Chapter 23 of Shiva’s Messenger
Dynamite Speeches that Bomb
The highway leaving Odessa again required caution in order to negotiate the sections where half completed repairs lurked. Some of the holes were almost big enough to swallow the tiny Lada in one gulp. The diminishing distance to the area of the national capital could be measured by increments of road surface improvements. Like governments everywhere, the Ukraine liked to waste the most money where it showed. In the city center of Kiev, the two would later chuckle as they witnessed road crews resurfacing asphalt that would’ve been considered brand new, if it had been in Odessa.
“That is impressive.” Hamster Man was surprised to note that from the moment he changed papers the effect was complete. The accent and whole demeanor dramatically shifted to match the new persona. Carl couldn’t help but immediately think of him, as ‘Dimitri’. As the idle traveling chat continued, Eckert marveled the part that was even more outstanding. “You know the language but now you also speak English with a Russian accent. When you were Gunter, you spoke it with a German inflection. How do you do that?”
“It took a lot of practice with my dad but I also start thinking in my persona’s language and I’m sure that helps.”
“Could you speak Russian with a German accent?”
“Yes, but only because Russian is my second strongest tongue.” The chameleon explained.
“Conversely, I can’t speak German and sound Russian. Well, at least not without a lot more rehearsal.”
“When you were Alex, I would place your accent from Nevada or California. I assume you could be from Boston if you wished.”
“A Bostonian sounds pretty thick,” Dimitri noted, “but I wouldn’t try to match to a city or someone may expect me to know intimate details. I’d make it more general to New England. The accents in North America are fairly easy. A few key word sounds can make the switch. My being an Australian in England would be harder at first but I’d get better as I used the persona.”
“You’re a human chameleon without even changing clothes or your appearance.” The exchange had brought Cark to stare with awe as if watching to observe a skin color change.
“But you’re not a flounder,” the passenger remarked on the driver’s long fixed gaze but he wasn’t excessively concerned yet as traffic was light, “with both eyes migrated to the side of your head.”
“The CIA trained me in watching the road through my ear?” Carl split his attention to give a little to his driving duty as well. “When did you ever have time to learn to shoot?”
“Weapons were only a small fraction of my father’s curriculum.” The young assassin fondly recalled. “My education was also started before my first childhood memories.”
“It must’ve been different as a tyke playing soldier,” Eckert tried to envision it, “but with live ammunition.”
“A loving parent doesn’t give toddlers knives to run with.” John squelched his friend’s thought. The memories invoked by this talk had slipped him from the Dimitri persona but since it was only with Carl he paid it no heed. “My father didn’t give me skills before he thought me responsible enough for them.”
“When did your languages training begin?”
“I could read and write both English and Russian before other kids would be starting kindergarten. I was also fluent in French and conversant in German.”
“Did he never give you time to just play and have fun?” Carl’s face had to turn away from the road again as he felt sorrow and had to study the effects of such a regimented childhood.
“It was all fun with plenty of play.” John read the expression. “I’ve had a wonderful life. My dad started off reading children’s books with me in English. Then he read them again in different tongues. I had friends my own age when we traveled and in the rest of the year he was a playmate as well as my parent and teacher.”
‘I suppose it built a strong relationship between you two.” Carl recalled his young years. “My father worked long hours and I saw him only on evenings and weekends.”
“My dad was at least your age when I was born but still a lot of fun to play with: maybe I kept him young. He and I did play soldiers and if the game involved being squad mates instead of opponents,” John grinned, “sometimes it was with real guns and bullets.”
“I suppose you’ve turned out rather well from it.” Hamster Man chuckled. “Other than the long string of corpses in your wake.”
“Its been my choice. A butcher may teach his son all he knows in hopes of passing on a family tradition but a good father also gives his child a wide base to build any future on. The boy could become an accountant—who also has a very good knowledge of meat.”
“I can see our young Shiva’s Messenger as a lawyer with latent skills to take out the bailiffs, judge and jury over a wrong verdict.”
“My being with you puts me in mind of spending quality time with my father but with an odd transition.” John glowed as he was realizing this for the first time as he was sharing it. “It’s like I’m my father and you’re me, trying to learn what I know with enjoyable conversations and having fun with the educational stuff we’re doing.”
“Hamster Man,” Carl’s chest puffed as he expanded on his official title, “the assassin’s apprentice.”
“Hi again Dimitri.” The young assassin switched back as they neared Kiev.
“Could you do that without seeing your reflection?”
“You probably don’t really need a mirror to brush your teeth but you’d certainly feel awkward without one.”
After finding a nice apartment through a rental agency, Dimitri scoured the classified ads for a large storage unit wired with electric. He applied for a job as a temporary maintenance man at a premier hotel in Kiev and managed to get hired part-time.
“You were lucky to apply at the perfect time,” the hotel staffing manager smiled, “a very important guest is expected soon and extra mechanical personnel are required for sprucing up the place.”
“Great,” the maintenance manager’s voice was cynical as he met his new temporary man, “another young one. I suppose you’ll need a day or two off after every payday too.”
“I’m a diligent worker.” Dimitri offered quietly.
“That’s what they all say.” Ivan issued the lad with a tool belt and his new coveralls.
“Some of the stuff we need is really tough to get, probably even impossible, not to mention dangerous.” Carl mused while shaking his head slowly in thought. Dimitri had sketched out a rough outline of the project. “I don’t think even selling your highly-touted soul will net enough to buy any C4 compound.”
“The hardest things to get, I brought with me.” After fishing into his bags, Dimitri pulled out the carefully prepared shaving kit from Calgary. “May I use your scissors?”
“You may as well.” Carl snapped back. He’d never seen the kit, it had irked him slightly that his boss always borrowed his shampoo and toothpaste.
“This bag is far too extraordinary for storing toiletries.” Dimitri’s tantalizing voice hinted at a treasure trove of delights.
“Oh my god!” Eckert’s eyes widened. “What have you carried half way around the world, on planes and through customs?”
“Airline security and border crossings can be a problem but not insurmountable. In addition to random searches, they also regularly use metal detectors, x-ray and explosive sniffing units.” Using the scissors, the smuggler cut the side out of his shaving kit. “You have to prepare well in advance of the screening.”
“The zipper triggers a booby-trap bomb?” Eckert leaned away.
“No,” the young assassin chuckled, “why would I set a trap to kill an innocent security worker?” It just doesn’t work because I dipped the whole bag in several coats of liquid plastic and let it harden.” Dimitri emptied now the ruined satchel onto the table. “The method of getting past explosive detectors, is to seal everything in airtight packaging. The sampling wand hunts for fumes only in the main suitcase cavity.”
“You took explosives onto an airplane!”
“This can make washing your hair a real blast.” Dimitri quipped and tossed a medium sized plastic shampoo bottle and another with conditioner. He had carefully filled and compressed as much C4 plastic explosive, as each would hold. Following that, the semi-solid was tamped into the containers and topped up completely, so the non-liquid consistency wouldn’t be apparent. “The ploy for x-ray units is to make the items look like something the operators see so often, that they pay no attention.”
“Be careful!” Carl handled the potentially volatile bottles like they might detonate. “I was wrong about the spirit auction.”
“This is a high velocity military explosive but it’s safe to handle until you use some of these blasting caps.” Dimitri broke the shell of his electric razor and extracted two detonators that were mixed in with assorted electronic components.
“You don’t just go into a supermarket and ask for C4 by name.”
“No. It’s controlled and purchase requires an end user certificate. It might be possible to get it here but with extreme difficulty and danger.” His father supplied a quantity and it had a ten-year shelf life. It was easier just to bring it along. “The rest of the components could come from hardware store and electronics shops.”
“I would’ve been sweating torrents at every checkpoint.” Carl marveled at the ingenuity and the nerve to pull it off. “They would have torn my up gear seeking the headwaters of my perspiration.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t tell you or get you to carry anything. ‘Security forces never examine further when they see exactly what they expect’.” Dimitri recited one of his father’s favorite lessons. “I could use a gun too but those are tougher to hide. Even stripped down to components, a gun and bullets still looks like gun parts.”
[private_Chevron]“This must be another one of your esoteric things.” Carl was still looking dumbfounded at the smuggled stems. “You tell your soul to broadcast—please don’t look into my luggage!”
“If anything, it’s the reverse. I put the stuff into my bags and try to forget it’s there. Maybe my spirit has Alzheimer’s disease or a short attention span—it can’t tattle what it doesn’t remember.”
“But this,” Shiva’s Messenger carefully extracted the toothbrush from the toiletry pile: he handled it gingerly with two fingers, “also has an important function.” He offered it to Hamster Man.
“I’m not touching that.” Carl pulled away.
“Good.” Dimitri laughed and put the brush end into his mouth. “You can use your own for taking plaque off your teeth.”
“Its a crappy assignment for such non-existent remuneration.” After an explanation of what was to be done, Carl noted that his boss had assigned him most of the fabrication duties.
“I’ll help whenever I’m not busy at the hotel and finding supplies.”
“That’s fine,” Eckert showed a declining hand, “I worked with you on the banners and that showed me what to expect. That was only with paint. An innocent jest with volatile material might put more than just a White House smell in my underwear.”
With some clay and several top quality examples of the item they were going to fabricate, Carl got to work setting up the mold. He was finicky to the point of anal about the details but that was fine. An appearance of authenticity was critical, as the finished products would be intimately scrutinized.
Aside from his earlier quip said in fun, Hamster Man was happy being fully responsible for this duty. It kept him busy, which helped keep his mind off plan segments that the boss hadn’t divulged.
Over the following several days Dimitri worked longer hours at the hotel. Carl took long breaks from the workshop to enjoy the city and spend time on his other duties.
“Can we get an apartment with DSL or dialup?” Eckert looked wistfully at his laptop now idle in the evening at home. “I haven’t yet found an open wireless network at a coffee place and I don’t like the occasional peeping over my shoulder, in an Internet café.”
“Would you take occasional breaks from porn surfing,” Dimitri chided, “to get information on the state visit here?”
“Yes, but only because you asked so nicely.” Carl smiled at the barb. “That’s ironic because whitehouse.gov is a place to get the information you want, but whitehouse.com used to be a porn site.”
“I still need a gun.” Shiva’s Messenger mused out loud.
“You’ve said that only about 12 times in the past three days. So let’s get you one? There are police and security militia that hang out in every bar and casino. Most of them carry firearms. They play the gambling machines and even drink while they’re on duty.” Carl hatched a plan. “We could get one of them drunk and steal his.”
“They’re sure to have a metal detector on the way in, so I can’t bring one.” Dimitri pursed his lips in thought. “I don’t know if I dare hide one somewhere, either. Getting it to where I need it would be dangerous—but I need a gun.”
“Aaaargh.” Eckert voiced most succinct thought on the issue that revolved back to the start position again. “Why do you really need a gun anyways? We’re obviously making bombs.”
“Part of what I need a gun for, I can’t tell you. I also want to have a firearm for insurance, when I make my escape. If I didn’t have one in Akron, I wouldn’t have survived the get-away.”
“I’m sorry, boss, but that brings up something that I really can’t figure out.” Carl knew there was much that his friend wasn’t telling him of the overall plan. His revelation on the Potemkin Stair and now this gun business was starting to make Eckert feel slighted. “You’re willing to have me making bombs but you won’t tell me the rest. Is this some trust issue?”
“I have absolute faith in you. It’s more a confidence and a soul thing on my part. Some actions in my plan have precarious aspects. If I explain these, you’ll have questions. If I start thinking about concerns or possible complications, then I’ll begin to have doubts. I can’t solve every potential problem in my plan but I can’t afford to have second thoughts. To send a clear message to my soul, I’m fixating on the apparently workable plot and trusting that my reflexes and training can accommodate other situations that arise.”
“Now that I can understand.” Carl nodded knowingly. A need for unswerving self-assurance made perfect sense. “The spirit part of the equation, as you explained in Odessa, isn’t clear though. Souls communicate with people, so how is your confidence affected?”
“That’s not all that our spirits do.” Dimitri took a pause to think of a suitable example. “Have you ever noticed that if you fret and worry about something bad happening, it often does?”
“We probably bring it onto ourselves, subconsciously.”
“Or maybe soul-consciously?”
“OK, let’s hear it.” Carl heaved a heavy sigh and knew that he was in for another of the young man’s theories of eternity.
“Everything that you tell yourself in prayer, the bad by dreading and the good by fervent faith, causes your essence to attempt to make it happen. Whoever says that God doesn’t listen, simply doesn’t believe that God can hear.”
“That’s a nice theory.” Hamster Man looked dubious. “I won’t say I can believe it but I can’t yet figure out how to poke holes in it.”
“I see our employee development program has to work on your skepticism.” Dimitri sought for another instance to cite. “Remember back to when you were homeless and looking for me. Did you want to find me or did you know that we were going to meet?”
“I vowed that I would find you—or rather your father.” Eckert easily recalled when he saw the men in his apartment waiting to kill him. The president of his country had reneged on his allegiance, by ordering his death.
“You told your soul a fact that you believed to be true and then your spirit might have found mine and communicated that you were looking for me. Maybe, we were nudged into contact.”
“Come to think of it, our accidental skull cracking was a huge coincidence.” After thinking for a minute, Carl reprovingly wagged a finger. “You’re like a missionary trying to convert me.”
“The soul is a piece of infinity that we carry inside. It keeps us all connected to whichever God we believe in and to each other. They’re a vitally important part of us but they’re imperceptible to our weaker senses, so the mind tends to shunt the value aside.”
“Are you like a Mormon manager who only promotes subalterns of the same church?” Carl narrowed his eyes to a squint but a smirk betrayed his mirth. “A ten percent religious tithe would gnaw a big hole in my zero salary.”
“I could always tack on a 15% cost of faith allowance.”
“I’m almost certain he’ll be in Kiev.” Beth Withers brought her undocumented theory to her boss at the FBI Shiva Task Force. She had been puzzling it out since her realization that Spokane was intended only as a ruse. The biggest problem with her assumptions was that they had no absolute crux. Her faith came from deciding what the Spokane incident suggested and then assuming the opposite was more likely true. “The two attacks in America suggest another here, so the next will be abroad.”
“If your reverse theory is accurate and since Shiva has struck at the president twice, maybe the VP is the potential target needing more protection.” Bob twiddled his thumbs and tried to understand.
“If allegations I’ve heard about Clark are true,” Beth noted wryly, “it would give the Stryke two message an interesting connotation.”
“I’m defiantly not going to comment on that and I’m not going to run to the SS asking them to double team Lon Clark.” Bob Waters leaned back in his chair and rubbed at a crick in his neck before continuing. “Assuming you are correct, that puts Shiva’s Messenger in Europe, while we’re going all out to protect the president here in the U.S. I really hope you’re wrong, because Homeland Security is piling on the massive security overkill here—even at the Ukraine junket’s expense. The assassin’s Spokane stunt widened the scope of threats but the Chief of Staff has narrowed our field of focus.”
“At least send me to Kiev, so I have a chance to spot Allen if he’s there. Even if my theory is only intuition, it still makes good sense.”
“I can’t let you go until after the president’s Washington event is over.” Bob had to stand firm. “You could spot him.”
“I did that composite sketch.” Beth knew this was a slender bid as the result was a face that even she couldn’t pick from a lineup.
“It’s funny you should mention that.” Waters smiled in hopes of softening his agent’s resolve. “Were getting a ton of calls from girls who claim to have met Shiva’s Messenger because guys are hinting they might be him, as part of a highly effective come-on routine.”
“I guess I can’t deny to you that he has some allure.” Bob was the only person to whom Beth had confessed the intimate relations. The reference also nudged to mind another girl with an attachment to him. The agent was desperate for any support to twist her case. “Has surveillance on Jessica Ellis turned up anything yet?”
“The lawyer sent them a box of donuts,” Bob sighed resignedly, “our people just can’t blend into such a small town.”
“Can I have a short vacation?” Beth tugged at a thin straw. Would a wiretap on Jessica’s phone be productive—or just catty?
“A noble effort, but no. This isn’t my call to make.” Bob Waters had a niggling hunch that his agent may be right but his career was important to him. “The president’s Chief of Staff is clamping down hard to make sure everyone obeys his edicts. The best I can do, is get you on the first flight out after Weeds safely doles out his drivel.”
“You know this is a waste of the fact that I do know what Shiva’s Messenger looks like. Everyone I’ll see at this rally will have already have gone through about three screening points. In Kiev, I might spy him while doing his reconnaissance or preparations.”
“You could be right but the evidence you have isn’t conclusive enough to fly straight into Nick Taylor’s face.” Bob had experienced being on the wrong side of Nick a few times and it wasn’t a nice place to be. “I might fudge on the details if it was the president, because he tends to overlook things. I can assure you, the Chief of Staff isn’t one to try to slip something past. For some reason the Office of the President is putting a high priority on the Washington venue. It’s possible, however unlikely, that they know something we don’t. All information has to flow upwards from every source but it doesn’t always trickle back down.”
“You can tell yourself that they know what they’re doing,” Beth laughed despite her frustration, “but it’s a tough sell for people that have actually worked there. It seems like everyone that should be in the Ukraine yesterday, won’t even be on a plane until it’s the day after it’s too late.”
“If I had any choice in this, I’d send you there right now. I just can’t justify it.” Bob tried to find something optimistic but he had to stretch for it. “Maybe Shiva’s Messenger can’t operate out of North America? We know he speaks Russian but we’re not sure how well. Kiev is also the capitol of the Ukraine and contrary to the common misconception, Ukrainian is a whole another language. He might be actually aiming for the bleachers with his strike three in Washington, exactly like the odds makers in Atlantic City are forecasting.”
“If I were the president I wouldn’t be willing to stake my life on that line.” Withers resigned herself to the fact that she and a lot of federal agents were destined to ride red eye flights. “I hope Larry Weeds delivers a dynamite speech.” The female opened the door. “Excerpts of it might comprise his epitaph.”
“Dancing the Washington two-step!” Beth muttered as she returned to her cubical. Bob Waters was a nice enough guy but he was as bad as the rest. “The whole bureaucracy is mortally afraid that they might have to take a dump sometime and not have enough paper to wipe it with.”
“You make me a slave just in assigning you tasks to complete.” Ivan the mechanical supervisor stroked yet another item off his big list. “If I had more guys like you, I might even make the deadline.”
Gearing up for the big visit, all of the long delayed minor repairs were finally getting the go ahead. A state-run hotel had to return a profit, whatever costs had to be cut—until the government wanted to look good. Then there was no expense too great.
“I could work overtime.” The dedicated young man offered.
“It’s not usual to schedule extra hours for a temporary worker.” The harried manager considered how some of his regular full-time staff would likely punch the clock and then sleep away the duty in a hideout. Dimitri always completed the jobs fast and they were done well. “Because I’m in such a pinch I’ll authorize it.”
“I can probably get way more done in the slower hours when not tripping over people.” Shiva’s Messenger grinned amicably. That statement was doubtlessly accurate for both his assigned and his extracurricular jobs.
“Just please hold the hammering to a minimum when guests are asleep.” Ivan advised with a grin. “Stick to the wrenches and paint.”
Maintenance man Dimitri started doing double duty. Being in the hotel the extra time also brought him to notice more how very few American security people were around. Maybe the hornets are all still buzzing around Spokane or the Washington thing?
“Wouldn’t that be like getting a huge Xmas bonus in mid June?”
“The bomb components are ready and they’re comfortable.” Carl beamed as all pieces were intricately examined then divided into the two crates. Each box contained makings for one complete device. Shiva’s Messenger practiced with spare components, to ensure he could assemble them quickly.
Dimitri took the boxes out of the Lada and stashed them in the alley then with a broomstick, he broke out a couple of lights. Shortly after his shift began, the maintenance man in orange coveralls took some bulbs and a ladder out. The modules went inside with him.
“I’ll have to be crafty.” The next step was far more difficult. He had to install them in some of the most well guarded rooms in the whole hotel. The assignment of billets was held as top secret but the maintenance job sheets painted a clear picture of which rooms were being scrupulously preened for the highest profile guests. He hadn’t been inside those yet and couldn’t expect a temp to be offered such sensitive jobs either.
“There may be only a few American security personnel but that place would still be watched.” The time left before the presidential visit was growing short and Shiva’s Messenger had a decision to make. The later he left the installation of the bombs, the less chance there was of discovery but the sooner he put them in, the more familiar they may become. The access later might be even tougher. There were no times when the rooms wouldn’t be guarded, so he’d have to brazen it through. One of his father’s catch phrases applied to this circumstance. ‘A good place to hide is in plain sight’.
“On the dayshift I couldn’t even dare to be on this forbidden floor.” Dimitri took several deep breaths and felt for his heartbeat as he stepped from the stairwell door. As always, that dropped him into his well-rehearsed sphere of awareness. With his tools on his belt and crates in his arms, Shiva’s Messenger walked directly up to the first armed Marine guard in the hallway. The maintenance man noted that both visible sentries were young and that they took pride in their professionalism. That could be used to my advantage.
His halting English clearly bespoke his limited ability to employ the guard’s language. He tried to explain what he had to do but his English was so poor, that he mostly pantomimed. Dimitri emptied one crate of innocent looking components to illustrate his required function. Picking up the main bomb assembly component, he tried to put it into the Marine guard’s hand. ‘To avoid an inspection, offer to submit to one first’. As Dimitri expected, the guard preferred to usher the worker into the room, rather than to conduct a further look. I suspected he wouldn’t want to touch it and risk his white gloves.
Shiva’s Messenger had assembled the bomb components in less than one hour. Smiling and nodding at the guard, he walked down the hallway to the next room. Entry to this room was even easier. The two guards with the Beretta Marine issue pistols in their holsters had watched the maintenance man going into the first room. They allowed him to pass into this one too. He installed the second device then cleaned up his mess and removed all of the used parts.
On exiting from the second room, clumsy Dimitri accidentally turned sideways in the doorframe to get the two crates out the door. As he did so, the hammer in his belt hit the shiny catch plate on the doorframe. The heavy tool bent and marred the metal. Apologizing profusely in Russian, he hurried off to get a replacement piece and had the latch mechanism almost as good as new within the hour.
“I have fabulous news,” back home after his shift, Dimitri’s face had a big grin, “the volatile appliances are installed.” Not only had he successfully installed both devices, he had also solved another problem that had weighed on his mind. There were still a few more things to do, but the second hardest task was done.
“Bravo!” Carl saluted his wine. “Now you just need a gun.”
“I already found the perfect weapon and it’s going to be right where I need it.” Dimitri couldn’t help laughing at Carl’s return tight-mouthed glare. “Did I plunge a needle into an un-slaked curiosity?”
“Did you?” Hamster Man lied unconvincingly. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“You know, there’s one other reason why I can’t tell you more. If it doesn’t work, I don’t think I could stand looking down from the afterlife, and hearing you tell your grandkids about me. ‘He was a nice guy—but what a stupid plan’.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. I’ve got no kids and you don’t get grandchildren without them.”
“You’re a young enough guy still.” Dimitri teased. “That woman at the bar in Odessa was looking at your butt.”
“Yah!” Carl chortled. “Only to look clear around mine to ogle at yours.” Still he wasn’t completely positive about that. Hers was the kind of smile showing some latent interest.
“Now that you’ve mentioned it.” The young man scrutinized his older friend. “There is far less than an axe handle’s span across a previously ample backside.”
“I’ve been working out every day.” Eckert exulted internally at the opportunity to brag about this. With Dimitri doing the extra duty as well as his preparations, he’d been so bagged out that he came home for a bite and a sleep. “I’ve lost thirty pounds.”
“That’s too much and too fast.” The assassin suddenly worried about an onset of possible medical problems.
“I don’t think it is because I feel healthier than I ever did.”
“You’re still eating?” The boss didn’t recall his employee having skipped dinners. It was one of their infrequent times together lately.
“Only healthy stuff,” Carl then added to appease, “and no pills or fad stuff.”
“What inspired the change?” Dimitri nodded approvingly at the fairly sleek new Hamster Man.
“Nothing really. I was slightly angry at myself on the bus to Chicago. Then I started walking around Budapest and almost as an afterthought I went to a gym—and then kept going.”
“Muscles burn fat.” Dimitri stated three simple words that could replace hundreds of weight-loss techniques.
“Proper nutrition helps but you eat healthy and so I did too. A guy at a gym told me it’s better to have six small meals than three bigger ones so I’ve been doing that too. All seems to be working.”
“Even with my long days I should’ve noticed your drastic body transformation.”
“Well,” Carl Eckert grew suddenly sheepish, “my clothes looked largely the same even though my pants were getting baggy as a skater-boy’s. I—sort of—went shopping again today.”
“You’ll get no lip on this. Better money was never spent.”
“So,” Hamster Man clapped his hands, ‘I’m in shape to help out now with all the rest. What are we up to?”
“Nice try.” Dimitri chuckled at the obvious bid for information.
“The locals here are fantastic people,” Two days later, Carl tried a different tactic. “I can’t believe how friendly and helpful they are to strangers. Today, I was looking for a tattoo shop. I asked the owner of an Internet café, for me directions. He tried to explain, but I was getting a bit confused. This guy dropped what he was doing to walk me six blocks out of his way and then spent another 15 minutes translating my instructions, to the tattoo artist. Where do you find people like that anywhere else in the world?”
“Yes, they are pretty special here.” Dimitri paused slightly and looked questioningly, “you needed a tattooist?”
“I did but I found one.” Carl pretended the tattoo wasn’t the whole point in his scheme to gain privileged knowledge. His hope was to end in a mutual exchange of curiosity satisfaction. “And the girls are something else here as well! I’ve figured out part of what makes Ukrainian women so extraordinary. I see a female near a TV, and it’s invariably tuned to the fashion channel. When a lady is looking at a magazine, sure enough, it’s about style. I’ve never paid any attention to vogue but they sure do and it shows.”
“The streets of Kiev are the catwalks of future haute couture models.” Dimitri refused to nibble further at the tattoo. If that is a bargaining ploy, I’ll bet Hamster Man would be willful enough to actually get himself inked.
Inadvertently adding another tinder log to Carl’s inquisitiveness inferno, Dimitri returned the next day and could barely lift his fork to his mouth. After dinner, he sat back in the chair and rested his arms without even touching his drink. He emptied the freezer into an ice bag, to cool and soothe his strained biceps and shoulders.
“Is everything okay?” Eckert knew he would regret asking.
“Perfect, it was just a day of preparing for trench warfare.”
Carl tried hard not to growl. The answers he got always stoked instead of quenching.
“Try to relax.” Nick Taylor murmured encouraging words as he and Larry awaited the president’s signature tune. “I’ve got snipers on buildings that can’t even see the stage, just to watch the ones that can and helicopters are monitoring all. There’s not a soul in any building that isn’t one of ours. The audience looks ten percent as large as it really is because that many agents are on patrol. A bulldog with a spiked collar couldn’t get near to bark within earshot.“
That’s is how a President of the United States should be protected,” Weeds quipped, with a smile that was far from genuine.
“You’re safe here. Now get out there and sing.” The first bars of ‘Hail to the Chief’ had begun and Nick watched his old buddy move like an automaton. Under his breath, the words Brutus offered were different. “The overkill here would’ve chased Shiva away even if this was his plan. In Kiev, Larry’s fly is unzipped. The same dog with a collar rigged like a suicide terrorist’s vest could walk up and cock his leg onto the president’s shiny patent leather shoes.”
“Americans one and all,” President Weeds began his speech. He scanned the sea of faces in the audience and each set of eyes seemed as dead as Tom Albertson’s were. Larry read straight off the teleprompter, as he had lacked the concentration to memorize any of it ahead of time. On each breath or pause, he looked around nervously and felt crosshairs zeroing on his forehead.
“A terrorist cannot hope to sway the administration of the United States.” Weeds recited the words, but couldn’t manage to put his usual inflections and personality into the delivery. He finished in only 22 minutes: it was timed for 26.
“For all of his bold words, that speech was pretty flat,” Carl commented after the televised coverage. It had also been a little difficult to understand with a translator doing a Ukrainian voice over.
“I bet he’s exactly where I want him,” Dimitri noted sagely, “but find out within the next 36 to 48 hours, one way or another.”
“Whatever happens in the next two days, I have to tell you this right now,” Carl became serious, “I wouldn’t have missed this time since Spokane, for the world. If my life ended today, I’d die happy. If you wanted me to strap TNT to my body and give that SOB a big wet kiss on the lips, before pulling the rip cord: I’d do it.”
“I can’t ask you to do it.” Dimitri couldn’t resist the role of being an Ernest Payne this time. “That’s my job.”
“I can’t tell if you’re serious or kidding anymore.” Carl Eckert shook a stern warning finger. “If you get yourself killed, how am I going to find out what you’ve been doing? I’ll jump in front of a street trolley and then kick your soul’s skinny butt in the afterlife.”
Many of the Secret Service and FBI agents caught flights headed for postponed duties in Kiev. Unfortunately, some were further delayed by a Boeing 747 having a mid-air mechanical fault that forced a return to Washington: the segment resumed nine hours later. An inexplicably late departure of another aircraft bearing mostly government officials missed the onward connection from Frankfurt by three hours. It was unusually poor service from the Stryker Group controlled airline.
Dimitri left the shared flat to place a call using one of the cell phone entrepreneurs who operated near Freedom Square. They were untraceable and could better navigate the morass of the Ukraine phone system where dialing even a local number could take 20 digits. He first inquired about the call in English and when the vendor shrugged, Dimitri switched to Russian and engaged his services. He phoned a number that should have rang in Akron, Ohio but that sounded in Washington D.C. instead.
“America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s not some little banana belt dictatorship.” With a twist of the taps, Congresswoman Judith Forester stanched the faucets and eyed the thin filaments of steam dancing on the water. “This is what the despot ordered though.”
Attired now only in a terry robe, she had earlier attended the president’s address in Washington. She wasn’t very impressed with either the things he had to say or the draconian security measures just to get there. The congresswoman had splurged in taking this Jacuzzi suite because watching certain politicians invariably made her feel like she needed a bath immediately afterwards.
“Fear was an omnipresent stink and I even fanned my nostrils.” Larry’s pomp-and-drip had stressed how no terrorist criminal could sway the presidency but it was like viewing a dubbed foreign movie, the sound didn’t match the lip movement. The bravado in his words, definitely didn’t harmonize with the martial law around the podium. “His verbal challenge to Shiva’s Messenger was cast tentatively in the form of frilly pink gauntlet.”
“Hello?” Judith Forrester had just poured a glass of red wine and let slip her dressing gown, when her cell phone sounded.
“Judith.” He left a long pause to allow her to place his voice. “Do you know who this is?”
“Yes.” The congresswoman didn’t dare say his name. “I never expected to hear your voice again. Now, I don’t know what to say.”
“I called to impose on your wisdom, for one more opinion.”
“Would I get to pose a query also?” She covered the receiver and whispered. “I’m naked and talking to Allen!” A tingle ran the length of her nude body as she recalled the racy but supportive discussion that she’d only recently interpreted.
“I have to hear it before I decide if I can answer. Remember that we are on a cell phone when you ask.” Shiva’s Messenger had specifically called on a non-secure appliance to avoid having to field some of the ultra-sensitive issues.
“Ask your question,” Judith took a long swig of wine both to wet her tongue and to brace, “but it has to be a yes or no only.”
“If I were to consider shifting my motivation, to the least likely, could I expect success, considering the current climate?”
There was an extremely long pause where the only sound was Judith taking a deep breath. The question was vague but she was more than sharp enough to interpret correctly. Attempting to force the administration to reduce corruption or sway any decision was by far the most irreconcilable rational. The question was a lot easier to figure out than an answer might be.
Feeling a chill in her unclothed state, Judith took the opportunity of her contemplation, to ease into the enveloping glove of hot water.
Her opinions had already been used, as the final nod on life terminating decisions. Unwittingly, her say in Akron killed three men, but saved the president. Now, she held the mortality of Larry Weeds in her balance and it must be an informed decision.
“No.” She had cleverly insisted on a one-word answer but had outsmarted herself and couldn’t stick to it. “Wait—before today, I would have said no. Now, maybe it’s yes. You know that his isn’t the final judgment, and those above will say no. Without them, yes.”
“I’ve never heard you waffle before. His voice held humor. “I’ll bet you’re blushing scarlet right now.”
“I haven’t been asked such a fatal question before. Which of my dithering replies did you just accept?”
“The correct one.” He ducked the issue.
“That most improbable of reasons is a hopeless fantasy.” Judith suspected he had changed his cryptography codes again because she still couldn’t read him.
“If you believe it’s unattainable, then your wavering rejoinders are just an attempt to save a man who might be already dead.” He had seen her do that in Akron. “Please, pose your return question.”
“What is your stance on capital punishment?” Judith didn’t have to hesitate a fraction of an instant before deciding.
“Where did that come from?” Apparently he couldn’t figure her out either. “I expected you to mine along a motivational vein.”
“Why buy what’s already bequeathed to me? When you do, whatever you intend, I’ll figure it out. Right now, you hold a unique perspective on a subject that’s important to me. If you’re killed, I will lose the chance of ever knowing.”
“I’m opposed to capital punishment: just as you are.”
“That opinion is contradictory to your profession.”
“No it’s not. I make decisions based on my own knowledge and I act on them according to my morality. When the law undertakes a murder, it’s mandated on a conspiracy between the judge, jury, prosecutor, witnesses and even the governor. Any participant with an ulterior design pollutes the purity. Life and death, is an either/or state. There is no grey area and there must be no ambiguity.”
“The government isn’t qualified to kill, but you are?”
“Change the punctuation and that answers itself.”
“You’re diluting your clarity, by conspiring with me now.”
“You’re not responsible. I value your insight but I conduct my own premeditation. I took your answer, now it’s mine.”
That felt like an absolution so she didn’t have to feel guilty about condemning a man to death. The flood of warmth she felt wasn’t completely from her current emersion in liquid. She recalled a handsome young man proposing a tryst. Judith took a deep breath. “Since I’ve already established my indecisiveness, I might be reconsidering my response to a previous risqué proposition.”
“You nasty cougar,” his delighted laugh preceded his playfully lowered voice, “you’re having a phone fling with me.”
“Maybe I am,” Her voice was sultry as in the afterglow of passion, “but it’s just flirting in the verge of nightmare and reality.”
“I’m picturing you in your tub.” The connection was of sufficient quality to hear small splashes.
“Much as I would love to help you scrub that filthy mind of yours, I have work to do. Goodbye.”
Placing the phone aside, Judith Forrester slid further down into the warm bathtub. She placed her fingers to her lips and drew a breath through them, as if through a lit cigarette. “He’s ready to kill this time and we’re going to be stuck with the vice-president.”
Air Force One lifted off smoothly from Washington D.C. This trip was a very big international event. An American President hadn’t personally visited the Ukraine for a long time. The media gave it big coverage, especially since Larry Weeds was himself under a death threat from a flamboyant scofflaw, who had deliberately missed his attempted assassinations twice already. The name of Shiva’s Messenger was going to hover in the air like an after hum from a sharply gonged bell, until he was either caught or successful. The country watched with checked breath and the news networks in the U.S. were capitalizing on the high public drama.
“Tomorrow I won’t change a bulb, I’ll switch off a life.” Dimitri returned to the apartment he shared with his friend and employee. He had worked his final maintenance shift. The hotel would be busier than any other day, as the whole weight of the presidential entourage would invade. “It’ll be my turn on the grassy knoll.”
“Take a walk with me, boss.” They descended the stairs to street level. Dimitri had been too busy to explore but Carl knew the Kiev streets. Hamster Man steered and they walked in silence.
“Where are we going?” Dimitri asked when they had aimlessly strolled for almost a half hour without arriving anywhere.
“John,” Carl forced himself to use the name to draw the boy into his true persona, “we’re just walking. Tomorrow you’ll do what you must do. Tonight, you’re my friend and I’m here for you.”
“I’m afraid.” John felt a chill and he shuddered. The night was mild but it was still only just past the spring. “I’ve come so far and done so much but now I’ll have to be in closer.”
“I have faith in you.” Carl put his arm around John’s shoulders. “You won’t tell me what you’re doing until it is done but that doesn’t matter to me anymore. The only thing I care about is making sure you are ready in here.” Eckert reached around with his other hand and placed the flat of his palm against the boy’s heart.
“Less than one year ago I killed my father.” John confessed something that Carl already knew. “I had all of his years of training but then suddenly I was alone. Even when my father had been away before, I was by myself but I was never alone because he gave structure to my life.”
“You’ve done really well and I’m sure he’d be proud.”
“Yes, I’ve had to learn and grow.” John felt good being here with the ex-CIA man. The friendly arm felt supportive and warm on his shoulders. “I still carry my father’s ghost with me. His words have been in my mind, giving me advice and encouragement. I’ve been on the path he set before me and it’s like he’s still here.”
“Are you worried that after tomorrow he’ll be gone because you’ll have done what he asked?” Eckert believed that he could see what the boy was thinking. It was difficult to think of John as a boy, because of the things he had accomplished so far in his short life: yet there it was. Right now Carl didn’t see the Shiva’s Messenger that had shaken the United States Presidency, or been the scourge across Canada. This was just a human boy that was facing the most momentous day of his life and missing his dad.
“He didn’t set out for me what I was supposed to do next.” John replied after a moment. “I don’t know if he will stay with me.”
“I don’t know that either, son.” Carl used the word intentionally in hopes of giving him a sense of family that he seemed to need. “I’ll still be here though.”
John didn’t reply, but Carl felt that he had helped. He gave him some time to be with his thoughts. They had come to a bench near a small fountain, under a bust of someone who must have been important for something. There were many monuments to people here. The city was older than the ones in America and the history pervaded into the statues and even the streets.
American cities would have to feel some sorrows before they could hope to match the same majesty. Probably, they would never come close. Those cities were mostly carbon copies of each other, turned out on a mimeograph, with even the same chain restaurants. Only a few places had been touched by sadness worth denoting. One of those was Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.
Suddenly Carl had a thought. He closed his eyes and attempted it. It worked even here, halfway around the world.
“My father died in an industrial accident when I was twelve.” Carl now felt a deeper confidence in both himself and his young friend. “It happened in the small town where I was born. It affected me deeply but all through my life, it gave me strength in a strange way. After the funeral, the company sought to give us closure by taking the family to the place where the death happened. I recall that more vividly than I remember the internment. He had been dedicated to his family and this was where he earned our living. His presence there was strong because it was where he had been the most alive.
“Ever since that day, whenever I was feeling lost or afraid, I tried to feel joined to that place through the asphalt of the streets and it helped. When I moved away from my hometown, I had to find a new method. I visualize the globe of the earth, and imagine I’m standing on it. Right now, we’re in Kiev and I see myself here with my feet connected to the earth. I then conceptualize the point where I knew my father was most alive and I try to feel a flow between. I feel him there and he’s with me.”
John closed his eyes and he tried. In his mind, he saw his home in Canada and where he was now in Ukraine. He attempted to make the connection. There was no power as Carl described. “It’s not working for me. I can see the grave where I buried his body but there is no feeling of union.”
“That’s where he lived with you and where he died.” Carl offered. “Where would he have been the most alive?”
“Dallas.” The answer came quickly. “He told me that ‘nothing in the world would set me free more than killing a president’.” John closed his eyes and found Dallas on the globe. He traced the route and found the link. His father’s ghost was aware and focused on his task. Some power had remained even after over 40 years. “I’ve never seen Dealey Plaza in person. Yet I can feel his feet standing behind the slated fence, on top of the grassy knoll. My father’s heartbeat is pounding in my chest.”
Hamster Man just smiled. He’d never felt a response to his act quite as strongly as John just described. However, the young man did have some quirky ways.
“I’m still afraid but I can face it. I can now do what I have to do.”
“You’re a complex guy sometimes. Has anyone ever told you that before?”
“It’s got me this far.” He pulled Carl to a stop, as they reached the gate into their apartment’s courtyard. Looking quickly up and down the street to ensure no one was about, he turned and held his friend’s gaze. “One more thing.” He handed over a small brass key and told him where a safe deposit box was located. “I won’t be injured or captured tomorrow. My mission will be successful or I’ll be dead. If I don’t return, then I want you to take the money. There is one thing I want you to do with it.”
“Finish the job.” Hamster Man nodded grimly.
“No!” John was quick to respond. “I want you to make 100 copies of the Shiva File and send one to each major network and newspaper, in one mass mailing. Then use the rest to be homeless again on a nice beach in Thailand. I know a man in Canada that’ll set you up with ID to help you stay invisible.”
“You’re just saying that to protect me,” Carl observed with the same grim determination. “I’m as committed as you are. I’ll suicide bomb Larry Weeds to complete your quest.”
“No! Your justifications couldn’t be the same as mine. It’d be an act of terror and it would diminish you. It would reduce the things I’ve done to a level of villainy. Sending the file is enough. It will tell the world why I tried and they can decide for themselves.”
Carl looked deeply at him for a long moment and saw that he was sincere. “Alright, boss. I promise I’ll do as you ask.”
“Good.” John laughed slightly to break the somber pall. “I think I would actually enjoy watching you telling your progeny about me. Gather up all 50 half-Thai grandkids all at once and thrill them with the tale of Hamster Man and the Cobra Boy’.”[/private_Chevron]
“Good morning Dimitri.” He pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to go for a long run through Kiev. What a beautiful city: I wish I could run naked. Stopping on the crest of the Dneipr River bank, he performed stretching exercises to limber up his supple muscles. Flexing his biceps, he was pleased that there was no longer any pain from his heavy exertion.
“Don’t spend all day glued to the TV.” Dimitri doubted that his employee would follow instructions. “You’re a Russian soap-aholic.”
“I only watch the news.” Carl fibbed: he also flipped often to the fashion channel too. Eckert really wished he could think of more to say but he didn’t want to risk casting the fatal doubt.