It’s funny how things work out
thought Chase Devineaux to himself with a wry smile.
When he retired from ACME 15 years ago he certainly did not foresee himself as a wold class winemaker, cruising down the A84 in a custom built Black Porsche Cayman.
A brief twinge of melancholy hit home as he recalled its predecessor; he had mourned, yes actually mourned, the day the silver Cayman had succumbed to the elements of time and entropy. From its ashes had arose the current iteration he was now driving, a clean energy fueled digital marvel combining the best of modern technology and classic design.
Fixing his attention back on the road, he guided the vehicle expertly through the brief onslaught of traffic before once again cruising and letting his thoughts wonder; he had caught himself doing that a lot lately and was loathe to admit that his age might be at fault. No, he was much more inclined to blame her unruly influence for his increasingly introspective behaviour.
Everything had changed since ‘The Incident’ twenty years ago, everything...and everyone.
The international ramifications of ‘The Incident’ had neccesitated a year long truce between ACME and VILE whilst both sides dealt with the fallout.
For her role in resolving ‘The Incident’, Carmen, and by extension VILE, had been offered amnesty for her crimes and even a medal of sorts. She, of course, had steadfastly refused, citing the absurdity of the whole notion. In an eloquence only she could pull off, she had pointed out that there were no charges ever filed because everything she stole was always returned, save one glaring exception; more galling was the fact that she had brazenly, and accurately, called out the whole affair as being a politically motivated bluff on the part of ACME higher ups. The only things she did relent on was the temporal truce.
During the truce, Carmen and himself had setup several off the record meetings, at times with several other relevant personnel from both factions attending as well.
The results of those talks was a consensus that the game was over.
Political and religious climates had changed too drastically to allow VILE the freedom to conduct business as usual; ‘The Incident’ and its aftermath wre poignant reminders of that.
VILE would cease its old operations shortly after and rebrand itself as a massive organisation with two main branches. The Security and Intelligence Branch specialized, as its name implied, in security design and evaluation, and specialist retrieval consultations for certain law enforcement agencies.
This branch also covertly assisted ACME with monitoring the criminal intelligence network.
The Charitable works and Humanitarian branch focused on running two main charitable funds setup by VILE years earlier: The St Nicholas Education fund for orphans, and the New Choice foundation for giving criminals a new way to live, giving them not just a chance to pick up new life skills but giving them an avenue where they could apply it and contribute to society. Both charities were funded with proceeds from the casino and the theatre, in addition to donations from various sources.
Chase recalled, with no small amount of satisfaction, the number of jaws that had fallen when Carmen had, as part of the rebranding, revealed the casino as being VILE owned. ACME, or rather Chase, had known or at least strongly suspected for awhile, that this had been the case. However, as Lee Galese was quick to point out in no uncertain terms, the entire acquisition process had been legal and above board. Also, while VILE owned, the casino had never directly been used for any criminal venture; it did serve as an occasional safehouse for members, but all profits from the casino had always gone to fund charities and never the criminal aspects of VILE.
Rosen had grudgingly conceeded the point to a smirking Carmen and left Chase to follow up with Carmen. This would be the beginning of many changes to come.
Over the next few years Carmen and Chase each trained proteges to take over their roles with the latter disappearing a few months before Chase had officially retired from ACME.
To no one’s surprise, Chase had handpicked Ivy as his successor; Carmen had opted to train Neb much to Neb’s own astonishment.
Upon retiring, Chase had relocated to France, purchased a small vineyard and taken up winemaking as a hobby. He had also changed up his look, growing out his now silver hair along with a matching goatee; on hindsight, the uncharacteristic aesthetic change was probably part of a conscious effort to distance himself from his old life; and if he was completely honest, he had retained the goatee partly just to spite her.
Ironically, the hobby he had picked to allow him to fade into obscurity would propel him into the spotlight years later when his hobby grew into a multi-million dollar business. His signature white and red wines, “Le Chevalier Gris” and “La Roi Rouge”, would gain international acclaim and numerous awards. Carmen once teased that it was probably due to Chase’s subconscious need to excel at everything he tried; he then promptly tried to refute her ny having a more excellent argument, only to realise he had fallen into her trap...again.
Darn witchy woman
Carmen had remained as mysterious as ever but now without undergoing some serious changes of her own. Deciding to shed the vestiges of her old life, Carmen had left Patty in charge and gone on sabbatical. During her sabbatical she would take up writing and began to pen the first of many award winning books on the topics of cultural anthropology, history, geography and even literature. To her chagrin, her books had been so well-received by the academic world that several prominent universities had offered her Pseudonym several honorary doctorates; Carmen had of course flatly refused them all. She had however ensured that the majority of book proceeds would go towards VILE’s charities.
Under a different alias, Carmen had also became a grandmaster and the first female grandmaster to beat Big Blue. Again, she had refused the awards that followed and channelled all monetary prizes toward VILE charities.
The first to follow Chase in his exit had been Sophie. Having been his closest friend and confidante at ACME, she had known of his intentions to retire since the aftermath of ‘The Incident’. Hence, as he had been training a protege and slowly making the transition to retiring from ACME, she had done likewise and followes his exit a few months later.
She would resurface to ply her medical expertise as part of the full time staff at Los Angeles Childen’s Hospital eventually becoming one of the division heads. Ironically it was there that she would end up running into Patty Larceny in a professional capacity and both would become close friends and colleagues.
With her intelligence and sharp tongue, many would have thought Patty a natural pick to be next in line for VILE headship. However, since ‘the incident’, Patty’s heart was no longer in thievery; witnessing devastation first hand had made the young woman yearn for the opposite and so she had turned her hand toward medicine.
She had exceeded all expectation by becoming a top neurosurgeon before moving to Los Angeles Children's hospital to specialise in treating children. Under the guidance and steady abilities of both Patty and Sophie, the LA children's hospital provided numerous breakthroughs for countless number children. It is no wonder then that Patty was eventually made the Dean of Medicine for the hospital.
Chase had always suspected that Carmen probably had more than a hand in helping steer Patty into her current field; she always was good in reading people and knowing how to get her agents to live up to or even exceed their potential; it was part of the reason she was such a great leader, though he would never tell that to her.
Perhaps that was why Carmen had chosen Neb as her successor. To anyone outside of VILE it was a choice out of left field; but, as Chase had later learnt firsthand, the members of VILE all thought highly of the mysterious young lady.
To her credit, Neb had flourished in her role as leader, helped out by the strong support of many senior VILE agents. Though she sometime seemed unsure, she had a unique way of looking at things and daring to take risks. However, it was also apparent that she, along with afew others, had missed the old days. She still loved the charitable side of the operations but she had made it clear on numerous occasions that she would have much rather been working against ACME than with them. It was a big reason why she had been so willing to secede her position when the opportunity arose.
The next to leave ACME was his former personal assistant and secretary. According to Ivy, she had resigned a week after Sophie did citing personal reasons. Her presence in the office was sorely missed as Ivy had to hire two secretaries to do her job. Chase recalled chuckling discreetly whilst Ivy ranted over the phone to him about the ineptness of Renee’s replacements; Renee had always made running the office look effortless but Chase had long suspected that anyone else but Renee would have struggled.
He had stayed in contact with Renee who, he later learnt, had settled down in Canada and started a family. Chase would often send the first bottles of each vintage to Renee as gifts and also to ask for her feedback; one secret of hers he had uncovered whilst they work together was that Renee was something of a wine snob. Her feedback had proved invaluable in shaping the taste of his wine and perhaps was a big reason to its success.
The third person to leave ACME was shockingly enough, Ivy.
If you had asked Ivy twenty years ago if she had seen herself leading VILE, she probably would have laughed in your face and then proceeded to send you to the intensive care unit. However, after ‘the incident’ , Chase had noticed a change in her attitude toward the former league of thieves. Many of her former adversaries had earned her respect and friendship and this played a key role in her change of allegiances.
Of course the key culprit was none other than Rosen, Chase thought with a mixture of humour and sadness. It had been Rosen and her politics that caused Ivy to nearly go insane. When Chase had stepped down, Rosen, looking to turn ACME into a PMC to further her own political agenda, realised Ivy would be too green to oppose her and quickly put in a series of changes that left ACME a shell of its former self; Ivy had tried her best to fight back but Rosen had amassed too much clout within the board by then.
The straw that had broken the camel’s back was when Rosen opposed Ivy’s nupitals with Eugene Grovington citing some ridiculous rule conflict of interest. This had prompted a disllusioned Ivy to quit ACME on the spot, followed immediately by her devoted husband. About a hundred other ACME staff at the wedding also handed in their badges immediately, chief among them the then head of technology, Zack, and his fiancee, field commander Tanya.
The wedding day debacle, as it had come to be known, cost Rosen her job, much to the satisfaction of all parties except Rosen herself. This was a huge factor in some of the ACME staff returning to the organisation, led oddly enough by Lee Jordan.
Lee would prove to be adept at navigating politics and yet fiercely loyal to the old ACME. This made him the perfect candidate to take over as the new Director of Operations. Along with his right hand men, Commander Storm and Head of Research Bran, Lee had made great strides in undoing the damage that Rosen had caused. Chase was proud of Lee for finally stepping up and out of his shadow. Lee was molding ACME into his image now, and strangely, that was no longer a bad thing.
Whilst Lee was making changes at ACME, the Grovingtons had settled down in Alaska, with Eugene opening up a small but wildly popular cafe. The former pilot and mercenary had been more than happy to leave his military past behind him and focus on his wife and the culinary arts.
Shortly after the cafe had opened, Joe Kerr had come to visit and invited Ivy to a private dialogue with Neb. Whatever was mentioned in that meeting would forever remain known only between the two women. A week later, Ivy was annouced as formally taking over leadership of VILE; a move that Carmen had seemed oddly pleased about when Chase had questioned her.
A year later, the now married Zack and Tanya would join up with VILE as well. Zack would open a medical research division in VILE and along with help from Patty, Sophie and Roux would create many biomedical technogical advancements for the treatment of children.
Tanya meanwhile would takeover the headship of the charitable works division from Joe Kerr.
The VILE jester had been the obvious choice to head the charitable works branch and he had all but requested it from Carmen who was more than happy to entrust it to him. By the time Tanya had taken over, Joseph had expanded the New Choice charity fund to include construction of over 50 halfway houses cum trade schools across the globe. The Orphans education fund meanwhile had partnered up with UNICEF. Joe had also expanded the charity branch to include monthly donations to the Red Cross and Salvation Army. He had also established the 'Carmine’s Home' cat rescue and rehabilitation center, in honour of the late cat.
Carmine’s passing had left Joseph sad and fairly heartbroken for a good while. Chase had learnt from Carmen that since their chance meeting at the old base, Joe had unofficially adopted the feline and cared for her. They had been near inseparable and all of VILE had come to view them as a package deal.
Tanya taking over had allowed Joseph a chance to get away and find himself again. According to Neb, Joe had resurfaced a year later in Stone Harbour acting more like his old self. He was last seen managing the theatre alongside Sarah Nade.
Neb herself had dropped off the grid becoming a nomad after handing VILE’s reins to Ivy. She had surfaced a couple of times in Flag’s bookstore, helping the silver haired enigma watch the shop when he went on one of his long trips. Other than that, Neb’s whereabouts were basically a mystery to everyone, even Carmen, or so she would have him believe; secretly Chase suspected Carmen was still keeping tabs on her old team but declined to call her out on it.
Carmen’s former right hand man, Vic the slick, had almost quit immediately when Carmen closed the thievery side of VILE. He had eventually been persuaded by Neb and Joe to take over management of VILE's casino. Vic took to Vegas like an eel to water and thrived there. He even opened an Italian restaurant, Fumigali’s, where the food is so authentic Mama would cry; at least according to Vic. The restaurant proved a hit and Vic would focus on that, opening a chain of Fumagali’s in New York, LA, Chicago, Texas, Florida and DC. He would hand the casino over to another former ACME agent, Mikail.
Mikail’s military training had given him keen senses and a really sharp eye, key traits for surviving Vegas. Mikail also cut a mean figure in the suit and with his no-nonsense demeanor and krav maga skills, he quickly earned respect as someone not to be messed with. Under his leadership the casino continued to uphold its stellar reputation as the most trustworthy establishment in Vegas. Chase has also heard that a certain ‘lucky cat’ statue had been placed in the casino entrance in honour of Carmine who had been the Mirage’s mascot since VILE took over; rumour has it punters religiously rub the statue’s head in hopes of good luck rubbing off on them.
The sound of rain falling on the windshield made Chase let out an appreciative smile; he had always loved watching the rain, finding it oddly therapeutic and mind-clearing; snow, whilst beautiful to watch in its own way, just didn't have the same effect. Snow did however make Chase recall another significant changes that had occurred just after he had retired.
In one of their last meetings before his retirement and her sabbatical, the duo had correctly predicted that with the game gone, many of its old players would go their own paths. Feeling oddly sentimental, Carmen had suggested to an incredulous Chase that they buy a house; it was the first and only time in his life Chase had performed a spit take.
The ‘house', as it turns out, was a massive mountain lodge in Alaska. It was a beautiful log cabin style place with 15 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms. Carmen had dubbed the placd as ‘neutral grounds’, a place where there was no ‘ACME' and no ‘VILE', just old friends reconnecting over memories of the past. Despite originally thinking that the nickname better suited a hipster coffee shop, Chase did eventually agree; he never could really say no to Carmen if it didn't involve her breaking the law.
The lodge was managed by Eugene sknce he lived the closest to it with Ivy setting up a secret bunker/office underneath it. Each member of the old crew would eventually add in their own touches to the place: fully stocked bar, a fully functioning kitchen, hot tub, pool table, baby grand piano, custom chess set, etc. Neb also contributed a full set of Roombas to handle the cleaning, much to Eugene’s relief.
The old crew would from time to time meet up in the lodge to celebrate and reconnect. The timings were never fixed due to their differing schedules. The only exception was the two weeks from Decembdr 18th to January 1st when the whole crew, even Carmen and Chase, would come together to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s day.
Zack would always organize a secret santa at the start of the month, sending everyone their santee by private message. The crew would have till Christmas to get the gift and then exchange it with one another. Christmas dinner was very much a family affair with each member of the crew contributing to a dish or a decor item. Chase let out a momentary frown as he recalled that another Christmas tradition for the crew was trying to get ‘mom and dad’ under the mistletoe.
New Year's eve on the other hand was always a long night filled with booze, ruminations, recollections and lots of laughter. The crew’s aim that night was always to get Chase drunk enough to act out of character, and possibly make a move on Carmen. Lucky for him, he had built up a strong tolerance for alcohol over the years.
As the Cayman turned into a street in Mont St Michel, Chase observed in appreciation that the old street had lost none of its charm. Despite being old, the buildings had stood the test of time and none of the modern lightings and fixtures, save for a few LED street lamps, had found their way to this place; Chase nodded in approval, some places should simply not be desecrated.
Normally parking was a nightmare in MSM but not for Chase; with great ease and satisfaction, he pulled into his personal parking spot in the private parking area of a cafe; good thing he knew the owner.
Stepping out onto the pavement, Chase noted that the rain had passed leaving a small array of puddles which reglected the moonlight beautifully, further highlighting the picturesque qualities that made MSM so dearly treasured.
Walking inside the cafe, he was not surprised to see the owner waiting for him in their usual corner, chess set already laid out on the table. He smiled a genuine smile and a nod of deep respect and friendship as he took his place across from her, the elusive enigma herself, Carmen Sandiego.
She was still clad in red though it was a much more muted red coat sans fedora. Her once long dark hair, now trimmed to a more manageable short length, shined an irridescent silver comparable in shade to his. Her eyes still twinkled with mischief and her face still radiated joie de vive.
Looking down at the chessboard, Chase noted that she had gone ahead to make the first move.
“Queen’s gambit? I thought you would take it easy on me?”
“Depends on whether you decline or accept.” She smirked.
“There is a never a right answer with you.”
“Not up to the challenge?”
With a wordless flourish, Chase made his decision and the duo went through their opening dance of give and take, bait and switch, repose and repartee.
Ten minuted later Chase pondered his next move furiously. He had fallen yet again into another of Carmen’s traps and her smug smile told him he was on the verge of being checkmated.
“Didn't i tell you to lose that beard?” Her dulcet tones broke through his concentration with practiced ease.
“Stop trying to distract me woman”
Chase didn't need to look up to know that she was wearing that teasing smirk she loved using on him.
Ignoring her, he concentrated again, vaguely aware of the ticking clock beside him. Finally he made his choice.
“Knight to F6”
Arching an eyebrow, she made her move.
“Pawn c7 to c8. Checkmate.”
Resisting the urge to facepalm at forgetting the innocuously placed pawn that became his undoing, he smiled graciously at her before knockinh his king down to concede defeat.
“Darn. How did i miss that?”
“Getting sloppy in your old age?”
“Hardly. You distracted me.”
“You let yourself get distracted.”
“Can you blame me?”
“No. You’re predictable that way. Most men are.”
Deciding to change the topic, Chase cleared his throat.
“Best 2 out of 3 right?”
Shaking her head in mirth, Carmen responded with her usual mischief.
“Only if i let you win the second game, dear.”
Now it was his turn to smirk as he reset the board and took the first move.
As they resumed their dance of wits once again, Chase thought with some humour and satisfaction,
It's funny how things work out
And yet the more things change…