Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fiction: Unwanted President. Chapter 10

Bad Guys Everywhere

By Ed Rogers

Tom stepped out into the cold morning air to find that the wind was no longer blowing and the snow had stopped, but there was still a chill coming out of the north. That time of the year, that close to the North Pole, the sun never really came up. It just went from being very dark to being a little light.
    His boots made a crunching sound on the new snow that had fallen overnight. There wasn’t enough light to make a shadow on the snow, but it wasn’t dark enough to turn on a light. A man could go crazy in that kind of a world. No wonder the Russians acted pissed off all the time.
    He looked back at the hotel, although he knew he wouldn’t see Mary. God, how he wished he could turn around and go back to the hotel, get in that tub with her, and just make love to her all day. Instead, he pushed open the cafe door. The little bell made a tinkling sound, and the heavy-set lady behind the counter looked up to see who was coming in. Not recognizing Tom, she went back to her work.
    The cafe was old and dimly lit. Tom’s eyes were having a hard time adjusting. The smell of the coal-burning stove in the middle of the room hung thick in the air. Tom could picture Russian troops sitting at these very tables, eating and drinking on their way to the front in World War II. He had hoped that whoever he was meeting would be out front, where he could see him. There didn’t seem to be anyone in the cafe but the lady and himself.
    Tom sat down at a table and waited for the lady to take his order. He noticed a door at the back of the room open just a crack. The lady walked to the door and wiggled a finger at Tom. “Come.”
    Tom got up and walked toward the door, from behind which a voice said, “Are you Stepen’s friend?”
    “Yes, I am.”
    “Then please put your hands on your head and walk backward through the door.”
    As Tom complied, the man ran his hands over Tom’s body to make sure he had no weapons, and then said, “You can turn around now.”
    Tom turned and found himself in a small room looking down at a man about a foot shorter than himself, with gray hair and a beard. Not a very imposing person, thought Tom.
    The room had a table and three chairs, surrounded by various junk. Tom was offered a chair and the two men sat across from each other.
    “So, you are a friend of Mr. Cahill’s?” the little man asked.
    “No, I never met him. I’m a friend of his daughter-in-law.”
    “That is too bad. He stayed with me for two days. I found him a very interesting man. I was saddened when I heard what he had done. It was so unlike him.”
    Tom noted that the man’s English was as good as Stepen’s. “I keep hearing that from everybody, but the fact remains, he killed the President of the United States. Someone must have seen that coming. Cahill didn’t come all the way to Russia for a love feast with you people – someone told him something that set him off.”
    “You are right, John was on a mission. I believe it started as an inquisitive fact-finding adventure, but turned serious. He made up his mind to expose the President and the Brotherhood of Bones to the world. I couldn’t tell him any more about the Brotherhood than he already knew.
    “When I was a young man, I was a member of the Bones, and President Benton’s father and I were friends. Mr. Warring, for John to have killed the President, he would have to have found out something much more damaging than what he knew when he was here. He was interested in some money that had been moved out of Iraq by your President Benton. I knew about the money. It took place before I retired. The money was not Benton’s to take. It belonged to the Brotherhood. It was payment for the lost revenue they would suffer because of the US takeover of the oil fields of Iraq. I assumed it was replaced – I retired about that time so I have no way of knowing.”
    The little man smiled. “We talked about many things, which had more to do with our lives than with anything important. I had been in Vietnam at the same time as John was there. You get two old warriors together and it becomes a contest to see who can out-lie the other one.
    “I gave him the name of a man back in the United States with whom I had dealings a long time ago. Maybe he found there what he was looking for.”
    Suddenly the door opened and the heavy-set lady said something in Russian and hurried out of the room.
    The little man jumped up and shouted, “Come, we must go, something has happened. Mobsters have been spotted driving around the neighborhood, and they may be looking for you or me. I don’t know which, but you need to get back to the hotel.”
    Tom was on his feet too. “What is going on? I need that name.”
    The little man ignored him. He was heading for a door out the back. “You and Mrs. Cahill stay in your rooms. We will have to postpone our little talk until later. I will call you if you’re still in town. However, there is not much else I know about John.”
    “Where are you going?” Tom shouted, “I need that name.” It was too late – Tom was talking to a closing door.
    Thoughts raced through Tom’s mind. What had happened? The little man was gone, and so was the lady. He was alone in the cafe. The hell with all this shit and Mary’s wild-goose chase. He no longer cared why Cahill killed Benton, he just wanted to get back to Mary and get the hell out of Russia.
    Tom couldn’t help it, the hair on the back of his neck was standing up. He ran across the street to the hotel. He opened the door, hoping to see Mary standing there waiting for him. Instead, a man in a long black coat, with a black hat pulled down over his eyes and a muffler over his mouth and nose, was pointing a gun at him.
    Tom looked around the room. His mind was still racing, and the blood vein in his temple beat like a drum. Where was Mary? Was she still upstairs? Did she escape? Not seeing her, he felt relieved at first. Maybe she got away.
    Then the man with the gun said, “If you are looking for your girlfriend, we have her, and if you give me any trouble we will kill her. Do we understand each other, Mr. Warring?”
    “Yes sir,” said Tom, “there is no need to harm anyone. I will do whatever you ask, but may I please see Mrs. Cahill, so I’ll know she’s all right?”
    “Sure, but first you must turn around.”
    Tom turned around and put his hands behind his back, expecting to be handcuffed. The blow set off Roman candles in his head. Then came the darkness.

A long time later, Tom’s eyes began to open, and he sat up, swinging his arms as if possessed by the Devil himself. Then the pain hit – it ran from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Spots began to dance before his eyes, and he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Fighting to keep from throwing up, he lay back down on the cot he was on and waited for the small room to stop spinning. He wasn’t sure how long he lay there before he heard the door open.
    The sound of a woman’s voice crying out in pain penetrated the murky depths of his brain and brought him straight up on the cot. He saw Mary on the floor, where they seem to have just thrown her into the room. He was trying to stand and get to Mary, but she made it to his side first.
    “Oh, Tom, what have they done to you? Please, don’t get up. Let me see how badly you’re hurt.” She began running her fingers over his head. “There’s a big bump, but no blood, thank God. How do you feel?”
    “I feel like a damn truck ran over my head.”
    She put her arms around him, “I’m just glad you’re alive. I had no idea what they had done with you. The last thing I saw was them putting you in the trunk of their car.”
    Tom looked past the pain in his head and tried to evaluate the small room they were in. The walls were of concrete, as was the ceiling. There was the one cot, and a port-a-potty in the corner. That was it – no chair, no windows, and the door looked like it was made of steel. A practical person would call it a cell.
    He took her hand and spoke softly. “Did they say who they were, or what they wanted?”
    “They didn’t say who they are, but they want two hundred thousand in American dollars. They said they will kill us unless we get them the money.”
    “Did you tell them we’ll get it for them? I’ll have it wired to any bank they want.” He tried to make the best of their predicament without letting his concern show through in his voice.
    Tom had been thinking that this was about the Brotherhood, but if it was kidnapping for money, they had the hope of being able to buy their way out of the mess. He had heard stories around the newspaper office about how kidnapping was becoming a big business in Russia – he just never planned on being part of that story.
    “I told them we would pay the money, and I offered them a check, but they want cash. I told them I could have the money wired to a bank here, or I could cash the check. But they want cash only. No checks or credit cards. I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t know anyone in Russia. How can we get the money?”
    Tom was trying to think of someone he might know. “I don’t know anyone either. The only reporters I know over here are freelance and they’re lucky to have two dimes to rub together. However, the one thing we have going for us is they want the money. Somehow we need to work out a way for them to get what they want, and for us to stay alive.”
    The door opened and a man with a hood stepped into the room. With the gun he had in his hand, he motioned them outside. They walked down a long hall, which also had concrete walls and ceiling.
    Tom was thinking they must be underground. Maybe the basement of some building. The kidnappers were wearing hoods. They didn’t want them to see their faces. They were planning to let them go once they had the money.
    The man with the gun said something in Russian and motioned for Tom to open the door to his right. They stepped into a room that was maybe twenty feet larger than the room they had been imprisoned in. It had a couch and three chairs, along with a desk, behind which sat another hooded thug. He motioned them to sit down in the two chairs facing the desk.
    Tom wasn’t moving fast enough to suit them. The blow from the butt of a gun in the middle of his back propelled him forward, black dots dancing before his eyes once more.
    The man behind the desk stood up and shouted something at the gunman, who immediately turned and walked back to stand by the door. The man threw Tom’s billfold across the desk. “I’m so sorry about all this, Mr. Warring: the hit on the head and this uncalled-for blow against your person. You must think we aren’t very professional.”
    He gestured with his hand. “My friend by the door just doesn’t like Americans. I don’t know why – I love you Americans; you’re more than willing to pay for your freedom and go home, and we never hear from you again. I keep telling him, this is just business, but does he listen? No! He may have killed you, and then we would have only the girl and only half the profit. Your death would have cost me one hundred thousand dollars. Good help is so hard to come by anymore. In the old days we were much more professional.”
    He turned both palms upward and sighed, “We seem to be at an impasse, Mr. Warring. You see, if we go in a bank for anything, the police will arrest us. You can’t cash a check for that much money. You must show what you are going to do with the money. If you cannot, they will arrest you.”
    He shook his head, “Then we would need to kill the other person. You see what a mess it could turn out to be. In Russia, everybody knows that cash spells illegal transaction. What do you propose we do, Mr. Warring? I would prefer to have the money than to kill you. But, if I don’t get the money, my friend at the door will take great pleasure in killing you both.” The Russian raised his hands and rubbed them together as though to wash them.
    “I may know a way out of this,” said Tom, “but it’s going to require some trust on your part.” Tom’s mind had cleared enough for him to think once more. “Mary has a contact here. She needs to get in touch with a Russian who may be able to get the money you want.”
    “Who is this Russian?” the man asked.
    Mary had figured out what Tom was up to and now played her part. “His name is not important, but the problem is, the only way I have of contacting him is by leaving a message on an answering machine.”
    “Let us try that,” pleaded Tom. “You have nothing to lose – what is one more day? They must check the answering machine every day or two. Give Mary a cell phone that can’t be traced. We make the call, they bring the money and everybody goes home happy. What do you say?”
    The man behind the desk was thinking about the dangers. Tom could see the wheels turning in his head.
    “Okay,” the man said, “we will take Mrs. Cahill upstairs and let her make the phone call. You can wait back in your room.”
    Tom spoke up and asked to go with Mary, but his request was denied and he was taken back to the cell to wait.
    Ten minutes later, the door opened and they pushed Mary into the cell. Tom jumped to his feet. “How did it go? Did you get through to the Stepen?”
    “I think I was speaking to him. At least, it sounded like the same person. Anyway, I pretended I was talking to an answering machine and told them we needed two hundred thousand dollars or we would be killed. I gave them the number these people want to be contacted at.”
    Mary put her arms around Tom’s neck. “Tom, I don’t know that this is going to work. Why do you think Stepen will come up with two hundred thousand dollars to bail us out? He doesn’t owe us anything. He doesn’t even know us.”
    “I’m hoping he wants the story about the President’s assassination to get printed as badly as you do. There must be a reason he agreed to talk to us. I’m convinced we’re not hearing the whole story. This shit about a Brotherhood is a smokescreen. We need to hope that whatever the Russians want from us, it’s worth their time and money. Did you see anything as they took you up to make the phone call?”
    “No! They had me blindfolded the whole time.”
    “They must have taken you up a flight of stairs. Could you tell how many floors you went up, and did you run into any more guards, other than the ones we know about?”
    “I think it was just one flight, but it was a long set of stairs. The guard opened a door at the top, and we stepped outside. I heard a car door open and close, and then two other men were talking to the guard. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I could see through the blindfold that it’s daylight, but that was about all I saw. Why do you want to know all this anyway?”
    “I’m hoping the money comes, but if it doesn’t we need a plan as to how we’re getting out of here. These guys are serious. No money and we’re dead, and nobody will have any idea what happened to us. You say there were two men outside and there are two in here. Somehow we’ll need to take out the guard that comes to get us. We’ll then have a gun and an unlocked door. I pray we won’t have to take these guys on – because the odds of success aren’t good. It’ll have to be our last resort, Mary.”
    The look of unadulterated terror and hopelessness that came over Mary was heartbreaking for Tom to see. With a feeling of sadness and love, he reached out and took Mary in his arms. Their lips met with the tenderness of a leaf settling onto a quiet, still lake. The beating of her heart was so loud she could hear it in her ears. Her body quivered with anticipation as his hands moved from cupping her face to caressing her breast. His lips traveled down the nape of her neck. He had her blouse off and was working on her brassiere. As he freed the last latch, her beautiful breasts sprang to life. He began kissing one while caressing the other with his free hand.
    With her hand pressing his face into her breast, Mary moved backward until they both fell upon the cot. It became a race to see who could get their clothes off first. Mary won and was lying like a smoldering ember, waiting to be fanned into a consuming flame.
    Tom stood looking down at her and, feeling the heat of his own desire about to consume him, he abandoned all reason and came to her like smoke to a fire.
[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

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