Marlene drove in her borrowed Mini Cooper S to the Radcliffe Camera section of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Posing as an academe from America, the head librarian granted her reference-only access to the library.
Scrolling through the heavy tomes, Marlene selected one and compared it to the part of the cipher text she had cracked so far. It seemed to be correct and she worked dutifully in silence for a few hours to get the last few digits revealed.
“Excuse me?” inquired a light Italian accent from her elbow. “Do you work here?”
“No, I -,” Marlene began, looking up to see who has spoken. She was staring directly into the cold, dark eyes of Aurora Pagano. She hadn’t changed much from the surveillance photos Section Seven had of her. “I don’t. I’m just working. Thanks.” Her eyes diverted quickly back to the book in her hands, wondering how she could get out of the library discreetly.
“You can help me though,” Aurora continued dryly. “See, I’m looking for a woman about your height and your looks who might be able to tell me about the cipher text you’re working on right now.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marlene replied, trying to shield the cipher text from Aurora. It was hopeless. Aurora had 20’d her and all was lost.
“Come with me,” Aurora commanded, grabbing her arm roughly. “Now.”
“No,” Marlene shot back, behaving like a child and yanking her arm back.
“Excuse me, ladies? Is there a problem?”
Marlene and Aurora paused in their scuffle to look into the humorless eyes of the head librarian. Aurora eased back slightly.
“Not at all,” Aurora said easily. “We were about to continue our conversation outside.”
Marlene gathered up her things messily. “Thank you for letting me work here. It will help immensely in my theology project,” she said, shaking the librarian’s hand. She followed the former Section Seven agent out the wide doors.
“Let’s get one thing straight. Stay out of my way and you won’t get hurt,” Aurora threatened her. She stood glaring into Marlene’s eyes.
“And what if I don’t?” Marlene said, trying to keep her cool.
“Ask your brother what happens when people cross me,” Aurora replied coolly.
“Keep him out of this,” shot back Marlene.
“Just a friendly heads-up for a contemporary,” Aurora explained with a sweet bitterness. She made a move to walk away and Marlene fumbled clumsily for the 9mm Beretta sidearm she had concealed in her book bag. “Don’t bother, love,” said Aurora as she turned around to smile sweetly at her. “You couldn’t shoot me if your life depended on it.”
“Someday it will,” Marlene said mustering up enough courage to say it.
David was in the Section Seven gym, sparring on the punching bag that hung from the workout studio, when Marlene arrived back at headquarters. She was confused, pissed off, and nowhere near cracking the cipher. Something Aurora had said was annoying her.
“Hey Marlene,” David greeted her kindly, relaxing his Krav Maga fighting stance.
“What’s your history with Aurora Pagano?” Marlene asked. David picked up a towel to wipe the sweat from his brow and turned away from her. “David, I need to know. Please.”
“Not here. Let me take a shower first,” he explained, not looking at her and moving towards the locker room.
Marlene sat on the smelly wooden bench and all sorts of scenarios played out in her head as she waited for her brother to get finished. They were former lovers, they were former partners, David made Aurora turn for betraying her. Her overactive imagination was getting a workout, fittingly, in the workout room. David appeared soon after, dressed in dark blue jeans and a white polo shirt. He stared at her and silently told her to follow him, which she did.
David moved outside of HQ and to his car, a silver Mercedes-Benz coupe, and locked the doors. Marlene felt she was entering a prison. He pointed at the clock built into the console. “It’s got a bug killer in it.” There was an awkward moment, as David pondered how best to approach what he needed to say.
“The dossier Masterson gave you left out one pertinent detail. Dad was Aurora’s handler. Additionally, she was in my Gauntlet class in Vancouver. She and I connected,” he explained impassively.
“You slept with her?” Marlene spelled out.
“Yes,” he said angrily. “Her first assignment under Project Sleeping Beauty was to infiltrate La Rivoluzione, a terrorist organization in her home country of Italy, and to poison its leaders in their sleep.”
“I’ve heard of them,” Marlene said. Terrorists were the new threat in this post-September 11th world, and La Rivoluzione was one of them. Strictly small time though, anarchists with nothing better to do with their time. She had caught their name in an old case file she researched for Section Seven during her training for the infiltration of the Care for Earth environmental terrorist cell.
“Then she decided to go solo and works only for herself now,” David said, still not looking at her. Marlene knew it was because he was mad for getting involved with Aurora. “She went after you, didn’t she?”
“Yes. At the library today,” Marlene replied. “Why did she let me walk away? I mean, what am I supposed to do?” She bit back the urge to tell him about Syrai.
“Aurora is notorious fucking with people’s minds, especially when she needs something from them. She’ll draw you in and gut you. As for your safety, I’ll have to run this past the powers,” he said. “All I can tell you is you have to be on your guard.”
“Guard,” Marlene whispered, a light bulb going off in her head.
“What?” asked David, taken aback.
“I just cracked the cipher.”