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.
“As they say in your country, voilà.” Mishka seemed quite pleased with himself, as he presented a dozen tiny tuna sandwiches and three glasses of wine. “And bon appétit.”
“À votre santé,” Paul said, raising his glass in a toast before taking a sip. “Hmm. Pinot Noir. Very good.”
Mishka chuckled, gazing over at Madeline, who was already launching arrows into the center of the target fifty yards ahead. “You could learn something from him, Madeline. He appreciates the finer things in life.”
“I appreciate the finer things,” she replied absently, focusing on her solo game.
“She says this, but I don’t believe her.” He laughed again, sitting down in the white cast iron chair and putting two sandwiches on his plate. “Speaking of finer things, Mr. Arnoud, I attend a weekly belly dancing performance at the Ya-Ya Club. Would you care to join me this evening?”
“Will there be any…lovely ladies in attendance?” Paul asked, just loud enough so that Madeline could hear, and tried not to laugh. Her posture shifted slightly, and he wondered if she was rolling her eyes. Despite her insistence that Mishka was already aware of their growing attraction for each other, Paul couldn’t help but plot more amorous actions for this evening. Nothing like ruffling her feathers a little bit.
“Oh, the dancers are quite exquisite…although I’m sure you’re referring to Madeline, and, yes, she will be joining us.”
“Then I’d be delighted.”
After a quiet lunch interrupted only by the constant whooshing of Madeline’s arrows, Mishka handed Paul a bow and a container of arrows. “Here you go. You may begin whenever you’d like.”
He stared at the equipment carefully. Archery wasn’t high on Section’s list of weapons training, so Paul had never bothered to learn it. He had taken an introductory course, which boiled down to ‘point and shoot,’ just like everything else.
Madeline noticed his hesitation and chuckled. “Let me guess; you’re not an archer. Here.” She held up some gear which he vaguely recognized. “This is your arm guard. Wear it on your lower arm, near the wrist, to protect it from being slapped by the string. No doubt you’ll need it.” Smiling sheepishly, he put it on. “This is the finger tab.” She slipped the leather padding onto his right middle finger. “To protect you from string friction. Now put the quiver on your back.”
She pointed to the container of arrows, and he obeyed her command. “Pull out an arrow.”
He reached over his shoulder, wildly trying to find an arrow and grasping nothing but air. “I can’t find them.”
Madeline shook her head, giving him one of hers and glancing at an amused Mishka. “I hope you didn’t have any other plans for Mr. Arnoud. We’re going to be here for a while.”
The archery lesson lasted most of the afternoon. Under Madeline’s tutelage, Paul was able to go from missing the target every time to hitting at least the outer ring. It was embarrassing; with any other weapon, he was an excellent marksman, but with a bow, he was a nightmare. Madeline eventually returned to her own target, openly enjoying the fact that she was better than him. He scowled at his own incompetence. I’m taking an archery class when I get back to Section, he determined silently, watching his arrow once again miss the target.
Fortunately for him, the humiliation was over around four o’clock, when Madeline joined the other guards for a five mile run. Mishka challenged him to a game of chess, and Paul readily accepted, hoping to regain his pride in his abilities.
They settled into the parlor alone, a fact which interested Paul. Did Mishka trust him enough to not have a guard nearby, or were they being watched? Maybe he thought Madeline was a good judge of character, and since she trusted him, Mishka should too. Whatever the case, Paul was glad to be alone with him. It gave him the opportunity to ask about Madeline, not only for the mission but for his own curiosity as well.
“I’ve enjoyed your home,” Paul said, taking the first move of the game. “I’m curious; the interior seems to be English, from the Victorian period, and I’ve seen those same gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Nothing here suggests you live in the Soviet Union. Why?”
“Soviet design is not very classy.” He chuckled. “I took what I considered to be the most beautiful things in the world and put them in my home. You see, I grew up in a life of poverty. Like many boys, I joined the army, trying to make something of myself. Of course, it didn’t work; my superiors were wealthy and didn’t think much of a poor boy like me.”
“So you got into arms dealing?”
“Yes. One day, we killed several American spies. I was sent to retrieve their weapons. When I held them in my hands, I realized that people would pay a lot of money to have them. So I told my superior that the Americans had no weapons, and he believed me. I sold them later and made a great deal of money. After that, I quit the army and became a weapons dealer full time. When I made enough money to build a house, I promised myself that it would represent wealth and superiority over those who had oppressed me.”
“Understandable.” Smiling, Paul slid his bishop across the board, capturing Mishka’s rook.
“It seems that your skills lie more in chess than they do in archery, Mr. Arnoud.”
He smirked. “Please, call me Jean-Paul. You’re correct; I’m not much of an archer, but you, Comrade, seem to have many interests.”
“Yes, although my interest in chess was waning until Madeline came along. It became our private hobby.”
Paul captured another pawn with one of his own. “You seem quite fond of her.”
“I am. She’s a lovely young woman. I enjoy her company.”
“Her company as a chess opponent or as something more?”
For a moment, Mishka looked stunned, but his laughter soon returned. “Oh, no, Jean-Paul, you misinterpret my statement. Madeline is not even thirty, and I am an old man by comparison. No, my interest in her is strictly platonic. A mentor/student type of relationship, if you will.”
“I’ve noticed that she calls you Yuri, yet no one else does, including your second-in-command. Why is that?”
“We’re quite close. She saved my life once.” He still seemed touched by the incident, pausing to reflect before moving his knight.
“It was only a few weeks after Madeline came into my employment. We were conducting a business deal. Somehow, a third party discovered the location of the meet, and we were ambushed. It was a bloodbath; nearly all of my buyer’s representatives were wiped out, as well as most of my guards. Madeline had been shot in the thigh, but she somehow managed to get both of us out alive. It is a debt I can never repay.”
He had a sudden feeling of guilt but forced himself to ignore it. Mishka was a dangerous man, not someone to sympathize with. “She sounds like a remarkable woman.”
“As you are slowly finding out for yourself. Tell me, Jean-Paul, what is your interest in her?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he said softly, his statement hitting closer to home than he would have liked. Now is not the time to complicate things, Paul.
“Well, do you plan on taking her when you take the plutonium?”
“No, I wouldn’t want to get her mixed up in the things I do. However, the next time my superiors wish to purchase weapons, I’ll nominate myself to go along as the buyer. Maybe we’ll be able to pick up where we leave off.”
“By all means. I would imagine Madeline would appreciate the visit.” He leaned across the board and lowered his voice. “I watched her with you today.”
“Many times. In the gardens, on the shooting range. Perhaps I am making too much of it, but I think she likes you.”
“Really?” Mishka had known her longer; he would notice a change in her behavior if she was attracted to someone. Or maybe it was due to their Section partnership. Whatever the case, Paul was interested. If Madeline was attracted to him, then maybe when this was all over… Don’t complicate things, his mind said again.
“I’ve seen her with men who have taken a liking to her, as you have, but I’ve never seen her reciprocate or even want to reciprocate. But you, you’re different.” Mishka’s tone changed, and his ever-present smile nearly vanished. “So if you hurt her, you will regret it for the rest of your very short life.”
Paul moved his queen toward the opposite end of the board, cornering Mishka’s king. “Check.”
Madeline fumbled down the stairs in her heels, the long black dress pulled up to her knees. How did Yuri expect her to protect him if she was wearing such a ridiculous outfit? It must have something to do with Paul; he never asked her to wear a dress. In fact, he preferred it when she didn’t. Yet when she returned from her run, one had been waiting for her, along with the shoes and a note in Yuri’s neat, tiny handwriting: ‘Wear this tonight.’ As always, it was beautiful and expensive: a Parisian, form fitting dress that hung a bit low with thin straps and a small side slit. She had never worn anything so revealing in her entire life; fashion had never been one of her interests. The less noticeable she was, the better. But now, she had a bad feeling that she’d be ogled as much as the dancers.
She reached her destination without incident. Paul was waiting in the foyer, alone, his hands resting casually in the pockets of his black slacks. I wonder if our color coordination was coincidental, she thought as she looked at the rest of him. He also wore a matching turtleneck, something she hadn’t imagined he’d look handsome in. Where did that come from? Madeline sighed audibly, catching the attention of her partner.
The stiffness of his expression softened when he saw her, and his gaze made a long, lazy travel over her body. She found herself strangely flattered by his interest. If it had been anyone else, she would have been appalled. Brief panic swept through her; was she blushing? “Well?” she demanded, a bit angrier than she meant to be.
Paul grinned. “What do you know? You are a woman.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He took two steps closer to her, and she took one back. “No wonder you’ve been dressing like your male counterparts; you’re even more beautiful than I imagined.” He picked up her hand and kissed it.
She continued to frown. The line between reality and acting was thinly drawn; was he being serious or simply pretending for the mission’s sake? Even worse, she was starting to hope that he was sincere.
Yuri entered the room and gave her that knowing look that had become permanent since Paul’s arrival. She quickly tugged her hand away, tucking it behind her back with the other one, and asked, “Are you ready to leave?”
“Of course, but are you? I could give you a few more moments if you wish.”
She glanced suspiciously at Paul, who was grinning, then back at Yuri. They must’ve formed some bond while she was jogging. What had he told Yuri about their relationship to make him so tolerant, even teasing? Lifting her chin, she shook her head. “No, we’re quite finished.”
Yuri chuckled. “Then let’s go.”
Although the dancers were still backstage, the music at the Ya-Ya Club had a distinct Middle Eastern flair. Mishka was well-known by the owner, who greeted him warmly and led him to his usual table. Paul walked beside Madeline, an insane need to protect her running through him. It seemed as though everyone in the club had noticed her and her outfit, and he didn’t like the hungry stares. Obviously she could take care of herself–maybe even more so than he could–but a part of him wanted the chance.
Paul smiled to himself when they sat, Madeline between the two of them. The table was close to the open area of floor where the dancers would be. Placing one arm along the back of the booth, he leaned across Madeline to talk to Mishka. “What kind of troupe performs tonight?”
“A set of triplets from Turkey: Vanya, Kanya, and Janya. They’re quite good, very seductive.”
“Do they dance with swords or snakes?”
“No, neither, although sometimes they interact with the audience, which can be considered close to snakes.”
He chuckled and leaned back, inching closer to Madeline. Her posture was stiff, and she stared straight ahead. The mission must be difficult for her, he thought. But which part? Casually, he moved his outstretched arm forward slightly, making his fingers brush against her bare shoulder. She flinched imperceptibly. We’re both nervous about the same thing.
Occasionally, missions for Section required the use of an operative’s Valentine skills, the techniques associated with seduction and sex. Although Paul wasn’t concerned about his own abilities, he had never used them on a fellow operative before; he had only had to seduce someone from the opposing side.
It seemed simple enough in theory, pretending to be someone’s lover, but now he found himself honestly attracted to Madeline. It wasn’t just physical, but he felt connected to her. They both worked for the same side, answered to the same superiors, shared the same dangers. His previous relationships with women outside of Section always lacked honesty, due to the secretive nature of his work, and the ones he attempted with those in Section, women who didn’t understand the constant hazard of field work, were never fulfilling.
And now… He sighed, gazing at Madeline’s profile as she continued to stare forward. In most cases, he didn’t have a problem making the first move, but tonight he felt as nervous as he did on his first date as a teenager. If he didn’t act, Mishka might start to get suspicious. But if he did act… Would I be able to stop?
“Finally,” Mishka muttered as the music faded out. He grinned at Paul before settling back in his seat. “I hope you enjoy it.”
The lights dimmed, and a different song floated from the speakers. It was faster and featured many instruments that he didn’t recognize. Then three women stepped out from behind the curtains, tapping their thumbs and middle fingers together, where they had placed tiny cymbals. Each of them wore an identical outfit of a different color, either blue, red, or purple. The costumes were ornate: long flowing skirts and bras adorned with gold fringe and coins. They revealed the well-toned stomachs of the dancers, which Paul figured was part of their appeal. He’d seen better performers before.
The music was loud enough that he wouldn’t be heard by Mishka, so he dropped his accent and whispered to Madeline, “You know, Mata Hari was a belly dancer, too.”
“She wasn’t a belly dancer; she was an exotic dancer and a courtesan.”
“Well, she certainly had the men captivated. Have you taken a look around the room? They’re practically zombies.”
Madeline glanced at the other guests. “They always get like this. So does Yuri.”
He peeked around her head at his host. The man’s eyes were glued on the performance. “I see.”
“I suppose the question is why aren’t you drooling all over yourself?”
“They’re fascinating, I’m sure, but there are other things I’d rather stare at all night.”
She turned toward him with slight hesitation. “Such as?”
“You. After all, if I’m attracted to you, I should be looking at you, not them. Mishka might get suspicious.” As soon as he said the words, he regretted them. Something flickered in her eyes but passed before he could figure out what it was. He was hiding behind the pretense of the mission, and he knew it, but it seemed easier than being honest.
“Well, he’s not watching.” She faced forward again, fixing her eyes on the dancers as they shimmied their hips and clapped their cymbals in time with the song.
“Madeline, relax.” He slid his hand over her knee then began to trace circles on it with a finger. Drawing in a breath, she leaned back, inadvertently sending herself into his arms. “Well, that’s a start.”
She sighed and crossed one leg over the other, her jaw set in the same arrogant manner as when they had first met. “I told you, he’s not looking.”
“No, but others are. Do you see the guy three tables to our left? He keeps looking this way.”
She turned her eyes in that direction. “He could just be watching the dancers.”
“I saw him stare at you when we came in, and he wasn’t the only one.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway; we’ll be in Kiev by midnight, and I’ll never see any of these people again–with the possible exception of you.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed.”
“Did I sound disappointed?” Madeline arched her neck away from him, but he wasn’t sure if it was a purposeful action or not. “I just meant that I’d probably see you around Section, if there are no undercover missions for me.”
“Have you considered just being a cold op?”
“That’s what I wanted, but George said I–” She drew in a breath as his lips caressed her skin. “–would be better in long-term missions.”
“You smell wonderful,” he whispered. “What kind of perfume is that?”
“I’m not wearing perfume.”
Whatever it was, it was making his head swim. He trailed gentle kisses along her neck until he reached the spot below her ear. Madeline’s hand slipped from her leg to his, and he clasped it. This was wrong. Falling for a fellow operative was high on the list of stupid things to do, and he needed to stop before it was too late. Who am I kidding? he thought, pulling back to look at her. It’s already too late.
The deep brown of her eyes was mesmerizing. For a long moment, neither of them moved. Then Paul brought his hand up and stroked her cheek with the back of her fingers before cupping her face. She leaned forward, and he could feel her uneven breathing against his lips. Despite his mind’s attempts to stop him, he closed his eyes and tilted his head toward her with undeniable desire.
Lights. Applause. He shook the fog from his head as Madeline thrust herself into a standing position and began to cheer for the dancers. It was over. It was over, and he hadn’t even gotten started. He stood as well, uncertain as to whether he should be relieved or annoyed. And now that Madeline was ignoring him, he was sure it was the latter.
“Does this mean it’s over?” he asked.
“Definitely not,” Mishka replied.
“Good.” Paul smiled at Madeline, who averted her gaze. Because I have a feeling that this is just the beginning.
End of part 3