Maggies hunt, p.18

Maggie's Hunt, page 18

 

Maggie's Hunt
 


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  A single bare, low wattage, light bulb hung high from a short single strand of electrical cabling to which was attached a cheap socket. The bulb hung a little better than seven foot from the floor.

  At about ten foot square with a little more than a seven-foot ceiling, the room was not overly big. Yet with the stone floor and the thick masonry walls, the room did a fair imitation of an echo chamber.

  Aside from the mattress on which she now sat, the only furnishings were a stained porcelain toilet whose tank lid was firmly glued down to the tank and a fiberglass shower stall with a single lever control which was riveted onto the faucet control. The pipes were not even exposed. The shower was without either a door or curtains. Even the steel door to the room did not have a knob on the inside.

  They had not left her anything with which to make a weapon. The only way out of the room was through the heavy steel door. The hinges for the door were on the outside of the room. The door latched with a large bar that slid into brackets on the opposing sides of the door on the outside. That much she had seen on the way in. There wasn’t even any door trim she could have pried off of the door frame, if she had anything to use to pry trim from the frame.

  The mattress was made of stacked cotton batting covered in ticking. There were not even any springs in the lumpy mattress. The mattress was stitched with cotton thread that, like the old-fashioned striped cotton ticking, was so old that it was nearly rotten.

  All she could do was to sit and wait. To sit and wait and fight tears while she wondered about Hunt? Was he alive? Had he been found?

  Maggie wondered if they would really kill her.

  “Stupid question, Maggie,” she muttered to herself as she touched her cropped hair.

  Basque separatists. No, she doubted seriously that the men were Basque. They had not once spoken Basque in her presence. In fact, their Spanish was more Mexican than anything else. And their English was strictly American Southwest.

  So, what, Maggie wondered, was going on here?

  Several unpleasant scenarios sprang into her mind. In most of them, she and Hunt were nothing more than pawns in one elaborate game or other. The other possibilities that ran through her head were much more dreadful. Frankly, she didn’t want to think about what might be motivating her kidnappers. Yet, she had to try to understand how they thought, if she stood the remotest chance of escaping from them.

  Maggie wondered if Michael and John had been informed of her disappearance. She wondered if Emily was all right. Maggie wondered if her niece or nephew, yet unborn, was safe. She wondered if Natalie and Chuck had been told.

  Maggie closed her eyes and envisioned all of those people who she loved. “I will see you again,” Maggie vowed in a fierce whisper. “They will not win. They will not. I will not let them win.”

  “Sopa de lentejas,” an unarmed guard said as he walked into the room in the company of two other armed men. All of the men continued to wear their ski masks.

  At the sound of the door opening, Maggie had risen to her feet.

  “Gracias,” Maggie replied tightly as she took the tray from him. It contained a thick plastic bowl of the lentil soup, a plastic spoon, two dinner rolls, warm, split, and spread with butter, and plastic tumbler containing beer.

  She lowered herself to the mattress, turning her back to the guards and ate her dinner. The soup was actually pretty good, the rolls acceptable, and the beer only average. This was the first meal that they had fed her. When she had finished her meal, she rose from the mattress and returned the tray to the waiting guard without a word.

  He looked at her for a long moment. “It is good,” he said in rapid Spanish, “That you have accepted your fate. If you don’t fight us, you will not be cruelly treated. I promise you that.”

  Maggie inclined her head slightly in acknowledgment before she returned in silence to her mattress.

  She didn’t see anyone else until noon the next day, when she was blindfolded and taken down a hallway into another windowless room. The leader of the group met her eyes as another man removed the blindfold.

  “Your stepfather, Senorita, has proven most stubborn. You will talk with him on the telephone. You will tell him that you have been treated well. You will tell him that you have not been abused. You will tell him that if our demands are not met, then we will kill you. You will tell him all of this.”

  “Aren’t you afraid of having the telephone call traced?” Maggie inquired quietly.

  “No, Senorita,” the man replied with a satisfied sound to his voice, “We have already run Senator McLaughlin around from public telephone booth to public telephone booth all over Madrid. It would be almost impossible to have set up a trace on this call.”

  He looked at his watch. “He should be there. I will dial the number. And I will remain on this second phone listening to your conversation.”

  “I see,” Maggie replied tightly.

  “Besides,” he volunteered obviously thinking that he would impress Maggie with his professionalism, “We have rerouted the call at the switching station. Even if they do manage to trace the call it will do them no good, since it will seem to come from several places, none of which are here, at once.”

  Then he dialed. The telephone rang once before Michael picked up the public phone. “Senator McLaughlin?” the man inquired.

  Maggie picked up the phone. She heard Michael answer that it was he on the line.

  “Michael?” Maggie said thickly. The tears she had fought for so many hours threatened to fall. She choked them back, but knew that Michael had heard the sniffle.

  “Daisy, are you all right? Have they hurt you?”

  “They cut my hair, Michael,” she replied tightly. “But that, and a small scratch with a knife just to drive their position home, are all that they’ve done physically to me. However, I’m beginning to feel like a Condor.”

  “I can understand that, honey. But you are not an endangered species, trust me,” Michael replied. “We will do what we can to retrieve you.”

  “You know what you must do, Senator, to get her back,” the leader of the men said in too heavily accented English.

  “Is Hunt okay?” Maggie asked tightly.

  “He’s a little worse for wear, Daisy dear. But, he’s out of the hospital. He’s going to be just fine.”

  “That’s good. Oh, Michael. ”

  “Don’t give the animals the satisfaction of seeing you cry, Daisy,” Michael urged. “Remember who you are and what you are.”

  “They want you to know that if their demands aren’t met, that they will kill me, Michael. I believe them.

  “Michael . . . .” she questioned as she heard a sound on the line. “Michael?”

  “It’s me,” Hunt said quietly.

  Maggie felt the leader tense even across the few feet that the man was distant from her.

  “Ah, Hunt. Very sorry, sweetheart,” Maggie said, quickly, praying that both she were correct that as to her location and that Hunt would catch the coded message that she was trying to give him. “I had to let them take your grandmother’s ring. Like it or not, there was no choice. At least, by letting them take my things neither of the two men with Uzis had any excuse to shoot me.”

  “Good. Don’t do anything stupid. You’ve got nothing to feel sorry about. Don’t worry about my grandmother’s ring. They returned it to me, as proof that they have you.”

  Maggie sniffled. “Good. That means so much to you.”

  “In comparison to you, it means nothing. It’s just a hunk of metal and stone. I love you, Maggie mine. I’d give anything that I own to get you back with me.”

  The tears fell freely and were heard in her voice. “I love you, too, Hunt. Do me a favor?”

  “Anything,” Hunt assured her.

  “If I don’t get out of this, be happy. Go back to work for your Uncle. He always gave you tasks that kept your active mind busy. Life has a way of dealing us surprises, love. And some of them aren’t all that surprising when we think about t
hem, in retrospect. I feel like a fool, Hunt. Michael warned me that I was leaving myself open. This feels just like it did when Jarod died, Hunt. Just like it.”

  Hunt was silent for a moment.

  Maggie continued, hoping that Hunt would get the message, “If you can’t meet the terms, bury me in the cemetery where Mom was buried. It is an hour or so outside of Madison. This time of year it should be a pretty drive. It’s a quiet place. Very old. Secluded. Small. I want my requiem said at either St. Teresa, St. John, or St. Thomas the Apostle’s. And see if Father Nathaniel Edwards, who baptized me, can officiate at the requiem. Oh, Hunt, I don’t care what you have to do to get me out of here. Just do it.”

  Hunt spoke softly, “Don’t talk that way, sweetheart. We’ll do what we can.”

  “I know that you will,” she replied, then she cleared her throat painfully. “Some helpmate I’ve proven for you, my love,” she added tightly. “All I’ve caused you is trouble. First, with my stepfather, then with my brother, and now with this.”

  “I’ve enjoyed most of the time that we’ve had together,” he told her.

  “Senor, if you want to continue to enjoy time with your fiancee,” the leader told Hunt over the phone, “You will meet our terms.” Then he hung up the phone, and took Maggie’s receiver from her.

  Then he hit her with his open hand, across her face, knocking Maggie to her knees. “The next time that I tell you what to say on the telephone, you say just that. Do you understand me?” the leader asked in rapid Spanish.

  Maggie rose from the floor. She glared at the man. “I understand,” she replied, hoping that between Hunt and Michael, they would be able to unravel the hints she had given them.

  “I don’t think that you do, Senorita,” the leader replied in rapid Spanish. “But, I know that you will by the time that I get through with you.”

  Maggie blocked the second blow that was directed at her. She looked at the leader with narrowed eyes. There was rage in his eyes. Maggie forced herself to stay calm. “You will not beat me,” she told him firmly. “I will not allow myself to be beaten.”

  As suddenly as the leader’s rage came, it was gone. “Remember, Senorita,” he admonished her. “You are safe only as long as we want to keep you safe. Our patience with your people is quickly running out.”

  Maggie nodded.

  “You are such a brave and lovely woman, Senorita O’Shay, it will be a shame if your people make us kill you,” the leader said quietly. “If they make us kill you, it will not be quick. It will not be merciful. It would be a shame to let you die without that death making a statement.”

  “That prospect doesn’t exactly rate high on my list of preferred actions,” Maggie replied dryly in English.

  He laughed. Then he blindfolded Maggie once more and had her taken back to her cell. It wasn’t more than an hour after she had been returned to the room before they brought food to her. Only this time, only one, lightly armed, man came.

  Once more her meal was a bowl of a thick soup, bread, and beer, with everything in plastic containers. After she finished the meal, she asked the lone guard, “I get thirsty during the day. May I keep the tumbler?”

  She couldn’t be sure, since the man wore the knit ski mask, but she thought that he smiled. “I don’t see any harm in that,” he said quietly.

  Maggie had to smile once the guards had left her. She wasn’t likely to starve to death on one meal a day. The relative chill of the unheated room along with the one meal a day were calculated to keep her energy level low so that she would be less likely to make an attempt to break out. They certainly didn’t know her very well, she thought with satisfaction.

  So far, it was more advantageous for them to keep her alive than it was to kill her. That was in her favor. They obviously weren’t expecting her to take any action against them. That was also in her favor. Besides those factors and her own considerable skills, she didn’t have much to work with.

  Maggie forced herself to once more take inventory of exactly what she did have. She had a mattress, a blanket, one thick plastic tumbler, one pair of silk undies, one bar of soap in the shower, and water. There was also the toilet, the shower, and the light bulb. But, she could not find anyway to turn those last few things into an element in her attack.

  She had a plan. It was risky. But almost anything was better than waiting around for them to use her death to make a statement.

  Chapter 11

  Hunt hung up the public telephone. He looked at Michael. Then he shut off the tape recorder on which they had recorded the conversation.

  Michael looked at Hunt. “I want to listen to that conversation, again.”

  “Yeah. Let’s go back to the hotel.”

  John had been on the telephone all morning, with his contacts, trying to find anything about this supposed terrorist group. He was coming up with a big blank nothing.

  The three men, along with several of Michael’s security men, sat in the living room of the suite, listening to the tape.

  John shook his head negatively, at the end. “Patty wasn’t buried in Madison. And I don’t know of any St. Teresa, St. John, or St. Thomas the Apostle parishes. The only Nate Edwards whom I know is dead. Maggie and I were both at the funeral. And he was anything but a priest.”

  “Did Maggie and this Edwards fellow spend lots of time together?” Hunt asked quietly, almost too quietly.

  “She liked him,” Michael replied. “But, she was just a little girl when he died. They used to play a game where they would speak only in literary and religious allusions. Nate was into codes and ciphers. Daisy must have been all of nine when we spent those weeks on the schooner. Nate and she would sit around on deck and talk shorthand with one another like that.”

  “I remember,” John said.

  Hunt hit the rewind button. “Let’s go through this once more.”

  “They cut my hair, Michael,” she replied tightly. “But that, and a small scratch, are all that they’ve done physically to me. However, I’m beginning to feel like a Condor.”

  Hunt reached over and shut off the tape. “What did she mean that she was beginning to feel like a Condor?”

  Michael shook his head negatively. “Like an endangered species, maybe? That’s what I thought that she meant.”

  Tony, one of Michael’s bodyguards, smiled briefly, then looked thoughtful.

  “What is it?” Hunt demanded.

  “Magpie went through this time when she was about twelve when she loved spy stories. She liked the Condor books, as in Three Days of the Condor,” Tony offered.

  Hunt said quietly. “Condor . . . condor . . . .” Then he sat up straight. “You don’t suppose, in spite of the denials, official and otherwise, that this is all some sort of Company game that she has inadvertently stumbled into?” he demanded.

  Michael cleared his throat. “My contacts at Langley say no. They are just as frustrated at this as we are. I doubt that they would lie to me about something like this since I chair the Intelligence committee.”

  “If this were a company operation, they would hardly admit it,” Hunt replied sharply.

  “True,” Michael agreed sadly. “But, I don’t think that they would do anything to purposefully cross me. Not when I have so much control over the appropriations for their budget. They aren’t that crazy.”

  Hunt shook his head. “I wouldn’t bet on it.”

  “Assuming that we are on the right track,” John responded tightly, “And I’m not certain that we are, the only scene that I can think of in Three Days of the Condor was where Robert Redford in the movie got into the telephone circuits and rerouted a call so that it could not possibly be traced.”

  Hunt smiled broadly. “Bingo. That was why they let her stay on the line so long.”

  Michael looked at Hunt, nodded. “It’s a good possibility.”

  “If it is,” John interjected, “Then these people are more paranoid than we are. That may be something which we can use against them, under the right conditi
ons.”

  “Then we need to set up the right conditions, don’t we,” Hunt said.

  “What do you have in mind?” Michael asked quietly.

  “I’m not certain. At this point, it’s just a thought. I need some time to work it out.”

  “Okay, keep us informed. Now, let’s go on,” Hunt urged as he pressed the play button.

  “They want you to know that if their demands aren’t met, that they will kill me, Michael. I believe them,” Maggie’s voice said quietly.

  “That’s pretty clear,” Hunt remarked.

  “It’s me,” Hunt’s voice said from the recorder.

  “Ah, Hunt. Very sorry, sweetheart,” Maggie said, quickly. “I had to let them take your grandmother’s ring. Like it or not, there was no choice. At least, by letting them take my things neither of the two men with Uzis had any excuse to shoot me.”

  Hunt shut off the tape recorder. “The men who took us were armed with Uzis and AK-47s. She may be telling us that there are now fewer men guarding her than took her.”

  “Or that may have been just a throwaway comment,” John replied.

  “Then again, they have led her to that conclusion, just to maintain an element of surprise, if she did manage to escape from them,” Michael offered thoughtfully.

  Hunt drew a deep breath. “That is a real possibility, given their demonstrated level of paranoia. Damn. I wish that we knew more about this. But that phrasing isn’t like her. Not at all. There is something wrong there.”

  “She’s done a good job of giving us clues,” Michael replied thoughtfully.

  Hunt nodded. “Now, all we do is have to figure out what they mean.”

  He pressed the ‘play’ button once more.

  “Good. Don’t do anything stupid. You’ve got nothing to feel sorry about. Don’t worry about my Grandmother’s ring. They returned it to me, as proof that they have you.”

  Maggie sniffled. “Good. That ring means so much to you.”

  “In comparison to you, it means nothing. It’s just a hunk of metal and stone. I love you, Maggie mine. I’d give anything that I own to get you back with me.”

 
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