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An Excerpt From Our Thriller of the Week, Desperate Puppets by R.D. Brindisi …
Frank was trying to stay calm, “Damien, stop it! OK? Before you say another WORD, ask yourself one thing . . . are you a killer?”
Damien didn’t look at it the same way.
“Frank, I was in the Army. I was taught to kill for a righteous purpose. Your client NEEDS help to achieve what is obviously a righteous purpose! Can you imagine what it was like to be in that Russian village? I can easily put a Serb face on the bastard right before I pull the trigger.”
Frank backed off because he felt like he had done everything to keep Damien out of it. He also thought Damien would eventually come to his senses.
“Damien, OK, you can do this for me, but you have to promise me that if you have any second thoughts, you need to back out and let me take the heat for it. You can have all the cash. I don’t want it. I just want this thing to go away.”
Damien was at once relieved, grateful, terrified.
“Look man, I understand. I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to do this. You won’t be sorry I got involved. The only thing that would make me back out is if your client won’t verify that the target is one of those people that committed those atrocities. Make him verify it.”
“I’ll talk to Molov today. My client’s name is Vitaly Molov.
Damien knew that the disclosure of Molov’s name meant that Frank was all in.
“Thanks man. When can you get me the rest of the info from Molov?”
Frank was already looking at the clock to see where Molov would be.
“I’ll give him a call when we hang up here.”
“Frank, one other thing. Why you? I mean, there have got to be several hundred Russian gangsters in the US that would do this.”
“I thought of that too, did some research and determined that the answer was one of two scenarios: One, Russian organized crime is so decentralized and so rampant, maybe Molov didn’t have a connection in the US, or at least a reliable one. The second, yet equally as likely scenario, was that Molov is not actually a Russian gangster, even though he was acting like one. In the end, I have to assume that even if he isn’t a Russian gangster, he is just as dangerous to me as if he were one. He wants someone dead and is willing to pay a lot of money to see that it happens. If I fail in this, let’s just say I will feel less than safe. Shit, I already feel less than safe. I’ve been looking over my shoulder since he first told me what he wanted. I can’t believe I am up to my neck in this. Look, let me call Molov. I’ll call you when I have all the information.”
The two ended the most intense phone conversation of their lives without even saying goodbye.
Damien realized after they got off the phone that Frank couldn’t call him back because he was talking to him through his computer on Skype, which had no phone number. Damien waited a few hours and called Frank, with no answer. He repeated this process before going to bed to only to mind zoom all night long with little to no sleep. What little sleep he did get wasn’t full of nightmares, at least. It was more like wish fulfillment dreams where he was avenging all those murdered Serbian women and kids. He got up the next day positive he could do this thing. Damien wasn’t able to reach Frank the entire next day. He was starting to lose his mind. He couldn’t concentrate on anything. He called Grace to check in with her, but realized after hanging up that he had no idea what they discussed. There was a squeezing feeling that was taking over Damien’s head and chest. He was afraid that this was a precursor to a heart attack.
Frank finally answered the phone the next afternoon.
“Frank, holy shit! I thought that it all fell apart when you didn’t pick up the last few days. Did you get him?”
Frank was apologetic, “Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t get him and picking up to tell you nothing would only have led to serious speculation and stress on both our parts. In fact, let’s make this a rule until this whole Molov thing is over. If one of us is waiting for information, we can’t talk until we get the information. Otherwise it will just drive us nuts.”
Damien was doing his best to be patient but was losing the battle. Frank was starting to sound like a bad spy novel.
“Yeah, that’s fine Frank. So, I’m assuming that you talked to Molov and have all the information since you answered the phone. Please tell me I’m right!”
Frank was annoyingly calm for Damien’s liking.
“Yeah man, I talked to him. He told me that this guy, Phillip Krueger, is without a doubt one of those guys that he told me about. Krueger’s address is 3254 Oakland Park Way, Scottsdale, AZ. His Social Security Number is 353-53-9685.”
“Why the fuck do I need his Social Security Number? How did Molov find that out? Molov really must be well-connected. ”
“I don’t know. That’s a good question. He just gave it to me so I passed it along without thinking about it.”
Damien wasn’t thrilled that Krueger lived all the way out in Scottsdale. He wanted to drive to the target so as to not create a record of traveling to the area, but Richmond to Scottsdale was too damn far.
“Frank, I need you to get me a plane ticket to . . . hold on, I have to see what is close to Scottsdale . . . how about Albuquerque . . . yeah, Albuquerque. I’m also going to need a rental car. Post the reservation information on the message board of our fantasy football site for a few hours, then delete it. I’ll have it by then.”
“You got it man, and hey, whatever happens, don’t get caught, ok? Back out if you have to. I can figure out a way out of this if I have to.”
“No you can’t, and I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything.”
Frank signed off. Deep down, Frank didn’t really think that Damien was going to be able to actually go through with killing Krueger. In Frank’s best case scenario, he hired Damien to do it, Damien can’t do it, and Frank tells Molov that he tried but it just didn’t work out. That was going to be his course of action until Damien talked him into letting him kill Krueger.
It was only a seven hour drive from Albuquerque to Scottsdale but far enough away to not raise any tracing red-flags. Damien’s military training kicked in and he started thinking about getting a gun. He needed to get one that wasn’t traceable and had a silencer. He started going to pawn shops looking for the right weapon and found it at the third pawn shop he went to. Damien found a Gurza/Vector SR-1 that was perfect for his purpose. He had noticed a standard silencer at the second pawn shop he had stopped at so he went back to buy it. It fit the Gurza/Vector SR-1 perfectly. In the ultimate irony, this was a special assignment gun used by the Russian Special Forces. This model was constructed for hitting armored targets, piercing protective vests, and vehicles. At a distance of 100-meters, it pierces 30 layers of Kevlar or 2.8 mm titanium plate. Damien learned about this online while researching the Gurza/Vector SR-1 and couldn’t suppress a chuckle.
“I’ll be shooting the bastard with a Russian weapon. Poetic justice.”
Frank set up the flights and the rental car which Damien pulled off the message board seconds after it was posted. He left for Albuquerque two days later.
Damien put the gun in his checked luggage and hoped against hope that the airline would not lose his luggage. In what Damien believed was a harbinger of good things to come, he and his luggage made it to Albuquerque on schedule. Damien picked up his rental car with a significant delay due to the fact that the rental car company had staffed the counter with only one person and she was acting with the urgent attentiveness of a hormonally charged teenager in algebra class.
Damien didn’t know Scottsdale at all but had researched the area as much as possible online and got a GPS from the rental agent. Damien planned to drive by Krueger’s house to get an idea of the neighborhood, the house, and anything else he needed to know. The drive from Albuquerque to Scottsdale was considerably more scenic than Damien had expected. He was under the impression that he was going to be driving through a desert wasteland where he would have to work hard to find a gas station. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The landscape was fascinating and actually made the seven hour drive relaxing and enjoyable. At least as relaxing and enjoyable as a trip to assassinate someone can be. His “journey to an assassination” music choices included a diverse selection from Vivaldi, Neil Young, Dean Martin and Metallica.
Once Damien arrived in Scottsdale, he easily found Krueger’s subdivision. The sign at the entrance said ‘Oakland Trace – A Deed Restricted Community’. Damien thought about what that meant for a minute, having never owned a house. Did that mean that you could only do certain things to the house? Did they control the color of your house? Trees? Fences? It seemed all too conformist for Damien’s liking. The houses were large, twenty feet apart, and well kept, but, all seemed to look like variations on the same theme-cookie cutter houses came to mind.
It was night by the time he got to Krueger’s, which cut down on visibility as well as his ability to see the nuances of the neighborhood that could be very valuable to him the next day. Children’s toys were left in the front yard of the house across the street. This was not a welcome sight for Damien.
Children meant that attentive parents might be looking out to see what was happening in the neighborhood. Damien drove up the street to the end, turned around and came back down, driving slowly. He wanted to quickly get as much information as possible so as not to draw suspicion. The last thing he needed was for the investigation to reveal some weirdo casing the neighborhood the night before the murder. He made a point to figure out his escape route back to the highway and confirmed the deed-restricted neighborhood did not have video surveillance. Once back to the highway, he made his way to the airport. Damien had figured that he would sleep in his rental car in the long term parking garage at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport so as to not leave a trace of his being in town. Damien also felt that a hotel, even a motel, seemed like too much luxury for the job he had to accomplish. He figured that brutal work deserved savage accommodations. The backseat of his rented car did indeed look savage. He was really starting to enjoy this.
Damien slept remarkably well considering what he was going to do upon awakening and considering the contortionist position he had to assume crammed in the backseat. He overslept according to the schedule he had in his mind. He even wondered out loud in the back of the car.
“Who does that? Oversleeps for an assassination?”
His flight out of Albuquerque wasn’t until 9pm, which gave him plenty of time. He didn’t want to have to rush back and risk getting a speeding ticket along the way, which meant he had to be done by noon and on the road back. It was 10am when he sat up in the cramped backseat and, after paying for parking, headed for Krueger’s house.
Damien had a plan to identify Krueger. It would have been Damien’s worst nightmare to kill the wrong person. He couldn’t live with being a killer. He thought of himself as an avenger. The bodies in Kosovo were flashing in his mind, flaming that obsession to do the world a favor and rid it of war criminals one at a time. Damien didn’t consider that killing, nor himself a killer.
To avoid killing the wrong person, Damien had brought a box clearly addressed to a Mr. Phillip Krueger. He was going to knock on the door to deliver the package and ask if the person was Phillip Krueger. Given when Krueger was supposed to have committed the acts which were now going to get him killed, Damien was expecting to encounter an old man. What if he encountered a younger looking man? Damien hadn’t thought about that yet and considering that he didn’t have enough time to think it through, he decided that he would just abort the mission if things didn’t add up for him. That wouldn’t require him to think twice, despite the money on the line. There was a line that Damien wouldn’t cross, and that was killing an innocent person, or put another way, someone who wasn’t a war criminal.
Damien got to Krueger’s house and the street was quiet. It was a hot day and nobody was outside except for a lawn maintenance guy working on the corner house. He would be too far away to notice what was happening at Krueger’s house. Additionally, Happy Dave of Happy Dave’s Landscaping was sporting large, noise-canceling, Mickey Mouse-type headphones which made him a non-factor as far as being a witness. The kids in the neighborhood must have been in school, or were being kept in to avoid the heat. Damien pulled in Krueger’s driveway, grabbed the box and scanned the houses across the street as he stepped out of the car to see if there was anyone within sight. Seeing nobody, he headed for the door.
Just as Damien expected, an older man answered the door. Damien sized him up quickly. He didn’t look as old as Damien expected, but Damien reminded himself that people age differently. He fit the age range. He looked like he could have been Damien’s grandfather, so that seemed about right. He even looked familiar, but Damien quickly put that out of his head. There was no way he knew this bastard. So many thoughts flooded Damien’s mind. It isn’t every day you get to stare evil in the eye and know it. He didn’t really look evil. He was wearing a sweater vest in this oppressive heat. Damien thought about Molov’s people and wondered what specifically Krueger did. Damien wished he could have read a formal sentence so Krueger would know that he was paying the price for what he did so long ago. Did people stay evil their whole lives? What makes the evil come to the surface? Has he suppressed it the rest of his life since the incident in Russia? Has Krueger atoned for his acts? Did he try to live a good life? Or did he continue being a rotten bastard? Did he produce kids just like him? With all these thoughts and questions flying around his head, Damien blurted out the first thing he could think of that wouldn’t tip him off.
“Hi, are you Phillip Krrrrreuuuuuuger?”
Damien made a good show of it by pretending to forget his last name and then struggling with the pronunciation.
Krueger smiled at Damien’s effort.
“Yes, that is me. What have you got there?”
Damien had a clipboard with fake signature lines. He had written 5 signatures in for authenticity.
“Package for you. Just need you to sign.”
Krueger seemed surprised, “Oh, geez I wasn’t expecting anything. Does it say who sent it?”
Not good. Think, think, think.
He had noticed when pulling up to the house that there were shrubs on the side of the house. He quickly produced a smile.
“You know I didn’t look at it, I just deliver them. Say, I couldn’t help but notice your shrubs on the side of the house. I like what you have done with them. Can I ask you something about them?”
Damien thought that did the trick to divert Krueger’s attention from who sent the fake package. Unfortunately for Damien, things took another unexpected turn.
“Who is it?” The voice was an older woman’s voice.
“Package, dear.” Krueger hollered back.
“Oh, that’s nice. Who is it from?”
Shit! There was that question again!
Damien was hovering over utter panic mode now.
Who has to know who sent a package before opening it? Doesn’t he know the Unibomber was arrested years ago?
“Hey, I need to run to deliver another package. Would you mind just showing me how you . . . with the shrubs?” Damien said motioning to the side of the house.
Krueger seemed to snap out of his previous thought about who sent the package.
Krueger left the door ajar as he stepped out to walk to the side of the house. Damien was hoping that his wife wouldn’t follow. He would have to bail, retreat and regroup.
As they approached the side of the house, Krueger got a confused look on his face. It was the look of someone completely not understanding what was so interesting.
“Funny, nobody ever took any interest in these before.”
Damien was pointing underneath the middle one.
“Why does this discoloration happen?”
Krueger didn’t know what Damien was talking about. “Where? I don’t see . . .”
Damien said, “Right there. Under here.”
Come on. Just a little farther. You’re dead anyway. We are just making it a little cleaner.
Finally, Krueger bent closer to the ground to try to look under the shrub to see the discoloration. Damien didn’t waste any more time. He stood up and pulled the gun from the back of his pants where it was tucked under his belt.
“See it? Right next to the bodies of those Russian villagers you motherfucker!”
Damien didn’t give Krueger the chance to move. He shot Krueger in the head, knocking him into the shrubs. The silencer worked perfectly. Damien shot Krueger again in the back of the neck just to make sure. Krueger landed perfectly. He was hard to see right now and he would bleed out behind the shrubs-if he wasn’t already dead. Damien thought about telling Krueger why he had done this, not that Krueger would have heard him. It just seemed like the right touch. Sanity won out though and Damien retrieved the package from Krueger’s side, calmly yet quickly walked to his car, and drove off. The front door was still open but nobody ever looked out. He turned the corner and knew it was done.
“Score one for the Russian village,” he said as he drove onto the highway. He thought he might like to find out more about that village one day. Maybe even go visit, who knows. He was feeling amazing, almost high. He imagined a little parade in his honor through the cobblestone streets. He would be a local hero. He also thought that maybe he was starting to lose it.
In minutes, Damien was on Route 87 headed for Albuquerque. He got back early and stopped at a grocery store to buy a pay-as-you-go cell phone to call Frank. He wanted to call the mayor of the Russian village to tell him the news, but knew there were several impediments to that. Frank would have to suffice.
Damien loaded up on minutes as he knew that a call to Bermuda would be expensive.
“Hey man, done and done,” Damien said proudly.
Frank sounded both depressed and unsurprised, “I already know.”
Damien almost drove off the road. He was sure now that he was seen and there was a mad search on for him with his picture all over the news.
“What the hell? How do you already know? I was careful. It went so smoothly!”
Frank said calmly, “It’s on the Arizona Republic website under the local news. Just that a man was found shot in his yard and there was nothing to report pending the investigation.”
Damien let out an audible sigh, “Oh man, you freaked me out! I thought my face was all over the news and there was a manhunt on.”
Frank unenthusiastically reassured him, “Nah, you’ll be back before they ever figure out what happened, if they ever do. Did anyone see you that you know of? What did you do with the gun?”
“No . . . I mean I didn’t see anyone and I was careful to look. It happened cleanly. It almost didn’t happen because I thought his wife was about to come to the door. I had to get him to come outside to the side of the house. Once that happened, it was easy. I still have the gun with me. I don’t want it anywhere near Arizona so I’m checking it in my luggage like when I came down here. I own it legally so once I am on that plane, I should be all set. ”
“OK, well, I don’t know anything about how the TSA treats guns in luggage or anything like that so I’ll assume you know what you are doing in that regard. Hey I need your bank information to wire the funds to you. You’ve more than earned them. I don’t know how I would have gotten this done without you. I’m not happy about it at all, but at least it’s done,” Frank blurted once he got the rare opening.
Damien had no bank information with him.
“I’m going to have to get it to you when I get back to Richmond. No worries.”
“Do you want me to send it in three payments so as to not trigger any Anti-Money Laundering red flags at the bank?”
“Nah, I can justify the payment from you as consulting work. Besides, if anyone is laundering money, it’s you. Who knows where Molov’s client gets his money, or how?”
“Don’t remind me. Shit. Thanks for that.”
Damien had one more moment of brief panic while on the plane in Albuquerque. The pilot announced that they would be closing the door and twenty minutes later, it still hadn’t happened. The pilot got on the speaker again to apologize for the delay and that they were just doing a passenger verification which shouldn’t take too much longer. Damien was convinced, albeit briefly, that the authorities had tracked him to the flight and that he was about to be taken off the plane. Three minutes of thinking about that seemed like three hours. He felt like screaming, “Just close the door!!!” in a Telltale Heart moment of insanity. There was a loud thud! When Damien looked back, the door was closed. THE DOOR WAS CLOSED!!! He was as good as gone!
Damien was sitting next to a young, good looking twenty-something girl that he might have started a conversation with if he wasn’t sweating profusely. He made a half-hearted effort by turning up the airflow above his head and saying, “Wow, I’m so glad to be out of that heat!” She was engrossed in US magazine and barely acknowledged him. Damien figured he had that coming. He thought about a better lead in but “I’m sorry I’m sweating so much, but you see I just shot a man in the back of the head and am very concerned that the holdup was to allow law enforcement to storm the plane to take me off in handcuffs” didn’t seem like it would achieve the desired response either. Plus, since he slept in his car last night, he couldn’t have looked or smelled too appealing either.
Upon arriving back in Richmond, Damien resolved to get his tire fixed as the cab ride was almost half of what the tire would cost. He also was determined to get his finances in order and get a job. Damien sent Frank his bank information when he got home that night and then took a long, hot shower. There was so much to wash off. Damien slept what he believed to be a dreamless sleep for the first time in more than a decade. He was on a mental vacation.
Vitaly Molov was also on a kind of vacation . . . call it a working vacation. He was in Lebanon at a resort meeting with his main client, a very wealthy fellow countryman that was elected into the Duma, or lower house of the Russian parliament, the year before. Lebanon was a favorite vacation destination for many wealthy Russians. It was there that a lot of business deals were discussed as well as the strong-arm tactics underpinning the execution of those deals. Not coincidentally, the Lebanese coast was also a favorite destination for higher ranking members of Russian organized crime. There was business to be had there. The strong-arm tactics of the Russian businessmen naturally needed a strong-arm which was the perfect entre for organized criminals. The two had developed a very close relationship and couldn’t exist without each other.
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