Ian and Lila are back from their adventure. Ian went to work today only to find his desk covered in assorted paperwork. Lila also has a stack of work to wade through. For some post-work relaxation, they walked over to the Casbah Café, a Moroccan themed coffee/tea house in Silver Lake.
“Fifteen minutes,” Joe said tersely into his satellite phone’s hands-free earpiece. He clicked the off button and put his full focus into driving, slewing across the snow to narrowly miss a huge clump of ice that had fallen off some vehicle’s undercarriage.
Lila dozed, her head hitting against the window with a clunk each time they drove over a bump, which was unfortunately almost all the time. At this final swerve, the side of her head thunked hard against the glass, waking her. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, rubbing her palms across her face. She yawned until her jaw cracked. “How long was I asleep?”
“An hour and half,” Ian replied and turned to look back at her critically, “You look like shit.”
“That’s just what every woman wants to hear,” Lila laughed and returned the perusal. “You’re looking pretty tired yourself. I can’t believe you and Joe haven’t fallen asleep.”
Ian rubbed his eyes. “I’m not sure if Joe has been staying awake. All that swerving makes it hard to tell. I know I’ve been drifting off,”
Joe glanced back at Lila. “Fifteen minutes out from the airport. Get ready.”
“Get ready for what?” Lila mumbled. She scrabbled around in her backpack and pulled out what appeared to be a lipstick container. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she said shaking her head.
“So you’re gonna do what, put on lipstick?” Joe asked jokingly, glancing in the rear view mirror at the object Lila held.
“No, I’m going to stun anyone who tries to stop me from getting on that plane.”
She pulled off the case top and pressed a button. A jolt of electrical current arced across the top of the gadget.
“Sounds like a giant mosquito,” Ian commented. “Probably feels like one biting you too.”
“Shall we try it out?” Lila asked him challengingly and reached the stun gun toward him.
“Children, children,” Joe said teasingly, but with an undercurrent of tension. “Get your gear together. We’re almost there.”
Lila strapped on her backpack and Ian pulled his bag tightly across his shoulders.
Joe sped up and pulled the wheel hard left to skid into a position paralleling a small plane. Even though the plane was only a car’s width away, Lila had to squint to make out its shape in the near pitch darkness.
The three of them launched from their respective car doors, Joe taking time to nostalgically pat the car on the hood before running to catch up. They raced toward the plane, its engines already running.
A man with an AK-47 stepped around the side. “Please, don’t be in such a hurry,” he said in a thick Russian accent.
Lila grabbed Ian to keep from skidding across the snow and smacking into the man as she came to an abrupt stop. Joe almost created a domino effect by crashing into them.
“Uh, that’s our plane,” Lila said weakly.
“Not anymore,” the man “Charlie,” as she dubbed him, said villainously.
“Oh, yeah?” Lila couldn’t think of anything smart to say and looked to Ian. “Do something,” she muttered.
“What? He has a gun,” Ian replied in a low voice.
Joe pushed past the two of them and appeared to trip directly into Charlie, knocking the man’s AK-47 to the side. “Oops,” Joe said, slamming his elbow into the man’s nose, causing it to spurt blood like a faucet. Charlie dropped his rifle, clamping both hands to his nose, eyes streaming with tears. Joe took advantage of the man’s position to kick him in the head with his heavy boot. The man dropped like a rock.
Ian picked up the AK-47, removed the magazine and then ejected the already chambered round. Throwing the AK-47 as far as he could to the left, he then pitched the magazine and round off into the distance to the right.
“All right then,” Lila said, a little shocked. “Who’s going to fly the plane? I hope that wasn’t the pilot.” She gestured to the man lying on the ground and oozing blood.
“You do realize that Joe and I are pilots,” Ian said as they clambered on board the plane.
“Helicopter pilots. Even I know it’s not the same thing,” Lila said sarcastically.
Lila nearly fell headlong as her foot caught on an object on the floor. A man lay bound and gagged. “I’m assuming this is the pilot?” She asked hand braced above him. The man nodded.
The plane was already taxiing down the runway with Ian and Joe at the controls, when Lila helped the pilot sit up and climb into one of the passenger seats where he could take a moment to regain his composure.
Joe contacted what passed for a control tower and then cut the radio as a series of shouts in Russian could be heard squawking from the headphones. “Can’t hear you!” Joe yelled before pulling off the headset.
“Whew, glad to be in the air,” he said.
“What if they did something to the plane?” Lila asked worriedly.
“Then it will be a short flight,” Ian said mildly.
“Doesn’t anything ever worry you?”
“Not really. If it’s good, it’s good. If not, we’ll deal.”
They arrived safely in Magadan, and caught their onward flights. Almost thirty-six hours later, the taxi pulled up in front of their place and Ian and Lila crawled stiffly out.
“What a journey,” Lila groaned. “I think I need a bath.”
“I think you do too,” Ian agreed.
Lila rolled her eyes, too tired to respond.
As she unlocked the door, she could hear imperious meows emanating from behind it.
“Pearson!” she called out happily, carefully opening the door to keep from squishing him behind it.
Ian and Lila stretched out on the couch, Pearson nestled in beside them purring. Lila idly petted his fur. “I’m glad that the cat sitter left us a pumpkin, that was really nice of her.”
“Very seasonal,” Ian concurred sleepily, his eyes half shut and the reflected light from the candles burning inside the pumpkin dancing across his face.
Lila turned her head to gaze at him. “Happy Halloween.”
“To you too.” He smiled.
Lila snuggled in to enjoy the glow from the pumpkin. “It’s nice to be home.”
“That’s what I see all those billboards for, right?” Ian pointed outside to Sunset Boulevard.
“Yes,” Lila replied. “I wanted to go last year, but you were out of the country — again.”
Ian flashed her a smile. “Occupational hazard.”
“I know, that’s why I was hoping this year,” she gestured toward the piece of paper, “we would be able to go together.”
“We still don’t know who sent this note, or what they really want.” Ian’s voice trailed off as he took a closer look at one of the photos. “I know this guy.” He pointed to the photo of a red haired man with a big grin. “I’m not sure where, but…” Ian paused. “Wait.”
He stood up and walked over to a box in the corner and began rifling through a bunch of papers. Picking up a dented Altoids box and flipping it open, Ian pulled out a stack of business cards. “I knew it!” he said triumphantly. He showed Lila a card with the man’s photo and company name on it. “We met last year at a disarmament meeting.” Ian looked puzzled. “So what does he want with a hayride?”
“A hayride?” Lila ventured to guess sarcastically.
“Hardey-har.” Ian joked. ”I mean besides that.”
“A visit to purgatory obviously. Here, check out this website.” Lila pulled up the Haunted Hayride website and showed it to Ian.
“Wow, ‘one of the most paranormally active sites in all of California,’” Ian recited from the website. “Sounds like our kind of place.” He gave a quick grin.
“I’ve been wanting to go for ages, but just under different circumstances.” Lila’s mouth twisted.
Pearson jumped onto her lap and settled in for a nap as Lila began sorting the photos and info pages into piles. “Did you see this one?” She showed Ian a picture of blond girl who looked to be about twelve. “Why would they — whoever they are — have photos of kids?”
Ian’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t know, but maybe,” he paused to rearrange the photos, “these go in families.” He nodded. “Yep, check it out. One set of parents per two to three kids.” He looked over at Lila’s laptop and nudged her shoulder. “Let me take a look.”
She picked up Pearson and moved to the chair beside him so she could watch the screen after he seated himself and began typing. “Russian families spying?” Lila read aloud his search query. She looked puzzled and then her face cleared. “Like in that Magnum episode when he meets up with the woman who was a plant. Her family had been stationed undercover in the U.S.”
Ian pointed to the screen. “Or a few years ago, those ten spies that got sent back to Russia. Eight of them had kids. What better cover than being a nice family?” Ian sat back in his chair. “When I saw this guy,” Ian touched the red haired man’s photo, “he looked much older than in this photo.” He turned to Lila. “What’s his name?”
“Sergey Ivanov.” Lila read, and then quickly began sorting the photos by name. “Good idea,” she muttered, “each of these is tied together by last name.” After she finished, they had four families and one individual.
“I’m hungry,” she announced, “and I think better with food.”
“Tacos?” Ian inquired.
“I’ll get ready.” Lila pushed back her chair, set down Pearson, and went to change out of her work clothes into something more casual.
As they left the building and walked up the street toward their favorite taco place, Ian had the feeling that someone was watching him. He took a casual look around as they were crossing the street, and murmured to Lila, “Don’t look now, but we’ve made some new friends.”
Lila’s eyes widened subtly and her breathing sped up. She pulled Ian to a stop in front of several shop windows, using the reflections to spot whoever might be following them. She took a quick breath as she saw a dark haired man who appeared to be studying an apartment building across from them.
Lila shook the packet slightly. Whatever was inside barely moved in the packaging, which felt rough against her fingers. She searched for something sharp to slit open the envelope, and fumbled across a pair of scissors. Holding the blade just inside the corner, she cut open the envelope and peered inside where she saw a thick sheaf of papers.
Shaking out the materials, she saw a series of what appeared to be passport photos attached to information sheets giving height, weight and interests. “Very odd,” she mumbled. Her rudimentary Russian temporarily deserted her and she set aside the materials. “Maybe it’s a practical joke,” she told Pearson, who butted against her hand to be petted.
At that moment, the door opened and Ian pushed his way into the room, looking as tired as she felt. His eyes lit up as he saw the cardboard box on the floor. “Our uniforms!” he crowed gleefully and hurriedly shut the door behind him, just managing to avoid tripping over Pearson who had once again assumed his official greeter position.
Ian practically ran to pick up the box. He grabbed the pair of scissors sitting nearby and used it to tear off tape in long strips. Reverently he lifted a folded blue polyester stretch uniform from the box, holding it up to himself before turning to give Lila the Vulcan salute made famous by Leonard Nimoy in the original Star Trek. “Live long and prosper,” he intoned, before breaking into a boyish grin.
“Spock?” Lila lifted her eyebrows inquiringly.
Ian nodded enthusiastically and passed Lila a blue polyester mini-dress.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” she asked skeptically.
“Buy go-go boots and be ready for October 31st,” Ian replied. He glanced down at the papers she had spread across the table. “I’m no linguist, but that looks like Russian.”
“You’re right, but I can’t figure out why it was sent to us.” Lila turned over the envelope and showed him the words written on the outside. “This one means danger.”
“Are you sure?” Ian asked.
She gave him a knowing look. “Pretty sure. And this one means watch out.”
As Lila handed the papers to Ian, a square yellow sticky note with large black lettering detached from the pile and tumbled to the table.
Ian looked at Lila questioningly.
“The Haunted Hayride!” she said excitedly. “I’ve been meaning to go there for ages!”
Lila was digging in her embroidered handbag for her keys, when she looked up to see a cardboard box leaning against her front door. Shaking her head, she walked toward it. “More eBay stuff,” she grumbled. Lately Ian had been on a buying spree in a quest for the perfect Halloween outfits for them.
She reached down to pick up the box, and nearly fell over as the weight from her backpack sliding off the one shoulder almost pulled her off balance. Reaching to the ground to steady herself, her hand encountered what felt to be a flat package. She grabbed it and heaved her way up, finally using her keys to unlock the door and stumble inside.
“Oof.” She nearly face planted on the floor as she tried to avoid tripping over their cat Pearson, who sat squarely in the middle of the doorway looking peeved about having been home alone all day. Lila finally came to a halt and managed to close the door without stepping directly on Pearson before throwing herself down in a chair and putting down the assorted packages, purse, and backpack with a series of heavy thuds.
“Sorry, buddy. Got caught at work.” She addressed the cat, who decided that she had gotten the message and came over to jump in her lap and demand the attention that was his rightful due. Lila petted him absentmindedly while turning over the envelope that she’d picked up right before entering. Written in Cyrillic were a couple of words that made her blood run cold:
Lila woke up not feeling well and has been working from home today. Luckily most of her work assignments are accessible online, which makes things easier. Instead of meeting regarding the spec deal, she will do background reading.
Ian faces another long week, and after the sudden loss of his cell phone, has to make do with minimal communication until he receives its replacement.
Lila’s new project starts today, after clearing the decks from the previous one yesterday. Ian is hard at work with multiple job demands, and a possible temporary assignment in the offing. Every day is a new day!
Last night was a late evening at work for Ian, and trying to push through on her project for Lila. Today needs to be an extra productive day for Lila to stay on schedule. Less than a week until deadline! Happy Thursday, everyone!
Today the past months of work and travel caught up with Lila, and she spent much of the day resting. Ian quietly sipped coffee and prepared for the week ahead and a special assignment for which he will be traveling during the next two weeks.