It was a Sunday evening in July of 1990, and the air was warm and still as a scruffy-looking but well-dressed man rose unsteadily to his feet and observed his surroundings. Slowly he removed a grubby handkerchief from his hip pocket and began mopping blood from his face with it. Cobblestones pressed into the soles of his bare feet, spray from a water fountain just behind drifted into his mullet-like dark hair. After a brief glance at his feet, the man still was not entirely convinced of his lack of shoes. Vaguely he wondered why they might have been missing, but finding out what had happened to them didn't really seem to matter right now. His head was spinning, as he was still returning to full consciousness. The sun was low on the horizon, its rich red rays blinding him as he stared over the low parapet-like wall just in front of him. Squinting through his fingers the man could just make out the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, interrupting the horizon in needle-like fashion just a few miles away. Below him stretched a city that must be Paris. Gingerly he felt a sticky, bloody welt on the back of his head. His name was Seacord, Richard Seacord; his number, 47; occupation: special agent, Interpol.
Mack Peters, a rotund, middle-aged American, leaned casually back at his desk and gazed out at the Eiffel Tower, stark against the fast-setting sun. He puffed lightly on a hand-made cigar and stroked his almost bald head. "That copper upstairs?" spinning his chair around he asked in a thick accent of a tall thin man beside him.
"Yes sir," replied Carl, Peters' assistant, a slight trace of French detectable in his voice, "We caught him asking questions at the post office again this morning, and brought him here. I'm afraid he would've interfered with our plans."
"Bring him down," demanded Peters, "I wanna find out how much 'e knows."
"Very good." Carl left the room through its large, carved-oak double doors.
Amelia Steiner flicked back her long blonde hair, and peered through tiny dark-framed glasses out the window of an Air France Boeing
. The city of Paris lay in the shadows of dusk below her. A handbag closely resembling that carried by the British ATS
lay on her lap. The 23 year old Swedish-German Doctor, tired after her trip, closed her eyes and awaited landing. Her thoughts were on the Bradley Biological Conference she had travelled from La Rochelle to attend the next morning.
As Dr Steiner strolled from the airbridge to collect her luggage, she whistled softly, blissfully unaware of what would befall her in the next 48 hours. She waited by the baggage carousel, eyes scanning every purple suitcase for her personalised orange tag. Sighting her suitcase, the woman retrieved it from the conveyor and briefly looked it over for signs of damage or tampering. Now with her suitcase, still she made no move to leave, but continued to eye the conveyor almost anxiously. Suddenly Steiner jumped as a pair of arms fastened themselves around her waist.
Before she could scream, a familiar voice came from behind her, "Good morning, Amy".
The arms released their grip, and Amelia turned around to face a man 5 years her junior, roughly her own height and build, and clad in black turtleneck and blue jeans that matched her own. "Walter!" she scolded, but was met only with a wide grin.
"Let me take that for you," offered Walter, reaching for his sister's suitcase.
"Thanks." She turned back to the conveyor just in time to spot a roughly A3 sized grey Peli coming towards her. Stooping, she snatched it up by the handle. In an action which to an observer may've looked like merely an accident, the back of Amelia's hand brushed the padlock, confirming that the case was still secured.
The pair walked out to a yellow two-door Citroen coupe. "Chuck your stuff in the boot," Walter smiled. "We'll pick up a chicken for lunch on the way home," he continued as he held open the passenger door for his sister. He pulled out into the traffic and headed back to his apartment, chatting happily to Amelia and catching up on the past few months they had been apart.
"Bawss, the gal jest left. There's someone with 'er. *ksht*
" A man dressed in a dark suit spoke tersely into a two-way
radio fitted in his equally dark Porsche 959
"I want them both, *ksht*" the voice of Mr Peters answered.
The 959 pulled out, then maintained enough distance from the car in front to avoid arousing suspicion. He followed the Steiners South for nearly half an hour until they entered a less densely populated area of the city. Here the man slowly closed his distance before finally making his move. He began to overtake his target.
"Walter, look out!" Amelia yelled, but she might as well have saved her breath. Her brother was an excellent driver, and he stared coldly at the driver of the black sports car that had nearly run him off the road. The man stared back, raising a 9mm pistol to his window as he did so. He motioned for them to pull over.
"It's me he's after, I'm sure of it." The doctor's voice trembled slightly.
"You know him?" Walter questioned as he skillfully manuevered around a fire hydrant. His speed increased as he did so, for he had no intention of letting this man, whoever he was, snatch away his sister.
She shook her head silently in answer to his question.
Their pursuant levelled his semi-automatic weapon and fired at the rear tire of his victim's car. Walter swerved violently as his tire blew out. Desperately he attempted to avoid a light pole. The Porsche swung sideways in front of him, blocking the road. Walter stopped, unsure of a course of action, seeing as he and his sister's opponent was armed and they were not.
The other driver got out and came over to their car, still waving his gun. "Get out," he said to the pair simply, then added "And no shouting". His prisoners complied silently. "That was very foolish of you two to try and escape." The captor pointed his gun at the boot of their car and nodded. Walter opened it promptly. "Bring them," he ordered as his eyes fell on Amelia's two pieces of luggage, then he stood back and waited for the items to be transferred to his own car. As the process was being completed he produced a pair of handcuffs from somewhere inside his coat and snapped them silently on the Steiners. Walter wondered from this if the man was working for some sort of secret police but said nothing. Opening the passenger door of his vehicle and flipping the front seat forward, the captor motioned them inside with his gun, "I shall not hesitate to shoot either of you if you try anything." He closed the door after them, and walked around to the driver's side of the vehicle.
For the time it took their abductor to get to the other side of his vehicle, brother and sister were alone. Walter pointed at the device fastening his wrist to his sister's, "Secret police perhaps?" Seeing the expression on her face, he mumbled, "I'm sorry."
"Wasn't your fault." came the fearful voice of Amelia in response.
"Mack, it's Boris. *ksht*" The driver was back in his vehicle, only now was his name known to its other occupants.
"Go ahead. *ksht*"
"I've got your order, she had the case. *ksht*"
"Excellent. *ksht*" Mack's tone sounded sardonic.
The man now known to be Boris started his engine and drove away silently, still holding his pistol, casting occasional suspicious glances behind him.
"So you won't talk, 'ey?" Peters slapped Seacord yet again. The pair had been stale-mated
for the past half-hour. "You know I don't need you
, don't you?" he lied; it was quite obvious that he must find out how much Seacord had found out and passed on. "Take him back upstairs," Peters ejaculated
in disgust, "Maybe the doctor can try her experiments on him later."
In just under 40 minutes Boris' black Porsche glided through the gates of Peters' estate, and he escorted the Steiners to his chief, shoving them roughly into the large office. Un-handcuffing them, he returned without a word to his vehicle for the doctor's belongings. "Why don't you have a seat over there?" Peters waved his cigar-brandishing hand vaguely in the direction of some chairs near his desk.
"Who are you?" demanded Dr Steiner, "You want Twelve Twenty-three, don't you?" Walter stared silently out the window over the sea of twinkling lights Paris had been transformed into, he wasn't sure what Twelve Twenty-three was, but it sounded cool.
Peters sat down on the corner of his desk and tapped his cigar in an ashtray thereon before answering. "Welcome to Paris, Doctor. I am willing to be reasonable, but I believe I already have Twelve Twenty-three. For now I shall ask all the questions. My name is Peters." His manner was suave. He paused to puff on his cigar as he turned to Walter, "And who is the gentleman with you?"
Walter blinked in the cloud of tobacco smoke and coughed quietly, it was the first sound he had made since entering the room. "I am Amelia's brother, Walter." He realised immediately the words left his mouth that revealing his biological relationship to the one from whom information was sought was probably a bad idea as it might be likely to make him the target of persuasive tactics. He almost regretted what he had just said, and mumbled something about not knowing anything, but no one else in the room heard him.
"I shall have no need of you for the present." Turning to his assistant, who had been standing quietly by the door the whole time, Peters continued, "Find him a room, Carl, I may need him later." Carl nodded and beckoned to Walter. As he opened the door to leave, Boris entered, returning from his vehicle. Ignoring Boris' return for the moment, Peters continued talking to Amelia, "Firstly, I should like to know all about your research project. I hear you have been making some amazing progress in the field of memory alteration."
Amelia cut him off, "I have been developing processes for psychological treatment, it is not for torture or terrorism. Twelve Twenty-three is for the benefit of humankind. It would be useless to you, and I haven't even perfected it yet."
"Very good citizen you are," Peters taunted, "Very noble," then turned to Boris, "Find Carl, and tell him to give the young lady a bed for the night with her brother, and give them some food." Returning to Amelia, "I bid you goodnight. We shall talk again in the morning. I expect you are tired. Oh and one more, it would be unwise of you or your brother to attempt to escape from here." The man dismissed his female captive, and his subordinate carried out his instructions.
As Amelia walked the deep red carpet of a dimly-lit whitewashed hallway, she wondered vaguely what was going to happen to her and her brother after Peters had found out all he wished to know about Twelve Twenty-three, for it was now readily apparent that was all he was interested in. This kind of thing never ended well in movies, and she knew they were both expendable, so she quickly dismissed the thought before it could depress her. The pair stopped at a door at the end of the hallway and, opening it, Boris motioned Amelia inside. He closed the door roughly behind her, and a key grated in the lock. As Amelia's eyes adjusted to the pale moonlight, she made out the figure of her brother sitting on a bed in the far corner of the room, he slumped unenthusiastically, and didn't even look up when she entered. Amelia walked toward an identical bed against the opposite end of the wall, and sank slowly into it.
"10 metre sheer drop, we're stuck here for the night." Walter finally broke the silence, and jabbed a thumb upward. The room had a single window, above his bed and facing over some garden. "Oh, en suite in case you were wondering." He noticed his sister seeming to take an interest in the only other door in the room, a few paces left of the one by which she had entered a few minutes earlier.
Amelia fixed her gaze on Walter's face, or what she could see of it in the light, "I'm sorry. I've dragged you into this."
"Well, I don't believe I've ever been kidnapped before," he replied, trying to make the most of the situation, but he wasn't laughing.
No more was said for another half an hour or so until a key again grated in the lock outside. Carl entered, switching on the light with his elbow as he did so. Occupying his hands were two plates of food, and a smell of bacon soon reached the prisoners' noses. "I hope that you two will not be too uncomfortable during your stay here." Carl set the plates down on a small table that sat in the middle of the room. The table looked somewhat lonely, for there were no chairs. He nodded and left again, locking the door behind him. Walter rose and approached the food. Casting a dejected eye on his sister still in her corner, he took one of the plates over to her, "Come on, eat something." His voice was gentle and friendly. She looked up and smiled silently. The pair ate slowly, for there was no reason to hurry, before falling into a light doze.
Seacord moved stiffly and groaned, before opening his eyes. An empty plate sitting a metre or so from him on the cobblestones evidenced the night before's meal. He had slept badly, wedged against the parapet wall. A smell of fresh flowers reached his nostrils. He was unsure of what type he, for he was not employed as a botanist
, but it didn't matter for they smelled refreshing. Over the monotonous but discordant sounds of the city, the beating of helicopter blades grew increasingly louder. An orange R44
swooped low directly overhead, the morning sun made it hard for him to see objects in the sky any further away. "They'd better not be coming to collect that girl's stuff," he thought to himself. Helplessly he watched the helicopter land in the estate, and a man who he took to be a colonel
get out and be taken to the house by Mack Peters.
"I am glad we were able to come to an agreement, Peters." A voice unfamiliar to Seacord, but clearly Russian, drifted up to him. It was the voice of retired lieutenant colonel Miroslav Litovinski.
"I have the doctor here with me, sir. I think we can persuade her to even give us a little demonstration shortly." Mack opened a door to the house, and the two disappeared inside. They made their way up to his office. "So," the American resumed when they were both seated, "I believe a quarter million was the agreed price?"
The Russian nodded, "After I have seen some proof that it works. If this drug is as good as you say it is, I should be delighted to do business with you."
"Let us get a demonstration happening then," Mack turned to Carl, "Fetch Steiner, and have Boris bring her kit downstairs." Carl departed with a nod, and Mack followed him out, Litovinski beside him. The pair descended a staircase at the other end of the building to that which they had recently ascended, and filed down a narrow passage on the floor below ground. Mack unlocked a door, and they entered into a clinical looking room containing little other than a simple wooden chair and a mercury high-intensity discharge lamp. The room lights came on following a small, plasticky click. Boris entered a few minutes later, with Dr Steiner's Peli tucked under his arm.
"Wake up," it was Carl's voice as he crashed open the door to the Steiner's room. Walter sat up groggily, although he had been lying awake for the past half hour or so since being woken by the Colonel's heli landing outside. During this time he had been contemplating attempting an escape to go and get help. As much as he disliked the idea, trying to bring Amelia with him just wouldn't be practical, so he wasn't going to mention anything of his plans to her for fear of worrying her further. He was expendable; being the only person who fully understood Twelve Twenty-three, she was not. With this knowledge he felt somewhat reassured of her safety, at least for the time being. He hadn't seen any guards anywhere on the estate, and the dogs
he had seen seemed to stick to the perimeter fence. This still put the front gate out of the question unless a vehicle could be obtained. The garage where Boris had parked his car had housed another also, but Walter had no idea where the keys for either would be nor if he could even get to the garage without being seen. In a movie he'd just fly away. Sure there was a chopper sitting on the lawn, but now seemed a little late Walter to be taking up flying lessons.
"They must have phones here," Walter thought silently, "But if they've got an internal switchboard, the operator would never place my call." Without even being certain exactly where he was, in desperation he decided the helicopter was his best course of action, for it would at least have a radio. Walter leapt from his bed as Carl approached Amelia. The door was left wide open and unattended for a few seconds, not long enough to get through it safely Walter decided. But that was not his plan, for he wished to leave as quietly as possible to avoid increasing the risk of harm to his sister. Moving towards the door with teen agility comparable to a wild cat, Walter spat the gum from his mouth, for he chewed gum almost habitually, into his hand. Carl saw the dash, and spun on his heels to prevent his prisoner escaping. He kicked the door shut with his foot, simultaneously taking a swing at Walter's jaw with his fist. During the time it took the door the close, and before the sound from the impact of Carl's foot with it reached his ears, Walter's hand flew to the striker plate. Hurriedly and without time to care about precision, he shoved his ball of chewed gum into the hole. He dropped to the floor just in time to collect Carl's fist with the side of his head. He fell limply backwards as the other side of his head was introduced to the wall. Amelia had been watching the proceedings in a mixture of shock and horror. She scrambled to her brother's side. "I'm okay," he looked up at her, clutching his head.
"Do not try that again." Carl did not appear to have noticed Walter's speedy application of his simple upgrade kit for the door frame, for this Walter was thankful. He half smiled at Carl's order, for he had no intention of trying it again. "You have some work to do. Come," Carl clasped Amelia by the shoulder and led her away to where the others were waiting downstairs. The door was yanked shut behind him, and the key again locked it with a click. Walter waited for the padding of footsteps to recede down the hallway outside before getting up. He was relying on the fact that this was not a deadlock. Retrieving the fork from his meal the night before from the table, he inserted the head of it into the few millimetres gap between the door and frame. Sliding it downwards, he pulled it back, snagging the catch's bolt. Carefully he manuevered the bolt from the striker plate. His gum had done the trick and prevented the bolt getting in the hole that was no longer there. The bolt retracted, the door swung freely open as his other hand pulled on the handle. Poking only his head around the corner to check the passageway was clear, he slipped the rest of his body out after it, closed the door silently behind him, and tiptoed off down the hall.