Chapter 8: Gathering Clouds
Three months before:
Milena stared down at her father’s coffin in the ground, tears streaming down her cheeks and holding a handkerchief to her mouth as she struggled to hold back her sobs. She stood there frozen, completely enveloped in grief, almost unaware of the people gathered to mourn Norvan and the commital service being delivered by the pastor. Lorenzo’s arm was around her as he tried to give her whatever comfort he could provide, wishing he could do anything to take away just a fraction of the pain she was experiencing.
The afternoon sky was cloudy overhead and as time passed the clouds darkened, threatening to rain. The service ended and Norvan’s friends and acquaintances came over to Milena to offer their condolences. Milena could make out their lips moving yet couldn’t discern their words as she was still caught in a daze. Soon everyone had left the cemetery leaving Milena and Lorenzo alone by Norvan’s grave. Milena walked closer to the grave pit and knelt along the edge.
“Oh Daddy. I really wish you were here with me right now” she sobbed. “Why? Why did you have to leave me too.” She lowered her head and wept. Lorenzo knelt down beside her and wrapped her in his arms. Milena held onto his arm and leaned her head on his chest. They stayed there for a moment and then she loosened her grip on Lorenzo. She sniffed, “Thank you, Loren. If you don’t mind I’d like to be alone, just for a minute to say goodbye.”
“Of course. You can have as much time as you need Lena. I’ll be waiting by the car.”
Milena nodded her head. Lorenzo stood up and began walking to the car. She gently wiped her tears and stood up from the ground. She took a deep breath and spoke. “You taught me a lot Daddy…we had wonderful memories that I’ll treasure forever. Thank you for believing in me and for being by my side. No matter what you could always make me feel better” she sniffed and looked away to the side at the rose bushes in the distance. “Roses. I remember when you told me how they were Mom’s favorite flower and how every Friday you would give her a bouquet of red roses. Out of all them, she loved red the most since they represented love.” Her voice quivered and she took another breath to steady herself. “And you…you taught me what all the colors represented just like she taught you. Yellow for joy. Pink for admiration. Orange for desire. Burgundy for beauty within. Green for peace. Lavender for enchantment…peach for appreciation. Blue for the impossible…” she wept. “And your favorite…white.” She looked down at the single white rose she was clutching to her heart. “You said you loved it because it stood for innocence and eternal loyalty and love. And that’s all you wanted for me…” she sniffed. “But you never told me that it also stood for the beauty and frailty of life…death.” She wiped her eyes again “And now I’m trying to accept that you’re not here anymore…and I don’t if can or if I’ll ever will. What I do know is that I’ll never forget your love or how you made me feel. I love you…Goodbye Daddy.”
Milena brought the rose to her lips and kissed it. She then dropped it over the grave pit and it landed softly on top of the mahogany coffin. Milena took one last glance at her father’s final resting place and then walked away. Her thoughts drifted over the overwhelming events and images of the last week. The sight of her father’s lifeless and burned body lying on a metal table in the morgue was constantly etched in her mind. Try as she might to get that nightmarish sight out of her mind she couldn’t forget it. Her hours were filled with nothing but pure sadness and anger. She couldn’t imagine who would murder her father but she was determined someway, somehow to find out who was behind it. In all of this, she was grateful to have Lorenzo by her side. He was her only sense of comfort in her darkest moment, her only support. It shouldn’t be that way. Liana should be here with me burying our father. Instead, I’m here carrying this burden alone.
Milena reached Lorenzo who was holding open the rear right passenger door for her. She entered the car and he shut the door. He climbed in the other back passenger seat and their chauffeur started off for the Blagueur-Ohanyan estate.
About a hundred feet or so behind where Milena’s car had been parked a woman stood behind a tree watching the Aston Martin speed off in the distance. Once the car was out of view the woman quickly walked up to Norvan’s grave and removed her sunglasses. “Well, it’s been a while. Can’t say I’m surprised this is your fate. You always did find a way to hurt and betray those closest to you. Especially me.” She cried. “Everything you put me through. How you never saw me for me. How you constantly belittled me. How you blamed me for mom’s death. How you abused me both physically and emotionally” her voice rose with every passing second. “How you saw me as nothing! That I could take!” she screamed. “But when you—“ she sobbed. “When you took the one joy in my life. That I couldn’t take! That I could never forgive.” She looked down at her feet “And I’m sorry it had to be this way but you left me with no other choice.” Liana put her sunglasses back on and left her father’s grave. Seeing her Dad’s resting place had given her a sense of finality. In a way, it captured her past and her future. For better or for worse there was no going back now.
After the rally had ended Jason and Tasha began walking back to the entrance of the Izmirlian Square. All around them they were surrounded by throngs of people, most of them discussing and agreeing with Tarek’s words.
“That definitely was enlightening. I didn’t realize that Dalmar had so many followers,” Jason remarked, his mind still focused on the scene he and Tasha had witnessed just minutes earlier.
“Neither did I. The files we read described the KLF more or less as a small radical faction, not a well-known, large, and extremely organized political party” Tasha sighed.
“I can see why you always make it a priority to go ‘sightseeing’ on these trips.”
“You can never be too prepared in this line of work” Tasha replied as she spotted a young boy, no older than twelve, handing out flyers for Dalmar’s upcoming meeting by a stone fountain near the middle of the plaza.
“Come to the Bulin Meeting hall tonight at 8 o’clock. Come to hear the truth. No longer silenced, freedom for Krudia!” he shouted. The boy spotted Tasha coming towards him. “Hello ma’am would you like a flyer?” he asked.
“Yes, I would.”
He handed her a flyer “Here you are. Have a nice day.”
“Thank you. You too” Tasha responded as she walked back to Jason.
“Collecting more evidence.”
“You can never have enough.” Tasha held out the flyer in front of her and Jason. “By the looks of this pamphlet, Dalmar presents himself as a benevolent and understanding candidate. A man of the people. Unbelievable” she rolled her eyes as she stuffed the paper in her purse.
“It definitely doesn’t help that a good deal of the population believes this crap,” Jason muttered.
“No, it certainly doesn’t.”
“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m starving, so how about the two of us grab some brunch at The Ledbury. Assuming it actually exits. It does exist right?”
“It does. But what happened to that room service you were so keen on earlier” Tasha teased.
“I’m sure the kitchen staff could use a break, what with all the people staying at the hotel,”
“Mmm-hmm.” Tasha gave a teasing smirk.
“Oh come on you know you want to.”
“All right. I’ll have brunch with you at The Ledbury.”
“Okay, great” Jason replied.
“But you’re picking up the tab” she coyly smiled.
Jason lightly chuckled, “You drive a hard bargain.”
“Why make it easy,” Tasha responded.
“Okay, okay you win. I surrender.” Jason playfully responded as he put his hands in the air, causing Tasha to laugh.
The two of them walked to the street corner. Once there Jason signaled a cab and they headed for The Ledbury. Almost ten minutes passed and the cab pulled in front of the restaurant. The exterior of The Ledbury was covered in exposed brick and dotted with large glass windows. The window frames and entrance door were made of black iron. Parts of the exterior brick were covered with passion vines that hung from trellises. Tasha and Jason exited the cab and walked into the restaurant. They were greeted by a maître d’ who escorted them to a table for two by the window. The floor was marble and in all the corners of the restaurant, stone columns stood. The interior walls were covered with various works of surrealism. Swarovski Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling and roman candles decorated every table.
“Here are some menus” the maître d’ handed one to Tasha and then to Jason. “I’ll give you some time to decide what you’d like and I’ll be right over to take your orders.” The maître d’ went to attend to other patrons, leaving Tasha and Jason alone.
Jason and Tasha scanned the menu for a few minutes, looking over the descriptions of the vast assortment of delicious dishes the restaurant served.
“So what are you thinking of ordering?” Jason asked.
“Everything looks quite delicious but I think I’ll take the shrimp risotto.”
“That sounds mouthwatering.”
“Thank you. So what about you?”
“I think I’ll go with a seared steak with asparagus and roasted potatoes.”
“That sounds wonderful as well.”
Tasha and Jason smiled. The maître d’ then returned with glasses of water. “Here you are,” he said as he placed the glasses on the table.
“Thank you” Tasha replied.
“Thanks” Jason added.
“My pleasure. So are you both ready to order?” he asked.
“We are actually” Jason replied.
“Wonderful,” he retrieved a notepad and pen from his vest pocket. “What would you like to order.”
“After you,” Jason told Tasha.
“Thank you. I’ll take your shrimp risotto with a Caprese salad please.”
“And I’ll have a seared steak with asparagus and roasted potatoes. Thank you.”
“Of course. Your order should be ready in about twenty minutes. If there’s anything else I can do for you please let me know.” he replied as he took the menus from Jason and Tasha.
“Thanks” Jason replied.
“No problem.” The maître d’ responded before he walked away to the kitchen to put in Tasha and Jason’s order.
“Black Hawk. Any more updates on their position.” a woman’s voice came through the car speaker system.
The man reached for the microphone located in the car. “Negative Red Sparrow. The targets are still inside The Ledbury. The waiter just left with their orders.”
“Understood. If there’s any change in their position or any significant updates. Contact me immediately.”
Professor Zilmer stared nervously at the ground unable to find the courage to look his employer in the eyes. His assistant and wife Francine stood nervously by his side. “Professor Zimler, I must say, I am quite disappointed in you and your wife. I expected your work to have been completed by now.” Dalmar said, taking a puff from his cigar.
“I know Dalmar but so far it has proven difficult to locate this mineral you tasked us to find. We’ve discovered and analyzed several elements but none have been the particular compound that you want. The latest mineral we tested we discovered has a molecular structure and formula is very to the desired mineral. Unfortunately, its differing molecular structure renders it useless to be used in the way you want. However, I think you could perhaps find it to be very useful in other ways and even very valuable.” He picked up a tube containing that certain mineral from off the lab table and held it out to Dalmar.
Dalmar took the vial and threw it to the ground. The tube shattered sending its contents all over the concrete floor. “I don’t care about this darn mineral! I want the one I demanded!” Dalmar uttered a string of profanities under his breath.
Professor Zilmer took a step back from Dalmar. Francine spoke, “If we could just have a bit more time I’m certain that we would be able—”
“That won’t be necessary. Your services are no longer needed.” Dalmar interrupted, a cold calculating look in his eyes.
Professor Zilmer swallowed hard and locked eyes with Francine who then stepped forward toward Dalmar. “Please, Dalmar give us time. I’m sure we will be able to meet your requirements.”
“I’m afraid that I cannot do. I’ve already given you more than enough time and I can’t afford any… loose ends” Dalmar callously replied. “Adrian, Raphael. Please take care of Professor Zilmar and his wife” he ordered as he exited the room. Adrian and Raphael walked towards the two of them from the corners of the lab where they had previously been standing.
“Please don’t do this!” Francine cried.
“No! No! NO!!!” Professor Zilmer shouted.
No response came from either Raphael or Adrian’s lips. Raphael pulled Professor Zilmer’s arms behind his back and held them securely while Adrian grabbed Francine violently by the arm, which caused her to cry out in pain. Hearing his wife’s desperate screams Professor Zilmer gathered all his strength and broke away from Raphael’s grasp. He punched him firmly in the jaw causing Raphael to lose his balance. He fell backward hitting the side of his head against the metal lab table causing him to lose consciousness.
“I need backup! I’m in the bunker. Lab room!” Adrian shouted in his shoulder microphone as Professor Zilmer charged at him. Adrian attempted to grab his gun but before he could remove it from his holster, Zilmer’s fist collided with his face causing him to let go of Francine who scrambled to the side of the room.
“Run Francine! Run!” Professor Zilmer cried as he tried to hold back Adrian. Francine desperately scrambled for the door. Just as she reached the exit a gunshot rang out. Francine could feel blood pouring from her abdomen and quickly placed her hand against the wound. She felt her knees buckle and collapsed to the floor.
“NO!!!!!!!” Professor Zilmer shouted as he saw two more security officers next to the door, one of them still holding his gun out, standing by Francine’s lifeless body. Zilmer wrestled himself from Adrian’s grasp and rushed to Francine’s side. Just as he reached her body he heard another gunshot from behind him, followed almost immediately by the feeling of a bullet ripping through his body. Zilmer staggered forward for a few moments and then fell to the ground beside his wife.