One- Silverado Bakery
The shop was derelict, a rough-and-tumble mess of torn wood and askew shutters. For what anyone knew, it might have been a beautiful house once, but the paint was faded, and it looked more like a monster back from the dead than a street side shop.
The sign, hung from a pole that itself seemed almost about to fall down, identified the shop.
"Silverado Bakery," the sign said, with a cute painting of a boy next to a chocolate cake.
The scene seemed ordinary enough: a dilapidated building, closed up, probably mortgaged.
The streets were closing down, as less and less civilians strolled the sidewalks and the horizon flamed.
If someone had been looking carefully, they would have noticed a dirty green Jeep, plastered with mud, draw up to the building, and two people hopping out in what looked like building inspector's uniforms. But, no one was looking carefully, even though they had taken precautions.
The two inspectors entered the building, one pulling out a house key and unlocking it. Little did anyone know that the door was actually electronically controlled, and that the two inspectors had been watched with cameras and thermally checked before they even got out of the Jeep.
The door slid open with a soft click, and the two people went in, the door closing behind them.
Once they were safely out of sight, they rolled up their uniforms and clipboards, inserting them into a wastebasket in the corner. Later all of the items would be incinerated.
Inside of the bakery was not what you would expect of a derelict building. There was a nice rug, some Caravaggio paintings, and the like. The walls were not crumbling; under the cheap plaster was a six-inch thick wall of solid steel that could withstand a grenade at point-blank range. It was all a façade. But for what?
In one corner, hidden behind a wall of smoked glass, was a steel elevator that rose up to the third floor. The second floor was not used. One of the agents, a middle-aged man with fair hair, pressed the up button, which instantaneously scanned for one of the fingerprints logged in its database. The elevator doors slid open with a satisfying bing, and they stepped in to the plush interior, lined with sanded wood. The doors closed, and they slowly rose upward without a single bump.
When they reached the third floor, the elevator slowed and opened, revealing a nicely carpeted hall. The second operative, a female with a smart-looking black dress, led the way. At the end was a set of one-way mirrors that looked out to the streets, but nothing could be seen. It was pitch black, except for the bars of light anchored onto the ceilings.
They turned right, and saw at the end of another hall two bulky bodyguards in silk suits and professional-looking shades.
"Good evening, ma'am. And you too, Sir."
"And to you also, Hector," the lady said without breaking her stride. They came to a set of double doors. They looked harmless enough, but were lined with bulletproof glass and relied upon a second electronic card. She slid it through, and they clicked open.
Inside was something that you would expect in a skyscraper office. There was a large, oval table that took up most of the room, with twenty chairs around the table. Eighteen of them were filled. The man at the head of the table looked up from a bulky file.
"Hello, Agents 19 and 20. I see that you have arrived in one piece."
The man at the head of the table looked interesting. He was black, with the kind of eyes that seemed to burrow right into your soul. He had little hair, and what hair he did have was neatly combed into a flat pile. He looked like he had not smiled in years. However, his most defining feature was not his face, but his body. He had on a black suit and a red tie, but most of the sleeve for the right arm had been torn off. What was in its place was a long tube of metal, extending down to a set of tough plastic fingers controlled by a set of wires. An artificial arm. It made him looked almost like a cyborg.
"I'm not in the mood to joke around, Dr. I have urgent news from Sector Five."
The lady and the man seated themselves at the end of the table. So far, the man had not spoken, fiddling around with his tie. The other seventeen members looked around silently as if witnessing a funeral. The black man leaned forward in his seat.
"What might that be?"
"I'm talking about a full-blown whistle blower. You know the mall hostage incident in February?"
He leaned back again. "Go on."
The lady sighed, as if to impart bad news. "Paisley blew on us. In March he met with Interpol operatives at a café in Paris. He blew our plans. That's why we had to abandon the old film studio in Versailles."
The black man rubbed his forehead with his real arm. "Is there any evidence collected?"
"As a matter of a fact, yes. One of our minors, acting as a waiter, was able to record some of the conversation."
"Where is the tape?" One of the seventeen interrupted. He had on a small bowler hat, and looked like he was from China. His English was articulate, from years spent at Yale.
"My colleague has it, Mr. Yikusa." The man handed her the tape. She handed it to the black man, who in turn slipped it in to a player connected to a large-screen television mounted on the back wall. The screen was fuzzy for a moment, but then it cleared, to reveal a fancy restaurant with tables decorated with gilded silverware and flower vases. The vision was bluish, as if shot from a surveillance camera.
The camera jolted back and forth, approaching a table set in a corner, by itself. The camera was attached to the waiter's belt, poking out just beneath the shirt. Sitting on either side of the table were two men. One, in a business suit and a moustache, had out a pad of pencil and a paper. The other had on a green hat and a gray jacket, and he looked sick to his stomach.
"What can I get for you today? The wine of the day is the Red Chardonnay 1956, brewed in Reims."
The man in the suit was the one to order. "We'll just get two of those, in shot glasses." He nodded graciously to the waiter. He had a distinctly French accent. The camera shook a lot more, and then leveled out to reveal a small kitchen with two cooks busily working the ovens.
"Two wine of the days in shot glasses."
"You got it."
The waiter shuffled around, appearing to go to the restroom, but instead slipped into an alcove. A metal wall threaded with vines separated him from the couple at the table. From here, the members at the table could only hear stilted parts of sentences.
"So, what is this about, Mr. . . ."
"Paisley, sir." The other man had a troubled voice, American-sounding.
"What is this you wanted to tell me about? Is it involved with-"
"Yes, it is. Let me tell you quickly."
"…received a call… after that mall was…"
"…and I saw a man in red… grenade… bribed me…"
"Thanks for… my name is Hendricks… call."
Then the talk was abruptly over. The camera once again jostled over to the kitchen. The agent got the wines and brought it to the table, both men looking solemn as they sipped their glasses. The agent went into the bathroom for real, cutting off the video as soon as the door swung shut.
The members at the table sat looking at the blank television screen for quite some time, the wheels turning in their minds. Eventually the black man broke the silence.
"What junior agent did this work in Paris, Olivia?"
"It was Roger Nelson, sir." She was the only woman at the table.
"See that he gets promoted." The black man picked up the bulky file in front of him, his fake arm whirring. "In the meanwhile, we can proceed with the main purpose of the meeting."
"This establishment, this group, was made just a year ago, in this same city of Paris. It was founded by myself and ten others, in an effort to be the best crime group in Europe. In this very room, a year ago, we drafted up the original plans for what I called Operation Spring. Its major goal was to spring our group into the international spotlight, to get the authorities to notice us. As most of you well remember, out first major deal was when we hijacked the plane going from London to Belgrade. Then it was a ship pirating, and then the mall hostage crisis. Operation Spring has effectively got Interpol and Europol like wolves on our heels. I am now fully ending Operation Spring.
The nineteen around the table nodded in unison, but not saying anything.
"Even when Paisley bailed on us, it wasn't a surprise to me. He will be taken care of." The black man allowed himself a half smile. "Also, I am now making plans for the next major operation. It is called Operation Grim Reaper. Now that we are major players in the crime industry, we can sow the seeds of discontent around Europe with death, and when the time is right, reap the rewards.
Most nodded again, but Mr. Yikusa spoke up. He had taken off his bowler and set it neatly on the table. He was second-in-command of the whole outfit. He had once been part of the Chinese Secret Service, so who knew what lay behind the studious façade.
"I do not see how you can bring all of Europe to its knees. I suggest not doing small acts now, but infiltrating the police and spy systems. With them down, the people will be riotous, and we will easily be able to control them."
Some nodded in approval, but before the black man could say anything, another member began talking. His name was Leonard Keith, and he was from Australia. He was once part of the ASIS. That is, until he blew up the helicopter he was on and parachuted out with over a million dollars.
"I think that we should target governmental units. You know, hostage the Prime Minister in an underground bunker." He crossed his arms over his chest.
The doctor narrowed his eyes just a little. "You might be aware, Mr. Keith, that I am not a fan of capturing politicals, if I do not need to. I do not care for them. They are merely figureheads, whereas the real threat is the grand scheme, the public's spirit. Mr. Yikusa is half right. If the public is discontent, they will riot and the government will be helpless. However, I feel as if targeting the spy and intelligence agencies alone will do us no good.
After his unusually long speech, there was an even longer silence. Even though they were all equal members in the group, they dared not cross the path of the doctor. His artificial arm looked harmless enough, but no one knew about his future. How had he even gotten his real arm blown away in the first place?
Before anyone else had a chance to respond, the doctor began again. "Well, now that no one has responded, I see that we can go on the discussion of our first mission." He reached behind him and creakily pulled out a poster on an easel. A black-and-white map of Europe stared back at them. Mr. Yikusa slid back his chair and helped him.
"This is map of Europe," Yikusa explained, smiling on the outside.
The doctor ignored him. "If we look here, I have Paris marked with a star, so, You are Here. Also, you see London marked with another star. That is our target."
His comment was accompanied with another session of murmuring from the table, each member leaning over to the other. The black man looked around, as if not knowing what was going on.
"I assume that everyone agrees with the target location. Any disagreements? None? Okay."
Yikusa traced a route from Paris to London with a Sharpie as the doctor talked.
"We will send three agents across the Chunnel into England. I have some ideas for throwing Interpol off our tracks before Calais." He fake-smiled again. "Once at Dover, the agents will receive a briefing on their mission, which Yikusa, Keith, and I will discuss afterwards. In the meanwhile, I dismiss you with good tidings. Keep a close watch as you leave."
That seemed to close the matter, and the others slowly reshuffled their files, slid back their chairs, and exited the room, not talking to each other. They did not know each other personally. That would betray the secrecy of the group.
Yikusa closed the door and helped himself to the seat at the end. Keith remained in his seat, fiddling around with his watch. The doctor's mechanical arm whirred. They could hear the guards dismissing the others, and when they knew that the others had safely left, the doctor finally spoke.
"So, I guess we should begin," the doctor said without looking up. He sighed. "First of all, we should get rid of Paisley. He knows too much to leak it." The others glumly nodded. "I'm thinking of Sharp and Blinks for the task. They seem to be rising up to the challenge."
"I agree. Sharp trained under me, so he should be as quick as a ninja," Yikusa said.
"Hmmm," the doctor said. "Maybe. Let us get to business." He opened the file.