I've scouted the target for over a week now; I'm quite confident of his movements. His routine is up early each morning despite going to bed late. The benefit of a long nap each afternoon. Down the broad stone steps to the nice hard marble floor below and from thence to the kitchen. There to find the coffee one of his people programmed to be ready at this hour so they don't have to be. This is a variation of an old trick of mine. As usual, I can't be positive of the outcome, but I feel reasonably certain of the overall success.
The target moves sleepily down the hallway. His mansion is loaded with expensive antiques. They line the long hallway, with its polished floor. He's lazily smacking his lips and yawning. He's such a creature of habit, he probably isn't even aware of his surroundings. As he approaches the top of the stairs, and his vision is directed on the next steps, I firmly pull the wire that raises a strap colored exactly as the top step. He steps forward and his foot catches. I shoot him in the back of the neck with a small dart that will immediately dissolve. The dart contains a chemical that will interfere with his nerves and induce a heart attack. A concoction one of my pharmaceutical consultants cooked up for me, just for this job. Extra insurance in case he somehow survives his trip down the stairs. The combination of the little sting in his neck, and the fact that his momentum is carrying him forward while his feet remain behind, has him completely awake. The drug is already beginning to have an impact on his ability to coordinate his movement. He flails ineffectually as he continues his forward momentum. He begins to bump and tumble down the stairs. I reel in the strap and prepare for my exit.
About half way down, I hear the generally fatal crack I'd been hoping for. The sound always reminds me of wrenching celery. His momentum continues to carry him to a solid smack on that nice, hard marble floor at the bottom. It's quiet. Given the hour, it might take a while before he's discovered. I glance at him. The angle of his head making it clear his neck is broken. With the extra help from the dart, I'm quite confident my job is done. Quickly but quietly, I slip out the second story window, carefully arranging it to lock behind me. I climb down the side of the building; it's helpfully covered with protruding bits of architecture. Passing out of view of each security camera, I re-enable it, and need just another ninety seconds to be done with the job.
On the way back to my safe house, I stop for a morning cup of decaf coffee, or espresso as they like to call it here. Now that the job is complete, I can relax and enjoy the country cafe I've largely avoided. I'm still in disguise. Even if my presence is somehow associated with the "tragic accident" that just happened, all any investigator will get is a generic description of a swarthy man of indeterminate Spanish descent. An exact match for this Basque area, making the description nearly worthless. I order the drink and small pastry using French accented Basque, to further muddy the waters. Grabbing a local newspaper, I sit and watch the sun rise over the country estates. It's a clear, beautiful early summer morning, a welcome respite to the rains the area had been enduring earlier in the week.
The sun is glinting off the snow-capped mountains and the lush green valley is fresh and clean. I want to wait until I see an ambulance before I head back. Later than expected, maybe ninety minutes after the target headed (literally) down the stairs, an ambulance screams down the road. I gawk like everyone else; I imagine it's a rare sight in this area. A minute or so later, I see a single police car go by with its lights on, but no siren. I finish my excellent coffee and the delicious pastry, complimenting the establishment on my way out.
Once at the safe house, I listen to my recordings of the police scanner. Based on those conversations, it's clear the event is being treated as an accident. I conclude the job is completed exactly as advertised and don't give it another thought. Quickly looking at my special communication stream that lists job requests, I don't see any that look pressing. Rather than rushing off on another job, I think I'll relax for a while, maybe tour the picturesque countryside. There's a University nearby. I'll visit it and see if I can find a few pretty young ladies to relieve me of the celibacy I require when on the job.
Once back home, I check my list of job requests again. I act through intermediaries. Most don't know who I am. All my work is through referrals, sort of like "Hitch" for contract killing. These intermediaries are the first line of filtering. I pay them a fee (if they negotiate an additional contact fee, more power to them) for any job I consider, so it's in their best interests to make sure I do. Today there's only one that appears interesting. I charge at least fifty-thousand to investigate things for two reasons: one, if the client won't pay this fee, why should I think they'll pay the full bill; second, I invest a lot of time and effort in exploration of the target, sometimes several weeks. I don't want to do it for free. My intermediary seems to be actively monitoring the site. I get feedback and client contact info before I've finished unpacking my travel bag; the money is being sent. As I wait for the money to traverse my web of accounts, I research the target. A few hours later, I'm notified that the money has arrived, and there didn't appear to be any efforts to trace it. I select my disguise and travel cover and head to the target location. This time no international travel. It's to the steamy south.
I spend my usual effort checking out the target, slip in to place a few bugs, take photographs, record the target's movements, habits, etc. I think about how I'll get in and out, various approaches, what-if scenarios, that sort of thing. I trigger some small police responses so I can get an idea of their response time, memorize lots of routes in, around and out from the target's location and start to develop a plan. As it takes shape, I assign a risk profile. Given the nature of this particular job, the fee is higher than normal.
After a week, I return home, having laid the framework for the plans in the event the client goes forward. I notify the client of the price; it's only a wee bit higher than the one initially dangled in front of me. Within an hour, the money is on the way. After the money has arrived, I transmit the contact information, cancel code, projected window of action, etc. and prep for the trip out. My disguise this time is a short-haired blond guy with a scruffy beard. The kind you see in commercials all the time; I've never understood why advertisers think that women like to be scratched with thirty-grit sandpaper. I strap on a modest beer belly complete with love handles, insert some cheek pads, then slouch and slump my shoulders. By adding makeup to give my skin a sallow tone, I look just like a generic, downtrodden, middle age wage slave, the kind so prevalent in the target's location.
Several days later, I'm lying in a specially prepared ditch wearing a ghillie suit. It's early morning, the time children are walking to school. I'll be alone with the target for just a few seconds, more than enough time. Exactly on time, the target walks around the corner. I wait to be sure we're completely alone, then carefully take aim. The target reaches the correct location. I squeeze the trigger and the dart silently hits her on her thigh. As she starts to slump, I rise and carefully gather her into my arms. Back in the ditch is a specially prepared backpack the exact size of a skinny fifteen-year-old girl who hasn't quite reached the edge of womanhood. I fold her into my backpack, tuck hers off to the side, then lay down on top, spreading my ghillie suit to cover everything. The suit is specifically tailored to match the leaves on the ground. Until recently, this ditch was so full of leaves it didn't look like a ditch at all.
This process takes about five seconds. I wait to see which one is following her. It turns out to be the shorter one. He looks like a real bruiser. Black, overly muscled and clearly strong. I almost envy his monstrous arms and thighs, but that much muscle would be a liability for me in most of my jobs. Because he's bald and has very broad shoulders, I've been calling him "bullet head" in my mind. I wonder how he ever manages to keep from scaring off a target. He reminds me of a bulkier, no-neck Ving Rhames. Moving quietly, it seems clear he's competent; I doubt I'd want to get into a fair fight with him. He goes around the corner and I wait another few seconds before I get up and put my backpack on. She isn't that heavy, at least compared to the packs I used to hump in the military, maybe ninety pounds. As I put the pack on, I quietly scuff the leaves into the ditch to cover any evidence I was there, then very quietly, but quickly, head at right angles to the trail, through the woods. It takes skill to move through leaves in the woods without making noise, something I've practiced extensively over the years. I want to get out of sight from the trail as quickly as possible while still wearing the ghillie suit. That way, if necessary, I can drop down and become invisible.
It's already warm due to the humidity and I'm sweating in my suit with the extra weight on my back. As I approach the edge of the woods, I do a quick thermal scan of the road and the edge of the woods on either side. As planned, at this hour there aren't any signs of people. It's a quiet side street used for overflow parking, but the early risers are already gone and the late risers are still having their coffee. I quickly strip off the ghillie suit (nothing will attract notice as fast as a shambling pile of leaves) and do one last thermal scan. I listen to be sure there are no cars, then, moving purposely but quickly, calculated to be just slow enough not to attract any undue attention, I walk to my waiting vehicle: a blue van. I have an automatic opener for the side door and it opens as I arrive. I set down my backpack and the bundled ghillie suit, then climb into the driver's seat as the door closes. I start up the van and head off, phase one nearly complete.
I've been using this van to emulate someone who works at night, so I want to get it back as soon as possible. I drive just a couple of miles to another van, this one white. It also has automatic doors, and, after scanning the area as I drive up, I slide both doors open and quickly move my ghillie suit and backpack with the girl into the waiting compartments. I take the blue van back to its original location. When I leave the van this time, I'm in jogging attire, and take a tour of the neighborhood on my way back to the second van. While doing so I'm able to observe a reaction to the girl's disappearance. The other guy, white, tall, gangly, blond, he reminds me somewhat of Dolph Lundgren, is doing a covert search. They're both good at their jobs. I doubt an untrained person would give them a second thought. I wonder who's been coordinating their activity and what they're after, but I have my task to attend to. Reasonably confident that my actions haven't been traced, I head back to the white van to put the final touches on phase one.
I check on my passenger. She seems fine. Still breathing, no apparent reaction to the drug. I tuck her back in and head to the safe house. The day is getting on now and the roads are busy, so my van doesn't stick out. I reach the safe house and park in the garage. After the door closes, I carry my passenger to the prepared basement and lay her on the bed. The psychology of kidnappees is important. I need to take control in such a way that she's unlikely to panic, but also unlikely to think she can be clever and try to escape. I make the final arrangements and give her the antidote. I dim lights, leaving only a small night light, so she doesn't immediately realize her surroundings are strange. The antidote works very quickly.
"Good morning Elizabeth," I say, using a voice distorting mechanism. These devices are common fare on TV.
She starts, sits up in bed and presses back against the headboard. She's wide-eyed, but, as I figured, isn't terrified. It's so hard to impress young people today.
"I'm going to turn the lights up slowly, please remain still."
She has a wire rope connected to her via a Kevlar sleeve on her forearm. It's something that's impossible to get off without also tearing your hand off. I feel confident she won't struggle with that very long. The wire allows her access to a bathroom and there's a TV remote on the table next to the bed.
"I've been asked to assure your safety by holding you here. At this point, I have every reason to think you'll be safely returned to your father in a few days. I'm a professional acting under orders, so other than irritating me, there isn't any way you can influence the events. I'm sure you have some questions. I'll answer any I think are relevant."
She slowly relaxes and looks around, "I guess 'why' isn't a relevant question?"
I shake my head (I'm wearing a mask modeled on the "Breaking the Magician's Code" program, so she won't be able to make out anything except my height and general build).
Again I shake my head.
"What can't I do?"
I'm surprised, she's smart and levelheaded for her age.
"Well, screaming won't help. No one will hear you and it'll just make me angry. Trying to escape, naturally, is a problem. You have a TV with five-hundred channels, HBO, et cetera. No pay-per-view, sorry, but all the other stuff you'll find on premium cable/satellite. A small fridge is under that table, though you probably won't thank me, the food is mostly healthy. If you have specific requests for reading material I'll consider getting it for you, but no computers and, of course, no phone. I have yours. It's turned off and the battery is out. Presuming things go well, you can have it back when I return you. This can be a very simple, if rather dull, experience for you. Later you can make up stories about how you tried to escape, but actually making an attempt is a bad idea."
She thinks about it and seems to relax further. She's still tense, but no longer in fight or flight mode.
"What should I call you?" she asks.
"There isn't anyone else, just press the button on the nightstand and I'll get to you. Don't worry if I don't respond immediately. I have other things to do and you should be quite safe here as long as you stick with TV and reading.
"What I need now is called 'proof of life'. Hold up this newspaper next to your face. When I give you the signal, say anything you want to your father."
I give her the signal. "Hello daddy. I'm not sure what happened. I was walking to school and then I'm here. Other than being stuck in this room, I seem to be OK. I love you and hope to see you soon."
Wow, kids these days. Further showing how unflappable they are, she turns on the TV and opens the fridge. I leave the room. I'm going to observe her via my bugs for a while in case she wants to play super spy and try and break out, then get this video off to the client.
I go for an apparently rambling walk where I tour the neighborhood. Blessed with an excellent memory, I have a detailed record of all the vehicles, yards and window shade state of every house. I'm not noting any discrepancies from the expected, based on my earlier recons, so I feel comfortable that no one knows where my safe house is. I get to the edge of the neighborhood to another side street where there are vehicles in an overflow parking area. I get in yet another vehicle, drive to the edge of town, and make my call. I'm sure my call can't be traced back to my receiver, but it's feasible to do traffic analysis on cell towers and triangulate my position since they know the call time and know I'm uploading a video. They know I'm operating in this area; they hired me after all, but I don't want anyone knowing the details of my operations, even if they are paying me. I transmit the proof of life and await a response. After a couple of minutes I'm told to carry on as before, so I head back towards the safe house.
At a bookstore, I pick up some titles for Elizabeth. As I pay, I see Bullet Head in a window reflection and he's clearly looking at me. This is interesting. He's never seen me; he had to have gotten a description from Dolph Lundgren who was looking for the girl shortly after I took her. They must have an encyclopedic memory. How else could I have been noticed? They're demonstrating that they're a pretty decent team, but the fact that I'm on to them says they're clearly not the best.
I want to find out where his team operates, so I decide to lead Bullet Head on, then give him the slip and turn the tables. I casually do some more shopping, but don't see anyone else tailing me. I give him the slip and watch to see how he responds. Just as with the other guy, it's only obvious to trained eyes that he's lost his target and is trying to reacquire it. He casts about, like a bloodhound, but gives up after ten minutes.
I follow Bullet Head back to his "lair," keeping more distance than he did following me. It's a two story four-plex apartment somewhat isolated from the neighbors by an open field, an excellent choice for a safe house. Unless, of course, you get discovered. Done identifying where he's meeting with his team, I go back to my safe house and get some equipment. I check on Elizabeth and give her some of the books. She seems fine, if bored.
I return as dusk is settling in. This is the ideal time to be moving around, as people's eyes haven't adjusted to the dark yet and movement is less likely to attract the eye. However, to someone who has dark adjusted his eyes, as I have, there's still plenty enough light to see clearly. After I settle in, I use a thermal scope to observe the building. It seems that only one unit is occupied. Conveniently, it just happens to be at ground level. I carefully look over the building trying to see if I can detect any cameras, listening devices, etc. I don't see any, which of course doesn't mean there aren't. I sidle up past some bushes and put a contact microphone on a corner of a window that shows light on the inside, then retire to a safe distance to observe. The thermal camera isn't showing any movement outside the building and indicates that inside there are three people. My mic is only picking up sounds of movement.
After listening and observing for about an hour, a conversation starts. I listen very closely; though they're talking in American English accented for our area, occasional word choices and emphasis tell my educated ear that they're not native speakers. I develop a theory on their roots, something to experiment with later. There are two men and a woman. She has a nice sexy voice that conjures bedroom thoughts. Probably hideous looking; how often does the voice match the body? The thermal camera indicates they're making gestures and I get the impression that their small talk is a cover for a visual communication stream. These guys are pros. I don't think I'm going to learn much more sitting out here. I head toward the house.
Entering the house through the back door, after disabling the alarm, I walk along the edge of the hallway; the floor tends to be less noisy here. Approaching the door, I hear what appears to be a genuine discussion where one of the guys is going out for food. I decide that'll be an excellent time to make my entrance and wait at the door until he opens it. I slam into it, knocking him down (he's the one who looks like Dolph Lundgren), hit the other guy with my needle gun then aim at the woman. Remarkably, she's bringing a gun to bear. I hit her before she can fire it. The guy I knocked down is pulling his gun out and I needle him as well. These guys are clearly not clowns. I guess they just need some more training on trailing experts.
I search, disarm, and tie them up. Looking at the organization of the place and where the woman was sitting; it seems clear she's in charge. I set her up in a chair in preparation for an interrogation. This is the first time I've looked at her as more than a target and she's clearly someone selected for her looks (the exception that proves the above rule), but also must have brains because she seems to be running this show. Conservatively dressed: dark slacks, white blouse and a dark blazer. Her face is flawlessly symmetrical with wonderful arching eyebrows. As her head lolls around while I put her in the chair, no makeup rubs off on me. That's curious enough that I actually look for makeup and don't see any. She has a beautiful mane of wavy black hair down to the middle of her back, silky to the touch. Her hair reminds me of Angie Harmon's in "Rizzoli & Isles." I tie it back so I can see her eyes, ears and neck. As I do so, I notice she smells amazing, but I can't figure out what perfume she's wearing. She has dancer's thighs and wonderfully tanned skin. I'm struggling to think of any woman I thought was better looking. A body like JLo in her prime, she also reminds me of Ziva, on the show NCIS, with her cat-like reflexes. Hers are clearly excellent; she almost got a bead on me in that split second after I bashed the door down. I've known a number of deadly women in my years, but none this beautiful; she seems to be a rare, if not unique, combination.
I give her the antidote and watch closely. As she gets control over her neck muscles, I start talking in Brazilian Portuguese with a South Rio accent.
"I must say, this is the best time I've ever had searching or tying someone up."
Looking at the muscles around her ear and eyes, I can see she understands me. My guess was correct; she's from Brazil. Probably a member of the country's intelligence organization. I also see, from the almost immediate tension around her eyes, that she realizes she just gave that away. I'm starting to think she's as smart as she is beautiful.
There's a short pause as she looks at me and around the room, then she says in beautiful southern American English, "Where did we make the mistake?"
I was wrong. She is smarter than she is beautiful.
Responding with the same accent, "Your man is really good, but I think you need training against experts to move to the next level. I was easily able to follow him back here after I shook him off. Neither should have happened.
"Normally I would just vanish, but I happen to be in the middle of something. Generally, when that happens, I arrange for a fatal accident. However, in this case, since I know you have deeper involvement, I want to understand what's going on before I take any irreversible action."
I can see from the slight movements of the muscles around her eyes and ears that she's working through a decision tree on what to say. She can't be sure what I know and is clearly clever enough to know the fatal consequences of being caught in a lie. However, she has orders she has to deal with. Patriots! It only takes a second or so and her body language makes me think she's going to be forward and truthful. Of course, she could be even smarter than I think she is (that's become a pretty high bar, though) and has been lying with her body language and small muscle movements. For that to be true, this must be part of some exceptionally elaborate trap to get me. I just don't think I'm that important.
"We were sent here to protect Dr. Hubbard and his daughter. Our government wants to protect the Doctor, but he insists that he must be here and work independently, without being disturbed, so our protection has been hands-off."
That's interesting. There are competing contracts. I figure a little honesty on my part will be safe and may make her more genuinely cooperative.
"I'm a contract guy and my job is to kidnap the girl and keep her in a safe location. I know little more than that. I've provided proof of life and am awaiting feedback. I speculate that my employer wants some control over the Doctor, but I'm not concerned with that."
I show her the same proof of life I took for my client.
I sit back, relax and consider my next steps. I figure I'll test her equilibrium while I think.
"So what do you think? I can keep you locked up until I resolve my situation, but your employer will no doubt flood the area with agents when you don't check in. I can kill you, but that leads to the exact same situation, so no real benefit. I'm not going to give up the location of the girl, I have my job to do, and I'm not sure I want to risk that you might suddenly wind up with the skills I think you're lacking and make my job difficult. Kill contracts are so much easier, in, out and done. These kidnaping ones are a pain. I did factor in your presence when I set my price, but that doesn't necessarily make the decision easier. I'm curious what take you might have."
She isn't showing any reaction. "I'm sure you already decided what you were going to do before you came in here."
She's being clever, I like that. So refreshing to work with professionals.
"OK, let me check with my employer and see what that gets us."
I pull out my phone. It bounces encrypted signal all over the globe so it takes a while. I idly enjoy running my eyes over her perfect body while I wait. Finally, the client gets on the phone and I explain the situation. When I mention that the woman is a "total biscuit" a la Faisal in "True Lies," the client asks for a picture of my "prisoner."
"Smile for the camera."
She gives me a glare. As if she wasn't already sexy enough, her angry eyes are amazing. I wait for the client to get the picture, then can tell I'm on hold. Eventually the client gets back. I have several monosyllabic responses to their statements. Then, "This requires renegotiation of my contract." A very brief pause, then a figure is quoted that's five times my initial price.
"OK, once the funds have been delivered I'll put the new plan in motion."
My, but that agreement just leapt out of my mouth...
"Well, it seems that I'm to work on the side of good for a change. My employer has asked me to work with you in a support capacity. I'll be putting the health and well-being of Elizabeth into your hands, though I suggest we maintain status quo in that regard. As soon as the funds transfer is verified I'll release you and your team."
She looks at me in surprise, evidently not seeing this coming. It isn't a total surprise to me. Though my instructions were to kidnap the girl, they specifically included the phrase, "keep her safe." When I did my initial recon and saw these guys operating in a surveillance mode, I guessed they were on some sort of protection detail. I didn't anticipate I'd wind up working with them though. Sure, the money is fine (great, actually), but what good is being rich, if you're dead or in jail?
"I have to suppose your organization's right and left hands have no idea they're on the same body."
She gives me a rueful smile, the first non-upset expression I've seen. She looks as good with a smile as she does angry.
She says, "I'm sure every government in the world has elements working at cross purposes. Possibly one didn't think I was up to the task, or didn't even know my team was involved."
I check my funds tracker and see the money is on the way. I decide that's good enough to release her.
"OK, I'm going to cut you loose. I trust we won't have any problems?"
She shakes her head. I cut the cuffs off her legs (I use the old standby of plastic wire ties; though not impossible to escape from, generally they are very reliable) and her arms. She stands up and rubs her wrists to regain feeling.
As I cut the cuffs off the other two guys I say, "I think it might be better if you revive your men, I don't want any surprises."
She gives them the antidote. Once they're awake, she explains the situation to them loudly enough I can hear her clearly. I do notice some subtle hand movements, though. That makes me think there's other communication going on. I sit with my back to the window, prepared to react in an aggressive manner, if necessary, or even jump out, putting an end to this cooperation. However, both guys seem to be levelheaded. My respect for the team goes up yet another notch, though that robs me of the justification to break it off. There's a subtle buzz, they all look at the desk and the woman walks over and picks up a phone. She looks at it, clearly reading something, then sighs and hands the phone to the guys to read.
"That's confirmation from my side that we are to work together. It seems you are a man of considerable talents, according to the mini dossier included in the message." They all relax.
"So what should we call each other?" I ask. "I go by Seacay."
Bullet Head identifies himself as Jeff, the blond is Eric. I look at the woman with raised eyebrows. After a moment's hesitation she replies, "Isabel." Interestingly, Jeff and Eric glance at one another, the name must be significant somehow.
"Fill me in on what's going on. My instructions were rather basic: kidnap the girl and keep her safe. Clearly there's some person or group that's a problem, though I'm not totally sure why kidnaping is the proper course of events."
Isabel says, "Dr. Hubbard is working on Project McGuffin and has to be here to complete some research. He's an orphan and single father, his wife died in childbirth. There's a rogue group working to get control of the project and we feel strongly that his daughter will be used to influence him. Our job was to protect the girl. Clearly someone in management didn't think we were good enough."
Isabel sends an updated message to the Doctor. She remarks that he was quite upset when he found out he was not only being observed by her team, but that he and his daughter were being targeted. It seems, though, that he's had some experience with these sorts of things. He isn't in the panicky tizzy a normal person would be and actually gets the concept of protective kidnapping.