She Spies/Threshold: Small Problem

Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters, I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. That's it, typing practice. I'll return them to their actual owners (relatively) undamaged. This is an amateur work of fiction; no profit beyond pleasure was derived from the writing.Originally published in End of the Rainbow #1 from Neon RainBow Press, May 2010. A She Spies story with cameos from Numb3rs, Remington Steele,and a special guest appearance from Threshold. This story takes place before the events of Threshold, and during or after the second season of She Spies.

Small Problem

by Susan M. M.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2004, Italy

Jack Mitchell, field agent for the ISD, sat outside a café in Rome, surveying his surroundings. The ancient Coliseum was only a few blocks away; he could just see the top of it from where he sat. He sipped his espresso – hot and dark and bitter. He really was here. It was really real. He was no longer trapped behind a desk, analyzing other agents' reports. He was finally a field agent himself. Jack took a deep breath, savoring the situation.

And instantly regretted it.

Diesel fumes from the ubiquitous scooters mingled with cigarette smoke. The garlic from the café's lunch special was overwhelming. Jack coughed.

The brown-haired young man reached for his espresso and took a sip. Like any big city, Rome had its share of pollution. But the tobacco was the hardest thing for an ex-Californian to get used to – it seemed like everyone in Europe smoked.

Actually, Jack was in his mid-to-late twenties and of medium build, but something in his manner made him look younger and smaller. And even if Europe wasn't as pristine in person as it was in the postcards, he was here, in the field, an honest-to-gosh agent. That was worth putting up with a bit of stink. Granted, it wasn't all 007 action. He had to process visas as part of his cover as an embassy employee, and he still spent a great deal of time collecting and analyzing data from the local media. But he was here. In the field.

He got to attend diplomatic cocktail parties. He was entrusted with courier duty to Paris and London. And twice a week, he came to this café for lunch. Usually he just had lunch, but sometimes ….

The waiter approached with a coffeepot in hand, and a newspaper tucked under his arm. He poured Jack a refill and set the newspaper down on the table.

"Thanks, Pietro." Jack felt carefully as he unfolded the newspaper. There was a loose scrap of paper tucked inside. Jack glanced around in what he thought was a surreptitious manner. When he was sure no one was watching, he slipped out the piece of paper.

In misspelled French it read: 'Warn the Eagle. King Otto of Wachovia is in danger.'

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Thursday, June 10, 2004, Los Angles, CA

Quentin Cross, director of the ISD's west coast branch sat behind his desk. As usual, he wore a three piece suit and a silk tie. Not a hair was out of place. The three women standing in front of his desk, however, were definitely disheveled.

Cassie McBain's black blouse was torn; Cross tried to be a gentleman and not stare at the tantalizing glimpse of her bosom it revealed. Shane Phillips' long brown hair looked like it had been combed with helicopter rotors. D. D. Cummings had dried blood on her cheek.

"God job stopping that sex-slave ring," Cross complimented them. "The INS is pleased – and jealous. They've been trying to catch the bastards smuggling the women into the country for months. Li Po and his crew will be going to prison for a long time."

"And the women?" Cassie asked.

"The women have been granted refugee status. They won't be shipped back to China," Cross assured her. "You've done well, and you've earned yourself a week's vacation."

The three ex-cons turned secret agents exchanged smiles.

"Unfortunately, I can't give you that week," he continued. The women code-named 'She Spies' lost their smiles. "Something else has come up."

"Darn," muttered D. D.

"King Otto of Wachovia is coming to LA, and there's been a threat to his safety," Cross started to explain.

"There is no such country as Wachovia," D. D. protested.

Her team mates gave her puzzled glances for contradicting Cross.

D. D., a diplomat's daughter, continued, "Wachovia was swallowed into Bismarck's Germany. It hasn't existed as a sovereign nation for more than a century."

Suppressing a sigh, Cross explained "True, but Herr Doktor Professor Otto von Hohenzollern-Brandenburg of the University of Zurich is attending a math conference in town. If there were still a kingdom of Wachovia, he would be heir to the throne. We must guard him. Or rather, you must."

"Who'd be after a king without a country?" Shane asked.

"How'd we get stuck with this job? Isn't guarding foreign leaders the Secret Service's job?" asked Cassie, a statuesque blonde.

"He's not a foreign leader, just a math professor." Cross pushed a button, and a copy of Jack's note was displayed on the screen behind him. "This message was delivered to one of our agents in Rome, and forwarded on to me. 'Warn the Eagle. King Otto of Wachovia is in danger.' I think you remember the agent who received it." He gave a half smile. "Jack Mitchell."

"Jack?" Shane asked.

"Jack?" Cassie repeated.

"How's he doing?" D. D. asked.

"Well enough," Cross conceded. "Glad to finally be out of the office and out in the field."

As a junior analyst, Jack had conceived the idea of the 'She Spies' program: beautiful female felons who used their criminal expertise and feminine wiles in the service of their country. Cassie, Shane, and D. D. had agreed to work for the ISD for five years in return for their release from prison. Cassie had been a con artist, Shane a thief, and D. D. a hacker.

"And the case came to us because of our connection with Jack?" asked Shane. She was a tall African-American with a light brown complexion.

Cross shook his head. "Because of me. 'Eagle' was my code-name when I was out in the field."

D. D. stepped closer to the screen and examined the note. "Whoever wrote this doesn't know French very well. The first sentence uses present tense instead of imperative. The second sentence misspells both king and danger. Why deliver a note in bad French to an American agent in Italy to warn someone in Los Angeles?"

"We'll worry about that mystery later. This," he pushed a button and another picture appeared on the screen, "is King Otto of Wachovia."

The picture showed a tall blond, wearing a blue blazer and standing in front of a chalkboard. A complex mathematical formula was written behind him. Cross pushed the button again, and another picture came up, this one of the royal mathematician in ski clothes.

"He's gorgeous," D. D. murmured under her breath.

"Dibs on the night shift," Shane whispered.

"No way; I saw him first," Cassie retorted.

"Your assignment is to guard him, nothing else. I expect his virtue left intact," Cross informed them sternly.

"Killjoy," Shane muttered.

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Friday, June 10, 2004, Los Angeles, CA

"Hey, sweetheart, how about a drink?"

Suppressing a sigh – would it kill these guys if just one of them said 'excuse me, miss, may I have a drink, please?' – D. D. turned around. She didn't see anyone. Then she looked down. A Little Person stood there.

About four feet tall, in his late thirties or early forties, he wore a rumpled blue suit. His dark hair was uncombed; his mustache and goatee were scruffy. His blue eyes were glued to her bosom.

D. D. forced a smile. "What may I get for you," she glanced at his nametag, "Dr. Ramsay?"

"Daiquiri," he ordered. He didn't bother to say please. He didn't lift his gaze from her chest. "And don't skimp on the rum."

"Right away, sir." D. D. hurried off. She returned a few minutes later with his drink. "Here you are, Dr. Ramsay."

"Arthur," he corrected her. He took a ten dollar bill and tucked it into the waistband of her skirt. "Keep the change."

D. D. lost her smile.

"What time do you get off, honey?"

"Not until late." She took a step back, eager to put as much space between herself and Dr. Ramsay as possible.

"That's okay. I'm a nightowl. And I'm an even bigger tipper for other things than I am for booze," he hinted slimily.

"I only sell drinks," D. D. retorted coldly.

"Darling!" Ramsay took a step closer to her. "I'd never insult you by insinuating you're a professional. But you'd be surprised what two gifted amateurs can accomplish."

D. D. started to walk away without another word.

"Hasn't anyone told you good things come in small packages?" he called after her.

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Cross met his agents in a quiet alcove. "How's it going, ladies? Anyone paying special attention to King Otto?"

Shane shook her head. "Not that I've noticed."

"Several of the ladies have been keeping an eye on him, but that's hardly surprising." Cassie smiled slightly. Herr Doktor Professor Otto von Hohenzollern-Brandenburg was very easy on the eyes. Cross frowned, and she continued in a more businesslike manner. "Nobody's been watching him the way you watch a target. He's mingled, but he hasn't spent any amount of time with anyone in particular."

"He wouldn't." Cross permitted himself a half-smile. "He's got someone waiting for him back in Zurich."

"Good-looking and faithful – nice combination," Cassie muttered.

"Why is it the good ones are already taken?" Shane asked.

"We're here to guard him, not discuss his love life," Cross chided them gently. "Any problems? Anything unusual?"

"Just the little twerp that keeps hitting on me," D. D. replied.

Cross wasn't interested in drunken mathematicians trying to pick up his agents. "You're a big girl. I think you can handle a masher."

D. D. complained, "If I hear 'not everything's little, you know' one more time …."

Cross' left eyebrow rose. He'd heard that pick-up line before. "Little twerp," he repeated. "I should have expected him to be here." He shut his eyes, suddenly looking like a commercial for Excedrin headache number forty-five. "Arthur Ramsay?"

"You know him?"

"Worse. He knows me." Cross laid his hand on D. D.'s shoulder. "I will happily flay him alive for you after the conference, but for now, we can't do anything to him. It would be … inadvisable to attract his attention."

"Who is he?" Shane asked. "Besides being the runt of the litter?"

"A genius with an attitude problem. Mathematician, linguist, gambler, skirt-chaser, drunkard." Cross did not add that Dr. Ramsay was his first cousin and the black sheep of the family. "Just don't let him know that you're anything more than an ordinary cocktail waitress, and don't let him know you know me."

D. D. nodded.

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Saturday, June 11, 2004, Los Angeles, CA

Cassie tried to stay awake. The guy up at the podium was cute, but she hadn't understood one word he said after "Good morning." Dr. Eppes or Dr. Epstein or whatever his name was kept droning on and on about something called convergence theory. Cassie had always considered herself good at math – she'd helped her father running numbers when she was still in pigtails – but the lectures at the conference were all going completely over her head. She divided her attention between Eppes (he was cute, even if too young for her) and Herr Doktor Professor Otto von Hohenzollern-Brandenburg. The king was gorgeous, but she was here to protect him, not hook up with him.

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An attractive brunette stood near the water fountain, examining the conference's program booklet. She wore a brown linen skirt and jacket, a yellow silk blouse, and a gray fedora. She was easily ten years older than Ramsay, more than a foot taller, but he'd never that anything like that stop him before. He approached her.

"Which panel are you attending next, The Last Theorem: Following in Fermat's Footsteps or Statistical Analysis of Multi-Attribute Compositional Models?" Ramsay asked.

"I haven't decided yet," the woman replied.

Getting a closer look, Ramsay realized she was fifteen years his senior, maybe more. That was all right. He knew what Ben Franklin said about older women. Besides, she looked damned good for her age. He glanced at her nametag. Laura Holt-Steele. There was no Dr. or Prof. in front of her name, no university or think tank listed after it.

"No Piled Higher and Deeper," he noted. "Are you a math teacher, ABD, what?"

Laura smiled. She hadn't heard the abbreviation ABD (All But Dissertation) since she'd left the math department at Stanford years ago. "Neither. I got my MA in math years ago, but didn't stay in academia. I'm just here for intellectual curiosity."

"I'm all in favor of intellectual curiosity." He looked up at her, his blue eyes gleaming lasciviously. "Ever done it with a dwarf?"

Laura stared at him, stunned by his chutzpah. She walked off without another word.

"You don't know what you're missing," Ramsay called after her. He looked around. Men outnumbered women at the conference nearly twenty to one. Then he smiled, seeing the cocktail waitress he'd put the moves on last night. He knew if he had another turn at her, he could wear down her resistance. He headed after her.

The blonde approached a dark-haired man wearing a blue blazer with the hotel's logo on it. Ramsay stopped short when he saw who she was speaking to. That was no hotel manager. "Quentin?"

Ramsay ducked behind a potted plant. There were occasional benefits to being 4'5". What was his strait-laced cousin doing dressed like a hotel manager? It wasn't Halloween.

"Anything?" Cross asked.

D.D. shook her head. "No ninjas, no known assassins, nobody keeping an eye on the king but us."

"Stay alert. A hit man isn't going to walk into the hotel wearing a T-shirt that says 'I'm here to kill the king'."

D. D. nodded.

Ramsay stayed behind the potted plant until both had left the area. "Assassins? Kings? Quentin," he whispered to himself, "you have been holding back on me." He grinned. Knowledge was power. There had to be a way to profit from this information.

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Cross took off the assistant manager's jacket he'd borrowed and hung it up in the employee's lounge. He put his own Brooks Brothers jacket back on and straightened his tie. The She Spies could handle things without his supervision. He wanted to go to the dojo and work out a bit, loosen up his muscles. However, he knew even on a Saturday, he had plenty of paperwork waiting for him at ISD headquarters. He started to walk back to the lobby.

"Hey, coz." Ramsay sidled up to Cross.

Cross inclined his head curtly. "Arthur."

"Fancy meeting you in a place like this."

"One of our economic analysts is attending the conference," Cross fibbed. "I'm meeting him for lunch."

Ramsay shook his head. "No, you're not."

Cross raised his left eyebrow.

"You're not a mild-mannered bureaucrat for the Department of Commerce. You're a spook," Ramsay declared. "And you're gonna do me a little favor."

"Am I, now? What favor?" asked Cross, neither confirming nor denying his status as a 'spook.'

"I owe my bookie. You're gonna pay him off for me. Or scare him off." Ramsay shrugged. "I don't care which."

"And why would I want to do that…Artie?"

Ramsay scowled. Other than a few great-aunts who couldn't break the habit, no one had called him Artie since he was ten. "Because if you don't, I'll tell Aunt Peggy and Uncle Tom what you really do for a living."

"Leave my parents out of this."

"Think how Aunt Peggy would worry if she knew," Ramsay began.

"Listen, and listen well," Cross interrupted, lowering his voice slightly. "If you so much as open your mouth, not only will I have the IRS back audit your taxes since you were mowing lawns in high school, I'll see to it you lose your government clearance. And that would mean goodbye to all those nice, fat government consultant fees."

Ramsay swallowed. Those nice fat government consultant fees supplemented his income very nicely. Losing them would make it much harder to go to Vegas, or to run down to Del Mar to bet on the horses. Hell, some of them he didn't even need to do anything to earn his money … there was one where he was simply on standby in case aliens ever contacted Earth.{**} And the IRS ….there was cash he'd won in Las Vegas they knew nothing about, and he preferred to keep it that way.

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Sunday, June 12, 2004, Los Angeles, CA

Cross stood in the hotel restaurant, wearing a 'borrowed' assistant manager's jacket again. He stood supervising the brunch. It was only 9:30, and the restaurant wasn't crowded. It made it very easy to watch the king. It also made it easy to avoid his cousin. He knew Ramsay was seldom out of bed this early.

"Excuse me," a customer at the table next to him said.

"Yes, sir?" Cross replied.

"I need to run to the john. Don't let the waiter take my plate yet. I'm not done."

Cross glanced down at the half-eaten T-bone and scrambled eggs. "I might take your steak and eggs," Cross joked, "but I'll make sure none of the waiters touch it."

The man smiled, stood, and walked off.

The conference would be over in six hours. Perhaps it had all been a false alarm. No one had paid any attention to Herr Doktor Professor Otto von Hohenzollern-Brandenburg except for him and his agents … and a few female mathematicians. There was no political reason to go after the man who would have been king of Wachovia, had Wachovia still existed. A rival scholar might argue with him at the conference, or write angry letters to the editor of a mathematical journal, but no mathematician in the 21st century would try to kill a rival. In Ancient Greece, perhaps, but not in 2003.

Quentin Cross permitted himself to relax.

Suddenly he saw a man he thought was dead. "Andrei Ustinov," Cross whispered under his breath. I thought he was killed in Bucharest ten years ago. He recognized the elderly ex-KGB agent immediately. The red hair was now white, the face was wrinkled, but there was no doubting who it was. Ustinov, and although much older than the last time he'd seen him, definitely not dead.

Cross inhaled sharply. He saw Ustinov approaching the king. Something metallic gleamed in the ex-KGB agent's hand. Cross started to reach for his gun, then hesitated. He had a clear shot, but the sound of a gun firing would create panic.

"Shane, get the king out of there, now," Cross thought quickly, debating how to best deal with Ustinov. He glanced down at the table next to him. A steak knife lay on the plate beside the half-eaten T-bone. He grabbed the knife, frowned at the balance, automatically compensated, and threw. Ustinov collapsed. Grabbing a napkin from the table, Cross hurried to the fallen body before anyone else could get there.

"Uncle Andrew, are you all right?" He removed the knife before anyone could notice it and pressed the napkin against the wound to staunch the flow of blood. "You forgot to take your pill, didn't you? Let me take you to my office. You can rest there and take your meds."

A few of the restaurant patrons looked up, but seeing the situation in hand, looked away, not wanting to be caught staring. Cross half-carried, half-dragged the body away, all the while talking softly to 'Uncle Andrew.'

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Cross laid the body on the couch in the manager's office. He felt the carotid artery. Dead.

"Nicely handled, Eagle."

Cross looked up, surprised to recognize the voice. "Yuri?"

Yuri Chekov, formerly one of the KGB's top operatives, stood in the doorway. "I was engaged in delicate negotiations, and I feared I would not get here in time. I knew I could count on you, tovarish, to prevent him for creating an international incident."

"And killing a KGB agent in Los Angeles won't?"

"Ex-KGB agent. He's been retired for years. Invalided out after that business in Bucharest. I may be a businessman now, but I still have friends in the Kremlin. I will see to it that there are no repercussions from my government," Chekov promised.

"Yuri, what the hell is going on? Why was Ustinov after a math professor?" Cross asked. "Why wasn't he in a rocking chair on the porch of the old spies' home?"

"Why he fixated on King Otto I have no idea. He was in the hospital, dying of a brain tumor. Suddenly he developed a great interest in the genealogy of royal families. Then he broke out of the hospital, determined to protect the USSR by assassinating the king of a non-existent country." Chekov shrugged. "You did him a favor, Eagle. Had he been in his right mind, he would have preferred to die in the line of duty, not wither away in the hospital. Will you need help disposing of the body?"

"You won't want to take him home for burial?"

"I think it best we avoid troublesome questions, don't you? The less there is to explain, the better," Chekov suggested.

Cross nodded. Goodness knows, Ustinov had made enough bodies disappear in his day.

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The She Spies sat in the hotel lobby, watching Otto inconspicuously.

"Hunk at 2:00," D. D. alerted her team-mates.

Shane and Cassie looked where she indicated.

A tall, muscular man was striding into the hotel. Dark wavy hair, suntanned skin, and a smile that could melt a glacier – the three women sighed in unison at the sight of him. Electric blue eyes scanned the lobby, looking for someone. Suddenly he quickened his pace and hurried toward Otto.

Otto smiled at the sight of the dark-haired man. He drew him behind a pillar, out of the view of most of the room, but not the ISD agents. Otto and the stranger embraced, their lips joining in a passionate kiss.

"Damn," Cassie murmured, surprised.

"What a waste of two good-looking guys," D. D. said.

"Why is it," Shane asked, "that the good ones are either gay or taken?"

Cassie glanced across the lobby, where Cross stood talking with his cousin. Or off limits, she thought.

finis

** Project Threshold