tagMind ControlNight Brings the Hunter Pt. 04

Night Brings the Hunter Pt. 04


"Well, I went to the doctor,
I said "I'm feeling kinda rough."
"Let me break it to you, son:
Your shit's fucked up."
I said "My shit's fucked up?
Well I don't see how."
He said "The shit that used to work,
it won't work now."
-Warren Zevon, "My Shit's Fucked Up"

Contessa Helena de San Finzione sat in the back of the jeep as it tore across the open savannah. She reached down to grab the bottle of water that was rolling around in the seat and opened the little pill bottle she'd picked up at the embassy. In the front seat, Capitano Ramirez checked the feed from the American spy satellite.

"We have a fix on the rendezvous point, Contessa." He looked back at her quizzically as she swallowed the pills.

"Few things I picked up before we left town," she said, closing the water bottle. "Anti-malaria pills, vitamins, couple other things." Helena looked down at the kid gloves she wore. Jeanne, her maid back at the castle was still new, and when Helena had told her she needed to pack clothes for the jungle, the girl had picked her a safari outfit, complete with pith helmet. Helena had guessed it was technically correct, but that she'd have to talk to her about fashion when they got back. She didn't look so much like she was on her way to meet the African warlord who had kidnapped her great-granddaughter as she did like she'd come looking for Dr. Livingston or Tarzan.

"They'll take your gun, of course," he said to her. "And probably everything else."

"I thought of that. You and the Ultimados had better not be far behind."

Ramirez nodded.

"We will be able to form an assault plan once we've seen where they take you. There's no guarantee that Lady Maria will be in the same place."

"Whatever they want from me, Capitano," Helena said, producing a pack of cigarettes from a shoulder bag. She had an additional carton in in her black Prada Arcade bag as well now. "They know they won't get it until I see Maria. She'll be there."

They came to a stop at the coordinates. Helena got out of the vehicle and shouldered her purse.

"I have a feeling that they won't show up until you and the jeep are gone, Capitano."

Ramirez nodded. "I hope La Contessa knows what she is doing."

"Almost never," Helen replied, taking the pith helmet and sunglasses off the seat. "But that doesn't stop me, Ramirez. Just make sure everyone knows what to do."

They nodded to each other again and the jeep left. Helena stood alone in the midst of the grassy savannah. She leaned against a tree and put her hand on her hip, looking left and right as if waiting for a bus. She hummed a bit of AC/DC's "Ride On" as she took out a cigarette and lit it.

About halfway through her cigarette, she'd taken the sunscreen out of her shoulder bag and started applying it when she heard the sounds of approaching engines. Clouds of dust were coming up from the horizon in multiple directions. Soon, the vehicles making the sounds came into view: Six Humvees approached the tree that Helen stood under.

All of the vehicles came to a stop roughly twenty feet around her. Not in perfect sync, which Helena thought would have been cooler, just stopping a safe distance away. Each vehicle had a .30 caliber machine mounted on the roof. Two of the gunners pointed their weapons at Helena while the other four turned away from the group and searched the horizon. Almost a minute passed as they looked for any sign of other people approaching. She leaned against the tree and took a drag of her cigarette.

"There are 535 sub-languages and dialects of Bantu, boys," Helena said in English. "Why don't one of you start the conversation and I'll jump in?"

A door on one of the Humvees opened and a short man stepped out. He tossed a sack that landed at Helena's feet. A crude leather and stone ball gag rolled out of it.

"The witch will wear the gag and the hood," he shouted in Somali. Helena bent down and held them up. The bag had a faint scent of a tropical blend shampoo with an emphasis on the coconut scent. She recognized the smell of Maria's shampoo on the bag. Her heart leapt, but she couldn't betray emotion in front of these men, so she simply shrugged.

"Still not my weirdest first date," Helena replied in Somali as she placed the gag in her mouth and tied it around the back. She picked her purse and shoulder bag up off the ground and the Somalian gestured to get into his vehicle. He avoided her gaze as she got into the back seat. A tall, bald white man with a revolver trained on her sat in the back seat as well. He made certain the gag was secure before placing the hood over Helena's head. She felt him taking her purse and bag off her shoulder and searching through them.

"We got a nice piece here," the man said in an East End London accent. From his voice and appearance, he conjured images in Helena's mind of an English actor whose every film featured a POV shot of him kicking someone in the face. "And I ain't talkin' 'bout the countess." She heard the sound of metal gently rattling in his hand and realized he'd found the gun right away. Helena hadn't made it difficult, though. It was on top of everything else in her purse.

"Ruger LC9," he continued. "Good gun for a lady. And wot's this?" She heard the sound of a rubber band being broken off of something and felt his weight shifting as if he were stuffing something in his pocket. "What kind of rich woman comes to Africa with only 5000 Euros in her purse?" There'd been 25,000 Euros in the bag. "And a satellite phone, nice thing ta 'ave out here. Well, we'll just remove the battery and take care of any GPS tracking you had in mind. I'll try and forget to tell the boss about this." He leaned forward, speaking to the driver. "Let's not keep the big man waiting."

The Humvee started moving. She could hear the sounds of the other vehicles moving as well. They started driving around in a circle. From the sounds outside the hood, Helena could hear that the other Humvees were falling into formation in front or behind them and doing the same. A pop followed by a hissing sound came from the front seat, and Helena caught the scent of chemical smoke, indicating that the man had popped open a smoke grenade. After a few seconds, she heard him drop the can. Presumably, men in the other vehicles were doing the same.

"So much for the satellite," she thought as she realized what they were doing. The sounds of other Humvees breaking away from the circle could be heard before the one she was in turned out of it. Presumably, they'd all drove in circles while smoke grenades were popped out, then when a good enough cloud of dust and smoke had been kicked off, each driver went in a different direction. They'd effectively run a shell game on the satellite. Helena ruminated on the fact that she'd seen that one done a few times recently as the driver sped across the savannah.

* * *

Two hours later, the Humvee stopped. Three shots were fired into the air. Another three shots rang out some distance before them and the driver moved on.

Helena heard the sound of cheering and the scent of men who'd never heard of a shower became much stronger than it had been inside the vehicle. The door opened and someone helped her out and removed the hood.

Helena found herself in the yard of a compound of shacks and huts, standing before a giant, muscular man with ebony skin and a cigar in his teeth. Behind him, a large tent, the kind Helena associated with travelling Holy Roller churches, was being erected in the distance. He looked her up and down appraisingly. Helena wondered if this was how Colleen felt in the plane before David Igazi spoke.

"So this is The She-Demon Who Birthed All Witches. I thought you would be taller." Helena shrugged and he continued. "Before I remove your gag, you should be aware that there are guns on you from every tower on the walls, and the men guarding the girl have instructions to kill her if I should appear bewitched."

Helena nodded her understanding and the gag was removed. The Englishman came up to Igazi with her purse and showed him the gun she'd been carrying. He held the gun up in the air, tiny in his hands, and shouted in Rwanda "She brought this to kill me." The men around them laughed.

Igazi took out the money and the carton of cigarettes and ordered they be passed around. He then noticed the black pouch containing the worry beads.

He tossed the gun back to the Englishman and put the beads in his pocket. "I shall hold on to your fetish for now."

"Of all the fetishes I have, worry beads are not one of them," she replied. "I'll be wanting those back. And I'll see Lady Maria before we discuss whatever you want with us, thank you."

"I did not expect you to be American," Igazi said when he heard her voice.

"I didn't expect to be a great-grandmother before thirty. It just sort of worked out that way. I'll see her now."

Igazi stood closer and looked down to shout in her face.

"I will decide when you see her! You will obey me or..."

"Or what," Helena interrupted, speaking Rwanda. "You'll kill us? You could have had your men shoot me back on the savannah if that's what you wanted. No, you need something, or why go to all this trouble? And you know that whatever you DO need, I won't do it if she dies. So quit the blustering; nothing happens until I see her." She looked around. "Also, it's been a long drive; so, we just shit anywhere around here? Or..."

Igazi pointed to a covered bench with a hole in it surrounded by mosquito netting. A corresponding hole in the ground was below the hole in the bench. A torn-up newspaper on the bench was the only suggestion of anything for wiping. A bowl of water for washing after sat in front of the bench. Helena looked at the setup for a few seconds.

"Well, I'd have preferred an issue of Cosmo," she said as she walked over to the bench and stepped inside the netting, all the men in the compound yard looking at her as she dropped the short pants and underwear she wore. "Enjoy the show, boys."

* * *

Maria was sleeping peacefully on a cot inside a wooden shack. Her lips were dry and beginning to crack from thirst.

"Best I been able to do for 'er is a spoonful of water now and then," the Englishman explained as the two guards with AK-47s stood outside the hut, guns pointed at Helena. "She really needs to eat or drink something soon."

Helena nodded. "I can wake her." She turned toward the men with the AKs. "I'm going to wake her up now."

She stepped over to Maria's side, bent down, and whispered in her ear.

*"Xypna kai nah emay atromitos, mou diesngoni."*

Maria's eyes fluttered open. She remembered the men pulling her from the helicopter wreckage and tying her up. She remembered seeing Stavro fighting off three men before a fourth came from behind and hit him with the butt of his rifle, then seeing them all start kicking him on the ground before the bag went over her head and everything faded away.

"Great-Grandmama," Maria said calmly in Italian. "Where are we?" Helena responded in the same language.

"We're in the camp of the men who took you, my dear. You've been asleep for two days. You need food and water, Maria. I need to go do something for their leader, and then they'll let you go."

Maria nodded. "But what about La Contessa?" She'd been Helena's maid for so long that she was still getting used to calling her anything else.

"Stavro is fine," Helena responded. "He's back at the embassy in the city waiting for you."

"You have ignored my question, Great-Grandmama. They'll let me go when you do this thing they want. When do they let you go?"

Helena smiled a little bit. She'd instructed Maria to be fearless upon waking, so she supposed she'd asked for that. She sat on the cot next to Maria and hugged her.

"I don't know, Dear One. I'm not certain they will. That's why I need you to be strong. If anything happens to me, you'll be Contessa, and San Finzione will be looking to you for guidance." Maria nodded.

"They will most probably kill you when you have done what they want," she said calmly as the Englishman brought her a bowl of water and some food on a plastic tray that looked like it had been stolen from a cafeteria somewhere.

"Maria, honey. Propappou told me something long ago that I now fully understand: You kill for your children, you die for your grandchildren." Helena stood up and kissed Maria on the forehead. "You'll be ok. Stavro is waiting for you back at the embassy." The girl nodded as her great-grandmother and the Englishmen left the shack and the guards returned.

"Ok, Vinnie Jones," Helena said, remembering the name of the actor whose image she associated with him. "Let's go see what your master wants."

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