"I don't think I've ever been so bored in my entire life," Armando moaned, leaning up against the fence of the cattle corral of his family's ranch. He was talking to both Jasmine and Tatiana through his communicator watch, the cattle as far as they could possibly get from the screen floating above and just in front of him.
"You can help me with mine, if you like," Jasmine offered. "Though I'll be honest, it'll be mostly grunt work. It's another corruption case."
"Boooorrrring," Armando yawned.
"I wouldn't mind," Tatiana said. "Is it in Jamaica? I could use a vacation."
"Sorry, no." Jasmine grinned. "Norway."
Tatiana made an indelicate sound. "Forget it."
"We've had nothing interesting to do since that Avalon case," Armando groused. "Zack and Ivy say Carmen's depressed over the way it turned out."
"Must be, if she was willing to turn herself in for that guy," Jasmine commented.
Tatiana looked skeptical. "I don't see how she would halt everything because someone she doesn't even know said nasty things about her. I mean, do we even know he was her father? There was convincing evidence, but it was all circumstantial."
Armando nodded. "You know, we should have run a DNA test at some point. We have Carmen's DNA signature on file."
"Everything happened so fast, though," Jasmine noted. "I don't know when we would have been able to ask Avalon for a sample. Maybe Zack and Ivy could have when they first started investigating, but he had no interest in confirming any connection to Carmen at that time."
Armando stood up straight, his eyes lighting up. "He might be more open to it now," he suggested. "He seemed more accepting of her toward the end. Maybe it's best he doesn't remember the case. He still might be curious about knowing if they're related. I certainly am!"
"I second that," said Jasmine.
"Me too!" exclaimed Tatiana.
Armando waved his hand in the air. "I call it! I'm going to ask the Chief if I can get a DNA sample from Avalon. Tatiana, do you want to partner with me on this case?"
"What about Zack and Ivy?" Tatiana asked. "They seem to have a personal connection to Carmen…surely they'd want to know?"
"Actually, I called them earlier out of boredom," Armando confessed. "Turns out they've already taken another case…"
There were at least thirty boxes, all carefully taped shut with the word EVIDENCE stamped on each side. But the tape had grown yellow with age, and Ivy had to squint at the bad handwriting of the person who had scrawled the case number and Destroy Date (which was represented by a question mark). There were no stains and little dust, as the Agency kept a clean house, but she began to wonder if she would be able to handle the sheer dedication it would take to crack a case that even the Agency had let go cold for almost thirty years.
"That's a looooot of boxes," Zack muttered apprehensively as he stood next to her, eyeing the formidable stacks in front of him.
"Gotta start somewhere," Ivy told him. With a great deal of grunting and puffing she extricated a box labeled 1 of 32, then another labeled 2 of 32. She and Zack each pushed a box down the long aisle to one of the desks at the end of the room.
She slit open the tape of the first one with a box cutter – somehow it had managed to remain sealed all this time – and was relieved to see that the detective working the case had included on top a list of the evidence items and their corresponding boxes. This one was mostly papers; summaries, witness statements and notes.
"Lab results in here," Zack noted, having opened Box 2.
Ivy heaved out a thick binder, opened it to page one, and began to read the neatly typed statements.
La Meridional Hotel fire. Date: 3/18/68. 911 dispatcher receives call at 14:06. San Francisco Fire Department on scene 14:12. Police arrived 14:16. 46 guests and staff were accounted for by Fire Marshal. 15 were missing, presumed trapped…
"So just what makes you think we'll find anything significant in here?" Zack asked her as he poured over chemical analysis notes.
"Detective's intuition," Ivy said. She flipped a few pages, scanning each quickly. Then she pointed to a statement made near the end of the summary.
Fire believed to be of a suspicious nature.
"I'm sorry?" Armando asked, sure he'd heard incorrectly.
"I do not wish to provide a sample," Malcolm Avalon said, sitting with his hands folded on his desk as the two detectives stood in front of him.
"It does not require having blood drawn," Tatiana explained helpfully. "We can get it by swabbing the inside of your cheek."
Avalon sighed, and put his head in his hands. "I really…I can't handle this right now. Too much has affected my life and I don't even remember half of it. I…it's a very strange story you Acme people have given me. I must confess I don't believe all of it."
"The case is closed," Armando said. "We just wanted to know if you were interested in knowing if your daughter is still alive."
"Yes…well…" Avalon wrung his hands. "I'm not sure if I'm prepared for that, mentally. I mean, what if I get my hopes up and it turns out my daughter is still out there, or even dead? I'm not sure…I can handle…" His voice trailed off.
"Does the personality of the individual who claims to be related to you upset you?" Tatiana asked. "If it does, we can leave. We simply have a professional interest in getting as much information on our fugitives as possible."
"We are a humane agency. If she is incarcerated, it would be helpful to know her genetic medical history," Armando added.
Avalon sat silently for a moment, absently playing with his gold-plated pen. "If the story you gave me is true…her valiant effort…" he choked slightly. "Her valiant effort to rescue me from the kidnappers would trump her…occupation." He paused, then sighed. "It's just…I'm very confused right now. I will probably approach you eventually…but for now I have to decline."
Tatiana nodded sympathetically. "I understand." She handed him a business card stamped with the Acme logo. "Whenever you are ready, give us a call."
The two detectives transported back to the Computer Room via C-5. "Poor man," Tatiana said. "He's been through so much."
Armando frowned. "You know, when I spoke to his doctors after being released from the hospital, they said he had no sign of a concussion."
Tatiana gave him a look of supreme disgust. "Honestly. Why are you suspicious of him? You don't have to be hit on the head to get amnesia. A traumatic event can do it just as well."
Armando plunked down in one of the chairs. "Call it detective's intuition. I don't know what it is, but there's just something I don't like about that guy. Do you think, after all she's done, he's still uncomfortable having a connection to Carmen?"
Tatiana began to say, "Who wouldn't be?", but disagreed with this statement before she even uttered it. She was fairly sure all or most of the detectives who had tracked Carmen held at least a begrudging respect for her.
Instead she shrugged and said, "I don't know." It was all she could think of to say.
Armando leaned back and unleashed a huge, dissatisfied sigh. "Well, I guess it's back to being bored."
"Oooooohhhh, man, I think I'm gonna be sick."
Inside one of the evidence boxes were bone fragments, some charred, all carefully individually sealed and labeled.
Ivy grunted her disapproval. "Zack, it's just a bunch of bones. Pretend we're in Forensic Anthropology class."
"Yeah, but these aren't ancient bones or donated bones," he countered. "These are real people…who died in a fire…"
"Ancient bones belonged to real people too," said Ivy as she sifted through the sealed bags. "And donated bones, for that matter. Stop being a baby. What did you think the evidence would look like?" She began comparing the numbered bags to a typed list.
Zack gingerly picked up a tibia fragment. "How will we know what we're looking for? A lot of these are unidentified."
"We are looking for a female, approximate age 25-30, Latin American, with hip bones indicating she had given birth. It's here on the sheet."
"But Margarite Avalon's remains were identified using dental records. They were given to Malcom Avalon for burial."
"True," Ivy said as she rummaged around in the box. "But lucky for us, someone screwed up in Crimelab and a wisdom tooth was never returned. I found that in the notes appendix. It should be labeled with the original unidentified description. Nice to know even Acme's mistakes can be useful, huh?"
Zack dug a small evidence bag out of the box, which sure enough contained one tooth and was labeled with the correct description. "What good is one tooth gonna do us?" He demanded, holding the bag gingerly between his fingers. "Man, this is creepy. If Carmen knew we were touching her mother's bones…"
"She might thank us for what we're about to do." She took the bag and held it up to the light. "Remember, she was a detective once too. Imagine how many people finally received closure in their lives, knowing their loved ones were finally found, even if not found alive." She pocketed the bag. "C'mon. Let's go see Mom in Crimelab."
Zack and Ivy's mother was a small, slight woman, who bore an unmistakable resemblance to her son. She had long blonde hair tied back with a simple band, and like everyone in the Crimelab, she wore a white lab coat. She greeted both of her children with a warm smile.
Ivy held out the bag to her. "We found a tooth. Can you really get a DNA profile out of it?"
Their mother took the bag, brought it to the lab table and carefully clipped it open. She gently tipped the bag and a small tooth fell out. Between latex-gloved fingers she brought it up to eye level. "Possibly, if it hasn't cracked or been contaminated by bacteria. I'll have to examine it. You said you had a DNA profile with which to compare it."
"Here." Zack pulled a folder from out of his jacket and handed it to her.
She opened it, then frowned. "This is a full DNA profile. If the DNA in the tooth is degraded, I may only be able to do a mitochondrial DNA analysis."
"What's that?" Ivy asked.
"DNA contained within the mitochondria, the cell's energy source. Most DNA analysis is done using material from the nucleus. But if the sample is degraded, a less reliable test can be done using material from the mitochondria. It is helpful in your case because the signature is only passed down through the matrilineal line – female descendants. You said the two people you want to compare were believed to be mother and daughter."
"Yes," Zack confirmed. "We can get a blood sample from the Agency cryolab. All the agents after 1980 were required to submit blood for identification, you know, before Identiscans,, even though they could only test blood type back then."
"An Acme agent?" their mother asked. Her eyes narrowed. "Is this about Carmen? You shouldn't get so emotionally attached to a fugitive, you know. What are you going to do once she's arrested?"
"Give her the results," Ivy said. "Don't worry, Mom. We know what we're doing."
"Yeah, the Chief gave us permission," Zack added.
"Your Chief has a personal connection to her as well." She sighed and put the tooth down on the table. "I'll take the pulp from this tooth and process it to see if I can get any DNA out of it. But I'm going to be watching to see what you do with this information."
"It's okay, Mom," Zack assured her.
"Yeah, don't worry about it," Ivy added.
Their mother stood silent for a bit, then said, "It will take a week or so. Did you say you wanted me to do a paternal test too?"
Ivy frowned. "Yes, but we don't have the sample yet."
"Well, bring it to me when you get it, and I'll see what I can do."
"One last thing." Ivy handed her mother an evidence bag filled with carpet fragments. "When these were tested, they indicated that an accelerant had been used to start the fire. The technology wasn't good enough back then to confirm that, though, or identify the material used. You said there was something that could figure that out for us."
Her mother nodded. "Mass spectrometry. We can get the chemical composition of the traces it's left and compare it to things like gasoline or alcohol."
"Great!" Zack exclaimed. "Let us know when you find out."
"In the meantime," Ivy said to Zack as they left the room. "Let's check in with Armando. I heard he was interested in this case as well…"
"You already asked him and he declined?"
Armando shrugged. "Sorry, Ivy. I was surprised too."
Zack leaned back in the Computer Room chair, looking up at Armando on the computer screen. "Our mother says she has to do a mitochondrial DNA analysis, the tooth pulp has aged over the years. It's good, but a few million people probably have similar profiles. We're not sure how well the results will turn out, how many people we'll be able to eliminate."
Ivy stood with her back to the screen, leaning against the computer. "We have to get this sample," she muttered. Turning around and looking up at Armando, she said, "I read in the paper that Avalon's making his first business address at his company since the incident this Friday."
"Whoa, Ivy," Armando cautioned. "What are you going to do, sneak into his company and stick him with a needle?"
"He's holding the conference at a hotel," Zack noted, surfing through the Internet for clues. "He's unveiling some new product. We could get into a hotel pretty easily…"
Frowning, Armando said, "I think you're taking this a little too far. Do you really need to know this information this badly? I mean, we all have respect for Carmen, but…"
"Just a feeling," Ivy said. "I've just got a feeling. I think this case is bigger than anything that has to do with Carmen. I can't explain why…"
"Oh, Acme detectives?" The guard's eyes lit up upon seeing their badges. "Let me tell Mr. Avalon. He's been very nervous lately, I'm sure he'll be happy to hear…"
"Actually," Zack cut in (the guard spoke in Spanish), "We'd rather he didn't know. We're investigating something unrelated, and we don't want to attract a lot of attention."
"Oh, of course. Well, his conference is in the Crystal Room, down that hall and two doors to your left."
"Thanks." Zack turned to Ivy. "He said the Crystal Room, which I think is the main ballroom. We need to find a way to get in there without him noticing us."
"Maybe we don't have to." Ivy nodded toward one of the waiters, who was carrying water into the guests sitting at their tables. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"….a time for new beginnings," Avalon was saying, speaking with a calm passion into the microphone on the podium. "This company has for many years been able to move forward on its intelligence, its persistence, and most of all its integrity; but that isn't enough in today's world. For that reason I am ending the Artificial Metabolism project."
There were muffled groans and protests from the crowd. Avalon continued, "I know that the prospect of low-density, high-efficiency, slow-burning fuel is a desperate need in today's environmental climate." He paused as an elderly waiter in a starched and pressed uniform took his empty water glass and replaced it with a full one. "But this is something that has been tackled – on and off – since I founded this company more than forty years ago. We cannot continue to obsess over the mistakes of the past. Past errors must be buried, and we must start over, so that we can survive into tomorrow."
"Gracias!" Zack gladly thanked the smiling elderly waiter upon receiving the water glass.
Ivy grinned. "Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one, I guess."
"What do you mean, they don't match?" Ivy exclaimed.
"The saliva sample from Avalon and the blood sample from Carmen don't match," her mother repeated calmly. "They have completely different signatures. I can't give you an exact answer, of course…DNA testing doesn't work that way, it's not like I see a portrait of the person it belongs to. Maybe later we'll have the technology to identify a person 100. But the data works well enough…it basically states that there is a one in ten billion chance that Carmen and Malcom Avalon are related."
"Great, that's more than the total number of people on Earth," Zack grumbled. "But Mom, you said Carmen's profile matched Marguerite's mitochondrial DNA."
"It merely proves they come from the same maternal line," she answered him. "Theoretically, Carmen could be Marguerite's niece, or a distant cousin. I can say with good confidence that they are related in one way or another."
"This doesn't make sense," Ivy groused. "How did Carmen get that necklace and locket? I trust her enough to believe she didn't steal it. But why would a two-year-old carry around a picture of an obscure relative?"
Their mother paused, and looked at them carefully. "As your mother, I'm not really inclined to convince you to look into the personal lives involved in your investigation. But as an employee of the Acme Detective Agency, I have to ask…don't you think there's something else the data is showing us?"
They stared openly at her.
She sighed. "All right, I'll give you a clue. You're being naïve."
They looked at each other, then back at her, then at each other. "Carmen's DNA matches Marguerite's…but not Avalon's…" Zack said slowly.
"But that could mean that Marguerite is her mother, but Avalon isn't her father…" Ivy jerked her head back toward her mother. "Are you saying Marguerite had Carmen…with someone else?"
"I'm not saying anything," their mother said diffidently. "I'm merely telling you what the forensic evidence says."
"I suppose it's possible," the elderly woman with the modest dress suit and glittering rings said. "My sister always was wild and impulsive, and too intelligent to stay in the position she found herself in." She spoke in English, for Ivy's benefit.
"Sounds familiar," Zack said. They all sat on a large flowery couch in the woman's Caracas penthouse. He shifted in his seat; there seemed to be too much lace on the furniture and tableware to suit him. "What do you mean by 'the position she found herself in'?"
"Oh, she loved Avalon very much," Frances said, with great emphasis. "But he was old-fashioned, you know. Wouldn't let her participate in the running of his company. It's more acceptable now for a woman to help run a company. But back then, Malcolm was more focused on her producing a male heir."
"An heir?" Ivy asked.
"Oh, yes. He wanted so much to have a boy, even though he loved his little girl so very much. He continued to ask Marguerite to keep trying. It was hard for her…after three years she only had the one girl. And then they both died, soon afterward."
"What was the girl's name?" Zack asked.
Frances thought for a moment. "You know, I don't believe they ever told me. I was traveling with my husband when she was born, couldn't attend any of the parties Avalon threw…but even when I returned I didn't see her at all. It was strange, I thought Marguerite would want to show the baby off to everybody. Avalon certainly did."
She paused, and then leaned in close to the two detectives. "I do remember, just before the baby was born, I asked her what a miracle it was that she finally would have children. She gave me a funny look, then laughed and said something along the lines of 'I make my own miracles'. I assumed she'd gotten some kind of fertility treatment." She leaned back. "I know it's all hearsay for you two, but it does lend itself to the idea that Marguerite wasn't the one who needed treatment, and had looked at other alternatives, so to speak…"
"It doesn't match anything on file?" Ivy demanded. "I find that hard to believe."
"Sorry, Ivy," her mother told her. "There's no match with the accelerant sample you gave me."
"How is that possible?" Zack asked, incredulous. "We've got the most extensive crime-prevention databases in the world. We even had access to military substances from both sides during the Cold War! How could it not show up anywhere?"
"The only thing I could hypothesize," their mother said, "is that this substance, whatever it is, was some sort of prototype that was never brought into production." She pointed to the chemical analysis sheet with her mechanical pencil. "There is no carbon present. It appears to be a completely synthetic base." She paused. "I double-checked our military and industry files, because I figured that this type of substance would make a good nonpolluting fuel. In fact, if you hadn't told me this sample was from thirty years ago, I'd think that some new eco-company produced it."
Slowly, the hairs on the back of Zack's neck stood up. "Ivy…" he said slowly, an odd feeling growing in the pit of his stomach.
"Yes?" she asked.
"When we were at Avalon's conference…he said something about discontinuing some "Metabolism" initiative…some new kind of fuel…"
He looked up to see Ivy's eyes widen as she, too, digested the possibility. "You don't think…"
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to open that room," Zack ordered, waving his search warrant in Malcolm Avalon's face for the third time. He did not make a very imposing figure, but the fact that five other Acme detectives accompanied him did.
"I don't understand why you are harassing me," Avalon said, barely concealing the anger in his voice. "Whatever connection you may imagine me to have to a band of thieves has nothing to do with my work as an honest businessman." He used a handprint lock to unlock the vault and they all stepped inside.
He motioned toward the walls, which held fireproof filing cabinets and keypad-locked containers. "In here you will only find prototypes for various projects which never went forward."
"Open all of them," Ivy ordered.
Grumbling, he did so slowly, watching as they examined each container's contents. The process took hours, each detective examining each container or file with intense concentration, then carefully putting it back.
Halfway through, Avalon appeared to deliberate for a moment, as if trying to decide which one to open next. Just as Ivy opened her mouth he turned suddenly to one of the keylock containers and entered in the passcode. Ivy reached inside and found an old, sealed manila folder and a container of some viscous, liquid material. The folder was labeled Artificial Metabolism Project.
Ivy's eyes lit up and she pulled out her handcuffs. "Malcolm Avalon, you're under arrest for…oh!"
She emitted a cry of surprise as Avalon, with an unexpected sweep of speed and power, delivered a side kick right to her stomach and fled out the door. As Ivy crashed against the wall Zack rushed to her side, picking up the plastic container and folder, and the rest bolted after Avalon.
They had barely disappeared out the door when the two siblings heard several sharp cracks and the shouts of their comrades, who tumbled back into the vault. Tatiana clutched her left arm, a wet tongue of blood running down the side, her eyes wide with shock.
"Chief!" Zack shouted in a panic. "C-5 us all outta here!"
A blue flash of light surrounded them and they disappeared.
The noonday sun streamed through the windows, but the occupant of the house was still in her robe, as she had been for several days. Several letters in the study lay half-written, and in the kitchen only the microwave had been used to heat up a few quick meals. The woman with rumpled black hair started up the coffeemaker, hoping that a little caffeine would assist her in making a decision, or at least finding a direction.
Carmen turned on the television, hoping that the media dissection over her last appearance had died down. To her relief, the international news announcer was preoccupied with a story about recent elections in Finland. She walked into the kitchen to get her coffee. She was too tired to wait for the pot to fill so she stuck a mug under the coffeemaker.
The TV announcer caught her attention. "…just in, Argentine industrialist Malcolm Avalon is currently on the run, from charges of arson, murder, and attempted murder…"
Carmen froze, as the announcer continued and her coffee began to spill over the mug and hiss on the hot plate. "We're here with a representative from the Acme Detective Agency…could you please tell us what's happened?"
Ivy's voice, firm and professional, came through the TV speakers. "Earlier today I and five of my colleagues searched Malcolm Avalon's office. Upon finding evidence we attempted to arrest him, but he resisted arrest and assaulted two detectives, myself included."
"Where is he now?" the announcer asked.
"He is currently at large," Ivy replied. "We are asking everyone to take a good look at his photograph and inform us if he is seen. We have notified all major airports, shipping ports, and border patrol agents within a hundred-mile radius of his home. We are asking that you do not, repeat DO NOT try to apprehend him yourself. He should be considered armed and dangerous. Please call our international toll-free number if you see him."
Carmen switched off the coffeemaker, which had by now split liquid and grinds all over the counter and some of the floor. In a daze, the blood rushing in her ears, she walked out of the kitchen and in front of the TV.
The announcer continued to update those who, like Carmen, had come into the report mid-session. "We're live via satellite with a representative from the Acme Detective Agency, which has issued an alert for Argentine industrialist Malcolm Avalon, who has resisted arrest for charges of arson, murder, attempted murder, and the assault of 2 detectives. Could you expand on those charges for us, please?"
Ivy, speaking on a screen within the TV station's studio, continued. "Malcolm Avalon is wanted for the murder of Marguerite Avalon, for the arson of the La Meridional Hotel in San Francisco, for the attempted murder of Carmen Sandiego, and for assaulting myself and another detective."
Carmen's heart stopped. "This is a case stemming from 30 years ago?" The announcer asked.
"Yes," Ivy confirmed.
"We covered a story earlier about claiming to be his daughter. You told us you made a DNA analysis?"
"Correct." Ivy paused for the briefest moment, in which Carmen felt suspended in time, suddenly unaware of anything else. "DNA analysis confirmed a match with Marguerite, but not Malcolm."
"Does the Agency have a motive for the murder of his wife?"
"We believe Malcolm Avalon discovered Marguerite's daughter – Carmen – was the product of an affair between Marguerite and an unknown individual. We have evidence to prove that he did, indeed, either start the fire which killed her himself, or hired someone to do it."
"Do you have any leads on his current location?"
"No. That is why we have sent out a worldwide alert."
Carmen stood, transfixed, the sounds in the room and the blood in her ears suddenly silent. The whirlwind of questions, doubts, guilt and fears that had been spinning around her for the past weeks suddenly disappeared, leaving only…clarity.
"I am the only one who can do this." Never before had she been so sure of her own destiny.
Only she could track Avalon down. Only she could bring her mother's killer to justice. And she knew, inherently, that she herself would likely be brought to task for her own, albeit smaller, crimes. But it did not matter. She was answering a higher calling, possibly the most important task of her entire life.
She turned as if in a dream and walked upstairs, took a shower, and pulled a box out of the back of her closet. She pulled out her old khaki clothing and hat, somehow knowing they would still fit after ten years. As she put them on, she spoke softly a motto that she had abandoned but still knew by heart.
I transform Mystery into Justice.
I provide Closure to Victims.
I am one of the Elite.
I am the Law.
She placed the hat on her head the same as always, the one thing that had never changed, and recited the last line.
I am an Acme Detective.
"How's Tatiana doing?" Ivy asked her brother as he came out of the medic unit.
"Pretty well, considering," he informed her. "The bullet just grazed her arm. She's more shocked than hurt."
Ivy exhaled in relief. "Thank goodness." She paused for a long time. "I have to confess I don't really know what to do next. We haven't got any leads at all."
Zack collapsed in one of the chairs in the hall. "Man, I'm exhausted. Maybe we should just go to sleep for a few hours and check if any tips have come in afterward." He leaned over to a doorway and looked at his reflection in the window. "I look like I'm about to start sprouting gray hairs."
Ivy yawned, and said, "Let's tell the Chief that we're going to sleep for a few hours. That way he knows where we are and he won't wake us up unless something really promising comes in."
The two of them walked through the metal double doors into the Computer Room. Just as they were about to announce their presence, a message came up on the screen. It was just coordinates.
Carmen's insignia was just below the coordinates.
"What on earth?" Ivy asked, rubbing her eyes. "Am I asleep and dreaming on my feet? Is Carmen really going to start a theft now?"
Zack squinted at it. "I don't think so…" he said slowly. "Remember that time she gave us a tip on Lee Jordan's whereabouts? I think she's trying to help us out."
Ivy gaped. "She knows where Avalon is? But how?"
Zack shrugged. "How does she know what she knows? Chief!"
The Chief appeared on the screen. "Ready and awaiting instructions!" he said, far too cheerfully for the late hour.
"C-5 us and every available Acme detective to these coordinates!"
"Righto! Good luck!" the Chief called after them, as they disappeared in a blue light.
It was as if he knew this day would come.
The bunker in the middle of the Atacama Desert was surrounded by all manner of anti-personnel devices. Mines, barbed wire, lasers…to the point of being ridiculous. By all accounts, only a tank would be able to break through the perimeter.
A tank, or a very skilled thief loaded down with lots of high-tech burglary tools.
Carmen surveyed the scene. She knew that for anyone else it would be suicide to enter in this terrestrial hell. But if her well-honed skills as a thief were good for anything, they would help her close the most significant, deeply personal case of her life. Orphan though she was, she had never seen herself as a crime victim. She had always assumed that her parents had been unable to care for her, or had died in some kind of accident. She had never dreamed that she would someday see herself as one of the witnesses or victims she had comforted in her countless investigations. Indeed, she felt her three separate selves standing there together; detective, thief, and orphan child.
One final time she went over all of the tools in the pack over her shoulder, in her pockets, and hidden here and there in her clothes. Then she took a deep breath, and plunged in.
Malcolm Avalon sat back in the leather chair in the impromptu study, flipping aimlessly through one of his books. He wasn't sure how long he needed to stay down in this (admittedly nicely furnished) bunker, but he knew it would take quite a while before he could attempt to leave and change his identity. He had already arranged for his company to go to an imaginary relative. All he had to do was change his appearance, show up and play the part.
Still, his one moment of rage had nearly cost him everything. He had sensed from the beginning that the child was not his. He had been adamant that his successor would come from his bloodline. As a last resort, he could have adopted a son, but there was no way to tell what the effect would be of someone else's blood flowing through his veins.
On the night that Marguerite had confessed her affair, he had not said anything to her. He was completely stunned to hear that she had done this. He thought she had loved him.
One moment of rage. He had taken the Artificial Metabolism sample he'd planned to unveil the next day, punched holes in the top, and spilled some of it at a specific point on the carpet where he knew the sun would touch it early in the morning. His wife and daughter were still sleeping when he left.
They had found Marguerite's remains, but not his daughter's. He had been warned that her small body might have been completely immolated in the fire. He had cried honest tears of guilt and regret, at one point trying to bargain with either God or Satan, promising to walk freely into eternal damnation if that would bring them back from the dead.
The years went by. He became accustomed to living, to eating, to breathing and reading and working. To watching the sun rise and set .To the simple freedom of being. All the things he could not do if dead or imprisoned. He stopped counting years, believing he was safe from the sins of the past.
And then, a criminal shows up and claims to be his daughter! Oh, it was not just the insult of such a claim that caused him to drive her away. This particular thief had once been a detective. He knew she would ask questions. He knew he could not give her the answers.
She had risked her life for him when he was kidnapped. He knew he should feel grateful for this. But all he could feel was anxiety, fear, brought on by the knowledge that he had brought this all to pass.
All from one moment of rage.
He heard behind him the softest of footsteps. So, even now, he could not escape from his past. He sighed in resignation, and spoke to the empty air. "I'm sorry, my dear, but you will not be able to accomplish what you have set out to do." He rose and pointed a small handgun at his intruder.
Carmen stood her ground, her eyes clear, her voice calm. "You have not learned from your mistakes, Malcolm Avalon. When has that ever worked for you?"
"I imagine," he said coldly, "that you will not be missed."
She gave him a strange smile. "I have people who care for me. They must fulfill their obligation to the Law, this is true. But I know there are those who will be sad to see me go."
She stepped forward. "I can see through you now…past your lies. I cannot believe now that I was willing to go to prison for you, to prove that I was worthy of your love. Such a waste of time and effort." Her gaze hardened. "There are people out there that care enough about me that they wanted to know if they could answer my burning question for me. Not only have they solved my greatest mystery, but they have shown me that I should be happy that your blood does not flow through my veins."
Avalon cursed her. "And what do you think you are going to do, have me arrested? You'll dig your own grave if you do. You can't hand me over to the authorities and escape them yourself at the same time!"
"Yes." It was one word, but it sent a chill down his spine. Spoken with such finality, Carmen demonstrated with just one word that she had surrendered to her fate. "That is, after all, the plan." She made no move toward him. "I have told them where I am. They shall be here soon. They will take both of us."
Avalon's hands shook. "Filthy thief!" he cried out in a strangled voice. "Acting so proper, so holy, so high and mighty! You are nothing but a criminal yourself!"
The same strange smile crossed her lips. "Perhaps," she said with a tiny bit of humor, "but at least I can be sure in knowing that I didn't inherit my criminal tendencies from you."
He made a cry like an animal, and pulled the trigger twice. He was too agitated to aim true. He stuck the gun in his belt and bolted to the ladder to the surface, Carmen right behind him.
Ivy made a sound of disgust as she surveyed the compound from high above in the helicopter. "How on earth are we supposed to go in there to get him?" she demanded.
Zack scanned the earth below through a pair of binoculars. "Man, he's got that place loaded. I don't know how the heck…hey, someone just came out of the ground! It's….it's Avalon…and Carmen's there as well!"
"No, no no!" Avalon screamed and tore at his hair as of witnessing Armageddon itself, the searchlights of the police helicopters blinding both of them and the wind whipping fiercely around them.
"You are under arrest. Raise your hands where we can see them!" someone shouted through a bullhorn from one of the helicopters.
Avalon looked to Carmen, expecting her to make some miraculous escape as she always did. Instead, with a satisfied look on her face as she watched him cower like a fox cornered by the hounds, she raised both hands in a gesture of both triumph and resignation.
"No no no!" he shrieked. "I'm not going! Never! Bastard child, I won't let you have that satisfaction!"
And he raised the gun to his own head.
The gravesite was headed with a winged angel, guarding the Cliffside plot which overlooked the ocean. The respect Marguerite had not received in life had been given to her after death.
Carmen placed the fresh flowers on the grave and knelt before it. "Mother…" she said slowly, not used to using this form of address. "Mother, I'm sorry it took me so long to find you. I always thought…when I first worked for the Agency…that I would find you alive. I looked in all the wrong places."
She began arranging the flowers, trying to verbalize her thoughts as well as she could. "I know I've wandered for a very long time. But now, at last, I think I have discovered my true purpose. I didn't realize the importance of this role before as a detective. But it is…to provide closure. To others. To people who have had to go through the same thing I have. Who have had a crime change their life so drastically. I have a gift, a talent. It would be a shame for it to go to waste. And others know it."
Carmen touched her arm. "There's a microchip implanted there. It means that I can be summoned by the Agency at any time if they are suspicious of my actions. I will no longer have the freedom I once did. But they have welcomed me home." Her voice trembled with emotion. "I am a detective once again. I have…a family, of sorts. People who care about me. Mother…I think you would be proud of me."
She paused for several moments, and touched her eyes briefly. "I hope you can finally find peace. I found the man who killed you, who tried to kill me. He can't hurt anyone ever again. I know now that I must continue…to give closure to others. Terrible crimes are committed every day. The Agency needs as many people as it can get to track down those responsible. I am happy to be able to count myself among them once again."
She paused, watching the ocean waves below the cliff, then took a deep breath, inhaling the sea air.."Be at peace, Mother. I finally am."