Last Mission


When the end came, Paul was emotional. He could not believe when Susan first told him about the exit plan. Whether he was sad because it was ending, or whether he was depressed about the way it was ending, she could not tell. Over the next few days, he tried to talk her out of it. But once she had decided, she was stubborn and would not change her mind.

Paul's reaction surprised her. Susan was a linear thinker and thought her plan was natural and logical. All good things must come to an end, eventually. They had a great run together and had accumulated more than enough to retire on. Each job was becoming riskier as word spread around. Incessant gossip was the nature of the underworld, and nobody could do anything about that. They could either make a decision to stop, or the decision would be made for them when they get caught or killed. And she firmly believed it was when, not if.

Unlike her, he was an idealist. Deep inside, he believed they could do this forever. Worse, he was shocked at the details of her exit plan. Although he disagreed, he eventually gave in to her plan. Silent treatment was the way he chose to show his disapproval.

For the last mission, they flew into Tulsa, rather than DFW. He used a fake credit card to rent a car. While driving from Oklahoma to Texas, he did not say a word. During his nonstop drive until they reached Plano, a suburb just minutes north of Dallas, she slept soundly. Paul could never cease to be amazed how she could sleep right before a dangerous job. It was just after midnight when he pulled over at a Texaco station. They were the only customers.

He put the car in park, turned off the engine, and switched off the lights. By the time he popped the trunk, she was already outside the car. She took a Wal-Mart bag from the trunk and headed into the grocery store. He watched her through the glass, heading to the ladies room at the back of the store. The store clerk was so sleepy he did not notice her waltz by.

Letting out a sigh, he used his left index figure to pull the latch under his seat. He shuffled out when he heard the click of the gas cover. He slid the stolen credit card in and out of the slot, unscrewed the gas cap and waited. When the machine eventually beeped, he removed the nozzle, pushed up the lever, and selected grade 87 for the rented Taurus. It was a car that would be invisible in any parking lot.

Susan knew she too had to be invisible. She planned to wear something that would make her transparent in a seedy club. In the bathroom, she removed her T-shirt and torn-up jeans. Examining her reflection from the cracked mirror, she observed that her body was tight and toned. Satisfied, she put on a red halter top knotted at the neck, low-riding leather shorts, and a pair of knee-high four-inch boots. Glancing again at the cracked mirror, she turned sideways and brushed her bleached-blonde hair, which covered a third of her bare back. The last thing she did was reapply the Volcanic 41 red lipstick from L'Oreal. Satisfied that nobody would notice her in the club frequented by the target, she packed everything into the plastic bag, went out the back door, and threw the bag into the dumpster.

Meanwhile, Paul pushed the nozzle back and twisted the gas cap clockwise until he heard three clicks. When he looked up, he saw her reflection off the side window. She turned her back to him and said, "Can you help me redo the back strap?" She preferred her top to be as tight as possible so she could do her work and not have to worry about a possible wardrobe malfunction.

Paul nodded and unhooked the strap, and then hooked it back to the tightest of the three rings. For a moment, his fingers were mere inches from her breasts. But he stayed professional. From the early days, they had strictly separated business from pleasure. It was simpler and more efficient to compartmentalize. "How does it feel now?" he asked. Those were his first words since the plane landed.

She swung her arms around, rotated her shoulders and hips, testing the fit. "It's awesome, Paul." She held him and looked straight into his eyes. "Don't worry about me, okay?"

"I know how tough you are. But still..." Paul looked away and could not finish the sentence. "Let's go," he glanced at his watch and pushed her away, moving back to his side of the car.

At this hour, the traffic was light. So in just sixteen minutes, they arrived at the club in Irving, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. As he pulled up to the parking lot, she rechecked her makeup one last time. Paul shook her hand and said a simple good luck. After she stepped out, he took the car to the back of the club, where there was an emergency exit. He parked behind a tree in the dark, where he could see but not be seen.

The red flashing neon signs announced the place as The Pussycats. It was one of many high-end clubs in the greater Dallas area. Just inside the entrance, half a dozen men stood in line, waiting to pay the cover charge of twenty bucks. As she wafted in, the men gave her a long appreciative look. She ran her fingers through her hair and smiled at them. One of them tried to ask if he could buy her a drink, but she was deep inside the club before he could finish his sentence.

She snaked across the crowded rectangular room, crossing four round stages in the middle, each with a girl swinging around the pole. On the far side of the room, where the bar was, a heavyset bartender noticed her. He had a tattoo on his neck.

"What may I get you?" his voice was oddly high-pitched.

"Gin and Tonic," she leaned forward to whisper in his ear.

"You're new here? I've never seen you before?" he handed her the drink.

"Second day. I was dancing upstairs last night."

"In the VIP rooms?" His eyes drifted south to her cleavage.

"Yeah. I'm going to do the same tonight. The money's better."

"Smart girl. What's your day job?"

"I'm a student in UT Arlington. What's that tattoo?"

"A green dragon. I got it in Thailand. I was in Nam, before you were born. Are you dancing in Room California?"

"Yes. How did you know?

"Our best customers use California. It's the biggest and the best. Don wants nothing but the best girls in the best room."

"I got to go," she reached for her purse.

"No worries about it. It's on the house. Drinks are free for dancers. Didn't anyone tell you?"

She smiled, waved at him, and trotted upstairs. This was her usual routine, steadying her nerves by having one drink before a big job. The VIP rooms, ten in all, were all named after one of the fifty states. The room nearest the stairwell was Florida. The room at the end was California. She counted down the rooms, her heart pounding faster with each step. She turned the corner and saw a muscular man in a sleeveless shirt standing outside California. He had narrow eyes and a scar on his left cheek. He looked like an enforcer.

"We have to search you, babe," his voice was Eastern European, probably Russian. "Turn around, face the wall, hands to your side, and legs apart." She complied. The search was meticulous, exploring every square inch of her body. His hands lingered around her chest. When the search was over, he opened the door, waved her in, and remained outside, locking the door from the outside.

The room was smoky and the music loud. Three rows of leather cushions formed a U-shape. Two men were relaxing on opposite sides of the room, drinking and smoking. The more mature man on her right looked like the boss, she thought. It matched the description given by Paul. In his 50s, he was round and fleshy faced. His neck was almost invisible. His gut protruded out so that when he moved, waves of fat moved in the same general direction. He must be at least 300 pounds. A girl was seated on his left. Although the room was dimly lit, Susan could see that she wore a red see-through dress. The other man, sitting alone, was tall and thin. His face was as rough as the surface of the moon. He motioned for Susan to join him. It felt cold when she joined him on the leather seat.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Rocky." The name could not be any less fitting. "Yours?"

"Candy. Is he your boss?" She let his hand rest on her thigh.

"Yeah. Don is my boss." His other hand went behind her, rubbing her back. Gradually, both hands moved south. The hand in front tried to move her zipper. The one behind moved into her shorts.

"Hey Rocky, whose that leggy blonde you have over there? Let's trade." Don nodded to the girl in his arms, indicating she was to move over. Susan pushed Rocky's hands away and was glad to switch to Donald.

"What your name?" Don patted the chair to signal that she should sit. She sat and crossed her legs away from him.

"I said, what's your fucking name? Or should I call you whore or slut?" He raised his voice to spit out the three words.

"My friends usually call me bitch." She was calm and smiled, retaining control.

"I see," he was impressed and raised his eyebrows. He did not expect this line. God, this was no ordinary cunt. "So bitch, will you dance for me? I like it slow. I want you to remove your whore top after the first song, then your slutty shorts after the second."

Susan stood in front of him and gyrated slowly to the tempo of Tina Turner's "Private Dancer," slowly rotating and twisting her hips. At six feet tall on her four-inch boots, she towered over him like an Amazon. Don sat up and watched, putting away his glasses to concentrate. From the corner of her eyes, she noticed that Rocky was now on his back, the red dress straddling him.

Susan decided the time was right. In one swift motion, she grabbed the bottle of whiskey and struck him on the forehead. Multiple rivers of blood flowed. Pieces of glass stuck to his head and face. "What the fuck," he staggered. Susan circled to his back. With the jagged edge of the broken bottle, she hooked into the soft tissues of his neck, twisting and turning it until the rivers of blood turned into an avalanche. The music was so loud Rocky did not hear a thing. "What's love but a second hand emotion," Tina continued. Rocky closed his eyes and enjoyed the pumping action of the girl in red, moving in tandem with the beat.

Susan opened the door calmly. She asked the enforcer for directions to the ladies room. He pointed downstairs and closed the door. Her top was soaked with alcohol and blood was on her left cheek. The Russian thought Don had taken out his recent gambling losses on her. He drank in the sight of her sashaying down the hall, and promised himself that he would one day possess her.

Downstairs, the crowd had thinned out. The bartender with the green dragon had been replaced by a woman. Only two of the stages had dancing girls. She walked slowly to the back and pushed the emergency door. Upon seeing her silhouette, Paul turned the key and stepped on the gas gently. The car rolled to a stop. Every muscle on his face was tense.

Right after Susan swung her legs in and shut the door, someone in the backseat declared, "I have a gun pointed at his head. Get out and stand facing the wall." She recognized the bartender's sharp voice. "And don't do anything stupid or I'll blow his brains." The odds of successful counteraction against a determined gunman with a hostage were close to zero, especially in confined space. So she obeyed.

The bartender handcuffed Paul to the steering wheel, turned off the ignition, took the keys, and stepped out. He approached Susan, but stood at a safe distance of ten feet. He had been warned about her. She saw his shadow moving to fish out a cell phone with one hand. He dialed with his left hand, the right hand keeping the gun steadily pointed at her. His eyes never left her. He was a trained professional.

"I got the bitch. As per agreement, she's all yours."

Seconds later, the Russian angrily flew out of the emergency door. Wasting no time, he kicked at the back of her knees, forcing her to kneel. The bartender tossed a set of police-issued handcuffs to the Russian. Cussing in Russian, he twisted her arms behind and clicked the cuffs on her wrists. Not satisfied, he yanked her hair and forced her to pivot on her knees to face the bartender, who pistol-whipped her. She fell sideways, hitting the hard pavement, but riding the fall by moving in the same direction. The Russian kicked her several times until she was face down on her stomach. Placing his knee on her back, a thick hood was placed over her head. She breathed hard against the fabric, triggering both men to laugh. To fully immobilize her, the bartender locked her ankles together, and then forced them back until they hook against the chains of the handcuffs. With her chained like a dangerous wild animal, the Russian consulted his boss on the phone.

"I've secured the whore. She's not as tough as they say." The Russian spoke with a heavy accent. "Where do you want me to take her?"

She was close enough to hear the reply. "Take her to the farm." The voice on the other end said. She thought it was Rocky on the other end, but was not certain.

"What about Paul?" the Russian asked.

"I'll deal with him myself." The voice said.

"Sorry about that," Rocky said as he unlocked Paul's handcuffs after the full-size van with the hogtied Susan disappeared into the horizon. "The money has already been wired to your account." Paul rubbed his hands to bring back the blood. For Rocky, it was hard to read Paul's poker face. Rocky guessed that Paul must be having mixed feelings. After all, betraying a close partner could not be easy.

"Can I borrow your phone?" Paul asked.

"Of course." Rocky replied. Paul called his contact in the Cayman Islands. They verified that his account had been enriched by $100,000. "I've done my part, and have been paid. I see no reason to hang around."

"Here are your keys." Rocky handed back Paul's car keys. They shook hands briefly.

"Tell your boss it was nice doing business. So long." Paul said through the car's open window as he turned the ignition. He drove off before Rocky could reply.

Paul took the rental car back to DFW. Four hours later, he was comfortably resting in a window seat, flying over the Texas Panhandle. Eight hours later, he boarded Singapore Airlines in Los Angeles International Airport. A day later, he had checked into a one-bedroom suite in Hong Kong's Sheraton. Jet lagged, he would sleep for the next twelve hours. When he woke up, he went to the Kowloon electronics district. He bought a few circuit boards, a soldering iron, and several recycled components. In his hotel room, he assembled a small radio. He was ready for his next mission.

Meanwhile, ten thousands miles away, in East Texas, a building stood in the middle of hundreds of acres of land registered to a company based in Hong Kong. Although everyone in the Green Dragon called it a farm, there were no cattles, chicken, or agriculture inside the fenced-in wooded land. Under the building was a sound-proof windowless basement.

Two sets of parallel chains hung from the high ceiling of the basement. A single handcuff was attached to the extreme ends of the chains. In the handcuff was Susan's wrists, which lifted her hands high above her head. A 2-foot bamboo separated her knees, rendering her free ankles useless. Except for her boots, she was naked. No one else was in the room. But she was watched by four cameras mounted on all four walls, capturing every second of her agony. Through her glazed eyes, she could make out the red dot on the camera in front of her. She tried to sleep but was unsuccessful. Each time her mind drifted off, her wrists protested whenever it had to support her entire weight.

The sun had risen an hour ago. Rocky was having breakfast with the Russian. They were seated at the deck of a seven bedroom house. From the deck, they could not see another building, road, or any other man-made object. The location was so secret only a handful of men in the inner circle of the secret society were aware of its exact location. Even the Russian was taken blindfolded to the farm.

Six senior men, all chiefs of major cities, were on their way to the farm. They were scheduled to arrive at DFW airport in the morning. Even though they were leaders, they too would be driven blindfolded to the farm. They had been informed that a contract killer had tried to murder the chief of Dallas. But she had been betrayed. She was fed the wrong information and had done them a favor by killing the decoy. The decoy used to be one of them. But he had secretly talked to the FBI and the order had been given from San Francisco to erase him.

Although Rocky was not professionally trained in the art of interrogation, he had read the declassified CIA documents. He learned a thing or two about total control, humiliation, and breaking a subject. The key was to depersonalize the victim and strip off all sense of normality. He had tried the techniques and found them to be surprisingly effective against tough guys. He could not wait to see if the same skills would work on a woman.

Rocky looked at the live feed of her on his cellphone. He turned the phone to show the Russian the images of her suffering body captured by the four cameras. Her head was down, her hair stuck to one breast, and her legs trembled. The men chuckled.

"You think she got beauty sleep last night?" The Russian was not good at humor.

"Ivan, the cruel way you chained her up, I doubt the slut got any sleep at all." Rocky recognized the power of flattery. All employees needed praise and recognition, even tough guys.

"What's going to happen when the chiefs arrive?"

"I'll let you run the show. You're the expert."

"I assume you want to project your power and let everyone know you're in control of your territory."

"As the most junior chief in the country, I also want to show respect to the other chiefs by not touching her until they arrive. All we've done so far is soften her resistance and give her time to reflect on her precarious situation." Rocky wondered if the Russian understood the meaning of precarious.

"You want to make her talk in front of the chiefs?"

"No, we'll save that for later. Go for humiliation. Treat her like one of those you kidnap to be whores. Make her beg."

"Ah, I see," Ivan's eyes light up. Transforming a girl from a virgin to a whore was his specialty.

"Play the good cop, bad cop routine," Rocky ordered.

Rocky and Ivan gobbled up their breakfast. The Mexican help took the dishes and brought more coffee. They both light up cigars and waited.


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