tagMind ControlNight Brings the Hunter Pt. 03

Night Brings the Hunter Pt. 03


"Just another hunter, like a wolf in the sun.
Just another junkie on a scoring run.
Just another victim of the things he has done.
Just another day in the life of a loaded gun."
-Rush, "You Bet Your Life"

San Finzione One touched down in The People's Democratic Republic of Uongo. Helena and Colleen were dressed again (Colleen having to change into a spare uniform.), and Helena had invited her to the castle on her next trip to San Finzione and asked her address, telling the stewardess to expect a package soon. Colleen had definitely earned her new iPad.

Five limousines were waiting on the tarmac to take the Ultimados to the San Finzione embassy. Helena instructed Capitano Ramirez to accompany her in the next-to-last limo of the convoy. The embassy had called her on the plane, saying that Maria's captors had tossed a paper bag containing her signet ring and a flash drive over the wall outside from a passing car that didn't slow down enough to get the plate number. As they rode, Helena asked Capitano Ramirez if he'd been to Uongo before.

"Si, Contessa," he responded. "There was an operation once. You have clearance to know this." She didn't press for details.

"I have too. Your usual African dictatorship where the President For Life has five swimming pools and half of his people don't even know that clean water exists as a thing."

"People's Democratic Republic usually means a Communist-backed government," Ramirez replied, watching the passing people and noticing how many carried firearms.

"Yes. And like how that usually goes, they could hook a turbine to Marx's grave and power the whole country with his spinning."

"You do not seem very worried about Lady Maria," Ramirez commented.

"They sent the ring, not a finger. So they know better than to harm her. The flash drive presumably contains their demands or their manifesto or something. They want me to see it, and I imagine they'll be waiting for a reply. That they've chosen this way to contact me also means that I still have a wild card in play."

"They may have already killed her," Ramirez replied. "It may be an execution video."

"If that's so, then there's nothing I can do for Maria but avenge her, so that ISN'T so, do you understand me, Capitano?"

"Si, Contessa. We shall recover Lady Maria."

"That's not in doubt," she said as the gold leaf-covered minarets atop the Presidential Palace came into view. The embassy was a few blocks away.

"It may be the government that has her, Contessa."

"I don't think so. Supreme Comrade and President-for-Life Kiburi enjoys beating his chest on television too much to be this quiet about it. And he knows better than to cross me. There's a reason nobody stopped me from entering the country with sixteen men loaded down to start a war."

"So, the stories are true," Ramirez asked. "That La Contessa has a way of destroying the wills of men?"

Helena smiled sweetly at that. "Don't all women?"

"That is not what I meant."

"I know what you meant, Capitano, and I don't feel like having that conversation right now."

Ramirez nodded and the trip continued in silence.

* * *

"If you want to trap a witch, first you must catch her familiar."

There was a cut in the video from the man saying those words into the camera to the interior of a shed. Two men in ski-masks with AK-47s flanked Maria, who was tied to a chair, her head hanging down. David Igazi stood behind her, his hands on her unresisting shoulders.

"They're drugging her," one of the Ultimados sitting around the embassy's conference table said as they watched the video play out on a large monitor at the end of the table. Helena sat at the opposite end, staring at the screen, it's light and her cigarette the only illumination in the room.

"No," Helena said, taking a drag of her cigarette. "She's been... trained to fall unconscious if kidnapped. They won't get anything out of her, and they don't have a screaming hostage to intimidate us with."

Some of the men turned toward La Contessa and wondered how she could speak of her great-granddaughter so coldly. All attention returned to the video when Igazi spoke again.

"To The She-Demon Who Birthed All Witches: David Igazi has your familiar."

"Igazi," Ramirez said, making an asking-for-a-cigarette gesture. La Contessa obliged him. "They say Kony has nightmares about him. The name means..."

"Blood in Swahili. I know. I've seen the videos of him beheading missionaries." Helena stared grimly at the screen.

"If the Demon wants her familiar back, she will come alone to the GPS co-ordinates at the end of this video at noon tomorrow. If she does not show up or if there are any tricks..." Igazi pulled out a long knife and held it to Maria's throat as she slept on. "A sleeping woman may not scream when you kill her, but that will not make her any less dead. The only question is if I give her to my men before or after."

A piece of paper with GPS co-ordinates on it was held up to the camera. The video continued for another 30 seconds before ending. The ambassador opened up a laptop and started searching for the co-ordinates.

"Savannah land," said the ambassador. "For kilometers in every direction."

"Some of the men could be camouflaged and waiting," Ramirez offered.

"They're expecting a trick," Helena replied, picking her own cigarette back up. There was only one drag left. She didn't usually smoke them to the end. "Probably have people watching the area now in anticipation of such a move. And all it would net us is whichever flunkies he sends to collect me and Maria still dies. We may beat the location of their base out of them in time, or we may not."

"I can speak to the Americans about letting us use one of their spy satellites to track you," offered the ambassador. Helena nodded, and the ambassador left to start making phone calls.

She stared down at the photographs of the crash site. She slid them over to Capitano Ramirez for inspection.

"They aimed for the engines," he noted. "They shot to bring the chopper down with minimal damage."

"Yes," Helena replied. "it didn't work, though. And now two of our men and a civilian pilot are dead. And the questions of how they knew who'd be on it and the flightpath and time still need to be answered. I'll have to take those things up with Igazi directly tomorrow."

"So you will go to the meeting," Ramirez asked. Helena simply nodded.

"There was no ransom demand, no political statement made. He's playing a game, and the only way I'm going to learn the rules is by doing what he says for now."

"This game could cost you and Lady Maria your lives."

Helena poured herself a glass of water from the pitcher on the table and opened the small pouch that contained her worry beads.

"Then I'll have to do what the man who was the closest thing that I ever had to a father would tell me to do in this situation, Capitano Ramirez." She took a drink and started toying with the beads. "Cheat."

* * *

Stavro was still unconscious. He'd been moved from the city hospital to the embassy's infirmary. Helen stood by his bed, looking over him. One of his eyes was swollen shut, and an oxygen tube was pumping air into his lungs via his nose. She took his bandaged hand.

"Hi, Stavro," she said to him. "How's your first trip out of San Finzione going?" He wasn't awake to answer.

Helen had only known him for a couple of months, ever since her friends had played an elaborate prank on her. He'd worked as a butcher's assistant and made deliveries to the castle. He'd caught Maria's eye, but she was afraid to say anything for fear Helen would decide she wanted the handsome young man for herself. After the prank, she and Maria had talked for a while, and Helen had decided that it was time to stop making Maria live the life of her personal maid and occasional lover and bring her into the world she'd been meant to live in before Helen had married her great-grandfather and claimed the Noble House of San Finzione for herself. The girl had only had those two months to enjoy the life she was born into and the love of the man she'd dreamed of until now.

She leaned forward and kissed Stavro on the forehead. They hadn't talked much at all, and it struck Helen just how little she knew about him.

"Maria will be here when you wake up," she told him. "Even if I'm not."

She walked back to the now-empty conference room, opened up the ambassador's laptop that was still there, and logged into Skype. She brought up one of the few contacts on her list and requested a video call.

The call connected. A face that she was only partially expecting to be on the other end appeared. Sounds of construction could be heard in the background.

"Oh. Er, hi," Susan said to her. "They're out with the construction workers. I can go get one of them if you want."

"That's ok," Helen said as she lit a cigarette. "I sort of called to talk to you anyway." Susan looked puzzled at that.

"Why me?"

"Because there are times when what you need most is to talk to your oldest, dearest friends," she took a long drag. "And times when what you need most is to talk to someone who completely despises you."

"I never said that," Susan replied. "I said that it'll take more than some fancy trinkets for me to forgive you, but not that it couldn't someday be an option." Helen had sent her a large gift bag a couple months ago to apologize for their getting off on the wrong foot. It hadn't gone over as well as she'd hoped.

"Well, thank you. That gives me some hope. And hope is what I need. I'm in a situation, I can't say anything about it; but something is going on that I can't buy or manipulate my way out of, and innocents have already been hurt and might still be."

"From everything I've heard, people getting hurt is a common problem for you."

"This..." She took another drag. "This wasn't one of those. This was me trying to follow his advice and do something right, and now it's blown up in my face."

"And I'm sure it'd be really easy to just fix things the same old way you always have, wouldn't it," Susan asked. "Whatever Tom Clancy 'need-to-know' fine pickle you've gotten yourself into, Contessa Helena de San Finzione can just descend from the clouds and wave her hand and everything's solved, can't she?"

Helen put out the cigarette. "I think we're past that being an option. I didn't create the situation. It arose because of who I am; who they are, as well. And soon you, too. How's that going for you?"

"Oh, that's going all right. Brenda keeps begging me to practice on her; but that's not why you called. This actually sounds serious. Is this a 'you need me to get them but you don't want to come out and ask me to' deal?"

"Oh God, no! They'd insist on helping and be on the next plane here, and then THEY'D be in danger too."

Susan raised an eyebrow at that.

"Danger isn't a word I hear you OR them use often. So, what's really going on right now, Helen? Don't give me any of that 'classified by the government of San Finzione' shit, you ARE the government of San Finzione!"

Helen reached into the pack for another cigarette. It was empty. She didn't have another at hand, so she pulled out the worry beads and started playing with them quietly; "The way you do them in Church," Propappou had told her.

"You're right. Ok, then. There are about twenty people in the world who know what I'm about to tell you, but whatever happens, the story won't stay contained long anyway. I need you to promise not to tell them before the media gets hold of it, ok?"

Susan poured herself a glass of wine. It made Helen want a drink too, but the only thing at hand was the now room-temperature half-empty water pitcher from earlier. She poured herself a glass anyway.

"All right. And thank you for asking rather than telling. I think we can call this your first step on the journey out of CompletelyDespiseville."

Helen smiled and told Susan what was happening. Susan remained quiet and let her talk, but her facial expressions showed Helen that she was following along.

"Ok," Susan said when she'd finished. "I get why we can't let the lovebirds in on this. But don't say you didn't create the situation or that it's because of what you can do. Nobody's kidnapped me to get to them. This situation came about because Helen decided 'I want my own country.'"

"San Finzione's actually a sovereign county, but I get what you're saying, and I appreciate it. I guess I don't really have a lot more to say. If anything happens, tell them to scatter my ashes at Propappou's grave, that's about it."

"I hope it doesn't come to that, but ok. Anything else?"

"One thing, call it the 'knowing is half the battle' bit at the end. I get that it was wrong to try to buy your forgiveness, but I've never gotten a reaction like yours from a gift. What was so upsetting?"

Susan laughed a little. "Because, Helen, those little bags and baskets of yours? You give those things to people that you've fucked. They're your little way of saying 'Hey, babe, that was fun, I'll give ya a call sometime.' And you fucked me when you made me feel like that. Not in a good way either."

"Well, I'm sorry again. And knowing is half the battle."

"Don't die, Helen."

"You either, Susan."

They ended the call.

* * *

Another Skype call was in progress at that time.

"She's reached the embassy," the person on the other end said. "And she's gotten your message. She'll be at the rendezvous."

"Good," David Igazi said to the screen.

"Remember our bargain, Igazi. Dispose of La Contessa however you will, but the girl is mine."

"She is yours. If the She-Demon cooperates."

"Very little matters to her, but the girl does. You'll get what you want from her."

"And in three days, you shall have what you want as well."

"This is the point at which little errors grow to become big ones. Take no chances."

"Once she has served her purpose, she dies. I know people who will pay well to consume the organs of a witch." Igazi took out his long knife and began sharpening it. "But her heart is mine."

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