The Secret Passageway

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Chapter 20

Ben, Brian, and Rich all watched and listened as their suspects put Josh through the psychological grinder they had witnessed countless times when they had all been with the government agency whose identity Ben had been reluctant to divulge to Josh. In the distance, they could hear the low rumble of Iggy’s bike, but knew that he was smart enough not to come roaring into the site alerting the men to his arrival. In fact, Iggy was to circle around behind the house, once it had been identified to bring in the whole INTERPOL team once the scene was ready for it. They were all nervous, though Brian and Rich hung back letting Ben take the lead, as this whole show had been his doing and his design from the beginning.

Ben had waited as long as he felt he could; the pair had given Josh a pretty good dose of non-physical abuse so far. It had been textbook thus far, but Ben had no idea how seriously sadistic this “Tom” might be. He had seen men of his type just bluff a torture session and their subjects would crack before any pain actually was inflicted, but he had also had the unfortunate experience of just the opposite: guys who loved dishing out pain whether or not their targets gave up anything of use or not…like Pete Geller. Thus far, Josh had amazed him and held firm to his story, even if he suspected the truth.

They had not gotten anything of real value, in terms of a confession from the pair; nothing concrete or literal anyway. And it seemed highly unlikely that this “Tom” character was much more than a hired enforcer. His partner was obviously the only one that they might have extracted such information from, and he had given up nothing in his interview of Josh. It was time to move. He could not, in good conscience, let this go on any longer. He disconnected from the surveillance hookup and sent a text that went to Brian—though he was right next to Ben—as well as Rich and the INTERPOL team that was standing on high alert with Iggy just to the east.

That’s enough. I’m going in…

Brian clapped him on the shoulder and Ben headed toward the house.

…………

Josh cringed in his seat as Tom strolled toward him, that same sick, twisted, almost demonic grin on his face that he had been wearing ever since he assumed he would be given an opportunity to pry another version out of him. Josh had no idea if this was just an act full of bluster to try and scare him into saying more or if this guy was for real. So far it sure seemed as if Tom was incapable of nuance and subtlety, though, and his apparent pleasure at using what his partner had referred to as Tom’s “unique gifts” was no bluff. For sure, Tom was not the sharpest pencil in the box, as his mother used to say…at least from Josh’s perspective.

“OK, art-boy…” Tom growled as he stepped into Josh’s personal space, “let’s get started, shall we?”

Josh tried to swallow, but there was simply nothing there but his parched throat.

“I guess by now, you understand just how important it is for us to get the real Crespi files, yes?”

Josh nodded weakly, not knowing what ese to do.

“And I think my partner…his name is Kelvin by the way—with what you are facing now, I hardly think it matters that you know his name as well, despite his reluctance to tell you himself.…has been more than reasonable and accommodating in his own way to convince you of this.”

Josh did not reply or make any movements at all. He could sense right away that this guy was looking forward to whatever it was he had in store for Josh as much, or perhaps even more, than getting more information from him. There was zero justification in his mind that trying to reason with Tom was worth the effort. Most likely he would not be denied the punishment he apparently enjoyed doling out despite any results.

“And Kelvin is right about me. I’m not so refined and polite when it comes to what the two of us do. He has his ways and I have mine. So, one last time…want to fill me on where the genuine files are…or would you prefer to do this the hard way?”

“I hate to seem obstinate or difficult, Tom,” Josh finally replied as he looked with great respect in the man’s eyes, trying not to think about what was coming his way. “But as I told Kelvin…I am just as clueless as to the whereabouts of what you are looking for as you are.”

“Good enough. I admire your resolve. Not the smartest move, from where I am standing, but admirable all the same. Let’s see if you still feel the same way in a few minutes.”

Kelvin strolled along the front porch and along the dried and patchy grass in front of the house, working on his second cigarette as he regretted Josh’s decision not to talk. He had been honest with him. He did like Josh, He was everything that he himself wished he was, but was not: educated, smart, artistically talented, and young with his whole life ahead of him. Kelvin thought back to his own childhood and did a slow burn over how wrong his life had gone after his father had died when he was just seven.

Until then, he had enjoyed a pleasant if not idyllic childhood in the south of France. His folks had not been affluent by any stretch of the imagination, but they had been comfortable and he had been loved and cared for. But after his father died in a freak boating accident while on a fishing trip in the Ligurian Sea just off he coast of Ventimiglia, where France and Italy collide, everything had fallen apart. His mother, desperate for financial support, had taken up with a man of seriously questionable character and his new step-father terrorized him relentlessly. Both psychological and physical abuse were common, Kelvin recalled, as he looked across the farmland, the morning sun finally burning off the stubborn mist from the early morning storm. The abuse soon led to sexual assaults, with the man bringing along friends to join in.

When he could no longer tolerate the situation, and could not get his mother to even consider what he was telling her to be the truth about her new husband, Kelvin fled his boyhood home, living on the streets. He turned to petty theft and worse until a man in Genoa took him under his wing for a more serious endeavor, and…well…here he now was. He was not exactly complaining, as his adult life had been quite exciting and financially rewarding, despite the means. He dreaded having turned Tom loose on Josh, but he felt as if he had no other choice. Mr. Richards was not about to accept another shortcoming from the two of them, and Kelvin now saw this as a last resort. Perhaps Josh would crack before Tom hurt him too badly…

Ben looked up as he got closer and closer to the house. The one man was clearly visible on the front porch, making Ben cringe inside, knowing he had little time to intervene to keep Josh in one piece. His plan was not to try and sneak up on the house at all. In fact, the key strategy of his plan now was to be blatantly obvious. However, the man was pacing around, looking as if in deep thought elsewhere, and Ben was nearly on him before he got spotted. Kelvin realized he had gotten very distracted by letting his unfortunate childhood revisit him. This happened from time to time, but he always did his best to try and confine these moments to private introspection, not when he was on the job. He fumbled with the gun on his hip as Ben approached, and finally raised the weapon as Ben raised his hands in a gesture of showing he was unarmed and not a threat.

“Hold it right there…” Kelvin said as Ben stopped in his tracks, his face neutral.

Ben could see the surprise and shock on the man’s face but made no more moves or said anything in response.

“Well, well…” Kelvin said, “Dr, Benjamin Harper in the flesh!”

“That it is,” Harper replied. “How are you Kelvin?”

The former look of having the advantage over Harper fell from Kelvin’s face and Ben smiled inwardly realizing the man thought he had no idea that Ben knew anything about him at all.

“I’m OK, Doc…” Kelvin replied, regaining some of his composure. “Come to the rescue, have you?”

“No…not really,” Harper replied. “Just thought it might be better all around if we talked so to avoid any more unnecessary violence?”

“Fine by me, Doc. You showing up right now simplifies things immensely as long as you have the files—the real files that is.”

“Can we step inside to talk? Maybe come to an understanding?”

“Sure, Doc. Guessing you won’t mind if I pat you down first…just to be sure?”

Harper dropped his pack on the ground between them and assumed the posture seen in most airports these days in the midst of all the “TSA Theater” the United States has instituted to give citizens the false sense of security they have demanded. After the pat down, Ben shoved the pack forward with his foot and watched as Kelvin found nothing more than a granola bar and a bottle of water inside.

“OK, Doc…after you…”

Harper hoisted his pack again and waked slowly onto the porch as Kelvin urged him on with the revolver.

Josh looked up from the floor after having taken a solid punch to the stomach from Tom, musing that this would be the perfect time for Ben and his cohorts to arrive. He was gasping for breath as Tom replanted him in the chair when Kelvin marched inside with Ben at gunpoint. Josh was not sure he was really seeing Harper, wondering if the blow from Tom was making him project that desire. But Harper shot a quick and subtle wink at Josh letting him know he was really there. Josh’s only worry now was that it appeared as if Ben had been snagged as well, hardly the scenario he was hoping for when he hoped the team was coming to his aid.

“Lookie who we got, Tom…” Kelvin said as Tom straightened Josh in the chair.

Josh grimaced against the pain as he watched Kelvin bring Ben closer and Tom, blessedly, was at least delayed in his interrogation.

“Dr. Fossil from the university?”

Ben smiled weakly at the jab at his expense from the man. While he was not intimately familiar with Tom as part of this syndicate, he knew enough about his reputation from INTERPOL research that he was high strung and very unpredictable…and violent as Josh had just found out. He just remained quiet to avoid pushing any buttons that might escalate anything.

“He here to your little rescue art-boy?”

“Apparently not, so he says. Just wants to discuss the whole Crespi file snafu. I’m guessing he has his hands on the real thing or at least knows where they are. Sound about right, Doc?”

Josh felt his spirits fall, assuming Ben had gotten himself captured and was about to trade the files for his life.

“Why don’t we all just calm down, put the guns away, and see if we cannot come to a resolution on this matter to everyone’s satisfaction.” Ben offered.

Kelvin shrugged.

“OK, Doc…so talk…”

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