Chapter 7: C’est la Vie

Due to their history together, Marlene was sent to Paris to backup Pilar during a mission to retrieve sensitive documents from an international money launderer during a house party he was throwing. Mal stayed at home.

“’Lena!” Pilar greeted her warmly. Marlene was still smarting from Pilar’s snub of Sophia’s funeral. Pilar kissed her on both of her cheeks, which Marlene returned half-heartedly.

‘Wrong cheeks you’re kissin’, honey,’ Marlene thought angrily.

Pilar went into work mode. “Let’s get down to business.”

* * *

Marlene arrived a few hours before the party. Her cover was as a waitress with the catering company the smuggler – named Ali Xavier – hired for the night to impress his contact list. Using a blonde wig and green contacts, Marlene fit in perfectly with the Halloween theme the smuggler designated for the night. All of the wait staff, regardless of ethnicity, had to be blonde and green-eyed. His outrageous demands made it far easier to do what she needed to do.

Then the party began. Marlene lots of Marilyn Monroes, Elvises, ghosts, and vampires in the crowd. Ali X was dressed up like a sultan and had a beautiful blonde woman on his arm the whole night. Pilar decided to dress up as Lola from Run Lola Run and would execute the safe manipulation needed to get the documents from his safe. Marlene’s mission was simply to keep an eye on Ali and the rest of the party.

“Can I get one of those?” said a man in an American accent.

Marlene turned around and saw the smiling face of a drop-dead gorgeous man, gesturing to her tray of champagne glasses. “Certainly, sir.”

He eyed her with an appraising look. “Can we go someplace to talk?”

“Pardon me?”

“The terrace outside is perfect,” he said, gesturing for the ground-floor terrace just yards behind her.

“The scene is clear,” Pilar whispered in her ear. “Watch my back.”

“I’m sorry,” Marlene said quickly, thinking fast. “I’m not allowed to leave the party.”

“I need some fresh air Marlene, and so do you.”

“But I’m not supposed to.” Marlene’s mouth dropped open. “How did you know my name?”

The handsome stranger raised an eyebrow, finished off his Cristal in one smooth move, put the empty glass back on her tray with a knowing smile, and walked to the terrace. Wordlessly, Marlene followed suit, threading through the thick crowd to follow him. She placed it on a side table and hoped Ali wouldn’t see it.

The moon was shining fiercely overhead, the stars lit the sky, and there was a smooth sense of serenity overlooking the French countryside Ali X lived in. “It’s amazing. Good people, people who deserve everything in the world live in poverty, while liars and cheats like Ali X live like kings.”

Marlene watched him intently, wondering where he was going with this.

“Where are my manners? My name is Leon.” He held out his hand and Marlene shook it.

“I’d give you mine, but apparently you already know it.”

Leon chuckled. “Sorry about approaching you like this. I heard about Aurora.”

Marlene raised her eyebrows at him. “I’m not at liberty to talk about that.”

“I know,” Leon said knowingly. It was like the guy knew what she was going to say before she said it. “But I just thought you should know that you have a tough road ahead of you, if you’re going to take her on. And something tells me that you will. I know Aurora will be a handful for you because I speak from personal experience.”

Marlene rested her elbows on the stone banister, assuming Leon’s own comfortable position. “Dare I ask in what capacity?”

“Indeed,” Leon replied. “I had the pleasure of crossing paths with her once. We had a mutual interest in the prince of a foreign country. For her, it was for her own sexual gratification; for me, it was because I was calling in a favor. Many moons before, the foreign prince and myself played poker. On our last bet for the night, he lost, but didn’t have any lettuce to back his hand up. Being the nice guy that I am, I let it go. He swore to me that if I ever needed any help, he’d be there for me, no questions asked.”

“Mr. um, Leon, you’re joking, right?”

“No, the poker thing was real. Prince Fahrooq. Good guy. Never came to the poker games with enough cash though. Aurora had him in her clutches because he supposedly held some deeds to some oil wells in Saudi Arabia, but he didn’t want her. And according to Aurora, she’s God’s gift to this world.”

“And then what?”

“I cleared ol’ Rook’s name and Aurora had to let him go. Of course, she came after me to teach me a lesson for ‘meddling in her affairs’. Her words. I barely escaped with my pants intact, if ya feel me. But at least her revenge was quenched and she hasn’t bothered me since.”

“A woman got the best of you?” Marlene said giggling slightly. She ignored the sexual innuendo smartly. “You don’t seem like the type!”

“Yes, can you believe it?” Leon said, shaking his head. He leaned over and squeezed her hand. “Watch your back. I’ll keep my eye on you.”

Marlene was touched by the gesture, but she was confused by the last sentence. “I’m good, Mr. Leon. I think I’ll be okay.”

“Regardless,” he replied simply. “Good night.”

“Good night,” Marlene replied politely. Leon turned around and melted back into the crowd of partygoers.

“Ready for extraction,” Pilar blurted in her ear.

‘Another mission accomplished,’ Marlene thought happily, casting one last glance towards the party and leaving it as quietly as possible.

* * *

Pilar beat boxed the French hip-hop song playing over the taxi cab’s radio into Marlene’s ear, as they made their way towards Prophecy, the hottest new club in Paris. Pilar’s handler, Henri de Persand, was pleased with their work and let them off early. It was now Saturday night, and Pilar wanted to dance.

“You’re such a nerd,” Marlene said playfully, adjusting her black top to cover her stomach.

“No, no. You are in Paris! Show your skin!” Pilar said cheerfully.

As they walked arm in arm to the front door of the exclusive club, where a huge line was forming, Pilar stopped her. “I know you’re hurt that I didn’t go to Sophia’s funeral.”

Marlene shook her head. This wasn’t the time or place to hear her apology.

“No, hear me out,” Pilar began. “I sent my condolences and a nice bouquet of flowers to Sophie’s family. But it still doesn’t make up for the fact that I didn’t go. Wait, don’t say anything just yet. And I know saying I had to work is the stupidest excuse ever, but it’s the truth. You can’t just pick up and leave work, especially the work that we do.”

Marlene sighed and digested Pilar’s request for forgiveness. “You’re right.” She squeezed Pilar’s hand and continued walking. “And we do good work, don’t we?”

“Damn right!”

The night kept going and going and Marlene didn’t want it to end. The drinks were plentiful (though Marlene and Pilar didn’t drink much), the men had dance moves like a music video, and the music was wall-to-wall and never stopped.

Finally Pilar had to peel her away from a charming young man by the name of Charles, who thought he was charming his way into her pants. “She’s married, okay? She lost her ring down the bathroom sink!” Pilar said to Charles in French. His face fell as Pilar whisked Marlene away.

Marlene laughed giddily, allowing Pilar to pull her away. “Why did you say that?”

“’Cause we wouldn’t want a jealous Malcolm Thurman-Winters on our hands, now would we?”

“I guess you’re right,” Marlene said. She felt guilty for even going out when she told Mal her plans, but Mal insisted. He supposedly had a mountain of homework to catch up on.

Pilar noted the faraway look in her eyes. “So how’s everything going with him?”

“Outstanding, thanks for asking,” Marlene said, suddenly uncomfortable with where the conversation was going. She flagged a cab down.

“Ah, you’re not telling me something,” said Pilar astutely, opening the taxi door.

“What?”

Pilar said, “You slept with him, didn’t you?”

“What?” Marlene said, blushing slightly. “No!”

“I knew there was something different about you!”

“Allons-y, Mesdames!” the taxi driver prodded them.

“Holy cricket, is it that obvious?” Marlene said, aghast.

“You know it!”

But before another word could be said, the sound of a car backfiring twice erupted from overhead and Pilar let out a tiny cry of surprise before slumping onto Marlene. It wasn’t a car backfiring, it was two very precise and very close gunshots. A woman in the queue of Prophecy screamed. The taxi driver began to curse and ducked out of sight in the driver’s seat of the cab. Marlene’s training kicked in and she ducked for cover inside of the taxi cab, and pulled Pilar’s limp body in after her.

Holding Pilar in her arms, Marlene watched helplessly as the life drained from the young woman’s playful eyes. “No, no, no, no,” Marlene murmured, clutching Pilar tightly. Marlene knew the wounds were fatal.

Pilar’s lips couldn’t say a word, but her lips to continued to move, as if she were trying to say something. The warm blood from the gunshot wounds in her back were dripping down Marlene’s legs and pooling on the taxicab’s seats.

“Hold on, honey,” Marlene whispered. “Don’t let go.”

Pilar’s last breath made her go limp in Marlene’s arms. The sound of emergency sirens wailed loudly moments later.

* * *

The first few hours of Pilar’s death were a big blur to Marlene. The police ushered her away, after the ambulance workers extracted Pilar from her embrace and cleaned Marlene up. They took her to their local police station, but she refused to speak. The police took it to mean she was in shock, and gave her a warm blanket and a cup of coffee. They removed her identification from her wallet and called the emergency number. It was Oliver’s.

He arrived quickly. Marlene figured he was probably working a case nearby. Oliver walked in and took the seat across from her in the interrogation room. She stared at him blankly, as though he weren’t really there. Oliver didn’t speak for a good long while and Marlene wanted to hit him.

Quietly, Oliver removed a plastic bag from his pocket and placed it on the table between them. Marlene stared at a point on the table near it.

“They found the murder weapon on the rooftop across the street from the club,” Oliver stated. “A M40A1 sniper rifle stolen from Quantico two years ago.”

He paused. “They also found this,” said Oliver, indicating the plastic bag sitting inert between them. “It’s a sprig of belladonna.”

“Did they find the bitch?” Marlene finally managed to ask.

“No.”

Marlene’s shoulders sagged and hot tears sprang into her eyes, her body racked with sobs. Oliver reached over and touched her hand, willing himself not to sweep her up in his arms. She looked so young, so helpless, and there was nothing he could do to make her feel better. So he let her cry.

Author: Guilliean Pacheco

Filipina adjacent. Cinéphile. (Bad) Feminist. INFJ. Mélomaniacal. Polymath. Raconteuse. Tsundoku.

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