The Waiting Game
A ST. NICHOLAS SALVAGE & WRECKING GIG
by Dana Haynes
Art by Tim Foley
Katalin Fiero Dahar lunched in Madrid with her mother, in a sunny, street-side restaurant on Calle de Segovia, featuring an outdoor dining area under trellises heavy with pomegranate flowers, bougainvillea, and red carnations. She didn’t get to Madrid often; she and her business partner, Michael Patrick Finnigan, lived on the island of Cyprus. But it was always good to get home and to fit some time in with her famous journalist/activist mother.
Kadija Dahar arrived late and left early, but they had a full forty minutes in between, which is more than Fiero had had with her mother in better than a year. She took the forty minutes and called it good.
After lunch, Fiero stepped into the ladies’ restroom to freshen up before catching a taxi to the airport. Michael was in Brussels, and he had their company’s de Havilland Otter. Fiero was flying commercial on this trip, for the simple reason that her parents believed she and Michael to be low-level bureaucrats, churning out dull-as-dishwater reports for the European Union.
Low-level bureaucrats don’t own their own airplanes. Especially ones outfitted with an arsenal and false identifications and restraints in the cargo hold.
Fiero and Finnigan made their living as bounty hunters, tracking down the worst of the world’s worst criminals and delivering them—for a significant fee—to the various courts of Europe. The de Havilland and its pilot were part of St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking, a faux Cypriot marine salvage firm that served as a cover for their work.
Nice work if you can get it. Tough to explain to a leftist academic mother and a baron of Spanish industry such as her father.
After lunch, Fiero studied herself in the bathroom mirror, surprised, as always, by her chameleon skills when she visited her parents. Gone were her unusual selection of matchstick jeans, cropped black tanks, biker jackets, and boots. She was a tall, athletic woman; few curves, all angles; Spanish and Algerian. In her work clothes, as Finnigan often said, she looked like a sword in a scabbard. Safely tucked away, a threat to no one ... for now.
For this visit, she wore a belted, sleeveless summer-weight dress of cornflower blue, low heels, pearls in her ears, and a simple strand round her neck. Her purse was Jimmy Choo. She wore a hijab, but not over her head; she wore it as an ivory scarf. Her Algerian mother wore the traditional hijab and, should journalists or academics stumble upon the famed Kadija Dahar dining with her daughter, Fiero could craft a quick head covering without making a scene.
She couldn’t wait to get home and to get out of what Michael insisted on calling “girl clothes.”
Back in the main dining area, a man in a fine beige suit and Spanish brogues caught her attention and smiled brilliantly. He was five ten—the same height as Fiero—with a thick, black mustache and hair swept straight back.
“Ms. Fiero. How do you do?”
He spoke English but with a Russian accent.
“Can I help you?”
He said, “The first thing to know is that Michael Patrick Finnigan is dead.”
Fiero froze. She felt her heart rate slow down; felt blood flow to her hands and feet. Finnigan often joked that other people had fight-or-flight mechanisms hardwired into their brain. Fiero had only a fight mechanism.
The man smiled and shrugged. “He is dead metaphorically, I grant you. But his death is a foregone conclusion unless steps are taken.”
He gestured toward a table, featuring a coffee urn, cream and sugar, and two fresh cups. “May I?”
He held the chair for her as she sat.
He sat, too, but not opposite her; at her right, a quarter way around the small table, so they could speak sotto voce. He made a snapping gesture with his linen napkin, slid it onto his lap. “The second thing to know is that there are guns trained on you right now.”
Fiero said, “I see.”
“The third thing to know . . .” He stopped and poured coffee into both cups. “Sorry. Manners. Cream?”
He poured. “The third thing to know is that we expect you to perform a specific act. That act, and that alone, will serve as a stay of execution for Michael Patrick Finnigan.”
He spoke the whole name slowly, enunciating each syllable.
“No, thank you.”
The man nodded. He pointed to his right ear and made sure she spotted his earjack. He turned over his lapel so she would see the electronics attached to the back of a small medallion, which served as a microphone.
“She is being most reasonable,” the man spoke to whoever waited at the other end of the communications gear. He waited and, having heard something over his earpiece, nodded.
He smiled to Fiero. “My superior is most pleased.”
She stirred her coffee. “May I speak to Michael?”
The man’s eyes unfocused as he listened to something coming through his earpiece. He waited, then nodded.
Five seconds later, another man crossed through the sunny restaurant and, en passant, handed the first man a tablet computer. In doing so, Fiero caught a glimpse of a Russian Makarov .380 auto in a belt holster under his linen jacket.
The first man took the tablet computer, handed it to Fiero with a slight nod. The device was warm and moist from being held by sweaty palms.
Fiero tapped it awake. The screen was set to a video. She tapped again to activate it.
One largish man was holding Michael Patrick Finnigan, his arms twisted behind him, while a second largish man punched him in the gut. Finnigan folded, dropped to the floor.
The video ended.
She noted the time-and-date stamp before the man next to her spoke. “That was ten minutes ago.”
He reached for the computer and she handed it over. The man with the sweaty palms made a second pass through the restaurant, and the tablet again exchanged hands. He moved beyond Fiero’s field of vision. She wouldn’t know where, exactly, in the restaurant he’d end up.
“And what is this task you’d like me to perform?”
The man with the mustache said, “We have a room in the Hotel de Alamillo. It is not far. We shall discuss this there.”
Fiero patted her lips. “Certainly.”
Arkady Vasin told his men to punch Michael Finnigan in the gut one more time. Selikhov and Maksimenko half-dragged the American to the bunker they’d renovated in the basement of an abandoned office complex that had gone bust a year earlier, out near Rivas-Vaciamadrid, well east of the city.
The walls were thick cinder block, the door and doorframe iron. They dropped Finnigan onto his back in the middle of the room.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Finnigan,” Vasin said. He was a smallish man, late sixties, bald and slightly stooped by late-onset arthritis in his hips and back. “Ms. Fiero is going to need—how do you say—proof of life. Once per day, my men will beat on you, we will video it, and show it to her. She will know that you are alive. Not well, but alive.”
Finnigan rose up on his elbows, leaned to his right, and spat blood on the floor. He was American, a New Yorker, five eight, wiry of build, with sandy hair and a ready smile. Back home, he’d been a cop; the son and grandson and nephew and brother of cops. He knew how to read a room quickly. He knew how to establish dialogue without appearing to. He looked around. The Russian and his men stood over him smirking. Before the complex had gone bankrupt, this room had been an office of some kind, with an old desk and slat-back chair, and rows of filing cabinets. He had no idea what the hell the Russian dude wanted of Fiero, but he spotted five one-gallon jugs of potable water, stacks of canned goods, and a chemical toilet. He spotted a portable, single-burner heating element, plus plastic utensils.
He was going to be here a while. . . .
Copyright © 2021. The Waiting Game by Dana Haynes