Monday, March 14, 2011

CHAPTER THREE

“Did you have enough to eat?”  Dillon asked, placing his knife and fork aside carefully and wiping his mouth with a silk napkin.

            “Indeed I did.  Thank you.”  Kris sipped her tall glass of iced tea and reflected on how much better she could think once she had a full stomach.  The food had been quite excellent and Dillon had even sprung for a bottle of Nospinal.  He popped the cork and poured them both glassfuls.  “You’ll understand if I don’t care to share a toast with you, given the unusual circumstances by which we have been thrown together.”

            Dillon shrugged.  He had retrieved his incredibly thin computer from his bag and had opened it, placing it on a small worktable that folded out from the nearest wall.  Kris watched with great interest as he powered it up.  The thing came on in a nanosecond.  Dillon pressed his thumb to the screen and the computer went to work, establishing a secure Internet connection through its built in satellite uplink system.  While he waited, he pulled out a sterling silver cigar case from his inside jacket pocket.  He thumbed a stud on the side and out popped a Canonero Double Corona.

            “May I have one?”  Kris asked.  Dillon looked at her suspiciously.

            “Have you never seen a woman smoke a cigar?”

            “Sure I have.  Plenty.  It’s just that you don’t exactly strike me as the stogie puffin’ type.”

            “It’s a habit I got from my mother.  She was Brazilian and she smoked cigars all the time.”

            “You’re from Brazil, then?”

            “No, I was born in Cristobal. It’s a country located in South America. My mother married a British diplomatic attaché who was assigned to the British Embassy there.  But due to his work we traveled.”

            Dillon passed over a cigar and lit it for Kris.  “I’ve been to Cristobal.  Lovely country.  The food there is wonderful.”  Soon the both of them had the car filled with cigar smoke.  Dillon pressed a button and the air filtration system went to work, gently sucking the air out of the car.  He bent over his computer, typing furiously.  “I was there last about nine years ago.  One of the few times I could take a vacation without having somebody trying to shoot me in the back.”

            Kris sat back, glass of champagne in one hand, cigar held in the other and thought that under other circumstances, this would have all been rather nice.  “May I ask what you’re doing there?”

            Dillon looked up and removed the cigar from his mouth before answering.  “There’s a large number of websites, messages boards and newsgroups that are used, maintained and run by people in my profession.  I’m checking them out to see what the latest word is about me.”

            “Really?”

            “Truly.  They’re used to pass along information, share business tips and ideas, gossip, spread rumors, alert friends when the heat is on.  I also need to check my email to see if… ah… here’s a bunch from Lavimore Watson.”

            “What does he say?”

            “He suggests that I leave Europe and don’t ever come back.  Turns out that some people have placed some sizable bounties on my head.  Including the Order of the Black Sun, who’ll pay six million in any currency if I’m delivered to Odin alive.  Now that’s a name I didn’t expect to hear come up in conjunction with this mess.  What’s Lady Thelma’s connection to Odin?”

            Kris puffed furiously on her cigar and stared up at the ceiling before answering in a very definite and curt tone.  “I will not betray the trust that Lady Thelma has placed in me.”

            “Lady Thelma will probably have Frayne cut your throat when she catches up to us.”  Dillon had to say this last with a straight face.  When he had returned to the car, he had retrieved his cell phone and had gone into the bathroom to listen to the recorded call; and he had to smother his laughter while doing so.  Kris was putting up a good loyal employee act, but if Dillon were any judge of character, he would have to say that Miss Quinlan and Lady Thelma would soon be on the outs.

            “Lady Thelma means me no harm.  And she would not plan any violence against you if you would only return her ring to her!”

            “Oh, come on!  Even you can’t play this stupid forever!  Do you really think I’m going to believe that everybody is going through all this expense and blowing things up and pointing guns at each other over a lousy gold ring that’s probably not worth more than a couple hundred bucks?”

            “I’m not going to say anything more, so you can stop asking!  If you’re so bloody smart, you’ll find out soon enough what’s going on!” Kris snapped back.

            Dillon blew out smoke in Kris’s direction.  “You shouldn’t be worried about me finding out what’s at the bottom of this deal, sweetheart, because I’m going to.  And maybe sooner than you think.  No, you’ve got a more immediate concern.”

            “Which is?”

            Dillon’s copper eyes narrowed slightly as he answered “Concern yourself with what action I’m going to take in regards to you when I do find out what’s going on.”


***


            Gregory Tipp heard the firm knocking on his office door from inside his broom closet of a bathroom and shouted.

“Come in!”  He finished his business, washed his hands, banging his elbows painfully as he did so, and walked back into the office.  “Ah, Alvin . . .  good of you to come round so quickly.”

            Colonel Alvin Thompson handed Tipp a cardboard cup of piping hot coffee, a twin to the one in his other hand.  “If the great Greg Tipp says he has a problem and needs help, I know it must be serious.”

            “Sit down, Alvin, please.”  Tipp indicated one of two armchairs in front of his desk.  Instead of sitting behind his desk, he took the chair next to Thompson.  They weren't just co-workers, but also friends, going all the way back to high school.  They’d both served in the military and were both recruited into the Secret Service.  But Tipp had naturally gravitated toward the more labyrinthine corridors of intelligence gathering while Thompson had instead been assigned to the British Intelligence Tactical Elite, or B.I.T.E, as the squad was more commonly known.  They handled internal threats to England’s security and they were known throughout the European terrorist and criminal networks as some bad fellows to fool around with indeed.

            Thompson crossed his legs and sipped his coffee.  “So what’s all this about, Greg?  What do you need my lads and I to do for you?”

            Tipp passed over a folder some five inches thick.  “You ever heard of this chap?”

            Thompson took the folder and looked at the name stamped on the front.  “Dillon!  Well, I must say: if you’re going to chase someone, why not the bloody Prince of Darkness himself!”

            “Then you have heard of him?”

            “In our business, who hasn’t?  It’s been a while since he was in London, though.  Not that I’m complaining.  He took out quite a few bastards the last time he blew through town.”

            “Well, he’s back and he was involved in that business with the Goliath.  According to what I’ve been able to find out, he’s on the run with a lot of nasty customers chasing him.”

            “How’d you find that out?”

            “Cheeky son of a bitch knocked out two of my men and called me on their own cell phone.  I was sitting right here when he called.  Said he was trying his best not to get killed.”

            Thompson chuckled and flicked through the thick folder.  “Sounds like something he’d do.  He doesn’t lack for nerve.  So where was he calling from?”
           
“Pymberty.  I’ve got his description out and we should be hearing something soon.  I’m betting he’s on a train.”

            “And you want me and the lads to…?”

            “You get Dillon for me.  You get him and you sit on him and hold him for me.”


***


            When Dillon came awake, it wasn’t with the groggy disorientation that most people wake with.  Thanks to his rigorous training, not to mention the advantage of having spent years evading some of the world’s most dangerous professional assassins and killers, he came awake instantly alert and ready, totally aware of his surroundings. 

            He had fallen asleep dressed in his ‘working clothes’ and his hand slid under his pillow for his Magnum as he sat upright, cocking the weapon and pointing it at the door.  The car was dark and silent, save for a nightlight burning in the bathroom.  Kris still slept soundly, snoring quite lustily, her softly shining hair the only thing visible as she had completely covered herself with the blanket.

            Dillon stood up, holstering his weapon quietly and trying to figure just what had woken him up.  Then he got it.  The train had changed speed, slowing down considerably.  He looked at his watch.  They weren’t due to stop for another sixty minutes, which was when he had planned to get off.  It was quite possible that there was nothing to worry about, but he hadn’t lived this long by assuming anything.  He went over to where Kris slept and shook her shoulder.

            “Mrfph?”

            “Kris.  Wake up.”

            “G’way.”

            “Wake up, I said.”  Dillon hauled her into an upright position.  “This may be important.”

            Kris pushed her hair out of her face and gazed at Dillon, still half asleep.  “What in the hell is going on now?”

            “I need you to wake up and put your shoes on.  The train’s slowed.”

            “So?”  Kris snarled.  She obviously hated being snatched out of a sound sleep.

            “There’s no scheduled stop for another sixty minutes.  This could be trouble.  I need you up and awake.”

            “Maybe there’s some technical reason that the train is slowing.  Did you think of that?”

            “Just get up and get ready.  If you’re not by the time I get back and there is a problem, I’m not waiting while you fix your pantyhose, got me?”  Dillon didn’t wait for her answer and left their car to hunt up a conductor.  He passed through the series of sleeping cars toward the rear of the train.  He looked out of the windows but the night was as black as the bottom of a mineshaft at midnight.  He wished he had thought to bring his night scope so that he could have taken a look outside.

            In the observation car, he found three conductors consulting their watches and talking in low voices.  One was muttering into his wrist walkie-talkie.  Dillon joined them.

“Anything wrong, fellas?  The train’s going awfully slow all of a sudden.”

            Normally, the conductors would have just sent a passenger back to his car with well-used words of reassurance, but this chap definitely didn’t look like a fellow who was used to his questions not being answered.  One of the conductors replied; “Can’t rightly say, sir.  We’re trying to get hold of the engineer now to ask him why we’ve slowed.  Usually he drops the speed slightly when we go through the Hervis Tunnel, but—”

The conductor stopped as Dillon held up a gloved hand and his copper eyes looked to the roof, his head cocked to the side as if listening for something.

            “Sir?”

            Dillon’s head snapped back to look at the conductor and the man was startled into silence.  Dillon’s normally sparkling copper eyes had darkened to a hot, molten gold and his voice held the pure steel of command.  “Get on your radios and call the authorities for help!  Tell them that your train’s being boarded and you need emergency vehicles and heavily armed police out here right now!”

            “Sir, have you been drinking—”

The conductor was cut off as the train lurched to a complete stop, throwing everybody except Dillon to the floor.  Dillon reached down and yanked the conductor he had been speaking with to a standing position.  “The damn train is being taken by armed men!  Get on the radio now!”

            He whirled and ran back toward his car.  The sounds he had heard faintly were booted feet on top of the train.  The sound of machine gun fire rang out.  A woman screamed and he could hear breaking glass from either end of the car.  A Sikorsky helicopter swooped over the train and powerful searchlights suddenly came on, illuminating not only the train, but the immediate surrounding area as well.

            Back in the sleeping coach, the door had been kicked in and Kris was gone.  Dillon reached under his bed, withdrew his backpack and slung it on his back, tightening the straps to hold it securely as he went in search of her.  The passengers were filling the passageways now, bleary-eyed and furious, shouting questions, demanding answers from each other.  Dillon ignored them, shoving past as he made his way through the forward dining car.

            “Dillon!”

            Dillon pushed past more confused passengers.  He could see past their heads to the forward observation car, where two men were dragging Kris up a short flight of stairs, with a third covering their rear. 

            “Dillon!” Kris screamed again.

            “Ain’t that just like a woman,” Dillon muttered as he yanked free his Magnum.  “Everybody down!  Police!”

            Upon seeing the huge gleaming Magnum, the passageway was filled with more screams as everybody hit the ground and Dillon charged forward, trying his best not to step on anybody.  “Scuse me, pardon me, sorry ‘bout that, ‘scuse me, ‘scuse me, comin’ through!  Make a hole there.  Make a hole, dammit, or lose that head!”

            The covering man cut loose with a short burst from his machine gun and bullets ripped into the wall and roof of the passageway.  Dillon threw himself onto something soft and his Magnum boomed.  The shooter fell back, pumping lifeblood from his throat.  He dropped his weapon and his hands went up to his neck in a futile attempt to stop the geyser.

            Dillon looked down into the surprised hazel eyes of the beautiful auburn haired woman he had thrown himself on top of.  She was wearing a blindingly red sheer silk nightgown and not much else.  “Sorry about that, miss.”

            “Couldn’t be helped,” the beauty gulped as Dillon got to his feet and resumed the pursuit.

            Thankfully, the forward observation car was empty and Dillon leveled his gun.  “Hold it right there!”

            One of the men turned and swung his AK-47 around to fire while the other shoved Kris out and down out of his way.  Dillon pumped off two shots and the first man was knocked back seven or eight feet by the sledgehammer impact of the heavy Magnum slugs.  The second man was frantically trying to pull the pin on a hand grenade.  The train lurched again and the grenade fell out of his hand, bouncing wildly.  The mercenary looked in horror at the pin in his hand.

            Dillon sprinted across the distance separating him from the mercenary and elbowed him to the side.  He reached down and yanked Kris to her feet.  “Hang on!”  He fired a shot at the nearest window and the glass disintegrated.  He wrapped a powerful arm around Kris and leapt out of the car, Kris’s scream knifing into his ear.  They fell, hit the ground and tumbled down a steep incline as the grenade went off and the observation car was engulfed in an orange explosion.  Flaming pieces of metal and plastic arced through the air in their wake.

            The helicopter hovered over the burning observation car, the searchlight hunting for them.  Lady Thelma’s voice boomed from the loudspeaker like a harpy’s scream of rage.  “Get down there after them!  I saw them jump out of the car!  Get them!”

            Dillon and Kris finally came to a stop.  Both of them were covered in dirt and small leaves.  Dillon brushed small broken twigs out of Kris’s hair.  He looked up, saw they had rolled some eighty feet away from the train down a sharp incline.

“You okay?” he asked Kris.

            She nodded dumbly, amazed at still being alive.  “C’mon!”  He seized her by the wrist and pulled her after him while he jammed his Magnum back in the holster.  He fumbled in a pocket of his weapons kit, found his night scope, placed it to an eye and stopped.  He’d almost run into a tree that was no more than four feet in front of him.

            Sending up a prayer to every god he could think of, including a few he made up right on the spot, he pulled Kris after him as he plunged into the stand of trees.  Hopefully, the trees would provide cover from the helicopter’s searchlight.

            The Sikorsky hovered overhead, the searchlight probing downward like the incandescent finger of an angel trying to pick out sinners.  Bullets ripped through the branches and Dillon threw both himself and Kris to the wet, mossy ground as more bullets tore through the trunks of the trees.  Leaves and chips of wood rained down upon them.

            “Enough of this shit,” Dillon muttered and rolled over on his back.  He pulled out his Magnum, aimed right for the center of the light and snapped off shot after shot, one right after the other until the clip was spent.

            The light went out, the helicopter’s engines coughing like the phlegm filled lungs of a twenty-year smoker, and the Sikorsky turned away.  Dillon smelled oily smoke.  He’d hit something that was for sure.  Whether it was something vital or not, he had no idea.  It might be minor damage that they could fix and get the chopper back into the air, but he had no intention of staying around long enough for them to do so.  And in any case, there’d be men on the ground looking for them.  And they’d have night scopes with infrared lenses, to be sure.

            He pulled Kris to a sitting position, reaching down to slip her high heeled pumps off her small feet.  He snapped off the heels, slipped them back on her feet and pulled her to a standing position.  “We’re going to have a lot a walking ahead of us.  And I mean a lot.  You keep up with me, you hear?  And don’t say a word!  I’ve gotta be able to hear what’s going on.”

            Kris could only nod dumbly.  She was still in a state of shock at their narrow escape.


No comments:

Post a Comment