Meanwhile, in a classified hi-tech boardroom in Scotland Yard’s basement, a joint team of British Intelligence and Police senior officers huddled in secrecy. They watched a satellite feed, in real-time, of a woman exiting a Mini Cooper. The woman, in a brown fall coat, walked from her vehicle towards a top-secret government safe house at number 110 Dartmouth Palace Way.
Suddenly, Scotland Yard’s interim Chief, Adonis Zodek exclaimed into the hushed, anticipatory silence:
“Bloody hell! What was that!”―pointing to a massive flash of light and smoldering debris plumage suddenly visible on the 126-inch wall-mounted screen display at the front of the boardroom. The live feed’s vivid detail came courtesy of Great Britain’s secret low earth-orbiting (LEO) satellite technology―its ‘eyes in the sky.’
“Looks like a large explosion at the house,” said his Second-in-command, Detective Inspector Halifax Granger, seated at the boardroom’s computer console outfitted with multiple systems monitoring police and emergency calls. “And, several 999 calls are coming in from that vicinity.”
Then, the large screen went dark.
A gentleman, seated in the shadows at the far end of the boardroom table, who had not spoken thus far said, “Excuse me, can you get that image back?”
Detective Inspector Granger explained that the satellite was no longer in range. The next available satellite would take four hours to task to that location.
“Blimey technology! Please have someone ensure there are no injuries, specifically, Lady Marlee. I will never hear the end of it from my wife, the Duchess.”
Leaning forward slightly out of the shadows, the gentleman addressed the only woman in the group,
“Special Agent Eveningstar, you have a good working relationship with Lady Marlee, perhaps it would look less…eh…suspicious if you called her, just to check in with her, on her progress, of course.”
“Yes, Sir, absolutely,” said Wendy Eveningstar.
She quickly got up, stepped outside the dark concrete bunker-like boardroom, into the hallway, and dialed on her cellphone.
Meanwhile, the explosion had jostled Marlee’s footsteps, throwing her stride off-kilter. The home at number 110 Dartmouth Palace was distant from her position by several hundred meters. Therefore, other than the ringing in her right ear, she sustained no injuries from the explosion.
She turned and dashed to her car, racing to get into her vehicle and to exit the scene before emergency vehicles and spectators arrived. She was paid well to keep her work discreetly in the shadows.
She sped out of the cul de sac but slowed down cautiously after a few kilometers, parking unobtrusively among several vehicles, two of which were also Mini Coopers languishing in coffee’s aroma outside a nearby Starbucks.
A veteran of explosive situations, Marlee, was not disturbed by recent events. She took a deep breath to gather her thoughts. Since her one physical lead was destroyed, obviously to bury any evidence, she teased her thoughts for options. The clock was ticking on this one, according to her Supervisor, Wendy Eveningstar.
She scribbled the words to Issa’s haiku in her field notebook. The haiku was her first clue in this case. It was left duct-taped to her doorbell yesterday morning in an envelope labeled “A haiku mystery for you Marlee.” It read,
looking here and looking there
Have you lost your bag
“Hmmm…” she mused out loud while making notes in her field notebook, “The first line suggests that Sir Christopher Wren is the key to this mystery. “Perhaps,” she thought out loud, “there may be a clue at St. Paul’s Cathedral, his architectural masterpiece, and his final resting place.”
Just then, her cellphone rang. It was Wendy, her Supervisor at Lloyds of London.
Marlee never mentioned her suspicions to anyone. But, she had a hunch that Wendy was not who she claimed to be.
However, she never pursued the matter. The money was good. And, Marlee could continue her passion for investigative work. More to the point, Marlee had benefitted from Wendy’s powerful influence on more than one occasion.
Therefore, whether Wendy was withholding information, or had her own agenda, this was not a battle Marlee wanted to take on. One has to choose one’s battles. And this, was not Trafalgar.
However, Marlee thought it wise to neither inform Wendy of the explosion nor, to divulge her latest potential clue, at this time.
“Hello, Wendy, calling to check-in?”
“Yes, I am under enormous pressure to recover the painting quickly. Any leads, so far?”
“No, it’s still early days yet. Give me some more time to conduct surveillance.”
“Okay, Marlee, may I follow up perhaps, tonight?”
“Can you give me forty-eight hours? You didn’t give me much to go on, you know?”
“True. Well, how about thirty-six hours, sound fair?”
“Thanks, Wendy. Hopefully, I should have something for you then.”
As she started her car and drove onto the main road in London’s Southwest to investigate her one real lead, she was grateful to whoever left her the haiku clue.
She maneuvered her Mini Cooper amid taxi cabs and the morning chant of city life on Fleet Street. She was on her way to Ludgate Hill upon which rested, the seat of London’s faith, St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Arriving at the Cathedral, Marlee parked her Mini Cooper some distance from the entrance.
Large bags and cameras were not allowed inside for security reasons. Therefore, she slung her very small wallet-sized handbag over her shoulder. It contained: her field notebook and the SD cards with her raw footage of the explosion at 110 Dartmouth Palace Way from earlier this morning. Next, she tucked her identification, cellphone, and keys in her jacket pockets, as usual.
She began walking towards the entrance to the Cathedral’s steps. Then suddenly, she felt as though she was being followed. She stopped and took in her environment. She saw no one suspicious.
Moments later, as she continued walking, making her way past a MacDonalds just a few short steps from the Cathedral’s entrance, a young man in a Tommy Hilfiger hoodie brushed past her with force. He yanked her small wallet-sized handbag from her shoulder and sped off with it into the early morning crowd. Marlee chased him zealously weaving in and out of startled onlookers. But, he was too quick on his feet. She lost him, and her small handbag.
Then, her cell phone rang.
Standing hunched over, with her hands on her hips, gasping for air from her impromptu race, Marlee answered.
“Did you get the second clue? Asked, the computer-synthesized voice at the other end of the call.
“Who is this?” Marlee finally catching her breath, asked.
The voice, evading her question replied, “And don’t bother trying to trace this call!”
Then the caller hung up.
At the same time, back at the boardroom in Scotland Yard’s basement, the Intelligence Liaison to the British House of Parliament, resting his hands on his walking stick, nodded politely to Wendy Eveningstar, who had rejoined the group in the boardroom. Then, with urgency in his voice, he asked,
“Do we have any leads on the items concealed in the painting? Did we cover our tracks well enough at the house? What do you think?”
The eleven persons he had invited to the urgent joint task force meeting, all avoided the Earl’s piercing gaze.
He continued with a shrug of his shoulder, “Lady and gentlemen, to loosely quote a line from a popular television series,
‘I have a boardroom full of special agents, the finest technology, and national superheroes present, ―give me something!’ I have a national security breach to explain at Number 10 (10 Downing Street, London) in an hour.”
Not even the silence offered a reply.
**To be continued next Sunday**