The Stairs of the Distorted Stares
Chapter 22 – Shiva’s Messenger
The Stairs of the Distorted Stares
Along his coach ride, Carl found new situations to curse in each passing segment. He was physically too big in all three dimensions to sit in bus seats. His aching knees were cramped into a space that was too small and they pressed against the seat in front. The vehicle was filled to capacity and there was no room to unbend his legs. That was still only the first hop.
“I might’ve experienced a more luxurious seating jammed in the trunk of the car.” Eckert’s pained knee joints popped in protest as he descended the three steps to the curb. He walked until fully stretched and limbered for the following phase. Carl loitered as the nearly full passenger load was onboard, to relish each extra second. That left him one seat up from the furthest back row.
Here, the vision of the luggage compartment of a mid-sized car also seemed pleasurable. In shocking contrast, Carl imagined the ease that his employer would be voyaging. With the boy’s supple young body, he could have been folded up into a suitcase, found it conducive to a nice nap and emerged ready to run up behind a stretched limo.
The formed vision of that descriptive thought included Hamster Man watching the jogging assassin from a tailgate rumble seat. Carl’s mind’s eye even had difficulty focusing to see the gunshot into the passenger window for all his bouncing on the rough road. A seat behind the rear wheels, as was his current spot on the bus, maximized even small highway lumps. The large humps had his ample butt feeling like the skimpy cushion was a trampoline. Shiva’s playful puppy would’ve likely had fun with that too and engaged in acrobatics.
“Youth is wasted on the young because the aged need it more.” Carl remarked as the jarring had his belly fat jiggling like a bowl of jelly on a spin dryer doing a load of track shoes. Both of Eckert’s hands steadied the bulk and he didn’t like what they held. He wasn’t built like this back when his dreams felt attainable. “I should’ve bought a stair-master and climbed it whenever James Bond ran his treadmill.”
“The flight shows full,” the ticketing agent at O’Hare smiled encouragingly, “but you’ll be in first standby so you’ll be okay.”
“How is it in business class?” The recently homeless man saw a puzzled expression form on the woman’s face.
“There’s still some seats available.” She consulted her screen but he didn’t even look employed, much less a business executive.
“I’ll take it.” Eckert peeled cash from a roll nearly the size of a toilet paper tube. That was just what was in his pocket: the wads in his suitcase were even larger. While his employer’s payroll was tight fisted, the expense account was far more than just generous.
“The bus was as cruel as keeping a fat hamster in a habitat designed for a gerbil.” As the plane lifted off, Carl Eckert squirmed into his roomy seat like a rodent getting comfortable in shavings. He could stretch the standby to unavailable if his travel claim was questioned.
“Damn!” He giggled with glee. “I love my new job!”
Having swapped the Idaho rental that he had used in Spokane, Alex drove his Lexus easily back into Canada. His Calgary mailbox contained one rather bulky envelope from Toronto. He continued to his father’s mini-storage unit where he needed to spend some time carefully crafting some special items to pack into his suitcase. ‘It’s better to have more than you need with you than to suffer the lack later’. He tucked a set of toiletries into his kit.
“Ah good,” Alex drove a pick-up truck into the same mechanics yard where he left the Akron rental for stripping, “you’ve finished.” They hoisted the transmission and engine into the leased flatbed truck bed and connected the stripped car body to a trailer hitch.
A scrap metal dealer was more than happy to take the large parts and a volunteer fire department in a bedroom community near the city was pleased at the donation of a useless car body. The effort took an extra day but Alex was glad to spend it. The rental car from Akron deserved a more honorable final rest than over a cliff or in a lake somewhere. What could be more glorious for a car than serving as practice for emergency services vehicle extrication tools?
The messenger looked at the first of his new passports and then glanced at his rearview mirror. “Hello, Gunter Klein.” He was a twenty-one-year-old resident of Frankfurt. Sam had placed the date of issue at about six months ago and taken the time to include a stamp in the passport to show his entry into Canada at Toronto Pierson Airport two weeks previously. Levi’s work was expensive but it was worth every dollar.
Every other airline flight he had ever taken had been with his father. It felt strange going on one without him. The procedures for security and the computerized ticketing made travel by air just about the least desirable method for someone in John’s line of work. Gunter on the other hand, was able to breeze through as if he had done it a hundred times.
“Did you pack your own suitcases?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Has your luggage ever left your sight?”
“No, it hasn’t.”
“Thank you, sir. Have a pleasant flight.”
His trip wasn’t going to be as fast as Carl’s. There was too much risk going through airport screening. He would clear customs only once at an airport. The rest would be by less scrutinized border crossings. From Calgary, that gave him a choice of only several initial destinations, so Gunter chose to fly to his hometown.
The direct flight from Calgary lifted off the runway and as soon as the plane cleared the ground, the man in the obvious toupee turned to say “hello” with a heavy French-Canadian accent.
“Bonjour,” Gunter answered a greeting to give his business class seatmate the opportunity to converse in either language.
“Raoul Cote.” Though slightly awkward to shake hands with someone seated right beside, the man offered his hand.
“What takes you to Frankfurt?” Gunter asked.
“Uh,” though an innocuous opening to small talk, the answer seemed difficult to spit past a full set of dentures, “just a vacation.”
“All by yourself? How about your wife?” Gunter found it hard to tell if there was a wedding band because each finger of both hands was bedecked with rings. The coffee-brown stains between index and pointer fingers also foretold of a long anxious flight.
“Just going through divorce number-three.” Raoul puffed up like it deserved a medal of military distinction. “I owe myself a treat.”
Over the next several hours, having as many drinks as necessary to stave off the urge to sneak a smoke in the lavatory, Raoul poured out his life story to the virtual stranger. Belted to a seat next to someone, in a confined aircraft cabin tends to reduce personal barriers. The need to make conversation over the extended time of a transoceanic flight can cause a person under the influence of alcohol, to relate anecdotes that they otherwise wouldn’t. Of course, when the fellow traveler is quite sober and nudging the discussion, who knows where it can lead.
Almost uneducated, young Raoul Cote had left a large family in Quebec to seek his fortune in the wilds of British Columbia. Working very hard in the logging industry as a young man, he had purchased his first piece of equipment and built up his company from there. Wife number one produced three dysfunctional kids, who never saw their dad for more than one day in 30. Raoul’s fondest memory of this time, seemed to be in bragging about how much alimony and child support he’d been able to produce.
“You’re truly a self-made man.” Gunter’s mind saw it differently than his mouth did. The payments are a status symbol. It’s a way to grind into his ex-wife’s face, how much money she missed out on, by his divorcing her before really hitting his financial stride. The kids suspect he looks like some long-dead Canadian politician, because all they ever see is the cash he sends. “I’m impressed by all of your successes.”
His real fortune came during the period of active Indian land claims and environmental protesting. Forest companies wanted to log a precious old-growth forest in disputed territory. The outcry brought ecological activists and treaty-claimant natives out to oppose. Most logging contractors refused to cross the lines but he persevered. Raoul’s trucks had to push people out of the way. Spiked trees injured his fallers but with stumpage rates at a hazard premium, the money rolled in.
“She had a rack out to here!” Spouse number two was a trophy, 20 years his junior and platinum blond. Raoul pantomimed, with cupped hands extended like scooping the cash pot off a poker table.
“Wow, those are big hooters. I have to say, I really envy your sex-life as you so vividly describe it.” He married a pair of breasts, instead of a woman. Gunter listened how the spark had died after she caught him banging a teenaged hitchhiker. Luckily, he had a signed prenuptial deal.
After selling his business for a windfall profit, Raoul bought a large motel with gas bar and restaurant. More wealth rolled in. Legal companion three was 18 to his 55 but in between luring his waitresses and housekeeping staff into trysts in vacant hotel rooms, the goat was able to knock-up his young wife.
“Your life story would make a bestselling novel.” Gunter saw the latest minor character in the book as neglected child number four. He supposed an absent male parent to be actually better than having an emotionless letch for a role model.
“The sleazy bitch had an affair and shacked-up with her new boyfriend.” Raoul spit the same venom he used to spur his lawyer into fighting dirty to ensure his latest wife and child would get as little as possible in maintenance payments.
“Her foolish loss is the gain of the rest of the women that are ripe for conquest.” Gunter stroked the ego that needed revenge, for her seeking a happy life with an attentive and faithful husband. It hurt the most that she left him and not the other way around. Her child has his genes but that’s about all he’ll get from Raoul.
Having sold his latest venture, for another handsome gain, Raoul was flush with cash and ready to pamper his prurience with the finest of sex-tourism in the underprivileged areas of the globe.
“So where’ve you been and what’ve you done?” Showing the proper awe of the great man’s grand exploits, Gunter feigned a lascivious interest in hearing all of the tasty details.
“Central America so far,” Raoul almost drooled at the recall, “even underage girls are willing to go, for only about nine dollars.”
“Wow, that must be great!” Gunter augmented his assumed persona, with a marked predilection for pay-4-play women. “Why would you ever leave a man’s paradise like that, to come here?”
“I like a variety and I’ve heard the Czech Republic is the sex capitol of Europe. I’m in Frankfurt briefly and then on to Prague.”
“What an amazing coincidence. So am I.”
As the aircraft banked around for the final runway approach, Hamster Man’s face was plastered against the Plexiglas window to examine the old capital. He was in love with Budapest before the Boeing 767’s main dolly wheels even touched the tarmac.
“I was meant for this.” It was long overdue and it required him to switch teams but now he was here. James Bond, well Ian Fleming, had been to Budapest often but it was Carl’s first visit to a European city. Even 007 had to start somewhere.
The room was technically a superior but to Carl anything that was grander to a park bench rated at least 3-stars. That made this one a full world class with its double bed—which was two singles together, each half possessing it’s own separate duvet. It didn’t have box springs or even a coil mattress but rather futon things that he found were both more comfortable and better for his back. The mini-bar held a selection of beverages and he took out what he assumed was just a normal bottle of water.
“Whoa!” When he snapped off the cap, it had more fizz than a soda pop. He wore half the bottle onto his pants before he could get it over to the sink. “Oh well, losing some just makes the rest of it taste better.”
The small bathroom took even more getting used to. The toilet bowl had an unusual shape that left all of the nasty stuff in plain sight. There it had remained, ominously, until Carl figured out that to flush he needed to lift the decorative knob on the top of the tank. Adjacent to the toilet was a butt washer bidet that he assumed only women had the plumbing to require—but it was fun to use anyways. The sliding door into the round shower stall was so narrow that Carl had to turn sideways to fit his shoulders in. There was the electrical outlet that his razor didn’t fit. In short, the room was perfect.
“There’s no way that I can nap yet.” The all-night flight had landed during the midmorning and Eckert should’ve been tired. With a wonderful friendly smile, the very cute hotel clerk explained on a map where to find a laptop computer with his name on it could be found. That was a legitimate business expense. His employer could amortize it and depreciate it off of the company’s taxes.
When Shiva’s Messenger had given Carl the cash, it seemed like an awful lot of money. It was substantially more than he’d been able to declare when he went through customs. He had asked how frugally he should spend. The answer was “don’t worry about it.” That boded well at least for the fringe benefits of this work. The retirement package was iffy but the rest was excellent. Even his yearly salary, currently pegged at zero, was ideal.
The work for no pay arrangement had begun in the spirit of a jest and had lingered because there was no reason to change it. The employer simply picked up all tabs and gave enough to cover in his absence. Where would Carl stuff the excess, in a bank? Other squirrels might be saving up nuts but Eckert had done that once and where had it got him? The trove to tide him through winter was in the hollow tree of an investment account but by presidential decree, a death snare encircled the hole leading into it.
The flight into Frankfurt punched a hole into a drizzly morning. The genial fellow travelers split up to snooze and met up later at the Bahnhof. While at the train station, they bought first-class tickets to Prague on an intercity express.
“The departure leaves us time for me to show you some of the sin-city we have right here in Frankfurt, it’s very close by.”
“Lead on.” Raoul smiled at his good fortune, in having met a knowledgeable local to guide him to the prime material.
The hometown native led the way. Gunter had arisen early to pre-scout a prostitution area near the main rail terminal. In Versace jeans and leather jacket from his favorite Calgary men’s wear shop, Gunter looked the role. The affluent young European man glanced at Raoul swaggering along wearing sagging-butt slacks. The loud-patterned silk shirt had buttons undone to showoff enough gold chains to stock a mall kiosk. Is he dressed-to-the-nines and ready to thrill—or just attired to thrall the nines?
“Just this way.” They traversed several tunnels under downtown intersections that were lined with vendors. What is that incredible smell? Mushrooms, fried in butter! Neon signs may draw some but truly devastating advertising targets tempts the senses that evoke salivation.
“A feast fit for the loins.” Gunter indicated a mist-dampened street reflecting neon and taillights even in the grey day to make it appear as the pervert’s candy land—that it was.
Lining both sides of several city blocks and adjoining streets, the government owned Sexo hotels provided a workplace for the ladies of the night. Bright signs and placards hawked an assortment of offerings that included peepshows and triple-x movies.
“It’s a business to do pleasure.” It wasn’t original but accuracy made up for the lack. Raoul sucked his intestines into his chest cavity to bolster his manly physique and entered the first building with a self-important strut. A steady river of Johns trudged up the stairs on the right passing spent ones descending on the left. The two punters joined the up-surging swell to the first floor of rooms.
“It’s a screw factory.” Raoul noted that along the hallway some doors were open and men stopped to consider the delectability of the courtesan within. Enterprising hookers beckoned enticingly at the doorframes but the more timid girls sat listlessly biding time on sagging twin-sized beds. “It’s just a service pit where a man’s part has a lube and an oil change.”
“This is all that’s available close enough to the Bahnhof.” Gunter supposed that presented a dilemma for Raoul’s ego. He wanted the very best girl but she also should be unattainable by others. Here he would just be a nameless tick the girl marked on her tally. “We can try the next level up.”
They climbed another flight. Strolling, as in a supermarket meat aisle, Cote ogled for a prime morsel but found none sufficiently tempting. Again they ascended only to repeat. By the time they reached the sixth floor, his gut had dropped back out of his ribcage and he was panting. These narrow stairs were probably the most concerted physical exercise he had, other than sex, in a decade.
“There’s no really fresh girl here.” Raoul wheezed his words past a lifetime’s worth of caked tobacco tar lining his lungs.
“We can check the pickings in another building.” The young guide didn’t add the obvious fact that these were legal bordellos. It wouldn’t satiate any lust for an underage sex partner.
In the next multi-story whore house, Raoul had deduced that he must lower his standards to save himself another trek to the summit. He settled for a stacked strumpet on the first floor. Gunter dickered the amount, as the girl in her twenties lacked the suitable linguistics.
“Let’s meet after, in the bar across the way.” Gunter rolled his eyes back along the corridor. “I know what I intend to do.”
“May I pay her for you, as a gift for your assistance?” The older man extracted a wallet stuffed with bills and handed over a fistful. Raoul entered the room with the bored-looking hooker.
“I’ve already been tantalized beyond my will to resist—but not by anything in this building.” The young man quickly departed and raced back to where he smelled the succulent mushrooms.
While enjoying his treat, Gunter compared this prostitution, to the bars in Windsor. The women here didn’t seem to be mistreated and run by the state, they didn’t face legal problems either. The oldest profession would doubtlessly survive any laws ever enacted against it because basic male needs had to be satisfied somehow. The system in Frankfurt made allowance for human nature and derived government revenue from the sex trade, while also keeping it regulated and relatively safe for all the participants.
“Was your German mädchen noteworthy?” Gunter had been gone less than 20 minutes but the man that regaled of his legendary stamina, was already nursing a half-empty beer.
“Well—,” the whoremonger near his sixties embellished an encounter of toe-curling pleasure, with the girl screaming for more.
“We better go catch our train.” Gunter paraphrased the described romp to a much briefer version. She neglected removing her pantyhose but loudly demanded a large tip anyways?
“My arms are quickly becoming envious of my legs.” Walking countless miles along the old city streets, he intimately knew the bridge over the Danube. It wasn’t the slow treads of a homeless man either. Carl had a lifetime of sightseeing to accomplish plus a job to do. He had ascended and descended the escarpments of the castled Buda side of the river a few times, both on foot and by the scenic little tram. He felt the tighter muscles in his thighs and as he had spotted a gym near the hotel, Eckert decided to visit. “Pushing some weights might actually feel pretty good.”
“I wasn’t just hired only for my spectacular looks and sparkling personality.” After the workout, Carl ordered a latté from his favorite riverside café. They served such great coffee he didn’t even need to spike it with sugar. Hamster Man opened his laptop, as this was also an Internet hotspot. “I brought marketable skills with me.”
He didn’t have a job description either, so he had to craft one. To start, Carl knew filing. That skill suffers from an underestimated value. There wasn’t much point in having good information, unless you could also retrieve it. The system he used at the CIA had flaws, but the agency wouldn’t permit any modifications. The constrictions were now gone and Carl could use whatever he wanted.
“My packrat role at the CIA and cutting-the-cheese in the White House, were the perfect background.” On the subject of obtaining knowledge and information to insert into a filing system, Carl had acquired skills he’d never been able to employ, until now. Reading reports, with bibliographies, it would be impossible not to gain an exceptional insight. The ambiance of a European bistro behooved comparison as an improvement from his office in Langley.
“It’s like James Bond’s habitat only so much bigger.” Using the Shiva File as his initial reference point, Hamster Man set to work. He tracked the money trails and corporate share connections as they branched out. Carl charted out where military engagements generated the major contracts: that showed the impetus of industry, kicking the spurs into the minor conflicts. “My Oval Office odor was pine-fresh next to some of the smells wafting around the Pentagon.”
When sorted and displayed in Carl’s referencing system, one thing stood out paramount proud. “Everyone in the Weeds family needs two walk-in closets. One for clothes and another reserved for the skeletons.”
“Damn!” The ex-government functionary told himself for the umpteenth time. “I love my new job!” Carl wouldn’t take his old life back if President Weeds offered it on a golden serving dish. It’d be better to see Larry’s head on the platter. Instead of an apple in the mouth, a bitten-off hand that feeds him would be more appropriate.
Precisely to the second, the arrival/departure number panels flipped like a slight-of-hand card trick and simultaneously the train to Prague accelerated swiftly, but smoothly as velvet. Moments later, they were at maximum city speed but soon the train would be out into the countryside and clipping along.
“I found that the girls in Frankfurt were a bit long-in-the-tooth. I hope we can find younger ones in the Czech Republic.” In a private compartment that he shared only with his Germanic friend, Raoul settled back on the comfortable bench seat. “Was your afternoon dish—tasty?”
“Delicious.” How am I going to make an order of sautéed mushrooms sound like a sex romp? He held both hands out like holding a grapefruit in each. “The caps were round and ripe and each had a little brown stem poking out, that was mouth-wateringly firm.” –with a dash of garlic. Gunter’s prurient grin and raised eyebrows hinted at the pot of flesh at the end of this particular rainbow. The attentive student of the extramarital arts gushed at the undisputed master, “but Raoul, your adventures are so much more interesting than mine.”
The train whizzed over Germany and ploughed into the Czech Republic. Kilometers passed amid astounding stories of females with grandiose attributes and cherries falling like autumn leaves.
What’s the allure of the foul lifestyle he craves? There was no love, only nameless and faceless sex. Raoul Cote’s whole life revolved around his gigantic ego that needed to be sated regularly. Having to always increase his self-worth, Raoul had to keep outdoing himself. Quality meant beauty, aesthetics of sex organs and youthful age. Only the one had a quantifiable enumeration, so the pervert had to keep finding them younger.
Gunter was reminded of the bear near Fort Nelson. The French-Canadian man was similarly a furry omnivore that preyed on vulnerable underprivileged girls, to gorge his inflated sense of self. That image spurred another one. Giorgio Martini was a man that Shiva’s Messenger had killed in Akron. He was also comparable to Raoul. The WTO used the wealth of the rich countries, to rape the workforces of the poor ones. This affluent Canadian was advancing his amoral lusts, where he could get a better bang for his buck. It doesn’t matter where it is: it’s still wrong.
Raoul has no friends. His quickness in handing over money indicated his knowledge that he needed to buy male comradeship, as much as it was necessary to pay for the services of girls. His continual boasting, lent the impression that the physical enjoyment of sex, was of secondary importance to the elevation of his stature, in the eyes of acquaintances. My decision is made.
Sometime after the border, when customs agents had checked passports and departed, Raoul needed another cigarette. Shiva’s Messenger didn’t smoke but he never missed the opportunity to get fresh air through the open window with his new friend. This time however, it was for a different reason.
“I had one girl in Nicaragua.” Raoul began spinning another yarn after his smoke was lit. “She was a tight little one but then I convinced her to get her younger sister to play—.”
“Jump from the train’s window.” Gunter’s voice betrayed no jest or modulation as he bluntly interrupted the sordid retelling. His haughtiness and physique was as an elite Nazi SS Sturmführer without the uniform.
“What?” The excitedly perplexed man locked his eyes onto his young cohort. Raoul tittered nervously, as the taller and fitter man made no indication of sarcasm. Then after a pause he added, “I’d be killed.”
“Possibly,” Gunter nodded and pulled out a steak knife smuggled from the dining car, “even probably, but that still makes your odds of survival better than remaining on this train.”
“Why?” Raoul’s eyes centered on the knife while his mind grappled with the dramatic turnabout.
“By your own sordid admissions you’re an unredeemable pedophile. Foreign sex crime laws exist expressly for you.” Gunter waited for the one salvation that Raoul had. That was to recant his tales as fabrications.
“I’m not jumping!” In that statement, Raoul Cote sealed his fate. Of course, he couldn’t rescind at the expense of the gargantuan ego, even to save his life.
“Suit yourself but here is how it will be.” Gunter calmly described, and mimed the specifics with the point of the knife. “First, I’ll open up your jugular veins here and here. Then, before you can finish bleeding to death, I’ll drive the point through your ear hole. Finally, I’ll hoist you up and throw you out the window myself.”
“I’ll pay you!” Raoul frantically scrambled to remove his hidden money belt. Having sized up his opponent, the desperate man accurately surmised that he didn’t have a hope. His assailant was younger, bigger, stronger and in superb condition. Gunter was also armed with a weapon that he seemingly could handle skillfully. “There’s $50,000 U.S. dollars in here.”
“Wow, you were really planning to have a good time.” Gunter took the belt with his non-knife hand and simply dropped it behind. “That was unnecessary, as I would have gladly killed you for free.”
“I mean—,” Raoul realized it was too late to try to renegotiate.
“One way or the other, your body is going to end up bouncing down the tracks. Jumping while you’re still alive, is really the best chance you have.”
“I don’t know why you’re doing this.” Raoul decided to make a show of climbing slowly out the window, to balk for time. He was hoping for the intervention of another passenger or conductor. The odds were low, as Gunter had bolted both doors while the condemned man struggled to light his smoke in the buffeting gusts.
“I’m saving undeveloped girls in underprivileged areas, from having their childhood stolen, to slake your drooling lust. If even one goes into puberty unmolested, my actions are vindicated.”
“You took a wench today, too.”
“Actually, I didn’t, but even if I had, all the girls there had attained the legal age of consent. I have nothing against sex or even whore mongering. However, while your ilk exists to pay for the rape of innocence, then children are in danger.” Gunter brandished the blade at a lower point. “Now for your money, I’ll give you one other choice. I could take this knife instead and give you a very quick operation to remove the threat you represent to underage girls. It would be like a vasectomy but a bit more drastic.”
“Never!” Raoul grabbed at his package as if just the threat of emasculation caused some pain or injury.
“Good. I didn’t like that option either. Now stop procrastinating and jump.” Why does he wear that ugly fur-beanie? I would celebrate my baldness, as a chance for my head to be naked.
“There are lots of men that like very young girls.” Raoul was up to having one foot over the window frame and half sitting on the sill. That was as far as he was planning on going. If someone didn’t show up soon, he would have to start backing out.
“One rung at a time.” Striking as fast as a cobra, Shiva’s Messenger stepped forward and ripped the rug off Raoul’s head.
The insulted man first grabbed with both hands to cover his skinhead, then quickly reached to catch the toupee, as Gunter threw it out the window. Overbalanced, Raoul managed to snag his hair, but was completely unprepared for Gunter’s sharp lift on his knees. He grappled for a finger purchase on the way out but refused to release the grip on his toupee. The desperate, one-handed attempt, only effectively dampened the momentum that might have carried his bulky frame clear of the train’s undercarriage.
“Death by vanity!” It wasn’t even a good-looking hairpiece. As correctly predicted, Raoul’s body did tumble down the tracks but it was as a badly mangled corpse. Gunter picked up the money belt and sighed as he cinched it up under his shirt. “Raoul, it’s a warped view, when you believe the world exists to serve your gratification.
After the slower means of travel plus delays caused by his route change, Gunter finally arrived in Budapest. His friend wasn’t currently at the pre-arranged hotel, so he grabbed a magazine and settled himself into one of the lobby chairs to wait. He had the time to read six magazines cover to cover and to chat at length, with the very pretty desk clerk. When he was about to give up completely and return to his own hotel for a nap, Gunter saw someone that he almost recognized, jogging up the steps.
“Hamster Man?” Gunter asked in amazement. The several days apart had seen a transformation to an almost indistinguishable replica of Carl. He looked pounds lighter or maybe it was simply that the designer apparel was of a flattering fit. His hair was styled and he had even gotten a manicure. This wasn’t the same mousy guy last seen in Idaho and it was certainly nothing like the same decrepit homeless man, first met on a Spokane sidewalk. Shiva’s Messenger couldn’t help but to laugh uncontrollably.
“I’m sorry.” Eckert began offering his prepared apology. He had the speech ready but he wasn’t prepared for such an outburst. That had him somewhat flustered. He continued his exasperated explanation as his boss took him by the elbow and steered him to the elevator. “I know I’ve taken a few liberties with the budget. The computer was quite a lot and so was the leather jacket but—”
The door opened but a man was ascending from a parking level so Hamster Man curtailed his explanation. They reached his room and Eckert fumbled for his key.
“I got started and it just seemed to snowball.” Carl was now quite worried that his boss was about to see the rest of the new wardrobe, stashed in his closet.
“I told you not to worry about the money and I meant that.” Gunter had regained himself and then lost it again as Carl opened the door. “It’s just a shock, but you look fantastic. I would kill to see a picture of you right now, next to one taken in the minute we met.”
“As I recall, a sum of money was dropped then as well.” Carl felt a wave of relief and then hooted at the thought of himself in his homeless rags. “Your laughing wasn’t a reaction I braced for. You were supposed to give me a reprimand. How do you expect to hold me in check, if you let me have free reign?”
“Since I’ve never had any employees before, we’ll just make up the rules as we need them and you haven’t broken any so far. You get what you need to do the job.” Gunter almost started laughing again but restrained himself. “I only hope I can top up the money bucket as fast as you poke holes in the bottom of it.”
“How do we make our revenues anyways?” This topic opened the door to one of Carl’s curiosity.
“I manage to pick up a few high paying gigs.” Gunter pulled off his Raoul’s money belt. He first unzipped it to show it was cash and then handed it over to replace the funds obviously spent. “Tell me what you’ve been up to for the past few days? I mean besides blowing the budget and chasing after champagne girls.”
“Some approached me but I’m far too savvy to fall for that old nugget.” It was lucky Carl had read some reports about them and even from female agents playing that role. He wouldn’t have seen them coming until it was too late. Hamster Man gave a recounting of his adventure and became excited as he bragged the results of his Internet researching and filing.
“If the CIA ever wants you or the file back,” Gunter cut in when he spotted a brief silence, “I’ll cheerfully give them the folder.”
“Well, how’s the view from the top tier?” Nick Taylor swept into the president’s Camp David office. He expected to find his friend still in his morose state of four days ago. He’d been ready to rip the drapes back to let the sunshine in. Instead, Weeds was reclining on the sofa with his feet up and watching a ball game.
“It’s five to four in the sixth inning.” Larry turned down the volume but left the set on to follow the score. “You’ve been away for quite awhile. That’s not like you.”
“I thought you could use a few day off. You know I’m always just a call away.” Taylor had to look twice at him to be certain it was the same man. Weeds hadn’t only bounced back but he was even chipper. He takes the meaning of the word shallow to a whole new lack of depth. He didn’t have the stamina of character to hold a powerful emotion, opinion or revelation for longer than a few days. Sometimes I wonder how he made it here, even with my help.
“How much of what I asked have you accomplished yet?”
“Some, cuts can end up being even more expensive than the contracts unless handled right.”
“Whatever you’ve completed already is enough.” Larry smiled. Just venting his frustration to Nick had eased the president’s mind. Then his feeling of wellbeing was strengthened by the safety of being at Camp David instead of out in the open. His fears remained but they had now returned to a manageable level. “I needed some pressure taken off me but I definitely don’t want to piss off Bernard.”
“I think that’s a wise choice for now.” Unfortunately, Nick’s mind added, it’s just slightly too late.
Many people scoffed but Taylor felt the president’s profound fickleness wasn’t a weakness in politics—it was in fact his strongest weapon. No one could pin Weeds down absolutely, on any subject. He flip-flopped like a beached trout and equally supported both sides in their turn. Larry was also the political equivalent of method actor. He didn’t give only lip service to his vacillations he was fully in the role. The opinion he offered either for or against an issue was heart felt and genuine. Now however, Larry had a sudden change that didn’t fit Nick’s scheme.
“Sorry, did I miss something.” The president looked back from where his eyes had been drawn to a double play.
“Nah, let’s watch the game first and finish any business later.” The chief of staff sat and considered how that exchange illustrated another of Weeds’ best tools in politics. Larry could be distracted from where he might otherwise be tempted to look. That made him malleable enough to be manipulated easily by his inner circle. Those underlings found the deals that made for advancements. If decisions were left to the candidates, nothing would ever get done. Still, ‘a sword cuts both ways’.
That trite expression didn’t come even near to expressing Taylor’s skill at fencing both verbally and with a real saber. Nick took up the sport long before he met Larry Weeds. It was in his mind to ensure he was proficient enough to be a duel second for some aristocratic friend, but then he had settled for Weeds. The art of swordsmanship offered him satisfaction and he stayed with it.
The phrase about a sword cutting both ways had come to mean that it could attack but also was able to wound the wielder. That wasn’t so in Taylor’s usage. The blade of his favorite Japanese katana, or his tongue, was able to do damage both on the offence and defensively. He could attack aggressively but also while seeming passive: that was the style he employed with his friends.
I should feel remorse and regret for what I’m doing, but the vice-presidency and a shot at the big enchilada is just too rich a prize. Taylor wasn’t so capricious as Weeds, but his loyalty could be bought. Larry Weeds had enjoyed his time being the top dog but eventually all politicians became the kibble for the next.
“We’re working on the Shiva’s Messenger case and starting to make progress.” Nick waited for a commercial break to push this back into the president’s face. With an upbeat lilt, he disguised his real intent. “We’ve backtracked his movements in Canada. It doesn’t tell us where he is now but it helps with the profiling.”
“I’ve already been given that update from the FBI task force,” Larry’s chipper dropped a slight notch. “They’ve hit a dead end.”
“I wasn’t sure if you got that update. So, who’s going to win this contest?” The sponsor pause ended and Nick changed the subject. I couldn’t care less about that game. I’m taking the critical one.
Larry Weeds had been paying attention to the sporting event but now the pall of his dilemma was dimming his enjoyment. Still, he and Taylor idly discussed the ballgame’s possible final outcome.
“While you’ve been at your retreat, your approval rating has dropped. You won’t appear publicly here but you plan to in Kiev. It sends a message to the voters.” Now in the seventh inning stretch, supposedly originated by the 300 pound President Taft taking a break. Nick got busy again, breaking down the current office holder.
“Kiev? I wasn’t aware of an itinerary change from the Ukraine?”
“The capital city of the Ukraine may be a safer place for you to be than the U.S. right now, but Kiev citizens don’t vote here.” How could he avoid offending half the world with his ignorance, without Nick to correct his errors?
“I know that,” Weeds pretended he had spoken in jest, “but if I were dead, I wouldn’t really give a red rat’s butt who votes for whom.”
“You aren’t dead yet but if you stay out of the public viewfinder while avoiding the scope’s sight, then you might as well be.”
“I wouldn’t even dare walk to a poling booth to vote for myself.”
“The assassin is proving tenacious.” Nick Taylor slowly turned his head to casually look out the window. “Shiva’s Messenger could even be where we expect least possible.”
“I know we’ve discussed this before,” Weeds shuddered as his friend had just removed the secure feeling Larry had in his Camp David place of last refuge, “but what can I do?”
“The Spokane thing is fresh on your mind and it’s right on the heels of Tom Albertson’s murder.” The chief of staff reposted his blade to another sensitive area. “But the Larry Weeds that I know has the gumption to hurdle obstacles and shoot to the finish first.”
“Some of the hazards seem high and deep right now.” Larry felt yet another chill. His mind interpreted Nick’s description of winning as sounding like his being shot and dying before anyone else. Taylor’s attempt to bolster him had inadvertently done the opposite.
“What do you think of a strategy like this?” Taylor pretended to be inventing an idea as he spoke. Whenever Weeds sat in on one-sided brainstorms, he adhered to the results more firmly, as he wrongly believed he had participated in the inception. “Come out in front of America with a brave front, one more time. We set up one huge outdoor event in the United States. You appear strong and we cover it, security wise from every conceivable angle. If Shiva shows up, we nail him. If he doesn’t, you still look good at home. Then, you go to the Ukraine where you’re safe and give the FBI time to cinch a noose around the messenger boy.”
“That would help my popularity,” Weeds saw a glimmer of false hope in the dark mineshaft that Nick had managed to push him back into, “but what if the assassin isn’t caught?”
“If you get back from Kiev and Shiva is still at large,” Taylor was prepared for this response but his two hands made a church with a finger at his lips to show intense thought, “then you do what plan B was on the day we looked at the Shiva file.”
“Disseminate to the public what really happened in Dallas.” Larry mused along his friend’s chosen track. “Shiva would toss the sniper rifle away but Stryker would catch it before it landed.”
“Your personal security has increased fivefold from where it was. Could Bernard even find a more threatening assassin than the one you would be appeasing?”
“I could kiss my presidency goodbye.” Weeds recalled one good reason for his previous decision. “All my campaign funding would vanish, as would the political support Stryker wields.”
“Might that not be quickly replaced by your current opposition?” As strenuously as he had argued against, Taylor now propositioned for. It was quite convincing even to Nick—but it was academic. Shiva would ensure Weeds didn’t live long enough to implement reforms. “You may even go into the history books as the shining Caesar that gave a purloined Rome back to the citizens.”
“Looking at it that way,” Larry grinned, “why wait at all? We can sucker punch the Stryker group right now.”
“Your family name is indelible in that Shiva file unless we have the body so the plan we’re devising,” Taylor offered some undue credit, “is still the second best option to catching the Messenger. Besides, if you do it now, you don’t look good. Instead, you seem like a wimp that the assassin cowed. He takes the credit, while your name is dragged through the slime in the Dallas gutters.”
“I really think we should wait until after Kiev though.” Larry usurped the plan. “However, we might slip preparatory hints into my speeches. Sprinkle them in supporting either possible eventuality.”
“That’s an excellent suggestion.” Nick smiled. This is what he was good at. “I’ll give your speechwriters something to work with.”
“I’ll do the appearance out west. East coast people act like they believe the sun rises in the East.” Larry heaved a relieved sigh and went on to the details. What would he ever do without the loyal and absolutely dependable boyhood friend? Nick would also never try to usurp what rightfully belonged to Caesar. Larry was the throne that Taylor could never aspire to and that status quo couldn’t change.
“Well, I suppose most do but a few of them only believe that, because it does. Our best people are stationed here so Washington D.C. is the safest place for this event.”
“It would be quicker flying to Russia from out west.”
“If you were going to Sakhalin Island or Siberia it would be.” You’re not even going to Russia! Had he looked at a map lately? Larry was never very swift but had only grown denser lately. You have people to do everything for you but take a crap. Did being that pampered tend to atrophy a person’s brain?
“D.C. is the best place.”
“I’ll oversee all the security for it to help Mike Applegate better get a handle on his Homeland Security department.” Nick needed one last ingredient for his new recipe. “It’s just too bad I can’t be with you in the Ukraine.”
“I am the President of the United States,” Weeds intoned with false bravado, “and I make the rules. Lon Clark will enjoy a rare opportunity to actually do his job in holding the nation together while you and I are away.”
“That sounded like a decree so if only to avoid prison, I’ll accept.” Nick chuckled and felt Weeds was just too easy sometimes. The view from the upper bench is distorted and he believes he’s running things his own way.
“The game’s on again.” Weeds voice was almost as bubbly as before he’d ridden Taylor’s rollercoaster.
“Yes and with just a couple of more innings to go.”
“Those are premium wheels: are there four of them?” Carl scoffed at the dirt-cheap used Lada that Gunter had bought.
“I prefer my cars the same way I take my employees,” the boss allowed a long pause to allow Carl to fill in his own blanks before completing the statement, “with it’s own set of papers.” Convincing the previous owner not to switch registration had cost extra. “Unlike certain staff members, this can both cross the Ukraine frontier with no restrictions and blend in when it gets there.”
“I didn’t get that memo telling me what nationality to put on the ID that I bought out of my own pocket.” Hamster Man’s passport made him an American named Ernest Payne, so he’d have to fly into Odessa. There a tourist company representative would usher him through the visa formalities. The two had to split up again briefly.
Gunter drove the car, to avoid another flight. The roads out of Budapest were slightly confusing as Magyar was one of the few European languages the young man didn’t understand. A peculiar linguistic group, the Hungarian tongue was closest to that of Finland and even then the differences were significant.
“I’m a heating technician.” As a European Union citizen, Gunter was able to enter the Ukraine on only his passport. “I’m going to Odessa to spend three weeks training the staff in my company’s Ukraine office.” The few questions were simple and he passed through the border quite easily.
“These make the expressways in North America feel like slate billiard tables.” It took over seven hours to rattle the Lada over the highway potholes and pitfalls, between the border and the Black Sea port city of Odessa. The roads in Ukraine made the rough ones in Hungary seem like brand new asphalt in comparison.
[The pot of poison is why Maha Shivatri is celebrated.]
“Thanks for clearing that up for me.” The messenger sounded caustic. There were a few different legends purporting the reason for the Hindu festival. One involved Shiva actually saving the world from destruction by holding poison in his throat.
“Couldn’t you say something simple like ‘kill Weeds because everyone will dance in the streets’?” Much had changed about the young man after his death experience even though outwardly, not much might seem so. For one, he devoutly believed in a guiding power and his enigmatic spirit-rider was indicative of divine intent.
Souls are given absolute mastery over their mind’s choices. Any proof of eternity’s existence would negate the fullness of the gift. Shiva’s Messenger perceived his afterlife journey as real but he couldn’t utterly demonstrate it, even to himself. Shiva, if that was his occasional voice, was restricted in what he could say. His clues had to point to avenues that the recipient could envision himself being aware of, with knowledge already known. His internal voice needed ensure that he might only be a trick of the subconscious mind.
The jarring road soon jolted his mind back to the president’s visit in Kiev. In Akron, he hadn’t killed the president because the vice-president was worse. In Spokane, he only scared President Weeds again to provide misdirection, but a fateful head butt gave him the Shiva file.
“I dangled that Stryker clue like a carrot for American people to grasp at. Their government isn’t really about them anymore. It’s primarily an interface to big business.” According to the press, the Stryke two, only a misspelling and a sad commentary about literacy. Some pundit genius concocted a hidden message out of the Powers/Wright names, that wasn’t intended, but none could make the more obvious connection between Stryker and Clark. “That should be unfathomable, but look at who owns the networks.”
“Everyone seems to think that the next time the Messenger speaks, it will be the fatal voice for the president.” The news coverage lately confirmed this. Phrases like ‘third time’s a charm’ and ‘strike three Larry is out’ were being bandied about. Las Vegas bookies were purported to even have a line on the next attempt and assassination was the odds on favorite.
“I didn’t kill because Lon Clark is worse but my father murdered Kennedy when Lyndon B Johnson was also more corrupt.” Did that hold as a viable justification for completing his vow? He was aware of that correlation in Akron and still hadn’t the fatal shot.
“I have to complete my pledge only when I feel right about it.” Sam in Toronto expected Akron to be the day and now he believed Kiev would be. Carl also assumed the next one would be a payday shot. Jessica had gone so far as to mutter, ‘What a pinhead!’ when Larry’s face was on TV. Then she had looked at John with her sly smile that probably meant, ‘Go ahead because everyone wants you to.’ She was indicative of many folk, especially outside the filtered media sphere in the U.S., cheering the killer on.
Gunter needed to keep his mind on driving in order to navigate through Odessa to find an address. The apartment was accessed from a shabby looking inner parking court, just off the main walking street of Ekaterinskaya. The building’s exterior looked decrepit but the apartment’s interior was only slightly shy of luxurious. It had a distant view of the dark waters of Odessa harbor.
“How were the roads?” Already ensconced in their two-bedroom apartment, Carl had done some exploring and led the way to the nearby promenade. Street buskers played tunes at points along the boulevard, with hats upturned for coins and small bills. Independent vendors sold balloons to kids and photographers with unusual pets like snakes and iguana’s encouraged passerby to pose. The city core had a seaside carnival feel.
“A few sections still have incidental battle damage from Hitler’s invasion, Barbarossa.” They stopped for a light, delicious meal in a sidewalk restaurant but Gunter was lost in his thoughts.
It’s coming down to crunch time. It wouldn’t make much sense planning something for Kiev, if he didn’t have the one crucial piece to the puzzle. Lon Clark is worse.
It was a nice evening in the beautiful city and too early to sleep, so they strolled. Since Gunter was quiet and seemingly absorbed by a problem, Carl refrained from disturbing him. A walk towards the sea naturally took them to the top of the Potemkin Stair.
Carl was right. I did whack the hornet’s nest in Spokane. Even with them buzzing in all directions, the president would still be up to his armpits in Secret Service. Getting close would be very difficult and extremely dangerous. It would also be unbelievably stupid, if I’m going to target and balk again.
“Looking down, from the vantage point of the Duc du Richelieu monument, the flight of steps doesn’t have a narrowing perspective. It is specially constructed to appear the same width, at the bottom as it does at the top. Odessa locals call it the Ninth Wonder of the World.” A vendor of postcards and souvenir books took them as tourists and hawked his wares by describing the features of the stairway. Gunter got it twice, as the man tried again in German, in case he hadn’t picked the correct linguistic group.
Maybe it’s time to tell Carl that we’re just going home?
Sensing that his boss shouldn’t be disturbed, Carl quickly bought the offered book and shooed the salesman away.
“The stairs are out of whack with the rest of the world. Perhaps in that they resemble me.” The young man stopped and looked at the Potemkin stair. They’re similar to the president, also, because two sides see him from a different perspective.
“Yes!” A trillion-watt bulb flashed in his imagination. Shiva’s Messenger had his revelation.
“You have an idea?” After nearly leaping out of his jacket’s neck in start, Carl managed to land on his feet like a dropped cat.
“Oh yes!” Gunter grinned and devilment twinkled in his eyes. “It’s good—it’s really good!”
“What are we going to do?”
“As Shiva did at the churning of the ocean of milk.”
“Frankly, boss, I have no idea what you just said.” The two friends descended the stairs to view a doubly wide inverted ‘V’ of the visual perspective of distance. This bottom effect was the price to be paid to achieve the illusion from the top.
“Managers do the thinking so grunt workers don’t have to.”
“I knew you’d be a lousy boss with that attitude of yours.”
“Admit it, Carl. You love me. Do any other supervisors let you use company funds to buy clothes?” Gunter good-naturedly pushed the older man’s shoulder. “How many will volunteer to be your wing-man to meet some of the women you wanted to impress?”
“What women?” Carl mocked surprise but he really thought going out for some fun with Gunter would be interesting.
“There are fabulous girls all over this town! Your head has been bobbling like a spring-necked dash ornament.”
“I’ll have a couple drinks with you but Hamster Man’s never done well with ladies. He’ll just cramp your style.”
“So why is it you haven’t had girlfriends?” Gunter asked as they found seats in a trendy nightclub. “You’re a good looking guy.”
“Hearing that from a male doesn’t count for much. Females just don’t seem to have the same opinion as you.”
“You’ve never done well with girls?”
“Not really. I’ve gotten used to that fact and I accept it.”
“What’s my name?” The young assassin asked abruptly.
“Gunter.” Carl answered without thinking and then realized he was wrong: that name was a false one. The employee lowered his voice to say the truest one. “I mean, John.”
“So why did you say ‘Gunter’ first?”
“Gunter Klein your current alias.”
“Ernest Payne is yours,” the young man smiled, “but I only call you by it when you’re earnestly trying to be a pain.”
“Cute.” Now aware, Eckert thought quickly back for the times he’d been slurred without knowing it. He also considered Gunter’s name. “I’m used to calling you by whichever persona you’re in. You always have the accent and you never slip from it even when we’re alone. I thought of you as Alex but now you’re Gunter to me.”
“That’s because I am Gunter Klein. As I view my documents for the first time, I decide who that person will be. I become him, with the appropriate traits that I’ve given him.”
“You are Gunter and unless as an Ernest Payne, Carl Eckert presumes this conversation has a point to it.”
“My death and return gave me some interesting ideas. I think when I fully take on a character, my soul believes. People must communicate with each other on a level that our minds don’t fathom. That’s why you can meet someone and suddenly have a ‘bad’ or maybe a ‘good’ feeling without knowing why. My soul tells your essence that I’m ‘Gunter’ and then your intuition tells your mind.”
“You could simply have good field craft and acting skills.”
“I think I am a good actor. My father gave me plenty of practice in assuming different characters. ‘The most important thing to make you believable in a role is to accept it yourself’.”
“Okay, you’re more convincing because you believe it and so does your soul. Now why are we talking about this?”
“Because you told me females don’t see you as attractive, even when you are. They only find you as uninteresting, because you think of yourself that way. You’re broadcasting your low self image and they get the first impression that you’re not stimulating.”
“Maybe so, but that’s the way I am and I can’t change that.”
“Who says you can’t? I change all of the time. I can be whoever and whatever I want. All I have to do is convince myself and then others will believe. Try right now to only think of yourself as Carl the interesting ladies man.”
“OK, I’m Carl the ladies man.” He gave it only lip service.
“Saying it’s alright but now you have to believe it. When you can think of yourself that way, then the women will also.”
“I think I can maybe do that.”
“I know that you can. You made everyone think that you were a homeless destitute man and they were convinced because you believed. If you were simply acting a role then people wouldn’t have given you money for panhandling.”
“You may be right.” He strained his well-developed imagination to believe he was interesting to women. No, more than just that. He was Carl Eckert the ‘babe-magnet’ Hamster Man. “Am I mistaken or did that beautiful woman just smile at me? I think she’s now looking at me differently as well.”
“I do perceive divergence in her stare,” Gunter confirmed, “but we can’t prove if it’s really so. We can only believe or not.”