tagMind ControlNight Brings the Hunter Pt. 07

Night Brings the Hunter Pt. 07


"Now I'm hiding in Honduras.
I'm a desperate man.
Send lawyers, guns, and money.
The shit has hit the fan."
-Warren Zevon, "Lawyers, Guns, and Money"

"Only myself," Ramirez replied to Helena's question about which of the Ultimados was supposed to kill her if Igazi failed. "I would not delegate such an order to another man. How did you know?"

Contessa Helena de San Finzione sat in David Igazi's pappasan chair at the card table and looked at him.

"I've been thinking about a few things, Capitano. Having a ball gag in your mouth for hours and then being locked in a cell gives you a lot of time for that. I was concerned for Maria's safety, so I had my maid monitor the flight. Some kind of specialized real-time tracking software I got after some friends played a little joke on me. Never thought I'd get a chance to use it. I paid a bunch for it, I remember that.

"Once the tracker stopped moving, I'd estimate a minute or so for Jeanne to think 'Hmm, that's weird. It hasn't moved in a while.' So maybe she tries to call Maria a couple times and gets no answer and decides to call someone at the base; that's another couple minutes. Then, even acting with my authority, it would have taken her about five minutes to get someone on the phone with the power to send out a search party; and with the information from the tracker guiding them, about an hour to reach the crash site and have someone report back. Then maybe another minute of shock and 'Mon Dieu' before Jeanne ran to tell me.

"Castle Finzione is a big place, Ramirez. It's about an eight minute run from my study to the library; twelve minutes if one pedi-conferences like we did on the way back after she told me the news. I spent about five minutes getting things together and collecting myself before calling the Generalissimo, and when he answered, he told me that he'd only just heard and was about to inform me.

"So, I had to ask myself 'Even with the expensive tracking software, how did my maid manage to find out about the crash a full 90 minutes before the commander of my armed forces; who also should have had someone monitoring a flight containing two of his men escorting a high value ransom target like Maria?' And when I asked that question in the face of all the inside knowledge Igazi would have needed to be in the right place at the right time to shoot down the right helicopter, the only answer that made sense was that the Generalissimo was playing for time so Igazi's men could get away with Maria. He knew I'd rush to fly here and that I'd want his best men for backup. But for what I presume is his planned coup to work, he'd have to be certain that I never make it back to San Finzione; because I'd put an end to it in seconds.

"They needed me to come to Uongo for their plan to work, which means they needed Lady Maria; and she innocently handed them a golden ticket when she decided to take a helicopter to the camp. If not for that incredible stroke of luck; if she'd gone with the military convoy, Plan A probably would have been to ambush the convoy and take her. I'm sure if we look at the convoy's orders, the Generalissimo probably arranged for a smaller escort than usual or diverted them through a likely ambush point, something to make it easy for Igazi's men to attack and take her. He'd have gladly sacrificed much more than the two soldiers that he did to pull it off.

"I figure the plan is for me to die here, Maria makes it home; Igazi attacks our convoys and takes over Uongo, starting a war with San Finzione. I become a martyr that the Generalissimo uses to stir up war sentiment. Once he's got it, being granted emergency powers by a scared populace in a war mentality is historically easy from there. As for why he needs Maria alive, I'm thinking a forced marriage to solidify his position and gain legitimacy.

"After a sufficiently bloody conflict to satisfy appearances, he'll reach a peace accord with Igazi that involves recognizing the warlord's claim to Uongo. Our allies and the UN fall in line just to stop further bloodshed; hell, he probably comes away with a Nobel Peace Prize on top of it all, and everyone gets what they want. Except me and Maria, of course. Oh, and Stavro. You met him back at the embassy. The civilian boy Igazi's men beat mercilessly? That's my great-granddaughter's boyfriend. He wasn't a priority for Igazi, but the Generalissimo will need him out of the picture as well if he has any designs on Lady Maria. Or will you help him kill a second innocent civilian, Ramirez? I'm not talking about me, I call myself a few things, but innocent would not be one of them. I'm talking about the pilot. He wasn't one of our soldiers, just a local man hired to do a job."

Capitano Ramirez remained frozen in place, his hand on his holster.

"You can take a seat, Ramirez; there's more to discuss. For a start, I've spent the past few days observing you and you seem to be a man of integrity. He couldn't afford to and wouldn't let you in on the whole plan. So tell me: I know I could do it, but how did the Generalissimo talk a man of integrity into treason and murder?"

Ramirez walked over to the chair that she'd been sitting in during the earlier meeting in the hut and sat down, his hand still resting on his sidearm.

"La Contessa's power over men is often talked about in hushed whispers and taverna gossip. There have always been rumors that you used this power of yours to seduce and kill the late Count and take over San Finzione. He spoke of the things you've done to Lady Maria and that you certainly wouldn't stop there. That you were the one who would turn this crisis into a bloody war to gain more power and needed to be eliminated."

"I see. Well, what better way to conceal his plans than to tell you that they're mine? So that was the real reason why you insisted on 'giving me my privacy' when I offered to let you and the men sit in First Class with me: because a man of honor couldn't sit with a woman he's been ordered to murder and look her in the eye for ten hours. And you couldn't risk that I'd figure things out on the plane ride here and compel you to tell me everything right then."

Ramirez paused, then nodded slowly. Helena took out the pack of cigarettes she'd had in the cell and produced two of them.

"Well, Capitano, because I believe you to be a man of honor, I will show you the same. If I have your word that you won't kill me until after I've said what I must to you, I will release you from my control and not do this thing that I can do to you again. Here, take one. They're mine, not the poisoned ones, and it's customary at a moment like this. If, after the cigarette, you still think I'm a danger to you and San Finzione, I'll accept your decision and you may play your role in his treason if you still think it just. Do I have your word on this?"

Ramirez nodded in the affirmative and snapped his holster closed. Helena nodded as well and picked up her cigarette, gesturing for him to do the same. He found he was able to move freely and took it. She lit both of them before speaking.

"Now, to take care of the first point, despite what you, the Generalissimo, most of San Finzione, and even my closest friends think, I DID love Count Vincenzo, and if his heart hadn't given out while making love to me, I'd still be happily by his side. I put up a good facade of not caring so my friends wouldn't worry about me, but he was a good man, and I am attracted to much older Eastern Mediterranean men. I know exactly why that's the case as well. If you happen to have any psychiatrist friends who're looking to make a name for themselves, feel free to give them my number.

"I won't deny that I took advantage of Maria for a long time. Perhaps, in my grief, I thought nobody else would ever be good enough for her. I tried to tell myself that I was grooming her to be a good servant to the people. Denial and self-justification have been a big part of my psychological defenses for most of my life, but a friend recently showed me the error of my ways, and I have been trying to make amends since. I hope this same taverna gossip has also spoken of that."

Ramirez took a drag of his cigarette. "Not much. The other stories are more popular." She nodded, took a drag from her own, and continued.

"I'd imagine so. A woman who's only just realized that family is not a bad word and is trying to do right by her great-granddaughter and make her country a better place doesn't make for good gossip. It certainly doesn't make a good justification for an assassination and coup. Let me ask you something." She took a drag of her cigarette.

"Do you think the Generalissimo will stop there? Once he's got emergency powers, do you think he'll just give them up when his manufactured crisis is over? Once San Finzione becomes a military dictatorship, even without the firm ally in Africa that he'd planned to have in Igazi, do you think someone who has already sacrificed two of your fellow soldiers and a civilian, would have gladly sacrificed more, and has no qualms with ordering you to kill me to fulfill his scheme will be satisfied? Or would he want more? Would he look to expand his territory and fill the people's ears with stories of conquest and victory and drag them into endless wars for his own glory?"

Ramirez nodded his understanding, but his hand never left his holster.

"And will you be happy with your role in history, Ramirez? As the endless parade of flag-draped coffins fills the streets of San Finzione and the people howl for blood, will a man of honor like you be able to live with himself knowing that every one of those coffins, the Generalissimo will owe to you and your willingness to kill me for him? Knowing that I'll be in that first coffin and you'll be the one who put me there?

"He'll be looking to rally the people to his side. I'm sure my state funeral will have Princess Diana looking on from Heaven and muttering jealously. Will you attend, Ramirez? Will you put on your best formal dress uniform and stand by the Generalissimo's side and try to look sad for the cameras? Or will you even be around to see it? Will he consider you a loose end that needs tying up? The Generalissimo will owe everything to you. Does he strike you as a man who'll be able to live comfortably with that? Knowing that at any time, your integrity may get the better of you and you might decide to talk? Or will he take steps to prevent that? How far behind my own flag-draped coffin do you think yours will be, Capitano?"

She reached the end of the cigarette, put it out, and nodded.

"And now, if you still think I deserve to be sent into the next world, you may do so with a clear conscience, Ramirez; two of the only three men I've ever loved and one bastard I am NOT done with are waiting there for me."

Ramirez put out his own cigarette. His hand left his holster.

"I like it when people make the smart choice, Ramirez. Because of that, I'll now let you notice the gun I've had pointed at you all this time. I told you to ignore it before we entered the hut. You'd have been dead before your gun cleared leather."

Ramirez saw her put away the LC9 she'd had trained on him during their entire conversation.

"You could have shot me at any point," he said.

"I said you were a man of honor and that I'd show you the same; I didn't say that I was an idiot."

"So why didn't you just use your power and compel me to confess to the media? I presume such things are not beyond your capabilities."

"Because I was serious about trying to make up for my past, Ramirez, and I was pretty sure you would do the right thing, but I needed to be certain. When all this is over, San Finzione is going to need a new Generalissimo, and I've just found him."

Helena stood up. Generalissimo Ramirez did the same, then stood to attention and saluted his Contessa.

"The other warlords will be coming soon," he told her. "It would be wise not to be here when they arrive."

"I've been thinking about that too, Generalissimo. It seems like a waste to not do something about it. I have an idea, though."

* * *

The first of the warlords arrived at dawn. Igazi's men opened the gates and let the convoy of vehicles into the compound. Two hours later, all had arrived and were gathered in the large tent. Mander entered the tent and greeted them.

"Morning, gents," he said cheerfully. "Mr. Igazi will be along shortly. Last night's meal didn't sit well with a lot of the men, I'm afraid, him included."

"What trick is this," one of the warlords demanded. "He calls us all together and does not appear himself?"

Mander nodded as the men around the compound entered the tent, their AK-47s covering the room.

"I did tell a little porky pie there, I'm afraid. Mr. Igazi has been called away on another matter, and I don't expect he'll return. I promise you'll not have long to wait, though. The air strike should be coming to level this compound and everyone in it in, oh..." he looked at his watch. "Ten minutes, give or take. These men are here to insure that none of you leave before that happens. You can all thank... what'd he call her? Oh yeah, The She-Demon Who Birthed All Witches for that. She says hello, by the way."

Several of the warlords reached for their weapons. More of Igazi's men stepped into the tent, cutting off all exits.

"She also had a word with these fellas, so don't worry, they'll be here to keep you company til the end. All rotten tossers that have it coming like yourselves. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go see a woman about an island. That's not a euphemism, either."

Mander left the tent, got into a jeep, and drove out the gate and away, singing the Beach Boys' "Kokomo" to himself and waving to the bombers as they passed overhead.

* * *

"It is done, Generalissimo," Ramirez told him from the embassy over Skype. "We have rescued Lady Maria. La Contessa's body will be found amongst the others after the air strike."

"This was not the optimal outcome, Capitano. Igazi was not a target. But I can still use it. Killed negotiating with him, and we responded with an air strike, excellent. Be certain to retrieve her body. The people will demand a glorious funeral."

"Her coffin will be the first off the plane, sir."

"See to it. And bring the bodies of the men killed in the crash as well. I know you must have found her assassination distasteful, but San Finzione owes you a great debt, Maggiore Ramirez."

"Thank you, sir," Ramirez said and saluted. The Generalissimo saluted back and ended the call.

"See," Helena said as she stopped the recording. "Cheap bastard. Major was the best you would have gotten from him. One rank! And the dead men were an AFTERTHOUGHT! He also didn't bother to ask if YOU'D lost any men, which should tell you something."

Downstairs, Stavro had regained consciousness two hours ago, and Maria hadn't left his side. She giggled at his joke about showing her how well he'd recovered.

"You're right about another thing, Countess," Mander said, sitting at the conference table on another laptop, looking up islands for sale. "He's gonna want coffins with flags on 'em so's he can look all boo-hooey for the media."

"Good point," Helen replied. "Ok, then, let's give him some."

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