By the Uberscribbler.
Disclaimer: A few of the central and supporting characters belong to Renaissance Pictures, a couple others belong to Panzer-Davis Productions, and one other was created by the Great Bard Redhawk. Im using them without seeking prior approval and without intent of material gain. If you can figure out who belongs to who you get a no-prize. The rest of the cast is my own creation and are hereby ceded to the public domain.
This is quick bit of fanfic that Ive written for the hell of it while I try finishing other projects. It belongs in Redhawks "Infinity" universe. No xex, no violence, but heavy hints at same-sex relationships and conspiracy theories abound. Too much for your tiny pinheads? Begone then and leave the rest of us to our fun.
You should read "Only One", "Oktoberfest", and "The Breaking" by Redhawk and my own "London Blitz" before trying to tackle this one. There's a great deal of continuity involved.
On with the show.
Imagine if you will...
Two meetings, occurring at the same time; one held in a palatal boardroom somewhere in London held amongst many members of one family, the other in a dusty back room between two men of the most passing acquaintance, linked only by their profession.
Two meetings with only two things in common: the darkness and secrecy within which they were conducted, and the subject to which they were devoted.
The snow white void of the projection screen bathed the small room in a fierce glare. The silence of the four walls was disturbed by the low buzz of the projector's fan. The two occupants of the room had eyes and ears only for the blankness before them. Their bodies and minds were set in anticipation, though for vastly different reasons.
There was a soft 'clik-clik', and the whiteness was replaced by a full-color shot of a woman's profile. The subject was at once relaxed and tense, as if surprised out of a moment's idyll by some unseen disturbance. She was beautiful, no question, though in a decidedly predatory sense. Beautiful in the way a tiger stalking its prey might be.
The shot caught her in mid-motion, making her seem slightly blurred. Her hair, long and luxurious onyx locks, was barely contained in a sloppy pony-tail. She was dressed casually but with a practical mindset: jeans, low-heeled boots, and cotton shirt. Surrounding her was the tame forest of some city park somewhere.
"Xena Sophitia Amphipoulis," so declared the one standing by the projector. Officer Emil Holt, Portland Police Department, recently transferred to the plainclothes division, father of two, husband of ten years, and member of the Watcher Society since his nineteenth birthday.
Holt continued for his audience of one, moving to a new picture. "Citizen of the United States since 1948..."
"...A year after she arrived at Ellis Island aboard a Portuguese-registered freighter." Victoria Dunross reported as Big Ben struck the late night hour somewhere in the distance. She glanced back at her laptop, tapped a few keys and shifted the pictures projected upon the screen before her siblings and cousin. The images were uniformly black and white, some grainer than others. The transition between scenes was smoother, the technology involved more advanced than used by Holt.
Dunross, the second youngest present, had been the natural choice to give this briefing. She had more close experience with the Warrior than any other present, having lived near her and even attended classes alongside the Bard for the past five years. She would still be there, observing and cataloguing, were it not for the Bard's reported death and the Warrior's subsequent disappearance several months back.
"We didn't pick up on her arrival for nearly five years until..."
"Six years," put in Manfred Emmanuel Armistead, the eldest present. Only his pressed white shirt was visible in the darkness, marking his presence. His dark chocolate skin and tailed suit hiding him effectively in the darkness as any camouflage might in the thickest jungle.
"Excuse me, six years." Dunross accepted the correction with due deference. "We first encountered her here in the states in 1954, when our forebear Nathaniel Byron sighted her at a lecture being given by Janice Covington."
"The late Janice Covington," Armistead put in, leaning back in his chair. "Not to be confused with her daughter."
"Little chance of that," one of the others spoke up. "The girl was, what? Three years old then?"
"Regardless," continued Dunross as she brought up a new picture, this one in color and slightly clearer, showing a tall woman crossing the street wearing quintessential 1950s fashion. "She encountered little trouble obtaining citizenship, claiming to be a Greek refugee with enough coin to grease the right wheels. Our contacts in the State Department weren't as strong then as they are now. Hence our missing her for so long."
"Wasnt you-know-whos mum working there?" asked one of the boys. Even now, five years afterwards, almost none of them could stand to say the name.
Armistead and Victoria shook their heads in tandem, but it was the former who spoke. "No. Mother Elisabeth was at the War Department, not State."
"We ever get a handle on why she ran off in the first place?"
"Something t'do with Paris, I'll wager." This was from one of the boys, who leaned forward as if to tell some naughty secret. "I've heard tell she encountered an American provocateur shortly after the Bastile was overrun. Daft fool tried propositioning her in a tavern. Did a poor job of it, too."
"And how precisely do you know all this?"
"Leave us say the descendents of this particular nit are mostly Canadian these days and go by the name Rothchilde-Stiles. Hence, they're well known to us as well as our ancestors of the day."
Victoria gave a long-suffering sigh. "I don't suppose this idiot was named?"
"He was actually. First name was Jack."
"As in 'don't know Jack'?" Armistead asked, his attempt at humor deliberately flat.
"Our sources on her date back only to the late fifteenth century, just after the War of the Roses in England." Holt spoke with confidence as he moved to the next slide. This one displayed a mural, faded and cracked with the passages of centuries, depicting some gladitorial scene whose participants were clearly women. "There is evidence she's far, far older."
"That has never been proven conclusively," stated the sitting man flatly. Joe Dawson shifted slightly, adjusting his prosthetic legs under him to they didnt chaff quite as badly. Hed come to Portland only reluctantly, matching Holts reluctance to call him in the first place. The Society had taken a serious number of hits lately, between the destruction The Sanctuary a short while back and all the fallout from that. He had enough on his plate trying to keep some the more revenge-minded elements of the Society under control, never mind the keeping the whole operation afloat and working.
But, like it or not, he was still the de facto leader, and so simply had to keep abreast of notable developments. The disappearance of one of the oldest Immortals known was such a development even if Dawson dearly wished he could just forget the bitch ever existed.
Hed seen her handiwork in London, five years ago. Not first hand admittedly, though the crime scene photos were vivid enough. The sights had convinced him, however much hed deny it up one way and down the other, that she was the Destroyer of Nations.
Holt was a believer on that score as well, for the same reasons, though in his case hed been close enough to have to literally taste the blood being spilled. "True," he conceded to his nominal superiors point. "But between the work of the Covington-Pappas Institute and our own research, theres enough anecdotal evidence "
"Is this a history lesson or a briefing?" Dawson regretted the words the instant he finished. Holt was a good man and good Watcher, and he certainly didnt deserve to have his head chewed off by a jet-lagged Vietnam vet-turned-conspirator. "Sorry," he mumbled, the word sounding false even to his own ears.
"Not at all," Holt said, sounding equally insincere. "Sir." He moved to a new slide, this one in color and showing the subject dressed in a black overcoat and standing at the edge of a funeral gathering.
"We know she attended college in South Dakota in the late 50s, coming away with a degree in mechanical engineering. After that she traveled a bit in Europe and Northern Africa. The exact reason for her going there was never clear to us "
"Her various jaunts to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East seemed centered upon searching out any trace there might be of her previous travels in the region or the old Amazons." Dunross paused for a moment to pull up a map of the Mediterranean and the many nations bordering it. A couple keystrokes later, and a dotted line began tracing its way across southern Europe, weaving a complex pattern in Italy and the Balkans, before jumping across the water to land in Egypt and snake eastwards.
"Show-off," one of the men muttered aloud.
"Oh, bite me."
"Is that an offer?" Armisteads unseen glare quelled whatever response mightve come from that. There were several throats cleared. Dunross herself kept her eyes on the laptop before her. She understood better than most the reasons behind her normally placid half-brothers temper; the leader of their clan was neither present nor even aware of this little meeting of theirs. Marie de Anan, while an outstanding administrator and decisive leader, tended to be on the reactionary side when it came to the Warrior. Armistead and the rest knew full well that she would have them all scattered to the four winds should news of the Warriors disappearance reach her. Hence his making sure such news had not reached her yet. He could only pray Victorias return to the U.K. was still a secret as well. She had traveled under an alias known only to herself and Enzo and had made sure cover her tracks back in the States. Such precautions however were no guarantee of absolute secrecy.
Victoria resumed her narrative. "As you can see, she made quite a sweep of it after leaving Dakota State." The map was quickly replaced with a series of shots, each lingering several seconds before replaced by the next. In them the Warrior was crouched in the desert, moving within crowded cities, on a boat bobbing in some blue sea somewhere, climbing white cliffs of a small island, walking casually amid crowded bazaars, sitting in an open café near a gurgling fountain, and a half-dozen more scenes.
"Amazingly," Victoria broke in near the end, "the Society never once seemed to pick up on her during this time."
"Not even in Paris?" Enzo del Turo sounded incredulous. "I thought she spent some time with Darius, and the Society has had him under a microscope for centuries."
Del Turos position among them was ambiguous. Whereas all the rest of the ranking members were directly related by blood or marriage, the del Turo family had been distant cousins of one of the now extinct lines of the Clan. Their main claim to the Clans business was their having located and watched the Warrior during her century-and-a-half vacation in the depths of the Amazon jungle, sitting on the only trading post in that area and waiting for her to leave the jungle. While the rest of the Clan had been busy spending a century chasing after the Delanys, the Pappases, the St. Clairs and a host of others who bore even a passing resemblance to the Warrior (when they werent busy making fortunes in business, shipping, and who knew what else), the del Turos spent generations guarding and looking after the Warrior herself.
And when the Warrior had finally emerged in 1940, it had been old Don Roberto del Turo and his son David who had raised the alarm. They and they alone had held true to the familys original mission. Enzo himself had been practically the right hand of the previous elder of the Clan, proving adept at the many intrigues dear Jono had started up. So adept in fact there had never been talk of changing his role even after Jonos death nearly five years ago.
"They did," Victoria affirmed, "until that lunatic Horton and his band killed him in the mid-90s. And no, I have no idea how she managed to stay off their radar for so long."
The slide projector clicked again, this time displaying a picture of Xena exiting an ancient church, the venerable Darius holding her hand. "We do know she was in Paris in 1967, having just flown over from London."
"Why wasnt her chronicle revived immediately?" Dawson asked, realizing an instant later how much hed just revealed.
Holt answered the question all the same, careful not to give any of his own thoughts away. "She was there for perhaps three days total and only visited Darius for one of them. We hadnt heard about her for over a century and a half, so its no real surprise "
"Yeah, yeah. I know." Dawson tried not to sound so blasted glum about it. Tried, but failed.
"Anyway," Holt sighed. "Our first positive contact on her was in April, 1979. She was attending the funeral of Janice Covington." He clicked to a picture, this one taken from at long distance, of a funeral party grouped about an open grave. The one following singled out a black-clad Xena, the image slightly grainer than before.
"She contact any of the children?"
"Briefly. According to reports she spoke to Henry Pappas for a bit, then lit out of there like the proverbial bat out of hell."
"She didnt stick around to talk to any of the Covington kids?"
"Only Helena Covington was in attendance, and she was apparently too busy schmoozing with the University bigwigs to notice."
The next picture Victoria brought up was a flowchart, its heading reading "Funding of Covington-Pappas Digs: 1980 1989". There were at least two dozen boxes, the topmost was simply titled "X". The rest were all interconnected in an intricate spiders web of arrows and monetary figures, the flow ultimately terminating at the bottom of the chart titled "Covington-Pappas".
"Gods," breathed one of the men.
"How pagan, little brother." Armisteads voice held no rancor, only amused chiding. It covered his own amazement perfectly. "She has always been ingenious when it comes to her money, after all."
Victoria spoke up. "This isnt being ingenious, Manny. Its took us nearly five years to unravel all the avenues and angles she used to keep those two in pick-axes and Porches for ten years. The woman practically sent their kids through university."
"And where are the children these days? The mother still lecturing?" Enzo asked.
Armistead replied "Helena retired from the speaking circuit last year and is busy writing her memoirs. Henrys is keeping house as usual, and weve made sure all three children were all hired by our lower subsidiary start-ups."
"So we have them permanently under glass, then?"
"Pity we cant do the same with the Delany or Moore kids, eh?"
"Indeed." Armistead shifted slightly and focused on Dunross. "I think we can skip the rest of the history lesson, Victoria. Current event are what we need to focus upon."
Victoria sighed. "As you wish, oh Sagacious One." Several keys were tapped and the scenes flickered on the screen, quickly refocusing upon a crystal clear photo. Rickie Gardner, her chest dark with blood, lay limp in the arms of Xena Amphipoulis.
"Late May, this year. Rickie Gardner is reported DOA in a botched bank robbery in Portland. Shed only just graduated the previous day and the two had plans for a long cruise." Victorias voice was devoid of any inflection. This was a mechanical recitation of facts. All present knew full well Gardner had become a friend to her in the past five years, as well as how deeply the incident touched her. "Police found the vehicles used and eventually two of the perps, but number three was never located."
She took a breath before continuing. "About seventy-two hours after the incident "
" Amphipoulis Investigations closes up shop and Xena herself is spotted driving north into Canada." Holt shifted to shot presumably coming from a surveillance camera at a border crossing. A slightly battered Ford cargo van was halted by the shack, a head crowned with thick black hair leaning out of the drivers window. One arm was casually draped out as the driver spoke with the patrolman on station.
"She didnt go to her cabin in the Sound as expected." Dawson turned around, not certain hed heard correctly.
"She didnt ?"
Holt shook his head and clicked to the next slide, a map of the Canadian-US border stretching from the coast of British Columbia to Lake Ontario. A red line had been drawn on it, connecting Victoria to Winnipeg. "At Victoria, she ditched the van and bordered a commercial flight to Winnipeg under the name Marilyn Mosely "
"Jesus," Dawson couldnt help swearing. "Someone needs to work on her aliases."
" where she promptly dropped out of sight," Holt continued, ignoring the interruption. "Exactly where she went from there I havent been able to determine." He clicked to the next slide.
"After she touched down in Winnipeg, she tossed off the Mosley identity and bought a train ticket to Toronto under the name Zoe Gilmore." Dunross brought up a map showing the rail tracks connecting Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec provinces.
"Long ride," murmured Ian Halverston, who sat beside Enzo. This was appropriate as the two formed the core of the Clans intelligence network. Halverston was heir to the many favors and markers the previous elder had accumulated, gods knew how from gods knew how many different members of Parliament and equally unsavory characters. He dangled them all on long strings as expertly as his predecessor, keeping the Clan appraised on a hundred inconsequential topics, doing so to keep the threads tangled just enough that these contacts would not be lost to them. "Wonder what she was doing all that time."
"Indeed," Armistead echoed, equally quietly but with less curiousity. In a louder voice he asked "What about the Bards body? Did she bury it on that island of hers or "
"I was wondering when somebody would ask." There was a flash of white as Victoria gave them a rakish grin, displaying a series of crystal clean photos. The angles of each suggested they were from a security camera somewhere, presumably both from the airport and train station. Each looked down onto a ticket counter or departure gate.
Surprisingly, it wasnt Xena in any of them. The figure was similarly dark haired, though she wore it in a well-cut bob. She was clearly shorter than the Warrior and dressed somewhat less casually, a very sensible-looking travelling bag slung over one shoulder or another. In every photo she was making some sort of gesture, whether it was flamboyant or angry was a matter of interpretation.
The face of the woman was hidden from clear view in most of the scenes, her profile indistinct and rarely glimpsed. It was only in the last of them that she was fully seen, this one taken in the tiled corridor of an airport. She was dressed in pressed jeans and a silk shirt that fairly glowed in the light. Her hair was still dark, but shorter now, cut above her ears and carefully brushed. She carried a duffel bag on one shoulder and her jacket over the other.
There was no mistaking her identity.
Rickie Gardner stared back at them all, caught in mid-stride and looking confused.
The room nearly erupted in a series of exclamations, with only the smug Victoria and thoughtful Armistead keeping their own council.
"You have got to be bloody kidding me "
"Hows this possible?"
"This isnt good "
"Oh, thats just bloody marvelous!"
"Are we sure thats her? How can we be sure?"
"Great, now we have watch both of them!"
"Have got any idea "
The noise died down at the sound of two very strong fingers tapping on the table between them all. "May I trust," Armistead practically rumbled, "that the Portland Coroners office was not mistaken in its initial judgement?"
"I wish it had been," Victoria said with distinct regret. "But I saw the body myself not four hours after it was brought in."
"I dont want to know how you managed that."
"She was dead." This stilled room every bit as effectively as a gunshot. "She took three bullets to the heart and another two right through the left lung. No way she could have been faking it."
"They try measuring EKG?"
"Dont see why they would bother," Victoria shrugged. "She wasnt breathing and didnt have a heart beat."
"Could she have been shamming?"
"For ten hours? With that many holes in her?"
Armistead made a noncommittal sound before asking "Where did they go once reaching Toronto?"
The slide was taken from yet another surveillance camera. This one showing a slightly disheveled Xena maneuvering around Canadian Customs officers. There was clearly some altercation in the making. Holts voice was laced with definite amusement. "Next time she popped up was at Pearson Airport in Toronto, where by accounts she damn got arrested twice trying to get that chakrum of hers through customs."
"Shock-what?" Dawson looked over his shoulder, clearly confused.
"Chakrum." Holt bit back a long-suffering sigh and elaborated "The frisbee with razor edges she likes tossing around. Yknow, what she used on Devon and company a few years back."
"Yeah, ah. Seems she misplaced some of the documentation required for the blasted thing."
"She didnt get arrested though, right?"
"Nope. Turns out the missing papers were in her right-hand pocket rather than the left." Holt had to cough and clear his throat before continuing. "Kinda embarrassing."
"Kinda," agreed Dawson, trying hard not to grin. "What happened then?"
"The pair boarded a plan bound for Amsterdam." Victoria clicked to a new map, this one of the Atlantic with a single, dotted line jumping over it to end in the Netherlands. "Boarding separately and under different identities, of course," she added rather needlessly.
"Of course," Enzo parroted.
"What happened when she touched down in Amsterdam?" Dawson asked.
"They breezed through customs and immediately boarded the first train heading southeast."
"Southeast? Heading where?"
"Initially it looked like Germany," reported Holt. "She has some property there and several contacts in Munich."
"I take it she didnt arrive or meet up with any of them?"
"Oh, no. She was definitely in Munich."
"Just long enough to say hullo to a few friends, then catch yet another train."
"This one going where?"
"Wait," Halverston held up his hands. "Youre saying she took a train directly from Amsterdam to Munich, then took another up to Berlin?"
Holt nodded. "Thats about the size of it."
Halverston shook his head. "Thats insane."
"Actually," Enzo chimed in. "It makes a great deal of sense."
Armistead nodded. "I agree."
"She knows wed try following her, doesnt she?" There was no accusation in Dawsons voice, just acceptance. He was hardly one to criticize, after all.
"So she suspected the Society would try and locate her. All well and good." Armistead sighed. "So what happened when they reached Berlin?"
"Boarded yet another plane." Victoria activated another map, this one of Aegean Sea. "This one heading for Athens."
"Hold it," Dawson broke in, sitting up straighter. "She doesnt own any property in Athens, does she?"
"Not so far as we know, no."
"So why Athens?"
"No idea." Holt shook his head. "Im afraid she dropped completely out of sight from there."
"But she does have a villa outside Kavala, in the north along the Macedonian coast." Another keystroke brought a more detailed map into sight. Several Agean islands were named, as were coastal communities in the region.
"Kavala, as you can see, is a port town."
"Macedonia," Halverston muttered. "Whos surprised?"
Victoria shot him a quick frown before continuing. "The island of Thassos is right below it off the coast, and just ten miles south of Cape Salonkos is "
Once again the room went silent.
"So what now?" Dawson asked as Holt turned on the lights. Both men squinted momentarily at the sudden glare overhead.
The policeman took a breath and thought hard for a moment before answering. "We know shes somewhere in Greece. Trouble is thats her home territory, and shes likely watching for anything that even suggests shes being tailed."
"So we let her go?"
"Im not saying that. Just that if youre going to go looking for her, whoever it has got to be careful. Remember what she did to our people in Munich back in 98."
"Dont remind me." Dawson stood and eyed Holt critically. "You interested in re-locating?"
To which Holt shook his head. "Sorry. Not with a new one on the way."
Dawson nodded, suddenly very tired and feeling very old.
The silence in the conference room stretched on as Dunross deactivated her laptop and switched the lights back on. She kept them dim for a few moments as their eyes adjusted. Everyone present looked commendably serious and in deep thought.
Surprisingly, it was Halverson who spoke first. "The Sisterhood will kill anyone who tries to settle on that island."
"We dont know theyre going to try " Victoria chimed in, only to be overrode by Halverson.
"Oh for Christs sake, Vickie. Where else would they go?"
"They could just be staying at her villa," Victoria insisted.
Halverson was unconvinced. "Okay, for sake of argument, say they stay in the villa. How long dyou think itll be before one of the Sisters catches eye of her? What then?"
"Theyll likely think her one of the descendents," offered Enzo. "The Sisterhood half-dismiss her existence anyway. Theyve had all the chances you could want to kill Covington and Pappas over the years, and they never made a move."
"Oh? What about 51?"
Enzo shook his head. "Theres no real proof they were responsible for the fire that send Covington and company running off the island."
"At the very least theyll make a day trip to the island," Enzo put in, glancing at them all before refocusing on the table in front of him. "And if they go looking for the caches "
"Theyll find them," Myriam quietly stated, her quiet voice settling across them all. By far the youngest present, her dyed hair and shabby fashion sat in marked contrast to the rest present. Yet there was never any objection to her attendance of any meeting, her words carrying nearly as much weight as all others combined. She was the Clans seer, after all, gifted with sight and insight denied the rest.
"Myriam," Armistead broached gently. "She hasnt set foot on that island for nearly a thousand years. How can you be sure "
"Theyll find them." So spoke Myriam Jessup, and so ended all discussion on the matter. "The others didnt know where to look. She alone knows the pass."
Halverson looked over to her, only to quickly look away a moment later. "How much time do you think we have." Myriam simply shrugged and the atmosphere in the room tensed.
Armistead moved to defused it as best he could. "How long ago did they land in Athens?" he asked.
"Very well. I will bring these developments to Maries attention. I suggest you all prepare to relocate for a bit." He gave them all a vague nod of dismissal, and swiveled his chair about to towards the rooms grand windows.
The others all filed out quietly, though Enzo lingered behind. This was his habit, his position being what it was and all. "What is it?" Armistead asked, somewhat testily and without turning.
"This arrived for you today," Enzo said as he slid a plain manila envelope across the table towards him. Armistead turned slightly to look at the object, then looked up at Enzo, the obvious question in his eyes. "There were instructions it was for your eyes alone."
"Fine. But what is it?"
"A videotape and a few glossies."
"I thought you said "
"I only looked inside. I didnt watch the tape or examine the photos."
"Ha, riot. I suppose you never inhaled, either." Armistead sighed heavily, swinging his massive frame around and picked up the envelope. Pulling it open he picked out the tape and let the glossy polaroids spill onto the table. "Wait outside while I see what this is about."
Dawson left first, using the front door of the run-down bar to which the room had been attached. A taxi had been called for him and was waiting at the curb. He didnt look back as he got in, telling the driver "Airport" as he did.
He didnt notice how the sky was beginning to darken overhead in expectation of a storm. Nor did he pay the least mind to the thunder in the distance. Even the rain that had begun to fall by the time he reached the airport failed to penetrate his distraction.
As far as Joe Dawson was concerned, the real storm was building halfway around the world.
A storm he had every intention of finding ample shelter from.
Armistead pushed the tape into the VCR and turned on the television above it. The scene that greeted him was not entirely unexpected. It was the ticket counter of an airport seen from above, probably Berlin going by the liberal sprinkling of German words and signs that could be seen. The view shifted slowly, panning across the concourse as a security camera would. There was no sound to the picture, and the date at the bottom reading five days ago. The time that scrolled at the bottom was measured in GMT, putting the events on tape as the late morning.
It was childs play to pick out the Warrior among the hustle and bustle. She moved the to ticket counter like Moses parting the sea. Purchasing her ticket took mere minutes and she was off. The tape suddenly cut to fifteen minutes later, going by the time counter. The Bard had appeared and purchased her own ticket. This took a little longer, not surprisingly, as her command of languages wasnt as strong as her Warriors. The transaction was nevertheless completed and she moved away, trailing after the Warrior.
The tape continued on for several minutes. More travelers came and went, attendants changed, but nothing more notable occurred. Armistead was about to switch off the tape when something on screen caught his eye.
One of the attendants, the one who had sold both the Warrior and the Bard their tickets, was taken aside to speak to someone. Three someones to be precise, two in uniform and one in a suit. The latter seemed to be doing the most talking, flashing an i.d. of some sort and gesturing in the direction the pair had taken. The attendant didnt seem overly intimidated, but neither was she entirely at ease. She too gestured as the suit had. One of the uniforms asked a question, which in turn was answered, evidentially to their satisfaction.
The camera chose that moment to swing away on its usual circuit. By the time it returned the woman was back behind the counter and both the uniforms and the suit were gone. Armistead rewound to the moment of their appearance, uncertain why the incident suddenly acquired such importance. Certain he was missing something, he leaned closer to the screen, watching every move the four made.
The attendant and the uniforms, who were just airport security from the look of it, didnt actually command his attention. It was the one in the suit, the one about whom there appeared absolutely nothing notable, upon who Armistead focused. There was something to his movements and gestures, something elusive yet intimately familiar.
Armistead squinted at the screen, replaying the scene four times at varying speeds. He could pick out little details hed previously missed. How the man was wearing sunglasses and rarely moved his left arm, for example. The distance was too great to get a clear look at his features and nothing more than a passing glance at his profile.
After three tries he managed to pause the tape right on the single moment when the suit looked to his side, offering a clear look at his profile. A suspicion took hold. The set of his shoulders, the way he carried himself, the tight yet sweeping gestures they all put him in mind of but one individual
"Oh, hell," Armistead muttered as he turned back to the table, snatching up the photos lying there. Each was a carefully enlarged and enhanced still from the scene on the tape. The mans profile was there in crystal clarity, caught in shimmering shades of gray and silver.
He had waited nearly five years to see this moment, anticipating it, planning for it. And yet he still felt the wind getting knocked out of him when the realization fully hit.
The rain had begun to fall when Holt exited the room, waiting exactly ten minutes after Dawsons departure. He exited through the back, into the alleyway where his piece of shit sedan was parked among four others. The muggy air and thick droplets of precipitation didnt concern him in the slightest.
Once in his car, Holt took out a picture hed avoided showing Dawson, one dating back nearly six years. It showed Holts two young boys near a Christmas tree, the wreckage of wrapping paper and packaging around them. Crouching behind the pair were two women, one dark haired and the other light. The four were smiling, all of them genuine and open.
Holt folded the picture over ever so carefully so only the dark-haired one remained.
"Hope you know what youre doing, Xe," was his only comment after several moments contemplation. He put the picture back into his jacket pocket and started the car.
The storm still held back as he pulled out of the lot and headed for home. The sky became as black as night, forcing cars to turn their headlights on, and still the storm did not break.
"Enzo!" Del Turo lost no time in returning. Armistead had to tear his eyes from the photos with an effort. "Where the hell did this come from?" he demanded.
Del Turo could only shrug. "It was sitting it was waiting for me at the front desk this morning. Reception said it came through inter-office mail." His brow furrowed. "Something major?"
The statement alone was nearly enough to knock del Turo over, even though he himself had half-suspected it was coming. "Do we tell Marie?"
"Ah," Armistead growled through gritted teeth. "Im not so sure on that one."
"She deserves to know " Armistead cut off the objection with a fierce wave.
"You want to be the one to tell that temperamental little " He had to take a moment to collect himself. "You want to be the one to tell her that her bloody father suddenly reappeared after supposedly being dead for the past five years?"
Enzo could only sigh and shake his head. Neither mentioned how the young Janice Elisabeth ODonhugh always seemed to refer to her father in the present tense, as though he were still alive and not presumed dead, gunned down in a south end warehouse in London five years earlier. Both Armistead and del Turo had always had reservations on that score, as had Marie. None of them spoke to the rest about it however, nursing their hopes and fears in secret.
Rather than continue on that train of thought, Armistead asked "Do you really think theyll leave her be?"
"The Sisters?" Enzo could only shrug. "Depends on how good the Warriors memory is, I suppose."
"And the Daughters?"
"Theyll try perforating the pair of them the instant they set foot on the island." Enzo held his elder cousins eyes steadily, though not without effort. "What do you want to do?"
To this Armistead had no immediate answer.
Big Ben sounded the hour outside, sounding almost like the rumble of thunder within the citys artificial canyons.
Shift the scene now, to a few days after this and many thousands of miles, to the southeast corner of the continent
The Aegean was like a great sheet of deep blue, constantly rippling and forever in motion. The docks of Kavala were crowded that day, as one would expect on a sunny and idyllic day. Sailboats and motor boats all sizes and descriptions were docked or on the water, from reliable old fishing boats to sleek, ultramodern speedboats.
Cafes and open-air restaurants lined the boardwalk nearby. Somewhere among them sat a man reading a newspaper, a cup of coffee and half-eaten pastry at his elbow, a battered felt fedora sitting at the center of the table. He wore a pair of casual trousers, collarless white shirt and an embroidered vest bought from a street vendor only an hour before. His long legs were stretched out before him, his entire slumped posture suggesting either profound relaxation or boredom.
On the table beside him was a small boxlike device, smaller in fact than an old-fashioned walkman with ear-phones attached. To look at it one would think it one of those personal radios so loved by joggers and fitness advocates. There was a bell-like depression in the side of the device itself, out of which issued a thin red light that was all but invisible in the sunlight.
It wasnt music that filled the mans ears, but a discussion held alternately in Greek and English, said discussion happening nearly two hundred yards distant. The laser microphone caught every word as if they were spoken but inches away.
The first was a womans voice, authoritative and confident. "How much," she asked in Greek.
A man responded, also in fluent Greek, his voice gravelly and crass. "To rent?"
"Heh, you a sailor?"
A sharp laugh from two voices, both female. "I have many skills," says the first woman.
"Ha. You joking with me?" The man tries to sound serious and threatening, but fails. Hes being condescending.
The womans voice succeeds where his does not. "Ive sailed rougher waters with rougher crews than you could know."
There is a pause, the two sides silently taking the others measure.
The boat owner speaks dismissively. "Ill sell for three million, no less."
"What? Dollars?" It is a new voice, speaking in English. The voice of a young woman, carrying an accent from the American heartland.
"No, drachmas," answers the first woman, doing so in English before returning to her perfect Greek. "For this floating pile of rot? No wonder you never leave the dock." Now she sounded dismissive, almost insulting.
"Bah," the boats owner waved. "What do you know?"
"I know what I see, and what I see is rotten wood."
"Rotten?!" the owner exclaimed. "You know nothing!"
"I dont have to see it, idiot. I can smell it."
"Cmon, Dreamer. Lets find something worth the money." There were a few footsteps leading away before the owner speaks again.
"Two and a half," he called. Footsteps led back towards him.
"One and a half," the first woman offered.
"No, no," the owner shook his head. "This is ship has been in my family for generations "
"The keel was laid down less than thirty years ago," she countered. "I recognize the design."
The owner sighed, realizing he was outmaneuvered. "I need to show something for it," he muttered contritely, trying to play the sympathy card.
It didnt work. "You annoy me. One million."
"Ach, you want me to starve."
"Doesnt look like youve been going hungry that much. One million."
"You really know how to sail?"
"Taught by the saltiest pirates ever to sail the open ocean." One could hear the smile despite the seriousness with which it was said. Only those who knew better would think it something other than a joke.
Perhaps the owner sensed the truth behind it. Men of the sea often proved more perceptive than their land-bound counterparts. There was weariness to his next words. "One million and a quarter."
"For this pile of wood?" the second woman suddenly put in, speaking passable but clearly academic Greek. "You joke "
"Done," the first woman interrupted. "You will come to our bank tomorrow and we will finish this there."
"What bank? When?"
"The local branch of the Piraeus Group. Be there tomorrow at ten sharp." She paused, then magnanimously added "You can stay here on the boat until we need it."
"You are generous," the man muttered, neither grateful nor unctuous.
"Be there," the woman ordered. There was no doubt the man would obey. "Cmon Dreamer. Lunchtime."
The man behind the newspaper reached over and shifted the laser microphone slightly, listening attentively. "Is that hunk of wood really worth a million, Xe?" asked the younger woman.
"Its actually fiberglass, and yes its worth every cent."
"Whats on this island thats so important anyway?"
The older woman paused, as if searching for the proper words. "Something I should have shown you a long time ago."
The two either moved beyond the lasers range or became too obscured by crowds for it to pick up more. It didnt matter. Hed heard all he needed.
It had almost been too easy, trailing them to Greece. Oh, their route might have been winding and confusing, but the final destination was never in doubt. He could only hope his little "slip" in Berlin hadnt found its way back to London just yet.
Gods only knew what Marie and the rest would do should they find out he - Jonothan ODonhugh, former elder of clan - was still alive and active.
Standing, ODonhugh carelessly folded up the paper and retrieved the hat and device from the table. The first he perched on his head, his dark hair having been cut close to the scalp, while the second was hidden away in one of the vests pockets. The dark glasses he wore obscured blue-gray eyes that raked his surroundings for the smallest sign that he had been found out.
Seeing none, he tossed a few coins onto the table, turned, and quickly lost himself in the crowd. His step was calm, relieved, his spirit strangely at peace even though he knew full well what lay on the horizon. At the very least he could go back to wearing his favorite gray suit and shirt.
Still, he couldnt help but look up to the clear, beautiful sky. It brought to mind the old proverb, the words slipping out. "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning."
ODonhugh could only sigh, knowing deep within his soul the skies tomorrow would be red as blood.
Further back along the promenade, a woman decked out like the prototypical tourist (loud skirt, louder shirt, designer sandals, wide-brimmed hat) was busy snapping photos here and there. Her enthusiasm was perfectly affected, drawing the occasional stare but otherwise rendering her invisible to the rest of the crowd.
Her wanderings eventually led her to trail behind a pair of women, one tall and dark and the other shorter and light-haired. The pair were holding hands, seemingly oblivious to nearly all things around them.
The woman nevertheless gave them a wide berth, maneuvering herself so she got a completely surreptitious shot of the two of them. She couldnt help pausing at the beauty of the pair, the perfect study of contrasts between them.
Still, she managed to continue on, casually and calmly as you please, managing to look suitably outraged when she found shed run out of film.
Leaving the waterfront, the woman returned to her room at a local hotel, where developing and shipping materials were waiting for her. The photo she had just taken had suddenly acquired a worth greater than a dragons horde, and so required special handling.
One day later, a diplomatic pouch was arrived at its intended destination: a large office, whose shades had been pulled shut against the daylight outside. The pouch was opened with great delicacy and its contents extracted and studied for several long minutes before an intercom was activated.
"Holly? Please clear my calendar. Ive just learned of a family matter I need to attend to. Please book me on the next flight to Athens, Greece."
"Yes, maam," said the ever-efficient secretary.
"And please call my sister. I need to see her as quickly as possible."
The distinguished lady Senator from Massachusetts carefully put away the single photo with its attached hand-written note (saying simply "She is in Kavala") before turning to her office window and opening the shades. The Washington Monument and the Capitol building could be seen in all the majesty. Sunlight broke through the clouds that had begun to gather in the late-afternoon sky.
Outside, there was the rumble of distant thunder to be heard.
The End of the Beginning.
Sub-Standard Disclaimer: Despite appearances, Xena and Rickies privacy was not seriously infringed upon in the writing of this story.