SAN FRANCISCO BAY.
Sergeant Harry Oldfield, SFPD, was not having a good day. Not even noon and I'm already sweating, he grumbled miserably to himself as he looked out over the makeshift barricade his officers had set up facing up the hill towards the old prison. This heatwave is ridiculous. He popped a fiber-supplement gummy into his mouth for lack of anything better to do and cursed the day, his diverticulitis, and Carmen Sandiego in particular. He thumbed his radio toggle.
The response was crisp and immediate. "4366, this is Control."
"What's the 20 on our VIP?"
"Should be on the water as we speak, six-six."
SAN FRANCISCO BAY.
ABOARD THE SFPD BOAT "SF MARINE 1."
With the suspicion that the lifejacket clamped around her neck was intentionally nearly as big as she was, Sadie Sackwell gripped the rail and did her best to enjoy the full-throttle roar of the police boat cutting through the waves. The remnants of the morning fog parting with the boat's passage and the rush of ocean wind through her bleach-blonde crew cut bolstered her mood, but she still couldn't shake the complete mystery of the situation. She frowned and went over the salient points again in her mind.
One. Carmen Sandiego had arrived on Alcatraz Island and set up shop in the old prison, sealing it off to tourists and the Park Service.
Two. Carmen then had called the old Zenith 1-2000 phone number for the California Highway Patrol to announce her presence.
Three. She had indicated she wanted to give a tell-all interview to a newspaper reporter in the classic style, and requested they obtain Sadie Sackwell (obscure local gardening, theatre and LGBT affairs reporter from nearby Alameda County) to do it.
Four. She also said that if Ms. Sackwell was not present in time for the interview, she (Ms. Sandiego) would leave and take Alcatraz with her.
It seemed completely bonkers, but so was being awoken by a CHiP cruiser in her driveway, lights flashing, with an apologetic officer on her front stoop asking her to get dressed and "assist for the length of the current state of emergency."
Sadie's nose twitched. There had to be a story here, and it was going to be a big one.
Sadie hit the docks a few minutes later, where the cops swapped her life jacket for a bulletproof vest, dutifully strapped on over her blouse. Sgt. Oldfield led her up the winding path to the main penitentiary, the building looming over their right shoulders.
"Of course," the cop complained, pulling aside a wooden barricade as they walked under the shadow of the island's lighthouse, "while ACME and the feds run around like chickens with their heads cut off, it falls to us to actually get the work done. Sorry about your morning."
She nodded assent, replying, "Really, it's alright. In the end, it's got nothing to do with you or me. It's about power. Who has it and who doesn't." She fiddled idly with the velcro straps holding the vest over her midsection.
They mounted the last few steps to the double doors to the old cellhouse together.
"Well, that certainly ain't us today," Oldfield mused bitterly, "In fact, the order is that we're supposed to get clear of the island once you're delivered."
Sadie's shock derailed her train of thought completely, and she shook her head, squinting into confusion and the morning sun. "What?!"
"Supposedly, you'll have ACME detectives as your backup, but they're certainly not here yet. So...here." Oldfield fumbled at his radio for a moment, switching it off with a quick burst of static. He drew his service pistol and took it by the barrel, handing it to the journalist grip-first. "Call it an insurance policy. That's the most dangerous woman in the world in there. ACME or no ACME, you deserve better."
Sadie visibly trembled. This was getting entirely too real. She instinctively reached for the weapon even as she replied, "I don't...I write about flower shows, for crying out loud!"
"I know, I know. Just...be cool. Hopefully this all goes according to plan. You get the story, she leaves, we're all home before rush hour." He turned back towards the door, thumping it three times with a bony fist. "Sackwell, comin' in!" he shouted.
The deadbolt clicked back and the doors swung free, seemingly of their own accord. Visible through the doorway, the preserved, museumized processing offices waited, warmly lit but otherwise devoid of life.
Sackwell took a deep breath and steadied her nerves, stepping into the unknown.
Sadie's heart hammered in her chest as she tried to remember from her youth how Agent Scully handled a gun and a bulletproof vest, television her only real point of reference. She pointed the gun at the ground and walked vaguely sideways, embarrassment and terror each clamoring for attention in her mind. Before she knew it, she was staring down into the belly of the beast, down the concrete and steel hall of jail cells a museum sign helpfully informed her was called "Broadway."
And she wasn't alone.
Sitting in a folding chair halfway down the row was a figure in an unmistakable scarlet hat and coat, arms folded and legs crossed.
Sadie swallowed once, opened her mouth to speak...but the woman before her rose from her chair.
Coolly, the woman in red tipped her hat back and extended one gloved hand. "Ms. Sackwell," she said in a dulcet alto, "Carmen Sandiego. A pleasure to meet you."
Sadie stammered, the manual transmission of her brain stuck in low gear and clawing for purchase on a slope of a thousand questions. The journalist found herself about to raise Oldfield's gun, barely realizing she still held it. She swapped it to her off hand, then shook hands with the master thief with a subtle cough to clear her throat. "Likewise," she replied.
Carmen started walking towards the back of the cell block. "Come with me. We'll need to be out of here before the building's swarmed with law enforcement."
Sadie realized, in that moment, that for certain values of law enforcement, she was it. The gun seemed almost unreasonably heavy in her hand. She racked her brain. What did the city desk guys say about citizen's arrests? She tossed the thought aside, focusing on the task at hand. Get the story, Sackwell. "Sure," she said, almost cheerily. "Where to?"
Carmen chuckled, the click and clack of her high heels echoing down Broadway. "I hope you don't think this is too forward, but what say you come back to my place?" She stopped at the end of the hall, opening the last cell with an old-fashioned key and inviting Sadie in.
Sadie sat down on the narrow cot and thought for a moment that this was just some ironic joke about Carmen's status as a criminal when the entire cell shifted downward with a jerk, groaning motors turning the entire cage of steel and concrete into a massive elevator. True to her word, however, when the prison cell stopped at a connecting door about a minute later, it opened onto a comfortable-looking---if small---apartment.
Carmen unlocked the door and entered, stepping out of her shoes and hanging her coat, hat and scarf on a coatrack. Sadie followed behind, bent over to undo the laces of her sneakers, giving the scene a once-over as she did. Looking somewhat less intimidating out of her signature greatcoat, the world's most-wanted thief looked more like a soccer mom in her black sweater and trousers. Said thief went to the kitchenette, flicking on the lights as she passed. The living room consisted of two chairs, a coffee table, an entertainment center and rack of vinyl records, and a potted ficus. The dining room sat two at most, and the rest of the apartment was behind a closed door.
"Tea? Coffee?" Carmen asked, fiddling in one of the cabinets.
"Lady Grey if you've got it." Sackwell stepped around the coffee table and had a look at the houseplant in the corner. "Your little friend here's losing a few leaves, but doesn't seem in too poor a shape."
Water ran from the next room as Carmen filled the kettle. "It's the lack of light, I know. If you pull back the blind..." She trailed off as Sadie did just that, revealing the steel shutters just beyond the glass.
"Clever," the journalist replied. "I imagine the boys at ACME and Interpol and the like would be amazed to find you living right under their noses. Under a prison, no less."
Carmen dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. "Oh, I don't specifically live here. We installed this all last week. This is one of...twenty-eight identical safehouses I use and shuffle around the world. I think this one was last used in Marrakech."
Sadie looked askance at the very concept, folding her arms over her bulletproof vest.
Carmen looked slightly taken aback at Sadie's unspoken but strident skepticism, breaking out for a moment in what can only be described as a giggle. "Seriously. We've stolen landmarks that should be completely immobile, what's displacing a little dirt and stuffing an apartment inside?"
"Alright, fair enough." Sadie took a seat, setting the gun down on the coffee table and wiping her hands off against each other, feeling better with the weapon out of her hands. "So, interview." She unpocketed and unlocked her phone and set it on the coffee table. "We...are...recording," she added, each word alongside one tap of the touchscreen.
Carmen exited the kitchen with two steaming mugs. She handed the one that said "Alaska: Beyond Your Dreams, Within Your Reach" to Sadie and sat in the chair opposite, sipping from the one labeled "World's Greatest Dad." She smiled inscrutably, a perfect Mona Lisa smile.
Sadie blew the steam off the top of her tea and sipped, frowning. She leaned forward in her seat, then, epiphany:
"This isn't an interview at all, is it?"
Carmen leaned back in her seat, crossing her legs. "I knew you'd figure it out."
Sadie's eyes darted downwards to the gun on the table, then back up to Carmen's. "So what is it? What could the most powerful woman on earth want with someone like me?"
"I would like to offer you a position with my organization."
Sadie blanched visibly. "What?! You think I'm some kind of criminal? Or that I could be?"
Carmen, halfway through a sip from her mug, held up her other hand for peace. Swallowing, she continued. "Obviously, on the surface of things, yes, we're criminals. But what most people don't understand is why I do the things I do. In fact, I make it my business to not tell them. Let them quake in fear of the master thief and her ridiculously-named cohorts."
Sadie interrupted, curiosity getting the better of her. "Is Carmen your real name?"
Sandiego shrugged. "To the best of my knowledge. I was adopted around the time my memory begins. It's my legal name, no pun intended." She set her mug on the coffee table and folded her hands over her middle. "What you may not know about my career is that, after my initial forays into crime---the vault jobs, the museums---I took an interest in geology. Meteorology. The processes by which the planet works. So, for example...what's my first 'caper' you think of when you look at me?" Carmen added distinct air-quotes around the word "caper."
Sadie chewed on that for a minute. "Leaning Tower of Pisa," she replied.
Carmen nodded. "I thought you might say that. Nineteen-eighty-six, if memory serves? The first real job I required a crew for---apart from your standard wheelman, glazier, wirehead, that sort of thing. Yes, I had the Leaning Tower airlifted out of town. And in the meantime, who was looking at the hole in the ground where it used to sit? Nobody. Nobody except the first V.I.L.E. agents, shoring up the foundation and installing seismic dampeners. By my scientists' calculations, we not only prevented it from collapsing that year, we also laid the groundwork for the stabilization project in the `90s. It is now stable and shouldn't tilt any more in the next few centuries." She grinned warmly, if slightly smugly, pushing her hair back over her shoulders. "Chalk one up for the forces of evil, right?"
Sadie looked moderately impressed. "So, that's your basic motivation? Secret earthworks that most governments won't touch?"
Carmen shrugged mildly. "It's one of them. I've disrupted world markets and funneled cash from the oligarchs to my own pet projects. You'd be surprised how many shell companies I own that are passing millions of dollars to food and education in underserved communities, clearing land mines in Southeast Asia, fighting for equal rights...basically everywhere...you'd think someone like me would make some kind of a dent in it all. I worry how much worse it could be if I wasn't there."
Sadie chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "Casino de Monte-Carlo."
"The day before a planned terrorist bombing. `98? Exposed the bombmaker and his connections, the Monégasque authorities had a field day with them. Honestly, and this is part of the boilerplate speech I give to everyone who'd be one of my lieutenants---the named members of the organization---everything we do will in some way benefit humanity. And if you don't believe me, you have full access to everything I have, all the way down to my underwear drawer."
The journalist laughed. "That's officially the kinkiest job pitch I've ever been tossed."
Carmen picked up her mug again. "Am I working too blue? I'm sorry. When the coat is on, I'm the very soul of professionalism, but sometimes, you can't help but think of a line like that. Anyway, what say you? I've read your files. Really, I wrote them." She began ticking off items on her free hand. "Single, ex-wife on the east coast, unattached, good writer, sharp eye for detail, frustrated with conventional methods and bureaucracy..."
Sadie kicked the idea around a bit, then put two and two together. "So what's the Alcatraz job?"
Carmen made a small noise of delight. "This is exactly why I think you'd be a great fit. So, no matter what, with or without you, we're airlifting the island today."
Sackwell gestured for Carmen to drop the other shoe. "Which presumably would cause massive quakes, a tsunami just offshore of the city, what's your angle?"
"It's all about seismic dampening, again. Yes, there'll be a quake, but it'll measure out at three-and-a-half, four at worst. You've probably slept through those, there's thousands of them per year worldwide."
Sadie had to admit Carmen was right. "True, three is basically a brief rumble, maybe you learn not to put the good china up on a high shelf, but nobody really gets hurt unless they're unlucky. That's still not the angle, though."
Carmen swallowed, draining the mug. "It's preventative medicine. Best projections suggest that this'll disrupt a slip on the San Andreas that'd otherwise bring the next Big One to San Francisco this year. And for all I've been around the world, this is still my city. Closest thing to a real home I've got."
Sadie got out of her chair, facing away from Carmen for a moment, seeming to take an interest in the thief's record collection while she considered...really, the next phase of her life, if this wasn't some kind of ridiculous fever dream. Her fingers played over the cardboard spines as she went from one to the next - Latin jazz, doo-wop and vocal group records mostly.
She turned around. Carmen hadn't moved. "So what if it's not for me?"
Carmen took a deep breath. "Well, I can't say I wouldn't be disappointed if that's the case. But if it's the case, I do my best to put you back exactly where you were when you joined us. You'd be well-compensated either way---for your work or for your silence. As long as you say nothing about, for lack of a better term, this thing of ours, you're still on my good side. So what do you say, Sadie? Wanna help me steal an island?"
The twin mile-long megacopters roared in the air above the prison, the rumble of displaced water rushing in to fill the hole where once an island stood even louder, but possibly loudest of all was the triumphant cry of Carmen Sandiego on all the police bands and in the earpieces of the ACME detectives who thought her surrounded but thought wrong. "So long, suckers! Carmen Sandiego..."
"...and her MYSTERIOUS accomplice!" Sadie, disguised by a white trenchcoat from Carmen's closet that fit her like a tent and a spare pair of Carmen's sunglasses, added.
"...escapes again!" Carmen finished, tapping the connection off on her smartphone. Pocketing it again in her famous red coat, she turned to her erstwhile biographer and newfound partner in crime. "So that's that part of the business done. Dinner?"
"Sure, why not. Hey, we should talk about my name, right?"
"I was thinking Nellie Blight. A traditional sort of thing."
"That's kinda on the nose, though. What about a deep-cut newspaper pun? Dot Gain? Beatrice Reporter? Harriet Halftone? Kym C.?"
"K-Y-M-C. Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Key, but backwards."
"...I'll think about it."