The Secret Passageway

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Chapter 21

As Ben pulled up another chair to join the men, Josh’s emotions ran the gamut from disappointment that Harper and his team had perhaps decided to give in to the thugs’ desires of getting their hands on the Crespi files after all the years of sacrifice and effort by the Mastersons and others to protect the valuable documents, to guilt at considering that he might be trading the files for his release. But then he remembered that sly wink that Ben had offered him when he had first come into the house—the one that he was now sure both Kelvin and Tom had not been privy to—one that was an overt sign to Josh that all was well.

As the three of them sat in a tense and uncomfortable gathering at best, Josh took deep breaths to try and regain himself after the unexpected blow to his midsection from Tom. Josh had done some boxing and martial arts training in his youth, so there was no real damage—it had been more the unsignaled and unexpected nature of the blow that had taken his breath—he had had no time to prepare his muscles for the punch. Being on the periphery of Kelvin and Tom’s vision, Josh just mouthed “am OK” to Ben just to let him know to proceed as he saw fit.

“OK…” Ben said as he leaned his forearms on his thighs and looked intently at both men. “Despite what you might believe on some level, out friend here, Mr. Redmond, is just an innocent player in all of this. I am sure he has told you he has no idea where the genuine documents are…that is true.”

“But you do?” Kelvin asked.

“Not on me at the moment, as I am sure you have deduced by now, but let’s just say with the proper arrangement, I could get them to you.”

“Looking for a payday, Doc?”

“Me? Hardly. This whole fiasco has gone on for too many years now and has cost too much in terms of human lives. It’s time to put the whole thing to rest.”

“Just like that?”

Ben nodded.

“Besides…just giving you the files and map does not guarantee you can recover anything. The Crespi legend may be just that—nothing more than a tribal legend out of his beloved Ecuador. Many that have come before you have tried and failed—ending in horrible and hideous demises, so I hear.”

“How about you let us worry about that, Doc?” Tom chimed in.

Kelvin grimaced again at the impetuous and rash nature of his partner.

“OK, Doc…so you say. But you will pardon me if I find your sudden change of mind a bit hard to swallow.” Kelvin replied. “With your background and integrity and dedication to your field, why the change of heart?”

Ben shrugged.

“Just a calculated gamble on my part, I guess you could say. Please take this in the spirit intended, but just having the papers, etc. to go looking is hardly any guarantee of success in unearthing the collection. I know you are fully confident of your abilities once you have all the documents in your possession, but I have history on my side. I am of the mind that it is unlikely you will have any better success at this…uh… endeavor than those that have come before you and failed.”

Ben had almost used the word theft instead of endeavor, but caught himself at the last moment, not wanting to enflame the negotiations.

“We will see, Doc,” Kelvin replied. “So how do we proceed now?”

“Simple. Follow me and I will take you to the secure location where I have the files locked away. I hand over the files, you release Mr. Redmond to my custody, and we are done. End of story.”

Kelvin sat back and pondered this offer. He still not sold on the whole proposition’s validity, but looking at the older professor, he hardly seemed to be any type of threat to them.

“OK, Doc…” he replied, “how about this…Tom here stays with Mr. Redmond while you and I go collect the files—just an added…let’s say…insurance policy on our part. Once I have the files, we can come back, you can collect Mr. Redmond, and our business is officially over.”

Ben did not respond immediately. This, he knew was not a good idea. Number one, he had this intuitive feeling that Tom was not thrilled at having had his “interrogation” of Josh curtailed before he had actually gotten down to the techniques he was well known for. Number two, he had no illusions that both he and Josh would not be expendable one the files were handed over—which he had no intention of doing anyway. But mostly, he needed both Kelvin and Tom together for his overall scheme with his partners and INTERPOL to succeed.

“I don’t think that will work, Kelvin. Again, do not take this the wrong way, but I am not so trusting of your partner here alone with Mr. Redmond. Shall we say his reputation proceeds him?”

Kelvin smiled slyly at Harper’s knowledge of Tom. He supposed he might have been surprised, but it was apparent by this time that the professor had done his homework on both of them as well as the organization that they worked for. Simultaneously, he was chagrined that he had to deal with the “loose-cannon” nature of Tom, realizing Harper was probably right. Tom knew as well as he did that neither Harper nor Redmond could walk away from this scene alive if they were to get back to Europe under the radar undetected. Kelvin also knew from experience that anytime Tom had his “methods” cut short, he got even more pissed than he was on a regular basis…and Redmond would most likely be the recipient of that anger in his absence.

“For this offer to proceed,” Ben went on, “all three of us leave here together so I can ensure no more damage is inflicted on Mr. Redmond. I hand over the files, we go our separate ways, and this whole sordid, ugly nonsense comes to a close at long last.”

Kelvin rubbed his chin with one hand as he contemplated the proposal. It was not ideal from his perspective, but then again going back to Mr. Richards empty handed was an even worse alternative.

“Final offer?” Kelvin asked as he glanced up.

“Yes. Take it or leave it. It should be obvious to you by this point that Mr. Redmond has nothing of value to offer you. No further questioning of him will accomplish anything. I am offering you the real thing, no strings attached. But we all leave here together or you go back home and explain how you came up short…again.”

That last “again” really bit into Kelvin’ ego. Harper somehow knew way more about them than he had imagined previously. It still was not sitting well with him completely, but they seemed to be at an impasse if he declined Harper’s offer.

“I could always have Tom ‘coax’ the location out of you,” he replied using his fingers to form air quotes when he said the word coax as he grinned.

Harper shrugged.

“I suppose so, but without me you get nothing. How does beating down an old man for no reason get you what you want?”

Despite knowing how resourceful and successful Tom normally was in his interrogations of their adversaries, Kelvin saw Harper’s point.

“Well played, Doc. OK, you got a deal, but just remember…we’re both still armed and if anything seems fishy or even the least bit off at any time, things may go south for you and Mr. Redmond quickly. Get my drift?”

Ben nodded, knowing that was most likely their end plan anyway…that if he handed over the files, both he and Josh were done for. Fortunately for Ben, he had a surprise for the men that they were utterly clueless about. Having gotten them to agree to leave together as a unit, which he was not sure he was going to get them to agree to when he had come in, was the first piece of the final net…

Kelvin raised Josh from his chair, but did not release the cuffs as he and Tom marched them all toward the back door of the house as Harper had indicated. Tom lead the way griping tightly to Josh’s arm and Kelvin brought up the rear, his revolver pressed into Ben’s back.

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