She didn't have enough information to present to Trainer yet. He would ream her for not conducting thorough research. So, she decided to follow up on the only lead she had. Somehow, Halvord had made a connection between Dmitri Christophe and her own government agency. She would research it, but the processors located in the basement lounge could outrun these public computers any day.
She entered using the downtown entrance, waving at the agent who worked behind the counter of the Mexican restaurant. The stairs led to a storage basement. The basement housed the entrance to the FCA offices, a doorway hidden amongst the intricate security within the junk. She strode by the offices, only stopping to peek her head into Greene's business space, but she didn't see him there. She found him in the gymnasium and stepped inside.
"Greene," she called to him as he finished his set. He got up and wiped the sweat away from his forehead with the back of his hand. His normally pasty skin was flushed from his workout.
"What's up, Maya?" he asked taking a swig of water. She shrugged, but he knew something was bothering her. Agent Clark Greene was Maya's only true friend and confidante in the Agency. "You mind if I start the next set?" he asked nodding towards his bench. She shook her head and he slid onto the seat. "You going to tell me what's wrong now?" he asked, lifting the bar over his head and beginning his benchpress.
Maya frowned and set up the weights next to him as she began her own exercise. She and Greene always talked while working out. It wasn't only a tradition. It had become their bonding time, the cause behind their close relationship.
"It's nothing," she lay on the bench and lifted the bar overhead.
"Having trouble with a new assignment?" he raised his own bar high as she lowered hers.
"Hardly. Speaking of which, have you heard of a man named Dmitri Christophe?"
Greene paused in his routine as if thinking. He then pushed his bar high with extra exertion. Breathlessly he let out a short "Nope." Maya eyed him suspiciously. The man was pure muscle, six foot four inches without an ounce of fat. He wasn't having difficulty benching weight.
Maya put her bar back up and sat up, straddling the bench. She checked out Greene out of the corner of her eye. "Having trouble?" she asked bemusedly. Greene finally put up his weights and sat up.
"Not at all," he said throwing her his bottle of water. "Will you tell me what's wrong, though?"
Maya sighed. "It's going to sound trite, but okay. I'm on another surveillance assignment." She let her shoulders sag because she was embarrassed to have to admit it. Maya portrayed a constant front of confidence and capability, and Greene was the only person able to break through that front. While she boasted of several physical capabilities, she was never given the opportunity to use them.
"Another one?" he said, keeping his tone level. "I'm sure there's good reason for it."
"I don't think so," Maya said bitterly. "They don't think I'm good enough. I could prove to Trainer that I'm one hundred times more capable than Ryan, and Ryan still gets the tracking assignment with all the action."
Greene shook his head and put a sweaty arm around the girl. She shrugged as if to show it didn't matter anymore. "Hey, I'll talk to Trainer if you think it'll help."
"Yeah," she agreed. "Thanks."
"But for now," he said, walking with her towards the door. "Do everything you can on this new assignment. It'll help your case."
Maya tried to focus on her case and pushed herself away from her friend. "Actually, I think I'm onto something with this Dmitri Christophe?" She cocked her head to the left and studied him when he reacted surprised. Greene never lied to her, but when he shrugged, she had to doubt his sincerity. "Fair enough. I think I'm going to run with this lead, though." She nodded her thanks to Greene and punched him in the shoulder. He pretended it didn't affect him, but she could see a grimace form at her friendly gesture. "Soon, I'll be taking this mean right hook out on an assignment." He laughed as she strutted out the door, her confidence returned. When she was gone, he rubbed his arm tenderly to take the sting away.
Nobody was using the lounge so Maya took a seat at the largest of the computer, a machine which had access to numerous government files. She went on a hunch and pulled up the current criminal database, but was dismayed when nothing appeared. The name didn't appear in any recent articles, and so she was forced to dig deeper. When the name did not appear in any of the FCA articles or cases, she decided to backtrack. There had to be a simpler solution. That solution was Google.
The amazing search engine was successful, and Maya clapped her hands gleefully when she received the results. She clicked on the first link and began reading a succinct biography of the man.
DMITRI CHRISTOPHE (1801-?) – Nineteenth century American chemist (Russian heritage) who met little success during his lifetime. Hired in 1838 by the President Van Buren as one of the first government backed scientists, Christophe is best known for his sudden disappearance in 1839. Christophe is best remembered for his contribution to coiling copper wire.
Maya stared at the screen blankly. That was it? She checked out the rest of the sites which included Christophe but found nothing more. She was frustrated that her promising lead had only led her to a failing scientist who helped curl copper wire. Maya pursed her lips; she wouldn't let this bring down her excitement. She could still check the historical database now that she had a time frame.
Cracking her knuckles, she hunched over the machine once more. Her intention was to continue her research late into the night, but she was instantly interrupted. Ryan popped his head in the door and whistled at her.
"What is it, Ryan?" Maya huffed as she swiveled about in her chair. He leaned against the doorway with his arms folded over his chest.
"What are you up to?" he asked with a surprising sincerity.
"Working on a case," she grumbled, waiting for him to leave. He was unmoved, however.
"Want to get some dinner?" Somehow, he had sensed her unease and had posed a genuine offer. That was Ryan's redeeming quality, and Maya couldn't fault him for it. He was a flirt, a tease, and an annoyance above all, but by and large he just wanted to be liked. While he was not her trusted friend, Ryan had proved to be a source of entertainment when she needed to keep her mind distracted.
She contemplated the offer, tempted to refuse. It was getting late, though, and her stomach began to churn in anticipation. "Why not," Maya sighed and threw up her hands. Ryan let a suave smile cross his face.
"It's a date then."
Maya grunted. "You never give up." She got out of her seat and brushed herself off. "Let me run to my apartment and grab my purse."
"Don't worry about it," he replied cheekily. "I trust you'll be a cheap date."
The two exited the building and headed toward a downtown diner. To a passerby, they appeared a young couple strolling the scenic town. Maya, however, was forced to roll her eyes when Ryan attempted to chat about her social life.
"You should go out more often," he started the conversation casually. She only scoffed in reply. "I'm serious," he answered. "You never go out; your whole life's about work."
"She stopped in her tracks and leveled her gaze at Ryan. "You're kidding me right? We have very serious jobs, you know. I take my job seriously."
"Oh Maya," he said stopping to lean against the brick wall once they had arrived at the diner. "You lead a sad life. But for the record, I do take my job very seriously." Ryan shrugged as they stood under the lighted sign of the restaurant. People walked by them, paying no notice of the important conversation they held. "But I don't let it run my life. I'd go crazy."
Maya had to resent his easygoing manner. He took everything so lightly and still managed to be more successful than her in every aspect of his life. She tried to ignore the fact that he was right. Instead, she blew her bangs out of her eyes and kicked at the ground. "I'm hungry, let's go eat," she changed the subject.
Ryan grinned and took her hand, leading her into the local greasy spoon. She pulled out of his grip and kept to herself as they were led to a table. Ryan only laughed at her stubborn demeanor. They were led to the back of the restaurant, a no-smoking composed of ten round tables. The lights were dim but were reflected by the mirrors hung on each wall. Maya faced the wall, but saw the approach of the waitress through the mirror. Ryan ordered a coke, cheeseburger, and fries. On the other hand, Maya requested a chicken salad with dressing on the side and a water.
"You can eat good food every once in a while," Ryan asserted as he closed his menu and handed it to the waitress. She huffed indignantly.
"Right," she replied sardonically. "I was not blessed with the speedy metabolism of a man. And you know the nutritionist at work has me on this ridiculous diet."
Ryan shook his head disgustedly. "Like I said, don't let it run your life."
Maya appeared to think on his words, but eventually changed the subject. The truth was, her job was her life. She had no family, no friends besides her coworkers. If her job didn't run her life, she would have nothing. Shaking off these thoughts, Maya tried to concentrate on her conversation with Ryan.
After a few minutes of light conversation, the mirror caught a very surprising reflection. Maya's gaze flitted for a moment to the reflection and her face betrayed her shock.
"What's wrong?" Ryan asked, interrupting his detailed description of his most recent case.
"That man two tables behind us," said Maya softly. Ryan subtly shifted his gaze toward the table. He didn't understand the problem. There was a man at the table, about his own age, with two suited men. He signaled his confusion to her. "I don't want him to see me," she whispered, urging Ryan to get the point.
He only chuckled. "I see," he reclined in his chair. "Old boyfriend? Though I highly doubt it. However, if I was the jealous type, I'd say you wanted that man." He grinned when she shot him a poisonous look.
"Not exactly," she grumbled. "His name's Shane and this is the second time I've seen him today."
"And I hadn't seen him since my training before today. Don't you find that odd?"
He stared at her blankly. "Maya you need a vacation. I think you're becoming paranoid."
"Funny," she said dryly. "Let's just get out of here."
Ryan gave in and kindly paid the bill. After shielding her as they exited the restaurant, they took off back to her apartment.
At the entrance to her apartment on the second floor, Ryan smirked. "I don't suppose I can expect an invite in? Because I hate to break it to you, but you need to get laid darlin'."
To this offer, he received a brisk door to the face.
Maya's apartment was a spacious, four room flat. The kitchen, bathroom, TV room, and bedroom were sufficient for her needs. Everything else was provided for her at the FCA. Her walls were adorned with few knick-knacks. There was a painting that Candy had wanted to get rid of. There was also a variety of framed quotes about perseverance that Greene had convinced her to purchase. The color was nice enough, a modern mixture of black and white walls which accentuated the brightly colored furniture.
She hated being alone with her thoughts in this apartment. She mulled over everything she had discussed with Ryan as she searched her cupboard for a few ingredients. She would bake; that would relieve her stress. It was something her mother had always done, a habit Lorraine had picked up on early in life. She threw a bag of chocolate chips onto the counter as she recalled how Ryan had tried to giver her life advice. Ryan was a player, not a preacher. She didn't even know why she hung around him in the first place.
That's a lie, she thought as she began pouring flour into a large bowl and mixing in other ingredients. She hung around with Ryan and Greene and Trainer and because they were all she had. Women agents at the FCA were scarce. A woman was useful only for her feminine strengths, otherwise the true brute strength of a male agent was the better option for a case. For instance, Maya knew that fellow female Holly Becker was recently assigned to infiltrate a foreign ambassador's inner circle. Holly had to play up her appearances in order to pass as a hired hooker.
It was sad really and the thought made her viciously beat together the ingredients of her cookies. Hell, she couldn't even eat the delectable dessert after she had baked it. She would give them to candy tomorrow, the only woman at the FCA who wasn't forced to stay continually manicured.
While waiting for the cookies to finish, Maya thought over Shane's sudden appearance. Certainly it was possible, but something with him seemed very off. The more she analyzed the situation, the more it bothered her. Why had Shane disappeared so suddenly at the coffee shop? Why had he showed up at a run-down diner with suits (or so she liked to call the rich business men always out in their pompous attire)? In fact, business meetings and after work gatherings are most often held at politically dominated martini bars.
The loud beeps from the over drew her out of her stupor. She had too many thoughts running through her head. She needed concentration. Thus, she decided to focus on Mr. Halvord. It was imperative to ace this case and establish her superiority as an agent.
She sat in front of her lime green laptop in a pair of oversized pajamas. Cross-legged, she hunched over it in order to access Craig's email account. There were no recent emails concerning Christophe, but there was a message in the outbox in which Halvord informed a friend he would be leaving the city to return to Princeton as a guest speaker for a one Professor J. J. Fleming's American Government class. Maya clenched her fist and slammed her laptop shut. She wasn't going to get a break anytime soon. For now, her best bet was to sleep. She had an early start with Trainer tomorrow morning.
The next day, Maya suppressed a strangled scream as she forced herself to do one more pull-up on the training bar. Trainer stood a few feet behind her with his arms crossed, ever the imposing stance. He showed no sign of distress at the disgruntled cry that erupted from the depth's of Maya's throat. She had been pushing herself in the gym for over two hours, her exercise regimen having been increased doubly. Her entire body was clenched tight, every muscle in her body rippled. The sports bra and spandex shorts she wore exposed her entire body, covered in sweat. It also exposed two very personal marks on her body, both of which only Trainer and Greene had seen. The first was the small, rippled scar on her shoulder. The pale brown mark was still visible despite the three years since the surgery after her shooting. The other was a black tattoo near her pelvic bone. Five distinct block letters curved around in a circle to form the word "DELTA." The letters were her only tie to her past.
David, Ellen, Lorraine, Travis, Annie. The names of herself and her family before she was forced to turn her life around. There was one more man who had seen the tattoo, Doc Dinesh. The doctor had found the tattoo in a routine checkup. She was periodically admitted to see Doc in order to check the progress of her shoulder. Maya constantly complained about these doctor visits, unable to find a problem with her three year old wound. Doc hadn't asked her about the word, only mumbled about the dangers of tattoos and hepatitis C.
When Maya finally collapsed on the workout mat under her, Trainer began to slowly clap his hands together in appreciation of her effort. The loud, residual clapping grated on her nerves and added to her already intense emotions.
"Jesus Christ Trainer, what was that for?" she turned on him growling. He waited until she had struggled to pull herself upright and stand. Trainer stopped clapping and met her gaze, but she refused to look away from his intimidating stare.
"You're off the Halvord case," he announced, breaking the intense glares between them.
"You're off the case. Mr. Halvord is no longer considered a threat. I think the best choice for you now is to take a couple days off. You need some time for yourself."
Maya licked her lips after downing a bottle of water. "And the training regimen that almost killed me just now? What was that for?"
"Congratulations Agent, you have completed a senior regimen and will be assigned an advanced case upon your return."
Mixed feelings welled up inside of the agent as she thought over the situation. "No," she shook her head. "I don't need a vacation. I'm ready now." Trainer wasn't budging, though. He stood, shoulders back and arms over his chest, without moving.
"There's no disputing this," he told her firmly. "Take as much time as you need. There will be an assignment waiting for you when you get back. I do not want to see you in the FCA offices during this time."
Maya had no reply, as was protocol to respect authority. While she rarely followed protocol, Trainer was insistent.
But what the hell was she going to do with free time?
The more free time Maya had, the more she thought. She needed to find something to take her mind off of the situation. If she over thought her recent promotion, she would have to question why she was so suddenly pulled off of the Halvord case. She had had a lead, and she had a hunch that it would lead her somewhere. But, if she wanted to pursue this case, she would lose her chance to become a certified and respected agent. It frustrated her.
So, she resolved to keep herself busy over the next few days. After showering and changing in the locker room, Maya bounced up the stairs and delivered her home-made cookies to Candy. The secretary always enjoyed Maya's home cooking. While there, Maya told her about her vacation. Candy, always eager to help out her favorite agents, was thrilled to hear about it. She suggested that Maya blow some of her well-earned money. The idea appealed to Maya in as much as that it would keep her busy.
She set out to a suburban mall that late morning with a load of cash in her purse. Wearing a pair of jeans and a stylish button up shirt, she fit in nicely with the mallrats who strolled the shopping center's walkways. The first store she spotted was a high-end dress shop. She entered and was greeted warmly by an older lady who had seen her fair share of botox treatments.
"May I help you young lady?"
"I'm just looking," she replied, but the lady was persistent.
"We have a very wide selection of dresses here. Can I help you narrow your search?"
"I suppose," Maya answered. She saw a selection of evening wear out of the corner of her eye. The gowns looked very similar to dresses she had seen other agents wear when assigned to high profile assignments. In fact, she could have worn one of those dresses had she taken Ryan up on his offer to escort him to the charity ball.
"I'm interested in evening wear," she answered in a professional tone. The woman nodded curtly and showed her to the assortment of ball gowns. They were classy, and showy, but nothing struck Maya's appeal. Then she saw it.
There was a black, shimmery gown in the corner of the selection. It almost appeared to be hidden. A tight choker started the gown, connecting to the top of the dress at a V. The abdominal section was sheer black, but continued with another V toward a flowy, yet form-fitting skirt. It was perfect.
"Do you have that in a size six," she said, her excitement causing her to be edgy.
"I do," the woman said stiffly. Her voice was critical, but Maya didn't care. She would be a knockout in that dress. She left and returned shortly with the same dress cradled in her arms. "Let me call a clerk to assist you into the dress," she said.
Maya furrowed her brow. "I don't want any help into the dress."
"I strongly suggest you use a clerk," the woman said sharply. "If you damage this dress while trying it on, you will be forced to buy it."
Maya pursed her lips. "Fine," she said. "I'll take it. I'll try it on at home."
The lady laughed bitterly. "There are no returns on our gowns."
"I'll take it," she declared. The woman's nostrils flared with distaste, but she brought the gown to the counter to check out. After Maya paid in cash, she dropped all airs of politeness and covered the gown quickly, ushering Maya out of the store. Clearly shopping was not the proper hobby to take her mind away from the FCA. However, she had a dress and she was thrilled with it. She took the plastic-covered gown in her arms, and kept it from trailing on the ground as she made her way to the mall entrance.
Her elation with the dress was stifled when every hair on the back of her neck rose. Maya had been trained to react to this kind of instinct. She felt she was being watched, and that feeling rarely betrayed her. Ever so smoothly, she made a quick u-turn in order to survey the crowd behind her. She recognized no one, however, and there wasn't a suspicious person in the crowd. Maya turned back around, ignoring the dread that had formed in the pit of her stomach. She rushed to her car, a small economical vehicle she had purchased for long travels, though she rarely used it in the city. After safely depositing her dress in the back of her car and locking herself in, Maya looked around once more before pulling out of the mall parking lot.
Her fear of being watched was beginning to subside a few minutes into her drive. But when she pulled up to a stoplight halfway home, Maya took notice of a white minivan two cars behind her. It had been there the whole time, she recalled it in the lot of the mall. The fear returned double this time. However, it could be a mere coincidence.
Maya knew the best way to deter a following vehicle – travel in circles. So, she took the next three rights available, hoping she would lose the van at some point. When she pulled onto the final road in her circle, Maya checked her rearview mirror to see the van was still keeping its distance. However, the driver of that van now knew that Maya was aware of them, and appeared to back off. That did not help Maya's sense of fear, however.
She was being stalked.