Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Devil's Kitchen - Chapter 2

Western, NY...

United flight 457 arrived Rochester International at seven-fifteen p.m. 

Timothy Williams moved through the concourse toward baggage claim, scanning the crowd for other than friendly faces.

COMMEX had taken every conceivable precaution to protect its agents. Still, there had been too damn many 'accidents': Delaney Curtiss, Beirut, stuffed into the trunk of his Saab, three bullets to the back of the head; Guy Tomasik, Hamburg, garroted in a hotel room, his dinner still on the table; Gregory Jacobs, Tunisia, found in an alley outside a popular nightclub, his spinal cord severed by a seven inch stiletto.

Christ, he thought, awaiting arrival of his overnight satchel. Other than himself, there were but two left from the old days--the days of 'Shadow Company'--Jerrod Martin and Brady Thomas. Jerrod was stateside, somewhere in the southeast, but God alone knew where Colonel Thomas had disappeared to.

He grabbed the satchel off the serpentine conveyor and exited the terminal.

"Holiday Inn, Downtown." He glanced from the cabby's face to the driver's license mounted on the dash, then back at the man's face, his left hand tucked inside his blazer, caressing the butt end of a .357 Magnum. Couldn’t be too careful.

The Checker pulled up in front of the hotel minutes later.  

He leaned in through the side window, handed the cabby a twenty-dollar bill. “Keep the change. And there's another fifty in it if you're back here tomorrow morning, five-fifteen sharp.”

“Yes, sir.” The driver beamed and rolled away, fantasizing a weekend tryst with one of Main Street's well-oiled urchins.

Williams strode up the steps and through the arched-glass entryway into the lobby.

“May I help you, sir?” The svelte, blond wore a plastic smile below her pert, upturned nose.

“Please. I have a reservation: 'Michelson, Anthony'.”

She punched his name into the computer, confirmed the reservation. “And, how long will you be with us, Mr. Michelson?”

“Just tonight.” He gave her a tired smile, aping perfectly the road-weary look of any number of salesmen who waltzed through the hotel.

Minutes later, he opened the door to his room, palmed the pistol, and entered. He checked the closets, the bath, the balcony, the desk and drawers, then the television, the table lamps, and the phone. Satisfied, he unpacked, took a long, hot shower, and then slipped into gray slacks and a muted, blue Ralph Lauren pullover.

Before leaving for dinner, he stretched a two-inch length of clear monofilament line from the base of the sliding glass door that led out onto the balcony to the metal casing surrounding it.

Once in the hallway, he locked the door to his room and stretched another piece of clear line from the base of the door to its wooden jamb, then turned and walked down the hallway. With the telltales in place, no one could get into the room without his knowing it.

He requested a corner table where he could monitor restaurant activity, ordered a Dewars on the rocks and a Porterhouse steak, medium rare, the S&W .38 strapped to his leg an easy reach.

He finished dinner and ordered a snifter of Brandy. Relax, old boy, he thought. All itineraries and assignments are transferred to and from the field via a sophisticated new program conjured up by Prescott’s programming wizards. Should someone backdoor the system, break the code, and access the files, they’d end up searching for me sometime tomorrow at the Desert Inn in Albuquerque. Damn clever, those COMMEX boys. He chuckled and ordered another Brandy.

Christian Richards sat across the room, camouflaged by a long mahogany bar. He spoke easily, laughing with the men at the table, his corporeal self dealing with the situation at hand, a wrap up of the day’s business activities and dinner and drinks with RichCo's newest franchisees. 

His spiritual, more disciplined self remained in contact with Agent Timothy Williams, monitoring the man’s every move, a master hunter, sizing up his prey. How he loved to observe them, watch them live out their paltry, feckless lives. It provided a perverse satisfaction knowing he held their destiny in his hands.

Williams beckoned the waitress, ordered a third Brandy, then crossed his arms on his chest and stared up at the ceiling, a tired smile creasing his face.

Yes, Richards thought. Sit back, relax. He’d witnessed it many times, these displays of ignorant confidence. Soon, Williams’s defenses would break down and he’d lose his combative edge. A deplorable lack of discipline, and these were Prescott’s finest? Why, they barely presented a challenge. The ultimate engagement, the final encounter, would come when this, the prelude to the overture he’d orchestrated was complete. “Only a matter of time, now, Kenjisan,” he whispered through clenched teeth.

Richards finished his tonic and lemon, excused himself, walked to the bar, and put his arm around the waitress’s shoulder, a charismatic smile on his face. “Pardon me, Miss?”

She turned. “Sir?”

“Would you get us another round when you get a chance?  The group right there.” He pointed toward his table.

She twisted her head, and Richards moved his hand over the snifter of Brandy. The top of the diamond encrusted, onyx ring on his little finger sprang open, and a thin stream of blue-green powder trickled into the drink, dissolving instantly. Visible for a moment, on the inside of his forearm, just above the wrist, was a tattoo, a small crimson crescent, a miniature wounded moon. 

“Yes, sir. Let me deliver this drink and I’ll be right with you.” She smiled and rushed off.

Richards returned to his table, bid his new RichCo associates good evening, then went upstairs where he remained in his room for a little over an hour, cleaning up paper work.

Finally, he stood, stretched, slipped out of his robe, and walked into the bathroom where he donned a black, skintight body stocking, a pair of soft, black slippers, and then applied a thin layer of jet-black to his smooth, tanned face.

A small pouch, attached by Velcro to the back of the body stocking, held a pair of thin, rubber surgical gloves, a long, flexible strip of stainless steel, a fifty milliliter syringe, and a small vile of clear, bluish liquid. To this cache, he added a roll of white surgical tape and three round, smooth objects that resembled the leather golfs ball popular in the late eighteen hundreds.

He checked his watch: eleven forty-five. His pronounced cheekbones pulled his face up and back into a skull-like grin.

He exited through the sliding glass door, dropping down minutes later onto the balcony outside Williams’s room. He rolled into a darkened corner, sat up, and peered through the glass.

Williams was asleep atop the bed, the drug having overcome him before he’d had a chance to strip off his clothes and crawl under the covers.

Richards slid the flexible metal strip through the space between the double doors, pried the safety bar from its latch, tripped the lock switch, and slipped into the room.

He found a vein, injected the antidote and Williams’s eyes slowly opened.

Richards grinned, watching the man fight to focus on a world gone hazy, knew that his hands and feet felt swollen and numb, as if they’d been pumped full of procaine, and that Azrael appeared little more than a strange, shadowy being speaking in obscure, tongue-thick phrases.

“Do you know who I am, Mr. Williams?”

He shook his head no, but his eyes said differently.

“Yes,” Richards muttered. “Then, you also know why I’m here, don’t you?”

“Please.” The words were muffled, slurred through drug-numbed lips.

“Don't beg,” he said, his voice the growl of an animal. “It's unbecoming. Besides, you knew the risks going in.”

For Richards, there was enormous exhilaration in having the power of life and death over another human being. His greatest thrill didn’t always come from acting on that power, it came, at times, from simply having his foes live with his dominion over them. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times.

Williams shook his head, his eyes swollen orbs of fear, and beads of sweat trickled down his forehead.

Richards’s smile was
merciless. “Let's get this over with, shall we?” He pulled one of the small, round objects from his pouch and attached a ten-inch length of waterproof fuse to its center. He spoke throughout the procedure, softly, reassuringly, much as a surgeon would speak to a nervous patient. “We call these little beauties Yak-Paks. A device my father taught me how to make when I was a child. You do remember my father, don’t you?”

“No.” Williams’s voice squeaked with fear.

“No? Then let me refresh your memory. Does April ‘79 or Nepal ring familiar?” He stripped off three, six-inch lengths of surgical tape, attached one end of each strip to Williams left cheek.

“The Mezzhandi?”

“Ah, yes, The Mezzhandi. And the 'Druid'? You remember the 'Druid', do you not?” Richards's grin turned feral. “Of course you do. Well, I am Azrael, his son, and I have sworn a blood-oath to avenge him, to dispose of those responsible for his death. To destroy your precious COMMEX.”

Williams struggled against his imminent demise.

“Now, back to the Yak-Paks. We wrap the equivalent of one-third of a stick of dynamite into the dried and waterproofed skin of a yak.” Richards cradled the device in the tips of his slim, elegant fingers. "The seams are sewn together with gut. They are a powerful weapon, easily made, and just as easily concealed. Now, open wide.” He spread his hand across Williams's face, his thumb and index finger applied vice-like against the pressure points of the jaw hinge. 

Williams’s mouth dropped open and Richards stuffed the Yak-Pak home. He ran the fuse out of the corner of the man's mouth and then stretched the tape tightly across his face, sealing the charge within its newfound womb. He stood and looked down into Williams’s eyes, his voice flat and indifferent. “I promise you it will be quick and painless.” He gazed into the middle

distance and added, “Not like it will be with your Mr. Thomas. Oh, no, he will suffer, I guarantee it.” He picked up a book of hotel matches, tore one out, struck it, and lit the fuse.

Williams tussled with his ties, fighting the impending launch into the hereafter.

“You have fifteen minutes to make peace with whomever or whatever it is you worship.” Richards turned and walked out of the room onto the balcony.

His climbed up the side of the building onto the roof and moved off cat-like to the opposite side of the hotel, where he dropped down safely onto his own balcony. 

Ten minutes later, he sat in the lounge, dressed in a beige running suit, sipping Tonic with lemon, and chatting with the bartender.

When the Yak-Pak detonated, Williams’s head exploded like a ripe melon, specs of blood and bone and silky ropes of mucous painting the bedroom walls as his decapitated body convulsed on the crimson-stained bed.

“Christ-in-the-night.” The bartender grabbed onto the edge of the bar as the building seemed to sway on its foundation. He picked up the phone, dialed the front desk. “What the hell was that?”

Richards smiled. A COMMEX agent’s life was cheap, pointless. Still, each successive killing left him feeling more liberated, more powerful, more invincible. That, my friend, he thought, knocking down the last of a Tonic and lemon, is the resounding thunder of revenge.

As sweet as ever.

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