The Errant Rose
Emmy Rose reached the alley just in time to see the woman she was after slip around a corner onto a street at the other end. She started off in pursuit -- then pulled up short when she heard the shooting. It was an ambush, and Derek was in trouble. Was Yasmin involved? How could Yasmin even be alive? Emmy hesitated a few precious seconds. She was sure she had just seen the woman who had haunted her sleep almost nightly since the Salonika shootout. And yet ... and yet Yasmin Liraz had died. Hadn't she?
Emmy remembered it vividly -- kneeling at the body for only an instant, reaching out to touch her lover before her survival instinct kicked in and she ran for shadows, bullets stitching a jagged line across courtyard stones in hot pursuit. No, Yasmin couldn't be involved. But Emmy didn't have time to ponder all of that. She hesitated for only a moment. Yasmin was getting away but Derek was under fire.
Turning back, she found the passage blocked by a pair of men who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
In a glance she knew them for what they were. Evzones. Greek street toughs. The name had originally signified Greek soldiers, but its common usage included any tough guy. Maybe these two were local. Or maybe they'd been imported. Since she didn't put much stock in coincidence, Emmy was confident of one thing -- they were hired help -- hired by the SVR probably.
They were both armed with knives.
"I know this isn't fair, guys," said Emmy, raising the Beretta. "But I don't have time to play."
"We do not want to play, yuvaika," said one of the evzones. "We are here to kill you."
They had separated, moving to either side of her, a classic maneuver, and one Emmy knew she had to forestall. So she fired, putting a bullet into the leg of one of the Greeks. This one fell back against the wall, clutching his leg. The other one attacked in the same instant. Emmy was ready for him. She nimbly eluded the vicious sweep of the knife, latched onto her assailant's wrist in passing and flipped him head over heels. Once the man was on the ground, Emmy used her grip on the man's wrist to leverage him over onto his stomach. A little more pressure, bending the wrist in a direction it wasn't intended, forced the evzone to drop his weapon. She kicked it away. Only then did she release the man. Backing up, she covered them with her pistol.
"Check out of this game," she advised with a cold smile. "It's no place for amateurs."
With that she spun and headed back up the alley....
Crouched behind the Sunbeam Alpine, Hazard had an idea. The street was at a slight incline; if he could put the car in reverse it would roll backwards -- perhaps as far as the street corner. And if they could get that far they'd be able to dodge down the intersecting street and out of the sniper's line-of-sight. It beat hanging around waiting to get shot.
"Stay low," he told Triakis. "When the car starts to move, move with it. Just remember to keep your head down."
He didn't wait for a response from the scientist. The shooter hadn't fired in almost twenty seconds -- he was waiting for a target. And the streets were empty -- the inhabitants of Kastraki had wisely sought cover. The passenger door was ajar; he crawled across the front seats, cut the ignition, released the parking brake, reached down with his left hand to depress the clutch and used his right to shift into reverse. As he had calculated, the car began to roll backwards. He slid out to rejoin Triakis. They stayed behind the car, crouched low. The shooter fired again, puncturing one of the tires on the driver's side. He'd figured out what Hazard was up to, but there wasn't much he could do to stop it. Twenty more feet. Ten. The driver-less car began to veer off the road, then hit a light pole at the corner. Grabbing Triakis by the arm, Hazard made a run for it. The sniper fired again. Hazard pushed Triakis against the wall of the building on the opposite side of the intersecting street. They were out of the shooter's sight now. Hazard heard a police car siren, and breathed a sigh of relief....
Vulkan's weapon of choice was a Husqvarna 561. It was a .358 Magnum centerfire sniper's rifle with a three-round magazine, 25.5 inch barrel, hand-checkered walnut stock and corrugated butt plate. The weapon's total weight was a little less than eight pounds. The breech pressure was about 20 tons p.s.i., so the muzzle velocity was quite high and the trajectory of a 150-grain bullet was flat. The rifle was mounted with a Bausch & Lomb Balvar 5 scope.
The weapon had never failed Vulkan before. But it was failing him now. He cursed under his breath as he checked the Balvar 5. He'd fired four times, and each time the shot had gone wide to the left. He was trying to adjust, but that wasn't easy -- only with the fourth shot had he hit what he was aiming for, the Sunbeam Alpine's tire. He could only assume that Borodov had tampered with his weapon at some point in time after his final check of the Husqvarna. But why? What game was the cell commander playing?
The police klaxon was much louder now; Vulkan peered over the low parapet that encircled the roof. A police car were skidding to a halt at the front of the building; a second was speeding on towards the intersection where the Sunbeam Alpine was resting against the light pole.
Vulkan checked the intersection through the scope. Triakis and Hazard were out of sight, and they wouldn't be foolish enough to emerge into the open. He saw the second police car stop. Two uniformed men got out. He was surprised to recognize one of them. It was Zandros. What was Zandros...?
Then he swung the rifle slightly to survey the street -- and saw Emmy Rose coming out of the alley into which she had disappeared only a moment before.
Vulkan was sighting to the right of his target, trying to adjust, when the policemen burst onto the roof. They had moved more quickly than he'd anticipated. Turning, he fired the Husqvarna from hip level, emptying the magazine with two shots, each of which hit its mark. It was the third policeman who killed the Section 13 assassin with several shots from his service revolver. The impacts of the bullets sent Vulkan reeling over the low parapet. He was dead before he hit the street.
Emmy was halfway to the intersection when she saw the two policemen emerge from their car and approach Hazard and Triakis, who were pressed up against the front of a building. Both policemen brandished saps and struck their unsuspecting victims without warning. Emmy shouted, lengthened her stride -- and then hurled herself to the street as one of the policemen whirled and began shooting at her with a pistol. In seconds both Hazard and Triakis had been bundled into the car, and as it sped away, one of the policemen tossed a canister underneath the Sunbeam Alpine. Emmy scrambled to her feet and tried to put as much distance as possible between herself and the car. When the explosion came its force was sufficient to knock her down. Metal shrapnel whirred overhead. By the time she raised her head, the police car was gone.
Standing on the rim of a steep hillside above Kastraki, Ilya Borodov lowered the Negretti binoculars and allowed himself a satisfied smile. From his vantage point he had been able to watch the entire operation unfold. Standing beside him, Chenko breathed a sigh of relief.
"So it went well, Colonel?"
"Of course," replied Borodov. After all, it had been his plan. "Zandros has Triakis, and the criminal who was aiding Emmy Rose.. Elena did her job well. And Vulkan is dead. All in all, quite satisfactory."
"General Gorinsky will not be pleased," worried the cryptographer.
"There will be nothing he can do about it. Vulkan died valiantly. He did his part in a successful operation to recover Triakis. Vulkan for Triakis -- it is a trade not even Gorinsky would dare question openly."
"What will you do with the American?"
Borodov shrugged. "He may be of some value. We will let Valenten decide his fate."
"And what about ... the girl?"
Borodov knew Chenko meant Emmy Rose. He was relieved to have Triakis, but even more relieved that Emmy hadn't had to die. "We cannot concern ourselves with her. She has failed twice. Her career is finished. Come, we will be late for our rendezvous with Elena. And then we will return to Ikor and prepare to go home -- at long last."
A black Peuguot awaited them on a nearby road. The climbed into it and drove away.
When Nils Larsen walked into his office at the Norwegian embassy in Athens the next morning, he was shocked to find Emmy Rose waiting for him.
"How did you get in here?" asked the embassy's Counselor for Press & Culture. "Why wasn't I informed?"
Sprawled dirty and tired in an armchair -- you couldn't ride on top of the train all the way from Kalambaka to Athens without getting a little travel-worn -- Emmy raised a forefinger to her lips. "Keep your voice down, Lars. You might wake the guards. I'll tell you my secret if you'll tell me yours."
"What are you talking about?"
"I know there was an intercept of an SVR message about me from Borodov's cell. That must have come from you. I want to know where the message originated."
Larsen grimaced. He went to his desk and sat down and kept his hands on the top because he knew Emmy was watching to make sure he didn't reach underneath to hit the emergency button that would summon a squad of the very stern and dedicated soldiers assigned to embassy security. He considered denying any knowledge of an intercepted SVR message ... then decided that would be a waste of time. He knew this young woman, and she knew he was the primary Special Projects source for information of this sort in Greece.
"I heard about Kastraki last night," said Larsen, as though he had a bad taste in his mouth. "What a mess. Where the hell were you when Triakis and that man Hazard were grabbed?"
"Chasing a ghost. Now, about that location...."
"No. While we had all the information we required of Triakis from the Salonika debriefing, it would have been a feather in our cap if we could have delivered him to Tel Aviv. Maybe smoke out the SVR cell. But after the disaster at Kastraki, nothing more will be done. If you don't believe me, talk to Cybil." He picked up the receiver of his phone and held it towards him.
Emmy got up, took the receiver from him and put it back in its cradle. She leaned on the desk and looked him in the eye, her own eyes hooded and cold. "Tell me where the intercepted signal originated."
Larsen leaned back in his chair to put a little more distance between them . "The signal came from the island of Thera. We believe Borodov was using the old castle of Ikor as a base. But he's probably long gone by now."
"No, he's still there. He's waiting for me."
You will have to go alone. Cybil won't risk any more assets."
Emmy, smiling faintly. "I'm not an asset anymore."
The old Greek fisherman, his face as creased and weathered as the rocks above the cove into which he had skillfully guided his caique, wasn't getting any fishing done today. But he had a pocketful of drachmas, courtesy of Emmy Rose, so he didn't mind. Chain-smoking Xanthas, he expertly maneuvered the craft as close to the base of the precipice as he dared, then nodded at his son, who -- though distracted by the presence of the pretty blonde girl in the boat, lowered the brown canvas sail. The old fisherman curtly spoke to Emmy, who looked inquiringly at the younger man.
"He says beware the kallikantzari," said the latter, with an apologetic smile. "The demons. There are many in this place."
Emmy nodded. "Tell me about it." In times of danger her senses were particular acute; she was assailed by the pungent aroma of the sea, and of the old wood of the boat and the acrid fragrance of the old man's Greek cigarette. Sitting in the stern, she was running a length of rope provided by the fisherman through the trigger guard of her Beretta, behind the trigger. She tied the rope at the back of her neck, making a double knot, then peeled off her top and slung the roped pistol over a shoulder so it would hang down her back. Next she peeled off her jeans, then noticed that both the fisherman and his son were staring. She laughed softly and mussed the latter's already wind-tangled hair. She'd shed her shoes, so that all she was wearing was a thong. She didn't bother trying to explain that she had to climb a sheer rock face and didn't need wet clothes binding her, or catching on sharp extrusions.
Moments later the fisherman gave the signal that indicated the caique was as close to the rocks as he was prepared to take it. When the signal came, Emmy flipped over the stern and plunged into the water. With strong strokes that defied the push and pull of the currents trapped in the cove, she reached the base of the cliff and found a handhold. Only then did she look back -- to see that the caique was leaving the cove at a fair clip under full sail.
She looked up and was unable to see the rim that was her destination, but she'd already calculated that it was a good four hundred feet above the surface of the sea. And at the crest of this precipice was the ancient castle of Ikor. She hoped Derek was there.
Emmy began her ascent. All the techniques, all the lessons she had learned kicked in. As an experienced climber she could move up a rock face that she could not actually cling to. It was a matter of seeking counterpoise between one point of imbalance and another, defying gravity, fingers and toes finding purchase on little ripples or creases of rock that even a serin could not perch upon. The secret was not to stop, particularly at a point of imbalance, and not to press herself against the stone, which was the natural inclination. A natural -- but fatal -- inclination, because to do so cost her leverage. She did not look down, did not let fear take charge, knowing that if it ever did it would weaken her, would mean she did not make the tension foothold or handhold with conviction -- and then she would fall.
A hundred feet above the cove she found a fissure, a crack that reached diagonally up the face from her left to her right, and she made good use of it until it petered out a hundred feet further up. Then she found herself confronted by her first real obstacle -- a lip of stone she'd been unable to see from below. Wedging the heels of her feet into the tapering end of the fissure, she reached out and up and pressed the palms of her hands against the underside of the lip. Maintaining constant pressure, she moved her hands further out until she could curl her slender but powerful fingers around the edge of the lip, and even as gravity pulled her away from the cliff face she used that to kick away and curl her entire body up and over the protrusion, letting her weight slide to the right, seeking purchase with her left foot on the lip and groping upwards with her right hand to find the handhold that was the key to her survival at that moment. She found it, and a moment later was balanced on the lip, taking a deep breath before continuing her climb.
From that point on it was easier; the cliff rose at about fifteen points off the vertical, and was very weathered, with numerous holds available to her. Her agile fingers and bare toes curled and clenched and gripped. Twenty feet from the rim she found a ledge, and paused there, catching her breath. A moment later she scramble the remaining twenty feet to the rim, pistol in her grasp. The base of the castle wall was only a few feet away. Emmy moved along it thirty yards, coming finally to an opening about three feet square. Crouching, she peered into the darkness. The crawlspace angled steeply upward, and she assumed this had once been used for dumping refuse into the sea below. Once again she climbed, wedging hands and feet against the sides of the space, well aware that if she slipped and slid down the hole she would be catapulted right out over the cliff for a long, possibly fatal, descent to the sea. Thirty feet along she came to a heavy grate of strap iron, which gave way when she pushed, and a moment later she found himself in an empty stone room with a cold hearth at one end and a heavy-timbered door at the other. She tried the door, muttering a prayer under her breath. The door wasn't locked -- it swung outward on squeaking iron hinges.
She was in.
Copyright 2008, 2015 by Jason Manning. All Rights Reserved. No unauthorized reproduction for any purpose whatsoever is allowed without permission of copyright holder. This copyright notice to cover all text found in this post except that attributed to others. Copyright is not claimed on any images included in this post.