Well, it’s Wednesday, and I promised a new excerpt from MIA! If you haven’t already read the prologue, you can read it here. But, since I am exceedingly generous, I am giving you not one, but two! So without further ado:
A cocktail bar was probably the most stereotypical place to be meeting a woman like Cecilia Vedenaux. On first glance, one was sure that she was the definition of feminine mystique. She wore an elegant white dress, and not a strand of her icy black hair dared fall out of place. But there was something more; it was something that her young male companion couldn’t quite put his finger on. He watched her as she downed a scotch, wondering what it was. She felt his eyes and turned to him, grasping his hand in her own cold hands. “You stare.” She stated.
“You don’t want to be stared at?” He asked. “A woman of your looks must be used to admiring gazes.”
Cecilia rolled her eyes, taking up the next scotch the bartender offered her. She didn’t know why she bothered going out; all that she got was flirting attempts from blathering dummies like this one.
The young man didn’t seem to notice her irritation. “Surely an angel such as you…”
Cecilia slammed her glass on the counter, cutting off his sentence. “What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is goodness.” She said, standing up so she towered over him, slouched over his gin. She left without even glancing at his dumbstruck face. She knew it was pointless, he wouldn’t understand; that was her curse. He would never know the power she held; he saw only her beauty. And those who saw her beauty never believed that she could be capable of anything but that.
Alistair stepped out of his car and buttoned his overcoat. The park was empty, that was why Roderick had chosen it. Alistair couldn’t figure why Roderick was acting so paranoid lately; it wasn’t like him. Where Alistair had always been aware, careful to follow protocol to the letter, Roderick had possessed an intuition that no amount of circumspection would make up for. Clandestine operations came naturally to him, he had no reason to be paranoid.
Alistair was still reeling from the death of his closest friend. In the previous weeks he had found himself rethinking everything he knew. Was he truly meant for this? It was as if his job was not truly to achieve justice, it was to witness death. Over the years he had grown accustomed to death. It was an acquaintance; not a fond one, but inescapable nonetheless.
And yet nothing, not even watching hundreds of deaths could have prepared him to see Roger die. They had protected one another so many times, he had brought Roger back from the brink of death before, why not this time? It seemed impossible that this should be his calling in life. Was anyone meant to see their loved ones killed in front of their eyes?
And now Alistair didn’t even have a body or a grave to visit to say goodbye to his dear friend, the man he would’ve gladly given his life for. All that was left was the single yellow tulip that Roger had dropped on his way down. Alistair wasn’t a sentimental man, but he had kept that tulip, pressed and dried it, the one thing he had to remember his friend by.
Roderick had been just as stricken as Alistair by the news of Roger’s death. He had become increasingly distracted and devoted to his work, though he refused to share exactly what that was. “You find the mole and leave the rest to me.” He had said.
Though they had secrets between the two of them, Alistair trusted him with his life -a trust that had been tested on many operations. Only lately had Alistair noticed the edgy demeanor, the holes in Roderick’s logic, the way Roderick itched to break eye contact. The others in their division had overlooked it, but they didn’t know Roderick like Alistair did.
Alistair had to stroll the shadowed park for nearly an hour before he spotted Roderick stepping out from behind an alder tree. He moved closer and Roderick let out a heavy breath that formed into a cloud of mist before him.
“You weren’t followed.” He stated.
“What’s this about?” Alistair asked. “You know Minerva and the boys are waiting for me.”
Roderick did know. Tonight was Tom’s induction into MI6. But that was precisely why he wanted to speak to Alistair.
“What have you found out?” He asked. At a wary glance from Alistair he spouted, “The mole! What have you found out about the mole? You’ve taken a bloody long time watching, you must know something.”
Alistair didn’t know what to make of his agitation. “The operation in Cairo. The agent who was killed three weeks ago. I’ve looked into it.”
“Why?” Roderick asked, they had debriefed hundreds of times before, but this time Alistair got the feeling that Roderick was quizzing him.
“The agent, he was ambushed. It had to have been an ambush.” He said. “Isn’t it the least bit strange that one day after he asks permission to look into the russian natural gas traders, he’s shot down by an unidentified Arab man? The very next morning, in fact? While he was on his way to meet a contact? Come… Even if it is true, it raises a lot of new questions.”
“Like what?” Roderick said, retrieving a cigar and offering it to his brother-in-law. Roderick watched Alistair closely. “The arabs are known to attack without probable cause.”
“Perhaps, but the Russians aren’t.” Alistair said, not missing the slight flinch Roderick gave at the voicing of his suspicions.
“So what are you saying, then? What do you think has happened?”
“I don’t quite know yet… But there’s one thing I know, Roderick.” He said. Roderick tilted his head to the side and leaned against a tree, lighting his own cigar. It was as if he was waiting for Alistair to give him a particular answer. He spoke haltingly, “It’s got to have been an inside job.” When Roderick raised his eyebrow questioningly, Alistair blazed forward. “Roderick, there are only three people who had clearance to that information! It has to be someone from our division!”
Alistair was tiring of this back and forth volley. If Roderick know something, why didn’t he just get on with it? “There were only three people who knew about the operation, Fritz, myself, and…” Alistair stopped abruptly, a unanticipated memory pushing suddenly to the forefront of his mind. The final piece of the puzzle unexpectedly clicked into place and Alistair knew. The papers that Roderick had refused to show him, the suspicious questionings, the uneasy behavior. It all made sense.
“You’re?” He gasped.
He watched comprehension, then a resigned look cross Roderick’s face. “As I suspected.” Roderick said sadly. “I’m sorry, my brother.” He said, stepping toward him and snuffing out his cigar prematurely. “Now don’t look so wounded. You know how it is. This world is no place for a friend.”
Alistair stared at him. He was trained to suspect everything, everyone. But nothing in the world, nothing could have shocked him more than the realization that his very best friend was the traitor he had been hunting. He couldn’t even grasp the concept. “Rod… Roderick?” He said, looking at Roderick’s face for a sign of emotion, relief, anger, anxiety, regret; but Roderick was gazing at him with an unnerving look of brotherly tenderness. He was so matter of fact, almost surprised that Alistair hadn’t seen it coming. It was more than he could even comprehend.
“She is quite convincing, you know. I never would’ve thought that killing Roger could’ve been a good idea, but now, with him gone… It’s going better than ever. Things in the Middle East are in a frenzy. Alistair, there’s a war coming, and I’m going to be responsible for it!” Alistair was unnerved by the frenzied joy in his brother-in-law’s voice. “I warned you to buy stocks in Russian gas. But did you? No. Perhaps if you had, I would’ve let you in on it, but then…”
Alistair rubbed his temples in frustration and spoke more to himself than to Roderick. “So, you plan to create a war to stop gas production? And create a demand for Russian gas… And you killed my best friend, for gas?”
He felt as if everything that had ever brought him joy now meant nothing. If the person he had based so much trust on was a dirty turncoat, what in life could he believe to be true?
That’s why when Roderick pulled a knife out of his overcoat, Alistair could do nothing but stare at it. He continued to stare at it as Roderick placed his hand on Alistair’s shoulder and bowed his head, “I am sorry.” He said, stabbing Alistair just under the ribs. “You know too much for your own good. And with Tom gaining clearance tonight, it just wouldn’t…”
Alistair gasped but didn’t look down. His pain was strong, but the feelings of shock and betrayal were far worse. He was going to die here, and no one would ever know the truth.
But Roderick wasn’t content to leave things as they were. To add insult to injury, he pulled a small vial of whiskey from the same pocket where he had hidden his knife. “Sit down, man.” He said, his voice absurdly affectionate. He helped Alistair to the ground, leaned him against a tree. “Open your mouth.” He ordered. Alistair was so used to taking orders from him and so blinded by agony that he obeyed. Roderick poured the flask down Alistair’s throat and then stood, rubbing his leather gloves together judiciously. He was already back to business. “Well, I really must go.” He said. “You understand.”
And with that, Alistair was alone. Left alone to face his death, and the knowledge of all the terrible things that would now come to fruition because of it.