Sunday, May 29, 2011

CHAPTER FOURTEEN




Kris Quinion walked down the curving staircase to the spacious living room of the two-story villa located in the rolling green hills just outside of Antofagasto.  She had figured Dillon would be up and about, but she didn’t expect to find him in the middle of a veritable war room.  Dillon’s extraordinary laptop was hooked up to a printer that was spitting out sheets of printed paper with hideously efficient speed.  Maps were pinned up on the walls, huge maps of the city and the surrounding countryside.  Photographs of the countryside and of the Gynt brothers were spread on the rectangular glass table.  Dillon was speaking into his cell phone even while typing on the keyboard of the computer that had come with the villa with a speed that a professional corporate secretary might have envied.  Kris didn’t interrupt him but instead went into the kitchen, and was grateful to find a full fresh pot of hot coffee waiting.  She poured herself a large mug and returned to the living room, where Dillon was finishing up his conversation.

            Kris looked out through the large glass doors that led to the patio and the kidney shaped Olympic sized swimming pool.  She sighed.  This was such a beautiful country and Kris was beginning to realize exactly how much she had missed South America.  Homesickness was washing through her and she was beginning to have regrets about insisting on helping Dillon in his mission to find Odin.  She could hop on a plane and be in Cristobal in four hours…

            “Good morning.”  Dillon put his phone down and turned in the swivel chair to smile at Kris.  “Sleep well?”

            “I had no idea how much I missed sleeping in a real bed until last night.  It seems like years since I had a decent night’s sleep.  But what about you?  Didn’t you sleep at all?”

            “Sure.  Two or three hours.”

            “That’s all?”

            “That’s more than enough.  And I sleep during the day.  Catnaps here and there.”

            Kris looked skeptical.  “I’ve never seen you sleep during the day since I’ve been with you.”

            “You weren’t supposed to.  It was part of my training. I can go to sleep while standing on my feet or walking and you’d never know it.”

            Kris still looked dubious but she let it go and waved at the room in general, taking in all the maps and papers in a single expansive gesture.  “So what’s all this then?”

            “Tracking down the Gynt boys.  Seems as if they’ve been missing for some time now.  Whereas they were quite visible previous to this Odin business.”

            Kris nodded.  “So that means that they’re probably helping their father.”

            Dillon held up a long forefinger and waggled it in a negative.  “Let’s not be so hasty.  It could be that they’re in hiding from their daddy as well.”

            “But you don’t believe that, do you?”

            Dillon shook his head.  “Frankly, no.  But I try to keep an open mind.”  He pointed at the laptop.  “I’m printing out complete records of their business holdings, houses they own and the like.  And I keep coming up with some interesting things.  The Gynt boys own more stuff under phony names and dummy corporations than they do under their own names.  Including quite a few electronics companies, research facilities and manufacturing plants.”

            Kris’s perfectly shaped eyebrows went up in sudden understanding.  “The Voice.  They could have had it built down here.”

            “I’d say that’s a good bet.  Wanna try for where?”  Dillon got up and walked into the kitchen to get himself some coffee.  Kris watched him, admiring his long muscular legs.  “You get three guesses and the first two don’t count.”

            “Somewhere in the jungle, right?”

            “Bingo.  But the problem is this: where in the jungle?”  Dillon returned to his seat with not only his coffee but also a cheese Danish.  Kris looked at the pastry longingly.

            “I didn’t see any Danish,” she said accusingly.

            “You didn’t look.  Focus, okay?  Where in the jungle would you hide a super weapon?”

            Kris shrugged.  “I have no idea.”  She turned her head, casually tossing her hair.  She was miffed about the Danish.

            Dillon sighed and got up to go get her a Danish.  While he did so, he said; “There’s one thing we know about The Voice: it takes massive amounts of power to run it so we’re talking about nuclear level power here.  Now I don’t believe for a second that even Odin would be able to build both The Voice and a nuclear power plant without somebody tumbling onto what he was doing, so that leaves one thing.”  Dillon returned with the Danish and handed it to Kris, who smiled and bit into it with relish.  “He’s using the natural geothermic energy of a volcano to power his weapon and guess what?  The Licancabur volcano is located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.”

            Kris looked up from her pastry.  “How can a dormant volcano have enough energy to power Odin’s weapon?”

            “You’re confusing a dormant volcano with an inactive one. He could still tap into a magma pocket and get more than enough energy.”

            “And what about the ring?”  Kris said.  “Exactly how does that bloody ring fit into everything?  That’s how we got involved in this ungodly mess in the first place.”

            Dillon shrugged.  “I haven’t forgotten about that but we’ve got to lay our hands on Odin before we can solve that mystery.”

            “So how do we find him?  What’s your plan?”

            “To find him?  I do it the easy way.  I let him find me.”

            “And then?”

            Dillon grinned.  “Take a wild guess.”

            “I would imagine we do our best to survive whatever he throws at us and then backtrack his trail until we get to him.”

            “Kris, you are developing quite the aptitude for this kinda work.”

            “So how exactly do we let Odin and his minions find us?”

            Dillon looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully.  “Well, if they’re as good as I think they are, then they’ll know we’re here by now; but that’s okay ‘cause we’re pulling out soon as we can.”

            “We are?  Where?”

            “Haven’t you been listening to a word I said?  We’re going north to the volcano and look for The Voice there.  No sense in hanging around Antofagasto.  What did you think we were going to do?  Go partying and wait for the Gynt boys to take a shot at us?”

            “It would be nice to have a couple of days to rest and relax.”

            “It’s time we don’t have, sweetheart.  And neither does the world.”  He stood up and walked over to where she was, gently pulling her to her feet.  His sparkling copper eyes looked down into her wide blue ones.  “Look, I know you said you wanted to help, but it’s going to get awful rough from here on and I’ve got a bad feeling that what’s coming up is going to make what we’ve been through so far look like a tea party.  Maybe it’s time for you to cash in your chips and go home.”

            Kris’s arms seemed to have a life of their own because before she knew what she was doing, they had slipped around Dillon’s lean waist.  She sighed as he pulled her closer to him and his face came closer to hers.  He murmured softly, “I’ve gotten quite fond of you, you know…and I wouldn’t want to see anything happen to you…”

            “What the hell is all this about?”  The sliding glass doors to the patio opened and a man entered the room.  He looked to be somewhere vaguely between fifty and seventy.  Silver-gray hair hung to his shoulders and a grizzled growth of three-day-old stubble covered his cheeks and chin, but he boasted a full and busy mustache.  Despite his obvious age, he was thin and lean and strong as a bullwhip, and his eyes twinkled with youthful vigor.  His faded khaki pants, battered old cowboy boots and well-worn leather flight jacket looked like something Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart might have worn in a 1930’s Howard Hawks movie.

            Dillon stepped away from Kris and snarled, “Dammit, Eli, your timing rots.”

            “And you’re getting sloppy.  You mean to say you didn’t know I was there for almost thirty seconds watching?”

            “No, you old pervert.  Kris, this is one of my closest and dearest friends, Elias Patrick Creed.  Eli, this is Kris.”

            With the grace of a Virginian gentleman of The Old South, Eli bowed and kissed Kris’s hand.  “And may I say that I understand Dillon being distracted by such a woman of exceptional and unusual beauty and charm.”

            Kris smiled and said; “Well…I must say I’m surprised that Dillon would have friends with such manners and a way with words.”

            Eli reached up a hand and slapped Dillon in the back of his head.  “Yeah, and I’m also a friend who’s telling him right in front of you that he better get his thinking outta his little head and back into his big one if he wants to live through this job.”  Eli turned a serious eye on Kris.  “And now that the pleasant introductions have concluded: go put on some damn clothes.”

            Kris gaped in astonishment for maybe ten seconds before scurrying up the staircase. Dillon grimaced when they heard her door slam.  “Jeez, Eli . . .  you know how long she’s gonna be mad?  That woman’s got a temper like you wouldn’t believe.”

            “Later for her. C’mere!”  Eli hugged the taller man warmly and clapped him on the back several times.  He stepped back and took a good look at him.  “How you been, kid?”

            “As you can see, I’m still in one piece.  You brought everything I asked?”

            “Soon as I got your email, I threw everything you wanted in a cargo plane and came on down.  Gretchen told me to tell you that she’ll be very hurt if you get yourself killed before she has a chance to marry you off.”

            Dillon grinned.  Gretchen was Eli’s plump, vivacious wife.  Eli lived with her and his eight children on a magnificent 1037-acre ranch in Colorado.  Eli had retired there after a full life of adventuring and mercenary work.  However, whenever Dillon called for help, he promptly dropped whatever he was doing and eagerly lent a hand.  Eli had been one of Dillon’s mentors when Dillon had first begun his career, and the two of them had shared many exploits together.

            Eli looked around the living room.  “You got anything to drink?  I’ve been here ten minutes and you haven’t even offered me so much as a lousy beer.  And are you going to explain just what the hell you’ve gotten yourself mixed up in now?  Your email wasn’t all that detailed.”

            Dillon motioned for Eli to have a seat.  “I’ll get us a six-pack and I’ll tell you the whole story.  It began when I was hired to recover this lousy, pain-in-the-ass ring…”


***


            Chew Mi was rather irritated that she hadn’t been allowed by Donovan and Paul to help search the city with the small army of mercenaries they had hired.  They had made inquiries and found out that a man fitting Dillon’s description had been seen in the city but then, after making several substantial purchases, he had simply vanished, as if he had left the country.  Donovan had even suggested that perhaps Dillon had done so, but Chew Mi quickly vetoed that idea.  “He’s still here, trust me.”

            Paul shrugged carelessly.  “It matters little.  We’ve got nearly 40 men looking for him.  If he’s here, they’ll find him and they’ll kill him.”

            Chew Mi laughed.  “You think so?  All you’re doing is sending him a warm-up.  Once he’s finished with your mercs, he’ll come after you.”

            “You give this man too much credit, Chew Mi,” Paul said angrily.  “He’s just luckier than most, that’s all.”

            “Say what you wish, but I was there at Dr. Numby’s castle and I saw first hand what he can do.  I barely escaped from him with my skin in one piece.  You’d do well to take him more seriously.”

            “Enough with the useless debate!”  Donovan snapped, irritated.  He had listened to the constant bickering between Chew Mi and his brother for days now and it frankly got on his last nerve.  The two of them would argue about everything and anything if left to their own devices.  “Paul, I have to leave immediately to take the replacement parts to Odin.  Would it be possible for you and Chew Mi to cease your antagonism long enough to accomplish the task assigned to you?”

            “Of course, Donovan.  Once we’ve taken care of this man, we’ll join you.”

            Chew Mi grumbled, “We’ve got to find him first…”


***


            Eli finished his third beer and tossed the empty can into the trash.  “That’s quite a story, partner.  You’ve been a bad, bad boy, haven’t you?”

            “I was just minding my business.  The last thing I wanted was to have half the world chasing my ass hither and yon.”  Dillon shook his head.  “And it’s not going to get any easier from here on out.”

            “So what’s the plan?”

            “Find Odin’s hideout and make that phone call to Tipp and then run like hell.  He wants to take out Odin so bad, fine, let him do it while I take a much-needed vacation.  Maybe I’ll come up to the ranch and hang out with you for a week or so.  I—” Dillon broke off as an insistent bleeping filled the room.  Eli looked up hopefully.

            Dillon walked over to his laptop and looked at the screen.  It had changed to a topographical map of the villa and the surrounding grounds.  “Hello, what have we here?  Company?”

            Eli ambled over to look at the screen with Dillon.  There were four red dots on the screen indicating four hostiles who had tripped the proximity sensors.  Eli hadn’t tripped the sensors because Eli had known where Dillon would place them. 
                                                                                                 
            “How you wanna handle this?”

            Dillon turned and lightly ran up the stairs to Kris’s room.  He rapped sharply on the door and the furious Kris quickly opened it; but she changed her attitude when she heard Dillon’s terse words.  “Get ready to move out.  There are four men on the grounds.  Stay in your room until either Eli or I come for you.  You still have the gun I gave you?”

            Kris nodded.

            “Good.  Anybody else comes through this door, shoot.”

            Dillon ran back down the stairs and rejoined Eli.  “How does it look to you?”

            Eli pointed at one red dot that wasn’t moving.  “Looks like this guy is hanging back.  Could be that he’s the straw boss of the outfit.”

            “Then that’s the one I want alive.  You go get him.  I’ll handle the others.”

            Eli grinned and reached under his jacket, withdrawing a genuine Bowie knife that looked almost as big as a machete.  It had a well-worn bone handle and the blade, though it was old, was still razor sharp.  Eli was an avid knife collector and had over 800 in his collection.  This particular one was one of his favorites, and he claimed the infamous Western outlaw Cole Younger had first owned it.

            “I said alive, Eli.  I mean it.  I need him to be able to answer questions.”

            Eli shrugged.  “Y’got three others out there.”

            “Not for long.”  Dillon’s copper eyes darkened to moody, angry molten gold.  “They picked a bad day to come foolin’ around in my backyard.”


***


            The three mercs were puzzled that they had been able to approach the house with no signs of being seen at all and no resistance.  They’d been briefed on Dillon and had been warned to not underestimate him.  One of the mercs had actually seen Dillon in action four years ago in Thailand, and he had assured his two companions that the stories were no exaggeration.  None of the mercs liked it.  It didn’t feel right at all—

            Dillon dropped lightly from a tree and stayed low to the ground, moving like a giant jungle cat, and pounced on the three men before they knew what the hell was going on.  The first man was paralyzed by a chop to the back of his neck that snapped it with a grisly, meaty POP.  Dillon’s hands were as hard as oak and knew exactly where to hit a man to kill him at once.  The second merc whirled, bringing up his silenced revolver.

            Dillon whirled, spun with a grace that seemed impossible for a man of his height and weight and appeared to actually levitate as his foot lashed out in a spinning back kick.  It nearly took off the second man’s head as it broke his neck and jaw at the same time.  He was dead before he hit the ground.  Dillon landed and caught the revolver on its way down.  The third merc was turning, lifting his pair of automatics but he was too slow.  Dillon fired twice, both silenced bullets catching the merc in the chest, pounding him backwards several steps.  Dillon fired two more times, blowing away the merc’s kneecaps, and the man screamed and dropped his weapons, clutching his shattered knees.  Dillon ruthlessly and coldly walked over to the merc and shot him right between the eyes.  Then he dropped the still smoking revolver next to the dead body, turned and headed back to the villa.

            Once inside, he ran up the stairs and called out, “Kris!” before knocking on the door.  It was thrown open a second later and Kris stood there, eyes big as cue balls. 

            “Get ready to get outta here.  And don’t look out back.”

            “I-I saw from the window—“

            “It was them or us, Kris.  The Gynt brothers sent them here to kill us.  Don’t forget that.”  Dillon walked back down the stairs where Eli was dragging in a most unwilling companion.  The gentleman looked somewhat disheveled and he had some lovely purpling bruises on one side of his face.  His wrists were bound behind his back with plastic binders (that Eli just happened to have on his person).

            “Here he is and he’s alive, by God.  You happy?”

            “Ecstatic.”  Dillon hunkered down next to the prisoner, who was staring up into his smiling face with an expression of great unease.  “How you doin’?”

            “Fine.”  The prisoner nodded and looked nervously from Dillon to Eli and back to Dillon.  “I suppose you’ve killed the others?”

            Dillon nodded, smiled pleasantly.  “Did it with my own two hands.  Not much of a workout.  If that’s all the Gynts have to throw at me, I’m disappointed.  Ah, it was the Gynt boys who hired you, wasn’t it?”

            The prisoner licked dry lips and his eyes narrowed craftily as he saw a possible way out of this.  “You’ll let me go if I tell you what I know?”

            There was the quiet, deadly hiss of steel sliding from a concealed sheath as Eli drew forth his Bowie knife and knelt down, holding the razor edge under the prisoner’s nose.  “I don’t think you quite understand your position, amigo…you’re gonna tell my boy everything he wants to know or I’m gonna start looking for your liver.”  Eli grinned wickedly.  “The hard way.”

            The prisoner shuddered and appealed to Dillon.  “C’mon man, you guys are professionals!  This is how the game works!  I tell you what you want to know and you let me go!”

            Dillon’s grin increased.  “Unless you start talking right now, I’m gonna let that crazy old man there have all the fun he wants cutting you up.  You think you got balls enough to take him hacking away at you with that blade?”

            The prisoner babbled; “It was the Gynts!  Sure, sure!  They hired a whole bunch of us…30…maybe 40…we were to keep searching until we flushed you out and then let them know exactly where you were!”

            “You’ve told them where this villa is?”

            “No!  I swear!  See, me and the others, we figured that maybe we could grab you and find out what the Gynts wanted from you…maybe it was something we could have kept for ourselves!”

            “Honor among thieves, eh, Dillon?”  Eli chuckled.  He poked the prisoner slightly with the knife.  “Keep talkin’ sonny…don’t make like a clam now.”

            “You got the Gynts worried.  They keep sayin’ that they have to get rid of you.  They never come out and said it, but it was obvious that there was somebody pullin’ their string.  And they had the Chinese girl raggin’ on ‘em as well.”

            “Chinese girl?  Young?  Hot looking?”

            Despite his predicament, the prisoner’s eyes flickered with lust.  “Yeah!  She spoke like she knew more than the Gynts.  And even though she’s only a kid, word has it she can handle herself.”

            Eli looked up at Dillon.  “That this Chew Mi you told me about?”

            Dillon nodded.  “Couldn’t be anybody but her.” 

            “Humph.  You been having considerable trouble with women on this job, haven’t you?”

            “You should meet Lady Thelma.  Now there’s a woman who has serious issues with men.  Drag his sorry ass into the next room and gag him then come on back and give me a hand packing my stuff.”


***


            It only took about two hours to drive to the secluded airstrip where Eli’s cargo plane was safely hidden.  Three men who Dillon recognized as hired guns Eli had used before guarded it.  Dillon nodded at them and they casually nodded back.  Dillon grinned at his friend as he climbed out of the jeep and helped Kris out.  “How’d you find this strip, Eli?”

            “C’mon, man…this part of the country is filthy with secret airstrips going back to World War II.  I know of about a dozen of ‘em myself. Some of us still rely on our brains and not that fancy hardware you like playing with.”

            “Gotta keep up with the times, old man.  You bring me my wheels?”

            Eli nodded and motioned for them to follow him up the ramp of the cargo plane into the main hold.  Locked securely into place was an oversized, modified Defender Land Rover.  Dillon grinned and ran his hand over the green and black hood of the vehicle.  It had huge halogen spotlights on the front and rear.  A tarp was covering the roof rack where there was equipment already packed.  Side bins were securely locked and extra cans with fuel and fresh water were lashed on the back.  Kris looked curiously at the outsized winches on the front and rear bumpers of the Land Rover.  The cable wound around the drums was as thick as a man’s thumb.  Two spare wheels were stowed in the spacious rear of the Land Rover, along with more metal bins.  It occurred to Kris that Dillon must have told Eli what he would need and the old man had packed the Land Rover to save time.

            “The GPS is up and running, so I can find you with no problem,” Eli was saying.  “You sure you don’t want me to come along?  We could leave the girl here with the boys.”  Eli looked at Kris.  “They won’t bother you, miss.  I can vouch for their behavior.  Sure, they look rough, but they’re okay.”

            “Negatory on that.”  Dillon said.  “I need you here.  You’re the designated cavalry in case I screw up and land up to my ass in a pit of alligators.”

            “Which, knowing you as well as I do is a dead bang certainty,” Eli replied cheerfully.  “Oh, well . . . I brought along an X-Box471 . . . I guess me and the boys can keep busy playing football while you’re off saving the world.”  Eli suddenly became serious.  “Look here…you get in over your head, don’t be too proud to yell for help.  That’s what I’m here for.  Okay?”  Eli roughly hugged Dillon and impulsively kissed his cheek.

            Dillon pushed the older man away and embarrassedly wiped his cheek.  “Will you stop doin’ that!  People already talk about us as it is!”

            Kris couldn’t help laughing at Dillon’s discomfort from Eli’s unashamed display of affection.  “Well, I think it’s sweet that a man Eli’s age can show his true feelings.”

            “You would…” Dillon grumbled.  “Get in the Land Rover.”

            “We’re leaving now?  Right now?”

            “No sense wasting time or daylight.  We are on the road.  Eli…keep your eyes on the GPS and your ears to the radio.”

            Eli walked over to a control panel and hit the switch that unlatched the Land Rover’s wheels.  Vaya con Dios, amigo…

Dillon started up the vehicle and the huge engine boomed into life, making Kris jump in surprise.  The entire vehicle was throbbing as if there was barely contained power surging through it.  Dillon drove down the ramp, high-fiving Eli as the Land Rover roared out of the cargo plane.  Once clear, Dillon turned the vehicle in a wide arc and gave it the gas, heading north toward where he was sure he would at last find Odin.

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