Chapter 11


Thursday, June 22, 9:00AM

We easily found a pilot who was willing to take us for an excursion flight. Pilot’s lounges seem to attract blokes who have no life but flying, and Buchanan Field Airport at Concord provided just such a person.

The air service counter clerk smiled when we asked if he knew of a pilot who might be available for an excursion flight. He looked to his right and called to someone we couldn’t see. “Yo! Jeff. Some folks wanna go flying.”

Seconds later, a tall, lean man wearing a Giants baseball cap, blue Chambray shirt, blue jeans and alligator-skin cowboy boots sauntered into the office from the pilots’ lounge. When he saw us, his large, white-toothed grin contrasted markedly with his tawny highlighted, black complexion. His features suggested aboriginal Australian heritage, but when he said, “Well howdy, folks,” his “good-ole-boy” country accent seemed incongruous to his appearance.

The pilot’s physical condition and youthful features made him appear younger than his graying, curly black hair indicated. He reached out to shake my hand. “I’m Jeff Stringer, fully certified for anything with wings or rotors. Where ya wanna fly?” His engaging smile and forthright manner drew our affection and trust instantly.

Soon after we were airborne, Karl, occupying the co-pilot’s seat, leaned towards Jeff. Because the turbo-charged, Lycoming eight cylinder engine and three-blade propeller created a nearly impenetrable din, Karl shouted, “So Jeff, how did you get into the flying business?”

Jeff grinned at Karl and patted his headset, indicating that we should don ours. When he was sure we all wore one, he began a fascinating monologue about how he got his wings. “Back in the late ‘60s, when we were stupid kids,” he laughed at his little joke, “I fell in love with flyi’n, so I pestered my folks into letting me get a civil aviation license.

“Well, there I was, sitt’n with a pair of wings pinned to my play-suit when the Viet Nam war broke out. I was only seventeen, but my folks signed the papers and I found myself in the Navy, ‘cause they have the best flight schools don’t ya know.” He paused long enough to convey his pride to us.

“So the first thing I did was ace all the academics and apply for OTS. But the base C.O. looked at me and said, ‘Kid, you’re smart, but you have the wrong skin pigmentation. Don’t fight it, and I’ll make sure you’re an NCO on flight crew in no time.’

“Well, that sounded like B.S. to me, so I told him nothin’ doin’. Took some fancy talkin’, but he recommended me without mentioning my skin color, and when I got to the school all the guys looked at me like I was from Mars or something.

“So I decided then and there to be the best damn student at the school, and by gawd I did it. Graduated first in the class, so they couldn’t ignore me.” Again he looked over at us, grinning his pride.

“So that qualified me for flight school, but there were no black carrier fighter pilots in the Navy, and drivin’ bus didn’t sound good to me. So I had to go through school three times before I qualified to fly off a carrier. Man, they knit-picked me ‘til I thought I was gonna puke!

“Cause it took me so much time to qualify, the war in Nam was over by the time I graduated with my wings, so they stuck me with ferryin’ all the friendly personnel from Saigon back to Japan. And with the war over, I was sittin’ with carrier qualification and no need for them to send me to Top Gun School. Dead end street.

“So I opted out and used my savings to leverage my first plane for charter use. Now I got three of ‘em, this six-place, a nine-place twin, and an old cargo rig. Not exactly fighter aircraft, but they keep me in the air.”

Jeff seemed a competent pilot, but with perhaps a bit too much style for my land-lubber inner ear. We gave no explanation for the excursion over the east end of the Bay, so at first he seemed to assume we were merely tourists wanting to see the city by air.

But when we urged him off the usual scenic route towards Oakley, he began wondering what we were about. “Don’t get much call to fly over this far east … . Looking at some property?”

“You could say that,” said Karl evasively.

“Do you wanna follow the highway or the shoreline?”

Karl looked at Betty, who had a better idea where we might find the site. “Keep the ‘ighway in view on the right.” Her request earned a quizzical glance in return. Not being pilots in our own right, we didn’t realize Jeff would have to transmit an amended flight plan to San Francisco International air traffic control.

After receiving permission to deviate from the original flight plan, we turned southeastward until we sighted the road to Oakley, then turned left again to fly parallel to it. Soon we spied the first of many gravel roads running roughly northward from the highway, and veered left to follow it. Finally, the eighth time we repeated that exercise, the road led to a cubical concrete building that matched the brief description Rachel’s friend e-mailed to us. A black limousine, two smaller cars and a two-place helicopter rested nearby, and the tar roof sprouted a number of radio antennae and a rather imposing satellite uplink. The gray building was positioned squarely with the compass, and the road continued past it to a pier on the shore, about a quarter-mile further on.

Circling the building twice got us noticed, and when some men dashed through the only door to stare up at us, Betty said, “Get down!” We ducked below the window level out of their view, with the exception of Jeff, of course, and Betty answered his questioning expression. “It’s a surprise. Can’t let them see us, can we?”

“They don’t look too happy … .”

I lied as ingeniously as I could on short notice. “Don’t worry about it. It’s our little joke.” Then I looked at Karl. “Are we ready to return?”

Karl looked at Betty and Marty, and they all nodded agreement. “Right, let’s head back then.”

***

Again Rachel slept, both to pass the endless hours and to endure the pain of lying bound to the minimally padded examination table. Ty’s constant binary communication with the computer continued to aid her escape from her intolerable circumstances.

… chel. Rachel. Rachel–

I’m here. What’s wrong?

I’ve made a breakthrough–

“What you hear?” shouted the Russian scientist, “Tell me!”

Rachel thought as quickly as her torpid brain would allow. “A noise. Someone made a noise.”

“No noise here! You tell truth!”

“I must’ve imagined it.” Pain suddenly washed over her, but their attempted unbearable torture was reduced, thanks to Ty’s intervention, to a major annoyance. Affecting mortal agony was better by far than suffering the real thing. Even though the pain was less intense than before, it was enough to cause in her a minor shock reaction, satisfying her inquisitors that their button-pushing had its desired effect.

“You stay awake! Listen for thoughts!” The artificially induced pain ended, replaced by the real pain of her confinement.

What … was that?

I said I made a breakthrough. I’ve found a way into their secure network. Would you like me to offer it to your friends?

What … ? Oh yes … that would be nice. They’re clever enough–

“What you hear? You hear something, do not lie to me! You want more pain?”

***

Witherspoon felt as though he had been run over by a lory. A while after having regained consciousness, he carefully rolled over, moaning constantly, and felt the crust of dried blood on his neck and face. After a few minutes of floundering in his self-pity, he paused long enough to consider the ramifications of Marty’s escape. He knew Markov was not a forgiving man, so he began fabricating a story that just might enable him to survive his situation.

After crawling to Markov’s desk, he climbed into the Boss’s leather executive’s chair. When he dialed Markov’s mobile number the ringing tone sounded seven times before his voice mail answered. Roger breathed a sigh of relief, since he knew he could fake bravado to a recording, but wasn’t sure about convincing the Russian directly. “Lev, when you return you will see your study in a state of upheaval. Marty put up a fight, but he’s dead now, and I’ll dispose of his body carefully. Put the damage on my tab.” He said it as lightly as he could to disguise his nervousness.

He staggered into the courtyard and saw the empty parking place in which his Cadillac had once stood, the smashed security gate, and mangled bits of trim and headlight that had once graced his car, now lying on the pavement. Walking towards what had been the security gate, he saw his beloved, terribly expensive, limited production Cadillac resting on the lawn with its front fenders jammed against its flattened front tires. His throat constricted with hatred for Marty and his friends, and standing there feeling like he would choke to death, he swore to … to the Powers of Darkness … that he would have his revenge. All that remained was to call a taxi, clean the blood off his face, and take the most powerful headache medicine he could find, but not necessarily in that order.

***

Betty again logged onto Rachel’s computer to retrieve e-mail. After deleting all the unsolicited adverts, she said “Hello, we ‘ave another e-mail from that Ty fellow. Seems ‘e’s offering us unlimited, covert access to Markov’s computer network. There’s a secure ftp site, a password and everything. What do you think, Jack, is it a trap?”

“Why would he set a trap for us? Says he’s in communication with Rachel, and how else could he have gotten her e-mail address. It’s not exactly public knowledge, except for the senders of adverts.”

“Maybe you’re right, Luv. But I say let’s tread carefully, none the less.”

***

Markov didn’t know whether to curse or fall down laughing when he retrieved Witherspoon’s message from his voice mail. Of course he had seen Marty with the others at the motel in Baker City, and since he hated duplicity among associates even worse than he hated Karl, he immediately broadcast a contract on Witherspoon.

When he saw the damage to his property, however, he doubled the reward to one hundred thousand dollars for Witherspoon’s delivery, alive. His idea of the perfect holiday was to have Karl tied to one chair and Witherspoon tied to another, and to face the dilemma of whom to torture first.

***

Friday, June 23, Midnight

Roger Witherspoon sated his voyeuristic drive by watching “adult” films, assuming his executive suite at the Marriott in San Jose was safe. He wasn’t followed there, and none of the hotel help, including his porter, were Russian. Through a friend of a friend, however, the young man had heard of the contract on Witherspoon and wanted part of it. His information made its way quickly to Markov, who in turn rejoiced while planning Witherspoon’s capture … alive.

The knock on Witherspoon’s door came exactly at midnight. Furious, he charged to the door, spied through the peep hole, saw a uniformed house maid, and jerked the door open to be frightened nearly out of his wits at the sight of a tall, ruddy complected man in a black, pin striped suit standing where he had expected to see a woman.

Witherspoon tried to slam the door, but Ellasar’s outstretched fist stopped it as though it had hit solid concrete.

“Why Roger,” Ellasar said mildly, “how inhospitable.”

Terrified, Witherspoon tried vainly to conceal his fear and recover his composure. “Uh, yes Mister … uh …”

“Ella–“

”Ellasar, that’s right. I knew your name, I mean, how could I forget? You Just startled me. You know, knocking on the door in the middle of the night.”

“Will you not invite me in?”

“Yes, yes of course.” Witherspoon stepped backward to the chair where he had been sitting, snatched up the clicker and switched off the Tele. Then he backed up until he bumped the rear wall and could go no further.

Ellasar strolled into the room and shot an amused glance at the blank Tele screen, then looked back at Witherspoon with a knowing smile. With his right foot, he gently pushed the chair in Witherspoon’s direction, its back towards the wall. He never shifted his gaze away from the frightened man, and gestured to the waiting chair. “Please Roger, be seated.”

Witherspoon walked around the chair as if on stilts and obediently settled onto it like a decrepit geriatric, looking anywhere but at his visitor. “You seem unsettled Roger. Why is that?” Ellasar sat on the side of one of the queen-size beds, but even sitting, he seemed to tower over the intimidated Witherspoon.

“Well, you know, middle of the night, unexpected call.” His pretentious, upper-crust act failed miserably.

“Aren’t you curious why I am here?” Ellasar spoke with a hint of coyness.

Still trying to recover his composure and command of the situation, Witherspoon answered, “Yes, of course. How can I help you, Mister Ellasar?” He hated the nervous tick under his right eye betraying his anxiety.

“Roger, I came not to be served, but to serve. Wouldn’t you like to know that Lev Markov is coming to call.” He ignored Roger’s double take. “You see, he was in Baker City when Marty was leaving, and saw that he was still alive and in good health.” He laughed with genuine amusement. “In fact, he and his men spent the night in the room right over his head.”

Ellasar seemed to enjoy Witherspoon’s expression as he came to fully comprehend those facts, and glanced about the room for a place to hide.

“Running will not save your life. And when he finds you, how can I say it? You do not know the meaning of the word ‘suffering.’” Witherspoon fought the urge to weep.

“You must make a choice.”

“Tell me, what can I do?”

Ellasar paused, seeming to deliberate. “You can allow Lev to have his way with you, a most unpleasant prospect, I assure you.” Ellasar reached stoically into his breast pocket. “Or you can die painlessly.” He produced a vial of green liquid.

Witherspoon glanced nervously from the vial to Ellasar’s face and back. “I–” he started to speak, but his voice broke. “I don’t know–”

Ellasar’s reply dripped with mock sympathy. “The luxury of deliberation is not yours. Lev is even now entering the hotel lobby. You have exactly one minute before he will walk over this flimsy door.” He abandoned all pretense of compassion as his gaze became painfully intense. “As I said, the choice is yours.”

Witherspoon absently reached out for vial, held it to his lips, and tipped it up to pass the clear green liquid through his mouth and into his system. While there was no flavor, the liquid warmed his mouth and throat like a good brandy. He felt himself calm in anticipation of oblivion.

But he did not know this devil’s capacity for deception. Suddenly he felt as if an invisible dagger stabbed the center of his chest, and a pain he could never have imagined radiated across his shoulders to his arms, and into his neck and jaw line.

His face began turning blue while he tore at his chest as if he could remove the invisible torture device, and he managed to gasp, “You … said … painless–”

Ellasar smiled gleefully. “I lied. You see, Lev might have been persuaded to relent on his cruel intentions, thereby preventing me from collecting my rightful bounty. I will not risk losing you as I did Karl Adams.”

As Witherspoon struggled for a breath that would never come, Ellasar’s enjoyment of his situation got the better of him and he began chuckling, then laughing, then howling hysterically. Roger’s mouth and eyes gaped from the inexpressible pain and his sight dimmed as he leaned forward out of the chair, but he never felt himself hit the floor.

***

Roger started as if awakening from a dream. He glanced about and found himself in the midst of a vast sea of people who wore nothing but some nauseating, malodorous filth. When he looked down at himself, spasms of dry heaves shook his body as he sensed that his own disgusting vileness seemed to transcend that of all the others. This place, this surreal experience, seemed far more vivid than any event of his life.

A great light shown before him, paling the brightest sunshine. He tried to shade his eyes, but that Father of all light shown through his hands, his eyelids, and even the horrific bodies standing in front of him. He could not deny that the all-consuming light was in fact the glory of the eternal God whom he had routinely blasphemed in deliberate disbelief. The convenient rationalizations that had consoled him during his life of cynicism melted before that perfectly penetrating light, and he found himself crying and moaning in unison with the billions standing about him. Unintelligible groans filled his throat as he realized that he was about to be judged by the very God whom he had flippantly dismissed all his life.

Time as he had understood it no longer existed, and what would have been a second of time now seemed interminable as he stood there recalling his pathetic days on Earth in vivid detail. Even as he involuntarily deliberated on each private, shameful deed of his life, those thoughts seemed to be broadcast for everyone’s scrutiny. Try as he might, he could not think of a single personally redemptive work on which to base any hope for mercy.

A deep rumbling, rushing sound, louder than any earthquake or cyclone, drew his attention to the Light, and his sense of physical sight dimmed and ceased to exist. Gradually he came to understand the meaning conveyed by the massive sound, but not through the recognizable syllables of any human language. His comprehension began not in his mind, but in the depths of his soul. It seemed to say, “Depart from me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the deceiver and his minions. For I was hungry, but you let me starve. I was thirsty, but you refused to offer me a drink. I was a stranger, but you spurned me. You allowed me to remain naked while you enjoyed your affluence. When I was sick and in prison you forgot about me.”

Witherspoon found his voice joining the billions of others asking, “Lord, when did I see you hungry or thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison, and failed to minister to you?”

“The truth is, as you refused one of the least of these, you refused me.”

His depth of shame prevented his facing the throne of God even a moment longer, so he turned in unison with the disgusting multitude and began walking away, isolated and desperately lonely in their midst.

The entity that had been Roger Witherspoon, divested of any sense of human dignity or value, walked further than it had ever walked during its earthly life, further than it could have imagined, surrounded by the perpetual clamor of desperate self-pity. After what seemed an eternity of walking, it began hearing something that was at first unrecognizable above the din. Eventually it realized the noise was that of panicking, once-human souls, shrieking in terror, becoming louder as it walked down the steepening, rocky slope.

Gradually the stench of burning flesh reached its nostrils, combining with that of its own filth to make it completely, perfectly ill. Dry heaves temporarily interrupted its miserable moans, and it heard those further ahead screaming wildly as they reached the abyss. It wanted to stop and turn back but knew that was not an option, so it kept walking in despair. The clamor drew nearer until it heard those immediately ahead cry out, with their screams fading into the distance to join those already plummeting to the Lake of Fire.

Finally its left foot found no purchase and it pitched forward, hearing its own scream as it fell through the stench and heat into a place where man was never meant to go. As it fell on and on, the searing heat, the overwhelming fetor, and its abysmal blindness became ever more oppressive while it longed for the promised oblivion that it knew would never come.

The thing that was once Roger Witherspoon began itching with a burning intensity, and when it tried to rub itself, it felt small, wormlike creatures crawling on its skin. The more it tried to wipe them off, the more those infernal bugs crawled onto it, and though in life it had never been afraid of creepy things, they struck it with horror. Worse than their torment and the agony of physical burning, was its universal hatred, self-pity, bitterness, jealousy and rage, as it realized that it could so easily have avoided the whole ordeal.

Finally it heard another sound rising above the din of despair. The sound was laughter, but more. Then it realized the insane, gloating howl emanated from the one it had known in life as Lord Gideon Ellasar. Though ultimately defeated, the demon had the perverse satisfaction of dragging so many eternal human spirits along with him into his own personal abyss of perdition, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

***

The overwhelming, putrid odor of old death greeted Markov’s men as they walked into the hotel room, and they covered their noses with kerchiefs in defense. When Markov finally walked in, he too gagged as his associates pointed out Witherspoon’s body lying on the floor, reduced to a state of decay that should have taken weeks. Straightaway, he grabbed the kerchief from the face of one of his men and held it over his own nose.

He stood, staring at the corpse, brushing the flies away from his own face. Puzzled, he mumbled to himself as he finally turned away to leave the room. His only solace was anticipating what he would do to the despicable Karl Adams, and regaining the satisfaction Roger Witherspoon’s untimely death had denied him.

From the Marriott, Markov et all drove in silence to the lab near Oakley, intending to lean on the “scientific team” trying to extract marketable information from the locked mind of Captain Hillman. Storming into the lab, Markov said in Russian, “What is taking you so long? Three weeks and nothing to show.” There were explanations, and then pleadings.

***

Rachel of course only saw the bright light in her face, but she heard the discussion perfectly, understanding only an occasional phrase of the rapidly discoursed street-Russian. She didn’t see Markov take the gun from one of his bodyguards or point it at his lead scientist, but she heard the ear-splitting report, the crash of a computer monitor falling as the man stumbled backward into it, and the thud of his body hitting the floor. At that moment she knew she was in for it, because the others would become desperate out of fear for their own lives.

After the Boss and his men left, Rachel heard the two remaining Russian scientists urgently discuss their best course of action, bemoaning that the only English speaking person on their team was no longer speaking anything. One of them approached her. “Please help us,” he said in slow, basic Russian, hoping she knew enough to discern his meaning, “The Boss will surely kill us if you give us no information from the American.”

“I will try,” she answered in her own badly broken Russian, “Give me a little time and I will try hard. If you die, so do I.”

***

Rachel directed her thoughts towards Ty. Did you get that?

What happened? Something startled you but I couldn’t tell what was going on.

Markov just executed one of his scientists for failing to get your information. Give me something to tell them, something that wouldn’t compromise your precious national security.

Captain Hillman let his mind free-associate for a long moment. Yes … . With access to their database, I should be able to spin a convincing yarn or two. Good thinking, Rachel.

You flatter me. At the moment I’m so rummy I can’t think. Give credit to God.

Your devotion is commendable, but I wish he’d come down and set us free.

But Ty, he already has.

***

Saturday, June 24, 6:15AM

Betty immersed herself in researching the Russian mob’s hierarchy. After hours on the Internet, she perked up, looked at me and said, “Markov is actually second in command of the stateside Russian crime syndicate, and almost completely autonomous in managing Bay Area Operations. He answers to only one man: Leonid Kaskov, the new godfather of the Red Mafia, and a worse cutthroat than Markov. Oh, I’m afraid there’s bad blood between ‘em.

“Compared to Markov, ‘e’s a newcomer to the Stateside organization. The authorities can’t prove anything, but Kaskov left a trail of blood getting to the top.” Betty looked back to the computer screen. “You know, a federal court convicted Kaskov’s predecessor, Vyacheslav Ivankov, for extortion, and put ‘im away. Ivankov’s enemies called ‘im “Little Jap”, though this doesn’t say why.” She again looked up gleefully. “Anyway, Markov’s tried some maneuvers to get at ‘im, but all it did was nearly cost ‘is own life. No, there’s no love lost between ‘em.

“Did you know the Russian mob ‘as a very strict code of ethics?” She paused for effect, and for a breath. “The Thieves’ Code includes, among other rules, a prohibition against disclosing the locations of dens, safe houses, and ‘eadquarters, as well as the identities of informants or other resource people. Seems they are not at all forgiving of betrayal. They also ‘ave a rule against family involvements.” A sly smile that I hadn’t seen in years masked her angelic face. “What if our friend ‘ad been a bad boy, supporting two families on the sly. And to support them, ‘e’d accepted bribes from a competing organization. Wouldn’t it be a shame if such information came into Kaskov’s ‘ands?”

Betty sat back, proud of her work. “Thanks to Rachel and Ty, we ‘ave the means to sow seeds of conflict amongst the Russians.”

Karl sat quietly while the rest of us discussed the merits of her plan. After a few minutes he raised his hand hesitantly, as if he were in school and not sure of his answer, and I asked if he had something to offer. “You’re … referring to spreading slander … , if I’m following you right.”

“Speaking plainly, I suppose you could say that.” She seemed defensive.

“Where does that fit in with the way of Christ? Aren’t we supposed to obey him and expect God to honor our faithfulness?”

Betty paused, looking just the least bit annoyed. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“Do you have some Bible reference for that?”

By then, Betty was clearly irritated. “All right, what do you suggest? Are we to just stand by while those brigands ‘ave their way with my friend?”

“Betty.” Karl reached out to tenderly touch her shoulder. When she shrugged away he added with more certainty. “She’s my friend too. I confess Rachel means a lot more to me than I could’ve imagined before Christ began changing me. It tears me up to have her in their hands, but isn’t our first obligation to be faithful to God?”

“What’ve we done?” Betty said sarcastically, holding her hands out to Marty and me as if pleading her case, “Created a pontificating Goody Two-shoes?”

“Betty! That’s unfair and you know it,” I said. Then, looking at Karl, “Please overlook that outburst, she’s–”

“You will not apologize for me!” Betty shouted, stamping her foot. Then, with tears forming in her large blue eyes, “He just wants us to stand by and do nothing!”

“Betty, that’s not what I’m saying. Just get the truth into the right hands and that will do the job. Didn’t Jesus say ‘The truth will make you free?’”

“Fine,” she said bitterly, “you can just sit spouting your scripture and I’ll get the job done!”

During this entire episode I was concerned about its effect on Marty, who was hungrily taking it all in. Trying to do damage control, I said to Betty, “You know I’ve always respected your moral sense and spiritual wisdom. Karl is simply trying to act faithfully.” Noting her tolerant expression I added, “Now don’t take that air with me! You of all people know I’m right. Do rotten circumstances nullify everything you’ve learned from our Lord?”

“You’re ganging up on me, me own ‘usband and that … that … ,” She pointed at Karl and wept openly, “It’s not fair!”

I tried to console her with a tender embrace, but she pulled away. “Betty.” I moved with her to stay in her face. “Of course it’s not fair. Jesus didn’t promise life would be fair, but he did promise it would work out for the best if we simply obey him.” Unable to think of a valid argument, she responded with the silent treatment. “You know I’m right, don’t you?”

She looked up at me, tears streaming down her cheeks, buried her face into my chest, and quietly wept.

“Betty my love, we still need your help keeping Rachel and that Tyler fellow alive.”

Betty’s words were barely discernable between her sobs. “What good am I to anyone? I’ve let you all down, trying to push my prideful ways on you.”

“Nonsense!” I said, lifting her face so I could gaze into her teary blue and red eyes, “You’re simply reacting normally to the stress of the moment. Confess your rotten attitude to God and let’s get on with it.”

She looked into my eyes with a hurt expression as if I’d slapped her, making me feel terrible for my frankness. Then, unable to speak aloud, she whispered, “It is rotten, isn’t it.” Again she buried her face into my chest, but her mumbled words weren’t meant for me as she prayed for God’s forgiveness.

“Right,” I said, trying to minimize the struggle through which we had just passed, “we’ve got work to do.”

Karl spoke up. “Whatever we do, it has to look convincing. That means not too obvious. Markov is smart, and if we’re not careful they’ll know the information is a plant. It won’t take long for him to isolate its source, and if that happens we can say goodby to Rachel and Tyler. Tell you what, I’d really like to meet anyone who can think his way into a computer system. Glad he’s on our side.”

“Good thought,” I said, “subtlety is our catch-phrase. We have to make it appear that Markov is trying to cover his tracks, but not so carefully that it goes undetected.”

“Paper,” Betty managed between sniffles.

“Pardon?” Karl and I said in unison.

“We ‘ave to score some of Markov’s stationary. He’d be too smart to use ‘is e-mail account to inform on his organization. Too easily traced.”

I spoke cautiously. “Good idea, love, but isn’t monogrammed stationary a bit obvious?”

Betty rolled her large, expressive eyes. “Who said anything about monograms? Not all personalized paper bears a monogram. I’m talking about the under sheets, the ones without monograms.”

“Yes, of course. How stupid of me.”

“Now don’t you cop an attitude. Let’s bury our pride and get busy.” And so we did.

***

We thought it best to create a diversion while one of us stole into Markov’s estate home, surreptitiously borrowed a few sheets of stationary, and escaped without detection. After the damage Marty did to the Russian’s security gate we knew it would have to be repaired, and if we could supply the workmen, creating our diversion would not be a problem. But Markov knew each of us only too well. We had to find some trustworthy person who could assemble a team of workmen competent enough to at least seem as though they knew what they were doing.

“Let me give my security guy a phone call,” Marty said, “he has a variety of resources, and his resources have resources.”

With that, Marty withdrew his mobile from his inner pocket and keyed his security guy’s number. “Howie …

“Yes, I’m fine. Turns out Roger wasn’t ready for resistance. Say, how did you find out about my little scrape with Markov?

“Oh, really! She’s not part of the organization?

“Then how did she get the job?

“I met her at Markov’s place, not formally of course, she served me a drink. She’s a very attractive woman.

“I see. Say, did you hear about the mob capturing Rachel?

“Yeah, a couple of weeks ago.

“We’re only too aware of that.

“No doubt. Are you sure Natalie’s reliable?

“Okay, but you know it’ll be dangerous, and she’ll have to disappear off the face of the earth. They‘ll know she had something to do with it.

“Because when Markov’s stationary winds up in the hands of the Organized Crime Task Force he’ll know it came from the inside.

“They’ll all wind up dead.

“That’s cutting it pretty close. Are you sure they’ll get wind of it that soon?

“Yeah, I suppose so. Well, you set it up and let us know when it’s going down.”

We were all bursting with curiosity, but Karl beat us to the inquisition. “Marty, I got the gist of the conversation, but fill us in on the details.”

“Seems the Mossad recruited a certain Russian Jewish woman back in the seventies. When she retired she couldn’t find work in the field she was trained for, so she found a job with Markov as a housekeeper through one of her Russian contacts. Now she pretty much runs the place. She actually believed he was a legitimate business man until during one of his company parties a little over a year ago she heard some of his men bragging about one of his operations. She didn’t want any part of mob activity, but couldn’t get out of the job without coming up with some excuse that wouldn’t leave her dead.”

“What is ‘er name?” Betty inquired, “I knew most of Jack’s female contemporaries in the Mossad.”

“She goes by the name of Natalie Goodman.”

Betty thought for a moment and finally said, “I knew of a Natalia Goldman who worked in another division, but I didn’t know her personally.”

“Could be one and the same, but there’s no use guessing.”

“Why does he think she’ll work with us?” I said.

“She’s been looking for a way out, and Howie thinks she’ll want to do as much damage to her employer as possible in the process.” He shook his head slowly, frowning. “I’m just not comfortable with placing the whole affair in a stranger’s hands.”

Karl spoke up. “We already know who’s hands hold the whole affair.”

“Yes,” Marty answered skeptically, “if you say so.”

“I don’t see any alternative,” Betty said. “But I won’t ‘ave time to concern meself with that aspect of the operation, because I ‘ave to uncover our ammunition.”

With that, she returned to Rachel’s laptop computer for further research.

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