Prologue (Part 1) – Old Town Alexandria

Old Town Alexandria, Washington, DC

Old Town Alexandria, founded in 1749, is a quaint historic town in Northern Virginia just on the other side of the Potomac River from Washington, DC. During its’ long and fascinating history, Alexandria was a tobacco trading post, one of the ten busiest ports in America, home to both the largest slave-trading firm in the country, a Civil War supply center for Union troops, and a street-car suburb for Federal workers.

Alexandria was also the hometown of George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Jim Morrison and Mama Cass. Today, Old Town is a revitalized waterfront with cobblestone streets, colonial houses, churches, museums, shops, and restaurants. Many of the historic buildings are still preserved today.

Katherine was reminiscing some of the times she had been to Alexandria during the good old days with Daniel, who had insisted she joined him on several business trips to one of the best and prettiest small cities in the USA. It had taken almost a year before she had succumbed to his persistent requests, and she had been both pleased and saddened that she had not done so a lot sooner. She had grown to love the short trips with him and she had enjoyed wandering around the Old Town while he conducted his time devouring business affairs.

They had walked the cobbled streets with their red brick sidewalks which simply buzzed with more than two hundred independent restaurants and boutiques alongside intimate historic museums and events at the waterfront. At the heart of it all was their “special area”, the bustling King Street, a walkable mile now recognized as one of the “Great Streets” of America.

They had toasted the Fall at The Art League’s Art on Tap with craft beers from local breweries, joined in with the Halloween “spirit” at the Female Stranger Beer Dinner with Port City Brewing Company at Gadsby’s Tavern with specialty beer inspired by the famous tale of the Female Stranger, who died at the tavern on October 14, 1816, the Alexandria Cider Festival and the Mansion House Whiskey Tasting at Carlyle House Museum, they had both loved those experiences.

But those memories were long gone now, and she would have sold her soul to the devil to have prevented the tragic traffic incident from taking him and leaving her, alone without her treasured soulmate. The coroner had filed the report indicating the hit and run vehicle had caused his death. There had been no witnesses to the incident, only reports from residents who had heard the noises in the street and the screeching of the alleged vehicle leaving the scene. There was nothing more that could be have been done as he had died almost immediately before any paramedics could attend the scene.

She was a different person now, dark and distant, trusting no-one with her past or present, a loner who kept her friends close and her lifestyle very private.

She still adored and appreciated the historic local architecture and stood waiting outside a large colonial style house that was available to rent. The house was a white painted wooden structure with the traditional windows and exterior decorations in South Lee Street, only a few minutes from the waterfront and a short walk to the Kings Street Metro. A new for-rent sign had been posted to the left of the front door to give the immediate impression that the property had only recently been listed, a tactic used by many realtors to fool the endless stream of unsuspecting newbies on property search.

She stood near the front door dressed in a black pin-striped suit, burgundy starched man’s shirt with double cuffs and black patent leather high heeled shoes. To any passer-by or curious neighborhood watch she looked the typical realtor standing on the sidewalk with briefcase in one hand and must have coffee to go in the other, waiting for the client who is either always at least ten minutes late or a total no-show. She was pleased that she had chosen the black silk stockings but was beginning to seriously regret not having worn an overcoat as the cold wind gradually intensified. She sipped the piping hot flat white coffee, which had been prepared by the happy smiling barista in the Italian deli around the corner and waited with his usual air of casual patience.

The flat white coffee always reminded her of Daniel who had insisted she try it many years before, he only ever drank small amounts of coffee which always had to be piping hot. The blend of double espresso and hot milk was perfect, because at all other times he only ever drank strong breakfast tea. The fact that he was English made that fact a very easy way to start conversations, and that was indeed how they had met over ten years before, on the waterfront in the Old Town. She placed the briefcase on the ground and checked both the time and a couple of messages on the blue Galaxy cell phone which had been raised by the left hand to the left ear in a movement that indicated that she was most likely to be right handed.

The object of the pretence was to intimate to any prying eyes that she was a busy woman and that her time was precious. The truth was really a little bit more sinister than that. Results required extensive preparation and planning and she was paid to deliver those results. The rewards were considerable and designed specifically to match the significant risks of the persons involved. Some would say that the price was too high, but they were not the ones who took those risks nor were they the ones who possessed those special skills and abilities to get the required results, no matter what!

She and Daniel had visited the Old Town many times and throughout all the four seasons, she was missing his company and the warm security of his hand. He had been a very private person, but like they always say, opposites attract, and they had been attracted to each other from the very first accidental meeting. How many times since then, had she wondered, if in fact that meeting had in-actual-fact, been just a perfect and professionally choreographed accident and she had fallen hook, line and sinker straight into the best relationship of her life.

Katherine was bought back to reality as a very authoritarian looking black SUV with tinted windows braked sharply to a halt beside her. A tall figure in a government looking black suit emerged and stood facing her on the far side of the vehicle and asked if she was the realtor and on receiving the correct reply moved around from the back of the vehicle to open the rear passenger door.

A young woman emerged from the vehicle woman wearing a full length soft black Italian leather coat and brown Ugg boots and walked behind Katherine to the front door, which had been unlocked when Katherine had arrived earlier. Katherine entered the house and the young woman followed, the tall man spoke to Katherine briefly, stating that they would wait outside as arranged and would contact her by cell phone every fifteen minutes until the conclusion of the meeting.

The house was immaculate, almost in the condition of a new build and had been on the open market for six months before the listing had been removed and the property made available to rent. There were five bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, an enormous state of the art kitchen, a dining room with a long, stunning yew dining table together with matching armchairs and ample room for twelve-guest dinner party. The ground floor was complete with a luxurious lounge, TV room and home office with full internet and telecom access. The house was also beautifully furnished throughout with all the essentials for modern living. The price had been in the region of one and a half million dollars, a bargain, or so she thought for the location, but she was not the professional realtor with extensive local knowledge.

Katherine spoke slowly to the young woman and indicated that they would be going upstairs to the master bedroom to conduct a short interview and she nodded in acknowledgement. She then locked the front door and lead the the young woman through the entrance hall and up a beautiful ornate staircase to the master bedroom, where the blinds had been drawn slightly in preparation. Katherine indicated for her to take a seat on one of the two soft, comfortable and expensive Leathercraft Bradley Chairs which had been handmade made in Hickory, NC. Katherine knew this level of detail, because Daniel’s father had very similar chairs in his office in Washington, DC. There was a queen-sized contemporary four-poster bed with burgundy and apricot furnishings, a beautiful bathroom with spa, sauna and shower, a giant screen, a fully equipped bar and a variety of paintings by local artists.

The young woman just sat down in the chair without removing her coat, it was not known to Katherine that the young woman had no other clothing on her body. She sat motionless and almost robotic in mannerisms, waiting for the next set of instructions.

Outside it had started to rain, and the weather now seemed somehow appropriate considering the nature of the situation, the wind had picked up and was now howling, almost in protest at the deceit and corruption of the city and beating the rain hard against the windows. Inside the room was warm, but not too warm that would enhance drowsiness, yes it was almost the perfect conditions to conduct the necessary business.

And today that business was very much concentrated upon the young woman. Knowledge was power and what the young woman knew could have serious and detrimental consequences for many powerful people in the city which was staring back across the Potomac River in DC. with a smothering darkness of fear and contempt.

The young woman sat on the soft leather armchair with her arms crossed and eyes closed. She looked frail and vulnerable and it was difficult to accurately judge her age but that did not concern Katherine at this time. She had accepted the drugs without any protestations and sat almost awaiting her fate, the effects of those chemicals would soon allow a full and detailed investigation to be conducted.

There was no other way to collate the necessary information without the use of the truth-drugs and sometimes they achieved startling results that were totally unexpected. Today, information was needed that could seriously impact the direction of the operation that was being conducted by the agency. The interview process had required an exceptional level of planning and had been evaluated and designed with precision by the psychology consultants. No physical contacts had ever been made, it was critical to maintain the secrecy of the operation and substantial care had been taken to reduce the impact of any level of risk. It should take no longer than an hour because there was a very specific deadline to maintain.

Her eyes remained closed, her breathing had steadied, she cupped her hands together and shuffled slightly in the seat, she was prepared, and the interview began.

The questions were both direct and probing, leading the young woman along a path that would convince Katherine that the appropriate methodologies had been necessary under the prevailing circumstances. Katherine was not one to be shocked or horrified on hearing the details of clients but today that would change as the interview took its path and the soft-spoken words were recorded for evaluation. Several times the questions had been changed, it was imperative to ensure the information correlated with facts and not emotions.

The interview took exactly an hour, after which the young woman appeared exhausted but remained calm, detached and un-emotional. The details had been recorded but in Katherine’s experience there would be a mixture of substantial truths, half-truths, and plenty of red herrings in the accumulated data which would need substantial analysis and interpretation before the next phase of the operation could continue.

The tall man returned, he had been contacted according to the agreed protocol both during and at the end of the interview process. The young woman was then escorted from the house, hands were shaken, papers exchanged, all with warm smiles and civility, conducted for those prying eyes that a fruitful house inspection had taken place and all parties were happy at the outcome so far!

The vehicle drove off in virtual silence, lest it aroused any prying suspicions. The young woman would drift into a deep sleep almost immediately and would awaken with no recollection of the interview, but she would feel both tired and nauseous. The consequences of the interview may in some way shorten her life significantly, that however was not an immediate concern of Katherine. There was still a lot of work to do and there was a deadline to meet.

As Katherine started to complete the exit protocols a white utility vehicle only a few streets away was already in motion and heading towards the property. It would arrive after Katherine had closed the door and headed towards the waterfront area of the Old Town. Within a few moments Katherine had disappeared in the rain amongst fellow pedestrians before two uniformed utility engineers with toolboxes and check sheets approached the property and made their entrance. Everything was staged to appear to the unsuspecting public that it was a perfectly innocent and normal routine maintenance visit.

The engineers were part of a surveillance unit and had to complete the deep clean exercise as quickly and as thoroughly as possible, then report back on completion, before leaving the house. Throughout the exercise they were totally unaware that they were being observed by a solitary figure in a house just across and down the street and that all their activities were being recorded down to the smallest details.

The engineers left the house and returned to the utility vehicle with a swift efficient calmness that raised no suspicions in the street and within a few seconds they had gone, heading west for their next debriefing.

The solitary figure across the street stirred into action and moving swiftly completed the necessary tasks and packed up all the equipment, then checked the property for a final time and exited through the rear door before driving off eastwards towards the river.

Katherine was approaching the Metro which would take her eastwards to the Penn Quarter of Washington, DC, as her cell phone beeped, and she had received the text confirming her suspicions which had also re-enforced her first rule of survival, “Trust no-one” and that included Max, who would receive her report within the hour.