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"Sir, she's gone offline."
The Director turned around slowly, tapping his custom-Italian-leather-clad foot deliberately against the polished marble floor. "Agent 112," he called out, his voice carrying through the tense air of the control room, "tell me why an agent goes offline."
"We don't, sir. With all due respect, this is new. No one has ever gone offline before." Agent 112's fingers fluttered nervously at the com-board, where the light next to Agent 73's name had just blinked off.
"Let me rephrase my question, Agent," the Director growled. "If an agent were to go offline, what would be the reason?"
"I… I don't know, sir," she stammered, her shaking fingers tucking a strand of caramel hair behind her ear.
"Agent 40!" the Director barked.
"If I hadn't worked with Agent 73 many times before, sir," Agent 40 began, "I'd question her as a double agent. That would be my top reason for going offline." The agent leaned forward, resting his arms on the glass conference table. "But she isn't a double agent, sir."
"She's not a double agent? Oh, good to know. Everyone, Agent 40 would like you to know that he has the final say on who's a double agent, and who isn't." The Director allowed some sincerity to drip into his voice before continuing. "I was a double agent for seven years before I murdered the previous Director, took his position, and turned this mess into the feared and respected organization you see before you today." He paused for a moment, looking each of the twelve assembled agents in the eye. "Never once did I need go offline."
Agent 98 swiveled around from her perch at the Global Tracking Map. "Sir, I doubt she's a double agent. The last place she was routed from was the building across from the undercover arms dealer. This morning she checked in with both the hospital and the police department." The agent narrowed her hazel eyes. "She's out for revenge."
The Director slammed his hands down on the glass table. "Everyone out, now. Except you, 40."
The control room cleared quickly, leaving only the two men, both leaning on the table and glowering like a Mexican standoff. The Director took the first shot.
"How long were you and 73 involved before she left you?"
"I—We weren't—" Agent 40 stammered, before conceding, "Almost a year."
The Director nodded. "I thought so. She's a smart woman, 40. You and I both know that if she went offline, it's for something bigger than the both of us." Pointing a round finger at the other agent, he remained otherwise motionless, allowing the gravity of the possible situation to sink in. "I understand she may be out for revenge, but Elaine is smarter than that. This is too reckless for her."
"You think she's in trouble?" Agent 40 pulled away from the table, out of reach from the Director's glaring finger. "I mean, I don't know," he mumbled, "maybe it is just…"
"It's not revenge."
"How do you know?" Agent 40 challenged boldly. "You really think you know her better? The woman I was prepared to make my wife?"
Turning away, the Director shot back, "But she left you. And yes, I do." He rounded the table until he was squarely in front of Agent 40. With a smile daring to creep across his weathered face, he reeled back and decked 40 right across his jaw. "That woman is my daughter. Find her."
2 HOURS EARLIER
"Control, this is Agent 73, checking in from the east patrol. The official report will be delivered as planned, but I'd like to bring some alerts to the attention of the Director."
"Switching you over."
"Thanks." Agent 73 breathed out slowly, waiting for the sharp beep that signaled a secure line. After a moment, the tone sounded in her ear-piece and the Director's voice boomed in her ear.
"You confirmed it?"
"Yes, sir. The weapons used in last night's assault came from the undercover shop," 73 reported. "They were checked out six days ago by the agent in question."
The Director grunted in what Agent 73 could only assume was approval. "And the victim?"
"She couldn't give me a decent description, so I went down to the police station." Agent 73 set her bulky bag on the concrete sidewalk and rummaged through it until she found her notebook. Flipping through the pages, she found the notes she had scribbled down earlier. "They found hair, fingerprints, blood, and dead skin," she read, "that connect our agent to the crime."
"Good." The Director was silent for several seconds. Finally, he sighed heavily. "You'll have to go offline."
"Sir, an infiltration of this caliber can't be ignored or left to spread. I know what I have to do." She waited for the Director to respond; when he didn't, she continued, "My mother was nearly shot to death last night. I'm willing to take a chance, sir, even if it means my eviction from the organization."
"She's my wife," the Director shot back gruffly. "And from now on, she'll be safe. I can't say the same for you. I'm not going to lose my daughter."
"You're right, sir," Agent 73 assured him. "You won't lose me. Just send the suspected agent my way, and I'll take care of it."
"As soon as you go offline," the Director promised. "I'll make sure he gets to you." His voice fizzled out and 73 grinned widely.
Now that she had all the pieces to the puzzle, Agent 73 was going to make sure that Agent 40 felt each and every bullet just as her mother had.