Sloane was staring at the blank wall behind him as Sidney walked into his office. He had his tiny, steel-rimmed spectacles dangling from one hand, but swiftly replaced them when she coughed.
“You wanted to see me?” Sidney still couldn’t quite keep the edge out of her voice.
“Yes.” The patented Arvin pause, menacing and meant to make you think he was peeling away your secrets with his eyes. “I need you to help your sister.”
“You know that is one of my priorities.” It went without saying that if Sloane had never betrayed them, then perhaps it wouldn’t need to be.
“I have recently come across an old mission file of yours. You were tasked to contact one Faith Lehane?” Sidney shook her head. “It was during my time at Onmifam, and your time in the rotunda with Lauren Reed.”
“The prison?” Sidney never expected this to come up after being tasked to APO.
“You were almost immediately removed as her liaison due to the Covenant situation, but you still have some links. As far as we know, she ended up in Cleveland.”
“What’s in Cleveland? Witness protection?” Wisconsin wasn’t that far away, after all.
Sloane smiled. “No. Something more her specialty that ours. But I need you to contact this man, who is known to be with Lehane.” The ubiquitous red folder slid across the desk. “I’m hoping he might be able to help with Nadia. Any avenue is worth exploring.”
Sidney read the file cover to cover. She still did not see how this Rupert Giles could help Nadia. He was an ex-school librarian. Even though there were a few odd notations and the usual blacked out names, which meant that compartmentalisation was alive and well, it looked like a nice, normal dossier.
The flight was tedious. Commercial airlines definitely couldn’t compare to the private jets that normally took Sidney to assignments. It was merely another way for Sloane to keep this operation off the books. It did beg the question what other missions and side trips Sloane had been hiding from the CIA. Something else for her dad to start keeping an eye on.
Cleveland was greener than she’s expected for some reason. The air carried none of the smog and unrelenting heat that made LA so uncomfortable in the autumn. Indeed, there was something of a winter chill in the air. Sydney quickly hailed a cab and asked it to take her to a nearby hotel.
Reconnaissance was the first order of the day. Changing into her exercise sweats, plugging in the i-Pod and warming up in the park opposite the hotel, Sydney ran through the route to the residence Rupert Giles shared with Lehane and an ever-changing rota of other people in her head. Evening was starting to draw in and soon enough dark fell over Cleveland. Sydney didn’t feel at all worried about the unknown streets as she trotted along, covertly watching inhabitants driving home or out for an evening. A few joggers sped past in the other directions and dog walkers ambled past.
A tempting alley offered a short cut and after weighing up the options – especially the time it was taking for her to cross the residential suburbs – she decided to slip up the dark and rather odorous side street. Her feet slapped regularly on the tarmac, echoing around the confines of the alley. Steam rose from a vent in the wall and Sydney waved her hand in front of her face to brush the white mist out of her way. It was then she became aware of the two figures who detached themselves from the shadows under a fire escape.
“What have we got here, Bonz?” Typical villain dialogue came from one of the males. Bonz even had a cigarette hanging from one corner of his mouth. Sydney straightened up and rolled her neck
“I was just thinking this run wasn’t energetic enough.” Dryly, dispassionately, Sydney took stock of her surroundings, searching for weapons. Dustbin lids, pipes and higher ground would be good. Bonz grunted and rushed her. Sydney dropped and swept his legs out from under him. The other guy grabbed at her shoulders and Sydney grabbed his forearms and threw him forward. Bonz was already on his feet and Syd pushed up, hands squelching slightly in a sticky substance on the sidewalk.
“Two against one. Seems hardly fair.” she observed as she backed up towards the wall. Suddenly, another figure landed on the pavement. Sydney swore under her breath. “Another one?”
Sydney caught the glimpse of teeth in the light from the street and a woman’s voice wryly pragmatically stated. “I know you’re managing, but I thought I’d even the odds.” And with that, the girl almost casually backhanded Bonz across the face as he headed for her. The other guy seemed to hesitate briefly, before grabbing his friend up from the ground.
“It’s a slayer,” he hissed and with that the two guys scarpered as fast as they could go. They fell around the corner and Syd turned to the stranger. She put a finger to her lips, and Syd heard a scuffle up ahead. There was a strange wuff sound, as if the air had been displaced suddenly and then the girl smiled.
“Sorry to interrupt your evening. Have a nice run. I’d say to avoid the alleys, but you seem to be able to handle yourself. If its green, though, I’d run the other way.” And with that, the girl jumped up to the bottom of the fire escape and effortlessly swung herself on to the first level.
“If what’s green-?” Syd started to ask, but the girl was gone. From the brief glimpse she’d gotten, Sydney reckoned she must be in her mid-twenties and her accent suggested a west coast accent. Not local, definitely. The blonde hair and perma-tan was also a little out of place. Sydney ran to the end of the alley and looked in the direction the two guys had ran in. There were a few people wandering along the street and two piles of dust being quickly dispersed by the light breeze. No sign of the men, at all.