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.
Madeline leaned back in the limousine, folding her hands in her lap. It would be ten minutes before Yuri figured out they weren’t headed for home. Paul had contacted a local operative to take the place of their usual driver, and Yuri had been too tipsy to notice. Now he was rattling on about the dancers and drinking more wine. Occasionally Paul would glance at her and offer a smile, but she tried to ignore him.
When they reached the airport, they would fly to Kiev, Yuri would be interrogated, Section would retrieve the plutonium, and she would be on her way to Paris for another mission. Just a little longer, she told herself. Then you’ll be free from distractions.
Spending a year with men who found her undesirable had been well-received; it was so much easier to work together if sex wasn’t part of the equation. That was partly why she always dressed in pants, wore her hair pulled back, and shunned make-up. She had expected Paul to be like every other man she knew and ignore the fact that she was a woman.
But he didn’t. He seemed to like her, which both intrigued and infuriated her. It would be easier if they had maintained a professional distance instead of developing some sort of camaraderie. Especially since he doesn’t know the first thing about my past.
They passed the road for Yuri’s house, but he didn’t seem to notice. Sighing inwardly, Madeline continued her role as the loyal bodyguard and announced, “The driver just missed the turn.”
Yuri laughed. “Maybe he’s drunk, too.”
“I doubt it.” She knocked on the tinted glass behind her, twisting her body to face it. “Vladimir?” As planned, the glass between the two compartments slid down, and Madeline found herself staring at a gun barrel. “What is this?”
The operative in the passenger seat smiled at her. “What does it look like?”
Paul removed his own weapon and held it at Yuri. “Now we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Where’s the plutonium?”
Yuri looked baffled for a moment, but the drunkenness quickly passed, and he glared at him. “I should’ve known.”
“Where is it?”
“I suppose this is a lesson. ‘Always sell to your original buyer.'” His amused grin disappeared. “You’ll never get that plutonium.”
“No?” Paul gave a nod, and the man in the passenger seat grabbed Madeline’s jaw and pulled her against the seat, holding a knife at her throat. “If I don’t, he’ll kill her. You wouldn’t want to see your precious guard bleeding to death, would you? Or are your feelings for her as make-believe as mine?”
There was a moment of silence before Madeline shouted to him in Ukrainian. Yuri lunged toward Paul, wrestling for the gun, and the operative released her. She struck Yuri in the back of his neck, and he crumpled forward, unconscious.
“Gentlemen, meet our undercover operative, Madeline.” Paul struggled to put Yuri in an upright position beside him. “That’s Danny driving the car, and Yves is the one who held you hostage.”
They both said hello to her, which she reciprocated politely. Yves was clearly French, but Danny’s accent indicated that he was from New York City. Probably why he didn’t speak earlier.
“Damn Commie roads,” Danny muttered. “Too bumpy to turn around to see if she’s cute. She sounds cute.”
“Ah, oui,” Yves said. “She’s cute.”
Madeline returned to her seat, trying to keep her expression as neutral as possible. Paul chuckled. “Welcome to the team.”
Madeline stood in the White Room, gazing at Yuri. He was still unconscious–nothing that a bit of ammonium carbonate wouldn’t cure. She blinked at the small vial of the mixture in her hand and hesitated. When she waved it under his nose, he would know everything, that she had been deceiving him for over a year. And for what? Plutonium that could have been retrieved at the exchange tomorrow.
But they were watching, the interrogators on the other side of the glass. She could feel their presence behind her as they waited for her to awaken the prisoner. She held out the vial, and Yuri jerked into awareness.
“Madeline?” He squinted at her. “What’s happening? Are you all right?”
She drew in a breath, finally discarding the vocal disguise that she had used for so long. “I’m fine.”
Her voice startled him almost as much as the ammonium carbonate. “You– You’re working with him, aren’t you? You’re both after the plutonium.”
“Mr. Mishka, are you aware of an organization called Section One?” He didn’t answer. “We need the location of the plutonium before it falls into the wrong hands. You’re going to give it to us. Then you’ll be killed. Do you understand?” The door behind her creaked open, and the two chief interrogators stepped in, rolling a cart of sharp medical instruments. “Your cooperation will make the process less painful.” She turned around and headed for the exit, pulling the door closed.
Before it shut entirely, she heard Yuri say, “How could you?” Madeline closed her eyes and allowed the door to be sealed, drowning out the sounds.
How, indeed. How had it been possible to fool a man so completely? And how could she feel both guilty and powerful at the same time?
She straightened, turning her head toward Paul as he strode down the corridor toward her. He had found time to shower and change as well and was now wearing a different black outfit. And he was alone; neither Yves nor Danny were with him. She tilted her head to the side. Was that good or bad?
“How long do you think it’ll take them to break Mishka?” he asked, stopping beside her.
“It shouldn’t be long.”
“Good. Hey, listen. The guys in Comm tell me there’s a diner down the street that’s open twenty-four hours. Hungry?”
“No, thank you.”
She shook her head. The last thing she needed was to spend more time getting to know him. “I’d rather wait for the interrogation to be completed.”
“I checked the profile. Neither of us are on the team to retrieve the plutonium; we’re just waiting to make sure it’s safely in Section’s hands before we return to Paris. There’s nothing left for us to do except wait, and wouldn’t you rather wait somewhere less intimidating?”
She heard a man’s scream coming from inside the White Room. Yuri’s scream. But weren’t the walls soundproof? Why could she hear him screaming? She looked at Paul; he was still waiting for an answer. Were the screams inside her head? “Fine. Let’s go.”
Paul sighed to himself, sipping his coffee without really tasting it. The diner was empty except for a few late-night customers. They had taken a table in the corner, far from the other patrons. And although they had been together for half an hour, they’d hardly spoken a word. He had tried to initiate conversation to no avail. Her sudden shift from alert to sullen made it difficult, and hiding behind the missions parameters was no longer an option. He suspected that her mood had something to do with Mishka, but she didn’t seem to want to talk about it. “Are you all right?” he asked finally, touching her arm.
“I’m fine,” she replied with a fake smile, turning her attention to the ham and eggs on her plate.
He watched her cut the meat into perfect squares and chuckled. “Were you a surgeon?”
She lifted her head. “What?”
“Well, you’re making very precise cuts with your knife. I figured maybe you were a surgeon before coming to Section. Or a chef.”
“No,” she said with a chuckle, putting her utensils down.
“An archer then. Or a dim mak instructor. Professional chess player?”
“No. I was a criminal intelligence analyst for ICPO-Interpol.”
“Really? Now that’s impressive.”
“Why? What did you do? I know you weren’t an archer.”
He grinned. “Absolutely not. But I was a lieutenant in the United States military. I led a platoon in Vietnam.”
“Fascinating.” Pushing her plate to the side, she cupped her chin with her hand. “So is that how Section found you, through your military service?”
“I’m not really sure how they found me.”
“Were you highly decorated?”
“Not in the least. I’m still MIA.” He paused. “If you want to get technical, I suppose you could say that I failed my first mission.”
He launched into the story, of the Viet Cong discovering their location in the Chin Doc Province, of the fifteen days of extreme torture, of their rescue and his subsequent recruitment into Section. She was fascinated, asking dozens of questions, and he felt a surge of pride. Few people had taken an active interest in his past, especially someone as detail-obsessed as Madeline.
“That must be why Section recruited you. A strong sense of loyalty, leadership abilities, resistance to torture… You’re the model operative.”
Paul smiled, waiting until their waitress had refilled his coffee cup before asking, “Well, what about you? Crime analyst for the ICPO, huh?”
“What about it?”
“Well, you must’ve turned a lot of heads to get noticed by Section.”
“We’re friendly with Interpol. It’s possible that they spoke to my department. I was very good at what I did.”
“Then why would they want to get rid of you? And why leave your family for a life of anonymity?”
“You must’ve had a family that you left behind.”
“I did, but I wasn’t really given a choice.” The words of his recruiter still echoed in his head: ‘You’re being reassigned.’
“Of course not. Once we knew about the Sections, it was either comply or be cancelled.”
“It seemed like an easy choice back then.”
“I thought you liked it here.”
“I do. It’s like being in the military, except I’m defending the world. There’s no greater honor than that.”
Madeline smiled for a moment then looked at her plate full of now-cold food. “We should probably get back to the substation. The team should be on their way to the location by now.”
“We still can’t do anything until they get there.”
He placed his hand over hers, and she looked down but didn’t move. “Please wait.”
“This isn’t going to work,” she said in a low tone, still averting her gaze. “Let’s not kid ourselves.”
“All I’m asking for is a chance.”
“You don’t know the first thing about me.”
“I know a lot about you. And I know that I want to know more.” He leaned closer to her, squeezing her hand. “Just one date. Dinner or dancing or whatever you want. And then if you still don’t think it’ll work, at least we’ll never wonder if we were missing out on something great.”
Her eyes met his, and for a moment he thought they were back at the Ya-Ya Club, playing their imaginary roles. But they weren’t. This was real. She started to say something, but the tinkling of a small bell made her stop. They looked toward the diner entrance and saw Danny. Madeline pulled her hand back and folded it in her lap.
“Danny, over here.” He waved him over, studying his expression. The man’s jaw was set, his face taut. “What’s wrong?”
“Mishka gave up the location of the plutonium, and our team just arrived on site. It isn’t there.”
“What?” Paul looked at Madeline before they both stood and followed Danny back to the substation. “Would Mishka lie about the location?”
“No,” she replied.
“If he knew he was going to die, why would he tell the truth?” Danny asked.
“He lived by the saying ‘May the best man win.’ Lying would only dishonor himself. He would never do it.”
“Oh, please. The guy sold illegal weapons, and he never lied?”
“Cut it out, Danny, it’s not her fault.” Paul glanced back at Madeline. “Do you have any idea where it might be?”
“No. The bodyguards used to be informed, but one of them stole it for himself, so now Yuri keeps it a secret. The only other person who knows where it is is Iznosko. He was going to pick it up before the exchange in a lead-encased suitcase and bring it to the designated meeting place.”
“So Iznosko knows where it is?”
“Then we go back and complete the exchange.”
“How?” Madeline demanded. “We were supposed to be back three hours ago, and by the time we get there, it’ll be even later. Besides, Yuri’s dead, and bringing a double won’t do us any good; we don’t have the necessary intel.”
“She’s right,” Danny said. “Iznosko will probably think the two of you killed him.”
He paused. An idea struck him, and he smiled. “Unless he thinks a third party is responsible.”
“Who,” Madeline asked, “the Turkish belly dancing triplets?”
Danny raised his eyebrows. “You got to see belly dancers?”
Paul shook his head. “No, not the dancers. Ng’s group. Iznosko was there; he witnessed Ng’s anger when Mishka announced that he would be auctioning off the plutonium instead giving it to him. What if he was waiting outside of the Ya-Ya Club when we left? He followed us back to Mishka’s house, opened fire on the limousine, and drove off. Mishka and the driver were killed, and we had to walk back to the house. That could account for a lot of time, particularly if we stayed later at the club for drinks and were fired upon at the end of the road. Isn’t it a mile up to the front door?” He stopped walking and looked at Madeline. “Do you think it’ll work?”
“I don’t know. It’s a long shot.”
“It’s our only chance. We have to get that plutonium. Are you with me?” She gave him a small nod. “Good. Let’s go.”
End of part 4