Chapter 14: Where Worlds Collide
Three months earlier:
The flight to Bulin was cramped. Sweaty and hot passengers all stacked on top of one another. I had no idea so many people visited Krudia now. Though I guess I wouldn’t know considering how long it’s been. Liana sat next to a window six rows back in economy class, wearing a blank expression on her face. Growing up she had always flown first class with her family but now she thought it best to have a seat near the back of the plane, not wanting to draw unwanted attention to herself.
The sound of a baby’s cries echoed through the cabin, joining that of the engine rumbling and passengers snoring as they slept. Liana let out a sigh. Children, though at times a joy to have and be around, often served as a source of annoyance. Especially when it came to crying children on a flight. Her thoughts were interrupted as a voice came from the seat beside her. “So what brings you to Krudia?”
Liana looked over at the older woman and smiled. “Business, and yourself?”
“I’m actually returning home. I just visited my daughter and her husband. They live in Hungary. Every time I visit they keep trying to convince me to move there. They’re always saying how it’s so much nicer and a much better place to live than Krudia. I know they’re right but Krudia is where I’ve lived my whole life. My family’s ancestral home. There is so much history, you know?”
Liana nodded. “I understand.”
“Whenever I visit them I make sure not to stay too long. Otherwise, I’m afraid they’ll persuade me to move.” She chuckled to herself. “Is this your first time visiting Krudia?”
“Yes. It’s my first time.” Liana lied. She hoped she sounded convincing enough.
The older woman seemed to believe her words as she nodded her head. “Well, I hope that you’ll find your stay here pleasant and enjoyable.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Liana turned to look out the window, hoping the lady would take it as a sign to end their conversation. But the woman continued to chatter on.
“If you have the time I would highly recommend visiting the Izmirlian Square. It truly is magnificent. The marble statues and fountains. The Ionic columns.”
Liana turned back to the woman. “Oh it sounds…wonderful” she replied in a disinterested fashion.
The woman clapped her hands once in excitement. “I didn’t even mention the square’s historical significance. You seem like a girl who likes history. I mean, who doesn’t like history. My ex-fiancé was actually a history teacher…” The woman continued to prattle on. Liana quickly looked at her watch and sighed. There were still nearly five hours left for the flight. I should have traveled in first class instead. “Though it may be somewhat difficult to have the best experience at the square, what with all the rallies and loud marches of Dalmar’s supporters.” Liana sat up in her seat as she heard Dalmar’s name.
“Dalmar? As in Davit Dalmar of Dalmar Petroleum Corporation?”
“One and the same.”
“I think I remember hearing that he announced a run for parliament and that it was met with a mixed reaction.”
“I’ve never seen a group of people more devoted to a person. And I’ve lived quite a while.”
Liana looked ahead, lost in thought. “You ever wonder what causes that much loyalty…devotion in a person, that they’d stay by someone’s side no matter what.” She said softly, a hint of sadness in her voice.
“Hmmm,” the woman thought for a moment. “Either love or desperation I suppose. Though in Dalmar’s case I’d be surprised if it wasn’t the latter.”
Liana glanced out the window again. “I have a feeling it doesn’t matter which one it is to Dalmar.”
The moon shone brightly overhead, illuminating the forest and the security guards with a pale, bluish light. The strong scent of pine filled the air, reminding Jason of the smells of Christmas time. All around he was surrounded by an assortment of trees, pine, birch, and conifer. He continued to follow the men as quietly as possible, careful not to step on any twigs or branches lying on the ground. The lights of the mansion had long before faded away into the black of night. Jason guessed that he’d come about three or four miles as he’d been walking for almost an hour. I just hope this isn’t a wild goose chase. Just then the security guards came to a sudden stop. Jason ducked behind a pine tree, keeping his eyes fixed on the guards. The two of them walked toward what looked like some sort of structure. Jason leaned forward trying to get a better look. It appeared to be an old warehouse. He made his way closer to the building and then darted to the trees on the south side of the structure. He reached the edge of the tree line and looked around in all directions. Seeing no one in sight he headed for the south wall of the warehouse. Carefully, he made his way along the side of the building towards the entrance. As he walked he heard male voices, he assumed from the two men he’d followed, grow louder.
He peered around the corner of the building and saw the guards by the metal door. One of the two men typed in a code on the security keypad. The door slid open and the two men entered. Jason waited several minutes to make sure no one else was around. He glanced around once again, before heading to the door. Jason quickly punched in the code he’d seen the guard type in the pad. Good thing I have Mom’s photographic memory. The metal door opened and Jason stepped inside the warehouse. He nearly flinched as the door shut behind him, leaving him in the dark. He still wasn’t entirely sure of this plan but it was too late to back out now.
He took a deep breath and walked further on. He anxiously looked around trying to locate any armaments that could be there or something that pointed to its location. Jason stayed on high alert, knowing that at any moment he could be spotted.
Near the middle of the corridor, Jason saw a door leading off into another room. He stepped through the doorway and scanned the space inside. The room was filled with lab tables and accouterments, mainly of a chemical nature. Beakers, tubes, and burners were strewn all over the tables. Some were broken, but it appeared most of the lab equipment hadn’t been touched. In fact, much of it still was contained in boxes stacked against one of the walls. The floor was covered in broken glass and what appeared to Jason as a reddish-brown “dirt.” The lab tables and equipment were also covered in the same substance. Well someone forgot to clean in here. He then saw what appeared to be traces of blood splattered on the floor and walls of the room. One could only imagine what horrors had taken place where he was standing. He swallowed as he felt an eerily sense of uneasiness begin to wash over him. He shook it off and made his way to one of the tables and quickly browsed the items placed on it. Finding nothing he dusted his hands off and headed back to the corridor.
Jason looked through the other rooms off the hall but found nothing except empty cardboard boxes. At the end of the corridor, he came to a stairwell. He quietly made his way down the stairs to the level below. At the last stair landing, he spotted the two guards he had followed walking down the hall in front of him. The hall was dank and dark, with two doors lining each side of the aisle. Warehouse pendant lights flickered from above, the only source of light in the hall. The only sounds were the scuffling of shoes against the concrete floor and voices coming from farther down the aisle. Jason didn’t know what was said as the conversation was in another language, he assumed Krudian. The security guards entered a side door on the left side of the corridor, the source of the discussion, and shut the door behind them. Jason waited a few seconds and then descended the rest of the metal stairs. He went inside the room to the right.
The room was small and box-like. A metal desk, layered with dust, filled the room. Under the desk was a gray shag rug that looked like it used to be white. He began cautiously pacing the perimeter of the room and walked to the desk, which he began searching through. All he found was some old tattered notes, crumbled together, in a drawer. Jason unfolded and laid them out on the desk. He couldn’t decipher much, but from the chemical formulas they contained, he guessed they probably were reports and results of the lab tests carried out. He placed them back in the desk and took his time closing the drawer. Jason started to exit the room when he felt something blow against his foot, a draft. He knelt down to the floor and saw that part of the wall did not go all the way to the ground. The gap was so obscure you’d never notice it unless you were actively looking for a hidden room or place where something could be hidden. He wasn’t entirely sure but there seemed to be another room behind the wall. Jason examined the wall and the floor carefully, trying to find anything that would open the door.
He spotted something, a mark on the wall. At first glance, it looked as though only a scuff or screw but if you looked closely enough you’d see that it was a very tiny button of sorts. Jason pressed the button and was rewarded with a metallic click. He took a few steps inside and saw it was a tunnel. Inch by inch he maneuvered his way through the boxes that lined that shaft, checking them each as he went along for any evidence he could find useful. At the end of the long shaft, he saw a door with a frosted window over which “Private” had been printed in gold lettering. Jason stopped at the door and twisted the knob. It didn’t open. He tried again, this time straining with the effort. It still didn’t budge. “This guy sure is a security freak” he muttered under his breath. “Good thing I came prepared.” Jason reached into his right shoe and pulled out a lock picking device under his foot. He inserted the device into the keyhole of the door handle and twisted it to the side. The door swung open and Jason stepped inside the office.
The room was covered all around with wooden panels and on the wall, directly in front of Jason, was an oak bookcase that took up its entire length. In the center was a large worn mahogany desk, its veneer long ago rubbed off. Behind it was a tattered leather chair. The only things Jason saw on the desk were a hand-blown glass lamp at one end and stationery and a pen on the other. He noticed that the top drawer had a keyhole in its center. He pulled out his lock-picking device again and placed it in the keyhole. The drawer came open and Jason peered inside. It was empty. He felt around the drawer trying to see if there was perhaps something he was missing. He found it. He discovered that the back of the drawer felt slightly different than the rest. The other part of the surface felt wooden while this section was smooth, almost like plastic. Jason decided to investigate further. He pulled out his trusty pen from his suit pocket. He clicked the bottom metal button and a blade released.
He started cutting around the suspect area. Once he was finished he pulled that section of the drawer away and discovered that it was a computer. The top of it had been made to look exactly like the wood of the desk. Jason laid it carefully on the desk, opened it, and turned it on. The computer screen flickered to life. On the login screen, Jason saw the computer was protected by a passcode. Thankfully, he had much experience when it came to computers and codes and was able to bypass the system in a few minutes. After accessing the home screen of the laptop Jason looked at the names of the different files. His eyes landed on a file titled “Feuersturm.” Meaning “Firestorm” in German which he then clicked on. Jason could sense that he was very close to the intelligence he and Tasha desperately needed. As the file loaded he silently prayed that it was what he was looking for. Even more fervently he prayed that he wouldn’t be caught. That was the one thing they couldn’t afford.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the file finished loading. Jason quickly scanned it. Unsurprisingly, yet still, frustratingly to Jason, the file was encrypted. He sighed. Well, this is going to take a while.
“And this portrait,” Dalmar motioned to the piece on the wall, “depicts General Davit Ajemian.”
“Davit?” Tasha smiled. “You weren’t by any chance named after him were you?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I was.” He leaned in closer to her. “My mother was a historian and said she wanted me to be imbued with the qualities and traits that he possessed.”
“Courage. Perseverance. Ambition.”
“You certainly have those qualities and then some.”
“Why thank you.” He took a sip from his glass. “There was a famous battle. The Battle of Sommone. Sommone is a small town about an hour or so away from here. It was the First World War and the Turks had invaded our country. They had nearly taken it over and all hope seemed lost. The country, the army, was prepared to surrender. Except for Ajemian. He led his troops bravely at Sommone and defeated the Turks. That marked the turning point in the war.”
“I can see why he’s admired so much.”
“His philosophy on life, especially on that fateful day, is one I have taken to heart. Never surrender. No matter what setbacks, no matter what obstacles, I don’t accept defeat.”
“It seems you and I are kindred spirits. I don’t accept defeat…and I don’t take no for an answer.”
“Why do I have the feeling you’re trying to tell me something.”
“I am. You’re just trying your hardest not to listen.” Tasha sassed.
Dalmar smirked and took another sip of champagne. Try as he might not to be, he found himself fascinated by Tasha. The way she matched his fire and wit. Others would find themselves intimidated by his words, and even by his mere presence, but not her. He knew she had her eyes set on learning more from him. And he for his part was reluctant to give her that which she desired. It appeared they were at an impasse. Involved in a sort of dance, going back and forth. Caught up in a game few knew the rules of, but that they each were determined to win. It was only a question of who would prevail.
“Speaking of listening. I would love to hear your thoughts on the orchestra.”
“They are incredible.” Tasha glanced, beyond the men and women waltzing, towards the orchestra in the corner of the ballroom. “The musical selections for this evening have been wonderful. I especially love the piece they’re playing now, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The way the music slows almost to a standstill and then how all the sections come join together into a crescendo. It truly is a masterpiece.”
“Mozart was indeed a musical genius.”
“He certainly was,” Tasha responded.
Dalmar placed his champagne glass on a marble table and extended his hand to Tasha. “May I have the pleasure of dancing with you?”
“Of course,” Tasha answered. Dalmar took her hand and the two of them made their way into the center of the ballroom. Tasha placed her hand on Dalmar’s shoulder while he wrapped his arm around her waist. Dalmar pulled her in closer towards him and they began to waltz across the dance floor. Tasha felt unnerved and even disgusted by being in Dalmar’s arms however as they danced she made sure to smile and laugh. As though she truly was enjoying being with him. Tasha knew that she couldn’t let her true feelings and emotions be seen while on this mission or any mission for that matter. It was part of her basic training as an agent. Repeated over and over to stress its importance. Whatever happened on the field, no matter how horrific or unsettling, you couldn’t let your emotions control you or your actions. That choice alone could be the difference between whether or not your cover would be blown.
Tasha’s thoughts once again drifted to Jason. He had been on her mind ever since she saw him sneak off into the woods earlier that evening. She had tried not to think of him, to not be affected by his actions, so she could stay completely focused on the task at hand. But so far that had proven to be impossible. She couldn’t help but wonder about him. What he was doing. If he was alright. Be angry at him for putting their assignment and lives into jeopardy.
I just don’t understand why Jason had to go off on his own like that. Is he trying to blow our cover? I guess Donovan was right about him. Most first-time agents are too eager to prove themselves. I just had to brush Donovan off, didn’t I? If this whole thing blows up. If we’re discovered…stop it Tasha. You can’t think about the worst-case scenario. Not now. I have to focus on Dalmar. Get the info we need…that’s the only thing that matters right now.
Dalmar looked Tasha up and down, and then glanced deeply into her eyes. “I have to say you look stunning. That color looks divine on you. It brings out your emerald eyes.”
Tasha looked down to the side and gave a slight smile. “I had to look the part. I’ve never had a gala hosted in my honor before. Or at least partly in my honor.”
“For you, I’d host a hundred galas.”
Tasha furrowed her brow “Really? A hundred huh?”
“Or a thousand. Whatever you’d like.”
Is this guy really acting like a love-sick puppy? I’m seriously not getting paid enough for this. But I might as well use it to my advantage.
Dalmar held his arm up and twirled Tasha. “Yet you can’t find it in your heart to even consider my request.”
“As I said before I’m in the habit of-”
“Not disclosing much to those around you. Though I must confess I don’t understand why. If you look at the great men of history they all had someone they could rely upon. Someone to confide in. Julius Caesar had Cleopatra. King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella. FDR, Eleanor. Nothing would satisfy me more than being that to you. Are you truly going to say that possibility doesn’t even interest you?” She paused. “Besides, I always have my way…eventually.”
Dalmar stopped dancing and thought for a moment. Tasha could almost see the wheels turning in his head. She waited anxiously for his reply. Hoping her words had been enough to convince him.
“And that is?”
“You promise to visit Krudia…and me…as often as you can.”
“As if you could keep me away.” Tasha flirted.
A huge boyish grin spread across Dalmar’s face. “It looks like we have a deal.”
“It appears so” she smiled.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have a limo ride I need to arrange for us.” Dalmar slowly released his hand from Tasha’s waist and walked over to where Wilhelm was standing in the corner of the ballroom.
As Dalmar walked away Tasha let out a breath she’d hadn’t realized she’d been holding in. Yeah, I’m definitely not paid enough for this.