The Carlson Imperative
Book 1: Svetlana Curuvija
© 2010 J.W.Brown
Chapter 10: Precious Inventory
I took out two nylon ties and strapped Vasilov’s wrists to the wide oak arms of his Carver chair, ignoring his squeals of pain when I moved his right arm. Turning to his desk, I pulled out each drawer, and emptied the contents on the desk top, then bending down, emptied each of the small cupboards, until I found what I was looking for.
I placed the heavy-duty stapling gun, and a 1000-piece refill box on the desk in front of him. Very briefly, almost imperceptibly, a look of guilt mixed with curiosity flashed in his eyes, then it was gone and he eyed me warily, but said nothing.
Taking a small voice-recorder from my pocket, I switched it on, holding it close to his face.
Svetlana’s strident threat shouted at him from the recorder, and although again it was brief, I caught both recognition and fear in his eyes.
“Vot does this mean?”
“Well, I will tell you Piotr. It’s first of all about you not asking stupid questions, to which you already know the answer.”
I picked up the staple-gun, jammed his left hand hard down on the chair arm, and fired a staple through his middle fingernail and into the oak arm of the chair.
He gasped in pain. I waited.
“I will kill you for this.” he said venomously.
Again I held down his hand, this time putting the staple through his thumbnail.
A rattle of agony escaped from his throat, and he broke into a sweat. I looked at him. “It’s also about you not making threats you will never be able to carry out.”
I waited and he croaked. “What do you want?”
“That’s better. I want the girls.”
Another staple, this time in his pinky nail. He screamed. “Stop! Please stop!”
I shook my head. “Piotr, you are a disappointment. Just as I thought you were catching on, you let me down.”
“I will tell you.”
I picked up his notepad and a pencil, and waited.
“21, Eastbrooke Terrace, Hackney, E9.” He said the words slowly, in between gasps of pain.
I wrote. “Telephone?”
He slowly spoke the number, then I made him repeat the number, this time backwards, then repeat the address.
I tore off the address from the pad, and walked over to Mac. “Ask them to move close, but observe only.”
He nodded, and busied himself on his radio. I walked back to Vasilov.
I held down his hand for what I hoped was the last time, and despite his cries for mercy, fired a staple through his ring fingernail, then one through his index finger.
He screamed loudly, then started yelling. “I’m sorry, sorry! I’ll tell you everything.”
I ignored him. “I’ve been told Piotr, that torturers are born out of necessity, but are quickly converted to sadists, relishing the pain and misery they inflict on their victims.”
I paused. He was now shaking from head to foot, his eyes staring with horror at the heavy staple gun in my hand.
“For me,” I said, “this has been simply a matter of training you into giving me the responses I desire – think Pavlov’s dog. Sadly, I think I still need more practice, and we still have your untouched right hand. As an expert torturer yourself, what do you think?”
I stepped back, and he spoke shakily. “Under your feet, remove the carpet and pull the handle.”
I put the machine down on his desk, pulled back the carpet and lifted a section of the floor by a small handle. A large floor safe revealed itself.
“Numbers.” I said.
He said them slowly, stumbling, but correcting himself. I entered the sequence carefully and was rewarded with a click as the door opened slightly.
I lifted out the contents item by item. First out were two big bags of wraps, ready for distribution. I flung them at him. “You piece of shit!” I said. Next, a large bag of meth-amphetamines. I stood up and breaking the seal, showered them over him in a fountain.
A rubber band held a bunch of passports. I stood again, and carefully compared the passport names with Svetlana’s list. Some passports matched, some did not, but I was satisfied, Svetlana and Katrina’s passports were there.
I put the passports in my side pocket, and opened my shoulder bag, then removed the remainder of the safe contents, looking only briefly at what each item was before transferring it to my bag. I put the deeds to the Spinner’s Lane house and the property in Eastbrooke Terrace together with a small black book, on the desk and closing my bag I stood up.
He didn’t hesitate, but gestured to a small cupboard behind him. I opened the door and removed the laptop, placing it in the shoulder bag lying beside it, and then added the black book and deeds from the desk, before zipping the bag.
He gestured to the bunch lying in the mess on the desk and I held them in front of him. “Which ones?”
He told me, and I picked up a paper clip and twisted it through the two keys he’d indicated, then put the bunch in my pocket.
“How is she doing?” I said.
“She’s fine.” Mac replied. She’s sat brushing her hair.”
I smiled. “Good.”
I turned to Vasilov, and reaching to my right shoulder pocket, removed a small syringe, and a vial.
His eyes opened in terror. “No, please don’t kill me. I’ll do anything. Just tell me.”
“Piotr,” I said quietly, “I’m not going to kill you, but I have to move you, and before I can do that, I want to put your shoulder back and free your hand from the armchair. I don’t want to hurt you any more, as I have what I want. This is just a relaxant so you won’t feel any more pain for a while.”
Whether it was my tone-of-voice, or what I had said, I don’t know, but his breakdown was complete, and wallowing in self-pity, he cried shamelessly. I prepared, then stuck the needle in his upper-arm and waited. His head fell slowly to one side. I took his pulse, then removed the nylon ties, and as carefully as I could, and with the help of a small steel ruler from his desk, I prised his damaged fingers from the armchair. I wrapped his hand in a field-dressing, then taped a plastic bag around it.
“Mac, help me put his shoulder back.”
Mac held the sleeping Vasilov as I rotated and clicked the shoulder back into position.
Mac tried Vasilov’s arm. He nodded “OK”
“Then get Peter up here, and deliver Vasilov and that.”
I pointed to the laptop bag.
“Then you are finished. Good work, as always.”
He nodded and we shook hands briefly.
I waited until they left the house with Vasilov, took a look at Constanza on the CCTV monitor, removed the two DVD disks from the dual CCTV recorders, putting them in my pocket, and went quickly down to the bedroom on the 1st floor. I switched on the light, and the two bruisers squinted at me over their gags. I positioned the silencer on my Glock close to each forehead in turn, and let off two rounds. I took the pulses of both men, then closing the door I went back upstairs and into the bedroom.
Constanza was sat waiting patiently. She had scrubbed all traces of tears from her face, and although her clothes were shabby and dirty, she was very pretty.
I sat down on the bed and asked her how she felt. “Como tu estás se sentindo a minha menina?”
She smiled sadly at me, but did not reply, simply shaking her head.
“Vamos?” I said, standing up and holding out my hand.
She stood up and immediately sat down again, her face contorted with pain. She reached down and rubbed her ankle.
I kneeled on the floor and looked at her. “Posso?” I said, pointing to her foot.
“Sim.” She straightened her leg, and I felt the ankle gently, it was almost twice as big as it should have been.
I stood up and said. “I will have to carry you.”
She bit her lip. She didn’t understand my bad Portuguese.
Rather than simply lifting her up, I tried to warn her of my intentions. I pointed to myself, then held my arms out as if cradling a baby, then pointed at her.
She nodded. “Sim. Esta bem.”
I gently put my left arm around her back, and slid my right under her legs and hoisting her into my arms, I stood up. She was still a little afraid. I smiled at her and asked her to hang on to me. “Segure-se em mim, minha menina linda.”
She put both her arms tightly around my neck, and I carried her downstairs.
I walked around the block to where I’d parked the Cosworth, and sat her gently in the passenger seat, fastening the belt.
Getting in myself, I typed the Eastbrooke Terrace post-code into the sat-nav, then clicked my radio twice and spoke. “ETA twenty-four minutes.”
There were two clicks in reply, and I started the engine.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her looking at me, then around, out of the car windows, taking in the early-morning London streets, then to the dash when the sat-nav spoke, then looking up at me again as I drove, not to fast to raise attention, to our destination.
The feeling of Déjà Vu was very strong, and the powerful, all-consuming desire to protect her, was again back with me. Vasilov didn’t matter any more. All that mattered was that I try and put right some of his terrible wrongs.
I pulled up slowly behind the BT van. I looked down at her beside me and smiled. “Espere por mim?” I said and she nodded. I got out of the car.
The back door of the van opened quietly and I entered.
I handed over the keys, indicating the two I’d clipped together. “Are you happy to go in first?”
They both nodded. “OK.” I said. “Click me when the hostiles are neutralized.”
I walked back to the Cosworth and sat down again beside the little girl. All of the earlier signs of fear had gone, and in their place I could see she was very weary. I took one of the large woollen rugs from the back seat and wrapped it securely around her. She smiled her thanks, and snuggling down in the seat, closed her eyes. The next time I looked she was asleep, her breathing deep but even.
A few minutes later the radio clicked. I spoke. “Good work. I want one of you out here to watch the girl, then I’m coming in.”
I looked at my watch, took out my cellphone and dialled.
“Ah Mr. Linton, an update for you. Your special delivery package is on it’s way, ETA 10 minutes. Unfortunately, two other packages were damaged in transit, so we’ve left them at the pick-up point, 16a, Spinners Lane, Hampstead. Can you advise on them?”
He repeated the address “That’s 16a Spinner’s Lane, Hampstead. Good, I’ll do that. Anything else?”
“Yes, unfortunately there’s also a couple of broken items at 26, Eastbrooke Terrace, Hackney, E9, plus a dozen or so items that are very fragile, and need immediate attention. Can you deal?”
He repeated the address, then there was a pause as he checked.
“Will twenty minutes be enough?”
“That would be very good. We thank you for your help.”
“And you, yours.” he said and hung up.
I left the car quietly, retrieved the two plastic bags from the car boot, and put my balaclava back on my head, as Carl walked towards me.
“Watch her, but don’t approach. The mask will freak her, and God knows she’s been through enough already.”
He nodded and moved into the bush at the side of the path.
I made my way into the house. All was quiet. John stood just inside the front door, weapon still in his hand. He passed me a large day diary and a laptop, which I placed in my shoulder bag.
“How many?” I said.
“Two.” he answered, gesturing to the closed front-parlour door “As per your pictures – good likenesses by the way.”
I laughed quietly at his wry humour, and we made our way upstairs. There were two locked doors, both with keys in the locks. “One at a time?” he said.
I nodded and turned the first door’s key. I entered the room quietly, but not quietly enough. A tremulous voice spoke, I switched on the light and a girl screamed as she saw my mask. I closed the door behind me and held out my hands.
“Ssh! please be quiet. I am here to help you.”
I spoke the words again in Spanish, Serbian and French. Slowly the noise died down. I scanned the faces in the room, as I counted, there were seven girls, but no Katrina.
I took out the photograph of Svetlana and Katrina and passed it to one of the older girls. She shouted in guttural English “Svetlana, it’s Svetlana.”
She turned to me, handing the photo back. “You know Svetlana?”
I nodded. “It is she who has sent me to you. Those men out there cannot hurt you any more.”
She pointed to my mask. “You frighten us with that.”
I nodded. “I know. I’m sorry, but it’s best I don’t take it off.”
I added “Is Katrina next door?”
They had all mostly calmed down, and I took out the bunch of passports from my pocket. There were murmurs and exclamations.
One by one as I read out the names from each passport, three girls walked forward in turn and I handed them their passport. Each nodded their thanks.
When that was done I said quietly. “The criminals who kept you prisoner are now my prisoners. Shortly, there will be help from the social services arriving, and they will take all of you to safety. Meanwhile, can you sit quietly while I talk to the girls next door?”
There was a pause as some translated my request to the others, but they all sat down, talking animatedly amongst themselves and I asked the older girl to come with me next door.
Outside the door I stopped, picked up one of the plastic bags and re-entering the room I opened it. I removed two small shoulder bags and passed them to the nearest girls to me. “For you all.” I said and gestured to the open bag. I left them helping themselves to the small bags Zee had carefully packed, and returned to the upstairs hall.
I gave the photo of Svetlana to the girl.
“Can you go in, and show the girls that photo, and tell them what is happening. Also warn them I am wearing a mask, but that they shouldn’t be frightened.”
“Sure. I do that. You good man, but bad dress sense.”
She smiled at me. I was stunned, stunned and speechless.
She turned the key and entered the room, closing the door behind her. John and I stood listening to the voices, hushed at first, then more excited.
She opened the door. “Come in.” she said and I entered a room, almost exactly the same size as the other. I counted six girls, and one of them was Katrina.
In the photograph she was the very pretty smaller twin of Svetlana. Close up and in the flesh she was every bit an equal in her great beauty to her sister. Together, they would be awesome.
She looked at me, terrified of the mask.
I reached into my pocket for my cellphone, and rang Zee. She must have had the phone under her hand, as it was answered immediately.
“Hi.” I’ve got Katrina with me, but I’m masked, and she’s terrified.”
“OK. I’ll pass you over.”
“Joe! Joe! She’s there? You have her? Is she..”
I cut in, and spoke slowly in Serbian “Svetlana. Katrina is fine and healthy and standing in front of me. I want you to speak to her as calmly as you can, and tell her that you sent me to fetch her, and for her not to be afraid of my mask. Can you do that?”
I held out the phone to Katrina. I said. “Светлана би желео да разговара са вама.”
Her face had begun to light up as she had listened to me, and she shouted, “Svetlana!” and snatched the phone from my hand.
There followed an excited conversation, very little of which I understood, so I busied myself handing out passports and telling the other girls about the help that would be coming.
The older girl was looking at me quizzically. She spoke in Serbian “You speak Serbian well. Do you know my country?”
I nodded. “I spent two years in Bosnia.” I paused then added. “Terrible times.”
It was her turn to nod. “I believe so. I was too young. Now you help us again. You are kind man.”
Finally there was a tug on my tunic, and Katrina handed me back the phone “Svetlana talk to you plis?”
“Hi.” I said.
“You lovely, lovely gorgeous man. I love you so much. Thank you, Thank you.”
I laughed. “You are welcome, and I love you. We will be back in about thirty minutes. Tell Zee to put the coffee pot on, and Svetlana?”
“Tell Zee I’m also bringing a little Portuguese girl home.”
“Oh! Good! I tell her.”
“Bye.” I said and closed the call.
Katrina stood in front of me. “You take me Svetlana now?”
I nodded “Right now.” We went back into the upstairs hall, and I picked up the other plastic bag and gave it to the girls, showing them the contents.
“Those are for all of you. Just things you may have missed.”
I turned to the older girl. “Are all the girls here?”
She shook her head. “No. Constanza is still away.”
I nodded. “We have already rescued her, she is safe and well.”
She smiled with relief. “Thank you for what you have done.”
“And thank you.” I said “You are a very brave girl. What is your name?”
“Libena.” she smiled shyly.
I held out my hand. “A lovely name – it means ‘love’?”
She took my hand and nodded. “Yes. I just wish I could see the face of the brave man who has freed us.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry it has to be this way Libena. Good luck with everything.”
With that, I walked downstairs holding Katrina’s hand, with John behind me.
We left the house, but leaving the door open, John got into the BT van, and I walked Katrina to the car. She gave a little cry of joy when she recognized the sleeping Constanza, and I sat her in the back seat and belted her in, wrapping a rug around her. I closed the door, put my shoulder bag in the car boot, and gestured to Carl with one finger on my watch. He waited and I went back into the house, entered the parlour, and used four more bullets on the trussed-up thugs. I locked the parlour door before I left, and threw the key into the long grass in the overgrown garden.
I walked back to the car, gave a thumbs-up to Carl, and clicked twice on my radio, then spoke. “Go. I’ll wait till the services appear. Good job both of you, thanks again.”
There was no reply except two clicks.
I watched the Transit pull away. A few minutes later I saw several lights coming up the road behind me, and starting the Cosworth’s engine, I eased away from the kerb, and headed for home.
As we moved steadily up the quiet street, I tore off the mask, and unbelted the Kevlar vest. My shoulder hurt like Hell. I saw Katrina’s face in the mirror staring at me. I held my hand up, pointing to my face.
“Better without mask?” I asked. She nodded vigorously and smiled shyly at me.
My throat felt dry. I reached down into the central console and fished out a can of Coke.
I looked in the mirror. “Coke?” I said and she nodded, her slim hand reaching between the seats, I handed her the can and retrieved another, splitting it open. The delicious cool drink revived me instantly. I looked down at the still, sleeping child beside me, and suddenly I felt very, very happy. We had a quiet and uneventful journey across London.
I waited as the doors rolled up and turned the Cosworth into the garage. They had wanted to wait there but I wouldn’t hear of it. As the doors closed I spoke to Katrina.
“Ми смо овде.” I got out and opened her door.
She stepped out and looked around.
I opened the front passenger door and lifted the child out carefully.
“Следите ме” I said to Katrina, and led her down the passage and to the basement door. I held my watch up to the door and it swung open. I walked in, Constanza in my arms and Katrina by my side, and smiled at our welcoming party.
There was an explosion of sound as Svetlana and Katrina ran to each other and embraced, shouting each other’s names loudly.
Constanza stirred, and looked up at me.
I smiled at her and said softly in Portuguese. “Hello little one, you are safe now.”
I saw the tears fall from Zee’s eyes as she heard my words, and she rushed forward and embraced both me, and the child in my arms.