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  1. [Previously...]


    Later…
    [Still at] Tarragon, St. Paul’s Bay, Malta

    For the rest of the meal, she was quiet. The food came and went, and both of them declined dessert. Chase because he didn’t like them and his guest, well, because she wasn’t feeling it.

    He was terrible with smalltalk, so he said nothing.

    By this time, the sun was below the horizon. The sea was indigo, lit only by sodium lamps along the shores of a small port. Located between Libya and Sicily, Malta was a strategic location for power over the Mediterranean. Having been inhabited by a dozen or so civilizations from Arabic to Spanish, this unassuming island saw more action in a century than most parts of the world in eons.

    In the white noise of the restaurant, she opened her tan woven Bottega Veneta clutch and pulled out a golden locket on a small chain. The necklace looked older but well restored, a tiny representation of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross with the letters INRI hung below the flat ovoid pendant. Chase remembered seeing the keepsake prior, she seemed much more protective of it back then.

    Help me think,” she placed the chain on the table in front of him and Chase opened it to verify the portrait inside.

    This has to be expensive…,” Chase noted the craftsmanship, his thumb traced an artisan arabesque along the locket’s inner edge, “The kind of money that can afford a piece like this, and for a toddler?

    She was impassive, and it felt to him that she already knew the answers.

    Alright, I’ve decided,” his companion said abruptly, “I think we should burn the papers.

    You don’t care that you might have verifiable birth information?” He handed the chain back to her.

    She considered, he saw thoughts passing behind her wandering eyes, but something else prevailed and she put the locket away, “Nothing changes.

    Absolutely nothing?” He wanted to call her bluff. She couldn’t possibly deny herself this knowledge, being such a seeker.

    I’ve chosen my family, emphatically,” That reference to VILE was ironclad, but Chase only furled his brows.

    Maybe she was decathecting from this to protect herself, but psychological barriers or no, another argument existed. Sometime between three and five years ago, Malcolm Avalon donated his DNA to a research project with UCSF. That branch also coincidentally shared data with ACME Labs.

    What about DNA?” he threw that thought out there, and instantly received a subsidiary frown.

    Let me stop you,” she had volume in her voice, he knew that was cue to drop the subject, “I appreciate this, I don’t know what this may mean for you, but you owe me nothing.

    He disagreed, owing anyone anything had nothing to do with the truth. Considering his next words, Devineaux sank into his chair and watched her through the sound of breaking waves. If he told her she deserved justification, he would be ignoring the many times she dodged the consequences of her actions. And if he did insist on change, he could seem overreaching, meddling in something that wasn’t at all broken.

    As she finished her glass of Maltese rosé, either pity or empathy let her hand fall next to his, and she found his pulse. He realized that he had waited too long to speak.

    When I’m ready, I might go see this… Tête de Femme.

    Hearing that, he chuckled, somehow freed from having to put thought into words; and the thief gave herself a congratulatory smile.

    I need to go,” she eventually indicated, briefly clasping his palm in hers.

    Go, I got this,” he signaled the waiter, but as he reached for his pocket, he found it light.

    The side of her lips curved up and the pickpocket signed the dinner bill with an Italian alias. Once satisfied with her victory, she gave him back his wallet.

    Thanks,” Devineaux accepted, then he rose to pull out the chair for her.

    Gracefully, she stood and leaned to kiss his cheek, running her white-lacquered nails over his clean shave.

    Good night,” she studied his eyes before glancing to the documents, “Thank you.

    Chase nodded affirmatively. Even though his thoughts cycled back to what else could be done, he resolved that it was best honor her wishes. Buttoning up his linen jacket, he adjusted his cuffs and reached for the envelope.

    Then he stopped, pausing over her empty wine glass and the ghost of her lipstick.

    [To be continued...]
  2. [Co-written and edited to Chase’s point of view.]

    Some time, now or never…
    Tarragon, St. Paul’s Bay, Malta

    Chase Devineaux took a flight from San Francisco to Milan, a train to Naples, a car to Salerno and then boarded a boat to St. Paul’s Bay in Malta. Granted, he took the long route, but he had more than one associate to encounter. Every stop was a security meeting, except Malta wasn’t in his official itinerary.

    Tarragon, an unassuming restaurant with views of the Mediterranean, served some of the best food the island had to offer. Devineaux arrived late afternoon, called the restaurant to confirm a reservation, and checked in at the Gillieru Harbour hotel for a shower. Before he knew it, the sun was setting and he was seated by the maître d' before a North-facing window.

    A waiter announced the arrival of his ‘date’ about ten minutes later. She was punctual, as expected. In a laced dress of layered white silk, she wore Italian leather sandals whose strings climbed up her calves and ended in tassels an inch below her knees. Around her neck was a platinum band, plain, understated and hallmarked by a personal jeweler in Venice.

    He stood to greet her, she completed the kisses and let the waiter push back her chair as she reclined.

    Thanks for coming,” Chase started, turning first to the drinks menu, “Want to… share a bottle or--

    Have you had Maltese Wine?” she tapped his wrist.

    No,” he answered, “let’s do that, with fish.

    Pescatarian?” she laughed lightly and ordered a bottle of chilled Marsovin Sottovoce Ġellewża and two fish dishes. With that out of the way, she studied the man before her and attempted to guess why he would want to meet so fastidiously this summer.

    You… want to keep internally guessing, or should I get to it?” Devineaux asked, turning from the cooling seas to his dinner company.

    The wine came, he tasted, approved; then both glasses were filled and she took her first sip.

    You have documents,” she hinted to the large brown envelope next to him, “I thought we agreed to never speak of work?

    Chase smiled, but omitted his usual chuckle at her teasing.

    This isn’t work...,” he pulled the envelope into view, “Rosen did as she promised after the operation in Kamchatka, she destroyed the files. Except for a few of yours.

    She got rid of your files but kept mine?” her dulcet laughter preceded another sip of rosé, “That sounds like her.

    They were important,” he exhaled, “these are yours… incident reports about a hotel fire, child services, everything that got you into the system. It’s not much, but what I have in here are the remaining physical copies.

    A silence extended and the thief was momentarily still.

    Have you made these digital?” Her question was nonchalant.

    Yes…” hesitantly, he told her the truth.

    Then send that to me, and burn all this.

    Chase breathed, “Wait, there’s more.

    Her body language conveyed little, but her eyes clearly hinted curiosity.

    Have you heard the name Malcolm Avalon?

    Leaning back into her chair, she crossed her legs, “You’re going to tell me about him?

    Argentinian businessman, collector, acquired an Amedeo Modigliani sculpture last month?

    Modigliani, a Tête de Femme?” she commented and took another casual sip of wine, “Good turn-of-the century pieces are rare, do you know his broker?

    Hold on,” Devineaux paused, “let me focus.

    Then focus,” she mildly mocked him and put her glass down for the waiter to refresh.

    The night of the fire, Avalon lost both his wife and daughter, there’s a corresponding police report… a few newspaper articles…” Chase scrolled through items on his tablet, “You were found not far from the hotel…

    Salads arrived and she took a bite. Then she watched him move around making his case, and gave a slight approving nod.

    It could have been sloppy police work, or some misunderstanding, but at the time, nobody made the connection.

    And why are we trying to make this connection?” her question lingered at the word ‘why’, “Is it so impossible that my mother was an undocumented hotel staff?

    You think that’s your story?

    I think it makes no difference,” that statement flowed easily, and Chase believed her.

    Right,” Devineaux nodded, “So, some of ACME was at Avalon’s Buenos Aires Hacienda when the Modigliani was delivered, small party.” The detective moved to an image of ACME’s Secretary of the Board Gunther Metzger among some nameless faces in front of a large artwork, “The woman in that painting--

    She held his arm to better study the picture.

    Chase,” she sighed, “why didn’t you start with this?


    [Continued...]
  3. Author’s Note:
    The following was first drafted in 2010. It was recently revised and edited by both Sophie and myself. Hopefully, this theoretical and random situation serves as good light reading. I wanted to post this on February 12, 2015, Sophie's birthday (and honorary day of sign-up).

    Have a good one, Sophie. Thank you for everything.





    A high-pitched shrill, lengthy and unbearable in its alarm, was the first thing Chase Devineaux heard as he struggled to surmise his location. He could not assess every sensation, but he certainly recognised the scent of disinfectant. Wherever he was, it was clean -- or meant to be, in any case. When the thought struck that he was in a medical facility of some kind, other things began to appear: cold lights, brushed steel, and green-white tones that passed him by.

    On the lapel of a uniform, he spotted a hospital logo and concluded that he was not at the ACME Medical Center, where he should be.

    The discovery irked him.

    “Where is this?” he asked a woman in white. She ignored him.

    A flustered man, seemingly a doctor, appeared and began giving instructions to those around him.

    This was not someone he trusted, and Chase became apprehensive.

    “Wait,” he refuted, “I already have a doctor. You need to call ACME San Francisco and get Dr. Sophie Conrad.”

    They began to move him, again paying no attention.

    “You don't understand,” he repeated, “she knows me, she'll tell you exactly what I need.”

    Working around him, no member of the staff catered to his words. He wondered if he had spoken too softly.

    “You need to stop!” he commanded, “I’m not going anywhere until I know what's going on.”

    A foreign female voice, disembodied from its owner, mentioned an emergency coming in and began to list random, inexplicable injuries.

    “I have none of those things. I'm not your patient,” Chase interjected, “Get my doctor. She'll clear this up.”

    No one replied.

    “Is everybody deaf?” he started to tire, “I need my doctor.”

    Less upset now than when he woke, the idea that he was isolated and virtually lost still felt unsettling. While remaining adamant about not agreeing to any procedures until his own doctor arrived, Chase began to ponder why they would subject him to this. He was not in any pain. In fact, he felt nothing at all.

    The people around him lowered their voices to whisper amongst themselves until he could hear nothing. Then, they began turning out the lights, one by one. Deprived again of his senses, he sat in anger.

    “I said, get Sophie Conrad!” he shouted into the darkness.

    He needed none of this, and when Sophie arrived, he trusted they would correct their mistake. She'll teach them to ignore him.


    * * *​


    Five thousand miles from San Francisco, a series of car bombs had ignited just past midnight, local time. A few hours later, ACME Headquarters received a call from a tertiary care center in Limerick, Ireland. With lilting English, the medical worker on the line informed the agency that Director of Operations Chase Devineaux was among the casualties brought into their care after. The report was that, although now stable, he had yet to regain consciousness since medics retrieved him from the scene of the incident.

    Forty-eight minutes after the call was documented, Dr. Sophie Conrad and a small team of health professionals were accelerating up a runway at the Alameda Airbase, heading for mid-west Ireland. Director of Operations Chase Devineaux was coming home.
  4. Right, you know this is for testing purposes...

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