Airs and Heiresses
New York, 1938
St. Regis Hotel
"So there I was, staring down a barrel INCHES from death...and I told the man, 'darling REALLY, if you simply must shoot me do allow me to remove my earrings. They are Cartier, you know." Molly Maltese paused to take a sip of her Red Snapper, popping the olive neatly between her cherub lips before gnashing it to a pulp. "And the man was quite flummoxed, he said- I say, is that Riza Hawkeye?"
She rose, the group of rapt men in tuxedos and women in glittering dresses and furs murmuring their protests as she wended through their knees. But the apparition she was quite sure had been Riza Hawkeye had vanished in the crowd of New York socialites populating the exclusive terrace.
"Well, this place is a bit ritzy for Riza." she murmured, fairly certain her old acquaintance didn't make a habit of populating social-climbing fetes. And she reasoned, any time Riza had appeared before it was hardly ever for a pleasant cause. Well, maybe that was unfair. It just seemed she was more the swirl-of-furs-and-stiletto-daggers type than a frothy socializer like Molly herself.
Peering around, Molly saw nothing but the shadowed faces of revelers partially cloaked in the smoky haze. She had just been about to give up and go back to her companions when the most shocking hubbub began. Over on the north part of the terrace, she could distinctly hear the shouts of men and panicked screeching of females. Moving forward, she could just make out..
"Did you see... The Ambassador... who could have... murder! Someone has pushed the Ambassador off the building!" Molly picked up speed, expertly weaving through the crowd of panicked voices. Sirens already began to sound twenty stories below. Just as she grasped the ledge and looked over, an all too familiar voice sounded in her left ear.
"Oh hello there, old friend. Lovely breeze out today."
Before her stood Riza Hawkeye herself, looking utterly unruffled as several ladies fainted behind her.
The million dollar question now was, who is leading the organization, and what secrets did they learn to black mail them? He grabbed hat and headed out the door. It was getting close to time for them all to meet back up.
"Stanley, what the hell happened?" Jasper asked when everyone met back up. Jasper Mayfield and Thomas O'malley split from Ed and Stanley to follow up on some leads. Ed and Stanley also followed up on a few leads but in the end it proved useless. That was until he finally met Molly Maltese who agreed to work with him. The truth was, he was so quick to jump on that train, he didn't bother to ask where to look in Shanghai. He would have to start from the bottom.
Edward didn't know anyone in this polluted, stinking town. But it was so alive. Ed had never seen a town like this. He hated it here but at the same time he loved it.
"I'll be fine," Stanley grumbled . The slices on face finally stopped bleeding. His face would forever be scarred.
"Where do we go next?" Edward asked.
"Got me," Jasper said. "My Shanghainese is very awful. But I was able to turn up The Consulate General of the United States. That's where the Ambassador is staying."
They made their way back into the hotel, when they were greeted by two men.
"Edward Carlyle?" One of the men asked.
Ed smiled at Joseph. "My God, it's been too long." He reached out and shook hands with Joseph Zeo.
"Edward, this is Deputy William Middleton ."
"Pleased to meet you." Edward said shaking his hand.
"This here is my team, Thomas O'malley, Stanley Mellish, and this ugly guy with a face only his mother could love, is Jasper Mayfield."
After the introduction, Edward informed Zeo of everything that brought him and his team to China.
"Ambassador Johnson is in danger," Ed said. "Would you happen to know where the Consulate General of the United States is? We believe that's where is staying."
Riza and Molly were sitting at the kitchen table sharing a pot of tea when Marc's distinctive footsteps echoed in from the direction of the front door.
"--absolutely no manners!" Molly concluded, setting her cup down.
Marc entered the room with an eager look on his face. He had news.
"Have a seat," Riza said, toeing a chair aside. "Molly was just telling me about her eventful morning."
Marc fell heavily into the chair and began to relate what he had found out. Sphinx running a worldwide network of brothels. His own suspicions about how ambassadors acquired sensitive information and were blackmailing the head of the organization. "And the head is supposedly some woman."
At that last part, both Molly and Riza's heads snapped to attention. "When I met with Ambassador Johnson this morning," Molly began, "something he said made me sure that the head was a woman. He knew more that he was willing to divulge."
"Interesting," Riza mused. "I was told that the head of Sphinx is suffering an identity crisis, of sorts. I don't know her real name, but she likes to go by 'Jack.' She's currently residing somewhere in the city center of New Delhi."
"We'll have to head there next," Marc announced, standing up.
"Hold your horses," Molly said, freezing him with her gaze. "We're not done here yet. As I was just telling Riza, I ran into some positively rude gentlemen--actually, 'brutes' would be more appropriate--this morning after my meeting."
"What happened?" Marc asked.
Molly proceeded to recount what had occurred, particularly vilifying a man named Stanley Mellish. "Oh, and they should all be here this evening," she concluded nonchalantly.
"Here? You gave them this address?" Marc demanded.
"It's a good thing," Riza said. "We have the advantage if we need to make a quick getaway." She ran a hand through her hair. "Let's see what they know...though I don't think we have any intention of sharing any of our information." Riza and the others shared a knowing glance.
"In the meantime, I think it would be best if one of us tailed Johnson's secretary as well. Who wants to volunteer?" Molly inquired.
"I'll make the necessary preparations around here," Riza suggested, looking around.
"Then I'll go tail the secretary," Marc said. "We have at least six more hours until the meeting and we could use all the information we can get. Any idea where Johnson might be right now?" he asked Molly.
“The Consulate General of the United States has always been at the old Kalee Hotel on Jiangxi Road,” Middleton replied, “but with the Japanese constant attack on the northern Zhabei District the past decade, it has finally moved to the Development Building on the southwest corner of Jiangxi Road and Fuzhou Road two years ago.”
Shanghai really hasn’t been as peaceful as it used to be when Zeo first arrived. Anything could happen nowadays. “It’s still a peaceful area, I’ll take us there.” Zeo stated.
“Do rest assure,” Middleton added, “that the SMC has assisted in providing additional body guards around the US Consulate given the recent assassinations. Nothing can get pass our line of defense so the Ambassador is quite safe.”
Somehow that statement made Zeo all the more giddy.
"We'll all go to find the secretary." Molly said thoughtfully. "We don't know if we need to create an elaborate distraction or somehow incapacitate her to get a look at the calendar. Worst comes to worst we may be able to question her directly. I think I have the address of the consulate here...lets go immediately. Something tells me delaying too long in any case is not a good idea."
Marc, Riza and Molly piled into the car and sped towards the address Molly had given. In unanimous and silent agreement, they had armed themselves as much as possible. Presently they arrived to a stately and sprawling building with an American flag perched atop it.
"This is it." Marc parked the car and the trio assembled on the sidewalk. Chewing her lip, Molly thought quickly. "Marc, hang back a bit. Riza will come with me, but we must appear to not be together. I suggest you scope around a bit, get a sense if anything is amiss or if heavy security is something we might have to worry about." With a nod, Marc melted away behind them and the two women turned to enter the building.
Immediately they were met by a large desk and an expectant-looking blonde. Thinking quickly, Molly rolled out her most tinkly laugh to the blonde.
"Darling, I wonder if you could assist me. I'm an old family friend of Ambassador Johnsons and he mentioned I should come to his office to meet him... I believe he said he had an 11:00 meeting but he would be done shortly."
The blonde cocked her head and said in a dubious tone, "He sure seems to have a lot of family friends in town today."
Molly blinked once and gave a perplexed little chuckle. "Oh, how funny... I wonder who all that could have been. Did they give a name?"
The blonde shook her head and twirled a lock of hair around her fingertip as she thought back. "No names, but I tell ya both those gentlemen were real good looking. A little rough around the edges, but handsome."
In the practiced manner of all women, Molly gave her own little sigh
and leaned up against the desk, playing a part convincingly while Riza looked on with eyebrows raised so high they threatened to disappear into her hairline. "Oh, you don't say? Was one of them tall and broad-shouldered with dark hair and dreamy green eyes by chance?" The blonde nodded emphatically and Molly gave a gleeful gasp, her eyes sparkling. "Darling, that just had to have been Ed- Riza, you remember I was telling you about Ed-" she broke her twinkly facade to aim an enraged glance that only Riza could see at the confirmation that the brutish FBI agent was in attendance- "I tell you , he's just the most handsome thing. What did his friend look like?"
Emboldened by the girlish nature of this conversation, the blonde giggled and said, "he was handsome too. A little more sad-looking, like he had a lot on his mind. Dark, stormy eyes, kind of a bigger nose-" she gestured with her thumb and forefinger- "and dark hair. Lean, too."
If Riza was a dog, Molly thought, every hair would be standing on end. She felt her friend snap to attention as the blonde offered the description, and Molly couldn't imagine why. Either way, she mentally willed her friend to relax before she did something suspicious.
"Well that just sounds uncannily like our dear friend...uh... Bertie!" she tinkled. "Darling you simply must let us up, it'll be like a grand old reunion."
Winking at Molly, the secretary nodded. "Up the stairs behind me and to the right. About three doors down, you'll see the desk of his personal secretary in the waiting room. She'll be able to help you, I'm sure."
"You ARE a doll, thank you!" Molly chirped and so saying, she began to mince towards the steps only to feel Riza's fingers lock onto her forearm with the strength of a steel trap and pull her along faster.
"What in heavens name is the matter with you?" she hissed through the side of her mouth, all the while maintaining a genial smile for the men and women who passed by holding official looking documents.
"I have an odd feeling about this." Riza said, not bothering to explain at all as she propelled Molly up the steps as Molly squeaked and tried to maintain her balance on her pumps. She made a sharp right and sped down the hall towards a simple oak desk with a woman behind it.
"Ambassador Johnson just had some visitors, you'll have to wait. May I ask what this is regarding?" the woman began, lifting her eyes expectantly and stopping short in surprise as she saw the two looming women at her desk.
"Darling, we're requesting some information of sorts about Ambassador Johnson-- eh, it's in regards to the terrible string of crimes thats been happening as of late. We think we might know how to help him, the trouble is we need some delicate...facts." Molly began. The secretary just blinked owlish eyes and seemed to edge a little closer to the telephone on her desk. Thinking quickly, Molly drew out a wad of $100 bills from her purse and brandished them at the secretary. "Perhaps this might do the trick?"
The secretary blinked again. "Ladies, you need to leave immediately. I don't know how you got in here-" she was abruptly silenced as Riza drew a stiletto knife out of thin air and held it to the girls throat, drawing a thin rivulet of blood.
"I will use this on you, and enjoy it." she said in a low tone to the girl. "I suggest you tell us what we want to know."
"Always knives" Molly murmured, already reaching for the agenda atop the girls desk. Flipping back, she began to look for clues as to the ambassadors whereabouts.
"Wha-a-a-at do you w-w-w-want to know?" the girl asked, her hands up in supplication as Riza motioned her away from the desk. Still scanning, Molly gave a nod to Riza, who focused her attention once again on the girl.
"Ambassador Johnson went somewhere or somehow got tangled up with some prostitutes with a score to settle. We want to know when, where and how many times." Riza said in low tones. "And you're going to tell us."
"I... I... I don't know anything like that. I'm just his secretary-" she began, and Molly chuckled from the other side of the room. "You wouldn't believe the dirt Charlotte, Jack's secretary knew about him- she's lying through her teeth."
Riza pressed a little harder and the girl yelped. "Fine! I know he met a girl from a bad district.. I think the...er...club was called the Gilded Lotus or something similar. Her name was Ruan--"
Neither Molly or Riza caught the last name as at that moment the window to their right shattered and the girls head dissolved in a truly horrifying display of pink mist, brains and blood.
Quite taken aback, Molly shrieked, a perfect octave-climbing scale that seemed wasted anywhere but the stage and dove over the desk as the headless remains tumbled out of Riza's grasp. Riza backed up away from the window just as the door to Ambassador Johnson's office flew open and two men tumbled out.
"GET DOWN!" Molly screamed, and Ed had time to throw a surprised sneer at her before he hit the carpet.
"Riza?!" Joseph Zeo cried, halfheartedly lowering the gun he had pointed wildly around the room after coming through the door.
"Joseph?!" Riza jerked in surprise at seeing her long lost friend and one-time lover.
"and MOLLY! GET TO THE GROUND NOW!" Molly roared in a shockingly deep tone as another crack sounded and the wooden wall panel splintered from a bullet at precisely the level Zeo's head had been. With an whump, he fell to his knees, narrowly avoiding the pool of blood the corpse on the floor was producing.
"What in the hell..." Molly breathed, looking around the room to get her bearings.
"What are you doing here?" Ed glowered at her, from where they were nearly nose to nose crouching on the carpet. Molly blew an auburn curl out of her eye and gave a nauseated squee as bits of bloody grey matter flopped to the floor.
"What are YOU doing here?" she hissed back, tears of fury and disgust rising in her eyes as she thought about all the disgusting body matter she'd have to wash out of her hair that evening. "Aren't you supposed to be doing something useful? Like figuring out whose trying to chop of the Ambassadors... hey, where is Kent?"
It was at this moment that they both looked towards the doorway they had just emerged from to see, as if on cue, one blood covered hand emerge and a figure pull themselves towards the light.
"Ambassador... trouble." wheezed the fallen man, obviously a bodyguard, before his eyes rolled back in his head and he died right there in the doorway.
"KENT!" Molly howled and sprang to her feet, leaping over the fallen guard with a graceful pirouette as a hail of gunfire carved holes into the wood by her ear.
"MOLLY, you get back--" Ed shouted. Riza and Zeo made to rise, but a hail of gunfire effectively froze them.
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