My palms always itched whenever I got near chemicals of any kind. The chemicals in this building scared me enough to scratch the skin off my entire arm.
Gem Bio-Dynamics was triple-secured with vaults inside vaults; impermeable glass and other materials separated the chemicals from everyone who worked there. The chemists and the materials handlers wore protective suits. Then, when ready to be mobilized, the weapons were simply handed over to the agents for deployment in tiny plasticized bottles with rubberized stoppers through which one could draw out what was needed with a syringe.
Very little money spent on Occupational Health and Safety committees, I guessed. How many operatives had died from botched deployment was a matter for sober speculation. I didn’t have the luxury of time to ponder it.
The grumpy limo driver had preceded me in though the security checkpoints out of necessity. He had the swipe cards and clearance to enter, while I was the unwashed prodigal son with no official status.
I hefted my duffle bag—full of guns, guns, guns—into the trunk and walked in behind him, nodding at the incredulous staffers as I passed. How much had they heard about their organization and what was happening to it at this moment? How much did they know about me?
Knowing the White Lady, less than nothing.
The White Lady’s organization is—was—massive. Even as new recruits, they only told us a brief history via PowerPoint presentation. The rest we had to glean as we went along from other agencies, other operatives.
The official version was that the White Lady—called the CEO in the PowerPoint—had been born in Cold War Leningrad, trained and deployed as a KGB agent, then after Soviet Union broke up traveled the world as a mercenary, accumulating training and expertise in a score of different martial arts, in multiple military strategies and ordinance. At her peak, she had been one of the most respected—meaning feared—Corporals in the Légion étrangère—the French Foreign Legion—which is where she had probably picked up the rule about not leaving a weapon behind in the field.
A shrewd networker and negotiator—meaning blackmailer—the CEO, after honorable discharge from the Legion, used her contacts to gradually build her organization. She recruited men and women from all occupations, all agencies, all governments, enticing them with promises of money and glory. Promises she fulfilled.
Legends grew. Rumours swirled. Lies abounded.
The White Lady had killed her own parents.
The White Lady once cut off the ear of a new recruit who hadn’t been listening and ate it raw in front to the class.
The only way out of the organization was with the White Lady’s permission … and she never gave permission.
Okay, that last one was true.
She called the parent organization Critically Clear Solutions—CCS. Hundreds of other subsidiary shell corporations around the world under different names were fronts for her money laundering, arms trading, arms caches, recruitment and training facilities. The White Lady had many powerful friends—on both sides of the freedom coin—who used her services frequently to attain their goals whether political or corporate. We worker bees all believed—indoctrinated to believe—that CCS alone virtually sustained the balance of power in the world. We knew the WL had enemies, of course. You can’t play both sides without pissing people off, but we were confident we could handle whatever minor player took a pot shot at our organization.
We—at least I, speaking for myself—had never considered she might have a rival equal in size and strength that might take out her whole army in a flash kill.
Apparently, we were all wrong.
“Last one.” It was the driver, beckoning me towards the heavy sliding door that he was propping open with difficulty, as pressurized air was blasting out. After we passed through, we were met by a white-coated weasel of a man holding a clipboard who looked me up and down like I was a homeless beggar—which I guess I was in a sense—and asked, “What is it Monsieur needs?”
Somehow, I just knew he would be French.
“You have weaponized ricin?”
“Of course.” The weasel smirked. “What form does Monsieur need? Aerosol, needle smear, gas, or liquid?”
Weasel’s expression changed to surprise. “Pardonez?”
“All of the above, and lots of each. As much as you can spare”
I give Weasel credit; he recovered quickly. “This will take a few hours, Monsieur …?”
“Smith. I understand. I have a few more errands to run, I will be back in two hours. You will have them ready then, cher docteur.”
“Monsieur Smith, I … I …”
To my surprise, the limo driver spoke up. “Look Dr. Mireille, Ms. Reshenyova wants all courtesy, speed and attention provided to Mr. Smith. We will be back in two hours and you will have his request fulfilled … or Ms. Reshenyova will receive a call from me. Got it?”
Weasel got it. He nearly bowed before he scurried off.
I smiled at the limo driver. “Thanks …”
“Briscoe. No need … just doing my job.”
“OK, Briscoe, then let’s get out of this death factory and finish up.”
Briscoe didn’t answer. I noticed him watching my hands and I looked down. Both hands were busy. Left fiercely scratching right’s palm … switch … right scratching left’s palm … repeat.