Serve and Volley
Svetlana was running – fast. Her breathing difficult to control – no doubt the effect of the trace of chemical eleven she had absorbed transdermally through her fingertip. Working with adrenal-accelerators was always dangerous, but she was certain that, unlike Charlie, her dose was minute enough that she would be able to ride out the surge – in fact it might give her an edge, if only briefly.
She rounded the corner by the conference room with athletic grace – grateful that Nancy Washington, CPA, had been a practical girl and always wore rubber soled flats.
Elevator bank, doors closing.
Could it be Wilkes? It didn’t matter. She knew where he was going. The signal was given, but the valise was missing – he would have to make contact – zero option.
Three sleepy suits stood chatting in front of the eleveators. Mindless nonsense about the annoying London traffic. The one on the right was large, but his balance favored his left foot – the machine knew it was the path of least resistance and Svetlana drove forward, shoulder low, taking the gap between the suit and the wall.
The impact spun the suit counter-clockwise, and dowsed his chums with a scalding tan splatter of double latte.
Svetlana tucked and rolled and was through the door to the fire stairs before the suits even thought to look for what had happened.
Seven stories, and a race against a London office building elevator – or lift as the natives called it. Down – it had to be down, Svetlana’s mind raced as fast as her body. The roof would leave him cornered, besides he had to make contact – its the only play Wilkes would have left.
Sixth floor landing – two – three stairs at a time – treacherous, but not enough time.
Fifth floor landing – fire hose, elbow – shattered glass – alarm. Svetlana grabbed the nozel wrapped the thick vulcanized canvas around her arm and vaulted over the rail into the airshaft encircled by the flights of stairs.
Punctuated by jerks and hiccups as the hose snapped off its pins in the shattered glass case.
Fourth landing, third, second. Full stop. Svetlana screamed as her body jerked. The canvas scorched her arm as the coil of hose relinquished its passenger and she crashed the remaining nine feet to the ground. But the pain of the burn was nothing – Svetlana’s left shoulder was dislocated. She wanted to cry. She wanted to stop. But the machine knew that to stop was to die – or worse. Besides she gained time – maybe even bought back Wilkes’ two minute headstart.
On her feet, squeeze her arm between the iron rails of the stairs and wrench her body forward. Another scream lost in the din of the fire alarm as Svetlana shoulder popped back into place.
Lobby. Confused commuters straggling in hearing the alarm. Sniffing the air. Some waiting outside the revolving doors. Security guard pre-occuppied on the phone – no doubt trying to verify the alarm.
Elevator two arriving. Svetlana smiled despite the searing pain in her lungs and the mindless agony of her left arm. I’ve got you Wilkes, she thought. Let’s find out who you really are. The doors opened and a women in a tweed Ann Klein business suit stepped out in an alarm induced rush – bumping Svetlana’s damaged shoulder and leaving a cloud of Chanel No. 5 in her wake. Sevtlana cringed but kept her cool. Dammit, she thought, he did go to the roof – then she caught it … over the Chanel…. the faint aroma of freshly shaved cedar and a hint of graphite.
Instinct said duck, and instinct was right. The pencil struck and stuck in the back wall of the lift as Svetlana rolled right. The lethal missile missed but Peter Wilkes’ knee slid out from under the tweed skirt and connected solidly with Svetlana’s jaw. Svetlana reeled into the back corner cowering in pain. The doors closed and Wilkes pulled the emergency stop.
“Nancy Washington,” he kicked her stomach cruelly “let’s find out who you really are…”
So, Svetlana thought, Peter Wilkes is Armand ‘the Pencil’ Perez. She had always wondered what he looked like. When she read his file she never expected him to be so slim, so oily, such a rookie.
Armand cocked his right foot to deliver another kick, but suddenly the whimpering long-lashed accountant was a blue and violet blur on the elevator floor. Her right foot moved in a low arc and connected with his left ankle. He pitched forward into the elevator wall as an elbow collided fiercely with his groin. He reached for the pencil stuck in the wall.
Tomoenage – sweeping hip throw. It was now Svetlana on her feet and Armand crumpled upside down in the rear corner of the still elevator.
“Well Peter, or should I say Armand, you wanted to know who I am. For your patience and for your skill in hiding all these months beneath my nose… for these things I will do you that honor… Allow me to intoduce myself I am Svetlana Tereshkova at your service.”
She bowed, a slight bow, almost regal in its dignity despite the bruises, the burns, the tattered mess that remained of her blouse and the riot that was her hair. Armand’s eyes rolled in his head – Tereshkova, they called her the Terror, he was beginning to see why.
“Now Armand, Peter, dahling I’m going to ask you a question. The first time I ask it you won’t answer – which will be foolish. The second time I ask it you will answer. And then I will need to borrow that lovely suit.”
Armand tried to lunge but from his position he moved like a fish that’s fallen out of a bucket. Something connected with his jaw snapping it shut and taking with it a tiny piece of the tip of his tongue – he didn’t even know if it was a foot or a knee or a fist.
Clumsy, thought Svetlana, so clumsy. “Now Armand, pay attention… What is the code?”
Armand’s bleeding mouth smiled and he spit as best he could. It was all he had left.
Then the machine did something. Something it had been trained to do. Something even Svetlana couldn’t accept, something that would be banished from her memory.
At 8:45am Countess Pirenzi lit her third cigarette when she heard something that nearly made her scream…
“Valentina” – The Countess turned and saw a kind looking woman in an ill-fitting tweed suit with long-lashes and dark hair.
“I have bought a new perfume, it smells of hibiscus, isn’t it lovely”
It was the code, it was all the Countess could do to prevent herself from collapsing into the woman’s arms.
“I’m Anya Del Mare, and Papa sent me to watch over you”, she spoke in Valentina’s native tongue in the southern dialect. The Countess marvelled at her saviour and could control her tears no longer.
“Not here little lamb, it’s not safe… come with Anya and we’ll dry your pretty eyes, you must be tired… so tired…”.
Seven floors up Charlie Dougherty’s aorta ruptured as the janitor, who had just found the key, shut off the fire alarm.