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.
The team worked quickly and efficiently inside the airport hangar in Odessa. Mishka’s car was riddled with bullet holes from a Type 64 machine gun, a model made and used by the Chinese. Paul watched the action from inside the transport vehicle, arms folded across his chest. He was wearing the same outfit he had worn to the club, and it stank of smoke. He was dying for a cigarette.
There was a knock on the window, and he saw Madeline waiting for him outside of the car. Was that a Type 64 in her hand? He climbed out and gave her a cursory look. She wore the black dress from the club, but there was a smear of blood across the front. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, following his gaze. “It’s Yuri’s.” Her voice was much softer than normal, and he sighed.
“I–” He paused. Perhaps his belief that she was upset over betraying Mishka was unfounded. “Never mind. What’s with the Type 64?”
“Having Yuri’s blood on me shows that I defended him, but it isn’t enough.” She handed him the weapon. “Shoot me.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“If I was protecting him, I should’ve been shot, too.”
He was already shaking his head. “No.”
“This wasn’t part of the profile.”
“It is now.” She repositioned herself to better receive the bullet and pointed to her left shoulder. “Here.”
“Madeline, this is a sub-machine gun. It fires at a rate of thirteen-hundred rounds per minute–”
“Thirteen-hundred and fifteen, to be exact.”
“Okay, thirteen-hundred and fifteen. Either way, the chances of hitting you somewhere other than the shoulder are pretty great.”
“There’s only one round in it. Now hit me.”
“I trust you, Paul.”
His brows rose at the admission, and he stared at her. She remained expressionless, still poised to be shot. He lifted the gun. “Brace yourself.”
Taking a breath, he took aim and squeezed the trigger. The gun quietly fired, landing exactly where it should. Madeline gasped and grabbed her shoulder. “Oh, God, are you okay?” He dropped the Type 64 and rushed to her side, slipping his arm around her waist and holding her up.
“I guess it’s just bows and arrows that you can’t shoot.”
“That wasn’t funny.”
“I thought it was.” She winced as she pulled her hand back to examine her wound. “The bullet went straight through. Good. Now rip off part of my dress, near the hem, and wrap it around my arm.”
He followed her command, wincing at the blood that flowed from the wound. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
“For hurting you. I don’t want to hurt you.”
When he finished wrapping it, she backed away and tested her injured arm for mobility. “I’ll be fine.”
He sighed. “Madeline, about what I said in the diner–”
“Let’s just focus on the mission, all right?”
He didn’t say anything, looking down at the ground. She was right; if they lost focus, they would make a mistake and fail. Don’t complicate things, he told himself again. It was becoming a sort of mantra whenever she was around.
“Now come on. The transport’s waiting.”
They were taken almost as far as the front gate before the transport left them in the wilderness. Paul scuffed his shoes in the dirt driveway, squinting at the house through the trees. “I see four guards patrolling the perimeter.”
“There should be six,” Madeline told him, “four circling the house and two on the roof. You probably can’t see them.”
“No, but I’m sure you’re right.” He untucked his shirt, nodding to himself. Now he looked like he’d been trekking through the woods for a while. “Are you ready?” When she didn’t reply, he glanced at her over his shoulder, and his heart skipped a beat. Her body swayed as if she was being pushed by a strong wind. Before he had a chance to speak, she lurched forward, and he barely caught her before she collapsed on the ground. “Madeline? Madeline, what’s wrong?” His eyes shifted to her injured arm, and, even in the darkness, he could see the crimson stains on the makeshift bandage. “My God, you’re going to bleed to death.”
“Not likely,” she replied, her voice straining. “Now let’s go.” She tried to stand but fell almost immediately. Paul caught her again, but she waved him off. “I can walk.”
“Like hell you can.” He hoisted her into his arms. “Don’t ever ask me to shoot you again–or do anything else to hurt you.”
“I’ll be fine. This might even convince Iznosko further. The tough bodyguard being carried like a child.”
She was like a child, light and fragile. He sighed. “Are you sure you can do this?”
“I don’t have a choice. I–” Her body went limp in his arms, and he almost dropped her.
“Madeline?” He shook her slightly, but she didn’t stir. The adrenaline began to pump through him, and he jogged toward the security gate. He should’ve stuck to the original plan and not shot her; now her life was in danger. And if she dies…
Pushing the thought out of his mind, he began shouting for help, using his French accent once more. The perimeter guards rushed toward him with their weapons, but once they realized who he was, they took Madeline from his arms and carried her back to the house. Paul almost got shuffled to the back of the crowd, but he managed to shove through the front door and follow the lead guard to the parlor.
Iznosko entered the room, asking questions in Ukrainian. He saw Madeline’s body on the sofa and was unable to remain expressionless. “What happened?”
Paul knelt by Madeline’s head, his fingers in her hair. “She’s been shot; what does it look like?” One guard handed him a damp cloth, and he dabbed it along her forehead while two others cleaned her wound and changed the bandage.
“Where is Comrade Mishka?”
He shook his head. “He was killed. So was the driver, Vladimir.”
Iznosko straightened, taking a deep breath. Everyone in the room grew still for a moment then continued working. “What happened?” he asked as calmly as Paul had expected.
“Comrade Mishka wanted to stay longer, to introduce me to the dancers. We had a few more drinks, and Vladimir drove us home. When we turned on the road leading here, Vladimir was blinded by headlights and swerved into the ditch. And then…they opened fire.” He stroked Madeline’s cheek with the cloth. “I don’t know how it happened; I ducked and covered my head. But she could tell you, if she’d wake up.” He took a breath, staring at her. He wished she would wake up; her unconsciousness was worrying him, and he didn’t need any more to worry about now. “When the gunfire ceased, Madeline realized Comrade Mishka was dead, and I noticed she had been hit. We bandaged the wound with part of her dress then started walking to the house because the limousine was badly damaged. Halfway here, she began to get dizzy and fainted, and I carried her the rest of the way.”
“I see. Do you have any idea why you might be ambushed?”
Paul glared at him. “I know what you’re thinking, but I’ll get the plutonium by paying for it.”
“But it would be more convenient if you got it for free, wouldn’t it?”
“Why risk it?”
“If it’s not your organization, then who?”
“I’m sure Comrade Mishka had many enemies.”
“Tak, he had more enemies than friends. But, like you said, why risk it?”
“Because Comrade Mishka pulled out of the deal.”
Iznosko was silent for a moment. “You think the Chinese did it?”
“They had motive. Ng was angry when he lost the deal, even going so far as to try to attack Comrade Mishka. Retaliation was inevitable.”
“What proof do you have?”
“They left a weapon in the driveway, a sub-machine gun used by Chinese special forces, the Type 64.”
For the first time, Iznosko smiled, and Paul felt a sudden sense of dread. “So Ng and his organization are responsible for the death of my dear friend. Something must be done.”
“What would you suggest?” he asked, squeezing the damp cloth in his fist.
“Perhaps we should thank him.”
Ng and four armed guards stepped into the parlor from the back room. He wore a devious grin. “Actually, when I assassinate someone, I prefer to use the Soviet PK machine gun, which Ivan so courteously provides to me. You would’ve known that, had you done your homework before killing Mishka. No matter; you did the dirty work for us.”
Paul wanted to laugh at the twist but couldn’t even speak. As Ng’s guards rushed to apprehend him, one thought filled his head: I’m glad Madeline’s still unconscious.
“Madeline, wake up. Madeline.”
She opened her eyes and found Paul watching over her. “What is it?”
“Uh, I don’t know how to tell you this, but–”
“You don’t have to; I heard everything.”
“What? You mean, you weren’t unconscious?”
“Of course not.”
“It was the only way I could get you to stop apologizing.” She struggled to sit up from her uncomfortable crate bed, studying the ropes that bound them together. Fabulous. Her hands had been tied, as had Paul’s, and then their wrists were stacked and tied together as well. “At least they didn’t have the sense to tie us back to back.”
Paul stood, and she was yanked to her feet. “Well, I suppose I don’t need to explain the Iznosko/Ng alliance.”
“That was entirely unexpected.”
“There’s no contingency plan for it either.”
“Section needs better profilers.” She sighed. “The only way out of this room is through the cellar door, and there will probably be guards waiting.”
“When we were brought down here, Ng’s men were carrying up several wine crates. They said something, but I don’t speak Chinese.”
“They were warning each other to be careful and not drop it. Nothing important.”
“I guess they’re going to have a big party, now that Mishka’s dead and we’re out of the way.”
Her eyes fell on a large cylindrical container that looked like a beer keg. It was out of place in a room full of crates and bottles. “Maybe not.” She shuffled over to it, Paul in tow. “I’ve never seen this before. Can we get the lid off?”
“We can try.” He slid his fingers along the top edge of the container, searching for a handle. “Got it. You push, I’ll pull.”
She walked around to the other side–they really needed to get out of these ropes–and hooked her fingers at the bottom of the lid. Surprisingly, it lifted with ease, and she slid it aside, the scent of flavored alcohol filling her nostrils.
“A wine vat?” he suggested, dipping his finger into the liquid and tasting it.
“No, there’s no equipment for that, and Yuri never had one. It’s as if someone’s been emptying the bottles into this container.”
“Why would Mishka dump out his own wine?”
“He wouldn’t. He was an epicure in every sense of the word. He prided himself on his vast collection, and he rarely let anyone come down here.”
“Well, it’s obvious that he didn’t know everything that went on around him.”
Madeline sighed. Paul must’ve thought she was a terrible operative. If Yuri, Iznosko’s partner for ten years, didn’t know that he was double-crossing him, and she, a highly trained Section operative, didn’t pick up on it, then Iznosko was better than both of them. I’m such a fool. “We have to get out of here.”
“Unbutton my pants.”
She nearly scoffed. “Now is not the time or place to–” He began to laugh, which made her even more upset. “What’s so funny?”
“You want to escape, don’t you?”
“Yes, but how–”
“Hinged to the back of my pant button is a small blade.”
“Oh, how very James Bond of you.”
“I’m serious, Madeline.”
She grabbed his waistband with one hand and pulled. He tripped forward, bumping into her. “Ground yourself,” she said with another tug. “Because of the way we’re tied, I can only use one hand.” When she got his pants unbuttoned, she discovered the tiny blade exactly where he had said. “Now what?”
“Use the blade to saw through the ropes.”
They were already almost nose to nose, and then she’d be rubbing her hands across his waist. “Can’t you do it?”
“I’m not comfortable with this either, but my wrists were tied on top of yours. I’ll probably cut you if I do it.” He smiled. “Don’t worry, I trust you.”
Drawing in a breath and holding it for as long as she could bear, she began to slide the rope along the blade. “It’s working,” she said after a moment. “Slowly.”
“It’ll take a while. Just keep going.”
“What would you have done if we were put in handcuffs?”
“Then we would’ve had a problem.”
They remained silent for a while, Madeline gently cutting through the ropes while Paul stood still. It seemed to take an eternity, and she hadn’t even sawed halfway through when she sighed and stepped back. “This is silly. We’re not getting anywhere.”
“Don’t give up,” he said. “It’s a tiny blade and a thick rope.”
“Iznosko and Ng are probably constructing a weapon as we speak.”
“An entire city will be destroyed before we get out of here.”
“Not if you keep cutting.”
“We should just get out of here, tied together or not. We have to find them.”
“Yeah, and we’ll be killed the second we kick down the cellar door. Or, if the house is deserted and we escape, how will we drive anywhere? We have to get out of these ropes first.”
“There’s no time!”
“You have got to be the most impatient woman I have ever met.”
“And you’re the most arrogant man I’ve met. You think we just have all the time in the world to saw through these ropes, don’t you? Well, we don’t. Assuming that Iznosko and Ng don’t kill us, they know that we might still escape. Therefore, they have to build the weapon, take it to their target, and destroy it as soon as possible, only we can’t stop them because we don’t know where they are or who they’re targeting, and we’re tied up in the wine cellar.”
“Ng’s group, Rising Tide, is against democracy. Section intel suggests that they’ll target a democratic nation, the United States in particular. We’re working with the CIA and the FBI to make sure that doesn’t happen. They’re on alert. You and I have to try and stop Rising Tide before they attack. If we don’t, hopefully the local organizations will.”
The fact that he was so calm when she was almost shaking infuriated her even more. “If we fail this mission, I’ll probably be cancelled.”
“Why would you say that?” he asked.
Madeline sighed, shaking her head. “Never mind.” Turning her attention to the knife, she continued to cut through the ropes.
He lifted his arms so she couldn’t reach the blade. “Why would you say that?”
“Because I’m a terrible operative,” she answered in a low voice, surprising herself with her own admission.
“Are you crazy?” She lifted her head and frowned at him. “A terrible operative? Section would never cancel someone as resourceful as you.”
“Resourceful? Every idea I’ve had has failed!” With a small grunt, she yanked her hands down and began to saw through their bindings again.
“It wasn’t your fault, Madeline.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.”
“No one could’ve predicted that alliance.”
“I should have. I’ve lived here for a year, and I didn’t get the slightest indication that Iznosko was double-crossing Yuri.”
“Maybe he was loyal until now. Maybe Ng made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. A large sum of money, a share of the plutonium.”
“Yuri only had two kilograms. Iznosko wouldn’t be getting much, especially if he planned to use it.” She didn’t speak for a while. The concentration she needed to cut the ropes helped her focus. If only it were that easy all the time.
“So why did Adrian give you the code name H 21?”
Madeline shrugged. “It was probably a joke.”
“I can’t imagine Adrian making jokes.” He chuckled nonetheless. “What kind of joke?”
“Adrian probably didn’t expect me to last long as an operative.”
“Mata Hari was captured during her second undercover mission and executed shortly thereafter.”
“Well, she didn’t have James Bond to help her.”
She gazed at him, trying not to smile. Usually she could figure out a man’s intentions within five minutes. Paul was a different story. What was it that she found so fascinating? That he was still a mystery to her? “Do you think Ng has the resources to make a weapon with only two kilograms?”
“Rising Tide has become a much larger threat recently. They’ve received some funding from lofty sources. It’s possible.”
“So they’d have to transport the plutonium back to China?”
“Not necessarily. If they were smart, they’d have a lab in their target country. That’s probably where they’re taking the plutonium.”
“So they’d need a way to transport it.” She glanced at the giant barrel they had uncovered earlier. A barrel full of discarded wine… Ng’s men carrying up crates of wine… “You don’t think–” She shook her head. “No.”
“Nothing, just a thought.”
“What was it?”
“The crates they were carrying upstairs–how heavy did they look?”
“The guards were struggling, but they didn’t look heavy, just cumbersome.”
“What if… What if the plutonium was in the crates?”
“The wine crates? How? In wine bottles?” He paused, turning his attention to the vat. “So Iznosko and Ng emptied enough bottles to hold the plutonium.”
“It’s illegal to fly in U.S. airspace with plutonium on board for safety purposes. But if they disguise themselves as distributors of wine–”
“No one will suspect a thing.”
“They’ll be able to fly into Washington, D.C. and take the plutonium to their laboratory.”
“If that’s the case, we need to get to them before they’re airborne.”
“We’ll be out of these ropes in a–” The blade made its last slice, and she grinned. “–second.” They each struggled out of their individual bindings and were finally freed. She rubbed her wrists absently. “Remind me to thank your tailor when we get back to Section.”
Paul headed for the staircase, creeping up the steps, Madeline close behind. He turned the knob. “It’s locked.”
She reached for her bun and removed a hair pin. “Here.”
He chuckled. “Looks like Mata Hari has a few tricks up her sleeve after all.” After a few moments, the lock clicked, and he returned her pin. “All right, now we’re getting somewhere. Come on.”
They walked through the house, peeking around corners and checking behind doors. It seemed deserted. Madeline went to Yuri’s office and pried open the drawer where he kept the PM and one box of ammunition. The gun itself was loaded. She sighed. Sixteen rounds and one weapon. Would it be enough?
“This wing of the house is empty.” Paul leaned against the door frame. “What do you have there?”
“Yuri’s Makarov. He didn’t like using pistols, but he kept this one nearby whenever he was in his office.” She handed it to him. “Here.”
“Why don’t you keep it?”
“You have larger hands; it’s too bulky for me.”
“You’ve proven yourself to be an excellent shot, Paul. If something happens, I’m confident that you’ll hit the target.”
“All right, but I’m not shooting you again.” He tucked the gun into the waistband of his pants. “We should get going. Do you know where we can get a car or some method of transportation?”
She smiled. “Absolutely.”
End of part 5