“We’ll take him by surprise,” Maria said. “He may already know that we’re twins, but since Sophia’s going in it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll be set up with a fifty-cal suppressor some two hundred yards away, on this rooftop across the quad. I’ll have a thermal scope, so don’t worry about giving me a line of sight. I can see the whole office. If he balks, I’ll put a round into his arm, make him easier to take. Once he’s out of the picture the SWAT team will come in and secure the area. Any questions?”
I shook my head, fastening my handcuffs around Sophia’s wrists. I drew my tranq gun and pressed it into her back.
“Hit me,” she said.
“Hit me,” she repeated. “Nice and hard. It has to look like you knocked me out.”
Maria held her while I backhanded her across the face, making her stagger and let out a cry of pain. Blood ran from the scratches on her cheek, and I apologized, feeling bad about the pain that she had taken as though it was nothing new for her. She just smiled wryly.
“You can make it up to me by helping us catch the Doc. He’s been a threat to the security of the British people for far too long.”
I took her from Maria, pressing the tranq into her back as I grabbed her by the shoulder and started across campus. She bit her lip as we began to walk.
“I’m sorry about this, I truly am,” I said as I pulled the door open and led her into the lobby. I drew a cigarette and lit it as I walked her to the elevator, nodding to the doorman. He’d clearly been told to expect me. I drew a long, deep smoke as the elevator ascended, blowing it out again as it began to slow. The doors opened, and there was the hallway I had been dreading since I last set foot here. I took a deep breath, putting my cigarette close enough to her face for her to feel the heat.
“You ready for this, bitch?” I asked. She bit her lip, and I chuckled. “You should have come quietly,” I said. “I might have put a good word in for you.” She fought me, and I hit her, toppling her to the ground. I hauled her down the hall and into the office, dumping her on the floor.
“She’s all yours, Doc!” I spat. “But I sure as hell wouldn’t mind if you would let me stay and watch.” I kicked her off-handedly, and she let out a small noise of pain. The doctor chuckled, and I added, “I mean, you’re not going to kill her, right? Just hurt her bad?” I glanced guiltily at her and then beseechingly at him, fumbling a cigarette from my pocket to replace the one I’d just put out. I clicked the lighter several times, and the doctor smiled, steepling his fingers.
“Of course I won’t kill her, Mr. Naissance,” he said soothingly, almost patronizingly. “She’s much more valuable to me alive.” He stood and picked his cane up, pulling on his leather gloves as he stepped around the desk. I swallowed, suddenly afraid. He stopped and tipped Sophia’s chin up with the handle of his stick, looking down upon her with an air of condescension.
“England’s finest, I presume. I hope it hasn’t been too inconvenient.” He smiled that hideous smile again. I shuddered, drawing a long inhale from my cigarette. I breathed it out slowly.
“It has been for me,” I said. “The only way I’m going through with this is if you promise me that you won’t touch Constanzia and that I’ll never hear from you again.”
“Of course, my good fellow. Unless, of course, you care about what happens to this woman.”
I bit my lip, indecisive.
“What do you mean?” I asked, letting my hand slide around the handle of the tranq gun I had sitting in my pocket. I was ready for this, I told myself. Just one quick, fluid motion. Draw and fire. The doctor smiled.
“I would choose very carefully which side you’re on, Mr. Naissance. The British government has no idea what they’re getting into. That said, I might yet spare this individual if you choose to work for me.”
“You really have no idea just how utterly repulsive you actually are to me, do you?” I asked, flicking the safety off. I blew smoke out of the corner of my mouth.
“That’s too bad, John,” he said. “I was really starting to like you.” He moved, a blur. I fired. He stopped, stood up straight. Then he looked me in the eye and pulled the dart out of his chest as though it were nothing to him. I fired again, and faster than I could blink he caught it, holding it up between two fingers. He looked at it as he spoke.
“That was a nice try, John, but I’m afraid that it doesn’t seem to have worked.” He smiled, and then the last thing I saw was his cane whipping towards me through the air.
I woke on a hardwood floor without my weapons. Turning my head, I realized that I had been imprisoned in a cage fashioned from bars of stainless steel blocking off the corner of what appeared to be a laboratory of some sort. I stood and realized instantly the severity of our predicament: both Sophia and Maria were strapped to operating tables in the middle of the room. In the corner stood a thug with what appeared to be a robotic right hand and forearm. He wore a tight black tee, beige cargos, black combat boots, and polarized blue shades. I guessed he probably benched the gym. Beside him was the doctor, dressed in a lab coat that was stained with recent blood and wearing tight black leather gloves which were slick with it. He held a pair of pliers which he was opening and closing menacingly. I felt bile rise in my throat, and swallowed even as I broke out in a sweat. The doctor turned to Sophia and yanked with the pliers. I heard her scream in pain, screamed my own hatred at the doctor, cursed him, called him a filthy cur. I bashed the bars angrily. The doctor merely raised his voice and called to me.
“I will be with you in a minute, Mr. Naissance. I am currently in the process of saving your friend’s life.” He reached for something and began to make a rhythmic jabbing motion. “Ivan, if you’d hold her still, please?” The big man stepped next to her and grabbed her tightly, pinning her to the bed with what seemed a modest amount of effort. I watched in horror and confusion as the doctor drew a needle through Sophia’s flesh, sewing shut an incision in her side. He skillfully completed the task and picked up a needle, jabbing it into her arm. Her screams abated gradually and she went limp. Ivan released her and returned to the corner. The doctor washed his hands and changed into a fresh lab coat before addressing me again.
“Your American friend missed me and hit her sister before Ivan could stop her. She’s lucky that I know how to remove a bullet.” He strode over to where Maria lay strapped to the table. “And I think that she will pay for her inconvenience.” He picked up his pliers and clamped them on Maria’s breast, squeezing until she screamed and then continuing to tighten them. Her screams evoked a primal, visceral reaction in my body and I threw myself against the bars.
“Stoppit!” I yelled. “Stoppit, God damn you!” I threw myself forward again, and he chuckled, holding the pliers shut as they crushed her breast. Her screams seemed to fall on deaf ears, but every nerve in my body responded to them. I begged him.
“Stoppit, please! I’ll do anything you ask, anything, just let her go!”
“Anything?” He asked, looking critically at me.
“Anything,” I repeated. “Anything but murder somebody.”
The doctor released his grip, removing the pliers as he strode toward me. Maria sobbed in pain and terror. I looked at him with hate.
“Name your price,” I spat. He looked at me coldly, and this time he did not smile. “You work for me, now,” he said. “Your first task is to get the bitch to talk. If you don’t, I will.” I believed him.
He opened the cage and let me out. I stepped towards Maria and touched her gently on the cheek, leaning across her as I brought her face towards me.
“Everything you know, Maria,” I said gently. “Don’t make this harder than it is.” She looked at me spitefully, but then her look dissolved to one of trepidation.
“I told you everything I know,” she said. “I’m sorry if you can’t believe that.” I sighed and looked up at the doctor.
“I believe her,” I said. “Between the two of them they know almost nothing about you. As I understand it their primary concern is with the high levels of radiation that you’re outputting. Our plan was to bag you and take you to a secure facility where we would make you talk.”
He nodded slowly. I could see him weighing the information, assessing my ability to spot her lie as much as my belief that what I said was true. I looked him in the eye, unflinching. He spoke.
“I believe you, Mr. Naissance, but I do not believe her sister. Make Sophia talk, or I will let Ivan have his fun with the American bitch. I hear he likes the ladies quite a certain way.”
I strode over to Sophia, who was just coming awake.
“I can’t vouch for her honesty,” I said. The doctor nodded.
“I understand,” he said. “Now make her talk.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. Sophia glared at me, and I felt something wrench in my gut. “Sophia, I need you to tell me everything you know about the doctor. No lies this time.” She shook her head, and I sighed, knowing that I had no choice. She was bound with her hands above her head, helpless, and I was sorely tempted. I swallowed, reminding myself that she was not my enemy, that she was a living, breathing being with memories and feelings just as real and just as potent as my own. I swallowed again, and I felt myself grow hard. I closed my eyes, breathed in, out. In, and out.
My eyes snapped open, and I lunged forward, seizing her by the throat. She made a startled choking sound and bucked against me. I held firm, tightening my grip until she gasped for breath. She glared at me.
“Go to Hell!” she managed, and I slammed her against the table, releasing my grip. She spat at me.
“I won’t, but your sister might,” I said. I strode over to Maria and wrapped my hand around her throat. She fought back, and I gripped tighter. I felt her blood pulsing through her veins and pushing against my fingers. I could feel her desperation and her need for oxygen. She gasped and thrashed in panic. I turned to Sophia.
“Your choice, Sophie. Does she live or die? I could throttle her unconscious and then rape her, if that’s what you want. Or I could just tighten my grip until she stops fighting back forever. I hear it’s a peaceful way to go, once you fall unconscious. I wonder if she’d agree.” I tightened my grip. Maria choked violently.
“Stop it!” Sophia yelled. “You’re dealing with me, not with her!”
I didn’t let Maria go. I just tightened my grip. I saw true terror register in her expression as she realized that she could no longer breathe at all.
“Sixty seconds, Sophie,” I said calmly, “maybe less, given her state of panic.” Sophia looked at her sister fearfully, looked at me with the same, seemed to believe that I’d go through with it.
“I’ll talk,” she said. I maintained my grip. “Let her go!” she screamed, desperate.
“First promise me your honesty.”
“Yes, yes, anything! Just let her go!”
I released Maria. Her chest heaved and she gulped in air, collapsing on the table. I strode over to her sister.
“Good. I believe you.”
Sophia’s angst-filled eyes flickered with anger, and I realized that I was about to lose her cooperation.
“One word I don’t like and your sister pays for it,” I said. Her eyes burned with anger, and then she closed them, reining herself in. When she met my own again I saw concession in their dark-oak hue. I let my face relax for a moment, then felt the rigidity that had beset it gradually return. I planted my hands on either side of her and leaned in close enough to feel her paced breath upon my cheek. It whispered in my ear, and I spoke softly back to her, darkness before the silence.
“Tell me everything you know about the doctor,” I said. She swallowed twice before she answered me.
“Alright. I’ve been tracking him for a little less than a month now. MI6 has had him on the radar for longer than that; I don’t know how long. When I was briefed they told me he was dangerous and that he was capable of turning a team against each other. Because of that they sent me in alone. I was suspicious that they weren’t telling me everything, so I did some digging. The radiation is nothing new. They’ve been keeping it out of the press. Two journalists have taken spontaneous vacations and dropped the story immediately afterwards. I surmise that they were talked into it.
The doctor’s radiation seems to be related to some strange reports that have been coming in on all the less-than-reputable channels: tabloids, Internet, radio free, you name it. All over London people are reporting sightings of giant gators and strange wild dogs of some sort. We’d normally expect a certain amount of background chatter, but over the past six months it has escalated noticeably – enough to cause concern higher up than my clearance gives me access to. I was given the task of determining what the doctor’s involvement was.”
“What did you find out?”
“Next to nothing. The doctor is a very careful man. All we’ve been able to deduce is that he’s somehow at the center of it. All the sightings cluster around this part of the city, except for a band that runs up and down the Thames.”
The doctor clapped slowly.
“Very good, Miss Blanchez. I have been keeping an eye on you myself, and on you as well, Mr. Naissance. I needed some excellent thinkers to run some errands for me and I think you fit the bill.”
I stood up and eyed the doctor warily.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
He clasped his hands behind his back and studied me. A chill ran down my spine.
“No doubt you do not consider me your ally.”
“And here I thought I was the private investigator.”
He let the tension hang in the air for a moment before he spoke again.
“I’m putting you in charge of a very important mission, Mr. Naissance. Whether you succeed or fail will determine far more than just your own fate.”
“What makes you think I have any interest in helping you?”
“She does,” he said, nodding to Maria. “If you fail to live up to my expectations, I will simply have to take my disappointment out on her. I do detest it so when people disappoint me.”
“You know something, Doc? You’re a god-awful bastard of a half-assed, drooling simpleton, and there ain’t a pit in hell as would be suited for you.”
“Thank you. I try.”
“By the way, if you’re so awesome, what the hell do you need me for? Why don’t you just send Ivan?”
“Your questions will be answered, Mr. Naissance, but you must be patient. For now, it is enough to know that unless you do what I require, you can be assured that Maria and your secretary Constanzia will both suffer an appalling fate. Is that sufficient for your needs?”
I cursed him again. He merely smiled.
“Quite. I will prepare a briefing for you, and in the meantime I suggest that you avail yourself of the two sisters Blanchez. This may be your last chance, and I will be quite some time.” He tossed me a key. I caught it without looking.
“Thanks, doc. You’re a real pleasure, but what’s it for?”
“It opens their cuffs. You’ll need it to undress them.”
The doctor spun on his heel, and he and Ivan left the room. I turned to the girls and spoke.
“Well, then, ladies, it looks like it’s just you and me.”
I smiled at the sound of the bolt being slid home.