SILHOUETTES - Twenty-first instalment - Chapter thirty-eight. For more information on this novel, click Here.
He had nothing but the $30 stolen from the woman at the farmhouse. The only weapons, the kitchen knife, and the large screwdriver which he had kept. The Swiss army knife couldn't be categorised as a weapon. He also had the pack of plastic grip ties, presumably used on the farm to restrain animals when necessary. This was all he had. That was enough though. Crime was actually pretty easy, that was why it was so prevalent in society. The hard bit was getting away with it, but that is what all his training had been for, and that was entirely the purpose of this exercise.
Normally, on a mission, he could go to any cash point machine, most anywhere in the world, enter in a code, and withdraw up to a $1,000 dollars a visit. This was an arrangement the Agency had in place. It was a necessary convenience, an essential life saving convenience on occasion. This though was not permissible on the exercise. He was sure the Agency had people out searching for him, and quite possibly they were not far behind. Escape and evasion was as necessary a skill to gain as clandestine infiltration. Rules were set up for society to live by, the Agency though made up its own rules as it went along, changing and adapting to any circumstance rendered necessary. The Agency had changed a great deal since the Homeland Security legislation. It could virtually act as it liked. Protest and you were a terrorist, or a sympathiser. When Homeland Security was stated as a reason for an operation, then all kinds of opposition suddenly evaporated. No one wanted to be seen as soft on terrorism since 9-11.
After walking about a mile and a half from the multi-storey, he took a left up a dingy looking side street, the neon signs of a couple of bars had come to his attention. Across the way, cars were parked up on the sidewalk between banks of industrial waste bins belonging to the establishments along the street. The area was poorly lit, no one willingly walked along this way unless they were deliberately frequenting one or other of the bars. He walked past the first which was a lap-dancing club, and entered the next he came to which was a low rent establishment, tacky on the outside, even more decrepit inside. The eyes of every customer soaked him in as he approached the bar and took a stool. He had already been sized up and categorised as victim before he had ordered his first drink.
Situations like this he had to gauge the threats in order of probability. Three youths, wearing red scarves that marked them out as members of some local gang, one black, one white, the other of South American descent, playing pool at the back were put in first place, the door to the men's room was behind the table, he was a stranger, they would not think twice about following him in and robbing him. They would be armed with blades probably, doubtful if they carried any firearms or tasers, those would more likely be hidden in the vehicle they had arrived in.
Another possible, number two in the list of threats, was an edgy pair of junkies at the end of the bar. One had the shakes of either drink or drug withdrawal, they perhaps would follow when he left hoping to rumble him for drug or drink money.
A third attack scenario may come from a smartly dressed middle-aged man propping up the bar at the end, drinking some weird looking concoction, and airing the place with a gaze of authority. He had a cruel commanding demeanour. More likely he would call some people to wait in the street outside with his description. This would be a more likely threat perhaps if he had been better dressed and presented himself. His present circumstances may not deem it worth the while, depending on what he regarded as a reasonable score for the set up. Of the remainder of the clientèle in the bar, he didn't perceive any threats at all.
Dave ordered a Coors and decided. Discreetly under the bar, he put the pack of ties in an inside pocket of his jacket, and slid the screwdriver up a sleeve, it was far easier to conceal than the kitchen knife. He dropped the hold-all at his feet. The pool table odds of three-to-one was doable but highly risky. The potential junkies were easily doable and most probably risk free. Hanging around too long and perhaps having to face a gang of unknowns outside organised by the well dressed man, was not doable and highly risky. The pool table bunch would be the most lucrative, perhaps not financially, but in regards to accessing a vehicle with usable weapons, very appealing. He would get nothing from the junkies, except perhaps an urgent need for a medical check if he was contaminated, in a fracas, by any needles they may have about their person.
He could always move on to the next bar where he may get a better choice of pickings, but news of an easy mark stranger would get around quickly. Time was of the essence. Two minutes later his choice had been decided. A young white girl, pretty and tattooed, wearing a halter top and a pair of tight black jeans entered. The barman pointed to the pool table when seeing her enquiring gaze, she waved recognition, made her way to the pool table, her slim ass wiggling as she passed, hugged the youngest of the trio, the South American, who then grabbed his jacket from a pile in the corner, and with an exchange of farewells, the couple made their way out the bar, his arm around her like a trophy, and a sneer for everyone he passed on the way to the exit.
Dave ordered another beer. The barman eyed him suspiciously and Dave wondered if he was thinking he might be a cop. He hadn't thought of that scenario, but it didn't make any difference. The odds were now an acceptable two-to-one, he would be leaving shortly.
He waited till the two junkies had visited the men's room and returned, and until the well dressed man had ventured there and back. When he was sure it was empty of other clientèle he made his way there, he accidentally nudged the large white youth as he passed the pool table, and mumbled an apology that made him sound as if he was the worse for wear with alcohol. He got a grunt in return, and a threatening look, but nothing else.
Once inside the men's room, he checked the place out, no other exits, not surprising, though there was a longer corridor to the side before the entrance that may have been a route to a fire exit at the back. Having no definitive knowledge of the floor plan, and suspecting even if the corridor did lead to a back entrance, that in all probability it would be chained and padlocked shut, he decided he would have to leave the bar by the way he entered.
He had the screwdriver hidden up a sleeve and made a pretence of using the washbasin when he heard the door open. The black and white youths both came down the three steps. The white youth held a knife in front of him, the other stayed by the steps armed by nothing but a menacing look. Just as he was about to open his mouth, Dave's arm thrust out, grabbed the knife hand in a flash, twisted, and while he did so he levered his full weight behind his other arm and punched into the temple in the side of the youth's head, he fell to the floor instantly. The black youth had begun to move forward, Dave let go of the arm he still held, let it drop, and jerked his arm till the screwdriver slide down his palm into view. Deciding to withdraw now, the black youth began to turn but Dave leapt forward and pushed him against the door jamb, held the blade of the screwdriver up to his eye, and hauled him back towards his fallen buddy.
'Money, keys, in the sink,' he ordered, and hearing a groan from below, kicked his heel into the face of the prone youth.
'You don't know who...'
Dave pushed the blade of the screwdriver into the flesh just below the eye socket and scratched it across the skin till blood appeared.
'OK, OK!' The protesting stopped and the hands of the youth began to empty the contents of his pockets into the sink. When done, Dave rammed his head into the wall, and then again, till the youth was too stunned to fight back. Without a struggle, he forced him to the floor, he quickly bound his hands and legs with plastic ties. He had the knife in his hands now, a nasty looking stiletto with a six inch double-edged blade. In under a minute the white youth, still in a daze, was also trussed up and he ran through his pockets, one of the items was the keys of a vehicle.
Quickly, he dragged them one by one into a cubicle. No one had entered yet, though it would only be a matter of time. He was under no illusion that the rest of the clientèle knew what was going on, though they would expect him to be the victim. He used more plastic ties to truss them both together, then removed the trainers from the white youth, removed his socks, then rammed one down each of their mouths as far as he could without risking being bitten. He closed the cubicle door, he could hear their grunts but they wouldn't be audible in the bar. He quickly checked himself over, stuffed the contents of the sink into his pockets, a wallet, some powder in a plastic bag, a book of matches, he left some coins and a pack of Marlboro, then walked out the men's room, holding the screwdriver up his sleeve and the stiletto in his pocket. He headed straight to the bar, slowly, a nonchalant look for the surprised faces that stared at him, picked up his hold-all, took a swig of beer, then waved at the barman and left, leaving a ten dollar note for the drinks.
Once outside he pressed the beeper on the vehicle keys, the indicators on a late model blue panel van, with overlarge tyres and heavily tinted windows, flashed twice and he made for it. He had less than a minute, he reckoned, to get the hell away. He opened the van door put the key in the ignition, it started with a click, he shoved it into drive, and pulled into the road. As he reached the junction and began a right turn, in the door mirror he saw a crowd spilling from the bar on to the street, he heard cries of anger and rage, and then he was on the main road and driving away.
He drove till he saw signs for a country park and he followed those till on the outskirts of Knoxville. The park was a bit of a local tourist attraction, with signs advertising 24 hour access, camping and boating facilities, fishing and hunting activities. Once he had turned into the road to the park, he was on a one lane drive which he followed till it came to a parking area overlooking a vista of hills and woodland. He parked in the shadow of some large trees right at the back. A few other cars littered the area, but none seemed occupied at the moment. At this late hour the owners were probably deep in the wood or by the lakeside camping fishing or sleeping in a hut or a tent.
A quick search of the van uncovered two hand guns, a colt .45 automatic and a snub nosed revolver, a box of cartridges for both pistols, two more knifes, a large Bowie knife and a machete, a large brown envelope containing a multitude of clear poly bags of drugs in saleable quantities. The same type as the one removed from the youth in the bar. He also found two note books, one a cryptic list of probable drug clients, the other looked like a payment book of instalments for loans or protection or rent or whatever. Slipping over the front bench seat he scouted about in the back of the van. Apart from a stained mattress on the floor, a spare wheel bolted on the side and a few tools in a metal box, there was nothing of interest. When he lifted the mattress though and saw the padlocked lid covering the newly welded compartment flush with the floor of the van, he knew he was on to something.
Taking a hammer and chisel from the metal box, he began hitting at the metal hasp, the padlock itself was reinforced steel, it would take him all night to cut through that. The hasp came away in a matter of minutes and he had the lid open. Under the cover was a concealed compartment perhaps three feet by two, and around a foot deep, it was recessed on one side and no doubt from under the van was disguised to look like a fuel tank. Inside the compartment were four sturdy cloth bags. The first he picked out and looked inside was full of drugs, the same as the stuff in the smaller bags recovered from the glove box, only this was in bulk and hadn't been cut into saleable quantities. The second cloth bag contained the same drug, but a lesser amount, this seemed to be the working bag. The third bag contained money, a great deal of money, all in rolls, many rolls, and he estimated a thousand dollars a roll, then there was perhaps near enough one-hundred thousand dollars here. He laughed to himself. Can it have been that easy? He didn't dare hope to believe it, but he pulled out the fourth bag, and sure enough, it also contained money, this time though in shrink wrapped bundles, each bundle held one-hundred dollar notes, and there looked liked one-hundred notes in each bundle. A slight panic set in, he had to get out of here. This kind of money and commodity had protection. He pulled his hold-all from the front and seeing it wouldn't do for this amount of money, he ripped the top off the mattress with a knife, tore away the cloth, put the money in the middle, and tied it up in a secure manner. One of the guns, the automatic, he put in the back of his waistband, the other and the cartridges, he put in his hold-all. The knife he kept in his hand. He pulled the side door open, the park was quiet as death. He slipped into the tree line and studied back the way to the entrance from the road. Nothing was moving, no sign of life anywhere. After a minute he found a small hollow next to a mulberry bush, he placed the hold-all and the sack of money within, covered them over with some bracken and leaves, and made his way back to the van. All was as he had left it.
The easiest way to deal with a tracker was to find it and disable it, but there was no way of knowing if additional tracking gadgets had been fitted in the van, and knowing the main purpose it was used for, it was very likely some form of electronic tracking was active. He dropped to the ground and reached underneath until he found the fuel line which he cut through easily with the bowie knife and bent to the ground. A few drops of fuel dripped but nothing substantial would fall until he had removed the filler cap to allow in air and stop the vacuum effect. As he removed the cap, he heard a roaring of engines coming down the one lane road from the highway. Speeding headlights suggested he had a minute or two to escape. He would have preferred a bit more time to set up an explosive effect, but a slow burn would do the job just the same, he could hear the fuel running freely underneath the vehicle now, a quick look showed a substantial puddle of gasoline had already formed. He took off one of his socks, put his shoe back on, reached under and soaked the sock in the gasoline. The headlights from the one lane road were almost at the park entrance now, he crept back to the tree line, took the book of matches he had pocketed, struck one and held it to the sock, when the sock caught up in flame, he threw it under the van and without a further glance or thought, about turned and ran into the trees. Behind him he heard vehicles entering the park, and he heard a swoosh and surge as the gasoline took to flame. He got to the hollow where his loot and hold-all was stored, took them both, and quickly made way deeper into the undergrowth. Ahead was darkness, behind him the sky was alight with the glow of flames, the van had really ignited now and it seemed was a burning inferno. A gunshot cracked out from the park. It wasn't aimed at him, or anywhere, more it seemed a shot in frustration at the loss of a valuable cargo of money and goods. Behind him he heard more gunshots. Losing a great deal of money and a substantial quantity of drugs had made some people very angry, he felt good about that. He could see very little of the way ahead, but he kept on slowly, steadily, cautiously, just in case he had been spotted though he was sure he was clean away. After a quarter of a mile he found a narrow track that lead off west or east. He turned west, further into the country and further away from Knoxville.
Sirens were now blaring far back in the direction he had come from. He was exhausted now, but he would keep going for a few hours more. He had to make some distance before he could relax.
Next instalment coming soon...
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