The Courier Ch. 21bycaligula97236©
Chapter 21 -- A day of reckoning
Prime Minister Vladim Dukov did not have much time to contemplate the fate of the Royal Family. His cell phone went off while he was still in the throne room talking to the Priestess. When he checked the number he realized it was a call from an agent working for the Danubian Secret Police. The agent reported that eight foreigners suddenly had checked out the historic Water View Suites, Danube City's only 5-star hotel. They had rushed to load their suitcases and briefcases into the back of a rented van, tossing several 50 Euro notes at the bellhops before speeding off. Obviously the bellhops were happy about the overly-generous tips, but having the money thrown at them in such a manner was an insult in Danubian culture. If a person wants to give anything to another person in Danubia, the item is always handed to the recipient, never tossed. The bellhops commented about the insult to their supervisor, who happened to be a covert agent of the Secret Police.
Dukov called the Danubian Rural Patrol to see if any rural police officers had seen a van with eight passengers traveling north of Danube City. Sure enough, within a few minutes a cop at a checkpoint called back to respond that he had seen a vehicle matching the description headed north towards Danubia's border. The main crossing was only about 50 minutes to the north if a vehicle drove along the main highway, but it was well-guarded. Dukov suspected the driver would turn off the main road, head east, and escape using one of several secondary crossings that exited through the mountains that formed the border along the country's northernmost province. The province itself was covered with small farms, fruit orchards, and villages; all connected by a maze of service roads and paths. If the vehicle managed to get into that area, finding it would be almost impossible, and there would be numerous escape routes from which the foreigners could choose.
Fortunately for the Prime Minister, the Grand Duke liked motorcycles and had several expensive ones stored in the garage of the Royal Residence. Vladik and his partner knew how to ride, so they were able to get on the road immediately. They sped out of the Royal Compound, kicking up dust as they tore off towards the main road. With luck they would be able to catch up to the van before it got too deeply into the farming area. They entered the main highway and hit the gas. The motorcycles were expensive racing cycles and were able to move very fast. Vladik knew they would be much less useful on dirt roads, but he hoped to intercept the van before it got off the paved area.
Vladik called for backup as he and his partner swerved around a moving obstacle course of trucks, buses, and farmers' pickups. The two cops passed the checkpoint where the van was last seen and were joined by four Rural Patrol cops riding standard Ministry of Justice motorcycles. The six officers exited the main highway where the road turned east, confident about the Prime Minister's guess that the van would leave the main road. If it had not turned, the customs officials at the crossing would be there to intercept it.
The road east led through some steep hills before descending into the flat farm country that lay beyond. Unlike the main highway, the farm road was completely deserted because it was Sunday morning. The six cops swerved along the curves as they climbed towards the summit of the ridge. Close to the summit they saw the van, but the occupants also saw them. A man with a semi-automatic weapon stood up through the sun-roof and fired at the police officers. One of the highway patrol officers took a shot in the shoulder and nearly wiped out. Vladik signaled for him to pull off and for one of the other patrol officers to stop to administer first aid.
The remaining four cops fell back to allow a bend in the road to temporarily conceal them from the semi-automatic. They pulled out their revolvers and sped up, with the hope of shooting the van's wheels before they had to fall back again. As soon as the van was in sight they emptied their pistols in unison, blowing out one of the rear tires and hitting the gas tank. A lucky shot also hit the man with the semi-automatic. He dropped the weapon and it fell tumbling onto the road. Vladik's partner had to swerve to avoid it and nearly lost control of her motorcycle.
As Vladik and his three remaining companions reloaded their weapons and closed in on the van for the third time, they noticed the trail of gasoline that was dribbling out of the hole in the tank. The van was kicking up sparks and swerving. Several more shots flew past them and they fell back. The cops realized that they no longer needed to stay within firing range of the vehicle because, without one of its rear tires, there was no chance it could travel much further. The pursuit, if there was to be one, would be on foot. The cops would stay just within sight of the van and wait for it to stop and the foreigners to flee. Then the officials would try to pin them down with fire and wait for back-up to arrive to make the arrest.
It turned out there would be no foot pursuit and no arrest. There was a flash as sparks from the bare wheel rim ignited the gas dribbling out of the tank. The driver lost control and the van spun off the side of the road, tumbling over and over as it rolled down the hill. The vehicle landed on its roof, crushing the occupants. As though to make sure the Mega-Town plotters were indeed dead, the gas tank exploded.
Vladik knew there was no hope that anyone inside the van could have survived the wreck and the fire that followed. He still felt it was necessary to go down the hill, just to be absolutely sure no potential survivors had been thrown clear of the vehicle as it went off the road. He left his partner to stand guard over the motorcycles and with the two patrol officers started to descend into the ravine. Even where they were, the officers were able to feel the heat from the fire and smell the burning flesh of the crash victims. There were several secondary explosions, followed by a flash and a sudden increase flames coming from within the wreck. Much later, investigators would speculate that the occupants were transporting several containers of extra gasoline, presumably to avoid having to stop for fuel. The additional gas added to the extreme heat of the fire and scorched the corpses.
The remains of the wreck burned very hot for the next several minutes. Without any firefighting equipment, there was nothing the cops could do about the van. Anyhow, Vladik's main concern was the injured Rural Patrol officer. He ordered his companions to mount their motorcycles and return to the spot where the injured cop had been left behind with the man treating him. Vladik tried to contact them using his radio, but the hills prevented transmission. He realized something important, that no radio traffic about the final moments of the chase had been overheard by Central Command.
On their way back, Vladik's partner retrieved the semi-automatic that had fallen during the shootout, and a few minutes later Vladik and the others rejoined the two patrol officers. The officer who had been shot had a serious injury, but it would not be life-threatening if the others could get him to a hospital within the next hour. That was not a problem, because there was a clinic just a few kilometers away, heading back in the direction of the main highway. The injured man gave Vladik a perfect justification to leave the crash site. Obviously his life was more important than the burning vehicle. Vladik took over one of the patrol motorcycles and ordered the others to strap the injured man to his back.
The cops parked one of the Grand Duke's motorcycles in the bushes before returning to the clinic they had passed on the way up. The clinic was open (in Danubia all medical clinics are public and must have at least one staff member on-duty at all times). There was yet more luck for the officers, because a group of surgeons had just finished another operation. The injured cop was safely in the operating room minutes after his companions brought him to the clinic.
Vladik realized that because of a very unique set of circumstances there was absolutely no evidence that eight employees of Mega-Town Associates had just been killed a few kilometers up the road. The fire and multiple explosions had destroyed everything identifying who had been in the van, because the fire was so hot that it would even partially melt the metal parts of the vehicle. As the officers were waiting for news from the operating room, the corpses in the burning wreck were being cremated. Such heat also would incinerate any indication that the crash had been preceded by a shoot-out. The road had been deserted during the chase; not a single civilian had witnessed a white van with eight foreign passengers being pursued by six cops on motorcycles. The burning wreckage was not visible from the road unless someone stopped and looked over the edge. The accompanying patrol officers had no clue who was in the van; they simply joined the chase because Vladik had radioed for assistance.
As for the Mega-Town employees, they had entered Danubia using false passports, so there was no reason why anyone at the US or Brazilian embassies would want to inquire about missing citizens. According to official records the occupants of the van never entered Danubia, so there was no reason for the embassies to inquire about their disappearance. They never existed in the first place.
While the operation was still going on, Vladik explained the situation and how he wanted the other officers to handle it. For national security purposes they were to stay silent about the van. They would let someone else discover the burnt wreckage. The chase never happened. If the three Rural Patrol officers agreed to stay silent about the incident, Vladik would personally assure that they could put in for any assignment they wanted within the Danubian National Police and would be guaranteed to get it. As for the man who was injured, he would have the choice of taking any assignment he wanted or retiring with a full pension.
Vladik told the officers that the reason he did not want the story to get out was because he did not want Mega-Town to know what had happened to its employees. Let their disappearance remain a mystery, something upon which the company could waste its resources investigating in vain. The officers, all of whom hated Mega-Town, loved Vladik's idea. He realized they would have gone along with it even without his promise about their assignments.
Vladik and his partner returned to the Royal Residence mid-afternoon. They returned the Grand Duke's motorcycles to the garage before seeking out the Prime Minister. Vladik described the chase to his father and explained that, as far as he knew, no one except himself, his partner, and four Rural Patrol Officers knew about the deaths of the Mega-Town employees.
The crash had not been intentional, but it was extremely fortunate for the Prime Minister that it happened. Had the Mega-Town employees been captured, it would have been necessary to put them on trial and have them formally executed. The international scandal would have been horrendous, but the Danubian government would have had to stand its ground. The country was in a declared state of war with Mega-Town Associates and by law anyone working on behalf of the company was an enemy of the Danubian people. The struggle between the Danubian government and the Directorate of Mega-Town was a fight to the death. Just as the executives of Mega-Town had sworn to destroy Danubia, the Danubians felt obligated to kill anyone from Mega-Town they could lay their hands on.
Had the deaths from the chase been officially reported, that scandal would have been only slight less damaging than what would have resulted from a trial. Mega-Town would have launched a campaign to turn the eight men into martyrs, into innocent businessmen run down and murdered by the son of the brutal leader of a backwards and ignorant society that hated progress and economic freedom. The chance for such propaganda no longer existed, because the men had not been killed, they had mysteriously disappeared. Mega-Town would have to investigate privately, because to make an official declaration that eight of its employees had vanished in Danubia would open up a bunch of other questions the CEO's would not want to answer.
Dukov immediately realized what his son's quick thinking had done for him and for the Danubian government. The Mega-Town plotters were dead, but their deaths happened in such a way that there would be no scandal at all. The plot to take over the country by corrupting the Royal Family had failed. It had failed in secret, which would spare the need to put Grand Duchess Anyia on trial for treason.
Only one other person directly involved in the plot was still at large, the other Lord who had been Anyia's second confidant. Tracking down Lord Vidmarkt turned out to be extremely easy because he was part of the Grand Duke's hiking party. A group of forest rangers went after the Grand Duke's group with the instructions that the hikers were to be told that there was an emergency in the Royal Residence and they had to return immediately. As soon as they were within sight of the national forest parking lot, the group realized that something was very wrong indeed. They were surrounded my uniformed National Police officers and ordered to get into separate vehicles. The Grand Duke was detained by the Minister of Justice.
The Grand Duke was treated as civilly as possible, but the Minister of Justice informed him that the Grand Duchess was facing a series of very serious charges related to the abuse of her servants. The Duke angrily inquired:
"And just who had the audacity to make such accusations against my wife?"
"Grand Duke, the charges were brought against her by your father-in-law and by Grand Prophet # 4. This was not something that was considered lightly. You will understand that your father-in-law had to move against the Grand Duchess, and if you have been listening to the council of her and her advisors, I believe you clearly understand why action had to be taken."
The Grand Duke said nothing more.
When the police convoy arrived at the Royal Residence, the Grand Duke noticed that in the courtyard Anyia's pillory and whipping post had been taken down and the holes already filled with small trees. No Royal Servants were in sight, nor were any uniformed staff members on the grounds except for two gardeners. The Grand Duke inquired about his wife, obviously concerned about her well-being. One of his escorts responded that she was being held in a guest room and watched over by her mother. Meanwhile, he was taken upstairs and ordered to remain in the Royal Bedroom. When he picked up the phone he discovered it had been disconnected. The television and radio were missing, as was the modem on his computer. He realized he now was a prisoner.
Lord Vidmarkt did not fare as well as the Grand Duke. Uniformed National Police Officers took him to the basement and locked him in a holding cell. To his horror he realized that, not only was his fellow conspirator being held in a separate cell, but the men watching them were deputized Royal Guards. The Royal Guards had switched sides and now were cooperating with the Prime Minister. So...that was it...a plot that was supposed to have taken over an entire country was reduced to four people being held prisoner in the Royal Residence.
The Prime Minster took over a small reception room, accompanied by the Minister of Justice, the Priestess who had helped him set up the operation in the first place, and Grand Prophet # 4. He had four interviews to conduct and four cases to address. The most difficult, the case against his own daughter, he would save until the very end.
The first interview was with the Lord that had been tormenting Maria Elena. The official tried to appear indignant that his rights as a member of the nobility had been violated, but the Grand Prophet quickly shut him up.
"Lord, you wish to tell us that your privileges as a nobleman supersede those of a Grand Prophet? Do you really think you have the authority to silence the Danubian Church? This Priestess has acted on my behalf. Everything she has done has been with my blessing. If you wish to criticize or threaten her, please direct such comments to me."
The Priestess read Criminal 101025's confession and statement in its entirety. She followed with a written statement that she had prepared describing what she had seen the moment the door opened and Maria Elena was rescued. Finally she asked:
"Lord, I am curious about one thing. What was the purpose of making Criminal # 101025 bark like a dog? In what way was that intended to improve her service to the Grand Duchess?"
"I did that because it was my right as a Lord, Priestess. That criminal was handed over to me for my benefit, and I treated her in a manner that brought pleasure to me."
The Minster of Justice spoke next:
"In trial we will determine whether or not abusing the Grand Duchess's servants was indeed your right. The statements of your actions against your servants will be presented, in detail, for the nation to consider. If you wish, make the case that your actions were not dishonorable. I will request that your wife and your children present themselves at your trial so they can listen to a full accounting of your behavior and your actions, and they can determine whether or not you acted with honor. You will also understand that we will hold your heirs financially responsible for any psychological counseling the servants might need. You will understand that such services are costly, so I might suggest you liquidate all your properties and investments and have the cash available to compensate the Ministry. You will serve the pig, your family name will be held in disgrace because of what you did, and your heirs will face impoverishment. The results of your case will destroy not only you, but your family. The impoverishment of your heirs and the dishonoring of your ancestors will be the legacy your actions will leave behind."
It was at that moment the Lord realized how hopeless his situation truly was. He had squandered not only his life, but also the lives of his descendants and his ancestors. Serving the pig...a Life without Honor...that was only the beginning of the destruction he had brought upon himself and those around him.
The deputized Royal Guards took the Lord back to the holding cell and left him alone while the other Lord faced a similar depressing interview. The two men sat in their respective cells with no hope, in the depths of despair that they had brought upon themselves.
The next person that Dukov had to deal with was the Grand Duke. The ruler was escorted downstairs by Vladik and the Minister of Justice to the same sitting room where the two Lords had been interviewed. Dukov was not sure how to handle the Grand Duke; he would have to determine how much he knew about the Mega-Town plot.
The Prime Minister was surprised that the Grand Duke's main concern was not preserving his title, but the honor of his wife. He had heard that Anyia had been whipped by her mother and was incensed that Anyia, the Grand Duchess of Danubia, could have been treated in such a disrespectful manner. Dukov stopped him.
"You will understand that to you, Anyia is the Grand Duchess. To me and to my wife, she is nothing but our daughter. She was our daughter before she met you, and in our eyes she remains our daughter. As such, I am aware of some weaknesses in her character, weaknesses that I believe you failed to notice. If you wish to remain married to her, you must come to terms with those weaknesses and assist her to overcome them. I love my daughter, just as you love your wife, but I am able to look at her clearly and see her for what she is. You must look at her as well, and understand the great harm that she has committed against this country, and the harm she has done to both of us."