Refreshed, after my nine hour “vacation” in my Menton retreat, I’m packing all of the clothes I still own, my spring wardrobe; it’s all I have left and it’s almost springtime anyway. A festively wrapped box catches my eye. Inside the store wrapped box is a Satellite Phone that was supposed to be a gift for Captain Mike; it turns out his girlfriend gave him the same phone. I was going to return it, but because I left mine at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, I’ll just use this one.
Rouen France, is a small city, population a little over 100 thousand souls. A port city, it chiefly imports and exports agriculture related cargo. 57 Place du Vieux Marché, in the old city is a largely pedestrian area, cafe’ tables line the street and tourism abounds. Close to where Joan of Arc was murdered, Stacy Bonaparte has been using this village square as her dais. Nearby is the Church of Eglise Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc, her sanctuary of strength and retreat during rain showers. Pleading her case to tourists, locals, and the curious, she draws quite a crowd most days.
Enjoying a pasty, al fresco, from the Cafe de Rouen, even the coffee is good. Sitting at one of the small tables I am afforded a perfect view as Stacy arrives for the day’s diatribe, with her entourage. Don’t tell me she has security, this will make execution more difficult. On closer inspection, her associates are simply tourists and autograph seekers already familiar with her cause.
While I contemplate Stacy’s demise, I notice a small boy playing with a wooden toy rifle. I see the child put something in the muzzle, then whilst holding the stock in one hand, with the other he slides the barrel quickly back; pop! and a cork is ejected from the device. I realize I have discovered the fat green worm delivery method I’ve been looking for since I left Winsel’s shop.
I move to get up to inquire the lad as to where I might procure such a device, when two strong hand grab my shoulders from behind and push me down onto my chair. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” inquires Montique. Sitting in front of me, Monti motions to a pistol he is holding in his coat pocket, aimed roughly in my direction. I tell him there’s no need for the strong arm tactics, someone had to go into the postal office. Besides if I was going to run out on the mission, what am I doing here?
Relaxing a little, Monti orders a coffee and delivers more bad news. “Rosicrucianism. A secret brotherhood of alchemists”, Monti responds to my incredulity. Stacy may have, not only, ties to them but may be moving product to support ongoing research into modern day alchemy. “That’s rich” I retort, alchemy is nothing but get rich quick dreams. Lowering his voice, Monti disagrees, telling me about experiments being conducted in western France. “Ever hear of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider?” Monti asks sarcastically. “They intend to turn a profit on that research project by rearranging subatomic particles into valuable commodities. In fact, there is some chatter from the intelligence community that they’re making oil!”
OK, fine, what does this have to do with us I want to know. Do we rub her out or not? Montique relates that the job parameters have changed. We need to investigate Stacy a bit. The church wants to know what evidence she has supporting her claim about John of Arc. They suspect she may have found real, damaging, information. If she has, we are to locate and destroy it. Regarding the alchemy angle, the Russian Alliance for Petroleum Equality has expressed a keen interest in what secrets Stacy is keeping. If certain precious elements or compounds could be created, world markets would destabilise.
Investigate? Investigate? No, I don’t do that, Nepal has people that do that! NZSIS has people that do that. Even the Yanks have people that do that. Not me, I’m supposed to be the sharp end of the stick, not the whole stick! Fuming, I whip out my satellite phone and call the home office. “Hello Majes” coos Trish, “what’s going on in your part of the world?”. In disbelief I double check the number dialed, the number is correct for Kathmandu. “Um, is Jae there?” I manage to croak out. Trish puts me on hold, a couple of minutes later Jae picks up. After pleasantries, Jae explains the situation at the CIAA. The Nepalese government decided to bring all security, monitoring, and clandestine operations in-house, to better monitor what their money is being spent on. Trish was called in as a data management consultant to assist with organising case documentation. Before I can quip something about asking a bear to fill your honey jars, Jae assures me she is carefully monitored and isn’t permitted access to copy equipment. Sure, OK, I think to myself.
Back to my problems. I explain to Jae what is being asked of me and what can be done about it. “Nothing” is the terse reply. The Stacy job comes from powers much higher than usual and I am “the man on point” right now. “Just infiltrate her inner circle, get close to Stacy, work your magic, and pump her for information. Once you have what you need, you can snap her neck and call it a day” Jae explains as if instructing a rookie. I’m told just do what I have to do, then do what I do best.
Montique and I spent the majority of the day casing the square, profiling Stacy’s followers, and studying Stacy. When the weather started to turn ugly, we retreated to our hotel, the Mercure Rouen Centre Cathédrale, located at 7 rue Croix de Fer, right in town. Just a 9 minute walk between the hotel & the town square. Very convenient for us, and for, as it turns out, Stacy; avoiding her may become challenging, at least until I work out a plan. The hotel is now fully booked, so at least we can hide in the crowd. The only room I could get when I checked in, the Standard Twin, allows Monti a place to sleep. Had I been able to procure my choice, a Superior Suite, Monti would be out of luck, probably forced to sleep in the lobby. I knew the second bed was a bad omen.
Monti and I decide to use a “Dim witted Frog” scam to infiltrate Stacy’s organisation. Since Montique’s French is better than mine, he will play the Frog. It will take a couple of days to assemble the resources to run the work, time I’ll use to learn Stacy’s comings and goings.
While finishing dinner at the hotel, we spy Stacy leaving the hotel. I decide it’s time to brush up on my stalking skills and chase after her. I tail Stacy to a cabaret called “La Garçonnière”. Slipping in a few seconds after her, I head straight for the bar. On the stage performing a song and dance routine are three quite ugly women, oh wait, they’re not women; it’s “avant-garde”. Beyond the stage, I watch Stacy disappear up a narrow staircase, to what I presume are the private rooms. Too dangerous to follow her up there, I settle in for a couple of drinks, unsuccessfully trying to be invisible while fending off unwanted advances, ” Je ne suis pas ce genre de garçon”.
Unfortunately for my potential suitors, Stacy re-emerged after only twenty minutes carrying two heavy looking briefcases. After another five minutes, I left, to return to the hotel. Montique, whom had been tailing me, and who’s French is better than mine, decided not to go inside the cabaret. Instead, he managed to eavesdrop on Stacy’s meet through an open second storey window around the side of the building. The info Monti gleaned didn’t make a lot of sense: she was given the latest shipment of leaflets, they will start moving fifty percent more leaflets in the coming weeks, and sometime in the next few weeks she’ll get additional help distributing the increased volume of leaflets.
Discussing the night’s revelations, Montique and I lounge in the hotel lobby; enjoying Birius Cognac and fine cigars. We are puzzled over the secrecy and importance of these leaflets Stacy picked up an hour ago. While we pondered the hotel lobby doors open for a delightfully attractive brunette. Dressed in a slinky black evening gown, sheer black stockings and five inch stiletto shoes, the lady attracts the gazes of many gentlemen in the hotel lobby. Fingering her pearl necklace, the lady in black approaches us, coyly asking “Majes?”. “Did you bring the hamster suit?”, I reply, she nods in affirmation . Extinguishing my cigar in the cognac, I advise Monti, “If anything comes up, handle it”. The lady and I head up to my room for some naughty fun.
Just before midnight, I escort my companion down to the hotel lobby, Montique hasn’t moved in the three hours we were occupied, Kissing her goodbye, I send the paid professional on her way. “Done so soon? I thought you were in for the night. What is it with you and hamster suits anyway?”, Monti inquires. Ignoring the second question, I offer, “the hamster suit wasn’t a good fit, I tried to make a go of it, but it was just too small, and after a while it stopped being any fun”. Monti wanted to know how she knew me, I fished out a business card from my pocket. Flipping the glossy card to Monti, “one of the cabaret patrons knew exactly the kind of entertainment I’d be interested in”.
. . .
“What, is that?” I ask Monti rhetorically. Monti shows up for breakfast wearing a beanie with a propeller attached to the top. “It’s for the work” he replies, “and look”, gesturing toward a shopping bag, “I’ve got the not quite long enough pants and ill fitting shirt to go with it.” I cannot believe what I’m hearing, when was the last time the training manual was updated, 1960? “Take that off, you look ridiculous”. I educate Monti that the modern version of the Dim-witted Frog is more a cerebral performance than a freak show.
Before I can think of starting the “Dim witted Frog” work, I need to know what the importance of the leaflets is; time to introduce myself. After breakfast Monti and I go to work. Montique has some calls to make and a shopping list to fulfill. I need one of those leaflets. 9:30 AM Stacy is in her spot, in the town square, calling out her rhetoric and distributing her leaflets. Simplicity, I decide, is the best here, I’ll just approach her and get one of the leaflets. A good plan, had I done just that, instead, as I neared Stacy, I noticed she carries herself with an irresistible and familiar “je ne sais quoi ” that reminds me of Mandy. I also noticed that some people got a leaflet from the bottom of the stack and others from the top; interesting. Introducing myself to Stacy, we chat for a short while before she hands me a leaflet, from the bottom of the stack, signalling the end of the conversation.
Reviving my rusty pickpocket skills, I manage to acquire a “top” leaflet from an unsuspecting rube. Comparing the two versions, they are identical. There must be something else that makes the “top” leaflet unique. The leaflets convey the same information on both sides, as far as I could tell, English one side, French on the reverse.
The thirst for knowledge is quenched at the Université de Rouen. Montique and I sneak into the university’s science lab, after hours of course, with one of the “top” leaflets, hoping to discover what makes them special. First are the narcotic tests; back in the mid twentieth century hallucinogens like LSD were painted on paper and the user only needed to lick the drug off the page. Monti declined the “lick” test, we opted for more scientific methods instead. We found no drugs, or anything else. We ran every test available in the laboratory; the spectrometer results looked promising, but were inconclusive.
Not contraband, then it must be information. We ran the leaflet through the lab’s automatic Enigma Decryption Machine; we couldn’t believe they had one either. After nearly an hour of cipher crunching, the Enigma determined there is no secret message on either side of the paper. To the microscope. In the early part to the twentieth century microdots were invented to pass sensitive information via insecure channels. A microdot could carry a page of text or diagrams in the space of typographical dot. The text on the leaflets could conceivably contain reams of secret data. The university’s 1000x optical microscope yields nothing, if only they had an electron microscope here.
“I think there is a TIMA in the Geology department”, volunteers Monti. The Integrated Mineral Analyser, manufactured by American company TESCAN is an automated scanning electron microscope designed to detect mineral abundance in ore samples. We sprint to the Geology wing and fire up the TIMA. Although neither of us know how to use it, we manage to load a sample into the reactor chamber. “What setting should we use?” I ask. “Just turn it up all the way, we’re running out of time, classes will start in about an hour”, is Monti’s answer.
In retrospect, we probably should have ramped up the intensity on the TIMA, though going directly from zero to full blast confirmed the results we saw from the spectrometer tests. When the electron beam struck the sample, the material formed a critical mass, a small fusion detonation occurred, and a jet of super-hot plasma shot a hole through the side of the containment vessel. Yup, the Daedalus reaction confirmed; plutonium. We managed to extinguish the fire started when the plasma jet hit a nearby computer monitor, but not before the fire alarm was triggered. This actually worked for us, as we were able to blend in with the panicked students and faculty evacuating the building.
. . .
After Tuesdays embarrassment regarding the costume selection for the “Dim witted Frog”, I could tell Monitque wasn’t comfortable with the work. When I suggested we switch to a “Rusty Carpetbagger”, Monti was more than happy to endorse the idea. What’s good for Monti, won’t be good for me; I’m about to slide, face first, down a slippery slope that will end at a brick wall. I’ll handle Stacy, of course, Monti will follow the cabaret lead. We’ll meet back at the hotel in nine days and take it from there.
I thought French cuisine was supposed to be delicious, this is awful. I’m eating, or attempting to, what seems to be salad, held in suspended animation, in a beef flavoured colourless gelatin. I endure this horrific culinary calamity because my lunch date is Stacy. Over the past few days, Stacy and I have become quite chummy. With any luck, I’ll be able to close the deal before Monti gets back. The meal is tolerable not only because I am getting valuable information from Stacy, but because I am smitten by her. Here we go again.