More Than Just an Exchange Program (Closed, ATTN Santheres)
Melissa sifted through the stacks of mail: colleges and universities commending her scores on the Zinairian Standardized Academic Aptitude Test, summer programs asking her to attend and even a recruitment offer from the air force. While most envelopes went straight into the recycling bin, she stopped at a colorful, thick envelope from the Coalition of Students. She pulled it out of the stack and slid her finger under the flap. Melissa pulled out a letter detailing the organization's mission of "connecting outstanding students with educational residential learning experiences throughout the ODESPHERE." As Melissa was reading, her mother leaned over her and looked at the letter.
"What's that, honey?"
"It's an exchange program, it looks pretty good."
Melissa's mother took the papers from her daughter's hand and read them over. "It's awfully expensive."
"There's an essay contest; the prize is a full scholarship."
"If you can get the scholarship, you can go."
Melissa sighed and went to go get her laptop. An essay on ODECON's effects on national government was not her idea of a good time. Summer in Leistung, however, was.
Ryan's mother handed him the brochure full of smiling first world teens surrounded by this grinning third world beneficiaries. It advertised a summer of aiding despondent foreigners and being educated in the ways of the world by Liberty Corps "a world leader in nondenominational, grassroots foreign aid."
"I think a summer helping the less fortunate before you go to college would really help you build character," she said.
Ryan gestured to the dingy apartment and the similar high rises extending in every direction. "We've got plenty of misfortune ourselves."
"It gets a lot worse than this. I think you'll realize that after a month in North Defese."
"A month?! Come on, mom."
"Your father thinks its a great idea too, you're going or you're going to have to find somewhere else to live. Either way, I think you'll build some character."
"Ugh, fine, I'll go."
Ryan's mother smiled and kissed him on the top of the head. "I knew you'd come around."
Two Weeks Later
Melissa slid open the envelope from the Coalition of Students. She quickly read the enclosed letter then began squealing.
"Mom! Mom! I got the scholarship!"
Her mother came in, drying her hands on a dish towel. "For that exchange program? That's great! We'll get you registered straight away."
"We have to go to their office downtown."
"Do you want to go today?"
"Can we go now?"
"Sure, just let me finish the dishes real quick."
Half an hour later, Melissa and her mother sat in chintzy waiting room chairs in the fluorescent reception area for the Coalition of Students. Soon, a polite looking woman in a pantsuit called them back into her office to get registered.
"You must be very proud to have been selected for the scholarship," she said.
"Yes, extremely," said Melissa.
"Well, we'll just need you to fill out some forms and you'll be all set."
Grise International Airport
One Month Later
Ryan hugged his parents before passing through the security checkpoint. After clearing security, he made his way to the terminal from which Liberty Corps's chartered jet would be departing. The gate was abuzz with altruistic/coerced teenagers and young adults ready to be shipped off to the third world.
Soon, they began to board and the two hundred or so volunteers filed onto the plane. Ryan was seated at the back of the plane next to a redheaded girl and boy who he assumed were siblings. They seemed much more interested in each other than him and they ignored him entirely.
Ryan was listening to his iPod when, several hours later, the pilot announced that there was no need for panic, but there was engine trouble and they would be making an emergency landing in Verdona, Santheres.
At the instructions of the crew, the passengers filed out and descended the movable stairs onto the tarmac. A fleet of busses and vans was waiting to take them to the terminal. As Ryan and the siblings were getting off, they were greeted by the pilot coming out the cockpit. On the tarmac, as the three students assessed the assembled vehicles, the pilot pointed to a van towards the back of the line.
"The rest look full up, why don't you take that one with me?"
The brother and sister exchanged glances before they and Ryan followed the pilot the the van and climbed aboard.
Zinaire International Airport, Zinaire City
Two Weeks Later
Melissa and her mother embraced in front of the checkpoint, the other travelers swarming around them.
"I'll see you in two weeks, love you, honey."
"Love you too, mom."
They broke apart and Melissa went through security. Once she had cleared the checkpoint, she had to run through the airport to make the plane, arriving five minutes late for the chartered flight.
Again, several hours into the trip, the pilot made an announcement.
"Please do not be alarmed. We are having a minor engine malfunction and we have been forced to make an emergency landing. Stand by for further instructions."
Once again, the passengers were instructed to unload and wait in the terminal while another plane was prepared. As Melissa exited the breezeway, a Santherese gendarme pulled her aside.
"Ms. Lavigne, I'm afraid you'll need to come with me, there's a problem with your passport."
Two Weeks Earlier
Ryan followed the siblings into one of the waiting vans, the pilot stepping in after them. The driver, Ivan, nodded to them all and asked, “You got everything? Sorry about the front, sir, but we were called in suddenly and I couldn’t clear the clutter.”
The three kids nodded, and the pilot smiled. “It’s not a problem, I’ll just sit back here with my passengers.” He sat in the back row beside Ryan, the brother and sister having taken a couch for themselves and had already spread out comfortably. He smiled at Ryan, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, again. Don’t worry; we’ll get you safely to where you need to go.”
Ryan just shrugged and made an acknowledging sound before adjusting his earbuds in a clear motion that he preferred his privacy.
The van followed two of the other buses briefly at distance before veering off onto an access road. It traveled down that for some time before stopping in a secluded area. At that moment, someone outside may have heard a scream, they might have seen the van rock momentarily from a scuffle within. They may have heard the gunshot that punctuated the occurrence. But no one was there. The van started again, leaving the airport through a maintenance access tunnel and crossing the channel to the other side of the city.
Corporal Parise led Melissa past a number of secured doors, one of her arms resting casually on top of the MP5 that hung from her shoulder. “Down these steps, Ms. Lavigne -- the office is in another building.”
“I won’t miss my flight, will I?”
“This shouldn’t take long.” Her voice was firm and clipped, as though attempting to discourage further questions.
They descended the stairs and crossed out into the daylight. It was a colder day, and Verdona was never much known for its heat. It certainly didn’t help that it was cloudy. Parise didn’t seem to notice -- of course, she would be used to it -- but Melissa was a little out of her element and shivered, rubbing her arms as they crossed the tarmac to a nondescript black car waiting in one of the security spaces.
Parise opened one of the back doors and motioned for Melissa to sit. “In the back, please.”
Melissa was never one to question authorities, especially not when she didn’t particularly know what to expect to the Santherese gendarme. She simply sat and buckled the seat belt without a word. At least she was doing something and not being forced to wait in an uncomfortable plastic seat in the terminal. This seat was far better than anything the airport would have to offer the other passengers.
The gendarme started the car and slowly crossed the tarmac, driving around baggage handlers and other service vehicles. It approached a smaller building nestled around a handful of hangars and beside an observation tower, not quite large enough to be a control tower but of similar design. She pulled into a garage and closed the door behind her.
There, in that room, there was a janitor mopping slowly in the doorway. Parise got out and opened the door for Melissa. When the girl stepped out, however, Parise was quick grab her in a chokehold as the janitor rushed over, jamming a rag into her mouth. She didn’t have much time at all to scream, it was such a shock and they were too fast. She was unconscious in moments.
Parise and her accomplice dragged her over to the trunk and opened it, shoving the girl in with no great regard for her wellbeing or comfort. She took a minute to bind the girl’s hands and feet with plasticuffs.
“Come on, hurry up,” the janitor said.
“Shut up, Ivan, you’re lucky I’m still doing this for you.”
Ivan chuckled, as he slammed the trunk closed. “We pay you as much for a fraction of the work as the gendarme does -- it’s not luck. Now let’s go.” Looking down, he swore. “Open it again; look at her hair.”
Parise reopened the trunk to move Melissa’s hair out of the way and shut it again. “Right. Let’s go.”
The car, with both of them, backed out onto the tarmac and crossed over nearly a mile of asphalt to reach the auxiliary storage shed where Ivan’s car was parked, far from the general airport populace and in a generally excluded area that was often forgotten about. No one cared about the contents of the shed unless there was a catastrophe, anyway.
Stopping beside the car, they worked quickly to prepare it before stuffing Melissa into a hidden compartment in the back. Parise made extra sure to leave her gendarme gear in the trunk of security car -- nothing spelled the same kind of trouble as an off-duty soldier in uniform with her weapon. Even worse if they tried to run a check on her.
Certain that no one could have possibly seen them, they closed the compartment and hopped into the new car, leaving the airport without any trouble in that. The car at the shed would be returned to security by Parise at the end of the day -- none of that was their concern for the moment.
The streets of Verdona were cramped, mostly single-lane, one-way streets flanking and intersecting the wide parade boulevards that crossed the Campanile Strait. Making your way to these avenues was always an ordeal, and one of the primary reasons that cars were increasingly frowned upon as a reliable mode of transportation. Sure, the supremely wealthy might make constant use of them; the gendarme did, of course; a lot of businesses had professional drivers -- the bus and tram system in Verdona was topnotch and far better than anything else on this side of the world.
Unfortunately for those who constantly pushed the rules of the road, that did mean it was much easier to enforce traffic laws.
When you’re in a rush and carrying out illicit activities, you can get sloppy. There was some inherent anxiety of crossing through a city frequently thick with soldiers to get to one of the forgotten quarters of the metropolis.
It’s that anxiety which can make you do something remarkably stupid.
As Parise approached a freight crossing and the barriers started coming down, she accelerated to get through it. She didn’t want to wait for a fifty-car train to cross in front of them and hopped over the tracks just as the gate closed down on them.
Behind them, sirens screeched as a cruiser pulled out of a side alley and pursued them.
“Fuck,” Parise grumbled. “Alright, just don’t worry. We’ll take the ticket and go.”
She pulled over just enough to let potential traffic through the narrow street and shut off the car, placing her hands where they were quite visible and looking straight ahead. Ivan sat up straight and tried not to make a sound or move.
Two gendarme came up to their car, one on each side. As one asked Parise for her identification, the other hung back for a second, looking around casually. Parise was calm and obliging enough -- no incident likely to occur. Then Ivan leaned forward and groaned at having to waste time, forgetting the gun in the back of his belt.
The gendarme reacted immediately. “You two, out of the car! Brombal, search him.”
Maybe it was something in the air, maybe it was just that Ivan panicked -- something made him attempt to draw the gun as he got out, before Brombal could take it from him. He threw himself at the gendarme to buy the moment he would need to get the weapon out and in position. As they fell to the ground together and he made his attempt, the other gendarme fired his MP5, cutting down Ivan before he could manage to bring the gun to bear and just before Parise could hit him with her door.
She did so just as Ivan was shot and knocked the gendarme down. In the moment she had to pick her ID up and kick the man, Brombal was getting up from beneath Ivan’s corpse. She couldn’t tell, really, and didn’t care, either. She had to run and that was that. Taking off down the street, she almost thought she was home free when gunfire erupted from behind her. A number of bullets hit her before she got fifty yards and she hit the pavement, bleeding out from several wounds. If she didn't die instantly, she would have soon enough.
Both gendarme were on their feet, quite unharmed though perhaps a little unhappy that they had both mishandled the situation and had each had to kill someone. They took a moment to stand there and recollect themselves before officially checking the two bodies and calling in the incident.
Then they heard the screaming from inside the car. They looked at each other and set to searching. The trunk was empty, there was still screaming and one option: the back seat. Brombal put his ear to the seat and heard it better, muffled but clear enough as to what it was. They pulled up the seat to find a blonde girl crammed into a space she should have never rightly fit into; a rag was near her mouth, still partially in but she had made a good attempt to spit it out.
“Alright, Brombal, you better call this in….”
It took almost an hour for the confused mechanics to give the plane a clean bill of health, finding no sign of the alleged engine problems that forced her to land. The captain feigned befuddlement as he, the rest of the crew and the passengers re-boarded the plane. As the captain prepared to undock from the terminal, a flight attendant stuck her head into the cockpit.
"Captain, can you wait just a sec? We need to do a head count before we can get rolling."
The captain sighed and gritted his teeth, "The tower is breathing down my neck to get moving, can we skip it?"
"We really can't, captain. It's a liability issue."
"Fine, just make it quick."
The flight attendant gave a polite smile and returned to the cabin where she and the other three stewardesses began to move up and down the aisles of the large jet. Twelve minutes and a second count later, the flight attendant reentered the cockpit.
"We're missing 26A, we're going to have to hold."
The captain banged his palms on the control yoke, "Why can't these stupid kids tell time? Don't we teach them that?"
"We're just going to give them ten minutes."
Ten minutes later, 26A had not returned and a young blonde flight attendant was sobbing hysterically in the galley.
"This happened before!" She cried between wails and gulps of air, "I was on that flight too, emergency landing here, only, they didn't find anything wrong. We go to count the passengers and three are missing we wait and they never come back. Two weeks and they're still missing!"
Her account dissolved into frantic tears as the other flight attendants tried to comfort her.
"I'm sure it's not like that. She probably just lost track of time or dozed off. We'll find her."
The lead flight attendant shook her head as the minutes ticked past, "We're going to have to alert airport authorities and start the search."
The flight attendant opened the cabin door and headed across the breezeway into the terminal. She called over the nearest gendarme.
"We've got a missing passenger, she was supposed to be back on board more than half an hour ago. Manifest has her down as Melissa Lavigne, the girl sitting next to her said she was caucasian, long blonde hair, thin and fairly tall. We just need to find her and get back in the air."
The gendarme nodded and raised his hand in a “just a moment” motion before taking radio from his shoulder and turning aside for a slightly greater amount of privacy. Calling in to the dispatch center, he informed them of the situation. Curiously unlike normal operations, the response back was immediate.
“Cavinato, this is dispatch, verify approximate time of disappearance.”
He looked over at the flight attendant, responding “Reported missing thirty to sixty minutes, flight has been grounded for two hours.”
There was another length of static that cut momentarily at several intervals, as though the person at the other end couldn’t quite settle on what they were going to say. “VGC logged attempted assault on gendarme personnel at a routine traffic stop near the Campanile: two dead, and one female, blonde, Caucasian, found bound in vehicle. IDed as one Melissa Lavigne. Verify name.”
The gendarme took a moment to ask the flight attendant. “Melissa Lavigne?”
The attendant nodded. If she said anything, he didn’t notice.
“Dispatch, Cavinato: Melissa Lavigne, blonde Caucasian, verified.”
“Acknowledged; await further instruction.”
Cavinato returned to the flight attendant. “Dispatch has located her. I need to speak with your pilot.”
“We can’t fuck around with this kind of thing. Suspicion is suspicion and that girl out there hasn’t stopped crying for half an hour. She wasn’t under that seat willfully. Get ODEPOL on the line -- she’s a Zinairian.”
As his superiors discussed the approach to the situation, Brombal stood by and did nothing but look straight ahead. The ordeal was taking its toll on him as he had plenty of time to think of the possibilities. He resolved, for a moment, never to let his future children fly alone.
“Sir,” he interjected, “May I be relieved?”
“Yes, yes, of course. While you’re out there, tell de Rossi she needs to contact ODEPOL. We’ll pass this up to them and they can deal with Zinaire. In the meantime, we’ll keep the girl in the break room. Keep on eye on her, she seems to be better off with you and your partner around.”
The flight attendant breathed in sharply as the news came in over the gendarme's radio. "I can take you to the pilot, is she alright?"
The stewardess led the gendarme back onto the plane and into the cockpit.
"They found the girl," she announced. "She'd been kidnapped."
ZNPD Headquarters, Blair
An agent combed through the ODEPOL reports on his screen. There weren't many, the ODESPHERE wasn't exactly a hotbed of crime, so when a headline mentioned Zinaire, it caught her attention. As she opened the report, the phone at her desk rang.
"This is Agent Mercer."
"Agent Pascal with ODEPOL, the Santherese Gendarmerie just called in with an abducted Zinairian."
"I'm looking at the report right now."
"Excellent, all the details are there. The national bureau can route any communications to the Santherese."
"Great, thanks, bye."
Agent Mercer hung up the phone and walked the short distance between her cubicle and her superior's office. She knocked twice then entered.
"Sir, ODEPOL just called, another Zinairian was abducted in Santheres."
"Just one this time?" The superior asked as he called up the report on his screen.
"Just one. The gendarmes already recovered her. It's basically the same story as last time: student flying abroad, the planes touches down in Verona and when it's time to take off, someone's missing."
"Get in touch with the Santherese and the girl's family. We'll send someone to pick her up."
Agent Mercer returned to her desk and wrote a short communication to the Santherese Gendarmerie.
To: Santherese Gendarmerie
c/o ODEPOL National Bureau Zinaire
Re: Abducted Zinairian
ODEPOL has informed us that another young Zinairian has been abducted in Santheres. We would like to congratulate you on your speedy retrieval of the abducted girl and we hope that the other three will be rescued in a similar fashion.
Our department is dispatching an agent to Verona to pick up the girl and bring her home. Naturally, before we retrieve her, you may question her about her ordeal and we will keep you abreast of any developments made on our soil. It is our intent to cooperate fully with your investigation and we hope you will do the same.
Zinairian National Police Department
With the letter en route, Agent Mercer pulled up information on Melissa's family. Seeing the Zinaire City address, she dialed the ZNPD's Zinaire City field office.
"This is Agent Angela Mercer at national HQ, put me through to Agent Dupont."
There was a short pause then a man's voice came over the phone, "Agent Dupont."
"Michael, it's Angela. I just forwarded you some information on a foreign abduction case."
"Uh-huh," Agent Dupont said, opening the files on his computer. "I see it."
"Alright, the girl's mother lives in the 12éme, can you ride over there and tell her what happened?"
"What exactly did happen?"
"It's all in that report from ODEPOL. It's all we have right now."
"Alright, I'll get right on it."
Agent Dupont grabbed his suit coat off the back of his chair and took the elevator down to the ground floor of the field office. We went out a back door into a parking lot full of silky black cars, SUVs, vans and SWAT vehicles.
He got into his Dodge Charger and plugged Melissa's address into its computer. When the computer spat back a set of directions, Agent Dupont pulled out of the lot and headed towards the apartment.
He parked in a handicapped spot, making sure to slap the ZNPD decals on the side of the car first, then piggybacked into the apartment building after a pair of middle-aged women who looked at him warily until he flashed his badge.
Agent Dupont took the elevator to the 17th floor and knocked on the door of 17C. Mrs. Lavigne answered the door with a smile (although, she used her hand to actually open the door.)
"How can I help you?"
Agent Dupont held up his bagde, "Agent Dupont, ZNPD. I have some bad news, Mrs. Lavigne."
Her smile fell off her face and she moved aside to let the agent enter. "Is it Melissa? Is she okay?"
"She's fine. She was abducted in Santheres but the police there recovered her almost immediately."
Mrs. Lavigne crumpled onto the couch. "But she's okay?"
"She's fine. We're sending an agent to pick her up right now. She should be home tomorrow."
Blair International Airport
A single agent crossed the tarmac to the waiting Dassault 7X. The copilot opened the cabin door and the agent climbed aboard, taking a seat in the well-appointed cabin. The copilot returned to the cockpit and the plane prepared for takeoff.
Several hours later, the sleek, black jet touched down in Verona.
"I shouldn't be more than a couple hours," the agent said as he walked down the movable stairs.
After going through customs, the agent hailed a cab, shunning the public transportation system, and headed to the gendarmes' headquarters.
Upon arriving, the agent showed his badge, "Agent Francis Morgan, Zinairian National Police Department. I'm here in relation to Melissa Lavigne."
The flight from Zinaire was held on the tarmac for further inspection by the gendarme, its passengers transferred to another, emergency flight to their actual destination. Back in Zinaire, another plane would have to be sent to that destination to finish the other legs of the detained plane’s schedule. There was something quite suspicious about a plane landing for “mechanical trouble” that could not be found by any mechanics, and that this plane was the one where a girl had just been kidnapped from. Where, how, why … those questions had not yet been answered; at least, headquarters hadn’t told them to the airport security battalion. But if one evident was even mildly suspicious, the fact placing this as the second time in two weeks a similar event occurred proved there was some greater problem at hand.
So, the entire flight crew was swapped out to complete the flight, and they would return the plane to Zinaire once the gendarme was satisfied that they could learn nothing more. Of course, they couldn’t get very much out of the plane itself and they knew that. They were just buying time; if the girl’s deposition suggested any of the crew was at fault, it would be much easier to detain them if they were stuck in the country.
One of the break rooms in the tower had been turned into a room for Melissa while she was staying there. The previously-stark room had before had only counter space and necessary appliances; now, it contained a couch for Melissa to lay on, a tray of better food than you would expect to find a police (military or otherwise) cafeteria, and a few arm chairs for the people who visited her.
Brombal was sitting in one such chair but he didn’t really say much. He didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t his department, dealing with abducted persons. He was just on traffic duty, a classic assignment for one of the many part-time soldiers getting their service done before starting their lives. At twenty-one, he was actually a year over his mandatory service; he couldn’t, however, yet afford university and wasn’t going to settle into a career his military-earned degree would get him. He had tried to talk to Melissa about it but she hadn’t been very responsive. “That’s good” was the best he actually got out of her.
It was an improvement on her reaction to the psychologist who had come in to speak with her, though. With him, she hadn’t responded to anything except some minor questions involving the incident -- questions she had already been asked.
Outside of the room, two gendarme stood watch around the door. It was a redundant precaution, the girl being surrounded by military, but it was standard procedure.
While Melissa (and Brombal, actually) was napping, having fallen asleep during the intense boredom and quiet of the nondiscussion, a Zinairian agent had had time to get on a plane and come to Verdona.
He was led up to Melissa immediately with the fewest words exchanged as possible.
When the gendarme knocked on the door, Brombal snapped awake and opened it.
“Agent Morgan from Zinaire, Sergeant,” one of the PFCs said.
Brombal nodded. “Agent, I’m Sergeant Brombal. My partner and I are the ones who found the girl.”
After being relieved of his plane, the captain made his way to an airport bathroom. He paced back and forth in front of the mirrors, trying to figure out what he should do. If he stayed, the local police would probably bet suspicious and bring him in sooner or later. He could catch a flight back to Zinaire, but he wouldn't be an safer there if they put the pieces together. Of course, he could just hop on the next plane to God-knows-where and try to disappear, but his superiors wouldn't be happy about it and it would make him a prime suspect. As a businessman washed his hands and watched the pacing captain curiously, he realized that all he could do now was sit tight and stay calm. At least the girl couldn't directly implicate him. The captain wiped his damp forehead with a paper towel then left the bathroom, still under the perplexed eye of the business man, and returned to sit with the rest of the crew.
Agent Morgan extended his hand to Brombal. "Good work, although it's a shame that both the perps were killed. Now, my assignment is very simple, so, unless you have any more need for her, I'll be bringing Miss. Lavigne home now. We'll keep you informed if she gives us any information."
Agent Morgan noted that Melissa had begun to stir and he walked over to her couch. "Melissa, I'm Special Agent Francis Morgan from the ZNPD. I'm here to bring you home." Agent Morgan offered no sympathy in typical, stiff-lipped Zinairian fashion.
Brombal shook Morgan’s hand and nodded as he spoke. “Both assaulted my partner and I, one had a gun. Melissa has identified the woman as an airport security official. We haven’t confirmed much information from that as of yet but will inform ODEPOL and the ZNPD.”
He looked at Melissa, who seemed oddly comfortable with Morgan’s blank, sterile façade. Perhaps that was just how Zinairians were. She sat up on the couch and nodded.
“Melissa, if you need anything from us, you can contact our offices here. Security on the way out will tell you how.” Not that he expected her to actually contact them herself at all. It was simply a formality that targeted locals who actually might, but was required with everyone. Then he turned to Morgan and said, “We hope to hear more from the ZNPD soon. With the, uh, possible implications of this abduction, this is something both our nations need to crack down on as soon as possible.”
When the gendarme at the airport was informed of the situation, there was some general confusion. Who was this Ginevre Parise? How did she manage to pretend to be an official long enough to contact the girl and take her … wherever she had taken her? Who was her companion, himself unidentifiable with any information they had. Photos were already circulating through the various terminals and support buildings, leaflets asking if anyone recognized him and to contact security if they had.
Meanwhile, the story was already being broadcast as a quick spot advertising the night’s coming news program.
Two commuters were stopped near the Campanile for speeding and reckless driving after crossing a railway after the gates had been lowered. The gendarmes present were subsequently assaulted, resulting in the deaths of both commuters. Following a search of their vehicle, a girl whose identity has yet to be released was found in a hidden compartment. Unsubstantiated rumors suggest that she is Zinairian. Whether or not this is tied to the disappearance of three Zinairian students during an emergency landing in Verdona two weeks ago has not been disclosed at this time.
Of the two dead, shown to the right, one has yet to be identified. The other was IDed as Ginevre Parise, an ex-gendarme who completed her common service just two years ago. The gendarme ask that if anyone has information regarding the unidentified man, to contact them at their headquarters, at the hotline displayed on the screen.
Thank you. For further news, watch tonight at ten.
Somewhere across the strait, in a cheap apartment block that rumbled as the elevated trams rushed overhead every five minutes, there was a line of men and women, some foreign, standing around and waiting. It was surprisingly well-lit, forcing some of the more ... paranoid or embarrassed members of the group to go to silly lengths to hide their features, a feat which was never accomplished.
The people in charge of the operation were watching TV and all swore in near unison as the images of the two dead were shown. With Parise and Ivan gone, they were lacking the two best people in the acquisitions side of the industry. Perhaps Ivan could be replaced, by Parise had been a once-in-a-lifetime find, infinitely helpful and the rare breed who, unlike most, actually would do literally anything for the right price.
Oh well. The redheads alone could probably pay for another like her eventually. They just had to be more careful and take extra care of those two.