General Blithe walked into his outer office where Antonia Bakersfield was busy on the phone.
"Yes, thats correct. Six dozen. Youll have them delivered to the Windsor Legacy no later than five on Saturday next? Very good. Yes, thank you." She hung up and regarded the general.
"This gala is even more difficult to set up than the last one. The extra security for the possible attendance of the Prime Minister, the international flavor of the guests and the secrecy surrounding it all. Its a massive headache. Coordinating an attack while I was in the Royal Marines wasnt as much of a logistical nightmare."
"Now, Miss Bakersfield, youre doing a splendid job," Mark complimented. "Im glad Quinton Zimmerman volunteered to help you finalize the arrangements though."
"Hes been an enormous help, General. Hes taken on the whole job of working with the hotel people on the set-up and entertainment. Hes even arranged for a podium for the presentation of Addison Blacks commendation," Antonia replied with relief. "Its taken such a load off me; all I had to deal with was the caterers, florists and "
"Finding time to arrange for a certain generals formal uniform and the rest of the claptrap to be made presentable? I do thank you for that, Antonia. You took on the extra work without complaint."
"It was no bother, General, I was happy to do it. I realize how special you wish this particular evening to be. I can see quite the attachment forming between you and Professor Tidwell."
Mark reddened slightly as he thought of Marlene. The previous night they had attended a play on the West End and enjoyed a late supper afterward. He had taken her home, to his home, at the end of the evening and it felt just right escorting her inside his house. It was almost as if she belonged there. The sweet kiss they had shared at the door of the guest room had been their first together, but Mark was under the distinct impression that both of them wished it to be the first of many. Now, in just two days he would have her on his arm as they attended a very formal, very public gala. Well, as public as a Special Operations gala could be. To have her there would be making a statement for everyone to see. You didnt bring a casual date to this type of affair.
"Yes, well, I know I won't be the only one escorting a member of that family."
Antonia covered her look of disappointment and asked in a professional tone. "Is there anything I can assist Agent Black with?"
"Nothing I can think of, Antonia. I spoke to her last night and asked if she needed anything and she replied in the negative. I have given her the remainder of the week off to let her injuries finish healing, but you know Black. She continues to go on working. She mentioned she was in the middle of a serious de-briefing when I called. That late in the day! No one is more dedicated to her job than Addison," he marveled.
"No, she has quite the work ethic," she replied, her tone shaded just a bit with sarcasm.
The general missed the inflection, but dropped three reports on Miss Bakersfields desk.
"I hate to rush you on these, but I will need them by the end of the day for my early morning meeting," he said apologetically.
"Its no problem, General. It will be a pleasure to get back to some real work for a change."
Mark chuckled as he thanked her and headed back to his office, wondering if he had time to give Marlene a quick call before his next meeting.
Marlene Tidwell was at that moment asking her daughter her opinion about a dress to wear to the gala. It was approximately the fortieth time Marlene had done so in the last two hours and Skyler was growing weary of the hunt for the "perfect dress."
"Mom, look, why are you so worried? Its one party. What you wear wont make that big an impression on Mark Blithes friends and colleagues."
Marlene paused in the middle of slipping the ivory sheath over her head in order to return it to the saleswoman. "Make no mistake here, Skyler. I couldnt be less interested in what Marks friends think, but I would like to make a certain general himself lose his breath and I only have two days left to find the dress to do it."
Skyler had to laugh as Marlene batted her eyelashes coquettishly. "I didnt realize you had stopped shopping for a dress and were just looking for a mantrap! Why didnt you say so in the first place? You could have made this so simple."
Marlene looked at her daughter in confusion. "Why simple?"
"Okay," Skyler began as she moved toward an enormous rack of dresses. "Harrods has everything, right?" Marlene nodded. "So we know your dress is here somewhere. Lets narrow down the field. What is he wearing?"
"I think he said something about a formal uniform complete with sash and medals. Hes not happy about it, but that is the standard supposedly." He showed me a picture of himself attending an international conference and he is very handsome in it."
"A sash?" inquired Skyler. "What color sash?"
"Red. Why?" Marlene questioned in return.
"Because if you want every other female there to know that he is spoken for that evening, you get a dress color to match his sash. Now let me see." She moved to the area containing her mothers size and began moving hanger after hanger of red dresses past herself on the rack. "Nope, nope, too much material, whoa!...too little material, nope " Skyler sputtered to a stop mid-dismissal and lifted a floor length red evening gown from the rack. The lines were simple, tasteful and sexy. There was a small river of red sequins that ran the length of the dress from left shoulder to the floor in what appeared to be a gently descending waterfall. They sparkled as they moved and caught the light and the whole effect was sensual and elegant.
"Thats it," Skyler breathed as she pictured her mother in the lovely attire. "Go ahead and try it on for any alterations but that is the dress."
Marlene nodded. "Mark Blithe, with the help of this dress, and by the end of the evening, I do believe Im going to have my way with you."
Skyler grimaced. "Mom! Too much information! I did not just hear that. Thanks for the visual of my mom being a sexual creature. Im going to have to wash my brain out now!"
Marlene only laughed as she slipped the dress on. Maybe an inch needed to come off the hem, but otherwise it fit perfectly.
Marlene arranged for the dress to be delivered after the alterations had been completed. She turned to her daughter. "Want to pick out something for you while were here? Im fairly certain you didnt pack a formal gown in anticipation of the excavation of Roman ruins in England."
"Youre right about that," Skyler agreed, "But I dont need to pick something out. When I told Addison I didnt have anything with me, she insisted on making all the arrangements. I guess I know I can trust her by now so Ill just hope her good taste in women extends to good taste in clothes."
She paid for the purchase and hooked Skylers arm in hers as they walked to the elevators. "Want to stop for some tea and a pastry? My treat for helping me."
"Sure," Skyler replied, "Ive got nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon. Addison said she had some things that had to be taken care of today and needed some time to do that." They would still have the evening together.
Mother and daughter walked out of Harrods and were immediately assisted in hailing a cab. Marlene gave the address of a teashop near Mark Blithes house and they settled back for the short ride as the cab pulled into the London traffic.
As the black cab bearing Skyler and Marlene pulled away from the curb, another cab pulled in to the suddenly vacated space. Addison Black emerged and tossed a few pound notes at the driver.
"Thanks, mate," she said amiably as she looked up at the impressive store. Special Operative 2 was on a mission and like all other missions, she was certain this one would be completed swiftly and successfully. If she didnt have to take somebody down as she was doing it, so much the better. For just a moment she had a brief flash of insecurity, but it passed quickly and the steely resolve was back. Lifting her head and narrowing her eyes, she headed into the store.
One hour later, Addison Black was suffering from a bad case of shattered ego. The seeming morass of shoppers and the vision of the dozens of dresses she had seen were combining to make her head spin. She needed to stop the madness. Using her expert training, she spotted the weak one in the herd of salespeople and culled her out.
"Trina," Addison began smoothly, reading the older womans name badge. "I am an official in the government and I require a bit of your time. You can do your country a great service here today or you can let the reputation of our beloved island suffer at the hands of foreigners."
The saleswoman bristled and leaned forward, darting her eyes to the left and right. "Bloody foreigners," she whispered before she stood straight again and asked, "How may I be of service?"
Addison lowered her voice and said, "I need a dress." The words were whispered in a manner that let the saleswoman know that she was being called upon to perform no less than her ancestors on the beaches of Normandy had.
"England expects every Harrods saleswoman to do her duty," Trina said. "Come with me."
Another half hour later, Addison was pleased with the choice she had made. The gown was absolutely stunning. Trina was pleased that the government representative was happy with her work. Addison reached out and shook Trinas hand formally.
"Never has one agent owed so much to so few." Trina smiled in pride at the words.
"One last thing, Trina. Do you think I could get some fabric to match this dress?"
Trina considered the question. "I might have some that would match back in the storeroom. How much would you need?"
Addison calculated in her mind. "Three feet would do. I need a sash."
Marlene Tidwell had chosen a quaint teashop less than a ten-minute walk from the Generals home. The lure of freshly baked pastries and aromatic teas had tempted her the past two times she had walked by the establishment. It was traditional, typically British and the kind of place visitors to the Isle would find hard to resist.
Skyler and her mother stepped up into the teashop. Though it was winter, local city inhabitants still used the shop as a meeting place to gossip with friends and neighbours. Already inside were two elderly women, wearing thick winter coats and discussing a friends recent stay in hospital. The larger of the two, a woman with short, curly and blue rinsed hair had a small puppy upon her lap. She continuously stroked the chocolate brown canine as she and her friend conversed. Though there were only five tables in the shop, three were still empty. Skyler chose the table beside the window. Mother and daughter sat down, store brought purchases placed on the floor beside the window ledge.
From a small doorway, shrouded by a hanging beaded partition, a young woman emerged. Her mousy brown hair was held back in a tight bun and she wore a long white apron with lace edging. Noting two new customers she took her pad and pencil from a small waist high pocket and approached Skyler and her mother.
"Hello, darlings, what can I get you?"
"A pot of afternoon tea," Marlene replied. "I would also like a large fruit scone with clotted cream and strawberry jelly... I mean jam." Marlene looked to her daughter. "Skyler?"
Not quite knowing what to expect, but knowing she and her mothers tastes were similar, Skyler asked for the same. "But Ill have raspberry jam please."
"Ill be two ticks." The young woman ventured off with their order.
Left on their own Skyler traced her fingertip over the lacy design of the tablecloth and looked up at her mother. "Mom?"
Marlene looked away from her perusal of a table menu. "Hmm?"
"I want to ask you about Project Gemini."
"What is it?" Marlene placed down the menu.
Skyler paused before answering. She wasnt quite sure how she intended to deal with the issues she felt she had about her mothers project, after everything that had recently taken place. "Are you going to continue your work on Project Gemini?"
Marlene appeared confused by her daughters question. "Of course I am, Skyler. We cant stop the tests were doing. Do you know how close I was to creating a new drug for cancer patients? I have to finish this."
"But what about the Hyde application? I know you are contracted to work on both for the government, Mom. If you continue with this work, won't you still be in danger from terrorist organisations wanting Gemini?" Skyler had spent most of her early morning pondering over these thoughts and made a mental decision to talk about this to Marlene. Her concerns only deepened as time passed. Although Addison said General Blithe had begun an internal investigation into the possible traitor within MI5, Special Operations, while that person was still on the loose, Project Gemini was not safe and neither was Marlene or Skyler. "Mark has assured me security on the project has increased threefold. My team at this moment is being moved to a secured laboratory at Mindenhall RAF base." Marlene moved forward in her chair, crossing her arms upon the table. "Every precaution necessary to protect the sensitivity of Project Gemini is being taken."
"It still scares me, Mom."
"I know, Skyler, but " Marlene paused as their waitress brought a tray containing the tea and scones. After placing down their order Skyler and her mother were left alone. Marlene continued speaking. "I know youre scared but we are doing all we can. I cant just pull the plug on my project. The possibilities are endless."
Picking up the white china teapot their waitress had provided, Skyler poured her and her mother a cup of tea. Her thoughts mulled over Marlenes words. She didnt want to argue with her but Skyler knew she wouldnt feel content until the mysterious Dr Kleein was discovered.
"Lets just hope everything gets straightened out soon then."
"Yes." Marlene took a sip of her tea. "I have faith in Mark."
Skyler grinned. "Oh, Im sure you do, Mom."
"Skyler Tidwell, what exactly are you implying?"
The blonde held up her hands. "Nothing... please believe me, there are some topics I can do without getting a visual on."
"And I shouldnt take offence by that because?"
"Youre my mom!"
"Okay I can accept that. I had a mother myself too." Taking a bite out of her scone, Marlene thought back to that morning when she had picked her daughter up to go shopping. "So, tell me more about how things are going with you and Addison."
Back at Special Operations H.Q., Addison Black poked her head around the door to General Blithes outer office. Sitting at her desk was Antonia Bakersfield, diligently working her way through a computerised document. She looked up at Addisons voice.
"Addison!" Antonia looked past Addison to the garment bag she held over her shoulder. "Been shopping?"
"Just a couple of things." Addison held up a dark green shopping bag containing her sash. "Reminded me how much I hate it though."
"I could have told you that... how many times have I had to do it for you!"
"Good point." Pulling the garment bag from over her shoulder, Addison draped it over her left arm. "The General in there?"
Miss Bakersfield rose from her desk. "No, he went down to Samuels lab. Hes testing a new project. I was going down there myself if you fancy a butchers?"
Addison shook her head. "Youve spent way too long in the capitol, Miss Bakersfield. The first time I find you eating jellied eels Im calling for help."
Laughing, Antonia shut down her computer and approached Addison. The agent held out her free arm and Antonia hooked hers through Addisons.
"Escort you to Sams lab, Miss?"
"Thank you, kind maam." Antonia smiled as she and Addison made their way towards Samuels laboratory.
Within the closed confines of an elevator, Antonia lifted the corner of Addisons garment bag. "A dress? I thought you were wearing dress uniform?"
"I am. This is for Skyler Tidwell."
"Oh, I see."
The lift doors slid open and both women stepped out into the corridor towards Samuels testing facility. Smaller rooms to the left and right of them were empty. Addison realised it was likely all scientists were in with Samuel and the General waiting to witness the unveiling of Samuels new gadget. Of course, Addison was just as interest and sped up her gait to Samuels lab. She opened the door allowing Antonia to enter first.
Antonia smiled as she tucked a lock of long dark hair behind her ear. "Thank you."
They walked into the laboratory, instantly finding Samuels new source of attraction. Addison draped her garment bag over a nearby chair and placed the second bag on its seat. Addison approached the object, that although she considered visually stunning, she wondered what exactly it was. A crowd of men and women gathered around the attraction, General Blithe stood beside Samuel.
"Okay... youve got me," Addison called out. "What on earth is it?" She pointed to what she presumed was a helicopter only it held no rotating blades above and its whole shape appeared similar to that of a shark. Or possibly a whale, Addison thought. It was black, sleek and the windows were tinted dark and reflective.
"This is the first prototype," Samuel answered. He jotted notes onto a clipboard.
"A new type of transportation. It may take a few years before it can be used in the field but this is the first working model."
Addison stepped closer. Tilting her head she bent her knees slightly and looked underneath the machine. What she found were intricately constructed panels surrounding four circular funnels. They appeared no more than two inches thick and the approximate diameter of each was that of a dinner plate. The agent frowned.
"Whats it called?"
"Im calling her The Air Shark, Grava-Force PT1."
"Hmm concise," Addison commented. "And how does it work?"
"Dr. Perkins was just about to explain," Mark Blithe said.
Addison held up a hand. "Sorry." She mimed locking her lips together and handed the invisible key to Miss Bakersfield. The secretary took it and placed the non-existent object down into her cleavage.
"You know where it is when you want it."
Addison winked and nodded in amusement. She turned back to look at Samuel when an approaching figure to her right caught her attention. Addison looked to see Quinton Zimmerman stand by her.
"What are you ?"
"Dont want to miss the show now do I."
Addison rolled her eyes. "That reminds me. I have a bone to pick with you."
"Hey if its about the Spas, it was one of those freak happenings."
"Yeah, freaky I could have "
"Shhh," Quinton said, cutting her off. "Have to be quiet, remember?"
With Antonia to her left, Quinton to her right and Blithe and Samuel in front of her, Addison silenced in order to listen to Perkins presentation.
"Well guys and gals," Samuel began. "As I said I call this The Air Shark Grava-Force PT1. One day soon I hope it will replace the militarys current use of the helicopter. It works by a way of refracting with the earths natural magnetic core to lift it above the ground. A super silent engine pushes Air Shark across the sky at a current speed of Mack One. At the moment she runs on the usual jet engine fuel but I am designing a new type of engine unlike anything ever invented before." Samuel looked to General Blithe as though seeking permission to say more about that.
"What kind of engine?" Quinton asked.
Blithe nodded in affirmation but something in the eye contact between Blithe and Perkins captured Addisons curiosity.
"Well," Samuel began. "Im working on an engine that runs on a particular gas."
"What form of gas?" Antonia enquired.
"That is the amazing part." Samuels expression grew with excitement. "It will be initially powered by solar energy; then the use of a small capsule of the gas to start it up. This then turns to kinetic energy to establish the process of taking carbon dioxide out of the air and using that as a fuel. This pushes the machine through the atmosphere and the exhaust fumes released are nothing more than oxygen."
"Thats amazing," said Giles Philips, a Special operations agent.
"Incredible," said another.
Addison looked to Zimmerman who arched his eyebrows at her before asking Samuel, "And you have started tests on this?"
"Its in process."
The congregated group of scientists and agents seemed to hang on every word Samuel said. Addisons eyes scanned each face, suspecting that one of them was possibly their traitor and Agnes Brodies superior in the plot to steal Project Gemini. Turning her eyes to the General, Addison stepped forward and stood behind him.
"In ten minutes I shall be commencing the first low level test flight of Air Shark." Samuel grinned as his colleagues began clapping.
Addison tapped General Blithe upon the shoulder. "A word?"
Mark turned to the agent. "Of course, Addison." Side by side General and Captain stepped away from the crowd. Once an adequate distance away, Addison stopped. "What is it?" Mark asked.
"Thats what Im wondering." Addison replied. "An engine that runs on solar power, a gas capsule, kinetic energy and a conversion process of carbon dioxide to oxygen? Whats that all about? Is this even real?"
"Its parts of several ideas Samuel came to me with last month. All pretty much at the beginning drawing board stage but "
"But you hope to feed false information to our traitor to see if this data is used for personal gain or power play."
"Although Im conducting my own investigation, yes. Samuel came to me with the idea. It certainly won't do any harm."
"Yeah." Addison looked back to where Samuel, Quinton and Antonia stood off to one side conversing. "And what if Sams the traitor?"
"Ive not ignored that possibility." Mark pushed his hands into his pockets. "But Im exploring every avenue possible. Right now everybodys a suspect. Even one percent of me suspects you, Addison."
The agent shrugged. "Natural caution. Id say one percent of me suspects you too. As I know damn good and well it isnt myself, I feel like I should be offended you do suspect me but Im not. Everybodys a suspect." Addison looked back over at the groups of people. She scanned each one in turn until finishing with Sam, Quinton and Miss Bakersfield. "I know it isnt me and I only have a one percent suspicion its you or even Skyler Tidwell. Apart from that, I suspect everybody. I have to."
"What about Marlene?" The General asked.
"Im sorry, Mark, but to me she is a suspect too. What better way to regain control of her project than to take it underground? I mean did Brodie really know whom she was working for? Marlene disappeared from our secure lodgings just a little too easily." Addison turned from watching her friends back to Mark. "However, saying that, I still believe the traitor is here with us right now."
Mark nodded as they both looked back at the conversing scientists and agents. "So do I, Addison. So do I."
Just a short time now Dr. Kleein thought as the gloved fingers of the villain gently returned the sealed vial to its padded and secured nest. Getting the vial into the gala will be no problem for someone as smart as I am. Thoughts turned to how easy it had been to obtain the ricin that had been inserted into the tuberculosis mycobacterium. The right contacts with the right funding and you can get anything, even the world's deadliest poison.
Although not outwardly affluent, "Dr. Kleein" had combined a substantial inheritance with inside information and currently had amassed an impressive portfolio of stocks, bonds, real estate in many countries and cash. The doctor's real identity might be unknown, but the influence of the Kleein name was not.
Tonight the Hyde application of Project Gemini comes into full flower. Then I will be in a position to command the world's attention and destroy Addison Black and everything she holds dear. With that, the gloves were removed and preparations for the Special Operations gala begun.
Addison Black was removing her dress uniform from the protective plastic bag it had inhabited for the past few months. She remembered wearing it to Jimmy Easton's funeral, a far different occasion than this evening. I got my revenge for you, Jimmy. Agnes Brodie received exactly what she deserved and tonight I drink to her demise and your memory. No more bad memories though, Jimmy, because tonight I intend on making new memories. Very good memories with Skyler.
Addison lifted the green sash she would wear across the uniform, the decoration changing the somber nature of the garment to a celebratory one.
Yes, the good memories start tonight with her.
Skyler closed the door after generously tipping the delivery boy. The large box, clearly from Harrod's, was wrapped in the distinctive green color. She knew it was from Addison as the messenger had been fully screened and cleared by Security downstairs. Taking the large box to the kitchen table, she opened it to find a small white card. In a bold script it read,
This frock is very humble, but, like Cinderella, it would be transformed if you were to don it for the gala. Please wear it, Skyler.
Skyler spread the tissue paper to reveal a stunning emerald green gown with sophisticated lines and a daring neckline. Humble frock, my backside! Skyler knew high fashion when she saw it and the gown she held was as far from humble as caviar was from turnips. She brought the gown up in front of her, catching her reflection from the mirror situated on the wall across the room. Her breath caught at the sheer beauty of the garment.
Oh Addison, it's spectacular she thought. You are undoubtedly the most generous, most wonderful and most romantic person I've ever met. This dress is even going to outshine the one Mom picked out. I just love it she admitted to herself as she twirled the gown around the living room. I love the color, I love... The thought caused Skyler to stop her dance and look at herself in the mirror again.
Marlene was smoothing a fragrant cream into her skin after stepping from a rose scented bath mere minutes before. She hoped her hands would be replaced later by Mark Blithe's and a trail of gooseflesh lifted in the wake of her fingers.
The professor decided this special night was going to be even more special. Tonight she would go with her feelings and invite Mark into her bed and her heart. She had every indication and hope that he would accept. They had grown ever closer and she could no longer deny the powerful pull of the very attractive man.
She swallowed nervously with the revelation that she was on a path she had not taken in a very long time. She resumed applying the cream to her skin as she glanced over to the red dress she would be wearing to the gala. I hope you recognize the significance of the sash tonight, Mark, because I'm staking my claim on you. I think I'm about to give everyone the surprise of their lives at the gala.
Mark Blithe fumbled with the decorations on his black jacket, wishing for at least the tenth time that battle ribbons and medals weren't part of the dress uniform. Securing the last of them, he surveyed his work. Not bad for an old bachelor soldier he mused. He had never enjoyed official functions, but this time he looked forward to it with anticipation. He allowed himself the luxury of thinking about the ball ahead and pictured the scene of his triumph.
As he began to dress for the occasion, he frowned. Addison's comments earlier in the week about the traitor were disturbing. She was nearing the truth, he was certain and he had his suspicion that he was not immune to her questions. He would need to do something to turn her attention elsewhere, someplace more productive. The search for the traitor needs to be directed, and directed by me he thought. Maybe Miss Bakersfield can be of some assistance.
Antonia Bakersfield was leaning forward across her vanity table making little kissing motions with her lips and adjusting her lipstick according to the look she saw in the mirror.
Got to look my best tonight she thought as she slipped on her earrings. They complimented her choice of black satin gown perfectly. Im glad I decided not to wear my uniform. Im sure Addison will give me much more notice in this.
A large orange tabby cat leaped up onto the vanity and watched her mistress spritz perfume behind each ear, along her neck and into her cleavage. Antonia turned her head from side to side with an appraising look. Addison Black, youre in for a few surprises tonight. She rose from the vanity table and left her bedroom, picking up her evening bag on the way. Dropping in a few necessities, she checked her watch. Her escort for the evening, Quinton Zimmerman, was due to arrive any minute
In one of Londons innumerable black cabs, Quinton Zimmerman settled comfortably into the back seat. He was relaxed and confident. His target was in sight and he wouldnt let the night end without completing his mission. He gave an amused chuckle, earning him a glance from the driver in the rear view mirror.
Quinton glanced at the man and winked. Too bad you arent in my shoes tonight, mate, he thought. There will be a few raised eyebrows when I make my move.
As the streets slowly passed he reviewed the past several days. He had been impressed with the presentation he had witnessed regarding the new transportation device. He thought the invention could potentially be worth millions or even billions of pounds. It was a sum of money he wouldnt mind having at his disposal. Maybe Special Operations didnt know what a genius they had in Samuel Perkins, but Quinton did.
Samuel Perkins was extremely annoyed. Whether it was at Addison Black or her infernal tiny black menace, Spike, he wasnt sure. Once again Addison had expected him to baby-sit that spawn from hell, that terror with tiny teeth, the demon in a dogs body. Well, I am a respected scientist and government agent and its time everybody realized that. Its way past time.
Tonight Samuel had shed his role of Special Ops resident nerd and was resplendent in his uniform. Tonight Samuel was going to the gala and he didnt care who wanted their dog watched. Addison had found other accommodations for her mongrel.
Youve always underestimated me, Addison. Maybe tonight youll learn that was a big mistake.
Addison had made a big mistake and she realized it the moment Skyler opened the door. The gown she bought that she figured would compliment her lovers look did a lot more than that. The green dress gave an emerald fire to Skylers eyes and the plunging neckline gave an ample view of the blondes assets.
Addison swallowed thickly, unable to tear her eyes from Skyler. If Skyler noticed the stare she said nothing about it. Actually she might not have noticed because she was completing a visual survey of her escort at the same time. It was Addison who first snapped back to the realization that they were staring at each other through an open doorway.
"You look stunning, Skyler, absolutely beautiful." The tone of the agents voice left no room for doubt that she was speaking her very thoughts. Skyler blushed, both pleased and a little embarrassed at the compliments.
"I dont know if you can call a Soldier beautiful when she wears her uniform, but if you can, she is."
Addison smiled at the slightly awkward comment.
"Your carriage to the ball awaits, Madam," the agent said gallantly as she offered her arm to Skyler. It was as the arm was extended toward her that she noticed the sash slashing diagonally across Addisons chest.
Skyler stopped as she was just about to step out the door.
"Your sash " she said and then faltered as she remembered the conversation with her mother a few days before.
Addison looked down at the sash then back at Skyler.
"Yeah, quite the coincidence the dress and sash being the same color. Its almost like it was planned." The American nearly believed Addisons innocent expression until the agent winked at her.
The romantic gesture touched Skyler deeply for a reason she couldnt name and she moved forward a few steps to plant a light kiss directly on Addisons lips. The Brit raised her eyebrows, but was obviously pleased by Skylers response.
"What was that for?" Addison asked.
Skyler reached back to pull the door shut and slipped her arm through the agents. "Nothing, just a small preview of the real celebration after the ball."
Addison smiled in surprise as Skyler tugged her down the hall.
It was only half an hour journey to the secure location of the gala. Starting at half past eight, all guests were expected to arrive at least twenty minutes before hand. Addison had left to pick up Skyler with plenty of time to spare. The young doctor had pre-warned her that she needed time to get ready. Addison had simply rolled her eyes neglecting to mention it would probably take her the same amount of time to prepare herself. She had a reputation to maintain after all.
Sitting beside Skyler in the back of their chauffer driven Rover, Addison observed the scenery as their navy car steered its way towards the galas entrance. Feeling the car begin to slow, Addison turned to Skyler. Once again she acknowledged how stunning the doctor looked. She smiled as Skyler looked at her.
"Are you ready?"
"Well," Skyler pondered the question. "Yes, although Im still not completely sure what to expect."
Addisons features twisted to an ironic smile. "Ah, you know... your typical military bash. That is unless we do get a couple of posh-knobs attending; then you throw in a bit of pomp and pretentiousness for good measure." Addison looked out through the drivers window to where uniformed and civilian dressed guests were entering a highly guarded building. "There will be a high level of security due to recent eventualities. The P.M. was said to be attending but I was told that had been cancelled. Ive heard no different so far."
"Thats a shame," Skyler remarked. "I was looking forward to meeting your uncle Tony."
Addison grinned. "Some other time?"
Skyler nodded as their car pulled up outside the entrance. Addison opened the door. Climbing out of the car she walked around the Rover and opened Skylers passenger door. "Maam."
"Thank you." Skyler slipped effortlessly out of the car and Addison pushed the door closed. With a proud smile the soldier held out her arm and Skyler hooked her own through it. They turned to face the building. It was a relevantly new structure; built in the early sixties and owned by the government. Standing on only two floors its slightly weathered brick structure had been painted a bright white. Addison could tell a fresh coat of paint had been applied within the last fortnight.
Ascending six steps, Addison and Skyler approached an arched entrance. Two soldiers stood either side of the door and just beyond that stood a third soldier holding a list of guest names. Addison took an I.D. wallet from her pocket.
"Captain Black and guest, Skyler Tidwell."
The young officer, although he knew Addison, checked her identification against the guest list. "Welcome to the festivities, Captain. You are some of the last few to arrive."
"Thanks, Miller." Addison led Skyler over to an identification gel pad; it was very much the same as the one that allowed access to her armoury back at home. She pushed her fingertips into the electronic print register and then urged Skyler to do the same. "Its just a log to record the entrance and exit of all guests for the evening."
Skyler pushed her fingers into the device and slid her tips onto its copying pad. It was cool against her skin. She saw a red light move down the screen, recording her prints. "Do you have to do this at all army functions?"
"No," the soldier replied. "Just MI5, Special Operations, especially function guests." They began walking together down the wide, maroon carpeted corridor. "Believe it or not, there are surveillance devices all over Special Ops. They are often a lot harder to locate than you would realise. At the moment we have fingerprint and retinal scans but General Blithe is waiting approval on some new inter-monitoring equipment."
To further improve the security Mark Blithe had began proceedings to install a new form of security device. Samuel Perkins had recently designed and built a working model. It was a system incorporating voice and implant recognition. Every operational agent within MI5 that bore an implant would be monitored, even within head quarters itself.
Stopping in front of a set of wide double doors, decorated with the Regimental Crest, carved into old English oak, both women could hear soft music and conversation from within the main ballroom. With a feeling of anticipation, Skyler looked to Addison. The soldier smirked, the right side of her lips quirking upwards.
"Ready for a night to remember?"
"Bring it on," Skyler replied.
Addison nodded as she pushed the doors open onto a night neither of them would ever forget.
Almost the size of a soccer pitch, the ballroom was a hive of festivities. Upon a small stage at the front of the room a regimental band played easy listening music. In one corner a disc jockey station had been set up for late night dancing. Before that was a large dance floor on which several groups of people conversed. The remainder of the room was filled with circular tables; each one draped in maroon cloth and set ready for dining. A vase containing a single, fresh rose stood centre display upon each six-seated table.
Like the stereotypical German said to claim their sun-bed with a towel, so Addison knew Mark Blithe would claim his table in a similar way. Remembering his preference for front centre, Addison scanned the first row of tables. Sure enough she saw the Generals large coat draped over the back of a chair. Not more than ten feet away stood the man himself, conversing with Marlene Tidwell and Major Thompson.
"I suppose were somewhere over there," Addison acknowledged as she began leading Skyler towards her mother and the General. They got less than half way before a tall striking man with dark brown hair and eyes stopped Addison. Flecks of grey peppered his temple, making him appear older than his years.
He held out his hand to Addison. "Congratulations on the Israel Operation, Black. I heard your completed your mission to destroy Agnes Brodie once and for all. Wish I could have been there to see that."
Addison shook his hand. "Thanks, Brian. It was well overdue."
Brian Cooling, also known as S.O.7, was an ex desert rat. He lived and breathed the military. Though it was common for operatives to have very little ties, Brian Cooling took that to the extreme. Upon first joining the army he had cut off all links with civilian life and made the military his world. He lived in the Barracks and socialise only with fellow soldiers and agents. Addison occasionally wondered what Sergeant Cooling would do when age led to his departure from the service.
"Congratulations to you too," added Addison. "Blithe said you retrieved the Defence Data Files without detection and police capture." Addison looked to Skyler then back at the Sergeant. "Brian I would like you to meet Doctor Skyler Tidwell... Skyler this is Sergeant Brian Cooling."
"Hello," Skyler greeted, shaking Coolings hand.
"American," Brian said, and then realisation dawned. "Tidwell... oh of course. Your mother must be the professor with General Blithe I assume."
Skyler looked over to where her mother remained beside Mark Blithe. "That would be me."
Brian smiled charmingly. "Its a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, you too," replied Skyler, though there was something about the man that made her feel a little uneasy.
"If you will excuse me. Im making the rounds and theres a certain person over there," Brian pointed to Samuel Perkins standing in the far corner of the room beside an exit sign, "I need to speak to. Catch you later," he said as he made his way towards Perkins.
Addison and Skyler continued to make their way through the groups of soldiers. There were nowhere near as many civilian dressed bodies. Even those without uniform were in some way involved with Special Operations in a high-ranking position. It was doubtful Skyler herself would have been allowed access to the knowledge of Special Operations if it were not for her mothers work and Brodies supplied information of the clandestine network.
"Ive a question," Skyler said.
"Why would what Brian was doing possibly land him in trouble with the police?"
Addison stopped walking. "Ah, well you see " She thought for a moment on how best to explain their situation. "Sometimes our assignments can be targeted at people who appear to be living within the law. We can know differently. In order to carry out our mission it may involve entering a situation that is quite literally considered breaking the law." Addison thought of a non-related example. "For instance, it could involve breaking into the residence of a high profile establishment to gain access to illegally held information. There are many situations where we just cannot admit or provide any knowledge of who we work for. In fact, if we did, our time in the army would be denied or the military would even say a soldier was given a dishonourable discharge years earlier, rather than admit to any knowledge of our actions. Quite simply, we could and would be sent to prison under justified laws."
Skyler was less than impressed. "Thats way too harsh; all for serving your country? How can you work under so many possible threats?"
"Because we all believe what we are fighting for is the right thing. Far more good is done to want an end to Special Operations, Sky."
The doctor wasnt convinced with Addisons reply. She held little doubt what Addison said was true. What she did believe, however, was that Addisons motives might hold different undertones of reason. "That may be true, Addison, but I have a feeling the guilt you still feel for your youthful misdeeds still pushes you to work selflessly for the good of others now. There are people today, even kids, who get up to a lot worse than you ever did with petty theft."
"Maybe," Addison replied. "Youre right, I know, but as long as I believe what Im doing is right, then I shall continue." The soldier pondered her response. For the first time she felt she had another person to consider in her actions. "Does um does it bother you? I mean I know how you felt about your dads line of work and his death... I..."
Addison turned to the direction from which her name had been called. Quinton Zimmerman approached, Miss Bakersfield on his arm.
"Youre a dark horse," Addison said to Quinton. "I didnt know you two were going together."
"I would ask if you were jealous but I think we both won out on this one." Quinton took Skylers hand and kissed it. "Its a pleasure once again Miss Tidwell. Nice to see you under less tense circumstances."
Skyler beamed. "You too, Quinton." She looked to Miss Bakersfield noticing the curious appraisal she was being given. "Um Addison?"
Being jolted back into remembering her manners, Addison spoke up saying, "Skyler Tidwell this is Miss Bakersfield, Miss B... Skyler Tidwell."
The brunette shook her head. "Antonia please," she said to Skyler. "This one is always called me Miss Bakersfield... unless she wants something." Antonia winked. "Anyway, Im the Generals Assistant."
The women shook hands as Skylers eyes took in the slinky black dress Antonia was wearing. It was satin and low cut, hugging her figure in a very flattering manner. Her look was finished off beautifully with a unique necklace. Black and green, round cut stones lay around her neck, resting delicately over her collar bone and joining with a square cut black stone just above her breast bone. Skyler also noticed earrings that matched.
"Thats an interesting necklace you have," Skyler complimented.
Antonia ran her fingers over the stones. "I know its amazing what you can find in a charity shop. Its only costume jewellery but I thought it would go well with this dress. I just had to find the right occasion to wear them."
"Oh I know what you mean. I have done the same thing," Skyler admitted. "I found a beautiful bracelet at a back street bazaar in Egypt. It was second hand but in astounding condition."
"Egypt!" Antonia gushed. "What a place to shop. I wager that was a wonderful place to find interesting bargains and peculiar finds."
"I found the most beautiful woven bed spread while in Cairo," Skyler continued.
"Thats it," Quinton interrupted. "If you two are going to talk shopping all evening Addison and I are going to prop-up the bar."
Antonia held up her hands. "Subtle hint taken. Besides, if you are going to the bar you can buy me a stiff one!"
"Its free, remember?" said Addison.
"Oh of course. Well in that case Ill have two!"
Quinton chuckled as he led Antonia towards the bar. Skyler watched them leave with a smile. She knew she would be meeting many of Addisons friends and work colleagues. So far they had all made varying degrees of impression on her. However, the underlying fear that one of them may well be the unknown Dr. Kleein was never far away from her mind. It did serve to bother her a great deal, especially considering this person had ordered her death, but Skyler knew she couldnt allow it to cloud her evening. She had Addison and her faith in the agent was immeasurable. They had both agreed, on their car journey to the gala, not to allow remaining issues mar their enjoyment of the night.
"So " Addison turned to Skyler. "Are you feeling okay so far?"
"Im doing fine. Looking forward to a fun evening and then maybe a very enjoyable night?"
"Ooh!" Addison took a step closer to Skyler and slid one hand around her waist. "You read my mind." She leaned in further to kiss Skyler. Their lips connected for a soft, brief moment; just enough time for one set of eyes with malicious intent to capture their act.
Skyler heard the distinctive sound of her mother calling her name. "Mom!" the blonde said, making an expeditious turn away from Addisons tempting lips.
"Honey, you look beautiful." Marlene looked her daughter up and down. She ran a hand over the fabric of Skylers dress. "Very soft!" Marlene looked to Addison. "A good choice."
"Thanks Prof Marlene."
Mark Blithe nodded at Addison. He took her arm and pulled her to the side while Skyler and her mother spoke. They stood close to talk quietly.
"Security seem efficient to you?"
"Id say." Addison looked around them. "How many do you have posted?"
"Three on the door, four outside, six located inside the building plus an extra five here as guests."
"Final guest amount?"
"Ninety six. All arrived and accounted for as well." Blithe nodded with satisfaction. "Everything is going to plan and running like clock work. Your presentation is to be held at eleven. The waiters begin serving dinner at nine oclock. People are already beginning to take their seats."
Addison looked around her and sure enough tables were being filled. Each setting was allocated with a nameplate and there were six seats to a table. Ignoring the knowledge of her forthcoming presentation she asked, "Where are Skyler and myself sitting?"
"With Marlene and myself, of course." General Blithe inclined his head to their table where it was already occupied by two bodies. "And Major Thompson and his wife."
The agent groaned. "Ugh not Miss Majorette. That woman barks out orders more than you."
"Well be nice," Mark reprimanded playfully. "Dont go feeding her any fairytales this year about suspicious extraterrestrial, U.F.O. sightings while on night watch as a young marine."
Addison had to chuckle. "You were trying not to laugh as well."
"Yes, but you didnt have Major Thompson asking you why his wife had developed such a sudden interest in Astronomy. She spent almost eleven hundred pounds on a telescope."
The soldier burst out laughing as General Blithe checked his watch. Right on schedule a bell sounded, giving everybody fifteen minutes to get seated before dinner was served.
"Come on," Addison said. "Lets get the food out of the way so we can start the D.J(.), and get in some dancing."
Mark followed Addison to their table. "Just for the record, Addison. Im on to you this year. Ive remembered to make sure there is no Birdie Song, Aga Do, Superman, Conga or The Okey Cokey tunes in the mix, so there is no way you are paying off the D.J. to play one of those embarrassing songs when I agree to get up and dance."
"Damn it," Addison said. "I suppose you had to get me eventually." The soldier crossed her fingers as she tapped the compact disc tucked into the waistband of her trousers. Got to move with the times, she thought, making a mental note to hand the disc, she had made the day before, over to the D.J. Should I go with The Macarena, Addison pondered, or go full out and shock them all with The Gang Bang song? Addison chuckled mischievously to herself as she followed Mark to their table. She always made sure to have a night they would all remember. Unfortunately, this time it was no longer in Addisons hands.
Dinner, as always, was a plentiful affair with four delicious courses. An option of three dishes was available for each course and all had been pre-chosen through invitations. As was usual, Addison found the dinner to be far too much. Through the course of many years her body had re-conditioned itself to survive and function with the small, nutritious meals soldiers often ate in the field. Addison did sample each course brought before her but she never completed a dish. Instead the agent chose to talk while the other members of her table continued to dine. She entertained them with amusing stories and proceeded to further enthral Mrs. Thompson with tales of a pilot friends mysterious sighting while on a routine night flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh. Mark Blithe had simply shaken his head in controlled amusement.
By the time desert was ready to be served, Addisons appetite had taken a sudden growth. Not in the least hindered by the added three glasses of wine she had consumed, the soldier readied herself as a chocolate cheesecake, tiramisu and fruit crumble were placed upon their table.
"Bugger me!" Addison exclaimed. "Choices, choices. Which one to try first."
"Which one?" Skyler said in bemusement. "You no more than picked at the other three courses. Were you just saving yourself for desert?"
"Well not really." Addison studied the dishes before them. "But look at the options. So people," she addressed the other occupants of her table. "Tell me now which one you are all least likely to eat because I love them all and could do serious damage to any one of them." She sensed Skyler sidle up beside her.
"Personally," Skyler started in a low voice. "Im having wonderful visions which include that chocolate cheesecake but dont include you and clothes."
The soldier swallowed a sudden lump, which had unexpectedly formed in her throat. "Umm "
"Marlene," Mark enquired. "What would you like?"
Marlene pursed her lips. "Im not that fussy. What are you having?"
Mark checked his watch. "I dont generally eat deserts... besides it is five minutes past eleven. I think I should get up there and start my speech. I dont think anybody will mind if it is during desert. Although these functions can go on until four or even five in the morning, only the trouble makers," Mark nodded towards Addison, causing her to stop munching on the flake of chocolate she had picked from the cheesecake decoration. "Stay until the end."
"What exactly are you implying?"
Mark shrugged. "Oh nothing, Addison."
Addison leaned to her side, towards Skyler. She spoke in a low voice but loud enough for Mark to hear. "Sometimes I feel I should trust him as far as I can throw him."
"Dont you mean could throw him?" Major Thompson asked.
"Oh no," Blithe answered. "She means can throw. During a game of Rugby not very long ago, I made the mistake of opting to play on the opposing team in a friendly match. We got involved in a rough tackle and Addison wasnt too happy about losing the ball. She tackled me back for the ball and sent me flying. Ive only just got rid of the cane I was walking with."
"Use dirty tactics to get the ball and so will I to win it back."
"It did make me remember a very important fact."
"It did make me remember a very important fact."
Addison frowned. "Which is?"
"Its better to be fighting with you than against you," Skyler guessed.
General Blithe tapped the side of his nose then pointed to Skyler. "The lady is spot in. Its much safer to stand with you than against you."
With a shrug Addison swiped her finger through the corner of the tiramisu. "Its not that Im a sore loser. I just dont like to be beaten!"
Marlene arched her eyebrows and smiled. Chuckling lightly she began to cut the cheesecake.
"Look at the time," Mark commented as he checked his watch once again. "I need to get up on the stage." The General rose to his feet. "Be ready for when I call you, Addison." Giving Marlene a loving smile, Mark walked away from the table. Samuel Perkins stopped him halfway on his approach to the stage. Addison watched their conversation for a brief moment before a tap on her shoulder diverted her attention. She turned to see one of the immaculately dressed waiters, clothed in black and white, standing beside her.
"Captain Black?" The young man asked.
"Captain, you are wanted at the front security desk. There is an Agent Alon Yamburg who is asking to see you urgently. Corporeal Miller wouldnt allow him passage as his name isnt on the guest list."
"Really?" Addison asked, more surprised to hear Alon was here than she was that he hadnt been allowed admittance to the gala. "Okay, Im coming." Drinking down the remainder of her wine Addison turned to Skyler. "Im wont be a moment." Rising, she followed the waiter out of the ballroom.
A feeling of foreboding settled into Addisons mind. She wondered what possible reason could Alon have for travelling all the way from Israel to speak with her. Why not a phone call? Something was wrong and she knew it. Her instincts were never wrong. Walking through the doorway and turning to the security room, Addison could see Alon standing beside Corporeal Miller. Her feeling of dread increased as she took note of Alons agitated stance and concerned expression. Addison increased her stride, eating up the distance between her and the Mossad agent in seconds.
"Alon, nice to see you, but whats going on?" she asked cautiously.
"Addison, my friend. We have to talk urgently. We discovered some alarming information while continuing our own investigation into what happened in Israel."
"You have been conducting an investigation?" This was something Addison hadnt been made aware of.
"Of course we have," Alon, replied "Do you think my government was happy when they discovered what had been going on?" Alon looked around him. Two soldiers were still within hearing distance. "I need to speak with you alone."
Nodding, Addison said, "Okay," and led Alon into a small security office. A teak table stood by the wall and Addison sat upon its edge. She was anxious to find out what it was that seemed to concern Alon so much. Whatever it was, his uneasy disposition was beginning to rub off on her. "What is it?"
"Addison, I believe you still may be in serious danger."
"Through my investigations I managed to discover the full name of the mysterious owner of the compound Brodie was using." Alon handed Addison a sheet of paper. "His name is Dr. Tobias F. Kleein. Is that name familiar to you? At all?"
Addison studied the name, shaking her head. "No, not at all. Never heard of it." She tapped her lip as her mind tried the possibility of another anagram. Going through every colleagues name she could think of, including, Mark, Quinton, Antonia, Samuel and Marlene, Addison came up clueless. Not one name she tried seemed to fit into the name of Dr. Tobias F. Kleein. "I dont know, Alon. This name means nothing to me at all. I just " Addison ran a hand through her hair; the soft locks trickling through her fingers. "Dont know."
Alon sighed. "Okay. Anyway that is not the worst of the information I must deliver to you."
"Not the worst of it? What else do you have for me, Alon?"
"I came here because I wanted to see you in person. I didnt want to risk speaking with you over the phone or leaving a message. I needed to speak with only you, Addison."
"When I landed at Heathrow this evening, I received word from my superior. Addison we recently apprehended a man suspected of illegal weapons trading. He tried to make a deal with a promise of information. Basically, I discovered hed put a Sadie Bregon in contact with a scientist who supplied her with a large quantity of the poison Ricin."
"Ricin?" Addison asked in elevated alarm.
"Yes. He said he was put into contact with Sadie Bregon through a Dr. Kleein. He worked for her through the duration of Agnes Brodies time in Israel."
Addison blew out a strained breath. "Jesus. Ricin is one nasty bugger."
"Its a good job I destroyed that place because I "
"Addison," Alon interrupted loudly. "At first I didnt know whether I could believe his information. Then he told me something I could verify myself."
"He said he was paid to take a delivery from Kleeins compound to a courier at the airport. He said he drove a food delivery truck on the morning of the day you destroyed the place. Addison, I witnessed the vehicle leave that morning. He described it to me perfectly; it was a vending machine supply truck. He certainly was there that morning, Addison. Everything fits."
The feeling of dread, Addison experienced upon hearing Alon had come to speak with her, increased ten fold. She took a deep breath. Needing to be sure she was on the same wavelength as Alon, she asked, "Exactly what is it you are saying?"
"Im saying Brodie sent out a vial of the bacilli before you destroyed the compound."
"Fuck oh, fuck!" Addisons heart rate increased and she rose to her feet as the implications of Alons words sunk in. A vial of Geminis Hyde application had left Israel? That information was only half as alarming as was the fact that they had used the well-known, deadly poison Ricin. It was a poison for which there was no cure for its deadly effects. "Jeez, Alon, do you know what you are saying? Do you know what this means?" Addison headed towards the door and then stopped. She turned back to Alon. "Were in the middle of a dinner for gods sake. Almost a hundred guests, not including the band and waiting staff."
"Exactly," Addison replied. "Kleein is here. I know it, Alon. I just know it." Addison opened the door swiftly. "Corporeal Miller?"
"Call the guards in from off the door."
"Goff Murray," Miller shouted. The guards appeared in the doorway before him.
Addison took charge. "We may have a possible threat, men. I need you to alert the troupes on guard outside. We might have a situation here, guys. I dont want anybody leaving this building, at all. I need you to make sure of that. Tell them to make sure nobody gets in or out of here and anybody seen within the vicinity, whether they seem suspicious or not, I want them detained. Understand?"
"Yes, Captain Black." Both men left to follow Addisons orders. The soldier turned to Miller.
"Has anybody left the building since all guests arrived?"
"There is a very real chance we may have a traitor here tonight with a highly contagious chemical weapon. An air-born variation of the poison Ricin with the contagious ability of tuberculosis."
"Captain, is that "
"Possible? Yes. We need to "
"Corporeal Miller, come in." Goffs voice sounded through the radio attached to Millers hip.
Corporeal Miller answered, "Roger, Goff."
"Captain Black needs to come out here right away. Weve located the soldiers on guard. Theyre dead. Gunshot wounds."
Addison took the radio from Millers hand. "All of them?" she asked.
"Shagging hell." Ignoring common sense, that stated she should stay within the building, Addison ran from the security office, needing to see the bodies for herself. "Stay there, Miller," she ordered as she ran down concrete steps. Alon followed her, turning right and following her around to the side of the building. They spotted Goff standing by the far exit. He was illuminated by a green light and Addison could clearly see two bodies slumped together upon the ground. She jogged towards them.
Looking down at the bodies she said, "Kleeins here, Alon. Damn it." Addison paced around the bodies seeing Miller standing further away with a body either side of him. "Shit!" The agents mind wandered back to Skyler and the festivities commencing in the main ballroom. "Ive got to get back in there." Addison took off again. "You two guard the back exits," she ordered. "Alon, come with me."
Running around to the entrance, Addison took the six steps two at a time. Miller stood dutifully by the door awaiting orders.
"Dont let anybody in or out of this door, got it?"
Addison and Alon ran back into the main ballroom, slowing down as they entered the doors together.
"Ah... and just in time," General Blithe said. He stood on centre stage, a microphone resting lightly in his hand. He placed it back upon its stand as he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, fellow officers..." he held out his hand, "Captain Addison Black."
Addison looked around her as the occupants of the ballroom began to applaud. Heart hammering in her chest, the agents eyes moved around the guests faces, trying to ascertain who may be currently missing. There were too many to accurately determine. Addison turned to Alon. "I have to go up there. We know nothing, okay? I dont want to cause any alarm. Not yet anyway. Nobody can leave here until we access the situation."
Taking a deep breath, Addison turned back to the applauding room of guests and began making her way to the stage. As she wove her way around the tables she passed Skyler. Their eyes connected, the doctor seeing something hidden behind Addisons façade. Skyler clapping slowed, her eyebrows drawing together. Addison smiled reassuringly but Skyler wasnt convinced.
Reaching the stage, Addison stepped up to the platform. She approached Mark and shook his hand. The applause continued. Addison looked out among the sea of faces. She tried once again to gage any form of suspicious action. Alon walked around the edge of the room, watching the guests.
As the applause died, General Blithe began to speak. "Captain Black, in a career that so far has spanned almost thirteen years, your record has been exceptional. In working for the Military and Ministry of Defence you have successfully completed your missions gallantly and with honour."
Addison felt awkward standing in the spotlight. Her only thought was to get off the stage and find Dr. Kleein. Four men were already dead. She didnt have time for this but what concerned her more was the fact that she wasnt sure whom she could trust.
"Now although usual ceremonies of this kind are held at Buckingham Palace, circumstances, and the nature of our work make that impossible. So instead, we are here today to honour you with not one but two medals... for gallantry and distinguished conduct."
Addison looked at Mark, stunned by his revelation. Her main concern was whether the presentation of two medals would take longer than one. The soldier tried to smile and appear surprised but on looking back at Skyler she saw the same confused expression. Kleein was out there, probably watching right now, one step ahead of her. She felt her anger rise.
"So in respect of the situation and resolution of your mission... here today to present you with these medals is the wife of the soldier whose life was taken so tragically and before his time... by the very person you dealt with and put an end to "
No! Addisons eyes widened. Not Jenny. Not now.
"Jennifer Easton," Mark introduced.
Feeling the situation couldnt possibly get any worse, Addison scanned the room until she located Jenny Easton climbing the steps to the stage. James Eastons wife smiled proudly. She looked well, Addison acknowledged. Her red hair was cut into a short bob. She had put on some weight, filling out the fragile frame Addison had been concerned about after James death. The pressure to find Dr. Kleein increased with the guilt ridden realisation that she had already been the cause of Jimmys children losing their father; she would be damned if anything happed to Jenny as well.
The applause continued and Addison looked across the room to Alon. The Israeli Mossad agent maintained his position by the far exit. She looked to Mark Blithe and for the first time the general seemed to register something of concern etched into her features. He frowned, giving her the same look Skyler was.
Jenny reached Addison and they hugged affectionately.
"I didnt know you were even here," Addison said.
"It wouldnt be a surprise otherwise. They kept me hidden."
The applause finally stopped and Jennifer stood in front of the microphone. She spoke softly. "I know Im not as prestigious as the Queen presenting these medals but I was asked and am honoured to do so. Captain Black Addison you brought to justice the person who took my husbands life." Jenny paused and took a breath, gaining hold of her emotions. Addisons mind felt swamped with frustration and the urgent need to flee the stage and find Kleein. The terrifying knowledge that Gemini might very well be in the room with them, hung over here like a pressurised weight.
Jennifer continued. "So it is my honour to present you with these medals." Blithe handed her two cases, each approximately the size of her palm, and open portraying the medals. "For distinguished service and gallantry... myself and more importantly, your country thank you, Captain Black, for your service and loyalty to the realm."
Applause echoed out once again as Addison accepted the medals with one hand. She hugged Jenny and shook Marks hand, knowing she would have to make a short speech. She needed to get off the stage as soon as possible, but knew she had to act as calm and clueless to the events that were unravelling around them.
As the guests calmed, Addison stood before the microphone. "Im not going to draw this out. Im sure you all want to finish your deserts and abuse the free bar!" She continued to scan the guests and officers through their light laughter. "I just want to say that what I do is nothing more than is in the hearts and minds of everybody. No matter what situation we hold in life we all take chances. Its just that some of us get more recognition than others. So saying that... I dedicate this honour to everybody who stands for what is right in this world."
Again applause rang out through the room and Addison decided that was her cue to depart the stage. With a smile and slight nod, she placed her hand upon Jennys back and escorted her from the platform. Walking beside Jennifer she led her straight to the table in which Skyler, her mother and the Major were occupying. People began talking quietly amongst themselves and the D.J. started a simple melody.
Addison addressed Skyler. "Sky, I need you to look after Jenny for a while." She turned to James wife. "Can you stay at my table? You dont have to leave just yet do you?"
"Of course I can and no I dont have to leave yet." Jenny sat in Addisons abandoned seat. The soldier made to leave the table when Skyler stopped her.
"Addison, whats going on?"
Addison looked around the room. Alon was no longer standing by the far exit. In fact, she could no longer see him at all. "Sky, Ill explain in a moment. I have to go and check on something."
"Somethings happened," Skyler insisted. "What is it, damn it?"
"Look " catching a movement in the corner of her eye, Addison looked to the exit and saw Alon slip through the doors. He made clear eye contact with Addison and beckoned her over. "Listen Im going over to the bar. Im going to be speaking with Alon Yamburgh "
"Alon?" Whats he doing ? Addison?"
"When he leaves me alone at the bar come over to me, okay?"
"Okay but "
"Act like everything is cool." Addison smiled. "We are having a good night, remember?"
Although she was still confused and concerned by Addisons actions, Skyler nodded. She took the boxed medals Addison handed her and kissed the agent softly. "Everything is okay."
"Good... Ill speak to you in a moment." Winking, Addison wove her way back around the tables and left the room through the main entrance. She knew Alon would meet her around the back of the ballroom. Sure enough, she headed down the corridor and turned right to where Alon was waiting for her by the ballrooms far exit.
"Where the hell did you go? I asked you to stay by the exit." Addison didnt want to consider the possibility Alon may be the enemy.
"I went to Corporeal Miller and got us a radio each from the security office. Now we can keep in touch with the men outside as well as Miller. Weve altered the frequency." Alon handed Addison a tiny transmitter, earpiece and voice sensor. The soldier slipped the transmitter into her breast pocket. She placed the, practically invisible earpiece into her ear and clipped the microphone to the inside of her shirt collar.
"Okay... good idea," she acknowledged. Watching Alon activate his own radio, she contacted the men outside. "Goff Murray whats your status?"
"All is quiet this side," Goff replied.
"Same here Captain," responded Murray.
Corporeal Miller answered saying, "Nobody has attempted to leave, Captain Black."
"Roger that." Addison placed her arm over Alons shoulders. "Okay buddy, lets get back in there and act like were having a good time."
"How are we going to figure out who Kleein is?" Alon asked. He entered the ballroom with Addison and they walked directly to the bar.
"I have that in hand. Trust me, Alon." Taking a seat at the bar, Addison ordered two double shots of Jack Daniels. A barman, dressed identical to the waiters, handed her the order and Addison pushed one glass over to Alon. She waited until the server left before speaking. "Alon, I want you to go back out into the foyer. Check the rooms down here and then upstairs. Are you armed?"
"No " Addison looked across the room. She could see Skyler watching her. "Ill meet you in a moment. First of all I need to work out exactly who Kleein is."
"Okay, my friend." Alon rose from his stool and picked up his glass. Speaking in a louder voice he said, "And congratulations again, Captain Black."
"Thanks, Alon." Addison turned to the bar as the Mossad agent disappeared from the ballroom. She looked down into her glass, swirling the dark, amber liquid around the container. Who are you, Dr. Kleein? What do you have planned? Addison looked up and into the mirror behind the bar. She could see Skyler approach. The doctor sidled up behind her, placing her chin on Addisons shoulder.
Maintaining an outer image of calm, Skyler asked, "What is it, Addison? Youre making me nervous."
"Im sorry." Taking Skylers hand Addison ushered her around to sit down upon Alons vacated stool. "Sky " Addison peered around them. There were far too many people around to risk speaking with Skyler about the situation when she wasnt sure what her reaction would be. Addison rose. Drinking down her whiskey she leaned into Skylers ear. "Come with me."
Skyler was confused by the seductive tone in Addisons voice. "Pardon?"
Taking the blonde doctors hand Addison pulled her to her feet. Maintaining eye contact with a secretive smile, Addison led her out of the ballroom. The soldier walked backwards until she hit the bathroom door. Pulling Skyler inside and after checking to make sure it was empty, Addison turned to Skyler.
"Sky... there is no easy way to say this Dr. Kleein is here."
"Kleein is here. Ive just discovered a vial of Geminis Hyde application made it out of Israel before Brodies compound was destroyed."
"What?" Skyler placed a hand over her chest, hoping she was hearing wrong. "Are you sure?"
"Of course. Weve already discovered four soldiers killed outside."
Skylers heart rate increased as sparks of alarm shot to her nerve endings. "No! Oh my God. Weve got to warn everybody. Weve got to evacuate."
"No!" Addison placed her hand on the bathroom door, slamming is shut as Skyler tried to open it. "We dont know who Kleein is. Causing any degree of alarm could either force Kleein to release the bacilli ahead of any pre-arranged plan and infect us all... or it will help Kleein to escape with everybody else. Four soldiers are already dead. We have to figure out who Kleein is."
Addison took the paper Alon had given her from her side pocket. "This is the full name of Kleein. Its Dr. Tobias F. Kleein. Ive tried all names I know but cant find any that fit... I was under the impression that it was another anagram like Sadie Bregon but I think not."
"Maybe." Skylers sharp mind studied the name. "Youve tried all names of the people you suspect?"
"Even General Blithe?"
"Mark, Quinton, Antonia... even your mother." At Skylers surprised expression Addison added, "I have to be thorough. The trouble is that Im not seeing a thing. There is nothing. If the name isnt an anagram what is it? Sky, youve met a lot of people here tonight. You have one of the best analytical minds Ive ever known. You read people instinctively. I need your input on this... and fast."
Skyler placed Addisons sheet of paper down beside a sink. Her eyes moved swiftly over the letters, her subconscious mind working to decipher Kleeins name as she spoke "Miss Bakersfield lied to me." She didnt look up from her analysing.
"She lied. The necklace she was wearing it certainly wasnt costume jewellery. In fact, even her dress was "
"Hold on," Addison interrupted. "What are you saying?"
Skyler continued to study the name. "Im saying I know gems. Her necklace was a truly beautiful combination with a stunning contrast of black and green gems. But Addison, those green stones were emeralds and the black stones were diamonds." Skyler looked up at Addison. "Black diamonds; the most rare of diamonds you can find. Serious money."
"The type of money you dont earn working as a Generals assistant?"
"Try top billing movie star or monarch of the realm. Addison, they are priceless. Lord only knows how she got a hold of them."
Addison rubbed her chin, blowing out a weary breath through her lips. "How can you be sure they were really gems?"
"I know a diamond when I see one. I studied them in Amsterdam at a cutting factory. Addison, those stones werent costume jewellery and they arent a television shopping channel imitation."
The agent began pacing around the bathroom. She strode up the walkway, past a row of green doors on either side of her. Walking back to Skyler she stood by the exit just as it began to open. Addison thrust her hand onto it, slamming the barrier shut. "Theres been an accident... you have to use the rest room upstairs," she called out. Keeping her hand upon the door, Addison stared into space and thought for a brief moment. She looked back to Skyler. "That isnt enough evidence."
"How about Toni Bakersfield?"
"Kleein," Skyler answered. "You never got Miss Bakersfields name because you used Antonia. If you shortened it to Toni Bakersfield you get Dr. Tobias F. Kleein."
Addison snatched the paper from the tiled surface of the vanity unit and mentally re-arranged the letters in Kleeins name. "Fuck me!" Her mind drifted to snippets of conversations shed had with Antonia. Questions the secretary had asked. Who else had more access to General Blithes information, intimate knowledge of Special Operations and more importantly, Addisons career history? "Bloody hell." Addison took Skylers hand. "Weve got to warn the General." They fled the bathroom, making a beeline for the ballroom. "Ive got to find her, Skyler. Shes combined Gemini with Ricin."
"Ricin! Addison thats deadly."
"And if its released we are dead." With added urgency Addison burst through the doors desperate to locate Mark Blithe.
Within the main ballroom the lights had been lowered and music increased in tempo. Uniformed officers had discarded their jackets to the backs of chairs and loosened their collars for comfort. It was time to have some fun and many guests were taking advantage of the fact. Already, a quarter of the rooms inhabitants had migrated to the dance floor. A well-known, top forty hit was playing and the atmosphere was one of relaxed enjoyment.
General Blithe sat beside Marlene at their table. They spoke in raised voices, trying to be heard over the music. Mark, too, had abandoned his jacket. He sat, pleasantly relaxed, tapping his foot to the beat. The night had been enjoyable. Dinner was superb as always and his companion had been, wonderful, Mark thought, beautiful and wonderful. He leaned close to Marlenes ear.
"Im not expected to stay through the whole bash," he said.
"Really?" Marlene replied, a smile brightening her features.
The General nodded. "Just let me know when youve had enough and I " Mark took Marlenes hand, kissing it softly, "will escort you home."
A pleasant shiver tickled Marlenes senses. "Well actually "
"Blithe, my god man!"
Mark looked to his left finding Major Thompson beside him. The Majors ruddy complexion and handlebar moustache was his long time trademark. His cheeks had turned a little too flushed from over-consumption of alcohol and Mrs. Thompson had decided her husband had enough for the evening and was going to take him home.
"Major," Mark greeted, disappointed to miss the rest of Marlenes words.
"Want to fill me in on whats going on? We just went to leave but your man on the door said we werent permitted, orders from Captain Black. Do you know something I dont?"
Blithe appeared confused. "Not permitted to leave? No, I have no idea what Addisons up to."
From the other side of the room Addison had seen General Blithe and Major Thompson converse. With Skyler beside her, she approached their table swiftly, desperately needing answers. Skyler scanned the room as they went. She was unsure whether she wanted to catch a glimpse of Miss Bakersfield or not. Within the throng of dancers she could be lost in a sea of moving bodies.
"General," Addison greeted.
"Addison, just the person I was about to look for. Would you mind telling me ?"
"In a moment, Sir. I have an important question I must ask you first."
Mark was intrigued but concerned by the looking in her eyes. It was the same expression she held upon the stage only now there seemed to be more urgency in her mannerism. "What is it?"
"Have you seen Miss Bakersfield?"
"Its important, Sir."
Simply by the sheer fact Addison was addressing him in such a respectful manor, Mark knew she was serious. "Yes I have seen her. The poor thing accidentally knocked a glass of tomato juice down her dress. She was so upset. Something about Tabasco sauce staining? Hell if I know but anyway, she just went to change into something a little dryer. They have spare server suits here. I think she was donning a waitress skirt and blouse."
Addisons eyes connected with Skyler briefly. "And Quinton?"
Mark nodded to the dance floor. "Living it up with Samuel, Kate, Jenny and a few others. Samuel had been looking for you but Kate lured him onto the dance floor."
The agent leaned into General Blithe. "Mark, I need to speak with you right now. Dr. Kleein is here. A vile of Geminis Hyde application left Israel. It contains Ricin. I believe the intention is to, at the very least, use its release here tonight as a threat for some form of gain. That is best case scenario."
Mark looked at Skyler. Fear was easily evident in her eyes. He shot to his feet and turned to Marlene. "I want you to stay here. I need to attend to a matter with Addison." He looked to Skyler. "Will you stay with your mum?"
Skyler sat down beside Marlene. "I need to speak with her, yes."
"Bare with us," Mark said to Major Thompson before charging off with Addison. They exited the ballroom. "What arent you telling me, Black?"
Addison directed General Blithe to the security office. "Evidence points to Antonia, Mark."
The general paused mid-stride. He was silent for several moments as Addisons words registered in his mind. "Antonia!" He sighed; a pained expression twisted his features. "Youre sure?"
Commencing walking, Blithe increased his stride as a flash of anger coloured his cheeks. Addison led him to the security office. Pushing the door open she stopped in her tracks, Mark walking into her.
"What are you ?" Marks words froze as he discovered what Addison had found. Lying in the middle of the room was the lifeless body of Corporeal Miller. Addison crouched to her knees and checked his pulse.
"Hes dead." She checked over his body. "Two shots to the chest. His weapon is missing as well."
Blithe picked up a phone. "I need to issue a warning and declare an emergency. Anti-contamination unit will need to be alerted and dispatched."
"Mark, we cant risk alerting Kleein err Antonia to the fact we know whats going on. We cant risk making her panic and act before she has a chance to put whatever plan she has into action."
"Ill advise caution and discretion." The general began dialling a secure line "Worst case scenario, they need to section this building off under quarantine." Blithes call was answered. "This is General Blithe "
Addison stepped across the room. "Worse case scenario, we all die." Placing her finger on her ear Addison said, "Murray, come in, this is Captain Black "
There was no reply.
"Come in Goff, this is Addison Black."
Again there was no response. The agents concern began to grow. With Miller dead and no response from either Goff or Murray, there didnt seem to be anybody guarding the exits. With faltering hope, Addison called one more time."
"Alon, hey man its Addison." The soldier waited but again there was no response. "Alon, please come in Alon? Alon?" The transmission was dead. "No!" Addison pulled the transmitter from her jacket. Raising her hand she made to throw it across the room but paused just short of releasing the radio. "Bugger it. Fuck it. Fuck it. No, damn it!" Addison dashed towards the door. "Im going to find Antonia."
Mark placed down the phones receiver. "Addison," Bending down he took the radio from Miller. "Dont get rid of your radio. I want you in contact with me."
"Got it," Addison said and left the room. Looking both ways the soldier headed up the corridor. Reaching a small hallway to her left she turned down the narrow passageway, with two doors. The first door was a side entrance to the kitchen. A surveillance of that room resulted with little findings. Addison tried the second door. It was a utility room. Two silver, industrial washing machines stood side by side. Spotting a slip of black material, Addison pulled it from the top of the closest appliance. Instantly she recognised it as Antonias dress. The scent of tomato juice and Tabasco was strong. Addison scanned the room for any further clues. After finding nothing she continued her search for Antonia. She headed to the main corridor and towards the rear of the ground floor where she came across the ladies and gents toilets. Addison checked inside both rooms. Entering the gents she stopped short of walking fully into the room as she saw Brian Cooling standing at a urinal.
"Oh, Brian, sorry, I was just looking for " Addison poked her head further into the toilet. All the stalls were empty; Brian was its only occupant. "Nope okay carry on." Addison made a swift exit, leaving Brian watching her departure with a suspicious glare.
A wide set of stairs stood beside an elevator. Ignoring the lift, Addison opted for the steps. Taking the maroon carpeted stairs two at a time Addison reached the second floor, arriving in a seating area. Six black, leather sofas were strategically placed around three glass top coffee tables. Reproduction prints of Moet paintings adorned the walls reminding Addison of a students dormitory room. The agent ventured towards a shorter corridor. A set of double doors to her right led into a smaller function room. To her left was another door, the entrance to an informal meeting room. Addison slipped inside. Though she could hear music coming from the ground floor ballroom, on the first floor it was calm and relatively still. Many of the main rooms were shrouded in a blanket of darkness. A dull light came from under a second door in the meeting room. Addison knew it was an office. Moving as silently as possible the soldier crept towards the light. She held her ear by the door, listening for movement. Not hearing a sound, she peered through a gap between the door and its frame. Alarm shot through her as she spotted a hand lying upon the floor. Recognising the wearers watch Addison pushed the door open urgently. There, upon the floor, Addison found Alon lying in a pool of his own blood. One arm lay strewn above his head.
"Alon!" Addison knelt down beside him. A quick survey of his body found two bullet wounds; one in this thigh, the other in his ribcage. "Al, man, Im so, so, sorry." Addison attempted to stop the blood flow. She placed her hand upon his side, applying pressure to the wound. Warm, sticky blood oozed between her fingers.
"Addison," Alon whispered.
"Alon! Stay with me, okay?"
"Shes here " The Mossad agent coughed and a flash of pain racked his body. "Get her."
"You dont go anywhere okay?" Addison pulled off her jacket. She draped it over Alons body. "Stay with me, Alon."
Alon nodded weakly. "Ankle," he whispered in a rough, strained voice.
Unsure what he meant, Addison frowned. "What do you mean?" Looking down she inspected his feet, seeing nothing, but she reached down none-the-less. Lifting his left trouser leg to check his ankle, she discovered what Alon was referring to. Strapped to his ankle was a small pistol. She pulled it from its holster. "Ill be back, okay? Hang on." With a final look of assurance Addison rose to her feet and left the room. She wiped her bloody hand on her dark dress trousers and gripped Alons pistol.
Making her way back to the hallway Addison began a vigilant trek down the corridor. She changed her mind to a frame of logical thinking. If Kleein did want to release Gemini into the atmosphere, what would be the best way to accomplish that? Air conditioner! Addison thought.
Having utilized the function building many times before and having attended several meetings within its four walls, Addison was familiar with its lay out. As such she made a beeline straight towards the female toilets. Addison knew the main unit for the system was located and contained within a small room that was only accessible through the female bathroom. Light shone from around the doorframe. That was nothing conspicuous in itself as all bathrooms were in use during any gathering.
Feeling her feet slightly slide underfoot, Addison looked to the ground. Though the carpet, like throughout the buildings main passageways, was maroon, a dark contrast of blood was highly visible. Addison realised at least one body had been dragged into the bathroom. A dark trail led from the doors of the second, smaller function room. The agent presumed it had been one of the guards Blithe had placed within the building for the evening.
Addison placed her ear to the door and listened carefully. A sick feeling of anger curdled her stomach at the thought of what the traitor intended to do. Addison found it difficult to acknowledge Antonia as Kleein. She hoped she was wrong, however unlikely she knew she would be.
From inside the bathroom the agent heard definite movement. Harsh breathing was clear, as was the sound of metal clanking against metal. Steeling her resolve and readying the pistol Alon had given her, Addison pushed the door open. With no handle the green barrier was a simple swing door. Addison thankfully acknowledged the hinges didnt squeak with movement.
The first sight Addison happened upon was a haphazardly deposited pile of bodies. She counted five in total. All but one of the bodies were soldiers, who had been on guard that evening, and all had been shot in the chest. It would have been easy for the traitor to incapacitate them if they knew and trusted their assailant. Two of the bodies were women and Addison realised one was still alive. It was her breathing that had echoed from within the room.
Placing her forefinger upon her lips, Addison whispered, "Shush!" She then pointed to the open door at the far end of the bathroom. The female soldier nodded.
Addison looked down the rectangle room. Seven blue toilet doors lined each side. At the end of the room several dispensing machines faced the open door to the air conditioners maintenance room. Pointing her gun towards the door, Addison walked forwards. She was careful not to make any sound, leaving bloody footprints in her wake. The soldier slowed her breathing, finger poised upon the trigger. She drew closer knowing the inhabitant inside the cupboard would soon be visible. There was only just enough space for one person to stand. Gradually the infamous Dr. Kleein appeared. A mane of think dark hair came into view and Addison knew instantly it was Antonia. She was dressed almost precisely as Addison had expected in black trousers and a white button down shirt. A handgun was tucked into the back of her belt. It was Alons, the pistols make was that of the Israeli governments standard issue.
Short, sharp beeps came from the unit, as to Addison, appeared Antonia was programming its computer. The units casing had been removed and it was, at that moment, powered down. The soldier realised, with sudden impact, what Antonia intended to do. She planned on programming the air conditioning unit to come on after she had left. Three fans, fairly close to each other, were inside the main chamber of the unit. When the air conditioner was timer activated, the fans would start and presumably release Gemini into the circulating air. After that happened Addison didnt know if there was any known antidote. There sure wasnt a cure for Ricin, but Skyler intended to ask her mother about that side of her work, if it existed.
"Dont move, Antonia."
The woman froze. She seemed to ponder Addisons words before slowly turning around. "Wonders will never cease," she said. "The great Addison Black does actually remember my name after all."
Addison looked down at Antonias hand seeing the pistol, complete with attached muffler, aimed at her. "Its over, Dr. Kleein! Drop it."
Antonia gave a smile, oozing with self-importance. "It will soon be over and dont worry, I intend to drop it and when I do, you will all drop like flies little, weak, pathetic flies."
Disturbed by Antonias almost random sentences, Addison asked, "Why? Why are you doing this?" She didnt understand what could and obviously had turned Antonia against her country in such a vile, hateful way. "How can you do this?"
"Why? How? Addison, tell me. How would you feel if your career had been taken from you by some fuck ups stupid mistake? Forced to take a desk job. Not able to do anything more than sit there and watch others LIKE YOU succeed."
"But nothing what do you do? Sit back and swallow the bitter pill you are given? Thats what I could and was expected to do." Antonia scratched her temple with the extended barrel of her gun. "But I didnt. I still crave the danger and excitement. Who wouldnt? I mean, surely you can understand. This way not only do I get that but I also get tons of money as well. This little demonstration of Geminis capabilities is going to earn me over two and a half million pounds."
Both women continued to aim their guns at each other.
"And the safety of this country the lives of possibly thousands if not millions of people? That is worth the money?"
"The myths a lie, Agent Black. Money can buy you happiness." Antonia ran her fingers over her emerald and diamond necklace. "It can buy you lots of happiness."
Anger rising, Addison directed her gun to Antonias head, the secretary mirroring her action. "I hate to be a kill joy and all but I have to end that. Tell me, Antonia, wheres Gemini?"
Antonia shrugged. "That should be the least of your worries."
"What do you mean?"
"What do I mean?" Antonia pretended to ponder her question. "What do I mean? Well put it this way Ive been up here far too long now. My mans going to know somethings fallen foul if I am behind schedule. I had to be prepared for any eventuality. Tell me, Addison. Was Brodie right in saying Miss Tidwell holds a special place in your heart?"
A cold chill of fear slithered down Addisons spine. The urge to run back to the ballroom slammed into her instincts but she remained standing. "Hand over Gemini."
"Youre not worried about Miss Tidwell?"
"Give it to me, Antonia. While you are still able to do so."
Antonia knew Addison wasnt bluffing. "Alright... alright." She held out her hand. "Slowly, okay?" Slipping the free hand into her trouser pocket she withdrew holding a slim black case. It was the approximate size of an executive pen case. "Here you go." She placed the case upon the floor and slid it across the ground. It hit Addisons boot. The agent bent down cautiously, gun still trained upon Antonia as she picked up the container. Using her thumb the soldier flipped open its lid. It was empty.
"What the " Addison looked up finding Antonias wickedly grinning face.
"Oh, Im sorry I forgot Ive already planted it."
From the bodies upon the floor Addison heard the unexpected voice of the female guard she had encountered upon entering the bathroom.
"In the unit " she forced, out causing Antonia to growl with anger. She spun around ready to fire a final shot into the woman, but as she began to squeeze the trigger Addison fired, shooting the gun from her hand. Sparks fluttered around them as the bullet hit metal and the pistol flew from her hand, hit the wall and dropped to the floor. Its clatter echoed around the sanitary walls of the bathroom. Addison aimed her pistol back at Antonia.
"Look what we have here!" The soldier grinned. "Now hand over Gemini."
"You really dont get this do you, Addison!"
"Get what? That you are an insane, money hungry bitch. Dont worry, Ive figured that out."
Antonia shook her head. "No, no, no Im talking about the initial motivation." She took a step closer. "It was you. It was always you, Addison. I despise you." Antonias eyes took on an icy glare. "You have EVERYTHING that should have been mine; just because I lost my hearing in ONE ear?" Again Antonia stepped closer, shocking Addison with her venomous words and raised voice. "You get the action, adventure, glory, and the fucking medals. I am better than you. I have always been better than you but have I ever been allowed to prove myself? No."
"Look, Antonia," Addison said calmly. "Im sorry fate dealt you such a shitty card but how can you say this is anybodys fault?"
"You would say that considering its yours."
"Then explain to me how."
"Youre an S.O. Agent Im an S.O. GOD DAMN secretary. While you sharpen knives I sharpen pencils." Antonia moved ever closer. She didnt stop until her chest pushed into the barrel of Addisons gun. "While you terminate an enemy I cancel an appointment. You travel around the world; I drive to work every day the same boring route. It should have been ME."
"Antonia, Im sorry the way things turned out but that isnt my fault. It isnt anybodies fault."
"You have everything you want, Addison." Antonias words dripped with resentment and sarcasm. "I offered you me but you didnt want that did you. Not good enough, huh? Damaged goods."
"You " Addison paused. She refused to believe Antonia started all of this simply because she had turned down her advances. As far as she was concerned, it was all innocent flirting. Antonia wasnt going to blame Addison for her own misdeeds. "You have nothing left, Antonia, get down onto your knees, hands behind your head."
Shoulders slumping in defeat, Antonia said, "Theres no use anymore. The air conditioning should come on any second now. You wont detain me. I would rather die and I will."
Shocked by her statement, Addisons eyes switched to the air conditioning unit. It was a brief moment but enough time for Antonia to make a move. She knocked Addisons gun away from her and struck the agent hard across the face. Lip catching upon a tooth, blood flew from Addisons mouth. Antonia kicked her hand and she dropped Alons pistol, feeling a bone break in her little finger. The ex-marine attack didnt last long, however, as Addison struck back with several moves of her own. Punches were traded and blocked until Addison lashed out with a kick to Antonias stomach, knocking her to the floor.
Once Antonia was down, Addison ran to the air conditioning unit. She looked inside, spying the sealed glass vial. Within the vial was another container, a misty coiled glass tube containing Gemini. Addison reached into the unit swiftly. She slipped her hand between the fan blades and grasped the vial. Her nerve endings were alight with sparks of nervous energy as she prayed the programmer wouldnt automatically start the fan. So easily she would lose her fingers.
Addison pulled the vial out. With the deadly container in her hand she turned back to Antonia. The brunette stood by the door, gun aimed upon Addison.
"Tell me, Agent Black, what do you hold most dear to you?" With those words Antonia fled the room.
Addison looked around. Locating her weapon she retrieved it speedily and followed Antonia back out into the corridor. She heard footsteps descending rapidly down the stairs and took chase. Addison looked over the banister.
In reply, Antonia fired several shots up the winding steps. Addison darted away from target and continued the chase; within her left hand Geminis Hyde application and in her right, Alons pistol. She reached the bottom step and Addison saw the back of Antonia disappear into the ballroom. She followed, running as fast as she was able.
Bursting through the double doors, Addison stopped dead in her tracks. She hadnt been aware of when it happened but the music had died and the entire room was in silence. Her first sight was that of the guests standing on the dance floor. They stood in silence, hands upon their heads. Secondly, Addison realised Antonia really did have a partner. Brian Cooling stood atop Blithes table. He held a sub machine gun aimed towards the crowd. Antonia was situated to the side of the crowd, away from them. She held Skyler with one arm around her chest, a gun pressed against her temple.
"You must both be sick of this by now," Antonia taunted. "Drop the gun, Addison. Now."
Addison did so, immediately. "Let her go, Antonia."
"Oh um no. I want a trade."
Shaking her head the agent wrapped her hand a little tighter around Gemini. "No way."
Switching her hate filled glare from Addison, Antonia spoke calmly to Skyler. "Are you willing to forfeit your life for Gemini?"
"If I have to," Skyler replied confidently. She felt too much anger at Antonia to feel fear.
The brunette smiled. "Your faith is misplaced. Let me try something else." Antonia looked over to the crowd of guests. At the front of the group, standing off to one side, was General Blithe, Marlene and Jenny. "Brian," she called.
Brian smirked at Mark before replying, "Yes, boss?"
"Aim at the mother."
"No!" Mark ordered.
Brian shook his head at the General and aimed directly at Marlene.
"Please no," Skyler pleaded.
"Antonia!" Addison loosened her grip on Gemini. "Lets talk about this."
"Now you want to talk?" Antonia turned her focus back to Skyler. "Would you beg for your mothers life? Would you beg for Addison to hand over the vial now?"
Skyler looked at her mother. Marlene trembled noticeably but she shook her head. The blonde turned to Addison. She gazed deep into her eyes, desperate for help. "Please dont do this."
"Wrong answer," said Antonia.
With a flick of her wrist, Antonia turned her gun onto Marlene. She fired two shots into her chest then switched the gun back to Skyler.
"NO!" Skyler screamed. "NO MOM, NO!"
Shrieks echoed from the sudden hostages as they scattered to the far walls and stage.
"MARLENE," Mark called as he caught her falling body
"FREEZE," Brian yelled at the guests and they did so immediately. "Next person to move dies."
"NO ANTONIA YOU " Addison seethed with anger, "YOU " At a loss for words she clenched her fists, feeling powerless in the face of Skylers heartache.
The blonde cried helplessly. Tears of fear and overwhelming grief fell from her eyes. She sagged against Antonia, despising the woman behind her yet unable to gain the strength to fight against her captor. Her eyes remained fixed upon her mother who lay lifelessly upon the floor. Mark crouched above her, pressing his hands upon the wounds but blood pumped freely from severed arteries. Skyler attempted to free herself, needing to help her mother but Antonia held her firm.
"Mom," Skyler cried. "How could you?" She sobbed to Antonia. "How could you?"
Addison breathed heavily, her chest rising and falling as she controlled her desire to charge Antonia. She felt helpless, impotent in the face of such evil. The soldier thought rapidly.
"Fuck you, Antonia," Addison said, shaking her head. "You want Gemini? YOU CAN HAVE IT!" With bubbling rage she threw the vial across the room towards Antonia. Addison knew Skylers life would momentarily become of no importance as Antonia focused on the vial... and she was right. Pushing Skyler to the side, Antonia reached for Gemini. At the same time, and with a roar of rage, Mark leapt to his feet and charged Brian, taking him completely by surprise as he watched the events unfolding between Addison and Antonia. It was too late for the traitor to act as Mark knocked the table from beneath him and Brian fell to the floor. Glasses smashed and plates clattered upon the floor. Mark Blithe was upon him.
Vaguely aware of Marks attack, Addison unleashed her own upon Antonia. She launched herself across the room before Antonia could react. They came together in a blur of fast, violent blows. Punches traded; kicks delivered.
Addison took Antonia by the collar and threw her against the wall. She flew over a table, rolling over its top and onto the floor where she hit the bottom of the wall. Addison jumped up over the table to Antonia. She took the ex-marine again, lifting her from the floor and holding her against the wall. Both their weapons had become lost to them, scattering in opposite directions across the ground as they fought.
Taking the hand holding Gemini, Addison thrust it against the wall, never forgetting the potentially dangerous capability of the bacilli. Although it was strong glass containing Gemini, it was not unbreakable. Addison never forgot that as she delivered a chain of bone breaking punches to Antonia. The soldier weakened her immensely until she was able to pry her fingers away from the vial. She placed the glass tube lightly between her teeth and then threw Antonia over another table. The brunette collided with an assortment of glasses and bottles of wine before hitting the floor.
All around them people scattered, running from the room. Mark Blithe had gained the upper hand over Brian, and was binding his hands together behind his back. Skyler bent over her mother. Though she felt a faint pulse, there was no response from Marlene.
Sensing Addisons approach, Antonia tried to shake her dazed mind. She spotted the soldiers gun and lunged upon it, jumping to her feet as the agent neared.
"Stop," she seethed, blood spitting from her mouth as she spoke. "Screw you, Addison. You may think you have won this round but now you die." Antonia saw movement to her side. Mark attempted to reach for Brians sub machine gun but he froze as she said, "I wouldnt if I were you, Mark. You let me leave here and I let Addison live."
"No deal," replied Addison.
"I DIDNT ASK YOU," screamed the brunette. "Mark?"
A sudden and disturbing thought occurred to Addison. "You wanted to be caught, didnt you? I mean, why else would you anagram the name?"
"Very clever, Addison. Of course I wanted to be caught. How else was I supposed to get out of the miserable situation my life was in? Brodie left behind a large pair of shoes and I intend on filling them." Antonia turned from Addison. "Now stop stalling me, Mark. I assume you will make the right decision."
Mark shook his head and said, "No."
Antonias eyes widened then she smiled with a blasé air. "Okay, fine." Pulling the trigger, she fired at Addison. A shot ricocheted across the room, followed by three more.
Addison lurched as pain stormed through her body. She grasped the side of her stomach, warm blood flowed again between her fingers, only this time it was her own. Looking back in shock, Addison stared at Antonia. The brunettes face was feral yet stunned. Her demeanour seemed to calm abruptly. She smiled and blood seeped past her lips like flowing wine. Her body crumpled and she fell to the ground. Behind her stood Skyler, the brunettes smoking gun still grasped within her hand. She stared down at the lifeless body of Antonia Bakersfield.
"Sky?" Addison whispered painfully.
"Moms dead," The blonde replied hollowly.
"No." Rushing back to Marlene, Marks composure shattered as he fell to his knees beside her body. He swept a hand through her hair. "Marlene no." A chocked sob erupted from his throat as he broke down and cried.
Amongst the commotion around them Addison attempted to walk to Skyler. The blonde doctor seemed lost in a haze. She staggered half way before her knees buckled and she fell to the floor, landing on her side. Tears of excruciating pain stung her eyes. She felt faint, light headed and distant.
It was at that moment Skylers foggy mind cleared. The gun fell from her hand as she spotted Addison. "No Addison not you too." She ran to the agents side, dropping to the floor and cradled her head. "Stay with me, Addison, please."
Addison smiled. She attempted to raise her hand and handed the vial over to Skyler, wrapping her hand around the blondes, sealing Gemini safely between them. "I love you," she muttered as she slipped into unconsciousness.
"No " Skyler cried. Her head fell to Addisons chest completely unaware of the men, dressed in full protection suits, charging into the ballroom. Pressing her hand to the agents wound she sobbed hot, salty tears. "Dont leave me, Addison, please," she begged. Upon the floor beside them, Skyler saw Addisons medals. Splashes of the agents blood covered both of them. Squeezing her eyes shut tight, Skyler held Addison close and whispered, "I love you too."
Two months later
In the converted lighthouse on Cornwalls rugged coast, Spike danced outside the bedroom door. It had been several hours since her mistress had disappeared inside with the blonde woman and the tiny black dog was getting desperate for a visit outside.
It was only impeccable training that assured Spike had not had an accident up to that point, but even the best-trained animals had their limit. She stood on her hind feet and pawed rapidly on the thick oak door emitting a low keening whine. The door flew open suddenly and Addison appeared pulling a black shirt on as she emerged.
"All right, all right, Spike I hear you. Im sorry, girl, I know youre desperate for a waz, so lets get going." The small dog led the way to the door leading outside and sat waiting patiently as Addison disabled the alarm and allowed the mongrel the freedom she craved. As Spike galloped happily along the cliff top stopping occasionally to mark her territory, Addison settled on the top step and reflected on the events of the previous two months.
Her recovery from Antonias nearly fatal gunshot was painful and laborious. There had not been a time previously when the agent had come so close to losing her life, even in the most pitched battle. She remembered the searing agony she had felt as the traitors bullet entered her flesh and very little else after that. She pieced the story together from snippets Mark Blithe, Samuel, and Quinton Zimmerman had given her. They told her how Skyler had fired the fatal shot into Antonia Bakersfield after her mother had died in her arms and Addison was about to be her next victim.
Addison marveled at, and would always be humbled by, the knowledge that a woman like Skyler, so previously unsure of her ability to kill was prompted to defend a woman such as herself to the death. Through a dim fog Addison thought she recalled confessing her true feelings just prior to slipping into unconsciousness, but she could not be certain. Perhaps it had only been wishful thinking. Certainly when Skyler had arrived back in England a scant week ago, no mention of love had been made just as there had been no mention of it when Addison had regained consciousness in the hospital.
It had been understandable, at that time, that Skyler was still in shock from the loss of her mother; the last blood relative she had left and Addison felt that it was no time to push Skyler for a commitment of any kind. Only days after regaining consciousness Addison held back the tears as Skyler said goodbye to join Mark Blithe in returning her mothers body to the States. She was to be laid to rest beside her father. Though Addison understood the necessity of the action, she had never felt more alone in her life.
Several weeks had passed, but as Addison recovered her physical strength her emotional strength dwindled as she received only short mails and truncated phone calls from the American. Just as Addison despaired of ever seeing Skyler again, a messenger had arrived with word that she was returning to Britain with General Blithe and wanted to see her immediately.
That had been a week ago. Addison remembered their meeting very clearly. Mark Blithe had delivered Skyler to Cornwall personally, but he slipped away again with barely a word to the agent and only a cryptic comment to Skyler about checking into "the matter we discussed". Addison hadnt asked what the General meant as the blonde had flown into her arms causing most rational thought to flee from the Brits mind; the few days since then had been spent in each others arms finally and fully recovering from their separate wounds.
Spike broke into Addisons thoughts with an excited yapping as she raced toward the lighthouse steps. The agent didnt need to be told Skyler had joined her, as this was Spikes reaction anytime the American was in her proximity.
"Spike, youre such a fickle little tart. You used to only respond to me like that. Now it seems youve developed quite an affinity for my overnight guests."
"And how many overnight guests have there been since Ive been gone?" asked Skyler as she handed the agent a mug of tea and sat next to her on the step. Addison recognized the heavy olive green, cable knit sweater that Skyler wore as one of her own from her days in the Marines. As the blonde leaned her head against the agents shoulder, Addison answered her with the honesty that had become the hallmark of their relationship.
"Theres been none but you Skyler and if you leave there will never be one again." Skyler started at the words and drew back to look into Addisons eyes to look for the truth in them. The unusual combination of Addisons eye color did nothing to disguise the fact that her words were sincere and heartfelt. Skyler hesitated only a moment, drew in a deep breath and addressed the agent.
"Addison there are a few things I need to talk to you about, but it had to wait until today. I needed to wait until a few things were settled before I felt confident enough to speak to you about us." Addison was concerned, but knew she could do no more than listen to what the American had to say.
"It was the most difficult thing I had to do, going home and laying my mother to rest. If Mark hadnt been with me, I might have fallen apart completely. With you in the hospital and having had such a close call with that traitor, I wasnt sure if I could go through losing somebody I loved like I lost my father. I know that every time you go out on a mission that possibility will always exist." Addison felt a chill pass over her heart. Spike, sensing her mistresses discomfort, clambered up the lighthouse steps and settle into Addisons lap, placing her small muzzle on her thigh. Automatically the Brits hand moved to stroke the scruffy black fur.
Skyler continued. "I knew right then, standing at my fathers grave that I had a serious choice to make. It was either accept and support your work in any way I could or cut myself off and lose the woman that I love forever." Addison glanced up anxiously into Skylers green eyes.
"You do love me then?" Addison asked softly.
Skyler smiled, "I would think my being here with you would have answered that question, but yes, Agent Black, I do love you with all my heart." Just as Addison would have replied, a low tone was heard coming from the watch on her wrist.
"Damn this new technology of Samuels! Ive been waiting for the new communication device to activate and I might have known the timing would be this rotten. This had better be important or there will be hell to pay," Addison said as she rose, tucking Spike under one arm and draping the other over Skylers shoulder. "Come on, you might as well see the rest of my little hideaway."
Addison led the way through the garage, setting Spike down to process herself and Skyler through the security system, allowing their admittance to the armory. Addisons watch beeped insistently again as they made their way over to the recently installed equipment, placed there by Perkins a mere two weeks earlier. Spike contented herself with slipping in behind her two mistresses and returning to the large bone she had left there for safekeeping and began to gnaw on it with gusto.
Flipping a short series of switches, the image of General Blithe appeared on the satellite videophone. "Addison! Good to see you looking so chipper! I suspect the lovely Doctor Tidwell has had something to do with your improved appearance and enhanced recovery." He smiled. "Good to see you again, Skyler. Ive missed you."
"I missed you too, Mark. I dont think I could have handled the trip home under the circumstances if you hadnt been there with me to lend your support and keep me apprised of Addisons hospital course everyday." The Brit was amazed. She had felt unremembered and a little neglected, but now she was learning that Skyler had known everything that was happening with her during her return to the States.
"It was my pleasure, Skyler. You are much your mothers daughter and she was a remarkable woman. I well, I I shall miss her very much." Addison looked down as Skyler took her hand and squeezed it, seeking strength from the agent that she was most willing to give.
General Blithe cleared his throat and composed himself. "I have been doing some research into your request Skyler and with my contacts in the government and within S.A.S. itself, I am now able to give you news regarding it."
Addison glanced at Skyler but the Americans full attention was on the image of General Blithe. "What is the decision, Mark?" she asked anxiously.
Mark opened his mouth to reply but Addison had stood by long enough without knowing what was going on. "Hold it, Mark! What are you two going on about? What request and what decision? I have a feeling this is going to concern me in some way and I think I have the right to know what is being done without my knowledge. Now, who is going to enlighten me?" She moved her glance from Mark to Skyler and then backs again.
The general shrugged. "No need to get up a head of steam, Addison. This whole business started on the plane ride from London to the States. Neither Skyler nor I felt much like sleeping so we talked. I complimented her on figuring out the anagram of the name Tobias F. Kleein and also for spotting the jewelry that didnt fit in with Miss Bakersfields story. Skylers capacity for knowledge is quite extraordinary." This was not news to Addison and she nodded at the generals observation.
"Skyler was very worried about you, Addison, and she commented more than once that she wished some of the knowledge she has picked up over the remarkable course of her studies would have done you some good prior to you being nearly well, severely wounded by that demented traitor." Addison looked again at Skyler who now had moisture collecting in the corners of her green eyes.
"If I had lost you, Addison " she began.
"You didnt and you wont," the agent replied with conviction. "Ever."
Mark cleared his throat and said, "Like any outstanding administrator, I have an eye for whatever may benefit my group and I saw the potential for what Skyler was getting at it. I have been trying to think for quite a while now of a way to bridge that gap between the advance sciences we are developing in the labs and the practical use and knowledge of our agents in the field. It took a bit of wrangling, but Addison, Id like you to meet the newest member of the Special Ops team, Doctor Skyler Tidwell. She will be working as our contact between the agents and the research, science and development sectors to provide the operative in the field with the best information possible."
"Skyler in the field?" Addison nearly shouted. "No way! First Agnes Brodie then Antonia Bakersfield and god knows who else might turn out to be involved when were done questioning Brian Cooling. Im not having Skyler exposed to that sort of danger ever again!"
Skyler sighed and smiled at her protective partner. "Technology, Addison, thats the key. Think about what an advantage it would be to have an operative, a control if you will, at your disposal throughout a mission. A miniaturized camera on your person, a device like a cochlear implant in your ear and it would be as if you were taking all the resources of Special Operations with you every time you went into the field. You already have the bio-chip in you, this would be just taking that concept one step further."
Addison thought about it as the consummate professional that she was and was able to see the distinct edge something like the general and Skyler were talking about, would be. Although Alon and the female guard were recovering from their wounds, it had been close for both of them. This was an edge that might save lives and anything on that order was worth checking into.
"But what about your own work?" Addison asked, suddenly concerned that Skyler may be giving up her own dreams to be with her.
Skyler turned fully to the agent now. "Addison, I love you. Do you think there is anything in the world that interests me as much as you now? I knew standing at my fathers grave that the only way I could bear to know about you leaving to go on a mission would be to go with you. So, when we come back from our well-deserved holiday in Egypt, you and I are going to be the prototype of the new Special Ops team. The question is, are you up for it, Agent?"
General Blithe watched the exchange between the women with interest. Unselfconsciously, Addison pulled Skyler to her and kissed her with undisguised enthusiasm. "I love you, Skyler Tidwell, and with you, Im up for anything." She kissed Skyler again and her arm reached out to the controls of the videophone as she did so. The screen in Marks office went blank.
The general chuckled as he leaned back in his chair. "Science, technology and Blacks Magic. Now this should be interesting."
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