A Cloak of Lies Ch. 10bySweetWitch©
How long she sat in the moldy cell, Camille had no way of knowing, but she was thankful for the company of the woman named Lorette. At first, she had been unsure of the woman, no longer knowing who she could trust or what to believe, but it was plainly obvious that Lorette had been a victim in all of this, just as Camille was.
Lorette's story soon unfolded in the many long hours, or maybe even days, they spent together. She told of her father, a scientist who was being forced to create a new weapon for the evil Oleander's arsenal. Lorette didn't know what the weapon was. She only knew that her father was a pacifist and this kind of work would cause him no end of pain.
"This is straight out of James Bond," Camille had scoffed.
But Lorette was deadly serious in her telling of the situation. She'd been held for several long months while her father worked, only seeing the light of day whenever one of the two guards decided to take her out as a play thing.
It was easy to discover which of the guards he was. Whenever he entered the cell to bring a meager meal, poor Lorette cowered behind Camille, whimpering softly and begging to be saved.
The man's name was Rolf and he was as ugly as anyone Camille had ever seen. His face was pock-marked, with a bent nose and piggish eyes. She'd made up her mind from the man's first visit that she would do all she could to keep Lorette safe from him.
Lorette was a shy thing, speaking in a timid voice that Camille had to strain to hear. When the guards entered to bring food and fresh water, the light they brought with them showed Lorette to be a redhead with fair skin and the prettiest of green eyes.
Although she was only a couple years younger than Camille, in many ways, Lorette was still a child. She'd led a very idyllic, sheltered life with her family – until her mother had been murdered when Lorette had been kidnapped.
Now Oleander kept Lorette alive only as long as her father continued to work. Camille knew that she would find a way to escape, hopefully before Niko did something foolish. She was determined that she wouldn't leave without Lorette, no matter what happened.
Now the women sat huddled together, trying to stay warm in the chilly cell. Lorette dozed with her head on Camille's shoulder, murmuring in her sleep. Camille spoke soothingly, stroking the woman's dirty hair.
"You're wanted upstairs, missy," Rolf said after tossing the door open.
Camille pulled the sleepy Lorette to her feet, heading for the door. She put an arm around the woman, hoping to shield her from Rolf's unwanted attentions.
"Just you," he barked, grabbing Lorette's arm.
"Get your hands off her," Camille yelled, attempting to get between them.
"This one stays with me," he said, smirking at Lorette when she whimpered. "You just have a seat, sweetheart. I'll be back in a few minutes. We'll have us a nice chat."
"Pig," Camille spat. "I swear, if it's the last thing I do, I'm going to make you pay for this."
"Big words from such a little whore," Rolf laughed, shoving her through the door. "Get your ass moving."
He dragged her down the corridor to the elevator. Once he handed her off to the other guard, he turned back with a smirk. Camille had little choice but to see the visions in her head of what the man would do to Lorette.
The other guard pulled her onto the elevator, slamming her against the wall when she fought him.
"I've shown you nothing but respect, Mrs. Pavli," said the guard, a warning note in his voice. "That can change if you give me any trouble."
"Respect, my ass," she snapped. "You're holding me prisoner. That's not respect."
"I'm just doing my job."
"Some job," she sneered, rubbing the bruised arm he'd just released. "Do you show that girl in there any consideration?"
"I've never laid a finger on her."
"No, but you let your partner torture her. You may as well be doing it yourself."
"He's not my partner, and I don't approve of his methods."
"And yet, you do nothing to stop him. You're a pig, just like him."
He seized her arm, jerking her away from the wall of the lift. Holding her in front of the door, he waited in silence until the elevator stopped.
"I'll see if I can't distract Rolf from his games," he said quietly just before the doors opened and she was thrust forward.
"A little worse for wear, I see," Doug said when he caught her arm. "Maybe next time you'll behave."
"Fuck you, Doug... or Gerhardt or whatever your name is. Get your hand off me."
"As tempting as that offer is, I find your current state a bit repugnant," he chuckled as he pulled her to a staircase. "I've made arrangements for you to have a bath and a change of clothes. That rag you're wearing was fetching two nights ago, but now it's just a disgrace."
Camille snapped her mouth shut, jerking her arm from his grasp. She suffered another round of laughter from him while she climbed the stairs beside him.
"If only you'd shown this much backbone when I was your fiancé," he said, "I'd've enjoyed our time together so much more."
"I'm going to kill you, asshole," she said quietly. "I'm going to watch you die and laugh in your face."
He grabbed her arm again, whirling her around to face him. Clutching the lower half of her face in his hand, he pushed her back against the banister.
"You're in no position to make such threats, Camille," he ground out. "The only reason you're still alive is because that's how Oleander wants it. After what you did to Marissa, I wanted to tear you apart with my own hands."
That was the second time she'd been accused of killing the woman. It bothered her that she couldn't remember the incident. Her only memories were of Marissa beating on her and having to defend herself. Why could she not remember taking the woman's life?
"I don't believe you," she murmured once he'd released her face. "I didn't do it."
"Well then, who did?" he asked.
Their conversation was interrupted when a voice called from above, "You bringing her up or not?"
Alma stood at the top of the stairway, her arms folded across her chest, one toe tapping impatiently. Gerhardt dragged Camille the last five steps to the top and the waiting woman, where he left her without another word.
Alma led the way back to the room where Camille had first been imprisoned. Once inside, Alma turned to face her, wrinkling her nose in disgust at Camille's appearance.
"I'm going to give you a little advice," Alma said, cocking her head to one side. "You need to be careful around Gerhardt, and don't push your luck with Oleander again. The last thing I want to do is baby sit you, but that's my assignment. I have no choice. Stop making it so hard on me."
"So sorry to inconvenience you," Camille returned, "to be honest, I don't give a damn how difficult things are for you."
"I always hated your kind," Alma said, her face expressionless. "Your type always thinks that you're so much better than me. I had to scratch and fight my way out of a trash heap to get here and I'm not going to lose everything because of you. Oleander wants to see you. Get cleaned up or I'll scrub you down myself."
An hour later, cleaner and dressed demurely in a white cotton dress, Camille was led back downstairs. She walked into an enormous room that was richly furnished with leather chairs and an ancient desk that spanned nearly the entire back wall. This Oleander was nothing if not ostentatious.
Alma told her to sit and wait, but Camille immediately tried the door when the woman left. On the other side was a man who told her to get back inside. With a sigh, she wandered about the room hoping to find anything that would be of use. Pulling back the curtains behind the big desk, she was struck by the setting sun over an ocean of deepest blue.
Where the hell am I?
Before she could ponder the question further, the door opened again. Oleander entered, his face a study of the congenial host.
"So glad you could join me for tea, my dear," he said, waving a hand at a chair. "Do have a seat."
"I wasn't given much choice, was I?" she replied, sitting on the edge of the indicated chair.
He clucked his tongue, looking her over thoroughly.
"You're not looking well," he said as he walked to his desk to push a button. "It saddens me to have to put you through the rigors of my little prison downstairs, but you left me no alternative. I simply won't abide bad manners, young lady."
He strode to her, his eyes sweeping over her frame in a manner that made her feel naked. When he reached a hand to touch her face, Camille flinched away, jumping to her feet.
"Don't touch me," she warned. "I have no choice right now but to be your prisoner, but if you think I'll just let you get your kicks with me, you're sadly mistaken."
The man laughed, shaking his head as he waved his hand toward the chair she'd just vacated. He took the seat opposite, still giggling insanely.
"You've nothing to fear from me in that quarter, Mrs. Pavli. I don't suffer the base urges of the human male."
"Yeah, right," she said, cautiously perching on the chair again. "After what you let your men do to poor Lorette downstairs, I find that hard to believe."
Oleander was thoughtful, holding silent when a man in a morning suit entered, bearing a large silver tray. Camille recognized the man as the one who had dragged her from the dining room to the dungeon. She eyed him suspiciously, finding only the same stoic expression she'd seen on his face that night. He poured the tea, adding a teaspoon of sugar and a slice of lemon to Camille's cup.
"Thank you, Olaf," Oleander said, dismissing the butler. "You must forgive him, my dear. He doesn't speak. He can't, really. Not since I had his tongue cut out. You see, I believe in swift discipline for bad behavior. Now Olaf is my most obedient servant. I hope you won't do anything to merit the same treatment."
"You're sick," Camille whispered, horrified.
"That may be, but I'm not without mercy. I shall reprimand my two guards and see to it they leave the simpleton alone down there. Will that please you?"
"It would please me a whole lot more if you would get her out of there. That place is unhealthy and she's not doing well."
"It shall be done. See? Wasn't that easy? You'll find that I can be quite kind, when properly motivated. I hope your tea is to your liking, lightly sweet with a twist of lemon. Is that correct?"
"How did you know? Never mind. Doug. I don't know how I could've been so naïve," Camille said, looking into the cup and saucer she hand clutched in her hand.
"Our Mr. Gerhardt does have his uses, but I've had you under surveillance for longer than he's been a part of your life. I always knew Pavli would show his face again; I just didn't think it would take him this long. I finally had to resort to getting word to him that you were in danger. It was the only way to ferret him out."
"Why?" she asked, setting her cup aside. "Why was it so important to get to him?"
"You mean aside from his constantly being a nuisance?" Oleander replied, stirring his tea. "You're a smart woman, smarter than your husband it would seem. No, his minor trifling in my business is not enough to warrant such drastic measures."
"Then what is it?"
"He has something of mine, my dear, and I want it back. I doubt he even knows he has it, but I mean to have it returned."
"I don't know what it could possibly be. Whatever it was, I would think it would have been with him the night you tried to murder him. It would have been on his person or in his truck."
"Ah," Oleander said, placing his teacup on the table between them. "You should try one of these biscuits. I have them imported from England daily."
"No!" said Camille, exasperated. "I don't want a biscuit. I want to know when I can get out of here."
"That, my dear, is entirely up to your husband," he said, plucking a cookie from the tray. "My men were sloppy that night, a mistake they won't repeat, I can assure you. They decided to shoot first and ask questions after. The fools did not make sure he was dead, though, so I suppose they did me that small favor."
Oleander took a bite of the treat, his face showing his pleasure as he chewed thoughtfully.
"If it wasn't in the truck, you're out of luck," she sighed. "Your people burned my house to the ground. If it was hidden in there, it's gone."
"On the contrary, Mrs. Pavli. It was your husband's colleagues who set the fire. But not before a thorough search had been conducted. No, my property was not there."
"Just exactly what is this 'property' you're searching for?"
"Nothing to worry your pretty little head about, my dear."
"Oh, for the love of God," she snapped. "Why do men always have to treat me like a mindless child? Is it because I'm a female? Is it the blond hair? I don't know if it occurred to you, whoever-you-are, but I might have seen this 'thing' of yours. Maybe I can help you find it and get the hell out of here."
Like quicksilver, the man's demeanor changed. He went from amiable host to Mad Hatter in the blink of an eye.
"The item I am seeking is small, no bigger than a box of matchsticks. It's black, square with a metal casing. Have you seen such an item?"
Arching a single eyebrow, she saw the way his eyes gleamed as if shining with some bedeviling light. She was afraid to answer him, afraid what he would do if he didn't get the answer he wanted.
"I suggest you answer me, my dear," he said as he stood up. "Shall I tell you something of myself?"
"I...," she began, her voice trailing off as the maniacal gleam in his eyes unnerved her.
"Oh, do let me," he giggled. "I was a careless youth, tucked away in a British orphanage at the tender at of seven. My uncle cared little for children. He would have nothing to do with me after my parents were good enough to die. Have you ever seen the warehouses, those asylums that Christian charity bestows upon the unfortunate children of the world?"
He stopped, seeming to wait for some response from her. When she failed to make a sound, he giggled insanely.
"No?" he said, rubbing his hands together. "Let me assure you, my dear, that Christianity is anything but charitable. The priests and nuns ruled by the rod. There were times when I took my beatings with gratitude, happy to build in myself the manner of hatred that comes only from the cruelty they imposed. When I came of age, when my body changed into that of a boy on the cusp of manhood, that's when the punishments became most foul.
"The male body becomes unruly for a boy of fifteen. When a particularly pretty nun had shown me some consideration, my body reacted. So offended was she by the evidence of my arousal that she brought me to the attention of the good Father. The penance was far worse than you can imagine, but I deserved it. It was at that moment when I decided that no part of me would ever be beyond my control again.
"Do you know your Bible studies, dear girl?" he asked, leaning too close for her comfort.
Camille shrugged, tilting her head back to watch his face.
"Matthew 18:9," he muttered, giggling again. "'And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.' Words to live by, my dear, words to live by. I'm afraid that my manner of self-chastisement was a bit of a shock for the old priest. As I stood before him with my own severed testicles in my hand, he fainted dead-away."
"My God," she whispered. "You're insane."
"I suppose that's how my captors felt. After that, they locked me away in Bedlam. That's where I learned real discipline," he hesitated, his expression turning from giggling fool to that of a man possessed of great rage. "My body always obeyed my every command after that time. I have been in complete control of everything in my environment – with the unfortunate exception of your husband."
Oleander took a step closer to Camille. She felt as if she could feel his eyes gouging into the flesh of her face, so intense was his gaze.
"Having told you my history," he continued softly, "I'm sure you can see that I'm a man who will have what he wants. Now, I'll ask again. Have you seen the item I described?"
"N... no," she stammered. "I haven't."
He changed again, once more the amiable host serving tea. Oleander returned to his seat, smiling congenially as he reached for the tea pot.
"More tea, my dear?"
"You sure you know what you're doing there, Brick?" Olan asked for the ninth time since taking wing with Brick at the controls.
"There some reason you gotta keep at me, Red? I got us off the ground, didn't I?"
Niko had been listening to the two of them going at each other since leaving Nevada in the 1993 Cessna CitationJet. He'd had a bellyful of their bickering.
"The question is," continued Olan, "can you get us back down without killing us?"
"You can always get out now."
"Enough," Niko interrupted. "You two are like a couple of kids. Just shut up before I toss both your asses out."
Brick snickered, shaking his head as he maneuvered through the landscape at dangerously low altitude.
"Thinking of that woman?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder.
"Eyes on the sky, there, big guy," Olan said.
"Quit side-seat driving, asshole," Brick shot back.
"I'm thinking," Niko growled, "that she doesn't have a chance in hell with you two as my partners. Christ – what I wouldn't give for a dozen Special Forces personnel."
"Hey, you came to me, not the other way around, Pavli," Brick said. "Just say the word and I'm outa here."
"We should be so lucky," Olan laughed.
"Shut the fuck up! Both of you," Niko yelled. "Camille's in the hands of God-knows-what and you two think it's a big joke."
"Sorry, pal," Olan said. "We'll get to her."
"Damn," Brick said. "That's some hard-on you got for the woman. She must really be something. Never knew you to lose your cool over a skirt."
"I did this to her, Brick," Niko said. "It's my fault and I have to get her out. I thought I could protect her and all I did was put her in harm's way."
"Well, just hang onto your balls, Pavli. It might take a minute, but we'll find her. I can't wait to meet the woman that put that moon-eyed look on your face."
The plane descended further, giving Niko a birds-eye view of the terrain of southwest New Mexico. It was a barren-looking place, devoid of most signs of humanity. He'd never seen it from this angle.
"You think your pal, Johnny, was telling us the truth?" he asked Brick.
"Yeah," Brick answered. "He knows better than to cross me. I just hope we managed to get in under the military radar."
"How we gonna handle this?" Olan asked.
"I figure we ask a few questions around town, feel this guy out, see what we're up against," Niko said.
"Or we could just go in with guns blazing," Brick suggested. "Hold onto your balls, boys. I'm settin' 'er down."
A perfect three-point landing it wasn't, jostling the crew when Brick brought the plane down on the high desert. The three exited the craft, glancing around at the arid landscape. There wasn't another living soul for as far as the eye could see, nothing but the empty barren endlessness of the desert.
"Where's this pal of yours, Brick?" Niko asked. "You sure we can trust him?"
"He'll be here," replied Brick, his voice a little unsure.
"I hope so," Olan mused. "I'd like to get out of here before the owners of this airstrip come back."
"Afraid of a few drug smugglers, Red?" Brick asked.
As Olan opened his mouth to speak, Niko let out a vicious growl, shouting, "Don't start again, you two. Christ, I've had all I can take."
"That must be your guy, Brick," Olan said, pointing at a cloud of dust in the distance.
"Hope so," Brick said, loading his shotgun, "else this is gonna get real messy, real quick."
"I'd say we should take cover, but there isn't anything here but sand and dust to hide behind," Olan said, checking his own weapon.