Harrington Mansion, Cumbria, England
April 14, 7:45 PM
"You look distracted, Leo." Mrs. Trent said sweetly. "What's on your mind?"
Leo turned to the prying embassador with a carefree smile.
"I'm waiting to meet a contact to instigate a plan that should stop the end of the world."
Well, at least that's what he would have said, had he no sense of self-control in strenuating circumstances, which, fortunately, he had.
Leo nonchalantly swirled the olive around in his martini, listening to the Viennese waltz of the live band nearby. "Daydreaming, Mrs. Trent, if I may, of a brighter future."
"That sounds very politician, sir," she smiled, sipping her sangria. "You can save it for the conferences. Do tell what makes you stare at the window so often."
"I am waiting for a cousin of mine, who should be arriving her very soon." he obliged her gentlemanly. "She should be entering like everyone else through the foyer, and as the dining room is full, will head into the living room. I deduce she will then see the warm fireplace in the master lounge, with the hot refreshments available, and head for that while she warms up from the weather outside. I can see the master lounge fire place from here, where she will be inevitably attracted."
"A fascinating analysis." commented the embassador. "Do I know her?"
"I doubt it, madame," Leo said.
"Would you privilege me with a name, if still in an obliging propensity?"
"As always," he gave her his winning smile, before finishing, "Her name is Jenna; Jenna Patterson, though I doubt that would excite a recollection in you."
"You are correct, it does not," Mrs. Trent said with a regretful sigh. "But there is someone here you simply must form an acquaintance with, Miss Amelia Francois?"
Leo didn't let his surprise take a hold of him at hearing this highly familiar name. He turned smoothly around to the approaching young lady who was distracted by another man as she finished conversation before turning.
The Miss Francois had shoulder-length black hair tied back elegantly, her tanned skin denoting her Indian heritage. Her large dark eyes, which were so becoming, were currently attempting to stifle a startled reaction to meeting Leo.
"Do you know Mr. Faulkner, my dear?" asked Mrs. Trent.
"I don't believe I do," said Miss Francois, regaining her composure. "How do you do sir?"
"Enchanted," said Leo, taking her hand formally. "Are you having a pleasant evening?"
"Very much so; have you tried one of those custard pies?" she motioned to a table of them to the side of the room. "They are apparently the newest recipe of the grandest chef of this city, and are a marvel to the taste."
"I confess I am not really a dessert person," said Leo with a smile, evading the obvious gesture for a private conversation.
Mrs. Trent noted it immediately, and decided she would have them know each other better. "I have a friend to attend to, please excuse me," she said cordially before leaving.
"Leo, what in the world are you doing here?" asked Miss Francois, turning away from the people so they would not see her perplexed expression. "Have you any idea how dangerous it is?"
Leo's smile did not leave his face. "Fancy meeting you here, Miss Francois, of all people."
"I am here as a personal friend of the mayor's brother. I am performing mutliple introductions. How have you come to know Mrs. Trent?"
"She is an emissary among many, all politicians. I merely gained her favour to be invited her today."
"Smooth, sir, but may I pry into the source of your confidence?" Miss Fancois fumed. "Why are you here?"
"I am meeting with another of us who is giving me a map." Leo said under his breath.
"Have you not heard?" she bent in closer. "Other than there being multiple police officers attending here, there is reason to believe Requiem may have intelligence on you."
"Impossible." said Leo. "Have you any other threats? I am quite at leisure."
"Do not be so casual." Miss Francois snapped. "They want your head on a silver plate! I do not know how they recieved their information, but I do know that tonight is not safe for you."
"I have surmised the same, and have taken due precautions. When I have my map, I shall be on my way."
"Good luck with it, I need to be leaving; the mayor's brother may be suspicious of me." she glanced over the crowd as she spoke.
Leo nodded. "God bless you, Miss Francois."
Miss Francois nodded, and disappeared into the crowd.
"And I do believe I shall sample one of the custard pies," he said to himself, walking over to the side table.
Leo was more than accepted among the higher social echelons, something which facilitated a number of his operations. Especially in the more subtle, delicate dealings which could excite inter-city conflicts if absolute care wasn't used. He was titled a diplomat, though that was hardly his occupation; one that reverted to mortal violence most of the time to settle issues could hardly be a diplomat. But of late, there had been little need for fighting; it had been made up for with an excessive amount of travelling and carrying of vague messages and seemingly useless but confidential objects from city to city.
But this, tonight, this was different. Apparently this was the first step in what would help change the path the world was plummeting down. Save humanity from eating itself away gradually. He pushed some strands of his brown hair out of his face, wondering if he was nervous.
His pondered the face he had seen in Miss Patterson's profile. Since he had read the file, he had wondered how someone of such beauty and famed cultural talents had managed to sign up for a unwanted, confidential career such as his. He wondered if there would be time to talk with her before he had to leave tonight; it was a while since he had spoken to someone of likemindedness. Miss Francois was always so quickly moving through situations that he rarely had the chance to converse anything other than brief passing comments.
As Leo picked up one of the custard pies he had previously professed a lack of interest in, he thought twice and replaced it for a piece of grilled sausage. He felt like he needed the protein. He looked out the window of the mansion in which was held the grand dinner party, contemplating the deep green gardens of hedges and lawns which filled the property. It had been a while since he was in a place so well-kept place, built with such sound and tasteful architecture.
It did not miss Leo's notice for a moment that a man in a long gray suit and overcoat had entered the room and had immediately made his way to the lord mayor, who owned the house and sponsored the party. The new man's manner was shifty, and whatever he had to say appeared to be of the utmost import. The mayor became manifestly nervous, nodding willingly in acquiescence to whatever decision was given him.
The man nodded with a grateful smile, and spoke into a mini communication device held in his ear. As he approached the podium where the live band were playing, Leo could see a multitude of men enter the room on the other side from various doors. They all wore common clothing, most of them wearing overcoats due to the frosty weather outside. Though they looked relatively normal, Leo knew without a doubt that each one was a dedicated killer with indoctrinated cold blood and a heavy side arm if not a shotgun beneath their coats.
There could be no two opinons on it: they had caught up with him. Requiem was here.
The waltz was paused, and the captain cleared his throat near the microphone, a half-smile spreading on his mouth.
"Good evening my friends!" he said smoothly. "No reason for alarm, please. We are here looking for a man, his name is Leo Faulkner. It is very important we speak to him. If you could please point him out to us, it would make things a lot easier."
There was quite a buzz of conversation in the room, the ladies and gentlemen turning around and asking after this Mr. Faulkner.
One lady spoke up, "He's over here..." but upon turning to where Leo was standing, she was surprised to find him as gone as if he had never been there to start.
Having left immedately around a side door, Leo took the corridor to the stairs which led to the foyer.
He turned the corner into the hallway, immediately coming into contact with two oncoming of the Requiem soldiers.
He grabbed the gun of the first, spinning it around to smack the butt into the man's helmet.
Before he could recover, Leo threw a kick into his ribs and knocked him over.
The second man snapped up his shotgun, but Leo had already smacked the barrel aside and grabbed onto his wrist, snapping his arm backwards. He threw the man away with a thrust of his foot, sending the soldier into a spiky metal ornament across the hallway.
They were fast. He was faster.
Leo tossed aside the two guns as he reached the stairs, his face as calm as focused as if he was walking to the bus stop.
Walking down the stairs, he paused quietly as three of the soldiers were stopping some businessmen from leaving the front door, questioning them hurriedly.
Leo watched as several soldiers dispersed up the other staircases to inspect the upstairs rooms, multiple servants forced out of the way of the bad-tempered men.
While the foyer guards were occupied with the businessmen, Leo walked silently across the foyer into the living room, hoping firmly that his contact had arrived and was waiting in the master lounge.
As he crossed another room, he heard commotion of people entering. Dashing behind a door into a side room, he waited as several soldiers walked by, all of them looking in every direction.
One of them lingered, walking around his room and peering behind the curtains and such.
As he came to Leo's door, he opened it quickly, snapping up a sidearm.
Leo remained behind a large plant in the dark little room as the man cautiously entered, flipping on a light attached to his pistol.
As soon as he drew near, Leo shoved the plant on top of him, knocking him against the wall.
The soldier recovered almost immediately, swinging his gun up to where Leo was, but Leo had leapt behind him.
The soldier scanned the wall, but before he could turn to where Leo neared him from behind, there was a rustle of movement, and he collapsed with a broken neck.
Leo exited the room quietly, continuing down the corridor towards the enormous lounge.
He could hear constant sounds of people hustling around up and downstairs as the soldiers inspected the mansion. He needed to hurry, praying she would be there waiting for him already.
He was correct; she was standing in front of the fireplace, laying aside her purse as three soldiers walked into the lounge, asking her what she was doing since this room was supposed to be clear of people.
Jenna Patterson was not very tall, and in her elegantly glittering dress she looked a quite striking, but there was something about her face which somewhat dulled her potential beauty. By her elegance and smooth movements, Leo knew she was very capable, of both defending herself and of completing her parts in missions, but he still felt that such dangerous operations should be left to the rougher agents.
Leo walked straight up behind the three aggressors and smashing down the first with a paralysing elbow to the backbone.
He grabbed his jacket from the back and kicked the man to his right, knocking him away, his shotgun clattering on the ground.
The one to the left turned up his pistol and fired, but Leo had pulled the middle man up as a shield to take the hit.
Leo shoved his body-shield forward, snapping up the shotgun from the floor and firing through both of them.
He turn to the fallen man to his right who was slowly rising, and promtply smashed the butt of his shotgun into the man's face, snapping his head back.
Dropping the gun, he approached Jenna across the huge, ornate room.
"I trust you are alright," he said quickly as he moved. "Do you have the directions for me?"
"Yes, to both inquiries," said Jenna, her slightly anxious smile ensuring him she was fine. Leo understood what marked her good looks; it was that she was fatigued, in all likeliness she was overworked and needed rest, time away from this secret war where no matter your victory, you would never recieve public recognition. You needed to just believe what you were doing was right for, well, the world. Leo found her amiable straight away and wanted nothing more than to see her out of here safely.
"Forgive my lateness," she said. "I was to suffer a brainless car rental dealer. Requiem is here though; I thought you had managed to evade their knowing you."
"Information must have been leaked to them; but now they know me and I am henceforth condemned to be on the run." Leo said as he walked around the last set of couches. "But I had anticipated there may be some sort of obstacle tonight, so I took some measures to ensure an easy escape in case they came. It seems it will come in use. Come, show me the map and let us separate and be out of here."
Angela nodded. "Thank you for choosing to do this; it is quite an incredible task ahead of you."
Leo paused for a moment feeling awe welling up inside of him. Could it be that the precious remnant had survived? "You did find it." An adventurous pride tingled in his voice. "So the ancient Janis Miracle is real."
Jenna reached into her sleeve, retrieving a little envelope. "I still wonder how Requiem recieved the information to track you down--"
A gun shot echoed across the room and a cloud of red sprayed from her side as she buckled violently around and collapsed on him.
Leo shouted in shock as she fell into his arms, the feeling of warm blood soaking his suit.
His heart had no time to pang in distress as it suddenly hardened in resentment. He turned to the doorway to see a Requiem soldier entering the room with a raised shotgun.
Leo glanced down at the life he was holding cut short. It was like someone snapping the strings of a violin in the middle of a solo.
The soldier hadn't noticed Leo just yet, but on moving into the room, saw him immediately.
Leo dived beneath a table as one, then another bullet burst through the woodwork, spattering splinters all over him. He reached into his suit and whipped out his pistol, the cold metal in his grip felt sturdy and reassuring. Leo furiously racked the slide.
The solider hesitated then approached.
Leo waited with bated breath.
The soldier pumped his gun and fired again into the cluster of couches, before turning to call to his friends with a voice that echoed clearly down the corridors.
Leo snapped up and blasted two solid rounds into the man's throat, making him tumble backwards into a flower pot.
Returning to the fireplace, he found no sign of life in her at all, her hair fallen in scattered tresses around her ashen face. Her hands gripped her bloodied chest in the shock of that last sudden agony.
Unable to wait a moment, Leo picked up the small white envelope that had fallen to her side. He glanced at her blood stains on his shirt, turning to see her again before leaving. The same minute where she had gained her acquaintance, she had gained her death.
It was ridiculous how quickly some people in his line of work simply dropped off the 'active' list. A whole life, snuffed out like a candle.
Leo picked up a plastic cup of nuts which lay on one of the side tables as he walked towards a side door of French windows. Soldiers were approaching from the corridor in a hurry. Promtply smashing the glass with his foot so he could make his way out, he wormed through, avoiding cutting his tuxedo if possible.
As he walked down a small flight of stone steps, he could hear screams and shouts of people in the mansion. The Requiem soldiers were becoming anxious to find him and were resolving to violence. The gunshots in the lounge were inevitably heard, and was attracting increasing attention.
Crossing around the garden path beside the thick green hedge rows, he made his way to the front car park where three large vans for the Requiem soldiers had been unceremoniously parked, having violently shoved other cars out of the way.
As Leo headed towards a stocky black and silver car, he neared a neat metal garbage bin.
He paused, scanning the quiet place. Everyone was inside, the only sounds were the confusion and occasional gunshots within. The only movement in the car park was the vapour curling from his breath in the frosty air. Lanterns lit the large front driveway, the walls of the mansion grounds lined with large ash trees. The incredible amount of green, typical of the English countryside gave the outside a calmer air, despite the violently tense occurances inside.
He turned the white envelope over in his fingers, feeling the cool smoothness of its paper. Keeping his ears alert, he placed his cup gingerly on the lid of the closed garbage bin before heading towards his black and silver car.
He fumbled in the inner breast pocket of his suit before snatching his key from its depths and inserting it into the car lock. As he turned it, he stopped with a sigh.
He was being watched.
"Very smooth Mr. Faulkner," said a voice from beneath the drapes of ivy leaves hanging from a wall on the other side of the car park. "But no matter how elusive, you are only human. Any man can be tracked down."
A man walked out, wearing a gray suit with a scarf against the evening chill, the design evidently the uniform of Requiem. His hair was neatly combed and he held a heavy revolver in his hand. Merely by his confident attitude and the style of sidearm did Leo know him to be the captain of the squad inside.
"But not smooth enough to escape my notice," the captain said. "Hand me the message I saw you deposit in your suit pocket."
Leo paused, standing erect, knowing his move had been evident. As he slowly reached into his suit, the cautious captain tutted, his revolver pointing up.
"Actually if you could just remove your suit blazer please."
Leo unbuttoned his tuxedo jacket and hesitatingly handed it to the captain.
"Thank you," the words were cold and detached.
"Now, if you will give me your car, I will not have to waste a bullet on you. I will leave you here for my men to at long last deal with you. The front gate is sealed off, so unless you brought yourself a helicopter, have a good evening."
Leo grimaced, then handed him the key, the captain snatching it and opening the car, started up the smooth engine.
The black and silver car slid out of the parking space.
Leo justed watched in partial disdain; he was not going to speak a word to the Requiem vermin. His life had changed; he was now on the run from them.
Before his former car had moved very far, Leo walked immediately across the car park and throwing aside the leaves of a willow tree he revealed a heavy-set motorcycle, evidently prepped for a long road with a score of heavy leather bags secured on it. Reaching into one of the bags he pulled out a large brown duster and jerked it on before swinging himself on.
Producing another key he snapped on the engine, removing the parking brake and circled around, passing the Requiem vans before pausing. He glanced at the car as it began down the long driveway that headed to main road, lined with the tall expensive lanterns.
It was undoubtedly a nice car; but its sacrifice was well worth the effect.
Leo fumbled briefly in one of the bags on the back of the cycle, removing a box which folded open to be a small screen and keypad. He beeped on a code to turn it on. As the screen flickered to life, he activated the wireless control and selected an onscreen option very similar to the title "self-destruct".
A flash of light and smoke filled the drive way and the car detonated into a front half-flip, the wheels blowing violently off their axles as the car then landed heavily on its top, screeching down the gravel path in a shower of sparks and flame.
Revving his engine, he eased forward towards the garbage bin as he passed the front of the house. As he passed the bin he gently removed the cup he had placed there, pressing it into his trenchcoat pocket.
Driving past the wreckage of what he had staged to be his car, he ignored the smell of burnt metal and noxious smoke.
Taking a turn towards the thick hedge on the far side of the property where he had blown a hole that afternoon, he drove through the gap into a stony field before coming out onto the mainroad, the lights of the Requiem roadblock at the enntry gates of the manor's driveway far behind.
Leo relaxed in his seat as the road passed by him with growing speed, grateful for the forethought he had put into tonight's party event before he had walked in for the martinis.
The one thing he hadn't counted on though was Requiem's coming. He knew he may have some confrontation, thus the setting up of a fake car; but they were cracking down hard on cornering him, and had moved in faster with no diplomacy at all. If the captain had thought Leo's situation out completely, he would have surmised Leo wouldn't be using the fashionable car to cross the expanse of miles to whatever destination, he needed something far more economical. He hadn't thought Requiem to become so unsubtle; they were becoming desperate.
He hated the fact Jenna was now dead because of it.
"At least I now have some measure of good news to tell headquarters when I reach them, Miss Pattinson." he spoke to her as if she was still near him, as if he could explain to her why she had to die so abruptly. So she may grace him with her forgiveness.
He reached for the plastic cup he had pocketted and retrieved Jenna's white envelope, which he had placed within.
"Not one but two steps ahead at all times," he remembered his trainer teaching him.
"The Janis Miracle is now within reach," he sighed as he passed the grassy lawns of smaller mansions on his way far into the countryside. "I just hope I can find it in time." he looked out at the half-moon above hills, dotted with trees and cottages. Every hour was precious.
"If only I had more time."