As the Honda trundled back across the fields of the unmarked roads away from the barn, Iggy tossed away the branches and hunks of shrubbery he had used to conceal himself and eased his motorcycle out into the open. He opened his phone and began the alert chain:
On their way, Ben…
Cool. Thanks, Ig. Our boy still in one piece?
Physically. But I think these turds have him scared shitless from what I overheard.
Think he’s figured out what is going on yet?
Hard to say for sure. But he’s no dummy, so I would say it’s a safe bet he has.
You need any help wrapping up the group at the barn?
It’s been a few years, but nah…I’m cool. Catch up to you guys later.
Ben shut off his phone and slipped it back in his pocket. He pulled onto the county roads that paralleled the route he and Brian had mapped out based on the route Josh’s kidnappers had taken previously, assuming they would head back along the same path until they peeled off to go to where ever it was that they thought they could pry more information out of Josh. Also, the homing device that Rich had attached to the inner fender of the Honda would kick in if they had guessed wrong. He stopped and picked up Brian along the way and they fell in behind Rich at a safe but useable distance as the Honda did indeed come back along the same roads toward town before breaking off just outside the city limits to head west toward the plains.
You good, Rich?
Perfect. You and Brian staying on the goons as planned?
Yep. We will meet you at the coordinates we got from INTERPOL.
Ben sighed with nervousness, as he always had in the past when the real meat of the operation was about to commence, and Rich engaged the software on the tracking device now attached to the Honda. They continued their surveillance of the car’s progress, suddenly grateful they had taken the additional measure to include the homing device at the last minute. Indeed, as the Honda cleared the county line, it peeled off in a direction not anticipated by the team as it headed through a long-abandoned piece of farmland that neither of them knew of.
In the meantime, Iggy fired up his motorcycle and headed back to the barn where a pair of Bell UH-1Y Venom helicopters, also known among military circles as the Super-Hueys, were converging on the structure. Iggy ran his bike right up to the barn as the light inside went suddenly dark and a trio of men began to flee from the rear, heading for a back Escalade parked nearby. But as the small contingent burst from the back doors of the barn, a special-ops team from INTERPOL, who had negotiated with Ben and his old colleagues, flooded the area with blinding lights and descended on the melee down ropes from the chopper doors. The trio immediately surrendered once surrounded by the serious-looking soldiers with guns that Iggy had to admit even gave him the shivers.
They were cuffed and loaded into the vehicle they had planned on using for their escape, with one of the soldiers who had descended from the sky taking the wheel and driving the group away, after saluting his acknowledgement of all being fine with Iggy who watched in amazement at their speed and efficiency of wrapping this part of the operation up. The leader of the military dispatch came to Iggy to confirm the destination for the captured men and after a few brief words, he was gone.
“All a go, sir?” the tall commander asked as he and Iggy conferred.
“Seems so, major,” Iggy replied as he shook his hand. “Is it just me or did we just apprehend some professors?”
’It sure appeared that way to me also, sir. Not what we were expecting, but all in a day’s work I guess…”
“Yeah…guess so. You need anything else from me, major?”
“No sir. We will drop them at the INTERPOL site and head back across the pond, then.”
And with that, the major offered a mock salute with two of his fingers to his forehead as he smiled at Iggy, and before he realized it, the choppers had shot off into the morning mist, almost like they had never been there at all.
Ben smiled as Iggy’s text indicated all had gone down without a hitch at the barn. The only negative piece was when he had told Ben that the three men apprehended appeared to look like scholars or at least professors of some ilk. That dug at Ben’s gut. He knew there were possibly colleagues of his in the US and abroad that could have been easily tempted at the offer of an apparent easy payday the art thieves might have offered. He hoped he was wrong, but deep in his heart he was afraid he might even know who they were based on his knowledge of the less than ethical members of his peers in the field. He supposed he would find out soon enough once they all rendezvoused with the entire INTERPOL cadre once this was all over.
“Iggy slam it?” Brian asked as Ben logged out of his phone.
“When did he ever not?” Ben replied as they both grinned.
Ben gunned the car as they redirected their route to keep track of the Honda and ensure Josh’s safety. After only a few more minutes, they pulled into a copse of trees that sat on the side of the road just before the dirt road appeared that the Honda had sped down, looking as if it was heading toward an old tumbledown farmhouse at the end of a little-used lane that split barren farmland that looked as if it had not been cultivated or otherwise attended to in years.
“Time to go on foot?” Brian asked.
“Indeed. And with haste I would say.”
Ben motioned to the dilapidated old homestead with a nod of his head.
“I’m no expert on this—that’s Rich’s milieu—but that old claptrap sure looks like some of the old safe houses we used to use back in the day…though they were never very safe for anyone but us.”
Brian nodded in agreement as they both shouldered small packs and began to hustle across the expanse between where they had pulled off and where the Honda had stopped, adjacent to the house.
“I’m sure Rich is already in place, but we should not dawdle,” Ben added. “These assholes will surely not handle Josh with kid gloves at this point, even if he really does not know anything…regardless of what he may have deduced by now.”
Brian nodded and they set off at a brisk pace, staying in amongst the tree line to conceal their approach as much as possible. As Ben glanced ahead, he could see one of the men moving Josh roughly from the back seat and then both frog-marching him to the house, one on each side of Josh with a firm and serious grip on each arm. Seeing as how they were still at least a minute or two or more away, Brian engaged the audio bug Rich was carrying so they could monitor the conversation, partly to protect Josh, but also to gather as much additional incriminating evidence as possible for the INTERPOL team for a thorough investigation and hopefully harsh sentencing that would shut down the treasure-hunting cabal that was behind this series of historic art plunderings that had been active for as long as Ben had been in the field.
From his location in the attic of the house, Rich saw the light on his mobile amplification device begin to blink, and he realized that Ben and Brian were nearby but not quite in position yet to monitor the interrogation. He engaged the machine that employed the latest in sonar and wi-fi surveillance technology so all three of them could be in on what was to come, even if his partners were still enroute. Now by linking their cell phones to the app that Rich had loaded in all their devices, they all could keep taps on Josh without detection. Rich set up his phone to observe the action and just waited; Ben was to ultimately be the one to drop the hammer on the suspects, but with his strong military background, Rich wanted to be ready just in case things went haywire and were beyond the scope of Ben’s overall strategy. As well, they could all communicate soundlessly, and Rich would be able to intervene in an emergency.
As the grainy, but visible video progressed, Rich watched as the men shoved Josh into a hardbacked chair, leaving his hands cuffed. It was a bit rough, for sure, but in his experience, Rich saw this as more of a psychological gambit than putting Josh in real physical jeopardy…after all, they wanted the real Crespi files and a dead suspect did them no good in that regard. He supposed they might resort to mild or even moderate torture, but if that transpired, he was in prime location to shut it all down…no matter what evidence or lack thereof they might have acquired. Rich recalled Pete Geller as well as any of them, and there was no way he as going to let that happen again.
Tom sauntered across the room and hopped up on a counter in what seemed to Josh to have once been a kitchen as the man who had driven them, and seemed to be calling the shots, pulled a second chair from the wall and sat in front of him, straddling it, the back facing Josh. The man put his elbows on the top of the chair back, interlaced his fingers and rested his chin on his hands as he looked intently into Josh’s eyes. Josh, who was already pretty petrified at what had transpired that day, especially when the pair had come back from the barn to accuse him of trying to pass off bogus versions of the Crespi files to them, was now beyond any level of fear he had ever experienced in his life.
He thought back to Ben’s admonitions about these guys being consummate professionals and right now the intensity of this man’s eyes reminded him that this was about to get real serious…not that it had ever been a game at all, but it felt as if a new level of intimidation and threats were being unfolded. His mouth had gone dry and Josh was fighting off making the trembling he was sure was coursing through him visibly apparent to his adversary.
“Sorry for all the discomfort, Mr. Redmond,” he finally said.
Josh grimaced slightly as he was just beginning to lose the feeling in his hands from the zip cuffs.
“It’s nothing personal, you see. In fact, I really like you…I do. I admire your dedication and resolve to protect what you found in the Masterson house. It’s truly admirable, this trait of yours for honesty and to do what you feel is right. A rare characteristic these days, I think. I wish I could say that applied to me, but unfortunately you and I come from vastly different backgrounds in that regard, but I will not bore you with my unfortunate childhood, etc. that has brought me to where I am now.”
Josh sat quietly afraid to even acknowledge the man’s rambling speech.
“But you see, Mr. Redmond, we have a situation here. You may recall, Tom and I have this boss, Mr. Richards. He pays well, but is…how shall I put this…not especially forgiving of failure? Anyway…however I got here and how Tom got here, we are not in the position to go back to him without the real Crespi files. He’s invested a lot of money and time in this endeavor; we’re at the point of no return, I guess you could say. Do or die? Clear enough?”
“Crystal….” Josh mumbled back, his tongue stuck to his mouth.
“Good…good. I knew you were a smart guy. I’m like that, too. Oh, maybe not book smart like yourself—never had the inclination nor the opportunity. Maybe if I had, we would not be in this position now, you and I. But being the smart guy I know you are, I wanted to see if maybe you had a different story for us before I let good old Tom there give this a go. I’m just not 100% convinced you are telling us everything you know. If Tom comes up empty, then…well…at least we can go to Mr. Richards and tell him you really did not know anything more…”
Josh glanced over at Tom and saw an evil, twisted sneer form on the man’s face.
“I get what you are saying, Mr….?” Josh began.
“I’d prefer to keep my name out of this, you know?”
“I do get what you’re saying, but what I have told you so far is all I know. Honestly!”
The man could sense the desperation and terror building in Josh.
“OK. Just wanted to try one last time. Guess I will hand this off to Tom now. I am afraid my associate is not nearly as refined or gentile as myself.”
He chuckled as he spoke.
“But over the years Tom and I have worked together, I have to admit his approach and techniques have had more than limited success. Like I said earlier, not really my style, but then we all have unique gifts to offer the world.”
With that, he arose, returned the chair to the wall across the room and headed for front door. Just as Josh saw Tom slip from the counter where he had been sitting and taking all this in, his partner stopped at the door and spoke again.
“I’d hang around, Mr. Redmond, but quite frankly I just do not have the stomach for Tom’s methods anymore…”
Josh was sure this was just one more jab at him to try and get a different version out in the open. He was certainly no expert in reading people, but from all he had seen and heard so far, he had no illusions that the man gave a rat’s ass about watching Tom try and beat the truth out of him. Just one more psychological ploy, he figured. A pathetic one, he mused, but he recognized it for what it was at least.
“I’m on the porch, Tom,” the man said as he removed a pack of cigarettes from his jacket. “Do what you have to. Call if you need me. Otherwise I’ll be on lookout.”
The man disappeared, the door clicked quietly behind him, and Tom moved closer to Josh.
“OK, Mr. Redmond…” he began with heavy sarcasm in his voice, “time to see how funny you are now…”