The First Deception
Written June 2002
Synopsis: Paul, a level four operative, finds himself at the mercy of a rookie named Madeline when they are paired together to retrieve stolen plutonium from a weapons dealer.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
“Congratulations, Mr. Arnoud.” Mishka smiled pleasantly, sitting down in the parlor. “The CF will be pleased that you placed the highest bid. Any plans for what you’d like to do with it?”
“I think I’ll leave that to my superiors,” Paul replied, employing his most convincing French accent. Winning the auction had been easy; he simply upped the ante whenever someone placed a bid until he was the only one with any money left. The hard part would be figuring out a way to be alone with the woman. She and the other guards were still in the room, but she hadn’t looked at him all night. “When will we make the exchange?”
“I have some arrangements to make, so I can’t give you an answer yet. I trust that won’t be a problem.”
“Not at all.”
“Good. Then I shall have Dimitri show you to a room for the night. Dimitri.” He gestured to the auburn-haired guard, who stepped forward obediently.
“Actually,” Paul said quickly, seeing his chance, “I would be delighted if your female assistant did the honors.”
“I like her.” He glanced at Mishka, then back at the woman. She ignored him, her eyes fixed on an invisible point on the wall.
“Very well. Just remember, she’s not part of the deal.”
“Of course not.”
The man sized him up for a moment. “Madeline–” He gave her instructions in Ukrainian, which Paul didn’t understand. They were probably words of caution, reminding her not to mix business with pleasure. Something told him that she had no intention of doing so, but perhaps Mishka placed too much belief in the myth of the French charm. “All right, Mr. Arnoud, it’s settled. She will take you to your room, but I would not advise asking her to stay with you. You saw what she did to Mr. Ng.”
Madeline pivoted on her heel and half-marched out of the room. Frowning, he sat up and watched her leave the room. “Wh–”
“That’s your cue,” Mishka said, then laughed as Paul scrambled to catch up.
He found Madeline standing akimbo at the end of the hallway, her fingers impatiently tapping against her hip. He approached her. “What’s the rush? Let’s get to know each other.”
When she walked away again, he followed her closely. They traveled along an ornate hallway and up a set of stairs to an even longer hallway with numerous doors.
“Where are you from?” he asked, hoping that polite conversation was the first step in getting her to reveal who she was.
“Does it matter?”
“No, I suppose it doesn’t, but I was curious. Your dim mak skills were quite impressive.”
“So you know of dim mak.”
“I know that finding a teacher is virtually impossible, as you must be a trusted and dedicated pupil.”
“Your point, Mr. Arnoud?”
“Call me Paul,” he said, dropping his French accent. “And you are H 21.”
She looked at him but remained silent.
“I should’ve realized you were my contact sooner, but I didn’t make the connection. H 21 was Mata Hari’s code name. A female spy.”
Madeline stopped near a door and opened it. “Your room, Mr. Arnoud.” She walked inside, and he followed, frowning. Was he wrong? “Everything you need is here. I hope your stay is very comfortable.” Putting a finger to her lips, she pulled a package of cigarettes and some matches from her pocket. Lighting one of the cigarettes, she said, “No, I’m sorry, you cannot smoke in your room.”
Nodding slowly, he slipped back into his cover. “Where then? In the bathroom?”
“On the balcony.” She opened the large glass doors and stepped out, bringing the cigarette to her lips and drawing back on it.
Paul joined her, a small smile on her face. “You are H 21, aren’t you?”
“Would you like a cigarette?” she asked, also losing her deceiving, thick accent. Her voice was unexpectedly soft and melodic.
He pulled one from her crumpled packet and lit it. So much for quitting, he thought, glancing at the woman. He hadn’t really looked at her before, too concerned with whether or not she was his contact. But now that he had a moment, he studied her profile with interest. Her face was smooth, almost delicate, which was probably why she had downplayed her features. Women were always taken less seriously.
She looked over at him and caught his gaze. Her eyes were an intense shade of brown, unlike anything he had ever seen. For a moment, he was stunned, frozen in place, until her voice broke his reverie. “Is something wrong?”
Embarrassed by his lengthy stare, he shook his head and looked away. Keep your mind on the mission, he told himself. “I didn’t know we had women in the undercover field.”
“Most of them don’t make it through training.” She blew out a puff of smoke. “I’m the exception.”
“How many missions have you been on?”
“This is my first one.”
“It is?” He hadn’t meant to sound so surprised, but–God, she was a rookie! Adrian put him at the mercy of an operative on her first mission? Maybe that had been part of her test: to see if he could complete a mission with a new operative. If he succeeded, he got a promotion. And if he failed… Well, I won’t fail.
“Don’t worry,” she said sarcastically, “I can do my job.”
“I never said you couldn’t.”
“I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing everyone else thinks when they meet me. Yuri was the same way, but he’s learned to trust my judgment.”
“How did you get into his group anyway?”
“I broke into his house, pretending to be a thief. When he caught me, I killed one of his guards using dim mak. He was impressed and gave me an ultimatum: work for him or be killed.”
“Then why does he trust you? If he thinks you tried to rob him–”
“I saved his life.” She crushed her cigarette butt beneath the toe of her boot. “It was plotted by Section, of course, but it worked.”
“All right.” Paul looked at her again, finishing the rest of his cigarette. “Then what do you propose we do? The mission profile says we contain Mishka and retrieve the plutonium. Do you know where he’s keeping it?”
“No. If I did, he wouldn’t have allowed me to escort you to your room.” She leaned over the railing, turning her head toward him but averting her gaze. “I say we take him to our substation in Kiev for questioning. He’s just a merchant; he doesn’t have any formal torture resistance training. He would break easily and give up the location.”
He considered her suggestion for a moment. “It’s risky. We should wait until the sale is complete and we have the plutonium in hand before we bring him in.”
“I disagree. That would give Mr. Ng and the other men we met tonight more time to find the plutonium themselves. Did you see their faces when Yuri announced you the winner? And if Ng was bold enough to try attacking him with four bodyguards around, imagine what he would do with more plotting time.”
“You have a point.”
“I’ve spent a long time here. I know Yuri’s weaknesses and how to exploit them. I’m confident that he will give up the location if we put enough pressure on him, but we can’t do that here. It would have to be done in the controlled environment of a substation. The one in Kiev’s the closest. Plus, the number of reinforcements he’ll have at the exchange will make him almost impossible to get to. And he’ll expect there to be other members of the CF attending, including the second-in-command. You didn’t happen to kidnap him, too, did you?”
He chuckled, shaking his head. “No, just Arnoud.” Paul gazed at her, smiling. Maybe she wouldn’t be such a bad partner after all. When he was promoted after this mission, and if she was returning to Section, she would make a valuable team member. “Well, what can I say? Your plan is well thought out. It makes sense. And you’re the expert regarding Mishka and the way he functions. We’ll do it your way.”
Madeline straightened and looked at him. A smile touched her face, full of pleasant surprise. “Thank you.”
It hadn’t really occurred to him before, but she was lovely, especially when she smiled. He wondered what she looked like with her hair down. “Do you know how long it will take before Mishka’s ready to make the exchange?”
“No, but it can’t be long. I’d guess Monday, so we’ll have to make our move before then. We’ll work on it tomorrow. Undoubtedly, Yuri will comment about how long I spent with you tonight, and if we play our cards right, we’ll be able to secure more time together under the pretense that you’re trying to win my affections.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Is it working?”
Turning away, she said, “Don’t forget about the audio surveillance in your room.” Maybe she was trying to hide her grin. Paul did nothing to mask his; he was looking forward to working with her.
Once inside the bedroom, he slipped back into his French accent. “Thank you for the conversation. I hope to see you again.”
She was hiding her smile; he could see it in her eyes. “Good night, Mr. Arnoud.”
“I hear that you spent a significant amount of time with our guest last night.”
Just as I thought. Lifting her gaze from their chess game, she looked at him. “You mean Mr. Arnoud?”
“Indeed.” He glanced back at her before moving his bishop two spaces. “Do you remember what I told you?”
“Just to be careful.” She captured his newly-placed bishop with a rook. “I always am.”
“Yes, my dear, I know, but Arnoud has a lot of money. Combine that with his charm, and I may find myself with one less bodyguard.”
“Do you think I’m loyal only to your money?” She folded her arms across her chest. “You insult me.”
“Of course I don’t think that, Madeline. You simply cannot allow your feelings to cloud your judgment. You protect me, whatever the case. If Arnoud were to threaten my life, what would you do?” She said nothing, glaring off to the side. “If you loved him, could you kill him?”
“Tell me not to see him, and I won’t.”
“No, I would never do that. He’s paying me a lot of money for this plutonium. I won’t have him backing out of the deal because of you.”
Sighing irritably, she stood. “Make up your mind then.”
Yuri chuckled. “You don’t need to be angry, Madeline. It’s merely a hypothetical! He’s not the first man to notice you, and he won’t be the last. Besides, we will complete the sale on Sunday afternoon. Not much of a serious love affair can occur in thirty-six hours.” He tossed his hands up. “Sit! Let’s finish our game.”
She returned to her place across from him. “It’s your move.” As he pondered over the board, she thought about the mission. They had thirty-six hours to get to Yuri. Of course, he gave them the perfect opportunity with his weekly visits to the Ya-Ya Club.
“So what did you talk about? You and Mr. Arnoud.”
“Yuri…” She shook her head and laughed softly. “Fine. He asked me where I was from, how I came to work for you, how I learned dim mak.”
“Did he ask about the plutonium?”
“No, we didn’t discuss business, nor did he say anything about you. It was simply polite conversation.”
Paul picked that exact moment to walk into the parlor, and Madeline wondered if he planned it that way or if he had been eavesdropping. “Good morning,” he greeted cheerily.
Switching to English, Yuri replied, “Good morning, Mr. Arnoud. Madeline and I were just talking about you. Please have a seat. We were just finishing our chess game.”
He pulled up a chair next to Madeline as she slid her queen to the other side of the board. Paul looked at the game, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Comrade, I believe your bodyguard will have you mated in four moves.”
“I’m not surprised; in all the times we’ve played, I believe I’ve won four times.”
“Three actually,” Madeline stated, glancing at Paul. “The fourth was a stalemate.”
He smiled back at her. “Chess, martial arts…is there anything you’re not good at?”
Iznosko entered the parlor, as serious as ever. “Comrade, there is a telephone call for you.”
“Ah! Right on time!” He stood up. “Well, Mr. Arnoud, I will leave you in Madeline’s capable hands…figuratively speaking, of course. Madeline, why not show him the gardens? I know how well you like them. And I will see both of you on the shooting range in an hour.”
“The shooting range?” Paul asked as he followed Madeline out the French doors. He shielded his eyes from the bright sun, nearly tripping down the cobblestone steps into the gardens. “What weapon will we be using?”
“A bow and arrow. In addition to chess, Yuri enjoys archery. He considers himself quite good, so try not to beat him too badly, hmm?” She glanced over her shoulder and returned to her normal voice. “We should be all right now, though I’m sure Yuri is watching us from his office.”
He smiled at her. “I’m impressed.”
“Well, it appears as though we have a lot in common. Although I know very few dim mak points and probably couldn’t manipulate them properly, I have been known to play a mean game of chess.”
“And that counts as a lot in common?” She laughed lightly, looking at the path below her feet. There was something interesting about her new-found partner, something she liked but couldn’t identify. “The sale is in thirty-six hours.”
“That’s not much time. Any ideas on how to get him to Kiev?”
“Actually, he will be visiting the Ya-Ya Club tonight. We can kidnap him on the way there or on the way back.”
“The Ya-Ya Club? Sounds interesting. What is it?”
“It’s a very exclusive club on the coast. Various activities take place there during the week, but on Saturdays, it’s the Turkish belly dancing triplets.”
“Belly dancing,” he repeated with a chuckle. “Mishka certainly has a wide range of tastes.”
“He’ll invite you to be hospitable,” she continued, sitting down on one of the benches across from the fountain. “After all, you’re spending a lot of money. He wants to keep you happy.”
“Will you be there?”
“Any other guards?”
“No. Typically, when Yuri goes out for an evening, he’ll take me. He doesn’t trust the other guards as much. There will be a chauffeur, Vladimir, driving the limousine.”
“What about Iznosko?”
Madeline shook her head. “No, he never comes. He prefers to stay in the shadows so no one knows who he is, in case something happens to Yuri.”
“Well, he’ll be inheriting the business pretty soon.” Paul leaned back, folding his arms across his chest and glancing at the windows of the house. “Which one is Mishka’s office?”
“The farthest to the left. The windows are tinted; you won’t be able to tell if he’s watching or not. Though, knowing Yuri, he’ll be watching us until we leave for the archery range.”
“How did you get this assignment anyway? Why not stay at Section and work as a cold op? Why did you choose undercover missions?”
“I didn’t. George assigned me to this.”
“I don’t know. It could be because Mishka had such a large list of buyers that Section wanted to keep tabs on him. Maybe George didn’t think I could handle the field.”
“Well, from what I’ve seen, you’re fantastic.”
Madeline tried to hide the smile that threatened to expose her. “Aside from Adrian as head of operations, a handful of women in Comm and Medical, and a few cold ops, Section is a boy’s club. They trained me, they trained with me, and now I work with one.”
“Oh, come on. I’m not that bad, am I?”
“Th–” A shiver ran through her as she felt his thigh brush against hers. “No, of course not, but–” His fingertips tickled the side of her face, and she turned toward him. “What are you doing?”
“Flirting with you.” Curling his fingers against her cheek, he stroked his thumb in circles on her temple. “Mishka might be watching; we have to give him a believable show.”
Her pulse quickened at their contact. Was he teasing her solely for Yuri’s benefit, or was there something more to his touch? Could it really feel this intimate and be nothing more than a game? Developing a real attraction for this man would be dangerous, and yet… She forced herself to pull away. “He already believes it. If we behave too intimately, he’ll be suspicious. You heard him: ‘Not much of a serious love affair can occur in thirty-six hours.'”
“I could fall in love with you in thirty-six hours.”
For the first time in her life, Madeline was completely speechless. She turned and stared at him, her mouth open, a weak little grunt emerging from her throat. Surely he didn’t mean what he just said.
“Within the mission parameters, of course,” he added, grinning broadly.
Her heart sunk at his words, and she wondered what was wrong with her. “Of course.”
End of part 2