Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fiction: Unwanted President. Chapter 11

Stepen Kabak

By Ed Rogers

The black sedan pulled into the alley behind the hotel where Mary and Tom had stayed the night before. Two men got out of the front, and one opened a rear door. The man who got out of the back seat was shorter than the other two men, but there was an air about him that let you know he wasn’t someone to be disregarded. Just looking into his cold, unemotional eyes had made many a man wet himself.
    The three of them were dressed alike in fur hats and long black coats – the standard issue for the KGB. The other man who got out of the front of the sedan opened the door for the other two. As the three of them entered the hotel, their presence sucked all the air out of the place.
    The clerk looked up and his body began to tremble. There was no longer a KGB in Russia, or so they said. But the men who had taken the clerk’s father away when he was a child looked just like these three.
    The clerk looked around the shabby hotel lobby. He had become a rabbit looking for a hole to jump into, but there was no hole, and no one to help him. To holler would be foolish. Even if someone heard him, why would anyone get involved? People tried to stay away from the KGB, and the Russian mob. Everything in his body said run. Run as fast as you can. Run out into the street and start calling for help. But his feet wouldn’t move – his body was frozen. All he could do was watch the three men come at him. All the while he was trying to stop the trembling that was threatening to take over his body.
    Stepen Kabak was seventy-two years old. He had seen Russia change, but in his world the more things changed, the more things stayed the same. This disappearance of Warring and the Cahill woman was just one more bump in his road of life.
    Nothing came easy for Stepen. After his parents died when he was very young, he became a ward of the State and got involved with the KGB early in life. The KGB became his father and mother. They gave him food when he was hungry, a bed when he needed a place to lay his head, and clean clothes to wear. They paid for his education and even sent him to the University of Moscow.
    The university was full of young idealistic boys of his same age. It was there that he joined the Brotherhood of Bones, along with other young men of the KGB. They thought they were going to change the world, this little group of Bonesmen, buried in the snows of Moscow. Stepen proved to be an exceptional student. He spoke four languages, English being one of them. The government offered to pay for three more years, at Oxford in England. This was an expression of approval for Stepen’s hard work. Few Russians were allowed to study overseas. At Oxford, he met more of his Brother Bonesmen, and a young man from Arkansas who one day would be President of the United States. Stepen worked hard in school and excelled in everything he took on.
    By the mid-’70s, Stepen Kabak’s star was rising fast in the KGB. He knew everybody who was worth knowing. The world opened like an oyster to him. He married right after his return from England. The next few years saw Stepen become the proud father of two beautiful children, a boy and a girl.
    His first posting, after two years at the KGB management school, was to the field office in Chernobyl, near its nuclear power plant. This was a choice posting. The housing was new and he received a bonus for being next to the plant. The head of the KGB office in Chernobyl would be retiring in three years, and rumor had it that the job could be Stepen’s for the asking.
    He was in Moscow for a week of meetings with the Central Committee when the Chernobyl plant had its nuclear meltdown. He hadn’t been able to bring his family to Moscow, because the children were in school. The radiation at Chernobyl was so bad, the only way Stepen could bring his wife and children back to Moscow for burial was in lead-lined coffins.
    The KGB had been his mother and father growing up – now it became his wife and mistress. Then one day he awoke and that family too was gone. The great Russia he loved was no more. It had left in a heartbeat. The Russia he worked so faithfully to preserve had betrayed him. The fools had even disbanded the KGB and opened their records to the West.
    Everybody was in a panic. Jobs were gone overnight. People lost everything, their world had vanished. Old people were dying of hunger and cold out on the streets, after being evicted from their homes. Children sold themselves on the street for food and drugs. The Russian mob, which for years had been kept in check by the KGB, had now become as powerful as the government. All this happened in a blink of an eye.
    Stepen had been prepared – not for Russia’s downfall, but for anything. Leadership in Russia changed hands very rapidly, and he knew that information was power. As long as you were in the information business, you would have a job.
    Before all the files could be destroyed, Stepen had boxes hauled off to an office building he had bought three years earlier using a fake name. There he sat up his own private enterprise. His information was for sell to the government or the mob. It had become hard to tell the two apart.
    When Putin became president, he called Stepen in for a talk. He told Stepen they needed to get the mobsters out of the Kremlin. Putin was going to take the government back from the mob and set Russia on a course toward global leadership once more. Putin, although much younger, had been Stepen’s boss at the KGB for ten years, and a fellow Bonesmen. It made Stepen’s heart jump to hear Putin speak of bringing Mother Russia back to her glory. Would he help? Putin need not have asked; Stepen was on board from the handshake.
    Stepen now had a key to the front door of the Kremlin, but if he thought everything would be as it was before the fall of the Central Committee, he was wrong. After Putin got the list of the top mobsters and what they controlled, their meetings were short, and long between.
    Stepen had received a letter from an old friend, a Professor Hofer, whom Stepen had met when he did a short tour of duty in New York. The Professor asked him to meet with John Cahill. At the time, Stepen didn’t see why talking to Cahill was that big of a deal; after all, Cahill was sent by someone Stepen had known for many years.
    The news story that John Cahill was the assassin of the President of the United States set bells off in Stepen’s head. He realized that Cahill’s little meeting with an ex-KGB agent – if found out – would not look good for Russia or him, so he told Putin about his meeting with Cahill. Putin didn’t seem surprised or angry, but he was worried about the reporter.
    Putin was determined not to be pulled into America’s problems. He hoped anything that might lead back to Russia had died with the death of President Benton. On hearing from Stepen that Cahill’s daughter-in-law and the reporter Warring wanted to come to Russia, Putin decided to use Warring to assure the world that Moscow had no hand in the assassination. He told Stepen to meet with the two, even though Stepen was against the idea. It was important that the world know Russia had nothing to do with the murder of the American President, and what better way to let it know than by way of an American reporter who was trying to dig up dirt?
    Now even that little meeting with the reporter and the Cahill woman was turning to shit. Carl, the Finish pilot, had called Stepen’s answering machine and said, “The two Americans haven’t returned.” Then, right after that call, the Cahill woman called and said they needed two hundred thousand dollars.
    Stepen contacted Kaus Quasik, the second man the Americans had met with, but he said that the last time he saw the reporter was at the cafe. They had to cut the meeting short because mobsters were active in the area. He assumed the reporter had gone back to the hotel.
    So now Stepen was at the hotel looking for answers, and he was in a bad mood and wasn’t going to be denied what he wanted. He could smell the desk clerk’s terror. Rightly so, and if he had anything to do with the disappearance of the two Americans, he would curse the day he was born. Stepen stood before the clerk and said nothing. He wanted the clerk to know just how close to death he was.
    Then he spoke, “What you say next will determine whether you live or die, so think very hard before you answer me. Nod your head if you understand what I just said.”
    “Good,” Stepen said. “There were two Americans staying here last night. Now they have gone missing, and as far as I know you are the last one to see them.”
    The clerk started to protest that he had nothing to do with the Americans, but Stepen put up his hand and stopped him. “I don’t care to hear about what you don’t know, but you will tell me everything you do know.” Stepen turned to the two men and nodded toward the door going into the back room. The clerk saw what was about to happen and cried out, “Please, don’t do this! I had nothing to do with the Americans!”
    Stepen waved his hand toward the door and said, “Then why did you not call the police?”
    As the men dragged the clerk out, Stepen returned to the car, lit a cigarette, and got into the back seat. Most of the time he loved what he had chosen to do for a living. Like a plumber, no matter how much you might enjoy being a plumber, you know that sooner or later you are going to get your hands in shit. You can love a job without liking everything about the job. This was just part of the job. Stepen knew these things had to be done. That did not mean he had to like them.
    He heard the muffled sound of a gunshot and knew it was over. The two men came out of the hotel and got into the front seat. No one spoke until the car was a few blocks away. Then the man on the passenger side turned to Stepen and said, “He knew little. He said two men came in, and one of them took the American woman outside and the other put him in the back room. He heard them take the American man out the back about a minute later. He waited ten more minutes and came out. That was about all.”
    “You can run from a lot of things, but you can’t escape fate. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Stepen shook his head.
    The two men were used to their boss’s articulating what he thought was profound wisdom, so they sat quietly, waiting for their next orders.
    “It is not the clerk, and it is not Kaus Quasik. That means it is in our house. The three of us and the two men who picked the Americans up at the airport are the only people who knew they were in Russia, Take me to the office and collect the assholes who drove Warring and Cahill here. The next time I see you, I had better have the answer to where the Americans are.”
    No words were spoken between them until Stepen got out at his office, and upon exiting the car he said, “Two hours, no more.”


Stepen was busy returning phone calls and handling other office matters, and he hadn’t been watching the clock, but he wasn’t surprised to see his two men returning a half-hour early. They had been with Stepen for five years and were the best the KGB had ever produced.
    They walked into Stepen’s office and the one they called Karl came right to the point. “One of the drivers has a brother who is involved with a group of bastards that do kidnapping. He bragged to this brother about getting an extra two thousand dollars from the Americans. He had no idea his brother would do such a stupid thing as to kidnap someone he was linked too. We persuaded him to tell us where to find the brother and we thought you would want to be there.” Karl smiled at Stepen.
    Stepen asked, “I can be assured these two men no longer work for us?” and headed out the door without waiting for an answer. Stepen expected no answer from his men; these things were understood among the three of them.
    The building where Tom and Mary were being held captive was in an abandoned industrial park near what was known as old St. Petersburg. It was on the waterfront, and there would be few cars or people to deal with in that neighborhood.
    Stepen and his men pulled to the curb and stopped a block from the building. The tugboat in the bay gave two blasts from its horn to tell the freighter it was turning to port. The sound spooked a seagull, which took wing and flew over the black sedan. As a trail of white bird shit spread across the hood of the car, Karl cursed at the bird and reached for his pistol. Stepen patted him on the shoulder and said, “Easy, you will have ample opportunity to shoot something later.”
    They weren’t sure how many people were involved in the kidnapping. The hotel clerk had only seen two but there might have been more outside. Stepen needed to call in a favor from some of his old friends in the Army. He made a telephone call and gave the address of the building. Now all he could do was sit back and wait.
    The telephone rang – it was the Russian Military Intelligentsia. They had a picture of the building and the people inside and in the surrounding area. Stepen got off the telephone and said to Karl and the other man, “We will pull alongside the car parked outside. Karl, you and I will take out the two in the front seat. Then we move into the building and down the stairs that are just inside the door. The first door to the right will have two more men. One will be sitting next to the far wall. The other will be straight in front of the door, sitting at a table. Once we take them out, we will be able to free the Americans. Okay, let’s do this!”
    Stepen had his driver turn around so they would be coming in at the back of the kidnapper’s automobile. Stepen’s car came up fast and stopped next to the parked car. With the two windows on the right side of their own car down, Karl and Stepen opened fire with their two Russian-built machine pistols. They emptied their guns and reloaded, but there was no movement from inside the car. The popping sound of their silencers wasn’t heard by anyone in the building.
    Karl got out and put a bullet in the head of each man. The tugboat sounded in the distance, as it gave the freighter one long blast of its horn to say it was cutting free of the tow.
    They should be able to take out the other two as easily as they had killed the two in the car. Stepen made another telephone call to confirm the location of the other kidnappers. Once assured they hadn’t moved, the three opened the door and started down the stairs. They were three steps from the bottom when the door opened, and Karl found himself face-to-face with the next kidnapper. Karl fired first, but as the kidnapper was falling, he fired his pistol, hitting Karl full in the chest. The kidnapper fell in the doorway while Karl fell back onto Gustav, Stepen’s other man.
    The kidnapper and Karl were both dead before they hit the floor. Stepen stepped over the kidnapper. Gustav was clutching Karl’s body – he had been knocked down by backward momentum and couldn’t get free. Throwing a stun grenade into the room, Stepen flattened himself against the wall. The grenade went off with a small explosion, followed by an enormous flash of bright light.
    Stepen stepped into the room and emptied his pistol into the last man, who fell backward firing a blast into the ceiling. Stepen was reloading to fire some more when Gustav stopped him. “The shithead is dead, boss, save your bullets.”
    Tom and Mary had been on the cot, not yet half-dressed, when they heard the explosion. They jumped from the cot and started grabbing their clothes from the floor, Tom continuing to holler, “Hurry!”
    They were dressed by the time they heard someone on the other side of the door. Tom got against the wall, with Mary behind him. He was hoping to jump the first man that came through. His heart beat so loudly, he was sure the person on the other side of the door could hear it.
    The door opened and before Tom could make a move, he was looking down the barrel of a gun. He never had a chance to throw a punch. Stepen stepped into the room and said, “We are friends. It is I, Stepen. You called us for help and now we must go from here. Do you have everything that belongs to you? We don’t want to leave anything that will be traced back to you.”
    Tom had his billfold, but Mary said, “They took my backpack.”
    “Come, we will pick it up on the way out,” and Stepen motioned his man back to the other room.
    Blood was running down the hall from the dead kidnapper and Karl. Mary had never seen so much blood. The sight of the two dead men at the foot of the stairs was just about all she could take. She felt lightheaded and was at the point of being sick.
    “Try not to step in the blood,” Stepen told them. “We don’t want to leave any more footprints here than we have too,”
    Mary pushed past Tom and ran up the stairs. She stepped out into the cold air and began to fill her lungs with fresh, life-giving oxygen. By the time everybody came out of the building, Mary was over her sick spell.
    Stepen had Tom help him carry Karl to the car.
    Tom asked about the other bodies, but Stepen gave him a hard look and said, “They are not my people. This one was like my son. You have cost me much today. I hope you are worth it.”
    They put Karl in the trunk of the sedan, and Stepen had Mary sit in back with him. He ordered Tom to get up front with Gustav, who had returned with Mary’s backpack. Gustav hit the gas, and the sedan sped off down the old cobblestone street. Stepen made a telephone call, then sat back, lit a cigarette, and stared out the window, lost in thought. He said nothing.
    Mary and Tom were overjoyed to be out of their cell and alive. They said nothing either, but that was out of fear of what Stepen might do. As they were coming into town, Tom saw the military ambulance parked at the curb. Two attendants stood beside the ambulance waiting for them.
    Gustav stopped beside the ambulance and got out to open the trunk. In a few minutes he closed the trunk and got back in, and they drove away.
    Tom was wondering just who his benefactor was – it takes some kind of juice to get the military of any country to move that fast.
    Stepen put out his cigarette and spoke for the first time since leaving the building. “The report will say he died in a car accident. His family will be able to bury him, and the Company will take care of them. In the end, that is all any of us can hope for.” He patted Gustav on the shoulder and said, “We will miss him, but time doesn’t stop for any man’s passing.”
    He sat back. “You and Mrs. Cahill have become quite a problem. You can’t go back to Finland. I received a report that people are looking for you there. It won’t take them long before they find your pilot, and he will tell them everything he knows. Then they will be looking for you here in St. Petersburg.
    “I need to get you two out of Russia before you get any more of my people killed. The two of you must separate. In Finland, they will be looking for a man and a woman, and that is what they will be looking for here. You will stand a better chance apart.”
    Tom spoke up, “No way in hell am I leaving Mary by herself. You know those damn bastards, and what they will do to her if they find her.”
    Stepen countered, “You don’t think they will do the same thing if they catch her with you? You seem to forget it was you they missed killing back in the States. What Mrs. Cahill may know, or may not know, is of little importance. You are the person writing the story; it will still be you they want to kill. I can help the two of you get out of this, but you will have to do it my way.”
    “Let me hear your plan,” said Tom, “but I will tell you this: if I don’t like it, we are doing it my way.”
    Stepen pulled his gun out and put it to Mary’s head and said, “Who do you think you are dealing with here? I don’t give a shit about the two of you. In fact, I don’t give a damn if all those dumb asses in American believe we had your President killed. I was asked to meet with you, and I did that. There is nothing saying I have to keep you safe. So you will do this my way, or I will fucking shoot both of you shitheads and dump you on the street. Do you understand what your options are now?”
    The fear on Mary’s face was more than Tom could take, and he had no doubt this man was capable of killing both of them without even breathing hard.
    “Please put your gun away. We will do anything you say. There is no reason to threaten us. We already owe you our lives. I have just been under so much pressure lately, I’m not thinking straight.”
    Stepen put his gun back in its holster. He was thinking he had almost pulled the trigger. His two visitors didn’t know how close they had come. Karl’s death had hit Stepen harder than he believed possible. He must be getting too old for this business.
    “All right, here is how we’re going to work this. Mrs. Cahill will return to Europe and act as if she never left Germany in the first place. You, Mr. Warring, will be going back to the United States via Vietnam. We have people there who will make you new papers and get you back to the States. Until your story has gone to press, the two of you need to stay away from each other; you make too big of a target together. You do understand how important that is to each of you staying alive, don’t you?”
    Tom and Mary nodded yes, although they didn’t like the idea of being apart.
    Stepen more or less dismissed the two of them, turning his attention to Gustav, to whom he said something in Russian. Gustav turned and looked over his shoulder, giving Stepen a look of disbelief. Then he nodded and drove on down the street.
    They pulled to a stop in front of a large apartment house. The buildings all looked alike in that part of town. They had been built before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with the same set of blueprints. Stepen got out on the driver’s side of the car and told Tom and Mary to get out also. Stepen tapped on the car window and said something to Gustav, who handed him some keys. Then Stepen walked around and got the two small backpacks Tom and Mary had brought with them from Finland. Karl had picked up Tom’s from the back room of the hotel.
    They rode the elevator to the tenth floor of the apartment building. Mary had a death grip on Tom’s arm as they walked down the dimly lit hall. Stepen at last stopped at a door and opened it. They walked into a very large and well-kept apartment.
    Stepen handed them the keys and said, “This was Karl’s apartment. He doesn’t need it anymore. You might as well get some use out of it. Tomorrow we move you two out of my country. Don’t go out of this apartment. I will be back by six tomorrow morning. Don’t open this door for anyone but my driver or myself. Do you understand?”
    Both Mary and Tom nodded, yes.
    “Then have a good night.”
    The door closed. Stepen was gone, and they were alone.
    Mary fell to her knees and great sobs began coming from deep within her. Tom went to her and kneeled down, putting his arms around her. “What’s wrong, Mary? We’re safe now. No one is going to hurt you.”
    “I know,” Mary said, still sobbing, “But it feels like I’ve been afraid forever. Look at my hands – I can’t stop shaking. Hold me tight, Tom. I don’t know whether I’m happy because I’m alive or afraid because tomorrow I may be dead.”
    Tom picked Mary up in his arms and gently laid her on the bed. He checked to be sure the door was locked, and then turned out the lights. He lay beside Mary and pulled her as close as he could, and he held her that way until she cried herself to sleep.
    Seeing the lights go out, Stepen tapped Gustav’s shoulder and said, “Let’s go home.”
_______________
[Editor’s Note: The novel from which this excerpt is taken can be ordered from Amazon, as either a paperback or a Kindle book.]


Copyright © 2017 by Ed Rogers

3 comments:

  1. I wonder if I could serve on your blog (as a commenter) as one who gives contrasting views from time to time about Trump, and probably other things as well. It would be a little dicey, for politics is not my thing; my hope in fixing things lies elsewhere, as you know. Trump merely strikes me as a man who has been maligned from Day One in the media ever since he announced his candidacy – his honeymoon period was two minutes, and I would be okay with pointing out things like that. It is different than being a cheerleader for him, which I am not.

    You know how it is with people today. It is difficult to state a position without people thinking that it is your position, and with politics, I would not want that.

    Unlike our glorious rows of the past on another topic, I would not persist in any political remarks, nor would I attempt to turn things religious, except maybe only as a tangential point. I don’t want to get into atheist/believer debate again, for it is ‘been there, done that.’ Nor will I be argumentative, as I was on the former topic. If I am challenged, my response will quickly become: ‘You, too, have a point,’ for this is not my cause. Perhaps I would run a disclaimer now and then stating the above.

    Would such a role be welcomed here? You are very kind in running links to both of my books, with a third one on the way, and I am frankly looking for a way to earn my keep. Should you (Moristotle) read my books and envision another capacity you might like me to serve in, I would consider it. Again, it is all a challenge for me, because my number one cause is my number one cause, and by dabbling too much in causes I think secondary, I risk someone thinking that THEY are my number one cause.

    However, as a writer, I relish the challenge of putting material before persons of different viewpoints. I especially like to navigate where there are hostile persons, (not that I would expect to encounter them here) just to see if I can – just to see if I represent a diametrically opposed point of view without triggering personal offence. It gets old just talking to your friends.

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  2. Most blogs derive added value from controversy. However, it must be controversy of the right type. You do not want flaming and personal insults, and unfortunately, that is almost the rule today. I can offer valid, even sharp, contrast without turning ugly, a skill I find (to my amazement....I mean, it should be common as carbon) in short supply.

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  3. To anyone following Tom‘s comments, I‘m not ignoring him; we are discussing things offline.

    ReplyDelete