Chameleon 5

© 2018, Jack H. Tyler

“The hell you are!”  She took the key back out of the ignition.

“To hell I am,” he replied, searching for the lap belt.

“Alone, Three, alone.  We discussed this before.  Like your sex life, remember?”

“Yes, clearly,” he replied, giving up the search.  “Unfortunately, Four Twenty Seven wasn’t included in that particular discussion.  He wants you accompanied, and I’m afraid that what he says goes.  Now, be a good girl, and start the car.”

“I have a plan laid out, Three, and you aren’t in it.”

“If your plan includes collecting two million American dollars, I just got in it.  If not, we can go up to your room and collect the bank book, and we’ll call whatever you’ve already spent expenses.  Now, start the car, or get out.”

She drew a deep breath and looked around while her mind raced.

“What’s your role in this grand scheme?” she asked finally.

“Support, strictly support.  I’m to stay with the car and discourage anyone who tries to tamper with it.”  He opened his light jacket to expose a large Glock pistol.  “Also, there’s an assault rifle in the BMW with which I was to fire cover if you came out being pursued.”

“Well, you’re not bringing that in here.  Still, if you’re going to wait at the car like a good lad and not cause me any trouble, I suppose it’s all right, then.”  She started the car and began to drive.  “It’s really that you don’t trust me, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“Don’t ‘what’ me.  You think I’ll settle for the million I’ve already got, and disappear, don’t you?”

“I’m insulted!”

“So am I.  I’m laying my life on the line to do a job that is vital to you, that you’re afraid to do yourself, and you have the gall to suggest that I need a baby sitter!  You damned punk!  I’ve got a good mind to give you the money back, and to hell with the lot of you!”

“Colleen, please!  It’s Four Twenty Seven’s idea.  He doesn’t know you like I do.”

“And you know me how?”

“Through the personal contact we’ve had, you know.”

“Just tell me the truth one fucking time, then.  Have that much grace.”

“All right.”  He paused in thought for what seemed to O’Reilly an excessively long time.

“Well?”

“The Company is aware of your ad.  We’ve known for some time that Chameleon is an alias used by Colleen O’Reilly, and we know that you’re wanted all over Europe.”

“Why haven’t you come after me, then?”

“You’re not wanted by us.”

“So?  America and Britain are so close, they’re almost the same country.  Some in Scotland Yard must have mentioned that they’d be happy to obtain information leading to the arrest, and so on.”

“They have, but the Company keeps its options open.”

“There you go again.  What does that mean?”

“That means you aren’t wanted for anything either in or by America, and, in as much as you’ve turned to this philanthropic calling, you have been allowed to operate against the day we might need your services.”

“The American CIA need my services?”

“Yes, like now.  The local government has hung us up in red tape, which translated means this drug cartel has bought them.  Now that they’ve been alerted by our request, they’re on the lookout for us.  We’re in the process of putting on an elaborate show to keep their attention on us, and while they’re doing that, our agent, you, Miss O’Reilly, are free to come and go as you please.”

“Well, I’ll be damned!”

“Undoubtedly.  Of course, the devil himself will have a hard time bringing you to heel.”

“Flattering.  And the rest of it?”

“If you get caught, we never heard of you.”

“Ah.  I just wanted to hear you say it, then.”

She came to a halt in front of the bus station.  Retrieving her case from the locker, she tossed in into Three’s lap and started the car again.

“What’s this?” he asked, looking it over.

“The kind of hardware I don’t want to be walking around with.”

“Oh.  May I?”

She passed him the key, and upon opening the lid he found a minuscule pistol, six clips, and three round glass bottles nestled in a bed of foam.  He picked up a clip and popped five rounds out of it.

“Three-eighty,” he said.  “Weak.  You’d better take my gun.”

“I’m not going in there to murder anyone,” she replied.  “That’s the last of my last resorts.”

“Yeah, but a round this light might let you down in the clutch.”

“All I have to do is keep them off.  Killing isn’t necessary.”

“All right,” he said, reloading the magazine.  “I just hope the mission doesn’t go south because you didn’t bring enough gun.”

“That’s my lookout, isn’t it?”

“Okay.  I guess you know what you’re doing.”

“I guess it do, then.”

“What’s this?” he asked, holding up one of the bottles.

“Essence of horny bitch.”

“What?”

“Canine sex pheromone.  Near everybody uses dogs in their security plans, and the dog hasn’t been born that’ll chase me with that goo in the air.”

Two Eighty Three laughed out loud.

“By God, woman, you’d have been cheap at twice the price!”

 *          *          *

Lorenzo Rodriguez, dapper as always in immaculate white trousers and a matching poet’s shirt, strolled down the edge of the gravel drive, enjoying the cool air.  The night was overcast, and a sea breeze stood in fresh from the Caribbean.

“Buenos noches, Señor,” one of the gate sentries greeted him, coming to a semi-respectful attitude.

“Tomás, que pasa?”  Rodriguez knew every man’s name, and used it.  The men liked that.  The money he paid them bought their loyalty; the fact that he took the time to know them as individuals ensured that they would give that little extra for him.

“Is quiet, Señor,” the guard replied.  A car could be heard down on the main highway, passing to the west on the way to Puerto Colombia.  “Just our customers looking for some night life.”

The men shared a laugh at that, and a patroller came over to share in the fun.  Rodriguez’s presence surprised him.

“Señor!”

“Raul.  A pleasant evening, is it not?”  Rodriguez stooped to fondle the Doberman that accompanied the man on a short chain.

“Si, Señor.”

“As you have been making your rounds, has the dog shown any signs of agitation?”

“How do you mean, Señor?”

“If someone was lurking outside the wall, the dog would sense him, and act differently, probably try to tell you this, yes?”

“Ah, I see.  Yes, the dogs are very well trained.  He would bark and lunge at the wall.  There would not be any doubt that something was out there.”

“And he hasn’t done anything like that tonight?”

“No, Señor.  He is very bored.”

“All right.  Carry on, then.”

“Si, Señor.”  The soldier moved on along the wall with his dog.

“Are you expecting company, Señor?” the gate sentry asked.

“I don’t know.  I’ve got a feeling, like something’s in the air.  I want you boys to be extra alert tonight.”

“We are extra alert every night, boss,” the man assured him.

“Extra, extra alert, then.  I don’t know where these premonitions come from, but they have served me well.  Keep your eyes open.”

“Si, Señor,” the man assured him as he started back up the drive toward the house.

He walked slowly, enjoying the breeze and trying to extend his senses out beyond the wall to hear those busily plotting against him readying his equipment, digging their tunnels, pursuing their evil plan to take away all this that he had built, and return him to his place as a dirt-poor coffee picker.

It was astonishing, he thought, how the world was willing to spend its time and resources persecuting him.  His life had shown up the rest of humanity for what it really was.  Let one man from a poor exploited country try to better himself, and the world rose up to beat him down in a fever of self-righteous wrath and jealousy.  No matter; Rodriguez was a survivor.

Nodding to the guard inside the front door, he walked through the narrow base of the house, and onto the covered portico where Beasley nursed a book and a drink with an equal lack of urgency.

“Evening, Doctor,” Rodriguez said, stepping to the bar to prepare his own drink.  “A lovely night.  This must remind you of your homeland.”

“Hah!” Beasley snarled in reply, wiping his neck with a sweat-soaked handkerchief.  “In a midsummer heat wave, maybe.”

“Poor Doctor Beasley.  If our climate so offends you, why do you stay here?”

“The problem with being a fugitive doctor is that all the places that are willing to employ you lie on the equator.  If it’s this or some godforsaken desert, give me this.  At least the women aren’t afraid to show a little skin in this country.”

“That is true, my friend,” Rodriguez said distractedly, taking his drink to the railing and looking out over the dark compound.

Beasley caught the lack of response to his remark about women showing skin.

“Is something wrong?”

“I’ve got a feeling . . .”

“Oh, you and your feelings.”

“I don’t know where these feelings come from, Doctor, but I don’t ignore them.  It is I who took over the cartel instead of a dozen other men who wanted to because when I got feelings, I paid attention to them.  If they got feelings, they dismissed them as superstition, so they are dead and I am here.  Don’t belittle my attention to feelings.”

“Of course not.  I didn’t mean to—”

“William!”  Rodriguez had turned around to face Beasley, and caught sight of his computer expert standing on an upstairs balcony.

“Si, Señor?”

“Who is the woman?”

“What woman?”

“Dios!  The woman who was here earlier, the lost whore.”

“Oh, her.  I don’t know yet.”

“You don’t know?  Then why are you out here taking your ease?”

“Señor Rodriguez, I have looked at a hundred web sites already.  Do you know—”

“Then you look at a thousand!  If you don’t find her there, you look at a million.  When I instruct you to obtain information, I do not expect to find you loafing in the evening breeeze!  When the information I require is no longer important, you will be the first to know.  Now, get back to your terminal!”

“Yes, sir!”  The young man scurried back through the French doors.

“Lazy son of a bitch!” Rodriguez spat as he walked to one of the wicker chairs and sat down.  “He’s very good, but as soon as I find his equal, his days are over.”

“You know, Lorenzo, you may have his replacement in your cellar.”

“I may indeed,” Rodriguez replied, lifting his glass with a twinkle in his eye.  “I just may indeed.”

 *          *          *

O’Reilly’s mind rehearsed the mission, planning for every possible surprise as she donned her equipment over the black catsuit.  There wasn’t that much, really.  The gun, her last resort, went into a small holster behind her right hip.  A medium-size knife, more a tool than a weapon, slipped into a sheath outside her left calf.  A coil of light nylon rope with a grappling hook attached spanned from left shoulder to right hip, and a smoke bomb (Marker Flare, Daytime, Orange) joined two flash-bang grenades that Two Eighty Three had so graciously provided.  A roll of 1″ duct tape went into the pocket of her light jacket, and she pulled the foam from the valise and wrapped two of the glass bottles of dog pheromone, putting one in each trouser pocket.

“Looking buff!” Two Eighty Three said approvingly.  “What do you need me to do?”

“Follow your own plan,” she said, pulling on a pair of tiny gloves that protected her hands while leaving her fingertips free, “stay here and guard the car.”

“You can’t mean you’re going in alone!”

“Stow it, then.  That was always the plan, that’s what you hired me for, and that’s how I work.”

“But, if anything happened to you . . .”  He changed his approach as she stared at him, open-mouthed.  “Those are some seriously bad hombres in there.”

“Do you know who I am?  I’m from Belfast, Three.  I was born into Sinn Fein.  Before I started having periods, I was walking through British Army security to place bombs on the commandant’s desk.  I slaughtered people by the trainload in downtown London while I was living within sight of New Scotland Yard, so don’t waste any breath telling me how tough these people are.  This is a bunch of Godless parasites who only know how to be tough when an unarmed office worker is kneeling before them with a gun to his head.”

“I only meant—”

“Spare me the gruesome details, then.  I’ve got a job, and you’ve got a job.  Watch the car and don’t go to sleep.  I’ll be back inside the hour with the boy.”

A small pair of wire cutters joined the Balisong in her boot, and she picked up the final bottle of pheromone and moved off toward the trees.  She pointedly ignored his muffled call of “Colleen,” and was out of sight in seconds.

The villa’s forbidding wall loomed ahead moments later and she closed up to it, a ghost of the forest, silent and invisible, and crouched there listening.  She heard nothing out of the ordinary, the occasional distant voice, or a sliding door being operated; nothing to indicate that anyone was extraordinarily alert inside.

She was at the left rear of the compound, and now she backed away from the wall and threw the bottle of pheromone high and as hard as she could toward the front of the grounds.  The glass was as thin as tissue paper.  It was guaranteed to break.  She took a second bottle from her pocket and threw it shorter, at an angle in the direction of the house.

Dogs suitably distracted, she began a careful, quiet walk along the rear face.  She had no doubt that by the time she got to her entry point, the dogs would have picked up the scent, and have eyes for nothing but other dogs.  This was confirmed by the sound of a dog, growling and pulling the other way as its handler encouraged it.

Once to the right of the house, out of view of Rodriguez’s patio, she tossed the grapple and climbed to the top of the wall.  No one in sight.  The cutters popped a Chameleon-size gap in the razor wire and, turning the hook around to leave the rope hanging into the compound, she dropped to the ground.  Still no one in sight.  Spotting a cellar door against the house she scurried over to it, and finding it unlocked, dropped into the darkness below, closing it behind her.  The hard part was done.

Now she drew her little pistol, waited a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, and moved with infinite patience back into the depths of the room.  It seemed to be a storage room, crates, drums, and barrels crowding the area, leaving only the narrow aisles that converged on the stairway up to the ground floor.  To these stairs she now crept, her rubber-soled boots silent on the concrete.

The wooden stairs gave her a little more pause, but they were in good repair, and made no sudden noises to give her away.  The door opened to the left at the top, and no light shone through the cracks.  She listened, heard nothing, and eased the door open.  It made a creak, but brought no running footsteps, and she slipped on through into a dimly lit kitchen illuminated by a light in a room beyond.

Now she heard a conversation, probably a couple of rooms away, and she eased herself in the opposite direction.  The problem was that the boy could be anywhere.  She had an idea that he would be confined to a room with no windows, which meant in the center of the house, and on any floor; she had actually been surprised when he wasn’t in the cellar.

There was nothing else for it, she would have to search the house, all the while avoiding discovery, and find a prisoner.  Still, she had done harder work with less resources.  Her mind was already eliminating the illogical places to hold a prisoner, places like living rooms, kitchens, and so forth.  Her money was on a walk-in closet with guards in the bedroom outside.  No, for a high school kid, one guard.  He was as good as out.

Such were her thoughts as she ducked into a darkened library in response to footsteps coming toward her.  She slipped in between two bookcases as they stopped at the door, and she switched from gun to knife, knowing that if he came in, she would have to deal with him silently.

As she feared, the door opened, and the man came in.  Escobar.  He was huge, filling his white suit to the bursting point.  She watched him with the one eye she dared expose as he looked around the room, slowly, patiently.  Then, unexpectedly, he said, “Diego?”

“She is right there, boss.”

Surprised completely, she fumbled for the gun as the lights came on, and she found herself staring into the muzzle of an MP5 submachine gun.  She froze.

“Good girl,” Escobar said.  “Step out here, arms out to your sides.”

She was quickly and efficiently stripped of her weapons and equipment as the henchman held her in his merciless, unwavering gaze.  Everything she carried piled on a book stand, she was directed to sit down behind the large desk at the head of the room.  Escobar keyed an intercom box on the desk.

“Si?”

“We have her, boss.  We’re in the library.”

“I’ll be right there.”

This was bad.  There was no story O’Reilly could tell that would placate these people, cop, spy, or common thief.  These were the men who gunned down Federal judges at high noon on the courthouse steps.  She had underestimated them, and now she was going to pay with her life.

Rodriguez came in with two more of his security men.  It would be soon.

“Good work, Carlos,” he said.  “I have men searching the area.  Something is wrong with the dogs, but we’ll sort it out.”

Not likely, O’Reilly thought.

“So, what do we have here?” Rodriguez asked, turning his attention to her now.  “You look familiar.  I know you from somewhere.”

“Ever been to Ireland, then?”

“No, but you are not in Ireland now, and I’ve seen you before.  What’s your name?”

“Kelly McGill.”

“And what is your business in Barranquilla, Kelly McGill?”

“I’m a photographer.”

Rodriguez looked over the pile of gear, including the gun and two knives.  He turned suddenly and backhanded her across the face.

“Not a camera in the pile!  Quickly now, before I get nasty, what is your business here?”

“I came to take pictures for my company.  I . . . well, I found out about these mansions, and broke in to steal something.  It’s a very lucrative sideline,” she added, hoping to strike a larcenous chord, “what with me being in a different city every week.”

“But a gun, Kelly?  Who were you going to shoot?”

“No one, but some of these mansions have security forces that might need to be discouraged from shooting me.”

“I see.  And who do you take pictures for?”

“Just a struggling little dot-com.  It’s a budget travel site.”

“The name, please?”

“Worldways-dot-com.”

“Yes.”  Rodriguez keyed the intercom.  “William.”

“Yes, sir.”

“William, drop the search for the whore.  Get me everything available on worldways-dot-com, and their photographer, Kelly McGill.”

“Right away, boss.”

It wouldn’t be long now.

“The whore,” Rodriguez muttered to himself, staring at her.  “The whore.  Of course!  You were, how do they say, casing the joint!  Oh, you’re good, Kelly McGill, you’re so very good!”

Not good enough, she thought as the intercom buzzed.

“Rodriguez.”

“There is no such site as worldways-dot-com, Señor.  I didn’t see any point in looking for the name.”

“You’re quite right, William.  Thank you so much.”  He turned and sat on the desk facing her.  “So, now, Miss whatever your name is, we’re going to find out who in the hell you are, and what you’re doing up here, and after we do, we’re going to kill you, your mother, and all your brothers and sisters.”

“Good luck,” she said with a little crooked smile.

“Take her down to the guest rooms.”

As two of the thugs were lifting her under her armpits, three more came in with Two Eighty Three handcuffed between them.

“What the hell is this?”

“We found him down by the road waiting by an old car.  We thought you’d like to talk to him.”

“It’s a public highway,” Two Eighty Three said indignantly.  “I haven’t done anything.”

“Shut up,” Rodriguez said.  “I know you, too.  You are Martin Bradford of the American CIA.”

“What?  You’re crazy!”

“Ah, si, I am crazy with joy.  Old friends and new are dropping in to see me, and all on the same night.  You I already know about, so interrogation would be a waste.  Carlos, kill him.”

“No!” O’Reilly exclaimed.

“Oh, you have feelings for this one?” he asked as Carlos produced a large, square-lined semiautomatic pistol and aimed it at Two Eighty Three’s head.  “Not here.  Think of the carpet!  Take him outside.”

“He’s nothing to me,” O’Reilly said.  “I just had him drive me up here.  If I’d known he was CIA, I’d have left him in the bar where I found him.”

“Oh, you brought him.  Then let his death be on your head.  Carlos!”

Rodriguez’s goons dragged the struggling man that had been such a pain to O’Reilly out of view and a few seconds later, two shots rang out in quick succession.

“Now for you,” Rodriguez said, a sadistic light in his eye.  “Take her to the cells.”

 *          *          *

Escobar and two thugs had manhandled her to an outbuilding off to the right of the house.  They hadn’t roughed her up, exactly.  Escobar had simply held her left upper arm as they walked.  His thumb and fingers overlapped where they met in front.

The building was concrete and brick, and had long ago held a boiler or a generator.  Its concrete slab was all that was left.  She decided it had been a boiler, based on all the pipes that ran through the cavernous space below the skylight.  The place was obviously a storeroom now, as large crates and bulk shipping containers lined the walls all the way up to the catwalk above.

To the right of the door three brick alcoves had been converted to cells.  The boy, Takeri, stood in the first one, holding the bars, watching the excitement as the guards thrust her deeper into the room.  It was a lucky thing they caught her, she decided; she’d have never found him in here.

They shoved her to the end with a gun barrel in the back and put her in the last cell so that an empty one was between her and Takeri.

“Make yourself comfortable, Señorita,” Escobar said, surprising her with his cordiality.  “The boss’s interrogator will be down shortly.  Five minutes with him, and you’ll be begging to spill your guts.  Adiós.”

She flopped down on the cot and began to take inventory as Escobar gave a potbellied guard his instructions, basically, no funny business with the prisoner.  She would have to be careful about provoking him;  the sawed-off pump action shotgun he carried would fill the cell with its blast.

By the time the thugs left the building, she had completed her inventory.  As nearly as she could determine, she had running water, a tin cup, a blanket, a pillow, and whatever bits of framing she could remove from the cot.  Not much.  First she would have to evaluate the guard.

“Hey, Porky,” she said, tossing her jacket on the cot as she stepped over to the bars, resting her face on the metal and thrusting one leg through, “what time’s dinner served around here?”

“Sorry, little one,” he said with a smile.  “You missed it, and by the time they serve breakfast, you won’t be in no shape to chew nothin’.  Have all the water you want, though.”

She looked around the cell, noting a loose brick in the back wall, two parallel pipes running side-to-side above the door, the exposed water pipe, and the hastily applied mortar where the toilet had been recently fitted.

“Nice place,” she said, turning back to the guard.  “I gotta pee.  How does a girl get a little privacy?”

“Oh, you don’t.  You’re part of the entertainment.  Just go right ahead.”

“Well, that’s a fine thing!”  She threw herself down on the cot.  “Are you a pervert as well as a fat-ass?”

“Call it what you like.  There’s not much to enjoy about this job.  I take what comes along.”

There is was, his Achilles heel.

“To hell with it,” she said, lying back.  She picked up her jacket and began to worry at the shoulder seam with her sharp front teeth.

“I can wait a lot longer than you can,” he teased her with a leer.

She ignored him as the sleeve came loose, and she began to bite pilot slits and tear it into long strips.  She had no idea how long she had, so she settled for just three of them.  It only had to work for a minute, anyway.

“You must be a very rich little girl to tear up your clothes like that.”

If you only knew!

“Please yourself.  That’s not gonna help you when Ramon gets hold of your ass.”

Don’t bet on it.

She took the blanket, slip-knotted two of the long strips to the corners, pulled up a wad at center of that edge, and attached the third one.  Standing up on the cot, she began to the loose ends over the pipe nearest the door.

“What you gonna do, climb out?  There’s no place to go up there.”  He laughed stupidly.

With all three strips attached, she hopped down and pulled it slowly across the bars like a shower curtain.

“There’s just no way I’m going to drop my little panties with a pig like you watching.”  Only her head was exposed now, and with a “ta-ta,” she pulled her makeshift curtain completely shut and began to move quickly.  Standing on the bed, she jumped up and caught the interior pipe, some three feet behind the one she had hung her curtain on.

“What is going on in there?”

She wouldn’t speak again.  She scrambled up, using the wall for purchase, and got her feet around the pipe.  She wasn’t worried about the strange noises her efforts made; they would drive his curiosity beyond endurance.

“Take this blanket down at once!”

Getting to the top of the pipe was child’s play for someone with her gymnastic skills, and she moved out to the center, the soles of her feet on the pipe, hands gripping the metal between them.

“Don’t make me come in there!”

Silence.

“You’re going to be sorry!”

Her fingers started to ache a bit, and she slid her feet out wide to let her weight down on her palms.

“All right, I warned you!”

She heard the jingle of a key ring, the bolt slid back in the lock, and the instant his hand grasped the edge of the blanket to thrust it back, she launched herself in a graceful arc around the radius described by her arms, coiled her legs, and mule-kicked him in the face with both boots.  He landed fifteen feet outside the cell, and before he could even begin to think about what had happened, she was on him, driving her knee into his groin and head-butting the bridge of his nose.  He would be out for quite a while.

She grabbed his shotgun, pulled the keys from her door, and stepped to Takeri’s cell.

“Wow!” he greeted her.  “Who the hell are you?”

“Your guardian angel.  Get ready to travel.”

She found to her frustration that the key that fit her cell didn’t fit his.  There must have been fifty keys on the ring; this could take all night!  The boy just stood there gaping at her.

“We don’t have much time,” she said.

“I’m wearing everything I’ve got.”

She tried the keys on both sides of hers, hoping the guard kept them in some kind of logical order.  No luck.

“Somebody’s coming!” the boy gasped.

“Our host,” she replied.  “Damn!  Sit tight.  I’ll be back.”

She trotted across the floor, leaped atop a crate, climbed onto the catwalk, and disappeared into the rafters.