The Terrorist’s Game
“The biggest misconception people have about me is that I’m in control of every situation. I’m rarely in control of any situation.”
Talia shook off the effects of her nightmare as she woke with a start, and looked out the window next to the table. For some reason, all the old towns and all the market squares looked alike yet different. Talia had lived in New York for a long time. For years, she looked out her windows and saw glass and steel skyscrapers. For New York, that was tradition. Even though the surrounding businesses had changed from ancient pubs and stables to the Hard Rock Cafe and escape rooms, the buildings in Krakow’s old town held onto their old world charm with the new businesses in ancient buildings. What had once been a center for trade was currently a tourist area, but the churches and cathedrals still stood the test of time. It was the look more than the feel that appealed to her. Eastern Europe was home. It always felt like home with traditions and mainstays that never changes over the centuries. Things never changed in Eastern Europe no matter how modern their lives became. New York was fun, but she wanted something else. America was different and always on the move, running toward the future with businesses and architecture. She didn’t want something better or something worse, just something that appealed to her soul and felt like home. For her, that was Eastern Europe, and that’s why it was home.
Krakow reminded her of Moscow in its older neighborhoods. The modern aesthetics of the two cities were different, but the core histories were indelibly tied together by the people who forged the original nations and then fought over them for centuries. She couldn’t believe how much she missed the old style medieval based architecture and ambience that ran amuck in Eastern Europe and Russia. Even when Dmitri died, she intended to stay in Russia until Percival made threats and insisted that she leave. Russia was her chosen home. She felt connected to it the minute she arrived, and it devastated her to leave. Being in Krakow made her homesick for Moscow and all that she was forced to leave behind.
She sat in the window and watched people shopping below. Most were tourists, even though it was late in the season, looking for treasures to haggle over, which was still a widely practiced art. She could tell the locals from the tourists easily, if only by their shoes. One thing that could always be counted on in Europe was that Americans stuck out like sore thumbs. The clothing world had changed over the years in Eastern Europe, but for some reason, Americans still looked different. She thought that maybe it was because of the way they acted. They seemed to think that everyone in the world should speak English. Americans were far more reluctant to learn the local languages than most other travelers. As she watched the booths out the window, she could tell the Americans by how much they talked with their hands, and their shoes. Americans wore white sneakers.
Talia looked at her clothing. She blended in, as she had dressed down a bit from her usual designer style for the most recent part of the trip. She was European by choice. She Russian. Maybe she was born in the United States, but she was meant to be Russian. Her daughter was Russian. The man who seemed like her father was Russian. She belonged there, and Percival had spent the last several years keeping her from her home. It made her angry, and it was just another reason for her to want to kill him.
Talia heard the Troika playing close to her. She noticed Eduard’s cell phone on the counter next to her. She wondered why his phone was in her suite; most likely just by chance, but she was instantly distracted because it was her mother calling. She answered it.
“Mother?” she exclaimed.
“Talia?” Clarissa asked. “Thank God. You didn’t call me back. Didn’t they tell you I called? Where are you? Are you okay? What happened to your ring?”
“I’m fine,” she groaned. “I smashed that ring. What the hell did you think you were doing tracking me? Have you lost what’s left of your mind?”
“Now, darling, calm down,” she replied. “It’s not what you think.”
Clarissa didn’t know how to answer her daughter’s question. She had placed a tracking device on Talia in some manner or another since she was a teenager. Clarissa had always been passive aggressive, and rather than hound her daughter about where she was day and night from the point of adolescence on, she tracked her every move and watched it on Google Maps. She used apps, tiny devices, listening devices, and whatever she needed to keep track of her daughter. She never told Talia about it. Benji had believed that monitoring was for safety, which is where she learned it from. The rings were designed for Clarissa and her intended husband so that they could know where each other was at all the time. They lived extremely separate lives, and it made them both feel closer to be able to know exactly where the other was.
When she gave the rings to her daughter, she was going to Russia to marry a spy. She needed to know precisely where her daughter was, so that she could get to her and help her if necessary. Given the kind of work that Dmitri was in and that her beloved Benji had died in that exact line of work, it was the only way she could sleep at night. How could she explain the horrifying thoughts that go through a mother’s mind when she thinks her daughter is in terrible danger and that she has no idea where she is? She felt that no real mother would blame her for what she did.
“Well?” Talia demanded. “Why mother?”
“I was afraid for you, and you were marrying a spy,” she replied. “Your father was a spy, and he didn’t even survive to our wedding. I was scared, and I was right. Your husband was killed in the line of duty, and you’ve been haunted by the whole damn thing ever since. I know you’re in danger right now, and I know my granddaughter is missing. You’re the only child I have, and I love you, and I mean to protect you and my only granddaughter.”
She knew exactly how her mother felt. Since Anya went missing, she felt that she had lost the only thing she had left in the world. There wasn’t anything in the world that felt quite the same as the feeling that you may lose an only child forever.
“Actually, I can appreciate that right now,” Talia said.
“What news is there of my granddaughter?” she asked. “She is still alive, yes?”
“Yes. You know Percival kidnapped Anya,” she replied. “We’ve been tracking him, so we can rescue her. We’re still working on the rest.”
There was silence on the line as Clarissa tried to think of something to say. Her daughter couldn’t go after Percival. That was a simple fact to her.
“What do you mean; you’ve been tracking him?” Clarissa asked. “Haven’t you been trying to do that for years? Hasn’t that always failed? Maybe you need another plan.”
“What are you implying mother?” Talia asked, suspiciously. “Are saying that I’m not capable of rescuing my own daughter? I won’t stop until she’s safe. That you should understand.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I just thought it was impossible to track him. You’ve said that for years.”
“It seemed impossible, until Cameron came along.”
“Who is Cameron?” she asked.
“Cameron is the computer geek that’s traveling with me,” she announced. “Long story short, he stumbled into my life at an awkward moment and got dragged into this with me. However, he’s a computer genius, and he’s helping us decipher Percival’s coding after all these years. He’s the one who found your tracking device too. He’s very handy at clearing things up.”
She didn’t think her daughter would ever catch up to Percival. “I’m glad you’re making progress, dear. That’s wonderful news after all these years. Now, why don’t you let the CIA use that information to resolve this once and for all? Isn’t that what we pay taxes for? Once this is finally over, you and Anya can come and live with me. And, just for the record, your father had those rings made. I merely passed them on to you.”
“Is that the truth?” Talia snapped. “Because this wreaks of you.”
“He had them made for us because I was so scared about him dying on a covert assignment. Ironic huh? He said that at least I would know he was alive as long as the ring stayed active. We never even got a chance to try them out.”
“I can understand that,” she conceded. “But, I’ve done the tracking. I’m the one who’s had my life ruined by Percival. He took my daughter. He killed my husband. I found him, and I’m going to kill the son of a bitch. Percival has been tracking me all these years, mother. You never should have told Dmitri about the rings.”
“What do you mean; you’re going to kill him, and what do you mean, he’s been using the ring to track you?” she queried. “How could that be?”
“Who knows? I’m still figuring it all out. I mean, I know where he is with my daughter, and I’m going to rescue her and kill him.”
“I understand that,” her mother replied. “What do you mean, he uses the ring to track you? How could he know that?”
“There’s no other way he could have been tracking me all these years. That ring is the only thing I’ve had with me continually, and he always knows exactly where I am. I’ve had enough. It never stops and no agency seems to be able to stop him, so I’m going to take care of him myself. If the Alder Nation works like most separatist groups, eliminating Percival is the key. Cut the head off the snake, and the snake will die. It’s an old saying but still relevant.”
Clarissa had horrible thoughts flashing through her mind. “Where are you right now?”
“I told you, I’m on my way to kill Percival.”
She couldn’t have that. “I mean, where are you right this minute? I know you’re with Eduard. You need to stop this, calm down and think. You can’t be the one who confronts Percival.”
She heard the urgency in her mother’s voice, but she couldn’t guess the exact cause of it. “Why?”
“You have to listen to me for once in your life!” her mother snapped. “You don’t understand what you’re getting yourself into. You don’t want to do this. Just this one time, you need to believe me, and do as I say.”
She never listened to her mother. She was locked away in her own universe most of the time.
“You know nothing, mother. This is my field of expertise. This is what I do, and you’re way out of your league,” she snapped. “I have to do this. I’ll be all right. I’ll be great once this nightmare is over.”
“I’m not scared for your safety,” Clarissa sniffed.
“Then what?” Talia asked, angry and confused.
“I can’t tell you. You have to trust me,” she said. “Now, where are you?”
“If you don’t explain, then I can’t listen to you,” she snapped. “I have to rescue my daughter.”
“Don’t hang up!” Clarissa yelled in desperation.
“What?” Talia said, annoyed.
“Where are you? Where are you going?” her mother asked.
“I shouldn’t tell you,” she snarked. “It might be too much for you. It might send you back to the farm.”
“I’m not crackers!” she yelled. “Now, you tell me, or I’ll find out on my own.”
“Fine. I’m in Krakow. I’m going to Ukraine.”
“What’s in Ukraine?”
“I told you,” she moaned. “Percival and my daughter. I’m going there to kill him and take her home.”
The call ended, but she was sure that wouldn’t be the end of it with her mother. There was never an end of it with her mother. She didn’t trust her mom, but she didn’t have time to try and analyze what had just happened. The one thing that she needed to understand was what the hell her mother could possibly know about her situation, and why she refused to discuss that with her.