The coroner grabbed his coat from the back of the office door inside the lower level of the Amsterdam police headquarters. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he told Rosie, a female custodian with gray hair and glasses who lumbered about the basement facility with a bad head cold. “How much longer?”
Rosie touched her hearing aid and gave the coroner a bewildered look as she dunked a mop in a rolling bucket and started swabbing the floor.
“I SAID,” the coroner continued, raising his voice to shout at the near-deaf worker who’d replaced his regular custodian a week ago, “HOW MUCH LONGER???” He shook his head at the untenable situation and disappeared from the morgue through the labyrinth of hallways in the basement of the secure facility.
* * *
Rosie parked the mop beside her cleaning cart and took a pen from her shirt pocket—a favorite toy from The Company’s special operations group. She was more agile and cunning then she’d led her foreign employer to believe, and her padded clothing, sculpted facial appliance, and improvised dental work added years to her appearance. She skirted around the autopsy table and opened the drawer with the body of airline captain Michael Rainey.
She squeezed the pen between her fingers and twisted the unit in half, exposing a tiny camera lens. Holding the pen sideways, she snapped several photos of the body and slid the drawer closed.
Seated at the coroner’s computer workstation, she typed the login password and accessed the electronic files on the patient. She disassembled the pen and inserted the USB connector in the PC’s front panel to download the hard drive information without leaving a trace of the covert program’s activity. “I’m in the system,” she whispered, adjusting the earpiece volume from the short-range communications channel linked to the mobile listening post outside.
“Copy that, Black Sheep,” a voice acknowledged in Rosie’s earpiece. “Files received.”
* * *
Rosie lit a cigarette inside a Mercedes E300 parked outside of Ahmed Abdullah’s apartment building. With a view of the stairwell leading up to the second story unit, she waited for her contact to arrive.
She took a drag from the filtered menthol and blew smoke. “Big Brother, this is Black Sheep. Do you copy?”
The radio signal bounced off a geosynchronous satellite in orbit twenty-two thousand miles above the earth and relayed the transmission through a military ground station in Belgium.
“No sign of life, over.”
“Package has been compromised. Abort.”
Rosie cracked her window and flicked her cigarette on the ground. She needed intel, not bullshit from a junior agent out of Langley with a college degree in European history and a twelve-week crash course at the farm. She’d worked covert ops longer than most of her peers had been alive, and she’d survived the rigors of field work because she knew how to play the game.
She checked her watch. The sun would rise in two hours and her second janitorial shift would start, a lousy cover but an effective one for infiltrating a hard target area with the miniature radio transceiver concealed inside her hearing aid designed to also function as a miniature microphone for recording eavesdropped conversations.
“Black Sheep, do you copy?”
“Affirmative,” Rosie answered.
“The package has been compromised. Abort.”
Rosie watched a figure in a leather jacket exit from a parked car. “Green light,” she whispered, leaving the warm confines of her vehicle without drawing attention to herself.
“Negative, Black Sheep, stand down!”
Rosie squinted at the figure disappearing in the shadows. She climbed the stairs to the second floor apartment and found the door to Ahmed Abdullah’s unit.
She knocked twice.
When no one answered, she used lock picks to gain entrance. Once inside the apartment, she removed the 9mm Glock from her uniform pocket and proceeded toward the hallway.
She touched a drop of dry blood on the beige pile carpet and rubbed the stain with her finger. A neighbor’s footsteps shuffled in the apartment above her. From somewhere outside, a car door closed, followed by the sound of laughter from a woman’s voice.
She pointed the Glock at the floor and ceiling, cognizant of concealed surveillance devices or motion sensors disguised in ordinary objects. Well versed in counterintelligence, she knew where to look and how to minimize the probability of detection.
Inside the bathroom, she aimed a penlight at a pedestal sink beside a bathtub with a skeletal corpse submerged in a crimson bath of acid. Dissolved fatty tissues floated on the surface like a ghastly bubble bath.
A noise from the hallway prompted her to aim the gun at the door.
When no one appeared, she took a small plastic box from her jacket pocket and opened the DNA analyzer to remove a tiny probe the size of a small syringe. She dipped the probe in the bathtub solution and injected the sample in the miniature polymerase chain reaction processor. A marvel of nanoelectronics and bio-mechanical engineering, the device extracted the necessary information and compared the DNA markers to the database on the flash memory chip, a process spanning seconds instead of days.
Her knees popped when she stood up, a subtle reminder of her fading youth, despite her training regiment and her twenty-eight years of clandestine operations experience.
Outside the apartment, she proceeded down the flight of stairs and hustled across the parking lot to her car. She pressed the electronic keyfob to unlock the door and slid onto the driver’s seat. “Big Brother, this is Black Sheep.”
“Copy that. What’s your status?”
She opened the analyzer and read the numeric message on the small text screen. “The wolf is dead.”
“Can you confirm?”
“Positive.” She put the key in the ignition and hesitated for a moment, pondering whether she should get out and inspect the undercarriage. She’d searched the apartment in under five minutes. No one knew her destination. No one knew her operation. The car was registered to a foreign diplomat. The doors were locked when she entered. The ignition wiring ran through a hidden circuit.
She turned the key, hoping she hadn’t made a life-altering decision.
The starter motor engaged the flywheel and turned the engine, igniting all six cylinders without incident. Her paranoia subsided.
She reached for a cigarette at the same time her eyes caught the almost imperceptible movement in her rearview mirror and the sudden realization that the next breath she took would be her last.
Gagging on a length of piano wire, she watched herself suffocate in the mirror, clawing desperately at her neck to stop the crushing force on her windpipe.
“Black Sheep do you copy?”
Rosie stared through lifeless eyes, her head tilted at an awkward angle above the seat.
“Your sheep is dead,” a figure whispered from the back seat with gloved hands firmly grasping the taught monofilament wire.