|A Year and Change|
"What a wonderful prospect," the Acting Director muttered. Then Anne Kerkorian got to the business she came for. She asked, "Ms. Chiba, the one that was under sedation. Is she still here?"
"Yes, Director," answered Ballin.
Kerkorian said, "Tell me again about Ms. Chiba. Isn't she the one who was shot years ago?"
"Yes," said Ballin, "And one of her daughters was assaulted in March."
"Tell me what else you know," ordered the Acting Director. "Anything, even what Mr. Tiggs said about her. Anything at all might help me get a handle on her. I don't recall you saying very much about her. I mean, about herself."
"There wasn't much else to say," said Agent Ballin. "Marty said she seemed to run the house, and that's about all he said about her. From the way her friends have been acting, I guess Marty was telling the truth. Her father is a fairly famous photographer. Her husband is a doctor, but he's just a resident now. She's 29 now. She's been married five years but she has daughters who are 10 and 14. The oldest girl told me her father was an American Marine and that he died before she was born. The others belong to Dr. Chiba, or are supposed to. Do you remember what I told you about Dr. Chiba, Director?"
"Yes, children by four mothers," said the Acting Director.
"Dr. Chiba is at the hospital," said Ballin. "He showed up just after two this afternoon. He's the only one I've got to talk with alone, without the Army and the CIA and the DC cops. But, of course, he wasn't a hostage."
"You talked to him alone?" said the Acting Director, halting. "What about? Did you ask him about Blue Note?"
Ballin admitted that he had, and summarized the interview. "I think--"
The Acting Director cut off Ballin's opinion. "You shouldn't have done what you did. Ms. Chiba might be the best intelligence source we have now, and you have antagonized her husband unnecessarily."
"I'm sorry, Director," said Ballin, not sounding particularly apologetic.
"Blue Note is finished, Mr. Ballin," said Kerkorian. "The Bureau has moved on. See that you move with it. Now," she said, "Show me your way to get in without talking to fifty reporters."
Getting past the reporters was a little more involved than Anne Kerkorian anticipated. But after that hassle, and Ballin's flub in handling Ms. Chiba's family, some good luck came the Bureau's way. Special Agent Ruthen related the circumstances to her. "The detectives from the District got pulled to work a homicide couple of hours ago. The Major took off for his chow break before Mrs. Chiba came around, and he ain't back yet--you know, somebody should tell him. I don't know what happened to the CIA guys, but they ain't around now."
"I don't think I will wait for them to return. Where is Ms. Chiba now, Mr. Ruthen?"
"She's in the last room on the left, there, just before the nurse's station."
The Acting Director went quickly to the room, entered alone, and said, "Excuse me, could I talk to Ms. Chiba?"
"Who are you?" asked one of the women in the beds. Kerkorian did not recognize her.
"My name is Anne Kerkorian. I am the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, at present."
Michiru was in the room. She said something in Japanese to the woman in the other bed, and then bowed to Anne Kerkorian. "We have heard of you from the television reports. Katherine Warfield said she gave a package from the kidnappers to you. So you must have been the very first person to see their demands."
"Yes," responded Kerkorian, mildly flattered.
"I am Mrs. Chiba," said the third woman. She had blond-colored hair, and it looked surprisingly natural . . . and so did her blue eyes. Anne Kerkorian remembered, <This one must be the one Minako Jones was photographed with . . . Ballin didn't show that one at the briefing.> The briefing seemed a thousand years past, now. "Come closer, please," said Ms. Chiba.
"Of course." Anne Kerkorian edged closer, meanwhile getting out her recorder and saying, "Anything you remember could be important. Now, why don't you . . ."
The three women were all talking. Anne Kerkorian could not understand a word they were saying. Then Ms. Chiba said something sharply, and they were quiet. Ms. Chiba said, "Kerkorian-san, would you leave for a few minutes? I promise I will talk with you after."
The Acting Director nodded and left the room, momentarily glad to do so because of her lapse. What was that about? Maybe just fatigue. <This thing started before I got to sleep last night; maybe three hours sleep night before . . . > Someone was brushing past her. It was Michiru.
Special Agent Ruthen asked, "Did you get anything from her?"
Anne Kerkorian looked at her recorder. None of the indicator lights worked. <Blast, what a time for the battery to run down,> she thought. "I'm not sure," she said. "She said she would talk to me again. I don't suppose we have anyone here who can speak Japanese."
Ruthen led her away from the room as he talked. "The Major can speak some. If the CIA guys can, they ain't sayin'. None of our guys, if that's what you mean."
Kerkorian and Ruthen moved out of the way of a clot of people. <What was going on now?>
When the group had passed, Ruthen murmured, "They're stirred up again."
The group all went into Ms. Chiba's room and more passed by for the same destination. Michiru was one of them. When the procession was past and inside the room, the Acting Director asked, "What do you mean, stirred up again?" She was careful to stand close to Ruthen, because other curious people were around now.
Ruthen murmured, "They all went inside when Ms. Chiba woke up. The man was her husband."
Anne Kerkorian thought a moment about the behavior of Michiru and her friends. <Why was Ms. Chiba so important to them? What was really going on?> "Your little remark about the 'queen bee' seems to have been right on the mark." <And so was Ballin's info from Tiggs,> she thought. Moving further away from prying ears, she continued. "What is your take on these people, Special Agent Ruthen?"
Ruthen shrugged. "They're Japanese. I can't read them too good. Can't be sure I can tell between what's strange because they're Japanese and what's just strange. One thing for sure, though."
"What?" asked Kerkorian.
Ruthen said, "They're all tougher than they look. They've come out of this better than the other hostages, even the other Japanese. To my old nose, they don't smell like civilians. They've all talked to cops before. I'd bet you even money some of these guys have seen some action." He leaned close and lowered his voice. "Ballin told me they all had connections with Blue Note."
"They all knew Jones," said the Acting Director. She paused a moment. Ruthen was going to retire as a mere Special Agent, but Kerkorian had more respect for his experienced opinion than that of most of her District Heads, however much she wished he would learn the new Bureau etiquette. "Or they could have. Where is Agent Ballin?"
Ruthen reported Agent Ballin was talking to the Major somewhere out of sight. Kerkorian took the opportunity to have some more private words with Ruthen. First she shooed off an inquisitive Ramirez with instructions to keep an eye on the hostages, especially Ms. Chiba. Then she slipped into an elevator with no more than perfunctory words to the DC cop on watch there. Once the doors were closed and they were alone, she asked, "What do you think of Agent Ballin, Mr. Ruthen?"
"He's good with the new toys," said Ruthen. "And he can think on his feet. I'm not sure I'd want to break through any doors with him, but you can always get grunts like me to do that."
"He asked Dr. Chiba some questions about Blue Note. Did you know that?" asked Kerkorian.
The doors opened, and they stepped out and walked some distance before Ruthen answered. "Yeah, I know about it. Your bright boy made a mistake. But it was a good cop's mistake. Like I told you, some of these guys smell like they've seen action. The Doc is one of them. And that big one. Definitely the big one."
"You don't mean Descartes' wife?" And Michiru's companion, the Acting Director added in her mind.
"No, I don't mean her, I mean the one with brown hair and the big chest," said Ruthen. "You know, I did know who and what Michiru was before before this all started, Director. I just didn't know she was connected to Minako Aino."
The Acting Director noticed an implication, and halted their aimless walk. "Mr. Ruthen, you seem to remember Minako Jones better than any of the ones actually here. You even remember her maiden name. You wouldn't have your own agenda concerning that old operation, would you?"
Ruthen shook his head. "No. This old dinosaur is too close to retirement to do any crusading. The reason I know Minako Aino by name is because I met her. It was, oh . . . four years back, first year of the last Administration. I was working out of the San Francisco office and Charlie Vincenti took over. I was already on his sh--short list, so he stuck me in the scut jobs. One of them was surveillance. I spent, oh, eight, nine weeks staking out Marvell Jones' mother's place. Joint operation with DEA and the locals. It was a joke; she made us right off; she'd wave to us going by; she even made us pies. Marvell would drop by once or twice a week, but we never got anything from him."
"Anyway, this drop-dead-gorgeous woman was showing up every day. We thought she was a hooker, but it turned out she was the nurse-therapist for Kevin. Marvell's brother was living with his mama. He was in bed or in a wheelchair most of the time, but Minako Aino got him up and walking. Not good, but she got him to do it. The mother introduced us one day. And she spoke with us a bunch of other times before we packed it in." Ruthen shook his head. "Anyway, soon after that, Vincenti got me on the bicycle and I went to Texas. I didn't know she married the brother, or about her and Michiru and the rest of this bunch until today, Director. Except for the big one."
The Acting Director said, "You knew her too?"
"Met her once. Aino brought her over. She gave us this huge basket of cookies." Ruthen nodded. "When I told her that, she told me that Aino was trying to fix her up. That did break some ice. She even told me I sort of reminded her of an old boyfriend. Forgot her name . . . Now she's one of the Mrs. U-somethings, but I can't keep them straight." Ruthen shook her head. "But I'm sure of this: Back then, and now, she'd rather not be around cops. And she's been around enough cops to know how we work and how we think."
Ruthen continued to ruminate. "Aino knew cops too. She knew cop talk and she'd use it. She'd notice little things, too, like a new antenna, or one of us changing from a 9mm to a 10mm. Too bad the Major can't ask her about what the terrorists are packing."
"Too bad indeed," murmured Kerkorian, her mind now on two things at once--three, if one counted the orderly approaching. "What's your take on Major Vierhofen?"
"Kinda like Ballin in an army suit," said Ruthen. "Seems like a solid guy. And I guess we like army guys better than CIA guys or District cops."
"Some army guys," said Kerkorian. She switched to the other question that had been on her mind. "If you met Ms. Aino and her friend on official duty four years ago, why is this the first I've heard of it? We started the background checks in March."
"Nobody asked me about it," said Ruthen.
"That's not what I mean," said Kerkorian. "Ballin gave me a lot more material on Minako Jones than I used at the briefing. She almost went to the Olympics. She managed a pop group in Japan. She has a ticket for driving a tank without a license--in Switzerland. And much more. But he did not inform of me of this interesting little incident. You did report it, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I reported it," said Ruthen "Everything. I even attached a cookie to one of the reports in case our crime lab wanted to analyze it." He shrugged. "Maybe someone threw my reports out, or decided they weren't worth putting into the computer."
"Maybe," said Kerkorian, "But that wasn't and isn't Bureau policy. Everything stays on file. Anything we can't or won't put on electronic media will be referenced on electronic media. If we start purging our files, someone is bound to say we're covering up something. We restrict access, but we don't throw anything out unless we get a legally binding order to do so. That's policy, and I believe it's the right policy."
Ruthen waited for another hospital worker to pass by. "You won't hear me argue with you about that, Director."
Rei said, "We could still do it by ourselves. We have defeated worlds before!"
Michiru said, "We could have defeated them at the beginning. The question was, at what cost? With what we know now, that question is of many times more importance."
Makoto said, "I'm with Rei. We have to take care of these guys. The longer we wait, the more chance they will kill one of the hostages to show how tough they are."
Haruka said, "There are soldiers and police all around the White House now. The enemy knows that. They know if they execute hostages, they will probably be attacked right away."
Setsuna shook her head and said, "They could kill hostages in some quieter way than shooting them. Also, they have made this new threat. If the American government believes them, they will not allow an attack, not unless the Vice President himself orders it."
"If that is true, we are the only ones who can save the hostages," Rei said. "We must act before the enemy kills someone."
Mamoru said, "We didn't have a plan we're sure would save all the hostages, even before--"
Rei cut him off. "They are bluffing!"
Michiru said, "You are so certain of that? Your opinion is so informed? Aino-san was the General, not you."
Rei said, "I don't have to be a general to figure this out! If they actually have the weapons, why would they bother to take a few hostages? If they truly have the weapons, they have this country as their hostage! The world!"
Setsuna said thoughtfully, "Hino-san's reasoning is sound. Our enemy has taken the greatest of risks to capture the White House and their hostages. It does not seem to me like something a good soldier would do if he did not have to. Princess, is their highest leader a soldier?"
Usagi said, "I did not read him very deeply. I saw some images of men dressed like soldiers, but none of them were fighting." She shook her head. "The only military man I ever really knew was Jimmy-chan. Fazi could be a general, for all I know. He sees himself in some fancy uniforms."
"It takes more than a uniform to make a soldier," said Haruka.
"So, Tenou-san agrees with me," said Rei. "They are bluffing."
Usagi shook her head, "Fazi is very sure of himself. He is a suspicious and careful man. Nagy-san has some fear of him. But Fazi was quite contented when I was close enough to hear his thoughts . . . " Usagi concentrated for a moment, and then said, "Nagy-san was quite worried, but Fazi was not. And Nagy-san had no memory of the sample. I read him much more deeply than any of the others. I could not have missed something that important, because it was only a few minutes since Katherine Warfield was sent out with their demands. Nagy-san knew that; I saw the package in his mind. But he did not know the sample was in the package . . . That makes no sense to me."
"A man who does not know a secret cannot betray it," said Haruka. "Nagy and his men made the attack on the White House. If they failed, he might have been captured. Remember, Fazi did not come in until later, when it was safe."
Michiru said, "Sweetest, that is true. But one wonders: Why did Fazi come at all? If he is the true leader, his cause could be lost with him. If he is not, why trust him with this greatest of secrets?"
Rei said, "That all leads back to my belief. If they really have the weapons, what they have done makes no sense."
Istvan Nagy looked out from the third floor of the White House, scanning from east, through south, to west. If the Americans made an assault, most likely they would make it from the west, because the bulk of the executive offices at the end of the West Wing offered the best cover. Of course, there was always a patrol there, but it was only three men, and only one of his men. There were no sensors to back them up. No, no sensors had been included in the van full of "special equipment."
Colonel Nagy switched off his nightvision goggles. The batteries would not last forever, and with one of the rechargers gone bad, batteries were getting to be a problem. The grounds' lighting was sufficient for the most part. The time the nightvision equipment would be vital would be when--and if--the Americans cut the power.
Nagy took another look with his bare eyeballs, taking in the beauty of the moment as well as the tactical situation. There was afterglow to the west; overhead, stars with a few tiny patches of cloud. The air was quiet; traffic sounds occasional and faint. That was a part of the curfew that helped his own force; the quiet streets would make it harder for the Americans to move in any large force unheard. Of course they did not need a really large force, but Nagy thought the Americans could not resist using one, if they decided to use force at all.
The Acting Director found that at some time in their absence, Ms. Chiba had transferred to her wheelchair and moved to the lounge. "About five minutes ago," said Agent Ramirez, when asked.
The lounge was crowded, but quiet. Most of the occupants were children, many of them asleep in the chairs, on the couches, and on the carpet--the path that Ms. Chiba had taken was apparent, because it took up the greater portion of unoccupied area. Most of the ones awake were watching television. Not Ms. Chiba, though; she seemed to be looking out the windows on the eastern end of the lounge. The other adults were two elderly ladies, who clucked to each other in a language entirely strange to Anne Kerkorian as she passed them, and Ms. Chiba's husband, who rose from among a cluster of children to bar her way. "I want to speak with Ms. Chiba again."
Ms. Chiba responded without turning her head, softly, in Japanese, and exchanged some phrases in that language with her husband. He stepped aside. Kerkorian drew as close to Ms. Chiba as seemed correct and said, "Perhaps we should go someplace more private?"
"Please do not talk loudly," said Ms. Chiba. "I don't want to wake up Kimi-chan." There was a child sprawled on the couch in front of Ms. Chiba, buried under a hospital blanket except for her hair, which was done up on the same unusual way as Ms. Chiba's.
"Of course," said Kerkorian said, lowering her voice still more. Anne Kerkorian made some small talk to ease the obvious tension. "You can't quite see the White House from this floor. From the roof, I know you can; that's why there are so many cameras up there now. The hospital got an easement from the height limitations for the District. The only taller building in town is the Washington Monument."
"That is interesting, Kerkorian-san," answered Ms. Chiba. "Do you think the Vice President believes in the senshi?"
"Believes in what?" Kerkorian asked, bewildered.
"Do you think he believes in the angel ladies? In the magic girls so many say they have seen? I think the last President believed in them, maybe."
"I don't know," said Kerkorian, honestly. "Why would you think of that?"
"The senshi--that is what some call them in Japan. The senshi are supposed to work miracles, are they not?" said Ms. Chiba. "Is this not a time when miracles are needed?"
"I suppose it is comforting to believe in angel women," said Kerkorian, "for some people."
"When I was a young girl in Japan," said Ms. Chiba, "I believed in them. I believed with my whole heart." She shook her head slightly. "But it is harder to believe in miracles now."
"Harder for all of us," said Anne Kerkorian.
Before the Acting Director could move on to a more pertinent question, Ms. Chiba said, "You know it is said that Aino-san's husband was saved by angel girls and a lady."
"Aino-san?" responded the Acting Director.
"You would call her Mrs. Minako Jones," said Ms. Chiba. "She is still in the White House. You know, it is also said that angel ladies burned Minako's husband so badly. He was burned on the same night I was shot, you know."
"Yes," responded Kerkorian, beginning to feel uneasy, "I'm afraid I do know that."
"Maybe the angel ladies make mistakes sometimes," said Ms. Chiba. "Terrible mistakes."
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