Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Humble Devil - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Liene and Hema barely had the time to close the car door, when they saw the second Land Rover pull around the corner. Even through the wind shield it was clearly visible how excited Cree was. Henrik and Neo, on the other hand, were looking as gloomy as always.  All three men jumped out of the car, not bothering to switch off the engine and unloaded two big cases and a backpack from the trunk, dropping them onto the pavement with a deep thud. Neo then headed back to the first car, throwing a passing glance at Liene who tried to look as inconspicuous as humanly possible; while Henrik jumped back into the other. A few moments later both vehicles took off, letting out an ear piercing tire squeal.  Cree sarcastically saluted them as a farewell, and then turned to the duo.
“Well, well, well,” He spoke with a sarcastic grin; then picked up the backpack and threw it to Liene. “Someone’s been naughty! Glad ya made it back in time.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Schwachkopp” Liene winked and scurried off towards the hotel – the cold wind was getting to her.
Cree snorted and turned back to the two cases on the ground.
“Wait a sec, I’ll help you out.” Hema hurried over and grabbed the handle of one of them; yanking it upward with all his strength. However his knees ended up buckling instead, as the surprisingly heavy case refused to leave the ground.
“Woah woah,” Cree immediately waved his hand towards him. “Let’s not touch that, shall we bro? I’ll take care of this; just hold the damn door open for me for a sec, ‘kay?”
Hema flushed and let go of the bag, obediently heading for the main entrance. He was growing increasingly frustrated with himself and others, however. ‘Tis true that he was never the “muscle” of their group, but he didn’t appreciate them treating him like some fragile child either. As he held the door in open position and turned towards Cree, somewhere deep inside he couldn’t help but malevolently hope that Cree will fail to pick up the bags as well.
“Oh ‘cmon, at least buy me dinner before ya start undressing me with yer eyes bro!” Cree grinned nastily as he approached. Hema flushed once again and moved out of the way, letting him pass.

                Ten minutes later everyone gathered in one of the bigger VIP rooms that Cree took for himself. The faint smell of alcohol hung in the air, as Melo and Wolf dragged in chairs for themselves from the unused rooms.  Rami was sitting on the bed, beside the two cases that the sarcastic bastard had just recently brought in with himself. Hema and Liene seated themselves on the spacious sofa; Liene popping open a bottle of cider that she picked up on her way. Cree on the other hand relaxed in a comfortable velvet recliner with a glass of rum in his hand. He was still breathing heavily from pulling his cases up four flights of stairs. Melo couldn’t help but notice the label on the bottle, carefully placed on a small glass table beside Cree. “Appleton Estate 30.” Good lord… so much for not being wasteful. Cree didn’t seem to mind however, as he nonchalantly sipped the obscenely expensive drink. The rich, warm taste of the exquisite liquor seemed to give him his strength back.  As soon as everyone was properly settled in, he carefully placed the lead glass tumbler on the table, and dug himself deeper into the recliner with an ominous smile.
“Alrighty now, five idiots, two hours,” As he was speaking, Cree threw his hands outward, accentuation each number in a flashy manner. “What did ya’ll manage to cobble together?”
This came as no surprise to the group; Cree used to do this little ritual all the time.  
Rami spoke out first, setting the tone.
“Adersund, about nine hundred miles north of Stockholm. No digital news or media available on the web that would encourage tourism.” Rami spoke in a calm, static manner, listing every discrepancy as to the point as possible. “There are traces of the information being hastily removed. Whatever caused this city to be taken off the grid – it’s recent.”
That said; Rami tapped twice on the panel of his laptop. Melo spoke out next, answering the signal.
“Well, we took an eight hour long drive in inconspicuous cars from the biggest airport in Sweden, instead of using our private jet to land in a local airport. Also upon arrival we were being spied on by a guy in the lobby. Professional. Blond hair, blue denim jacket. I’d say about… six feet tall; maybe less. Wouldn’t be able to pick him out of the crowd, to be honest.”
A moment of silence hung in the air.  Nobody else seemed to have noticed the man. Satisfied with the reaction, and himself, Melo continued.
“Throw in the fact that Cree has taken precautions to protect us against assassination, and I would guess that we’re under government surv. Am I right, you bastard?”
Cree snorted.
Melo smiled and leaned back into his chair, tapping twice on his armrest. 

This time it was Wolf’s turn to speak. He stood up from his chair, and started pacing about the room impatiently.
“Interesting…  I spoke to the bartender. There seems to be some kind of event coming up in two weeks’ time. It was marked on the calendar. But the moment I asked about it he got defensive, said that it is a reminder for an upcoming storm. A load of bull, if you ask me.” Wolf took off his glasses and began nervously cleaning them, before tapping twice on the wall.  

Liene didn’t bother to stand up.
“We… walked about for a bit,” She winked at Hema. “And found out that a lot of the houses on the outskirts are abandoned.”
“You walked all the way to the outskirts?” Melo raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“Yes.” Liene lied without as much as batting an eyelid. “The whole city has a bit of a ghost town feeling to it. I don’t like it.”
“Couldn’t be worse than the water caves though,” Hema snorted. “However I do see where you’re coming from. The few people that we’ve seen exhibit signs of stress and paranoia. All of them are spooked by something.”
“So…” Melo took a nice long sip of his scotch before rounding everything up. “As of late, something happens in this town, regularly enough to be put on calendar and freak out the citizens. The government does not want it to get out and removes every bit of info about the city from the web; however it does not stop the people from moving out. We are brought in as a last resort and are under constant surveillance to make sure we don’t leak anything out. Sounds about right?”
Cree smiled so wide it looked like his face was about to snap and jumped up from his chair. “BINGO!”
“Alright, bear with me for a moment…” Cree picked up his backpack and pulled out a thick folder. Same folder that they’ve seen three days ago back at the lounge. He handed it to Wolf and took a deep breath, getting ready for a long winded monologue.

“You are indeed quite correct about almost everything, my friends. Here’s the short version of the story. It all began some good three years ago, on a windy April afternoon. A senior citizen by the name of Agneta Olsson was on her way to buy some milk, when she spotted somebody lying on the asphalt, in the middle of the road. Being a compassionate good citizen she hurried over to see if the person needed some help. Ironically enough, she was the one that needed help afterwards, poor thing nearly scored a heart attack. The body was sadly beyond helping. Its head and both of its hands were missing. The forensic team were unable to locate the missing parts, or identify the exact way in which the injuries were inflicted – by all means it seemed like they were quite simply ripped off. In fact even identifying the body was impossible. The male victim was wearing naught but his underpants at the time. The specialists were able to tell that he was undressed before he was killed, as identified by the bruises on legs and torso, from when the body fell over.  

“Now here’s where it starts to get weird. At first the police figured that the victim was one of the citizens.  However no people had gone missing from the city in months.  Also the forensic team was able to determine a disturbing detail – the hands of the victim were removed before he died. They could tell from the blood splatter that he wandered a few meters between getting them ripped off and his head removed as well. Also from the blood patterns they could tell that the cause of death was decapitation, and not something else. He remained alive and conscious all the way until his head got ripped off. The gruesome murder shook the little city to the bone and yet, as if to mock everyone, there were no clues left behind on the scene. And without the identity of the victim the investigation stumbled, fell and was forever placed on the shelf along with other dead cases. It was to be forgotten and disappear into obscurity.

“Or so they thought, anyway. Right up until another windy morning on exactly the same day next month; when they found the second body. It lay in the middle of the road, much like the previous victim. Head and hands removed and all clothes gone save for underpants. This time investigative teams were called in from the capital. The official theory was that of a serial killer. However after three weeks of combing the scene with a fine toothed brush, even the Stockholm big shots came up with nothing. The teams were pulled out and the case shelved. …Until a week later, on the same day as before, a third body was found. By this point the government officials were having none of it and hushed the entire deal. Nobody was willing to risk such shameful failings of the police force to get out to the media. The city was flooded with officers and a curfew was instated for the three days around the projected murders. They were going to stand awake for three days, hoping to catch the bastard that was committing these horrible murders.

“…The fourth body was found on the same day as before, in an alleyway only five meters away from the nearest police patrol stand. Many officers lost their jobs that night, but it did little to stop the mysterious killings. Fifth body was found a month later, as if on schedule. And then the sixth… The seventh… Since then, for three years, on the third of every month a handless, headless body was found in the little rural city of Adersund. For a grand total of forty-one victims. We are contracted by a certain individual in the Swedish government to make sure there are no forty-second, forty-third and et cetera. We have three weeks to solve this case and neutralize the killer, before the elections take place.”
Cree finished speaking and sat back down into his recliner. The atmosphere in the room was so thick – one could cut it with a knife. Everyone was slowly processing the information, trying to comprehend the horror of what was facing them. Hema shivered at the irony of the situation: this was definitely worse than the water caves.

                “So what do ya say, my friends? Are ya in, or out?” Cree asked with a serious look on his face.
Rami slowly closed the lid of his laptop.
“I’m guessing this is why you didn’t tell us back at the lounge?”
Cree nodded. “Indeed. I was afraid the temptation to just say no would be too much.”
Rami frowned and stood up from the bed.
“I don’t know what infuriates me more; that you still don’t trust us with these things, or that you used such a tactic to force our hand. Either way every deal has a business side that we must cover first. How much are we getting?”
Everyone turned to Cree, who stood up and approached one of the cases on the bed. He opened it up and one-by-one pulled out five brown envelopes of considerable thickness. He threw one of them to Rami, who caught it with ease.
“Ten grand each. Plus another forty if we succeed. Fifty grand each in total. You get it cash in hand, no declarations or taxes.”
The room fell silent once again, as everyone picked up and examined their envelopes. Fifty thousand pounds in three weeks was an overwhelming amount of money. Easily more than most of them made in a year. Granted the risk was most likely high as well, but even if they failed – they still got to keep the ten thousand. Finally this gig started to come together.
“By the way, where’s yours, Schwachkopp?” Liene raised her eyes towards Cree, tapping twice on her envelope.
“Oh,” he shrugged in response. “I got paid my considerably bigger share back in Dresden. How d’ya think I paid for all of this?”
Liene examined him musingly. How did he really? However much Cree got paid, she really doubted it would be enough to pay for a personal jet, of all things.
“Well then, since you have apparently already spent your share on all these luxuries, how could I say no? I’m in.” She replied with a cheerful tone and raised her slim bottle of cider in the air as a salute.
Rami muttered under his breath, then stuffed the envelope into his pocket.
“You’ll be the death of me, bastard. I’m in.”
Wolf and Hema shared a look then stood up as well.
“Ain’t gonna pass up a ten thousand cash trip. We’re in.” Hema spoke out with a grim smirk on his face.

All eyes the turned to Melo, who was still sitting in his chair, silent. He didn’t even touch his envelope; it still lay on his armrest as if nothing happened.
“Well bro, what’ya say?” Cree asked, picking up his tumbler with rum from the table.

Melo studied him with a bemused looks for a second, then calmly took another sip of his scotch and raised the glass in the air.

“Bitch please. You had me at hello.”

                Some good half an hour later, Cree told the guys to get back to their rooms and get some rest. Their real challenge was going to start the next day, and he needed them all well-rested and level-headed. Melo was the last one to leave the room, when Cree stopped him, and asked to close the door.
“There’s one more thing, Stef.” It’s been a very long time since Melo heard his friend call him by that name. A very long time indeed. Melo tensed up; most of his inebriation gone.

“What is it? Please tell me it’s good.”

Cree smiled faintly, then flung both of the cases open and signalled Melo to come closer. He quickly removed a few protective layers of clothing and electronics, leaving Melo to gawk at the sight. And what a sight it was! Both cases were filled with weapons. All of them were very familiar, if a bit unsettlingly nostalgic. Two FAMAS assault rifles lay at the centre the case, six 9mm Berettas were stowed in a neat little line. Three silenced UMP.45’s completed the picture. The other case contained body armour, ammunition and a Benelli M4 semi-automatic shotgun. While he personally never fired one before, it was still familiar to Melo. M4’s were quite popular back in Afghanistan, due to how essential they were for breaching.
He shook his head to avoid another flashback then turned to Cree, whispering.
“How in the hell did you get all this?” His voice was a little raspy from surprise.

“I have my ways,” Cree smirked with a grim expression, then pulled out one Beretta, reloaded with a slight of hand and handed it to Melo. “I am not kidding when I say that we’re in deep shit, brother. Whether we succeed or fail, this gun will fire. And when it does, I’d rather you be holding it, than a blond haired swede in a denim jacket.”

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