A fictional tale ~~~~ Part 1~~~~
Avatar emerged from the rubble first and sped to the Victorian style house. Rhea, climbed out of the debris and raced at Olympic speed, catching up to him in a few brief minutes.
“Sorry, no time for introductions, is there a back way out of this place? said Rhea, hurdling the steps to the verandah in one leap with steeplechase precision. Then, Rhea kicking her speed into another gear, caught up with the other three, now racing into the house. Meanwhile, Avatar who stood on the steps looking back at the demolished front gate, turned and walked leisurely into the house.
Suddenly the sound of police sirens which seemed to surround the premises, hastened everyone’s steps. No doubt, the neighbors, noting the recent brouhaha in their otherwise quiet upscale cul-de- sac, contacted the Sûreté nationale (National Police).
In mid stride, Rhea pocket-dialed one of the contacts her superior had provided. She hid briefly behind Megahertz’s tall frame racing towards the kitchen exit as she retrieved and spoke on her cellphone,
“This is Gatekeeper, we are possibly about to be arrested at “the nest,” back exit. Would appreciate any assistance.”
She tucked her cellphone, this time, into her travelling pack around her waist, then swiftly joined the rest of the team, with their hands up, face to face with a police officer who had just burst through the kitchen’s back door.
It seemed an eternity in the half an hour that the five sat on the sidewalk handcuffed in the blistering sun – waiting for a police van transport. Mercifully, the transportation the arresting officer ordered arrived, coming to a screeching halt near where Rhea and the team sat waiting.
The two officers departing the police van greeted the arresting officer, who waved his arm out his cruiser’s window pointing to the five handcuffed and forlorn figures sitting on the sidewalk hemmed in by his police car.
Rhea and the team were then sequestered in the back of the empty police van accompanied by one of the police officers. He was a stoic figure, with the usual police officer hair cut and stiffly pressed uniform. He sat statuesque, akin to a photo of the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace.
The tension in the police van was palpable. Rhea decided to lighten the mood.
With a warm smile, she said, “Well, this may not be the kind of introductions we envisioned but I would like to start by saying, “Pleased to meet you everyone, I am Gatekeeper. I have already met Avatar. And, making eye contact with the tall figure on her left with “M.H.z.” tattooed on his knuckles, she said, “You, must be Megahertz?” Megahertz nodded.
Then Avatar motioning with his chin, to the two team members sitting on the other uncomfortable bench seat across from them said, “And these fine gentlemen are Edge and Slice.”
Suddenly the police officer whispered, “And, I am annoyed!”
Startled, Rhea and the team looked at him quizzically.
The police officer continued, “Annoyed that I was dragged from my afternoon siesta to come and extract you… you people, from whatever scrape you have gotten yourself into!” Then, he burst into hearty laughter. Rhea and the team, suddenly realizing who he was, joined in the laughter.
Then, the “police officer” tapped on the window of the driver side of the van. At which, the van came to a slow halt in a Paris alleyway. The “police officer” then uncuffed Rhea and the team. Rhea expressed her gratitude to “the police officer” who was, in fact, a lieutenant with the National Gendarmerie (Special Forces).
As per protocol, Rhea and the team dispersed separately, amid the bustle of the 18th arrondissement’s Montmartre neighborhood.
A short while later, from her hotel room, Rhea dialed a recent number on her encrypted cellphone.
“It’s me,” she said, “I think we have a problem.”
The person at the other end of the line replied,
“Let us meet in twenty minutes, outside NAF NAF clothing boutique. Make sure you are not followed. I will do the same.”
Rhea ended the call, changed her clothes, flushed the earpiece Avatar had given her down the toilet, and headed out to the rendezvous.
As she exited the fashion boutique’s front entrance, a blue SUV was waiting. The figure in the back seat, rolled down the window. Rhea advanced to the SUV and got in.
Rhea said, “Sir.”
Thor replied, “That was quite the mess you and your team left to be cleaned up!”
“Sir, I think that entire scene, except for the Sûreté’s quick response, seemed to have been planned to put me out of commission. I am concerned that the element of surprise, in locating the item, and more specifically securing it without the team’s knowledge, may have evaporated.”
Rhea continued, “He/She or they showed some of their hand, however.”
Thor, leaning forward slightly in his seat quizzed her, “How do you mean? What have you discovered?”
Rhea said, “One team member was certainly not surprised by the hullabaloo. In fact that person made sure that he was just far enough away from the debris to come out unscathed.
Furthermore, that person planned to keep tabs on my movements around Paris, with an earpiece that was not standard issue.”
“Good, some progress on this front, finally. Remember you have resources that will watch out for you. I have made sure of that,” said Thor, “You are not alone.”
Rhea interjected, “Yes, many thanks to your staff for arranging our extraction from police custody earlier today.”
Looking her in the eyes intently, Thor said, “You have your orders, orders to which you have agreed. No?”
Rhea nodded, “Yes Sir. Understood Sir.”
As Rhea exited the SUV, Thor commented, “You’ve managed to uncover, or I should say, to partially expose more of this sordid business in one day than your predecessor did in three months. I must say, thank you, Gatekeeper.”
Leaning her diminutive frame into the SUV’s open window, Rhea carefully posed her question, “Buy the way Sir, I understand this is ‘need to know,’ as you informed me before. However, under the present state of affairs, may I ask again — who was my predecessor?”
Rhea, opened the SUV door and once again sat down, hoping he might prefer to disclose the information in private.
After a few tense moments of obvious internal struggle, Thor uttered, “Apologies, Gatekeeper, ‘need to know’ only. Keep me posted.”
Finally having exited the SUV, Rhea now stood on the bustling sidewalk watching the vehicle depart; when suddenly, someone brush passed her and pressed a small package in her hands.
Rhea looked around quickly to determine who gave her the package. She smiled remembering her days in the field when she was on the delivery side of similar exchanges. Therefore, she knew that her efforts to identify the “delivery person” would be fruitless.
She retraced her steps into the boutique and slipped out its back exit, where she opened the package to reveal a small mp3 styled device complete with Bose ear buds.
Rhea turned on the device, held it in place while it performed facial recognition, retina, DNA and fingerprint scans on her; she then pressed play and listened:
“Good afternoon Gatekeeper, this message is an update to your mission parameters. I could not divulge these details when we met because this information is classified at the highest level – one never knows who might be listening.
As you already know, six months ago a thumb drive hidden in an artifact destined for the Louvre was stolen while under your predecessor’s watch.
Hidden inside that artifact, a sixteenth century engraving plate, was a thumb drive containing one half of a satellite control program code-named “Apocalypse,” which, in the wrong hands could cripple the world’s communications.
New intelligence suggests that the other half of the program, originally presumed destroyed, will be auctioned off on the Internet’s dark web in 48 hours. You have your orders. Good luck.”
***To be continued next week***