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©02 The Media Desk
Keia wanted to see every inch of Detroit. I was obliged to play tour guide for several hours after our plane arrived Friday afternoon.
Finally we got to the hotel.
"May I help you?" The desk clerk asked me.
Bishop42 had given me specific instructions on how to sign in. As far as the hotel was concerned Keia and I were, "I am Arcourt Jones. This is my sister Shoeni." I said with the best poker face I could muster. Keia smiled and nodded.
"Your sister?" The clerk asked incredulously.
"Yes." I said.
Keia played along and said something in whatever language she called home.
"OK, whatever. You're on the list, two suites on the reserved floor. Pre-paid by Environmental Education League. Have a good seminar." He handed us some paperwork and key cards for the floor and our rooms. He called for a bellhop to take our bags.
"Save the rain forest." I said with a smile.
Our rooms were across the hall from each other. The rooms were each larger than my apartment. Keia could not believe one room was all hers.
"My whole family back there would live in here with me." She said.
I smiled and was going to make a smart comment when a tapping on the door interrupted me. 2ndGrace was standing there grinning.
"Well. Hello." I said to her.
"There is a reception in the conference room. We are still waiting on a couple of the others. When you're ready, come on down."
"I ready now." Keia said.
I shrugged and followed the women down the hall. There was a sizable conference room right there off the small sitting area next to the elevators. I looked over the small crowd in the room amazed at the diversity of the people there.
"Hey!" Somebody called to me. I turned to see Allied Forces coming my way.
I introduced Keia to him, then to Thunder who was working the room like a pro.
Allied Forces nodded to a short fat muscular man behind him. "This is Conga. He was supposed to be on our little trip but was laid up."
Shaking hands with Conga was like slamming your hand in a car door. I was certain he had dislocated my fingers. I almost panicked when he turned to Keia. But he took her hand gently and kissed it with a smile.
"My pleasure, Ma'am. I found your evaluation of that disturbance in Colorado most enlightening." The man with the build of a musk ox said to her.
Allied Forces talked for awhile. Then they announced the buffet was ready.
I followed the others. Which was an experience. Conga took two plates. One of vegetables, the other of meats. I would have had trouble even carrying them.
They had four big tables set up for us to sit at. We took the end of one. Others sat with other small groups, chatting. Thunder came over and looked around.
"Please. Join us." I said to her with a smile.
She nodded and put her plate down. Conga stood and pulled out her chair, then he glared at me and Allied Forces. We stood as the lady sat down. She smiled 'thank you'.
"I have tried to convince my friend he should study the ways of gentlemen." Conga said indicating Allied Forces. "But my lessons have fallen upon deaf ears."
"So you are a trainer like 2nd Grace?" I asked him.
"Yes. But she is far better at the task." He said.
I couldn't get over the soft speech and gentle mannerisms of this man whose shoulders mounted in heaps of muscle nearly to his ears.
Thunder smiled at him, "I think you have your own specialties." I had forgotten how incredibly beautiful she really was.
Conga actually blushed. "Thank you. But you have moves I could never master, or teach."
I almost forgot to swallow. Fortunately, someone was at the podium across the room tapping a glass for attention. I hoped it was Bishop42, but for some reason, I knew it wasn't.
"I believe everybody is finally here, now that 1951 has joined us." The man at the microphone grinned broadly at a woman going through the buffet.
"Go lay down someplace Rathskeller." She said saltily to the speaker.
"Thank you for that introduction Fifty-one. In case you didn't know it, I am Rathskeller. I handle organizing things like this." There was a smattering of applause and a few side comments from various ones. "Please go ahead and eat as I take care of some of the announcements and details for the weekend."
He cleared his throat. "First. Be considerate of the hotel's other guests. No firearms testing in the hallways, no Ninja competitions in the pool. Things like that."
Conga laughed out loud and waved at Rathskeller.
"There will be a major meeting tonight, and in the morning. Small groups will take place tomorrow afternoon, and Sunday. You will be advised by your personnel officer where and what to do."
I looked at Allied Forces. He was talking to Conga about a working group on high speed driving. Then I looked around for 2ndGrace. She was handing out some folders to everybody.
She came by my table and handed everybody a folder. The others opened their folders and riffled through the papers inside. I opened mine. It seemed to have only half the papers in it the others did. Glancing at Keia's, I saw it was true. Then down inside the folder there was a regular-sized computer disc. A slight chill went down my spine.
Rathskeller was plugging a talk he would be giving Saturday night about dealing with media. Mentioning there were times in the field when you couldn't get around a reporter or a camera crew, and it would look suspicious if you tried. He would cover that and more tomorrow night.
"And I will be serving my own recipe for martini's." He grinned.
"I'll be there! What was the lecture about again?" A male voice from the other side shouted to a great deal of laughter.
In a few minutes his talk was over and some people got up and went for dessert.
I went to the dessert table and took a piece of pie and put it at my place. "I'll be right back." I told Keia and excused myself. Then I went to my room with my folder tucked under my arm.
It only took a minute to get my laptop open and running. I stuck the disc in it and opened it. The file was a communications program. It told me about not having a dialtone.
"No kidding." I said to it, in a minute I had dug out the cord and plugged it into the outlet provided.
Securing channel. The screen said. Then it went to a chat window.
Bishop42: No time to explain. Change your shirt and get back in there. Password secure your terminal and we'll discuss this later. DO NOT MENTION THIS TO ANYONE AND WATCH YOUR SIX!!!
His emphasis made me take a deep breath, and his advice to watch my back was chilling to say the least.
theHunter: Yes sir.
I left the terminal on but locked it with my password. The screen went to soap bubbles. I put on my new baseball T-shirt and went back to the meeting, this time with dad's .38 in its holster inside my pants.
They were still talking amongst themselves. Somebody noticed I had changed shirts.
"I got a little sloppy. Do they have dry cleaning here?"
We discussed the concierge services of the hotel.
In a few minutes they asked everybody to move to the other end of the room for the main meeting. With a great deal of discussion and confusion we moved to the seating area. Now I was eyeing the crowd with suspicion. Something was obviously wrong here, and I did not think Bishop42 was worried just about the price of room pick up dry cleaning since he had openly warned me about being on my guard.
Rathskeller was at the podium again, now face to face with his audience. He looked to a couple of uniformed security officers standing by the doors, then nodded. They went out.
"OK. Now. We have a few introductions to make. All of you are aware of Keia and her fine work with our Research Division." He waved for her to stand. There was some applause, Keia stood and bowed then quickly sat down embarrassed to her marrow.
"Please welcome Reginald19 to the Midwest." He indicated a very dark skinned man with pure white hair. The man stood and nodded to the crowd. "Reginald is an automotive specialist." Rathskeller said as the applause died down.
"We have Hope... Hope... I can't read my own notes, Hope Something from New York. A language and communications expert." He looked around, a woman sitting next to Thunder stood up smiling.
"Hope Star." She said, "Thank you." She smiled to the people and sat back down.
"I guess that could be Star. Thank you." He made a correction on his paper. "Welcome aboard."
He did not introduce me. For which I was very glad given the Bishop's message.
The meeting was about the dullest thing I have ever sat through. Several of the more important types came up and read reports of things that were only passably interesting, but were also included in our folders.
"North American operations included thirty-five official sanctions, involving fifty-two operatives on thirty-nine expeditions. Collateral damage figures for this quarter are better than average." 2ndGrace read from a printout.
Conga talked about man-hours of training and outside source utilization.
Rathskeller got back up and discussed overseas operations, which were only a minor aspect of the whole organization.
Finally a man got up that hadn't been introduced. He didn't have notes, but spoke carefully. "I'm Centre, Command and Control." He said.
My ears perked up.
"There has been some changes in the lines of communications. Most of the field ops will remain under their respective Heads. Our Mandate is to ensure the Spirit of the Law. This will not change. However, I, and my counterpart, Bishop42, will be more closely overseeing some operations. Especially those that extend beyond the borders of the US, as Allied Forces found out a few months ago. I heard he was stunned the first time he got a note from the Bishop."
"Terrified more like." He said from the audience, to some nervous laughter.
"But you found out working directly for CnC isn't so bad after all. Others of you have been slightly realigned, a new division is in the works and some others of you will be in it. Other changes are pending. Some may be a bitter pill to swallow."
He was looking right at me. I swallowed dryly.
The meeting wrapped up in a little bit. The first thing I did was hit the bar and get a stiff gin and tonic. 2ndGrace stepped up to my elbow.
"Centre wants to see you, take your time, meet him in the restroom." She whispered while stirring her coffee.
I nodded without looking at her. Then started to the door slowly with my drink.
"Hi Partner! I don't think we've met! I'm Ringo. Heard you've been making quite an impression. If you ever get out to KC look me up!" A man said pumping my arm. "What was your handle again?"
"Rocky99." I said using one of my game ID's.
"Well that's just swell." He smiled and nodded. Then he went on to assault somebody else.
Finally I got close to the door. I got to hold it for a hotel employee carrying a tray of dirty dishes. Then I went looking for the restroom. I found it, a uniformed officer let me in.
Centre was standing over a sink inspecting his nose in the mirror. "Damned plastic insert, the skin over the thing breaks out every time I get on an airplane." He rinsed his face then looked at me. "So you are theHunter."
"First of all. Forget almost everything that was said tonight. All of that, everything in your packet, it is all disinformation. There is no realignment, you are the new division, your assignment with Allied Forces was simply lucky chance. Everything you have done up to now, was to prepare you for this weekend. This is the most important assignment ever made in the history of our Mandate. And that is not an exaggeration."
I nodded and mouthed 'OK' without speaking.
"You're my ace in the hole. Somebody in that room tonight is working for an outsider. We're narrowing it down as we speak. But we expect them to make a move this weekend to cripple us. When that move comes, we require you to stop it."
"I don't think they know just who and what you are yet."
I was confused, it must have showed.
"You are completely in the dark aren't you? Good. Stay that way. Play your guts and instincts."
I nodded. What else could I do?
"The Bishop really hasn't told you anything has he?"
"I didn't know until tonight there was an organization behind him."
Centre laughed. "You thought you were just working for a guy on the computer?"
"That's beautiful. He is a Master after all." His face was covered in a smile.
"So Bishop42 is a man after all."
His face changed, his eyes focused far away. He was silent a second. "I really don't know. You know something. I really don't know."
"Could the traitor be working for the government?"
His smile returned. "Son. We ARE the government."
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