|A Year and Change|
Katherine Warfield could see in the monitor the image electronically replacing the blank green wall behind them. "I can't say I know why they were separated from us, Barbara." Katherine Warfield played along with the phony intimacy the interviewer was displaying. "It is true that one of the men guarding us seemed very ill some time before they were taken away, but no one told us anything about that. I had never met Dr. Han or Dr. Mizuno before last night and I did not talk with either of them for very long, so I'm afraid I can't tell you much about them."
"What about the other woman, Katherine?" The interviewer was good; she had picked up the implication Warfield had given her, and taken advantage of the pause Warfield had made.
"I have met Minako Jones before, Barbara. That's her on the left. Most recently, I spoke with her when I last interviewed Michiru and Mr. Descartes. She is a friend of Michiru's, like many of the other guests. But I must say I was very surprised to see her turn up at the White House."
Kate Warfield said, "Minako Jones was married to the brother of Marvell Jones. Marvell Jones was suspected of being the leader of the biggest illegal drug operation in Northern California."
Warfield said, "Neither of the Jones brothers is with us now. They were murdered last year, probably by rivals."
"Well, that is certainly surprising . . ."
"Yes, I spoke with Michiru. His Honor isn't the only one who appreciates music," quipped Anne Kerkorian to one of the reporters as she approached her limousine. There was no avoiding them now; with the curfew in place, she had to exit at the main entrance. Ballin had been right; no first-team people here, in fact, not a face she recognized. But she was almost past them.
Then a fresh face, a woman's, appeared. "Excuse me, one more question, Madame Director."
Anne Kerkorian halted and turned to face the questioner. "Yes?"
"It's just come out that one of the guests, Minako Jones, was married to a notorious criminal. How did she get through your Bureau's background check?"
The Acting Director silently thanked Ballin while she replied, "The Bureau was quite aware of Ms. Jones' background and we informed the President about it. Ms. Jones may have married a man with a criminal record, but she has none of her own." Kerkorian made her exit before anyone else could ask a question.
Once they were away from the hospital, the driver asked, "Did you get anything, Director?"
"Maybe a few names," the Acting Director said wearily.
"Do you want me to take you home now? Been a long day, Director."
The driver had a point. Anne Kerkorian hadn't actually slept since five the day before. The Vice President wasn't likely to authorize action tonight, no matter what General Thysson said. "Good idea, Barnes. Head for Georgetown."
The worst part of a round for Istvan Nagy was the second basement. It was Baiburs' lair, which was distasteful enough, but it also stank. Rather than let the prisoners use the toilets, Baiburs simply provided buckets in the holding rooms. By the second night, the stink was noticeable even in the first basement, where he had set up his command center. In the second, it was dreadful.
Much as Nagy would have liked to avoid it, the second basement had a weak point that had to be watched. There was a tunnel here leading to the West Wing and beyond. Since it was a possible route for desertion, Fahd had insisted on a three-man arrangement here, probably to save face; Sultan had agreed. So one of his precious men was always on watch in the fetid tunnel entrance. Nagy, and Horthy for that matter, never neglected this unfortunate man.
At this time, the unfortunate man was Fedorov, his youngest men. Fedorov wasn't quite as young as he looked, but still, he was seven years younger than the next youngest, Ramirez, and he'd never seen in action with Nagy. He had under Sergeiev, though, who was his uncle, and before that in the underpublicisized low level conflicts going on inside the Russian Federation.
One of the joys of the post was that it was close to the conference room that held most of the prisoners, and even closer to the toilet where their buckets were emptied. "Here comes the bucket boy again," baby-faced Fedorov remarked, holding his nose.
Federov looked to be right, because the bucket boy looked like a boy, so smooth-faced he made Fedorov look like an ancient. He was one of the prisoners, of course, evidently picked because he looked least likely to cause trouble. One of Baiburs' men was herding him, taking pains to push this gun barrel into the boy, admonishing the boy to hurry--in Arabic, which the boy was unlikely to understand, until they disappeared inside the toilet.
Nagy talked with Fedorov for a little while longer, letting Fedorov go on with a story about Sergeiev Nagy had never heard. When the boy emerged into the hall again, though, curiosity overwhelmed Nagy and he excused himself. He stopped the bucket boy and asked, "How old are you?"
"Nineteen, sir," the bucket boy replied.
"Are you sure?" He looked no more than fifteen to Nagy, who had seen his share of boy soldiers.
The youth stood a little straighter, as he said, "I have a daughter, sir. Seventeen months old now."
"And another on the way," said Nagy without thinking.
"How do you know that?" asked the youth, straightening up all the way.
Actually, Nagy did not know how he knew, or why he had said what he had. Before Nagy could say anything else, the bucket boy's minder suddenly learned English, saying, "We ask the questions, prisoner!" while administering his rifle barrel again.
"I did not give you permission to speak, soldier," said Nagy.
"I apologize, sir," sneered the guard.
Fedorov, who had drifted up to finish his story, dropped the guard with a palm-thrust to his chin. "More respect for your officers, please," he said. Like his uncle, Fedorov was a born NCO, and lightning-fast when he chose to be.
Baiburs appeared, as he always seemed to appear, and the unruly guard was chastized--not for abusing a prisoner, of course, but for disrespect to an officer. The bucket boy disappeared into the holding room while this was going on. Fedorov returned to his post, his story unfinished, and Baiburs turned to leave. It was also time for Nagy to get to his own duties, but before he did, he stopped Baiburs and asked, "The bucket boy, who is he?"
Baiburs actually looked puzzled for an instant, something Nagy had not seen before. "His name is Shingo Tsukino. He is one of the Japanese." Baiburs may have thought a moment, or maybe not; Nagy suspected the man had a photographic memory. Baiburs added, "He has identification as a student of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he does not seem important. You released his woman and child. Did his woman tell you something?"
"She asked about him, they all asked about their men, except . . . wait, not just her, the one in the wheelchair asked about him," said Nagy. "He's the brother of the one in the wheelchair. The one Commander Sargon had me release after the journalist."
Baiburs brightened. "Ah, that one. The Commander was pleased with her statement to the press. So this one may have some extra propaganda value. I will point it out to the Commander. Thank you, Colonel."
While Baiburs made his pleasant remarks, the most cordial words Nagy had heard from the man, on, one or perhaps more than one of his guards was administering enough "discipline" to draw out some racking sobs from the main holding room. Nagy couldn't tell if it was Tsukino. He did not stay to investigate.
Fazi ibn Sultan al Kaukji, the man known as Colonel Sultan to Nagy and his mercenaries, and as Commander Sargon to the world, looked over the woman for a moment, but not a long moment. He told Baiburs' man to leave. He thought he caught a change of expression on the man's face as he left, but let it pass. "You may sit," he said, indicating the chair by the bed. Fazi turned the sound back on the television and selected CNN, then went back to sixteen-subscreen mode. The woman went silently to the chair, never directly looking at him. She was wearing a domestic's uniform, obviously made for a woman of more girth, presumably the best that could be found to replace the filthy gown Fazi had seen her in earlier.
After scanning the news for awhile, letting the woman settle in, Fazi said, "You have been on the news. The first woman I released today remembered you, and I have seen more reports since."
The woman remained silent.
Fazi said, "You may speak. Is it true? Your husband was a black drug gangster?"
"My husband was African-American," said the woman. "He did nothing wrong when I was with him. His brother was the leader of the gang."
Fazi asked, "What were they like? I have spent much time in America, but I have never known any black criminals. Yet one hears so much about them."
The woman answered, "Kevin, my husband, was a fighting man. I think he would have been a soldier or even a policeman if he had not been Marvell's brother. I did not know Marvell, the leader, very well. He did not allow anyone to know him well, not Kevin, not his wife, not even his mother. He did not seem much like the gangsters on the police shows. There are boys who act like that, but they do not last long."
Fazi's attention was divided between the television and the woman, but he did notice that the last phrase resonated with conviction. Presumably she was relaying the opinion of her dead husband or brother-in-law, and that lent it some weight, as much weight as Fazi would give to anything said by a woman. "How did you meet the gangsters?"
"My husband's mother hired me as his nurse-therapist. He had been badly burned, and it was difficult and painful for him to move. I tried to teach him to do as much as as he could do." The woman added after a few silent moments. "Perhaps Kevin-chan's mother thought of me as a wife for him all along. She was very happy to have grandchildren."
Fazi recalled something. "You had several children by the gangster . . . So the dark children who were with the mayor were yours?"
"I don't know anything about the mayor. Kevin-chan is the father of three of my children, and they have darker skins."
"Father of three," mused Fazi. "You have more?" The woman looked quite young.
"I also have a daughter of eleven years1."
Fazi wished he had asked Baiburs more about the woman. Of course, Baiburs would have omitted nothing really important, but Fazi knew that women were concerned with trivial matters, and knowing more trivia about the woman might make things go more pleasantly. Still, it was of small importance.
"Perhaps you would be more comfortable in the bed?" Fazi suggested.
Naru said, "I've put a geas on the doorway. Everyone should avoid this room. I think the spell will wear off soon with all those curious policemen here, though."
Luna said, "I don't think we will be able to keep up the mindlink very long. Mamoru, you do understand, once you we are linked, we will share Sailor Moon's pain as well as her thoughts. Be ready. Usagi, do you think you are ready?"
"Yes, Luna." Usagi transformed. She winced, but did not cry out; she had learned to accept the pain, for awhile, at least. She floated above her chair high enough to take the pressure off her back, and then said, "I'm ready to make the link."
Luna made the link, and immediately gasped with pain. Mamoru began to curl up, but straightened out. Sailor Moon reached out with her mind, taking Mamoru and Luna with her, darting through the thoughts of hundreds, perhaps thousands, seeking the signature of the man who thought of himself as Fazi. Mamoru was able to forget the pain for some moments because of the incredible novelty of the experience.
Presently there were Arabic thoughts, mostly, and Mamoru made them intelligible, mostly--colloquial Arabic had changed a lot since Saladin's time. Sailor Moon took longer to taste each mind now. Then, there were no more of them. Sailor Moon said, or perhaps thought, "I think it is too far, too many . . . I will try harder." The pain increased, but Arabic thoughts were heard once more--and then they weren't. Sailor Moon tried again, and again, and again. Finally she made a great effort. The pain was unbearable, and then--
Luna was slapping Mamoru, very hard. He grabbed her arm. "What are you doing?"
"I had to break the link! Look!"
Sailor Moon was floating above, almost touching the ceiling. The ginzuishou had manifested, and it was glowing brightly. Sailor Moon's eyes were open, but they stared blankly at nothing.
"Usako! Usako!" cried Mamoru, but there was no response.
"Reports are coming in that many people in the District experienced sudden pain. Our lines are being overwhelmed by incoming calls, and--Dennis? Are you there?"
"Yes, Jan," said a disembodied voice. "As you can see--"
"I'm afraid we can't see, Dennis. We don't have video feed from you."
"You don't? . . . I guess you don't. Ray dropped his camera when it happened. I'm telling you, I don't blame Ray. The pain was simply indescribable, Jan. It didn't last long, but it was simply indescribable."
"I see, Dennis. That was Dennis Kendall reporting from University Hospital. Whatever it was didn't affect us here in our studios in Laurel, Maryland, but Carl Bremmer in--"
1. Ishi is really only two months older than Kimi, but she just had a birthday. Ishtar's birthday is in June; Kimberly's is in August. Back
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