Chapter 38 – Christmas Eve

From Mountain View to New York City, NYC

The team successfully evacuated from the scene just minutes before several very Government looking SUVs camouflaged in the regulation deep black metallic paint and dark tinted bullet proof windows arrived in a cloud of dust and surrounded the control vehicle. Agents in suits then rushed around the location in what appeared to be a well-practiced military style choreography with their weapons primed while a few non-suited and casual looking individuals, obviously the tech crew, ambled over to the control vehicle and met our own solitary agent who had a pistol in his face by the rear door.

There were immediate smiles of mutual acknowledgement amongst the techies which I knew would soon disappear when they sat down at the consoles in the control room. They would also be doubly miserable when they started to breathe the smoke-filled air and when necessary to make a move find the ignition keys to the vehicle inconveniently missing. We laughed about the imagined scene as we hit the road and headed east towards the Ozark National Forests and possibly beyond to the state of Tennessee.

Our laughter was only short lived as a call from the director bought us back to reality. The news channels had identified the English girls as being related to wealthy British and Italian Industrialists and the other women were from American and Japanese families with powerful financial, industrial and diplomatic connections. Those very same news channels now confirmed across the broadcasting networks that law enforcement agencies were treating the disappearances as cases of abduction and kidnapping. Various experts had been called in and now conducted their interviews as experts giving their opinions on the possible outcomes and the impact on the anticipated international repercussions. We were still only a few steps ahead of both the Government Agencies and the news channels because, thankfully Coco and Savannah had not yet been identified and the location of the limo was unknown.

The target vehicles were heading east at a steady 50mph, being careful to watch the holiday traffic and wary of the idiots and the drunks while at the same time making sure that they gave the cops and highway patrols no plausible reasons for stopping them. From the outside both vehicles looked innocent enough not to raise curiosity or suspicions of any illegal behaviour. The vehicles were now almost 5 miles apart and both had just passed Fremont to the left, a small town of 129 people who at this time of the year only had Christmas on their minds and not the journeys of unfortunate victims destined for the slave trade.

The director called to update that the agents back in Mountain View had their hands full and were not presently aware of what had happened to some of the data. They had other objectives and still coming to terms with the scale of the task that they had so wanted to control. Now that their operation had all the attributes of a pending disaster the head honchos were trying already to somehow shift the blame of the almost inevitable failure and the director was already distancing both himself and our team from the prospects of any anticipated repercussions and inevitable inter-agency fallouts. He had been around the block a few times and we knew that he could handle what would be coming in his direction and we all knew he would protect us to the absolute max behind the scenes as much as he possibly could. We all knew that he had also factored in some major get out of jail cards should the worst happen to any of us.

We were very surprised and relieved that some of the tracking devices that had been planted on Savannah and the English girls had not been either discovered or destroyed. A few of them still maintained their functionality and the satellites could monitor their positions in the Airstream. One of the speakers allocated to the tracking devices started to crackle with the sound of unintelligible voices. The techies adjusted the necessary instruments to improve the sound quality and we were lucky to hear a short conversation as the crew inside the vehicle were checking on the targets and discussing their transit arrangements. It was only a brief connection before we heard the connecting door inside the vehicle close and the voices stopped. The targets had to be asleep or gagged as we could hear no other sounds in that section of the vehicle and we also had to assume that they were all still alive. The techies could not find any other open communication channels between the Airstream and the outside world and the satellites indicated there were 5 persons in the vehicle.

There was suddenly frantic activity on the networks as communication to and from the vehicles indicated changes to the transit schedules. Both the vehicles were traveling east on the I-24 and suddenly took different routes at junction 42, the first vehicle with Savannah carried on and merged onto the I-69E heading towards Lexington and the second vehicle took the I-24S towards Nashville TN. The crews of each vehicle confirmed the changes to the schedules over the communication channels, accepting them as normal operating procedure and carried on confidently towards their Christmas delivery points.

The first vehicle had been instructed to drive to New York and the second to Savannah, a city on the Atlantic Coast on the South side of the river opposite the state of South Carolina. The journey to New York was approximately 1200 miles and would take the best part of 24hrs even allowing for a couple of rest breaks.

Now that we knew where both vehicles were headed, we could make some important decisions on tracking both vehicles. There were only a few hours of daylight left, the weather conditions were getting a whole lot worse and there were mounting reports on traffic accidents and delays due to the Christmas rush, and tracking our targets was getting a whole lot more complicated.

The director called almost immediately with updates that were not being reported across the national News Channels. The possibility of a major diplomatic incident was developing, and senior people in Washington were beginning to panic as they were running on skeleton crews, because so many staff had already left for the Christmas festivities and some of the most experienced employees would not be available due to the impending arrival of more extreme weather conditions. Sources had also confirmed that parents, guardians and diplomats were now flying into New York from London, Turin, Tokyo and Seattle to meet with senior State Department Officials from Washington sometime during the next few hours.

We were still heading to New York and I very much needed a rolled cigarette. It was also Christmas-Eve I could have seriously handled a few shots of Irish but that was simply out of the question. A cold chill ran down my spine because out of nowhere I suddenly thought of Smythe and Jones and had the strangest of feelings that we would be trying the hardest to kill each other over the next few days. I requested an update on their whereabouts and activities over the last few days, but they were highly skilled at what they did, and I would be very surprised if there was any information at all. Washington would be the most likely place to start and the communication channels were monitoring any possible activity. I was simply waiting for them to make a mistake, which I figured they would eventually, and I wanted to be prepared for the worst!

The road map to New York was on one of the screens and indicated several possible scenarios, but the most probable route would pass several major cities and states including Clarksburg and Morgantown in West Virginia, Maryland, then Harrisburg and Allentown in Pennsylvania and Newark in New Jersey before finally entering Manhattan in New York City. After serious considerations and evaluations on the ground the team and I anticipated that the gifts would be held in a secure location before final delivery on the basic assumption that Christmas day was a family day and these gifts were not the ideal gift to open in the average family home!

There was an almost silent vigil in the vehicle as the techies were totally absorbed in their data mining and somehow oblivious of the fact that at this time of the year, we should all be somewhere else enjoying a special time with friends and families. But this was no ordinary vehicle, and these were no ordinary corporation workers and I was beginning to wonder what the hell was going to happen in New York and if we would get the targets back dead or alive. There were now just too many families who were having the Christmas from hell and maybe, just maybe, we could make a difference and be grateful for that.

The director called again, but it was an unusual call in that he sounded both angry and frustrated, and this worried the hell out of me, because I could not ever remember a time when the director had not been the epitome of cool, calm and collected. He indicated in a stressed and worried tone that there was going to be a whole lot more on our agenda this Christmas because the agency had just been informed that there was going to be an emergency meeting of the Zodiacs, within the next few days, but at this time the location was unknown. It was to be arranged by Kirill who was spending Christmas in St. Petersburg and further reports from the field indicated that he was seriously annoyed with the unscheduled imposition on his holiday period, because he had very much wanted to spend the time in his own company with his favorite music, alcohol and cigarettes.

Something inside had changed for Kirill since the last Zodiac Meeting in Moscow the previous December and he could not lie to himself that he was not looking forward to the next occasion. There may be another opportunity to spend some quality time with Victoria and this indeed worried the hell out of him. He was concerned about his personal situation, could he, the cold, heartless Russian somehow have feelings for someone again?

Had he mistakenly allowed his emotions to attach themselves to another and was he in denial, because physical attachment was not something he had ever envisaged again, not since the unfortunate death of his only real love, and she had never known how much he had felt about her? He had vowed to himself that would never allow himself to go through those terrible insufferable human feelings ever again, no matter who the fortunate or unfortunate woman happened to be.

This was a meeting that he would rather avoid, postpone or cancel, if at all possible, but the seriousness of the situation dictated a rapid response and his frustration was compounded further by the fact that the meeting could not possibly be held in Moscow. A chain of events was happening in America and evolving into a situation that was beginning to become a serious threat to the organization. The implications of that threat to his own personal safety and future meant that with immediate effect there was no other option but to hold the meeting in New York City and as quickly as possible.

There would be some seriously pissed of Christmas Bunnies amongst the Zodiacs and Christmas day was now going to be a day for action and decision making. He anticipated that it was going to be unnecessarily stressful due to the sheer volume of alcohol that he had consumed over the last few days. What he really needed was a sauna with no vodka and an early night, both of which filled him despair and a pending sense of doom!

To an outsider, this air of misery, gloom and doom would depict a normal healthy and average Russian thoroughbred villain who was literally living on the cusp of life, observing the fine line between failure and success. And for Kirill, failure was seriously not an option that he could ever consider, certainly not now, because he had plans, very big plans indeed and somehow a woman had the temerity to sneak through his defense mechanisms and impressively wriggled light years through his veins and into his cold and dark Russian heart.

He chuckled to himself as he remembered a lesson from the very distant past – the teacher had told the class the he did not like the use of the F words and in particular Failure and Fun and one of the girls had whispered – if her lover ever showed real Finesse then he would get the most Fantastic Fuck he could ever imagine – and they were both severely reprimanded after the lesson because the laughter which ensued was way too far into the Fun element.

The teacher had told her that if she had used the word Fornication instead of Fuck, the punishment would have been less severe. Kirill had very few memories of his school days and the good times were almost too few to remember. Ah yes, the real definition of Russian humor is a grey cloud, and that was being generous! All the time I was thinking of the Zodiacs I kept on asking myself the same questions, which included, where the hell did the agency get all this information from and how did they do it? The dictionaries should work on the real definition of freedom in relation to the modern world!

Kirill’s problems were not my immediate priority but sooner or later they would be as I concentrated on the screens around the control room. The hours were creeping past, almost in slow motion, as my eyes were glued to the route maps and my ears to the burbled noises from the satellite communication channels. My brain juggled with the endless options and possibilities of the operation while my conscience juggled with my humanity. Something was going to happen over the Christmas period, and I wanted to have every angle covered and I knew there would be at least one that I had not anticipated.

We stopped for a short break near Hagerstown in Maryland and I smoked as many rolled cigarettes as I could smoke and drank as much hot strong tea as I could drink and felt a whole lot better. While I was attending my own extensive personal needs, the techies consumed as many cheeseburgers, nuggets, fries, ice cream and other crap that was humanly possible in the 10 minutes we had before hitting the road again. The crew of the target vehicle had to be real hardcore pros because the stop had been just about as short as it could be under the circumstances and I had to admire their professionalism so far.

On the present schedule we were due to arrive somewhere in New York City around 0400hrs on Christmas morning, the weather front heading towards us was miserable with a thick black cloud cover and heavy driving rain.

I was becoming more and more frustrated thinking about all the aspects of our operation and what we could realistically achieve with our limited resources which had been stretched to breaking point. The director confirmed that all the expected arrivals into New York had landed at either JFK or Newark Liberty International Airports and were now being transferred to one of the major city hotels that had adjoining conference facilities to allow teams of personnel to co-ordinate the next stage of decision making by a mass of Legal Teams, Law Enforcement Departments, Government Agents and Senior Diplomatic Officials. There was so much activity going on across several US States that it was becoming almost impossible to maintain any semblance of control. We were riding the wave to the top of the cusp as in Chaos Theory, but we had no idea when we were going to get there and how badly the wave was going to break.

We were passing through Journal Square towards Newport and fast approaching New York which was only a few miles ahead and the emerging scene was now a bubbling caldron of low black clouds, swirling misty rain and angry drivers which was all a dead cert recipe for disaster waiting to happen. Then suddenly the vehicle screeched to an abrupt halt which resulted in bodies and equipment rolling around the control room. The driver indicated an RTA in the tunnel ahead and confirmed that no external damage had been sustained and how lucky we had been not to collide with any other vehicles in the treacherous conditions.

We didn’t want to lose the target vehicle which would have driven into the tunnel a few minutes earlier and avoided the resulting chaos, but there was no marker on any of the screens, the vehicle had simply vanished. Frantic calls to Washington and updated satellite images also revealed absolutely nothing, completely blank. The director was absolutely fuming, a 1200 mile chase across several states and then we lost them as soon as we approached the Holland Tunnel which connects Jersey City to Manhattan under the Hudson River.

I could not believe that the operation had finally come to this juncture, the whole team was totally deflated by an overwhelming and depressing sense of failure. The director texted me to exit and stand away from the vehicle, he would call me in 5 minutes with some information that he had hoped he would never have to discuss with me, but the time had come and there was literally no other option after what had just happened. I instructed the team to remain in the static vehicle, until I returned, and I would update them accordingly. I grabbed my coat, left the vehicle and stood under a canopy out of the rain, lit a hand rolled cigarette and waited for the call!