"Now, you see," Claes said in a measured tone as she set her saucer back onto the table, "That story was a lot more believable. You made one mistake, though."
"Yeah?" Caterina replied, leaning forward in anticipation.
"Pray tell us," Celestina requested, equally amused, "What would that have been?"
Claes cleared her throat and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. She smiled faintly, certain that she had damning evidence of the Twins' deceit. "How did you know," she asked, "What Triela was up to while you were climbing onto the roof?"
"I told them," Triela answered simply as she straightened the bow on one of her stuffed bears. She and the Twins were unimpressed.
"You told them every minute detail of how you killed a dozen men?" Claes asked skeptically.
Triela replied, "Not every minute detail. I left out the part where I used my laser vision to bypass their kinetic shields." Not a single twitch betrayed her poker face as she said this. The Twins, however, burst into uproarious laughter and nearly fell out of their chairs.
Claes sighed and sipped her tea, determined to maintain her aplomb. She found herself doing this quite often lately. Ever since the trio returned from Terni (or rather, according to the Agency's books, their brief vacation in Naples), they displayed an unusual cohesion and liveliness. The Twins had renewed their love of playfully tormenting their colleagues. Meanwhile, Triela had once again assumed her role as the big sister of the Agency. Everything and everyone had finally settled into their proper places. This included Claes, who gladly reoccupied her role as the good wife and mother.
There was a knock at the door. "Come in," the girls called out in unison. At this, the door opened and Hilshire entered the room.
"Hey!" Triela greeted her friend warmly, "Good to see you."
"Likewise," Hilshire replied, "How's the paperwork going?" His eyes drifted to the stack of unfilled documents on the table. He could not help but notice that one of Triela's bears was sitting atop the stack.
Triela blushed and chuckled sheepishly. "I'm taking a bit of a break," she explained, "They really should be paying me for this."
"Well you did eliminate one of the greatest threats to the Agency," Hilshire said, "I'll see what I can do for you."
"Thanks," Triela laughed, "So what did you need?"
"Oh, right. Rina, Cina, we've got another one."
The Twins exchanged a mischievous glance before turning to their handler. "With your leave, Princess," Celestina said.
Triela nodded. "Don't have too much fun," she advised knowingly.
"We wouldn't dream of it," Caterina replied as she and her sister rushed out the door enthusiastically.
Hilshire made to leave as well, but was stopped by Claes.
"Signore Hilshire," she called out to him, "If you don't mind, I've been curious about something and I trust you to give me an honest answer."
"Ask away," Hilshire said.
"Remember when you went to Naples the other week to see Mario Bossi and Maria Machiavelli?"
"What exactly happened?"
Hilshire smirked and shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he answered. He exited then, shutting the door behind him and leaving a disappointed Claes to enjoy her afternoon tea.
Gallo Modesto, aged forty-three, was a seasoned veteran who had served in the Italian Army his entire adult life. He was born into a long line of soldiers and was raised with the belief that his family bred fighters and fighters alone. With this mentality, Modesto hardened himself at a young age and had only become tougher with time. Unfortunately, his hard heart also made him ruthless. The people he had served with all agreed that Modesto was more of a butcher than a soldier. He was a stern, unbending man, covered in scar tissue and grit. And he lasted all of twenty minutes.
Chief Lorenzo watched the tough old soldier leave his office after declining the offered position. He sighed and crossed another name off on a quickly dwindling list of candidates.
Just then, Jean walked in. He greeted the Chief with a nod and said, "I just passed Modesto in the hall. I could have sworn he jumped a bit when he saw me. Is he really going to work out?"
"You won't have to worry about that," Lorenzo replied, "He's decided to walk away."
"Ah," Jean said, immediately realizing what had happened, "So they got to him, too?"
"It would seem so. I can't say I'm completely surprised. Anyway, have you heard anything of our latest asset? He hasn't reported in to us since he first arrived here."
Jean took the seat before the Chief's desk. He answered, "Unfortunately, Baldassare was found dead in Terni. The circumstances are unclear, but Savonarola's arsenal was found in his possession. It seems he was killed in some kind of skirmish."
"That's too bad. The information he gave us proved to be quite useful. Do we have any idea who he was fighting at the time of his death?"
"Sadly, no. A single stolen car had been left behind at the old Alvise Manor where his body was found, but whoever left it there is still at large."
"The Alvise Manor?" The Chief repeated curiously.
"Yes, sir," Jean affirmed simply.
Lorenzo lost himself in contemplation for a brief moment. He clasped his hands before his face as he weighed his options. "A strange coincidence," he said after a while, "Wouldn't you say?"
Jean offered no reply. He watched his employer carefully, trying to read his intentions.
"There's something…poetic about it, I think," the Chief continued, "Baldassare posed a risk of treachery, so I suppose our losses this time are acceptable. I see no point in investigating the matter further. Do you?"
Jean relaxed, understanding immediately what he was being told. "No," he answered, "I don't."
The Chief leaned back, then, satisfied. He asked slyly, "On an unrelated note: how is our little 'experiment' doing? I understand they were responsible for neutralizing Savonarola?"
"Yes, sir. It was a dangerous operation, but they handled it."
"And what of Triela? I understand she has been unwell lately."
"Her condition seems to have improved," Jean replied, "The Fratello as a whole is as lively as ever."
"And just as effective," Lorenzo added, "She really is a remarkable girl. I'm glad you defended her nomination so avidly all those months ago."
"I said nothing of her that wasn't true," Jean said modestly.
The Chief smiled. He seemed to have accepted an idea with which he had been toying. "I've been thinking," he began, "None of our replacements has measured up so far and leaving the girls in Triela's care has produced exceptional results. I think the Twins are in good hands. For now, at least." He took the list of names in front of him and balled it up before throwing it away.
Jean nodded and said simply, "I agree." He rose and headed for the door.
"One more thing," Lorenzo added, stopping Jean in his tracks. He began scribbling into a little book. He tore the piece of paper out of the binding with a quick little movement of his wrist, then offered it to Jean. "Give this to her. And congratulate her on her new position."
Jean took the check with the faintest of smiles. He would give it to Hilshire instead, however. He more than anyone would enjoy the look on her face.