GI Joe Headquarters – 0740 hrs

The sun shone a little brighter on the grounds of GI Joe central command. The door closed behind Cover Girl as she entered the common area. She removed her sunglasses and glanced at the clock that hung over the portrait of the President.

I still have time.

She headed for the South corner elevator; the doors had started to close.

She quickened her pace. "Hold the door please."

The doors paused then slowly opened. She entered the elevator, reaching into her pocket, and she greeted Lady Jaye with a smile.

Lady Jaye returned her smile, her finger hovering toward the panel. "Floor?"

"Command, please. Thank-you." She retrieved her chamois towel and used it to dab the ends of her damp hair.

The elevator ascended with a familiar jolt. Cover Girl combed her fingers through her hair, separating it into sections, and she started to weave them together.

Lady Jaye looked on, curious. "I wish my hair was long enough to do that."

"It's a necessary survival skill from my days in the lipstick jungle."

"Is that a french bun you're making?"

Cover Girl smirked. "Oui... but of course."

Lady Jaye snorted. "So, I hear congratulations are in order."

Cover Girl shrugged aloofly, letting out a protracted sigh.

"What's wrong?"

"All the attention is a little unsettling."

"Can you blame everyone? It's the biggest thing that's happened around here in a long time. There's a lot of scuttlebutt going around."

Cover Girl stilled. "What scuttlebutt?"

Lady Jaye waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, nothing you'd be interested in hearing."

"Try me."

The elevator came to a stop at the appropriate floor. The doors opened; four DoD agents waited patiently for the two women to exit.

As the women continued on toward the command wing, Cover Girl, making note of the increased personnel walking about, inquired, "Why is it so busy today?"

"Hawk is onsite," Lady Jaye replied. She then grinned. "Surely, you're used to a little bustle the way you strutted down that runway in Paris."

Cover Girl gasped, and she spun Lady Jaye around by her shoulders. "How did you know about that, Alison!"

"In fulfilling your inquiries, Dial Tone made some friends at French Intelligence. There are pictures floating around of you at a fashion show—" her grin broadened "—including your sexy catfight with Zarana."

Her eyes widened. "I am going to kill Dial Tone!"

"There's no need; that was sooo yesterday."

Cover Girl blinked. "Alison... what are you talking about now?"

"Really, Courtney, you need to come out of that dingy garage sometimes." Lady Jaye hugged her clipboard and looked about, making sure no one was eavesdropping. "According to the latest scuttlebutt, when Roadblock went to prep the kitchen last night, he found that some miscreants had plastered poster-sized photos of you from said fashion show all over the mess."

Cover Girl frowned. "Alpine and Shipwreck!"

"I wouldn't put it past them... Anyway, Roadblock tore through the men's barracks, banging an empty trashcan, and said that if all the photos were not removed by morning's mess, that he would serve surplus MRE's for the rest of the year... There hasn't been a photo seen on base since."

Both women started laughing.

"Don't you just love that big lug," Lady Jaye said.

Cover Girl's countenance change to one of reverie, and she snorted. "Yeah..." And she parted ways.

"By the way, how was your date with the heavyweight champ?" Lady Jaye called out as she left.

She didn't bother glancing over her shoulder in reply. "Goodbye, Alison."

Cover Girl continued on toward Flint's office. She rounded a corner and came upon Roadblock drinking from the water fountain; he waved, and they exchanged pleasantries.

Her smile was genuine. "We gotta stop meeting like this, Marvs."

"I'm sure it's not a coincidence," he replied as they walked side-by-side. "So, how are you adjusting to life back in the States?"

"No adjustment was necessary; France is a nice place to visit, but I'm afraid it would prove perilous to my waistline. How about you?"

He instinctively massaged the scars under his arm-sleeve—lasting souvenirs from their trip. "It wasn't as much fun the second time around."

"To be fair, it wasn't exactly a vacation."

He clasped his hands behind his back. "No... but, it had it's moments, didn't it?"

She nodded, suddenly regarding him with a raised eyebrow. "Hey, Marvs, may I ask you something—" A DoD intern startled her to a halt when he brushed passed them hurriedly, and she yelped "—Sheesh...! They're like cockroaches..."

Roadblock chuckled. "I thought I was the only one who felt that way." He noticed her change in demeanor at her pregnant pause. "Are you okay? What did you want to ask me?"

She blushed. "It's nothing. Forget it."

"You sure...?"

"Yeah." She then leaned against the wall and folded her arms. "You know, Marvs, there is this one thing... How did you know that Evrard was a Siegie?"

He smiled broadly. "Ah. Say no more."

He stood up straight, grasping either lapel, and he began to recite his account of events. Having told it so many times before in the grunt's lounge to his friends, he had the story down perfect.

"For me it always came back to the gun you discovered at the stakeout. That gun started the whole chain of events that led to us uncovering the Crimson Guard insurrection. Now, from an evidentiary standpoint—"

"Since when do you start using words like 'evidentiary?'"

"We're not in France anymore; it's considered rude to interrupt."

She smirked. "Sorry."

"Anyway, as I was saying, evidentiari... evidentarly... stop laughing woman... evidentiarily speaking, it was too convenient. The odds that the killer would use a Cobra pistol, coupled with the fact that there happened to be GI Joe agents on the scene to spot it, are highly improbable. The obvious answer was that someone wanted us to find that Cobra gun. It was a catalyst designed to start us on the trail."

She approached, amused. "Your powers of deduction are staggering."

"Thank you. So, taking that into consideration, I asked myself, 'Marvin, who knew that GI Joe was going to be onsite that night?'"

"Do you talk to yourself often?"

He ignored her. "As it turns out, only four people knew for a fact that we would be there: You, Myself, Métier, and Evrard. Now, I knew I wasn't a Siegie, and I was willing to go out on a limb and assume that you weren't a Siegie either..."

She giggled. "I appreciate that."

"You're welcome."

"Wait a minute, that's why you swept the conference room for bugs... You suspected way back then didn't you?" She punched his arm. "Why didn't you tell me?"

He ignored her. "So, fast-forwarding to the Cobra base, when Dial Tone informed me that Métier was arrested for being the mole, I knew that Evrard had made his move."

She narrowed her eyes. "But, that doesn't explain anything. Evrard covered his tracks perfectly. Even though he got greedy at the end, there wasn't a single piece of concrete evidence that pointed definitively to him. So, how did you know?"

"My dear Courtney, someone wise once told me that in this profession, '...You hardly ever know anything. All you can do is follow the evidence.'"

"I'm going to punch you again."

He instinctively shielded his arm. "My point is that we kept getting bogged down with details. If you look at Métier and Evrard, who best fits the profile for a Crimson Guardsman...? On one end you have Métier: the desk-jockey-bureaucrat who has a tenuous career because he constantly makes waves. And on the other you have Evrard: the reserved military up-and-comer who stays under the radar and has a service record that is pristine to a fault."

Cover Girl rubbed her chin, her lips in a pout. "Yeah, that actually makes sense."

"You don't have to act so surprised."

"No, it's not that, it's just... never mind." She sighed, placing her hand on his chest. "Thanks for having my back out there."

Her words quieted him. "Well... That's what partners are for, right?"

Rising on her tip-toes, she kissed him on the cheek. "The motor pool's not that far from the galley... Don't be a stranger, Champ." And she left.

Roadblock grinned as he instinctively touched the warm spot on his cheek, and he regarded her deliberately slow feminine gait.

She didn't have to look over here shoulder. "Stop looking at my ass."

He laughed and caught up to her.

They arrived at Flint's office just as a short stocky man in his late thirties, wearing a black ACU, was on his way out. The two Joes recognized Lt. Jenkins, and they stood at attention, saluting as he passed.

"Come in, you two," Flint said from inside his office.

Roadblock and Cover Girl entered and likewise saluted at attention. Roadblock winced from the pain of raising his arm too fast. Flint motioned them stand at ease, and they each took a seat in front of his desk.

Flint regarded Roadblock. "How are the ribs?"

"On the mend. Doc says I'll be at one-hundred percent in no time."

"Be sure to take it easy until then; I'm going to need everyone at one-hundred percent."

Flint retrieved a stack of papers from his inbox and arranged them in a pile on his desk.

"Let's get started," he said. "First of all, I have to account for this stack of invoices red-flagged for my review from Lt. Jenkins' team. I won't bore you with all of the details, but I do have a few that are... questionable." He selected the top sheet from the list. "For starters, what is this invoice for a ten-course meal at Jacques Bistro about?"

Roadblock noticed that Cover Girl settled uncomfortably in her chair, along with Flint's sly grin at her expense. He leaned back in his seat and crossed his legs, saying with confidence, "Oh, that was a business lunch... you should be able to write that off, as we were brushing ourselves up on special anti-terrorist surveillance-tactics-weapons-training techniques unique to France."

Cover Girl snorted.

Flint nodded. "I see." And he selected the next page from the stack. He pursed his lips as he read, "Nine-thousand dollars for totaled 'poojit'? What in the hell is a 'poojit'?"

Roadblock shrugged. "I asked her the same thing, sir. I told her she should have rented an American car."

"First of all, sir, it's pronounced Peugeot," Cover Girl scoffed. "And secondly, I paid for the damage waiver, so it shouldn't count—"

"And racing through the streets of downtown Paris with total disregard for public safety?" Flint said, reading off the next line item from the stack.

"C'mon, Flint, Cover Girl couldn't help that the brakes were cut. And to be fair, the Siegie was the one driving, all Courtney did was shoot the tires out so the car could slam into a building."

Cover Girl sunk even lower into her seat. "Marvs, stop helping..."

Flint grinned. "Actually, I meant the one where she was driving backwards while you were shooting into traffic, but we'll put a pin in that other grenade for the time being."

"Oh..." Roadblock straightened, clenching his jaw. "You're gonna have to ask the heavyweight champ... he was the one gallivanting about that night. It's come to my attention that I've been mistaken for him recently."

Flint narrowed his eyes at the heavy machine gunner. "Since when do you use words like 'gallivanting?'"

"Hey, I went to college."

"Come to think of it, I do remember reading about what you just described in Cool Trash magazine—"

"You read Cool Trash magazine, Flint?" Roadblock teased with a lopsided grin.

"Er—Lady Jaye said there was a story about how the heavyweight champ was out and about with a woman that wasn't his wife... probably a prostitute."

Cover Girl gasped loudly enough to interrupt. "She was certainly not a prostitute! She was a high class fashion model." She glared at the two soldiers, ending with, "Who's above both your pay grades combined."

Flint's expression remained deadpan as he signed off on the mission debriefing summary addendum. He then discarded the rest of the stack in the shredding bin. The three of them shared a knowing look. The corner of his lip turned upward, betraying him. "Dismissed."

o-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-o

The rest of the day was by the numbers. When the evening came around, Flint was so busy that he flinched at the familiar cannon blast, and he rose from his desk, regarding the flag visible through his office window, and he saluted as the bugle played Call to Retreat. At the end of To the Colors, he stood down and regarded Lady Jaye in the doorway.

Her hand lowered from her brow. "Hello, Top."

Flint regarded her mischievous smirk. "Why do you persist in calling me that?"

"Because, I know it annoys you, and I am the only person on this base who can get away with annoying you."

"You're lucky that you're cute."

"Are you almost done here?"

"Yes. I take it that Hawk is finished with you?"

"That was hours ago, so hurry up. You promised to take me to dinner off-base tonight."

His brow furrowed. "Oh, was that tonight?"

"Fairborne..." she warned, with her arms crossed.

"I'm just kidding," he said, winking at her. "I'll meet you in the grunt's lounge."

Lady Jaye left. Flint finished the last of his administrative duties and rose from his chair and turned the lights off. He closed the door, but almost forgot to lock it – again.

It still feels like Duke's office...

He made his way down the hall with a report gripped tightly in his hands. When he rounded the corner leading to the elevator, he passed by Hawk's office. The light was still on.

The man is a machine.

Flint knocked on Hawk's door.

"Come."

Flint entered the office. Hawk was seated behind his desk with his head buried in a stack of allocation approval requests.

"General, I was on my way to putting my report in your mailbox, but since you're still here, I was hoping I could leave it with you directly."

"Sure, put it on my desk." He noticed that Flint hesitated to leave after dropping off his report. "Is there something else?"

"Permission to speak freely, General."

"Always," Hawk said, regarding him over the rim of his spectacles.

"It's about the mission in France..."

"What about it?"

"To put it mildly, I thought your choosing of Roadblock and Cover Girl was rather unorthodox."

"I see." Hawk took off his reading glasses, rose from his desk, and he walked over to his liquor cabinet. He poured two glasses of cognac. "Have you ever heard the term Mise en place?"

"No, sir."

"It's French, more specifically it's a cooking term. It means 'put in place'. If you've ever seen Roadblock in action, he puts all his ingredients, cookware and other prep items at the ready before following a recipe that he's memorized."

"I still don't follow, sir," Flint said, accepting Hawk's proffered glass.

Hawk took a sip of his drink and sat on the sofa across from his desk. "When Cover Girl first started, she was delegated the task of bringing our Wolverines up to code. She pulled out the manufacturer's handbook and finished the job on time. However, she happened to notice that the same contractor also provided the same parts for our tanks, so she did a similar upgrade to the maulers. The following month, when orders came down to patch the tanks, Steeler didn't have a thing to do."

"I admit that a tech manual isn't an easy read, but I still don't see what this has to do with an intelligence OP?"

"It doesn't; that's the point. If I had chosen intelligence officers, they would have approached the problem from an intelligence angle. When this mission came across my desk, I knew I had a good old-fashioned mystery on my hands."

"So, there was no solution from a political standpoint?"

"Right. So, I chose my point men accordingly. Where you saw a gunner, I saw a soldier who lays all his assets out, then proceeds to put them together in a logical fashion until he reaches a conclusion. In other words, he follows an algorithm. Likewise, where you saw a grease monkey, I saw a soldier who can take the dynamics of a situation and extrapolate the means to apply it in solving another. In other words, she excels in pattern-recognition. Those two were a perfect fit for solving my problem."

Flint snorted. "I think I get it now." He sipped his cognac.

"Good. You're in a position where you're going to be making more and more critical command decisions; sometimes you have to think outside of the box. When you send your men out in the field. remember that there is more to a soldier than what's in his service record."

"Hooah."

Hawk finished his drink. He walked back and handed Flint a fax that was on his desk. "It's funny that you mentioned the Paris mission... I just got off the phone with a Dr. Emile Métier. As a courtesy, he shared the results of their interrogations of the Cobras that were captured in France. That pass-phrase you have in your hand consistently came up in their investigations."

"Anaconda Prime," Flint said, reading the fax. "I gather this is an activation code?"

"More than that, it appears to be an Umbra-activation code."

Flint eyed Hawk warily. "So, we're not just talking about regional Siegie activity, are we? How many sleepers have been activated?"

"Possibly all of them."

Flint downed the rest of his drink.

~The End (of the beginning)~