The Real Estate Connection Ch. 08bykiwiwolf©
This chapter is dedicated to the memory of a very good friend, mentor and muse. You'll live forever in the memories of all members of the PTB, TDH and all the other boards you enriched by your presence and participation. Rest in Peace Franco "Lone Wolf" Breslin 1949-2006.
"What the hell is going on Craig? Who is this guy?" To her credit there was no panic in Stevie's voice; a bit of shock maybe but she was fairly calm given the fact that I had just kidnapped a complete stranger right in front of her. Only he wasn't a complete stranger. He had been with the crew that attempted to hit us outside Stevie's office two days after I arrived in town. Up front KJ was asking Brian similar questions. Both ladies were handling the situation with incredible calm.
"Just give us a few minutes to get organized here ladies and we'll explain it all to you. Brian, do we have a tail that you can see?" Everything was quiet for a few minutes as Brian scanned the traffic behind us for our friendly neighborhood watchers.
"I think we're clear Craig but I can't be sure. I'll keep checking and pull a few quick turns to shake anyone who might be there. Where do you want to go buddy?"
"We need to get off the streets and inside somewhere. I need time to think about what to do with this guy. Grant Leonard is coming down from Langley this afternoon and Mike is going to be delivering a heap of exercise gear… plus there is gonna be someone coming to assemble it all. We need a place where we can have some privacy. I'm not convinced that taking him home is gonna be a wise idea."
"Take a left up here Brian." Stevie's voice broke in. She was calm and collected and obviously had a plan. "A quick stop at the office and a short drive and we'll have all the privacy we need." My raised eyebrow was met by a cheeky grin. She leaned across the back of the seat and gave me a quick kiss. Our friend was still out cold but he could come around any time at all. Quickly I stripped the trendy canvas belt from his pants and used it to tie his hands securely behind him. It wouldn't hold him for any length of time but I wasn't planning on leaving him unsupervised until I could find a better way to secure him. Grabbing his gun, a 9mm Taurus, I clambered over the back of the seat and plonked myself down next to Stevie, turned slightly so I could keep an eye on the prisoner while Brian and I explained our activities to the ladies. They got a bit of a giggle out of our espionage activities but sobered up very quickly when we told them that they were the target of 'Julio Ramirez', the man we had tied and unconscious in the back of the vehicle. Stevie paled visibly as she stared at the gun I now held in my fist. Apart from a case of the shakes each there were no hysterics or histrionics from either lady. Both were very pissed off and as eager as I was to find out what Senor Ramirez had to say when we finally got him alone.
"Where are we headed after your office Stevie?" Brian asked from the driver's seat.
"We manage a couple of large estates for clients while they are overseas. I've got access to them so I thought we might make use of one until we have a chance to figure out what to do with this guy. Or if that's not suitable there's a big house out towards Craig's place that has been empty for a while. It is due to be renovated before it's auctioned but the renovations won't start until middle of next week. Your choice guys."
"We'll take the empty house baby. I knew I loved you for a reason." She grinned and leaned in to give me another quick kiss.
Five minutes later we were pulling up outside Stevie's office. "I'll only be a couple of minutes," she said as she raced inside to get the keys to the house we would be using. As I watched our sleeping prisoner I listened to the chatter coming from the front seat. It was truly amazing. KJ and Brian were happily discussing our shopping trip, laughing and joking about our plan to spy on the girls as well as talking about what each of them had bought. It was as if it was a totally normal thing to have a hitman sleeping in the cargo area. This surreal situation continued until Stevie arrived back with the keys and a small bag. As we pulled away from the curb Senor Ramirez groaned and started to wake up.
"How long is it going to take us to get to this house Stevie?" I asked.
"Probably only ten to fifteen minutes Craig… depending on traffic. Why?"
"I hit this guy pretty hard and he's been out for a fair while. Can you swap places with Brian? I need him to take a look at our friend here. It's not going to do us any good if his brains are too scrambled to be able to question him. Pull over up here Brian and swap with Stevie. Then we need to make a quick side trip to the nearest hardware store before we go out to the house."
The exchange was made in quick time and Brian started his cursory examination of the patient as we were pulling back out into traffic. There wasn't really much he could do due to the absence of a fully stocked emergency room but after he had poked prodded and probed our surly prisoner he was able to declare that Senor Ramirez's melon was basically intact, and all his marbles were present albeit scrambled a bit. That was good enough for me.
"Just sit back and relax Julio. We'll be able to sit down and have a quiet chat soon. You know… a get to know you session. You'll get to know me and I'll get to know you. I think you'll enjoy it." He didn't speak but his eyes said plenty as he glared at me. I gave him my best winning smile in return and settled back for the rest of the ride. After a couple of minutes we pulled into a large hardware mega store. After Stevie parked in a remote corner of the parking lot, I sent Brian in to get some plastic cable ties and a pair of pliers. He was back a short time later with cable ties of different lengths and a pack of three different pairs of pliers. He had also added a thick roll of duct tape to the shopping list. Using the cable ties I quickly secured Senor Ramirez's hands behind him. Then it was back on the road.
Ten minutes later we were pulling up to the house Stevie had selected for us. As far as a hide out went it was all I could ask for. It was set a long way back from the road and screened by a stand of mature trees. It was two stories high with a roomy basement which I immediately had tagged as our interrogation area. Half of the trick to a good interrogation session is having the right sort of atmosphere. The subject has to feel cut off from all help. He needs to feel desperate and helpless for any form of interrogation to be effective. He needs to be in a position where he starts to identify with his interrogator and that only comes with trust and time. Interrogation is a psychological skill rather than a physical torture. Sure you could be in a situation where you have to inflict pain to get the results you require but nine times out of ten a man in pain will say anything to get a moments relief. Therefore it becomes a balancing act. You show your subject that not only can you be the bringer of suffering but you can also be the angel of mercy. Yes time, atmosphere and skill were the factors needed for a successful interrogation. The trouble was I didn't know how much time we had. The afternoon's schedule meant that I would have to be back at my house soon. As we dragged Julio inside and down to the basement I thought furiously about how to organize this mess. Sure I could turn him over to the local cops but after what Lee and Karen had told me about Chief Wallace's attitude I wasn't sure that would have been a good idea. I wasn't sure what game he was playing or where he was getting his orders from.
The house was unfurnished, the bulk of the furniture having been removed for the renovation which apparently was going to be a major remodel so Julio ended up sitting uncomfortably on the floor in a corner of the brightly lit basement. The others were silent as I stood looking down at our captive pondering my dilemma. As I would have expected it was Brian who clicked on first.
"We have a logistical problem here don't we Craig? No time and not enough personnel?"
"You got that right buddy. The time factor is the main problem. I've got the personnel but I'm not sure if I can use them." I was thinking of Hemi and Sam but the problem there, was that they were still working for the CIA as far as I knew. And Julio had been carrying a key card which I was assuming came from the Puzzle Palace. The question would be where did Hemi and Sam's loyalties lie? A quick decision was needed and I made one. Flipping open my cell phone I called Hemi.
"Hemi you busy at the moment?"
"Not at the moment boss. What do you need?"
"I need you here as soon as possible. I've got a job for you… if you're interested." There was a small pause.
"You want me to bring Sam or leave him here to wait for our visitors?"
"Just bring yourself and a hard backed chair from out on the deck. One of those wrought iron ones from the patio furniture set. Also grab a sheet or two from the linen closet. I'll get Stevie to give you directions. Get here as soon as possible man." I passed the phone to Stevie and walked back over to crouch in front of our prisoner as she started to give him directions.
"You know what's going to happen now don't you Julio? A good friend of mine is on his way here to ask you a few questions. He has all the time in the world and a lot of practice at this sort of thing. It's not going to be nice… for you anyway. Personally I don't give a big rat's ass whether you live or die or how much you suffer before you die. You were going to kill the woman I love and as far as I'm concerned no torture is too extreme for you. I'm going to turn my friend loose on you. He is going to work on you for hours and by the time he is finished you're gonna be begging to tell him everything you know. And if you die in the middle of it… well that doesn't matter at all. You're a small cog in a big wheel which makes you incidental. Obviously I'd like the answers to the questions I've got but if that doesn't happen I'll just carry on the way we were going before." I kept my voice low and level, a conversational tone that tended to scare people a lot more than screaming and raging. It was having the desired effect. Julio's eyes got bigger and he had trouble meeting my gaze. He started sweating even though the temperature in the basement wasn't that warm. He was scared. "Think about that while we wait for my friend to get here." I stood and walked back over to the others who were gathered in a solemn group at the foot of the stairs.
"You guys okay with this?"
KJ seemed to have elected herself spokesperson. She stepped forward and hugged me briefly.
"Craig you do what you have to honey. This guy was going to shoot us or worse. I think we're more worried about you and what this is doing to you. You okay hon?"
"I'll be fine KJ. I don't want you folks to be here for anything that goes on later. It's not going to be nice at all. As soon as Hemi arrives I want you guys out of here. Wait for me in the Tahoe."
Stevie was very quiet during this. I stepped over and hugged her as Brian and KJ climbed the stairs to go to the Tahoe.
"Are you okay honey?"
"KJ is right. I'm worried about you Craig. You came here to get away from all of the violence and now it's all crowding back in on you. I'm scared it's going to change you. I'm scared it's going to change us."
She looked like she was ready to cry.
"Stevie there isn't going to be any peace for any of us until I find out what is happening and fix it. Baby I'm good at what I do. I know I came here to get away from it but I'm not going to be able to relax and start over until all this is behind us. Stevie I love you. There is nothing more that I want than to be able to spend the rest of my days with you. If you still want me after all of this that is."
She burrowed into my chest and tightened her grip on me. "Of course I still want you Craig! I'm sorry… it's just that I don't have a good history when it comes to men. I'm scared that I'll lose you."
Reaching down I tipped her face up and looked into her eyes. Concern, love and fear all warred for supremacy in her expression.
"Trust me Kitten. I'm not going to do anything that's going to screw up what we've got or what we could have. I promise you. I know I've only known you for a few weeks but it's been long enough for me to know that I love you with all my heart baby. Please just trust me. I'm the only one who can do this. We don't know who is with who or even why. But I feel we're getting close to identifying the major players. What we have to do here is not something I'm ever going to be proud of baby but I do have to do it." She gave me a small tremulous smile and reached up to kiss me before pulling away and skipping up the stairs with a bounce to her step. I knew we were going to have to deal with the insecurities she had soon. Matt had told me that she'd had a rough run of bad relationships and it was starting to show, but right now I had to deal with Julio. As Stevie disappeared through the door at the top of the stairs I turned and walked back over to him.
"Very touching Miller." It was the first time I had heard him speak. He had a soft voice with hardly any accent at all; a cultured voice. The expression on his face was nearly unreadable. Before I had seen fear and doubt. Now his expression was neutral. He had taken advantage of my short conference with the others to get his act together.
"So you can speak. That's good to know, but how is your singing voice? Hemi is gonna have you singing a song in no time at all. My advice to you is to open up to him as soon as possible. Save yourself some pain." He just smiled.
It was another ten minutes before Hemi came clattering down the stairs carrying the items I'd asked him to bring. His eyes widened as he took in the sight of Ramirez sitting in the corner, his hands bound behind him. From the look on Ramirez's face it was obvious that Hemi was no stranger to him. It was also obvious that there was no love lost between the two of them.
"Jesus Christ boss! Where did you pick up this piece of shit? Hey Julio… long time no see. Still molesting goats and other farm animals?" Hemi walked across and stood over Julio, a wolfish grin on his face. If I didn't know what he'd had in mind for Stevie and KJ, I would have felt pity for what he was going to go through in the next few hours. The only thing pricking my conscience was the fact that I was asking someone else to do what I should be doing. Hemi put aid to that a second later when he continued speaking.
"This is going to be fun Craig. Where did you pick up this assmunch?" Hemi had rightly deduced what I wanted him to do. I took a few minutes to fill him in on the morning's events. As I talked his grin disappeared to be replaced by a barely controlled rage.
"Just get him softened up for me Hemi. I'll be back as soon as I can. I need to talk to Grant Leonard to find out if there is anything he couldn't tell us yesterday. As soon as I've got that sorted I'll come back. I just want him primed so I can ask him a few questions. That cool?"
"Boss it will be my pleasure." And by the look of anticipation on his face I knew it would. I didn't know what sort of history these two had but I was getting more interested in finding out. It would have to wait until later though. I needed to get home. Before I left, I spoke quietly to Hemi for a while telling him what I needed done. He assured me that I'd be happy with the results.
As I left the basement Hemi was not too gently seating Julio on the hard uncomfortable chair which he'd placed in the middle of the spread out sheet. The sheet would catch any blood and make the clean up easier. No I didn't feel sorry for Ramirez. Stevie greeted me at the Tahoe with a smile and a big kiss. I got the impression that she had sorted out her feelings with the help of a grinning Brian and KJ.
Ten minutes later we were climbing out of the Tahoe at my place. We had arrived just ahead of Mike's truck so the next half hour was spent unloading the exercise gear I had bought that morning and loading it into the new gym behind the garage. Eventually I would get a glass company to install a couple of mirrors in the gym but until then the room would be fine as it was. Since we'd missed out on lunch I suggested to the others that we have a bite to eat before doing anything else. The installation guy from the gym wholesaler had arrived with Mike so it was a larger than normal crowd to feed but there was plenty of food left over from the previous night's barbeque so it was no problem. Hemi and Julio were never far from my mind as we ate and chatted. In a way it was surreal; 10 minutes drive away there was a man being tortured on my orders and here I was chatting and munching steak sandwiches with friends. Still… the bad guys dealt the cards… I just played the hand I got.
Half way through lunch we got our visit from Grant Leonard. He arrived in a plain dark blue Taurus, obviously a government vehicle by the number of antennas bristling from the plain bodywork and he wasn't alone. The lady with him was by no means stunning but having said that she did have a sensuality that would make her stand out in a crowd. As they walked over to where we were sitting Grant was almost bowled over by a jubilant Sam.
"Grant!! What brings you here man? Jesus buddy… you look like shit! Going all lumpy around the middle pal and you definitely need a tan. But then what should we expect from a desk jockey?" Sam's teasing banter was echoed by Grant giving me the impression that these two were more than just casual acquaintances. Once again I had to remind myself that there was more to Sam and Hemi that meets the eye. I resolved to find out more about their role with the CIA, but that would have to wait for another day. My time was limited and I wanted to talk with Grant about his masters at the Puzzle Palace.
"Howdy Craig. I'd like you to meet my wife Angela. Angela this is the guy I've been telling you about, and this is his girlfriend Stevie, her friend and tattoo artist KJ, and Craig's friend and surgeon Brian Clark who I believe is dating KJ." In that one sentence he told us that he knew a lot about our domestic arrangements. To the credit of my friends nobody passed out from surprise but looks of surprise were shared by all.
"Now this is why I managed to survive for so long down in Colombia. Grant here was my handler… the voice on the radio that gave me all the info I needed to get the job done and get back home with all my men and all my skin where it should have been." Grant grinned and shook his head in a self depreciating way.
"Welcome to Casa Del Miller you two. Have you eaten? We've got beers and steak sandwiches. Not gourmet fare but good enough for a summer afternoon."
Soon they were relaxing with cold bottles of Miller's Genuine Draft and a steak sandwich. Stevie and KJ had corralled Angela and were chatting with her like long lost sisters while Sam, Brian and I hunkered down with Grant.
"So what is Carmichael up to?" Subtlety is my middle name, a fact which he truly appreciated.
"I wish I knew Craig. All I do know for a fact is that this is not a CIA run operation. You have a bad man out there tracking you and it's not one of us. Carmichael is a very worried man and despite his attitude, he's desperate for you to stay alive. He's had a couple of guys on your ass day and night as well as Sam and Hemi drinking and eating you out of house and home." Damn!! I had assumed that the car we'd had trailing us for the last few days had been from the Richmond PD. This was making no sense at all.