Barcelona, Spain; 2 October 2011, 1500 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 29 days
Quentin McLintock stifled a yawn. After nearly two years of almost constantly traveling, he was slightly amazed he still felt jetlag. He sipped at the cup of coffee in front of him. The caffeine wasn’t as good as actual rest, but it would do in a pinch. The team lost a lot of time getting to this beautiful city. The Truth managed something rulers had been trying to accomplish for centuries – they’d forged a united Europe. Granted, it was under a group of dictators that answered to a supreme dictator. If Johann Spiegler wasn’t an acolyte of the Truth, he was certainly in their pay. Just to prove the point, one of the first things the new European Alliance did was to outlaw Zombie Strike.
"Catalans," Mateo swore as he sat down next to Quentin. The team leader discretely passed a manila envelope to Chief Stahl. The chief cut it open and started passing out the contents. Mateo turned back to look out at the rest of the restaurant. The team wasn’t in the bad part of Barcelona, but they could see it from outside the door. Quentin looked at the photo in the fake passport. Not too bad. So, for this mission he was Quentin McCall, an American from Baltimore living in Italy.
"I’m sure they don’t understand you any better than you understand them," Jess said, picking up her own passport. She blanched as she looked inside. "Why did they use that picture? I look hideous."
"What’s the bloody problem?" Sport asked. He just glanced at his new ID before tucking it away. Jess looked over at Mateo. Her foster father just waved for her to answer. He was still too frustrated.
"You remember how hard it was to understand Americans when you first came over?" Jess asked. Sport nodded. He’d told that story plenty of times. "Well, the difference between the Spanish spoken here and the Spanish spoken in most of the Americas is more than just accent and a few different terms. Standard words are different. Needless to say, it can be a bit frustrating."
"Must be. Boss dude looks like he’s about to punch someone," The Steve said. "Should have sent Quentin. He’s the Zen dude."
"I don’t know Spanish," Quentin said. He turned back to Mateo. "Did we find out where we’re supposed to be going?"
"A church in the slums," Mateo answered. "I texted all of you the coordinates. What about weapons?" Each of them was armed only with pistols and knives. Quentin also picked up a metal pipe at a hardware store. That was fine for fending off muggers and run of the mill criminals. Against what they were expecting to deal with, Quentin wanted a bit more.
"The good news is we got all of those Chechens’ weapons when Mountain, Sport, and I went back to get Billy," Chief Stahl reported. Getting into Spain quickly and quietly forced the team to deal with less than nice people. They’d rode into Barcelona in a convoy of vans trucking in girls snatched from Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia to become prostitutes. Quentin wanted to smash the smarmy leader in the face the moment they met up in Sarajevo. The Steve calmed him down with promises the opportunity would come later. Apparently it had come when the smugglers had held onto Billy and demanded another 100,000 euros to release the pup.
"What’s the bad news?" Mateo asked.
"The commotion attracted the attention of those policemen in the funny hats," Stahl answered. "I don’t think we left anything that could be traced back to us, but we were rushing a bit. We got some worn AKs, a couple of pump shotguns, and a good rifle for Jess. Plenty of ammo for them plus a bunch of nine millimeter. I put all of the toys in the hidey-hole."
"Don’t worry, we covered your tracks," said an achingly familiar female voice. Quentin turned to the speaker and saw an exotically beautiful Mediterranean woman slipping next to their table.
"Seraph?" Quentin asked, breathlessly. Memories flooded back from an archeological dig back in Mexico nearly two years ago. The battle Quentin first encountered minions. The night he’d heard the most beautiful voice in the world telling him help was coming and everything would be alright. She gave him a dazzling smile as she sat down next to Mateo.
"It does a lady good to know you didn’t forget about me," Seraph answered coyly, her British accent giving the words an almost seductive lilt. Her face went into a professional mask as she turned to Mateo.
"My team covered yours after the incident with the smugglers," Seraph said. "We have a good reputation with the locals. As far as the police are concerned, the Chechens ran into a rival gang of Romanians. What can you expect out of Gypsies?" Seraph shrugged dramatically.
"Your team?" Mateo asked, eyeing the woman suspiciously.
"Sorry, I’m Seraph MacKenzie. I’m your liaison with M&W for this mission. My team is myself and a couple of the firm’s best investigators in this hemisphere. I’ve been tasked by the firm to assist you as much as we can. I will caution you that with the current regimes across the continent, that support may be limited."
"We noticed," Stahl said flatly. As much as Quentin hated how the team snuck into Barcelona, the chief loathed their smugglers even more. There was some history there. Quentin was kind of glad the chief and the others had been forced to hurry up. He didn’t want to think what Chief Stahl would have done if he had plenty of uninterrupted time with the smugglers.
"Did you manage to get us anything besides running interference with the police?" Mateo asked.
"One of my team is currently keeping your church under surveillance. There are maybe a dozen acolytes guarding the place along with a pair of minions. We don’t have a method to gauge how powerful they may be," Seraph said. "He’ll let us know if anything changes."
"Good, we’ll hit the church tonight," Mateo said. "In the meantime, everyone needs to get some rest. Sleep if you can. I want everyone back up by 2100 for brief and weapon load-out at the hotel. Ms. MacKenzie, I’d like you there as well. You know where we are?" Seraph nodded. "That’s it people. Follow your routes back to the hotel." Quentin hung back as the rest of his team got up from the table. Seraph must have sensed he wanted to talk to her because she stayed seated as well.
"I tried to find you after that fight," Quentin said, "No one would tell me where you were or how to get in contact with you." Seraph gave him that mesmerizing smile again.
"I know Quentin. Quite flattering, actually," she said, "If things were different, I might have been tempted."
"If things were different how?" Quentin asked cautiously. It was bad enough having a crush on a voice. Finding out the woman behind the voice looked like she did brought all of those long suppressed fantasies back.
"You’re a dear," Seraph said sweetly, patting Quentin on the arm, "I’m not married or involved if that’s what you were worried about. The problem is I’m a MacKenzie. As in MacKenzie and Winston. My family would have a fit if I dallied with someone so far below my station." Quentin’s fear flamed into annoyance.
"I see," Quentin said trying hard to keep his tone civil. With the exception of Sport, Quentin probably had the best grasp of the culture behind Seraph’s words. He’d spent years studying cultures were class distinctions were ironclad and unbreakable. It still hurt when it was pushed into his face.
"I’ll see you later," Seraph said, getting up from the table. Quentin waved and turned to wash away the ashes of his dreams away.