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Chapter 19

Dennis rested his back against the table as he began, “The origin of Item 13 goes back to a man named Ernest Ruskin…”

Ernest Ruskin was a chemical engineer who lived in Moscow during the time of the Soviet Union. He was closely in association with the government at that time and worked as lead scientist on a number of projects for them, including one codenamed Prevoskhda.

The project was aimed at creating a weapon that would have the capability to cause irreparable damage to the enemy at just one strike and thus, gift the Soviet Union swift victory in battle.

“With the ingenuity of Ernest Ruskin, and a lot of government funds, Prevoskhda was brought to reality,” Dennis narrated, “but not for long.”

As it turned out, the operation of the weapon created a blowback so powerful that it took out the secret base where it was being tested, killing all the staff on site, including Ernest Ruskin.

“But that wasn’t the end to the story, was it?” Megan asked. It’s only logical since there’s an Item 13 to speak of today, she thought.

“It wasn’t,” he confirmed. “See, five years ago, Olympus caught wind of a man claiming to be Ruskin’s apprentice in Kiev. According to the intel we received, this man was in possession of some notes from the original project and had used it to create an even more fearsome weapon than the engineer’s, and he was planning to test it somewhere in the city.”

“So, you sent a team after him,” she completed, knowing exactly where the story was headed.

“Yes.” He nodded affirmative. “The team landed in Kiev within a day of the report and successfully retrieved the weapon, but they killed the man in the process.”

“However, word in the underground was that that kill was never confirmed,” Ricardo said, quirking an eyebrow. “Or are you saying that it was, Director?”

Dennis turned to give Ricardo a very long, hard stare, almost as if he was assessing what to make of him right there.

Finally though, he sighed. “No, it wasn’t,” he admitted. “The team reported that they shot the man in a hotel he was staying in Kiev after he tried to resist the retrieval, and they saw him fall out of the window into a lake behind the building, but his body was never recovered.

“Anyway, they brought the weapon back to the mountain and I had it sent to one of our storage facilities in the Arctic, marking it Item 13 for safekeeping.”

Dennis looked at Megan after the story and waited for her reaction, but she said nothing. She just sat in her chair and stared straight ahead with a contemplating look like she didn’t quite know what to do with what she had heard yet.

However, out of nowhere, she suddenly said, “I don’t understand one thing. I get that Item 13′s powerful, and dangerous, and dates back to a time and place where nothing good ever really happened, but what exactly does it do?”

“The truth, Miss Months, no one knows.” Dennis shrugged. “After its recovery, UN-CADTRE gave strict orders not to touch or mess with the weapon and I complied; and truth be told, I could have had some people take a peek at it under wraps, but I didn’t really want to find out what made that devil’s heart tick.”

Well, that sounds like Dennis, alright? Megan thought. For all of his bad habits, one area that she knew she could never find fault in him was his integrity to the organization.

Plus, if the orders really had come from Arthur Dean, the Principal Officer, then Dennis definitely had a good reason not to flout it. I met that man once and he still scares me, she thought.

“Now, while that clears me, I can’t say the same for you, Mr. DiSanto.” Dennis turned to face Ricardo with a stern expression.

“I’m sorry, what?” He shot him a confused look. “I mean, what part of “why in the world do you think I’ll intentionally put myself within a hair’s breadth of that devil’s instrument?” did you not get?”

“My point, exactly,” he returned. “How did you know to know that? It’s not like the information’s open to the general public.”

Ricardo looked up, stunned. He blinked once, then twice; and then out of nowhere, he smirked. “I gave myself away, didn’t I?” he said and smiled unabashedly.

That son of a gun! Megan’s face went red in anger when it dawned on her that Ricardo had known that the situation was about Item 13 since the moment they met and was just stringing her along.

Now, to be honest, she wasn’t exactly sure he knew that she had come to retrieve the weapon right away, but the guilty look around him when he looked at her made her suspect that he had at least suspected that her presence at his party was somehow linked to it and their encounter was no coincidence at all like she had thought.

“You liar!” She banged the table before she could stop herself.

“I’m still not the culprit you’re looking for, Megan.” He raised his hands to defend himself. “Some days back, I came across some chatter on the dark web that mentioned a weapon called Item 13. That’s how I knew all I knew.”

“And we’re just supposed to take your word for it. Is that it, Mr. DiSanto?” she returned.

“Actually, we can’t take his word for anything, Miss Months,” Dennis cut in as he dropped his tablet on the table in front of her. Apparently, while they was still talking, he had called on one of the men in the room to get his tablet from the office. “See, right there is the “chatter” Mr. DiSanto said he came across some days back,” he showed her a string of messages, “he was the one doing the chattering.”

Now, Ricardo looked really concerned. “No, you’re getting everything mixed up. I-”

“What’s Treze, Ricardo?” Megan cut off whatever he wanted to say. “You seemed pretty interested in giving out whatever information you could on it.”

Ricardo sighed, rubbing his forehead like he was nursing the motherload of all headaches; which Megan actually believed he was. I hope it’s a migraine, she thought, I hope it’s a brain-melting, no hoots-giving migraine.

“Look,” he said after a while, “a “talented” colleague of mine in Os Buscadores was the one who got me involved. Apparently, she stumbled on the notice that a group posted on the dark web in search of locate Item 13 plus the intel they were giving out to help find it and she showed it to me.

“Now, regardless of what some people-” he looked pointedly at Dennis “-might think of us, Os Buscadores is dedicated only to uncovering the truth to the world, not creating chaos in it. But it was obvious this group would cause nothing but chaos if they had the weapon.

“So, in order to get their attention, I played up “Treze,” my own latest find. I wanted to see who would come knocking, even hosted the open house party to give them a chance; and they took it.”

“The gunmen,” Megan realized. “They must have been sent from the group after they realized what you were up to. They couldn’t afford loose ends.” Ricardo nodded affirmative.

“But that doesn’t make you any less of a threat.” Dennis pointed out. "You know that right, Mr. DiSanto?"

“Of course,” he replied, smiling, “but I’m not the threat you should be concerned about right now.”

Megan had to admit that Ricardo did have a point. While he was a threat- Os Buscadores was a threat to Olympus just for existing- but he wasn’t a pressing one. The group that had Item 13- whoever they were- were the real threat. They had shown that they would do whatever it took to acquire it, and even more to keep it.

“So what now?” she asked. “How do we find a group that doesn’t want to be found?”

“I don’t think there’s much you can do on the “finding the group” front,” Ricardo said. “Believe me, I’ve tried. But I have this friend, Sammy. He can help us track down where Item 13 might have ended after it was stolen from your facility.”

“Sammy.” Dennis made a curious face. “That wouldn’t be Samuel “Sammy” Jordan, would it?”

“You know him.” Ricardo looked elated.

“Of course, I do, he’s a criminal!”

“A businessman,” he corrected.

“He smuggles weapons into war-torn regions.”

“He makes equipment available to those who need it the most in the world.”

The argument looked like it would have gone on for very long but Megan cut it out with the raise of her finger. “We don’t have the time for this,” she reminded them. “Director, we need this Sammy guy’s help. Ricardo, tell us where to find him so we can go talk to him ourselves.”

“Oh, Sammy isn’t going to talk to anyone he doesn’t know,” Ricardo returned and looked at her with a big grin on his face. “If you want to get your “item” back, Miss Months, you’ll need to take me along for the ride.”

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