“Here is your next assignment,” Oliver began, dimming the lights in the Section Seven satellite office in Fairview. It was disguised as a construction agency’s office on the seventh floor of an unassuming small-town skyscraper overlooking the town’s only movie theater. The agency photo of a middle-aged man flashed onscreen. “You are being temporarily reassigned to Project Dragon Head to receive clearance to do the mission.”
“This is Richard Murphy,” Oliver began. “He was sent to New York recently to purchase a limited-edition print of the movie poster Casablanca for us at an estate auction. His bid lost.”
“What’s the significance?” asked Marlene.
“The poster belonged to a Soviet scientist named Ivan Fedorov. He developed technology for suitcase nukes during the Cold War.”
“That’s impossible,” Marlene replied. “Suitcase nukes were just an idea. The Soviets didn’t actually develop them, did they?”
“Fedorov was tasked to believe they could. He worked relentlessly on it. After the fall of the Iron Curtain though, he went underground with his life’s work. We’re not even sure if the notes he had collected will produce functional suitcase nukes, but we have to keep them out of the bad guys’ hands. Another one of our agents secured the titanium suitcase he kept his notes in recently. We need you to go in and retrieve the code from the poster that will open the suitcase.”
“I’m on it.”
Marlene drove in a rented black coupe to the new poster owner’s secluded home off Ann Road in the northern part of Las Vegas. It was night. The home was paneled with dark wood, surrounded by various dead flora and possessed the ominous look of a haunted house. She shrugged it off. She had a job to do.
The security measures in place were low tech and could easily be bypassed. Unfortunately the intel Section Seven gave her didn’t tell her in what room the poster was housed. Breaking a window in the cellar, Marlene slid through the window with the tools of her trade strapped on various places on her person. Dressed down in black with her dark hair in a ponytail, Marlene hoped she wouldn’t have to hurt anybody tonight.
The dry desert air was heavy and thick with dust. Marlene coughed, quietly taking in her surroundings. The cellar was like any other underground floor that would be used for storage. Old bikes, broken cabinets, and boxes were strewn about. She struggled to focus on the small map on her personal digital assistant that would help her find the circuit breaker. Slithering quietly to the left side of the room, Marlene disabled the alarm long enough for her to complete her mission.
She climbed quietly up the stairs. They creaked slightly and Marlene froze. When she felt it was safe to move again, she picked the lock at the top of the stairs and found herself in the kitchen.
‘Damn this place is clean,’ she thought stupidly to herself, taking in the spotless stainless steel kitchen sink and wondered what this guy did for a living. Intel indicated he was a bachelor, but a single father. ‘Probably a pit boss for one of the casinos.’
Moving to the first room, she pulled out a small Maglite flashlight from her boot to examine the darkened room.
“Ouch,” she murmured, stubbing her toe on a piece of furniture and moving it slightly. She maneuvered it back into place, scraping it loudly against the wooden floor.
‘For a supposedly secret agent, you’d be dead right now,’ the voice in her head said.
‘Thanks for all the love and support,’ Marlene shot back, rolling her eyes.
Marlene heard the creak of floor above her head on the second floor. Once again, she froze in a panic. No one was supposed to be in the house and the man didn’t own any animals.
‘You’re just hearing things. Get to work,’ she prodded herself.
Working quickly, she moved from room to room on the first floor, her search in vain.
Finally Marlene made her way to the second floor. The floor creaked again, but time was of the essence. If she didn’t find it within the next hour, she would have to abort the mission.
The first room was clearly for guests. Sweeping the flashlight’s tiny beam from one side of the room to another, Marlene jumped when the room was suddenly awash in light. She turned around and gasped. A tiny child, not much older than seven or eight, wearing pajamas and a fat feline weaving in and out between her legs, was staring at her, her tiny porcelain hand still on the light switch.
“Who are you?”