Thursday, December 31, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Fifteen

Eric was right -- there was a man on the door. Dressed in black cargo pants and a black coat, he nodded as Pavel approached.

"I can leave them with you?" Pavel asked. The guard nodded again.

"Thanks, Pavel. I'll see you around," Eric said, grinning.

"Indeed. It was good to see you again, my friend."

Pavel headed down the hall as the guard keyed the door to Vassily's room. He motioned them in.

Eric was also right, it turned out, about two men being posted in Vassily's room, though neither Johnny nor Eric saw them immediately. They felt the guards' presence, though, as both of them were quickly and expertly forced to their knees just inside the huge room's doorway. Their hands were zip-tied behind their backs before they even knew what was going on.

"Eric Austen," a deep voice boomed across the room. "I confess, I never thought I'd see your face again."

Vassily walked up to them, smiling and swirling a martini in his massive left hand.

The arms dealer didn't look like Johnny expected him to -- first off, he was a young guy. Johnny guessed his age between 30 and 35. He was barefoot, and dressed in a pair of jeans and a tight black T-shirt. When he smiled, Johnny saw four gold teeth gleaming in his mouth.

"Vassily. Is this really necessary?" Eric asked, shrugging his bound hands.

"You can cut Mr. Austen loose," Vassily told his guards. "But keep the muscle wrapped up for the moment. I'm a little hurt, Eric. What makes you feel the need to bring muscle to a meeting with me? You don't trust dear old friend Vassily anymore?"

"Not that at all, Vassily," Johnny said as the guard cut his zip-ties. He stood up.

"That is what it looks like," Vassily said. "No one brings along a guy who looks like that unless they're trying to make a statement."

"Or unless he's a local, and you're not sure yet if this is a hostile town," Eric said.

"Maybe. He stays locked for the time being. You're OK with that, right, muscle?"

Johnny shrugged. He knew from playing Eric's muscle before that the less he said, the better.

"Fine," Eric said. "I came to talk business, Vassily. I'm putting together a local crew. I'm gonna need at least 50 AKs, even more handguns. Can you handle that kind of action? Quickly?"

"I think you forget who you are talking to," Vassily said. "AKs, handguns, these are easy. I can have this for you in an hour."

"What about something sexier? M4A1s, MP7s, HK-117s, Glock 18s on full-auto? Can you get those?"

Vassily took a long sip of his martini before he answered.

"These are tougher, but not impossible. Much more expensive, however."

"Money's no problem."

"The M4s and HK-117s, I have some locally. Left over from a recent transaction," Vassily said, finishing his drink. He handed the empty to one of his guards, who immediately handed him a full one.

"Who's got that kind of weight locally?" Eric asked. "Anyone I need to worry about? Competition, maybe?"

"Nyet," Vassily said. "Fundamentalists, I think. Extremists. No fun, really. I've only met one of them. He seemed not to have a sense of humor."

"What kind of fundamentalists? You mean terrorists?" Eric asked.

"Nyet. Not terrorists. Anti-terrorists, I think. I did not think to ask my customer his life story," Vassily said, raising an eyebrow. "You seem very interested in this particular customer, Eric. If a man was suspicious by nature, he might find this odd."

"Nah. Not really. Just wondering if this is a guy who's gonna come along and fuck up my program in the future," Eric said.

"I doubt that," Vassily said. "He did not seem to be from here, though one can never tell with you Americans and your crazy accents. In any case, to your business plan. I can get you five M4s and two HK-117s in a day. The AKs and handguns, three hours. It's going to be expensive, however."

Eric nodded. "Three hours is faster than I need. We can set up a meet for tomorrow -- you can pick the place and time."

Vassily sipped from his drink. One of his guards came up and whispered something in Vassily's ear. Vassily nodded and muttered something back, and the guard left the room.

"What was that all about?" Eric asked. Johnny had been wondering the same thing.

"Is nothing," Vassily said, smiling and showing teeth. "Just some other business."

"Good. If we're all set here, you can cut my guy loose and we'll see you tomorrow. I'll give you my cell."

"Just a few more moments, my old friend," Vassily said, still grinning. "There is something I would like you to see before you leave."

Johnny had a bad feeling -- the transaction was done, and they could set up SWAT to assault the next day's meet. Why were they still around? Why hadn't Vassily kicked them out?

He got his answer a few seconds later when the guard returned to the room. He wasn't alone this time. Pavel had joined him from downstairs, and the two of them were herding Frank and a very pissed-off-looking Ellie into the room with them.

"This is what I wanted you to see," Vassily said, pointing at Ellie and Frank. "I see two possibilities at work here, my old friend. One is that you've gotten sloppy -- knowing you as I do, I doubt that this is the case. The other is that your man here fucked up badly. He allowed you to be followed here by these two -- they are police, by the way, though I am sure you have figured that part out already."

"Well, I can certainly say it wasn't me who got us followed," Eric said, glaring at Johnny.

One of Vassily's men pulled a handgun. He handed it to Vassily, who checked the clip.

"In business, these things happen sometimes. No bother. Just clean it up," Vassily said. "Kill the cops, then your muscle for failing us. Then we set up the meeting."

Vassily handed the gun to Eric, who weighed it in his hand. Eric shot a look at Johnny. Oh, shit. Looks like he's going to do something stupid, Johnny thought, getting ready to jump to his feet.

Eric leveled the gun at Johnny's head. Ellie glared at him -- her look said I fucking knew it.

In a blur, Eric spun to his right. He whipped the butt of the gun into the side of Vassily's head. Johnny moved a split-second after Eric did, springing up and bull-charging. His shoulder caught the guard to his right in the solar plexus -- the man fired wildly into the ceiling as all the air rushed from his body. Ellie dropped low and snap-kicked the other guard in the kneecap before he could fire. The sound of snapping bone bounced off the walls.

While all this was going on, Frank had managed to get Pavel in a choke hold. Pavel thrashed wildly, his fists glancing Frank's skull twice. Still, Frank managed to hang onto him for the few seconds it took to choke him out.

The altercation took no more than five seconds. Pavel and Vassily were unconscious. One guard was on the floor clutching his wrecked knee -- Johnny had the other pinned against the wall. Eric handed his gun to Frank, who trained it on the pinned guard. Johnny moved back, and Ellie cut his cuffs with a knife from Pavel's coat.

Johnny moved to the front door, expecting the guard on the other side to come through, gun blazing, it any second. The door didn't open. He looked at Eric, who shrugged.

Ellie and Johnny quickly liberated guns from the downed Ukranians. Johnny aimed his MP5 at the door.

"Where's the other guy?" Ellie said as she pulled her handcuffs from Pavel's coat. She quickly cuffed the downed Ukranians.

"Look out!" Eric suddenly yelled. Johnny turned just in time to see the guard from the hall open fire from the suite's bedroom. Eric rammed into Ellie. She fell to the carpet, and three bullets slammed into Eric's upper body. As Eric fell, Johnny opened up with the MP5, dropping the guard.

"Shit! Eric!" Johnny yelled as Ellie picked herself up.

"Is he. . .?"

"Hurting quite a lot? Yes," Eric groaned from the floor. Johnny rolled Eric over onto his back. He saw a lot of blood around Eric's left shoulder, and ripped his shirt away to check out the wound. Three neat holes in Eric's shoulder oozed blood.

"I think they went right through," Eric said. "I've seen guys shot a lot worse than this. I'll live."

"You're just lucky those were armor-piercing rounds, pal. Hollow points would've shredded your brachial artery," Johnny said.

"And wouldn't that have been fun?" Eric chuckled, sitting up and coughing.

Frank grabbed some small hand towels from the bathroom. He and Johnny used two of the zip-ties on Vassily's table to attach them to both sides of Eric's shoulder while Ellie grabbed the phone.

She called first for an ambulance, then for backup.

"There's one more guy in the lobby," Eric reminded them. "He'll fire on your guys. Get me Pavel's radio, would you?"

Johnny grabbed the small earpiece and Secret-Serivce-style radio from Pavel's unconscious form.

Eric used his left hand to place the receiver in his ear, then toggled the radio's tiny microphone. He mumbled in quick, quiet Russian.

"What'd you say?" Johnny asked him as Eric took out the earpiece.

"I told him we'd lost all radio contact with the guy in the garage. In five minutes, he's going to check it out. That should give you plenty of time to get down there and bonk him on the head," Eric said.

Johnny traded his MP5 for Frank's pistol -- an MP-446, now that he got a closer look at it -- and left the hotel room. He took the stairs. The parking garage was full of cars but devoid of people when he got there -- he took a spot on the wall next to the stairwell and waited. A few moments later, the door to the stairwell opened, and the man in the brown suit walked out, hand in his jacket.

"Hello," Johnny said.

As the man in the suit turned to find the source of the voice, Johnny caught him just below the eye with a powerful straight right. A loud slap -- like a brick slamming into a shallow pool of water -- echoed through the garage, amplified by the concrete walls and ceiling. The guard's feet went out from under him, and his back hit the floor of the garage hard. He twitched once, then stopped moving.

"Oops. Might've hit you a little too hard, there," Johnny mumbled, reaching down and checking the guy's pulse. It felt strong -- he wasn't dead.

Johnny zip-tied the man's hands behind his back, then zip-tied the unconscious thug to the Mercedes Pullman Ambassador's rear bumper.

He'd disabled the guard just in time, as it turned out. Johnny could see police lights flashing just outside the garage -- their backup. He pulled his badge from his boot and hung it around his neck as the first of many OPD vehicles screamed into the garage.

* * *

"I can't believe he took a bullet for me," Ellie said, shaking her head as paramedics loaded Eric's stretcher into the waiting ambulance.

"If he'd heard that, Eric would no doubt remind you that he took three bullets for you, not just the one," Johnny told her, smirking.

"I'm usually dead-on in my character assessments," Ellie said. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes, opened it and found it empty. "Perfect."

"Here," Johnny said, handing her his pack. She opened it.

"You've only got two left," she said.

"It's fine. Got more in the car. Have at it."

She took one of the smokes and lit it -- he took the other.

"Don't worry about it. Yeah, you were wrong about Eric. Not entirely your fault -- dude puts off a vibe. I hated him when I first met him, too."

"Yeah, I still feel like shit about it, though."

"Meh. Send him some flowers. On the bright side, it doesn't look like Stahl was bullshitting us. Shall we head down to the station? See what Vassily knows?"

"It's a date," Ellie said, smirking and blowing out smoke.

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