“Name,” it was a statement, not a request.
“Shakti Angelipholus,” it sounded fake, but the Interviewer wrote it down faithfully. He did not ask how to spell it.
“28,” more scratching of the pen on the paper.
“Spy,” the answer came without hesitation.
He looked up at her, his glance sharp. She looked almost bored.
“Ms Angelipholus…” he began, but she cut him off with a raised hand, eyes closed, like a schoolteacher. He found his mouth closing rapidly of its own accord.
“Ms Shakti, if you please,” the firm, no-nonsense tone brought back memories of similar teachers in his public school years. He suppressed a shiver.
“Ms Shakti, then,” he conceded, and then looked back down to his papers before continuing. “You are accused and charged with several counts of deliberate sabotage and theft from the Embassies of the United Kingdom. The government is willing to overlook these crimes in exchange for information about your employers. We will offer shelter and a new identity,” he put his pen down and his elbows on the table, leaning forward.
“Rude child,” she chided him instead, glaring at his elbows.
He immediately took them off the table and laid them on the chair’s arm rest. His back straightened. It took him half a second to realise he was responding to her as he once did to his teachers. Back when he was a child.
“You grew up in Southeast Asia, didn’t you? A Convent school, I think, when they made us admit the boys for government assistance. The nuns and teachers were something then,” she smiled warmly when he started at her statement, and then she asked for a cigarette.
He took out the packet of Players from his pocket and offered her one. She took it, and then waited patiently as he lit it for her, nodding in appreciation at his brand.
“Players and a Ronson. Aren’t you the perfect gentleman,” she leant back, the schoolteacher demeanour gone.
They said nothing while she took a long drag on her cigarette. The look of pleasure on her face was akin to ecstasy. She savoured three long puffs before she began to speak.
“My employers were planning to cut me loose. I’m too old for the Ring they dropped me into. Your paedophiles like their girls submissive. Just one’ll have me at 18. I’m pushing it at 21,” she grinned, showing the sharpness of one canine. “I can get you information about my masters, and their clients. You can begin making your arrests today too, if you’d like.”
“So you’ll accepted our offer?”
“We’ll see if the offer stands. But what I want isn’t a new identity. I want something else.”
“Tell me and I’ll see if it can be arranged,” he was careful not to show his surprise.
His mind was also working fast; what were the security measures they would have to put in place to enable her to meet whoever it was that she was thinking. They had no idea what she wanted, but spies like her always wanted to meet someone. That was the main reason they surfaced.
She took another long drag, and then released it, watching his reaction carefully before she spoke.
“I want to be a test subject for your Memory Inducer machine,” his eyes widened at her words.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
The door opened with a slam, making him jump. A bull of a man walked into the room, and he recognised the newcomer as a messenger, a bully boy.
“A word with you, guv’ner,” was all the man said. The Interviewer got up.
“Please excuse us,” they left the room.
She continued smoking, smiling privately to herself.
“Mr Bonsoles,” the Interviewer greeted the other man as he let himself into the room.
Mr Bonsoles gestured with a slight tilt of his head, inviting him in. The Interviewer walked over, taking note of the almost constant tic in Mr Bonsoles’ temple. That was not a good sign.
“What do you think about her?” Mr Bonsoles had a thin, reedy voice. He did not look at the Interviewer as he spoke, keeping his eye on the tanned woman in the next room through the two-way mirror.
“Her background checks out. As for the rest…” the Interviewer shook his head, stumped.
“Everything about her checks out?”
“Yes sir,” the Interviewer turned away from Mr Bonsoles and towards the woman. “She has the right name, and the right mannerisms. Even the teaching details and how she sits,” there was a certain casual elegance to the way she sat, not open wide like how the Americans would sit, but more closed, composed.
“But is she legit?”
“I don’t understand you, Sir.”
“What do you think she wants?”
“I…” he hesitated before answering. “I’d say she’s looking for closure. She’s restless, but she knows how to play her cards.”
“What do you think she’ll do after she gets her closure?”
“Probably kill herself.”
It was now Mr Bonsoles’ turn to look at the Interviewer.
“She’s driven, Mr Bonsoles, but not for money. Not for gain. Not for revenge, even. She’s looking for something. And once she’s found it, I think she’s going to end things.”
“Do you think she’s a danger?”
“Only if you get in her way,” the woman had finished her cigarette, and was now stubbing it out.
“Do you know what’s the Memory Inducer?”
“Good. Forget we spoke about it,” Mr Bonsoles turned and left the room abruptly. The Interviewer watched as he walked into the room where the woman sat.
“Ms Shakti,” Mr Bonsoles said her name as a statement. Their voices came loud and clear through the speaker.
“That is my name,” the door closed behind them with a severe finality.
“Ms Shakti,” Mr Bonsoles repeated the name, ignoring her first answer. “You go by many names, do you not?” his tone was abrupt, almost angry.
“The nature of my current… career.”
“Do you know what they call you?”
“They call you the scientist’s daughter,” the Interviewer saw something changed in Shakti’s posture. Even though she was still leaning languorously against the chair, her back was straight and tense. It was a change that was hard to gauge from the front, but easy enough to see from the side.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re Professor Ravendra’s daughter, aren’t you?” her eyes narrowed at the question.
“She was a good woman, your mother. A greater scientist. It was tragic what happened to her. I’m sorry for your loss,” Mr Bonsoles sounded genuinely contrite.
“I’m not sure what my dead mother has to do with this,” Shakti finally replied. The Interviewer blinked. There had been no mention of the mother in the papers.
“Let me be frank then, Ms Shakti. Your mother was one of the greatest minds we ever had, especially in genetics. She was also the same person who created the Memory Inducer, which you now intend to use, do you not?”
Shakti did not reply.
“Ms Shakti, please understand that I do not mean to dig up old wounds. Your mother was one of the best minds we had, and her research into memories is priceless. We also know that she died in a fire almost thirty years ago. You know what’s interesting about that fire? There were no traces of you nor her research into memories. Not a single one,” Mr Bonsoles was looking at Shakti.
“And…” she raised an eyebrow.
“Someone wanted her research. They wanted to know what goes into the human mind. When your mother passed away, she was working on the Memory Inducer. This device was going to let us comb through a user’s memory. Unfortunately when she passed away, all work on the Memory Inducer stopped. No one else knew quite how she put it together. We know though, that she was working on at least one prototype. And this was stolen. “
He looked at Shakti pointedly, who returned the greeting with a stern look.
“And your point is…?”
“Have you ever seen it?”
“Have you ever seen a Memory Inducer?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Let’s not play games, Ms Shakti. You have something we want, and we have something you want. This trade will be more than fair to you,” Mr Bonsoles changed tack suddenly.
“Oh?” there it was, the Interviewer thought, that dismissive, elegantly raised eyebrow. The kind that made a student quiver in his boots. Mr Bonsoles, he was gratified to see, flinched just the tiniest bit.
“You give us your clients’ names, and we will give you access to the Memory Inducer.”
The Interviewer had to chuckle. He had known this was coming. It was obvious that Mr Bonsoles had no experience dealing with spies. And especially not one like Shakti. He had just violated an unspoken rule; you never explicitly lay down what terms you were going for, not until both of you know where you stand. At the very least, the Interviewer thought, it would be interesting to see what Shakti would reply.
“Did I say something funny?” Mr Bonsoles looked very annoyed.
“It is not just access that I want, Mr Bonsoles,” the man’s stony face gave nothing away. “But I want to dig up a memory. A very specific memory. For this, I will give you half the names in my client list, and once that memory has surfaced, you will have access to the rest of the name list.”
“How do we know you know what you claim to know?”
“I can give you one name, right now, along with his habits and his types. You can set up a snare for him, if you like. And I’ll even tell you how to snare him. If this doesn’t work, then well…” she shrugged.
The Interviewer noted her bravado. She had switched to an American way of speaking, a false bravado peppering her words. He had the distinct feeling that if it had been him, she would not have phrased it such, but there was something about Mr Bonsoles that triggered such a reaction. As Mr Bonsoles stared down at Shakti, the Interviewer realised what it was.
“That can’t be!” he bolted to the door and opened it to find the corridor with six agents lounging around. They were all faces he recognised.
“Thomas, Harris, Lewis, with me,” he commanded, and they leapt to obey. “Davies, Wilson, Evans, go to Central Command and tell them we have an unsanctioned American spy,” the other three quickly turned and took off.
“Are you sure this is wise, guv’ner?” Thomas was a wiry 30-something old man, an old operative in the field. He had been assigned as a guard for Shakti.
“Very,” the Interviewer knocked on the door and at Mr Bonsoles’ acceptance, opened the door with a flourish.
“What is it?” Mr Bonsoles asked. The Interviewer looked at Mr Bonsoles and realised how neatly the man had played him. He had known the man for months and he had never once thought to ask.
“Ms Shakti, pardon my rudeness, but you deal with paedophiles, do you not?” The Interviewer did not need to look behind him to know that the other three had blocked the door. He could only hope they were all his allies.
“And it is not just you who service them, but others like you?”
“And so you are in a position to tell us the names of not just your clients, but of your associates as well?”
“I know the client names of the other children as well, yes,” there was a sort of soft purr in Shakti’s voice. She knew where the Interviewer was heading.
“And is this your first time meeting Mr Bonsoles?”
“No, it is not.”
“I’ve never met her in my life!” Mr Bonsoles looked indignant. “And certainly not her associates!” he made to leave the room, but the Interviewer raised his hand in warning and took out a gun. Mr Bonsoles’ eyes popped.
“Then tell me, Mr Bonsoles,” now the Interviewer reached into his pocket and removed his revolver, “Just how is it that she knows your name? And your nationality, to be frank?”
“What are you talking about?” there was fear in Mr Bonsoles’ eyes now.
“The bargain’s good for you too,” Shakti spoke up.
“What is his name?” the Interviewer gestured with a head tilt to Mr Bonsoles.
“Robert Taylor. Has a preference for redheads, specifically around the ages of 14-16. Reports directly to Langley, but I believe his pocket’s also lined with Korean interests,” Shakti had assumed a more “proper” sitting position, her back straight, feet firmly on the ground, hands demurely on her lap.
“What are you talking about?”
“Sir, you’re under arrest on suspicion of being an American spy and trespassing on UK soil,” the Interviewer gestured to the other three agents. Davies took out a handcuff and led the man away.
“Are you crazy? You’re arresting your own commanding officer? And for what?”
“Men, take him away.”
They did, and it was Shakti alone with the Interviewer. He lit a cigarette and offered her one, but she declined. He shrugged and took several deep puffs. Then he turned towards her. She had not changed her position.
“What do you want, exactly?”
She smiled at the question, showing a single fang.