The Marionette | Chapter 1: Sin City

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Chapter 1

SIN CITY





As the doors of the Red-and-White jet opens, the cold, stiff night air of Las Vegas slowly creeps into Marion's skin. She regretted of leaving her coat back at her locker in Site-002. As her coworkers started leaving the terminal in pairs and groups, Marion felt jealous and lonely with each step.

If only the rest of X-Ray-6 Counterintelligence Agents had left early as she did, she would not be as silent as she is right now. Regardless, planting false pieces of evidence inside a Malthusian outpost and acting as a sleeper agent for two weeks really takes its toll on her well-being. The image of a hot bath accompanied by a glass of red wine, listening to sweet melodies and reading a mystery novel is dancing around her head.

"Just a little further." She thought to herself.

Marion was never the type of hanging out with her buddies until the sun rises elsewhere and driving out of the full parking lot of the McCarran Airport makes the temperature of the surrounding air somehow feel a lot less low than what it actually is. However, driving her car through The Strip and seeing all of its bright neon lights and the sprawling nightlife brought some sense of warmth to her soul.

Las Vegas always has a plethora of twisted entertainment available every single night, whether it be casinos, prostitution, alcohol, drugs or even cheap buffets—all available in Sin City. Around every corner, behind every window and doors, crime is present; hidden from the untrained eyes.

The bright red glare of the traffic light almost jolted Marion. She took her jalopy onto a halt just in front of a yellow cab; centimeters away from having them kissing bumpers. She took a half-empty water bottle from the cupholder and treated herself.

Marion looked around her car while waiting for her turn to skate the asphalt. This part of The Strip is oddly quieter and emptier compared to the other days where desperate men would pick up a prostitute from the corner of the road to her left. Instead, she found the sidewalks filled with drunk men moving in groups. Has there been a crime occurred not long ago? Perhaps murder?

Marion heard a soft tune of her favorite song and turned her head to her right—her phone had rung. She moved aside her service pistol and took her phone. The screen says "Reginald Jacobs". Marion let out a sigh and slides the answer button while taking a short breath.

"Riviera." Marion greets the caller.

"Ah, Marion. Are you free tonight?" A male voice asks with an enticing tone.

"For you? Always. Where'd you want to meet?"

"I reserved ourselves a spot at the usual place. Meet me there at eight sharp?"

"Sure."

"Oh and congratulations on the Malthus assignment, by the way."

"Yeah, thanks." Marion pressed the end call button and glanced at her wristwatch.

"Seven forty-three." She said in a balked tone. "Oh, Reginald."

As soon as the lights turn green, she diverts her course off the main road and away from her house to their usual rendezvous place.

The Picasso. Just northeast of the Bellagio Hotel. Beautiful and located on the better parts of Las Vegas. The exquisite Fench cuisine served there is the absolute premium; too bad that Marion had ate grilled salmon on Site-002’s cafeteria just two hours ago. Marion felt annoyed that Reginald had to pick a place downtown but thankfully, she was just leaving the McCarran Airport; the trip there should take just a few minutes, given the right traffic conditions.

Twenty minutes later, Marion finally made it through the traffic. She paid for the hefty fifty dollar valet just because she knew that Reginald would cover for her. With moderate pace, she walks towards the front door of the restaurant. A staff kindly opened the door for her. Marion's apparel contrasts the atmosphere of the elegant mood-lighted restaurant severely—her murky gray turtleneck sweater and dark blue trousers aren’t a heavenly fit for Italian suits and silk dresses.

Her long brown hair is reflecting the lights elegantly that it might just distract the other patrons from seeing her mismatched outfit. With just a quick glance, Marion sighted Reginald sitting on the corner table sporting his white suit and a big cigar hanging on his mouth.

“How’d he change outfits so fast?” Marion asks herself.

She walks to his table just to be greeted by his security detail, searching her with a portable metal detector along with an invading pat-down search. Marion could do nothing but standing up straight with her arms raised. Thank goodness she left her service pistol on the passenger seat of her car; she could have gotten some fresh new bruises tonight.

“Come on, is it really necessary?” Reginald asks his security guard. “Just leave her be.”

The guard stopped searching and steps aside. “Thank you.” Reginald said to his guard. “Now, please sit.”

The waitress that was previously standing by near the entrance had her notebook open and pen deployed—ready to take Marion’s orders as soon as she made herself comfortable.

“What will you have?” Reginald asks Marion.

“I’ll have the usual.” Marion replied while reaching for her cigarette case from her back pocket.

“She’ll have the oysters and the Cabernet Sauvignon.” Reginald said to the waitress.

“And what will you have, sir?”

“I’ll have the steak, bloody as hell and a classic dry martini—gin—with lots of olives.”

“Very good, sir.” The waitress closed her notebook and walks into the kitchen.

Marion opened her silver cigarette case and takes out a slim white cigarette and puts it into her mouth. She bites the cigarette butt while she reaches for her lighter in her breast pocket. Her chrome Zippo lighter is briefly reflecting the dim mood lighting of the restaurant into Reginald's eyes. With a relatively distinct click of Marion opening the lid of her lighter, a few customers and staff of the restaurant had their heads turned to the noise.

“So, how was your day?” Reginald asked.

“Cut the crap, Jacobs. Just tell me what you want.” Marion replied in a cold tone while trying to spark her zippo lighter.

“Oh, Marion. You know, businessmen always start their meeting with a pinch of bullshit; it makes…“ Reginald is visibly annoyed with Marion’s dried out lighter. He reaches for the wooden matches on the table and sparked it on the side of the case. “…the client more relaxed.” He said while providing Marion with the fire.

“If I wanted to be relaxed, I’d go to a massage parlor.” Marion responds while exhaling the smoke.

Reginald chuckled. “Alright then.” He reaches for a folder in his briefcase and hands it over to her. “Here’s the summary.”

Marion’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree. “Reginald, Jesus Christ.” She said in a surprised manner while trying her best to keep her voice down. “You’re giving me this kind of shit in public?!”

“Now, now, don’t worry. In case you haven’t noticed, the owner of this place is a dear friend of mine; the one that you’ll be working for. Relax, he made sure he had the cameras ‘under reparations’ tonight.”

“What about the people. Hmm? Are they mere decorations?”

“In a way, yes. Now please, read it.”

Marion opened the folder to reveal a picture of a middle-aged Hispanic man. “Mr. Hermanos” is written on the top of the paper; the rest detailing about his private life. a pinch of ash from her burning cigarette fell on top of the dossier. She bites the cigarette butt and wipes the ash with her bare hands. She had some Virginia tobacco ash smeared on the side of her palms—she doesn't bother and continues to read.

“Mister Hermanos… pissed off the wrong people, so to speak. Nobody knows his front name—not even his mother. He's a somewhat prominent player in APAS; selling his 'specialty' drugs to his buyers. He mostly trades contraband around New York but he's been planning to expand his business to the Midwest. My client just can't let that happen.”

“And where do I come in?”

“He owns a fairly big tech shop but of course, it's just a front for his ops. However, you wouldn't find security inside to be as tight as this one anywhere in the world—not even Fort Knox. That's where you come in. Also, as a bonus, you should find out where he gets his contraband; my client will handle the rest.”

“I see.” Marion replied as she is closing the folder. “I take it you have my usual orders?”

“It’s all arranged.”

The previous waitress walked out of the kitchen with a tray of Marion and Reginald’s orders.

“For now, help yourself.”

After about twenty-five minutes, two sticks of cigarettes and a slightly overfilled belly, Marion and Reginald stood up and prepared to leave. Marion had enjoyed every last drop of her wine and every raw oyster she had. However, some of the oysters don't exactly taste as soft as they usually do. Maybe she will have to take a stop at the nearest pharmacy on her way home.

“Oh right, give your car keys to James here; he’ll take your car to your house.” Reginald said to Marion.

“He’s better be trustworthy” Said Marion while handing over her car keys to Reginald’s guard.

As soon as Marion exited the restaurant, the stiff cold of the Las Vegas night atmosphere welcomed her back with a hollow kiss. Marion and Reginald both entered a moderately big SUV that had just pulled up right in front of the restaurant's doors. On the way, Marion is reclined on her seat; sitting completely silent and motionless.

“You okay?” Asked Reginald.

“Just feeling a little fuzzy from the wine.”

The ride to Reginald’s house is filled with bitter cigar smoke and the aroma of mid-tier champagne. Not a lot of hypnotizing neon lights in the outskirts of Las Vegas but the warm fluorescent streetlamps brushed Marion’s cheeks at every pass.

They disembarked the tall SUV and walks into Reginald’s private office. Red wallpapers, mahogany desk and two brown leather chairs brought out Reginald’s personality a bit too excessively.

The atmosphere of his office is not exactly enticing. Marion could catch a whiff of bitter cigar smoke in some parts of the office. The leaking air conditioner made the northeast side of the office feel humid in contrast to Las Vegas' constantly arid weather.

Reginald walks to his work desk and handed Marion a piece of paper from his desk drawer. “Your sick leave paper. Signed, of course.”

Marion took the form off of Reginald’s hand. He had given Marion a falsified sick leave permit for two weeks; enough to eliminate her target with a whole week to spare. Marion is worried that whether HR would notice a pattern in her day off would give the Sundowners a hunting season.

"No, let Reginald do his dirty job." She thought to herself.

“One Beretta 92FS, one balisong, two sets of outfits in your size…” Reginald lined up a gun, a knife and a duffel bag on top of his work desk.

“…and your special request.” Reginald gave Marion a small brown plastic cigarette case. “A dozen of Ricin darts.”

Marion opened the case to reveal twelve needles lined up in an orderly fashion. He had them ordered specifically to resemble cigarettes.

“To recap: kill Mister Hermanos and report to me when you’re done. Use any means necessary and leave no trace. Are we clear?”

Marion closes the cigarette case and looks at Reginald directly in the eyes. “In Technicolor, Site Director.”

“Good. Now, Ryan here is gonna take you home.” Reginald walks to his office's door and holds them open for Marion. “Godspeed, Marion.”

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