If you haven't already, please read the first chapters of the story before you move on to the Epilogue.
Chapter 1: Prologue: The Briefing
Chapter 2: Pride and Extreme Prejudice
Chapter 3: The Monk
Chapter 4: Sagittarius
Chapter 5: A Misplaced Identity
Chapter 6: Shit Happens
Chapter 7: Family Ties
Chapter 8: Tartuffe
Chapter 9: Non, Je Regrette Rien
Epilogue (Part 1)
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There is no easy way to get from there to almost anywhere. But Edmond Chase was determined to make the long trip as comfortable as possible, and that definitely did not include a 45–minute desert jump on a turboprop with a sketchy past. He pretended it was concern for his traveling companion’s comfort, but if truth were told, it was his own. Bumping over African thermals worrying whether they were going to crash and burn in the Moroccan desert is not his idea of a good time. Then, presuming they survived, they’d still have had to make two plane changes before reaching the end of the long journey.
He decided to call in a favor and borrow the jet normally used by the honchos at State. The plane had just dropped a diplomat in Dubai and was about to fly back to the US empty. Chase saw an opportunity and took it. Hey, Mama didn’t raise no fools, he’d thought to himself as he punched in the number on his cell.
After flying to Dubai -- which fortunately was one of the places you could get to from Marrakech -- to catch the State Department plane, he and Mercedes Karpov are now comfortably settled in butter-soft leather seats aboard the well-appointed Falcon 7X. Their final destination is New York, though Mercedes has no idea why. She’d expected to go back to London after that Marrakech business and was looking forward to kicking back with a pint – okay, make that several pints – at a pub. The news they are stopping in New York first came as a surprise, one that obviously didn’t thrill her.
“New York?” she’d asked when Chase told her London would have to wait. “Whatever for? I’m so done with New York. Meh. I expected to be tossing back a few at The Cheese within a couple of hours of landing.” Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is Mercedes’ favorite London watering hole. “Besides, I was looking forward to whupping some of me mates’ arses at darts.”
“You’ll see,” Chase says. “Trust me, it’ll be worth it. Relax and get some rest if you can.”
Chase has a surprise for her. In fact, if all goes well, he has several surprises. If he survives the inevitable dressing down she winds up to launch at him, that is.
“So you never thought to warn me about the Monk? You know, the killer who just happened to be the great-grandson of Rasputin. The one who was also my fucking cousin. And, oh yeah, the one who killed my father! You didn’t think I needed to know that? Really? Really?”
Mercedes sputters to a stop and takes a gulp of her champagne before continuing. Chase considers jumping into the brief lull with an explanation, but thinks better of it. Mercedes is on a roll. Best to let her get it all out. After she was properly vented, he’d tell her the whole story.
Putting the champagne glass down with force and splashing them both with its contents, she picks up where she left off. “Damn it, Ed! You should have told me.”
As she rails at him, Chase is very glad they are on the State Department plane and there is no one to overhear. He doubts that the presence of other passengers on a commercial flight would have inhibited her at all.
“Have you known from the beginning?” she demands.
The “beginning” came at the funeral that followed the murder of Mercedes’ father, Grigori Karpov.
A cold wind blew the rain sideways across the gravestones lined up in rows as far as the eye could see. Chase tilted his black umbrella in a futile attempt the shield himself from its sting. Beyond the sea of NYPD blue in front of him, he saw the drenched young woman standing at the other side of the open grave. The rain had plastered her chestnut curls to her head and molded the dark shirtwaist dress to her body. The figure beneath was revealed as shapely and strong-looking, made all the more so by the way she held herself.
Karpov’s daughter stood motionless, arms stiff at her sides, letting the wind and rain have their way with her. Her face was grim, but to Chase, the set of her jaw and compressed lips looked more like anger than grief.
A piper blew the final notes of Amazing Grace into the dismal day, where they lingered for a few moments before fading away. As Chase watched, the woman tossed the clump of damp earth she’d been clutching onto the mahogany casket resting above the grave in front of her, and then lifted her eyes. The only moisture on her cheeks was rain. Her flashing dark eyes confirmed his impression: Mercedes Karpov was mad as hell.
Though he was sure she was grief-stricken, Chase was grateful that she didn’t show it. When Grigori Karpov, known then as Phil Brin, had been killed, Chase couldn’t help but feel some responsibility. He was fairly sure that his investigation of suspected terrorist Brin was what had brought him to his death at the hands of a contract killer called the Monk. Seeing Brin's daughter broken-hearted would have made it worse.
After the funeral, Chase made it his business to get to know Mercedes. She was orphaned by her father’s death, but there was something within her that seemed strengthened by it. Her composure, steely resolve and a surprising skill with firearms -- which he’d discovered one day when she asked him to accompany him to a firing range – had led him to offer her a job with the newly-formed London division of the Nemesis Group. They, along with her beauty, also led him to harbor a secret attraction to her. He’d never acted on it, because he knew she saw him as her boss and something of a foster uncle, a relationship he’d encouraged.
Recent events had come as the wake-up call he needed. After coming so close to losing her to Max Rasputin, known as The Monk, Chase was determined to declare himself, as they say. That whole “uncle” shit was over.
At the end of her rant, which was world-class even for her, Mercedes doesn’t want to hear his explanation.
“Leave me alone. I’m going to sleep.”
She pulls an eye-shade from the amenity kit handed to them as they boarded and stands.
“You can try to dig yourself out of that hole you’re in after I get some sleep,” she says in parting.
Mercedes heads toward the rear of the aircraft where a bench seat has been made up as a bed. She settles the shade over her eyes and lies down, turning toward the dark window. She pulls the blanket up to her chin and, to Chase’s surprise, is out in minutes. He wonders how much sleep she’s had over the past several days.
Chase wouldn’t mind a little shut-eye himself, but he knows that isn’t likely with his thoughts churning as they are. While Mercedes sleeps, he opens his laptop and gets to the business of writing his report of the events in Marrakech.
To be continued in A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Epilogue (Part 2)