9 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Conclusion, continued from Part 8, Tartuffe

Muse 9: Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
As the Nemesis agent Hassam drives the taxi, Edmond Chase directs him through the streets of the Marrakech medina using the GPS on his cell phone. He sits in the back of the cab, but that has nothing to do with rank or privilege, and everything to do with maintaining cover. It’s perhaps less important now in the wee hours, but it’s a habit neither thinks to break.

Chase had been very relieved when he heard the ping from his cell phone alerting him to the GPS signal sent by the tiny device concealed in Mercedes bra. He hated being so completely in the dark about her whereabouts. This was especially true after he’d learned that The Monk was in all likelihood involved in her disappearance. 

Mercedes had laughed at him when he’d sent her to Halloran in Technology R & D to be outfitted with the GPS sender in her underwear. In fact, she’d found the entire idea of a Technology research and development division in Nemesis to be hysterical, and persisted in calling poor Halloran “Q.”  Chase has a feeling she’s not laughing now. 

Or maybe she is, he thinks. This is Mercedes Karpov, after all.


Mercedes looks at the non-descript man opposite her and wonders if he is completely insane or simply evil. If he truly is the great-grandson of Grigori Rasputin, he could well be both. Of course, if he’s right about all this, she too has Rasputin in her bloodline, and she’s pretty sure she is neither insane nor evil. Although, were her mind not thrown into increasing turmoil by every far-fetched idea he’d laid out on his little family tree, she’d have probably gone for his throat at his last revelation.

Given the revolver once again in Max’s hand, that truly would have been insanity.

Can it be true? Did she waste years stalking the wrong man? Not that the terrorist al-Abayghur wasn’t a scourge on society (the body count credited to him and his band of thugs numbered in the thousands now) , but if he didn’t kill her father…


Hassam had cut the lights two blocks from their destination.  Now he kills the engine and lets the taxi roll gently to a stop at the side of the narrow road. They are still a block away, and around the corner, but he doesn’t want to take the chance of broadcasting their arrival. Besides, the building they seek is on a very narrow road and there would be nowhere to leave the vehicle. Owners’ cars are generally parked within an interior courtyard.

As Chase and Hassam climb from the car, three shapes dressed in dark clothes materialize from the shadows. They are the Nemesis team Chase summoned as the two left Mercedes' hotel. They assembled several minutes earlier and have sussed out the destination.

“The building houses a collection of four riads available for rent to holiday travelers,” a man named Abdul reports in a voice barely above a whisper. “Given the arts festival, it is likely that all four are booked. We can see lights in only one, however.”

Chase says, “The tracking device she wears can get us within 50 feet of Mercedes, but no closer.  The lit apartment would be the place to start.”

“There is a locked doorway in the outer wall, as well as a gate for cars.  Getting through either shouldn’t pose any problems. What we find once inside the courtyard might be another story.”

“Well, let’s not borrow trouble,” Chase says. “We’ll deal with whatever is there.”

Mohammed – call me Al – al Ghamedi  wears a small backpack. He says, “I have rope and a few tools. And a set of picks, of course.”

“Are there windows?” Chase asks.

“Yes, but typically barred.” Nearly all residences within the medina have ornate wrought iron grates over the windows.

Hassam asks, “Is there a rear entrance to the building?”  

“Yes. It opens onto a very small alley where garbage is collected.” Abdul replies. “But we aren’t sure what’s on the other side.”

The third member of the team,  a rather scary looking Algerian woman called Fatima, adds, “Typically, there is a small hallway leading from the back entrance to the courtyard. For holiday riads, you’d probably find laundry facilities in a room off that hallway.” 

“OK. Hassam, cover the rear. Abdul, I’d like you to stay outside the wall in the front keeping an eye on the door and gate. The rest of us will go in. As always, use your weapons only as a last resort.”

Chase looks around at the assembly for confirmation. After everyone nods, he says, “Let’s go.”


As ridiculous as she thought it was to wear a homing device, and in her bra, of all places, Mercedes Karpov is grateful to Chase for insisting on it. She's confident that a Nemesis team is on its way.  Now she just has to stall. The gun in Max’s hand is making her extremely nervous. Time to turn on the charm.

Keeping her voice soft  and her eyes on his, she asks “So, Max Rasputin… Oddly, it suits you. In fact, it’s quite sexy.” 

She's rewarded with a smile.

Then her eyes widen. “The Monk… Ohhh, I get it. Very clever.” She remembers that Rasputin was called The Monk. The Mad Monk.  “But what about Sagittarius? What’s up with that?”

“Did your father ever mention a group called the Zodiac to you?” he asks. 

She bristles at the mention of her father, but drops her eyes as if in thought to hide it. “No, but I learned after his death that he was working undercover in the NYPD to expose them. They were dirty cops, as I recall.”

Suddenly, it made sense. Sagittarius is a sign of the Zodiac. 

“Ah, I see that clever mind of yours has worked it out," Max says. "Yes, Zodiac is a group of Russian mobsters who have infiltrated the NYPD. I told you that they consider me one of them even though I chose not to follow my father’s footsteps into the force.”

He smiles as her eyes lift to his. “That's right, yet another thing we have in common. Uncanny, isn’t it?”

He continues. “Unfortunately, your father was just too good at his job for his own health. He was about to expose me to both the authorities and the mob. I’m sure you can see that I just couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t have lasted ‘a New York minute’, as they say.”

Hating him, she struggles to keep her voice flirtatious as she asks.  “And what do you plan to do with me now, Max Rasputin aka Sagittarius aka The Monk? Are we to become partners in crime?”

Max laughs. “I could do worse. You are a very smart lady; I wouldn’t expect anything else. We come from the same stock. But sorry, no, honey. I’m a loner.”

He checks her teacup and finds it empty. Keeping his eyes and the gun on her, he reaches down and pulls a skewer-like object from a strap around his calf.

“You feeling sleepy yet, cousin?”

Almost as if his words had thrown a switch, Mercedes suddenly finds she can’t keep her eyes open
“Did you…?”

“Yes, I drugged you. Sorry about that.” Max smiles. “You are your father’s daughter after all, too smart for your own good. And you now know all my secrets.”

She labors to speak. “What ...are you going to…do?”

“Oh, I think you know the answer to that, Mercedes. I’m going to kill you. I’m a killer. It’s what we do.”


As Abdul had predicted, the front gate of the riad complex posed no problem at all. The lock was old and simple.

Once inside, Chase, Al and Fatima quickly identify the unit with lights. The creep up the stairs and to the left, stopping at the second door, which is marked “13.” Ironic, Chase thinks.

With Fatima on the right side of the door and Chase on the left, Al crouches down and examines the lock with his penlight.

He pulls a small pad and pencil from his pack and scrawls Bad news. Deadbolt. He sits back on his haunches and thinks for a minute, then rises and peers at the lock again.

After writing more on the pad, he holds it up so Chase and Fatima can see it.

I think I can get it open.

Chase touches him on the shoulder and mouths, “How?”


“OK. Hurry!” Chase whispers.

Al takes a small bottle filled with clear liquid from his pack. He pulls a small black case from an outside pocket on the backpack and from it, removes a syringe. He fills the syringe, then puts the needle into the lock and pushes the plunger. He repeats the procedure several times, and a thin stream of smoke begins to rise from the lock. They watch for what seems like a lifetime until the smoke no longer oozes from the opening. 

Al stashes his gear back into the pack and stands. After taking his gun from inside it, he carefully sets the pack down on the walkway to the right of the door.

He nods at Chase and raises his eyebrows in question.

“You sure?” 

Al waggles a hand back and forth, which Chase doesn’t find reassuring, but he sees no other option. 

He nods back at Al.

Al stands back, and hits the door with his booted foot, putting the full force of his weight behind the blow to the lock. The door springs open to reveal a man standing over Mercedes, who appears to be unconscious on the couch.

All three Nemesis agents quickly enter the room. Al-Ghamedi and Fatima move in opposite directions to stand to either side of the room, guns trained on the man.

Chase, standing just inside the door across from the couch, yells, “Freeze.”

It all happens in just a few seconds.

The surprised man jerks upright and reaches for a large pistol lying on the coffee table between them. 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Pal,” al-Ghamedi says menacingly.

The man slowly straightens up and raises his hands.

“Walk around the table slowly,” Chase commands. “You can lower your hands, but don’t even think about reaching for that gun again. We will shoot you. One of us might miss, but I can assure you, not all of us will.”

Max walks around the table and stands facing Chase, hands at his sides.

“Mr. Chase, I presume?”


Mercedes feels herself surfacing from whatever drugged state she was in. One thing her close cousin doesn’t seem to know about her is that barbiturates seldom work for long with her. It wreaks havoc with such things as minor surgery, but it's coming in handy  now.

As she regains consciousness, she becomes aware of voices. Remaining still, she opens an eye just far enough to look through her lashes. She sees Max standing on the other side of the coffee table, his back to her. Beyond him and slightly to the right is Chase holding a gun.  

Chase says, “Yes. And what should I call you? Mr. Monk? Sagittarius? Or perhaps you prefer your given name, Mr. Rasputin.”

Son of a bitch! Chase knew!


Max laughs. “Just call me Max.”

Without taking his eyes of Rasputin, Chase asks, “You have cuffs in the goody bag of yours, Al?”

“You bet, Boss.”

“Please bring them in. Mr. Rasputin here is going for a little drive, and I think it best he be properly restrained.”

He then says to the woman on the other side of the room, “Fatima, check on Mercedes, will you? And while you’re there, pick up that steel rod on the floor in front of the couch.”


Mercedes feels cool fingers touch her neck at the carotid for a few moments.

“Her pulse is strong. She’s probably drugged,” Fatima says.

“No doubt. That’s Mr. Rasputin’s style,” Chase says. “It’s the first step in your preferred method of killing, isn’t it, Max? Fortunately, we got here before you could subject Mercedes to the second step.”

As the woman moves away from the couch, Mercedes opens her eyes just in time to see Max easing his small revolver from the back pocket of his jeans. She spots her Makarov lying on the coffee table, grabs it, and fires several shots into the back of her long-lost cousin.


Chase reaches out and takes the hand of the woman seated in the first class seat next to him. “Are you sure you’re alright?” 

“I’m fine. Stop hovering like an old mother hen, “Mercedes replies shortly as she snatches her hand away and picks up a glass of champagne.

“This is the first time you’ve killed someone, Mercedes,” Chase says with concern in his voice. “And he was your cousin, albeit a very distant one. You have to be prepared for some regrets. It’s only natural.”

Mercedes lifts her glass to him and says, “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

She takes a sip, then pulls Max’s family tree from her purse. Waving it in front of him, she says, “But you just might. You got some splainin’ to do, as Ricky would have said. Good thing this is a long flight.”

The End

Note:  I can hear you saying, “But…but… that can’t be the end of the story. What about…?”

Right you are. Continue to the Epilogue for the rest of the story.


8 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Tartuffe

Continued from Part 7, Family Ties

Muse 8: Dancing Around Men Toward a Burlesque Destiny

(Image source: WikiMedia Commons) 


As her captor begins to draw, Mercedes Karpov sips her tea and considers her escape. On the face of it, he is holding all the cards. The door is locked and he has the key. And he has not one gun, but two: his Ruger, which is on the chair beside him, and her Makarov, still tucked in the waist band at the back of his jeans.

Mercedes knows she’ll be able to summon help when she’s ready. Max never searched her, at least not with anything but his eyes. True; the t-shirt and leggings she wears under the djellaba don’t leave much to the imagination. But it was a mistake, one that she'll turn to her advantage. He clearly never suspected that she wears a GPS sender concealed in the hooks of her bra. She needs only to activate it by undoing one of the hooks.

But not yet, not until she hears what he has to say.

And besides, she vows to herself, I’m not leaving here without Baba’s gun. She has no doubt she can retrieve it using her feminine wiles. He wouldn’t be the first predator who found himself her prey. She had used her charms – and yes, her body – more times than she cared to remember to get what she wanted from men.

Looking at him over the rim of her tea cup, she says, “You never told me your full name. Max what?”

“My name is Max Reynolds,” he replies. “Oh, it’s not my real name, you understand.  But in my line of work, using my real name could be a definite handicap. I actually use a couple of others as well. Depends on who the client is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the Russian mob guys in New York, who believe I’m one of them, know me as Sagittarius. And it’s true; sometimes I play along with them. When it suits me.” Max glances up again, his brown eyes meeting hers. “But your cohorts call me The Monk.”

Mercedes laughs. This was just getting better and better, in an absurd comedy sort of way. First they are related. And now he’s The Monk. It was like a fucking Molière farce. That, or a really bad burlesque plot. 

“I don’t believe that you’re The Monk for a minute,” she snorts. “You’re too…”

Her voice trails off. She was about to say that he was too ordinary, too nice, but decided that might be a mistake. He’d brought her here against her will, after all (well, sort of), and she had no idea what he intended to do with her. But The Monk? This guy? No way.

“Too what?  Nice?” he echoes her thoughts. “Don’t be naïve, Mercedes. I’m one of the bad guys. Probably the worst you’ve ever met, and in your line of work, I know you‘ve met some pretty bad ones.”

“True,” she responds. “But you know nothing about my line of work.”

“Oh, yeah, I do. I told you before; I’ve been ‘avoiding’ you for a long time. Since I realized who you were, I’ve kept an eye on you. Not easy to do and still remain in the shadows.  I felt kind of an obligation, if you want to know the truth.”

He looks up from the paper on the brass table between them and grins at her. “Besides, sometimes it works out to my benefit.” 

He drops his eyes and goes back to his drawing.

“For example, I admired your work this afternoon. You pulled off the impossible. Of course, I had to finish the job for you. And I was happy to do it. I suspect I’ll collect quite a bundle when I take credit for it.”

Frowning, she says, “What the hell are you talking about?”

 “Al-Abayghur? The world will be a better place without that asshole.”

“You don’t mean…?”

Mercedes has an idea what he means. She’s sure she is wrong, but admits to herself that she wouldn’t be too upset if she were right. That asshole had killed her father, after all. 

“Yes, of course I do, honey,” he laughs. 

“You fucking killed him?” 

“Hey, I’m a killer.” Max looks up and shrugs. “That’s what we do.”


Edmond Chase immediately breaks out into a sweat when he walks out of the Menara airport. Nearly midnight, and it must be well into the nineties, he thinks. It wasn’t even seventy when he left London.

He scans the taxis parked across from the door and spots a familiar face. He gestures, and the cab pulls out and swings over to the curb in front of Chase. The cabbie rolls down the passenger window, and calls out loudly, “Where to, mister?”

Chase climbs into the back and the cab pulls away.

“Hello, Hassam. I don’t suppose you can take me to Mercedes Karpov?”

“Not yet, Ed, “Hassam responds. “But wherever she is, I don’t think she went unwillingly. There is no sign of a struggle in her hotel room.”

“Maybe she never returned to her room,” Chase offers.

“No, we know she did. We talked to the man in the room next to hers. It took a little encouragement,” Hassam meets Chase’s eyes in the rear view mirror, “but he decided he would like to cooperate.”


“He was just leaving to attend the Fantasia. He said he saw a woman in a djellaba enter her room shortly after seven o’clock this evening.”

“Did he see her face?”

“No, she had the hood up and pulled low in the front. But who else could it be?”

Chase sighs. “OK. Take me there please.”


At first, Mercedes is shocked at Max’s casual announcement. How he knew about al-Abayghur, she can’t guess, but she decides she doesn’t believe him anyway. She watches as he continues to draw boxes on the sheet of paper.

“Learned my shapes in kindergarten, Max. Get to the point, please.” 

“Patience, my dear.”

Max draws until he has several layers of boxes.

Mercedes gives a wide, gaping yawn. “I’ve had a long day, you know, and I’m really tired. Will you get on with it?"

“Almost there…”

Max draws arrows connecting some of the boxes to others.

“Ah, a family tree...” Mercedes says. “Silly me. I should have known right away. Is this the part where you tell me how it is that you and I are blood relatives?”

“I hear the skepticism in your voice. That won’t last long, I assure you.”

Starting at the top, Max begins writing names in the boxes. He labels the first two boxes Nicholas and Alexandra.

“How’s your Russian history, Mercedes? It’s your heritage, you know.”

“Oh, good grief. I don’t have time, not to mention much interest, for a fucking history lesson. Will you get to the point!”

Relax. You are in no position to make demands. I’m the one with the gun, remember?
“Yeah, yeah.” Despite the unconcerned tone in her voice, Mercedes makes a show of calming down and leans back on the couch. She isn't sure how far she can push him.

“Now for the fun part.”

He quickly fills in the rest of the boxes. All but the bottom two.

He looks up at her.“You see where I'm going with this?”

Mercedes leans forward and turns the page around.  The names mean nothing to her, other than two of them.

“Those are my parents,” she says, indicating the boxes containing the names Grigori and Ella. “I have no idea who these other people are.”

“Here, let me help you out.”

Max swivels the page around again and fills in the two bottom boxes.

“Does that clear it up for you, cousin,” he asks sarcastically.

“Oh, you are so full of shit.” 

Enough of this, she decides.

“Listen, I have to use the bathroom. You will let me do that, right? I can’t be sure. You’re obviously a fucking control freak. Not to mention insane.”

“Sure.” He indicates a door off the small hallway from the sitting room. “But if you think you’re going to make your escape that way, think again. There’s no window or anything you could use as a weapon. I made sure of that when I decided you were going to be my guest.” He laughs. “Not unless you know a cool trick with a bar of soap.”

Mercedes gets to her feet and heads for the bathroom.

“But just in case, leave the door open a few inches.”

She looks back at him and rolls her eyes. Once inside the bathroom, she pushes the door closed until there is a six inch gap between it and the frame.  She lifts her robe, pulls down her tights, and sits on the toilet. As she urinates, she reaches up under back of the robe and t-shirt to her bra and quickly unfastens the middle hook.


Chase looks around the hotel room as Hassam watches from just inside the door.

“What a pit,” he comments.


In the corner of the room, Chase spots a glass on the floor beside a ratty looking armchair and starts toward it.

“Don’t bother,” Hassam says. “It’s clean.” 

Chase sniffs the remnants in the glass. Licorice. 

“No prints?”

“None at all on the glass. The only prints in the room are hers.”

“Well, that says something, doesn’t it?”

Chase’s thoughts are interrupted by a ping coming from the phone in his pocket.

“She’s activated the GPS signal. Let’s go.”


After she returns to the couch, Mercedes says, “You expect me to believe we are cousins?”

“No, not really. But this may help convince you.” He tosses a sheaf of paper-clipped photocopies on the table. “These are official birth records for everyone you see on this chart. My friends in the Russian mob were happy to give them to me. Of course, they had an ulterior motive, but that’s another story.”

Mercedes gives them a cursory glance.

“Look more closely, cousin.  You’ll see that we share a great-grandfather, and a rather infamous one at that. Sadly, my side of the family seems to have gotten the bad genes. I come by my need to be a control freak, as you put it, quite naturally.” 

Max leans forward and adds two names at the top of the chart he has drawn.

“No fucking way!”

“Yep. Way.” 

An evil smile appears on his face. 

Oh, my god, she thinks. It’s true. A Molière play immediately comes to her mind. Tartuffe.

Max goes on. “And, ah, sorry to do this to you, honey, but in the interest of full disclosure…”

Max puts the pencil to the chart again, and draws a big X over one of the boxes.

Mercedes raises her eyes to his in horror.

He smirks and says, “That’s what I do. I kill.”


7 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Family Ties

Continued from Part 6, Shit Happens

Muse 7: Drunk on Love, Thirsting for Sex, Tasting of Lust
 (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Family Ties

Mercedes Karpov walks slowly through the narrow labyrinthine streets in front of the man who seems to abducting her, though he has yet to tell her why. He hasn’t told her who he really is, either, but seems to think the two of them are related somehow.

She wonders if she has fallen into the hands of some kind of a lunatic who thinks himself a sheik and has picked her out to add to his harem. Unlikely, but hey, it could happen.  Frankly, she hopes that’s it, because she is confident that she could use his delusions against him and make her escape when she’s ready. 

Not just yet, though. She is intrigued, and wants to know more about this stranger who reminds her of her father. “Max” has promised to tell her more, and she'll play whatever his game is until that happens.  

She’s completed her task here in Marrakech, and doesn’t have to be anywhere. Fariq al-Abayghur is soundly drugged and properly trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey. He won’t be going anywhere until the maintenance team sent by Chase picks him up and turns him over to Interpol. That job done, she’s still riding on the high of a hard-earned success. She’s willing to go on this new adventure for a while. Chase would have a fit, but what the heck. As far as she’s concerned, she’s off duty now.

Besides, Mercedes doesn’t feel threatened by this man. She’s not sure why, but somehow, she doesn’t think he will hurt her, the gun notwithstanding.

As if to remind her of its existence, the small revolver in his hand prods her in the back as she falters.  Her head down as instructed, she steps it up a bit, curious about their destination.

The dark narrow streets are virtually empty as the two wend their way through the maze that is the medina of Marrakech. They are all at the closing Fantasia performance outside the city walls. Max has timed his abduction well. They are unlikely to be challenged as they make their way to wherever.  Anyone who might observe the western man walking with a woman in a djellaba at this hour would probably take them for a tourist and a prostitute. Such commerce booms during the Popular Arts Festival.

“Stop here,” Max says.

They’ve only been walking about ten minutes and can’t have traveled more than half a mile from the Farah Mariana hotel. Within the rabbit warren of the inner city, they might as well be ten and a half miles away. She knew she’d never find her way back without a GPS or asking directions. No worries. She’d deal with that when she was ready to leave.

Never taking the muzzle of the Ruger from Mercedes’ back, Max lifts his kurta and pulls his keys from the pocket of his jeans. He turns a key in an old blue door that opens directly onto the alley. He pushes it open, then pushes Mercedes through it into an inner courtyard with a small fountain bubbling at its center. The arched doors on left and right walls of the courtyard are closed and marked with numbers. 

Opposite the door is a flight of stairs.

“Over there.” Max instructs. “My place is just upstairs.  We can relax and have our little chat without being interrupted.”

As she lifts the hem of her djellaba and starts up the stairs, Mercedes says, “Can’t wait.”


Before boarding the plane that will deliver him to Menara Airport near Marrakech in just over three hours, Chase calls in the troops. A team of Nemesis agents from Lost and Found will be on the ground before he arrives and a car will be waiting at the airport. 

Once settled in his seat on the aircraft, Chase filters out the activity around him and gives in to his thoughts. He fears that Mercedes is in trouble. Repeated attempts to reach her cell have led him straight to voice mail. She is one of those people who sleeps fitfully, and it’s been too long. She’d have checked her phone at least once by now and returned his call. 

When he learned that The Monk had killed al-Abayghur, Chase saw only two possibilities. The first -- that, coincidentally, the Arab was already a target on The Monk’s radar -- is simply unbelievable. Chase doesn’t believe in coincidences, especially one as remote as this. 

That means that it was not the Arab that The Monk was stalking; it was Mercedes all along.  Given what Chase learned in Moscow, the thought terrifies him. Not only is the man is extremely dangerous, he has reason to take a special interest in Mercedes Karpov.  

This is a case where what she doesn’t know could hurt her, he thinks, and another wave of guilt washes over him. Dammit, why didn’t I tell her?

The Monk, aka Sagittarius, has a strong connection to Mercedes’ life. In fact, he has several strong connections. Any one of them will likely send the woman over the edge of rational thought, a trip Chase has often thought to be short in Mercedes case. Just look how she took off after al-Abayghur, hell bent for breakfast. 

And despite Chase’s misgivings, she got him. Just wait until she finds out how completely she got him.

He starts to reach for the flight attendant call button over his head. The temptation to get drunk is a strong one but thinks better of it. He will need a clear head once he gets to Marrakech, as clear as he can manage given his feelings for Mercedes. Some might say he was already drunk on love and should leave the search to others. 

There is no way that will happen. He knows he has no hope of finding Mercedes before she learns everything from her captor. But once he finds her, and he will find her, he’ll need all his wits about him to do damage control.

Chase checks his watch. They are still two hours out of Marrakech. He groans and digs through the pocket on the seat back in front of him, looking for the BA High Life magazine to distract him. The magazine is missing – of course, Chase thinks – but deep in the pocket, he spots a paperback.  He pulls it out, and looks at the cover.

A tawdry graphic portrays a zaftig woman, heaving bosom spilling from the top of her low-cut dress, clutched in the arms of an Arab sheik. Reading the title, Thirsting for Sex, Tasting of Lust *, Chase rolls his eyes. Great, a bodice ripper, he thinks, and shoves the book back into the pocket.

He pushes back his seat, closes his eyes and gets back to the business of worrying.


At the top of the stairs, Max nudges Mercedes to the left. She walks down an open balcony, the balustrade on her left overlooking the courtyard below.

At the second door on the right, Max says, “Stop here.”

He selects another key from his key ring, and opens the door. A small tile attached at eye-level says “13.” Arabs must not be superstitious, Mercedes thinks.

The door opens to a cool, dark room.

Max twists a knob on the wall inside the door and several lamps fill the pleasant sitting room with soft light.

“Sit. Want a drink?”

Mercedes walks to a couch against the wall and sits down. It’s surprisingly comfortable. She looks around the well-appointed room. Nice furniture, ornate shutters over the windows, tile floors, and best of all, air-conditioning. It’s a far cry from the seedy hotel they just left.

“Tea,” Mercedes answers. “What is this place?”

Max heads for the small open kitchen separated from the sitting room by a counter. “Locals call it a riad. That’s just a fancy name for an apartment. I rented it. I like to be comfortable.” He smiles at her as he fills the kettle with bottled water. “You had to pick June in Marrakech. Didn’t you know it’s hotter than hell here in June?”

As Max makes the tea in the open kitchen, his revolver on the countertop beside the teapot, Mercedes scans the room for the escape she’ll need when she’s had enough. The door they came in is dead-bolted, the key back in the pocket of Max’s jeans. Through slats of the shutters, she can see that the windows are barred, as is typical in Marrakech.

“Relax, honey, there’s no way out,” Max laughs. “Why do you think I haven’t restrained you? It’s not because I trust you, I’ll tell you that.”

Mercedes leans back, thinking I’ll deal with it later.

“OK, you want to tell me who you are, and why we are here?” she asks.

Max sets the cup of aromatic tea on the brass table in front of Mercedes and takes a chair opposite her.

“I’ve been avoiding you for years, and it’s become tiresome. I thought it was time we met.”

Incredulous, she asks “Avoiding me? What the hell are you talking about?”

He rises and walks over to a carved wooden cabinet. He opens a drawer, pulls out a pad of paper and a pencil, and returns to his seat.

Putting the pad on the table between them, he leans forward, the pencil poised over the paper.

“I think I can show you better than I explain it. A picture is worth… yeah. See, honey, you and I?  We've got something of a shared history. We’re family.”

He begins to draw.

To be continued in Part 8: Tartuffe

* Yeah, I know…


6 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Shit Happens

Continued from Part 5, A Misplaced Identity

Muse 6: Entropy Echoes, Alas

(NASA image source: www.http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Shit Happens

“…You wouldn’t shoot your own blood relative, would you?”

If Mercedes Karpov weren’t so shocked by the words spoken by the uninvited guest slouched in the ratty chair in her hotel room, she might have shot him for the tone in which he’d said them. Dripping in sarcasm, they are clearly a taunt.

It’s totally out of character for her, but she barely notices his tone of voice, because not only are his words shocking, there is something else… Something that makes Mercedes look more closely at the intruder. 

He looks to be about her age, maybe a little older. If she were asked what he looked like, the first word she’d use to describe him would be “average.” His medium brown hair is cut in a style you’d find on the majority of men: not too long, not too short, just… well, average. His eyes, also brown, are set in a face composed of regular features. Dressed in jeans and the Moroccan shirt known as a kurta worn by most of the men in Marrakech, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the man.

And yet, there’s something… She can’t quite put her finger on it, but for some reason, he makes her think of her father.

As she tries to work it out, Mercedes lets her focus flag for a moment. And a moment is all it takes.


When Edmond Chase tries to call Mercedes, his call goes right to voice mail. He ends the call without leaving a message. She’s probably got the phone turned off.  At least he hopes she does.

When his cell rings a few minutes later, he breathes a sigh of relief. She must have seen that he’d called. A glance at the screen tells him he’s wrong. It’s al-Ghamedi calling back.  When he hears what his Marrakech contact has to say, Chase’s heart sinks. 

“I have a feeling you already know this, Boss, but we found The Monk’s card tucked into the sash of al-Abayghur’s Berber outfit.”

“Yeah, I had a feeling that’s what you would find. Look at the back of his head, Al. Anything there? It’d be right at the top of the neck.”

“Roger. Hold on a sec.” When al-Ghamedi comes back on the line, he says, “Right again.”

“This is not good. Is the maintenance team there?” Chase asks, a feeling of dread blossoming in his stomach.

“Yep. Arrived a few minutes ago,” al Ghamedi replies.

“OK, they can take it from there, Al. I want you to go to the Farah Mariana right away and check on Mercedes.” Chase gives him the address of Mercedes’ hotel. “She’s registered as Alexandra Feodorovna. Room 321.” 

“Will do. I know where that is.” 

Chase says, “Call me when you get there. And look, if she doesn’t answer the door, I want you to break in. She won’t be happy if you awaken her, but just tell her you’re following orders from me. I’ll talk to her.”

“Hey, no need to break in,” al-Ghamedi says in an insulted tone. “I’ve got my picks, and I know how to use ‘em.”

“Hurry,” Chase says and ends the call. 

He walks to the small credenza in the corner of the study that serves as a bar and pours himself a healthy three fingers of scotch. He belts them down and refills his glass, which he carries to the chair in front of the fireplace. He sits down, then immediately springs up again and resumes pacing.

“Dammit all,” he mutters. 

He’s hoping that when al-Ghamedi calls, he’ll have the unenviable task of soothing a very angry Mercedes, but he suspects that’s wishful thinking.

“Dammit all to hell!”

Chase feels totally helpless, and more than a little guilty. This is what comes of getting emotionally involved, he thinks. I should have told her everything.


Mercedes barely registers the movement, let alone reacts in defense, when the man suddenly leaps up and grabs the Makarov from her hand.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you never to point a gun at anyone unless you plan to use it, Mercedes?” he challenges.

“Who the fuck are you?” she demands.

“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough, honey, but for now, you can call me Max.” He kicks the discarded djellaba in her direction. “Here, get dressed and put on your shoes. We’re getting out of here before your friends send in the cavalry.”

As soon as Mercedes has dropped the robe over her head and slipped her feet into the babouche slippers she’d kicked off earlier, the man called Max gives her a push toward the door.

“Pull up that hood,” he says, “and keep your eyes down, like a good little Moroccan girl.”

He yanks off the security lock Mercedes had attached to the door when she came in and tosses it on the bed. Before opening the door, he pulls up his loose-fitting kurta and takes out a small Ruger  LCR revolver that is all but invisible in his hand. He shoves the big Makarov into the waistband of his jeans and drops the kurta. 

Pulling open the door, he says in a low voice, “Go. And don’t try anything. Personally, I have no qualms about killing a blood relative. It wouldn’t be the first time.”


The call from Morocco confirms Chase’s worst fears. Mercedes is not in her hotel room.

He tells al-Ghamedi that he’s on his way.

As he throws a few things into a suitcase, he berates himself again for not telling Mercedes the whole story about her father’s -- and hers by extension -- heritage. He’d thought that finding out that her father was working for the SVR in Russia as a mole in the NYPD would come as more of a shock to her than it had. She’d taken that as good news, swelling with pride in her father. He just couldn’t dump the rest of it on her.

He’d planned to tell her later, but never got around to it. He’d asked himself at the time, What’s the worst that could happen if he put it off a while? Well, now he has his answer.

Chase climbs into the London Taxi he flags in front of his Mayfair flat and tells the driver, “Heathrow.” Not for the first time, he’s grateful for the skill London hacks have in getting around the city quickly.

As the cab carries him to the airport, he thinks, shit happens. Isn’t that what they say? 

Somehow, when it came to Mercedes Karpov, it happened all the more often. Her life was testimony to that. It was like some kind of personal entropy, repeating itself over and over again.

Yeah, shit happens.

To be continued in Part 7: Family Ties


5 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: A Misplaced Identity

Continued from Part 4: Sagittarius

Muse 5: A Misplaced Identity

 (Image source: traveladventures.org)

A Misplaced Identity

When his cell phone buzzes, Edmond Chase expects to hear that the maintenance team he dispatched to Marrakech has secured Fariq al-Abayghur. Mercedes Karpov is very good at immobilizing a target, even if she has to drug him into tomorrow, until the Nemesis clean-up guys arrive and take him into custody.

He presses the talk button and says, “Chase.”

“You didn’t tell me she iced him,” Mohammed (call me Al) al-Ghamedi said. Al-Ghamedi was a local Nemesis contact in Marrakech, and would have been the first to arrive at the address Mercedes texted to Chase.

“What?” Chase asks in astonishment. Were it anyone else saying those words, he’d tell him to look again, that the man was probably deeply drugged. But he knows al-Ghamedi is thorough and would have checked.

“She wouldn’t have…” 

“Ed, this moke is deader’n a doornail.” Al-Ghamedi is a great fan of American gangster movies, and his speech is liberally seasoned with language from 1940s film noir.

Chase thinks for a minute, then asks, “Al, have you searched the body?”

“Nope, not really. I gave him a quick once-over to make sure he was a goner, but he’s all gussied up in a ceremonial Fantasia get-up, you know?”

“OK. Listen, Al, do me a favor. Give him a thorough search, then call me back.”

“Will do, Boss.”

As Chase waits for al-Ghamedi’s call-back, he paces his study, thinking about the strange turn of events.

Mercedes’ plan, the one he’d thought impossible, had not included killing Fariq al-Abayghur. He’d never have condoned that. So how did the man end up dead?

Chase’s first suspicion is always the same when there is an unexplained death, especially when the deceased is someone he considers “kill-worthy.” But what are the odds? Slim to none, he's sure.

OK, maybe he isn’t so sure.

One thing he is sure about is that Mercedes did not kill the man. He remembers the rainy day three years ago when she’d laid out her plan. She’d apparently had the terrorist in her sights a long time, ever since she’d become convinced he had something to do with her father’s death.  And that was his fault, Chase knows.

That afternoon in the tea shop, Mercedes told him that she’d learned that al-Abayghur participated in the Popular Arts Festival Fantasia extravaganza. She said she’d received an anonymous tip -- a note tucked into her morning newspaper, of all things -- but had never identified the source. That tip was all she needed, and she was off and running. 

It had taken nearly four years, but she’d found him, followed him, seduced and secured him. Chase knew that al-Abayghur would never have picked her out as a threat. Hell, he wasn’t entirely sure the he could find her in a crowd if she didn’t want to be found. Mercedes Karpov was a master at… well, he might have said she was a master at disguise, but it went beyond that. She was a master at becoming invisible. Slipping in and out of the smoke and shadows unnoticed was her strong suit. It was one of the reasons he’d recruited her into Nemesis in the first place.

One of the reasons, but not the primary reason, he reminds himself. 

From the moment he laid eyes on the dry-eyed young woman at her father’s funeral, she had haunted him.  He told himself it was because she had no one left after her father was gone, and in a way, he’d felt responsible for his death. He couldn’t help but wonder if Phil Brin had been killed because of the Nemesis investigation.

He’d assumed a sort of avuncular role in Mercedes’ life, checking in with her from time to time. He doubts she was really fooled. He was only seven years older than she, a little young to play the uncle. But he’d manage to fool himself very well.

He’d never told her of his feelings toward her. Worse, he’d never even admitted them to himself.

Then he’d gotten the call from Moscow. When he returned from his meeting with Boris Rogosin, he’d felt obligated to tell Mercedes Brin that much of what she knew about her father was a lie. As it turned out, she’d known her father had a Russian heritage. She hadn’t known that he was working undercover for the Russian government, though, and when he told her, she smiled the first real smile he’d ever seen on her face.

“I knew it!” she exclaimed. “I knew he wasn’t some kind of terrorist. Oh, thank you!”

And with that, she’d thrown her arms around Chase. When she kissed him soundly, he was sure his heart had stopped. When she pulled away, the moment passed and he told himself not to start planning the wedding; it was just a thank-you kiss.

She'd immediately begun calling herself Mercedes Karpov.

As he wears a path into the carpet while he awaits al-Ghamedi’s call, Chase wonders if he should have told her the rest. Although he’d told her a little about her father’s real identity, he hadn’t told her all of it. And he’d not told her about The Monk.


The window of the dismal hotel room is shuttered against the heat. From beyond it, Mercedes hears the wail of Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. But the words coming from the shadowed corner of her room are no prayer.

The deep voice says, “Where the hell have you been? I was beginning to worry. Shall we drink a toast to a job well-done?"

Mercedes looks down the barrel of the Makarov she has aimed at the shape of a man slouched on the threadbare chair. In her mind’s eye, she sees the bright red dot of an imaginary laser sight dancing eagerly over his heart.

“Who the hell are you?” she demands, but gets only a chuckle in reply.

Keeping the gun trained on him, she reaches a hand up to pull the chain dangling from the fan above and turns on the harsh overhead light. The man’s face is brought into sharp focus. She’s sure she has never seen him before.

“I asked you who you are,” she said in a measured tone. “Unless you have a death wish, I suggest you answer the question. I’d have little trouble explaining your death to the Gendarmes Touriste. 

“Here I am,” she continues, her voice now that of a frightened girl, “a woman vacationing alone, returning to find an intruder in my hotel room. What was I to do? Attacked, I had to defend myself.  I was lucky I could grab your gun while your attention was, ahem, elsewhere. I’m sure they’d understand. Now, tell me who the fuck you are and what you are doing in my room.”

“Ah, come now, Mercedes. You wouldn’t shoot your own blood relative, would you?”


4 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Sagittarius

Continued from Part 3: The Monk

Muse 4: Sleep Deprived in Sagittarius

(Image source: 


The cabin lights in the Business Class cabin dimmed as the Boeing 747 winged its way back to New York. Edmond Chase pressed the button on his arm rest and reclined his seat, hoping the drone of the engines would lull him to sleep. Ever since Phil Brin was killed, sleep was often thwarted by the twists and turns of Nemesis’ investigation of the suspected terrorist’s true identity. He suspected that it would be no different that night, engine thrum notwithstanding, as he mulled over the information he’d just received about Brin, and his killer.


Many of Nemesis’ assumptions about Phil Brin had proven to be false. Yes, it was true that he had been born in Brooklyn; that he was a member of the NYPD; that he was a serial husband; and that he was a heavy drinker. But as they now knew, Phil Brin had no connections to any of the usual suspects involved in terrorism. Apparently he did have a secret life, but it was rooted in an organization far from the Middle East.  

A few weeks after Brin’s death, Chase received an unexpected telephone call from a counterpart in the Russian government.

“Mr. Chase, this is Boris Rogosin. I am Deputy Second Chief of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, known as the SVR. I think I may be of some assistance to you,” the heavily accented voice said. “Might I impose upon you to pay me a visit in Moscow?  I would come to you, but recent surgery has confined me to a wheelchair temporarily, and travel is difficult.”

“May I know what this is in regard to?” Chase asked.

“Certainly. I have information that I am sure will be helpful to you in your investigation of a man you knew as Phil Brin. Given the nature of this information, I do not think it prudent to wait until I have recovered sufficiently to leave my chair. It is in both our best interests to talk now rather than later.”

A man you knew as Phil Brin… Intrigued, Edmond Chase had readily agreed to travel to Moscow the following day.


“Phil Brin’s real name was Grigori Karpov?” Chase couldn’t keep the astonishment from his voice. “How could we have missed that?”

Rogosin smiled gently and said, “Grigori was very skilled at his job, Mr. Chase. He had to be, or he would not have survived as long as he had.”

“Please, call me Ed. May I call you Boris?” Chase asked. 

When Rogosin nodded, he continued. “And just what was Karpov’s job? We thought he was a cop.”

“Oh, yes, he was that,” the man in the wheelchair responded. “And by all reports, he was a good one. But he was much more than that.”

For the next several hours, through “lunch” and afternoon tea, Rogosin held Chase’s attention captive as he described “Phil Brin’s” real job.

“We are certainly familiar with the activities of the Russian mafia in Brooklyn. Certainly extortion, drug trafficking and the sex trade are bad enough. But I’ve never heard of any terrorist activity,” Chase said as he pushed away from the table, leaving his plate half full.

Lunch, or obed, as Rogosin had called it, had been a bit overwhelming to a man accustomed to a tuna sandwich with a chip or two. He’d enjoyed the zakuska, a first course of salad topped with poached fish, and the Borscht that followed. But when the entrée, or vtoroe blyudo, of roast beef with sides (a cheese dumpling and roasted vegetables) arrived, he suspected he was in trouble. His suspicion was confirmed when the server, a friendly over-stuffed dumpling herself, set the glass of vodka down at his place. Knowing he’d have trouble staying awake if he partook, Chase reluctantly passed on many of the delicious offerings. Including the vodka.

“Unlike their Middle Eastern counterparts, there are no ideological passions driving these people. It’s pure greed. Al Qaeda pays them handsomely.” 

Rogosin wheeled his chair away from the table. “Come, let us return to my office and take our tea there. You will be more comfortable there.”

Chase followed his host back to the office and settled onto the couch in the sitting area. After The Dumpling served tea, smiling shyly at Chase as she did so, he picked up the conversation.

“Pays them to do what?” 

“Infiltrate the New York Police Department, among other things,” Rogosin replied.

“Are you saying that Phil Brin -- sorry, Grigori Karpov – was a Russian mobster who’d infiltrated the NYPD?” Chase asked.

“Not quite.” Rogosin poured a bit of tea into his saucer and blew on it, then drank it. “That is what the Russian mafia thought. Including those already in the NYPD.”

Chase shook his head. This was getting weirder and weirder. 

“Go on.”

“Several years ago, we learned that there was a Russian criminal element within the NYPD. It started with one unscrupulous cop in a position to sidestep the… the… what do you call them? Inside Oversight?”

“Internal Affairs?”

“Yes, yes, Internal Affairs. From that point forward, one by one, more New York members of the Russian underworld were brought into the Force. They call themselves ‘Zodiac,’ and they are very well hidden. Indeed, a few died doing their jobs during Nine-Eleven, and were posthumously decorated as heroes.”

“But why? What purpose does that serve?” Chase asked.

“You are a smart man, Ed, and far from naïve. Think about it. The informational value alone is staggering.” Rogosin paused to sip his tea, now cool enough to drink from the surprisingly ornate teacup containing it.

“But consider this, my American friend. Like any police force anywhere, I suspect, the New York Police Department has its share of dirty cops. Imagine if those people were in the service of terrorists…”

“Wait. You said Karpov wasn’t really one of them?” 

“Ah, no, he was not,” Rogosin responded. “Not really, though they thought he was. Grigori Karpov was ours.”

“Yours? He was an American citizen, born in Brooklyn.”

“Yes, of course. But his history is firmly – could not be much firmer, in fact -- rooted here in Russia. 

As Chase listened, eyes growing wider by the minute, Rogosin laid out Grigori Karpov’s family tree.

“You have got to be fucking – sorry -- kidding! I thought…”

“Yes, most people do,” Rogosin said. “Karpov discovered the truth himself. Family papers, photographs and the like. And then he came to us.”

“Unbelievable.”  Chase considered himself fairly sophisticated and beyond surprise. But truth be told, he was blown away by what he’d just heard. 

“Now, I should tell you the reason I asked you to come. What I am about to share with you is top secret, and I know I can trust you to treat it as such.”

“Of course,” Chase assured his host. “Nemesis has the highest security clearance.”

“As I have said, Grigori Karpov was our agent, working undercover in the NYPD. In the course of his investigation of Zodiac, he uncovered the identity of one member of Zodiac. It was a discovery that would lead to his death.”


Realizing that sleep was hopeless, Chase reached up to press the call button. After the flight attendant delivered his scotch, he lifted the window shade and looked out at the star-filled sky, his head filled with thoughts of Sagittarius. That constellation was visible only in the southern sky, far from the flight path of the 747, but it wasn’t the constellation Edmond Chase was thinking about. It was the member of the Zodiac group called Sagittarius.

 The one who was also a killer known as The Monk.


3 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: The Monk

Continued from Part 2: Pride and Extreme Prejudice

The Tenth Daughter of Memory 
Muse 3:  An Extraordinary Discomfort

The Monk

Edmond Chase pulls the vibrating phone from his pocket and checks the small screen.

“It’s done. Send the maintenance team.” The message concludes with an address.

Damn.  Chase drains his Macallan and shakes his head. Un-fucking-believable.

He hadn’t thought it possible, but she gotten Fariq al-Abayghur. You’d think that after all these years, he’d have learned not to doubt Mercedes Karpov when she said she was going to do something. 

Pressing speed dial on his phone, Chase brings up a number and forwards the text, alerting maintenance to a clean-up job. He knows that within minutes of receipt of the text, the scene will be secured by a local contact until a full team arrives to remove all trace of the events that took place there.

Just what those events were, Chase doesn’t know, and he doesn’t want to know.


Chase is the division head of The Nemesis Group, Europe. The public face of Nemesis is that of a multi-national management consulting firm. The group does, in fact, provide consulting services to clients on every continent, but that business is a cover for its true raison d'être.  The Nemesis Group’s true identity is known only to a few in Washington who serve as oversight.  

Chase was in the Navy stationed in Little River VA, fully intending to serve until retirement, when Marc Welliver recruited him to Nemesis five years earlier. The black ops group was in its infancy, created to address the growing threats of a changing world.

At first, Edmond Chase had been reluctant to leave the Navy to go off and play spy. He’d always thought of himself as career. But Welliver, an Assistant Secretary of State who’d survived several administrations, was compelling on the subject of the back-door security organization.

“Every country has one,” he’d told Chase. “We know that. Maybe if we’d been on the ball here, we wouldn’t have been wide open to attack. But shee-it, no, here we sat with our fingers up our asses, all complacent in our belief that this is the United States; it’ll never happen here. You see how that turned out.”

While listening to Welliver make his pitch, Chase remembered the rumblings that there had been clear signals predicting the unthinkable attack on US soil. Clearly they had been ignored, by those too busy with their asses, no doubt.

“Well, they did it once and they’re bound to try it again,” Welliver continued. “But not on my watch; not if I can help it. We need Nemesis and Nemesis needs you.”

As a SEAL on the Advanced Special Operations team, Chase’s unique skill set made him an ideal candidate for Nemesis.

“You’ve sold the powers-that-be on this?” Chase asked? “The President has signed off ?”

“INR is behind it. That’s all we need.”

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research -- INR, as it was known – was originally established during WWII as a part of the OSS. It was now a part of State.  

“Join us, Ed,” Welliver had urged. “We can stop them. Find one loose thread and pull it, and we can unravel a plot before it can be implemented.”  

It was a bit like closing the barn door after the horse ran away, Chase thought at the time, but Welliver was probably right. The bastards would try it again.

“Oh, and if it’s getting your twenty in with the Navy you’re worried about, don’t.  Your time in will continue to accrue while you’re with Nemesis,” Welliver said.  “Besides,” he added with a chuckle, “the pay’s a lot better.”

He had been worried about that. Well, that and the fact that concealing his life in the shadows had proven to be extraordinarily uncomfortable whenever he’d tried to step out into the sunlight and just be a normal guy. He knew that joining Nemesis would carry him even deeper into a life he couldn’t share.  Funny thing about women: they thought you were hiding something if you didn’t tell them everything. His wife had eventually gotten tired of asking, and left him after a year of marriage. He hadn’t gotten past a few dates with anyone since.

What the hell, he thought. This was not a life conducive to relationships, but it was one he loved, discomfort be damned. He’d pretty well resigned himself to spending it alone anyway.

“OK, Marc. I’m in.”

Chase had never regretted that decision. It was through Nemesis that he’d met Mercedes Karpov.
Chase’s career with Nemesis began in the newly established New York office, seeking identification of a terrorist thought to be in the city.
Although it was the first time he’d worked with a Nemesis team, it was not Chase’s first time out of the gate ferreting out someone flying beneath the radar. Under his leadership, the team built a growing case file of tidbits garnered from the CIA, FBI and assorted brethren of the domestic and international intelligence community. It was a report from NSA that had put them on the scent of a NY City cop named Phil Brin.
Chase carefully read the NSA report analyzing chatter they’d picked up about Brin.  Not a bad cover, he’d thought at the time. License to carry right out in the open, entrée to go just about anywhere in the city unchallenged... He’d wondered briefly how Brin could get past the security gatekeepers at NYPD if he truly were a terrorist as they suspected, but he knew that the right connections combined with enough money could buy admission to even the most private club.
Chase and his team thought they were on to something. An immediate 24-hour tail was put on Brin, but the only place it led them, besides through the streets of his duty patrol in the Village and Soho, was to one bar after another. Chase was discouraged, but ongoing chatter continued to support the theory that Brin was involved in something, and besides, he was the only lead they had.
“Keep on him,” Chase insisted. “He’s bound to make contact sooner or later. The info we’re getting has to mean something, and we’re going to find out what.”
Then everything they thought they knew about Brin was called into question.
About six months into the investigation, their target was killed. Brin’s death was easily chalked up to an on-the-job fatality, but it was hardly that. Fortunately, it was Frank Millen, a Nemesis operative, who found Brin in the alley outside one of his favorite dives in the meatpacking district rather than anyone else. Nemesis was able to slap a lid on it and keep the true nature of his death on the QT. Millen was on Brin's tail, but lost him when a trip to the head had actually taken Brin out the back door of the seedy bar.  When Millen gave chase a few minutes later, it was already too late. Brin was propped up against the dumpster behind the bar, looking for all the world like a sack of trash awaiting pick-up. Thinking he had passed out, the Nemesis agent put a foot against Brin’s shoulder and gave a shove.
“Go home and sleep it off, guy.”
Brin’s body pitched forward, and hit the filthy pavement face first.
“Well, that’s just fucking great,” Millen muttered, squatting down to take a closer look.

When he spotted the small hole at the base of Brin’s skull, Millen groaned. If he was not mistaken, it was the work of a killer known only as “The Monk.” No one had ever been able to offer a description of The Monk. It was as if the man (presuming it was a man) were invisible. The Monk had struck only a few times in as many years, and he never made a mistake that authorities could find. International law enforcement had been singularly unsuccessful in identifying the killer, let alone finding him.
If he were right, Millen knew a long, sharp object had been shoved up the spinal cord  at the base of the skull and into Brin’s brain, passing through the parietal lobe and into the frontal lobe, and killing him instantly. It was a quick and effective means of killing someone without much fuss. At first blush, it would appear that Brin was just another lush who’d drunk himself to death.  By the time anyone questioned it, The Monk would be long gone. But not before leaving a calling card, as Millen also knew.
Millen rolled Brin over far enough to give him access to the breast pocket on his shirt. He gingerly stuck two fingers in and pulled out a card.
 He nodded to himself and hit speed dial on his cell to call Chase.
 “You’re not gonna like this, Ed.”
“Don’t tell me you lost him again.”
Millen laughed mirthlessly. “Oh, no, I’ve got him.”
He went on to describe what he’d found.
“Crap.” Chase sighed. “ OK, get out of there, and take The Monk's card with you.”
The NYPD had investigated with perhaps more vigor than the case warranted – Phil Brin more important as a dead cop than he ever was as a living one – but found nothing they could use to charge anyone. Eventually, the case was moved to the bottom of the open case pile. Nemesis, however, stayed with it and with much better luck. They hadn’t followed the crumbs of the carefully-laid trail of misinformation that led the NYPD astray, after all.
The real trail brought Nemesis no closer to The Monk than they'd been. But their investigation did lead them  to Russia, and a revelation about Phil Brin – who wasn’t Phil Brin at all – they’d never anticipated. 
One thing was clear: Grigori Karpov, aka Phil Brin, was no terrorist.
Continued in Part 4: Sagittarius


2 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Pride and Extreme Prejudice

Continued from Part 1: Prologue: The Briefing

Muse 2:  Fariq's Final Fantasia

Cavalier de Fantasia à la Casaque Verte
1919 Henri Émilien Rousseau 

Pride and Extreme Prejudice

She thinks of it as her unrivaled ability to disappear into a role, à la Meryl Streep. Becoming someone else is her forte. It’s a skill for which she can thank her dear old baba, and one she’s been honing all her life. She drifts through the smoke and shadows, unseen.

No one pays any attention to the dark-haired woman slipping quietly through the throngs browsing in the Marrakech souks as she makes her way back to the hotel. The always-crowded marketplace is made even more so by the arts festival that is just winding up.  She welcomes the congestion of the Moroccan city. The crush of crowds, the cacophony of sounds and smells, and even the assault of searing heat all serve to make her invisible. Dressed in an unadorned pale yellow djellaba and carrying a bag of oranges, she‘s just another shopper.

Leaving the teeming market, she winds through several narrow cobbled streets of the medina to the arched entrance of the Farah Mariana and gratefully steps into the shade offered by the hotel lobby. The hotel isn’t air-conditioned, but at least she’s sheltered from the relentless African sun. Four hundred Moroccan dirham buys only so much comfort. 

Inside, the only movement is that of the dust motes stirred into action by the fan hanging from the high ceiling. As expected, she finds the small hotel lobby empty. The popular Fantasia horse-riding event, a must-see for tourists and locals alike, is giving its closing performance of the festival tonight just outside the city walls near Bab Jdid. But even if the closing ceremony hadn’t drawn all the hotel’s guests to the spectacle, there is little about the hotel’s sad little lobby with its worn couches and threadbare rugs to inspire lingering.

Tonight’s equestrian performance will be short one rider. The spectators won’t notice. The magnificence of over a hundred Arabian stallions strutting in formation through flames and smoke will be as mesmerizing as ever. What’s one Berber horseman, more or less?

But she knows, and soon they will know too. A satisfied smile touches her lips. And he thought I couldn't do it. Silly man. She wishes she could have seen his face when he read the text she'd sent.


Heavy rain pounded the Knightsbridge street, driving most pedestrians to take shelter in one of the trendy boutiques and restaurants than line its wide sidewalk.  The tall man turned sideways and pushed open the door to the aromatic tea shop with his shoulder, pausing to shake the water from his black umbrella before closing it. He glanced around the warmly-lit shop and spotted the attractive woman sitting at a small round table in the far corner. He noted that she was far removed from the busy counter. Good choice, he thought.

Her call had come as a pleasant surprise. To be honest, it had given him a little thrill. Normally, any contact between them was initiated by him. But she had called his personal cell phone earlier that afternoon -- causing him to wonder for a moment how she’d gotten the number before reminding himself that this was Mercedes, after all – and asked to see him. He would love to believe that she just wanted to spend time with him but, alas, he knew better. As happened from time to time, she clearly had a bee in her bonnet. And when Mercedes Karpov got a bee in her bonnet, it always meant he was in for some sleepless nights. He wondered what it was this time.

He nodded at her, then went to the counter and ordered coffee. Despite living in London for several years, he’d never developed a taste for tea.  After adding a healthy dollop of cream and a teaspoon of sugar to the brew, he carried it over to the table in the corner. He leaned down so they could exchange the traditional European air-kisses in both cheeks, Chase wishing it were something more, and sat down.

“Hello.” He smiled fondly at the woman across from him. “How are you?”

Edmond Chase had known Mercedes for nearly ten years, ever since her father was killed on the job, and had been attracted to her for almost as long. She was nineteen then. When he first saw her at his funeral, he’d been taken aback at how self-possessed she was, how strong. The traditional NYPD ceremony, with its mournful bagpipes filling the cold air with Amazing Grace, brought a tear to the eyes of most of the attendees. But not to hers. After learning her history of loss, he understood, but even so… It was strange in a someone who was still technically a teenager, like she was playing dress-up in the personality of a much older woman. 

She returned the smile. “I’m well. Thanks for coming. It's good to see you.”

“You look well, albeit like the cat who swallowed the canary, I must say. What’s up?”

The smile widened. “Well, I haven’t actually gotten the canary yet, but I soon will.” She leaned forward and described her plan.

“Are you out of your mind?”

Mercedes raised her cup to her lips and sipped the fragrant Darjeeling, never taking her eyes from the face of the man across the table. She’d known he would object, but she also knew he would come around once he heard her out. He just needed to sputter a bit first. 

“If we haven’t been able to find him, what makes you think you will?”


Every man has his vanities. Donning a traditional Maghrebian costume and sitting astride a magnificent Arabian stallion in Fantasia was one of  Fariq al-Abayghur’s, it seems. Al-Abayghur was one of the world’s most sought-after thugs. One would have thought that he'd stay out of sight, but he was nothing if not arrogant. That, and apparently a bit stupid as well, though as Mercedes knows, stupidity is beside the point. Arrogant men are often taken down by their own pride.  What was it the Bible said? “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” 

Al-Abayghur had assumed he’d be safe hidden amid hundreds of similarly-costumed men riding in the smoky spectacle of Fantasia. And he'd been wrong.


Always thorough, Mercedes had come prepared. She’d spent endless hours studying video footage of a posturing al-Abayghur on YouTube, marveling all the while at the man’s judgment in promoting his services on film like a late-night TV pitch man selling cleaning products. Though Mercedes had to admit that his “advertising” had worked (business had unfortunately been quite good), in today’s world, it was inevitable that every minute of that film would end up on the Internet, providing an easily-accessed self-study course for every would-be captor. That was his pride again, she supposed, and she’d given his video image a nod of thanks for his hubris. 

She learned every gesture, every lift of his right eyebrow, every nuance of the arrogant smirk on his scarred face. That was the easy part. She supposed it was too much to hope for, but it would have been nice if  the YouTube videos offered contact information. Presumably, those who wanted to avail themselves of al-Abayghur's services already knew how to reach him. Finding him, and then getting to him, would present the real challenge. After all, if several of the world’s major intelligence agencies had failed…  

Mercedes followed many leads, only to have them end in blind alleys. An anonymous tip – she’d never discovered who sent it -- that the killer was thought to participate in Fantasia at the Marrakech festival was the break she needed.    

The following summer, Mercedes attended every Fantasia performance of the five-day Popular Arts Festival. Dressed in unremarkable and decidedly dowdy garb with her hair concealed beneath a frizzy blond wig, she’d been just another tourist with a camera. But identifying al-Abayghur in the constantly shifting pack of costumed Berber riders had proven impossible. 

She’d come away with hundreds of photographs, however, including many facial close-ups taken with a powerful telephoto lens.  When she got home, she’d uploaded the photos to her computer, and it hadn’t taken her facial recognition program long to pick al-Abayghur out of the crowd.

She studied the image carefully. His costume was elaborate, and it was distinctive.

Mercedes picked up the phone and called London.

“Got 'im. This time next year, the world will have one less bad guy. And my baba will rest easier in his grave.”

Mercedes quickly makes her way up the tiled staircase and down the gloomy hall to her small room. After a quick glance up and down the hallway, she turns her key in the lock and pushes open the door.  

The nondescript old hotel doesn’t offer much in the way of amenities, but it does provide anonymity. Security is lax, and no one cares much who you are as long as you pay up front. Mercedes wonders if anyone staying at the Farah Mariana is who they say they are. No matter, as long as they don’t know who she is.

She’s registered as Alexandra Feodorovna, a private joke that makes Mercedes smile every time she thinks about it. Good one, that. Baba would have appreciated it.

After closing the door and throwing the flimsy lock, she drops the bag of oranges on the floor by the door, then attaches the portable lock-alarm she always carries on her travels. The custom-made gadget securing the door to its jamb wouldn’t keep a serious intruder out, but at least she’d know they were coming before they could get through the door.  They’d not get much farther than that.

Mercedes releases the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, relieved to be behind the locked door. Anxious to expose as much skin as possible to the slight breeze provided by the lazy paddle fan overhead, she simultaneously kicks off the soft leather babouche slippers she wears and tosses back the hood of her djellaba. She runs a hand over the back of her neck, where sweat has soaked the wispy ends of her short curly hair and stuck them to her skin. She can’t wait to get out the long robe and the concealed shoulder harness she wears beneath. The leather is beginning to chafe her skin right through the lightweight T-shirt she wears under it. She knows she could carry a more comfortable weapon, but Baba gave her the Makarov and it’s never let either one of them down.

She grabs the neck of the long robe and yanks it over her head. By the time it hits the floor in a honey-colored puddle, she has spun toward a shadowy corner of the room, the gun in her hand aimed steadily at the heart of the man slouched there in a threadbare chair.

“It’s about time, Alexandra.” His deep voice chuckles as he says the name. “Where the hell have you been? I was beginning to worry.”

He raises the glass of anise-scented Tamrirt mahia that alerted her sensitive nose to his presence.

"Shall we drink a toast to a job well-done?"

Continued in Part 3: The Monk