The Woman Who Wasn't There

Chapter VII

"They should have something by now," Jill said for the fourth time in the past half-hour.

Claire looked up from the copy of Cycle World she was reading to give Jill a reassuring smile. Then she went back to the magazine. She'd much rather be distracted by an article than fidget impatiently waiting to hear back from the RLF. So far, the only information the group of hackers had given them was that the coding on the Branford & Locke official website sucked and the design was cliche and stale. They swore they we on the verge of getting into the good stuff – they only had a firewall or two to go – and then they would be able to tell them how much the company spent on toilet paper last year. Both Claire and Jill were grateful Chris wasn't the one who had taken that call.

Claire didn't know where her brother was now. She presumed he was out stalking around the mall, sorting out his thoughts or maybe checking to see if Ada had brought along any friends. Jill hadn't made any attempt to follow him. She sat with Claire in the bookstore, rifling through magazines without reading a word and drinking more cappuccino than an already edgy person should. It was Claire's turn to observe that Jill's problems had less to do with this mission than with her man.

Jill tossed her collection of magazines back on the rack. They stayed there for a moment, then they all slid to the floor in a flurry a subscription cards. A clerk behind the counter coughed in a manner that suggested that Jill ought to clean that up or else someone was going to spend the rest of his shift complaining loudly to his fellow employees about what pigs customers are. Jill glared at him briefly to let him know she planned on doing it anyway. Claire buried herself in her magazine.


That brought Claire back around. Jill's use of profanity was rare and, as such, to be taken seriously. "Having problems?" she asked.

Jill held up her thumb. "Paper cut. Because today wasn't quite annoying enough. At least it's not bleeding."

"You'll live. But, uh, I wasn't exactly talking about your thumb."

Jill continued picking up the magazines.

"Come on," Claire said. "You listen to me. I listen to you. That's how it works."

"I know, I know. But I feel like an idiot. I've been so worried about Chris lately, that I go out and do something to tick him off. I should have known he wouldn't care about checking into Ada, but I didn't trust him."

"He'll get over it…once we get through this. And really, Jill, with the way Chris has been acting, I probably would have done the same thing."

Jill murmured a "hmm" in response. She appreciated Claire's attempt to comfort her, but hearing that eventually things would work out wasn't doing much for her right now. It just made her want this mess over with even more than she had before.

Fortunately for her, the RLF was complying. Her cell phone rang. She answered it with a curt, "Yeah, so?"

Wayne's voice answered back. "Why good day to you too, Jill. May I ask how you are doing?"

"Wayne. Information. Now."

"Sheesh…" Without further protest, he proceeded to tell her everything they had dug up on Branford & Locke. Jill would have liked to hear more, but even she had to admit what she had heard was good enough.

"So, what do you think?" Claire asked after Jill got off the phone.

"I think," Jill announced, "We're going to Florida."


They assembled once more at the food court. Ada wasn't there this time, having going back to her hotel room to allow the group to make their decision without her presence tainting the discussion. As she had told Leon before she left, she was confident the RLF would find out the truth and vindicate her.

Her prediction appeared to be dead on. Jill looked substantially more enthusiastic than she had before the first meeting had adjourned and Claire looked a little less annoyed. As she was the one who had actually taken the call from the RLF, Claire let Jill explain their findings.

"Okay, first off, they found out what they could about the legitimate company, Branford & Locke. Yes, it is a chemical company. Yes, their main product is artificial fertilizers. That doesn't seem like much, but Clark, the chemist of the group, confirmed that some of the components they use could be combined into things that aren't so nurturing to life. But that's not the main thing. They were able to hack into the payroll and accounting systems. It seems Branford & Locke employs a lot more people than it needs to and, after running checks on some random names, not all of those people are quite who they say they are. As for the accounting stuff, they found a general ledger that explained company finances all nice and neatly. Then they dug a little deeper and found another set of books that read completely differently. Large chunks of money come in and go away mysteriously. Funds get transferred to areas where Branford & Locke has no official business. None of these transactions have anyone's name or any kind of explanation on them. Of course, none of this in and of itself proves anything, but if you take this company's suspicious activity along with everything Ada told us…well, her story does seem to check out. Anyway, the RLF said it would keep looking and let us know if they come up with anything else."

"Damn, those little geeks do know their shit." That was the closest thing to admiration Barry had ever expressed for the trio.

Chris didn't let on he was impressed, but relief and anticipation were in his voice. "She's for real then. The deal with Wesker is for real."

Leon passed on the "I told you so" that was within in his rights. He was just happy to know the others were starting believe Ada.

Most of the others. Claire's response was to say, "Kinda looks that way."

Jill felt she owed her some support. "Before we make our final decision, I think we need to play Devil's Advocate and look at this from all angles."

"You mean," Barry asked. "Is if this info really proves Ada's telling the truth?"

"Right," Claire offered, "It could've been planted where the RLF could find it."

Chris shook his head. "The Company only knows about our affiliation with the Gaea Group, not the RLF. Nobody's a hacker in the Gaea Group. We're not hackers. Why plant information you don't think your enemy is capable of finding?"

"Maybe it's a standard defense strategy of theirs." Claire felt like she was grasping at straws, that Leon's old paranoia had seeped into her and was making itself known with a vengeance. It made no sense for a company with nothing to hide to create the illusion that it was, in fact, hiding something and she knew it. On the contrary, every explanation Ada had ever given was perfectly logical, every morsel of information she doled out backed up by the facts they uncovered. The only thing left to Claire was a nagging sensation that everything fit together too neatly. Ada's theory of serendipity just didn't ring true.

Thankfully, nobody bothered to point out the holes in Claire's argument. Leon focused instead on patching up any that might be found by the constant poking this group was capable of doing in Ada's side of the story. "Okay, Ada comes to me with an offer. She takes me and Claire into an Umbrella facility we never even knew about and that winds up netting us a Hunter cell sample. She spends a week here while we talk and talk and talk this out. When pushed, she gives up the real name of the Company. Research by the RLF supports everything she told us. And the entire time, there has never been any sign of the Company. Believe me, I've been checking and I know you have been too, Chris. I know none of you think I'm the most objective person when it comes down to it, but, really, what explanations are there, within reason, for everything I just said other than Ada is telling the truth?"

Even Claire was unable to think of anything. Finally, after a long, awkward silence, Chris made the pronouncement that had been a week in the making. "Leon, call Ada Wong. Tell her it's a go."


For the first time, Ada was invited to the townhouse. As a whole, the group had decided to extend their trust enough to let the woman into their home. As individuals, there was some dissension, the majority of it from Claire. Barry put in his two cents, but it was more for solidarity than out of any doubt on his part. Much as he liked to mock the RLF, the information they came up with had been enough to sell him on the plan. Claire had grudgingly conceded that at least the townhouse was better than the food court.

As usual, Chris began the proceedings. "Okay, Wong, what's your schedule?"

Ada reclined slightly in her chair and took a sip of water she had requested before starting. "I'm to go Miami this Friday and meet my contact from the Umbrella lab in the evening. He has the weekend off. Over the course of said weekend, I'm to let him know I'd like to spend more time with him and go back with him to the Keys where the lab in located. I have until about Wednesday afternoon to get myself into the lab. Wednesday, 11:30 PM back in Miami is when and where I'm to rendezvous with Wesker. I don't have the exact location yet; he's to call me with that. The 11:30 PM is just to let my know I'm working in a very tight timeframe."

"But Wesker will definitely be in Miami?" Jill asked.

"I don't know when he'll get there, but yes. Knowing how the Company operates, he'll probably arrive at 11:25 PM."

"Any chance he'll get there earlier?" Jill continued with the questioning.

Ada shrugged. "He shouldn't, but Wesker's a rogue. He tends to do things how and when he wants to do them. If his past results weren't as good as they are, that might not be the case, but the Company isn't about to berate the man that gave them almost everything they know about Umbrella just because he can't follow a schedule. But to anticipate your next question, Ms. Valentine, Wesker will not, under any circumstance, tell me where's he's going to be until he has to. So even he does arrive early, we have no way of knowing."

"I don't suppose he'll be staying at the same location you are," Chris said.

"That's not Company policy. The only time we'll probably be within a mile of each other is the actual meeting. I don't see that lasting for more than five minutes. I'll hand over what I have and we'll go our separate ways. The Company will contact me if it needs anything further. It seems you have a very tight timeframe as well."

Chris exhaled sharply. "In other words, the five of us need to hang out Miami, just waiting for Wesker to show. When he does, he'll give you a quick call and you have to haul ass to wherever it is he specifies. We'll have to haul ass too, because he's only going to be there for five minutes at the most and if we miss him, all of this crap is for nothing. Miami's a big city, with a shitload of people in it. If he gets away from us, I don't see us tracking him down easily if at all."

"So stay near where I'm staying. I'll let you know as soon as he calls where the pick-up spot will be. If I can make there, so should all of you."

"Oh, right," Claire put in sarcastically, "We'll stay at the same hotel as you. I'm sure the Company won't find that suspicious at all."

"I told you, the Company doesn't consider the lot of you to be a priority. They're not actively looking for you. But all the same, no, you shouldn't stay at the hotel and I certainly hope you are all smart enough not to register under your real names or known aliases. Miami's a big tourist city. There are hotels everywhere. Private homes people rent out to vacationers. I shouldn't think it will be that hard to find a place that's close."

"I'll call a travel agent right now."

"Claire," Barry warned. He sympathized with Claire, but now that they had chosen their path, they should try to tread it as lightly as they could. Picking cat-fights with Ada Wong would not be productive.

Ada didn't seem to care one way or the other. "You should set something up as soon as possible. I'm sure the Miami tourism board would do its best to accommodate you, but I think you're better off going through more private channels. Maybe your little computer friends can find you a nice bargain over the internet."

Once again, Leon stepped in as peacemaker. "I think using the RLF would be a good idea. They can set everything up anonymously."

"Fine," Claire relented. "Just as long as my alias doesn't sound like a Bond girl again." That had been a fun moment at the supermarket when she had used the first credit card the RLF had given her.

"Okay, people," Chris announced as he got up from his chair. "We've got until Wednesday to get to Florida, but I think we should go a little sooner. Wong will go there in two days; I don't think we should trail that much behind her. Jill, have the RLF set something up for Saturday. It's a big travel day, we'll blend in with all the other tourists. Everybody good?" He looked directly at Claire when he said that.

"I'm great." She looked directly at Leon when she answered.


Leon walked Ada out to her car. It was a gentlemanly gesture that had the added bonus of getting him out of the townhouse and away from that look Claire had given him. It wasn't the hostility towards Ada, but the disappointment buried deep within her eyes that had him running guiltily away. He was Claire's friend; he should have backed her up instead of arguing against her. At the very least, he owed a private talk to explain to her why he believed as he did. Bickering in front of the others, in front of Ada, seemed like a violation of the bond they had formed.

And yet here he was, chatting over inconsequentials in the driveway with Ada while Claire stewed inside.

Perceptive as always, Ada sensed Leon was more than a little distracted. As smoothly as always, she moved to have his focus brought back to her. "Leon, we only have two days left before it becomes business as usual. I don't suppose you'd like to spend that time enjoying whatever refinements this town has to offer instead of cramping yourself in that townhouse and planning out the minutiae of what is essentially unpredictable. Obsessing about Wesker will only throw your emotions off when you finally encounter him. Hmm. Maybe I should be speaking with Mr. Redfield about that."

"You're right, Ada, but I wouldn't share with Chris. I don't think he'd appreciate the advice."

Ada opened the driver's door to her Miata. Before sliding in, she purred back to Leon, "As long as I have your attention…"

Once in the car, she waited. She waited for Leon to quit looking back and forth from the townhouse to her hand lying on the passenger's seat in invitation. She waited for his choice between duty and desire.

Ada didn't mind waiting when she knew the outcome of her choosing was inevitable.

Leon gave the townhouse one last look then joined Ada in the car. "Do you have anything in particular in mind?" he asked.

"Definitely," she replied.


Jill sat in the overstuffed chair in the bedroom she shared with Chris contemplating her cell phone. She had the number on speed dial; he had told her she could call at any time, for any reason. But her cell phone remained turned off.

She had just been through this a few days ago with the RLF and she hadn't gotten any results from it. The minor revelation of Ada's presence at the protest was acknowledge and explained by the woman within seconds. That was not worth the fight and hard feelings between her and Chris. Especially since they came at a time when they should be sticking closer together than ever.

And it wasn't the fact that she wanted to call for back up that she was once again thinking about hiding from Chris. It was the person she wanted to call that had her cooped up in the bedroom. If she was making this call to Rebecca Chambers, she could be sitting in the kitchen with the phone set on speaker. Chris might question her about her choice of the young medic, but he would hardly disapprove.

She told herself she was being stupid. The two men had had one awkward meeting that lasted all of ten minutes. Most of Chris' problem with him had been the easy manner he had around Jill. Not quite flirting, but not quite innocent either. It was just the way he was. Nothing was meant by it. Chris hadn't understood that then but Jill was sure she could explain it now. Once that was over, they could both call him and get him on board.

Jill stayed in her chair. Chris hadn't slept here last night and right now, he was down in the basement. He would likely sleep there again tonight. Deep down, Chris's attitude problem and all, she knew she was wrong to go behind his back. She would need to do some major apologizing before even thinking about bringing her new idea to him. After she had settled things with Chris, then she could broach the topic. Gently.

But she didn't feel like apologizing right now. Everything was still too tense between them; she was pretty sure any attempt outside of a full groveling surrender would bring another fight. One of the reasons she and Chris were so suited for each other was that they were both strong willed individuals with a healthy belief in what they did and a stubborn refusal to back down from that belief. Unfortunately, that had a pronounced downside at times like these.

She remembered Claire's words about things working out after the mission to Florida. She believed her, but that would be too late.

Jill hit the power button. The last she had heard, he was in Miami anyway. Maybe it was fate that she was to call him – Ada's stupid serendipity all over again.

The phone rang seven times before she heard a groggy "yeah" on the other end.

"I didn't mean to wake you."

"That you, Jill? Don't worry about it. What can I do for you?"

"Good thing you're rested, Carlos, because it's a long story…"


Next up: S.T.A.R.S. over Miami, the RLF gets a unfriendly visitor.