by Pico ヨハネス
Mark is targeted by some spy network but escapes with his young family.
Lean and agile Mark Rathman strode easily along the trail. The birch trees still had green leaves but the wind nipped with the chill bite of fall. The springy black ground muffled his footfalls into silence. He stepped over moss and lichen covered rocks and rotted branches that had fallen along the path. He sent a few small animals scurrying for cover at his sudden appearance. A black fly buzzed around his head a few times. He ignored it. It would leave as soon as it got a good whiff of his insect repellent. He stopped in front of an almost invisible hunting blind and prepared to enter. A salt lick hung from the trunk of a nearby tree.
A distant sound froze him for a moment. He heard it again. Sounded like a metal tool hitting something solid, definitely out of place. His friend Selmer Ebert sold Mark hunting rights to this piece of property and no one else was supposed to be out here. He thought a few moments before deciding to strike out in the direction of the sound to investigate. He checked the crossbow slung across his back and began picking his way through the bush toward the sound.
Mark’s curiosity grew, as he got closer. At least two people were digging from the sound but the rhythm wasn’t strong and steady. A deep voice accompanied the digging. He couldn’t make out the words but they were harsh and threatening. Mark circled around a little making the voice his target. He still moved without a sound but with renewed urgency. He knew the lay of the land and knew the noise came from a small clearing in a gully. He started making out words now.
“C’mon gramps! Finish it up. I haven’t got all day.” Prodded a heavily accented voice.
Mark got a glimpse of the diggers: An elderly grey-haired man red faced with exertion and a young blond girl. The diggers had duct tape over their mouths. Mark couldn’t get a clear view of the man growling directions at the pair. A tree sat in the way. He could see the gun the man waved though emphasizing the importance of his words. Mark worked his way closer.
“Girl, no more rest! Get back in the hole and help gramps!”
The girl turned to comply and Mark saw sheer terror written across her face. She climbed down into the hole next to the old man and jabbed at the dirt with her shovel.
The speed of events then surprised Mark. The gun stopped waving as the old man stood up straight for a moment. Mark knew what would happen and reacted as fast as he could. He reached for one of his throwing knives as the gun fired. The old man’s head snapped back and he fell backwards to the ground. The throw left Mark’s hand as the gun swung over to its second intended target. A long throw for Mark but his aim good. The knife caught the gun-wielding arm in the wrist. The gun fell to the ground with an accompanying cry of pain and then a foreign oath. Mark crashed forward throwing away any pretence at stealth. His target stepped into view. His dark eyes went wide at the sight of Mark advancing and he turned and fled. Mark thundered after him in pursuit. He would have caught the man in fairly short order anyway but he helped himself out by throwing a bola bola into the man’s legs tangling him up. He fell to the ground hard. Before Mark sprang on him he rolled over and popped something into his mouth. He offered no resistance as Mark grabbed the front of his dress shirt and dragged him back to where the girl cowered in the hole next to her fallen grandfather. Mark noticed the shooter’s eyes roll up as he dropped him to the ground.
“What the hell is going on here?” Mark muttered to himself.
He had seen the man pop something into his mouth and Mark stuck a couple fingers in to retrieve it. They came back with a small broken capsule. He checked the man’s pulse… nothing. He was dead. He went through the man’s pockets and came up with a cell phone, wallet and another electronic devise. On closer examination he realized it was some kind of GPS tracking device.
“Shit!” What kind of mess had he involved himself in now?
He pocketed the cell phone and the wallet but let the GPS tracker on the dead man’s chest. He shifted his attention over to the little girl watching him from a corner of the hole intended to be her grave. She shrank back in fear as he approached. He knew his hunting camouflaged clothes and his painted face weren’t going to inspire any trust but he couldn’t do anything about that right now.
He stepped down into the hole and lifted the shaking girl up. He carried her to a flat rock a little way away from the recent action and set her down there. She stared wide-eyed as Mark carefully pulled and peeled away the duct tape sealing her mouth shut. He offered his water flask. One good sign at least, she drank.
When she finished, Mark asked, “What is your name?”
The girl didn’t answer. She just stared.
Mark tried again. “Was that man with the grey hair your grandfather?”
This time he got a perceptible nod from her.
“The man with the gun. Is he alone?”
She shook her head no.
“He has a partner?”
She nodded again.
“Where did he go?”
The girl shrugged.
“Look, I know you’re scared of me but I want to help you. To help you I need you to talk to me. Okay?”
Her wide frightened eyes didn’t tell him anything new but he pressed on.
“Could you tell me your name?”
“Sandy… Sandra Middleton,” she finally whispered in halting voice..
“Good girl, Sandy.” Mark gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile. “Now tell me about the other man when he left.”
“He took the van with the birds.”
“My birds,” she whispered lowering her eyes.
None of that seemed relevant for the moment, so Mark moved on. “Did they say anything about where he was going or when he would be back?”
She looked back up at him. “They said he was going to take care of someone named Radmin and come back.”
Panic surged through Mark. Christine and little Sammy were back at the house by themselves.
“Did they say Rathman?”
“I am Mark Rathman. We need to leave here and we have to leave your grandfather. We can’t help him anymore. Do you understand?”
Sandy hesitated but nodded again.
“I will try not to go too fast. Just follow me okay. There is a ridge about a quarter mile from here. At the top of that ridge I can try to send a message home. It’s another half-mile walk to my house. I hope we don’t have to rush.”
Mark set out and Sandy followed. The trek proceeded with an excruciating slow pace for Mark but he couldn’t leave Sandy by herself. He bit his tongue. Being harsh with his young charge wouldn’t accomplish anything good at this point. He managed to stay patient till they reached the top of the low ridge. Once there he unclipped the two way radio from his belt and tapped out a message on the microphone for Christine. He waited and then heaved a huge sigh of relief when an answer tapped back. Trouble had come but apparently she had it under control. The rest of the slow hike proved easier to take.
The black rental van sat abandoned in the driveway when Mark and Sandy arrived. Mark went right on by straight to the front door. Christine opened it up before he got there. Her blonde shoulder length hair looked a little dishevelled but otherwise she looked unhurt.
“What’s going on, Mark?”
“Hell if I know. I’m betting this has something to do with Marv Lindsey but it doesn’t make any sense to me. What happened here?”
“Some guy rung the door bell and when I opened the door he pulled out a gun and forced his way inside. He turned his back on me for a second in the kitchen and I crowned him with an iron pot. I trussed him up. He’s still there… too heavy for me to move. Who’s our guest?”
“This is Sandy. Sandy this is my wife Christine. Follow her she will take care of you for now while I go check on our other guest.” Mark then bent and whispered in Christine’s ear. “Sandy just saw her grandfather shot in the head and thinks I killed the guy who did it. Sit her down in the living room get a blanket around her and get her something to drink.”
Christine smiled at Sandy and herded her into the house. Mark followed them in and walked straight to the kitchen. The would be assassin’s eyes went wide as soon as Mark stepped into view.
“I already searched him, Mark,” Christine called out from the other room. “The stuff he was carrying is all on top of the fridge.”
“Good job sweetheart. You even found his poison capsule.”
“So that’s what that was.”
Mark addressed their captive, “You’re going to be the talk of the town by the time your buddies retrieve you. Bested by a ninety-five pound woman in slippers and a night coat. You’re going to wish you’d taken that poison by the time this is over.”
The man exuded defiance staring at Mark.
“I haven’t got time to torture any info out of you, so you can relax. Besides that’s not my way. I’ll let you know if I think of something and change my mind.”
Christine shuffled back into the room. “What do you think?”
“This guy and his buddy both look middle eastern to me so I think this might have to do with terrorism. Not acting like terrorists though… more like cold war spies. I don’t know why I’m on their hit list. They both have GPS tracking devices on them so I’m willing to bet that whoever is in charge is going to know they screwed up soon and send in people who can finish the job and clean up the mess. We need to pack up and get out of here before they arrive… How’s our friend Sandy?”
“Sammy took a shine to her and is sitting on the couch with her chatting away. She looks a lot better now. The little guy is doing a better job with her than I can. How much time do you think we have before the cavalry arrives?”
“No real clue. We’re well off the beaten path but I still don’t want to waste any time. We’ll take the old van. Start packing. I have to check out the minivan in the driveway and then I’ll be helping you.”
“Where are we going to go?”
“Can’t tell you in front of our guest here. We’re leaving him. Someone will be here for him long before he starves to death. Great job tying him by the way, he’s helpless.”
The minivan had a few interesting items in it. Mark took everything and put it in the back of his van. The computer equipment and a couple backpacks didn’t surprise him much. Likely a lot of useful information would come to light when he had a chance to look everything over. The cage with half a dozen cooing pigeons in it though had him puzzled. He moved them into the van as well and then went back in the house.
“Sandy, I want you to go into the kitchen and take whatever you need for those birds. They’re yours right?” Mark waited for her to nod and then continued, “It’s going to be a long drive. They’re already in the back of the van behind the house.”
Mark was grateful that Christine learned to pack light. “Don’t worry about being neat. If they are coming over from Ottawa we have maybe another fifteen minutes before we start pushing our luck.”
“It’s all ready. Just have to throw it in the truck. I’m going to strap Sammy in.”
Mark hustled everything into the truck. Grabbed the cordless phone, the computer tower and his case full of CD’s to finish the job. Sandy had given the birds a dish of water and found a bag of cornmeal as well.
“Everybody into the truck. Christine, don’t bother locking the door. They’ll get in anyway and this way they won’t have to break anything.”
“You know you still have camouflage paint all over your face.”
“Yup that’s why you’re driving. I’ll get cleaned up in the back. Head into town, I have to tip off the police from the payphone. Maybe we’ll really complicate things for whoever is behind all this.”
By the time Mark climbed in the back Christine had the van running. Seconds later they were on the road. Mark crammed himself into the tiny bathroom all the way in the back and went to work cleaning off the make up making himself look human again. He finished before they got to town.
“Christine. Where did you pack my jeans?”
“Uhm… I think they’re still hanging on your chair in the bedroom.”
“Great camo pants until Wasaga Beach then.”
“Sorry. We’re going to the cottage then?”
“Yup. We get to be the Vandenbergs again.”
“What about Sandy here? Who is she going to be?”
“I’ll think of something, probably a visiting relative. ”
They stopped briefly in town. Long enough for Mark to call the local police tell them where the bodies were and advise them to contact CSIS. Mark took over the wheel so that Christine could be with Sammy in the back of the truck.
“Let me know if either of you get car sick back there. We can pull over if you need a break.”
“I’ll be okay. The door to the front is open and I can see where we’re going. I know the further and faster we get away from home the safer we are.”
Sandy sat in the seat next to Mark staring out the window. She kept her hands folded her lap sitting almost motionless.
“How you feeling, Sandy?” Mark asked.
Her only response was to turn and look at him.
“Any idea why those men wanted to kill you?”
She started to shake her head no but stopped and said, “I think I found something of theirs…”
“Can you tell me what it was?”
“They were a couple of computer memory sticks. I put them back where I found them.”
“Do we have them with us?”
"Yes", she said as fresh shadow of fear passed over her face.
Mark decided not to pursue that line of thought further. She returned her blank gaze to the scene drifting by outside.
“When we get to our cottage we’ll try and work out a way to get you back to your family and back in school.”
Sandy turned her gaze back to Mark, her clear blue eyes brimming over with tears. After a very long pause she finally whispered, “I live alone with my Grandpa.”
Mark felt her pain in his own chest, as he understood. Understanding didn’t help though and his words failed him.
A short time down the road Christine called from the back of the truck, “Mark I didn’t use the toilet before leaving. Can we make a pit stop soon?”
“Can you wait till we get to Perth? We aren’t far away. We have to stop there to pick up supplies.”
“I think I can. Smells pretty bad back here though. I think little Sammy’s diaper exploded again.”
In Perth they picked up groceries and everyone had their bathroom break. Christine noticed Sandy’s tears and suggested she sit in the back with Sam. Sandy gratefully accepted now that the eco-disaster in the toddlers pants had been dealt with. From Perth they picked up highway seven and headed west across eastern Ontario. Mark and Christine spoke in low tones trying to sort out what they knew. With breaks they arrived in Wasaga Beach late in the evening tired but for the time being safe.
Word count: 2757