Book II: Red Harvest
Part II: Scenes I-III
Jack Murphy once again delves into the murky underworld to find a missing girl. Armed with only his dry-wit and cynicism, he journeys to a quiet little farm town called Waterston. It’s a beautiful place, renown for its cherries and the orchards that dotted the landscape against the rolling green hills beyond. But it’s also a world where the hunter becomes the hunted and where the forces of good collide with the evil cloaked in the myth and mysticism of an ancient belief.
It’s also a place where some find the "Red Harvest sinfully wild to enjoy, while others find nothing more than disappointment and regret . . ."
The Legal Stuff: Murphy's Law: Book II - Red Harvest © 2009 by josie.
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Scene: I: Big Fish
Cecil looked at himself in the mirror, which was something he rarely did, really, a man never does. Oh sure, as a kid he’d stand there wrapped in a towel after a shower and flex, pose and run through the usual checklist to facial expressions to see how he compared. Then as a young man to work out that balance between ruggedness and sophistication the ladies find so appealing. It’s all quite heady and yes, sometimes vain, but always in a reflective way.
A boy doesn’t use a mirror to change what he sees. He uses the mirror to help make what he sees work. Much like you might use a backboard to increase your odds at making a shot, but as any good coach will tell you, not as a tool to create a shot that isn’t already there.
Now here he was at age 24, a year out of the academy, two years out of college dressed as a woman looking at that backboard as his sole means of making that two-pointer. Not in a reflective way, but as a woman might, with shrewdness and guile. It was a whole new relationship with a mirror, but a necessary distraction for a rookie cop undercover for the first time. Leastwise that’s how he saw it.
“A distraction?” he wondered while powdering his nose exactly the way Francine had showed him. “Sure, just something I gotta do to make sure I’m not made. Or done,” he furrowed his lovely wing-swept brows when giving that notion a second thought. Although there was a slight devilish up tick to his facial expression as well. There’s always some vanity in knowing you’d gotten it just right. With just enough hauteur and allure to gain access to his target, knowing he’d done his job well.
“That’s all it is after all,” Cecil tried to convince himself while putting the compact back in his clutch. “It’s just a job.” Although it did worry him some that the word “allure” had just popped into his head, seemingly from out of nowhere. For some reason just the sound of it besieged his sensibilities like the heady scent of his perfume.
“Freshen-up? Allure?” God, I’ve got to get out of this stuff fast,” Cecil verbalized his thoughts while Cecilia used a tissue to clean the errant traces of black mascara from the corner of her eye.
“There now, all done,” Cecilia smiled, taking a bit of pride in her work, and yes, a little pride in herself too. Now for her trial and the verdict of her jurors as she walked out of the women’s restroom and then sauntered past her admirers sitting at the tables and lined up at the bar. Though not so quick as to pass on that Pink Lady, offered by a man who’d managed to lasso her in. Of course she did try to gesture an appeal, but with no voice of her own what choice did a lady have but surrender to his will and the arm wrapped around her waist.
“Besides, surrender now and live to fight another day.” That’s how it went, right?” Or so that’s what Cecilia told herself as she engaged his smile to the “clink” of the cocktail glasses. Then nodding her thanks she bid a gracious, “toot-a-loo,” as she made a quick exit out of the Starlight Lounge.
Cecil looked down the block and spotted the surveillance van and wondered how Arn was holding up on his own. It was already approaching sunset. A bad time to leave a man with an itch to scratch all alone to his own devises. Especially one who is already on a first name basis with the liquor store clerk just a few doors down. Still, there is always reason to hope.
He looked at his watch, realizing he’d spend an hour inside the lounge primping up. So he hurried back and to his surprise found Arn had been very well behaved. Well, sort’a! Leastwise he was still sober, though no less the foolhardy, insensitive pain in the butt.
“Woooh! Lookie here!” he ogled and cooed, “Ooooo and aah,” then rattled on as if the delirious effects of abstinence were eating away what was left of his brain. “I’m telling you sweet cheeks, you are hot!”
“Cool it, Arn. You’re married.” Arn laughed and Cecil muttered to himself, “Damn, I’ve got to stop drinking those Pink Ladies.”
Cecil sat down on the swivel seat across of Arn, remembering to keep his legs crossed before sitting back to have a look at what had been keeping Arn so pleasantly distracted. Aligning the interior wall panels now hung a row of 8x10 framed glosses of Tatiana dressed in that flaming pink windbreaker and short white pleated shirt slinking across the street.
“What in the heck are you doing, Arn?” Cecil asked, but Arn didn’t respond. Rather he just stared and smiled like a starry-eyed punch-drunk man watching the words flow from those candy apple lips like weightless tiny pink bubbles floating whimsically his way.
“Arn, Arn,” Cecil snapped his fingers. “What’s with you?” Cecil had elevated his voice to a level of harshness that finally managed to cut through Arn’s state of delirium, and along with it, those tiny pink bubbles drifted away with the return of his senses.
“Aaaah, I’m aah, not really sure,” he replied scratching his head. “I guess I was just bored, or something. Hey, don’t mind me, I kind of get like this sometimes.” He grinned foolishly, like a boy suddenly startled out of his daydream by his angry teacher. He looked up to see what he had done, shook his head and said, “Huh! Fishing!”
“What’s that Arn?”
“Oh, just something my uncle told me when I was a kid back in Ireland. He was a fisherman. You see back then, fishing was akin to religion, only instead of holy this and holy that, it was fishing this, fishing that. I remember he once sat me on his lap and said to me life is like fishing. You’re always looking for the big one. The trick is, when you spot her swimming close in to the rocks, don’t go letting her out of your sights.”
“That makes Tatiana the big one, right?”
“Yeah, well, even at 8 I knew he weren’t talking about no mackerel.”
“I think this job is getting to you, Arn. Although, I do thank you for holding your post even as hard as I know it had to be.”
“Nah, I just gotta keep busy, that’s all.”
“You haven’t seen her?” Cecil enquired.
“Who, the big fish?” Arn followed while looking up at the pictures he’d taken such care to align in a perfect row.
“Yeah, Arn, the one you saw swimming close in to the rocks.”
“Nope, just Michael. How about you? Did you get in touch with Jack?”
Nothing, I tried three times. He checked out a car at 5 this morning and hasn’t been in contact since.”
“What did the log say?” Arn asked.
“That he was going to Waterston. Do you know where or what that is, Arn?”
“Not really sure. The only Waterston that comes to mind is a small town in New Jersey. I used to take the wife up there come cherry season.”
“Huh, I wonder what’s going on up there?” Cecil found himself looking at yet another group of photos sprawled out on the table as if Arn had been scrutinizing them as well. Photos of him Arn had taken the night before as he was leaving the Pink Flamingo.
One picture showed him standing at the curb waiting to cross the street. Behind him there was a crowd milling about, and in the forefront two ladies, one in red and one in blue dolled up for a night on the town. Both in their mid-twenties, slim, attractive prime U.S. cut beef. Yet seeing himself juxtaposed between, he could scarcely tell himself apart.
“I was just about to hang them up next.” Arn chuckled at his cleverness.
“Stick it,” Cecil spat out, though it was clear to both the words had left their mark, somewhere between his new found vanity and the remnants of masculine bravado. Cecil or Cecilia in this case, didn’t seem the hesitant, weak-kneed, star-struck dumb blond bimbo she appeared two days ago. She had a new air of confidence about her, one even Cecil himself could sense.
“So, I guess we just wait and watch for Michael to leave for work again. You go back in, keep an eye out for Tatiana and we’ll see what happens.”
“Yeah, but I’m not going in the front way this time.”
“You’re not?” Arn perked up. “You’re going in as Olga?”
“That’s why we did this, right? I mean, that’s what we’ve been planning from the start.”
“Yeah, but there’s something else about that Cliff Morgan story I ain’t told you yet. Something I’ve been meaning to tell you, but ain’t got around to just yet.”
“Yeah, and when were you fixing to tell me?” he sounded a bit irate.
“Ah, now, don’t be getting your panties in no uproar, girlie. I’ve been fixin’ too. You see, it’s like this.” Arn cleared his throat. “Ol’Cliff he did exactly like I said. Only it didn’t go so smooth. He was spotted, and after they broke a couple of bones he wasn’t so happy he done it.”
“Gee, thanks for telling me Arn!” He uncorked. “Were you planning on telling me on the way to the Coroners?”
“Now, now, it ain’t like that. They didn’t kill him, but it is dangerous work. I want you to keep that in mind. Protect yourself, be on your toes and if you sniff out trouble, run like hell if you can. If not, well, I ain’t letting you go in by yourself without this.” Arn opened a cabinet and pulled out a tiny Smith and Weston single shot Derringer.
“A pea shooter? You’re kidding. That’ll bounce off those guys.”
“I doubt that. Actually this little baby has quite a punch. 38 caliber and pretty darn accurate within 10 feet.”
“Ten feet! Okay, I’ll be sure to step them off before I pull the trigger.” Cecil responded sarcastically while contemplating his alternatives.
“Hey, better than using them heels. You can only poke out one eye at a time with that. With the other eye they’re going to be shooting for sure. Besides, it has something those heels don’t have.”
“The element of surprise. The thing’s so tiny you can hide it in your pantyhose. It comes with this sleek little holster too. Come on, try it on. Can’t hurt you none,” which was true. So he did try it on and found that Arn was right about the stealth aspects of the gun. Not to mention the sense of security he felt knowing that if need be, he’d have at least one good shot at saving his life.
He wore it for the remainder of the day and at 8 that night when Michael re-emerged with guitar case in hand he felt ready for most anything. They again followed Michael to work. Arn drove while Cecil slipped on the cleaning ladies smock, cap and pinned on “his” photo ID. Then like a sprinter preparing for a race, he psyched himself up to enter that service entrance door.
When they arrived, everything was setup just as they had planned. The Tepes Cleaning Company van again parked outside the rear entrance door and only one lady, not two stepped out to begin her nights work. A moment later Cecilia sucked in a deep breath, stepped out and made her way toward the parked van. She opened the side door, retrieved a bucket and mop and cool as a Flamingo in season she headed up that long flight of stairs.
Scene II: Caps
Jack, Abe, Carl and Arina made the short drive to Dr. Vladimirescu’s house in Arina’s car. Jack seemed to think even an unmarked police car seen outside her house would draw more unwanted attention than they needed. Abe drove and it was well that he did. Jack had a lot on his mind.
He looked in the back seat where Arina sat beside Carl. Her eyes were still moist and her anguish was etched on her face. She looked as if she’s aged a quarter century in the last 5 minutes, and as Jack again turned back around he felt as if he had as well. The fact that Carl had been right about that ring had thrust this case into a whole new arena.
There were now others involved. Arina, perhaps even Yuri, Egore and the rest of this small immigrant community who were bound by the power that ring held over them. He still didn’t understand any of it, but he knew Sonya’s mysterious death and Michelle’s disappearance would be left to the annals of the forgotten for time and continuum until he did. He also knew this was a place where he’d have to tread carefully or risk putting himself or others in jeopardy.
“Funny,” Jack uttered, unconsciously voicing his thoughts, “All this beauty and bounty, and beneath it, the disappointment and regret.”
“What’s that?” Abe asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Jack went on to say. “My folks used to bring me out here when I was a kid. The ocean of white blossoms that dotted the landscape with the rolling green hills beyond seemed quite amazing to me, a city kid.”
“Yes,” was the only way Abe knew how to respond to something so personal.
“You know, we’re going to need a warrant, Abe,” Jack said in a low voice, just auditable enough to be heard over the sound of tires over hard gravel as they approached the house.
“I’ll call Judge Barnes when we get there. Arina is inviting us in so as long as we don’t touch nothing before the warrant arrives we’ll be okay.”
“It’ll need to be sent by an unmarked car. We don’t need to arouse anymore suspicion than is necessary.”
“Yeah, I thought of that. A mail truck ought to do it.” Abe was on top of things. Jack felt a comfort in that. His voice had a quiet, reassuring strength of a man whose thoughts and his pace where in cadence with his own. He looked poised and cool, his face as unstirred and expressionless as the few words he spoke. Yes, Jack was glad he was here.
At the foot of the driveway they saw a large red bucket perched upon a tree stump that had been strategically placed beside the lamp post directly in front of them. There were several long thin spars, or spears sticking out of the bucket, each with an impaled crow on display at the end. The car came to a stop.
“What in the hell is that?” Jack, Abe and Carl stared in disbelief, but not Arina. She stepped out and the others followed like bloodhounds to gather around the bucket three-quarters full of a blood red fluid.
Jack reached down to test it. “Cherry juice,” he concluded, holding his finger up to show the familiar red stain.
“Yes, it’s a sign they gather tonight. They sense something is coming.”
“Cherry juice is a sign? Of what?” Jack asked.
“It means the blood of their enemy.” Arina followed.
“Who’s the enemy, us or the lusting crows?” Abe inquired lightheartedly, finding the link between the two somewhat funny. Only Arina wasn’t buying into it.
“Not you. They did not know you were coming here. Someone else!”
“I wonder where it came from? The harvest is still two weeks away.” Abe seemed more interested in the ‘who-done-it’ than why it was done.
“Yuri and Egore know where they are ripe.”
“So now we know who did this,” he followed, conscious of her deliberate glare.
“Yes, Yuri and Egore gather the others.”
“Huh!” Jack grunted, “Red Cherries, red blood.”
“From the harvest,” Carl cut in, “Red blood, red harvest! I think we found what we were looking for, Jack. Red Harvest means a blood harvest.”
“Yes, but whose?” Jack’s voice tailed off into an ominous void.
“Come, we must hurry,” Arine expressed the need for urgency. “The night draws near.”
Arina showed them in and Abe placed his call. The estimate was that it would take about an hour for the warrant to arrive, so they used the time to become familiar with the place. It was a luxurious home. Well furnished and maintained, certainly above the standards of most homes in the area, but not so ostentatious as to stand out, or perhaps, draw unwanted attention. In a like manner, he saw no signs of anything improper or out of the ordinary.
In fact, there was almost a sterile quality to the place. Absent signs of people and movement with things untouched as if no one had even lived there. There were clothes in the closet of course, and food in the pantry as well. He also saw the usual array of household plants and pictures of Vlady and her friends in her bedroom. However, nothing looked used, or altered or out of place in the least. Likewise her office; which looked almost as if it had been setup in a department store window to entice the onlooker to buy into it.
Arina sat in the living room with Carl holding her hand while Jack and Abe looked about. Neither spoke, though like two old battle cruisers searching the still waters for the enemy sub beneath, neither had to. They both knew what the other was seeing. From the travel brochures and home decorating magazines Jack found stuffed in the office file cabinets, to the absence of scuff marks on the polished hardwood floors that Abe thought rather odd.
The garage, or what used to be the garage, looked quite different however. It had been converted in to an arts and crafts room that did look used, though not recently. As well, inside the house there were three doors that still remained locked. Obviously a keen point of interest, though they dare not ask about them until the postal carrier arrived with the warrant. An excruciating long wait, but when the courier finally did arrive neither could get the words out fast enough.
“Okay, Arina, it’s time to show us what we’re not seeing.”
Arina searched through her ring of keys then rose up, walked down the hallway and opened the first of those doors.
“So this is where they spent their time?” Jack asked of Arina while stepping inside.
“Here and in the garage, yes. They ate in the kitchen.”
Jack stepped in. The room was easily the largest room in the house. With a fireplace and a bay window, he speculated that it was once a sitting room that had been walled off. Inside, there was a lounge with a large library of books. Off to the right there was another door that led to a second office. It was small, but with everything from a telefax to an office safe, this was obviously the office she used.
Jack along with Abe looked inside the office, finding the desk strewn with paper work of all sorts. Abe sat down at the desk and picked up a letter then showed it to Jack. It was a business letter with the letter head “DB, Ltd.” A further look produced other documents with the same letterhead, and in the file cabinets, folders of business transactions engaged by that company that dated back years.
“What’s all this?” Jack enquired, handing one of the documents to Arina.
“It’s her company.”
“She owns a company? What is it, do you know?”
Abe cut in holding up yet another document he’d found. “It seems that DB, Ltd. is a West German based company. The DB stands for Dimitru Brothers. I don’t know about you, but that sounds kind of odd to me.”
“How so?” Jack lifted his nose up from his reading.
“It’s a West German company that operates under a Romanian name. That’s what’s odd! Why they do I don’t know. Furthermore, the CEO of the company is an expatriate Romanian. Namely, none other than Sanda Vladimirescu, the very woman we are looking for. This is a recently signed purchase agreement for a tenement in the Tremont District and signed by her.”
“Tremont?” Jack replied dismissively. “Only an idiot would invest money there.”
“Why?” Abe asked, though clearly he already knew the answer.
“It’s a war zone that’s why.” Jack fired back.
“For now, but if you have the muscle and the money to hold on to it, I’d say that’s about as close to investing in Fort Knox as you can get.”
“Location, location, location! It’s only a short jog from Manhattan, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Plus from what I’ve heard, the government has been talking about pumping in urban redevelopment money in a big way. I’ve read about it in the papers. New expressways, bridge and harbor access and all. I’d bet in 10 years you won’t even recognize the place. Buying something like that at pennies to the dollar makes it some pretty valuable real estate.”
“You know, that kid Michael I have under surveillance lives in a place like that.”
“A Dimitru owned property?”
“I don’t know, but it fits. The place stands like a monument on the Capital Mall without a scratch on it, completely immune to the chaos going on around it.”
“Well, there you go - the muscle and the money! The only question is where does her company get the money?” Jack and Abe’s eyes met up at the large safe in the corner then met up again as Abe finished his thought. “I’m feeling lucky,” he grinned and then rubbed two fingers together next to his ear as if preparing to try his hand at opening the safe.
Jack left Abe to his search finding Carl sitting on the sofa beside a large bookcase. In one hand he had a book in the other his pipe. He walked over, quickly perusing the selection of books noting that all were children’s books; everything from learning the fundamentals of cursive writing to the fundamentals of Trigonometry. There was also an abundance of storybooks. Classics like Huck Finn and Call of the Wild, to children’s fairy tales. Some were written in English, though many were written in Romanian as well.
Jack came around and stood behind Carl to read off his shoulder. “Reading Fairytales, Carl?”
“Sort of. This is an 18th Century Romanian children’s fable about the big bad wolves that gather in the night to steal the peasant’s sheep and any children who happened to wander to far away in the night.”
“A Romanian version of the Big Bad Wolf?”
“Sort of, only to ward off the wolves they use shields. To do the wolves in they use spears. Then apparently they stick the severed head of the wolf on a pole and display it in the village to ward off any others who dare venture a try.” Carl showed him a picture of a wolf head sitting atop a pole with children dancing around it as they would a Maypole. Down the course of the pole ran a vivid red river of blood.
“Tough folks those Romanian’s,” Jack chuckled.
Arina came up along side. “Come, I show you her room.” She beckoned him to follow her to the door at the end of the hall.
“This is Vlady’s room, the one she uses” Arina whispered as she opened the door, almost with a caution as if still paying homage to those who lived there.
Jack peered into the darkness. A void so absolute, only the chill in the air could escape. The reason became clear once she flicked on the light. The windowless room void of any decoration or frills, housed nothing more than an unusually narrow bed with black bedding and a mirror-less dresser painted black as night.
He walked into the room. “No window?” he asked.
“No, she had it removed.”
“Huh!” Jack grunted, scanning the four walls as barren as those of a crypt.
“Interesting décor,” he followed trying to lighten the mood. “I figured the woman had gone batty, but this is insane asylum we’re talking here.”
Jack walked to the closet and was somewhat relieved to see that at least her choice of clothing expressed some color. Some black garments, but also some garments that were red and a preponderance of grays. He also found some men’s clothes as well. Shirts, slacks, shoes, “Perhaps the old broad isn’t so dead after all,” he chuckled to himself.
Again, he walked through the room. “No pictures or mirrors?” he asked.
“No, Vlady does not like them. Only this,” she added while walking over to the bed then pulled back the black cover revealing a large red crest centering the sheet. It was a large circle with a sword running down the center, its blade pointed down. There was a winged dragon on each side of the blade, each looking as if preparing to sting an enemy with its barbed tail.
“What does it say?” Jack reached out and traced his fingers over the embossed script along the perimeter of the circle.
“Defender of the people,” She replied.
“Is that like the Romanian flag, or something?”
“No, it’s only carried by the one.” Jack had heard something like that before. From Carl it immediately stuck him.
“Carl,” he calls out to the other room. “Come here and have a look at this.”
“Yeah, Jack,” he came rushing in, his pipe in one hand and book in the other. “What does that say, Carl?”
“It’s . . . her name. Sanda, Shield of the people, and that object I am assuming must be a family crest.”
“No, it means ‘to defend’, not shield,” Arina corrected.
“Well then, that’s it. It’s a family crest wore in battle.”
“Is that it, Arina?” Jack asked.
“Yes, but it is only borne by the one.”
“You mean the head of the family, that being Vlady, right?” Carl begged her to clarify.
“Yes, Vlady is the leader.”
“Will I find something like this in Michelle’s room?” Jack wanted to know.
“No, come I show you her room.”
Unlike Vlady’s room, Michelle’s looked pretty much as you’d find most any teenaged girl’s room. It was bright, colorful, mostly in pinks and whites with the normal assortment of dolls and pictures. Plus a vanity filled with every cosmetic known to mankind. You could almost hear the audible sound of relief when Jack finally spoke out. “Well, at least she was smart enough to keep her insanity locked up in that room.”
He had his look around. The closet had the normal assortment of lovely dresses, shoes and the like. Everything a girl could want, but there was something else he found too. Boy clothes, several pairs of slacks, a few long sleeve shirts and two pair of brown oxford dress shoes. He turned to ask Arina about his find when he spotted two pictures sitting on a nightstand just to his right.
He picked them both up. One he recognized as Michelle, an older Michelle, in her late teens and already a young woman. The other was of Michelle too, only different. In this picture she was dressed as a boy, and the more he looked at that picture, the more he kept seeing the likenesses of that boy Michael, the musician he had met.
“Arina?” his asked, though it sounded more like a plea for help as he held up the picture of Michelle. “Explain this one to me, please! Who is this?”
She didn’t move from her place at the door. “It is a picture of Michelle.”
“And this one?” he held up the other.
“Michael,” Arina replied.
“Michael? The musician Michael, the Michael Chapman I’ve been following?
“Yes! That is the same Michael Chapman.”
“What is it doing here, and why is it the two look the same to me?”
“That is because they are both the same person, Mr. Murphy.”
“What?” he screamed. “This is madness!” Jack stormed toward her unable to contain his anger. “Why didn’t you tell me, Arina?” he bellowed out his rage.
“I am telling you now.” She recoiled.
“Why?” he menaced, tight fisted as if prepared to knock out her lights.
“She did it because he was to become like her, a person of many faces. Michael, Michelle, Tatiana are all the same you see, and just as the world does not know Vlady’s identity, neither will the world know anything of Michael when it is his turn to bear the ring.”
“Tatiana Darcos? That is Michael too?”
“Yes, that is Michael. He plays the part well.”
“Damn!” Jack shook his head as if disbelieving the boy he’d met could possibly inhabit that body. “He sure had me fooled.”
“That is why.” Arina responded.
“For a disguise?”
“Yes, Vlady has many. She comes and goes as she wishes to appear. You look for one and find another with no way of knowing they are the same. Michael is to become like her. Only his transformation is not yet complete. There is yet another to emerge, and as his resistance weakens, so too does it grow stronger. Though unlike the others, its heart is cold and dark and distant.”
“Yes, but not the Vlady you see. Like I said, Vlady has many faces. Among other things, she is a woman, she is a leader and she is also a man.”
“Give me a break! You’re joking?”
“No, I am not. That is how she escaped to the west. They were looking for the woman they knew her to be.”
“Unbelievable! Who is this person?”
“A person with many faces, Mr. Murphy.”
“How could she have kept that hidden?”
“It’s not hard to hide. She appears as a woman. Who is to ask? Out of respect, authorities do not examine women as closely as you think.”
“So you’re saying it’s the Vlady part of Sanda, the male part of her that is the evildoer? As you say, the one with a heart that is dark, cold and distant? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes, just as it will be for Michael when the other emerges.”
“Like a chrysalis in a cocoon?”
“Yes, he is a boy, but a child is not born with a heart that is cold, dark and distant. It requires someone like Vlady to bring that into being. Only he still does not want it. He wishes only to see himself as Michelle and Tatiana. That is why it still struggles to break free.”
"You mean Michael is still innocent. He has yet to be corrupted and she’s trying to change that. She wants a darker Michael who’ll embrace the evil as well. Is that it?” Jack labored to frame his thoughts.
“Yes, and when complete, him shall go by another name.”
“I do not know.”
“So let me see if I have this right. You knew this psychopath was trying to infect him with this madness and did nothing?” Jack again tightened up in anger.
“Yes, I knew, but I opposed her!” she was emphatic. “Like Dr. Rutherford has said, I’ve always known she isn’t who she says she is. Our leader is supposed to be the champion the common man, not herself.”
“Does that fit, Carl,” he asked him to verify.
“Yes, the person she is referring to is seen through myth and legend as a champion of the people’s cause. Although, he was also bloody ruthless, and damn good at it.”
“That fits. Like I said, she’s a psychopath.”
“True,” Carl relied, “but then the world is riddled with people who when feeling empowered by their beliefs can see no middle ground. Especially if they feel they’ve fighting for a cause.”
“Yes, in Romania she was called Sanda, not Vlady. I knew her as a good doctor, always a leader, but as a woman who did good and hurt no one. No one knew her otherwise until she escaped to the west. Only after becoming Vlady did she become the evil thing that sleeps in that room and feasts on the weaknesses of others.”
“She could not have done this without help.” Jack was furious and with clenched fists, made no attempt to hide it.
“Yes, she has help. She has West German financial partners who helped us flee to the west and gave us shelter in Frankfurt. That is when she and Milhaela came to us and showed us the ring. She said it was in her family for 500 years and now that she was free, she would take her rightful place.
“At first I did not know what to think. Perhaps part of me wanted to believe, but in my heart I knew it was not true. Wickedness and deceit are her life’s blood. That’s where she gets her strength, and when she needs to replenish, she feasts upon the blood of those who do not honor her. She is ruthless and cold and I despise her and those who blindly follow. So did Sonya. We both tried to oppose her.”
“She knew you two were working against her and did nothing? I hardly find that credible.”
“Yes, Vlady knew, but Sonya and I both had important roles to play. We were not expendable. Then a month ago Vlady told Michael in a fit of rage that our usefulness was done. She said she was going to Germany for others to take our places, and when she returned she was going to make us dig our own grave, bury our bodies and display our heads to scarce away the crows from the cherry orchard. Michael warned me and then went to warn Sonya. He told us to run, but the fight was not in Sonya. Even before Michael left the building after warning her, she jumped.”
“So Michael had nothing to do with it.”
“No! He simply went to warn her.”
“Why then report the car stolen?”
“It was just coincidence. Vlady told him to so an associate could use the car for important company business. Only the man did not come for the car. At the last minute he had changed his plans and used another instead. That’s when he went to see Sonya.”
“Important company business?” he shuttered to think what that might mean. “You mean unsavory business? He wanted it clarified.
“I guess that speaks of her business. That also means you already knew Sonya was dead when I first came looking for Michelle. Yet you led me to believe you knew nothing about it.”
“I did, but I did not know you were police. You did not say. I was afraid you were sent by Vlady to test my loyalty, or worse, to kill me where I stood.”
“Why didn’t Michael say anything to me? He knew of the danger.”
“As I’ve said, to Michael Vlady is real. He is no longer strong enough to break the spell. Each day it grows worse. Soon he will be like her, no longer with a mind of his own.”
“He went to warn Sonya. Out of loyalty to her I assume because she was not his birth mother. So tell me, who is Michael? Where did he come from?”
“I am not certain. A woman I do not know brought him when we fled to the west. That’s all I know.”
“Was he an abandon child?” he asked, only before Arina could answer Abe came rushing in with an accounts receivable journal in his hand.
“Look at this, Jack.” He could scarcely contain his excitement.
“Dimitru Brothers is buying up those old tenements by the truck load, and where are they getting the money?” He held out the ledger.
“Let me guess,” Jack replied. “Racketeering!”
Big time, buddy! Protection money from hundreds of business both here and New York. Not only that, but they’re into the numbers game and gambling the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Here is the list.” He opens the ledger to show him the names.
“How did you get all this?” Jack could scarcely believe his eyes.
“Easy,” he chuckled, “That is once I found this,” he answered while showing Jack the number written on the palm of his hand.
“The combination,” Jack’s eyes lit up. “Where did you find it?”
“Right where you’d expect me to find it, on the bottom of the top desk drawer,” he beamed.”
“Right out of the text book,” Jacked laughed.
“Yup, and inside was this book. It lists every one of their operations, even deposit slips. “I’ve all I need,” he paused then with a steely look. “Jack! We’ve hit upon the mother load. We’re standing in the heart of roach city, the operational center of the Romanian syndicate!”
Jack looked down the list of 30 odd businesses listed under the Dimitru Brothers Company name. First on the list was the Pink Flamingo. “Aaah, damn!” Jack slaps his head. The Pink Flamingo! I’ve got an agent in there without backup.”
“The enemy in their midst,” Carl cut in.
“Yes,” Arine replied. “They gather for him.”
“I’ve got to get him out of there!” Jack bellowed out with a fierceness of a lion protecting his mate.
“Not so fast, buddy. You’ve yet to hear the bottom line.” He pulls out a receipt for the purchase of two airline tickets. They were for a Pan Am flight from Laguardia to Frankfurt, Germany. Departing May 3 and returning June 2nd, at 6:30 P.M. EST.
“That’s like . . . today!” Jack looked at his watch. “It’s 7:45 now!” he followed in a bit of a panic. “There’re on their way back home this minute.”
“That’s a 90 minute drive when the conditions are optimal,” Abe’s voice a little edgy as well. “That gives us 15 minutes tops.” Abe paused and gathered his thoughts. “I’ll call for backup and you see about getting your team out of the Flamingo!”
Only just as they started to leave they heard footsteps. Their eyes met up, realizing it was already too late. Jack signaled to Abe he was going out to look. Motioning for the others to stay low and remain quiet, the two old warships slowly advanced down the hall toward their target. Neither Jack nor Abe had a weapon. Abe’s was in the glove compartment of Arina’s car and Jack didn’t carry one.
Once in the dinning room, Abe went left and Jack flanked right. It was growing late. The air was cool and the shadows already erased by the approach of darkness. Jack’s route through the dinning room momentarily separated him from Abe. He knew they’d meet up again once he reached the other side of the room, but before he could get there he heard a scuffle break out.
Jack rushed to the aid of his friend, finding Abe with a choke hold around Yuri’s neck. Jack grabbed a nearby lamp, ripped off the cord then rushed in to secure Yuri’s hands. He had no sooner tightened the loop when from behind them another figure emerged from the kitchen. It was Egore with a club in his hand charging toward Jack.
Abe shoved the bound Yuri into the charging Egore, and as they collided Jack pounced on him and wrestled him to the ground. Abe secured his hands.
“Who are these guys,” Abe asked, again with a sharp edge to his voice.
“Neighbors! They’ve been keeping an eye on the place and us too. I think we’ve drawing some unwanted attention.”
“You think so?” Abe was showing the signs of tension.
“Yeah, maybe you ought to move Arina’s car around back to lower our profile. I’ll finish securing these two and call in for backup.”
“That’ll work,” Abe replied already half way out the door. He drove Arina’s car around back and secured his weapon from the glove compartment. As he started back to the house he saw a pair of headlamps coming up the drive. “Damn,” he cursed realizing he was caught in the open, his partner trapped inside. He found cover and waited for the car to come to a stop, then moved into position to come in from behind as the occupant entered.
Jack has seen the car coming too. Quickly he finished securing Yuri and Egore using a pair of socks to gag them both. Finishing with just time enough to take up position behind the door before it began to open.
The evening sky was now dark, the room darker, with scarcely enough available light to make out the lone figure who had entered, a cool wind blowing in from behind. The lone dark figure closed the door and then reached to turn on the lights. Only Jack’s hand was there first. He flicked on the lights causing the figure wrapped in a cloak to recoil and crouch and thrust up a forearm as if to hide behind the curtaining effect of the wrap-a-round cloak.
“Halt! Police!” Jack shouted as Mihaela slowly began to rise. Her eyes were black and her face ghostly pale. Baring two yellowish fangs of a snarling attack dog, she rose up out of her crouch as if ready to leap up and fly across the room to take a bite out of their ass. Yuri and Egore cowered back in fright, Arina screamed and Jack stepped up into her field of view, smiled that “I-just-can’t-enough-of-this-shit” smile, and with a straight right lead smashed her right in the face.
Pow! The force of the blow sent her crashing into the wall then crumbling to the floor. Jack looked down at the spot where she had stood and saw two yellowish-white objects and a trace of blood on the floor.
“Huh!” he grunted as Abe rushed in with weapon drawn. Jack stooped down and picked them up to show to Abe. “Have a look.” He held them out.
Abe knelt down beside him and closely examined the half-inch long porcelain canine spikes. “Yip! Sure are. So what’cha think?” Abe followed through playing out the part.
“About what?’ Jack replied.
“The dental work. Looks like shoddy work to me. Think you could recommend a new dentist?”
“Say,” Jack played with the thought. “Remember a few years back they caught that guy who worked in a meat plant who was killing them hookers?”
“Yeah, they called him The Butcher, am I right?
“Yeah, that’s the guy. Well, I heard he was now the dentist at Attica.”
“Spot on, my friend.” Abe chuckled. “After she wakes up I’ll pass on the tip.”
“So, ahm, tell me,” Abe followed. “I thought vampires weren’t supposed to bleed?”
“This one does, only she’s not the right one.”
“Nope! this is Mihaela, am I right, Arina?”
“Yes, that is her,” Arina still stood half hidden, cowering behind a potted plant.
“So where's Dr. Vladirimescu?”
“Good question,” Jack replied. A moment later the telephone rang. Jack asked Arina to answer the call, which she did in Romanian to whoever was at the other end. Jack only picking up the occasional “da’s” and “nu’s (yes’s and no’s).”
“That was Vlady’s driver,” Arina said after hanging up the phone. “He said Vlady was on her way to the Flamingo and they were delayed on the expressway. He said Vlady would call back when she arrived.”
“Did he ask why you were here at the house?” Jack asked.
“Yes, I said I came to help Mihaela unpack.”
“You know,” Abe perked up, “from where’s she’s parked on the expressway, she’s still 40 minutes away from the club. Add another 30 minutes for possible delays and you’ve an hour to get there, Jack. You could use my car.”
“Call ahead and tell them I’m coming,” was all that need be said. A minute later, Jack was racing toward the George Washington Bridge. With the red light and siren clearing the way, he wasn’t about to let those vampires escape with one ounce of his friends blood.
Scene III: Cecil Makes his Move
Cecilia stood fronting the inspection hatch that centered the service entrance door. She took a moment to do a quick survey of all the things that could go wrong and, of course, her appearance. Both her sense of confidence and her appearance were primary tools in a woman’s arsenal. Whether dressed like a cleaning woman or a starlet preparing to walk onto a stage, presentation was the key. Something she had already learned during her short stint as a woman.
Cecil of the other hand felt a tremble in his hand. Likewise a flush, the result of his irregular, intermittent breathing and a wavering heart that grew fainter by the second. Those doubts that Cecilia could not afford, he now owned. He was feeling the strain reach overload, his anxiety no less taxing than the bills she now expected him to pay.
Nervously Cecil reached down to feel the outline of his gun strapped to his thigh while Cecilia smoothed the contour of her long golden locks. With all final adjustments made, she wet her lips, tested her smile then reached for the buzzer. It was a moment of truth. One she bravely looked unflinchingly in the eye. Or “eyes” in this case; those of the man on the other side of the door peering out at the picture on her ID. Juxtaposed beside that ID was her gleaming white smile and a pair of freshly moistened lips to match.
Cecil heard the dead bolt inside slide open with a screech. Not unlike the one he felt building up inside as Cecilia dutifully picked up her pail, grabbed hold of her mop and stepped inside without so much as a second glance from the man. Without looking back she followed the narrow hallway lugging the mop and pail until she encountered a second door with an “Exit Only” sign and a dead bolt lock that was unlatched. Pulling an ear to the door, she heard the muffed sounds of music and voices on the other side.
Again she stopped to take stock of herself. She took a deep breath, smoothed the contour of her long wavy hair and again, tested her smile. Then with the steely nerves of an aerialist walking a tight rope, she opened the door.
If what he had seen out in the front lounge was cold fish served on a platter of mediocrity, than this place was a connoisseur’s gastronomical delight. Only for gamblers, and not some cut-rate, dingy back room gaming joint neither. This was the high rollers shanghai junction with all the high heeled, g-string wearing bells and whistles shuffling the cards.
The layout was clear to him now. The grand old Fox Theater had been divided into two parts. The lobby had been turned into what was now the front lounge. The palatial auditorium remained as it always had been - the scene behind the scene. The place where the well-heeled showcased their innocence while toying with the sinful. Only it wasn’t the sin of watching risqué turn of the century theatrical productions that these folks were indulging. Oh no, this sin cost them five thousands a pop for membership and the chips started out at a hundred dollars each.
That was by design of course, to attract only the right kind of cliental. As in those with enough money and pull to know how to keep it quiet. After all, the first order of business in a place like this was to make sure the cops weren’t in the loop. In return, this particular “By Invitation Only” club offered the goods aplenty. Incentive enough to keep their collective mouths shut, with the money and pull to do it.
With its rows of gaming tables, marble colonnades and the sweeping tiered balconies above, it was a page torn from the script of Monte Carlo, down to the glitzy band that played the musical interlude in the backdrop. What’s more, the place was packed. Bumper to bumper they clogged the isles and honeycombed around the tables where the turn of a card or the roll of the dice could make you a fortune, or a beggar in the blink of an eye.
“Hey, show time is over," the voice of a very large man in one of those three piece silk suits cut thought her spell. "There's a clean up in section 6."
Cecilia acknowledged the call with a nod then hurried off in a direction, not knowing if it was even the right way to go. Along the way, she saw a cleaning closet with a “Maintenance” placard on the door.
“The perfect place to start,” she reasonably presumed, then ducked inside to rid herself of her smock and cap. She hid the clothes in a towel bin and stored her ID in her clutch for safe keeping. Then after freshening up in the mirror, she again tested her smile before opening the door to make her entrance.
Outside Cecilia was just another high roller. Free to mill about as she chose. Feeling as though she had accomplished the impossible, Cecilia smiled and Cecil began to relax and regain his composure. Wearing the “I-told-you-so” grin, Cecilia reached out and grabbed a glass of pink Champaign off the service tray of a passing Flamingo girl, then wheeled about carefree as if waltzing through a golden meadow on a warm spring day.
Cecil tried to warn her to stay away from the perimeter where he saw a majority of the security lurking, but Cecilia would have none of it. The world was now her oyster, and feeling no bounds she advanced toward a woman she saw standing in a shadowy alcove beneath a low hanging balcony. Exactly why she chose to do so, Cecil hadn’t a clue.
Perhaps it was because the obviously intoxicated woman with a gleeful smile looked so thoroughly harmless. Or perhaps it was because the woman was waving, signaling for her to come over as if she knew her.
“Francine,” she wondered? She certainly has all the makings. This is obviously the sort of place she’d bump into her as well. “It must be her, wanting to say hello.”
The woman standing beneath the mezzanine was a tall, thin, elegant creature, dressed in a silk body shaping red dress that wrapped as snuggly across her ankles as it did about her preponderant bust. She also wore a hat, with a large plume of feathers in back, and a red net veiling draped over her face. Her arms up to her elbow were encased in matching red silk gloves, and between two out stretched fingers, a cigarette holder as long and lean and hot as a fireplace stoker.
Cecil had no way of knowing whether it was Francine or not. Still the logic of Cecilia’s reasoning baffled him. If anything, Francine seemed the type who’d want to do him in rather than want to fraternize over a cocktail. So as Cecilia advanced through the crowd, Cecil had his hand to his side, his fingers nervously rolling close to where he had his weapon strapped to his thigh. Especially when Cecilia had drawn close enough to determine it wasn’t Francine at all.
Of course, at that point the logical thing to do would have been to ignore her and walk off in another direction. Not Cecilia though. Oh no, she was so full of herself the thought hadn’t even crossed her mind. She felt her armor impervious. Her appearance was her shield, her confidence her spear.
Dahhhling!” she purred and swooned over Cecilia as if ready to have her for lunch. “Haven’t we met? At the theater perhaps?”
Cecilia, like Cecil, hadn’t a voice to answer. Only her hands and the shaking of her head to say “No, you must have the wrong person.” Which should have been enough under normal circumstances to deter any woman, whether expressing a desire to know her on a more personal basis or not. Not this woman however. Nope! Instead she leaned in close with a haunting smile and a breathy whisper, “Have you been inside this evening, dahhhling?” Signaling with her eyes the direction she meant.
Cecilia followed those eyes deeper into the recesses of the alcove where a number of Flamingo girls stood in the shadows as if waiting for someone or something. Though again, without a voice of her own she hadn’t the means to extricate herself from this impossible entanglement. If she spoke she was toast. She could only stand and smile and silently wait for the divine intervention she desperately needed.
“Oh, then may I recommend that pretty puss over there." She nodded in the direction of a young woman standing just to their right wearing the same pink feathered scanty halter as did the others. It was Tatiana, the girl he was looking for, and she matched her picture perfectly. Only the proverbial picture worth a thousand words could not describe the temptress standing beneath the faint pink light.
"Take it from me darling, ‘he’ is superb." She spoke, her voice quite resolute in tone and purposeful in the emphasis she had placed on the word “He!" It was as though she had fired off a weapon, the gun blast resounding between Cecil’s ears, the bullet ricocheting inside his head. "Oh yes, he’s the prettiest prancing pony to gallop center rink.”
“Come, I'll introduce you," she smiled, turned Cecilia around to face another woman who now stood close-in behind. With gray hair piled in a bun, the woman was dressed in a gray skirt with matching vest that looked rather regimented. She also looked very much in command with the phalanx of guards standing behind her.
“Look out,” the lady in red whispered, “this one bites!”
"Good work, Detra," the vamp in gray said while nodding in the direction of the security force already zeroing in on Cecilia and Cecil from all directions.
"It was nothing, Vlady, if not too easy." Then she held out that long cigarette holder, sucked in a long draw and blew a smoke ring in Cecilia’s face.
"Dumb Cop!" she hissed.
"Bring him, quickly," Vlady commanded, leading the way to a room located not far from where Cecil had originally entered. In her wake, two of her henchmen carried Cecil along, his heels dragging behind. A moment later he was tossed into a windowless room and forced to sit on a chair placed in the center. In the room with him - Tatiana, Vlady, her two handpicked thugs and a woman he didn’t recognize.
"You are police, no?" Vlady asked in a most casual state, smiling prettily as she paced back and forth.
"I'm told you have been following Tatiana, yes?” Again Cecil didn’t answer.
“I also know why,” she leaned in, her gaze intense. “Don't think yourself clever for finding your way in. I have arranged it! Olga," she snapped her fingers, to which the unknown woman stepped forward in reply.
“You know this woman, no? You should. Her name is Olga Randa, the lady whose identification you carry with you.” Cecil felt the trap snap shut. "We have been following you since you first contacted Olga. She told us of you plans.”
“Oh yes, I know, you think you were simply following Michael and Tatiana, and only by chance have stumbled into all this. It is a pity for you really, because as I’ve said, you’re being here is not by accident at all. I’ve arranged it, to solve a two-fold problem I have.”
“You see, Michael had nothing to do with Sonya jumping out of that window. She jumped at her own accord, but I knew you’d pursue him regardless, convinced of his guilt. I couldn’t have that. For one, it would have been a danger to me, and two, it would have been a danger to him should his identity be known. So I lured you in to stop you.”
"In a way," she chuckled, "I almost find myself grateful for your services."
“Oh yes, but I'll not bore you with the obvious. Let me just say what you've done in your own unwitting way is help seal away the many faces of Michael even further from the light. Michael, Michelle and Tatiana are all the same you see, and just as you do not know who I am, neither will the world know anything of ‘Mircea’ when it becomes his turn to bear the ring."
“Lady,” Cecil pleaded, “would it help if I told you I haven't the slightest idea about what you're talking about."
"Of course not!” she replied with some confidence. “Nobody knows that but me. Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before you figured it all out.”
“Like I said, I had a two-fold problem. The need to keep both my business and Michael’s identity a secret, and to that end, you have served me well. Oh, and you needn't worry about your partner in the van. Soon the two of you will be planted side by side in a grave you shall dig with your own hands. Minus your heads of course,” She chuckled. “Those I will impale and put on display to scare away the crows.”
“Now, I think we should be done with this. Gregerio!" again she snaps her fingers. "Take him out the service door. Milich, you take two others and secure his partner. We’ll take them to Waterston where the others have gathered and wait.” Then she turned and hurriedly walked out of the room, taking Olga with her. “I will wait for you in the van.”
Acknowledgement: I need thank Amber Talamasca for her contributions and Amelia French, for her support and guidance. I’d love to thank my editor as well, but I’m afraid my dear friend cs. is a bit too modest to accept the accolades so richly deserved.
©2009 by josie ©. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, and compilation design) may be printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without expressed written consent of the copyright holder.
To Be Continued...
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