stuff out of the apartment and go home," St. James said. "I want you to stay clear of Mr. Riel for now. I’d be surprised if his motives are as pure as you think." "But—" Catherine began. St. James cut her off, "I believe we can restart Operation Arctic Snow without the Russian involvement. That’s all," she waved them off with a flick of her hand. Catherine stood up and left, with Burton on her heels. *** John stood up as the office door opened. "Catherine?" Without an acknowledgment she walked past him and disappeared down the hall. "Mr. Riel," Burton said. "It’s time." "Right," John grumbled, growing more and more annoyed. St. James studied John as he re-entered her office. "Please sit," she said. "For the record, please state your name and occupation please." "John Riel. I am, actually will be shortly, a video journalist with the Canada-World News Network." "Shit, a reporter," Forrester hissed. "Mr. Forrester!" St. James snapped. "My apologies," Forrester mumbled. "Mr. Riel?" Burton prompted. John explained the event from his point of view, but let out any reference to his encounter with the mystery woman. In the middle of the narration, Forrester let out a big yawn. John finished up with Catherine’s shooting of Stein. "Very interesting," St. James whispered. "Thank you Mr. Riel. That will be all." "Excuse me Ms. St. James," John said, "But I do have a few questions of my own." "Such as?" "Such as, now what? Do I just wait?" "You’ll remain our guest for a few days, Mr. Riel, until some loose ends are cleared up. I also suggest some counselling with Dr. Yen-ping. What you experienced was rather traumatic." "What’s traumatic for me is being left in the dark for too long." "Meaning?" she asked. "Please don’t play flippant with me." "Mr. Riel," Burton warned. St. James waved him off. "I want to know about compensation," John continued. "I lost my Baby, my personal possessions, my ID and credit cards, and over six hundred thousand dollars in irreplaceable—" "Baby?" "My van." "Right." St. James smiled. That made John nervous. "Provide my secretary with a detailed list of all items and I’ll have compensation looked into." "Thank you," John said evenly. St. James silently studied him for a moment, then said, "I have to inform you that all information pertaining to this situation, until further notice, is top secret. Likewise, all telephone conversations to and from the apartment will be monitored. For your own protection, of course." "Of course," John replied dryly. St. James’ neutral expression wavered briefly as she glanced over at Burton. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Riel," the big cop said, opening the door. "I’ll escort you back to the apartment." "Right," John cast a glance at Forrester, who had a deep scowl on his face. He flashed a bright smile at the CSIS man and left with Burton behind him. "I don’t like that asshole," Forrester said intentionally before the door shut. "I don’t care," St. James replied. "Be ready to leave in one hour," she dismissed him with the wave of her hand. After Forrester sulked out, Catherine re-entered the office though another door and sat down silently. "Did you hear everything?" St. James asked. "Oui." "What do you think?" "I don’t think he knows anything." "I agree," she watched Catherine closely. "Where do you think this disk business came from?" "I don’t know." "Do you have any theories?" "If there was one and if Vladimir knew about it he took it to his grave." St. James leaned back in her chair and cast a casual glance at Catherine. "I have to ask you a personal question." Catherine did not respond. "How are you and Mr. Riel involved with each other?" "We went through a traumatic event together. That in itself creates a bond. Then when we arrived we were placed in the same room until you arrived." "That was an oversight. The two of you should have been separated. I didn’t know about Mr. Riel’s involvement when I requested you stay in the apartment here and you did not answer my question." "He has expressed some feelings for me." "And you?" "You know my preference," Catherine replied coldly. St. James leaned forward, "Then it should be easy." Catherine opened her mouth to speak, but St. James cut her off, "You know what you must do." "Oui madame, I do." Her voice hardened. "I hate this. It’s not—" St. James exploded, "Goddamn it Cathy! I don’t trust him. I want him out of the loop. Christ, sometime I wonder why the hell you were even assigned to this unit." Catherine did not reply. "Did you sleep with Riel?" St. James suddenly asked. Catherine’s tone was clipped, "Non." "How did he react?" "He didn’t. The subject never came up." "Fine. Mr. Riel is going to remain here for the rest of the week. We’ll call it protective custody or something, I don’t care. I just want him out of the picture for the next ninety-six hours." St. James tapped her desk with her fingers. "I want you to see Franklin in the arsenal. He has a package for you. Then you will fly back to Sudbury. There are still several loose ends at Crudup’s to tie up." "What if Crudup recognizes me and puts two and two together?" "According to your report he was out of the country and the only other person who could finger you, this DeCoteau person, is dead." "But what if?" "You will just have to deal with it, won’t you?" St. James snapped. "Oui madame. I would like to see Mr. Riel before I go." "No. I think the two of you are getting too close. He might cloud your judgement and I don’t want anything to jeopardize this mission. Your personal affairs have already turned this incident into a can of worms." Catherine set her jaw and spoke slowly, "My personal life has no bearing on this situation and I feel he has helped me." St. James slammed her fist down on her desk top. "You have yet to prove that, Staff Sergeant, and how you feel about it is irrelevant!" "Oui madame. Est-ce tout?" Catherine said and left though the door she entered. St. James placed her elbows on her desk and rubbed her temples. "What the hell are you doing, Sylvia?" Bonita asked. St. James glanced up at the doctor standing in the doorway. "My job Bonita. You?" Bonita entered the office and gently closed the door behind her, "Mine. You saw my report," she said and sat down. "Staff Sergeant Wildman is not ready to return to duty. What part of that didn’t you understand?" "I understand more than you know, Doctor. Wildman is the only one fully briefed on the situation and to replace her now we risk blowing three years work. She can handle it," the older woman retorted. "And why were they sequestered together? You know the policy on that and one more thing, kindly keep your personal feeling about Wildman to yourself." "My dearest Sylvia, what relationship Cathy and I had is now in the past and it is none of your damn business." "I’m not going to get into that with you," St. James said. "Don’t you get it, Sylvia? She was raped by Smyles." "She said molested." Bonita erupted to her feet and pounded her fist on the desk. "Despite what she said Cathy was raped. Raymond Smyles held her down, took photos, and—" "I know what he did," St. James interjected sharply. Bonita pressed on, "He’s one sick puppy. Cathy can’t handle this assignment right now. She needs to come to grips with it. She could slip over the edge at any moment." "Please sit down," St. James said tightly. "That is one opinion, but not mine. Cathy Wildman is a lot stronger than you think. She’s a lot stronger than she thinks. She can finish the assignment." She raised her hand before Dr. Yen-ping could protest further. "But I agree she could lose control if forced to confront Smyles again. That is why I have him and DeTully locked up." St. James stood up and looked the doctor in the eye. "Now. Please. Sit. Down." Grudgingly Bonita Yen-ping sat. "Tell me about Riel." Bonita removed a file from her valise and opened it. "Let’s see, matching my examination with what I accessed from his medical records, Mr. Riel went through a bout of deep depression. Following his return from covering the fighting in Rondônia, he discovered his fiancée died of an Ink overdose." "Rondônia?" St. James snapped her fingers. "I knew Riel seemed familiar. He was the one on trial." "That’s right. He interviewed Chin Wah Pong, the Triad leader in South America, less than an hour before the assassination. His partner one Connor Rogers was also killed during the fighting. All that lead to the kangaroo trial he endured. A real bad time. A minor side note here— Kristina Alexander’s body was found in an Ink house the Vancouver police said was owned by the GEB holding company." "Should I know that name?" "She was Riel’s fiancée." "I see. Coincidence?" "Likely, but Burton is checking with Vancouver P.D." "Fine. Have him send me the results. Continue." "It would seem that meeting up with Cathy brought him out of the depression. Other than that he’s average." "Any signs the two of them had sex?" "Why is that so important to you?" "Just answer the question." "Cathy, no. But he showed signs of sexual trauma. He wouldn’t let me question him further but I suspect it wasn’t by his own choice. I treated him and gave him some antibiotics." "I see. Interesting." "I took blood tests from both of them. Here are the results. The green stuff they injected into Mr. Riel is harmless. Although he might have diarrhea for a couple of days." She dropped a file on St. James’ desk. The older woman made no move toward it. "Fine." "I assume you will inform them of the results as soon as possible." "Of course." "Of course. I also think it’s a mistake keeping them separated. After what they’ve endured they will need each other for support." "I’ll keep that in mind," St. James said and dismissed the doctor with a wave of her hand. "Bullshit," Bonita hissed as she stood. "My comments are on file and you have my report. Place them anywhere you like." The small doctor turned on her heels and left. *** John, after a less than pleasant experience on the toilet, now stood looking out the apartment window at a tour bus unloading a group of nuns when a large, forcible hand dropped on his shoulder. "This is sensitive information we are dealing with here. You breathe one word of this before it’s cleared and I’ll personally shatter your world." John pulled his shoulder away and faced Paul Forrester. He did not hear him enter the apartment. "What did you say?" "You heard me." John tried to turn away, but Forrester shoved him into the window and held him with a powerful arm across his neck. "I’m not in the habit of repeating myself asshole. Not one friggen’ word." "Can I quote you on that?" John snapped back. Forrester’s fist connected with John’s right kidney. "Quote that, Shit head," he said, letting him drop to the floor. Forrester turned and left the apartment. Chapter 17 Catherine sat alone in her office. The ceiling light was off and her desk lamp was set low. She had kicked off her flats and had her bare feet crossed on the top of her old oak desk. She absently flipped through a file folder. Damne elle. Catherine removed her reading glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Damne elle," she muttered and dumped the file on her desk. Catherine swung her feet around, stood and stretched her arms into the air. She then dropped to the floor and starting some one-arm push-ups. Since the Academy, Catherine found it helped relieve stress. That and sex. But right now sex is part of my stress. A gentle knocked sounded at the door. "...five... six... yo... seven..." The door opened and Bonita entered. "In the middle of something?" "...nine... ten..." Catherine switched arms. "One... yeah... two... stress... three... release... four..." Catherine finished, stood up and brushed a lock of wayward hair from her eyes. "Not even breathing hard," the doctor observed, still standing in her doorway. "You’re still in incredible shape." "Merci," Catherine said, "But don’t tell me you’re only here to admire my physique." Bonita closed the door behind her. "No," she said and stepped toward Catherine. The doctor kissed her passionately on the lips. Catherine returned the kiss for a moment then gently pushed the other woman away. "Bonita, I…." The Doctor tuned away, flushed. "Oh Cathy, I’m so sorry." Catherine placed her hand on Bonita’s shoulder. "Don’t be. What we had was wonderful, but it’s over now." Bonita turned and faced Catherine. "I still care for you Bonita, a lot, but..." Bonita took Catherine’s hand in hers and kissed her knuckles. "I know, and I’m sorry. I guess I… uh… just seeing you there… working out. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry." "That’s the third time you said you were sorry. Twice more than necessary." Catherine motioned toward the chair in the corner of the small office. Bonita sat down. "I’m glad you maintained your body building. You look absolutely great, Cathy." Catherine smiled and wheeled her chair around. "Merci. Coming from you that means a lot." She straddled the chair backwards and sat down. "But I stopped going to the club." "Why’s that?" "Large muscles were all they cared about. I’m not into that. I started bodybuilding as an added dimension of my feminine identity, not to fabricate myself into a little man." Bonita smiled knowingly. "I see. How very passionate of you." Catherine cocked an eyebrow and smiled. Then they were both silent for a long moment. "What’s on your mind, Bonita?" Catherine finally asked. "You and St. James. She is screwing with you. I told her you are not emotionally prepared to return to the field." "I know she is and I know I’m not. What can I do?" "I’m waiting for you to knock her on her ass one of these days." Catherine grinned. "Me too." "It may be sooner than you think." "What are you talking about?" "She brought us up again." "Merde! That’s none of her business." "That’s what I told her. Money and power, it does strange things to people. Did you know I was present during your conversation about Mr. Riel?" Catherine leaned forward. "No, I didn’t." "She didn’t want you to know. After that we argued about your fitness to return to duty and I stormed out of her office. I later realized I forgot my valise and walked in on her just before she left for Ottawa." "And…?" "She was shredding a file." Catherine, knowing the answer, waited for Bonita to continue. "I just caught part of the label. It was your file, Cathy." "Mine?" Catherine’s eyes widened. That was not what she suspected. "What the hell is she doing?" The doctor stood up. "I don’t know and this didn’t come from me." "I understand," Catherine said absently stroking her eyebrows. "One more thing," Bonita said as turned and placed her hand on the door knob. "The blood tests came back." Catherine’s head bobbed up, "Oui?" "You’re both negative." Catherine blew out a breath, "Oh God, merci." She then realized—"Both?" Bonita looked at Catherine, "You didn’t know. He didn’t tell you?" Catherine leapt to her feet, "Tell me what?" The Doctor removed her glasses and wiped them clean with the corner of her lab coat. "Oh Johnny. Why didn’t you tell me?" Catherine whispered. "He doesn’t know the test results yet. I think you should go and see him. He probably needs someone to talk to right about now. I’m sure it will do you both some good." "Oui, but what about St. James?" "Fuck her," Bonita replied with a seething bitterness in her tone. Catherine flinched at the doctor’s comment. It was a well known secret in Special Operations that there was no lost love between the two. St. James had tried several times to have Yen-ping transferred, but has been constantly refused. Catherine suspected St. James was uncomfortable around her and Bonita. Sylvia had never liked lesbians. Bonita, who had never raised her voice to any of her staff, had been seen in screaming matches with St. James. The doctor once said the reason St. James was always in a foul mood was because someone had dropped a house on her sister. "Are you sure?" Catherine asked. "Only three people are on tonight. I’ll see that they’re all preoccupied." "Thank you, Bonita." She avoided Catherine’s eyes, "You and Mr. Riel, are you…?" "Something." "I… am happy for you, Cathy." She gave Catherine’s hand a gentle squeeze and left the office. For a long time Catherine stood alone and pulled her thoughts together. Chapter 18 The angry man squatting in the dark room seethed. His mind was aflame with rage, hate, fury. He looked up at the man in the room across from his. The other man had just explored his nostrils and was closely inspecting his discoveries. "Fool," the first man hissed. Soon they will come and get me the fuck out of here and revenge will be mine. He smiled and a diamond glinted in the light. Chapter 19 The orange-red sun had already dropped from the sky when Catherine slipped back into the apartment. "Johnny?" she said softly into the encroaching dusk. "Yes?" Catherine followed his voice and found him sitting in the fading light staring out at the city. "What are you doing?" "Thinking. You?" "Taking ten." She sat down and took his hand in hers. "What are you thinking about?" John did not look at her. "Life. The future, the past…." Catherine sensed he wanted to say more but could not. Then after a moment he continued, "You know you’re the only one I’ve ever let call me that." "Call you what?" "‘Johnny’; I’ve always hated that name." "Do you want me to stop?" she asked, watching him closely. "No… I like the way you say it." "We have to talk," Catherine said and gently squeezed his hand. "About what happened." "No. No, we don’t." "You just can’t ignore what happened." "I’m not ignoring what happened. I’m dealing with it in my own way." "You don’t want to talk?" "No… I… thank you." Catherine shifted her weight on the couch. "There’s something else." "You’re leaving," John said. "Oui." Her eyes dropped to the floor as John stood and crossed to the window. "Then, I guess, this is goodbye?" I spoke those words not to long ago. "Non," Catherine said quickly, "No, this is not goodbye." She was suddenly at his side, "Please, never say goodbye. I… I’ve had too many." For the first time since she entered the apartment, John looked at her. His eyes softened, but his voice was strong, "I love you, Catherine." Their lips met warmly. "Un baiser d’une jeune fille belle," John whispered and playfully pinched her backside. Catherine’s eyes widened, "Vous parlez Francais?" "Quelques mots." "Que savez-vous?" "Sorry, sorry. That’s about all I know." Catherine laughed. It was like music to John’s ears. Their eyes met again and they knew it was time. John reached down and gently scooped her up in his arms. "I fell in love with you," he said softly, "the first moment I saw you, I knew." Catherine nuzzled his shoulder and kissed his neck as John carried her and gently sat her down on the edge of the bed. She tucked her legs beneath her as he took her chin in his hand and looked deep into her glistening eyes, "It’s with all my heart and soul." Catherine took his hands in hers and led him down to his knees. She combed her fingers through his hair and kissed him softly on the lips. "You have to know something about me first," Catherine said gently. "Long ago I swore I would never let any man have my heart. Only one man has gotten close to me since I’ve made that vow, and he hurt me." She placed her first two fingers gently on his cheek and glided them across to his lips. "But no man has ever made me feel this way. No man has ever touched my heart the way you do. There is something about you Johnny. Something pure. Something true. Something you should never lose." John held her hand. "That something is you." Catherine pulled him close and their lips met passionately. She uncoiled her legs, wrapped them around his waist and held him tight. Her fingers slid down his back until they found the bottom of his shirt. Their lips parted only for a moment as she hoisted the baggy sweat-shirt over his head. John placed his hands on her legs and with the tips of his fingers softly massaged her thighs though the leggings. Catherine closed her eyes and purred softly. Then as his fingers moved around to the side of her thighs and toward her firm bottom, Catherine leaned back, letting her blazer slide off, and rested on her elbows. John continued to gently knead her thighs as he bent forward and kissed the cleft in her chin. He then worked down to her throat and cleavage. Catherine moaned hotly as John unfastened the buttons of her blouse with his teeth. The silky material soon followed the blazer and slid off her shoulders. She levelled at him a sultry look as John gently circled her belly button with the tip of his nose. Catherine then threw her head back and laughed as he blew a raspberry on her taut belly. With a frisky twinkle in her emerald eyes, Catherine pulled the clasp on her bra and exposed her firm breasts. John grinned stupidly, so Catherine contemptuously fired the bra at him like a sling shot. He ducked then tenderly attacked her erect nipples with his tongue and mouth. Catherine’s muscles quivered beneath her skin at the sensation. Her hands held him between her breasts as his finger tips gently stroked her sides. Catherine arched her back as John’s fingers slipped under the elastic waist band of her leggings. Then with a gentle tug he coaxed them over her hips and down her legs to the floor, where she kicked them aside. Eyes wide, Catherine watched as John gently buffed the tip of his nose across the trimmed triangle showing through her thin pink panties. She shifted her hips allowing John to hook his thumbs on the elastic waistband and slide them down her thighs. His nostrils inhaled her scent as her public hair tickled his nose. John’s tongue found the spot and he delved in. Catherine cupped his head in her hands and gasped loudly despite herself. Her body convulsed gently with pleasure. Catherine felt her skin dance as her muscles shimmered beneath. The body heat John radiated shot through her body, "Oh! Oui! Oui!" Catherine sat up with quivering ecstasy still coursing down her spine, and motioned for him to stand up. John complied, and Catherine smiled coyly and sauntered toward him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs tightly around his waist. John stepped back to regain his balance as Catherine kissed him ravishingly on the lips, and throat. She slowly let herself slide down his torso, kissing his chest and stomach until she was squatted before him. Then Catherine yanked his sweats and boxers to his ankles. She laughed as his fully erect penis bobbed free and bopped her on the chin. Then she saw it. Oh my God. There was severe bruising and several deep cuts that criss-crossed John’s groin. Catherine glanced up and felt all desire choke. A dark stain of embarrassment coloured John’s face. "Johnny?" Catherine whispered. "No, no…" his eyes snapped open. "Catherine, I can’t… I just can’t right now," John said, his breath coming in gasps. Deep within his mind, John Riel was struggling with the memory of a savage and painful violation. His legs felt weak beneath him. "Oh Johnny…." Catherine caught John in her arms as he collapsed. She gently eased him toward the bed. Oh God Johnny, why didn’t you tell me? Catherine cradled him as John wept, unashamed. *** There was a chemistry that flowed between them. One look in each other’s eyes and they knew it was there. Theirs was a love rooted deep in their heart, their soul, their essence. They both felt its grip. They had both suffered losses, betrayals, and pain. *** John was shaken when a bomb meant for him killed a colleague and he was tried for its consequences in the small South American hell hole called Pôrto Velho. Then when he finally returned home he found his fiancée dead. Kris died of an overdose of the new narcotic, Ink, the super-crack manufactured in Pôrto Velho. The tragedy of the events there seemed to follow him home. He knew he wasn’t, but still he felt responsible. He felt he should have been able to prevent it. He should have been there for her, not halfway around the world. With that guilt he found himself falling further into depression. Catherine had friends vanish around her, and a colleague die in her arms. She fell in love with a man and discovered herself lost in conflicting emotion as her bisexuality emerged. Then circumstances forced her to kill the first man she had ever loved. A man she discovered had nothing but contempt for her. He betrayed all she believed in. It was a betrayal she knew would be a long time healing. Silently, watching the man she might want to share her life with, Catherine Wildman made one of the most painful decisions she ever had to make. John caressed her tear-streaked face. "I’m sorry," she said. "Don’t be," he replied, "I…I should’ve told you what happened… I’m sorry." Catherine held his hand to her cheek. "I love you, Johnny. Please don’t ever forget that." She pressed her chin to his chest and whispered, "I’m so sorry." They held each other tightly for a long time. When John woke with the morning sun, she was gone. Chapter 20 It had been two days since Catherine had disappeared, yet John did not feel any resentment over her departure. He figured her superiors frowned upon her relationship with a member of the media. He told himself that he would tolerate that opinion for now. The doctor managed to obtain a lap-top computer for John to use while he was still their guest. Protective custody. They really thought I would buy that? John knew he was not going anywhere for the few days so he used the time to pound out a report on the events leading him here. Now as the skies outside the window turned a dark grey, John sat on the corner of the bed and starred at the blank screen of the video-phone. He wrestled with a personal dilemma, then made the decision and punched in the number. The screen remained blank but a woman’s sleepy voice answered on the seventh ring. "Hello?" "Hello, Madhuri. It’s me." "John!" Madhuri exclaimed. The screen flickered to life, showing a rumpled Madhuri propping herself up on a pillow. "Where the hell are you? Are you all right? Do you need help? What happened? You just disappeared." "I’m fine, Madhuri," John said. "I had a bit of a detour." Relief stretched across her features. "I’ll say. It’s been forever. What happened?" "I can’t tell you everything, Maddy, but I’m fine and I’m in Toronto." "I understand," Madhuri said. She knew John only played with her name when he suspected their conversation was being monitored. It had worked well for them in the past. "So, what have ya’ been doing?" "Oh, this and that. I haven’t hooked up with the CWN yet." Madhuri smiled when John used a term he used in school, "‘This and that’? And?" "You really can read me, can’t you," John chuckled. "Like a book. Spill." "I’ve met someone." She paused slightly, yet her face betrayed nothing. "I’m happy for you John." "Madhuri?" "No, really John, I am." Her eyes told him of her sincerity, yet her voice cracked ever so slightly, "Is she pretty?" "Like an autumn sunset." "I like that. What’s her name?" "Catherine." "That’s lovely. Is she there?" "No. She’s working Maddy." She paused again and made some mental notes. "John?" "Yes?" "Did you find what you were looking for?" "Yes Madhuri, I did." "That’s good. I’m happy for you." "Thank you." John squeezed his eyes shut, sealing in an image of his best friend in his mind. "Madhuri?" "Yes?" her voice held a slight flutter. "I love you," John said. "I love you too," Madhuri answered. "Thanks for calling." John opened his eyes and nodded. "Goodbye, John." "Goodbye, Madhuri." Her image winked out and her voice was replaced by a distant clicking sound followed by the drone of the dial tone. John turned the video-phone away and rubbed his eyes. Did I just do the right thing? Madhuri has been a good friend, better than I deserve. I hope I didn’t just haul her into this mess. A hardy rap at the door yanked John from his thoughts. He rose and opened the door, revealing St. James and Burton. "Yes?" "Mr. Riel, we have to talk," St. James said. Chapter 21 A Small Private Cemetery Newmarket, Ontario, Canada 11:07 hours 19 August, 2020 It had not stopped raining since that night John learned of Catherine’s fate. Slowly, grudgingly, it sunk in and once again John Riel was standing in the rain. This was the second time all that he cared about was in a box before him. Kristina died almost a year ago and now Catherine was dead. Dead. Why? Again... The only other soul around was the Rabbi and he was rushing the service. He wanted to get out of the rain. After Catherine’s remains were sprinkled in the grave, the Rabbi placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder then dashed for his car. John lowered his head. Oh Catherine... John saw an old man in coveralls shovel dirt on the woman he loved and closed his eyes. Why...? His mind drifted... *** "Mr. Riel. We have to talk," St. James said. "Right now?" Crap. I shouldn’t have said Catherine’s name on the phone. But it couldn’t have gotten to St. James this fast. "I’m afraid it can’t wait." John stepped to one side and St. James entered. She crossed the room and sat down on the couch. Burton remained standing by the door. St. James gestured toward the chair, "I think you better sit." John remained where he was. "You’re evicting me? Have I overstayed my welcome?" St. James lit up a cigarette. "I’m afraid there has been an incident." A dark cloud passed over John’s thoughts. "What?" "I returned as soon as I heard." "Heard what?" John asked, his voice caught. "We lost Cathy Wildman last night." John choked. He stepped backward and fell into a kitchen chair. "What, what happened?" "I’m sorry Mr. Riel. I know—" "What happened?" John snapped. The older woman looked at Burton, then back at John. "The report is still sketchy, but from what I understand there was some sort of mechanical error." "Mechanical error?" John repeated. "Her chartered small plane went down." St. James blew smoke from her nose. "Both her and the pilot were killed instantly." His body felt numb. No, no... not again! No not again! "The incident will certainly be investigated." "Investigated?" John’s instincts took over. "Why? What do you suspect?" "Calm yourself Mr. Riel," she took another drag on her cigarette. "I’m sorry I had to be the one to tell you. I wasn’t sure if you knew or not. It was on the evening news." St. James gestured around, blowing out a ring of smoke. "But, of course there’s no television in here." John lowered his head and forced himself to focus. He got the impression that St. James enjoyed handing out bad news. "With all that she has been through. After everything we," he slumped in the chair, "We...." No... it can’t... not again... "I know. It’s senseless," St. James said flatly. "With Staff Sergeant Wildman’s sudden demise any connection you had with the investigation is severed." John was bewildered, "What?" St. James stared at him through cold eyes. "You have two hours to vacate the apartment." "I- what?" "I am sorry Mr. Riel," St. James said. She spotted the lap-top and silently cursed the doctor. "There will be a Constable outside the door if you need anything." John looked at her, "Could I please have a moment." "I understand," she said. Do you really? St. James stood and left the apartment. Burton watched her leave then looked at John. "I’m sorry," he said and closed the door behind him. Outside the window a storm front swelled across the evening sky like a blistering omen. *** John did not know how long he stood there, but when he opened his eyes again the man with the shovel was gone. John knelt down by the head stone. WILDMAN, CATHERINE SOPHIA 1989 - 2020 "Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche" John Riel removed the red rose from the lapel of his overcoat and placed it on the fresh dirt, "G—" he choked back the words as he remembered Catherine’s wish, Please, never say goodbye. I... I’ve had too many, and looked skyward. The rain still pelted down but the clouds were reluctantly breaking up. Shards of gold fought across the heavens as the sun forced through the grey. John stood and found Burton standing a meter behind him. "Mr. Riel." "Sergeant." "Director St. James would like to see you in her car. She has some papers for you to sign." "Fine." John followed Burton to a black Lincoln Continental parked at the cemetery gate. The door opened and John climbed in. "My condolences Mr. Riel," St. James said as John sat down. "I realize that you and Staff Sergeant Wildman did not know each other for a long time, but traumatic emotional experience like the one you shared does bring people together. However, in the long run those relationships seldom work out." Never so badly had John wanted to squish someone’s head than right then and there. Burton closed the door behind John then slid behind the steering wheel. "Ottawa has approved your compensation," St. James said and handed John a sizeable check. "I also have some papers for you to sign." "Like what?" St. James handed him a document, "This says that you are bound by the Official Secrets Act. Although Special Operations is not a clandestine operation, the location of the offices you visited do not officially exist." "I see." "This also prohibits you from suing the Government of Canada for damages caused by this incident." "I wasn’t about to." "Or any unforeseen incidents related to this incident." "I don’t like the sound of that," John said. "Just a routine statement," St. James said and produced a pen. Burton watched the exchange in the rear view mirror. John took his time and examined the document. Satisfied, he signed and handed it back, "Anything else?" St. James slid the papers into her briefcase. "Yes. We found your van." "Where was it?" "They stored it in a warehouse in Ajax, along with a cruiser the OPP reported missing. I’m afraid your van was a total write off. If you leave an address we’ll have what was left of your equipment sent to you." "You’re so kind," John replied. St. James glanced at Burton, who asked, "What are your plans now?" John was silent for a long moment, then said, "I think I’m going to finish something I started long ago." Then, without another word, John left the car and strolled back to his rent-a-wreck. Along the way he felt the warmth of the sun contrast with the icy stabs of rain. Thank you Catherine, thank you for everything. John started up the car and drove off without looking back. *** Burton turned and faced St. James, "Why didn’t you tell him?" "He had no need to know Sergeant." "No need to know that Smyles and DeTully escaped from the idiots that the American State Department send? What about Curtis? We have no idea where she is or what she knows," Burton snapped. His voice bordered on rage. "I think he has a right to know he’s still in danger." "Something you want to get off your chest, Sergeant?" St. James asked apathetically. "Yes ma’am," Burton said. It was time to take a stand. "Smyles is a psychopath. You read Dr. Yen-ping’s report. There’s no telling what he or DeTully are going to do. He tried to kill Riel once. He might try again." "Relax Sergeant." St. James smiled wickedly. "Everything’s under control." Chapter 22 "Yes... yes... yes... Do it like I said! Yes right there! Ohhhhhh! Yeah!" Lydia cried. Kieran Crudup grunted as his video phone chirped for his attention. He switched the video wall from Lydia’s image to the face of a man he did not want to see. "Shit," he muttered under his breath, "Yes? What is it?" After a few minutes of heated conversation, Crudup broke the connection. "Damn." Why the hell did I ever throw in with these psycho freaks. Oh yeah, the money. He fingered his remote and the image on the screen switched back to Lydia, dressed from head to toe in black leather, dominating two blond men. Raising a cat o’ nine tales with one hand, she encircled her hand around one of the men’s thick shaft and pumped him brutally. The second man was on his hands and knees with a red gag ball in his mouth. "I guess I better tell her," he said and rubbed a few of his chins. "In a moment," Crudup thumbed up the volume. "Yes!" she screamed. "Now!" *** Fat knuckles rapped on the door. "Come." Crudup entered, crossed to the middle of the room and faced Lydia. She was still in her leather gear and sprawled sideways across the bed, smoking a cigarette. The pretty boys were gone. "What do you want Crudup?" "I just received a phone call." His eyes swept across her breasts. "You’ll never guess from who." Lydia blew a stream of smoke from her nostrils. "True, ‘cause you’re going to tell me and eyes up," she said. Crudup straightened up. "Smyles." Lydia rolled over and crushed out her smoke on the night table. "Christ." She slid off the bed and started to pace. "Where is he?" "Windsor," Crudup said and fell into step with her. "My private helicopter is on its way to pick him and DeTully up in. He said he has a job for you. Something about real estate." "Damn. Why now?" she whispered under her breath. "What?" Crudup asked. "Nothing. Forget it." Lydia noticed him mirroring her actions. She stopped and placed her hands on her shapely hips. "Is that all?" Crudup realized what he was doing. "Yes," he said, regaining his composure. "Good. Now get the hell out." Crudup shuffled toward the door, "Do you want me to send someone in?" he asked opening it. "No." The fat man closed the door behind him. "Tart," he whispered and wandered back to his office. Wynorski, Crudup’s personal bodyguard, stood outside his office. "What is it George?" Crudup sighed. For some reason it amused the fat man to refer to Benny 'Two Toe' Wynorski as "George." "Dhere is zome one to ‘te ya, suh," the mountainous mouth breather mumbled, opening the door for Crudup. "Great, just great," Crudup huffed. "Who?" "I think he’s referring to me," said the platinum blond sitting behind Crudup’s desk. Crudup smiled. Things are starting to look up. Chapter 23 The Riel Residence North of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada 19:31 hours 19 August, 2020 When he turned his rent-a-wreck from country road 18 onto the dirt lane, John felt his hands start to shake. He stopped the vehicle and climbed out. The warm sun lowering in the west had cast long snarly shadows though the apple trees lining the way. He stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and slowly started to walk, as ghosts of the past drifted though his brain. John continued past the trees and approached a structure he had not seen in years. He squeezed the key the Realtor gave him and looked at what had been his home for the first seventeen years of his life. The cobblestones he stood on circled around a wishing well and met at the side of the porch fastened to the end of the caboose. He recalled when his father, a railway man for most of his life, bought the land, the rails, and the three train cars. Rail service in North America was on its last legs and Patrick Richard John Riel knew it was time to get out, but he could not bear to leave without taking a slice of history with him. The caboose rested on its rails parallel with the road, followed by the sleeping car with a tinted glass blister on top and finally the dining car at the end. Home looked liked it did the day he left. Ludicrous. He remembered his father totally rebuilt the three cars on the inside. The caboose acted as an entry way and sitting room. The sleeping car had been entirely gutted and turned into an open living room/dining room combination. A circular iron staircase in the middle lead up to the master bedroom on top covered by the tinted glass blister. The final car was divided into three sections. The first third was an office/workshop area, followed by the washroom and finally the kitchen with a glass breakfast nook set at the end, over-looking the backyard and Lake Ontario to the south. John froze and stared at the railway cars. He noticed the boards were off the windows and the grass was no longer at his knees. Chimes on the porch jingled softly as a warm breeze drifted though them and gentle laughter sang out as children played in the yard. The spicy aroma of pumpkin pie danced teasingly under his nose. "No," John whispered. The childhood ghosts dispersed. The grass was long and the windows were still boarded. He placed the key in the lock and pushed open the door. "For better or worse, I’m home." Chapter 24 Nearby The small black helicopter skimmed across the dark cresting waters. "Almost there," the pilot called back to her mystery guests. The one with the hygiene problem grunted a reply. The Bell 444 Alpha buzzed the village of Gore’s Landing, on the shores of Rice Lake in southern Ontario, before setting down in a farmer field fifty meters from a black limousine parked on the side of country road 18. Keeping their heads low, two figures climbed out and darted across the field as the helicopter took back to the skies. As they approached the limousine the back door swung open and Lydia Miezlaiskis stepped out. "Gentlemen," she said loosely. Raymond Smyles snarled cheerfully, "I’m back." "Joy," Lydia deadpanned and followed them into the limousine. DeTully eyed her long legs as she sat down. "Heh, long time to lay." He winked. Lydia covered her knees with the corner of her skirt. "Charming." She tapped the glass dividing them from the driver. "So? How did you escape?" Smyles leaned back in his seat as the car started up. "The men the State Department sent were placed there months ago for just such an event." Lydia rubbed her chin. "I didn’t know about that." "It’s one of many things you don’t know about." Smyles leaned back and crossed his legs. Lydia noticed his socks did not match. "Now," Smyles continued, "it’s show time. I’ve got places to go, thing to do, and people to kill." Lydia rolled her eyes. "How about some answers first." Smyles brushed her off. "I see you got my message?" he said, eyeing her yellow blazer. "Yes. Everything has been set up, but—" "Good," Smyles said. "With ‘Twinkle Balls’ Stein spread across a slab with a new orifice in his chest, I’m running the show." "You? Give me a break!" Lydia snapped. Smyles’ face hardened as he leaned forward. "You got a problem with that?" Lydia felt her blood chill. Her eyes quickly glanced at DeTully. He licked his lips and broke wind. She looked back at the ugly man and fought to keep her voice steady as his meaning became crystal clear. "No problem at all." "That’s what I thought." Smyles smiled and leaned back into the leather seats. DeTully scratched the top of his head and began searching for the wet bar. "Now," Smyles said and snapped his fingers, "we have two weeks to kill,"—he smiled at his own joke—"before my new market opens up." "Two weeks?" Lydia exclaimed. "We can’t sit on that much Ink for that long. Maybe you’ve forgotten but that crap is dangerous." "Crudup has it on ice," Smyles explained. "It’ll hold that long before it goes toxic." "Crudup’s a buffoon." "Oh, I concur My Sweet, but he does know his shit." Lydia inwardly winced at Smyles’ intimateness. "The hell with Stein’s and Crudup’s obsession with Russia," the ugly man continued. "I hate the fucking Russians as much as the next red-blooded American, but this is business. Europe is the way to go. There’ll soon be a channel opening in Amsterdam. I’ve already talked to my man in Cali and he’s ready. The Netherlands will become our gateway into the European market." "Europe?" Lydia shook her head. "No way. The Viet Chi Triad will eat us alive." Smyles grinned. "Na-da. I have a plan to deal with those pricks." Lydia pushed on, "That market is sealed. You know how the Viet Chi operates." "She’s got a point," DeTully volunteered. "‘Eat us alive’ is not just a figure of speech with those guys." "I said I have a plan." Smyles face hardened. He was now in charge and he was not going to brook any discord with his underlings. "First things first," he faced Lydia, "Did you get the house and van I wanted?" "Yes," Lydia said, "I’ve rented the house down the road from Riel’s and got a van made up with phone company markings." She found herself smiling. "Just wait ‘till you see where this guy lives." "Yeah, good," Smyles said. "You have done well, my dear." Lydia’s mood darkened. The dangerous edge returned to his voice. "With his bitch now a stain on the asphalt, Riel should be fairly susceptible to a pretty face." Smyles pointed a calloused finger in Lydia’s face, "You are going to nail him where he’s the weakest." Lydia rubbed her temples. "Lord…." "Starting tonight you are my weapon." "You want him seduced?" Lydia asked, "Why?" Smyles grinned and his diamond glinted. Lydia hated when he did that. "Don’t you think you’re woman enough?" Lydia snarled and slapped Smyles across the face. Smyles was in chargeand a ruthless killer, but nobody ever dared question her desirability. A deep smile then slithered across her face as she leaned forward and caressed behind Smyles’ ear with the tip of a long painted nail. The ugly man’s eyes widened as Lydia eased closer and edged her hand along his thigh. When she parted her moist ruby lips and revealed the tip of her tongue, sweat beaded across his brow. Her tongue brushed his upper lip, "How’s that?" Lydia asked. "It was good for me," DeTully said slacked jaw. Smyles lit a cigarette. *** The Fields’s Bar & Eats Downtown Cobourg, Ontario Canada 23:30 hours 19 August, 2020 The smoke hung thick, like frosted glass. The music was loud and had a back beat that was felt blocks away. The lyrics were repetitive and incomprehensible, but the rhythm kicked and could help you forget, if only for a moment. Tonight a moment was all John Riel wanted. Across the dance floor people were packed together in a frenzy of spasmodic bumps and grinds. All hips and arms and thighs. Avoiding the orgy of movement, John found a place at the bar and ordered a draft. When John placed his emptied glass back down, a hand touched his shoulder. "Mind?" asked a throaty voice. John glanced over and found a tall dark-haired beauty smiling at him. It took John a moment before he recognized her. "Be my guest," John said to Amber, the Realtor who gave him the key to his house. When he first saw her in the office, Amber was dressed in her company blazer with her hair up and glasses. He stood and slid out the stool next to him for her. Amber nodded graciously and sat down. "There are very few men left in this world that would do that for a woman." "And who said chivalry was dead," John replied returning to his stool. "You found your place all right?" she asked. "It came back to me pretty quickly." "In all my years here I wondered about that place." "It’s a sight all right," John grinned. Amber smiled and motioned toward the bartender. "Screaming Orgasm." John choked on a mouth full of air. "It’s a drink," she said, "Vodka and…? What’s so funny?" John’s grin was wide. "Nothing. It just caught me off guard. I know what it is I just never heard anyone order it." "Sorry if I embarrassed you." "Don’t be." Her drink arrived and John paid. Amber held it up and nodded before taking a sip. She sat the glass back down and faced John. "Would you like to dance?" He glanced over his shoulder at the floor. "It’s a little too crowded for me." John turned back and looked at his empty glass. "I’m probably not going to be good company tonight." Amber sipped her drink again as she eyed John. "I bet you’re wondering why I’m still here," she said after a moment. John, who was not accustomed to have gorgeous and almost illegal looking women approach him in bars, glanced looked at Amber and raised his eyebrows. "Two reasons," she said. Amber ticked them off with her fingers, "One. You are one of the few people here of legal drinking age." That drew a savage look from the bartender. Amber crossed her black stocking encased legs and continued, "Second. You are-" she was cut off by a scrawny kid with orange dread-locks asking her for some Ink and a blow-job. Amber refused both. He gave John an evil gaze and moved on. Amber continued, "As I was about to say, you are the only man here who has looked me in the face and not in the chest." John could not suppress a laugh. "That’s my favourite ice breaker." "I can see why." Amber finished her Orgasm and gripped John’s hand. "Let’s dance," she said and pulled him off his stool. As they reached the floor, a slow romance song started up. John hesitated but Amber pulled him close. They slowly drifted around the floor. Amber’s fingers slid along his spine and came to rest at the base of his skull as she nuzzled her chin onto his shoulder. John cocked his head to one side to accommodate her. Her bodily fragrance was pleasant, familiar, and strangely stimulating. Amber’s plush form felt pleasant beneath her black lace blouse and short cut jacket. Shifting his hand across her back John inadvertently touched naked skin beneath the jacket. Amber shivered and held him tighter. Her lips brushed across the side of his neck. They were warm and inviting. Suddenly John stepped back and stared at Amber. Oh man! What the hell am I doing? How can-! "What is it?" Amber asked. "I-I’m sorry. I can’t," John stammered. He ducked around her, returned to the bar and grabbed his jacket. Amber was instantly at his side. "You look like someone who needs to get something off his chest." She signalled the bartender. John hesitated. The bartender sat another draft and Orgasm on the bar before them. Amber paid before John could reach for his wallet. "I’m sorry I came on so strong," Amber apologized. "Do you want to talk? I’m a very good listener." John met her large dark eyes then, after a moment, nodded. "Come on," Amber said. She curled her arm around his waist. John carried the two glasses as Amber lead him to a booth on the patio. "Sometimes the best way to work out a problem is to tell a stranger." She sat down and gently squeezed him arm. "Maybe I can help?" John placed both drinks on the table and sat down. After a moment he looked at Amber. "Someone very close to me died recently. It’s the second time that has happened in about a year. I guess I’m not dealing with it as well as I thought." "You loved her. Both of them." "Very much so." "But you are over the first one," Amber stated as much as asked. "How did you know?" John asked. Amber smiled. It was pleasant. "Girls know these things," she said, "How about the second? You loved her?" John smiled. "Yes. We didn’t know each other for very long. We were brought together during a traumatic experience. I know that in the long run those relationships seldom work out. But we knew it would," John was horrified when he realized he just quoted St. James. We would have proved her wrong. If we only had the chance. "We knew." "What was her name?" "Catherine." The sound of her name almost caught in his throat. "Catherine," Amber repeated. "That’s very lovely." She smiled again. "Tell me about her." John rubbed the back of his neck, "She was… perfect." While remaining vague on key facts, John told her what Catherine and him shared. All the time Amber listened intently. When John felt like he had burdened the stranger enough, he downed the remainder of his beer. "It’s late. I better get going." "Sounded like you really fell for her." "Yeah, I did." John slid from the booth and stood up. "Thanks for listening." Amber joined him. "You need a ride?" "No, but thanks," John said and disappeared into the crowd. *** "Damn it," John turned the key again and still nothing happened. He slammed his fist down on the dashboard hoping, but knowing that only works in cartoons, the engine would start. John climbed out and popped the hood. In the poor illumination of the club’s parking lot everything looked fine, "Nuts." "Need a hand?" John spun around. He did not hear Amber approach. "Uh, yeah. I think my battery is shot, but with all I know about cars unless there is a switch that says ‘go’ and ‘stop,’ I haven’t the foggiest. Do you have any jumper cables?" "No, but I can give you a ride. We could come back for your car in the morning." When it looked like he was going to protest she continued, "Listen John, it’s no problem. I live just down the road from you." John considered that then slammed the hood back down. "Okay, thanks." *** He did not intend to be rude, but John was silent for the twenty-minute drive home. He just did not have anything more he felt like talking about. John was grateful that Amber did not push conversation. Amber turned her Jeep into his lane and stopped the car at the caboose. "Well, here we are." A hint of anxiety rode her voice. "Thanks for the ride Amber." "No problem. As I said, I live down the road." She smiled. "I’ve said it before. In all my years here I’ve wondered who lived in the train set." John smiled. He heard that joke more times than he could remember when he grew up, but somehow Amber made it fresh. "I’ll come by in the morning. You’ll treat me to coffee, then we’ll figure out how to get your car back home." "You don’t have—" John faced Amber. Illuminated by the soft orange glow from the dash, her face was strikingly beautiful. His breath caught. "Uh, sorry." He quickly turned away. "I guess I haven’t been very good company tonight." "I understand." "Thanks," John said and pushed open the passenger door. Amber placed a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, John. If you ever need to talk, or anything, anything at all, here’s my number." She slipped a business card in his shirt pocket. "I might. Thanks," he said and climbed out of the car. Amber waited until he turned on the inside light before backing out of the driveway. She drove two kilometres, then stopped behind a telephone repair van parked on the side of the road. She climbed out of the car and slipped into the van. There she found Smyles and DeTully crammed in the back, surrounded by listening equipment. The air around them had the bitter odour of cigar smoke, sweat, coffee, and old socks. Smyles pulled off his head set. "You said you were going to ride the meat-stick tonight." "Amiable as ever," Lydia replied distastefully. DeTully leaned around his tape recorder. "Amiable? What does that mean?" "Kind. Good-hearted," she explained. "Oh." "When?" demanded Smyles. "I don’t know. He’s still infatuated with Wildman. It may take a little longer," Lydia said and drew a cigarette from her purse. "Right now’s the best time. He’s vulnerable." "Not all men are like that, Smyles." She lit up her cigarette. "Some need time." "Bullshit," Smyles snorted. "All men stand and salute at the crack of Dawn." "You’re vulgar, Smyles." Lydia blew a ring of smoke in his face. Smyles ignored it. "How did the perfume work?" "Like a charm. A few pointed questions and he opened up," Lydia said. "What is that stuff anyway?" "Don’t know what it’s called," Smyles said. "The lab boys came up with it when I was with ‘The Company.’ The base chemical is derived from Sodium Pentothal." He neglected to inform her that C-Pen One Five, as it was known, was pulled from use by the CIA because it caused violent reactions on test subjects after prolonged use. "I want you to get him in the sack by tomorrow night. Use your charms, babe." Smyles eyed her breasts. "Both of them. Heh." Lydia grunted in frustration. "What plans did you make with him for tomorrow?" "Don’t you know?" "No. Your wire tap quit when you hit the dance floor. I better check it." Smyles opened her blouse and tapped the bug pinned on the front clasp of her bra. "It’s dead as DeTully’s dick." "Hey!" "Do you mind?" she said bitterly. "Not at all," Smyles answered. Lydia’s upper lip curled as she glanced at DeTully. He quickly turned away with a pious look on his face, but continued to watch in the reflection on the rear window. Lydia felt a shiver crawl up her spine. "You’re a total bastard Smyles," she said. There was fire behind her large dark eyes. "Done," Smyles said and left her to button up. "DeTully call the pilot and tell her I’m on my way." "You the Man." DeTully waved cheerfully. "Bring back some more coffee when you return, and some doughnuts, you know the kind with the cream in the middle." "Whatever," Smyles climbed out the side door. "Come," he said to Lydia. With barely concealed rage on her face, Lydia followed Smyles out into the warm night air. "Give me a ride to the drop off point," Smyles said. "You’re leaving? Now?" Smyles just looked at her. "Where are you going?" she asked. "Vancouver," he said. "I’ve got me a date." Chapter 25 The Riel Residence North of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada 05:30 hours 20 August, 2020 The alarm buzzed. In the observation blister on the top of the sleeping car, John grudgingly dragged himself out of bed. He pulled on a pair of shorts and eased his way down the circular iron staircase, massaging his temples. How much did I drink last night? In the dining car he downed a quick breakfast and skimmed the local newspaper. After finishing his coffee, John checked out the yard behind the dining car. There he found a scattered pile of wood, some old railway ties, and a beat up picnic table. In the utility space under the caboose, John found an axe and assorted tools. In less than an hour he transformed that ragged pile of wood into a stack of firewood worth being proud of. John returned the axe to the storage unit under the sleeping car and returned inside, feeling good about himself. It’s about time I started getting myself back into shape and out of this dysfunctional rut. Following a quick shower, shave, and trim Goodbye ponytail, John dressed and entered his office located in the sleeping car. There he began reading the papers Amber gave him the other day. At precisely nine o’clock the expected phone call arrived. Jay Stryker, the international news editor for the Canada-World News Network, called with his offer. "That’s the offer," said Stryker. John knew the numbers before he left Vancouver and had already agreed. "Listen Jay, I need a few more days to sort out my affairs here. Just a couple of days." "I can give you two." "That’s good. One more thing," John said. "Do you know anything about a small plane crash in the Toronto area?" "I haven’t heard. I’ll check with Manjit at the regional desk. If there’s anything I’ll get back to you." "Good. Thanks Jay," John ended the transmission and leaned back in his chair. No crash. Maybe. The shrill of the doorbell derailed him from his thoughts. John switched on the security monitor and discovered a thin woman with short, chopped red hair supporting herself with a cane at the front door. Who the in the world is that? John locked his office and crossed into the caboose. He opened the front door. "Yes?" "Mr. John Riel?" she asked. Her voice carried a soft accent John could not place right away. "That’s right," John answered. He noticed her ice blue eyes. They were eyes that spoke of great pain. "Mr. Riel, my name is Nikita Triska and I need your help." Chapter 26 Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 13:56 hours (local time) 20 August, 2020 An achy and constipated Raymond Smyles stared down at the sheet of paper in his hand. Through bloodshot eyes he matched up the number on the paper with the apartment before him. "M. Sahni, J. Riel," he mumbled reading the names on the door. "So this is who Riel called. His roomy." Smyles straightened his tie and rapped on the door. After a moment he spotted a shadow move behind the peephole. "Yes?" A voice called out. A dame? Smyles dropped his chin and articulated, "Miss Sahni? Ray Marsden, RCMP. I would like to speak to you about John Riel." "Do you have a badge?" Madhuri asked. "Yes," Smyles replied. "Yes I do." When it was not forthcoming Madhuri added, "Could you hold it up please?" Smyles bit back a remark and fished around in his jacket for a badge. Finding the one he wanted he held it up before the peephole. He heard the door’s bolt being pulled back. Then two clicks and a thud. Finally the door slowly opened and revealed a lovely woman of South Asian descent. Smyles bit back a colourful remark as she invited him in. He glanced around the large apartment then looked at Madhuri. "Do you know of John Riel’s whereabouts?" Madhuri broke into an ear-to-ear grin. "What did he do this time?" She laughed. "I haven’t spoken to John in weeks. Last I heard he was on a spiritual quest somewhere in northern Saskatchewan." Her cockiness irritated Smyles. He snorted. Madhuri’s smiled faded, "No, I don’t know where he is." "How long have you known each other?" "Since college," she said, growing uneasy. "What did he do?" Smyles looked at her sideways. Madhuri felt a bead of sweat roll down her back. This ugly guy can’t be a cop. "May I see that badge again?" "Have the two of you ever engaged in wild frenzied sex?" Smyles asked in his best Jack Webb, "I’m from the Bureau of Interracial Perverts and I heard you and white boy have been doing the doggie." Madhuri’s eyes widened as fear gripped her chest. She started to back away. Smyles frowned and wiggled his first finger at her. Madhuri fumbled for her stun gun somewhere in her purse hanging on the back of a chair. She never got to it as Smyles’ fist connected with the back of her head. Madhuri hit the floor dazed. "Help!" she screamed. Smyles yanked Madhuri to her feet and backhanded her in the mouth. "You should yell fire if you want help. How long have you lived in the big city, little girl?" he said and laughed. "You and I are going on a little trip." "Go to hell!" Madhuri snapped and spat in his face. Like a blood red slash opening across his face, Smyles smiled. "Been there." Smyles struck Madhuri again, knocking her unconscious. He then slung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried her out of the apartment. Smyles failed to noticed the vile of insulin waiting on the kitchen table. Chapter 27 John handed Nikita a mug of hot tea. "Now let me get this straight," he said and sat down across from her, "You’re a Russian Operative and you’re looking for help from me." "That is correct. I received your name from Sylvia St. James. I was a member of the Russian-Canadian Task Force," Nikita said. Her voice was soft, almost ineffectual. "Operation Arctic Snow." She nodded and told John about how she and Vladimir worked together with Gene Hatton and Catherine Wildman. "We were on the periphery of a breakthrough in our investigations when the home offices in both Moscow and Ottawa suddenly ended the operation. They did not tell us why, they simply recalled us." She sipped at her tea. "As I prepared to leave I received a drop from one of my informant’s. The message told me that something was about to break in Fairbanks. I postponed my departure and followed the lead. When I arrived at the Alaska location used by the Ink Cartel, I discovered a party in progress. There were major players from Colombia, Bolivia, Miami, Toronto, and Montreal. It was there I first met Raymond Smyles." "Smyles," John said. The name was bile in his throat. "You have met him?" Nikita asked. John nodded, "I’ve had the misfortune. I sure St. James told you." "Nyet. She was vague on some of the details." John thought about that. "Go on." "Smyles thought I was a prostitute brought in for the party. It seemed advantageous at the time to let him." With a bit of effort Nikita crossed her legs. "After a few drinks, Smyles became rather loose-lipped. He spoke about a group he associated with and dropped a few names: Stein, DeTully. He also said something vulgar about one of the woman on the payroll." She sat her tea down on a coaster. "Eventually I coaxed him into demonstrating the little toy he had flaunted." "Little toy?" "His PDA. Smyles boasted about how he kept all the details of the Group stored on it. Names and information about several key people placed in the RCMP and the Federal Security Service. Smyles was extremely paranoid. He constantly referred to it as his insurance policy." "That told you why the investigation was terminated," John interjected. "Da. Yes it did. There are powerful people in the upper levels of both organizations under Group influence." Nikita paused and shifted her weight on the couch. "After Smyles fell asleep I downloaded the PDA's files and slipped out. I called Vladimir and had him meet me at a prearranged point. Then I hide out. I spent almost a week in that forsaken town, barely staying ahead of Smyles and his people. I knew I could not leave. They had the airport watched. "I finally got the call from Vladimir. He was waiting for me at the safe house. On my way I accidentally bumped into Jefferson Stein, who was still posing as Gene Hatton. It was just pure dumb luck. We both stopped at the same red light. That was when I assumed both he and Cathy Wildman were under the Group’s influence." "What did you do?" "It was a race across the tundra, but I managed to meet up with Vladimir and give him the disk before Stein and his people caught me." A slight tremble escaped her thin lips. "I do not know what happened to Vladimir after that point, or the disk." *** "...or the disk," she said. DeTully slid up the sound lever as the van door slid open. He placed his finger to his lips as Lydia entered. "That is why I came here to see you Mr. Riel," the accented voice buzzed from the speaker over DeTully’s head. "I know that voice," Lydia whispered. She placed a tray with two paper coffee cups on a small shelf. "It’s the Russian bitch. She’s dead." "I guess she got better," DeTully said. "What’s she doing?" "Talking to Riel," he opened a cup of coffee. "Incidentally, you forgot the doughnuts." "Quiet. I’m trying to listen." *** "After I returned home I started to ask questions, to find out what happened to Vladimir. Your government did not know. My government would only tell me that he died in the service of his country. I have been everywhere Mr. Riel, and have talked to everyone I could find. No one knew or would tell me," Nikita paused, trying to reclaim her voice. "I am a national hero with several medals pinned to my chest, including the Order of Gorbachev and the Yeltsin Award of Honour, yet no one would tell me how my— how Vladimir died." She swallowed hard. "I had a few favours owing, so I pulled them in and received a permit to return to Canada and investigate it myself. I met with St. James just the other day and she told me what happened to Staff Sergeant Wildman." Nikita looked at John knowingly. "I was wrong about Cathy. I suspected she was the leak, but now I do not think it so. St. James told me that Cathy found Vladimir dead and that she did know anything about a computer disk. St. James also told me that you were involved in the fallout afterwards." Nikita stopped and gathered herself. She had come a long way for some unpleasant answers she needed to hear. "Did Cathy Wildman tell you how Vladimir died?" "He must have meant a lot to you to come all this way to learn his fate." "He was my brother." John felt his heart skip a beat. "Mr. Riel, do you know how my brother died?" "I’m sorry. No." Nikita remained sitting rigid. "Then that is that," she said and rubbed her tired eyes. Then suddenly her spine seemed to give under the weight of the burden she had been shouldering the last few months and Nikita sank into the couch. "Vladimir and Cathy Wildman are dead. I am crippled and the Group of Ten can still ship that death into my home." "I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to tell you." "You do not have to apologize." John was silent for a moment looking at the Russian woman. "May I ask you a personal question?" When Nikita nodded, John continued, "What happened? Catherine didn’t believe you defected and talking with you now I understand why." Nikita stared at John for a long time, attempting to determine his motives. John was about to apologize for infringing upon her candour when Nikita held up her hand. She accepted his question as sincere and placed her trust in his integrity. "Thank you," she said. Nikita wrapped both hands around her mug of tea, as if gathering strength from its warmth. "After Vladimir escaped, Smyles and Stein had me taken to one of their safe houses." Her words started to come in gasps, "There I was blindfolded, stripped and dropped into a cold cellar dungeon. Ea-each day I was t-tortured by a psycho who referred to me as his little Nazi p-plaything." "Oh! I— uh," John stammered. He touched the small scar Smyles left him with under his eye. "I thought I had it rough when they held me." "You they needed alive. M-me, I was just a means of amusement for a group of sick men." "I’m sorry. You don’t have to continue." Nikita was a very proud woman. She won the Silver in the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Games for long distant sprinting and the Bronze for fencing. She found it difficult describing her ordeal with the doctors in Moscow, but here with John Riel it was different. There was something about this man she trusted. She felt comfortable in his presence. I can bare my soul to this man and not be afraid. "The week before I escaped I w-was beaten every day, su-sexually abused, doused in fr- freezing water an-an-an—" her accent grew thick and her words came slower, sluggish, as if she were screaming underwater, "T-they wu-would torture me with li-li-live w-wires…h-held to m- my vulva," Nikita blurted out, then closed her eyes. She seemed to shrivel before John’s eyes. This proud woman. Caged, beaten, humiliated. A shell of her former self. John was paralyzed by the sudden flood of emotion. He wished he never asked the question, but knew he couldn’t. It was in his nature. He wished he knew some magical words that would make everything okay, but those words do not exist. He knew—he had looked for them before. "I am sorry," Nikita said. She had regained what little of her dignity she could. "I should not have burdened you with that." Even though he noticed she did not cry John handed her a box of tissues. "Don’t be sorry. I probably shouldn’t have asked." Nikita accepted a tissue and dabbed at her dry eyes. "I did not have to answer your question if I did not want to, Mr. Riel." John conceded. "Thank you, and please call me John." "John," Nikita smiled and some of the pain faded. "You don’t have to continue if you don’t want." "Thank you, but I must." Nikita took a deep breath and blew it out slowly to calm her breathing. "When I escaped, I was lucky and picked up by some campers. I could scarcely walk and was bleeding heavily. I would not have survived out in the elements much longer. They thought I was a rape victim and took me to the closest hospital. Luckily on the Canadian side of the border." John watched her closely. He admired her strength of purpose. "By that time, Smyles and his men had more pressing matters and did not look for me." She sipped her tea. "When I was well enough to travel, I was sent back to Moscow. I spend months just learning how to walk again. I was shot in the legs and never treated," she thought of her Silver and just as quickly pushed it aside. "They may be healed on the surface, but the wounds run deep," John whispered as much to himself. Nikita understood. "When the assignment ended I planned to retire and raise a family." "And now?" John asked before he realized what she was saying. "I can no longer conceive," she said flatly. John’s heart sunk. "I’m sorry. I haven’t been much help. I seem to be dragging up bad memories." Nikita placed her mug on the coaster, "Do not apologize. You may not have known the answer to my question, but you have been helpful in other ways," she said softly. John snapped his fingers. Computer disk! "Wait! Smyles asked me about a disk. Could it be the same one?" Her eyes seemed to brighten a little. "It is possible. Do you know where it is?" "That’s the problem. Catherine said she didn’t get anything from Vladimir. He was already dead when she found him. I wonder what happened to it." "I do not know. Destroyed perhaps." She slouched slightly. "Whatever happened we may never know. Vladimir and Cathy took that information with them to the grave." *** "She lied!" Lydia exclaimed, "Wildman lied to St. James about the disk. Jesus Christ!" "What do you think she did with it?" DeTully asked. Lydia was getting excited at the prospect. "Do you know what that means?" she asked, her breath coming in gasps. DeTully scratched his head. "What?" Lydia’s nipples were erect. "She was turning," she said. DeTully pursed his lips and watched her. "She kept the chip so she could hold it over our heads," her words flowed faster. "That little bitch was going to play both sides of the field," Lydia predicated. She began to caress her left nipple through the thin cotton blouse with the tip of her finger. "She was going to swing both ways?" DeTully asked. "Or blackmail us," Lydia closed her eyes and shuddered. "Too bad. She might have been useful." She opened her eyes and realized DeTully was drooling. Lydia stopped her fondling. "When is Smyles expected back?" DeTully cleared his throat. "Not for a while," he said smiling. "Shit. Him and his little revenge fetish." Lydia thought for a moment. "Here’s what you’re going to do. When the Russian leaves, I want you to follow her." "Right." "I want to see her obituary." Chapter 28 The Riel Residence North of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada 10:47 hours 20 August, 2020 Nikita noticed a photograph on the end table next to her. "She is beautiful. Is this Catherine?" "Yes." A few memories returned to haunt John, but just the good ones. The photograph of Catherine in her full dress red tunic showed up in the apartment at Special Operations as he was preparing to leave. John suspected Kurt Burton left it for him. "We never did meet." Nikita looked at John. "Director St. James said the two of you had a relationship." "Director St. James should watch where she sticks her nose," John replied. "Yeah, we had a relationship. We were in love." "Of all the things to be in, love is the best." John smiled. "Yes it is." Hiding the fact that it took some effort, Nikita stood up. "I guess this is goodbye," she said and held out her hand. John stood and accepted her offering with a gentle squeeze. "I’m truly sorry that I could not tell you more." "Nyet. Do not be. You have told me more this morning than a dozen allegedly informed people have during the past few weeks." Silently they both gravitated toward the door, each lost in their own thoughts. Reaching the threshold first, Nikita turned and faced John. Their eyes connected as they searched for words that never come. They had survived through similar ordeals and they were scarred, but alive. The urge for human comfort suddenly overwhelmed them and they embraced each other warmly. John released Nikita and stepped back, ashamed that he may have taken advantage. "I’m sorry, I—" Nikita placed a long slender finger on his lips. "I think we both needed that." That eased his creeping guilt. "What are your plans now?" John asked. "I still have a week before my permit expires. I am sure I will think of something," her smile was wide, but lacked conviction. John held open the door for her. "You take care of yourself, Nikita Triska." She kissed him on the cheek. "You too, John Riel." *** As Nikita backed the Embassy Volvo out of the driveway she started to reflect on the man she just met. How he had learned the hard way what she already knew—that in this business having a lover was dangerous. Although she did not learn what she wanted, Nikita realized visiting John was not a mistake. He was a good man who deserved a better hand that what fate dealt him. She then pushed another thought from her mind and continued to plan her revenge. Nikita shifted gears and pressed the gas pedal. The wind through her shortly cropped hair felt refreshing. She failed to notice the dark sedan following her. *** John massaged his temples. He could not stop thinking about what Nikita told him. The cover-ups and double dealing. Wheels within wheels. He thought about what she had endured. What he endured. What Catherine endured. What she’s enduring now? Just as that inkling struck him it was gone, when the sound of frantic pounding on the door shattered his thoughts. John leapt to his feet and pulled open the door. "Amber?" He noticed the dark bruising below her left eye, "What happened?" She rushed into his arms. "Oh God John! He’s crazy. He’s gone crazy!" John held her. "Who?" "Hank. Hank is-was my boyfriend. He saw us dancing last night and waited for me at my house." "Did he hit you?" She sobbed, "Yes." John led her into the living room. "I better call the police," he said and helped her to the couch. "No!" she cried and pulled him down next to her. "No, please don’t go. Just hold me, please…." John gently placed his arm across her shoulders. "Sh… it’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay," he whispered gently. "Thank you John," she sobbed, "thank you." Lydia snuggled into his embrace and smiled. Chapter 29 The By-Pass Inn Highway 401 and Country Road 45 North of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada 12:43 hours 20 August, 2020 Nikita parked her Volvo in the parking lot and, with some difficulty, slid out. Her cane snug in her palm, Nikita slowly climbed the cast-iron stairs that lead to her second story room. She requested a ground floor room but was told there was a fishin’ terny all week and that was the only room left. She had not seen a soul since she arrived. Nikita already had her key in her hand as she reached the door. She hooked her cane on her arm and looked closely at the door. Old habits die hard. Nikita was satisfied nobody had entered her room while she was absent and unlocked her door. DeTully slowed his car to a stop on the far side of the lot. He stroked his crotch as he watched Nikita enter her room. When the door shut behind her, DeTully cheerfully strolled across the parking lot, casually screwing a silencer to his Smith & Wesson. *** Nikita dropped her key on the night table and slumped back against the door. She blew out a sigh of relief. What are you doing? You should not be here. If Major Lizachevsky discovered what you were doing you would be in deep. He believes I am still in Toronto. Well, tomorrow my business here will be done and I will be back at the Embassy. The good Major will not be the wiser. Nikita unbuttoned her blouse as she crossed to the rear of the room and entered the washroom. She turned on the shower and stripped out of her clothing. Hanging on the back of the door was a robe. Nikita pulled it across her shoulders and crossed back toward the bed. She sat on the corner, picked up the phone and pressed "7" for room service. Movement outside. Nikita dropped the receiver and rolled off the bed to the floor. He had a gun. Lizachevsky? She crawled to the window and peered out. No one was there. Am I starting to get so paranoid that I am seeing conspiracies everywhere? A shadow moved by the side window. Nikita rolled toward it and peered out. Nothing. He must have gone around to the back and up the fire escape outside the toilet window. *** A clipper snipped a group of wires. *** Nikita left her cane next to the bed as she crawled toward the washroom door. Through the steam drifting from the shower stall she saw a figure moving past the tiny window. I may be getting paranoid, but they are after me. The window opened a crack and a small device was tossed through. Nikita recognized it immediately. It was an electrostatic grenade. Toss it into a lake or pool and it will stun anyone within five hundred meters. Then all the assassin had to do was let the victim drown. Toss it into a tub or shower and your victim was seared to a crisp. Nikita flattened herself to the floor and yanked the bathrobe over her head as the grenade landed in the shower stall. The released energy flashed with a crack and the tiny room became a death trap. The glass shower doors splintered, sending shards of death through the misty air. *** DeTully dove from the fire escape as the glass from the window burst over his head. He struck the ground, rolled to his feet and sprinted around to the front of the motel. There he bounced up the stairs, taking them three at a time, then slid to a stop at Nikita’s door. With the gun snug in his fist, DeTully spun and kicked the door in. Not expecting any response, he stepped into the room. Save for a chilled haze wafting a meter off the floor, a side effect caused by the electrostatic grenade, there was no movement in the room. DeTully closed the door behind him. Hidden behind the bed, Nikita fought off the chill in her bones and felt around in the haze for her cane. She knew she only had a few moments before it dissipated and she would be completely exposed. Nikita removed the Bible from her bedside table and slid it across the floor. DeTully sensed the movement and turned. The Holy Book struck his foot. DeTully looked down. Nikita pushed off with her good leg and flung herself at the assassin. DeTully spotted the action and raised his weapon to ward her off. The barrel of the gun struck Nikita across the cheek and sent her sprawling. Nikita collided with the writing table, collapsing it under her weight. But DeTully lost his gun in the attack, "Shit!" he hissed as the Smith & Wesson vanished into the haze. DeTully dropped to his knees and mauled the damp shag carpet for his weapon. The sharp pain in her back fuelled Nikita as she again lunged at the mysterious assassin. She landed on his back and drove his face into the shag, her fingers hunting for his eyes. DeTully hammered his elbow into her breast. Nikita cried out. With her still clinging to his back, DeTully rose to his feet. Nikita realized she may have made a terrible error with this line of attack as he grabbed her by the collar of the robe. Nikita prepared herself as DeTully tossed her across the room like a rag doll. "Get the fuck off’a me!" he screamed. Nikita collided with the television set. The picture tube imploded into tiny deadly missiles. Her robe protected her from most of the glass. DeTully threw up his arms to protect his face as sparks and glass shot into the air. With the back of her robe smoking, Nikita slowly slumped to the floor and was still. DeTully lowered his hands and looked at the body on the floor. Streams of wispy smoke danced with the haze that was starting to fade. Toast. DeTully turned away and shuffled his feet across the carpet searching for his Smith & Wesson. That was my favourite gun. Slowly Nikita’s world of pain floated back as she felt a familiar shape press into her groin. The Russian Major opened her eyes a crack and saw her attacker shuffling around looking for something. A glint of metal nearby caught her eye. Nikita slowly reached for it, then froze and closed her eyes as her mystery man suddenly turned around. Huh. There was something near the body. DeTully moved closer and squatted to get a better look. It’s her cane. In a blur of motion Nikita snatched the bottom the cane and twisted her arm around. She cracked the assassin across the jaw with the brass headpiece. DeTully cried out and stumbled back on his haunches. Nikita seized her advantage and rolled to her side. With his .38 in both fists she squeezed off two rounds. DeTully screamed as the slugs tore into his legs. Passing the weapon to her right hand and picking up her cane with her left, Nikita rose to her feet. A wild glint sparked in her eyes as she held the weapon rock steady and slowly approached with the revolver pointed between his eyes. Panic swelled up in DeTully. Not like this! He tried to back away but the bed blocked any retreat. "Whore!" he screamed. Nikita halted as a flicker of recollection flashed across her brow. Suddenly it was the day before she escaped. Her hands were bound, as were her feet. Her knees were fastened, holding her legs spread. Nikita was sitting naked on a damp wooden chair. Damp with her blood and filth. The ugly man, Raymond Smyles, approached. He seized a hand full of her sweeping cinnamon hair and twisted it in his fist until she was forced to look him in the eye. His baneful smile scarred his face like the wound she gave him just days before. Smyles chewed on his cigar and groped her breast, "Like that?" Nikita tried to twist away from his callused hands. "Struggling only makes it worse." "Go to hell," Nikita managed to utter through her fractured jaw. Smyles grunted and, with a inference of spite, pinched her nipple. Nikita groaned dolefully. Smyles waved at another man standing in the dark. As he approached, Smyles leaned and whispered in Nikita’s ear, "You’re going’t love this, bitch." The man seemed to slither through the shadows. Even when he stood in a glimmer of light his face remained shadowed. She could only see his hands. He was wearing gloves. Thick, black insulated gloves. Nikita tried to swallow but her throat was dry. In his hands were wires. He was holding wires. Live wires. Then suddenly the shadows dropped away and in the harsh light she saw him, if only for a split second. "Whore," he said. That was all it took. She knew him now. Something in Nikita’s mind snapped, "You!" she cried. Her blood burned through her veins, "It was you!" DeTully raised his hands, "W-what?" he stammered. "You! You did this!" Nikita shrieked. "I didn’t do nothing!" Nikita shot him through the left palm, "Liar!" she shrieked. DeTully screamed and doubled over. He held his bleeding hand to his chest, "Okay! Okay! Whatever it was I did it! I stole a candy bar when I was six! I kicked the puppy. Please don’t kill me!" "You deviant!" Nikita spat, "What are you doing here?" "I heard the fishing was good." Nikita shot him in the foot. "Wrong answer!" DeTully screamed again. "Smyles! I’m with Smyles!" Smyles! "Where is that slime?" "I don’t know." Nikita shot him in the kneecap, "Next time the privates!" "No! No! Stop! Oh God stop!" DeTully whimpered, "He’s on his way back. I don’t know what he has planned." She pointed the .38 at his other knee. "I swear to God! That’s all I know!" DeTully cried. Nikita determined that his answers were now reliable and stepped back toward the phone. She sat her cane down and picked up the receiver. There was no dial tone. Her eyes briefly flickered away from DeTully to the phone. The guinea hen-voiced little man flicked his wrist and a small throwing knife slid into the palm of his right hand. Nikita saw the action reflected in the window and in a liquidized motion she turned and squeezed the trigger. DeTully’s glasses shattered in the middle and the back of his head sprayed across the bed sheets. Nikita squeezed the trigger again and again until she emptied the weapon into DeTully’s lifeless body. Then she squeezed the trigger some more until the Smith & Wesson felt from her grasp as the strength drained from her arms. Nikita closed her eyes and wept dry tears. John! Nikita’s mind snapped alert and she pushed herself toward the door, but exhaustion and DeTully’s savage attack had taken their toll on her already frail body. Pain exploded through her legs and back and Nikita stumbled to the floor. Oblivion claimed her. *** Interlude The figure sat alone in the shadows and smiled. All is going to plan. Cathy killed Stein. Couldn’t have worked that out better if I pulled the trigger myself. Cathy was mine. The moment that pig bastard fucked her he was a dead man. Smyles may be a loose cannon, but he was putting the mission back on track. His fetishes could jeopardize my position here. I may have to do something about him. Not yet, but soon. DeTully’s a psychopath. That has its advantages. Miezlaiskis is a nymphomaniac. Oh well, there’s always one. She might be of some more use later. Riel. Well, let’s just say that’s a problem that’s about to be solved. The figure in the shadows plotted. Chapter 30 The Riel Residence North of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada 08:01 hours 21 August, 2020 John gently tapped on the corner of the arch leading into the living area of the sleeping car. "Amber?" he whispered. A soft moan was the reply. John peered around the corner and found Lydia still on the hideaway curled beneath the patch-work comforter he gave her last night. Keeping her out of his bed and on the couch was difficult enough. She seemed desperate to make love. Rebounding, John suspected. He finally managed to convince her to sleep on the hideaway in the living room. That way he could lock his bedroom door. After she fell asleep John called the local police and spoke to a Constable explaining how she did not want to leave or go to the hospital. They said they would send someone around later in the day. "Amber?" There was no reply this time. John turned away. "J-John?" "I’m right here," he said and stepped into the archway. Lydia shifted around beneath the comforter and propped herself upon her elbows. The comforter slid down and revealed a surplus of cleavage. She made no attempt to cover up. "’Morning," she said. "Good morning," John noticed the color around her eye had started to fade, "How’s the swelling?" he asked. "Fine. How’s yours?" "Amber, I’m serious." She lowered her eyes for a moment. "I have some coffee on," John said, "I’ll get you a cup." He then realized his body had betrayed him and quickly left. "Damn," Lydia hissed. She dropped back down onto the cushions and moistened her lips. She wanted him between her legs so bad she could taste it. Lydia was getting that itch again. *** Sucking air through his teeth, Smyles yanked open the door to the van and climbed in with a bound and gagged Madhuri slung over his shoulder. He dumped her in a corner and sat in DeTully’s chair. Eyes wide with fear, Madhuri watched as the ugly man lit up and cigar and inhaled deeply. "Ya’ know," he wheezed, "These things are goin’ ta’ be the death of me," Smyles blew a ring of blue smoke in her direction then noticed a note stuck on the corner of DeTully’s recorder. How many times do I have to tell him not to leave shit like this around. ‘Can you say incriminating evidence?’ Stupid Fucker. He pulled it down. It read: Yo Boss, That Russian babe Nikita Triska showed up at Riel’s. She asked him shit about Wildman and Zada, Zid Zik, the other Russian. I’m tailing her now to finish what I started. Won’t be long. Ha-Ha! Miezlaiskis’ in there now with Riel. She used boyfriend story. (she’s in that mood again wink-wink) $50 says they’re doing the ‘wild thang’ before noon. Tape it for me. I want to hear it later. Press button # 2 on machine # 1 to hear what’s happening. -Tul p.s. hope you had a flight full of fun & beer. Smyles crumpled the paper and tossed it over hand at Madhuri. It bounced off her forehead. "Two points," he said and pressed button # 2 on machine # 1. *** Lydia, with the comforter pulled back across her shoulders, stepped behind John and gently touched his neck with her long tapered fingers. John flinched. He did not hear her enter the kitchen area. "Oh, what’s wrong?" she purred. John turned around and looked at her. "What? ‘What’s wrong?’ you ask. Your boyfriend." "Ex-boyfriend," she interjected. "Ex-boyfriend," John continued, "He beat up and you won’t call the police. You won’t go to the hospital. Now here you are hitting on me. I don’t get it Amber. What are you doing?" She closed the small gap between them and placed her hand on his chest. "I think you’re cute." Her index finger wiggled through his shirt and traced a circle on his chest. "Stop it," John said. "Oh, but Johnny," Lydia purred. John grabbed her hand and yanked it away. "Don’t you ever call me that." For just a moment a hint of fear registered in her eyes, but the fright added fuel to her fire, "Ohhh... I struck a nerve did I?" the comforter fell to a heap at her ankles and Lydia stood before him in all her glory. "I know ways to release that tension," she said blocking any retreat from the kitchen. "Amber," John released her hand and backed away until the counter dug into his back. "Please. Think about what you’re doing." She snarled and her eyes flashed dangerously. "C’mon stud. Let’s unload that rifle." *** Smyles hooted with laughter, "Shit. I wish I had a camera in there." Madhuri watched the ugly man and feared she could not remain conscious much longer. Sweat dampened her brow as Madhuri’s blood sugars increased. A red light flashed on the panel above Smyles. He pressed the button below it and started flipping switches. *** John managed to duck around Lydia as the phone in the living area chimed. It only sounded once but John picked it up regardless. "Hello?" There was no image on the video screen, or a dial tone. John listened for a moment then gently replaced the receiver. "Johnny…." John steeled himself for a moment then turned and faced Lydia. She sashayed toward him with her breasts cupped in her hands. "C’mon big guy. Don’t ya’ wanta’ squeeze one off between them?" Her tongue flickered across her left nipple. "Ohww, you know you wanta’ do the bone dance." Lydia threw her arms around his neck, pressed her breasts to his chest and kissed him passionately. John remained unresponsive. "Baby," she cooed, her tongue prying at his lips. "It could be like some fantasy you once had." What? It all fell into place. A chill shot up John’s spine. He grabbed her forearms and shoved her away, "What did you say?" he snapped. "Uh, what?" Lydia stammered. John held her arms like a vice. "What the hell did you just say?" *** "Goddamn it! Shit!" Smyles growled and slammed his fist on the arm of the chair, "Sheeeeeiit. Shit, shit, shit!" He looked at Madhuri. "Cover’s been fucked!" Smyles drew his . 357 and thumbed off the safety. Madhuri let out a muffled cry. Smyles glared down at her, "Daddy’s a comin’ home, baby!" he seized Madhuri by the hair and dragged her from the van. *** "You’re hurting me," Lydia said. John flung her onto the couch. "So you like it rough," she bared her teeth like a cat and hissed. "I can deal with that." "No more crap!" John demanded. "Who the hell are you?" She hissed again and slipped from the couch like a panther in heat. "Let’s do it right here. I’m wet for your meat." John grabbed her arm and pulled Lydia to her feet. "No more games!" He pushed her into the couch again, "Who the hell are you?" "She has gone by several names in the past few years I’ve forgotten most of them, so I just call her ‘horny as hell.’" John turned and faced the amoral smile of Raymond…. "Smyles." The ugly man stood in the doorway with his scarred face aglow with delight. "She works for me." "Smyles," John said again. The name burned through the air like a vile wind, "You bastard." His diamond sparkled. John clenched his fist and stepped toward the rogue agent. "Oh," Smyles smirked with wide eyed playfulness, "Looky here," he yanked Madhuri into view, "I’ve brought a date." John halted. Madhuri mumbled beneath the gag as tears flowed down her face. "Smyles. You son-of-a-bitch!" John cursed. "Temper, temper," Lydia said as she finished buttoning up her blouse. She moved around John and stood at Smyles’ side. John looked at her. "That was you…before— wasn’t it?" The memory of his ordeal when chained to the wall still danced across his mind when he least expected it. "You remembered?" Lydia said. She raised her finger to her lips and coated the tip with saliva. Smyles grinned, "It’s too bad you didn’t go for the gusto right here Riel. She’s really quite good." "I have standards," John replied. Lydia’s expression soured. "Whatever," Smyles said and shoved Madhuri into John’s arms. John caught Madhuri and held her steady. Her eyes were rolling and he realized her sugars must be high. She was going to need insulin. John brushed the sweat and tangled hair from her eyes as he eased her to the floor. He then looked at Smyles. "Why? Why bring her into this?" Smyles lit up another cigar and took in a long drag, "Kicks. You destroyed my life. You and the bitch. We spent a long time establishing that pipeline. A lot of time and money placing people in the RCMP and CSIS. Not to mention dealing with the Triads and slanties." "Point being?" John said flatly. Smyles’ eyes flared for a moment, but he had waited for a long time for this moment and was not going to let his anger get the best of him. "You destroyed my dreams. So now I’m going to destroy your life. I started with having the bitch killed," he lied. Why not. I planned to do it anyway. Fate just intervened before I could. A madness erupted and controlled him. John sprang at the rogue agent, "No!" Smyles cracked him across the temple with the side of his Magnum. John crumpled to the floor. Smyles then kicked him in the ribs until he turned over and pressed the heel of his boot into John’s throat. "I wiped that sweet candy ass of hers right off the face of the earth, Johnny-boy. Of course I did have to sample the treats first." John’s knuckles turned white as he dug his fingers into Smyles’ boot. "What are you going to do about that?" Smyles taunted. "I’m going to asked you to turn around," John said through clenched teeth. "What?" John smiled. "I’ll repeat it slower and with smaller words if you didn’t understand." Smyles applied more pressure. "What the fuck do you take me for? A perfect idiot?" John wrestled futilely with his boot. "Nobody’s perfect." Lydia placed her hand on Smyles’ shoulder. "Ray," she said. Smyles turned slightly and stared down the barrel of a .38 Smith & Wesson. "Hello idiot," Nikita snarled from the other end. Smyles choked. Nikita’s ice-fire eyes said two words—No argument—and Smyles dropped his gun to the floor. John pushed the foot away from his throat and twisted it. Smyles stumbled and fell to his knees. In a blur of motion, John was on his feet. He grabbed Smyles by the lapels and threw him head first into the wall, then slammed into the ugly American with fists flailing, "You fucker!" he screamed. "Nyet! Nyet! John! Stop!" Nikita cried out. Her eyes did not leave Lydia’s face, "Now is not the time." John realized Nikita was right. He delivered one more blow into his kidneys then yanked Smyles around and shoved him into the wall. He held him there with his forearm pressed into the ex-CIA man’s throat. John looked sharply at Lydia and pointed to the wall next to Smyles. "You too!" he snapped. She complied without hesitation. "Weapons," Nikita said as John turned them around so they were facing the wall, "Hands on heads." John scooped up Smyles’ .357 and found a Semmerling LM-4 freshly strapped to Lydia’s thigh. John surmised it was originally in her purse and meant for him later. Nikita held out her hand. "Give me that one," she said. John handed her the ML-4. "Careful it’s loaded." Nikita dropped the .38 to the floor and aimed the small, light weight four shot Semmerling with both hands. Smyles’ jaw dropped. Nikita lips curled into a smile, "I kept the gun. DeTully kept the bullets." "You remind me of someone," John whispered. Nikita almost said something, then changed her mind. "You better help your friend." John crossed to Madhuri and eased her to the couch. There he removed her gag. "Oh God," she sobbed, "Oh God John, what’s happening?" John loosened the bindings from her hands and held her tight, "its okay. Everything’s fine now." "How sweet," Lydia remarked. "Shut up," Nikita snapped. "What are you going to do with us?" Smyles fumed. "Over there," Nikita gestured them away from John and Madhuri. Smyles seized his moment. He propelled Lydia into Nikita. Both women fell to the floor. He then whirled and smacked John in the back of the head with his fist. Madhuri crumpled to the floor as John lost his balance. Smyles bolted from the room. "Damn it! No you’re not!" John cried and blindly raced after Smyles. On the floor Nikita and Lydia wrestled for the Semmerling. Lydia manoeuvred herself on top of Nikita and chopped her across the throat. Nikita’s head struck the floor, dazing her. Lydia snagged the weapon and pressed the barrel to the Russian’s temple while grabbing her throat with her other hand, "Say goodnight Gracie," she quipped. Madhuri yanked on Lydia’s arm and the ML-4 discharged. "Nyet!" Nikita cried out. Madhuri’s eyes were wide as she slowly crumpled to the floor, leaving a crimson streak on the wall behind her. Lydia hissed, "You’re next bitch!" The Russian woman slammed her forehead into Lydia’s face, splitting her lip and bloodying her nose. Lydia cried out and dropped the Semmerling. Nikita pushed the woman off, scooped up the gun and shoved the barrel into Lydia’s mouth. Her eyes widened. "Good," Nikita said slowly, her accent thick, "this is something you are not accustom to having in your mouth." Lydia tried to struggle but Nikita pushed the weapon deeper into her throat. "Now you shall stand up very slowly," Nikita said. "Do you understand me?" The fear in Lydia’s eyes said she did as she gagged on the acidic burn of the small weapon’s residue gunpowder. Nikita removed the gun from Lydia’s mouth and pushed herself across the floor. Slowly the American stood up. "Hands on the top of your head and face the wall," Nikita ordered. Lydia complied. Nikita slid herself over to Madhuri. She had not moved since the gun fired. Nikita touched her neck and felt for a pulse. "I wouldn’t waste my time," Lydia said. "She’s dead." "You better hope not," The Russian said. Straining, Nikita gripped the corner of the coffee table and, with great effort, pulled herself to her feet, "Your reign of terror and control has just ended," her eyes burned as she started at Lydia and raised the weapon. "Hold it!" Paul Forrester said suddenly, appearing behind Nikita. "Drop the weapon." "I am Major Nikita Triska," she said without taking her eyes off Lydia. "I am with Operation Arctic Snow." "I said drop the weapon!" Forrester repeated and pressed the barrel of his Detonics .45 to the back of her head. "Da," Nikita said and slowly placed the gun on the table away from Lydia, "My credentials are in my—" "Shut up," Forrester said. "You okay?" he asked Lydia. Nikita was flabbergasted, "Nyet." Lydia turned and faced Nikita. "Bitch," she said and slapped her. Chapter 31 Smyles yanked his blazer over his head and dove through the glass doors at the end of the dining car. He struck the back porch amidst a shower of glass shards and slid into a stack of garbage bags, "Christ," he muttered, amazed he did it and rose unsteadily to his feet. Suddenly there was movement in the corner of his eye. Smyles spun around as John slammed into him. Both men crashed through the railing and dropped to the yard a meter and a half below. "Bastard!" John cried. Smyles twisted and brought his fist up. He nabbed John in the side of the face. As he rolled away dazed, Smyles leapt to his feet and began kicking. "You fucker!" Smyles cried out and kicked John in the kidneys, lower back, and ribs, "No one! I mean no one does that to me! You’re dead shit!" John managed to grab Smyles’ foot. He twisted it, then sprung to his feet as the rogue agent went down. Before Smyles could react to the sudden offensive action, John grabbed him by the tie, hoisted him over his hip, and slammed the ugly man face first into the side of the sleeping car’s metal wheels, where he pinned him with his shoulder and fired blow after blow into Smyles’ midsection. Smyles exploded and shot his elbows up. He clipped John in the chin. It was enough to break his rhythm. Taking advantage, Smyles yanked John down and smashed his face into his knee. John’s nose gave way with a brilliant spray of blood. He pushed John away. "Asshole," Smyles said, "I’m the fuckin’ CIA!" John staggered but remained standing. Smyles’ right fist shot out and caught John square on the bridge of the nose. The burst of pain helped John regain his focus and he blocked Smyles’ next swing. John lashed out and kicked Smyles in the nuts. Smyles doubled over, then suddenly charged. He hooked John across the midsection and flipped him up and over his back. John struck the ground hard and a loud wheeze escaped from his lungs. Smyles spun around and hurled his foot down onto John’s chest and something cracked. Smyles’ foot shot out again, but John managed to roll out of the way and scramble to his feet. "Had enough?" Smyles asked and formed a boxer’s stance. John fought to control his breathing as each breath racked his chest with agony. For a moment there were two ugly men before him. "S’funny," John said. He spat blood from his mouth, "I was going to ask you the same thing." Smyles’ left fist shot out. John surprised himself as he dodged it. "Three years Green Beret, and the best training the ‘Company’ had to offer," Smyles taunted. "Where did you learn how to fight Johnny-boy?" John swung his fist. Smyles blocked it and retaliated with a smack to the shoulder. John gasped as pain exploded through his chest. "Well?" Smyles snorted, "Where did you learn that wonderful fighting skill?" John suddenly dropped his stance and gawked over the ugly man’s shoulder, "Holy shit!" he exclaimed. Smyles looked around, "What?" John hammered the ex-CIA man square in the temple with a solid right hook. Smyles stumbled and tripped over his feet. He fell face first next to the stack of firewood. "Saturday morning cartoons!" John cried and charged. Smyles rolled onto his back and caught John in the chest with his feet. He kicked out and John struck the side of the train car. His chest screamed in agony and blackness spotted his vision. Smyles scrambled to his feet, then paused as he spotted a 2x4 on the stack of wood with a long nail through one end. Grinning madly, Smyles picked up the piece of wood and stroked it lovingly. John’s eyes snapped open as Smyles swung. The nail carved up the grass millimetres from his neck. "Ye-ha!" Smyles whooped and yanked the newly found weapon into the air again. "Havin’ some fun now!" John scrambled to his knees as Smyles swung again. He blocked it with his left arm. Smyles swung again and broke John’s wrist. Like bolts of electricity, pain rippled through his arm. John bit his lip but held his ground. Smyles swung again and John blocked it. Smyles swung again. John screamed out as the nail skewered his left wrist. Smyles giggled and twisted the plank, "Nailed ya’!" he laughed and dropped the 2x4. He turned away to find something blunt to finish the job with. John crumpled onto his side as exacting eruptions of fire coursed through his battered and tired body. He closed his eyes. I can’t... go on... not anymore... no... Fight! John was not sure if he heard a voice or not, but knew what he must do. There were people counting on him. Madhuri, Nikita, Catherine. Catherine? He was not sure how the realization came to him but he knew. Blood and sweat mixed and soaked his skin. John ignored all. He grasped the slippery wood and pulled. Smyles heard the sickening wet pop and turned around. The piece of wood rested in a patch of blood stained grass, but John was nowhere to be seen. "What the fuck?" Smyles said. He thought he was done. Riel was down for the count. It would be simple now. A blood curling scream suddenly ripped through the air. Smyles spun around and a chill raced up his spine. For the rest of his life he would never forget the image he saw. Springing from the roof of the sleeping car, John flew like a deranged bird of revenge and walloped the rogue agent, "Die you bastard!" he screamed as he slammed Smyles into the ground. Nerves danced beneath his skin. John rode purely on adrenalin now. He fired his fists repeatedly into the ugly man’s face. "You killed her! You bastard! You killed Catherine! You killed Kristina! You killed the women I love! I’ll fucking annihilate you!" Never before had John felt such rage and hate for one man. The torment and helplessness from his trial in South America, the anger that built up over the death of Kristina, the frustration of his treatment by St. James and her little fraternity of Feds, how his best friend was drawn into this quagmire, and the senseless loss of Catherine, all directed at the man he was pounding into the topsoil. Through the pounding Smyles managed to grab and twist John’s damaged wrist. Briefly the barrage ended and Smyles kicked his attacker off. John rolled into the base of the sleeping car. The door of the storage unit popped open and his left hand limply fell across the handle of the axe. Smyles scampered to his feet. His face was a misshaped bloody pulp. Blood flowed freely from his mouth, nose, and ears, "That’s it you fucker!" he shrieked and flicked his wrist. A small throwing knife slid into the palm of his hand, "Now you die!" he brought the knife to bear. "No!" John cried out and grabbed the axe. Sheer raw agony flared through his arm and shot across his chest as John threw the axe. The two weapons sparked in midair. The knife burrowed into the ground between John’s legs. Smyles’ face opened up as the tip of the axe struck, and he dropped to the ground like a freed marionette. John blew out a bloody breath and tried to stand, but the pain that tore into every corner of his body intensified and he collapsed into the blood drenched grass. Every last milligram of strength drained from his being and John surrendered to the blissfulness of darkness. *** Nikita’s slender fingers were laced together across the top of her head. Paul Forrester pressed the barrel of his .45 deep into the base of her skull. He was preparing himself for something he had wanted to do for a long time. A political assassination. Cool. When Miezlaiskis approached him with an offer of an untraceable five million in a Swiss account to be the Group’s eyes and ears in CSIS, Forrester jumped at the chance. When am I going to see that kind of cash again? Then, out of nowhere, Vladimir Zadneprovsky called him. So Forrester set him up and arrange for Smyles to meet the Russian, but Zadneprovsky must have suspected something because he called Wildman. Zadneprovsky was eliminated but Wildman escaped, and disappeared. Then when she re-entered the picture with Riel—what a pain in the ass— Wildman could have been problem. It was tragic about her untimely demise because, Stein said she was a good lay, and now that she swung both ways I was hoping to tap that ass. Oh well, for a cool five mil, I can get all the nookie I want. Somewhere in the shuffle of events the data disk was lost, so his secret was safe again. That was the bottom line as far as he cared. Then he spotted the Russian woman talking with St. James. Now that was too good to pass up. He followed her here to Smyles’ operation. He watched her kill DeTully. So what, big deal, he thought as she iced the psycho. Now was the time. Triska may no longer be a threat, but she was still the enemy and that was good enough. "Any last words?" Forrester asked. Nikita provided him with some in her native tongue. "What?" "She said, ‘Go fuck yourself,’" Lydia translated. "Bitch," Forrester hissed, "Say goodbye—" "Drop it." The intensity behind the words chilled everyone in the room. They could feel the rage and anger that fuelled it. They knew it was from a man who had been pushed too far, a man who was ready to cross the line. Bloodied and battered, Johnny Riel stood in the doorway. His left arm and hand hung like raw meat at his side, but firmly clenched in his right fist was Smyles’ .357 Magnum. It was pointed directly between Paul Forrester’s eyes. "You!" Forrester exclaimed when he realized who had the drop on him. He glanced at Lydia. Her face showed the amazement he felt. He looks like the walking dead. Forrester's gaze returned to John, "What…?" John spoke slowly and evenly, "Drop it or I drop you." Forrester looked into his eyes. They were cold, hard, and dangerous. This was not the same man he faced down back at the Special Operations building. John thumbed the .357’s hammer back. His eyes widened and beads of sweat bubbled across Forrester’s brow. "Your choice Forrester," John said. "One." The streams of moisture thickened and dripped down his face. "Two..." A vein on Forrester’s forehead bulged as John’s face remained unreadable. "Three." "Don’t shoot!" Forrester cried and tossed the .45 away. For a long time the Magnum remained cocked and pointed at Forrester. Then slowly, John lowered the weapon. Nikita blew out a breath she did not realize she was holding. She picked up the gun and pushed Forrester toward the couch. He offered no resistance. Lydia remained standing. Her mind frozen by the transformation she just witnessed. "Smyles?" Nikita asked and aimed the Detonics at Forrester. "Axed," John replied and knelt next to Madhuri. Her eyes flickered open, "John…" she whispered. "It’s okay Babe. Don’t move." John noticed that mixed with the burnt smell of gunpowder and the coppery sent of blood, Madhuri had a slight fruity smell. Her glucose levels were way too high. She needed insulin. "I’ve forgotten how exciting things get when you’re around," Madhuri smirked. "I like to keep things hopping. Where are you hurt?" "All over…" she smirked, "Arm…so much for my tennis game." "You were never very good anyway," John said. "Hang tight." Madhuri forced a smile. "Hangin’," she said and squeezed her eyes shut. John wiped a tear from her cheek. "I tried to contact you with my mobile from the car, but the line was dead," Nikita said, "I got here as soon as I could." John did not hear her as he stood and faced Lydia, "Hello Amber," he said coldly. She refused to meet his eyes. "That is not her real name," Nikita informed him. John stepped closer, grabbed Lydia by the throat, and pressed the barrel of the Magnum to her forehead. He thumbed the hammer back. "John?" Nikita whispered. "You used me!" John snapped with such rage both Lydia and Nikita recoiled. Lydia finally looked at John, "Yes I did," she said flatly. "And if Wildman was in my place she would have done the same thing." A chill cut through him. Maybe she did. John let the hammer slide back into place and lowered the weapon. In the distance sirens wailed. Chapter 32 "Move it Asshole," Sgt. Kurt Burton barked, smacking Forrester in the back of the head. Burton and three other Constables removed Lydia and the CSIS man from the living area and directed them into waiting cruisers. John sat sombrely on the couch with Nikita at his side. Their fingers laced together between them. Doctor Yen-ping sat before him with her black bag between her knees. Bonita had already taped up his chest and wrist and had started to clean off the many wounds on his face. Madhuri had been given a shot of insulin and was sent on ahead by ambulance. Bonita suspected she should be on her feet within a couple of days. The bullet from the Semmerling just grazed the inside of her left arm above the elbow. An uniformed Mountie entered and whispered into St. James’ ear. She nodded, then looked at John and shook her head. "I told you I left him in the backyard," John said lethargically, "I thought he was dead. I hit him in the head with an axe." "Well," St. James said in that tone of voice that pissed off John, "he couldn’t have gone very far. I have people combing the area. I’m going to leave a Constable here when we leave. Just in case." "I feel so much better knowing that you are looking out for my safety," John replied flatly. Bonita swallowed a chuckle. "Ah, yes," St. James grunted. She faced Nikita. "Major Triska, there are some people from your Embassy waiting back at my office. I believe they have a few words they would like to share with you." "Da." Nikita looked apologetically at John. "I have to go now. I promise I will see you again before I leave for home." John nodded absently. Nikita kissed him softly on the cheek, picked up her cane and followed St. James out the door. *** Midsouth 7 Medical Facility Toronto, Ontario, Canada 06:41 hours 28 August, 2020 Scowls of darkness smeared across the morning sky, a beacon of the coming storm. Quietly by the window John sat, absorbing the power Mother Nature flexed. Behind him on the hospital bed Madhuri slept. The soft peeping sound of the monitors were occasionally obliterated by the grumbling in the sky. Miezlaiskis and Forrester had been charged with murder, kidnapping, rape, treason, possession of a narcotic for the purpose of trafficking, plus several dozen other infractions. It would be a long and colourful trial, as well as a media circus, but both should go away for a long time. Stryker agreed that John would not be involved with the media coverage of the trial. He was too close. "I have something better, more newsworthy," he told Stryker. What bothered John the most was the disappearance of Raymond Smyles. There was no trace he had ever been at John’s. The ugly man just vanished. In the corridor beyond Madhuri’s private room an elevator bell rang, accompanied by a dull flash of lighting over Lake Ontario. John turned his head slightly and listened. Two sets of foot falls. The heavy one was the Constable St. James left here on John’s insistent. The second walked with a cane. John turned back toward the window as the door opened. "Hello Nikita," he said. In the distant thunder rumbled through the chilled air. "How did you know it was me?" she asked. "The sound of your cane on the floor in the hall." "Well now," Nikita conceded. She was impressed. Lightning cracked. With a low grunt, the overweight Mountie returned to his dull posting. "May I?" the lanky Russian asked. "Sure." Thunder rumbled. Nikita quietly slid a chair over and sat down next to John. "The girl sleeping?" "Her name is Madhuri," John said. "I am sorry," Nikita scolded herself for the faux pas. "Madhuri." She knew John had not left her bedside since the day after she arrived. "What did the doctor say?" "She wanted to keep her here until they get her sugars under control. Madhuri has a very delicate system. She went too long without insulin. All Smyles fed her were jelly doughnuts." "Does she not wear an insulin patch?" "She’s allergic to the adhesive and uses the insulin pump." Nikita nodded and followed his gaze out the window. A flicker of lightning illuminated the skyline. "Pretty city." Thunder rumbled somewhere. "How is the arm?" "It’ll be fine. Dr. Yen-ping said I should have full use back soon," John said. His eyes did not leave whatever he was focused on. "I’m lucky with my chest. It’s only a minor fracture." "That is good, Johnny." "Don’t!" John snapped at her. The sky flashed and roared. Nikita’s eyes widened with surprise. John looked away for a moment, then met her eyes again. "I’m sorry. Please don’t call me that." "As you wish." A moment passed between them. John cleared his throat. "How was your debriefing?" "Not fun. Moscow was not very pleased that I disobeyed orders and sought you out, but they did realize that we had a leak somewhere." She combed her fingers across her brush cut. "Also, St. James can be, how do you say it? A total bitch?" "That’s how I’d say it," John smiled. A jagged ripple of light darted across the sky. Nikita placed her hand on his arm. "It is good to see you smiling." "Debriefing took all week?" John asked, not sure of what he was trying to avoid. "Nyet. I spent the last two days researching Cathy Wildman’s reports." The sky grumbled. "Why?" John asked, unsuccessfully keeping the edge from his voice. Nikita removed her hand and faced John directly. "Listen John. After Vladimir called Forrester he suspected that your CSIS man was on the take so he also contacted Cathy, but died before he could give her the data disk. I believe he knew his life was going to end that night." "You think the disk is still hidden?" Nikita nodded, "Da." A flicker in the sky briefly split the clouds. "I think Vladimir told Cathy where it was hidden and she was on her way to retrieve it when somebody stopped her." Fat rivulets began to pelt the glass as John looked at the woman beside him, "Are you sure about this?" "Vladimir asked Cathy to meet him at Kieran Crudup’s Estate. Now why would he want to do that? Crudup is a major player in the Canadian underworld. Would that not be the last place an on-the-run narcotics agent would want to meet a contact? In the very den, as it were, of the vipers he was fleeing? Your RCMP suspect Crudup’s involvement in over 70% of all the Ink trafficking in this country. He is also been known to operate a clearing house for contract assassination and white slavery." "I know who he is," John said, following her train of thought. "The problem is that the cops could never put together a case against him. Crudup has been brought to trial a few times but never convicted. Evidence misfiled, witnesses change their testimony or disappear altogether. A real bad guy." He looked at Nikita. "You think Crudup has his fingers in the Group’s pie?" Her eyebrows knitted for a moment as she pondered the term. "Da. I believe that by going to Crudup’s place of operations Vladimir gave us the key to the whole mystery. He figured it out, and so did Cathy. That knowledge cost them their lives." John closed his eyes for a moment. Wheels within wheels. "One of Cathy’s covers was that of a high priced prostitute who freelanced for Crudup." Nikita pressed on, "From the reports I read, she used that cover several times during the investigation." She touched his arm with the tips of her fingers. "Doctor Yen-ping told me that Cathy did not completely trust St. James," Nikita’s voice tightened, "I do not think that Vladimir and Cathy’s deaths should go unavenged." John met her gaze. "Do you know what you are saying?" "Da. Yes, John, I do." Their eyes remained locked as Nikita continued, "I believe the key is at Crudup’s estate. The key to who is involved and how they are manipulated by the Group. The key to where the Ink is stored and how they ship it into my homeland. I have to find it John, and I have to end it before their oath destroys any more lives." Nikita stood and placed a hand on John’s shoulder. "Please think about it. I need your help." She placed a card on Madhuri’s night table. "Here is a secure number that you may reach me at. No one must know about what we have talked about, especially St. James." Nikita gently squeezed his shoulder, "Please," she said softly and left the room. The sky suddenly split open and an icy rain pelted down on the city. "I don’t believe her," Madhuri declared from her bed. "I do," John replied. His eyes suddenly focused somewhere far away. "But I agree. She’s hiding something." John stood and watched lightning flash and strike the CN Tower. "There was one question she didn’t ask me. One question nobody asked me and I don’t understand why. Unless somehow somebody already knew the answer," he turned and faced Madhuri. "What was I doing at Crudup’s that night? How did I just happen to be in the right place at the right time?" "I don’t understand," Madhuri said. "They all knew that my presence there was just simply a twist of fate. Therefore, whenever I was involved everyone just went through the motions." John brushed a lock of hair from Madhuri’s eyes. "There is more to this story than what Nikita believes. She may not know it, but she’s as much out of the loop as we are. My gut tells me only two of the people involved knew the full scope of what’s happening. You and I don’t know. Nikita doesn’t. Smyles and Lydia Miezlaiskis thought they knew but didn’t. I don’t think St. James knows. We are just pawns on someone’s board. Catherine knows and so does the one behind it all." Madhuri missed the reference. "You told me it was a group of ten people," she said, "not an individual." John let it slide, "I don’t believe it’s a group. Not anymore. It may have been once, but not anymore. Not for a long time. A group wouldn’t have made the type of blunders they have. Their actions have been too wild, too personal." John turned back toward the window, "But I think Nikita is on the right track." "So what are you going to do?" John stared out at the changing sky, "What I have to do." For her. *** Nikita, I’m not cut out for this plan of yours. I can’t even fire a gun straight. He turned over the card she gave him. We saved each other’s lives, so we owe each other in a way we may never understand. But most of all I’m doing it for her... He punched in the number. ...I’m doing this for Catherine. "Da." "I’m in, but we do it my way." *** "We can’t find him," Burton reported. St. James looked up from her desk and brushed away her reading lamp. "Is he not at his house-or train set-or whatever it is he lives in?" "No ma’am." "He may have returned to Vancouver with his friend, or might be here in the city at the CWN offices," St. James suggested. "I’ve checked all flights to, or connecting with Vancouver. He didn’t. The CWN doesn’t know or won’t tell me his whereabouts. I’ve also learned that his friend, Madhuri Sahni, had checked herself out of the hospital and she too is missing." "I don’t like the sound of that. Do you think he’s up to something?" "I’m not sure, but Constable Chaykin said Major Triska visited both Riel and Sahni at the hospital just before they both disappeared." "Where is the good Major now?" "Her Embassy said she returned to Moscow the day before yesterday." "Fine. Keep me posted." "Yes ma’am," Burton nodded slightly and left the office. St. James dimmed her reading light and leaned back in her chair. They wouldn’t! PART THREE Revelations & Consequences Chapter 33 The Kieran Crudup Estate South of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 21:21 hours 01 September, 2020 "The air is cool," Nikita Triska said and shivered as she stepped out into the night. John Riel gently closed the car door behind her, "Are you ready?" he whispered. They both glanced up toward the dark building in the distance. "As I shall ever be," she replied. "Let’s do it." Nikita remained one step behind as they approached the building. The huge oak doors automatically swung open as they reached the landing. A tall man in a tuxedo blocked their access. "Yes?" he droned, making them feel as welcome as intestinal parasites. John tossed the lackey his car keys. This must be Eulon Rae. "Tell this Mr. Crudup of yours that Mister Isaiah Smallcock is ‘ere to see ‘im," he commanded with a thick English brogue. *** "Jezz Nikita, where the hell did you get that name?" John had asked her when she presented him with the cover. "Isaiah Smallcock," Nikita told him, "and yes, that’s his real name, is a member of the British underworld. He controls the Ink trade in England, Wales and parts of Scotland. His wife’s name is Anita." *** "Yes sir," Rae touched an intercom and whispered into it. After a moment he turned back to John and Nikita. "This way please sir." Rae lead the couple down a dark hall and into a brightly lit office. "Your passports please," he asked, holding out his hand. John and Nikita handed them over and the tall man placed them on the desk. "Mr. Crudup will be with you shortly," he said taking their coats. With a slight bow he left. Nikita studied the office. Crudup likes to live high. The spacious office was furnished quite lavishly. There were items of questionable taste displayed gloriously around the office. Positioned strategically in the middle was a huge oak desk with two overstuffed leather chairs before it. Hanging on the wall behind the desk was a painting of a phallus-shaped ice sculpture. Nikita raised a mocking eyebrow. "Marvellous is it not?" John and Nikita turned around at the sound of the voice and found a short fat man with pig- like eyes standing in the corner. Nikita thumbed the top of her cane. Where did he come from? The door never left my sight. "The male sex organ," the fat man said. "It has been the driving force behind man’s conquests throughout the ages. It represents man’s passion and man’s power," he eyed Nikita briefly. "Man’s superiority." "It is also the point where all men are not judged equal," John injected bluntly. "You must be Crudup." A tad miffed, Crudup stared at John. He was not accustomed to being interrupted, especially in his own domain, but Smallcock was someone he did not want to mix it up with. Crudup smiled generously and held out his hand. "You must be Mr. Isaiah Smallcock," he said. "And who is this vision?" Ignoring the hand, John motioned toward Nikita, "My executive assistant, Ms. Tina Trisk." Crudup kissed the back of her hand, "Beauty." Nikita tried very hard not to show her contempt. "Please have a seat," Crudup offered, stepping behind his desk. He dropped into his huge leather chair. John and Nikita sat in the overstuffed chairs. John noticed the depth of the chair forced them to look up at Crudup, giving the fat man a psychological advantage. "First things first, Mr. Smallcock. Where did you get my name?" Crudup asked picking up the passports. John snorted in mock offence. Nikita was right. First question. "Jerry Folan gave it to me. I would say about three months ago in London. ‘E told me you are the man to see." "Mr. Folan?" Crudup pondered that for a moment flipping through the passports. Folan was one an alias of Jefferson Stein. "Well traveled I see. Did he tell you anything else?" "No," John answered evenly. Crudup thought for a moment then cracked a wide smile. His fat cheeks almost hid his bloodshot eyes. "Good, good. What do you need?" John looked at Nikita. She retrieved a note book from her blazer pocket and flipped it open. "Five hundred million in Ink." Crudup’s brows shot up, "Well that’s... in pounds or dollars?" "Dollars," she answered, "American." "That’s a lot of shit." He rubbed a few of his chins. "I assume, of course, that you have made arrangement to ship it all back to England." "Of course," John replied. Crudup slapped an open palm down on the desk. "Ha! Good." He heaved his heavy bulk of the chair. "Yes, I can have it all together for you in about three days." John stood up and Nikita followed, "Very good," he said, "I’ll ‘ave the funds arranged for you then also." Crudup’s eyes narrowed, "I want half up front." John was silent for a moment. That was unexpected. Nikita looked at him. John very slowly leaned toward Crudup and placed his hands on the fat man’s desk, "Mr. Crudup," John said firmly, but softly, "I am looking to purchase five ‘undred million, I repeat million, dollars in Ink and I am not asking to see ‘alf up front. I am sure all those zero’s can guarantee a certain amount of trust between us business people." "Right you are," Crudup said carefully. He placed the passports down on the corner of his desk, "We’ll have plenty of time to make arrangements for pickup, but I do ask that for the time being that the two of you remain here, as my guests of course." "Of course," John said, "I’d be delighted." Crudup clapped his hands together. "Super!" He lumbered around his desk and dropped a pudgy arm on John’s shoulder. "Enough of this business talk. I am going to introduce the both of you to the pleasure my humble abode has to offer." Crudup pressed a button on his desk. The office door opened and Eulon Rae entered. "Eulon here will show you to your rooms. I have some paperwork to finish, then I’ll meet you both in the grand ballroom. A half hour shall we say?" Crudup held out his hand. This time John took it, "Until then." "This way please sir," Rae said. John and Nikita followed him into the hall. Then as he closed the door behind them Nikita glimpsed Crudup snatching up the passports, "Check them out," he snapped. Who is he talking to? Nikita pondered that as they reached a set of double doors. Above them was a sign that read: "IT’S NEVER TO LATE TO COPULATE!" Rae pushed open the doors. Both John and Nikita halted at the threshold. The entire room was circular and mirrored. The walls, floor, and ceiling all were mirrored. Near the door was a dresser and night table, they too were mirrored. Rotating in the centre of the room was a heart- shaped bed. The sheets looked silk, and the comforter on top was shiny and metallic looking. John’s suitcase was already in the room. "Miss Trisk, your room is next door." "I am sure it is fine." "Of course," Rae said, "I will return in one half hour and escort you both to the grand ballroom and Mr. Crudup." "Thank you," Nikita said and closed the door. Wordlessly Nikita lifted the suitcase and placed it on top of the dresser. She opened it and looked at John, "You rest sir," Nikita said, "I will unpack them for you," he understood the meaning. They have already been opened. "Fine," John replied. He crossed over to the rotating bed and flopped down, "Lay out my tux and wake me ten minutes before its time." "Yes sir." John closed his eyes. Nikita is probably right. The room is sure to be bugged. Always stay in character. Ha! My high-school drama teacher said I was wasting my time. Soon his thoughts drifted back to Madhuri. Chapter 34 Midsouth 7 Medical Facility Toronto, Ontario, Canada 06:47 hours 28 August, 2020 John stood up and placed the tips of his fingers to the cool glass of the window, "I have a plan," he said. "Let’s hear it," Madhuri said sitting up in her hospital bed. John explained the events as he knew them since he walked out of that coffee shop on Baker. He talked about Catherine and how he felt when she was near and how her death almost tore him apart again. After that John grew silent before turning and facing his best friend. "When Kris died I couldn’t deal with it so I ran. I ran from everything, I ran from what happened in South America, I ran from you, my only friend, but most of all I ran from myself." John ignored the dampness on his cheek. "When I learned what happened to Catherine I found myself back where I started from. I was ready to run again. It was meeting Nikita that showed me what an idiot I’ve been." John moved out of the shadows and into the dim light coming from the lamp at Madhuri’s bedside. She saw his tears were flowing freely. "The time for running has ended. It’s now time to fight. To fight for what’s right, for Catherine and for me." John placed his hands on the side rail of Madhuri’s bed and explained his plan. "I’ll understand if you don’t want to be involved. It’ll be dangerous." "You bet your ass it’s dangerous. That’s the most insane plan I’ve ever heard." Madhuri suddenly smiled. "How can I help?" John squeezed her hand. He was not completely sure she would go for it. "I was hoping you would say that." He did not realize until that moment how much her approval meant to him. "If this little stunt works, it will be the biggest news event since Sussexgate. I wouldn’t miss that for the world." "I’ll have to talk to Stryker for network time and I’ll need a field control operator I can trust." "You’ve got one right here. As for Stryker, just find me a phone and sweet talk him into giving us a link on the CWN’s Atok VII. I still have a few favours I call in in this neck of the woods." "Thanks Madhuri. You’re a good friend." She motioned him closer with her finger. "I’m just happy to see the John Riel I know and love back," she whispered. "Now give us a kiss and get me a phone." John smiled and kissed her. Chapter 35 The Kieran Crudup Estate South of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 21:41 hours 01 September, 2020 "Mr. Smallcock," Nikita whispered softly into John’s ear, "Time to get dressed sir." John opened his eyes and was awed. Nikita looked radiant as she stood before him, in a full length black evening gown bound loosely over her slender frame. "You look beautiful," he said before catching himself. John did not want to threaten the precariousness of their relationship. But to his surprise, Nikita blushed. "Thank you," she said and smiled sincerely. It was the first positive expression John had seen her display. With a bit of trouble John finally managed to stumble off the rotating bed. His next chore was to find the door to the washroom along the mirrored wall. After a few moments of fruitless searching he stumbled across a brass knob. "That would be it," Nikita said. Not successfully hiding his embarrassment, John slipped into the washroom where he quickly showered and dressed. Rae arrived as Nikita finished fixing John’s tie. "Mr. Crudup is waiting in the grand ballroom." "Right then, let’s go," John said. Rae led John and Nikita down a series of dark and twisting corridors. To discourage wandering about, John theorized. The sounds of two, three, or more people engaging in sexual acts emanated from behind thin, sometimes closed, doors. Finally they reached a large set of double doors. Rae stepped aside as they swung open automatically. The pungent smell of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other odours John could not readily identify assaulted his nostrils and loud turn-of-the-century heavy country-rock music vibrated though him. This room is kept soundproof. Stretching around the circumference of the large room was a long teak bar. Rows of bottles, glasses and the occasional oil painting of Crudup ran along behind it. Placed in the centre was a multi-platform stage populated with a dozen healthy bodied girls, each one in an advance state of undress, gyrating to the music. In one dark section of the hall was a smaller dance floor where more personal dances were performed. Scattered throughout the rest of the open area were small tables with two or four chairs each. John forced himself not to clench his fists. He glanced at Nikita. Her eyes were wide. She regained her composure and looked at John. Even then she could not hide all the pain. Her brother died here. John gently squeezed her hand. Nikita bit down on her lip and lowered her head to avoid any eye contact. John looked forward. Welcome to hell. It doesn’t get much better than this. Rae gestured toward a private table near the centre stage. Crudup, with a drink in hand, sat waiting for them. John and Nikita crossed the grand hall and sat at Crudup’s table. Instantly a scantily clad waitress appeared. Crudup drained his glass and held it up, "The usual again," he said. John realized if he was going to get through this night he was going to need a drink. "Draft of the best Canadian ale," he requested. Nikita shook her head and the waitress left, accepting a playful slap on the buttocks by Crudup. "This room is my pride and joy," the fat man announced. "My rumpus room, so to speak. You wouldn’t believe the kind of people who shell out big bucks for a night here." "Scum?" Nikita asked sharply. Crudup gave her a pointed look, then smiled. "You bet my dear. Scum, Politicians, Heads of State, cops, even Federal Ministers." "Really?" John said, "‘Ow long have you been operating ‘ere?" "A couple of years or so. I had a similar set up in Vancouver, but I was forced to shut it down." "What happened?" Nikita asked. "Guilty conscious?" "Local problems. A tart offed herself. Cops who don’t like being bought," he laughed as is if were the funniest thing he had ever said. John tensed inside. Nikita sensed his anxiety and grabbed his hand under the table. Just then the waitress returned with the drinks. She placed then down on the table and left, accepting another playful slap from Crudup. "What a tushie," Crudup said. He snatched up his vodka and apple juice and downed it. "Enough of this business talk," he said and wiped his mouth with the back of his pudgy hand, "for the next three days the two of you are my personal guests." He reached out and touched Nikita’s hand. "Tina, my dear, do you know what you need?" "I cannot imagine," she said and gracefully pulled her hand away. "A man," Crudup raised his hand and snapped his fingers. A tall, buff, oiled down stud clad in a G-string, bow tie, and cuffs with cuff links appeared by her side. "Tina, this is Chase," Crudup introduced. Chase took Nikita’s hand in his. "Take good care of her Chase. She’s an important guest." "Yes sir," Chase bent at the waist and kissed her hand with his tongue. "May I?" he asked with almost sincere warmth and compassion. Nikita glanced at John. He sat transfixed, struggling with the realization that his fiancée died in a place very much like this one. Nikita understood his suffering. With an expression of girlish reluctance masking her own pain, Nikita glanced up at the tanned slab of beef and smiled. "Please." Chase held out her chair and escorted Nikita across the dance floor. "If you don’t mind me saying so," Crudup commented, "I think your associate is rather uptight." John blinked. "I do mind," he informed the fat pimp. "So keep your little opinions to yourself," John said and downed half of his draft. "Oh yes, of course," Crudup said quickly, "I’m sorry Mr. Smallcock. I didn’t mean to offend you." Dampness bubbled across his upper lip and brow. Smallcock was the only client he had since Stein’s death and he needed to unload the Ink quickly now that Smyles’ back-door-to- Europe plan went bust. "Don’t worry about Ms. Trisk. She is going to have the time of her life," then as reassurance Crudup said, "Chase is clean. All my people are." "P-pardon?" John stammered, suddenly aware he had missed something important. He twisted around and spotted Chase leading Nikita through a door on the far side of the ball room, "I thought it was a dance." Shit! The fat bastard is going to try to keep us separated! "Oh, I’m sorry Mr. Smallcock. I should have made myself clearer. Chase is one of my whores." He snapped his fingers, "Now sir, what about you? I have one of the hottest V.R. simulations ever written, and it’s fully interactive. No…" Crudup pitched, "You seem to me to be someone who fancies the real thing. What do you like? Blonds, brunettes, redheads? All three? A man?" he waved over the waitress. John seethed as he turned and faced Crudup. "I don’t think so," he said through clenched teeth. I gotta dump this fat prick and find Nikita. Crap! How could I have done that to her? This place…. Crudup whispered in the ear of the waitress then smiled at John as she turned and left. "Have I got the babe-machine for you. She is not only firm, fit, and fantastic, but she has the greatest," Crudup cupped his hands in front of his chest, "twaglers I’ve ever seen." His jowls quivered as he laughed, "She’s my favourite girl!" Crudup leaned across the table. His apple juice breath struck John in the face like rotting fruit. "Between you and me she fucks like a mink in heat." "I really appreciate the offer Crudup, but I’ve ‘ad a long flight and in…" John sensed a presence at his side and something told him to investigate. Pink stiletto-heeled shoes with matching fishnet stockings and garter belt showed off tanned and muscled, yet fully feminine legs to their fullest advance. Gracing her torso was a white brassiere with pink lace exhibiting an abundance of cleavage. A pink silk choker highlighted her throat. John felt the blood drain from his face as he looked into her eyes. They were green. They were Catherine’s. Chapter 36 Love and pride. *** Madhuri flinched at the sound of the rifle firing. "It takes some getting use to, the noise," Nikita said. "I’ve heard it before, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it." The two women were sitting on the back bumper of "Baby II." Fifty meters away John was target shooting with his Japanese made SKB M-7300 Slide Shotgun. It was one of his few personal items found undamaged after the crash. John fired again. He had yet to hit any of the targets. "For as long as I’ve known John, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him fire that thing. I don’t remember why he even bought it," Madhuri said. Nikita held up her hand to block the noonday sun. "He is a very peculiar man." Madhuri looked at the Russian. She privately agreed. Since she first met John in college he had always moved to the beat of a different drummer, but she wanted to hear Nikita’s take of him. "How do you mean?" "He is not like any man I know. He has an overwhelming sense of what is right and what is wrong. Almost to a fault." Nikita pursed her lips for a moment, struggling with her thoughts, then continued, "He seems to me not to be the type of man who would believe that the ends could possibly justify the means. Yet there he is, learning how to kill. To be honest Madhuri, his whole reasoning behind agreeing to help me. It is all for the love of a dead woman. I do not understand it." She glanced down at the cane resting on her lap. Perhaps I do understand more than I realize, and it frightens me. Madhuri looked at Nikita for a long moment. "Let me tell you something about John Riel," she finally said. "He is the most decent guy I know. He would, without hesitation, give you the shirt off his back." Madhuri glanced across the meadow toward John. "I’m proud to call that guy my best friend." Nikita remained silent. "Let me tell you a story." Madhuri continued, "John and I went to school together. We were a bit of an item back then. Hell, if he asked me to, I would have married him on the spot. But, as it happens, after graduation we drifted apart. Then I had a line on a job in Ottawa. At the same time John headed west for work." The SKB fired again. Madhuri did not seem to notice. "The two years I spent in that city almost killed me. I had three very bad relationships and a job that was going nowhere fast. Then like a fool I looked for help in a bottle. God I was stupid." Her eyes dropped to her naked feet dangling in the tall grass. "I lost my job due to the booze. I drank away my Goddamn life saving and was flying. It’s the old story, fell in with the wrong crowd, experimented with the wrong drugs and so forth." Madhuri looked back at Nikita. "Then one day I crashed. Crashed hard." "Madhuri…I…." "I don’t remember why, but thank God for it, John just happened to be in town that day. He saw my photo on the marquee of a strip joint. God, what a shock that must have been to him. He went in and found me doped up and naked, pukin’ my guts out on stage. My sleaze-bag agent, slash boyfriend, shot me up with something. I don’t even remember getting the Goddamn job," she watched John reload, "He knew he couldn’t get near me with the bouncers around so he did the next best thing. He pulled the fire alarm. The bouncers were the first ones out." Madhuri wrapped her arms tightly around herself as if a cool breeze drifted past. "Through my doped up haze I saw him walk toward me. He came right up on stage, picked me up like a little girl and carried me all the way to the hospital." She looked at Nikita. "I had a long and painful drying out, but John was at my side during it all. I haven’t had a drink or touched drugs since." Nikita lowered her eyes as Madhuri continued, "In Ottawa my name was mud. I couldn’t get a job anywhere. On John’s word only they picked me up at CKKC. But once there I worked my ass off. I had a lot to prove, but as John told me, not to him or to the world, but to myself." Madhuri turned and watched John as he started in from the field. "I don’t know who, but someone once said, ‘The only thing stronger than the pride of a man is the love of a woman.’" Madhuri looked back at Nikita. "You look at that man out there and you tell me why he is doing what he is doing." Nikita thought about that. *** Nikita thought about it again as she turned off the water. A woman’s love. A man’s pride. Forcing the thought aside for now, Nikita returned to the task at hand. When she realized what Chase’s true purpose was Nikita talked him into letting her have a shower first. For two reasons. One, it gave her time to think of a way to get out of this situation with him and, second, she needed the privacy to dispose of the cyanide capsule. If she permitted Chase to follow through on what was intended - no way in hell - he might stumble across it. I will kill him first. Dripping wet, Nikita cautiously stepped out of the shower, and reached for a large fluffy green towel. Patting her face dry she turned and caught a glimpse of herself in the full length mirror. Nikita dropped the towel to the floor and faced the moisture-streaked image. The Russian Major’s eye blue eyes burned as they examined her battered and scarred body. Round and jagged scars of red and pink zigged across most of her upper thighs. An angry pink line tracked across her abdomen and ended at a telltale sign of a deep puncture. Her left breast was covered by several small round scars, each one the circumference of a cigarette. Scars, the doctors told her, that were too brutal even for reconstructive surgery to completely eliminate. Her fist shattered the glass. *** "Tina?" Chase called from the bedroom, "Is everything all right?" "Yes… I am fine. I will be right out," Nikita said examining her hand. She did not draw blood. Nikita blew out a short breath. Lucky. Then, returning to the task of dealing with Chase, Nikita spotted it sitting in a place of honour. In spite of herself, she smiled. Poetic justice. *** Chase, save for the G-string, was buck naked and flexing his left pectoral muscle. Then he flexed his right, followed by both together. He had a rhythm going, "Do, do-do-do-do, do, do." Chase grinned widely. "Yeah. Pec’s you can park on." Just then the washroom door opened a crack. Chase scooted away from the mirror to the foot of the bed where he puffed up and flexed. With a borderline-sheer silk robe casually open to her navel, the Russian Major stepped into the bedroom. "Chase," Nikita purred holding her hands behind her back, "I am…" she slowly eyed him up and down taking in every detail. I will allow myself that small joy. "Impressed." "Thank you," Chase replied, deepening his voice. "Mr. Crudup said you are all mine tonight." "That’s right," he changed his pose to accent each word. "All. Night. Long." "Come . . . here," Nikita ordered from the back of her throat. Chase kept his best profile forward as he moved toward her. "Let’s do something about that robe, shall we." Nikita held out one hand. Chase stopped advancing when he felt the heat of her palm on his chest. "Oh… muscles…" Nikita cooed. She traced her first finger around his nipples, then down his abdomen and over the front of his bulging G-string. His Adam ’s apple bobbed as she stepped back and sucked her finger into her mouth. This skank just might be worth the effort. "Turn around," Nikita said. Her finger slid across her lower lip. "I want to check your… assets." Her smile sent a shiver through his groin. Chase anticipated a night he could brag about with the guys as he worked the hips to demonstrate his taut buttocks. When his back was to her Nikita used both hands and whacked Chase across the top of his head with a large porcelain penis. Chapter 37 The Kieran Crudup Estate South of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 22:29 hours 01 September, 2020 During his last night together with Catherine Wildman, John Riel felt reborn. Conscious of it or not, she eased an increasing pain in his being and reminded John of who he was. Something that he had forgotten. All he knew was pain, suffering, and distress. When Catherine thundered into his world she shattered the image of himself he built up and replaced it with the man he was. Then, as quickly as she appeared she was gone, and once again his world came to a vicious screeching halt. This time the pain was not as sharp. It did not burn quite as hot. Catherine left him with something. Something John used to hold on. To remind himself who he was. But all that did not mater right now. She was back. She was alive. Catherine was alive. "Mr. Smallcock, this is Cat. The pride and joy, and I do mean joy, of my little estate," Crudup had said. Scarcely paying any attention to the fat man, John stood and faced Catherine, "The pleasure is mine," he said taking her hand and kissing her knuckles. Catherine’s beautiful green eyes widened with surprise, then smiled. "Good evening Mr. Smallcock," her voice throaty and inviting. John felt a stirring within him. It had been too long since he had heard the lyrical sound of her voice. "Please, call me Isaiah." She flashed him a devastating smile. Before his knees could buckle John held out a chair for her. Catherine sat down, crossed her lovely legs, and held his hand as he sat next to her. "Mr. Crudup," Catherine said sweetly, "You didn’t tell me Mr. Smallcock was so fetching." She squeezed John’s hand and tightly pressed it to her thigh. "Now Cat," Crudup instructed cheerfully waggling a fat digit, "Mr. Smallcock is my very special guest. I want you to give him the breast of care." He chuckled at his own joke. Catherine squeezed John’s hand tighter and caught his eye. "Oh you bet’cha." John felt his heart skip a beat. He loosened his bow tie. Crudup gulped down the remainder of his drink and stood up, "I’ll have some papers drawn up for the shipment Mr. Smallcock. They’ll be ready tomorrow." "Very good," John said absently. His attention did not waver from Catherine for fear that if he looked away this might prove to be a dream and she might vanish. "I’ll send someone to collect you for breakfast. I’ll have some more goodies to show you." "Could you make that lunch?" Crudup smiled, proud of his manipulations. "You bet stud," he chuckled and waddled away. When the fat man disappeared into the crowd John opened his mouth to speak, but Catherine placed her first finger on his lips and nodded toward the candle holder in the middle of the table. Her finger then caressed his cheek and she tugged on his earlobe. John understood. "Are you here alone Mr. Sm—Isaiah?" Catherine asked with that deep inviting voice. "No. I’m ‘ere with my secretary. Chase is off showing ‘er a good time," John said realizing he totally forgot about Nikita. For a moment Catherine’s dark brows knitted together in puzzlement. Who? Then the smile returned. "I’ll show you a better time," she stood and held his hand to her bosom. "A b-better time?" John stammered as he rose to his feet. Her smile held a world of promise. Quietly they walked, hand-in-hand, through the grand ballroom and back to his room. When they entered the mirrored chambers, Catherine locked the door. John watched her with a bewildered expression on his face as she then crossed toward the middle of the room and looked at the bed. She glanced at the ceiling then turned back and faced John. Much to his shock she smiled wickedly and leapt into his arms, her legs folding around his waist until John totally supported her weight. He let all his questions fall by the wayside as Catherine’s warm lips passionately attacked his. John held her tightly. With each breath of joy he took her scent, intoxicating him. The kiss was long and fervent. Slowly Catherine broke it off and whispered into his ear, "They film everything in this room. Tell me you want to do it in the whirlpool." She slid from John’s arms and stepped back, threading his tie through her fingers. "I can feel that you are quite a man Isaiah," Catherine purred, back in character. "It may take some sweat but I’m sure I can get you up and coming." Her eyes held the hint of desire and her smile showed a lot of teeth and a little tongue. "You know Cat, I’ve always ‘ad a fetish," John said. Catherine cooed and, wrapping the tie around her fist, pulled herself close. "Ohhh…I love fetishes." Her breasts pressed into his chest. "Does it involve the tie?" John struggled to remain in character. This is a side I’ve never seen. "No, no ties. I’ve always wanted to do it in a whirlpool." "Whirlpool?" Catherine replied. She pressed the inside of her cheek with her tongue, "But you already have me wet." "Please?" John smiled. Dimples. Her grin widened as she yanked on the tie. "C’mon." Catherine led John into the washroom and locked the door behind her. She then pressed her finger to her lips and slid open the whirlpool’s frosted glass door. She dropped to her knees and started the water jets. Still squatting, Catherine turned and faced John, "What are you doing here?" she asked. Her voice was barely audible over the noisy jets. John stared at her open mouthed, then joined her on the shaggy bath mat. "What the hell is going on Catherine? I thought you were dead," he struggled to keep his voice down. "Dead? What are you talking about?" John explained the story St. James told him, "I…I thought… Oh man Catherine, I’m so happy to see you," he reached out and held her tight. "Yet somehow, something told me I would find you here." Catherine returned the embrace, "I’m so sorry, Johnny. I didn’t know. St. James never informed me of the cover story. Oh God, Johnny, I never wanted to hurt you." "Then how about the truth," he said so gently Catherine was not even sure she heard him. She looked into his eyes. He was crying. Catherine felt her heart drop. "You’re a good man, Johnny. You’ve been there for me. You risked everything for that crazy chick that blundered into your life and destroyed it. I owe you the truth. I owe you everything." Catherine explained the entire affair to him. She told John about her meeting with Vladimir and how he gave her the data disk. She told him how upon examining the information on the disk she discovered Paul Forrester’s name listed with several other double agents hidden within the ranks of the RCMP and CSIS. Catherine then explained what she discovered about The Group of Ten itself, "When the Berlin Wall came down that day in 1989, ten CIA agents were there. As they watched the bricks come down one by one they knew that the end of Communism in Europe was not far behind. With that, so was the only life they knew. The Group was formed out of a misguided sense of self-preservation. A belief in maintaining the status quo. There’s even evidence suggesting the Group backed several pro-communism organizations. Including the one that failed in its attempt to assassinate Boris Yeltsin and Yuri Dzhashi in ‘98, and Po Xing in Hong Kong in '17. But that was all thirty years ago. The Group ultimately metamorphosed into a faceless international organization catering to its own self-interest." "It didn’t stay that way," John added, "No organization that international could remain hidden from sight for so long. They’re bound to be leaks." "It’s one person running the show now. Totally faceless." "Someone who would kill to remain anonymous." Catherine agreed, "St. James imposed a complete lock down on Special Operations and ordered me back here. A large shipment of Ink entered the country six months ago, but has yet to appear on the streets. Crudup is the only player in Canada who could sit on that much Ink." "But he runs the risk of it going toxic," John interjected. "There’s more." John was already sure of what that entailed, but he knew he still need to hear it from her lips. "Go on." "I have my own personal agenda in all this," Catherine admitted. "I found evidence on the data disk that, along with personal knowledge, suggested the Group’s involvement with the war in South America." She looked at John, knowing how much pain that skirmish caused him. She continued, "In particular, a car bomb that killed Chin Wah Pong and his family." "I’m familiar with that incident," John said soberly. Catherine knew there was more than what he offered but now was not the time. "Pong was in Rio de Janeiro meeting with the DEA. He was planning to cut a deal. The Group had him killed." "I know all that," John said. "There’s more." When John did not reply she continued, "Pong had a connection with The Group even he didn’t know about. A connection I just recently put together." She told John her theory. When she finished, their eyes held each for a long time. All her cards were on the table. "I didn’t know St. James was going to tell you I was dead," Catherine whispered. "When Crudup got word that a major British player was on his way, the Estate went into lock down. I haven’t been able to get a message in or out." John was silent. Catherine felt tears well up behind her eyes. "I’m sorry Johnny. I’m sorry that you had to find out this way. She lied to both of us." Her eyes drifted off for a moment. "How did you put this together?" she asked. "Shortly after your… your funeral, Nikita Triska sought me out." "Triska?" Catherine exclaimed. "I was told she was dead." "She—shit!" "What?" "She’s trapped with Chase," John said, "I’ve got to help her." "Chase?" "Yeah. Crudup set it up to separate us." Catherine suppressed a giggle. "She’ll be fine." "But—" "Trust me. Let’s just say he’s a small threat." When John looked unsure, Catherine continued, "Nikita Triska is a Major in the Russian Federal Security Service. Chase’s a fluff boy. She’ll be fine. Why did she look you up?" "She thought I might know what happened to her brother." "Her brother?" "Vladimir Zadneprovsky." "Vlad was her brother? I didn’t know that." John looked at Catherine, "There’s something else." "What?" "Smyles escaped shortly after you left." Catherine swore an oath under her breath, "Did St. James arrange protection for you?" "No," John explained the events that had transpired since her funeral. "Oh God Johnny, I didn’t know. I’m sorry." "That brought me here." "Do you know how dangerous this place is?" Catherine asked. "Do you realize what Triska has gotten you into?" "Yes I do. I knew the risk from the word go," John said. His voice echoed with certainty, "Somewhere in the hell hole is over $300 million dollars of pure death. I’m going to destroy it before it’s used to ruin any more lives." Catherine opened her mouth to reply, but stopped. She could feel his rage. He had changed. Then again, so have I. "There is something else I need to know," John said. "Oui?" "The data disk?" She smiled and touched the small gold stud in her left nostril, "Hidden in plain sight." Catherine studied him closely, "There’s more to this venture than just doing the right thing isn’t there?" John sucked in a lung full of the damp air and released it, "Since you stumbled into my life I have not been able to stop thinking about you. You gave me a new lease, and the strength I needed to go on. Then you were gone and I was forced to take a long hard look at myself. I didn’t like what I saw. Nikita helped me realize that." He turned away slightly. "It was the memory of you that gave me the courage to get off my ass." John said and made a fist. He met her eyes. "I came here to do some damage. I came here for you." Catherine’s features softened as she looked at the man kneeling before her. Her bright green eyes misted at the strength and vulnerableness he projected. The thought of the trauma that forced theses changes angered her to her soul, yet she realized that spark she saw in his eyes months ago now burned brighter, and hotter. Her heart pounded faster. He loves me. Chapter 38 Kieran Crudup lowered his massive frame into his protesting chair. He heaved his feet up onto the desk and snapped up a remote. The fat man switched on the large video screen. He thumbed in channel 21 and did not find what he was looking for. "Fuck!" he spat. "Where the hell are they?" Crudup dropped the remote, grabbed his video- phone control, and punched in three numbers. The image of a mousy little man with thick glasses shimmered to life. "Control. B-B-Bernie here." "Crudup." "Yes su-su-sir. What can I do fu-fu-for you?" "What in Christ’s name is going on in twenty-one?" "T-two one. One mo-moment sir. H-here wu-wu-we are. That English du-dude has some shower fi-fi-fi-fetish. There are do-doing it in the bu-bu-bubathroom." "Do we have a camera in there?" "No su-su-sir," Bernie replied knowing what to expect from his boss. "Why the fuck not?" Crudup barked. "Uh, you di-didn’t tu-tu-tu-tell me to p-p-put one in." "Shit," Crudup slammed the receiver back into place, severing the image on the screen. "Asshole," he cursed, then picked up the remote again and thumbed through all the rooms until he found the room with three women satisfying Raymond Smyles. Chapter 39 "So what’s your plan?" Catherine asked. "You’re going to hate it." "I already do." John quickly laid out the details. "I hate it. Are you nuts?" John pressed on, "I agree the timing is tight. Nikita’s contact in London can only slow up the real Smallcock another twenty-four hours before he figures out something is up and warns Crudup." "Contact?" Nikita asked. "She seems to have a network of people." "She’s quite a woman," Catherine said holding her emotions at bay. "Yes she is," John replied absently. "How long have we been in here?" The steam was growing thicker and the whirlpool was full. "Not long enough," Catherine said. She bent over and shut off the water jets, "We better make this look good." John arched an eyebrow as Catherine stood up and fiddled with the clasp on the back of her brassiere, "We have to look like we just… did the deed," she said as it slid away. John straightened up and removed his shirt, "Why should we fake it?" he asked playfully. Catherine grinned and yanked on the tie that was still around his neck, "What was that Mr. Smallcock?" The smile disappeared. "Oh my God, Johnny. Your arm…." Across his wrist and forearm were nine stitches with another fifteen below. "How? What?" "Smyles," John said. That explained everything. "You should have that covered." "I did, but the wrapping was too bulky and would draw attention." "Does it hurt much?" "Only when I do push ups." Catherine’s eyes widened and lines of concern cut across her brow before she saw the lopsided grin on his face. "Oh Johnny." At that moment Catherine and John felt time freeze. They both stood naked, in body and soul, and faced each other. Then slowly a single tear squeezed free and rolled down Catherine’s cheek as a sob erupted from the center of her being. "I’m so sorry for all the pain and suffering I’ve put you through Johnny. You need someone better than me." John gently touched her shoulder with his hand. "Don’t say that Catherine. I love you and that won’t change." "But the pain…" Catherine said and slid into his embrace. Her damp cheek touched his naked chest. "You placed a faith in me like no one has ever done before. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me." Catherine rose on her tiptoes and their lips met. They kissed gently and compassionately. John cradled her in his arms. Catherine brushed a lock of his hair from his face with her fingertips. "Oh Johnny, I love you." "Speaking of love," John grinned and queried, "I didn’t want to ask, but Crudup said you were a ‘babe-machine’ with the greatest ‘twaglers’ he has ever seen." "And I ‘fuck like a mink in heat,’" Catherine laughed. "Apparently I’m his secret weapon. He has a fixation for me, so he’s only set me up with six customers so far." "What’d you do?" "I took three of them to my bedroom, instead of the guest rooms. There I drugged them, and when they woke up I told them they were extraordinary lovers and it was the best ever. That’s when Crudup started placing camera’s in all the rooms." She smiled as John laughed. "The fourth," Catherine continued, "was ninety something and only wanted to see my breasts. I could deal with that. The fifth was the fattest man I’ve ever seen and started hyperventilating when he saw me in my teddy and passed out." John laughed again. "What about the sixth?" Catherine squeezed him tighter. "The sixth? I’m waiting for him to ask." Her eyes were soft, moist and yearning. "Please make love to me," John requested. Catherine reached out with the tips of her fingers and traced the shape of a heart across his chest, then, just for a moment, her eyes reflected a sadness. "There’s something you should know about me." John looked into her eyes and silently waited for her to continue. "When I was eighteen I had my first sexual experience. It was with my private tutor, Mademoiselle le Point." It was a moment before it sunk in. "You’re gay?" John asked. She was relieved to hear his voice totally free of contempt. "That night you and I…." Catherine gently pressed her finger to his lips. "Please. This is difficult for me." John nodded and waited silently for her to proceed. Catherine filled her lungs and let it out slowly, "During the past several months I have discovered more about myself sexually than… I would like to have. I’m still sorting out my feelings." Her words came laboriously, "I’m frightened Johnny." Catherine choked. "I don’t know what to do, I don’t know who I am. I hope you understand. I’m not ready to give up my… gay side, yet I don’t want to lose you." John held her tighter, reassuringly. "You won’t lose me Catherine. Not ever." He gently held her face in his hands. "I love you and I don’t care whether you’re straight, gay, bisexual, or neutered." A tear rolled down her cheek. John brushed it away. "You’re who you are and I love you." He tenderly cupped her chin and she met his eyes. "It’s as simple as that." Catherine reached up and kissed him slowly and deeply on the lips. After a moment she pulled back and smiled diabolically. "Time to finish what we started." Catherine hopped up onto the vanity and wrapped her legs around his waist. She continued to kiss him on the lips, then across his face and down his throat, as John moved to support her weight. Catherine purred softly as she slowly slid down his torso. Her tongue glistened hotly across his chest and flicked across his nipples. John moaned softly at the sensation. Then she was before him. Her hands frisked around and mauled the clasp on his slacks. John helped her slide them off and, with a flaming intensity in her eyes, Catherine rid him of his briefs with a sharp tug. She glanced upward, "Johnny?" His eyes never left her and they told her what she needed to know. Gently Catherine caressed his thighs and groin. Her fingers found the deep scratches circling his glands. She tenderly massaged him along the scars and then around his scrotum. John moaned softly. His face was a blend of both tempered pain and intense pleasure. Catherine smiled. She took his penis in hand. "Oh…" John whispered. Catherine’s smile widened with fevered desire. I’m glad it’s you, Johnny. Crouched on her haunches, Catherine tenderly squeezed and caressed John until he was fully erect. The tips of his fingers caressed her shoulders and the back of her neck as her hand motions sent tremors of exhilaration dancing up his spine. John felt the muscles in his neck and back relax for the first time in weeks. Then suddenly his whole body trembled as a warm moistness encircled him. John gasped at the sensation. Catherine rose to her feet and John kissed her hungrily, their tongues mingling. He reached down and swooped her up in his arms. Catherine giggled as John sat her down on the corner of the whirlpool. She balanced herself on the edge of the gurgling water as he stepped back and admired her. "C’mere," she said and arched one leg up provocatively. "I’ve got a birthday present for ya’." "Cool," John smirked. "Can I ride it?" "Oh, you bet’cha." John kissed the pad of her foot as his fingers glided along her calf, down her thigh and squeezed her buttocks. Catherine raised her hips as John slid her panties down and off one leg at a time. He then pulled them on his head like a hat. Catherine laughed and let herself slip into the whirlpool. As she bobbed to the surface, Catherine brushed back her punk cut hair and spat out a mouth full of water at John. "Hey!" John said and slipped into the water. Catherine laughed again when he scooped her in his arms. "What are you doing?" she asked. John grinned as he sat her down in the shallow end of the pool and gestured toward her breasts bobbing in the water. "Look," he said, "Floaters." Catherine playfully dropped her lower lip and splashed him. "You pig," she laughed. John wiggled his eyebrows and slipped under the bubbles. Moments later she felt her hips lifted to the water line and John’s tongue titillate her labia and clitoris. "Ohhh!" Catherine cooed and squeezed her knees together. The sensation caught her totally off guard, "God Johnny! Yes!" her fingers curled through his hair and pulled him closer. When John rose for air, Catherine kissed him passionately on the lips and across his face and throat. John reached beneath the frothy water and pulled her closer. Catherine whooped in ecstasy as John entered her, slowly at first, then faster, with deeper strokes. Wails of elation escaped them both as she gyrated her hips in time with his thrusting. Their pace and breathing started to quicken, their juices incited to intermix. Catherine reached out, open palmed. John’s fingers laced with hers and they locked together in space. Nothing was more important to them right now than the feel of their hearts. Chapter 40 The Kieran Crudup Estate South of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 02:09 hours 02 September, 2020 Bernie picked up the video-phone and punched in Crudup’s number, "Mu-Mr. Crudup, Control. Room tw-twenty-one. T-they’re coming out." "How long have they been in there?" "A ru-real long time." "Well butter my buns and call me ‘bend-over Bobby.’ I thought Smallcock would be some limp-dicked English fag," Crudup laughed and hung up. Bernie shrugged and returned to his monitors. *** Catherine strolled solemnly through the darkened halls of the Estate. Nikita Valtina Triska. Her thoughts drifted back to the bedroom. As they returned to the mirrored room, John helped Catherine back into her brassiere, "This is much easier to remove than it is to put back on." "I think that’s the ideal," John commented, slipping back into his Smallcock persona. She playfully stuck her tongue out. "You’re not leaving now are you, Cat?" John asked, "I would like it if you remained ‘ere a little longer. I feel another fetish coming on." Catherine cooed, "You’re the boss. But how about the bed this time? Anymore frolicking in the whirlpool and I’ll start looking like a prune." John laughed and kissed her on the nose. "Deal," he said and dimmed the lights. John then picked her up and playfully tossed Catherine on the rotating bed. He quickly joined her beneath the silk sheets where, for the sake of the video camera overhead, they moaned and made the thundering hubbub of pleasure followed by pre-recorded sounds of snoring. After a few moments Catherine quietly sat up. She gave John a reassuring squeeze under the sheets, then slipped out of the bed and crossed to his luggage. Knowing where the camera was hidden, Catherine was able to block the view as she opened and remove the false bottom from his suitcase. Inside she found a package about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Catherine palmed it and closed the suitcase, noticing the Russian label. Nikita Valtina Triska. You are an enigma all right. Johnny seems to have surrendered to your charms. Catherine slipped the package into her cleavage. Then with one last glance at John she slipped out of the room and padded down the hall. *** Nikita Valtina Triska. Catherine strolled solemnly through the darkened halls of the Estate and stopped before a door marked "Control." She gently rapped on the imitation oak and entered. "H-hello?" Bernie called out from the behind his video control board. "Just me," Catherine replied. Bernie stood up and peered over the row of monitors, "Oh, H-h-hi, Cucu- cu-Cat. H-how are you?" "I’m good Bernie. You?" Catherine smiled. That make it harder for him to concentrate, "Nu-nu-nu-nu-nu-not b-b-bb-bad." Bernie managed to get out, "M-Mr. Crudup’s going to be pu-pupissed off with you." Catherine shrugged. "The Brit had a water fetish." She smiled and provocatively leaned over the monitors, "Why Bernie, you’ve been watching again." The pudgy little technician turned several shades of red. "Wu-wu-wu-well, M-Mr. Crudup wu-wanted l-lots of vu-vu-vu-video tape of yu-you and him." "He just wants tape of me," Catherine said. "D-do yu-you blame him?" Bernie asked innocently. "Bernie," Catherine smiled sweetly, "You pervert." She tweaked his cheek. Bernie was flustered. He did not realize Catherine knew about the crush he had on her, although it was not much of a secret with Crudup’s girls. "Wwu- what are yu-you do-doing now? I-I-I just saw s-some gu-gu-gu-great action in r-room twelve. S-someone just sm-smacked wu- wu-one of the b-boytoys with a du-du-du-dildo. Hu-hu-had to call security. Cool. You know Mr. Crudup does not like it wu-wu-when you hang out here." "Since when do I care what Crudup likes?" Bernie smiled timidly at her defiance. "Du-do yu-you wu-want a tu-tu-tea?" "Please." His smiled stretched from ear to ear, "Bu-bu-be right bu-back Cu-cu-cu-Cat," he rushed out of the control room, almost tripping over the trash can. Catherine slipped the package from under her brassiere and ducked around to the front of the monitoring board. She opened the box and discovered a rectangular grey metal device and a small screwdriver. Catherine held up the device and examined it. On top was a five centimetre stud and across the front were three small lights and a switch. Protruding from the back were two coaxial cable jacks with ten centimetres of fibre-light coaxial cable fastened into one. Catherine shoved Bernie’s chair aside and dropped to the floor. She removed the service access plate with the screwdriver and peered into the guts of he control board. Her eyes scanned around and found the cable John described to her. Catherine gave it a gentle tug. It did not move. "Merde!" Catherine wedged her way into the access hole, reached up and unscrewed the cable protruding from the bottom of the switcher. She then screwed it into the bottom of the grey device. Catherine uncoiled the fibre-light and screwed it into the switcher, then flicked the small switch. The first light flashed on. She pressed the box to the control board frame. A magnet held it there. "Here wu-wu-we are," Bernie announced pushing open the door. Catherine wiggled out of the access hole and replaced the plate. Bernie appeared around the monitoring board. Catherine was in his chair, "Thanks Bernie," she said as he handed her a paper cup full of weak tea. "Wu-What are you wu-wu-watching?" he asked sitting on the workbench behind Catherine. "Room ten," she said. It was the first room she punched up when she heard Bernie return. "Wu-what’s ha-ha-happening there?" "Looks like The Countress is doing her cowgirl act again." Bernie smiled. "I lu-like Mu-mu-mu-Mel. Su-she’s a nu-nu-nice girl." "Yes," Catherine said and turned around in the chair. "Thanks for the tea Bernie, but I think I better go." She stood and placed the cup on the bench next to him. "You have a nice night," Catherine said and kissed him on the cheek. You are too nice of a guy to be working for a phlegm bucket like Crudup. "Bu-bye Cu-Cat..." Bernie stuttered, surprised by the sudden show of affection. Catherine threw him a sad smile and closed the door behind her. *** With her legs crossed and feet up on the console, Madhuri Sahni flipped through one of the comic books John keeps in a stack behind the driver’s seat. She had been sitting in the back of Baby II waiting since John and Nikita entered the Crudup Estate. Madhuri sat the comic down, swung her feet from the control panel and massaged the back of her thighs, "Oh, man," she whispered to her image in the first of several blank monitors. Madhuri had considered yet another cup of John’s special coffee when a red light on the video switcher began to flash. "Hot damn," Madhuri shook the slush from her brain, "On line and kickin’ ass." Smirking devilishly she punched up all the monitors. They flickered to life with images broadcasted directly from Bernie’s master control board. Madhuri started the three Hard Drives recording and the two DVD recorders, then called Stryker. "We’re on," she said. *** Catherine’s mind raced as she casually strolled through the dim corridors. Be careful, Johnny. Crudup may be a buffoon, but he’s no fool. This is a dangerous game you’re playing and you are playing with the most dangerous of people. But despite her concerns she felt that his plan would work. Catherine turned a corner leading into the staff lounge and stopped short of bumping into an attractive woman with bright purple hair, dressed much the same as her. "Hi Ona," Catherine said, forcing some cheerfulness into her voice. Then she noticed the tears. "What happened? Are you okay?" "He was sickening," Ona sobbed. Catherine looped her arm through Ona’s and led her over to a couch. "Who was? What happened?" she asked, sitting Ona down. "That asshole Crudup set me up with. Not only me but he sent Lois and Christy up to do him as well." She tried to wipe away the sticky mascara streaming down her face. "Bastard." "I’m sorry," Catherine said sitting next to her. "He was an ugly mother too. Bitchin’ scar on the side of his face and kissing him was like getting a blast of flatulence." Catherine reeled in horror, "Egh. My sympathies." Ona stood up and wiped away the remaining mascara. "I should get back to my room and get cleaned up." She looked down at Catherine. "You’re too nice of a person, Cat, to be working a place like this." Catherine smiled slightly. Ona turned and walked away. Catherine closed her eyes and leaned back into the couch. She rubbed her temples as the click of Ona’s stiletto heels on the tile floor grew fainter. Then the bell in the back of her mind started to ring. Ugly? Scar on the side of his face. Bad breath! Catherine sprung to her feet. "Merde!" She kicked off her shoes, bolted from the lounge and ran square into 'Two Toe' Wynorski and Raymond Smyles. Chapter 41 The hardy rap at the door jolted him from a light sleep, "Who is it?" "It’s Eulon Rae. Mr. Smallcock," came the reply. "Mr. Crudup would like to see you. He said it’s important." John slid out bed and crossed to the door, "Can’t it wait ‘till later?" he asked reaching into the suitcase. "Sorry sir." "Right. Just let me get dressed," John said and closed the case. *** "You!" Smyles gasped and grabbed a fist full of hair. Catherine cried out as he wrenched her head back. "I thought we’ve seen the last of you." He tossed Catherine into Wynorski’s arms, "This bitch’s supposed to be dead." Wynorski roughly spun Catherine around and held her arms behind her back. Smyles leaned closer and glared into her face. "What the fuck are you doing here?" Catherine simultaneity high kicked Smyles in the jaw and slammed the back of her skull into Wynorski’s mouth. She then slipped from the big man’s grip and bolted down the corridor. "After her!" Smyles bellowed. Wynorski spat out a tooth and gave chase. Catherine turned a corner and caught a glimpse of the large man behind her. Merde! She turned another corner and ducked into the staff men’s room. She quickly dropped and examined the stalls. No feet. Catherine dashed into the middle stall and hopped up onto the toilet tank. Directly above her was an air vent. Catherine reached up and gently smacked the vent with the side of her fist until it popped off its brace. The muscles in her calves contracted as Catherine reached into the vent. As her fingers found purchase she took a deep breath and pulled herself into the air duct. Wynorski charged into the washroom just as Catherine silently slid the vent back into place. Looking around carefully, Wynorski moved toward the stalls. He kicked in the door on the first stall. Finding no one he repeated the action on the following two. Discouraged, the big man stepped back out into the hall. Catherine blew out a low breath. She then got her bearings and slowly crawled through the confining space. She reached a second vent and stopped. Wynorski stood in the hallway directly below her. Catherine bit her lower lip. What the hell’s he doing? As Catherine watched the big man scratch the back of his shaved head, dampness started to build up across her forehead. I’m a sitting duck. All he needs to do is look up. A bead of sweat rolled down the bridge of her nose and dropped before she could react. Non! Time seemed to slow to a stop as Catherine watched it fall toward the big man. The droplet struck him with a small splash behind the left ear. Wynorski twist his head around and ran his hand across his scalp. Catherine felt her chest tighten. Crap, crap, crap. Wynorski suddenly turned around and re-entered the men’s room. Catherine cocked her head to one side and strained to listen. Wynorski had entered a stall. Catherine held her breath, then almost giggled when her ears caught the unmistakable sound of a toilet flushing. *** John forced himself to stay relaxed as Rae reached past him and opened Crudup’s office door. John entered and found the fat man pacing behind his desk. He was holding court for five mouth-breathers standing uncomfortably in a semi-circle before him. Sitting silently on a wooden chain in the back corner, with her cane between her knees, was Nikita. Another guard stood behind her. As Crudup barked at his underlings John tuned him out and looked at Nikita, wishing for a way to tell her who he had found here. She met his eyes for a moment, then turned away. John watched her for a moment longer. Nikita seemed very interested in Crudup’s bookshelf. Better find out what happened. John glanced at Crudup and cleared his throat. The fat man looked up and saw John looking at him. Shit! The Brit. He stopped his pacing and faced his staff. "We will continue this later. Return to your posts." The goon squad almost stumbled over each other as they exited the office. His face a bright red, Crudup slumped into his chair. "Problem?" John asked with fetching interest. "Good help is so hard to find," Crudup said as he dabbed at his forehead with a tissue. "Please have a seat Mr. Smallcock. An item has come up that we need to discuss." John remained where he was, "I’m very tired Crudup. I’ve had an exhausting evening, as I’m sure you know. Don’t you ever sleep?" Crudup gestured toward Nikita. "I must apologize for the hour, but I’m afraid your little Miss. Triska has been a naughty girl." John looked back at Nikita. She did not meet his eyes, but had a sly smile on her lips. John looked back at Crudup and raised a quizzical eyebrow. "It would seem she beat up Chase," Crudup explained. John could not resist a smirk. "Beat ‘im up?" He looked at Nikita again. "What brought this on?" "Sir!" Nikita said in character, "That is personal." Smiling, John faced Crudup again. "If Tina ‘as ‘er reasons, then I support ‘er." "I see," Crudup said. His piggy eyes examined John. Then he smiled, "Super. You’re a lucky man, Mr. Smallcock. Good help is so hard to find nowadays. You can learn a lot about the integrity of your client when the faith between them and their help is tested." "I see. Fairy interesting," John commented dryly. "But please note that I do not regard Ms. Trisk as simple ‘elp." "Uh, of course. I mean no disrespect," Crudup quickly added apologetically. Sweat beaded across his upper lip. Inwardly John was relieved. We might just pull this off. "Good. Now if that is all I shall be returning to my room. Please do not disturb me until sunrise. Tina." Nikita rose to her feet, "Yes sir and thank you sir." John turned and discovered Rae blocking the door. The tall man’s eyes flickered over toward Crudup for a moment then he stepped aside. "Thank you," John said flippantly. Well that’s one crisis averted. Bring on the next. Suddenly the door swung open and Smyles stormed in. He collided with John and both men staggered back. Smyles’ jaw dropped. "You too! What the fuck is going on here Crudup? Open house?" *** Catherine reached a Y in the duct-work and turned left. The duct then began to widen. She shimmied another ten meters before reaching a silver case she planted months ago. Catherine thumbed the combination lock until it clicked and the case flipped open. Inside were her tools for the pandemonium to come. Catherine caressed the black leather absently as her mind raced ahead. The time has come. It has all gone down the wire and is now between you and me. Catherine picked up a small black box with a short antenna. When she extended the antenna, a small green light flickered on. Catherine placed her thumb over a small stud next to the light and whispered a short prayer. She then pressed the stud. A small red light replaced the green. *** Canisters, strategically placed by Catherine since her arrival, suddenly started spewing tear gas, while simultaneously an explosive charge ripped apart the building’s main generator. The sudden cut in power disabled all security and fire alarms and sent a coded message to a receiver in Sudbury. In seconds, Crudup’s perfectly controlled environment was plunged into total chaos. Chapter 42 Smyles reacted first. He struck John in the throat, forcing the journalist to gag and stagger back. Nikita tried to move but the massive fist of her guard held her to her chair. Rae then seized John, pinned his arms behind his back, and slammed him into the wall. Smyles was livid. "What the fuck is this?" he exploded. "W-what are you talking about?" Crudup stammered. Smyles pointed at John. "That asshole is a fucking television reporter!" He swung his finger at Nikita. "She’s a fucking Russian fed"— he threw his hands up in the air— "and the favourite bitch you rave about is an undercover Mountie who’s supposed be dead." "W-w-w-w-w-w-what?" the fat man waffled. "N-n-n-no way. I had George- I mean- Wynorski checked them out. They both cleared. All my girls cleared." "You didn’t check deep enough Screwhead!" Smyles grabbed John by the collar and wrenched him from Rae’s grip. "What the fuck are you doing here? Talk to me!" John remained silent and set his jaw as Smyles’ fingers circled his face. He dug his thumbs into the skin under John’s eye sockets. "Tell me what you, her, and Wildman are doing here or I’ll pluck your fucking eyes out!" A low rumble suddenly rippled beneath their feet, followed by absolute darkness. *** The ceiling vent popped open and a black leather boot emerged, followed by a lithe woman clad entirely in black. She dropped to the floor, bending her knees to absorb the jolt. There in the dark hall she stood, feet planted firmly, her breath coming hard. The leather cat- suit clung dangerously tight to her muscular physique like a second skin. Gripped sensuously in her hand was a H&K 9mm submachine gun. Spare magazines were in her thigh pockets and the Bowie knife was strapped to her right calf. A pink Beretta was sheathed in a leather holster over her left kidney. Catherine had a pink bandanna tied around her head. She quickly scanned the storeroom. There was no one about. This area was usually empty this time, and tonight was no exception. Catherine retrieved the plastic re-breather from her belt and fastened it over her nose and mouth. Alright, chick. Time to do some damage. Catherine flicked off the safety on the H&K and began her quest toward her target with the death of one man on her mind. *** The room plunged into absolute darkness. John pulled free and slammed his brow into the row of butterfly stitches across Smyles’ forehead. The ugly man screamed at the impact. John spun and slammed the flat of his hand into Rae’s face. The tall man remained impassive. "Oh shit," John muttered, and then kicked the colossal guard in the crotch. Rae’s eyes slowly crossed and rolled up into his head. He teetered for a moment then slumped to the floor and laid still. Just then the emergency lights flickered on and shot deep red shadows across the office. Nikita! John whirled around prepared to confront Nikita’s guard and Crudup, but discovered both Nikita and Crudup had disappeared. Her guard was on the floor with a crimson pool spreading from his throat. What the hell? Next to his body was Nikita’s cane. Its brass head was missing. John picked up the cane and discovered it was hollowed to sheathe a blade. "Uh..." John dropped the cane and turned, fists clenched. Smyles remained on the floor motionless. Blood flowed from his reopened wound. As John stepped closer Smyles’ eyes snapped open. "Boo!" he said and fired his boot heel into John’s testicles. John cried out and stumbled back onto the desk. Smyles was instantly on his feet and formed a boxer’s stance. John rolled off the desk and unsteadily mocked the ugly man’s movement. "You’re dead Riel!" Smyles vowed, "I will fucking kill you with my own bare hands!" John flashed a crooked grin, "You’ve tried once before Smiley." Successfully bated, Smyles threw a sloppy left hook. John blocked it with his right and hammered his left into Smyles’ side. "Fuck you!" Smyles stumbled and bellowed. He then suddenly spun and delivered a round house kick to John’s midsection. Caught unprepared, John reeled back and struck the side of Crudup’s desk. His arm snagged the corner and several stitches torn away. John cried out and crumpled to the floor cradling his shredded arm. "Losing it Johnny-boy?" Smyles mocked, "You picked the wrong-!" The ugly man’s jaw dropped as a .38 snub-nose revolver appeared in John’s fist. He squeezed the trigger twice. *** Puzzled with the image she was seeing Madhuri increased the gain on the top left monitor. It showed a person dressed head-to-toe in black leather racing down a hall with a machine gun, "Holy!" she said as the definition improved. "This is getting serious." Madhuri picked up the video-phone. She was about to punch in 911 when a police cruiser sped past. Madhuri replaced the receiver and peered out the back window. Several more cruisers sped past, followed by an armoured personnel carrier. None of the vehicles traveled with their lights or sirens activated. "Eek," Madhuri said and scurried into the driver’s seat. "What the hell did you do, John?" she muttered starting up the van. Then, grinning like a maniac, Madhuri floored the gas pedal and raced after the invasion force. Chapter 43 The passageway was dark and dank. The dampness in the air started her old wounds throbbing. Just another bitter reminder of the torture and humiliation she suffered at the hands of these people. Slowly her fingers felt along the clammy brick wall as she tightly clenched the small bloody blade. She halted as the sound of gun fire echoed behind her. John? Nyet I must not stop. Please be careful John Riel. Nikita continued following the secret passage behind the book shelf she saw Crudup slip into as soon as the trouble started and tightened her grip on the blade. I am coming for you murderer. *** "Merde!" Catherine had stormed into a corridor full of half-dressed panic-stricken guests screaming in the dim blood tinted light. Then, right on cue, the tear gas billowed through a floor vent at the far end of the hall. Oblivious of the woman with the gun the crowd backed away from the gas, then turned and ran. Catherine pointed the weapon into the air and squeezed off a couple of rounds to help them along. "So far, so good," she said as the crowd began to clear. Catherine smiled under her re- breather. "You go girl." Trotting along quickly, Catherine reached the set of double doors that opened into the grand ballroom. This was the fastest and most direct route toward Crudup’s office. It was also a perfect spot for an ambush. Catherine pressed her shoulder to the push bar. It did not budge, "If it’s not one thing…" she muttered and stepped back. Then, nibbling on her lower lip, threw a roundhouse kick that shattered the locking mechanism. The doors flew open with a crack that echoed throughout the large, seemingly vacant room. Catherine froze for a split second, Do it chick! and she charged into the grand hall. It began. Chapter 44 The Kieran Crudup Estate South of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 02:38 hours 02 September, 2020 "Where the hell did that come from?" The riot-geared Mountie yelled. He pointed at the van rolling through the gates behind the police assault force. "Christ!" Burton cried. "Come on." Burton and two heavily armed Mounties raced toward the van and blocked its way. Madhuri stopped and rolled down her window. "Madhuri Sahni, Constable," she said as Burton approached, "Canada-World News. What’s happening here?" she asked innocently. "CWN?" Burton said, "Who’s your V.J.?" "What?" "Video Jock? Who is he?" Burton snapped. "Riel, John Riel." "Shit!" Burton exchanged a look with the other two Mounties then stepped closer to Madhuri. "Where is he?" Madhuri remained silent. Burton pointed at the chaos that was the Kieran Crudup Estate, "He’s in there, right? Right?" Chapter 45 Raymond Smyles dove from the office and into an onslaught of people fleeing the Estate, "Shit!" he hissed and pressed himself to the wall. "What the fuck is—" His nose then detected the tear gas. "Shit!" Smyles yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and held it over his mouth and nose. Chapter 46 As the end of the passageway was a light. Nikita Triska shifted the blade from one palm to the other as she stepped closer to her denouement. Chapter 47 Holding the .38 tightly in his fist, John Riel stepped over the guard’s body and moved toward the door Smyles disappeared through. Chapter 48 Catherine Wildman charged into the grand ballroom, ducking around wisps of tear gas drifting up from the floor vents. Then her bell started and in her peripheral vision Catherine spotted one of Crudup’s goons appear from behind a table. He almost had his Uzi semiautomatic to bear when she took him out with a single burst from the Heckler & Koch. Poised on the top platform of the stage a second goon, armed with a .44 Magnum, squeezed off two rounds. The first chewed up the floor between Catherine’s feet. The second whistled past her ear as she dove behind an overturned table. Catherine sucked in a breath from the re-breather, then rolled to her feet and squeezed off a burst. The goon’s knee caps burst with a bloody spray and he fell from the stage screaming. The gunman’s cries ended abruptly as he struck the floor. Catherine whispered a payer and continued her charge. *** The tips of her long tapered fingers touched a cold surface. Nikita stopped and with both hands felt the obstruction before her. She discovered two groves running vertically a meter apart. Half way down on her left Nikita felt a handle, and then realized the light she thought was in the distance was only defused through a tinted window in the door before her. Nikita shifted the blade in her hand, then pulled the door open and slipped through. What she saw her mind could not accept. "My God…" *** Smyles slammed his elbow through the coloured glass. He then stuck his head in the opening and gulped in mouthfuls of the clean night air. As his eyes cleared, Smyles noticed the commotion outside. "Mother of shit!" Police cruisers, troop carriers, and armoured assault vehicles surrounded the Estate. Swarming across the grounds were RCMP Special Operations and the Ontario Provincial Police, all looking for a fight. "Shit!" Smyles slipped back through the window and pressed his back to the wall. "Shit." He retrieved his Semmerling LM-4 from his ankle holster and checked the chamber. The four shot was fully loaded. Smyles gritted his teeth, "One for Riel. One for Triska." A door opened. "And two for you!" Smyles screamed and squeezed the trigger. *** Her senses extra acute from the surge of adrenalin pumping through her body, Catherine Wildman all but saw three gunmen enter the ballroom behind her. She scrambled from her now useless cover and dove over the top of the bar as hot lead shattered the bottles and mirrors overhead. In a fluid motion Catherine rolled on impact and rose with the Heckler & Koch in one hand and the Beretta in the other. She simultaneously squeezed the triggers. The first gunman doubled over as bullets ripped through his intestines. The second tried to duck out of sight, but was too late as one slug tore into his upper chest and another through his throat. The third gunman, clenching a Smith & Wesson Combat Magnum, dove behind an overturned table and escaped the volley of death. Catherine dropped to her knees, reloaded both weapons and returned the pink 9mm to its holster. She tore off the re-breather and pulled in a deep breath. The stench of death and gunpowder singed her nostrils and burned her lungs. Two, one, go! Catherine sprang to her feet squeezing the H&K’s trigger. But Crudup’s gunman was quicker and lobbed off three shots before Catherine zeroed in on his position. The first bullet whistled past her ear, the second smashed through a shot glass near her elbow. The third connected. Blood sprayed across the shattered mirrors. Chapter 49 "Right?" "I-I…" Madhuri Sahni stammered. "This is a restricted zone," the second Mountie snapped, "You are going to have to leave." "You can’t kick me out. I’m the media," Madhuri protested lamely. "I can kick your skinny ass anywhere I want to," he threatened, "Now move this piece of junk." "Hold it!" Sgt. Kurt Burton yelled and pulled off his helmet, "If John Riel is in there he is in a great deal of danger. This is a major police operation. Now tell me where he is!" Madhuri closed her eyes for a moment, then looked at Burton and said, "Come around back." She hopped out of the driver’s seat and disappeared through the curtains. "Damn it. Stay here," Burton ordered the other cop and dashed around to the rear of the van. There he found the rear door already open. He spotted Madhuri sitting before a row of video monitors. "John placed a mini-transmitter in there. It’s tied into the building’s own closed circuit system. From this chair I have access to every room in the place. But something happened to the generator so they’re all on battery and I don’t know how long that is going to last." Madhuri turned on her chair and looked at Burton. "If this is a major police operation then wouldn’t it be so cool for your people to have eyes on the inside?" Chapter 50 RCMP Special Operations Staff Sergeant Catherine Wildman gritted her teeth and held the trigger down. Splinters of wood flew as lead danced across the overturned table, yet the gunman remained standing and squeezed off another round that parted her hair. Catherine’s body shivered uncontrollably. The feeling of danger accelerated her heart. Her finger held the weapon tighter. Catherine cried out as her salvo suddenly sliced the gunman in half. Then her legs turned to jelly and she collapsed to the floor, letting the overheated H&K slip from her fingers. Catherine hugged her chest and savoured the moment. Oh.... God! Then it was over. Catherine looked at her shoulder. It hurt like hell but she was only grazed. The protective Kevlar sewn into the lining of the leather cat-suit kept it from being worse. "Lucky chick, lucky…" she muttered as she sprayed the wound with an antiseptic. Catherine gingerly drew her 9mm Beretta, and with it snugly in her grip she eased up and peeked over the top of the bar. There was no one in sight. Catherine slid back down, steeled herself, then rolled over the top of the bar and bolted across the remaining ballroom. She slid to a stop next to the main doors and pressed her back to the wall. With the Beretta in both hands, Catherine scanned the devastated room behind her. She sensed no movement, let her arms slump to her sides, and blew out a breath. She then raised the weapon and pressed it to her cheek, taking comfort in the heat radiating from the barrel. Catherine suddenly found herself giggling strangely at the erotic image that must have created. Knock it off, chick. Catherine refocused on the task at hand and her personal agenda. You better be there, woman, because you and I are going to have a little chat when I finish my business here. She opened the door. "And two for you!" Catherine felt two sharp burning spears strike her. *** Burton smiled. "Sweet," he then called to the other Mountie, "You. Drive this in. My orders," he turned back to the array of monitors and was about to speak when the action on one caught his eye. "Oh God, Cathy…." *** Raymond Smyles whooped in delight as the first slug struck her thigh. The second bored into her midsection. Catherine instinctively dropped and rolled toward cover. Smyles ducked behind a vanity near the window. Catherine twisted onto her right elbow and quickly examined her side. It was moist and sticky. The bullet nicked her just below the ribs. The Kevlar did not stop the slug, it only slowed it down and prevented it from spraying her digestive track across the floor. The other slug bounced off one of the spare magazines in her pocket, rending the clip useless and one massive bruise on her thigh. I may never Riverdance again. Then she heard John. Chapter 51 The store room was narrow but it stretched out for over two hundred meters. Naked bulbs, hung by their cords from the low ceiling, brought light to the decadence before her. Row upon row of plastic crates labelled 'Powdered Milk,' 'Baby Food,' and 'GEB.' Directly on her right was a row of shelving, stacked high with video tapes. She stepped closer and examined the first tape. It was labelled with a name and number she did not recognize, but its existence answered several questions she had. She then turned her attention to the nearest crate on her left. It was labelled 'Powdered Milk.' "Milk?" she questioned and pried it open with her blade and, already sure of what she would find, removed a sealed plastic bag containing a dark syrupy liquid. It was unmistakable. "Ink," she whispered to herself. "And it’s pure. I deal in only the best." Major Nikita Triska of the Russian Federal Security Service turned at the sound of the voice and faced Kieran Crudup. He stood out of her reach with a stuffed duffel bag over his shoulder and a primed Uzi pointed at her face. "Direct from the Triangle and headed for your home town," Crudup smiled, glassy-eyed. "Now please put down the sample and the poker," he seemed unfocused but the weapon never wavered. Nikita complied. "That’s a good girl, and you are just a wee slip of a girl. Step away. Good girl. You’re learning. I understand that is hard for you Russians today. Everything happening over there now. So sad. Up hands now." Again Nikita complied, flinching slightly as her knuckles bumped into a hot light bulb above. "Why Crudup? Why do you sell this death?" "What death?" he snorted. Crudup licked his upper lip, "I’m not killing people." His mind suddenly seemed to have drifted off. Nikita was shocked, "Not killing people? How can you say that?" "I’m killing Communists," he replied curtly. Nikita eyed him bitterly. "Communism is dead in my country. It died decades ago with the Iron Curtain. You are killing people with this garbage. My people." Crudup did not reply. His mind was elsewhere. Nikita notice an opening and nourished his hunger. "We are beneath every rock you know…." "Right!" Crudup exclaimed excitedly bouncing up on his toes. "Behind every tree…" Nikita baited. "Yes! Yes! Stein was right!" "…and you are killing children with your garbage," Nikita snapped and clenched her fist. "Commie spawn!" Crudup shrieked. "They aren’t human!" "You are seventy years out of date, fat man. The world has grown beyond that thinking. It is time you saw the light." Nikita batted the base of the bulb. It swung toward Crudup and burst across his forehead. Crudup screamed as glass fragments stung his face. The Uzi fell from his grip as his fingers clawed at his face, "I’m blind!" he cried and dropped to his knees. Nikita scooped up the weapon and jabbed Crudup in the belly with the stock. The fat man fell back on his buttocks. Nikita then spun the weapon around in her hands and pointed the dangerous end at Crudup’s chest, "Get up!" she ordered. "I can’t, I’m blind," Crudup whimpered. With the barrel of the weapon Nikita shoved his hands away from his face. There was some blood beading on his forehead where fragments of glass bit into his skin. The shock seemed to have jolted him from his Ink induced state. "You are not blind. Open your eyes." Crudup opened his eyes. "I can see!" "Get up." Crudup laboured to his feet. "Hands behind your head," Nikita ordered. Crudup complied, "Now turn around." Uncertainty flickered in Crudup’s eyes as he turned his back to her. "Walk." Crudup walked. "I have over sixty-two million American dollars in the duffel bag. I’ll split it with you." "Blood money," Nikita snorted. "Shut up and keep walking." She pressed the barrel into the back of his neck. "You can have it all. Yes, all of it. Sixty-two unmarked million." Nikita squeezed the trigger and a burst of gunfire ripped into the ceiling above his head. "I said shut up." Crudup remained silent until Nikita ordered him to stop at a small card table with a chair and an overturned stool on the floor next to it. "What are we doing here?" Nikita did not respond, but examined the items on the table. There was a syringe, a half meter of rubber tubing, two porn magazines, and a small vial containing a dark syrupy liquid, "What is in the vial?" Nikita asked. "Is that it? You want a hit?" Crudup hoped. "Nyet. You do." With the stock of the Uzi she cracked him across the side of his head. Chapter 52 "Oh my God! Look!" Madhuri Sahni pointed at the top left monitor. Kurt Burton stuck his head out the back of the van, "Prepare to move in!" *** "No!" John Riel cried as Catherine succumbed to Smyles’ gunfire. The ebbing rage that had been building flared. "Catherine! No!" I’ve lost you once! I won’t lose you again! *** The renegade CIA man looked up and spotted John poised in the office doorway. Raymond Smyles dropped to one knee and brought his Semmerling around. He had two shots left and planed to make them both count, but his target was already a blur as he squeezed the trigger. John tackled Smyles with a bone shattering crack. *** Catherine Wildman pressed her hand to her side as she laboured to her feet. She gritted her teeth as blood oozed past her fingers. Catherine forced the burning from her mind. Focus. I… I can’t stop. Johnny needs me… She ejected the spent clip from her Beretta and let the magazine slip from her fingers and drop to the floor. Hold... hold on Johnny... I’m coming... Fingers, slick with her blood, fumbled but managed to slap a fresh clip into the butt of the Beretta. She held the weapon forward as she started toward the two men. I’m coming for you... *** Smyles shook off John’s attack and scrambled to his feet. He swung wildly but John managed to sidestep and nailed Smyles with an upper cut to the jaw. "Ack!" Smyles gagged, biting his tongue. Lost in a blood rage, John lunged and wrapped his fingers around the ugly man’s throat. Smyles’ eyes bulged as John squeezed. Then, in an act of desperation, Smyles seized John by the arms and swung them both toward the window. *** There was nothing Catherine could do but scream as she watched them fall through the plate glass window. *** "Christ," Burton whispered. Madhuri’s hands shot to her face, "No." *** Crudup fell to the floor dazed. When his mind cleared he found himself shirtless and tied to a chair. The rubber tubing was tied tightly around his upper arm and the table had been pushed aside. Nikita was perched atop the stool with the Uzi resting on the floor at her feet. She smiled sadly, "Welcome to your own personal hell, Crudup." In her hand was the syringe. It was full. He understood fully what that meant. "No… please…" he choked. The dampness of the room sent a dull throb through her legs as Nikita stood and approached the fat drug dealer. "Bitch! You fucking dyke!" Crudup screamed as Nikita found a bulging strip of blue on his forearm, "Bitch! Dyke! Dyke! Bitch!" he hissed as Nikita pushed the needle through the skin and into the vein. She pressed the release button and injected one thousand milligrams of pure Ink into Crudup’s blood stream, "No…" he choked softly. Nikita returned to her stool, pulled her legs tightly to her chest and waited for Crudup’s heart to explode. If she had tear ducts, she would have cried. *** Amid a shower of coloured glass they fell. With that split-second advantage, Smyles managed to twist so John received the brunt of the impact. The remaining stitches tore away and John blacked out. *** "Stay here!" Burton ordered drawing his Browning Auto Pistol. Madhuri’s eyed the weapon and nodded. The Strike Team Leader leapt from the van and bolted across the yard, ducking around his troops and their prisoners. When he arrived at the crash site Burton discovered four of his squad with assault rifles trained on Smyles. Smyles had rolled from the jolt and scrambled to his feet. He had his back pressed against the building and held John up before him as a shield, "Just try me ya’ fuckers!" he screamed. "Don’t shoot." Burton followed the voice and spotted Catherine peering out the shattered window. She ducked back inside and moments later appeared at the front doors. Catherine held her badge in the air as she dashed across the yard, oblivious of the burning in her side and shoulder. As she approached, Burton’s troops split, granting her access to the standoff. Catherine stepped past Burton and faced the rogue agent. "Give it up Smyles," she said flatly. "It’s over. You lost." "Never!" Smyles screamed. His cold gray eyes reflected and the rage and fear of a trapped animal. "You’re goin’ta let me outta’ here or I’ll start separating vertebrae," Smyles emphasized his point by squeezing his arm tighter around John’s neck. Catherine glanced back at Burton. "We could take him out, but it’s even money whether your friend would survive," he whispered, "Smyles could crack his neck in his death throws." Catherine grunted, "Thanks Kurt. Pleasant imagery." She nibbled on her lower lip for a moment, then turned and eyed Smyles. "It’s not him you want Ray. It’s me." A twinkle of the increasing insanity glimmered in his eyes. Catherine pushed on, "You want a piece of me, don’t you little man?" Smyles started salivating. "You’ve been jerkin’ me off since the beginning." Catherine took a small step forward and lowered her voice so only he could hear, "Then let’s get to the money shot." Smyles hooted and tossed John aside. Two of Burton’s people start to move in on Smyles. "Non!" Catherine ordered. Confused, the troopers halted and looked at Burton for direction. "Kurt," Catherine said over her shoulder before he could speak, her eyes never left the ugly man who now taunted her with lewd hand gestures, "Where’s St. James?" "Seven minutes away." "Good," she whispered."This won’t take that long. She and I are going to exchange a few four letter words later." Catherine stepped back from Smyles and called out to Burton’s people, "No one is to move against Smyles without my say so." She handed Burton her Beretta and badge. "Is that clear? I take full responsibility." Burton nodded and the troopers backed off, leaving Catherine and Smyles alone in a large circle lit by spots from two cruisers. Burton slipped her gun into his belt then motioned toward her wound. "Shouldn’t you have that looked at first?" "I don’t have time to bleed." "Alright then. Creep’s all yours." "Come on little girl!" Smyles taunted, "It’s just you and me," he thrust his hips forward. Catherine ignored Smyles and knelt next to John. She stroked his forehead and whispered a silent oath. Catherine then waved over to a Mountie wearing a white arm band with a red cross. He quickly checked John over and then eased him out of the way. Catherine stood back up and faced Raymond Smyles. Despite herself, despite the gravity of the situation, she found herself smiling. It was time to excise all her demons. Like the orgasm she experienced earlier, Catherine felt her heart racing. It slammed against her rib cage like a wild beast threatening to break free. She took three defiant steps toward Smyles and whispered, "Let’s do it, fucker." Chapter 53 Smyles howled and hurled himself at Catherine, striking her at top speed. Catherine used his momentum against him. She grabbed the lapels on his jacket, dropped and rolled onto her back. With her leather clad feet pressed into his chest, Catherine flipped Smyles up and over, hurling him head first into the damp grass. Smyles was momentarily stunned, then furious as he heard the whoops of laughter from the circle of cops. He roared and shot to his feet. Catherine was already poised. She had taken up a Crane style kung-fu stance. A dark smile flashed across her face. Smyles arched a mocking eyebrow and laughed, "What the fuck is that supposed to be?" Catherine struck and the ugly man slammed into the ground with a thud. He spat out three of his teeth, including the one with the diamond, "You Bitch!" he snarled and savagely leapt toward her knees. Catherine vaulted over backward, but as she retained her balance the wound in her side screamed out and, for a moment, she lost her concentration. Smyles managed to catch her in his grasp and he yanked Catherine to the ground. He slithered on top of her with one sweaty calloused hand seizing her by the throat as the other groped for her breasts. "Slut!" Smyles hissed and pressed his lips to hers. If this is the end then I’m going out the way I want! He shoved his tongue down her throat. Catherine brought her hands up and hacked him in the kidneys. Smyles grunted but remained on top of her. Saliva tricked from the corner of his lips. A trooper took a step toward them, but Burton dropped a hand on her shoulder, "Not yet Kid-o. He’s only getting her mad." Catherine slid her hand into his trousers and mercilessly wrenched his testicles. Smyles’ eyes bulged as his head snapped up. His grip on her throat slipped. With the pressure on her windpipe gone Catherine slammed her forehead up into Smyles’ already shattered nose. It’s a wonder it doesn’t slide around his face on its own. Kicking him away Catherine rolled to her feet and watched Smyles struggle to his. She waited until he was standing erect then threw a roundhouse kick to his midsection. Smyles flew back three meters and slammed into the grill of police cruiser. He doubled over and vomited. Catherine stepped back and lowered her fists. It's over. I’ve proven myself to my worst critic. Me. Catherine turned and walked away. "Bitch," Smyles hissed wiping bile from his chin. He slowly rose to his feet and glared at her. Catherine turned, "Isn’t that enough for you Smyles?" "No," he mumbled and staggered toward her. "Fuck you." Catherine matched him step by step, keeping a meter between them. "It’s over Smyles, or haven’t you realized that yet?" "It’s not over until I say it’s over," Smyles spat. He swung a fist out. Catherine blocked it without striking back. Smyles swung a second time, and again she countered without retaliating. "Fight me," he hissed. "You’re pathetic." "I’ve seen her naked," Smyles called out to the circle of uniforms. "She was mine once." "I was never yours," Catherine retorted and blocked another limp attack. "You were mine and you enjoyed it," Smyles said so softly only Catherine could hear. "You remember. It was good. It could be again," he cooed confidently. She did remember. She remembered the tearing… penetrating… pain. Suddenly what seemed so long ago now haunted her like yesterday. That night in the back of the limousine. The pain he caused with the barrel of his gun. She remembered his fingers pulling... probing... She remembered her dress... bloody... heaped on the floor... She remembered him on top her here... sweating... grunting... flaying... pumping... She remembered being powerless… being submissive... helpless... She remembered as he crouched over her and sprayed his semen across her breasts, her throat, her face… Non... stop... non... please stop. I beg you... please stop... please... please... stop... "Non! You-son-of-a-bitch!" Catherine screamed. Her eyes flamed, her pulse raced and her hatred flared. "Never again!" Catherine’s fist flailed out but Smyles was suddenly nowhere and everywhere. He struck her in the temple with the back of his fist, the kidney with his knee, and her throat with the side of his hand. Catherine stumbled. Smyles struck her again, hammering his fist into her blood-stained side. Once, twice, three times. Catherine cried out and doubled over. Smyles grabbed her hair, pressed her face into his crotch, then threw her to the ground. "You are going to die here and now Bitch!" Smyles vowed straddling her, "Beg me to make it quick!" His fingers encircled her throat and squeezed. "Non..." Catherine gasped. She fumbled for the Bowie knife strapped to her calf, but her leg was twist beneath her, "Non." "Shit!" Burton cried. He drew his weapon and hastened toward Catherine. Fireworks exploded behind her eyes as her mind permanently etched in her memory the face of the man who killed her. His grey eyes wide with ecstasy. His pungent breath hot on her face. Non... not like this... not now... Her lungs shrieked for air. Non... non... Johnny... help me... please... Her vision blurred and her eyes rolled back into her head. Johnny……. . .. ... ... ... air... The pressure was gone and sweet air flooded back into her starved lungs. Pin points of light shot through her mind as she slowly opened her eyes. There, through a teary haze, she saw two shapes standing over her, locked together in a battle of wills. She knew the elapsed time could have been no more that a split second, but the events she witnessed seemingly unfolded in slow motion as the two figures clashed. Then one managed to break and strike. The second snapped backward at the hips and disappeared from sight. The remaining figure then seemed to slump, as if it were only the raw power of determination fuelled the crusade. Then slowly he turned toward her and reached out with an open fist. She hesitated for the briefest of moments before she accepted the offer and was tenderly helped to her feet. She stepped back and rubbed her eyes, then looked at the man who saved her. Tears of joy flowed freely as Catherine Wildman threw her arms around Johnny Riel and held him tightly for a long, long time. Chapter 54 Shoulder to shoulder with their hands clasped together, and ignoring the pain they were both in, John and Catherine walked together. They were escorted by four of Burton’s top people across the yard to a waiting ambulance. As they walked, Catherine eased herself closer, minding his freshly taped-up arm. "You realize St. James won’t think very highly of your involvement in this operation." "Ask me if I care what St. James thinks," John replied. "She left me hanging and exposed, and I did something about it." "I want you to know, Johnny, that I’ll back you one hundred percent on this masquerade you and-!" They both realized it at the same time. "Nikita!" John said. Suddenly voices were raised and weapons pointed toward the front doors. Standing in the threshold was a person holding a gun. "Drop the weapon!" Burton’s voice echoed over a loud speaker, "Or we’ll be forced to shoot." "No!" John cried out. He pushed through his startled escort and sprinted across the yard. "Hold your fire!" Catherine ordered a half step behind him, "She’s with us!" John raced up the stairs, taking them three at a time. Even several meters away he could see the anguish reflected in her eyes. Then, as John reached her, all her strength drained and Nikita collapsed into his open arms. John gently lowered her to the ground. "Medic!" Catherine cried out as she knelt next to John. "Is she...?" Catherine asked "She’s alive," John said. "It’s exhaustion, I think." Two medics arrived just then and gave Nikita a quick scan. They agreed she could be moved and strapped her to a stretcher. John and Catherine walked in silence as Nikita was carried down the stairs. Then just as they were about to load her into the waiting ambulance her fingers brushed across John’s arm. "Wait!" he called out. The medics looked at Catherine and she nodded. John leaned closer to Nikita and softly touched her cheek with the back of his hand, "Nikita. I’m here." Her eyes fluttered open. "Did we… do it?" she whispered through a dry mouth. John gently placed his hand on her forehead and felt the heat emanating from her scalp. "Yes, yes we did. We stopped it," he knelt closer, "Thanks to you." "Crudup…" she swallowed hard "...is dead," John nodded and she continued, "Where... Smyles?" "Arrested." "He should die." John did not reply, nor did she expect him to. Nikita’s sky blue eyes drifted past him and found Catherine. "Are you…?" Her voice cracked. "Catherine Wildman," Catherine said stepping forward. Nikita smiled weakly. "So young… and beautiful." She held out her hand and Catherine accepted it. "It is a honour to finally meet you." "The honour is all mine, Nikita Valtina." Catherine smiled warmly and enforced the respect with the use of the formal Russian form of address, using both the first and middle names. "Johnny had told me about your quest. Despite all odds Vladimir got the information to me. He died protecting what he believed in. He died a hero." A great weight seemed to lift from Nikita’s shoulders. "Спасибо, Catherine Sophia, cпасибо." Nikita gritted her teeth and swallowed hard. "In Crudup’s office is a hidden door. It leads to a store room. There you will find the drugs and other evidence." Her body shook as she coughed. "I have something for you John." Nikita opened her fist and handed him a MiniDV video tape. "I found it in Crudup’s desk on my way out. I believe it is what you and Catherine have been looking for." John accepted the tape and turned it over in his hand. A name was printed on the side. John looked at Catherine. She nodded. "We’ll do what must be done," Catherine promised her. "I know you will." Nikita’s eyes met John’s. A memory of what could have been flashed behind her sky blue eyes and she smiled. "No regrets." John silently agreed. Nikita touched Catherine’s hand and whispered. "Il est un home bon. Le traiter ainsi." Catherine smiled, pleasantly surprised, and replied. "Et je sais que je vais." John got the strange feeling they were talking about him. He gently kissed Nikita on the cheek. "Goodbye Nikita." "Goodbye John, and thank you," she replied. Nikita looked at Catherine and saluted. Catherine snapped to attention and sharply returned the salute. Then, deep in their own thoughts, John and Catherine watched as Nikita was lifted into the back of the ambulance and taken away. Chapter 55 Burton confirmed procedure was followed as Raymond Smyles was arrested and placed in the rear of an armoured police cruiser before joining John and Catherine, who were finally getting their wounds properly treated, in the back of an ambulance. "St. James and the doctor are here," he said. "The dragon lady wants to see the both of you in her car." "Fine," Catherine said. "Are you ready Kurt?" Burton nodded, then looked at John. "When I saw that Cathy was in trouble I hoofed it over to help, but you were already there," he said. "When you yanked that puke ball off Cathy and laid him out with a thwack to the head I almost shit." Burton grinned. "It was fucking great. The medic checking your wound said he only turned away for a moment and when he looked back you were on your feet and running. He thought you were still unconscious." His grin widened. "I don’t know how you did it man, but after all that you have been through I would be proud to have you on my team." John studied the man for a long moment, then said sincerely, "Thank you Kurt." Burton playfully punched him on the shoulder, then smiled at Catherine and left. "He’s a good man," she commented as they climbed from the back of the ambulance. "John!" Madhuri cried out. She ducked around a Mountie trying to stop her and rushed into John’s arms and gave him a big bear hug. "Thank God you’re okay." John glanced at Catherine, "She’s with me." "I wouldn’t have guessed," Catherine smiled and waved the approaching cop off. Madhuri released John and looked at the woman in black leather standing at his side. She was the one, Madhuri realized, she saw on the monitors. The person who had charged through a hail of bullets and back. Yet somehow, though all the dirt and sweat and blood and bruising, she looked gorgeous. "Hi," Madhuri said. "Hi," was her reply. "Catherine," John introduced, "I would like you to meet my partner in crime and the best friend anyone could ever have— Madhuri Sahni." "Hello Madhuri," Catherine said and held out her hand. Puzzlement registered across Madhuri’s face as she accepted Catherine’s hand. "Hello yourself," she said. "John has told me much about you. Including, and I hasten to say it, that you were dead." Catherine smirked. "I got better." A wide smile slid across Madhuri’s face and she looked at John. "She’s a smart ass. I like her already." Catherine laughed despite herself. "You have something in common." John grinned then said to Catherine, "Madhuri takes some getting used to." "I bet." "Transmitter worked fine?" John asked Madhuri. "Like a charm." "I’ll be back shortly," he said to Catherine. "I have a broadcast to do." "No way. I’m not missing this for the world," she said and followed them back to the van. Madhuri slipped into her control chair and slid a large metal box toward John. He flipped up the clasps and opened it. Inside was a slick black and gray over-the-shoulder video camcorder with a pistol grip. Catherine whistled, "Cool. What is it?" "The future of video journalism Catherine. The Shadowcam," John reached into the box and picked up a small headset. He hooked it over his ear and positioned the microphone by his lips. "This unit is able to independently broadcast a live, or pre-recorded signal to a mobile control centre like Baby II here. Then the signal is transmitted to one of the several network satellites. We’ll be hitting the one in geosynchronous orbit over Toronto." "Then instantly we’re live and direct to over a million homes via the CWN’s cable, satellite, and Internet feeds," Madhuri added. "You’re loving this." Catherine grinned at John and sat on the back bumper. "Bet that adorable backside of yours. It feels good getting back into the swing." John fastened the shoulder strap and positioned the camera on his shoulder, "Fire me up." Madhuri turned around in her chair and flipped a row of switches. The interior of the van lit up like a Christmas tree. "I have a signal from the Sudbury affiliate," she said. "A broadcast window in ninety seconds. Network Anchor’s setting us up. Stryker came through. I think I owe him a night of frenzied sex. Camera test please." "What does that mean?" Catherine asked. "The frenzied sex?" John grinned. Catherine threw him a look. "It means we’ll be broadcasting live in a minute and a half," John said and tossed Madhuri the tape Nikita gave him. "Oh, old school." She said snatching the tape from midair. Catherine was about to say something but decided to let events fall where they may. Madhuri loaded the tape and glanced at the chronometer. She then caught John’s eye and began a mental countdown while securing the network uplink. Catherine stood up and watched as a car approached them. The LED readout in the view-finder counted John down. A red light then flashed as Madhuri cued him over his headset. The Shadowcam lit up and John panned the lens across the chaotic scene around them as his image superimposed in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. John began his report as St. James and Dr. Yen-ping climbed out of the car and approached. "I’m Johnny Riel for the Canada-World News Network, and I’m reporting live from the centre of a major police action on the headquarters of a suspected international drug load operating out of an estate south of Sudbury, Ontario. "On your screen before you is Sylvia St. James, the Deputy Commissioner of the Special Operations Branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the branch of the RCMP that planned and lead this raid under the code name ‘Operation Arctic Snow,’ and Doctor Bonita Yen-ping, Special Operations staff physician. As I speak, Director St. James is about to be greeted by Special Operations Staff Sergeant Catherine Wildman, who has been working under deep cover here and is a key player in the success of Operation Arctic Snow. Staff Sergeant Wildman is now entering the screen on the right." "What the hell are you doing here?" St. James barked. Catherine struck St. James square in the mouth with a powerful right hook. Live on millions of televisions screens and computer monitors across North America and the world, the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP Special Operations Branch fell to her ass in the dew-coated grass with wide-eyed shock. Yen-ping’s jaw dropped. "You irresponsible bitch!" Catherine exploded with such a fury everyone within ear shot turned to watch the show. "That man," Catherine pointed at John, "is not a pawn in this little game you play! How dare you use him as bait to keep Raymond Smyles from blowing my cover here. Mr. Riel is a civilian. A civilian! You know, someone we are here to serve and protect? You have crossed the line here St. James. Effective immediately you will tender your resignation." "You don’t—" St. James started. "Shut it!" Catherine sneered and narrowed her eyes. "How did Smyles manage to escape anyway?" St. James said nothing and stroked her jaw. Catherine frowned, infuriated. "Kurt." Burton yanked St. James to her feet. "What the hell are you doing?" she snapped. "How did Smyles escape and learn of Johnny’s whereabouts?" Catherine demanded again. "God damn it, Cathy! How the hell should I know?" St. James yelled back. "You’re right," Catherine replied with a sudden calm, "You haven’t a clue." She looked at Bonita. "You on the other hand." Dr. Yen-ping blinked, bewildered. "What are you talking about Cathy?" "Doctor Bonita Yen-ping," Catherine said slowly, "you are under arrest." Burton stepped behind the doctor and fastened handcuffs to her wrists. "This is ludicrous," she struggled with Burton, but to no avail. John tightened the lens as Catherine continued her allegation, "Dr. Bonita Yen-ping, I am accusing you of being the mystery figure known as ‘The Group of Ten’; and in that role you orchestrated the largest international drug operation ever undertaken, involving Canada, the United States, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. You also ordered the contract murder of Russian citizen Vladimir Zadneprovsky and the attempted murders of Videographer Johnny Riel, Russian Major Nikita Triska, and myself." "That’s absurd Cathy," Yen-ping stated flatly. "I thought we were friends. More than friends." "I’m sorry Bonita." "But, there is no way I could be this ‘Group.’ Besides, and this isn’t an admission, you have no proof." "Ah-hem," Madhuri interjected, "We do. I decoded the scrambling and the voice prints match." John continued the narration as the image on his view finder, and on televisions and monitors switched to a split image, "What you see is a video tape supplied by, at great risk, by Major Nikita Triska, a Russian member of Operation Arctic Snow." One half of the screen showed Yen-ping held by Burton and an electronic readout of her voice superimposed on the lower portion of the image. The video reversed and played back, "-this isn’t an admission, you have no proof." The other half of the screen showed a section of the video tape. A darkened figure, cloaked in shadows, speaking to Jefferson Stein. On the lower portion of that image was another superimposed electronic readout. The tape played. "—and the Russian woman?" the figure in the shadows asked. "In DeTully’s care," replied an off screen Jefferson Stein. "Good. Leave no clues. Have Zadneprovsky eliminated and report back when you have Wildman." The video ended. Even with the voice electronically altered, the Shadowcam’s microcomputer sound processor was able to filter out the distortion and match it up with the recording of Dr. Yen-ping. Then, to prove the point further, Madhuri adjusted the black levels and punched up the picture gain. Unmistakably, Bonita’s image appeared. "How?" St. James asked. She was dumbfounded. Madhuri switched the image back to John’s shot of Catherine who continued, "The perfect place for someone to operate. A minor official in a country that prided it self on its control of illegal narcotics." Catherine looked directly at Bonita. "In the nest of vipers as it were." Yen- ping’s face remained blank. "We were looking for someone above suspicion. Not below it." "What tipped you off?" Bonita asked. "My psychological profile. Only you could have given it to Stein," Catherine said. "Why Bonita? Why?" "You figured it out so far Cathy. You tell me," Bonita said. "Money and power," Catherine answered. Bonita smiled, "When I was younger my family and I worked the opium fields under Khun Sa. Then under his successor, Chin Wah Pong. My father. It was then, after I helped arrange his assassination in Rio de Janeiro, I learned the true meaning of power. Not guns, not bombs, but drugs. Governments rise and fall. Religions come into favour, then lose their hipness. The one thing that remains the same are people; and they will want an escape, be it from whatever, they will want it. Now, here in this land of opportunity," she smiled again, "I provide it." "And the group?" Catherine asked. "The Group of Ten was already formed and in place when I stumbled across it, quite by accident. Jefferson Stein’s predecessors and my father met and formed a partnership. The theory you and St. James concocted about the formation of the Group was very accurate. Then as the times changed its focus had changed. I learned about the Group from my father, and was eventually accepted into the core membership. Once in I was able to manipulate that directionless fellowship of old men and their old ideas, with money, sex, and drugs, to serve my needs." Bonita looked around at the faces studying her. "It’s not about ideology, people. It’s not about borders and boundaries. It’s all about—" "Money and power," Catherine said softly. Bonita looked at her. "Yes," she confirmed, "Money and power." The air became deathly silent around them all. "Get her the hell out of her," St. James finally said. "We’ll sort this out later"—she looked at John— "off air." John widened the lens to capture more of the action as Burton’s troops load Crudup’s staff and guests into several large armoured busses. He then started to explain the back history of the raid on the Estate, the killing of Chin Wah Pong, and the formation of Operation Arctic Snow. Catherine watched Burton led Bonita away. She still had a question that needed answering. St. James stepped before Catherine, "Staff Sergeant Wildman," she said and cleared her throat. "There are points of national security that you do not understand. Points that both you and Mr. Riel are required to protect. You, Staff Sergeant Wildman, as a servant of the crown and you, Mr. Riel, as a citizen." St. James sucked in a deep breath. "Cathy, no mater what you think of me I had reasons to do what I did. It was not to stroke my own ego." Catherine looked at St. James and exploded, "C’est le bout d’la merde!" St. James was shocked. John grinned. He had wanted to say a lot more. Catherine dashed around police cruisers and met up with Burton and Yen-ping. She blocked their path, "Could you excuse us Kurt. I would like to talk to the prisoner." Burton nodded and stepped back. Catherine gestured toward the waiting cruiser and Yen-ping started walking. Catherine fell into step alongside and Burton two steps behind. They walked in silence for a moment before Catherine finally cleared the air between them. "It was you who recommend me for Special Operations duty," she stated. "Yes," Bonita replied evenly. "You ordered the deaths of Nikita Triska and Vladimir Zadneprovsky," Catherine continued. "That’s correct." "You placed Jefferson Stein, your right hand man, undercover as my partner, under the alias Gene Hatton, to keep me from learning that the Crudup Estate was the centre of the entire operation. Although, I suspect you did not realize he and I became romantically involved." "Correct on both accounts," the doctor said with a hint of pride. "You are good at this. The fact you slept with a man even surprised me." Catherine ignored her comments and continued, "You once told me ‘Take out the leader and rest should fall like dominoes.’ You knew that I was close to unravelling the secret of the Group of Ten. That was why you wanted me to violate St. James’ orders and remain with John in the apartment, hoping my feelings would out way my duty." "Real good." Catherine dropped her bombshell, "So why didn’t you just have me killed?" All the colour drained from the doctor’s face. She stopped in her tracks. Catherine turned and faced Bonita. The doctor opened her mouth and then suddenly closed it. Her eyes misted up behind her glasses. Catherine waited. For a long moment Bonita stared at the ground, then slowly she met the intense green eyes watching her and said, "Because, I still love you." Chapter 56 The morning sun climbed over the horizon and shot its rays of orange and gold into the retreating darkness. Johnny Riel stood sombrely on a rise several meters away from the buzz of activity surrounding the events he helped set into motion. The crisp air kissed his face as he watched the dawn of a new day. Catherine Wildman, her face freshly scrubbed clean, wounds tended, and with a blue pea coat pulled across her shoulders, slipped away from the circus below and soon stood at his side. John greeted her with a warm smile. Catherine slid her arm around his waist and snuggled into the crook of his arm. "We lost each other during the onslaught of the media machine," she said. "I’ve heard words about you batted about. Words like ‘hero.’" "Never wanted a title," John replied. After a moment of silently watching the sun advance upon the darkness, Catherine asked, "What are you thinking?" "You ever make love on a train?" he asked. Catherine laughed gently and held him tighter, "The future is wide open, Johnny." John looked into her beautiful green eyes. Eyes that spoke of integrity and pride, "You bet’cha," he said. Catherine smiled. The world is yours chick. Catherine Wildman and Johnny Riel will return in GREEN EYED BURN II – The Inkwell ### David A. Lloyd is the Co-founder and President of The Cousin Company. A small and feral video production company somewhere in the wilds north of Toronto. He is the co-writer and director of the low budget film THE LEGEND OF VIPER’S HILL produced with his cousin and the screenwriter of IRON SOLDIER for Brett Kelly Productions. Green Eyed Burn is his first novel. It had a long birthing process. It began as a short story, then a script, then back to a longer short story and finally a novel that undertook years of rewrites when the author was able to get back to it. When the genesis of this story was first formed the Berlin Wall was still around and the Soviet Union was still the boogie man under the bed. Type those words into your search engines kids.
"Green Eyed Burn"