Muse 9: Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
As the Nemesis agent Hassam drives the taxi, Edmond Chase directs him through the streets of the Marrakech medina using the GPS on his cell phone. He sits in the back of the cab, but that has nothing to do with rank or privilege, and everything to do with maintaining cover. It’s perhaps less important now in the wee hours, but it’s a habit neither thinks to break.
Chase had been very relieved when he heard the ping from his cell phone alerting him to the GPS signal sent by the tiny device concealed in Mercedes bra. He hated being so completely in the dark about her whereabouts. This was especially true after he’d learned that The Monk was in all likelihood involved in her disappearance.
Mercedes had laughed at him when he’d sent her to Halloran in Technology R & D to be outfitted with the GPS sender in her underwear. In fact, she’d found the entire idea of a Technology research and development division in Nemesis to be hysterical, and persisted in calling poor Halloran “Q.” Chase has a feeling she’s not laughing now.
Or maybe she is, he thinks. This is Mercedes Karpov, after all.
Mercedes looks at the non-descript man opposite her and wonders if he is completely insane or simply evil. If he truly is the great-grandson of Grigori Rasputin, he could well be both. Of course, if he’s right about all this, she too has Rasputin in her bloodline, and she’s pretty sure she is neither insane nor evil. Although, were her mind not thrown into increasing turmoil by every far-fetched idea he’d laid out on his little family tree, she’d have probably gone for his throat at his last revelation.
Given the revolver once again in Max’s hand, that truly would have been insanity.
Can it be true? Did she waste years stalking the wrong man? Not that the terrorist al-Abayghur wasn’t a scourge on society (the body count credited to him and his band of thugs numbered in the thousands now) , but if he didn’t kill her father…
Hassam had cut the lights two blocks from their destination. Now he kills the engine and lets the taxi roll gently to a stop at the side of the narrow road. They are still a block away, and around the corner, but he doesn’t want to take the chance of broadcasting their arrival. Besides, the building they seek is on a very narrow road and there would be nowhere to leave the vehicle. Owners’ cars are generally parked within an interior courtyard.
As Chase and Hassam climb from the car, three shapes dressed in dark clothes materialize from the shadows. They are the Nemesis team Chase summoned as the two left Mercedes' hotel. They assembled several minutes earlier and have sussed out the destination.
“The building houses a collection of four riads available for rent to holiday travelers,” a man named Abdul reports in a voice barely above a whisper. “Given the arts festival, it is likely that all four are booked. We can see lights in only one, however.”
Chase says, “The tracking device she wears can get us within 50 feet of Mercedes, but no closer. The lit apartment would be the place to start.”
“There is a locked doorway in the outer wall, as well as a gate for cars. Getting through either shouldn’t pose any problems. What we find once inside the courtyard might be another story.”
“Well, let’s not borrow trouble,” Chase says. “We’ll deal with whatever is there.”
Mohammed – call me Al – al Ghamedi wears a small backpack. He says, “I have rope and a few tools. And a set of picks, of course.”
“Are there windows?” Chase asks.
“Yes, but typically barred.” Nearly all residences within the medina have ornate wrought iron grates over the windows.
Hassam asks, “Is there a rear entrance to the building?”
“Yes. It opens onto a very small alley where garbage is collected.” Abdul replies. “But we aren’t sure what’s on the other side.”
The third member of the team, a rather scary looking Algerian woman called Fatima, adds, “Typically, there is a small hallway leading from the back entrance to the courtyard. For holiday riads, you’d probably find laundry facilities in a room off that hallway.”
“OK. Hassam, cover the rear. Abdul, I’d like you to stay outside the wall in the front keeping an eye on the door and gate. The rest of us will go in. As always, use your weapons only as a last resort.”
Chase looks around at the assembly for confirmation. After everyone nods, he says, “Let’s go.”
As ridiculous as she thought it was to wear a homing device, and in her bra, of all places, Mercedes Karpov is grateful to Chase for insisting on it. She's confident that a Nemesis team is on its way. Now she just has to stall. The gun in Max’s hand is making her extremely nervous. Time to turn on the charm.
Keeping her voice soft and her eyes on his, she asks “So, Max Rasputin… Oddly, it suits you. In fact, it’s quite sexy.”
She's rewarded with a smile.
Then her eyes widen. “The Monk… Ohhh, I get it. Very clever.” She remembers that Rasputin was called The Monk. The Mad Monk. “But what about Sagittarius? What’s up with that?”
“Did your father ever mention a group called the Zodiac to you?” he asks.
She bristles at the mention of her father, but drops her eyes as if in thought to hide it. “No, but I learned after his death that he was working undercover in the NYPD to expose them. They were dirty cops, as I recall.”
Suddenly, it made sense. Sagittarius is a sign of the Zodiac.
“Ah, I see that clever mind of yours has worked it out," Max says. "Yes, Zodiac is a group of Russian mobsters who have infiltrated the NYPD. I told you that they consider me one of them even though I chose not to follow my father’s footsteps into the force.”
He smiles as her eyes lift to his. “That's right, yet another thing we have in common. Uncanny, isn’t it?”
He continues. “Unfortunately, your father was just too good at his job for his own health. He was about to expose me to both the authorities and the mob. I’m sure you can see that I just couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t have lasted ‘a New York minute’, as they say.”
Hating him, she struggles to keep her voice flirtatious as she asks. “And what do you plan to do with me now, Max Rasputin aka Sagittarius aka The Monk? Are we to become partners in crime?”
Max laughs. “I could do worse. You are a very smart lady; I wouldn’t expect anything else. We come from the same stock. But sorry, no, honey. I’m a loner.”
He checks her teacup and finds it empty. Keeping his eyes and the gun on her, he reaches down and pulls a skewer-like object from a strap around his calf.
“You feeling sleepy yet, cousin?”
Almost as if his words had thrown a switch, Mercedes suddenly finds she can’t keep her eyes open
“Yes, I drugged you. Sorry about that.” Max smiles. “You are your father’s daughter after all, too smart for your own good. And you now know all my secrets.”
She labors to speak. “What ...are you going to…do?”
“Oh, I think you know the answer to that, Mercedes. I’m going to kill you. I’m a killer. It’s what we do.”
As Abdul had predicted, the front gate of the riad complex posed no problem at all. The lock was old and simple.
Once inside, Chase, Al and Fatima quickly identify the unit with lights. The creep up the stairs and to the left, stopping at the second door, which is marked “13.” Ironic, Chase thinks.
With Fatima on the right side of the door and Chase on the left, Al crouches down and examines the lock with his penlight.
He pulls a small pad and pencil from his pack and scrawls Bad news. Deadbolt. He sits back on his haunches and thinks for a minute, then rises and peers at the lock again.
After writing more on the pad, he holds it up so Chase and Fatima can see it.
I think I can get it open.
Chase touches him on the shoulder and mouths, “How?”
“OK. Hurry!” Chase whispers.
Al takes a small bottle filled with clear liquid from his pack. He pulls a small black case from an outside pocket on the backpack and from it, removes a syringe. He fills the syringe, then puts the needle into the lock and pushes the plunger. He repeats the procedure several times, and a thin stream of smoke begins to rise from the lock. They watch for what seems like a lifetime until the smoke no longer oozes from the opening.
Al stashes his gear back into the pack and stands. After taking his gun from inside it, he carefully sets the pack down on the walkway to the right of the door.
He nods at Chase and raises his eyebrows in question.
Al waggles a hand back and forth, which Chase doesn’t find reassuring, but he sees no other option.
He nods back at Al.
Al stands back, and hits the door with his booted foot, putting the full force of his weight behind the blow to the lock. The door springs open to reveal a man standing over Mercedes, who appears to be unconscious on the couch.
All three Nemesis agents quickly enter the room. Al-Ghamedi and Fatima move in opposite directions to stand to either side of the room, guns trained on the man.
Chase, standing just inside the door across from the couch, yells, “Freeze.”
It all happens in just a few seconds.
The surprised man jerks upright and reaches for a large pistol lying on the coffee table between them.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Pal,” al-Ghamedi says menacingly.
The man slowly straightens up and raises his hands.
“Walk around the table slowly,” Chase commands. “You can lower your hands, but don’t even think about reaching for that gun again. We will shoot you. One of us might miss, but I can assure you, not all of us will.”
Max walks around the table and stands facing Chase, hands at his sides.
“Mr. Chase, I presume?”
Mercedes feels herself surfacing from whatever drugged state she was in. One thing her close cousin doesn’t seem to know about her is that barbiturates seldom work for long with her. It wreaks havoc with such things as minor surgery, but it's coming in handy now.
As she regains consciousness, she becomes aware of voices. Remaining still, she opens an eye just far enough to look through her lashes. She sees Max standing on the other side of the coffee table, his back to her. Beyond him and slightly to the right is Chase holding a gun.
Chase says, “Yes. And what should I call you? Mr. Monk? Sagittarius? Or perhaps you prefer your given name, Mr. Rasputin.”
Son of a bitch! Chase knew!
Max laughs. “Just call me Max.”
Without taking his eyes of Rasputin, Chase asks, “You have cuffs in the goody bag of yours, Al?”
“You bet, Boss.”
“Please bring them in. Mr. Rasputin here is going for a little drive, and I think it best he be properly restrained.”
He then says to the woman on the other side of the room, “Fatima, check on Mercedes, will you? And while you’re there, pick up that steel rod on the floor in front of the couch.”
Mercedes feels cool fingers touch her neck at the carotid for a few moments.
“Her pulse is strong. She’s probably drugged,” Fatima says.
“No doubt. That’s Mr. Rasputin’s style,” Chase says. “It’s the first step in your preferred method of killing, isn’t it, Max? Fortunately, we got here before you could subject Mercedes to the second step.”
As the woman moves away from the couch, Mercedes opens her eyes just in time to see Max easing his small revolver from the back pocket of his jeans. She spots her Makarov lying on the coffee table, grabs it, and fires several shots into the back of her long-lost cousin.
Chase reaches out and takes the hand of the woman seated in the first class seat next to him. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine. Stop hovering like an old mother hen, “Mercedes replies shortly as she snatches her hand away and picks up a glass of champagne.
“This is the first time you’ve killed someone, Mercedes,” Chase says with concern in his voice. “And he was your cousin, albeit a very distant one. You have to be prepared for some regrets. It’s only natural.”
Mercedes lifts her glass to him and says, “Non, je ne regrette rien.”
She takes a sip, then pulls Max’s family tree from her purse. Waving it in front of him, she says, “But you just might. You got some splainin’ to do, as Ricky would have said. Good thing this is a long flight.”
Note: I can hear you saying, “But…but… that can’t be the end of the story. What about…?”
Right you are. Continue to the Epilogue for the rest of the story.