Read Plan B Online

Authors: Joseph Finder

Tags: #Mystery, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Thrillers, #Espionage, #Crime

Plan B (2 page)

BOOK: Plan B
9.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

I waited for Benito to translate. Then I went on, “Believe me, I’m perfectly happy to turn right around. I don’t mind at all. Fortunately, your boss has video evidence that you denied us entry.” I pointed to the swiveling CCTV. “So whatever happens to this girl, it’s on your head. Not mine. Or the ambassador’s.” I paused a beat for Benito to translate, then I said loudly to him, “
Vamos
.”

A flurry of Spanish exploded from the intercom. I don’t know much Spanish, but it sounded like the guard had changed his mind. Now he was pleading with us to enter. With a buzz and a mechanical hum, the gates began to swing open.

A tiny smile played on Benito’s lips.

I could see his mental tumblers click into place. Now he understood why I timed this for exactly two in the morning, just after the shift change. When Soler was out of town.

The master of the house was gone, and no one was in charge. A fresh set of guards had taken charge. No one had told them that an English-speaking doctor had been called in. No one had told them that Soler’s American “guest” was ill. No one had told them anything.

And in an information vacuum, they’d default to the safest move.

Calling their boss in Madrid to check would not be a wise idea. Not at two in the morning. No one wanted to wake him up and risk his fury. Yet turning away an ambulance could be a serious misstep. What if something really was wrong with the girl and Soler really had called for an ambulance? Refusing entry to the ambulance would end not only their careers but possibly their lives, too.

Self-preservation. That’s what really makes the world go around. The mass of humanity cares about nothing so much as protecting their paychecks. I’d never forget what some cockney night watchman at a London office building once told me as he refused to admit me after hours even though I claimed I’d left my laptop at my desk. “Sorry, guv,” he’d said. “More’n my job’s worf, it is.”

Benito accelerated along a cobblestone drive lined with cypress trees. It snaked past terraced gardens and the stone columns of a cloister and then ended in a semicircle in front of the mansion. As we pulled up, the wooden front door swung open. It was a massive slab of ancient oak with dark iron escutcheons and knobs and nailheads that looked like it had been salvaged from one of Torquemada’s inquisition chambers.

“Benito,” I said.

For a few seconds he didn’t reply. I heard him swallow. I could sense his nerves. “Yes.”

“You can do this.”

“Of course I can do this. It’s just…”

“Don’t worry,” I said.

“I am not liking this at all.”

“Remember,” I said, “we always have plan B.”

“And what is this plan B?”

“I’ll let you know when the time comes.”

He groaned.

A guard emerged, dressed in navy blue slacks and a long-sleeved light blue shirt with a badge of some sort. A black nylon holster on his right hip. A pistol, I noted. Easily accessible but not quite at the ready.
 

He hustled out to help us. Meanwhile Benito and I raced around to the back of the ambulance, opened the doors, and pulled a gurney from its rack. We unfolded it and set it up on the cobblestones. Then we took out all the standard equipment, the heavy bags that held the meds and the airway supplies and oxygen. Heaping everything onto the gurney, as we’d rehearsed, we wheeled it, rattling and jangling, over the cobblestones, then lifted it up to the porch. The guard rushed ahead of us and held the door open. We left the gurney on the porch, as per standard protocol, and put the equipment bags on our backs.

“Where is she?” I demanded.

The guard said something in Spanish and pointed toward an immense curving marble staircase. I didn’t need Benito to translate for me. She was upstairs.

But I was surprised at his deferential tone. I heard the word “doctor,” which sounds the same in Spanish and English. Apparently the white coat and tie and the stethoscope dangling from my neck really did lend me an air of authority. It works for real doctors, after all. It didn’t seem to bother him that a doctor was lugging EMT equipment around himself. Maybe he’d never seen an ambulance team in operation. Maybe he wasn’t smart enough to spot the anomalies.

We trotted up the stairs as quickly as we could, the guard following right behind. At the top of the stairs he pointed to the left and moved ahead to guide us there. When we’d gone a few feet down the hall, I suddenly said, “The defibrillator.”

“Excuse me, Doctor?” Benito said.

“We’re going to need the defibrillator. Go on ahead without me. I’ll be right back.”

I set down my equipment bags, and Benito quickly translated for the guard. I could see him warily sizing up the situation, trying to figure out what to do. He didn’t want me walking through the house unescorted, but he also didn’t want to leave Benito up here unaccompanied. And he wasn’t going to make us lug the equipment back downstairs.

It didn’t occur to him to question why we didn’t have a cardiac defibrillator with us, nor why I’d suddenly decided we needed one.

Nor why we were willing, in a medical emergency, to keep the patient waiting while I fetched a piece of equipment we might not need. He was a guard, not an MD.

He nodded, and I raced down the staircase.

I returned in a little over two minutes. The hallway was wide and went on forever. A long antique runner, bare in places and probably priceless, slipped underfoot against the highly polished hardwood floor. He stopped at a closed door on the left, knocked once, turned the knob, and opened it. The door wasn’t locked, I was surprised to see. Maybe, with the guards and the electric fence and all, Soler wasn’t worried about Svetlana Kuzma trying to escape.

A muffled female voice from within: “Hey!”

The guard switched on an overhead light, illuminating a spacious bedroom suite. An elaborately carved four-poster bed with barley twist posts and a canopy made out of some kind of antique tapestry. A chaise longue. A mirrored vanity dressing table.

I was half expecting a dank concrete torture chamber out of the movie
Hostel
. Not a royal suite at Sandringham, which was what this looked like.

“La ambulancia llega,”
the guard said. He was being too helpful. I’d expected him to point us upstairs and remain at his post. This was a problem I didn’t anticipate. We’d have to deal with him.

A young girl bolted upright in bed, her hand outstretched as if to shield her eyes from the light.

Svetlana.

She was wearing a white A-shirt, which in politically incorrect circles is sometimes called a “wife beater.” Her eyes were wide with fear. There was panic in her face.

We set down our equipment.

In the photos her father had e-mailed me, she was an exotic, raven-haired beauty. She could have been a supermodel. Up close and personal, she looked much younger and smaller and more fragile, though no less stunning. She didn’t appear to have been beaten or abused. That didn’t necessarily mean anything, I knew. The kind of abuse she’d probably endured wouldn’t be visible.

“Khto vi?”
she gasped.
“Shcho vi khochetye?”

I don’t speak Ukrainian, if that was what she was speaking. But she sounded desperate.

The guard looked from her to us, suspicion furrowing his brow. He’d just figured out that the girl didn’t seem to be in any medical distress. Benito, quick-thinking, said something to the guard in Spanish. I didn’t understand much of it, but his tone was indignant. The gist seemed to be
So what the hell did you call us here for?
Or
How dare you waste our time!
Or something along those lines.

Now the guard was arguing with Benito, and I didn’t need to know Spanish to see that he’d finally tumbled to the realization that no one had called for a doctor. As we say in Boston, light dawns over Marblehead.

He reached for his two-way radio and held it up with his thumb near the transmission button, about to call for backup.

I’d expected this, of course. Actually, I was surprised we’d gotten this far without the other guard, or guards, showing up.

While Benito was diverting the guard with his display of pique, I’d slowly come up behind him, as we’d rehearsed, and pincered his neck in the crook of my elbow, squeezing it hard between my bicep on one side and the bone of my forearm on the other. He gave a sharp yelp. I tightened the vise by grabbing my left hand with my right, compressing both carotid arteries. The good old naked rear choke, beloved of action heroes and teenage boys—but the best thing in a situation like this, and the quickest. He thrashed and shuffled his feet and took a feeble swing at my torso, but he didn’t have much strength left.

Then I stomp-kicked him at the back of his left knee. He lost his balance, fell backward toward me. In less than ten seconds, I felt him go limp, and I eased him to the floor.

The girl, meanwhile, had scrambled out of the bed and leaped to the floor. She screamed,
“Dopomozhit’ meni!”

But then she tried to sprint past me. And I understood why she was so terrified.

She didn’t know who we were nor why we were here. She’d seen me subdue a guard; for all she knew, we were stealing her away and taking her someplace even worse. Her mind was probably clouded by the trauma of her captivity. I’d seen it before.

I grabbed her. “Svetlana, it’s okay. You’re safe now.”

“No!”
she screamed, trying to wriggle free.
“No!”

“Svetlana, listen to me.” I spoke calmly and quietly. “My name is Nick Heller. Your father asked me to come get you out of here.”


No!”
she screamed, even louder and shriller. “Get away from me!” she said in accented English. “Leave me
alone
!”

She twisted one way, then another, and then raked her nails across my face. It felt like she’d drawn blood. It hurt. I grabbed her by the wrist to prevent a repeat performance. She screamed even louder and went for me with her other hand, this time aiming for my eyes. A tough girl.

“Svetlana,” I said, grabbing that wrist, too. “You’re safe now. You’re
safe
.”

She struggled mightily to free her hands. Her face had gone red, her mouth contorted in an ugly, animal-like snarl. Spittle flew from her mouth. Svetlana Kuzma, poor thing, had obviously lost it. Maybe Soler had drugged her. Maybe her confinement had disoriented her, made her paranoid, afraid of all intruders. Or maybe she’d come to think of Soler’s security guards as her protectors, and anyone else as a threat. Some version of the Stockholm Syndrome. I didn’t know what she thought. I only knew that she was deeply confused.

“Svetlana, please listen to me. We have to move quickly.”

Her eyes searched my face, scanning back and forth. She seemed to have calmed down a bit, so I let go of her wrists.

A mistake. Suddenly she kneed me hard in the crotch. That I wasn’t prepared for. I felt a starburst of pain and expelled a lungful of air. She was tough, wiry, and strong. The girl must have taken self-defense classes.

She was also complicating things considerably. We had expected any number of contingencies except having to fight the girl we’d come to rescue. I gestured to Benito, who grabbed her by the shoulders.

Then I produced a syringe from my pocket, grabbed her right hand, and jabbed the needle into the large vein at the front of her arm. I depressed the plunger, releasing a small quantity of a rapid-onset opioid sedative called remifentanil.

Benito’s mouth gaped. “Why you do this?” he said furiously.

“We didn’t exactly have a choice.”

“This is not our plan! Now we have to carry her out!”

“A lot easier to carry an unconscious body than someone who’s fighting you all the way.”

In a matter of seconds she slumped in Benito’s arms. Together we set her down gently on the carpet.

I grabbed the guard’s pistol, a 9 mm Astra, from the floor. As the two of us dragged his inert body into the suite’s bathroom to get him out of sight, his two-way radio crackled.

“What are they saying?”

“They’re—they’re responding to a panic call,” Benito said, his eyes widening.

“Panic call?”

“It comes from inside this room.”

“But how? He didn’t even have a chance to call for help.” I glanced around, then saw the wireless panic button fob on Svetlana’s bedside table, which I hadn’t noticed before. She must have hit it when she jumped out of bed, calling for help.

Why had Soler provided her with a panic button?

But there wasn’t time to ponder this or anything else: A loud electronic Klaxon had begun to sound in the hall outside the bedroom, and probably throughout the mansion. “They’re on their way,” Benito said, his voice shaking.

“From where?”

“I think they said the east wing.”

I glanced at my watch. “We can make it. I figure we have about a hundred and twenty seconds before they get here.”

He shook his head, his face grim. “Less. It won’t take them that long.”

“It will if they stop to get weapons. Which they will.”

“What do you mean? They all carry guns.”

“No. The heavy-duty stuff. Standard protocol when there’s a major intrusion, I bet.”

“Heavy duty…?”

“Assault rifles. Submachine guns. AR-15s and M-16s.” They were listed on the firearms registration Soler had filed with the Barcelona police. And they were kept in a secure storage cabinet off the butler’s pantry downstairs. Obviously the guards wouldn’t carry submachine guns around, not in a private home. In the event of a major intrusion, they’d grab their weapons from the tactical rack.

“Madre de Dios.”
Droplets of sweat had begun to appear on his face. “We have to run. Leave her here! We don’t have time to take her with us.”

“Wrong,” I said. “She’s why we’re here. Come on. We have plenty of time. Grab the equipment. I’ll take her.”

I turned her over on her stomach, then kneeled in front of her head. Her shallow breathing told me she was unconscious but okay. No respiratory distress. I hooked my elbows under her shoulders and hoisted her in a sort of fireman’s carry. She was small and slight and couldn’t have weighed much more than a hundred pounds. She smelled good: Her hair gave off a sweet, faintly floral, scent. She still had the delicate skin of an innocent young girl. In repose she seemed fragile and vulnerable, which brought out my protective instincts.

BOOK: Plan B
9.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Her Eyes by Jennifer Cloud, Regan Taylor
Charlotte & Sebastian by Crabtree, Leanne
Primary Colors by Joe Klein
In Too Deep by Kira Sinclair