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Against All Evil: The Intruders, Episode Six

Welcome to Episode six of The Intruders.

First, a review of episode five. On the evening of the day following a break-in at their Portland home, Max and Lena vanquished the Killoff-gang thugs who had come to Portland to capture Max and obtain the formula for his lethal virus. Documents from the gang’s hideout revealed that the Killoff’s headquarters was in Columbus, Mississippi. Knowing that to have any peace in their lives, they would have to destroy the syndicate’s leadership, Max and Lena decided to go to Columbus and put an end to the Killoff cartel. Realizing the challenge, Lena enlisted the aid of their two adopted daughters, Zula and Rana, both accomplished in martial arts. The daughters were to join Max and Lena in Mississippi a few days later. Leaving Lena's lair the night before their planned departure, Max and Lena failed to pay close attention to a man who appeared to be sleeping on the sidewalk down the block. Meanwhile, the Killoff gang’s leader, Ivan Killoff, and his brother Vladimir were wondering why they couldn’t reach their men in Portland by phone, especially since the client to whom they had promised the virus was demanding delivery that very night. Ivan’s mobile rang as the episode came to a close. 

           Episode Six

After Max and Lena came out of Lena’s secret sanctum in an abandoned machine shop in Southeast Portland and left in their Outback, Abdul Farhadi, inconspicuous in the dark shadows down the street, called the leader of his al-Qaeda sleeper cell. Fifteen minutes later a tan Toyota sedan arrived and two bearded men joined him. They smashed through the door of Lena’s hideout and rushed in, discovering Lena's partner, Raj Rajgupta, sitting in front of a bank of computer screens. After an hour of unspeakable torture, Raj revealed what he knew about Max and Lena's travel plans. Satisfies that he had told then everything, they then decapitated him with Lena's bread knife and left his head in the refrigerator, ghoulishly displayed on Lena's favorite porcelain platter.

While Raj was being tortured in Portland, 2400 miles away in Mississippi, Ivan Killoff answered his phone on the second ring.

After listening in silence for a moment, Ivan sputtered. “There was change in plans, a minor delay. We need a little more time, but I guarantee we’ll have what you want by tomorrow night.”

The line went dead. Five minutes later a windowless van pulled up in front of the Killoff warehouse. Two men got out and jimmied the building’s front door. They silently made their way to the office where Ivan and Vladimir were still trying to contact Nicki in Portland. The two Killoffs were taken by surprise when the assailants burst into the room. Before the two brothers were able to do anything to protect themselves, two pistol shots echoed through the dark warehouse. The killers doused the bodies and much of the office with gasoline and ignited it on their way out.

And so it was: with two bullets and a single match, the Killoff cartel ceased to exist. But with regard to Max and Lena, a far more dangerous adversary had taken the cartel’s place in the quest to obtain the formula for the lethal virus Max had unintentionally created years earlier, as if fate were upping the ante in its attempt to punish him for an unforgivable transgression.

Back in Portland, a little before dawn the following morning, Max readied his automobile for the trip to Mississippi. Over the years he had lovingly restored an armored, super-charged 1968 Mercedes-Benz 600 Grand Limousine that he had discovered in a Munich junkyard. For Max, this vehicle was the perfect combination of design, engineering, performance and reliability, and he eagerly looked forward to the drive.

Later that morning, cruising smoothly down I-5 South a little past Salem, Lena told Max that she thought they were being followed. “That Toyota Camry five cars behind has been on our tail since leaving Portland,” she said.

“Yes. I noticed it too, but wasn’t sure. What do you think, Liebchen? Should we lose it or find out what's going on?” Max queried. He had a good idea what her response would be.

“We need to know why they're following us. And who they are. There’s three of them. A divide-and-conquer tactic should work. We'll eliminate two of them and capture the other one. Pull into the next rest area.” Max nodded in agreement as Lena described her plan.

Twenty minutes later, Max took the rest area exit and parked at the far end of the nearly deserted truck parking lot. There were few other visitors: the single semi idled as the driver tested tire pressure with a big hammer; an elderly couple sat at a picnic table drinking from steaming paper cups; a lone woman was walking a leashed dog.

A short moment later the Camry arrived and parked near the bathrooms. The three men remained in their car. Lena got out of the Mercedes and walked towards a nearby stand of trees. At the same time Max got out and ambled toward an information alcove.

Seeing the woman heading for the trees, the burly man in the back seat eased out of the Camry and followed her. The other two remained in the car and watched Max.

Twenty yards into the woods, Lena glanced over her shoulder and saw that the man behind her held a pistol with a silencer attached. When she went around a sharp bend in the path a second later she quickly stepped out of sight behind a large oak tree. Apparently afraid of losing her, the bearded man sped up. When he came to where Lena was waiting his increased momentum added to the force of the smashing kick she delivered to his chest and which shattered his ribcage and ruptured his lungs. He dropped to the ground as a muffled gurgle of blood erupted from his mouth. She made sure he was dead, then rushed back to the edge of the woods. She saw Max in the information area studying a wall map.

Max saw Lena across the lot and headed toward the bathroom. The two men got out of their car and followed him. Lena trotted across the parking lot without the men noticing and approached the information area as the second of the two men entered the bathroom behind Max.

Inside the bathroom, Max was in one of the two stalls; its door was closed and latched. The two men were waiting for him to come out. The younger of the two held a pistol. The other one had a loaded syringe ready. Lena entered the open door behind them as quiet as a cat approaching its prey. With expert precision she downed the one holding the gun with a powerful chop to the back of his neck with the hard edge of her clinched fist. Then, in one continuing dance-like motion, she turned, stepped firmly on the other man’s foot and rammed her hand into his chest. He catapulted backwards, smashed his head hard against the cinder block wall, and collapsed unconscious to the floor.

Lena propped the dead gunman on the toilet in one of the stalls while Max injected the other one with the contents of the syringe the man had been holding. After making sure no one was nearby, they put the comatose assailant into the trunk of the Mercedes, then gagged him, tied his wrists behind his back and shackled his ankles. They then hurried into the wooded area and pulled the man Lena had dispatched earlier off the path and covered him with brush. Before leaving the rest area they collected the men's IDs and other possessions. A minute later they returned unnoticed onto the highway and continued south.

When Lena couldn't reach Raj by phone she sadly realized how the men who followed them must have discovered their travel route. The passports they took from their car had been issued in Yemen; the names were Arabic. Max and Lena speculated that the men were al-Qaeda operatives, and suspected that the Killoff gang had been hired by the terrorist organization to obtain Max's plague formula. Although they had believed they could have defeated the Killoffs, Max and Lena well-knew that this jihadist group was a horse of a different color; Al-Qaeda made the Killoffs look like Keystone Cops. But at least, one way or another, they would be able to confirm their suspicions and learn more later when they interrogated the man stashed in the trunk.

Late that afternoon they reached their destination, a CIA safe-house on the outskirts of Sacramento, one that Lena had used in the past. She punched in some numbers on a keypad next to the security gate, and after it swung open they proceeded along a winding, tree-lined gravel driveway to a plain single-story house hidden by a dense grove of tall laurel bushes.

“What about the man in the trunk?”  Lena asked after Max parked.

“We’ll leave him for now. He should be ready to talk by tomorrow morning. If he isn’t, an injection should help. And if that's not enough, you'll have to persuade him with methods from the old days,” Max responded.

 

The next morning the safe-house manager didn't question Lena’s request to use one of the sound-proof rooms in the basement. Max and Lena pulled the weakened Arab out of the trunk and half-carried, half-dragged him down a flight of stairs, then into a brightly-lit chamber where they strapped him into a metal chair bolted to the floor. Max inserted a venous line into his arm. As soon as Lena removed the gag, the prisoner cried out in Arabic for water. His lips were cracked and bleeding. His voice was raspy and dry. The back of his head was matted with blood.

Lena Ignored his garbled pleas and said. “Who do you work for?”

“We are doing the work of Allah. You infidel dogs are not worthy to even crawl in our shadows,” he croaked, seemingly trying as best he could to project the brazen bravery of a zealot on the threshold of divine martyrdom.

Lena ignored his response. “What did you do to my friend Raj?”

“To the glory of Allah, we cut off his head after he talked.”

Lena had to dig deep into her reserve of will power to suppress the temptation to brutally repay him for killing her loyal friend. But she well-knew the importance of the information they needed, and that a fanatic jihadist like this one would talk only after time-wasting torture.

She stepped back and turned to Max, “Is the truth serum ready?”

“Of course,” Max replied, then injected a mixture of scopolamine, temazepam and sodium thiopental into the IV line.

To be continued.

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