Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CHAPTER TWO

Frayne sprang upon Kris Quinlan with the easy speed of a large jungle predator, pressing a gun to her neck.  Kris squawked and briefly struggled, so Frayne shook her until her eyeballs rolled.

            “Shut it off, Dillon.  I mean it.  Shut that thing down now.”

            Dillon was examining Frayne’s large handgun with the practiced eye of a professional.  “Impressive.  A 650 AutoMag Kirby Series BoneSplitter with laser-guided computer enhanced targeting, am I right?  Pretty fly for a white guy.”

            Whalen growled and took a step forward.  Frayne’s men still had their guns aimed at Dillon, but now seemed unsure as to what was going to happen next.  Kris’s breathing was loud and ragged in the suddenly quiet room.

            Frayne’s voice was frosty as he snarled.  “I’m not playing Mexican standoff with you, Dillon.  Shut that thing off and let’s negotiate this.”

            “I’m not negotiating a damn thing with you, Frayne.  Let the girl go and the both of us will take a nice walk.  You can chase after us at your leisure.”

            Lady Thelma hissed at Frayne, “What are you waiting for?  Shoot him!  Shoot the girl!  Shoot somebody!”

            Dillon cocked an eye at Whalen.  “You look like you’ve got the most brains in this room, Gigantor… next to me that is.  I’m willing to bet you did your homework and checked me out real good.”

            “I did.”

            “Your research uncover any time I ran a bluff on somebody?”

            Whalen’s shoulders tensed and bunched visibly as he took a step back.  “In fact, it said that the one sure thing about you is that you never bluff.”  Whalen looked at Lady Thelma and Frayne.  “Pointless to force the issue now.   I’d allow him to walk.  With the girl, if he insists.”

            Frayne released the girl.  The huge handgun disappeared under his coat like it had never existed.  “Okay, tough guy.  You win this round.  But this isn’t over by a long shot.  You’ll never get out of England alive.  I’ll see you dead before another day is done.”

            “Maybe so, but you can believe this: I’m going to make sure I die last.  Miss Quinlan, step over here, and do so quickly.”

            A dazed Kris stumbled over to where Dillon stood.  Keeping his eyes on his opponents, holding the explosive device in one hand, Dillon managed to guide the girl toward the front door.  Kris hissed into Dillon’s ear, “We can’t leave Lady Thelma with that maniac!”

            “Why not?  She hired that maniac.  Maybe you’d rather I left you with him?”

            Kris shut her mouth and kept heading for the door.  Shortly they were outside and piled into Dillon’s borrowed car, roaring away from the house.

            Frayne watched the car as it sped off in a cloud of gravel and dust and sighed.  “I was hoping to wrap this up quickly and head to Switzerland for a few days.  Blast and damn.”  Frayne waved a long hand at his men, who gathered round to hear his orders.  “Isaac, start making calls.  I want our people on the streets covering everything.  I want Dillon found before nightfall.  The rest of you, get the vans and bring them round to the front.  Looks like our boy’s going to make a fox hunt of this business.”

            Lady Thelma rasped harshly. “I certainly hope you’ve got a plan in mind to recover my ring!”

            “Of course I do.  The plan is ridiculously simple: hunt Dillon down, yank him apart until he gives over the ring, then flush his remains down the nearest toilet.  How about lending me the Whale for a few hours?”

            “You can have his services so long as I go along!”  Lady Thelma yapped.  “I cannot be unprotected for a minute while that man is alive!”

            Frayne shrugged and strolled away, his words drifting sardonically over his shoulder.  “Bring along your bloody hairdresser and astrologist, why don’t you?  Make a friggin’ holiday out of this.”





            Lavimore Watson moodily sipped his Diet Pepsi, wondering just what the hell had happened to Dillon and why he was taking so long doing whatever it was he was doing.  Dillon was unpredictable at best and Lavimore knew from past experience that Dillon just jumped headfirst into a situation and worried about how to get out later.  It was a trait that would end up getting him killed someday.  Lavimore would have preferred if Dillon got himself killed in some other country.

            His cell phone rang.  He flipped it open.  “Watson here.”

            “Don’t you sound stressed.  What are you doing, waiting by the phone for me to call?”

            “I’m also drinking this nasty tasting diet soda instead of good Kentucky bourbon because I didn’t want to get stinking drunk worrying about you.  What the hell’s going on?  Where are you?”

            “Getting out of town in a goddamn hurry.  I need you to do a few things for me.”

            Lavimore reached for a pen and pad.  “Go.”

            “I’m going to hold on to your car for awhile.  I need it to drive down to Pymberty.  You know where that is, right?”

            “About a seven hour drive south of London.  I’ve been there.”

            “How soon can you have my gear packed up and sent there?”

            “I know a guy with a chopper.  I’ll get hold of him and have your things waiting at the station.”

            “That’s what I’m talking about.  I also want you to call the station and book a sleeping coach for Mr. and Mrs. A. Gordon.”

            “Mrs.?”

            “It’s a long story.”

            “Never mind.  I’m probably better off not knowing.  Anything else?”

            “Just get busy with what I gave you and stay by the phone.  I’ll be in touch.”





            The train station at Pymberty had been completely rebuilt twenty months ago to accommodate the magnetic repulsion system most of Europe was converting to these days.  The city planners had figured that as long as the system had to be upgraded, why not rebuild the entire station.  And while the rest of Pymberty remained a quaint English city of some seven hundred thousand with architecture dating back to the 11th Century in some districts, Pymberty Station was a totally modern, 21st century transportation center. 

            Upon their arrival at the station, Dillon had immediately used one of the many voice-activated Internet access kiosks and transferred a sizable amount of funds from one of the dozens of international bank accounts he maintained.  He then used a GlobalBank card to withdraw money.  He’d then taken Kris to a women’s clothing shop and bought her several changes of clothing, toiletries and two ruggedly sturdy suitcases to put the purchases in.  Kris was dazzled at the speed by which Dillon was organizing this impromptu getaway.

            While waiting in line to pick up their tickets, Kris asked, “Exactly what is it you intend on doing with me?”

            “That’s a loaded question, Miss Quinlan.  What is it you would like me to do with you?”
           
Kris gave him her coldest stare and saw with some dismay that it had no effect on him at all.  He was grinning like a schoolboy cutting math class.  “I suppose that a man in your line of work is used to meeting the class of women who would be flattered and amused by that crude and uncouth manner of talk.  I assure you that I am not!  I am a woman of class and breeding!”

            “And your only bad quality is you work for psychotics.  But you’re right… you didn’t deserve a crack like that.  I apologize.  And to answer your question; you can go anywhere you want.  You’re not my prisoner.  I did what I had to do because Frayne was pointing a gun at your head and he would have put your lights out if I hadn’t gotten you out of there.  Now, if you want to go back to Lady Thelma and her boyfriend,” Dillon shrugged broad shoulders, “well, that’s on you.  I only perform so many rescues in a day.”

            Dillon showed a passport in the name of Artemus Gordon and received their tickets.  Dillon whistled for the attention of a porter to help with the luggage and turned to Kris. “Keep walking.  I’m going to slip away for a minute.”

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Two gentlemen over there by the newsstand are very interested in getting a good look at me.  One of them is going to the ticket window now.”

            Kris was flabbergasted.  Dillon was looking straight ahead but he was accurately describing events happening behind him as if he had eyes in back of his head.  Kris turned to look at the ticket window and then turned back to Dillon.

            But he was gone.





            Gregory Tipp didn’t like it when a mystery refused to be solved.  He’d issued orders for Dillon’s apprehension some time ago and nothing had come of it so far except for a few vague and random sightings here and there.

            His private line rang and he snatched up the phone.  “Tipp here.”

            “Tipp who?”

            The voice was totally unfamiliar to Tipp and as per procedure; he pressed a button that started an immediate trace.  He’d know where the call was coming from in eighty seconds flat.

            “Who is this?”

            “No fair.  I asked you first.  Why have you got men looking for me?”

            A sudden realization hit Tipp.  “Dillon?”

“X gets the square.  Now, you want to answer my question or do I start breaking bones on your two boys?”

            “My name is Gregory Tipp and I’m with the Secret Service.  I’ll take it right harshly if my men are hurt.”

            “Oops.  My bad.  I wouldn’t have roughed them up if I’d known they were good guys.  What are you doing chasing me, Tipp?”

            “Your name has come up in conjunction with that ship that was stolen and destroyed this morning.  There’s something going on and I want you to come in and tell me exactly what’s going on.  I know you’ve cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the past, so I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in this instance, but I must insist that you surrender yourself to my agents at once.”

            “Your agents here need to be surrendering themselves to the ministrations of a doctor. Since it’s my fault, I’ll call the local hospital and make sure they get medical attention.  And I really don’t have the time to answer questions about anything.  I’m kinda trying to make a run for it before I’m tracked down and killed.”

            “Don’t dare play games with me, Dillon!  I want to know what’s going on!”

            “Ask Lady Thelma Sharpe.  But watch yourself.  That hussy’s got a tongue like a ginsu.”  The connection was broken and Tipp was left listening to a dial tone.





            The sleeping car was downright luxurious.  First class all the way.  The various functions were voice activated and the partition that separated the car could be rendered clear as air or jet black as anthracite with the slightest touch on the control pad.  The porter showed Kris how to use the voice controls and the control pad.  He was just finishing up when Dillon entered the car.  The porter asked if Dillon wanted similar instructions and Dillon shook his head in a negative, pressing some bills in the man’s hand.

            Once the porter left, Dillon darkened the car’s windows from the outside so that no one could see in, but he could still see out.  Kris flopped on a plush recliner and pushed backwards, raising her aching feet up, kicking off her heels.  “I have to give it to you.  You do know how to go first class.  What happened to those two men?”

            “Contusions, bruises, abrasions, maybe a sprain or two and finally, unconsciousness,” Dillon said absently as he opened the bags that had been waiting for him at the station, as Lavimore had promised.  The duffle bag held his ‘working clothes’: tough black jeans, well-worn leather boots with thick Vibram soles, his battered, weathered bronze leather jacket, and a Steranko belt with snap shut pouches.  Dillon tossed the clothes to the side and packed the backpack.  A frightening variety of lethal weapons and devices were all snugly fitted into holsters and pockets inside.  Pistols, shotguns, grenades, climbing robes, spare ammo clips and a laptop no thicker than a comic book. Daggers, throwing stars, short swords, and two or three crossbows of various sizes.  Dillon slipped the thermal device out of his pocket and placed it in the appropriate pouch.

            “But who were they?” Kris insisted.

            “British Secret Service,” Dillon said, folding the backpack back up into its original shape and securing it with thin but durable leather straps.

            “If you don’t wish to tell me, then say so.  But don’t go on making up ridiculous lies just to impress me.”

            How in the HELL did this guppy survive so long with an old barracuda like Thelma Sharpe? Dillon wondered.  “Look, I’m going to go grab something to eat.  I imagine you’d like something as well.”

            Kris nodded.  “I most certainly would.  I hadn’t planned on being kidnapped, you know.”

            Dillon let his head drop in mock astonishment.  “Are we back on that again?  You haven’t gotten it yet that Lady Thelma would have let Frayne blow your head clean off without a second thought?”

            “Lady Thelma was quite upset at the time.  And why shouldn’t she be?  You refused to return her rightful property!  Property you were hired to return I might add!”

            “And she could have had it back if she’d answered my questions and hadn’t tried to pull that strong-arm stuff on me.  And incidentally, you haven’t been kidnapped.  You can go anytime you like.  Now, I’m going to get something to eat.  Is there anything special you’d like?”

            “Broiled chicken breast smothered in onions, sautéed mushrooms, mozzarella and Swiss cheese, please.  With coffee and iced tea.”

            Dillon eyed her warily.  “Let me guess: you’ve been dreaming about having that all day, right?”

            “Its something I order quite frequently since it takes very little time to prepare and just about anyone can make it.”

            Dillon sighed and left the compartment, closing the door firmly behind him and locking it.  He’d left his smart phone in plain sight where Kris would have to be blinder than Ray Charles not to have seen it.  Dillon fully expected her to use it to call Lady Thelma and that was just fine with him.  He’d go have a drink while he ordered their food and that would give the two ladies time to have a nice long chat, which would then be recorded on his smart phone.

            Dillon ambled in search of a stiff drink, whistling the theme from ‘1941’ as he did so.





            As soon as she heard the door lock, Kris pounced on the smart phone she’d seen Dillon place on the bed behind his bags.

Not so smart, are you! she thought triumphantly as she tapped in the number to Lady Thelma’s cell phone.  Dillon had no doubt thought she was just oh, so taken with his charm and easy, engaging grin and hadn’t seen him slip the phone behind his bags.  But Kris had been watching him carefully, looking for an opportunity to get her hands on his phone and call her employer.

            Lady Thelma’s shrill voice made the phone shiver. “Who is this?  What do you want?  I’m busy!”

            “Lady Thelma!  It’s me!  Kris!”

            “Kris…?  Kris!  Where in the hell are you?  Where’s my ring?  Where’s Dillon?”

            “We’re at Pymberty Station.  Dillon drove down here and got us a sleeping car on the 11:53 Skylark Limited to Paris.  Lady Thelma, you really wouldn’t have let Frayne shoot me, would you?  I mean . . .  you were just playacting to get Dillon to give over the ring… weren’t you?”

            “Shut up and listen to me and try to get things straight!  First things first: where is Dillon?”

            “He left the car to go get us something to eat.  I’d say I’ve got about a half hour before he gets back.  Lady Thelma, he’s says the Secret Service is chasing him… do you know anything about that?”

            “Will you shut up your nitwit blathering and listen!”  Lady Thelma screeched.  “Where is the ring?  Have you seen it?”

            “No, I haven’t seen your bloody ring!  Haven’t you been in the least concerned that I’ve been kidnapped by a dangerous lunatic?”

            “You’re at Pymberty Station?  You’re sure of that?”  Lady Thelma demanded as if she hadn’t heard a blessed word Kris had uttered.
           
“How many times must I say it?  What is the matter with you, Lady Thelma?”

            “You’ve got to find that ring!  How could you be with him this long and not know if he has it or not?  Have you made some kind of a deal with him?”

            “Lady Thelma, I’m beginning to think that this whole debacle has seriously impaired your thinking.  I. Have. Been. Kidnapped.  Don’t you think you should try and help me?”

            Lady Thelma’s voice dropped to a low cooing.  “Of course, dear girl… of course I’ll help.  But you must be careful that the information you’re giving me is completely accurate.  You did say Pymberty Station… the Skylark Limited to Paris, correct?”

            “Yes, yes, yes!”

            “Stay with Dillon.  No matter what happens, you stay with him!”

            “But—”

            It was too late.  Lady Thelma had broken the connection.





            Frayne looked up from his copy of the latest Maxim as Lady Thelma slammed her cell phone down on the seat next to her and released a torrent of toxic vulgarities and obscenities that was astounding in variety and imaginative imagery.  Frayne nodded in grudging admiration.  He’d known some men who could utter some pretty outrageous profanity, but he had to admit, Lady Thelma Sharpe was probably the uncrowned queen of cursing.

            “Was that your pretty assistant?”

            “All the silly bitch cares about is her pampered, perfumed ass!  You’d think she’d have her mind on business and find out what that bastard has done with my ring but all she thinks about is herself!  She had the audacity to suggest that I don’t have my priorities straight!”

            “You?  Unbelievable.  You’re the very soul of stability.”  Frayne arranged his legs more comfortably.  They were sitting in the spacious passenger compartment of his Mercedes limousine.  Whalen was riding up front with the driver while the rest of Frayne’s men followed the limo in an armored black van that contained enough weaponry to make a Special Forces unit salivate with envy.  “So where can we find our good friend Dillon?”

            “He’s on a train at Pymberty Station.  It’s going to be leaving for Paris at 11:53.”

            Frayne pulled back a sleeve to look at his Rolex.  “Blast and damn.”

            “We can’t get to Paris in time to meet the train?”

            Frayne looked at Lady Thelma as if she’d just dug a fresh booger out of her nose.  “Dillon’s not fool enough to ride the train all the way to Paris.  He’ll slip off shortly after dark and make his way to wherever he’s really going.  But in the meantime, he’ll use the respite he’s gained to eat and grab a few hours of decent sleep.  No, we’ve got to head that train off by nightfall.”  Frayne thumbed a button on an armrest and a voice came from a hidden speaker.

            “Yes, Mr. Frayne?”

            “Colin, turn this thing around and call Zachary at our airfield.  Tell him to get the helicopter ready.  We’ve got a train to catch.”

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