Judge, Jury, Executioner
Judge, Jury, Executioner
To fledgling Heroes learning their trade, the Twelve Jurors are an example of why one should think twice about hot pursuit when the other side holds a grudge. Bad Guys have bad hair days; who knew? Case closed. No one ever asks about the rest of the story.
2300, December 24, 1944,
Vienna Central Cemetery
A bundled figure crouched down to brush snow and dirt off a small plain marker. Satisfied with what they'd found, the person stayed there, whether to unburden their self or give reassurance to the dead that all may not be forgotten would remain unknown. Elsewhere, people were gathered to pray as best they could in the darkness, with their neighbors or alone with their ghosts, as if after the past six years of "German Unity" anyone could think that it was a god that watched over them.
"Natter, let's go! The next patrol should be here soon. It would be a bad joke to end up shot in a cemetery."
"Heaven forbid we should taint consecrated ground with our blood," 'Natter' complained but rejoined the others in the dark.
"Like you even believe in Heaven. If you died, you'd have no place to go."
"I don't plan on dying until I've paid the swine back in full."
"Pfft. As if the Reds will treat us better!"
"Remind me to add them to my dance card. Tomorrow night, we have a hot date with a fuel depot. Don't worry, it's this side of Budapest, so we won't be crossing through the Reds' battle lines to get there." Crossing the Donau without being sold out or caught would be enough risk for that operation.
A passing patrol did take notice of fresh footprints, but this was the Roman Catholic section of the city's outrageously large cemetery and the corporal himself was cold and miserable here, and missing Midnight Mass, back the way it was before. All he could do was keep a sharper eye out if he wanted to see what was left of Regensburg or his family again. It didn't occur to him to search out the visited grave, or bother with some small stone left on top of one of the memorial markers.
2300, December 31, 1949,
Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venice
The night was still young so the band leader struck up the first of a short set of Latin American numbers, Ernesto Lecuona's Malagueña, as an unsubtle hint that bystanders should stand by less and mingle more. The band would of course play more swing and blues, all in good time. One didn't hire a dance band to play bebop or a dirge. Let the would-be movers and shakers the rats and the louts in attendance wrap up business for the evening. Vigilia di Capodanno tonight may be, but times changed and no one mistook 1950 for a year in which Venezia and not New York would choose the music or the beat the world danced to.
Gisela Hofer, 'Natter' to her associates, might have been tempted to laugh at the band leader's pessimism had she known about it. Venice might not rule the airwaves, but she'd wager the old girl stood ready to give Paris a brisk run for the money. More than that, if tonight's negotiations went well she was resolved to invest in some of northern Italy's up-and-coming designers. Though she could easily live without the boyish bob cuts that would come to accompany Emilio Schuberth's designs for la bella figura, she'd paid him in cash on first sight for the pink and purple silk taffeta dress, embellished with black lace trim, that she wore this evening. She'd also arranged for matching gloves in case such an opportunity presented itself. Details matter, when armoring up for battle.
"Herr Baron, remind me to thank you again for asking me to accompany you to this celebration!" A little white lie, but what other ears heard mattered more than mere truth.
The baron returned his attention to the whore chosen to grace his arm with sufficient beauty here and to grace his body with other gifts later in his quarters. Her long dark hair and matching brown eyes would be so lovely, so long as he didn't look too deeply into those eyes' icy depths. There was something graceful and deadly in the way she moved. Not a brawler, this one. Common street walkers could be dangerous when cornered, otherwise they played the maiden and not the snake ...
With a shift of weight and hand pressure he signaled a deeper turn away from the nearest couple on the floor. Those two bore an uncanny resemblance to two agents posted recently to the American Consulate. "I believe I shall, dear Gisela, in time. However, I do worry for the lady who had planned to accompany me this night."
"She's currently indisposed."
"I trust her condition is temporary."
"For now, yes. Oh, don't mistake my meaning; she has too much love of a needle to spare on any others."
"I wasn't under the impression you are seeking a Baroness."
"That would be correct, although you are here for a reason and I don't plan on retiring to an empty bed."
"If you are looking for a capable lieutenant, and you should be, I should like the chance to prove myself, after we retire to a more private dance."
"I can be very demanding."
"I can be very resourceful."
"That has yet to be demonstrated."
"Mein Herr, If you set me a task and it is completed to your satisfaction, both of us gain by continuing to work together. If is not to your standards, so long as it cannot be tied to your name or your other associates, the loss to you is minimal. Another pack of wharf rats overreaching themselves is hardly news. If you send me away untested, you've no idea how much you've lost, only that there is no gain to be had."
"Fortune favors the bold, eh? I've heard that before from those who had nothing else to support them. Betting everything on a pretty dress isn't bold, it's reckless."
"Do you like it? It came directly from Emilio's shop." This dance called for her to perform a turn, which she turned into a demonstration of grace and well-controlled passion. The Baron wasn't blind to the stunning view, nor were the several women who looked on with an appraising eye. Returning to her partner's embrace Gisela said, "Depending on how many orders Emilio receives, I stand to make up the outlay and he decides whether to release the design next season or keep it on hold. It's also purchased entrée to a small diplomatic affair in three day's time. So you can see, a well-honed tool can be pretty as well."
'So she fancies herself a fine tool or a weapon. She may be correct.' As the dance came to its end, the baron made up his mind about this woman who may or may not prove herself an asset. He leaned over to whisper in her ear, "Very well. Let us dance tonight and see if we still make good partners on the morrow."
2030, March 15, 1957,
Terminal Travemünde, Lübeck, West Germany
In spite of the industrial boom fueled by the Marshall Plan, and the impending reopening of the Suez Canal, Lübeck by no means enjoyed the brisk shipping pace or visibility of Hamburg. That made it a favorite of some of the more entrepreneurial Baltic captains. The skipper of the SS Mozart was no different in that regard, save that he had personal reasons to favor this port when he could.
The dock's lights picked out pools of safe going for the few harbor workers and sailors working into the evening hours and left the remainder of the terminal and its boundaries in patches of darkness. Lighting what one wants to see and ignoring the rest was an efficiency that seem to speak to the German psyche these days. Further, no one cared if the blue-green light made the evening workers look pallid as camp prisoners. The men gathered in the tree line could hardly care less, about German efficiency, or German legal procedure for that matter. The Twelve Jurors were on a mission; their arrest and bounty records usually spoke for themselves.
"We are certain of the information?"
"The harbormaster's schedule for tomorrow has the M/S Yongxing, registered in Monrovia, pulling into Berth 3 across from where the S/S Mozart, registered in Valletta, is berthed. They've a couple of gantries already rolled into place on the pier, so we can expect anything interesting on board the Mozart to be topside now and ready to be buried in the other ship's holds within hours of the Yongxing tying up to the pier."
"Registries of convenience. Nothing questionable there," said Five, only sneering a little at the tax and regulations dodge.
One ignored him. "That's ... interesting, Seven. But we need to know if this the ship Lady Hydra is using before boarding it."
"Do you honestly expect bootleg pharmaceuticals or weapons to be listed on the ship's manifest? I didn't think so. There are several containers of quote: farm equipment unquote, bound for Singapore."
Five translated for One, "What Seven is saying is this is the only vessel in port that matches her M.O. when moving weapons."
"How far out are Eleven's and Nine's teams?"
"They should be ten, fifteen, minutes out. I'll confirm." With One feeling edgy enough, Five hoped that Seven could contain himself tonight. On their last stakeout together they'd both nearly punched the guy for ten too many questions along the line of 'Do you see them yet?'
The Jurors continued to watch and update their timetable. One saw a very well-dressed woman – Say what one will about sailors, no man could have those curves, and that leather overcoat should have had a dangerous when wet warning posted ahead of it – boarded the Mozart.
"Gentlemen, even the owner of that ship doesn't rate a dame like that. Thoughtful of our target to turn up tonight!" One turned to Five, "Inform the teams we are 'go' in thirty. I want our friends there to have time to let their guard and their pants down. Signal Four's team to pull up closer in case we have runners." Five relayed the changes of plans to the rest of the team.
2030, March 15, 1957,
M/S Yongxing, passing Hiddensee to port, Lübeck Bay, Baltic Sea
Captain Joel Järvinen stepped out onto the port bridge wing, imagining more than feeling the bite of cold salt spray. Each time he'd scanned the coast for impromptu greeting parties he'd seen nothing out of order. Nothing like the wild, desperate days after the War when even a grain shipment was worth the risk! That should have set his mind at ease, but not tonight. He'd even settle for Customs sending someone out to check his immaculately inaccurate manifests! Nothing.
Still disquieted, the captain went back to his cabin. He opened a special jar which he kept full of water hay for these occasions and took a measure out to be wrapped in a square of parchment and tied in hand-spun hemp lest Iku-Turso interfere. Satisfied that the talisman was correct, he went back out onto the other bridge wing chanting an old song he'd been taught as a young deck-hand. At the end of the third repetition, he flung the offering to Vellamo out into the reaches of her sea.
Soon, a cold breeze blew out onto the barely-warmer waters, burying the ship in fog. The captain returned to the bridge wing to thank the beautiful lady looking after his crew. Leaving the bridge, he quick-stepped to the radio shack. Though his client may not understand the reasoning or the circumstance, he knew she'd want the warning if it wasn't already too late.
2101, March 15, 1957,
Terminal Travemünde, Lübeck, West Germany
One watched Four lead his team up the accommodation ladder to the ship's deck. Unlike the other Jurors, these were dressed just enough like legitimate maritime officials to encourage any innocent crewmen to back down in the face of authority. That also ensured that they'd be the focus of attention. The other teams, One's included, were dressed more for a surprise boarding. If he hadn't known where to look, even One wouldn't have noticed the seaward teams' jacob's ladders being secured to the gunwale on the far side of the ship.
A nod from One, and Five lifted off holding One and Seven. This part of the boarding counted on the general tendency of people to not look up unless they hear something above them. Dark clothing could help obscure the men, but there was nothing to do for the fact that they couldn't wear armor of any sort without exceeding Five's weight limit for flight. They flew to the ship's aft superstructure and crew's quarters. If Lady Hydra was to be found anywhere, she would be with the Captain. One only had to see how she dressed – in tight leathers befitting a gentleman's magazine – to know her proclivities and what state to expect the couple to be in.
Verdammt! Who in all the bloody ruins of Hell had ratted her shipment out to these vigilantes? Why this side of the transaction? The only reason she'd hired the Mozart was because the Brits were certain that the captain was one of Frau Bahkauv's regular meal tickets. In retrospect, that wasn't surprising, given that even the blood of (the very few, to point of being mythical) abstaining sailors was said to taste of rum or whiskey. How she knew that was the result of a mission briefing she'd prefer to forget.
She sent a brief coded message back to her ad hoc operations center, but was acknowledged only by static on the radio channel. For communications to be compromised this soon, the Jurors' twidget, Eleven, had to be present even though she didn't see him. Moments later, the quarterdeck was secured by the Jurors. At this point, all she could do would be to wait for an opening that might allow her to salvage something from this operation.
She was still watching the ship from a distance when the muffled sound of an explosion rocked the aft end of the Mozart.
2221, March 15, 1957,
S/S Mozart, Terminal Travemünde, Lübeck, West Germany
Juror Team One, aft superstructure
Up in the captain's stateroom, Five called out into his microphone, "Eleven! What happened back there? Eleven?"
"He can't hear you through the steel decks, you know. Seven, investigate. Five, back him up."
"And leave you alone?" Five wasn't so sure of that. Even working in pairs had improved the Jurors' odds of success these past couple of years, so why change things now?
"He's perfectly safe with us. One old sailor and a weak woman like me pose no threat." That was much obvious to Five's mind. "Your friend Seven could run into trouble, no?" Five remembered that Seven could be an idiot at the best of times.
"Right! I'd better hurry before the situation gets out of control."
Juror Team Nine, forward hold
Watching his teammate squeeze in and out of cramped spaces looking for contraband, Nine wondered if Two had originally been born a polecat. With Two's agility and Ten's reckless strength, there weren't many places that the team couldn't check. That left Nine to watch over them, providing light as needed and putting to sleep any crewmen they ran across. It would be hours before the sleepers would either wake up on their own in the bilges or be found by port investigators. Either way worked for Nine as long as he got back to close up the pass-through in the hull he'd made before it destabilized.
Whatever had happened in the back of the ship wasn't part of the plan. Even Ten was willing to break off to get an update from the rest of the team. That, or he just wanted to show off the few interesting things the team had found.
Juror Team Eleven, engine room
"What happened?" shrieked Three at Eleven. "I thought you had this all under control!"
"We did! We do! Steam engines just aren't my thing."
Six replied to both men, in a dead flat voice, "Then maybe, just maybe, you should have listened to the seamen who just died in that room, space, whatever, before the boiler blew up!"
"Look. It was an accident, understand? Lucky for us, it's ensured this ship full of criminals isn't going anywhere, so we can start searching for stragglers on our way beck to the main deck."
"You say 'stragglers', I say 'survivors'," muttered Six. Disgusted as he was, he reasoned that this was still an enforcement operation in progress. He followed Eleven and Three forward and up.
Juror Team Four, quarterdeck
Twelve made himself useful for once, bandaging the injured sailors. If only the crewmen hadn't tried to rush the boarders when they heard whatever the hell Eleven had done, no one would have had to be hurt. It did cement in Four's mind, and likely in Eight's, that they'd hit the jackpot in criminal activity tonight.
Criminal or not, they all could make statements in a hospital as well as they could in a jail, so Twelve went off to call in whatever emergency services were to be had in this backwater port.
2300, March 15, 1957,
Terminal Travemünde, Lübeck, West Germany
From her vantage point, Lady Hydra had heard the explosion, the crewmen's shouts topside when they tried to save their home from the intruders, and the shots fired. All were familiar to her from the War, back when the Hydra was just a Snake with one head to lose, barely a sonic background that long ago lost its ability to inspire fear.
But this? The War had ended more than a decade ago! She would be lying if she didn't still harbor a hatred for any surviving Schattenherren, or for the new fascists and corporate 'troubleshooters' that kept springing up. This wanton disregard for those not involved was supposed to have been left behind, with the Angsthandlers and Schutzstaffel, damn them all. If this was to be the new way of things going forward, she swore she'd be providing her lost personnel an honor guard in Hell picked from her opponents' ranks.
It was a personal slap to the face when she saw Juror One escorting a staggering old man wearing a captain's stripes and a much younger woman from the ship. Anger burned to cold ashes as she remembered that the old man was only just past his thirty-first birthday. Frau Bahkauv had managed to get an ironclad personal escort to safety; by the time she finished giving her deposition the Lübeck police would be begging to give the verflucht Jurors a medal for their dirty night's work.
Sunday morning, July 27, 1958,
A hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark
Gisela Hofer drifted into wakefulness one muscle group at a time as she ran her body through a series of exercises she'd learned years ago as a way to maintain her strength and sanity under confinement. It worked as well nestled in the comfort of a warm partner as in a foxhole; even better if her partner appreciated the dangers and delights her strength could bring him. Olaf had managed to appreciate both this morning, well enough that she'd forgive him one "Fräulein" comment today, maybe even two. There was something to be said for the feel of canines slowly tracked along a freshly mown path the way he could...
The hotel's appointments weren't limited to near-luxury impeccable cleanliness and a very discrete staff. The breakfast selection was good, the coffee even better. She knew for a fact that any photograph taken inside the room would match in style and furnishings any of a number of hotels across Europe: the result of modern corporate conformity. If the photograph captured the outside view, identifying the location would keep a team of cartographers working for weeks. One photo taken in her native Vienna had thrown even her. Then again, the Vienna of her youth wasn't the Vienna of her early adulthood, now giving way to another city altogether – a shabby burg that stank of the rubles, dollars, and pounds sterling it was fattening itself upon. Meanwhile, the world's new powers congratulated themselves on building toys that made the world as small as their masters.
"What are you really looking at, Gisa? The view from here isn't that good." The warmth from Olaf's damp skin and faint scent of orris-scented soap on a clean male reminded her she had been lost in her thoughts long enough. Work, soon.
"Something no bigger than a grapefruit. How much longer until the cameras and telescopes are pointed down at us, I wonder?"
"Not long. The Americans' Advanced Research Projects Agency already has a project funded. Give their toy makers five more years, and you'll have to wear a bathrobe on your own rooftop."
"They should be so lucky. Ach! I should get ready. Today is a long day."
"You are sure of this?"
"Olaf, the five men I lost in Lübeck last year weren't the only casualties of that raid! Not only am I 'credited' with the security guards they 'silenced', along with the drowned men found in the lower holds, but Frau Bahkauv was tipped off."
"I was under the impression that a cache of high-value items was also lost?"
Gisela shook her head, "A cost of doing business on this side of the street, nothing more. Perhaps I have become too reckless in my own arrogance as well? So today I gift the Twelve Jurors with a lesson I learned years ago about keeping one's business out of the streets. If they want blood, then they shall have it. Now, put some clothes on. There's no American camera-men to impress!"
"Impress? Ha! More like terrify!"
"Promises, promises. Are you sure you're not British under all that hair?"
"Perhaps this evening you'll get to find out. Go!"
Saturday morning, July 26, 1958,
Operation Jury staging area, Copenhagen, Denmark
The pulp stories would have you believe that every villain has one secret lair out of which they manage their criminal empire. The smarter ones might even have a bolt-hole lined up, hidden just enough to slow the hero and his plucky sidekick down for a moment or two (assuming the sidekick isn't tied up in the main facility, because that makes so much sense) Lady Hydra had a partitioned section of a cheap warehouse rented for half a year through a limited partnership. Lights, water closets, showers, a break room, security guards, etc. all came with the rental. If the landlord needed more space for another client, no evidence of occupancy would survive the tear-down. Compared to a dug-out trench it was paradise. Compared to any other shipper it was business as usual.
"Tchernobog. Three and Ten are the most likely to be be on your tail, but Seven is running out of teammates to annoy. Don't lose them, but don't let Seven crowd you."
"Kazinsky. You're backing Tchernobog up. Seven is faster on his feet than he should be, so you'll want to pick a nest that lets you catch him leaving in case he spooks."
Kazinsky turned to the dark, hulking Tchernobog. "What say we lay out some concertina for our friends? High or low?"
"High. I don't want any of them falling before they get into place. If they are ducking wire, better chance for me to get to my position."
"Good. Pleasure to be working with you again, Bog"
"Blake. Your team has the most obstacles to set up, and the least lead time. If you need more hands and eyes, now is the time to tell me."
"Right as rain, luv. Lend me a bit of dosh to toast some of the local boys, and they'll be looking for a new word for the stalled traffic they'll be looking at."
"Willems. Get Blake two thousand, mixed denominations before the end of the day."
"Cuckoo, Nine should back up Five, as he's best capable of keeping up with a flier. Expect Eleven to vector to your position to join up with them."
"Stall before ducking into Nachtmacher's playground. If Nine comes out of it, and he should, I've memorized the routes to the nearest cemeteries."
"Carrion. One has lately been unpredictable in choosing which squad to assist. Let him commit to one before pursuit."
"I've always loved a good chase!"
"Two more things! Rendezvous points will be sent out in the morning. Learn them. Know more than one way to get to them. Also! Do not get too attached to whatever you are carrying! A dropped packet of bills or a bank bag makes an excellent distraction for some of these characters. I expect every one of you to show up at your meet-ups, without tails. Lemieux? That means without anyone following you, including mistresses or angry fathers. Get to it! We are down to 22 hours. Blake? A word."
The various teams left to prepare for their parts of the operation, leaving Gisela, Olaf, and Blake in the room.
"Carrion? Do we have any stragglers?"
"Checking that now."
"Blake. If you find any trainable talent tonight I expect you to remember that you're on MY dime tonight."
"Good. Who are we sure of?"
"Ten is pure loose cannon. If word gets out that he and Three are being retired tomorrow, a quarter of the Politi may come down with a bad case of food poisoning and sick dogs."
"Make it a deniable rumor fresh off the docks."
"Blake. Tchernobog and Kazinski do NOT need to know today that Seven was Jungsturm. If he does survive and I tell them, don't get in their way."
"How much of this operation is payback, if I might ask?"
"Not enough to lose my head over. I'm not running a charity. I could ask the same of you."
"I keep telling myself we can rebuild Europe without all the old rot. But then I see reports about suspicious disappearances... Enough will have to be enough."
"Even plausible deniability has its limits, Blake. Don't get yourself extended further out than your Foreign Office can haul you back in."
"Hasn't been a problem yet!"
1145, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
Schultz's Family Pharmacy, Copenhagen, Denmark
'Herr Schultz' had been correct in assuming that no one would complain too much that his staff spoke mostly German. There were still so many East Germans who had no desire to live under the Soviet puppet-state, and enough Danes that spoke something resembling German that difficulties could be smoothed over. Likewise, a chemist naturally dealt in German pharmaceuticals and glassware, just like the rest of Europe.
Gisela imagined that she could taste the frustration of distant lorry drivers trying to make their deliveries in building gridlock while reminding themselves that it was still "the Lord's day". Blake himself was proving to have a taste for mayhem. She'd need to make herself available as someone he could turn to if he ever found that his job wasn't providing enough of that. Today, it was all good enough to have curious bystanders looking around instead of up.
Her leap carried her across the alley and flat into the wall of Schultz' rented building, pitons in each hand digging into weathered mortar. Setting more pitons as she went, she worked her way around the corner of the building to an inaccessible upper back window that hadn't been replaced with a sturdier glass or one of the tough new clear plastics. She allowed herself a few choice words at an incoming report that Eleven had gotten sloppy with one of his explosive toys. If their paths ever crossed again... Work now. Feel later. She double-checked that her radio was silenced. This would be a bad time to find out Schultz had branched out into electronics.
1159, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
A rooftop overlooking Copenhagen, Denmark
Blake was deep into his zone as he focused on choosing reference points for the vigilantes' best paths past him. It never failed to amaze him how much sharper his sight became, how much more alive he felt, in contrast to day-to-day life. He'd still end up drinking himself into oblivion to avoid the new memories for a while, but for now, now was good.
The footstep Blake heard, too close behind him, had to have been deliberate.
"Mister Blake, ja? My superiors have a message for you."
Church bells drowned out Eight's pistol. The single shot from behind to the side of the head sent blood and bone over the edge of the building, ensuring that the traitor's body would be found. Thanks to the hellbitch's cameras, even years into his retirement, Four would still blame her for the rifle shot that shattered his knee.
The day was looking better and better by the hour. At this rate, Eight wouldn't have to quit the Jurors, and he could use the incident to convince the Amis to take him and his family in as asylum seekers. Imagine that! It was a pity the southern states and the big coastal cities were said to be lousy with die Schwarzen. Maybe Kansas or Nebraska would be tolerable? After Hamburg, Adelheid didn't want her children growing up in a city.
1205, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
Schultz's Family Pharmacy, Copenhagen, Denmark
If Gisela had had any doubts about this being the correct location, the second deadbolt lock on an interior door laid them to rest. It also meant that Schultz didn't trust his employees much. Trying a walk of shame exit would work maybe long enough for him to change out a clip. The next floor down turned out to be the destination for all the shop's glassware. Two pairs of coated darts ensured the assistants tending to said glassware wouldn't be moving for hours. A timed breaching charge on an oxygen cylinder ensured that they wouldn't have those hours. She walked through the area, shutting off flames, taking pictures, and grabbing any lab notes that looked promising.
Had she been living a cheap spy novel, she could open up a random gas tank and expect the place to explode thanks to a lucky, well-timed spark. But she wasn't, and lab supply gases don't ignite once the mix goes over fifteen percent fuel. Acetylene though, that was a different story.
The next floor was broken up into offices and more supplies storage. She took more photos to show which chemicals were being used. Bills of lading would make for better forensics, but there wasn't time and muscle to move that much paper. A cartridge-sized induced field detector picked up the unneeded wires leading to a safe that was meant to be found, as if the dust accumulation beneath it didn't scream "We don't use this one!" The small jackpot on this floor was secured behind a dummy tank for one of the floor's toilets.
Where were the rest of the staff?
1210, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
Jurek Kazinsky went over his part in the boss' plan for the third time. She didn't reward failures, she didn't tolerate screw-ups, and he'd bet she knew he remembered more about the camps than he would ever admit to. Something about the dossiers on Three and Seven had added up to a sick feeling lingering in his gut all week. They seemed too resistant to wounds, too erratic in their words to the Press. He scoured the town for a priest who'd say a blessing or two for a donation for the children. Some child he'd been. If the Lord should favor him amidst all the sins he'd committed and not confessed, he'd drag Tchernobog to Israel if that's what it took to make up for what he'd done.
"Wierzę w Boga, Ojca Wszechmogącego Stwórcę nieba i ziemi, w Jezusa Chrystusa..."
1220, Sunday, July 27, 1958
Schultz's Family Pharmacy, Copenhagen, Denmark
Luck was beginning to run out, as it always did. Damn wooden steps! The goon pretending to be restocking the chemist's shelves heard Gisela coming down the stairs. Saying something under his breath, he moved toward her position. Not the best time to be wearing a pack, unless? No audible alarm? Schultz must not want to be disturbed. She'd worry about that after she was through with the front man and the backup that he should have just signaled. The guy was too close to allow a retreat up the stairs and just slow enough to draw her to him. There had to be a backup goon coming around on what would be her back side.
1223, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
Construction site in central Copenhagen, Denmark
The monstrous, dark, "Black God" was breathing heavily as he turned the last corner into the construction site cul-de-sac.
The Jurors pursuing him had plowed through a crowd of pedestrians leaving a church service. The screams and shouts in their wake were loud enough to wake Arie's own demons. He tipped one of the bank sacks before putting on more speed, hoping to draw the bastards behind him away from the chaos. One block further, he risked a look back. Had Seven doubled back for some of the bank notes? Arie trusted the boss lady more than he knew he should, but today? Today he planned to repay that trust.
The sharp crack of a rifle shot rebounded off broken and incomplete building walls. Seven screamed as if he were being burned where he stood. Served the bastard right. Tchernobog jumped the last few yards to the board-covered foundation shaft. The boards gave way, dumping him into a flooded shaft.
Juror Ten was a super-powered ass on the best of days, but he was still enough of a decent human to grab his unconscious and feverish teammate. Seven looked bad. Three walked over to the pit to see if they needed to sentence the monstrous criminal. Seeing nothing but roiling water, and amused by the idea that the thing couldn't swim, he smiled and shook his head at Ten's unasked question. They stopped, having felt something rumbling beneath their boots, but not knowing how late they were.
The switch that Tchernobog wanted to find hadn't exactly been on the bottom, but within reach of there. One simply needed to be able to sink quickly while holding their breath. Only the boss lady would have thought of that.
1225, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
Schultz's Family Pharmacy, Copenhagen, Denmark
The pack that Gisela was carrying restricted movement, but even an augmented strongmen has trouble pushing a knife through a ream of paper. That would make a nice epitaph, for someone else! The immediate problem was that Front was a better-trained fighter, and Rear could make too much use of her divided attention. Think! You're in a chemist's shop for bloody sake! She took a couple of bone-crushing hits, but she slipped into Front's guard with a fake to the face that ended with her to his side, fouling Rear's options.
Rear stepped into the front of the shop around the other two. She backed up to the display shelves as if her left arm was still injured. Front struck a point on Gisele's shoulder, not hard enough to hurt. Curious. Within seconds she felt the muscles in that arm spasm. Another step back put her up against a cabinet. Nowhere to go from here.
Cuckoo, altitude 200 hundred feet, approaching the Copenhagen Zoo, Copenhagen, Denmark
Cuckoo was convinced that Juror Five was just playing with him at this point, but he was having trouble figuring out what the game was. Cat and house? No, that wasn't it. It had been so long since he'd last been to the zoo. It would be nice to take some time out to see the cats. The big cats.
Nachmacher, Fredericksberg Garden, Copenhagen, Denmark
Nachtmacher wondered if the Cuckoo moniker hadn't gone to the daredevil's head. Why the devil was the flyboy headed for the zoo instead of 'macher's position?
1226, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
Ground floor, Schultz's Family Pharmacy, Copenhagen, Denmark
Front lunged at Gisela once he realized that she was reaching for Himmel knows what in a jar. His sight went red as pain exploded across his mind. Rear was sure he couldn't take this bitch down by himself, but he went on the offensive, earning a kick into his sternum. Front heard the other man's body drop, but he was still bemused from shock. They'd put up a good fight for the Fatherland, hadn't they? That's what Schultz had promised them he was working for. The blood pouring down his face, slashed when the woman had used his head to break an apothecary bottle, almost kept the caustic lye out of his eyes until he heard an unnatural crunch of crushed cartilage and lost all feeling in his body. A boot to the side of Front's head ensured he wouldn't be getting up soon. One could never be sure with all the new mystery men and science heroes crawling out of the woodworks.
Kaz, construction site in central Copenhagen, Denmark
Three went down hard from Kazinsky's next bullet. The staggered demolition charges did the rest. The sniper didn't bother with another shot. Instead he packed up and headed to the mound of rubble that he hoped Tchernobog would find a way to crawl out of. Anyone else digging themselves out of there would be getting a blessed silver bullet to the head. Two if they twitched too much.
1229, Sunday, July 27, 1958,
West of the Copenhagen Zoo, Copenhagen, Denmark
The trouble with fogging a flier's mind while in flight is that they need most of that mind to fly at all. Cuckoo's mind wasn't the most responsive even on the best of days. Today, he overflew the entire zoo because he paid too much attention to waving at the big cats sunning themselves. It was such a pretty day.
One thing the boss' dossiers revealed was that the Jurors weren't big on attending public funerals, and Nine was even less keen on them. The old man crashed into a headstone in the Solbjerg Kirkegård at thirty knots when his spells collapsed over consecrated ground. That left Five to worry if Eleven would even make it into the air in time to be useful. He banked and put on airspeed to catch up to Cuckoo, who was turning to make a sprint for the park on the north side of of the zoo.
"Finally," was all Nachtmacher had to say to himself. He wouldn't cry over Cuckoo forgetting the flight pattern through the maze of trees and dark spaces, but it would be nice if he didn't. Five's greater airspeed made the new tree snags all that more dangerous. He'd live, but it would be a long time before he flew under his own power again.
1245, Sunday, July 27, 1958
Schultz's Family Pharmacy, Copenhagen, Denmark
"Emmerich! How many times do I have to tell you that you're supposed to stay upstairs to watch Herwig's back? Come back when I'm finished with the subject, and you can play with her as much as you want."
Gisela wouldn't even register the chess board set up in a corner until she searched her mind days later. She did recognize the look of terror in the child's eyes, one she'd seen enough times in a champagne flute or a broken mirror now and then. Some detached part of her mind noted that the combination of jet black irises and pale blond hair was unusual anywhere. They didn't belong in some insane tinkerer's basement soon to be splashed with the same red that tinted the operator's vision.
Late Sunday evening, July 27, 1958,
A hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark
Olaf Siggurdsson, a.k.a. 'Carrion' had stood by Gisela's side through the debriefings and encoded reports. Her single-minded cold fury scared the hell out of most of her personnel but it carried her through the after-action cleanups. It bothered him, as it came too close to a berserker's rage in its intensity and in the crash to be expected afterward. Danger addicts like him knew their own.
"The three worst of that lot are out of the way. Tomorrow, I figure that The Twelve Jurors will be pilloried in the Nationaltidende as much as the daring Lady Hydra. You've even rescued a child! What next, my dear lady? A turn to the side of Truth, Justice, and the American Way?"
"The going rates for those luxuries don't pay the bills." Gisela snapped. She then lowered her voice, "Sooner or later someone with more ambition than sense will try to push me to the curb. If they amuse me enough I shall let them. If they're good enough, I'll never know of it this side of Hell. What of your plans?"
Olaf smiled a toothy grin, "First, I plan to have my way with a deliciously wicked master criminal. Afterwards, who knows? Let's make our parting « Au revoir » and not « Auf wedersehein », shall we?"
Early Monday morning, July 28, 1958,
A hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark
Olaf was woken first by a tentative door knock. He paused at the door to listen close before unlocking it, as he wasn't in the mood for a shooting. No obvious ambush. He opened the door to the waif Gisa had hauled out of her target's basement. She flinched at the sight of the man. Underclothes might have helped his presentation.
"Come in, girl, but be quiet. The boss lady's resting. Y'have a name?"
"Are you asking me?"
"No! I just, um."
"Hmph. Fits well enough. Stay here while I get cleaned up. We'll get breakfast. Braid your hair up if it'll keep you busy; you won't stand out so much."
Later, at a nearby café
Olaf couldn't ignore the wait staff looking more scared of him than the teen-aged girl did. If the girl thought Gisa'd beat him to a pulp if he tried anything with her, she was correct, but they didn't know that. Best to keep his eyes open for complications. They always creep up when you aren't looking.
The morning air as the city around them took to its business in earnest warmed up under an open summer sky, perfect for indulging a favored niece or cousin without making it obvious that she desperately needed the protein and calories. Some light conversation – what subjects she favored in school, any sports or trades in which she had an interest. The girl's hunger eventually was sated well enough to let her worries bubble up into her mind.
"Olaf? Are you and, um, the boss lady, er, together?"
"Worried you'll end up with me as a father?" The girl's eyes widened so hilariously! "No, no. She's not ready to settle down. We're good together, but too similar in all the wrong ways."
"What will happen to me?"
"That depends. No, it does depend on a number of things, and you are better off not knowing about some of them... Thank you," said Olaf to the waiter. Along with the change was an envelope. Complications. The girl interrupted him when he went to put the envelope into his jacket pocket.
"Were you expecting to receive a card this morning, here?" Smart kid.
"No. I wasn't."
"Sir? Could you ask the kitchen for a piece of tin foil the size of a sheet of paper? I forgot until now that I'd need some for a school project, and Uncle doesn't have much time left before we return home!"
That was interesting. "What is the project about, maybe I could help?" Now that everyone is glaring daggers at me like witnesses to a clueless bachelor uncle. Got it. Good kid; can we keep her?
"Something to do with a Doctor Faraday. It's for a science class I may not need, but that's no reason to shirk my homework."
"Here you are, Miss, complements of the Chef. He also asked me to give you this. One would think me a postman today."
"Thank you so very much. My thanks and compliments to the Chef as well. Uncle, your letter? I can use it to keep the foil from crumpling too much."
The girl made a show of carefully wrapping the envelope in the foil before handing it back. Then she opened her letter.
Would you please see to it that your Uncle's letter is placed in the location below, before 1400? Thank you, dear.
What to say to console you, save to say that it's not your destination but the people who you choose to love and learn from that matters? Choose your path well before running. Ask directions before you're lost.
P.S. Do remove the foil once you get there. It's a surprise.
"Look at that! It's reminder for our appointment. How thoughtful! Shall we go, Uncle?"
"Let's do that." Once they were a distance from listeners, Olaf whispered, "There are too many people interested in you. I'd recommend going to ground with Gisa for as long as you two can stand each other. She knows how to hide in plain sight, and she can teach you that much without compromising either of you. My gut instinct tells me you'd be a good investment for her time and money."
"You think so?"
"Stick around and find out."
Friday evening, August 7, 1964,
Paris, 18me arrondissement
Renate kept tight control of her pace once she saw the woman she was to meet up with. It wouldn't be wise to show off the speed she was capable of in public, and for Paris the weather was still warm. No one except a tourist or a thief would run. Her host's chestnut hair was done up in a bubble hairstyle, just different enough from the overblown styles favored by Americans to blend in with the local color. Wearing a tunic and skirt suit combination added to her visual age, and likely concealed an underarm holster. Renate herself favored a no-nonsense medium bob and a somewhat fashionable shift. Onlookers rarely expected much of from yet another suicide blonde or trying-too-hard mod. Someone years ago had taught her about giving her audience what they wanted to see; that advice hadn't failed her yet.
After an exchange of hand signals and kisses Gisela proclaimed, "My dear, you are looking so grown up! The color, it is new, no?" Cut the extra precautions.
"Quite." Got it.
They sat down and waited for their server to return to the table.
"Yes. While I may see the value of building networks, I'm not certain that the best approaches are being taken."
"Conceded. However, even the preliminary successes have their charm."
"Speaking of charm, I trust the visit with the Baron went well?"
"Some loose ends remain to be tied up, as always, but we have to face the fact that buyers in the Asian and African markets have become more obnoxious about doing business with women. Does it help matters that the Russians and Americans are falling all over themselves to undercut independent operators? Of course not! Now half the petty bullies and upstarts think we're running a charity. Thus, I repeat myself. More important for you and I and many others, the Baron and I are in agreement that there's no good to come from fanning overheated chatter about some Next Master Race into the next firestorm across Europe."
"You think it could come to that?"
"It has before, and there are still escaped sparks and glowing embers to be put out. Being a firefighter still pays, but not as well as it once did."
"And here I was, thinking you were considering retirement."
"No, no. I'm simply no longer suited to playing the demimonde, or quelle disgrace!, the ingénue. Maybe I'll try portraying an American housewife? So popular. So wholesome. Perhaps I shall wear pearls while washing dishes?"
"Send me photos if you do!"
"Perhaps I shall. Now, tell me all about your plans!
April 1, 1966,
Murray Edwards College, Cambridge
"Allen! What gives? You've been laughing hysterically for the past ten."
Renate tried to give her roommate a straight version of the news, waving the invitation in Christie's general direction, "My cousin in New York is getting married in June!"
"And the issue is?" A June wedding, can this cousin be any more square? Oh, wait. American.
"She's marrying some guy who writes comic books for kids!"
"He's employed. That's good enough, right?"
"It's going to be a white wedding!"
"You have no idea. She says she used to be one of the worst tomboys in New London. "
... But if Jim is an especially good boy, I might just wear my best Italian leathers under it!
Second Period, September 4, 2007,
Costume Shop I, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
'Honestly! I've indulged in enough wool-gathering for one day!' Mrs. Ryan scolded herself. She'd attended too many funerals to want the Cold War days back. Good riddance to them!
Today was a new day of classes; "soft minds to mold" or some holistic nonsense. She was happy that Alyss Morgan had taken a seat near the front, like a younger student would have. That would help reinforce the idea of her youth against the out-of-place comments she let slip. There was a story there, but it wasn't time for her to hear it.
The class period was only a minute shy of starting when one of the stragglers admitted defeat by the bell and sat down next to the goth girl dressed up in ribbons and lace. He didn't have the rugged build of Ryan's old sparring partner, heavens no, yet something in his eyes reminded her of Olaf that morning that they had finally said « Auf wedersehein ». 'Enough! I didn't allow Baron Z and Renate to convince me to come here, just to dwell on the past.'
Mrs. Ryan tugged her shawl into place and asked out loud, "Class, who can give me a reason to wear a costume?" That never failed to distract the kinderlach.
As if it were primary school all over again the students tried answering at once. "No one can make out what you are saying if you all talk at one time. Hands, please."
On a whim she chose the boy in front of her who'd made too much of a point to not shout out an answer or raise his hand. "Young man? You were almost late to my class – studying, I should hope? A reason for a costume. Go."
"Ma'am? Wearing a costume or uniform is all part of getting your head into the game."
"Keep that in mind, as we will be discussing that a few weeks down the road. I'm looking more for basic motivations today. Next?"