The Doll 25（文稿）
Manage episode 310290949 series 3051597
Chapter 25 BEYOND MONTEBRUNO, ITALY
Proof of life arrived in the same way news of death had come: a noise that jarred the quiet, an alert that lit the screen with blinding revelation.
Munroe stared at the phone a long while, neither moving nor blinking. The Doll Maker had made his play, and now it was her turn.
The signal was weak and the site to which Lumani’s text linked loaded slowly and incrementally，the status circle continuing its rounds, loading, loading, while inside Munroe’s chest the fist gripped harder, tighter，fingers wrapped around her spine, crushing her heart so that the pain made breathing difficult.
And the voices, always the voices, incanted to the pounding of her pulse, urging toward violence，until at last, fully accessible, the video file, freeze-framed, waited to be played. Logan. Truly alive.
The entire clip was barely a minute, but without a doubt he was living— or had been when the footage was shot— horribly battered, but still breathing:
blond hair matted with dried blood, face swollen and mottled, green eyes the equivalent of olives in tomato juice.
Given the camera angle, she couldn’t see much of the room beyond the mat upon which he lay，but best guess said the space was narrow and the walls, if the sound could be trusted, were high and made of something other than drywall.
Logan, positioned at an odd angle, faced the camera, but his eyes weren’t focused on it.
“Michael,” he said, and he paused in a struggle for air, and then again as if to remember. “A message for you,” he said.
His words were slurred and garbled, the distortion made even worse by the transmission.
“They say you’re in Italy, not Dallas,” he said. “That you’re in a car on a country road and you fought a man and hurt him worse than he hurt you.
“There’s a girl beside you. They say these details are the proof you want.”
He paused again, had that dazed in-and-out quality of pharmaceuticals she’d seen in years past.
Turned his head away from the camera, gazing upward at something outside the frame’s view until a noise that could have been speech drew his attention and he started again.
“They say they’ll take more life if you don’t do what they want.”
With an effort, he shifted to face the camera, struggled to focus directly on the lens, and said, “Michael, listen. You do what you need to do.”
The clip went dark and the connection to Logan became nothing more than a solid image waiting to be replayed.
Munroe stared at the phone, and then in response to the night blindness, shut off the screen and closed her eyes.
Emotion rushed in flash flood through her veins: hatred, grief, pain, and love.
Even in the face of torture and his own demise, Logan understood. Do what you need to do.
Resolve etched and cracked. Threatened to shatter completely. Logan was still alive.
She could still finish this job— deliver the package and save her brother.
No. If Logan could be freed, it would be Bradford— if he was still alive— who would have to save him.
Mentally downshifting, she pushed aside the anguish. When this was all over, there would be time enough to grieve.
Do what you need to do.
Munroe exhaled. Pulled in another breath and held it long, and with each long draw, let go another portion of the present, bringing into its place the pure focus of assignment.
If sacrificing Logan was the price to be paid to spare Neeva, it wasn’t enough to merely save her.
For every Neeva with powerful parents and for whom the media hounds were out sniffing scent, there were a hundred thousand other trafficked girls and women that the world, either through ignorance or indifference, wrote off or forgot altogether.
No, if Logan was the price, then his blood would purchase more than one life，and sacrifices be damned, she would wait as long as possible, get as near the delivery point as possible, and from there take her chances.
THE STREETS OF Genoa at five in the morning were like the streets of many cities in the early pre-dawn: relatively quiet and mostly deserted.
Lumani’s route took them from rural roads directly into the populated areas and finally to the roadway that ran parallel to the ocean.
Not the faster highway that tunneled through mountains and made a beeline for the French border, but the smaller provincial road, without tolls, that followed the curve of the coast.
In either direction the ocean was stippled with dots of light, spliced with harbors and coves where boats and yachts, from dinghy to the obscene, could slip in to anchor and then move on again.
Pieces of mental strategy shifted again: Transfer Neeva from dry land into the belly of a yacht, and the girl would never be heard from again.
Dawn arrived by the time they’d passed Ventimiglia, the sun low on the horizon and the ocean’s blue now distinguishable from the sky.
The streets were still quiet, though it wouldn’t be long before civilization began to stir, and it was helpful that Neeva had fallen asleep yet again.
The final address in the array of texts dead-ended in Menton, a few kilometers beyond the French border.
Munroe reached the checkpoint, a setup similar to the small provincial outposts they’d passed when crossing from Croatia into Slovenia.
She slowed the car, Lumani’s documents on hand should they have to stop，but the exit and entry booths were empty and they passed into France with the same fanfare as crossing a street.
The phone on the console vibrated. Munroe picked it up, highlighted the text, and stared hard at the newest round of driving directions.
Took her foot off the gas pedal, downshifted, and slowed, searching out an empty parallel space along the curb.
She pulled the emergency brake and cut the engine. Neeva slept on, so Munroe removed the keys and stepped out of the car.
In rebellion she dialed, and Lumani answered on the second ring.
She offered no hello, how are you, or are you out of your fucking mind. Instead she said, “It makes no sense to take her in there, there’s no logic to a move like this.”
“You’re not here for opinion,” Lumani replied. “You have a job to do, you follow instructions, and that’s all.”
Munroe dragged in a breath and pinched the bridge of her nose, pulled into the present and pushed past the exhaustion and emotional overload.
With so little access to Lumani, every second mattered. She drew him into her head and breathed him into her lungs.
“You’re right,” she said, voice softer, tone contrite. “You’re right and I agree with you— I’m only here to do the job.
“And I think, like you, I just want this over. But tell me, Valon, from a professional standpoint, does this feel right to you?
“Having come so far, don’t we risk things going to hell at the last minute?”
“It’s not ideal,” he said.
Munroe leaned low to check on Neeva and then said, “You have no choice either, do you?”
“Always the client’s rules,” Lumani replied. “There’s nothing more to tell you than this is where we go. There will be more instructions when we reach the destination.”
“But the price for failure is yours.”
“Yes,” he said, and the word was barely above a whisper.
She pulled his mind into her body, put his emotion in her chest.
“My delay forced this, didn’t it?” she said.
“Only the daylight,” he said.
“And because of my actions, if having to go in during the day creates failure, that failure will be yours.”
“And yours,” he added.
“There’s a horrible frustration in having to pay the price for someone else’s choices,” she said.
“I’m sorry for having brought repercussions down on you. If this delivery blows up on us, will you suffer badly?”
A long pause of silence, then he ended the call.
Munroe focused on the ground, processing.
He’d given her what she needed to know, and she in turn had scattered seed that might lay fallow or might, if she was lucky, eventually sprout into saplings strong enough to split the hardened topsoil that kept him as the Doll Maker’s doer.
Munroe’s fingers tapped against the hood in contemplation.
They were heading into the Principality of Monaco, which, at less than one square mile of land, was the world’s second smallest and most densely populated country, tax haven and playground to the rich，best known for the Monte Carlo and the Formula One Grand Prix: a square mile of mountainside; tiny, winding, congested roads，of underground parking lots and tightly packed high-rises, all less than twenty minutes away along this coastal route.
Under the cover of darkness, the handoff might have made sense，but this early in the morning, taking Neeva into the heart of the city-state begged for attention and made something of a proverbial suicide mission out of what should have been a straightforward exchange, merchandise for payment.
It didn’t take teenage years spent running guns and drugs across unmarked borders to know that the current arrangement wasn’t the type of planning produced by a person or organization that wanted to guarantee a mission’s success.
This was a move that taunted and challenged authority to discover and stop it. Instructions from the client. Of course.
A bored, intelligent, sadistic, and very wealthy client: annoyed at the delay, toying with the criminals, playing games with them. Raising the ante. Setting them up for failure.
The drop was near Port Hercules, Monaco’s deep-water port, where many of the world’s largest private yachts home-berthed or visited.
Where better to play with your pawns or taunt the governments of the world in a completely swollen ego sort of way— the fox walking blatantly into the chicken coop and daring the farmer to catch him— than to bring a highly visible trafficked woman into the country with the world’s lowest crime rate and largest police force per capita, in broad daylight, and then silently make off with her?
Munroe reached for her pocket and retrieved the stolen phone.
Her course of action was set, but before continuing, she hoped for news out of Dallas that might mute the inner voices and allow her to plunge fully into the task at hand.
She powered on the screen and winced. Battery— if barely— but no signal.
Hurting against the unknown, voices running dialogue inside her head, Munroe shut off the phone for good.
Needed to hold things together just long enough to receive the final set of instructions that would take her to the client.
She returned to the driver’s seat. The engine’s turnover, loud in the relative silence, brought Neeva’s eyes open:
a slow rolling out of sleep that had, by the time Munroe had gotten the vehicle halfway out of the parking spot, parsed quickly into full-blown panic.
Neeva glanced from Munroe to the road, to the sidewalk, and to the road again，as if she’d spent hours planning an escape inside her head only to wake and find time and opportunity had flown.
Still sleep stunned, the girl twisted and clawed at the door and the seat belt simultaneously, her body tensed to bolt and run.
Munroe snapped a hand on her arm. “Don’t,” she said.
And then, when Neeva, wild-eyed, turned back to glare, to fight, Munroe tightened her grip and yanked her close. Through clenched teeth she said, “Don’t do it. I’ll find a way for you.”
Whether or not the words meant anything to Neeva, the girl yanked back hard, got her free hand on the door latch, and snagged the handle; the door inched open.
Unable to control Neeva and move the car forward at the same time, Munroe opted for both hands on Neeva, and a second later, resorted to using her full body.
She let the clutch and brake go. The car jumped forward just enough to tap the vehicle in front.
She leveraged her grip on Neeva into a pivot. Clamped her second hand on Neeva’s far shoulder，dragged a knee out from beneath the wheel, and punched Neeva’s pelvis with the cap, her own weight and size overpowering Neeva’s smaller frame, and still Neeva didn’t stop.
In the space of seconds, the girl bucked, clawed, bit, and finally screamed, bloodcurdling and vicious.
Few pedestrians were on the street, but it would only take one; houses with open windows, patios with open doors, just one curious bystander and this was over.
In a move vile enough someone might die for it, Munroe leaned back and struck an open palm across Neeva’s face.
In the shock of the blow, Neeva, eyes wide and blinking, gaped and went mute.
“Shut up,” Munroe hissed. “And stay put. I will find a way, okay?”