Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Last Assignment

The first short story is a tale of espionage. Enjoy.

I was just about to turn in for the night when my doorbell rang. I used to be a spy during the Cold War so the first thing I did was grab a gun, a Walther PPK, from one of the drawers in my bedroom. I had a weapon in almost every room in my house, a habit that I had picked up long ago.
  'Who is it?' I called out from the side of the door.
  'It's Harry. Open up old friend,' a voice called to me.

  I smiled and opened the door, holding the gun behind my back. It was indeed Harry. Harry Walters, a short, overweight man in his fifties, was actually named Nicolai Pavlov. He was a Russian scientist during the Cold War when he decided to defect. Since his weapon's research was cutting edge at the time, I was sent into Moscow to extract him and bring him back to the States. The extraction went smoothly and he changed his name, gained some weight and lost some hair. He also told us some every useful things about the Russians and even helped us to develop a very powerful weapon that he originally wanted to give to the Russians. We became friends over the years.
  'Ah, Sean! How long has it been my friend?' Harry asked, sticking his hand out for me.
  'Too long,' I said, taking his hand and ushering him into the house. I tucked the Walther into my pocket and closed the door behind him. 'Would you like a drink, Harry?'
  'Yes please. Scotch if you have any.'
  I smiled to myself as I poured us both a Scotch. I remembered the first thing that had struck me as odd about Harry when I met him. He hated Vodka with a vengeance. He later told me it was because he had grown to despise Russia because of what it had become.
  'What brings you here at this time of night?' I asked, passing him his glass and sitting down.
  'Do I need a reason to visit my friend?'
  'You do when you look as worried as you do.' He did look worried. There were bags under his eyes and his normally neat hair was a mess.
  Harry sighed. 'The past always catches up to us, my friend.'
  'What? Has someone from the old days found you?'
  'There is no need to concern yourself with my safety. I came here to thank you for getting me out of Russia.’
  'You have thanked me, Harry, many times. There is no need to do so again,' I smiled and downed the rest of my scotch.
  'I just felt I should say it one last time. You remember where I was hiding when you came into that home to find me? I had been there for three days. If I had spent another in there, I would have gone mad. You saved me and I must thank you for that. The only wish I have is that you could've saved my family.'
  This made me sit up. 'I never knew you had a family.'
  'I did, once upon a time. The KGB, they took them from me. That is what made me lose faith in Russia.'
  'I never knew. I'm sorry.'
  'It cannot be helped,' Harry said and I saw the tears in his eyes. 'It was a long time ago. I shall never forget them, though. I don't think anybody could forget the loss of their family. Look who I'm talking to. You know as well as I do, don't you?'
  I nodded. I had lost both my parents in a car accident when I was young. I shall never forget them either. 'Would you like another drink?'
  'No thank you, my friend. I must be going.' Harry rose out of his chair and extended his hand once again.
  'Really? Don't you want to stay a little longer?' I asked as I shook his hand.
  'No, I can see that you are tired. Besides, I have said what I wanted to say. Goodbye, my friend.'
  I followed him to the door and let him out. As I went to bed, I wondered why Harry had said his goodbye as if it was the last time he would ever say it to me.
*          *          *
I awoke to the sound of banging on my door. I checked the digital clock beside my bed. It was two am. I swore as I dragged myself to my feet and picked up my Walther again. I did the same thing that I had done earlier with Harry, only this time the reply was a complete surprise to me.
'It's James Henderson. Open the door Flynn!' James Henderson had been the head of operations at the CIA when I was sent to get Harry out. A weasel of a man only concerned with rising through the ranks, I had despised Henderson from the moment I saw him. Last I had heard, he had actually risen through the ranks at the Agency. Normally, I chose not to pay attention to idiots so I had no idea how far he had risen.
'What do you want, Henderson? It's two am in the morning,' I said angrily.
The look on his face told me all I needed to know. 'It's about Walters.'
*          *          *
It was raining by the time Henderson and I arrived at Harry's apartment. A couple of cops stood outside the building, looking pissed. I would've been too if the CIA had just marched in and took my case. Henderson paid the cops no attention and just carried on into the building. He hadn't said anything to me on the way over so I supposed that I'd find out soon enough.
  We arrived on Harry's floor and the first thing I noticed was a stern looking man standing outside the door to Harry's apartment. The next thing I noticed was that the lock on the door had been forced open. Inside, it looked like a hurricane had been through the place. Various things lay scattered around the apartment, from draws to their contents.
  'What happened here?' I asked as I took in the damage.
  'Looks like a robbery,' Henderson said, 'they came in expecting the place to be empty and were surprised to find Walters. He's in the bedroom.'
  I went through to the bedroom and just stopped at the doorway. Harry lay at the foot of the bed in a pool of his own blood. He was lying face-up and I noticed stab wounds on his chest. Thankfully, his eyes were closed.
  'Jesus,' I said softly as I looked at the body of my friend.
  'Nasty, isn't it?' Henderson asked, coming up behind me.
  I ignored his remark. 'What did you bring me here for?'
  'I brought you here because it appears as if Walters was a Russian spy.'
  'Bullshit,' I said firmly, looking Henderson in the eyes. 'Harry was no spy. He hated communism and what it did to his country! The man hated Vodka for God's sake! What kind of a Russian hates Vodka?' I was shouting now, backing Henderson into a corner. 'How can you say that Harry was a communist agent?'
  'We found evidence that he was in contact with certain members of Russian intelligence,' Henderson said, his back pressed firmly against the wall.
  'Let me see.'
  Henderson pointed to the dining room. I walked over to the table there and saw what Henderson called evidence. A couple of old code books from the Cold War days, a few letters and a couple of order documents stamped with Soviet insignias. I almost burst out laughing.
  'You call this evidence, Henderson?' I sneered.
  Henderson appeared behind me. 'No, I don't.'
  That surprised me. 'What?'
  'I don't think that Walters was a spy. I'm not that stupid. I knew Walters, but the higher ups didn't. They want this wrapped up fast. I don't think that they would be able to stand the embarrassment of either situation.'
  'Okay, I see. One situation is that Harry was a spy and we never found out and the other is that they lost a valuable asset.'
  'Exactly. Now, to the reason why I brought you here. I want you to find out what happened here and whether or not Walters did work for the Soviets all these years. You know why? Because I don't want the embarrassment of having helped get a Soviet agent out of Russia so that he could inform on us. You have two days, Flynn, starting now. I'll clear everyone out while you work.'
*          *          *
When everyone was out of the room, I started to replay the conversation that I had had earlier with Harry in my mind. He had to have known that he was close to being killed. The goodbye he had said to had sounded like the last because he knew it would be. I figured that "goodbye" wasn't the only reason Harry had come to see me. He must have given me some clue as to his killer's identity.
  One thing that struck me as important was that Harry had wanted me to remember where I had found him hiding. Harry had been hiding in a rather small hidey hole under the floor of a cupboard. I went to the bedroom and gingerly stepped over Harry's body. I didn't need to open the cupboard as it already stood open.
  What had they been looking for? I wondered as I bent down in front of the closet. The same thing I was looking for, perhaps.
  I felt around the floor inside the cupboard and found what I was looking for. I pulled up a piece of floor and stuck my hand inside the hole. I came out with a large brown envelope. I got up off the floor and went back to the dining room.
  I pulled out a chair and emptied the contents of the envelope onto the table. The first thing to come out was a business card. It was from a man named "John Springsteen", a private investigator with an office downtown. I shoved it in my pocket and turned my attention to the second thing out of the envelope, a stack of photographs secured with a rubber band.
  I took off the rubber band and starting going through the photographs. They were surveillance pictures. A strikingly beautiful women appeared in each one of them. She was obviously the one that was being watched. I had never seen her before. I would've bet money that the pictures were taken by the private investigator. That was my next move.
*          *          *
I got downtown at dawn. It still hadn't stopped raining. I parked my car and looked up at the grubby building that the PI's office was in. I wondered why Harry had hired this guy as I got out of the car and dashed into the building. I went straight to the third floor and knocked on the PI's door. The door swung open as soon as I touched it.
  I'd smelt the scent of death many times before but it's something you never get used to. My hand went straight to my gun but there was no need. The office was empty, except for the body of the PI. He lay in the middle of the office, blood pooled around his still form.
  I took my eyes away from the body and looked around. The office was only one room and it was a mess. Whoever had killed Springsteen had gone through all his files and tossed them all over the place. There was a broken coffee cup near the door, probably thrown by Springsteen in defence. There was only one file on the desk. I picked it up. It was an empty client file. Harry's client file.
  That's how they found him, I thought, putting the empty file down again.
  The woman in the photographs just became very important. I was glad that I'd kept one of them instead of giving them all to Henderson to look over. I pulled out my cell.
  'Henderson, it's Flynn. I have discovered how they found Harry.'
*          *          *
After Henderson arrived at the office, I headed home. He had no news on who the woman in the photographs could be so I had no new leads. I was tired and I needed rest. That made going home my best choice.
  They came at me just as I was closing my front door. The door was kicked inwards and I was flung backwards. I landed on the floor with a thud as two armed men rushed into my apartment. In less than a second, I had my weapon out and was firing blind. I was trying to buy time to get myself into cover.
  The two men dove out through the door into the hallway as I pulled myself along the floor towards my bedroom. My clip ran dry just as I reached the door way of my bedroom and I pulled myself into cover as fast as I could. Bullets tore up the floor where my feet had been.
  I leapt to my feet and ejected the empty clip, slamming a fresh one home as yet more rounds tore up chunks of my floor and wall. I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. The firing stopped and I heard the sounds of men reloading. I waited a bit and then came out of my bedroom, staying low.
  I found a target and almost immediately drew a bead on him. I fired, aiming for centre mass like I'd been trained to do. The man's chest exploded, blood spraying everywhere, as I drew back into cover.
  I reloaded my weapon again. One down and one to go. There was one problem, I needed the other one alive.
  The man fired twice more and then stopped. I peeked my head out of cover and saw nothing. Then, I heard the footsteps. The bastard was running.
  I ran to my door and out into the hall. I saw the man heading for the stairs at the other end of the hallway. I assumed a firing stance and took aim. I fired, my round catching the man in the leg. His knee shattered in a spray of blood and he screamed as he fell. His weapon flew down the hall, out of his reach.
  I didn't have much time. I raced down the hall and grabbed the man by his collar. Grunting with the effort, I pulled him back towards my apartment. He was swearing and cursing up a storm. I recognised the language. He was speaking Russian.
  I pulled the man into my apartment and closed the door behind me. I pulled the man's face towards mine.
  'Answer my questions and you live,' I said in Russian before I smacked him in the head, knocking him out.
*          *          *
When the Russian assassin finally awoke, I had tied him in a kind of cross shape on my bed and his leg wound was bandaged. My Walther was tucked into my belt and a bucket of water lay at my feet. A hose ran from the bathroom faucet to the bucket and in my hand was a towel. The Russian took this all in and I could tell from his expression that he was scared.
  'Who sent you?' I asked in Russian.
  The man shook his head. I sighed and wrapped the towel around his head. I then started to pour the bucket of water over the towel, being careful to evenly distribute the liquid between the man's nose and mouth. I was Waterboarding him.
  Waterboarding is a form of torture designed to make the captive think that he's drowning. Your lungs burn and you brain screams for you to get oxygen even though you're actually getting enough. The psychological effects of such a thing are enough to make anyone talk after enough of it.
  After the bucket was empty, I pulled the towel off the man's head. He coughed and spluttered, gulping down huge lungfulls of air. I repeated the question and got the same answer. I filled the bucket again and set to work. It took four buckets for him to answer my question.
  He told me that he worked for a man named Petrovich. I knew the man. He had been big in the KGB because he had never let one person defect from Russia, until I took Harry out. I should have guessed. Of course Petrovich wanted revenge, he should have been at the top of my list of suspects.
  I asked the assassin all the questions that I had. He had found me by following me from the PI's office, which he had been watching. His orders had been take me to Petrovich. I assumed Petrovich had reserved the pleasure of killing me for himself. No, the man didn't know who the woman in the photographs was. No, Harry wasn't a Soviet spy. Yes, he knew where Petrovich was. I got him to tell me where and then I knocked him out again before calling Henderson to come clean up. I told Henderson everything that I had found out and he told me not to go after Petrovich.
  'Why not?' I asked.
  'After the KGB fell, he moved into government,' Henderson explained. 'He has diplomatic immunity.'
  'I don't work for the CIA anymore. That means that I can get this bastard, whether he has diplomatic immunity or not. Did you find out who the girl is?'
  Henderson sighed. He knew from prior experience it was useless to argue with me. 'No, I haven't. But then I haven't been getting very much co-operation here at my end. I'll keep trying.'
  I hung up and cursed. I shoved my cell into my pocket and my gun into my waistband. I grabbed my jacket as I left the apartment. In the hallway, a couple of cops were examining the blood on the floor. They were the same ones who had been standing outside Harry's building earlier.
  At first they didn't recognise me and drew down on me. For one horrible moment I thought I'd have to take them down but they relaxed when they figured out who I was. They scowled at me as I walked past. I heard one of them calling it in as I headed down the stairs.
*          *          *
I arrived at the restaurant where I was told that Petrovich was dining and parked outside. I entered the restaurant and immediately felt out of place. It was clear that everybody in the place had money, lots of money. A rat-faced little guy appeared in front of me with a disapproving look on his face. I looked at myself in the mirror beside me. I could understand why he looked at me like that.
  'What do you want here, sir?' He asked. I never thought anyone could make the word "sir" sound like an insult.
  I looked around the restaurant before answering. 'I'm with him,' I said, pointing to Petrovich in the corner.
  As the man looked to where I was pointing, I pushed past him and went straight to the Petrovich's table. I sat down with a big smile on my face, noticing that one man seated at the table next to us tensed up. Petrovich's bodyguard, I guessed.
  'Tell your man to relax, we have some business to discuss,' I said, the smile still plastered all over my face.
  Petrovich nodded to his bodyguard. 'What business?'
  'Killing business. You killed my friend and you tried to kill me.'
  Petrovich laughed. 'Why would I do such a thing?'
  'Pavlov was the one that got away. I was the one that helped him.'
  'You think that I want revenge for something so trivial, Mr Flynn?' Petrovich said with a smile. 'To answer your question, no, I would not.'
  'Then why send your men after me?'
  'I didn't.'
  I studied his face. I believed him, every word he said. 'Someone did.'
  'Perhaps we should go outside?' Petrovich asked.
  'Your monkey stays here,' I said. 'I'm armed, by the way.'
  Petrovich nodded to the bodyguard and stood. I followed him out into the rain. Once outside, I took my gun out of my waistband, shoved it in my pocket and angled it so that it was aimed at Petrovich.
  'Who sent your men after me?' I asked.
  'The woman the unfortunate PI was following,' Petrovich said, turning his back to the restaurant.
  'This woman?' I asked, showing him the photograph. He nodded. 'Who is she?'
  'She's Pavlov's daughter.'
  'What? Don't lie, Harry told me that his family was dead. Killed by the KGB.'
  'No, we didn't kill his family. We took them from him, we didn't kill them.'
  Of course, Harry had used that exact word, took. 'But why would his daughter want him dead?'
  'You'll have to ask her that.'
  Suddenly, someone came up behind me and clamped a hand over my mouth. In the hand was a cloth soaked in chloroform. I was out in seconds.
*          *          *
I awoke pissed off and in pain. I was tied to a chair in the middle of what I guessed was a warehouse. Crates and boxes were stacked up against one wall. About ten feet in front of me stood a table with two chairs. Seated in the chairs were the woman and Petrovich and standing to the side was Petrovich's bodyguard. I cursed my stupidity.
  'Hey!' I yelled. 'I'm awake! Let's get on with the torturing!'
  Petrovich smiled and stood up. He had my gun in the pocket of his dinner jacket, I could tell by the bulge. 'Good morning, Mr Flynn.'
  The bodyguard stayed where he was while Petrovich and the woman came towards me. I started testing the ropes that bound me. If I was careful, I could get free.
  'So this is the famous Sean Flynn?' The woman said.
  'Yeah, I'm Flynn. What's it to you?'
  'I'm Svetlana Petrovich, formerly Svetlana Pavlov. You helped my father abandon my mother and I.'
  'Is that why you had him killed?' I asked in disbelief. 'He abandoned you?'
  Petrovich came and stood to my left and Svetlana stood right in front of me. 'Yes, that is why I killed him. He abandoned us. My mother died of a broken heart and I grew to hate him. He hurt me more than anyone could ever know and he betrayed his country. He deserved to die as much as you do.'
  I had to buy time. 'You killed him yourself?'
  'Of course. My darling taught me how to kill,' she said, running her hand over Petrovich's face. 'Now, I shall apply what I have learnt once again. To kill you.'
  Brainwashing. I should've guessed. Petrovich and the KGB had taken Harry's family to use as leverage against him. When Harry defected, Petrovich started to fill Svetlana's head with lies about her father. Years of such lies made her hate her father and think that everything was his fault. Her mother's death, her pain and suffering at the hands of the KGB, everything. After years of lies, children can even go so far as to kill their own parents. The KGB had been the masters of brainwashing.
  Now was my chance. I wrenched my hands upwards, the ropes falling away as I leapt forward and elbowed Svetlana in the face. In an instant, her smile disappeared and blood started to pour from her nose as she flew backwards.
  Distracted by what I had done to Svetlana, Petrovich just stood there as I punched him in the face and lifted my weapon from his pocket. I dropped to one knee and shot the bodyguard in the head before he had a chance to fire. A neat little hole appeared in the man's head and he fell backwards as I turned my attention to Petrovich.
  Petrovich went for a weapon so I shot him twice in the chest. Blood stained his once nice shirt and I spun around. I trained my weapon on Svetlana. She looked at me with pure hatred in her eyes. She had a holster on her hip.
  'Don't,' I said but she went for the weapon anyway. I fired, expending the rest of my clip into my friend's daughter.
*          *          *
After I had found my cell and called Henderson, I went and stood outside. It had stopped raining and the sun was shining. I looked up at the sky and sighed. It had been a tough night but, then again, my nights had never really been easy. 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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