The Terrorist’s Game
“What people have thought of me, of the turns that I’ve taken, has never really played into my decisions.”
Talia spent years independently researching and analyzing separatist groups’ movements and motives. She sat behind her desk and advised world leaders and their representatives in how to deal with them. She had given advice to some of the most important people in the world, but her information was a compilation based on the research she did at her office. She had never thought about it before that her knowledge was so extremely academic, but the reality of the situation was that she had never gone into the field as an operative until that moment.
“What a way to break myself in,” she thought. “I should have worked in the field earlier. I should have tested my theories a long time ago and found out if they were accurate. What if my theories are all wrong and I can’t help Anya? I should have practiced what I preached on something far less personal. Oh well, spilt milk.”
Cameron joined her in the tiny old elevator with mirrored metal walls inside that reluctantly and slowly ferried them from floor to floor of the ancient hotel. She didn’t want to talk too much about the situation, because she was trying to decide what to do on the fly, and she didn’t want to admit that to anyone; particularly Cameron.
He was having his own second thoughts. “How are we going to get there? What are we going to do? Will she really kill Percival? Why am I here? Because I have to protect her, that’s why. Nothing can happen to her.”
The elevator doors closed. “What do we do now?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied, flatly.
“I was afraid of that.”
Leonid understood better than anyone what Eduard was going through. He spent years listening to father and son fight about the death of the mother. Dmitri had blamed him for the death of his mother, and Eduard blamed himself. Leonid knew that Talia shouldn’t be going after Percival. He also knew that Eduard would never stop her, because he felt that he needed to make up for the fact that he failed his only son.
“I do not wish for her to live with guilt such as mine,” Eduard muttered. “There were times that I did not wish to live because of that guilt. I never want her to feel such pain. I love her dearly, and she should never have to live with such regrets.”
“I know,” Leonid replied. “I have watched you suffer, and I understand why you allowed her to go.”
“I have to believe that she will prevail. I handled my wife’s kidnapping improperly and she died. I hope Talia chooses more wisely. I truly believe that action is better than inaction. It is that simple. I cannot bring myself to stop her. She has to do what she believes is best.”
“The only one way to find out is to try. Go with your gut, yes?” Leonid asked. “How else will you know whether you were right or wrong? I will say a prayer for her, and for Anya.”
“Yes, please say a prayer,” Eduard replied. “Cameron is a good man. I hope he can protect her. He is smart, and he thinks before he feels. That is a valuable trait in a man.”
“He seems capable,” Leonid replied. “Capable, and a bit calculated. He seems to work better with a plan in front of him, but he has done quite adequately with unpredictability thus far.”
Leonid jumped up and answered his vibrating phone as he pulled it from his pocket. “Yes. Thank you for getting back to me. I was hoping you had more information about Anya.” There was a pause as he listened. “What! How can that be?”
“What is it?” Eduard asked, once again, feeling his stomach clench with angst.
Leonid fell into a chair, his face pale. “I do not know how to say this. Anya was not abducted. She went of her own volition to Percival.”
“That cannot be! My granddaughter is a good girl!” Eduard exclaimed. “She would never even consider going with a separatist group. Who told you such a thing?”
“Katya,” Leonid replied. “I would never believe it, had it come from any other source.”
Katya was Leonid’s wife of many decades who also worked for Eduard as the head of the household staff. She was an aging woman with large breasts victimized by years of gravity, a bit too much weight in her backside and grey hair that she normally pulled tightly into a bun to either hide it or keep it out of her way. She always wore clothes that looked like those of a servant, even when she was out for an evening on the town with her husband. But, for all her quirks that reeked of becoming an old lady too soon, she was reliable to a fault, and had never told a lie in her life.
“Anya received a call a few days ago, and she became excited, according to Katya. She said that she was going to talk to someone who had known her father. Katya tried to stop her, but she insisted that she needed to know more about her father. Katya ordered extra security, but she slipped away, and no one has been in contact with her since that time.”
“How difficult can it be to find her?” Eduard asked. “Track her phone.”
“Anya did not take her phone with her when she left, so no one has been able to find her location, or contact her.”
“So they lured her away.”
“That is what I think, except for one thing. Katya answered Anya’s phone that day. She said the voice sounded familiar.”
“Familiar?” Eduard queried.
“She said it sounded like Dmitri.”
Eduard fell onto the sofa. He sat and stared straight ahead for what seemed to Leonid an eternity. He didn’t know what to say. Katya may have been mistaken. It had been years since anyone had heard Dmitri’s voice. It must be a coincidence. The idea that it was Dmitri was ridiculous. He had been dead for years.
Katya said that Anya showed no fear. Did she think it was her father? She was only eight when her father died. Surely she wouldn’t remember his voice.
Finally Eduard spoke. “It will never end.”
“What do you mean?” Leonid asked.
“They killed my wife. Dmitri blamed me. They killed my son. I blamed myself. Now they took my granddaughter. I blame myself for that as well. When will it end?” Eduard asked. “What happens when Talia is killed? I gave her my blessing to run into the fire. I will be to blame for that. It will never end. Someone is mimicking my dead son. Is nothing sacred? I should be the one confronting them. If I had taken a stand all those years ago, it would have ended. I am the one responsible for the suffering.”
“You are a pawn,” Leonid snapped. “They control you to satisfy their need for power. They want to take over the world. You are an unwilling proxy, forced into servitude by your love for your family. If you confront them, they will kill everyone you love. You have to allow Talia to act. You cannot, because it places your loved ones in danger. She will stop Percival. You must believe in her.”
Eduard knew that Leonid was right. Talia must be the one to stop the madness. He would be President of Russia soon. It would soon be his job to see that justice was done, so that the horrors of the Alder Nation would end. If she could bring their activities to an end, he could see that they were all prosecuted in a world court. Then he could rule Russia in a way that was beneficial to the citizens and finally feel better about his life and work.
“Give me your phone,” Eduard said. “I have to tell Talia to be aware of such tricks. If she hears Dmitri’s voice, it will send her into a spiral. She must be vitally alert right now. I cannot allow such clever little tricks completely cloud her mind to the point where she cannot think. That is what these people want.”
Leonid handed his phone to Eduard.
Eduard tried to make the call several times before throwing the phone down on the sofa. “It is off. No voice mail. Nothing. What if she hears Dmitri’s voice? I cannot warn her.”
Talia walked across the old market square, contemplating how to get a car to drive to Lviv. She couldn’t rent a car. A bus or train or plane would have an itinerary and a ticket with her name on it. She would have to use a passport to get a ticket, so she couldn’t use an alias. Eduard didn’t have a car at his disposal in Poland. She had to be untraceable. That was the only way to sneak up on whatever she would find in Lviv.
Cameron was enjoying his first time at a local Polish city market. Krakow’s Rynok Square had been a marketplace since ancient times. There were vendors of all kinds strewn about selling produce, folk art, clothing and many other things. A person could buy almost anything they wanted in that square. The only thing that he could see that they couldn’t buy was a car, which he gladly would have purchased at that time. It would make their travel that much easier, if they had their own car.
Talia walked across the square past vendor after vendor, not saying a word with Cameron following closely behind. Finally, she reached the far side of the square. She sat down on the bench at taxi stand, and he joined her. He didn’t say a word, instead waited to see what she might do. He was getting to know her, and he was sure that she was thinking of an idea, so he didn’t want to interrupt.
A taxi pulled up in front of them. It was a small blue Skoda Octavia with a crack in the windshield and scratches and dents all over the car. There was even a dent in the roof. The driver rolled down the window and said, “Taxi?”
“No thank you,” Talia replied in Polish.
“What was that all about?” Cameron asked.
“He asked me if I wanted a taxi. I told him no thanks.”
“I thought you wanted a taxi,” he commented.
“Then why didn’t you take it?”
“That wasn’t the kind of taxi I’m looking for,” she replied.
“What the hell’s going on in that red headed mind of yours?” Cameron asked.
Talia ignored his comment and stood as another taxi pulled up. It was an old black Lada Niva 4 x 4, with a dark haired, bearded, brooding man behind the wheel in a hoodie/jean jacket combination and a dark blue wool ushanka on his head.
The driver got out of the vehicle and spoke to Talia across the hood. “Taxi?”
“Yes, please,” she said as she climbed into the Niva.
Cameron leaned close to her ear. “Why this one?”
“Because this one will make the trip.”
He stopped. “Have you lost your mind? He’ll never go along with it.”
“Do you have a better idea?” she asked.
The Niva was quite striking. The red dash was full of special options. It was obvious that the man spent a lot of time in this car. There was a satellite radio, a DVD player, and GPS. There were cushioned seat covers. The one thing that she didn’t see was a visible anti theft system. No retrofitted alarm or beacon. She was searching subtly, and she couldn’t locate a security device, unless it was not visible.
The driver ducked back into the car and pulled away from the taxi stand.
“To the airport, please,” Talia told him in Polish.
“Which one?” the driver asked.
“Rzeszów-Jasionka,” she replied.
“Where are your bags?” the driver asked. “It could be a high fare. It is far.”
“Money is not an issue and I have no bags,” she told him. “I’m meeting someone.”
“What was that all about?” Cameron asked as the Niva pulled away.
“I told him to go to the airport in Rzeszów. He asked why I had no luggage. I told him I was meeting someone.”
Cameron suddenly realized that she was planning to jack the taxi. “Tell me you’re not going to do what I think you’re going to do.”
“I wish I could,” she replied. “Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.”