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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.

Against All Evil: The Intruders, Episode Three

Welcome to another episode of The Intruders. But first, a review of the previous installment.

Max and Lena had discovered that the Killoff crime ring had found Max and Lena again and hired two Portland Russian mob thugs to capture Max and deliver him to Nicki Killoff. Nicki intended to coerce Max to reveal his secret for producing a lethal plague virus. Ivan Killoff, the gang’s leader, had sent his son Nicki with two of their best men, Boris and Stravorski, to Portland for this purpose. But when two local Russian thugs on loan to the Killoffs invaded Max's home, Max and Lena subdued one and fatally wounded the other. The kidnapping failure prompted Nicki to have Stravorski killed by Boris. Nicki then commanded Boris find Max as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Max and Lena had decided not to run from the Killoffs, but to end the threat to what they had hoped would be their golden retirement years.                                

And now, we continue . . .

Nicki Killoff called his father Ivan after Boris removed Stravorskie's body from the basement of the North Portland laundromat Nicki was using as his Portland headquarters.

Ivan, waiting in his office in the gang's trucking warehouse on the edge of Oxford, Mississippi, answered the phone on the first ring. “Nicki! Did you get them?”

“Well, ah . . . no. They got away. But we'll find them. I pro . . . promise,” Nicki stammered.

“What? Again? This is their second escape. Your promise is meaningless. Obviously, you're not up to this task. Stay close to the phone and do nothing. I’ll call back soon.”

“But father, we had a good plan. But they knew we were coming and were prepared. They fought like wild animals.”

“I’m not interested in your excuses, Nicki, and won’t accept any more of them,” Ivan replied in a stone-cold voice, then terminated the call.

Meanwhile, later that same night, having turned over the captured intruder to the police and then quietly leaving their house, Max and Lena were comfortably ensconced in a cozy cabin on a remote slope of Mt. Hood. It was a neighbor's weekend retreat and they had been there before. They sat together in front of a low fire, both lost in deep thought.

“The Killoffs will hound us forever if we don't destroy them once and for all,” Lena said, breaking the silence. “We have no choice,” reiterating what they had decided after learning the identity of the would-be kidnappers.

“You're right, Lena. That has to be our single focus. We can't allow them, or anyone else for that matter, to obtain the formula. I wish I had never tested the energy enhancement procedure on that virus. But it was the only one we had in the lab at the time, and I was anxious to confirm the process. I should have waited to get a less dangerous strain. This mutation can turn a person into a bloody corpse in 24 hours, and it’s highly contagious. It would be a horrible way to die: massive internal bleeding, spasms, excruciating pain. I don’t know exactly why those bastards want it so badly, but I know damn-well it’s not for the good of mankind.”

“Don't fret, Max. What's done is done. But now . . ., now it’s time to put an end to this game. So get on with your planning,” Lena said in her calming manner.        

About five a.m., with Lena asleep on the sofa, Max saved the document he’d been diligently working on, then closed and put aside his laptop. He went out onto the cold grass and breathed in the crisp, clean mountain air. After stretches and yoga exercises, he hurried back into the warm cabin. But, in his haste to get on with the task ahead of them, he didn’t notice the fresh boot prints in the damp dirt below the living room window. Back inside, he showered and shaved, then ate a hastily-prepared breakfast. Finally, he was ready.

“Lena, let's talk.,” he called out to her from the little kitchen where he sat at a table set with two steaming cups of green tea.

Lena was already awake, finishing her isometric exercises. She smiled and answered immediately.

“I'll be right there.” She too was ready: anticipating the possibilities that Max could come up with, she had made her inquiries, called in a few favors, issued orders. Her people were standing by and could be deployed at a moment’s notice.

While Max and Lena were in the cabin finalizing their plan, in North Portland at the gang's hideout, Nicki Killoff had just answered the call from his father, Ivan, informing him that help was on the way.

“And Nicki…we have to have the formula no later than ten days from now. Our client is insistent, and has moved up the delivery date. They mean business. There’s no room for mistakes,” Ivan added before hanging up.

Two hours later, Boris ushered the man sent by Ivan into the basement hideout. Nicki was sitting at his rickety table in the dingy room and greeted the man, who was of medium-height, well-muscled and hard-looking, with a sullen stare. He looked to be in his mid-fifty’s, was bald and dressed in black. To break the tension, Boris introduced Nicki, but had no idea what the man's name was.

The man stepped forward, leaned over a bit, spread his large, thick-fingered hands on the table and looked directly into Nicki's eyes. In a low, gravelly voice, he said, “Just tell me what you need, Nicki boy.  All I know is you want a couple of old people grabbed, right? So who and where are they? And what's the big picture here? If I'm gonna get this done, I gotta know what's going on. Ivan didn’t say much”

Nicki blinked nervously, but otherwise held his own, trying to maintain control of the situation.

“Who the hell are you? What have you been told?” he spat out, as if he was in charge rather than his father, far away at the other end of the phone line.

“Relax, junior. I'm The Albanian. I provide necessary services, so to speak. Your old man hired me to capture the two you're looking for. I deliver them alive, I get fifty thousand apiece. Dead, I get nothing”

“Well . . . okay,” Nicki said, reluctantly accepting the fact that he had no choice but to cooperate with the hired enforcer. “I'll tell you what we know.”

“The old man is Maximilian Manus. He’s a scientist. He made some kinda killer virus. He's the only one knows how to produce it. There’s gotta be a formula or recipe or something. Whatever it is, we gotta get it. His crazy wife, a big woman named Lena, is always with him. We want ‘em both, but especially him.”

“So what's the problem?” asked The Albanian. “There's just two of them, right? And they're old, aren't they?”

“Yeah, . . . but there’s a few complications.”

The Albanian said nothing, just waited.

Nicki continued, “Two years ago they dodged our attempt to capture them, and then again last night. We've got to find them and get that formula. We have to deliver it to a client within 10 days. If we don't meet their demand, there’ll be disastrous consequences.”

“Don't worry, Nicki. I don't do failure. But tell me, how did these two geriatric retirees manage to escape? Two times, right?  Do they have a secret army? Is there something special about them? If there is, I need to know.”

Nicki glanced at the open notebook on his table. “Max Manus; some kind of science genius in biochemistry and neurobiology, whatever that is.

Nicki looked up for a second from the open notebook, towards The Albanian, then continued.

“He’s rumored to have discovered a way to increase energy. Like science fiction, super-hero stuff. He's supposed to be the only one that knows how to make it work. His wife helps keep it secret. But instead of his energy discovery, we’re after is his formula for the plague virus. It says here he created it when he was studying the energy thing. Like a test experiment or something.”

“Okay, I get the picture. It sounds like this old guy’s a little nuts, but no dummy. But, that doesn't mean we can't capture him. What about the old lady? This Lena dame? What's her story?”

Nicki withdrew a printout from a file box under the table and recited its content:


Name: Lena Hock; Born 1948, Blauberg, Switzerland.

Father: General Gustav Hock, Swiss army.

Mother: Irena Cordreseau, Carpathian gypsy; WW II anti-Nazi partisan, tall, cunning, ferocious; descendent of Genghis Khan.

At young age, acknowledged intellectually and athletically precocious.

Disappeared age 20:

Escaped Syrian maximum-security prison 1975

Surfaced in Israel same year.

Identified as US CIA assassin 1979; trained killer.

Met Manus 1995 during covert Central Asia high-tech CIA operation; married 1996.

Out of sight until rumor of Manus’ energy discovery leaked 2005.

Retired CIA 2006 (age 58)

Considered extremely dangerous.


The Albanian stared at the young Killoff with disbelief for a moment, then said, “Are you afraid of these fossils?  They're past their prime. Let's find them and bring them in. I'll collect my bounty and get the hell outta here.”

“Right, but first we have to find them,” Nicki responded. “We've got a dozen of the Portland Russian guys searching for them. It shouldn't take long to track ‘em down. They couldn't have gotten too far.”

Just then Boris' cell phone rang. He recognized the number and answered at once. After a second he turned off the phone. “They found them. Let's go!”


To be continued . . .

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