Chameleon 12

© 2018, Jack H. Tyler

O’Reilly looked out the window toward the dark jungle passing unseen by the window.  It wouldn’t be long before they were pulling into the gate of Rodriguez’s villa.

“Lobo gris,” O’Reilly said thoughtfully.  “Lobo gris.”

“That’s a name I have earned over a period of years,” the cocaine dealer told her.

“I have a nickname, too,” she said.

“And what would that be?”

“I’ll bet you figure it out before long.”

“You have a hell of a mouth for someone in your situation.  I’ll bet it has something to do with that false bravado.”

“That’s a funny word, false.  You never know whether a thing is false until the last curtain falls.”

“I scarcely need to point out that you’re the one with the handcuffs, and we’re the ones with the guns.”

“Yes, and that’s your problem.”

“What the hell are you talking about, you crazy bitch?”

“All I want is that kid.  I didn’t come here to kill anybody.  Your partner on the other hand, well . . .”

“What does she mean?” Rodriguez asked Douglas.

“She means she knows the jig is up, and she’ll do anything to cause a problem between us.”

“I don’t have to cause anything.  Do you know who your business associate is?  And don’t tell me a careful man like you fell for that Douglas crap.”

“Oh?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Lorenzo!”

“Please, my friend,” Rodriguez said, holding up his hand.  “I told you I was going to extract information from her.  Perhaps she is not as reluctant to provide it as you thought she would be.”

“Not in this case, no.  Your so-called friend, Nathan Douglas.  Did he tell you he’s with the CIA?”

“Why yes, he did.”

“Did he also tell you he spent nine years in the Mossad under his real name, Sean Zuckerman?”

“No, he didn’t.  That’s reprehensible.  Miss O’Reilly, you know what I do for a living.  What is your opinion of drug dealers?”

“That you’re the lowest form of life on earth.”

“And my being a felon is almost an afterthought, and yet you expect me to pick my friends from among the members of the Rotary Club.”

“Oh, no!  I’ve met some of your friends.  They make me wonder whether the local pig farmers are missing any livestock.”

“Miss O’Reilly, you charm me beyond measure.”  Rodriguez actually laughed.

“That’s more than you’ll get from that one.”

“Shut up,” Douglas growled.

“Could there be something your partner doesn’t want you to hear?”  She spread sarcasm like peanut butter on the word partner.

“I’m warning you,” Douglas said.

“Oh, you’re warning me?  This laddie here intends to dissect me while I’m still alive.  Can you top that?”

“Go on,” Rodriguez said.

“Nathan Douglas, a.k.a. Sean Zuckerman, spend nine years in the Israeli Mossad as an intelligence officer.  One night he decided he needed a little beer money, so he tortured his partner for the location of a microfilm document which he then sold to Tehran before fleeing the Middle East with his ill-gotten gains.  He did hang around long enough to cut his partner’s throat before he left.”

“What twaddle!” Douglas blustered.  “She’ll make up anything to get out of this.”

“Don’t take my word for it,” O’Reilly told the Colombian.  “Look on Interpol’s website.  Click on most wanted.  There’s a book’s worth of good reading about this guy.”

“How much of this slander do I have to listen to?”

“I don’t know.  I suppose that depends on how much more she has.”

“Isn’t that enough?  What do you think he came down her for?  You have something he wants, and he’ll eventually kill you for it.  Me, all I want is that boy.  No guns, no money, no nothing.  Just let me have him, let us walk, and you’ll be free to deal with your real enemy.”

“Jesus Christ, man!”  Douglas was plainly worried by her disclosures.  The car slowed and made the turn into Lobo Gris’s driveway, beginning the climb to the house.”

“Listen to him,” O’Reilly said earnestly, all hint of sarcastic humor gone now.  “Would he be that worried if all this was blarney?  All I want is the boy, and I don’t bother you any more.”

The car made the wide turn to the front of the house and rolled to a smooth stop before the ornate entry.  There was a moment when it looked like the Gray Wolf might be going to accede to her request, and then it was gone.

“I am sorry, my young friend.  You make an intriguing proposal, but you have failed to close your sale.  You had better try to get some rest.  You’re in for an interesting stay.”

One of Rodriguez’s soldiers opened the door to the car and snapped to attention as the boss climbed out.

“Place her in maximum security,” he told the man.  “I don’t care how comfortable she is.  If she gets loose again, I will personally cut off your balls.”

“Si, Señor!”

“Have the boy brought to my study.  We need to discuss his future.”

 *          *          *

She literally hung from the ceiling.  Her toes barely touched the floor, allowing her to take a small amount of weight off her elbows and shoulders.  It wasn’t just her own weight, either.  The guards, in their fear of Rodriguez’s wrath, had wrapped her in chains.  They ran around her neck, between her legs, around her ankles, around everything.  They  must have added another fifty pounds, and that didn’t include the half-dozen padlocks securing them.  Her arms were pinioned above her head, wrapped tightly at the wrists and elbows.  Chains supplemented the two pairs of handcuffs, and were looped over a hook in the ceiling.  If she had been an inch shorter, her arms would have been pulled out of the sockets by now.

She was in a small room, or a big closet, in the cellar of the main house.  The inside knob had been removed and the inside of the door lined with a sheet of metal.  Good as she was, she understood in her very fiber that she wasn’t getting out of here.

The room was unlighted, and for a while she studied her bindings by feel, flexing a muscle and analyzing what she felt above it.  All that told her was that everyplace she could feel had a length of chain running over it.  Soon, too soon, the burning numbness began to set into her wrists and shoulders and calves, and she knew that before long, even if she was released, she wouldn’t be able to stand up on her own.

As she stood on tiptoe, eyes closed, dividing her weight between arms and legs, breathing deep and evenly against the pain, the door opened, admitting a shaft of bright light and Rodriguez.  He carried a small leather case which he placed on the floor before turning on the light in the room and closing the door.

“And now to my main guest.  Comfy?”

“This is no way to treat a lady,” she said in a tightly controlled voice.

“A lady?  You call yourself a lady?  I treated you like a lady the first time you broke in here, and the second, I might add, and you repaid the favor by killing three of my men and putting six more in the hospital.  There’ll be no more of that.  No, what we’re going to talk about now is all your little secrets.”

“My what?”

“Those little tidbits you pick up in the course of your job.  You know, like from this job you know the layout of my villa, that sort of thing.  Douglas tells me—”

“Zuckerman.”

“Whatever.  He tells me you’ve been involved in this sort of business since you were a child.”

“His mistake.  I used to be a terrorist.”

“Really?”

“Aye.  Cut me loose for a minute, I’ll show you.”

“I’ll bet you would!”  Rodriguez had a genuine laugh over that.  “That just makes it better, though.  As a working terrorist, you not only have information, you know how to get more.  So I’m particularly interested in what you know about the CIA, the FBI, crossing the Mexican-U.S. border, any little tidbits you may have on the Colombian government, that sort of thing.”

“You’re daft!  I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“Oh, I do pray you’re wrong.”  Rodriguez picked up the leather case, hefting it in his hand.

“You’d better enjoy yourself while you can, because you’re a dead man.”

“You’re in no position to make threats.”

“Not me.  Zuckerman.  You have something he wants, and he is going to kill you for it.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, my dear, but the only thing I have that he wants is you, and he knows that I’m going to hand you over as soon as I get my information.  Now, do you want to save yourself some pain, or shall we do this the fun way?”

 *          *          *

Madre Dio, what a woman!

Rodriguez bounced his little bag of toys in his hand as he studied his diminutive prisoner.  Her rich auburn hair was damp and matted, and her green eyes were lackluster.  Trussed up like a chicken, those eyes and a few fingers were about all she could move, and yet she had him looking over his shoulder with just a few words.  God, she was desirable!  He would make it a point to have her later, but first, business.

He had kept the leather case in sight, its threat silent and infinite as he let her contemplate its contents.  Now he unzipped it slightly and removed a cork with an assortment of ordinary sewing needles stuck into it.  He removed a needle, tested its sharpness against his thumbnail, and held it near her face.

“Now, my girl, playtime is over.”  He thrust the needle into her collar, pleased to see her flinch involuntarily, and took out a cigarette lighter.  “My friend Douglas tells me you live in Rio.”

“Sometimes.”

“And could it be that your work has given you access to someone in the government there?”  He took a small pair of electrician’s pliers from the case.

“Most of my work takes place abroad, and involves people who are out of options.  Anyway, the government lives in Brasilia.”

“Unfortunate.”  Taking the needle from her collar, he locked it in the pliers and began to heat it with the lighter.  “How about my competitors in the Medallin?  Surely you have crossed paths with them, just as you have done with me.”

“Afraid not,” she said, watching the needle as it began to glow.

He suddenly swept it to the side and drove it into the tender skin along the left side of her ribs.

“Ahhhh, God!”  Her eyes clamped shut as her back arched, sending her swinging beneath the hook.

“Exquisite, isn’t it?  Did you know the skin just below your arms is more sensitive than the tips of your fingers?  I find pain there to be almost sexual.”

Her breath slowed to its normal pace, though hissing between clenched teeth, her eyes open now, staring death into his.

“That isn’t going to help you,” he said.  “When you give me something I can use, I will consider stopping the fun.”

“Some fun.”

“Take heart, little one, the best is yet to come.”  He selected another needle and began the heating process again.  “This one will be much slower, and so, of course, much more enjoyable.”

“All this isn’t necessary,” she said.  “I am a mercenary, you know.”

“Oh, and you would agree to be on my payroll?”

“Everybody has a price.”

“I find it interesting that you are suddenly so eager to negotiate.  Could your morals be slipping?”

“It’s a simple matter of practicality.”

“The same with me.”  He reached up and pushed the red hot needle slowly, excruciatingly, into the back of her hand, following the tendon past the knuckle and into her middle finger as she clenched her teeth and writhed in her chains.  “Nice?”

Deep, slow, labored breathing was her only response.

“Yes, that’s good.  Maybe I can help you.”  He began to prepare another needle.  “We will focus on your last job.  Exactly who did you work for, and what did you do?”

Her mind raced.  She wasn’t about to sell out her former clients to this scumbag, but she already knew that he was a master of pain with no sense of mercy.  She struggled to fabricate a story he would buy.  The third needle was beginning to glow.  Where would he put this one?

There came two soft raps on the door.

“Yes, what is it?”

The door opened and the guard leaned into the room.

“Señor Escobar has a call for you, boss.”

I don’t have time for that, man!”

“He says it is Señor Bradford.”

“Damn!”  He closed the lighter and carefully replaced the needle in the cork.  “Try not to be too disappointed, little one.  I’ll be right back.”

Leaving the two needles in place, he followed the guard out, locking the door behind him.

 *          *          *

O’Reilly hung in her bindings, head back, her breathing slow and even, trying to conserve energy.  If a chance came, she had to be ready.

Who am I kidding?

Her upper back ached with a dull fire, and her shoulders felt like they were being twisted from the sockets.  Everything from there to her fingers was numb, either starved for blood or swollen with blood that was trapped by the chains, she couldn’t tell which.  Her lower legs were cramping on and off from trying to take some of her weight off her arms in their awkward position.  The goons who had bound her had wrapped her up tighter than a baseball.

And so she hung, unable to move anything to a useful degree, waiting for the chance she knew Rodriguez would never give her, not after the abilities she had so thoroughly demonstrated for him.

At length, she heard the rattle of the door lock being operated; the pain would now resume.  She feigned unconsciousness, letting her head sag forward against her arms from where she could watch through slitted eyelids.  The door swung open and she saw her tormentor’s legs as he entered the room.  He closed the door and stood for a moment, inspecting his handiwork.  He had changed his pants, she noted, from his tropical whites to a more sensible navy blue; bloodstains never seemed to come completely out of white pants.

They watched each other for an awkwardly long moment, he staring, she surreptitiously, before he finally deigned to speak.

“Miss O’Reilly?”

Her eyes snapped open in surprise.

“Four Twenty Seven?  What are you, then, the swing shift?”

“Hardly.  I’m actually the only friend you have in this godforsaken hellhole.  Can you stand?”

“I don’t know.  What’s the difference?”

“What’s the difference?  You’ve a mission to complete.  You can’t hang around here all night.”

“Very funny.”

“Never mind.  Come on, lean on me.”

He stepped up and put an arm around her waist, reaching for the hook above her head.  She arched her back and gasped.

“What is it?” he asked, releasing her.

“Your host left a needle under my arm.  It doesn’t like being twisted.”

He bent to examine the area, found it, and pulled it out; she didn’t realize how much discomfort it had been causing.  Then he was on her again, lifting her up with one beefy arm, unhooking the chain, and lowering her to the floor.  Her shoulders cried out in an agony of relief, and her knees simply collapsed.  He caught her, lowered her gently to a seated position, and began fishing in his pocket.

“There’s another in my hand,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“A needle.  Here.”  She held her manacled hands up to him, and extracted the second one, examining it before tossing it aside.

“The man is a pig,” Douglas said.  “We use drugs for interrogation these days.  He does this because it pleases him.”

Using the keys he took from his pocket, he released her arms first, massaging them both in turn.  They awakened quickly, with loud wails of protest, but it was preferable to the limbo of numb immobility.  He unwrapped her legs next and repeated the massage, especially of her calves, where their rock-hard tone spoke of cramps.

“Why are you doing this?  What do you gain from it?”

“A clear conscience.  After all, I got you into this.”

“Don’t ruin it with a bloody lie, then.  You gain something from my freedom, or you wouldn’t be down here.  What is it?  Ah, with me outside raising bloody hell, no one will be watching you!”

“You really are a remarkable young woman, Colleen O’Reilly.  I regret that I ever took sides against you.”

She frowned at him as the massage moved up her thigh; he moved it back down.

“So, what could you need a distraction for?  You’re a trusted guest.”

“It would be more accurate to say that I’m a tolerated guest.  Rodriguez tolerates people for his own reasons, but he doesn’t trust anyone.  He’s a lot like you, actually.”

“That isn’t true.”

“We don’t really have time to discuss philosophy.  Let’s just say that you and Rodriguez haven’t thrived in your chosen professions by trusting people.  Neither have I.  As much as I might like to claim your bounty, our host is a collector, and he has a piece worth many times your value.  It won’t fight, it won’t try to escape, and it will attract a bidding war as soon as certain parties become aware of its availability, hence this unplanned side trip to let the cat out of the bag, as it were.”

“I’m not going to help you.”

“Why do you object?  I’m only stealing from a drug tycoon.”

“I object because it’s you.”

“Oh, yes.  An eye for an eye, and all that.”

“What makes you think I won’t come after you?”

“You do, Miss O’Reilly.”

“I do?”

“Quite.  You see, this monster still holds an innocent boy, and the boy is the key to a weapon that can end life on earth.  I don’t see you putting all that aside to satisfy some personal need for vengeance.  Now, I’m going to give you the keys to unlock the rest of these chains, and a credit card to slip the lock on the door.  The guard outside has been dealt with, and all his equipment is still on him just waiting to be taken and used.  By the time you take care of that, I’ll be in position.  Do try to hurry.  Two Eighty Three can’t keep Rodriguez on the phone all night.”

“I’m not going to help you.”

“Please yourself, dear.  If you like, you can sit here and wait for your lover to come back for more foreplay.  Or, if it sounds more attractive to you, you can make your move.  I’m going now.  I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.”

He laid the keys on the floor in front of her, put a credit card beside them, and stepped out of the room, closing the door firmly behind him.

 *          *          *

Takeri felt like he was awake, aware as he was of the dank smell and claustrophobic feel of the little cell, but at the same time, visions of formless tormentors crouched in the shadows, waiting for a moment’s inattention so they could fall upon him for purposes he couldn’t imagine.  He tried to roll over on the cot, but he couldn’t move.  If the creatures realized this, he would be theirs.

One of the little terrors thrust its head out from behind the toilet, the smoke-gray blob of its cowl broken only by its green glowing eyes.  Takeri bent every fiber of his will to moving one of the fingers of his right hand, any one of them.  The thing was gathering itself for the final rush toward its prey.  Of one thing he was sure:  If he couldn’t move, he would die.  Any second now.  Come on!

CLANGGGGG!

Takeri’s body jerked violently, sleep-paralysis forgotten.  The lights were on and his terrors were gone, replaced by the contorted face of his guard, pressed against the cell bars, one hand clawing at his throat.  As he stared, bewildered, at this strange tableau, the man forced himself away from the bars, turned around, and slammed his attacker, Colleen O’Reilly, against them.  Dressed in an ill-fitting guard’s uniform, her fists were balled around the ends of a piece of chain which ran under the man’s chin, and her knee pressed into the small of his back.  He rocked forward, and she grunted as he slammed her back against the metal again, but when he tried it a third time, her superior position allowed her to muscle him around and slam his face against them again.

Takeri had finally gathered his wits, and as the man threw an elbow that forced another grunt from O’Reilly, he punched him hard in the eye.  She turned him again, and got hammered into the bars yet again for her trouble.

“Get the chain!” she gasped.

He reached through the bars and wrapped his hand around the left side of the chain.  She let go, and yanked the right side with both hands, forcing a gurgle from his throat.

“Get the other side.”

As Takeri took the right side, she slid out from behind him.  He threw another elbow, but yelped as he hit a bar.  With Takeri holding him in place, O’Reilly moved around to his front, deliberately measured him, and took two running steps, hopped into the air, and kicked him in the face so hard that Takeri had to look closely to see whether the impact had bent the bars.

The guard, of course, sagged in the chain like a rag doll.  O’Reilly looked under an eyelid, and satisfied, took the chain from Takeri’s left hand, letting him fall awkwardly to the concrete floor.  Quickly locating the keys, she opened the cell and examined Takeri’s eyes.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes.  Are you?”

“I’m a little worn,” she admitted, “but I make up for it by being mad as hell.  What did Rodriguez do to you?”

“Just talked,” he told her as she stepped out looking around.  “That man scares me.”

“What did he talk about?”

“Cutting off my finger to send to my father.  He wants a formula.  Miss Colleen, we have to get out of here.  He’s going to kill us!”

“Not if we kill him first.  Number one is to get you out of here.  No way can this animal get his hands on that formula.  After that . . . well, we’ll see, then.”  She motioned him to follow her to the far end of the room, where they stacked three boxes beneath the catwalk.  Taking out the pistol she had taken from her own guard, she chambered a round, set the safety, and returned it to the holster.

“Up in that corner is a trapdoor to the roof.  There’s a good view of the house, so when we get up there, keep your head down.”

Climbing onto the boxes, she led him onto the catwalk.

 *          *          *

O’Reilly pushed the trap door up slightly and looked around as much as she could.  The jumble of pipes, ducts, and motors concealed any guard who might be waiting as effectively as it did her.  Drawing the pistol, she eased herself up through the hole and slithered out onto the roof, flat and alert, as dangerous as any viper.

She eased the door down quietly, and lay flat, knowing the roof was visible from the house, listening for any telltale sounds that would indicate a guard reacting to her furtive movements.  She heard nothing.  Staying prone, she moved herself around until she had checked every direction.  No one was here.  She opened the door a crack.

“The coast is clear,” she whispered to Takeri, who had, thankfully, waited on the ladder for her instead of barging out behind her.  “Come on up, but stay flat.  They can see us from the house up here.”

He came up, wide-eyed but careful, her hand on his back a constant reminder of the need for caution.  Getting him settled down behind the air conditioner, she pointed toward the house.  His gaze dutifully followed her finger to the patio, where Rodriguez paced about, delivering an agitated monologue to Douglas, who stood at the edge looking directly toward them.

Takeri started, so clear was the impression that Douglas could see them.  O’Reilly wondered what he was saying to keep Rodriguez from returning to keep her company.  Whatever it was, Beasley, the mad doctor, certainly found it amusing.  No matter.  They had to get going.

Motioning Takeri to follow, she crawled toward the back of the roof, the side awa from the house.  She had spent a day up here not so long ago, and not surprisingly knew her way around.  At the back of the old boiler house was a covered walkway to a smaller building a short way down the hill.  Checking the angle to the house, she raised her head above the facade for a quick look around.

A breeze was blowing off the Caribbean, tart but cool, and she drank it in.  All back here was dark and quiet, broken momentarily as a guard followed a doberman down the hill into the wooded slope of the estate.  She ducked, waited, then looked again.  All clear.

“Come on.”  She slipped over the facade, graceful and unobtrusive as a shadow, and dropped onto the aluminum awning below.  She waited for the boy to lever himself over, steadied him as he landed, and led him on across the walkway.

It led them to the plain flat roof of a much smaller building.  O’Reilly hadn’t investigated  this on her earlier excursion, and now she went to a square aluminum vent and tried to open it.  It was stuck, and gave suddenly, emitting a hellish shriek.  A dog barked as O’Reilly clenched her teeth together, but no one came calling, and she eventually relaxed and looked in.

“What is it?” Takeri asked.

“Can’t see shit, then,” she replied.  “Seems to be a big garden shed.  Come on.  Maybe we can get some wire cutters in there.”

Without further comment, she laid face-down on the cover and, holding the edge, somersaulted in.