Warnings - See Part 1.
SAY GOODBYE TO BOSTON
Loud voices jarred Jemma back to her surroundings. She had been daydreaming, she realised guiltily... again... but after a week reading manuals, it was understandable.
The male voices were coming from the corridor outside the poky little office she shared with another junior Security agent. She pushed the tedious Procedures manual away and stood up. Then she stuck her head out the door.
Two men were having a slanging match - Remington and someone she didn't recognise, a stocky man with a bushy moustache.
"That's Bill Thompson," came a voice in her ear. Jonathan Byatt, the agent who shared her office, had returned from his jaunt to the coffee machine. "Counter Intelligence."
Ah. Blade's boss.
Thompson stabbed an angry forefinger at Remington. "I know her. She wouldn't do this. Your informant must be wrong."
"There's always that possibility." Remington seemed to be relishing this confrontation with his fellow Section Head. "But until we know for certain, I'm taking no chances."
Jemma turned to Jonathan. "Who are they talking about?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Ashley Blade, of course."
"They think she's been 'turned'. Tip-off came in early this morning. From someone in Tenerife."
"If we pulled in every agent for interrogation whenever we received a anonymous tip-off, we'd have no one left in the field," shouted a red-faced Thompson. "You need more evidence than that!"
"And we'll get it. Don't worry on that score. My staff follow procedures to the letter."
The Counter Intelligence man growled deep in his throat. "Enough of this crap. Weatherby will soon put an end-"
"The Chief has already approved my decision."
Thompson looked thunderstruck. "He has?"
"Unlike you," said Remington smugly, "he didn't let his fondness for that woman blind him to reality. If there's even the slightest chance our security has been compromised..." He shrugged.
Thompson stepped back, his face suddenly pale. "Well." His jaw worked. "I'll be watching you like a hawk," he said simply. "And if you're wrong about her..." He walked away, leaving the unspoken threat hanging in mid-air.
Remington turned and spotted the two eavesdroppers. He beckoned. "Come with me."
"Uh oh," said Jonathan.
The two of them followed their boss along the corridor to his office, and waited patiently while he rooted around in a filing cabinet and found what he was looking for: a manilla folder. He sat down and leaned his elbows on the desk then fixed them with a keen gaze.
"Counter Intelligence agent Ashley Blade is now a security risk," he said briskly. "All our codes and passwords must be changed."
He looked at Jonathan. "Pargeter's expecting you, Mr Byatt. Getting the new codes to all our field operatives is a massive undertaking. I told him you'll help."
Jonathan groaned under his breath but forced a smile. "I'm on it, Mr Remington." A last glance at Jemma, then he disappeared out the door.
"As for you, Miss Jacobs." Her boss handed her the folder. "You'll need this."
Jemma glanced at the label. 'Blade, Ashley'.
"Get over to Blade's flat -"
Her heart sank. Was she to be the one charged with locating her idol's feet of clay?
"- and search it from top to bottom. There's a duplicate set of her keys in there."
"Yes, Mr Remington."
"If you find anything even remotely not squeaky clean, I want to know about it. Is that clear?"
"Very," she said quietly.
"Then do the same for Blade's finances. If the bank managers need authorisation, refer them to me."
"And remember - you report directly to me and no one else, Miss Jacobs. If Blade's Section Head should approach you, refer him to me. Got it?"
"Got it." And I really wish I hadn't.
Car parking space was at a premium all around Regent's Park, so Jemma found a vacant meter as close as she could get then jogged the rest of the way to Blade's Albert Terrace flat. The fingerprint boys, when they got there, were going to have problems parking too.
She started up the steps to the front door and eyed the three formidable double locks that secured the agent's first floor flat against the world. It would have taken her at least half an hour to pick them; using the spare set of keys Remington had provided, she was inside in only moments and taking in her surroundings with keen interest.
From the outside, the terrace buildings were Georgian, but Blade had gutted and remodelled the interior of her flat so that it was bang up to date. Jemma's first impression was one of spaciousness and light. She stepped from the hall into the sitting room. The three-piece suite was practical, stylish and comfortable - no mean feat that. As for the state-of-the-art entertainment centre, it had the largest TV screen and speakers Jemma had seen outside of a cinema. She peered at the well-stocked drinks cabinet - Blade clearly knew and liked her spirits.
The doorbell chimed and Jemma went to answer it. Two men in identical trenchcoats stood there.
"Sorry we're late," said the older one, a balding man carrying a bulky attaché case. "Couldnít find anywhere to park." He flashed his ID card.
She stood back and let the fingerprint boys in, then watched them deposit the heavy case on the wine-coloured carpet, open it, and take out the tools of their trade.
While they worked, dusting fine powder over every surface before examining it for prints, she wandered past the worn exercise mat, battered punchbag, and dumbbells Blade kept at the far end of the living room through to what turned out to be a bedroom. A huge bed dominated the room. She sat on the edge of it and bounced experimentally.
"Miss Jacobs?" The younger man was peering round the door at her, and she stood up quickly, her cheeks flushing.
"We've finished in here if you want to get started."
"That was quick! Thanks."
She followed him back to the sitting room where she pulled on a pair of latex gloves and set to work.
The phone now sported a fine residue of powder. "Did you find any prints?" she asked, as she dialled 1471 and noted down the number of the last caller.
"Some good ones on the door, light switch, a bottle of Cognac... oh, and one of the dumbbells," said the balding man. "We should have eliminated those belonging to Blade and tried for a match on the others by the time you get back to HQ."
While the two men turned their attention to the other rooms, Jemma pressed the Redial button and noted who Blade had last telephoned, then she extracted and bagged the answerphone tape which contained a single, rather cryptic message.
A search of the bookcase revealed a taste for Travel Guides and Thrillers. Jemma riffled the pages of each, but there was nothing between the pages except a couple of amusing bookmarks. The CD collection was mostly World music - African and Brazilian seemed to be Blade's favourites. Again, nothing hidden. She turned to the stack of DVDs and videos. Several were of the erotic lesbian variety and Jemma was interestedly scanning the blurb on the back of one when the fingerprinters reappeared. She flushed and hurriedly put down the video tape.
The balding man nodded then grinned at her. "She keeps some interesting items in her bedside cabinet."
Jemma blinked. "Does she?"
"Yes." He sobered. "These were in there too." His latex-gloved hand held out a black velvet jewel case, and she accepted it gingerly. "Could be paste of course," he continued. "Or there might be a legitimate explanation, but... well, thought you might like to get these checked out, Miss Jacobs."
She opened the box and gaped at the bracelet nestling on its cushion of pale blue silk. Gemstones sparkled a brilliant green in the morning sunlight. Uh oh!
"Thanks," she said, keeping her voice neutral. She pulled out an evidence bag from her pocket and popped the jewel case in it then sealed it.
"You're welcome. Right, we'll be out of your hair, then." The balding man turned to his subordinate. "Come on, Jim. If we hurry, we might just avoid getting a parking ticket." They headed for the door...
When she was alone once more, Jemma began a methodical, inch by inch search of the rest of the flat and Blade's possessions. There were few things of a personal nature, she noticed - none of the family photographs of her parents and younger sister that littered her own little flat's tables and shelves. But then, from what she'd heard of Blade (the agent's name had come up a lot during her year of training - if only because Jemma frequently initiated such conversations herself) her upbringing had hardly been conventional.
What photos there were showed Blade and a handsome young man with a wide smile and blonde fringe flopping in his eyes. He was vaguely familiar, but Jemma couldn't put a name to him. Photo after photo featured the pair of them: Blade and friend, arms round one another's shoulders, wearing shit-eating grins and standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, the Taj Mahal... Jemma made a note to find out who the man was.
Luckily for Jemma, a folder containing annotated financial statements and tax records proved worth its weight in gold. A quick call to the managers of the relevant banks and building societies set in motion procedures that would give her access to their computerised records. Soon, all Blade's recent monetary transactions would be available for to her scrutiny. In the meantime...
She moved back into the bedroom. The six-foot tall agent's favourite clothes turned out to be T-shirts and sweatshirts, ripped blue jeans and chinos, and for shoes she favoured sneakers and boots. There were also a couple of smart skirtsuits hanging in the built-in wardrobe, presumably for more formal occasions, and a low-backed red dress that must look stunning.
The bedside cabinet was next, and Jemma's cheeks flamed when she opened the top drawer and saw what the fingerprint man had been referring to. It was full of sex 'toys', several of which still bore traces of fingerprint powder. She winced and closed the drawer quickly. Why on earth had the emeralds been kept in there? Maybe they were a gift from one of Blade's women? (The file had revealed she led a very active love life.) She sighed and turned her attention to the study and computer.
Blade had a penchant for shoot-'em-up video games, she discovered after half-an-hour's intent scrutiny that left her with eyestrain, and hadn't used the computer for much else. But then, she was rarely here, and when she was in residence - if those videos and the contents of that drawer were any indication - Blade had more pleasurable things to do.
Jemma massaged the bridge of her nose, then switched off the PC. The bank records should have been authorised and transferred by now. It was time to go back to HQ and see exactly what she had got.
"Over to you, Miss Jacobs." Remington gestured in her direction then sat down.
Nervously, Jemma took her boss's place at the front of the briefing room. Her laptop lay open on the table in front of her, a cable connecting it to the wallscreen behind her. At a keystroke, the slideshow she had prepared for this briefing session would get underway.
She straightened her jacket, then cleared her throat. It was one thing revealing her findings to her boss, another presenting them to the Section Head of Counter Intelligence. "To summarise -," she began.
The door opened and Weatherby himself came in. "Don't mind me," said the Organisation Chief, taking a chair at the back.
It just gets better and better. "Er... um... This morning, I ran a security check on Ashley Blade's flat in Albert Terrace. At my request, Fingerprint Section dusted the place for prints first."
She checked to see she had everyone's attention. She did.
"In the top drawer of Blade's bedside cabinet," she continued, refusing to blush at the memory of what else had been in the drawer, "we found a bracelet." A keystroke and the item in question was displayed in all its glory on the wallscreen.
"Emeralds... high quality stones. Reputedly worth £10,000." Someone in the room inhaled sharply. "Four days ago," she continued, "a Belgian couple staying at the Georges V Hotel in Paris reported this bracelet missing. Subsequent investigation revealed no trace, so Interpol posted the bracelet on its website of missing valuables." She paused and glanced at her audience. Remington was relishing the presentation, but Thompson looked stricken.
"It's no secret," she said reluctantly, "that before she joined the Organisation, Blade was a very successful cat burglar, or that her gemstones of choice were emeralds."
"You said Paris," said Thompson, brightening. "She was in the Canary Islands then, on leave."
Sorry. Another keystroke and the picture changed to reveal a list of names and numbers. "Passenger manifest, Flight 204, Tenerife to Paris, four days ago," said Jemma. "Note the name of the passenger in seat 30A."
He stared. "For God's sake! If she were going to commit a burglary, would she fly under her own name?"
Jemma had made the same point to Remington earlier. Now she restrained herself to a shrug. "I'm just presenting the facts, Mr Thompson. They are circumstantial, it's true. But taken as a whole..."
She pressed another key on the laptop. This time a man's voice filled the room. "Garvey here. Good news. I have a buyer for that item you recently acquired. Contact me when you get back."
"This message was left on Blade's answering machine. We traced the caller. Garvey," she said neutrally, "is Mike Garvey, a well-known fence. He specialises in 'relocating' stolen jewellery."
"Anyone could ring up and leave a message," objected Thompson.
Jemma risked a glance at Weatherby, but the Chief's expression was unreadable. "True," she said. "Moving on."
She pressed a key and turned to point at the whorled pattern now showing on the wallscreen. "I told you I had the place dusted for fingerprints first. We found one significant thumbprint... on a bottle of Cognac. It belongs to a Libyan terrorist named Minyar al-Akhdar." Bill Thompson opened his mouth. "There's more," she said, before he could speak.
He subsided and said grudgingly, "Go on."
She pressed another key on her laptop and the picture changed. This time is was a list of financial transactions.
"Blade's bank account. Note this deposit here -" she pointed, "and here- " she pointed again. "During the past few days, substantial deposits totalling £100,000 have been made into her personal account. The source in every case was a Swiss bank account. We're not 100% certain, but we're pretty sure its owner is a front for a Libyan terrorist organisation to which al-Akhdar belongs."
Thompson looked stunned. "You think she's been bought? No way! There must be some other explanation for this."
If only there were. Jemma pressed a key, and up came a grainy photo, clearly taken using a telephoto lens. At a Canary Island teraza table, drinking coffee with a curvaceous blonde, sat a tanned and relaxed-looking Blade. The photographer had caught her in mid-conversation, her head turned to address an olive skinned man standing next to her.
"This came in half an hour ago. The man she is talking to is Minyar al-Akhdar."
There was a moment of stunned silence. "Blade has never met him, why should she know who he is?" objected Thompson at last.
"Nevertheless," continued Jemma doggedly. Why do I have to be the one condemning her?
"Now look at this." The list of financial transactions reappeared. She pointed to one in particular - this time money was flowing out of Blade's account. "That item there is the payment Blade made for the casa where she is staying in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. She started off renting it, but three days ago she bought it outright. As you can see, it wasn't cheap."
"You're implying she knew about the £100,000 and decided to spend some of it?" Thompson agitatedly stroked his moustache. "Are you sure?"
Jemma leaned forward and pressed another key. Up flashed a slide of the casa's title deeds, and there for all to see was the flamboyant scrawl that passed for Blade's signature.
At that, Weatherby grunted and stood up. "I've seen enough. Thank you, Miss Jacobs. You've been very thorough." He turned to regard a sick-looking Thompson and raised an eyebrow in query. The Section Head nodded reluctantly.
"It's circumstantial, but enough to raise a questionmark about Blade's loyalty," he agreed. "Especially given her state of mind."
Everyone knew that Blade's colleague and close friend, Sam Carney, had been killed on her last mission. And that she had taken it hard. Sam, Jemma had been unsurprised to learn, was the smiling blond man in the photos in Blade's flat.
"Clearly, she's gone off the rails and reverted to her criminal ways," said Remington, too eagerly for Jemma's taste. "And if she blames the Organisation for Carney's death, selling us out to the Libyans is a distinct possibility."
"Quite." Weatherby stared at the Security Section Head for a long moment then sighed and shook his head. "Bring her in for questioning, Remington. Let's get to the bottom of this mess, for once and for all. It's affecting morale."
"Already in hand, Chief. I've chartered a plane. Miss Jacobs and I are flying out to the Canary Islands tonight."
We are? I'd better go home and pack.
Weatherby turned to go, but paused by the briefing room exit. "If Blade's clean, we need to know it and get her back out in the field pronto. If she isnít... " He paused significantly. "Try not to damage her until you're sure."
Remington nodded happily. "Leave it to me."
Khaleb Abdusamad had disappeared. Just like that.
Ash ground her teeth together in frustration. Yesterday the Libyan with the hooded eyes had toured the whole island, visiting all the beauty spots listed in the Tenerife guidebook and more besides, until she had begun to wonder if he was just sightseeing. She had hung on grimly, dogging him like his own shadow, and seen him safely back to his pension for the night. And now he was gone, had apparently checked out early leaving no forwarding address, according to the pension's landlady.
She had returned to the casa feeling distinctly out of sorts. Abdusamad had spotted her, she was sure of it. But when? Before he led her to the warehouse in Los Cristianos? She didn't think so. Her search of it had revealed nothing earthshattering - just an empty cargo bay assigned to him, according to the documents in the warehouse manager's messy office. The Libyan was awaiting a shipment of some kind, she'd stake her reputation on it. But she was still no further forward in knowing what it was. And now -
"Peseta for your thoughts, English."
She jerked round to find Adriana regarding her curiously. "A headache," she temporised. It was not strictly speaking a lie. If Abdusamad was up to something and had gone to ground, it could turn into a major headache. Perhaps Ramirez would know something she didn't.
"Poor baby." The blonde tried to ruffle Ash's hair, and the agent ducked the reaching hand.
Adriana's tlc, a welcome novelty at first, was beginning to get on her nerves. Sam had always accused her of having a short attention span. Perhaps he was right. "Shouldn't you be at the café?" she growled.
The blonde frowned. "A few more minutes, English."
"Only... I have something I need to do."
"Very well," said Adriana curtly. "If you wish me to go, then I will go." She turned and flounced towards the door.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." Ash's voice trailed off as the front door slammed. Oh, yes I did, she thought ruefully. As the clipclop of the blonde woman's highheels faded into the distance, she sighed and reached for her mobile phone.
The receiver at the other end was picked up quickly. "Si?" She recognised Ramirez's voice.
"This is Blade. Scramble." She tapped the digits that would activate the scrambler and waited for the resulting white noise to disappear. It didn't. Shit! She cancelled the call and then redialled.
"This is Blade again -"
"Señorita Blade," interrupted Ramirez urgently. "There is a fault with your phone."
"Fault?" She paused, abruptly remembering that 'fault' was the code for a security breach. So that was why her scrambler wasn't working? They'd changed all the codes?
"I see." She paused, her mind working out the ramifications. She couldn't ask the field officer about Abdusamad over an unsecured line. "Then how do I go about getting my phone repaired?"
"Bring it in," came the reply. "You know the address?"
The Field Office was on the west side of Santa Cruz, on the Calle Salamanca, if she remembered rightly. "Sure. No problem. I'll come in right away." And while he was giving her the new codes she could ask in person about the missing Libyan.
"We'll be expecting you."
The Organisation's Tenerife Field Office was, on the face of it, indistinguishable from its neighbours. That the building's front door and windows were bomb- and bullet-proof wasn't obvious.
Ash tried not to blink as she gazed up into the security camera, then spoke her name into the intercom. It took several seconds for the automated security system to search its records for her voiceprint and retinal scan, then the lock on the front door clicked open.
She pushed open the heavy door and stepped into the hall. From a room on the left came the sound of a keyboard clattering. She headed towards it.
A homely, middle-aged woman in a blue cotton dress looked up from her computer, then removed her earphones and smiled. "Go on in, Señorita." She gestured towards another door. "Señor Ramirez is expecting you." The receptionist placed her headset on the desk and stood up. "I will make you some coffee."
"No need." Ash headed towards the other office.
"It's no trouble."
She walked through the door, then checked, startled. There were three people in the little office, and one she recognised at once.
"Remington." She viewed the pinstripe-suited Security Section Head with distaste.
"Bit out of your way, aren't you? What are you doing in Tenerife?"
He gestured at the blonde woman in the jeans and T-shirt, who seemed for some reason to be vaguely familiar. "Delivering the new codes and passwords in person. And in the process, showing my new operative, Miss Jacobs, the ropes."
Obligingly Ash took the empty seat that the man in the white short-sleeved shirt, presumably Ramirez, was gesturing her towards. "Is that usual?" She tried to remember where she had met the young blonde before.
Remington shrugged. "This isn't a very usual situation."
"No." Ash smiled up at the receptionist who had brought in her coffee and was now placing the cup carefully on the desk next to her. She turned back to regard Remington. "Care to fill me in on exactly what's happened?"
"As you've no doubt guessed, there's been a major security breach."
"Anyone I know?" She picked up the coffee and took a sip. Ugh! She would have to warn the Spanish woman that her milk had turned.
"In a manner of speaking." His eyes glittered.
Ash refused to rise to his cryptic comment. He would tell her in the end, wouldn't be able to resist showing off how clever he was. Instead, she turned to eye the attractive Miss Jacobs (why did Remington always refuse to use Christian names?), whose shadowed green gaze had been fixed on her since she entered the room. Aha! "Mac's training school. Last year. Jemma, isn't it?"
The blonde blushed. "That's right."
Jemma seemed unable to hold her gaze without discomfort, and Ash frowned, wondering what that was about. But her thought processes felt uncharacteristically sluggish so she gave a mental shrug and turned her attention to Ramirez, who had come to stand beside her and was holding out his hand.
"The phone," he prompted. "If I'm to get the new codes put in it?"
It was a moment before his meaning penetrated. Ash took a breath to clear her muzzy head. "Oh, yes." Clumsily she unzipped her bumbag, delved inside, then pulled out her mobile phone... and promptly dropped it. She blinked at it stupidly.
Something's not right!
Ash lurched to her feet, reaching inside her jacket for her shoulder holster as she did so. But her hand wouldnít obey her; it took two attempts for her to grasp the gun, and then her grip wasn't firm enough to prevent Ramirez from twisting the Browning automatic free.
She glared at him, then at the other two spectators, now also on their feet. "What have you done to me?" she slurred.
A clumsy but effective punch to Ramirez's solar plexus gave him something to think about, then Ash was staggering towards the door. A hand on her elbow made her spin round, and the movement overbalanced her. She crashed into a chair before hitting the wall and blinked in pain and confusion.
"I'm sorry," said the blonde woman who had grabbed her. "But we had no choice." Her face was anguished. Behind her, Remington's face wore a triumphant smile.
As Ash slid inelegantly down the wall, darkness crept round the edges of her vision. They thought she was the one who had breached security, she realised. "No!" she said, but the sound that emerged was a whisper. "You're wrong."
Her lips were feeling puffy, her tongue numb. Whatever they had put in her coffee, it was powerful and worked damned fast.
Strong hands gripped her by the biceps and straightened her until she was propped more comfortably against the wall. Then someone brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes - it was Jemma, she saw. She was kneeling next to Ash, saying something, but the roaring in Ash's ears made her words inaudible.
"Not m-" croaked Ash. Then blackness overtook her.
Ash woke to the headache from hell and a mouth like the Gobi desert.
God! I must have really tied one on last night. She tried to rub the grit away from bleary eyes... and found she couldn't move her hands. What the -?
She twisted awkwardly - something round her neck was restricting her movements. Her wrists were strapped down. Her ankles too. She tested her bonds and found no give in them at all.
Groggily she stared at unfamiliar surroundings. The shuttered windows didn't belong to her casa's bedroom, and that trolley full of wires and gauges and other equipment (it looked like a polygraph) certainly wasn't hers. As for the unyielding surface beneath her... Definitely not my bed, she thought with some trepidation. More like an operating table.
Memory returned. Remington.
The creak of a door opening followed by light footsteps made her tense up. Then the blonde woman in the jeans and T-shirt - Jemma Jacobs, wasn't it? - walked into view. She put a tray, a clipboard, and a folder down on a chair, then turned to face Ash.
"Here." Jemma held out a plastic cup, and positioned the straw poking out of its top against Ash's mouth.
Ash had the devil's own thirst, but she pressed her lips together.
"It's just water."
Still she was reluctant to drink. They had drugged her once already, and she was damned if they were going to do it to her again.
As though divining her thoughts, the blonde put the straw to her own lips, and sucked. Ash watched closely. If the blonde was pretending to swallow, she was a damned good actress.
This time, when the straw was offered, she accepted it and sucked it greedily, feeling the cool water slide down her gullet, revitalising and refreshing as it went. Her headache eased almost at once.
Rude sucking noises signalled the cup was empty, and she released the straw. "Thanks."
The blonde nodded and placed the empty cup on a tabletop. Ash took the opportunity to observe the other woman. Still the same compact, muscular figure, though the hair was cut a little shorter than she remembered. Jemma turned and flushed a little at her scrutiny.
"You always seem to be ambushing me," said Ash dryly. "Why is that?" She flexed her arms and legs again, then winced - the bonds were tight enough to cut.
"Donít." The blonde patted Ash's right leg. "They've got a 200lb breaking strain. You'll only hurt yourself."
"Remington's taking no chances, I see. Didn't know the bastard had it in him. Was drugging me his idea too?"
"No," admitted the blonde. "That was my contribution. My instructions were to find a way to bring you in for questioning without hurting you."
Ash stared at her young nemesis. "Might've guessed," she muttered. "So, what am I supposed to have done this time?"
Green eyes regarded her gravely. "Gone over to the enemy."
Ash snorted. "What crap!"
The door creaked open and heavy footsteps approached. She could sense someone standing just behind the bed, and she twisted to look then gave up, panting. The blonde's reaction told her who it must be. "You're barking up the wrong tree, Remington."
"We'll see, won't we?" His tone was smug and as he moved into her field of vision she saw he was smirking. Damn him!
"Miss Jacobs." He turned towards his subordinate. "Will you do the honours please?" He gestured at the trolley and its hi-tech cargo. Obligingly, Jemma wheeled the trolley over next to Ash then plugged in the machines and began to attach a number of wires and electrodes to her.
"Let me guess," Ash joked. "Electric shock treatment?"
"Polygraph test," said Jemma.
"Fucking waste of time!"
Remington sucked in his breath. "Now, now! Language."
When Jemma started attaching metal plates to the index and ring fingers of Ash's right hand, she didn't resist. She'd thought about putting up a fight, then decided against it. A polygraph test wouldn't hurt, and more importantly it would show she was innocent and then she could be on her way.
The blonde gave her a smile of thanks for her co-operation before threading two pneumograph tubes around Ash's upper chest and abdomen. Finally, she inflated a blood pressure cuff round the captive agent's upper arm and stood back.
Remington, meanwhile, had positioned himself by the polygraph itself, and already, the print head was moving up and down, inscribing the unscrolling paper with a jagged line of black ink.
"All set," he pronounced.
"Finally," muttered Ash under her breath, attracting an amused glance from Jemma, who pulled up a chair next to the interrogation table then reached for the clipboard she had brought in earlier. No doubt Remington had left his subordinate to come up with the questions too.
Jemma cleared her throat. "Is your name Ashley Blade?"
As good a calibration question as any. "Yes."
The print head scribbled furiously and Remington annotated the entry.
"Do you own a flat in Albert Terrace, London?"
"Are you a seventy-year-old male American?"
"Do you like Marmite?"
The blonde's lips curved in a small smile and Ash regarded her approvingly. So, you've done your homework. "No."
"Thank you." Jemma looked at Remington then. "Is everything working OK?"
"Yes," came his reply. "Continue, please, Miss Jacobs."
She nodded and looked at her clipboard again. "Is the name Khaleb Abdusamad known to you?"
So this is about the Libyan. "Yes."
"Have you ever met him?"
"Have you ever seen him?"
"Is the name Minyar al-Akhdar known to you."
Ash had to think about that one for a moment. She had a vague suspicion she'd heard the name before. "Yes."
"Have you ever met him?"
"Have you ever seen him?"
The smile on Remington's face gave Ash a nasty feeling. When Jemma reached for a folder, extracted a photograph and showed it to her, the feeling intensified.
"Is that you sitting in the coffee shop?"
"Yes." The photo was quite a flattering one of Adriana, she noted.
"Do you know that man?" Jemma pointed to the tourist who had interrupted their conversation to ask for directions.
Remington snorted in disbelief
"I donít," protested Ash. "He just wanted to know the way to the museum."
"Please," chided Jemma. "Stick to Yes or No....That man is Minyar al-Akhdar."
"And who the hell is he when he's at home?"
"We'll ask the questions," said Remington.
Ash tried not to grind her teeth.
"Has Minyar al-Akhdar ever been to your flat in London?"
"Has he ever sent you a bottle of Cognac?"
What is she talking about? "No."
"The casa you are staying in," continued Jemma, her voice neutral. "Do you own it?"
Ash blinked at the apparent change of subject. "No."
That answer prompted another opening of the folder and Ash found herself staring at the title deeds to the casa, her signature prominent on the dotted line at the very bottom.
"Is that your signature?"
"It looks like it but it isn't."
"Yes or No."
Ash growled. "Look, I can't... it's not that simple."
Jemma pursed her lips for a moment. "I'll rephrase the question. Did you sign this title deed?"
"No... Besides-" Blade laughed, "- what makes you think I can afford that kind of cash?" She nodded at the sale price mentioned in the document, only to find herself brought up short by the restraint around her neck. "Argh!" The confinement was beginning to get to her and the urge to free herself momentarily got the better of her. She subsided, panting. "Can't you let me up? Please?"
Jemma had shot to her feet when Ash began to struggle. Now she relaxed back into her seat again. "I'm sorry." The green gaze was sympathetic but unyielding.
"Whatever," sighed Ash. She sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly through her nose, repeating the exercise several times until she was calm once more.
"OK?" asked Jemma.
She nodded wearily.
"You asked what makes us think you can afford to buy the casa."
It wasn't a question so Ash said nothing.
"Are you aware that £100,000 was paid into your current account a few days ago?"
Ash blinked. "No!" Her mind reeled at the implications.
"It came from a Swiss Bank Account." Jemma showed her a photocopy of a bank statement and pointed to the details. "Do you know whose account that is?"
"Have you ever received money from a Libyan terrorist organisation?"
"No...." The situation unfolding before her was making her nauseous, or maybe it was an after-effect of the drugs. "Look," she began urgently, "I donít know what the hell's going on, but someone's clearly out to undermine my credibility with the Organisation. I must have stumbled onto something, what we have to do is -"
"We have to do nothing, Blade," interrupted Remington, his face flushing red. "You have to answer our questions."
"So do it, or I'll get the answers out of you another way." He nodded impatiently at Jemma, who had been following their conversation like a spectator at a tennis match.
"Right." The blonde looked at her clipboard again.
Piece by piece, the evidence was laid out for Ash's inspection. The emeralds in her flat and the implication that her shock over Sam's death had driven her back to her catburgling ways was a particularly deft touch, she thought wryly, once her anger had waned. After all, a criminal would think nothing of taking money from the Libyans, right?
While Jemma asked question after question, and Remington annotated the hardcopy charts spooling endlessly out of the polygraph, her mind was ranging back over the places she had been and the people she had met since she came to the Canary Islands.
She had got too close to something or someone. But what or who?
"Are you working for the Libyans?" asked Jemma.
"Are you thinking of leaving The Organisation?"
The question made Ash hesitate. This abduction and interrogation had soured her against Security, but as for the rest of the Organisation, for Thompson and Weatherby... "No," she said at last.
The blonde put down her clipboard, stretched - drawing a pang of envy from Ash - and finally leaned back in her chair. "That was my final question, Mr Remington."
"Well done, Miss Jacobs." He switched off the polygraph and stood up. Then he began to gather up the charts.
"Thank God that's over," said Ash, as Jemma began to detach the tubes and plates and unwrap the bloodpressure cuff. "Can you release me now?"
"Now we have to analyse the results of the test," said Remington.
With a ripping noise, the cuff came free. Jemma placed it with the rest of the equipment and wheeled the trolley back to its position by the wall.
"But-" Ash struggled against her bonds. "This is ridiculous!"
"No more ridiculous than the blind faith certain people have placed in you for far too long, Blade." He turned to Jemma then and beckoned to her. "Come with me, Miss Jacobs."
He stalked towards the door, moving out of Ash's sightline not a moment too soon as far as she was concerned. Jemma threw her an apologetic glance then followed her boss.
Ash heard the creak of the door opening. "The sooner we analyse the results," came Remington's voice as he walked through it, "the sooner we can get Blade back where she belongs... behind bars."
"But according to the algorithm, she's telling the truth."
Jemma had just spent the past hour slogging through the polygraph charts and the rules for interpreting them and she was exhausted. That Remington disagreed with her interpretation was infuriating.
"That means nothing, Miss Jacobs." Remington's look of saintly patience made Jemma want to scream. "For an agent like Blade, it would be child's play to subvert the test readings."
'Child's play'? She frowned. Mac had covered polygraphs on the training course and told them just how difficult it was to subvert the test. Oh, it could be done - pain could alter physiological responses, and on one occasion, a well placed drawing pin in an agent's sock had allowed him to mislead the calibration questions - but she was sure Blade had played fair.
How to convince her boss he was wrong, though? He claimed Bill Thompson was prejudiced in Blade's favour, yet couldn't see that he himself was just as prejudiced against her. She bit her lip. What exactly had Blade done to antagonise him so severely?
Remington drummed his fingers on the desk, and looked thoughtful. "Nothing for it," he said. "We'll just have to try the new truth drug. I'll contact the Lab, get the research boys to fly out a batch of Project X."
Jemma gaped at him. "But surely that drug's still in its experimental stages?"
He flapped a hand dismissively. "Technically, yes. But I saw a report last week, and they've ironed out the last of the glitches. Certification's just a formality."
"There's a neutralising agent?"
"Yes, yes." His faraway gaze refocused on her. "Donít worry, Miss Jacobs. It'll be perfectly safe." His thin smile changed to one of deep satisfaction. "And even Blade shouldn't be able to outwit that."
He was actually whistling when he went through to the other office to ask Ramirez to send a coded transmission to London. For a moment, Jemma stood undecided, then she walked back upstairs to the bedroom they were using for Blade's interrogation.
As she pushed open the door, the lean-limbed figure strapped to the interrogation table tried to twist round to see who had come in, then gave up with a curse.
"It's me," called Jemma softly, walking into Blade's field of vision.
The dark-haired woman regarded her coolly for a moment, then raised a sardonic eyebrow. "From your expression, I take it the news isn't good?"
"Well, you passed the polygraph test."
"But Remington refuses to believe it. He thinks you rigged it somehow."
"What an arsehole! What am I, superwoman?"
Jemma suppressed a grin. "So," she took a breath before continuing, "he's going to try the Lab's new truth drug on you."
Ash blinked at her. "Project X... It's finished, then?"
"Ah." Ash laughed but there was no humour in it. Abruptly, she struggled to free herself, whipping so violently against her restraints that for a moment Jemma thought she was actually going to break the leather straps. The skin of Ash's wrist broke first under the punishment and blood began to seep from the graze.
"Please donít," said Jemma. "You're hurting yourself."
But Ash had already subsided. Still panting from the struggle, she turned her ice-blue gaze on Jemma. "There's something going on, Jemma. Something important involving the Libyans. I donít know what it is yet but it's important enough for them to frame me."
"I'd like to believe you. Really I would, but -"
"An agent must trust her instincts," said Ash. "What are yours telling you?"
The door creaked open and Jemma turned. Remington was standing in the doorway regarding the pair of them with a faint smile.
"Ah, there you are, Miss Jacobs. Telling Blade what she has to look forward to? Good. Good. The psychology of a subject plays an important part in an interrogation. Perhaps by the time the truth drug gets here she will be more amenable... In the meantime, Ramirez tells me dinner is ready."
He beckoned. "Let's leave Blade to contemplate her fate. Ramirez is an excellent cook and it's not often we get the chance to enjoy some genuine Canarian cooking."
Jemma turned to whisper a final encouraging word to Ash, but the agent had turned her face away from her and was staring grimly at the wall. She sighed, and with a final reluctant glance, let her boss lead her away.
"I bet you have great tits." Blade's voice was slurred and her pupils had shrunk to mere pinpoints.
Jemma blushed and glanced at Remington. He shrugged.
"Take your top off," urged the dark-haired agent with a leer. "Come on. Donít be shy."
They had given Blade the truth drug ten minutes ago and she was now doing a convincing impression of being totally stoned. The regular beep beep of the heart monitor, which for her own peace of mind Jemma had hired from a local clinic, added to the surreal atmosphere in the casa bedroom.
"As I was saying," said Jemma slightly desperately. "Do you know Minyar al-Akhdar?"
Blade blinked. Her brow creased momentarily then cleared. "Oh, that guy in the café? Well, you said I did, didn't you, sweetie, so I guess I must." She stared rather hazily at Jemma's breasts again. "Can I put my face in your cleavage?"
Jemma turned towards Remington. "This isn't working."
"I disagree. She's just admitted she knows al-Akhdar."
"That's not the way I heard it."
He frowned. "Miss Jacobs. I think you are beginning to lose your objectivity." She gaped at him. She was losing her objectivity? "Please, continue the questioning."
Blade was singing something under her breath that included the line 'we'd all support a hooker together' (Jemma supposed it must be a women's rugby song) and she touched the agent's arm to regain her attention.
"Hi, gorgeous." Blade flashed her a dazzling smile. "Wanna fuck?"
She sighed. "Have you ever received any money from the Libyans?"
Blade shook her head slackly. "Not a bean." She paused. "Oh, hang on. Didn't you tell me they paid me £100,000? Guess I must have then." She resumed her singing.
Jemma turned to Remington again. "Her answers are tainted by the information I gave her during the polygraph test. This is useless."
"Useless," echoed Blade, stirring slightly in her bonds before subsiding again. "That's me." She gave a heavy sigh and Jemma turned back to regard her curiously.
"Why are you useless?"
"Couldn't save him," said Blade. "Made the wrong choice. Wrong fucking choice." A tear trickled down one cheek.
"Save who?" prompted Jemma, startled by Blade's mood change.
"Sam, of course. Good old Sam, my good buddy... my friend." The dark-haired woman snorted. "Ha, that's a good one. Can't have been my 'friend', can he?" Her face scrunched up as she struggled to follow her train of thought. "Friends don't kill friends."
"You killed Sam Carney?" Remington's tone made Jemma look up. He was regarding Blade intently.
"Already told you," muttered Blade. "Made the wrong choice. Good old Sam... pushing up the daisies now... And all because..."
Her voice trailed off, and Jemma became aware that a sheen of sweat now coated Blade's forehead and the face underneath her tan had gone abnormally pale. Abruptly Blade's eyes rolled up until only the whites showed, and her head lolled.
"Oh, no! I think she's -"
The heart monitor alarm shrilled.
It was Jemma who grabbed the attaché case propped against the wall next to Remington and fumbled the catch open - her Section Head seemed stunned into immobility by the sudden turn of events. On the second attempt she succeeded in filling the syringe from the tiny phial of neutralising agent, then she was standing beside Blade and searching for a vein in her arm. Fortunately, she found a suitable one almost instantly, then she was sliding the needle home.
Jemma's memory of the neutralising agent's effects was sketchy. Would it work instantly? Would it work on its own or should she do cardiac compressions? She turned to ask her boss, realised he was next to useless, and clambered awkwardly up onto the interrogation table. Kneeling astride the other agent's hips, she positioned the heel of her hand on Blade's breastbone and began to press firmly and rhythmically.
After five cardiac compressions, she was leaning forward to give Blade mouth to mouth when the dark-haired woman suddenly sucked in a shuddering breath. Simultaneously, the shrilling heart monitor resumed its normal beep beep.
Thank God! Jemma sat back on her heels and bowed her head in relief.
When she had successfully got her trembling under control, she climbed down from the table and went to stand beside Blade. The agent's colour was visibly improving as Jemma watched, and her breathing was settling into a natural rhythm that indicated sleep.
She reached out and brushed a strand of dark hair from the other woman's clammy forehead, then belatedly remembered Remington and turned to look at him.
"That was close," he said quietly. "Thank you, Miss Jacobs."
She nodded silently then turned and reached for the straps binding Blade's ankles.
"What are you doing?" His voice was like a whip crack, and she froze and turned to find the Section Head glaring at her.
"I thought we had finished," said Jemma calmly. "Another dose of that drug would kill her."
"Yes, yes," he said testily. "It looks like the Lab boys have a few more kinks to iron out and I will tell them that in no uncertain terms, you can be sure. But just because the interrogation is finished doesn't mean that we should release Blade."
Jemma stared at him "But she's innocent."
He snorted. "Innocent? Miss Jacobs, weren't you paying attention? Not only did she admit she knows al-Akhdar and has received money from the Libyans, she also revealed she killed a fellow agent."
Jemma couldn't believe what she was hearing. "But-"
"No, Miss Jacobs. No buts." With evident satisfaction, Remington rubbed his hands together. "Just wait until London hears about this!"
CONTINUED IN PART 3