The Terrorist’s Game
“I keep waiting to meet a man who has more balls than I do.”
Talia Anderson sat straight up in bed, sweating profusely, shaking violently. The sun illuminated her bedroom through the floor to ceiling wall of windows that separated her from her 65 story high terrace that overlooked Manhattan. The borough below and the nearly 2 million people in it, had no idea and frankly, didn’t care that one of the richest women in the country was waking to the searing sun from a nightmare that she had nearly every single night.
She shook her head full of long curly bright red hair and rubbed her bright blue eyes, then dropped her head into her pale white hands and cried. “No one should have to deal with this.”
Nearly every night, the tortured woman’s mind took her to a mysterious place in a haunting dream. She passed through a crowded old town square in her dream to a house in the middle of a row of like houses at its edge. There were at least six houses that appeared to be a single block long building, indicative of old world Europe. She walked to the black one. It was the only black stone house in the row. She stopped in front of it and looked at the carvings above the doors and windows. They were nearly white against the black stone walls. What may have been a Madonna perched over the door, and a man on horseback and a man in robes over the windows. Over the large wooden doors it said “museum”. There was a sign on the doors that said “closed”. Both were in Cyrillic. She reached out for the doorknob, turned it, and went inside.
Inside was what appeared to be an office. She waited. A man entered the room from a door behind the massive carved wooden desk that sat in front of her. His hair was nearly black, his forehead long, his expression brooding, his eyes so dark brown they were nearly black. He was tall and broad shouldered with muscular arms and a narrow waist like a body builder. The man was Dmitri, Talia’s husband.
The two had an entire conversation, but she could not remember what it was about. She remembered that he’d smiled at her, and remembered feeling hatred toward him. She could only remember so much of her nightmare but definitively remembered that Dmitri turned into a giant red serpent, towering over her. She pulled a gun from somewhere on her person, but where she had no idea. In what she could only presume was a fit of rage and fear, she leveled the gun at the serpent, and shot it. That was all she could remember, because that was when she always woke up.
Why would she shoot the man that she’d loved nearly half of her life? Why would she dream such a horrifying thing? She thought that maybe she was angry with him for dying, but that didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t his fault he was murdered. She missed him desperately every minute of the day and night. She hadn’t so much as noticed another guy since the day she met Dmitri. Talia had been devoted to her husband. She idolized him, and wanted nothing more than for his death to never have happened so she could be with him. Where was the house that she was dreaming about, and why had the man she loved suddenly turned into a serpent in her dream?
She shook off the post nightmare anxiety. It was only a nightmare, no matter how many times she had it and she had more pressing matters at that moment. First, and foremost was the situation that had landed a man, whom she’d never met before 12 hours ago, on the sofa in front of her fireplace.
Talia exited her room, then stopped and stood behind the dark grey linen overstuffed sectional sofa that set the tone for her uniquely designed living room that was a complex mix of girly girl and tomboy casual. The room was most of one side of her penthouse covering nearly 2,000 square feet of the dwelling. Chango & Company designers had created for her an area that could accommodate cocktail parties, yet be a great Saturday spot to watch her Hoyas play football.
Both the carpeted and tile sections of the floor were pale pink, which even though she had Raggedy Ann red hair, was her favorite color. She often considered dying her hair pink, but she couldn’t bring herself to alter the family hair color. The linen upholstered grey sofas of various prints were designed for comfort and went well with pink. Throw pillows were pink. Rugs were varying colors of pink. The walls were almost white they were so light a grey. Artwork was feminine, delicate and from all over the world. In the middle of the living room was the free standing electric fireplace, and separating the living space from the kitchen was a fully stocked bar entirely made of hand carved wood. The media wall and the wall of windows completed the room opposite one another.
The man was still there, asleep on her sofa, sprawled out across both sofa and the overstuffed ottoman that she preferred to a chaise. He was taller than she’d first thought. There was something athletic about his thin body. Had he not been dressed in cheap off the rack clothes that reminded her of a college professor, she would have pondered whether or not he might play the position of guard in basketball. His straight plain brown hair needed both a cut and style, and some highlights to accentuate his dark Italian looking skin. Talia guessed his age was roughly 35. His thick lensed glasses, lying on the floor where they must have fallen as he slept, made her think that he may be intellectual.
“Who are you, how did you breach my security, and why did the Ambassador of Qatar, Taheem Sarraf’s security team attack you?” Talia wondered.
She looked around for the man’s phone, which she found under his left foot, encased in a black Otter Box. She turned it on to find that it required a thumbprint for access. Talia thought about the moral ramifications of using his thumb to break into his phone, but after careful consideration, realized that she just didn’t care. She wanted to know who he was and what he was up to.
Once she’d shoved the phone under his dangling thumb, she didn’t find much to feel guilty about. There were only a couple of contacts that meant nothing to her. There was no call history, very few apps, and no texts. There were a bunch of pictures from last night’s party stored on the phone’s micro SD card. Nearly all of the pictures were of her, so she erased the pictures and placed the phone back where she found it. The man’s name did not appear in any file, so he was still a mystery.
She picked up her universal remote from a table and walked back to stand behind the sleeping man. She turned on her media center, all to the same channel, turned the volume up on the surround sound to full blast, and turned on Fox News. She didn’t realize that at that exact moment, they were airing a story about a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, and an explosion was happening as the TV’s came on.
The sleeping man jumped up, nearly falling as he did so. “What the hell?”
Talia turned down the volume. “Did you have a nice rest?”
He rubbed his eyes. “Actually, yes. At least until the explosion.”
“Good. Can I ask you a question?”
She sat down adjacent to him on the sofa. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Cameron Walker.”
“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Talia Anderson.”
“Likewise. Where am I?” Cameron looked around the room, noticing all of the pink. “Am I trapped in a modern Barbie dream house?”
“This is my apartment,” she replied. ” You have no idea how you got here, do you?”
He rubbed the back of his head. “Not really. I remember a party. I remember some really big guys attacking me. I remember drinking a whole lot. I think I remember the inside of a limo. That’s about it.” He moaned. “I don’t mean to put you out, but would you happen to have an aspirin?”
“Aspirin I have.” She left the room and returned with a bottle of aspirin and water. “You remember the key points. Why did you take all those pictures of me? My security team doesn’t allow strangers to photograph me. Who are you?”
“I was invited to the party,” Cameron said, putting his phone in his pocket and taking an aspirin.
Talia sat down in front of him on her pink acrylic coffee table. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend you, but you look more like the kind of guy who would teach a history class than someone who would be at an Embassy function in the Hamptons. Besides, you weren’t on the list.
“Now, why would you want to take my picture? I’m not a movie star, and I’m not young and sexy. I’m an international security systems contractor and terrorism analyst. Do you even know what that is?”
“Yes,” he groaned. “I worked in research and development for systems security for a very large computer firm. By the way, you are kind of sexy; just saying.”
“Worked?” Talia noted, ignoring his comment about her sexuality. “You mean that you are no longer a lab rat?”
“I hate that term, but yes, I’ve unofficially retired from the field.”
“Why? Are you wanted for some kind of criminal practice?”
“Not that I know of. I wanted to get out of the lab and have a life.”
“And your first move as a non lab rat was to crash the embassy party in the Hamptons?”
“It was an assignment.”
“Assignment?” She stood up. “You’d better be talking about espionage, because my second guess is that you work for a tabloid site.”
Talia Anderson hated tabloid sites and paparazzi more than she hated war and murder.
“What’s wrong with me being paparazzi?” Cameron asked. “I just wanted a picture.”
“Why?” she asked. “No one cares about ambassadors. There were no celebrities that a tabloid site would pay for a picture of.”
“My sources said that your mother was supposed to be there.”
“Really? My mother? That’s what this was all about?” She resisted the urge to kick him in the nuts. “Tabloid people drove her crazy. They were a substantial part of the reason why she had a nervous breakdown and quit show business. Why would you try to put her through any more of that?”
“Just trying something new.”
“You wanted to try something new, and paparazzi is what you came up with? Who are you working for? Why me, and why my mom? She hasn’t been out in the world much for years.”
Cameron sat and stared silently at Talia.
“No answer?” she asked as she got up and walked to the windows. “Okay, no problem.”
“Really?” he asked.
She spun around to face him. “No! Tell me what’s going on or I’ll have my guys who rescued you last night, come and work you over.”
“No, please. Those guys are scary. I’ll tell you, but you’re going to laugh.”
There was something different about the guy. She couldn’t put her finger on it. Whatever it was about him, it had made him the first man that she had in her apartment for non-business related reasons ever. “I could use a good laugh.”
He scowled at her. He hated the smile she was wearing. He knew that he was not going to get out of her apartment without feeling humiliated. He was frustrated because he didn’t want to leave Talia Anderson with the impression that he was a wimpy geek.
“Realistically, how bad could it be? You were already rescued from a seriously unbalanced fist fight at a Qatar Embassy function by two bodyguards who could throw you around like a basketball, then tossed into a limousine by the seat of your corduroy slacks, and delivered here to sleep on my sofa. Could the back story be any more embarrassing than that?”
“Fine.” He realized suddenly that you didn’t say no to Talia Anderson. “You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?”
She smiled. “I know. It’s part of my charm.”
He couldn’t argue that. She certainly was charming, in an annoying sort of way and obviously loved being in control. “If you must know, I was auditioning for a spot with the Post.”
She studied him. She thought him fascinating. He was the first interesting man that she’d met since Dmitri. “Why were you shooting me? You said you were looking for my mom.”
“It all started because, after working with computers for years, I decided that it was time for me to make a career change, so I moved from Seattle to New York.”
“You mean, you thought you could just show up here and instantly become a tabloid reporter? How did that work out?”
“I thought that I had an in. I knew a systems administrator there, and I wrote some security code for The Post a few years back. I talked to one of the editors when I got to town.”
“And, she made me a deal.”
“What kind of a deal?” she asked.
“She told me that I could have a job, if I got pictures of your mom.”
Talia stood up and walked to the door. She opened it and turned to Cameron. “Get out.”
The guy had struck her as different, but she’d been wrong, and she hated being wrong.
“Ms. Anderson, please. It’s not like that. I wanted to meet you too.”
“Fine.” He got up and walked to the door. “Do you listen to everybody this well?”
She didn’t answer or look at him.
He was fuming. “I can see why no one in the world can get to know you. I suppose you’re just like your mom. Do you hide like her? Is that why you live in this glass tower?”
She didn’t reply.
“Great. I met the infamous Talia Anderson. Security administrator for the whole United Nations and everyone in it. The woman who knows more about modern separatist issues than potentially anyone else on Earth. She’s smart, but crazy and she wakes up screaming bloody murder. She won’t have a civilized conversation with a member of the opposite sex, but she’s a Hoya’s fan. You don’t know me. I’m not some scumbag reporter. I’m a nice guy. I just wanted to join the rest of the human race and meet some interesting new people. I wanted to get out of my lab and live, but you won’t give anyone a chance. Good bye princess.” He grabbed the door out of Talia’s hand and slammed it behind him as he walked out.
She stood there after he left for a moment in her Hoya’s t-shirt and Fabletics shorts. “I had no idea that I screamed when I woke up from dreaming. Wasn’t he asleep?”