Chapter 1: Taking a Risk
Their first meeting had occurred over a year earlier, on Rockfort Island. Claire Redfield could still remember it, and she dreaded the thought of ever encountering Albert Wesker again. He had beaten her and then used her to bait her brother Chris. Claire understood that the two hated each other, but no one would ever tell her the whole story. For her part, she shared Chris's hate for Wesker, but she also feared him. She could still picture his red eyes piercing her from behind sunglasses while he cast a mocking smile. He was inhuman and too powerful for her to defeat one-on-one, but that didn't stop her from dreaming about it. One day she was going to stab that bastard's eyes out for what he had done to Steve Burnside.
"Steve," she spoke softly into the wind. A year and a few weeks and Chris and Jill were gone, fighting the reviving Umbrella Corporation and rival agencies. Claire was, of course, kept uninformed, because Chris didn't want her running off into dangerous situations like him. So she continued her studies, mainly literature, and kept her body in topnotch condition with hand-to-hand combat training and self-defense classes. She also frequented the gun range and had taken to keeping tabs on any curious world news that might pertain to Umbrella.
Other than that, life was dull. Leon occasionally slipped her news about the group, but it was never enough to be useful. She hated being left behind, especially after she had proven herself on Rockfort. She had fought and killed her share of monsters and bled for the cause. But little Claire is always to be protected, she thought with a sigh. She had become a liability on Rockfort once Wesker found her, as much as she hated to admit it. Sometimes she thought that perhaps that one slipup had ruined her chances of being accepted as part of the team. It was at times like that when Wesker's image haunted her mind and she wondered if she really did want to be involved. Hell yes. A little over a year after Rockfort, she got her chance.
Claire sat behind the steering wheel, binoculars to her eyes, at a safe distance from a man who was sitting at a café, awaiting a meeting. He kept checking his watch and tapping his fingers on the table in boredom.
"You're mine," Claire said to herself with a smile. "But where's your buddy?" She had happened upon the man earlier in the week, overseeing a shipment of crates marked with Umbrella's old seal. Chris would sure as hell be surprised, she thought with satisfaction. Leon had mentioned that they thought something was going down in Boston—an unidentified shipment of some sort, but everyone was in Europe at the moment, working on a new mission. Claire had driven for hours to get to Boston, and with no idea what she was looking for, so she kept tabs on any incoming ships. Sure enough, Redfield luck served her well. Days of spying crate labels paid off.
"Why won't this guy go to the bathroom or something?" she huffed, taking another sip of coffee—a habit she had taken from Chris. The man was guarding a silver briefcase of some kind. It was practically attached to his leg. "You'd think that after six hours of work he'd need to pee." She waited another few minutes until he finally stood and went inside, clearly telling the waiter not to mistakenly clean his table. Claire slipped inside after him, right into the restroom when no one was looking. The man stepped up to a urinal, briefcase at his feet. The zipper went down while she freed a knife from her pocket and stepped up directly behind him, knife to his throat.
"Don't move a muscle," she ordered. The man stiffened. "If you turn around, you die. Understand?" The man nodded. "Good. Give me your wallet."
"Here, take it," he said, slowly reaching into his pocket and pulling it out. "Please just leave me be. You have what you want." Claire tried not to smile. She really didn't want the wallet, but she didn't want him to notice his briefcase was missing until she was free to get away without being seen.
"Alright. I'm going to let you go since you cooperated. We'll see how much money is in your account, won't we? I'm going to leave. Count to ten before moving from this spot, and everything will be fine. Count out loud, ok? Go."
"One…two…three…" The man's voice went on, but Claire was long gone, briefcase silently in tow. She sat in her car and grinned, started the ignition, and gave the café one last look. Her hand froze as she went to pull out. The man had returned to his table, deathly pale as he sat across from a stern, blond man dressed head-to-toe in black. Claire's breath caught in her throat, her nerves screaming a warning to her, begging her to drive like a madwoman.
"Wesker," she breathed, unbelieving. He looked exactly as she remembered with his professional clothing and perfect hair. Suddenly her splendid contribution to the team felt much more dangerous. She drove the car quickly down the city streets and straight out onto the highway. After a five hour driving marathon, she stopped and pulled into a rest area. She flipped her phone open, and her fingers dialed. "Chris?" she asked.
"Hey, sis, what's up? I can't really talk right now; we're getting ready for a meeting." Claire swallowed hard as she fingered the metal case.
"Um, well, that might be good. I'll make it quick. Wesker's not in Europe."
"What are you talking about? No one's seen Wesker in months."
"He's in Boston." There was a long silence.
"You saw him? Claire, he didn't see you, did he? One minute, I'm putting you on speaker phone." There was a click and then nothing. "Can you hear us?"
"Hey, Claire!" Jill greeted. "Leon's here too. So is Rebecca."
"Hi, guys. Look, Wesker's in Boston. I saw him today. He was meeting with someone at a café. I think he was going to pick up some samples."
"What makes you think that?" Leon asked.
"Hey, why were you in Boston?" Chris barged in. Jill told him to settle.
"I was following an Umbrella shipment and this guy. His name is…let me check." She fumbled with the wallet. "Mr. Mark Wimble. I sort of stole his wallet, and the briefcase he had. It's locked, but it looks like ones you've talked about samples being transported in. It's right here in the car with me."
"You stole from Wesker?" Chris exploded. "Claire, did anyone see you? Don't go home, okay? Find somewhere else to stay for safety. My god, Claire, do you know what he could do to you?" Claire huffed indignantly.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Look, neither of them saw me. Should I mail this case to you or hide it somewhere?" She could picture Chris shaking his head in frustration and worry. She frowned. The last thing she needed was Chris worrying himself sick over this. She was already anxious enough for both of them. Her back seemed to ache with the memory of Wesker grinding her shoulder into the ground.
"I think it's best you bring it and yourself over here, to us," Jill stated. "Someone saw you at that café, and, if they give a good description, Wesker will figure out it was you. He'll find you if he does. The captain was always tenacious."
"Jill!" Chris said.
"No, Chris, this is the safest thing to do."
"I was wearing my favorite pink jacket, Chris." He was probably dying right now, she was sure. Gosh, she felt stupid for wearing her trademark jacket. Part of you wanted Wesker to know it was you, her mind whispered. It was defiance against his treatment of Steve as a test subject, and against his arrogance. To know a Redfield had crossed him would make him rage and Claire smile. Well, there was that, but she hadn't planned on him being there, today.
"Ok. Here…" They gave her a time and plane to take in two days. She scribbled down the information and started the car. "See you in two days, sis, and be careful." She promised and began driving down the highway. She wasn't going to her apartment, but she was going to the university to finish a few items. She was sure she had some time to settle her affairs before leaving.
Meanwhile, a very angry, blond man was standing before a waiter who sheepishly eyed his shoes. Wesker was ever the symbol of controlled power as he waited for a description.
"There was a young woman here about the same time you left with a metal briefcase like you described. It was hard not to notice her. She was wearing a pink jacket and had long, red hair. She winked at me on her way out." Wesker could hardly believe his ears. The description fitted a certain woman he had come to know only briefly. He saw himself standing on Rockfort, his hands roughly holding her still by the hair. Claire Redfield. The foolish anti-Umbrella agents were in Europe; his sources confirmed it, and he had known Claire was not with them. He was not surprised she was back in the action, just at the coincidence. He smiled briefly as he strode away. Mr. Wimble was still explaining away his mistake, but Wesker was not listening. This fit into his plans almost too perfectly.