The Terrorist’s Game
“I fell off my pink cloud with a thud.”
In an instant, Dmitri’s expression changed from arrogant to pale shock. Talia heard footsteps and a voice behind her. She didn’t want to take her eyes off of him, for fear that he would somehow get away, and pushing the inevitable end of her nightmare back. It needed to be over with now.
“Talia, get down!” the voice behind her yelled.
She glanced over her should and dove to the floor when she saw the 9mm Beretta semi automatic pistol in Clarissa Anderson’s hands. She had it aimed at Dmitri’s head, and Talia was directly in the line of fire.
What happened next felt like slow motion and a complete hallucination to Talia. She had never seen her mother with a gun before, and she had never seen her appear as a warrior. This was not the woman that she had known in her earlier life. Because of particular events that happened when she was but a teenager, her view of her mother had always been that she was weak and scared and that she hid in her country house to avoid the world. In an instant, her vision of her mother completely changed. She laid on the floor, not moving a centimeter, and listened as the incident unfolded around her in a haze of what seemed like another dream.
Dmitri regrouped. “Another weak Anderson woman. Will the sadness and the weakness never subside?”
Clarissa’s hand didn’t so much as twitch. “What did I tell you? What did I say the day you married my only child?”
“Many things,” he replied. “Women babble.”
“I warned you moments before you married my daughter,” she said. “I said that if you hurt her, I would kill you. I presume you remember that.”
“Delusions of grandeur. Threats that will never be acted on. Such drama, but no surprise. Actresses are fond of speaking in metaphors,” he taunted her. “Sad.”
“I don’t like metaphors,” she snapped. “Metaphors are for writers. I don’t write.”
Talia heard the shot as the bullet exploded from the Beretta. She didn’t move. She heard a thud as she lay on the floor and waited. There was a pause that seemed to last forever. She didn’t know what to do. It was all in her mother’s hands for the first time since she was a child.
“It’s okay honey,” Clarissa said. She touched Talia on the shoulder, and smiled down at her lying on the floor. “You can get up now.”
Talia struggled to her feet, still shaky from everything that had just happened. She couldn’t believe that any of what she experienced had happened. She gained her composure enough to lean over the giant desk and look at her husband as he lay in a bloody pile on the floor against the wall next to the fireplace. There was blood, tissue, and some bone scattered all over the wall, the fireplace, the floor, and the desk from the gaping hole that the cartridge made when it exited his skull. It was a horrifying scene, such as she had never seen outside of a horror movie. She didn’t need to check his body for a pulse. It was done. The serpent Percival was no more.
She turned to Clarissa. “What the hell did you do?”
“I did what I feared you couldn’t do,” her mother answered. “The nightmare is for me now, not you. You have dreamt enough. This was not your fight to fight. It was between me and the man that I warned not to harm a hair on my baby’s head or ever make her cry. I warned him, but he didn’t listen. It was my duty to live up to the promise I made to him that day.”
Talia slumped into an French provincial armchair. “He’s dead.”
Clarissa sat down in the matching chair next to her and took her hand. “I know, honey. I killed him. I told him that I would.”
Talia stared at her. “Mother! There’s more at stake here than just him! There’s more to deal with than just what he did! We don’t know who he works with. He was the leader of a terrorist group. Now we’ll never know how to find the rest of the group. What if they just make another leader? What if that doesn’t stop them? He was our only source of information!”
“I told him years ago that if he ever hurt you, I would kill him. I was just making good on my promise.” She paused and watched her daughter’s expression. “I had no choice. He was a monster. You know that. He had to die. I love you, and I was simply trying to protect you. I swear that’s why I did it. Talia?” She was waving her hands in front of Talia’s face. “Talia? Sweetheart? Can you hear me?”
She snapped out of her trance and looked at her mother. “You knew about this, didn’t you? You knew the whole time that he was alive, and you didn’t tell me!”
“I suspected. I wasn’t sure, but when this Cameron; whoever he is, came along, I had no choice but to get directly involved,” she said. “I’m sorry if I made the wrong choices. I didn’t know what to do. I did the best I could, and how was I supposed to know what to do? It’s not like anything like this has ever happened to anyone before.” She started to cry.
She knew that her mother was right. It was a unique circumstance. The only thing that she could count on was that her mother loved her. Clarissa had an awfully strange way of showing it, but she loved her, nevertheless. She reached over and grabbed her sobbing mother in a big hug.
“I know you love me. I know you did what you thought was best. I just wish you would have talked to me,” she said, standing and looking over her mother’s shoulder at the map on the desk. “He said he created a new world order and that it was all part of a game. I wish I’d gotten more information. I don’t know how far this reaches, or if there’s a hierarchy. Is this the end? Dmitri said, ‘no’.”
Dhr stared at the map on the desk. It was the map that Dmitri had shown her years before. There were some notes on it that pertained to his conquest of Russia through his father. There were other notes that she didn’t want to take the time to study immediately. A game. The map showed seven areas, like a game of Risk.
“Good God, they’re competing to see who rules the world,” she muttered.
“What?” Clarissa asked.
Talia folded the map into the smallest parcel she could and shoved it into the pocket of her parka. Her mother watched silently, her face scrunched up in confusion.
Tyrell burst into the room, and stopped in his tracks when he saw the grim scene. “Damn.”
“Tyrell!” Clarissa exclaimed. “Thank God!” She grabbed him and hugged him.
“Dammit mother, that was my plane that blew up, wasn’t it?” Talia snapped. “Is Michael involved in this too? You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”
“Sorry,” her mother replied. “Well?” she asked Tyrell.
“The place is empty,” he replied. “We searched the rest of the buildings on the block too. It appears that he was all alone here. It’s not uncommon with separatist groups to maintain many locations. It helps them stay out of the governments’ eyes. It’s still a lot like the old terrorist groups that had camps and compounds. They only changed the name. They’re still just terrorists.”
Talia closed her eyes in frustration. “So we have no idea what we’re dealing with, or what or who is left of this mess. And now my plane is gone.”
“I’ll buy you a new plane,” Clarissa snarked. “That’s the least of our worries.”
Tyrell looked back and forth between Talia and Clarissa. “They may have fled. There is the old theory that if you cut off the head of the snake, the snake dies. They may just be gone.”
“Do you really think this is over?” Talia asked him. “He said there was some kind of game. They were playing for world domination, for God’s sake.”
“Then the Alder Nation is most likely over,” he remarked. “If it’s a game, there are probably rules. If it’s a game, then you can be eliminated.”
“What rules?” Talia snapped. “There’s a map that looks like a game of Risk.”
“Show me,” he ordered her.
She unfolded the map and spread it on the desk again. Then she noticed some cards on the floor. Tyrell looked at the map, while Talia picked up the cards. There were six cards with territories listed on them.
“What’s that?” he asked, taking the cards. He observed the cards and looked at the map. “This is sick. It really is a game of Risk.”
“Are you sure?” Talia asked. “Have you played Risk?”
“Of course, it’s a classic. The map is marked off for 7 battle continents, so to speak, with several territories cordoned off. The cards are territories, which Dmitri must have proven conquered. It looks exactly like Risk.”
“What does all that mean?” Talia asked.
“It means you need to hold onto this map and those cards,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what this means. We can only guess. We need time to figure it out for sure.”
Talia folded the map and hid it away again, along with the cards. “Don’t tell anyone about this.”
Talia’s phone rang. “Hello. Hi baby! Thank God you’re all right! I’m on my way.”
“Check around here and see if you can find any more clues,” Talia ordered Tyrell. “I don’t believe for one minute that he was all alone. He hates to be alone. That’s most like the only reason he ever married me. Even Hitler had a girlfriend.”
“Yes maam,” he said, proud of her. “I’ll call Eduard and see if he can help us with the corpse.”
“Good idea, or just take the gun and slip out before anyone notices,” Talia replied.
“I know people,” Clarissa said. “I’ll make a couple of calls.” She looked at Talia. “Go, and let me clean this up.”
She realized that she needed to spend some time and get to know her mother better. She was not in any way how Talia had viewed her in her lifetime. She was appearing a bit scary to her at that moment.
“Sure mom,” she replied, surprised. “We should really talk after all of this. We don’t talk enough.”
“I know dear,” her mother said. “Was that my granddaughter on the phone?”
“Yes, she’s waiting outside. I’m going to get her, and then I’m going home,” Talia said.
“And Cameron?” Clarissa asked.
“He’s with her, why?” Talia asked.
“If there’s a man in your life, I feel I should meet him,” she replied. “Although, he has to be better than the last one. Hopefully he’s a little tougher too.”
“He’s a friend, and you’re funny,” Talia snarked. “Come on, Anya will be thrilled to see you.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” her mother replied.
Talia exited the black stone house and met Cameron and Anya in Rynok Square. Anya cried and apologized and hugged Talia and Clarissa when she arrived a few minutes later. Clarissa insisted that they enjoy the day, not mentioning that Tyrell and Michael were still investigating and working with her people to clean up the mess. Clarissa insisted that it was over. Anya asked to see Eduard, who was reportedly enroute.
“Can we go home?” Anya asked her mother.
“Of course,” she replied. “It’s over. I can’t get home soon enough.”
“To New York?” the young one asked.
“To Moscow,” her mother replied.
“And dad?” Anya asked.
Tears welled up in Talia’s eyes. “I’m sorry. Dad is gone.”
She grabbed her mother and gave her a big hug.
“There was nothing you could do. He was a monster. I understand. He locked me in my room and told me that I would never see you or grandfather again. I ran for my life.”
“I’m sorry,” Talia sobbed.
“I love you mom,” Anya said.
“I love you too,” she replied.
She gazed at the crowd in the square. There were hundreds of people milling about, enjoying the market and the carnival rides, sipping Drunken Cherry and eating street food from trucks.
Talia scanned the crowd, wondering if any of the people there were part of the Alder Nation. Were they visitors or were they terrorists? Was there really a game, and if so, who were the other players? Who could she trust? What was she supposed to do with the map and the cards that were discreetly hidden in her pocket? Only time would tell.