Maria DeMarco never thought that she would find trouble amongst her many businesses. After all they were the public face of where her money came from. She was after all a retired Prima Ballerina and like most such women she invested her money wisely. But trouble she did find and in the one place she would never have thought to look. One of the schools she loves and sponsors. Can the Black Badge Deputies ferret out the people behind the troubles before Gemini has to deal with Gym Class?
by Snowfall and Jessie Wolf.
Dedicated to the men and women of the US Marshal Service.
Edited by my husband Paul, and AJC Snowfall.
Charleston International Airport, Charleston, South Carolina, 1245;
Maria DeMarco sat patiently as the rest of the passengers disembarked the plane. She was in no real hurry. She had been traveling for the past five weeks inspecting her individual investments. So far, she had covered all of her construction firms, and all five Computer Networking companies. She had gotten two of her long haul trucking companies, and nine of the private schools she sponsored inspected. She only had one long haul trucking company to go and two private schools left to inspect. She wasn't too worried about the ballet studios, as the owners of those schools usually paid her back within six to seven months. Their use was more of an intelligence gathering source.
It had taken her more than seven years to recover from her late husband's mishandling of the legitimate business. She had done it though, and was not about to let some wanker destroy all of her hard work. She and Annette had spent a good deal of money hiding the real family business from the prying eyes of the law, money that Maria was not about to let go to waste.
One of her greatest joys was seeing a ballet studio that had been on the verge of failure make a comeback. Another of those joys was the private schools she had first help recover from the collapse of 08 and then go on to become true successes. Maria always found it funny that these 'oh so prim and proper' exclusive schools were now owned by a former assassin.
Oh they all knew the public face that was the retired Prima Ballerina and successful business woman, Maria DeMarco. That was all they ever really saw and that was the way Maria liked it. Only once in the twelve years she had been helping these schools did the 'Dove' show her true face. A certain local businessman was trying to blackmail her Headmistress. The man was found slumped over his home office desk; dead from high-speed lead poisoning. That had been four years ago, and word had gotten around. The schools that Maria DeMarco took an interest in, were hands off. If not, you could end up dead.
As the line thinned out, Maria stood up and collected her carry-on baggage. It was not much; just her purse, briefcase, and laptop carry-all. As Maria left the plane, she smiled at the flight attendant that had served her during her flight. Even in her mid-fifties, Maria drew admirers from both sexes. The young woman had been no different from the male attendants. Maria had long ago grown accustomed to such attention. She was after all, a retired Prima. After retrieving her luggage at baggage claim, Maria headed for the exit. As she stepped outside she was not surprised to see a standard limo and driver waiting for her.
If there was one thing Maria did, it was travel in style. As she was stepping towards her limo something caught her eye. With a smile Maria handed her bags off to the driver. "Wait for me. I need to take care of something first." Maria walked over to the young woman who had caught her attention. "Shouldn't you be getting ready for the season, young lady?"
Maria's question caught the young woman off guard at first. Then she recognized who was talking to her. "Madam Maria! Oh wow! What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in Toledo, or someplace else?"
Maria just chuckled. "Cathy, you know that I have more than just one studio and business. After all, I am the only backer for your mother's school. Now, care to answer my question?"
"My mom needs a hand at the school. She's shorthanded on teachers right now and I'm between shows. So I thought I would fly home give her a hand until she could hire some new teachers." The more Cathy talked, the more Maria wanted to know.
The school the young lady was talking about was one that Maria had invested a good deal of money.
"Well seeing as how I am going that way; you can ride with me." Before the young ballerina could argue Maria gave her a look that only a Prima can give. "I told you that you're riding with me. Now, collect your bags and come along."
"Yes Madam Maria." Cathy squeaked.
She had learned that when a prima or Dance Mistress gave you an order you jumped. Her time with the Chicago Metropolitan Ballet Company had taught her this. And Maria DeMarco was both a Prima and Mistress.
After getting Cathy's bags in the trunk, Maria told the driver where to go. When he heard the name of the school he gave the two women a strange look. When Maria didn't correct him, he put the limo in gear. It was a two hour drive to where Maria was heading and the driver didn't want to deal with the late afternoon traffic. Maria could tell what he was thinking and just raised the divider with a smirk.
Once they were on the way, Cathy looked over at the woman who had inspired her to take ballet. "Madam Maria, can I ask where you have been?"
"What on earth are you talking about Cathy?" Maria asked blandly.
"Well, it has been all over the net and in every studio from New York to San Francisco. The great Madam, Maria DeMarco, has disappeared. Some say that you've gone and gotten remarried. Others think you've become the Kept-Woman for some D.C. Congressional powerbroker. There is more than one question and theory along THOSE lines." Cathy stated. She was almost twitching with apprehension.
Maria sat there for a moment before she started to chuckle. The chuckle soon turned into laughter. If those were even half of the rumors out there she was happy to let the rumors fly. As it was those two were very close to the truth as it was. Seeing her young companion's look of distress over her sudden outburst of laughter Maria smiled at her.
"Oh Cathy; I am sorry. I'm not laughing at you, trust me. It's just that I haven't dealt with such rumors like that, since I was just a neophyte on the stage. The truth is FAR more unbelievable." Maria continued to chuckle as she tried to put her young guest at ease.
"Then where have you been?" Cathy really wanted to know now. She just knew that if she could get the scoop on her friends she would be queen bee. For a little while at least.
Maria knew what was going on in her young guest's mind. For a moment she thought of actually telling her the real truth. Then on a whim; did just that. "For the past ten months I have been the Head for a group of undercover U.S. Deputy Marshals, performing highly top secret operations."
When Cathy heard this she just sat back in her seat and started to laugh. "Okay Madam Maria, I'll leave you alone. You have more than earned your right to privacy. I am sorry, I shouldn't have let my need for juicy news get the better of me. Forgive me?"
"You're forgiven if you'll forgive me my little joke." Maria let the smile on her face reach her eyes. "As for the REAL truth, I'll have to swear you to secrecy."
"I'll keep my mouth shut Madam Maria. I know better than to cross a Prima, let alone a Dance Mistress." Cathy assured her.
"I have been in the Bahamas, working with Prima Lyssa Kordenay-Mason, teaching three very gifted young dancers." When Maria mentioned Lyssa, Cathy's eyes became round as frying pans. "Yes, Cathy you heard correct. I have been working with the 'Ghost Legend' to train just three students."
"But YOU'RE Maria 'the Dove' DeMarco! And SHE'S Lyssa 'Ghost Legend' Kordenay! WHY are you two teaching just THREE students?! You TWO should be training WHOLE schools, not just THREE students in a private studio. Rumor has it that Prima Lyssa secretly trained that new girl, Tiffany Davereaux!" Cathy's outrage over two retired Primas teaching just three students almost had Maria laughing again. "I would kill for a chance to train under just ONE of you! These students must be something REALLY special."
As Maria thought about her two granddaughters and little Mindy, who she has come to look upon as a granddaughter as well, she could only nodded her head yes. She let Cathy go on and on about wanting to have been trained by either her or Lyssa. As for her students, she didn't know how to describe three such vastly different young and talented dancers. Then again, when it came to her granddaughters, anyone would have problems with doing just that. Not only were they dancers they were working towards becoming some of the best covert and cyber-warfare specialists.
She thought back to the days after their return from their family vacation. She remembered the stories her granddaughters told her. The one that put things into perspective the most was the day their cousins thought the girls needed to learn how to use firearms. When their parents tried to tell everyone that the girls knew how to use firearms they were laughed off. One went so far as to say 'What would two pampered ballerinas know about guns?' to their faces.
This of course, pissed off the two teens. They in turn, just looked at their mothers and asked for their SABERS. With their cousins laughing on as they watched the two teens proceeded to correct their misconceptions. Kasey and Kristine decided to blow the centers out of their targets before reloading and doing the same to the targets of their new cousins. It was Sam who had given Maria the details of what happened after.
It seemed that one of the girls' male cousins tried to get physical with Kristine. When the young man in question found himself looking up at the sky, the message got out quick. The daughters of Spotted Pony were not to be screwed with. The only good thing about that whole affair was Kristine didn't pull her family knife. If she had, the boy would have been dead.
Another story Annette told her was about those very knives. It seemed that one morning the teens were outside practicing with their knives. It was before the rest of the household had awakened. Kasey and Kristine were used to being awake long before their cousins. It seems that their grandmother Morning Star was the first to awaken and found them in the middle of their practice.
Morning Star watched the two girls as they went through the rest of their knife fighting exercises. When Sam came out, Morning Star asked Sam if the girls always danced with death.
It took Sam a few moments to understand what the older woman was asking and just smiled. "Morning Star when it comes to Kasey and Kristine, they are still learning."
Those were among the many things that happened. Including the secret meeting with Dannigan's father and the end of Mindy's misery over her biological family. There was the sadness of finding out the lengths those like Lyssa went to in the protection of the nation's secrets. The responsibilities and price paid by those who earned the title of Operator were not such easy things after all. Lyssa's view was also still startling. For Maria, when Annette came along, she wanted to stay home and shield her from any and all. Lyssa on the other hand, seemed quicker to go out. Eradicate any and all threats before they came anywhere near their home.
Maria was brought back to the here and now as the exit signs for the school came into view. Looking over, she found Cathy reading a book on her tablet. "I am sorry dear. I didn't mean to ignore you like that."
Cathy looked up from her book and smiled. "That's okay Madam Maria. I could tell that you had something on your mind. I know that you have a lot on your mind right now. What with the protesters and the scandal revolving around my mother's school and all. I don't blame you."
"Scandal? What scandal? And what protesters, Cathy?" Maria asked very confused.
Cathy looked confused now and asked. "Um; isn't that why you're here really?"
"CATHERINE. If you don't start making sense child, you WILL be giving me fifty grand plié's. What scandal are you talking about?" The heat in Maria's voice got Cathy's attention.
"I don't know if I should be the one to tell Madam Maria. Not if you don't already know." The look of fear in Cathy's eyes had Maria taking a deep breath to calm down.
"Alright child, let's take this from the top. Start with this scandal and go from there please?" Maria was fighting to keep her temper under control. She had to remember that she was dealing with civilians.
"Okay, but please understand that I don't know exactly what all is going on. Around a month ago, mama was asked if she could take in four handicapped and emotionally abused students by someone with the Department of Justice. She was told that their tuition would be covered by the DOJ and something called the Wit-Sec program." Maria knew exactly what four students Cathy was talking about.
Dorothy Rose had worked out the deal for Felicity, now known as Kendra, and three other maids from the ship. They had all been part of Carstairs and other high level LOG members' slave staff before being taken to crew the MV Styx.
"Well mama agreed, so long as they would not draw undue attention to her school. As you know, she has several high profile students currently enrolled at her school. What mama didn't know, was that those four students had been part of that nasty mess with that slave ship." The more Cathy laid out the more Maria could see what went wrong.
Maria sighed. "A horrible affair that was."
"About three weeks after they were enrolled, one of the local news stations found about one of the former slaves. Mama is still trying to figure out how THAT happened. The upshot of that was, the news stations camping out at the gate to the school. They kept trying to get in to interview that poor child. Well, one of the security guards for the high profile girls shoot one of the reporters as he was trying to break into the senior dorm building. Well, when the local cops refused to arrest the bodyguard because of his Diplomatic Immunity, the reporters won't leave the school alone. They keep screaming about freedom of the press and their rights to interview the former slaves." Cathy informed her.
Maria knew that things were just starting from the sound of it. "Those fools. How quickly they forget right to privacy when it comes to sales and ratings."
Cathy shrugged. "Well things were starting to quiet down, when one of the younger teachers had her car on fire one morning. When she didn't quit then and there, she came home to find her dog hanging from a tree in her front yard with a note tied to its collar. The teacher quit, the very next morning; after giving mama the note. That was just the first threat."
When Maria heard this she knew that someone was trying to blackmail the school.
Cathy continued. "The next threat was against Dad's school. Two teachers quit just four hours after that note arrived. Not that I blame them. They were combat veterans who were finishing out their time as teachers. They lived through Hell and then came home to have this happen. I mean, if someone were to threaten my family I would leave the area too, but Mom and Dad won't cave into these people."
"Excuse me Cathy, but why was your father's school threatened? I mean, it is a military academy, not a finishing school for girls. From what I understand, all those rescued slaves look more like girls than boys." Maria knew for a fact that this was the case.
Oh she knew about the DOJ sending some of the less damaged slaves to private boarding schools all across the nation. In fact, she was the one to make the suggestion to Paul who secretly passed it on to Dorothy. It was one of the better ideas that had been figured out for the former slaves. What Maria couldn't figure out was, why some of the ex-slaves were going to her old friend's husband's military prep academy and asked.
"Oh, daddy opened SRMA to girls last year." When Cathy saw the look of shock on Maria's face she giggled. Then again, Cathy would have been just as shocked if she hadn't been there when her father made the decision. "You heard correctly Madam Maria. Savannah River Military Academy is now accepting girls into their ranks. Anyway, a few of the ex-slaves were enrolled over there as well."
"Okay, let me get this straight. So far, a few of those unfortunate children from those horrendous boats were enrolled at your parents' individual schools. The DOJ is paying their way, as they are victims and are enrolled under the Wit-Sec program. Now someone goes and recognizes one of the former slaves. This brings the press down on those poor girls and the school. Things get to the point where the vultures violate the sanctity of the school grounds and one of them gets shoot. Then someone starts to threaten the teachers of the schools. Does that sum things up so far Cathy?" Maria asked.
"Yes, ma'am. The rumors didn't start flying until after that pig got shot trying to sneak into the dorm rooms of the girls." When Maria heard this she almost shit a brick. "At first the rumors were about mama and daddy running whore houses out of their schools, using those former slaves. Then someone accused the schools of being racist and elitist white power fanatic institutions. Next came the rumors about daddy training his students for some sort of ultra-top secret spy organization. Mama is turning out a bunch of female assassins for the CIA. The rumors go on and on Madam Maria. So between all that and pressure from some of the local big wigs the local cops are refusing to investigate the death threats against the teachers." Cathy gave the last of it.
Maria was doing all she could to keep her anger in check. "Just how bad have these death threats gotten dear?"
"You're going to have to ask mama about that Madam Maria. All I know is that someone is trying their best to shut down both schools." Cathy was near tears by this point in the story.
Maria knew that those schools were the girl's home. They were home to a great many of the young ladies and men that enter the schools' halls. Unlike most boarding schools, Savannah River Military Academy and Akin Equestrian Girls Schools were more like homes to their students. Both schools had high profile students enrolled at them. They were the children of foreign ambassadors, fortune five hundred CEOs, US foreign dignitaries, and military leaders from all five branches of the US military along with a few NATO countries. These were not your normal run of the mill boarding schools. They both had more security than most banks.
"I think I will Cathy. Now I want you to do me a favor. Whatever happens, never give up hope. Once I figure out what's going on I'll find a way to solve it. I promise you, help has arrived. Again." The conviction in Maria’s voice put the young woman at ease.
As they neared AEGS the driver started to slow down. Feeling the limo slow, Maria dropped the divider. Seeing the line of protesters in front of the school gates Maria seethed. "If they get in your way driver; run them over." At Maria's orders the driver looked into the review mirror. "You heard me driver. If they attack the limo, just send me the bill for repairs. Now get us through those gates, I have business to handle with the Headmistress of that school."
The driver said nothing, but followed orders. As far as he was concerned, if the old bat in back was willing to pay for any damage to the car then he was fine with that. Besides, he knew that MMACS were good for the money. When he drew the assignment he looked up who he would be driving around. The old woman in back was loaded big time. As they passed the protesters, the limo was hit with eggs, rotten vegetables, and feces. The driver knew he would need to wash the car at the end of the day.
"There is a water hose and outlet at the far end of the main building driver. After you drop us off at the entrance, you can use it. If anyone asks, just tell them that you have permission from one of the owners." Maria could already tell the driver was upset over the protesters. The man just smiled and drove towards the gate as if he was on a mission to liberate hostages from a foreign power.
Once past the protesters the driver slowed down to let the gate guard raise the bar. Within five minutes they were pulling in front of the administration building. Maria was already exiting the car before the driver had a chance to open her door. "Go wash up the car and return here please. I shouldn't be long. When we leave, we'll exit by the back gate, away from the protesters."
"Thank you ma'am, but it's not a problem. I'm used to dealing with schmucks like those jack-asses out there. Besides everyone in these parts respect the Colonel and Miss Scarlet for what they have done here. I don't know what those pigs think they'll accomplish by slandering them. However, if I had to place money on who is backing them, I would place money on it being one of two families." The driver stated.
"Who are these families young man?" the acid in Maria voice let the driver know she was pissed.
"Start with the Gilroys and Henleys, ma'am. After that, just pull out the local country club member registry and work your way down." The disgust that colored her driver's voice peaked Maria's interest.
"Thank you, young man. When I get back, would you be kind enough to fill me in some more about these people? I promise that I'll make it quite worth your while." Maria didn't wait for him to answer and just headed inside.
She knew that he would be waiting and would fill her in on all the juicy gossip concerning those families. As Maria and Cathy walked the hallway the few students they saw were hurrying between classes. Maria didn't think twice as she walked through the door to the Headmistress' office. She just walked right up to the secretary and waited for the woman to acknowledge her. When the woman finally hung up the phone, she looked up at Maria in true surprise.
"Madam DeMarco! What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in D.C. or someplace like that?" The secretary asked with a sly smile.
Maria just sighed and gave the secretary a look of displeasure. "Julie. You should KNOW better than to read those rags at the checkout stand. Now is Scarlet with someone?"
The secretary blushed and looked down at her right hand desk draw. "No ma'am, go right on in. Do you want me to announce you?"
"No, that'll be fine." Maria smiled at the young lady and headed for the Headmistress' office.
After knocking on the door, Maria led Cathy inside to find her old friend Scarlet on the phone having a very heated conversation with someone. Someone that had really and truly angered the woman.
"I don't care what your reporter claims, you dirt bag! He was found trying to enter a dormitory for teenage girls through a ground floor window! The fact that he was shot by one of my students bodyguards, is immaterial. Just be thankful that we called for an ambulance after we found the creep. I would suggest you take a good look at the law, sir! Freedom of the press does not cover breaking and entering! My security officers can shoot to kill and not have to answer questions." Scarlet slammed down the receiver to her telephone and sighed before dropping back in her chair. Not looking up at who had entered her office Scarlet groaned out at them. "If you have come here bringing more bad news; just turn around and leave it with my secretary."
"Well, I don't know about bad news my dear Scarlet, but I do bring news." Scarlet Boatwright had not seen her old friend Maria DeMarco in over two years. So when she heard Maria's voice, Scarlet let out a scream and ran around her desk to hug her old friend.
"Where have you been? My god, you just disappear and then just come out of nowhere when I need you the most. That is just like you Maria." Scarlet hugged her tightly.
Maria stepped back out of the hug and smiled at Scarlet. "So tell me something Scarlet. Just who was that on the phone that you were mad enough about to gut like a white fish?"
"THAT was the editor and chief for the Akin Gazette. A lower piece of filth you would be hard pressed to find." Scarlet sighed heavily then looked Maria in the eyes. "I take it you're here to review the books? Well I hate to say this Maria, but both my school and Charles' school are in the red right now. And our prospects of turning things around, are not good."
"When I first landed in Charleston, I was here to do just that. Now that I find both of the schools that I was here to check up on are under attack, things have changed." Maria stated.
"Things had been going fine. At least, tolerable. Then it all changed recently due to some special arrivals." Scarlet remarked.
Maria nodded as they both sat down. "Cathy did mention some rather special students being enrolled at the request of the Department of Justice."
"It was the strangest thing ever Maria!" Scarlett said. "This great big red truck pulls in. The man gets out and hands me a clipboard, telling me I had sign. He was rather intimidating, so I did. He opens the doors of the trailer and there's a group of armed men and four girls. Maria, they were of those poor souls from the prison ship that had been made into slaves."
Maria faked a look of surprise. "Really Scarlet?"
Scarlett nodded. "The driver waved them out. One of the armed men called the driver Faust and thanked him for ensuring their safe arrival. Despite the guns, those men were more charming. That Faust, it felt like I had met the Devil himself!"
"Sounds like a rather intense man. Let's move on Scarlet. Now tell me about these threats against the schools and our teachers? Just how bad are they?" Maria asked.
"Here; I still have the originals." Scarlet opened her top desk drawer and pulled out a file folder. When Maria took the folder Scarlet sighed. "Maria, I must confess. Over half those threats are enough to worry me. Charles and most of his officers feel that the threats are just that, threats only. However, I am not so sure Maria. More than six of my teachers have received those damned things. Then there is the fact that one of the teachers that quit had her car firebombed then her dog strung up and gutted on her front porch. So far though that is the only one they have gone that far with. The others are getting antsy though."
Maria held the file. "Tell me Scarlet, how many teachers are you currently short?"
"With Cathy here, I can get by with just two more subs. If they can to do double duty. By that I mean, Cathy taking over as one of the dance instructors. The two subs will need to be able to cover History, Modern History, English 101 and 102. That is besides acting as coaches for either the gymnastics team or Tai Chi team." Scarlet listed.
"What about Charles? How many teachers is he short? Please be honest Scarlet. I can't help if I don't know everything." Maria said firmly.
Scarlet sighed. "As of this morning at breakfast, he needed only two, but I doubt that will be for much longer. One of his teachers found acid poured over his car hood this morning with the threat that his daughter was next. Maria, word has gotten out that we can't protect our teachers. The subs just aren't going to take the offers. No matter how much we offer to pay them."
Maria thought about what Scarlet was telling her. The more she heard the more she realized that there was more at stake than just the two schools. Her limo driver had given her, her first clue to this fact. In her mind it was time to bring in her team. It was time for her Black Badges to get on the beach and back into the game.
"Can you and Charles hold out for at least one to two days?" when Scarlet nodded yes Maria smiled and turned to Cathy. "Cathy I believe that you have a class you need to attend. Why don't you go take care of that?"
Cathy knew an order from a Dance Mistress when she heard one and left. "Yes Madam Maria."
Once the two older women were alone Maria looked Scarlet in the eyes. "I need to make a phone call Scarlet. One that you can never mention to anyone, not even to your daughter. Do you understand?"
"Maria I have always known that you are more than just a retired Prima and Dance Mistress, but right now you’re scaring me. Just who are you going to call?" the fear in the Headmistress' voice was real. She had seen the ice come to her friend's eyes.
"Someone that will be able to send help for you, and your husband, Scarlet. That is all you need to know. Now if you don't want to know, just give me the use of your office until I leave." Maria was hoping that her friend would leave. She got her wish as Scarlet got up and walked around her desk. "Scarlet I promise you, the people I call will help put an end to not only the rumor, but the death threats as well."
"Maria, if they can do that I will be beyond happy. After that, I can deal with my bully problems and return my school to its normal everyday disorder." Scarlet laughed as she started towards the door.
Maria asked. "What if I told you I can help with the bully problem, as well?"
"How? I have been trying to find out who the bullies are for the last month. All of the girls are scared of these bullies, especially the new ones. Those girls have been through enough hell, but they are just too frightened to go to the teachers." As Scarlet talked about the bully problem, Maria knew just who to put in place to handle it. She also knew who the bullies' main targets were. This pissed her off even more.
"Trust me Scarlet; I have a solution for your bullies as well. Now if you will give me about an hour to handle the phone calls I will join you for lunch with you girls." The smile on Maria's face did not reach her eyes. Scarlet didn't know which was more unsettling the ice cold eyes or the humorless smile that graced Maria DeMarco's face.
As she left the woman that was her friend and benefactress Scarlet thought over what she knew about the woman. All Scarlet and Charles really knew about her was she was wealthy and a retired Prima ballerina. No one really knew where Madam Maria came by her money, but they knew it was old money. Oh there were the usual rumors about Primas and Maria was no different than any of the others. However, some of the rumors that surrounded Madam Maria DeMarco were too far-fetched to believe. Some of them said she was an assassin and the Donna for a Mafia Crime Family.
Once Maria was alone she pulled out the cell phone that Kimberly insisted she carry. It was the same as the ones her team carried when on missions. She dialed one number first and waited for it to be answered.
The Office of Immediate Covert Action, Washington DC, 1545;
Madison was going over a report from the NSA for her boss when her desk phone rang. Seeing the number she answered it before it rang a second time. "Hi Madam Maria. Enjoying your fun filled tour of the States?"
"Hello Madison. As for my trip, yes it has been fun, but mostly it has been business first. Is Paul in dear? I need to discuss something with him." Maria asked.
"Hold one moment and I'll put you through." After putting Maria on hold, Madison let the Major know she was on hold. "Major, Madam Maria is on line two."
"Thank you, Madison." Paul reached over and picked up the receiver. "Ciao, mia colomba, si sono godendo le vacanze?" Hello, my Dove, are you enjoying your vacation?
Maria smiled and replied. "Mio caro Paolo vi farà sapere che io non sono in vacanza. Questo è stato un viaggio d'affari per l'inizio." My Dear Paul, I will have you know that I am not on vacation. This has been a business trip for the start. Maria answered with some heat for the man she loved. "Speaking of business, I may have found a problem that needs the attention of the Black Badges."
"What did you find mio amore?" Paul knew that if Maria was calling for the Deputies, then it was bad.
Maria quickly laid out what she had found so far. The more Paul heard, the less he liked. "From the sounds of things we have a small group of people trying to put two upstanding educators out of business. Normally I wouldn't get our teams involved in something like this, but something doesn't add up. Another fact that doesn't figure in, is how the press got wind of those four ex-slaves. They were put in those schools to help them disappear, recover and adjust to their new lives. Plus, we have some as of yet unknown organization targeting vets working as teachers at a respectable academy. Alright Maria, I'll send the authorization for the Black Badges to deploy. Do you have any idea of how to get them in to do their jobs?"
"Send them in as substitute teachers at both schools. Surely we can build a back story for Samantha and Annette that is good enough to pass the most intense investigation. As for Bobby and Hunter, they are both former military I am sure we can use that as their cover story somehow. As for how the press got wind of the ex-slaves, I think I know how that happened. To prove it though, we will need to send in Gemini as students." Maria waited for the explosion that was sure to come. When it didn't Maria was worried that Paul had hung up on her. "Paul? are you still there?"
Dannigan answered calmly. "Yes Ria. I'm still here. As for your idea of where the leak to the press came from, I am afraid you might be right. I also believe that your plan for flushing out that leak is the correct way to go. It may be the only way to go, I am afraid. Do you think Gemini is ready for something like this?"
"They should be Paul. We only have one problem to take care of before we send them in. We need to do something about the girls' records. If somebody gets a hold of their fingerprints it could blow their cover." Maria stated.
Dannigan assured her. "I already had that taken care of my dear Ria. Between Krystel and Kimberly, our granddaughters are ghosts in the machine."
Paul had seen this particular problem several months ago. He had taken steps to ensure that the two teens would have at least a chance of having a normal life if they wanted it. He had also made sure that both of them had all new back stories. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, Kasey and Kristine were the teenage daughters of a Deputy killed in the line of duty. He had originally planned on telling the girls this at Christmastime.
"Thank you, Paul. Now, how are we going to introduce them?" Maria asked. "We just can't let the girls walk in like they're a pair of normal teen girls with rich parents. So what's the alternative?"
"How well do you think they can do an accent? Not for just a few moments, but days at a time." Paul had a plan for the girls, but it relied on this fact. The girls would have to pass themselves off as foreigners.
"Paul our granddaughters can pass for born, bred, and raised Sicilians, Italians, French, Germans, Castilian Spaniards and Russians. The questions is, what part of Europe do you want them to come from? Personally, I think it would be best if they were to be from Naples, Italy."
"Okay Ria, why Naples? Why not Rome, Milan, Venice, or even Verona? Won't one of those other cities be better for their cover as proper Italian ladies?" While Paul Dannigan maybe a super spook of the first order he was not an assassin in the truest sense of the word. This is where Maria brought something to the mix.
"No darling, if we were to have the girls come from one of those more famous cities, someone could possibly pick up a slight flaw in the girls accent. Or worse. Remember those are tourist cities and a good number of the girls at these schools have traveled to those cities. It is feasible that they have a contact there, or their parents do."
Even Paul hadn’t thought about that fact. While an adult may not pick up a minor deference in an accent a young person would. They were more likely to copy an accent when traveling out of habit. It was, after all, how most youngsters learned another language. The more Dannigan thought about his granddaughters portraying Italians the more it felt off for some reason. That other part was even more true. Real movers and shakers made it a habit to acquire local sources when traveling. For Operators, it was life and death.
"You said that the girls could pass as Castilian Spaniards?" Dannigan asked.
"Well yes. They can both pass for Castilian Spaniards. Why? What are you thinking?" Maria was curious about where Paul was going.
"What if we had the girls' home in Molina de Aragon, Spain? They are the granddaughters of an appointee stationed here at the Spanish Consulate, a former colonel in NATO that owes me a favor. As for how he can afford their tuition, they are old money. This will give the girls' a little more protection if someone goes after them." there was some worry in Paul's voice. Not the worry of an Operator and spymaster, but that of a grandfather. He had come to love the teens.
"I am not too worried about their safety in the school Paul. There, they will only have to deal with the usual bullies and pettiness of teenage girls. That they can handle. The problem will be the girls controlling their response level. Other than that they should have no problems. It is the little shits that blew the covers of those four slaves that I want. I want to know what is going on around here, and in a bad way." Maria said angrily.
"Personally I want the people behind all of these problems. The LOG maybe dead and done, but I don't want someone trying to replace them. I have a feeling that whoever is behind these problems is trying to do just that. I hate these wannabe king-makers and their power play bullshit. If we don't nip this in the bud now, we'll be facing another mess like we just got through dealing with. How soon can you arrange for our deputies to have a place to stay?" Paul knew that the team would need a safe house.
"I'll have everything in place for them by five o'clock this afternoon. I'll set them up with one of the corporate houses for MMACS." Maria said flatly.
"Sounds good, but where are you staying love? You do realize that you're going to be needed there to help coordinate this operation?" Paul knew that Maria wasn't going to just walk away from her friend or those two schools.
Maria assured him. "I shall arrange my own lodgings through MMACS. I have everything I need to run an operation from here with me. I also have my party favors just in case things get interesting."
"You always were one to plan ahead my dear. This is one time I am happy for your lack of trust in our fellow man." Paul just chuckled.
"No Paul, I give everyone the benefit of doubt. What was that line from that movie? I just don't trust the devil inside them. Now I have been on this call long enough. I'll see you in a few weeks love, behave yourself." Maria said, signing off.
The big Spook laughed. "I always behave Ria, it's just not always good behavior. Until we see each other again, goodbye my love."
"Goodbye, my love." The call ended with Maria hanging up first.
"Madison, I need you to contact Kimberly." Paul told Madison over the intercom. He looked up as his long time secretary walked into his office a few minutes later with two files in her hands. "What's that?"
"These are the files on the two schools the Madam is currently at. The top one is for the Savannah River Military Academy. Founded in 1996 by Colonel Charles Boatwright, USMC retired, with his longtime friend Gunnery Sergeant Jacob Hightower. For the first twelve years the Academy did fairly well. In oh-eight, when the housing market crashed, the school took a financial hit and fell on hard times. At that, MMACS stepped in and purchased sixty percent of the school. The CEO for MMACS, one Maria DeMarco, left the running of the school to the Colonel while working out a payment plan to pay of the schools debt."
Dannigan had been glancing through file and nodded for her to continue.
"The second file is for the Akin Equestrian Girls School, also founded in 1996, by the wife of Colonel Boatwright. Scarlet Boatwright is a former Dance Mistress for the New York Metropolitan Ballet company. Has a Doctoral Degree in Teaching from Brown. AEGS is one of the foremost Equestrian training academies in the world at this time. Like SRMA, AEGS took a hit in the crash of oh-eight. It was also bailed out by MMACS. The stated goals for both schools are to educate and train the future generation's leaders." Madison had looked at where Maria was in her itinerary and took a chance on there being a problem with the schools.
"Thank you, Madison. Please, contact Kimberly for me. The Deputies have a tasking." Paul let Madison know with those few words that something was wrong in South Carolina. Something he didn't like.
Ram's Rock Island, 1600;
Kimberly picked up the phone after the second ring. "Ram Air charters."
"Captain, assemble the Black Badge team in the TOC. And by that, I mean all of them, that includes Gemini. You have thirty minutes get moving." The phone went dead in Kimberly's hand.
Kimberly looked out the window of her office. She smiled as she watched her daughter Mindy being chased by Kasey and Kristine on their dune buggies. While the teens had the advantage with more powerful engines, Mindy had more time to play with her buggy. Mindy also had the advantage of her father giving her tips on the side. Knowing that she needed to round up the deputies she stepped outside and waved for the girls to come in.
Once all three were next to the hanger office Kimberly started giving out orders. "Kasey where are your parents and uncle?"
"They're on the Parkour course right now, Mrs. Kimberly. Why?" Kasey asked her with a little worry in her voice.
"Go tell them that the bat signal has been lit and they need to get to the bat cave on the double." Kimberly just smiled as the two teens giggled at her joke. "And girls this is an emergency tasking, so no need for cleaning up. Just get there fast as possible."
"Yes ma'am." Both girls answered and took off for the other end of the island.
Kimberly looked to Mindy. "Mindy; honey, can you go get Krystel for me?"
"Sure mama. Does she need to hurry like the deputies?" The pre-teen asked.
"Yes dear she does." Kimberly smiled as her daughter took off to find her aunt Krystel as fast as her buggy could go. Turning around and heading back inside the hanger she went looking for Eddie, Carl and Pete.
"Pete, Carl, Eddie! Heads up guys!" Both men stepped away from the Bell to look at her. "The Deputies have a tasking in the pipe. You two need to start prepping the C-17 for flight."
"Where they heading?" Pete asked.
"Don't know yet, but I have a feeling that is has to deal with something that Madam Maria might have found. We'll know more in a half hour." Kimberly looked over to where the classroom was, at the two pickup trucks setting there. They were now truly mobile command and supply posts for the deputies. She, along with the rest of the island population, had watched as the deputies made modifications to the trucks. "For some reason I have a feeling that the Black Badges are going to need those trucks this time."
Pete and Carl both looked at the pickups before Pete said anything. "I hope like hell you're wrong, Kim. Because if you're right, then the deputies are going to be in a fight for their lives."
Krystel was the first to arrive as she was the closest. "What's up Kim?"
"Tasking coming down the pipe. For the deputies." Kimberly answered.
"Gotcha! Will the Madam be returning to run their operation or will Gemini be running the show with us in oversight?" Krystel asked.
Kimberly thought for a moment before answering. There something about what the Major said about the whole Black Badge team. "I have a feeling that they are going with their parents this time. I would have to say that you will be running their cyber-ops from here this time. As for Madam Maria returning, I doubt that will be the case."
"Copy that! I'll meet you all in the CIC." Krystel turned and headed down stairs just as Mindy came rolling in on her buggy.
"Mama! I went and got Aunt Lyssa too. She said she and uncle Rodrick will be here shortly. They said that they needed to get the twins taken care of first. Oh yeah, daddy said that he'll be down to help prep the bird in ten minutes." Mindy called out smiling proudly.
Kimberly smiled with her own pride. "Why thank you Mindy. You didn't have to do all that. What made you think of getting your daddy, aunt Lyssa and uncle Rodrick?"
Mindy smiled up at Kimberly, happy that she had thought of something her mother hadn't. "Well you always call them when gramps calls on the hot line. When you told Kasey and Kristine to get their parents, I figured that the next people you would be calling would be them."
Kimberly just smiled down at her preteen daughter. "You did good pumpkin. Now, you know what time it is."
"Yes, ma'am. It's secret stuff time. I'll go see if Warlock wants to play chase." With that Mindy took off looking for the tactical Belgian shepherd.
To be continued.
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