Off-Label Uses for the Gelman Process

(Do Not Try This at Home)

Part Six: The Choices We Make, The Chances We Take

Her judgment and deductive reasoning skills, she finds, aren't failing her at all. It takes nearly a week to find just enough information to confirm, at least in her own mind, exactly what is going on. Has been going on.

It's another week before she decides on what she needs to do about it, and that decision brings her, once again, to Gordon's terrible restaurant.

"You have to order something this time," the server—'Nikki,' her nametag reads, which is really just… fitting, somehow—says as Madeline walks in the door, "or you're not getting a table."

Madeline's beginning to think that this girl never actually goes home.

It's three in the morning, and she doubts that there's going to be a sudden rush for seating any time soon, but the point is hardly worth arguing. "Fine," she says with as much cordiality as she can muster. "Tea, please."

Nikki stares at her impatiently for a long moment before asking, "Anything else?"

"No," Madeline answers, just a tad frostily, and heads for a table near the back of the restaurant. Ten minutes pass before the server returns with a single cup of lukewarm tea, placing it on the edge of the table before wandering away again. With another glance at the door, Madeline reaches for the cup, takes a sip, then puts it down again in disgust.

Finally Gordon saunters in, nodding at Nikki as he passes by.

"You know, I think I've seen more of you in the last year than I have in the ten since I left Section," he says as he slides into the booth.

She shrugs. "It's been a busy year."

"Yeah, but not too busy for a little fun, hmm?" he says with a smirk. When she shoots him a questioning look, he adds, "By the way… we're monitoring your office again."

Realization dawning on her, Madeline glares at him. "Has your work at Center become so boring that you've taken up voyeurism?"

"Hey, I was assigned to surveillance duty this week," he says defensively. "Don't complain at me; blame Operations. I'm not the one who couldn't wait for a trip up to the Tower. I was just ordered to… monitor things." He laughs. "Besides, it's not like it's anything I haven't seen before. If I recall, the first time I met you, you weren't wearing a single stitch of clothing."

Madeline purses her lips in irritation, but tilts her chin a bit higher all the same; after all, it's not as though she's ashamed. "That was part of the profile."

Gordon laughs. "The profile said to distract… whatever his name was—that Russian terrorist bloke—for ten minutes. I don't remember it saying anything about not having any clothes on while you were doing it."

If he weren't actually right, she'd be rather annoyed with him at the moment. Instead, she just smiles smugly, taking another sip of the awful, watered-down tea before saying over the rim of her cup, "There was a time when I was very distracting without my clothes on, thank you."

"You say that as if that time has passed," he quips, shaking his head and looking around the restaurant.

She sighs, her smile fading a bit. "The time as passed for many things, I'm finding."

"Yeah, these days you'll only get naked for the cameras," Gordon jokes. He pauses, considers that for a moment, then adds, "Well, and for Operations."

She rolls her eyes. "Well, with age comes standards, I suppose," she replies, growing increasingly irritated with the vaguely nostalgic tone that keeps threatening to creep into her voice.

Gordon doesn't seem to notice; he only laughs at her words as he leafs through the menu. She idly wonders how he doesn't have the thing memorized by now, considering how much time he's spent looking at it over the last few months.

The only other diners in the restaurant get up and leave, and Madeline watches them go, almost getting up to follow them. She could leave now, she thinks, and she's annoyed with how much she finds herself wanting to. But she's already made her decision, and she's never been one to waste time on regrets.

But it's a shame, really; despite his complete inability to remain serious for more than five minutes at a time and his overly chatty nature, she's always been... almost fond of Gordon.

She stands and motions for him to move over. "I have something to show you," she says, letting him catch a glimpse of the panel she's got tucked inside her bag. He shifts over in the seat, making room for her to sit beside him, and she sinks down into the booth, reaching into the bag, her hand skimming over the edge of the panel.

Pausing, she glances up toward the kitchen door, and Gordon automatically follows her line of sight, looking away from her hands. He doesn't see her hand shift to the gun in her bag, or see anything at all, really, until she's already fired.

Even with the silencer on the gun, there's still some sound, and between that and Gordon's strangled groan, the server looks up from where she's standing across the restaurant. Madeline ignores her.

Gordon reaches for his watch, moving to press the panic button built into the side, and just as quickly, Madeline laces her fingers through his, pulling his hand—and watch—just out of reach. The expression on his face is that of pure hurt and betrayal, but she can't quite bring herself to look away.

"They always said I shouldn't—" he starts to say, but his words cut off with a weak cough, and blood splatters onto the table.

"Ew!" Nikki exclaims from across the restaurant, running to the kitchen door and throwing it open. "Sam, this bloke out here's coughing up blood all over our table!"

"They said you—" Gordon tries again.

"They were right," Madeline interrupts him quietly as his hand starts to go limp against hers. "You should have listened."

A second later, the cook storms out of the kitchen. Nikki follows at his heels, looking as though she's torn between excitement at what's going on, complete disgust, and the urge to be sick

"Oi, what's wrong with him?" the cook—Sam—demands. Madeline glances up at him, but doesn't answer. He can't see the gunshot wound, of course; it's below the edge of the table, and Madeline was careful. She's always careful.

"Hey, are you deaf? What the hell's wrong with him?" Same starts to make his way toward them, and he passes behind the counter just as Gordon stops breathing.

"He's been shot," Madeline answers calmly, and Sam only has time to stop short, his eyes going wide, before she's lifted the gun past the edge of the table and shot him as well. He falls to the floor, concealed from the view of those on the street by the tall counter.

The next few seconds are a blur of motion. Nikki screams and races for the kitchen door, but Madeline's out of her seat and pushing the girl back behind the counter before she can escape.

"No, please please please no," the girl manages to get out before she joins Sam on the floor.

Nasty bitch indeed, Madeline thinks as she steps over the bodies, tucking the gun into the bag still hanging from her shoulder. .

She surveys the room, making sure nothing can be seen from the front windows. Gordon is slumped over, appearing to all the world to be sleeping. All witnesses are accounted for. Everything's gone perfectly to profile.

Still, she must hurry. The cameras on the street are only looped for another five minutes, and someone could come in at any time. She'd rather not kill anyone else today, if she can help it.

Grabbing a handful of wadded-up napkins from the edge of the counter, she uses them to open the register and take out a handful of money, putting the lot of it into her purse. Another look around, and then she nods.

Jusr a senseless robbery in city known for its high crime rate, albeit not usually gun-related. A pity, really, but not something that will raise too many questions. At least, not outside of Center, and maybe not even there. For all his usefulness to her, Gordon has never been irreplaceable. Really, none of them are. Not even her, she thinks.

Madeline again steps over the bodies as she heads for the door, carefully avoiding the pooling blood. Pausing beside her table, she picks up the fingerprint-covered teacup, finishes the weak tea with one long sip, and drops the cup into her bag, pointedly not looking at Gordon.

She's half a mile away before sirens sound in the distance.

A few hours later, back in her apartment, she burns the stolen money over a candle, one bill at a time, the edges singing her fingers as she considers her next step.

Brennan Daly's report made mention of Nikita babbling before her second adjustment, and there's no telling what he and the others heard. The entire team will need to be dealt with.

Birkoff… she'll leave for now. He's too afraid of her to risk telling anyone anything, and he doesn't even know what he knows. He's too great an asset to Section, she reasons—and with the help of the traces of melancholy she's feeling over Gordon, she almost manages to make herself believe that.

After Daly's team, she'll go after Phillip, she decides. To target Nikita directly could bring retaliation, and Phillip has too many resources at his disposal, but if he were to die first… well, it would certainly make things simpler. Nikita could then be canceled without issue, and life could go on as normal. Section could survive; it has to survive. The alternative isn't even an option.

She'll cancel Phillip, but first she must find him, and even Gordon hadn't been able to do that. It'll take time.

If Phillip acts before she locates him, her options will be limited, but it'll ultimately make things easier—a target in plain sight is always preferable to one that no one's laid eyes on in ten years or more. So she'll make contingency plans, exit profiles, and in the next few weeks, she'll begin putting them all in place.

But as she's known from the very beginning, she won't tell Paul. Not yet. His pride and his anger would get in the way, and if he knew that he was going to be replaced one day by Nikita—or worse, pushed aside for her…. Well, the only thing Madeline can think of that would be worse than Paul acting too early would be the alternative: that he'd become so jaded that he'd see the exit profile through, only to never want to come back.

No, he cannot know yet. She'll tell him when the time comes to make a move, or at a point when she's certain that his reaction will be one of anger, not bitterness.

Tomorrow he'll tell her that Gordon's been killed and that Center is investigating, and maybe he'll even ask her if she was involved, but she'll deny it—and when he doesn't believe her and checks her surveillance tapes, the cameras outside her apartment will show her staying in for the entire night. Paul will still have his doubts, she's certain of that, but he'll let the matter go; he so rarely questions her judgment when it comes to cancellations anyway.

Over the next few weeks, she'll begin to lay the necessary groundwork. She'll protect Section—and Paul's place within it, not to mention her own—in any way she can. She'll bide her time, patiently waiting for the right moment.

She'll do whatever is required, as she's always done.

And she won't regret it, she thinks, her eyes drifting to the blood still painted in dull brown smears across her fingers, barely visible in the candlelight.

She never has regrets.

Well….

She doesn't dwell on them, anyway.