Shrieking shattering glass interrupts Vernon, the driver of the car provided Amy Lindsay by the Alcomist Club. His big hands fly up for protection from splinters of glass that cascades in through the driver’s side window. “What the …?”
The splat of flesh on flesh follows a hissing ‘phtt’ sound, as Vernon slaps his neck. His body falls across the front seat toward the passenger seat.
Amy thumbs the release latch on her seatbelt and lunges for Vernon. A second hissing ‘phtt’ barely registers in her mind before a stinging sensation spreads just below and behind her left ear. Olive-skinned arms yank open Vernon’s door, drag him from the car.
Falling, Amy hears her door squeak open. Darkness settles over her.
Awareness flows over Amy Lindsay in waves. First, distant, persistent clicking hums. Ceiling fan, something deep in her brain informs her. She feels the weight of clothes on her body, and the stiff scratch of a wool blanket through them against her back, and a thick, lumpy mattress beneath. She conducts a mental checklist of her physical condition. Nothing broken or bruised, an irritating itch below and behind her left ear, a slight headache. Slight, imperceptible shifts of her body signal: No bindings.
Eyes inching open, she confirms: a rickety ceiling fan. Dust covered blades wobble above an exposed light bulb: either burned out or turned off. Sunlight slashes across her legs through a single unwashed window. The angle and intensity of the light suggest the approach of sunset.
What day is this? A slight emptiness in her stomach suggests only a few hours without food. The thought of food awakens her sense of smell. From somewhere drifts in something of a definite Hispanic scent and flavor. Tinny, distant Tejano music, with horns providing the vocals, tickle her ears.
Moving eyes only, Amy checks the layout of the room. To her immediate left the bed abuts a wall covered with rugs and Mexican artifacts. To the right the small room opens up just enough to hold a small, ancient bureau with a cracked mirror, a wooden chair with its back rest missing and a door. Craning, Amy spies a second door sharing the same wall with the huge bed’s massive, wooden headboard.
With slow, deliberate movements she eases her legs off the side of the bed with a minimum of mattress squeaks. Her feet barely reach the bare wooden floor. Light shows under one door, but not the other. Amy checks the latter door first, confirming it leads to a tiny closet: empty, lacking even hangers on the rod. Listening at the other door she hears only the muted Tejano music. She tests the handle. Locked.
Noise draws her back to the closet. From the next room comes the closing of a nearby door, then the scrape of a chair on a floor. Then the squeak of someone settling in a wheeled desk chair. Amy eases into the closet and drops to a knee to listen.
Two male voices, both speaking Spanish, distinguish themselves apart. Between her rusty Spanish and the poor acoustics of the closet, most of the conversation eludes Amy, though she separates the tones of a Leader and an Underling. Leader complains about these last minute meetings; they always cause delays. The Underling offers obsequious and placating responses.
The fanfare ‘ta-da’ of a Windows OS starting up sings out. After a moment Amy hears the electronic beeps and buzzes of a dial-up modem handshake.
The Leader hopes there will be no more delays, and adds something about restless coyotes. The Underling mentions a vaccine, but the distracted tone his words makes them hard to follow.
A third voice speaks with the muted quality of coming from a computer speaker. A teleconference, Amy realizes. Amy strains to hear, but again is left to decipher tones. After a moment it becomes clearer to her: The voice from the computer is speaking Chinese. The Underling translates it into Spanish for the Leader, then the Leader’s Spanish into Chinese for the third member of the conference.
Amy catches one thing from the low snatches of Spanish. The Chinese companion is called ‘General Fu’ by the Underling. The deferential tones used by the Leader and the Underling tell her General Fu is leader to both.
The leader grows jubilant as the meeting ends. In Spanish he exclaims, “Finally! The ‘go’ signal. Order the coyotes onto the bus!”
The wheels of a desk chair squeal in tune with the legs of a regular chair scratching along the floor. The voices approach the section of the wall the other room shares directly beside Amy’s hiding place.
“Si, Captain! What about the girl?”
“Check on her. If she needs to be quieted, do so. But keep her safe.”
“Why did General Fu change the orders now to not kill her?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps he has discovered an American actress is more valuable to us alive than dead.”
“Perhaps. Just be sure -.”
The jingling of a telephone cuts the Leader off. “Get that.”
The Underling’s low tone grows too animated to follow. The received slams down. “We have captured a spy.”
“The guards are bringing him to us. It is an American. You won’t believe who!”
As Amy leans forward to catch the spy’s name the wall suddenly gives way, swing open like a door. She tumbles tumbled into the next room, tumbling head first toward two men dressed in military style uniforms.
The taller of the two, a beefy but solidly built man, grabs the door as it starts to spring shut. Amy sprawls at his feet. His surprise is brief, giving way to a broad smile. He allows the trick door to swing shut.
“Ah, our lovely American guest,” he says in English with barely a hint of an accent. He waves back the Underling, who has drawn a .45. “Please, Javier. She is our honored guest. Save the hostility for the uninvited spy.” He extends a hand to help Amy stand. Javier hesitantly holsters his revolver and steps back.
The room resembles a typical office, large oak desk with plush desk chair, computer work station, two guest chairs fronting the desk. No windows, only one door.
Both men wear uniforms, cleaned and sharpened with military precision. The name above the lackey’s pocket reads: Valdez. The leader’s says: Ramirez. Fairly common Hispanic names, Amy notes, and wonders if they are fake.
“This is indeed a great honor, Miss Lindsay,” a broadly smiling Ramirez says. “I am a big fan. A pity my DVD collection is at home. I would have you sign them.”
“Well, let’s head out there. I’ve got no pressing engagements.”
The big man’s laugh fills the room. He nods for Amy to take a seat as he circles around to sit behind the desk. “I’m afraid my orders are to keep you here. For the time being.”
Amy settles into a chair. “I don’t have any pictures with me to autograph.” She notes how Valdez takes up a position directly behind her and gauges distances, runs escape scenarios through her mind. “Being kidnapped, you know.”
“Perhaps only a temporary inconvenience.”
“Until General Fu decides otherwise?” Amy wonders aloud in a tone questioning Ramirez’s authority.
His smile vanishes as if she has slapped him. Too far? Amy wonders.
“It is best, Miss Lindsay, if you do know something, you play ignorant. General Fu doesn’t have the control here he might think, and not irritating me may decide if you ’slip through our fingers’ and escape, or if you are shot attempting to escape.” He bends forward. “So be very nice to us. Your well being depends on that.”
Valdez says, “We’ve seen the nice things you can do for men.” Amy figures there is no need to turn, she can visualize the leer on the man’s face.
Oddly, this irritates Ramirez. “Javier, how many times have I told you? The sex is simulated. It is all acting.” He looks to Amy. “Tell him, its acting.”
Over her should Amy tells Javier: “Its acting.” She looks back at Ramirez. “I don’t think he believes me.”
Ramirez waves it off as of no consequence. “So tell me, pretty one, what have you done that has the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid after you?”
“I really have no idea.”
“Come now, you can’t -.”
Marching boots filling the hallway cut him off. The marching ends. Three loud raps explode from the door. “Entrar!” Ramirez shouts.
A man stumbles into the room, just catching himself on the empty chair beside Amy. As he straightens, despite all her acting and H.O.T.B.A.B.E. training, Amy’s draw still drops.
“Hey, Goddess,” Genius says with a genial smile. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“How -?” Amy begins, but a quick shake of the head from Genius silences her.
Without waiting for an invitation, Genius jumps into the other chair and smooths out the ill-fitting uniform he wears, a duplicate of the others, bearing a name patch that read: Gomez.. He scans the desk, then settles back, puzzled. “No cigars, Captain …” he squints at Ramirez’s name patch, “… Ramirez, is it now? You gave up smoking when you adopted a new name?” He pretends to suddenly recall something. “Oh, I forgot. That little smuggling deal you had going with Castro kind of … blew up … a while back , didn’t it?”
Captain Ramirez chuckles and waggles a finger. “I always thought that had the feel of one of your little operations, Guillermo. Were you there?”
“Oh, no. I just planned it. I’m an office wonk now. I don’t do field work.”
“But you’re here now?”
“I make an occasional exception.” Genius glances at Amy, then back at Ramirez. “When the situation warrants it.”
“Ah, yes. Don Quixote, come to rescue the damsel. Where’s your white steed?”
Genius shrugs. “In that you’re going to let us just walk right out of here, I didn’t bring one.”
Captain Ramirez strokes his chin. “And why will I let you just walk right out of here?”
“Because, you little fish in a little pond, harm one hair on Miss Lindsay’s head, and you’ll have crashing down on you an organization who’s depth and power your feeble mind cannot possibly comprehend.”
The Captain’s face clouds up. “Be careful, My Old Friend. My benevolence can extend to Miss Lindsay, but not to you. You have been captured wearing the uniform of your enemy. You may meet the usual fate of a spy.”
From behind Valdez sneers, “We are not afraid of B.A.B.E. Everyone knows of the budget cuts. It has no fangs.”
“And, H.O.T.? That little collection of actors playing at spy. A joke. No offense, Miss Lindsay,” Captain Ramirez adds. “No, you’ll have to do better than that.”
“How about this? For our freedom, Miss Lindsay is prepared to perform a sex act on you.”
The Captain almost falls from his chair. “She is?”
Amy almost falls out of her chair. “I am?!?”
The Captain chuckles and eases back. “I’d almost forgotten that odd sense of humor you have.”
“I’m serious,” Genius continues. “Not only is she willing to perform with, or on, you the sex act of your choice, she is willing to have it filmed.”
Valdez laughs. “I knew it was real! No one’s that good an actress.”
“Your security here isn’t all that good,” Genius continues. “I wandered about for almost an hour before I let myself be caught. I saw those video cameras you’ve been using to film your coyotes during training.” He nods toward Valdez. “Get your little lackey here to get one and have him come back and film the whole thing. A little souvenir to show all your friends.” He lifts his brows at Amy. “You wouldn’t mind doing them both, would you?”
“Maybe you should do them both?” She raises her hand to slap Genius, then catches a slight twitch in his eyebrow that let’s her know he has a plan.
Even though she’s about to drop her hand, Genius grabs it. “Hey, sweetheart. You wanted to get into the espionage business. You knew you’d face a situation like this. You said you’d be able to handle it.”
“Don’t call me ’sweetheart’,” Amy replies through grit teeth. She yanks free her wrist and looks at Captain Ramirez. “You’ll let us go if I do this?”
“I told you. I have the power. You could ’slip through our fingers’.”
Genius jumps to his feet. “It’s settled then.”
Lost in trying to figure out just where this was all leading, Amy misses exactly what move Genius uses to send the lackey, Valdez, crumpling to the floor. Surprised for an instant, Captain Ramirez struggles to stand, the delay giving Amy time to jump up, grab her chair, and peg it across the desk. It catches Ramirez square on the forehead. He bounces back into his chair, then slides to the floor, still.
Genius sets down his own chair. “Well done, Goddess.” He checks his watch and curses. “We don’t have much time.”
As he reaches for her arm Amy pulls away. “What in the world is going on here? And where is here? And how did you get here?”
Genius chaffs at the delay. “Okay. Long story short. There’s a homer in your bra. Vernon had one in his blackberry. When your signals split apart before you reached the airport, we knew something was wrong. We found the car parked near the crossroads where they grabbed you, and Vernon nearby in the bushes. We already had a chopper on stand-by for a mission here, and here is
where I am.”
“Vernon!” Amy remembers. She touches the welt on her neck. “How is he?”
“Going to make it. Tough guy. More on that later. Didn’t have time to organize a more proper rescue, so they sent me.” He steps over Valdez on his way to the door. He cracks it, looks out, then closes it quickly. He checks his watch and curses again.
“You already had a mission planned here? Why?”
“Later,” comes his distracted reply as he looks around the office, and again checks his watch.
“Why do you keep checking your watch? And don’t say ‘Later.’.”
Instead of not saying ‘Later.’, Genius ignores the question. He steps back over Valdez and makes a slow three-sixty pirouette looking for … what?
Amy grabs his shoulders and gives a hard shake to capture his attention. “What is it?”
“We really should get out of this room. But there are guards at the door who will likely slow us up, and I don’t want to get caught out in the hallway when it happens.”
“When what happens?”
“When the bomb goes off.”
“The one I set to blow up the shipment of bird flu Captain Valdez thought he’d bought in secret on the black market.” He checks the wall shared by the room where Amy had been held captive. “I’d really like to have at least another wall between us and the bomb when it goes off. It’s in the next room. Two bombs, actually,” he amends. “One set to blow open the crates and expose the
remaining vials, then another bomb set to destroy them. Going to make quite a mess.”
“Set to go off when?”
As a beeping erupts from his watch, Genius repeats, “Set to go off when? In less than sixty seconds.”
TO BE CONTINUED