“You must be bloody well kidding me! This would only happen to you, Em!”
Shane blows into my small room near the emergency room, fixing me with a deadly stare as I tried to quickly finish signing the umpteenth hospital form that had been shoved under my nose in the last thirty minutes.
“For a secret agent, you aren’t much one for keeping your voice down,” I shoot back calmly. “This is a public place, you know.”
I had sent Shane a text as soon as Dr. Cute ‘Ems Cross had left the room, happy to find my Blackberry surprisingly intact in my pocket, as well as my wallet in my other pocket, where I had shoved it after I had hurriedly paid for my train ticket. My purse, however, was probably sitting in the middle of the driveway, if someone hadn’t already made off with it.
I had my favorite lipstick in there, too.
Damsel in Distress Red. The name always made me laugh.
Slamming the door shut, Shane replies with a steely glare, “I bloody well know it’s a public place,” his voice a bit lower now. He finally looks at me, his head cocked to one side. “You all right?”
I nod. “Bruised and beaten, and I have a concussion. I’m supposed to be woken up every two hours to make sure I haven’t gone ‘round the bend or anything.”
“Is that a possibility?” Shane barks, looking at me with growing concern, no doubt noting my rumpled clothes, tangled hair and rainbow of bruises.
“No more than my usual insanity,” I shoot back and he visibly relaxes. “I’m sorry I didn’t get in touch before I was brought here. I know it’s not ‘our’ hospital, but…”
Shane waves a hand dismissively. “I’ll take care of it, either way. Have you been discharged?”
“Not yet,” I say wearily. The long day is finally getting to me – between the mission in London and the whole attack extravaganza, I am rapidly approaching empty on my reserves of strength and wakefulness. “I’m still waiting to be taken to get a CT scan to make sure I’ve only got a bump on the head, and nothing more serious, though I feel all right, although a little bit woozy and a lot tired. Dr. Cross was really nice, and he gave me a prescription for pain medication, which right now is sounding like a bloody good thing,” I say, wincing from the bruised rib as I shift in my seat.
Shane looks at me, his expression unreadable. I narrow my eyes, trying to discern his thoughts, as he suddenly appears to be concerned and cagey, which are very uncharacteristic Shane traits. “Shane? You all right?”
He nods once. “Right. We’re getting you out of here before we’re both made, then,” Shane says definitively.
“Speaking of being made, listen…”
Shane stops as he is striding towards the door, cautioned by the tone of my voice. “Yeah? What is it?”
“This wasn’t a random act, and it wasn’t a bloody mugging,” I say, my blood pressure rising as I remember my attacker again. “It was one of the guards from the mission tonight – the one left standing after Devon and Stephen took down the rest. He was closest to the buyers, and I know, I KNOW it was him. He had a very distinctive scar down the side of his face, a flat top haircut, a leather jacket, and apparently, a very bad attitude towards me.”
I shake my head.
I shake my head again. “As far as I knew, he was just hired muscle for the manufacturers, and not the North Koreans. But he hit me as though I was on an opposing rugby team, and then tried to choke the bloody life out of me.”
“You stopped him?” Shane asks.
I shake my head a third time. “I fought him, yes, and got a few licks in, but then he stopped. Shane, I think he saw my tattoo.”
The tattoo that every Leukos agent has emblazoned on their skin somewhere – a small, colourful tattoo of a blazing flame, the unofficial (of course) logo of our secret organization.
When an agent is recruited into Leukos, in addition to signing away all their power, in some ways, they are then placed into the training program, which can last up to two years. Agents are given training on combat tactics, warfare, weapons, diversion, attack, assassination, hand to hand fighting, as well as intelligence gathering, mission planning, and how to become ghosts to society as a whole. We learn how to hide who we are, as well as how to become anyone we need to be to complete a mission. In my five years at Leukos, I’ve been through thousands of wigs, passports, accents, outfits, names, you name it. It’s the only way to infiltrate, and to protect our own identities. I may still be Emme Sutton, but I have passports for dozens of other identities, all with their own nationalities, backgrounds, jobs and quirks, and my colleagues are all the same way.
Leukos is very specific, I found out after my own recruitment, about who they solicit to join the organization. Much like certain branches of the military, Leukos looks for young, still somewhat impressionable people who need a cause, or something to believe in. Likewise, it gives direction and purpose to disaffected youth, or people searching for their place in the world. In addition, they recruit people who have no ties – no close family, nothing that would make them a target, or that an enemy could use for collusion or to torture to get what they want. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but it seems to be a general guideline.
After the two year training period, agents go onto probationary status – after that, it’s only a matter of time before they have full agent status. Shane was promoted to full agent after three months, but he’s hardly the norm. I was awarded full status after six months, which is still pretty accelerated.
What can I say? I may be disaffected youth at times, but I’m a quick learner.
In any case, after agents are given full status and are fully ingratiated in the organization, they are given a tattoo somewhere on their person – of course, the receiving of the tattoo itself is a device to measure how much an agent can stand pain. But more importantly, the Leukos tattoo identifies us to each other – in a fast moving, fluid mission situation, it’s sometimes hard to tell friend from foe. While some enemies have detected the tattoo, few know the significance – they just assume it was the choice of the agent to have it applied to their flesh. But for us, it’s like a business card – we know who is one of us, and who is one of them.
That’s what makes my attacker knowing the significance of my tattoo all the more troubling – it’s supposed to be as secret as we are, unless he’s had dealings with Leukos before, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. After all, he was a guard for some pretty nasty people who have probably been intercepted by Leukos agents before.
Shane eyes me, curiosity and concern in his eyes. “Did he say anything to you? Anything at all? I want a word for word account, if you can swing it with that goose egg on your head.”
“He said…” I squint my eyes shut, trying to remember his exact words. “He wanted to know who I was, and what the hell we were doing, ruining that buy. And something about having had that buy in place for months. I remember thinking he was off his rocker, but then, he was choking the hell out of me at the time. I didn’t understand what it meant – do you?”
Now it’s Shane’s turn to shake his head. “And?”
“And then when he tugged on my shirt, and saw my tattoo, he stopped everything, and the next thing I knew, I was being trundled into his car, then dumped at the hospital.” I shake my head at the memory of it. “Why would he do that? And more to the point, who would know what the tattoo represents? We’re ghosts, Shane. No one knows about Leukos that we don’t intend to know about it, right?”
Shane scrubs a hand through his hair. “I don’t know, Em. We know there are factions out there who know about us – agents that have been abducted in the past, things like that – but this is out of left field for me. I’ll look into it.”
“He was no regular thug, Shane. He knew how to fight, and how to fight well,” I reply, ruefully.
“You did all right,” Shane says grudgingly, not one to dole out much praise, ever. “Now then, stay here and let me see about getting you out of here.”
“How the hell are you going to do that? Just charm them into releasing me? Or are you just going to bundle me under a blanket and walk me out?” I ask, confused. “This is a conventional hospital, not one where we make our own rules. I can’t just walk out.”
“You bloody well can,” Shane shoots back, his hand on the doorknob. “And you will, until we know who the devil this thug is, and what he wants with you. Christ, he followed you all the way from London? And didn’t finish the job – either you injured him but good, or the glowing beacon of Leukos on your shoulder blade scared him more. And I don’t want to bloody well wait around to find out which. I’m taking you home.”
“Hang on – if he knew where to find me, what’s to say he won’t just knock on my door today, so to speak?” I ask, confused. I can take care of myself, no doubt, but I’m not overly keen on being a sitting duck for a hit man coming to find me, especially bruised, beaten and half out of my gourd from a concussion. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like a good plan for the day.
“You won’t be alone – either I or another agent will stay with you. That concussion thing and all that,” Shane says practically. “I’ll check with headquarters and let you know what the word from on high is.”
“And here I thought you WERE the word on high,” I shoot back, and Shane finally turns on that heartbreaking smile.
“Keeping believing it, love, because from your perspective, I am the final word,” Shane replies, and I stick my tongue out at him. “Oh, professional,” he says, but with a glimmer of a smile.
“Belt up, and get me out of here. These white walls are starting to make me crazier than I already am. Besides, it’s like, two o’clock in the morning, and believe it or not, I’m kind of tired after our exciting day of mayhem and missions.”
“Be ready to run,” Shane says with a nod, tugging the door open and striding out.
“You better be kidding!” I shout to his retreating back.