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Against All Evil: The Intruders, Episode Four

In the previous episode, Max and Lena formulated a plan to fight back against the Killoff Syndicate after their thugs had failed twice in the past two years to capture them. The Killoff gang was after a deadly virus Max had innocently and accidently created during his research. The gang’s unnamed client was becoming increasingly insistent on its acquisition, demanding that the Killoffs deliver the formula sooner than originally planned. The morning after the most recent failed kidnapping attempt, Nicki Killoff learned of Max's whereabouts just before Max and Lena were preparing to leave the remote mountain cabin to which they had escaped the night before. Episode Three concluded with Killoff thugs heading for the cabin for another attempt to capture Max and his in resourceful wife and helpmate, Lena.

And now, on with our story.

 

It was nine a.m. when Max and Lena left the remote cabin near Mt. Hood and started up the slope to the shortcut through the woods to where they had hidden their car. Halfway up the hill, Max suddenly came to an abrupt halt. Lena pulled up next to him.

“Did you hear that?” Max said. “It sounded like a car door closing. Wait! I hear people running . . . on a dirt road.”

“Max? Are you sure? I don’t hear anything. How can you hear something that must be far away?

“It’s like last night in the house. When I heard the intruders fiddling with the front door. When I woke from that dream.”

Then a flash of reflected light caught Lena’s attention. “There’s someone coming along the road. See them through the trees? There’s a bunch of them.”

 Max looked where Lena was pointing. “You’re right. Let’s go. We’re not prepared for visitors yet.”

He couldn't help but notice how invigorated she was as they continued up the hillside.

“This energy’s incredible,” she said to Max, running next to her, matching her speed and length of stride. “I think I could run like this forever,” she added.

Is this what I think it might be?? Max wondered. This is exactly how it felt during those energy enhancement experiments I conducted on myself.  What the hell’s going on? Could it actually kick in automatically? Is there a trigger that responds to danger? My God! What if this is real? I’ve got to check this out as soon as we take care of this damn Killoff problem.

Two hours later, back in Southeast Portland, Max and Lena separated when they reached the corner of MLK and Hawthorne Blvd. She drove on to a boarded-up, abandoned machine shop under the ramp to one of the bridges spanning the Willamette River. Max walked across the Hawthorne Bridge and up to a secret level-4 cell culture laboratory at the OHSU Medical Center. They both had work to do since they intended to engage the enemy that night. They understood the tactical advantage of surprise and were determined to use it to their advantage.

Lena arrived at her operation center a few minutes later. The upgraded space housed computers and other electronic gear in a central room, a small office for Lena, a compact kitchen with a table and three chairs, and a lab for Max. The computer equipment was the responsibility of her faithful Indian companion, Raj Rajgupta. He greeted her without turning away from the images scrolling on his three wide-screen, high-definition monitors.

Ignoring his greeting, Lena snapped, “Why didn't we know the Killoffs were in town?”

She had contacted Raj immediately after the previous night's attack in their home and instructed him to find out what was going on.  He had worked all night and had the answers.

“Sorry, Lena. There was no hint of a trail. No trace of their arrival. They're here under the cover of a local Russian mafia gang. I learned from street-level scuttle-butt and some hasty phone intercepts that they had arrived two days ago, failed in your kidnapping, missed you on Mt Hood, and are now on their way back to town. Three members of the Killoff gang are here, from their headquarters in Mississippi: Ivan’s 26-year-old son Nicki; Nicki’s lieutenant, Leonid Stravorski; and Ivan's nephew, Boris. My guys saw Nicki and Boris this morning, but no sign of Stravorski.  And there’s one more out-of-town guy, an assassin and bounty-hunter called “The Albanian.” He arrived today and is with them now. They've also enlisted a bunch of the local Russian mob guys to help find you two. Looks like they really mean business this time.”

“The Albanian? Damn!” Lena said, interrupting Raj. “Where are they holed up?”

“They're using the basement of a laundromat on North Lombard as a hideout. Arnie Axman, one of my street guys, set up surveillance from an empty dumpster in the laundromat’s rear parking lot while they were out looking for you and Max. He'll let me know when they return.” Raj turned back to his screens.

“Good work, Raj,” Lena said, somewhat mollified. She went into her little office and powered up her own computer.

Lena didn't like it that “The Albanian” had joined the Killoffs. She knew him to be ruthless and cunning, having encountered him many years ago when he was a young KGB hit-man. During that encounter, he thought he had killed her. But he hadn’t; although seriously wounded, she survived. “This time will be different,” she muttered to herself as his face filled her screen. Her back-door access to restricted CIA files served her well once again.

Meanwhile, across the river and up the hill in his biohazard lab, Max was preparing a special treat for their Killoff foes. Alone in the lab, sitting in front of a biohazard exhaust hood, he cautiously removed one milliliter of a milky liquid from the freezer vial he had just thawed and carefully transferred it into a sterile tube. Next, he added ten milliliters of growth medium, screwed the cap on tight, wrapped the tube in impervious plastic sealing tape, slipped it into a small padded envelope and put it into a padded pocket of his back pack. He then put the resealed freezer vial back into the liquid nitrogen storage tank, discarded his bio-suit into a burn chamber, erased his entry record from the secure lock-pad and left unseen through a seldom-used utility tunnel. He left no trail of having been there.

Back in Southeast Portland thirty minutes later, Max joined Lena and Raj in time for lunch at their favorite fast-food spot, a Burgerville near Lena's lair. Seated at a window table looking out onto MLK Boulevard, they reviewed their plan of attack while savoring black bean veggie burgers and organic rhubarb milkshakes. After due consideration, they concluded that the unexpected appearance of “The Albanian's” would not change their plan as it was laid out. If it worked, he’d go down like the others.

Max, slurped up the last of his shake, then addressed Raj. “Find out from your street people when and where the Russians will be tonight. Once you know they're together, set it up for the attack. Now, I need some time in the lab,” Max said as he rose from the table, grabbed his pack and headed for the door. Lena and Raj followed.

A little later, not far away in North Portland, two dusty vans pulled into the littered lot behind the laundromat and parked across from an unused, rust-coated dumpster. Nicki, Boris and The Albanian headed for the building’s rear door. The other men divided up and left in each direction down the alley. Once inside the laundromat, Nicki made another call to his father, fearful at the prospect of reporting yet another failure.

Even Boris and The Albanian, standing just outside the door to Nicki’s make-shift office, could hear the Killoff boss's anger (or was it panic), then the loud threat of severe consequences if the formula were not in hand by the deadline.

“Find them!” Ivan screamed. “If you don't have them by tomorrow night

our client is going to send in their own agents. And Nicki, I don’t think they

would leave any witnesses. Like you, for instance.”

After hanging up, Nicki waved the other two into the room. “All right, let's get busy and figure out how to find him,” he said.

Five hours later, at 7:20 p.m., with their plan laid out, the three thugs took a break for dinner.

 “We'll regroup in half an hour,” Nicki said. Looking at Boris, he continued, “Get the local Russians guys back here so we can start the search for Manus tonight. We don't have time to lose.”

Back at Lena’s hideout in Southeast Portland, at 7:35, Max came out of his lab and joined Lena in the kitchen.

“My part's ready. How is it with you?” he said anxiously, sitting down at the table.

Lena, noting the concern in his voice, replied in her confident manner. “Everything is in place, Maxi. The Russians are still at the laundromat. One of them went to the pizza shop down the block. They do have to eat, you know. Axman will call when they’re together again. The microphone he attached to the back wall is picking up everything they say. Now we just have to be patient. So let's have a little Schnapps, a few pretzels, and listen to some Brahms until it's time to go. How about the Third Symphony?”

Max smiled as the concern drained from his face. He grabbed a handful of pretzels and accepted the little glass of clear liquid Lena offered him. “Okay, Lena, you’re right. Prost!”

It was 8:13 when Axman called from the dumpster. “They're back. The local guys, too. Everything’s ready here.”

“We'll be there in fifteen minutes,” Lena said as she punched the off button on the CD player.

They were in their Outback and on the way two minutes later.

To be continued.

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