The Innocent 35（文稿）
Manage episode 310290920 series 3051597
On the best of days Munroe had little patience for power-playing tug-of-wars with ignorance or arrogance, and today was not the best of days.
She flipped the boss’s blade into her palm, sprung it open, leaned over the counter, and hissed a vivid description of what she would do to the desk clerk once she found him alone after work, and it took but a moment for him to compromise.
Key in hand, Munroe took the stairs up, two at a time. She worked against the clock, against private security, which would soon be on their way, and the police that might eventually come.
Munroe opened the door to an empty room. The place had been cleaned out.
Not in a housekeeping sort of way, but in special-ops style, where no hint was left that either she or Bradford had ever been there.
Munroe made directly for the bathroom, ignored her reflection, and lifted the toilet-tank lid.
Disappeared with everything else was her money and her identification. She replaced the lid with relief. Bradford was gone. He’d followed protocol.
Without money or documentation, getting out of the country and finding him was going to be a bit of a bother, but she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Munroe tossed the keys on the bed, blocked the door open an inch, and ducked into an alcove before the stairwell.
She’d been in the room a minute and a half, an entire minute longer than acceptable.
The elevator opened, and a pair of uniforms rushed past.
They stopped at the room door and kicked it inward, and Munroe slipped into the stairwell.
She ran the way down, rushed the lobby to the sidewalk, turned left, and head down, moved forward at a brisk pace.
She didn’t pause when she came to the stolen vehicle but slowed to a quick walk, heading past it toward a man several spaces down who was getting into his car.
Knife to his side, she ordered him across the front seat and slid in next to him.
The decision had been made in a split second and was one Munroe detested.
Under conditions like these, getting across town shouldn’t have required carjacking; whatever she was, she wasn’t a thug, and preying on random strangers who had nothing to do with her predicament was not her way.
Procuring a ride should have taken only a careful study of body language, a few smiles, and a sob story.
But nobody wanted to play host to Frankenstein, and with her face as it was, her options were reduced to forcing a ride or driving the streets in a moving target.
Munroe peeled into traffic, sped away from the hotel only far enough to put distance between herself and whatever security was up to, and then, safely gone from the place, slowed to the speed of acceptable insanity.
In the seat next to her, the man’s eyes were wide.
He’d pushed himself as far away as he could, as if it were possible to become part of the door,and staring directly at her, with terror on his face, he stammered nonsense, as though he were speaking to an imaginary friend.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said, but he continued on, as if her words held no meaning.
He was a slight man, mid-fifties, gray hair, mousy suit that read bureaucrat not businessman, and from his lack of Spanish, was clearly not from here.
Staying in the flow of traffic, Munroe focused on his blubbering, gathering a snippet here or there until recognition struck.
His words were an incantation; the same few sentences whispered over and over. In Russian.
The oddity was disconcerting, and barely escaping a collision, Munroe returned her focus to the road.
“Ya ne sdelayu vam nichego plokhogo,” she said. In the stress of the moment, the switch from one language to the next came without thought, like flipping stations on a remote or shedding a jacket after arriving home.
“I just need to get from one part of town to the next,” she said to him, “and then I’ll give you back the car. I promise.”
The man’s eyes widened farther, if such were possible, and his mouth dropped open an inch.
At least this was a predictable reaction: It happened often when others heard their mother tongue spoken in a foreign land and believed they’d found a compatriot.
It didn’t typically happen under these circumstances, but was familiar territory nonetheless, and she’d have been able to answer questions as a matter of rote had he asked them. But he didn’t.
The incantation stopped, his hands relaxed, he didn’t try to fight her, and she was able to drive in silence. For these, Munroe was grateful.
On the street outside Logan’s hostel, Munroe stopped short at the curb, hopped out of the car, slammed the door, and paused just long enough to reopen the door, lean her head back inside, and apologize.
She shut the door again, turned, and headed for the courtyard at a near run.
Munroe moved through the inside area, didn’t bother finding the proprietor or asking for a key.
These rooms had thinner doorframes, smaller locks; a solid strike to each, just left of the handle, would give her entry.
Munroe reached Heidi’s room first. Knocked. Waited. Pounded. Waited. And then kicked.
The frame splintered, the door swung inward, and not quite unexpectedly, the room was empty.
Not the special-ops empty of the last hotel, but left-in-a-mighty-big-hurry kind of empty.
She moved down the hall to Logan’s door, where she expected the same, but the need for certainty compelled her toward it.
The door flung inward and she checked to a stop. Bradford had cleared out, Heidi was gone, but Logan and Gideon’s room still showed signs of occupancy.
Munroe entered the room and closed the door, fiddled with the latch until it held in place.
She stepped to the beds, felt them, and found them long cold.
Among the items that had been left behind were computers, portable electronics, and on Gideon’s bedside table a book that he’d been reading. The boys were still in town.
Munroe felt under Logan’s mattress for the money belt that should be there, snagged it, and pulled it out.
He’d left his passport and several hundred dollars, half of it in Argentine pesos.
With all of the other evidentiary pieces, there was only one reason these two hadn’t gone.
Munroe would have laughed if she wasn’t so conflictingly angry about it.
Bradford had followed the plan— to a point. Then he’d sent Logan and Gideon after her.
The situation was beyond frustrating. People she loved and cared about were spread around the city.
She had no idea where they were. No idea if they were safe, and she wanted nothing more than to track them down and protect them.
But like a kid lost in a haunted amusement park, the only thing she could do to keep from making the situation worse was to follow the plan. Get to the meeting point and hope that they did too.
Munroe took a portion of the pesos and thrust them into her pocket. Found a pen, scrawled a note to Logan, and placed it under the front cover of his passport.
She shoved it all back under the mattress where she’d found it, then stripped out of her clothes, pulled replacements from Logan’s suitcase, and changed.
She dumped the bloody items into a backpack and slung it over her shoulder. She’d been inside the room a total of four minutes.
Inside the main house, she searched out the proprietress, ignored both her reaction and that of some of the guests, and left a message for Logan and Gideon.
Provided the boys were still alive, they would be checking out soon, and assuming Logan with his emergency phone was still in contact with Bradford, this would be the fastest way to let Bradford know that she too was alive.
The money she’d taken from Logan was enough to get a cab to the port, and from there to buy a one-way ferry ticket to Montevideo, the capital of neighboring Uruguay.
The trip was only a three-hour skip over the water, but money to pay for a ticket was useless without documents for travel, and as such, the trip would predictably be a whole lot longer.
When Munroe stepped outside, the Russian was still in his car by the curb where she’d parked.
He’d switched to the driver’s seat but turned off the engine, and was now staring out the windshield.
It had been fewer than ten minutes since Munroe had rushed inside, but to a man who had, by his own interpretation of events, narrowly escaped a violent act, ten minutes were ten lifetimes,and she would have expected him to have used that time to put as much distance between himself and the hostel as possible. And then maybe down a stiff drink.
The man didn’t have the look of a trauma victim, and other than that he still sat where she’d left him, he didn’t appear to be in shock.
Munroe cursed inwardly and made a slow, cautious return to the car.
There wasn’t time to waste, but the Russian was there, and as she was at fault for bringing him to this point, she couldn’t just walk away.
Munroe rapped knuckles on the passenger window, and the man turned as if he’d been waiting for her and was happy she’d come back.
“What happened to you?” he asked. “Are you in trouble?”
His questions weren’t what she’d expected, but she wouldn’t turn down an opportunity. “I could use a ride,” she said.
He reached to open the passenger door, and she slid inside.
“We Russians must stick together,” he said, and Munroe, following the path of least resistance, simply grinned.
Her nonverbal response was neither acknowledgment nor contradiction, and he would read from the look whatever pleased him.
Ambiguity was so much easier than truth and the exhaustive amount of time it would take to explain that she’d never even been to Russia, that she had a gift for languages,that the only reason he mistook her for one of his own was because in her second year of college she’d spent four months dating a boy from St. Petersburg.
Better just to grin.
The man turned the ignition key and Munroe asked for the Buquebus terminal, the lower end of the port, south of the commercial shipping docks, where the ferry lines to Uruguay were found.
The Russian seemed familiar enough with the location and the route.
He pulled directly into traffic, asked no help with directions, and drove the first several minutes in silence.
“If you’re in trouble, maybe I can help,” the Russian said, “so far from home, we must ally.”
“It’s been a bad morning, that’s all,” she said. “I’ve friends to meet up with and once I find them, everything will be well.”
“You’re certain?” the man said.
Munroe nodded, and he said nothing more.
The port abutted the wide, busy avenues of Puerto Madero,as if the city had decided to end things by jumping into the chocolate-toned water and then at the last minute would rather tiptoe in, adding a few more buildings before the very end.
The Buquebus terminal, with its modern glass design and Jetway-style boarding, which ran from the second floor down to where the ships would dock, seemed more like an airport than a ferry transport.
Munroe asked that the Russian drive beyond the parking area, with its policemen and security, just a little farther down the branching road,and so he continued beyond the terminal and ticket office, stopping as requested along a rusted fence that separated the docks from city traffic.
She offered to pay for the ride, and he refused.
With a good-bye full of unasked questions, and a reassuring handshake on her part, he pulled away from the curb, and she remained rooted, watching as the vehicle shrank away and then blended with traffic to vanish completely.
Munroe turned from the road to the fence and headed farther back, to the run-down end of the wharf, where the buildings were old, the security lax, and where fewer pedestrians mingled.
There she found a spot to hop the wires in order to gain access to where the employees gathered:
a place where she could sit and observe without being noticed while cars lined up and the baggage men with their little tractors and trailing carts made ready for the next departure.
The ferry to Montevideo was scheduled to leave in an hour, and one way or the other, she would be on it.
The issue wasn’t ticketing per se, it was getting identification to purchase the ticket— and then proceeding through the appropriate immigration procedures—
as if her face, messed up as it was, wouldn’t create unnecessary complications.
Up top, through the glass, she could see the shadows of passengers as they gathered and prepared for embarkation, but they held no interest to her.
Passports were only as good as their original holder, and as such had the possibility of bringing the bearer unforeseen trouble.
Ideally, she would swipe a national identification card; this was all that an Argentine would need to cross into Uruguay.
No questions. No suspicions. Simply an open door to the country across the border.
With emotionless calculation she studied those mingling about the dockside, judging the quality of each, passing them over in turn.
This was that dangerous place where the predator overrode empathy, where, like the Russian with his car, solving need and want blurred the boundaries between right and wrong, and the uninvolved suffered on behalf of those to blame.
Munroe stood and slipped closer to the work area, watching, waiting, searching out opportunity amid the bustle of dockside readiness.
Suppliers, dockworkers, and the occasional crew member came and went, and Munroe tracked them with dispassionate interest.
It took twenty minutes to spot the mark. He was part of the ferry staff, early thirties at best,and both his body language and the menial tasks he performed pointed toward his being low man on the totem pole.
Unlike any member of the crew, he wouldn’t be overly missed if he failed to show up for embarkation,and better still, his position as a Buquebus employee would not only solve the issue of documentation but also eliminate the need for ticketing and much of the immigration and border protocol that went with the journey.
The ferry was in the final stages of preparing to set out, the stream of passengers that had been steadily boarding over the past ten minutes began to ebb slightly,and the target had already made several trips over the service gangplank and back, carrying an assortment of boxes on board.
Munroe loitered, waiting until he’d moved most of them, timing each trip in and out until, with only one load left, he was swallowed by the interior of the ship.
Much could be assessed from a person’s walk, from their build, and the level at which they observed their surroundings, but appearances were often deceiving.
The sweetest old lady might think nothing of sticking you with a shiv, and as such, taking on an unknown opponent, no matter how docile and defeated he might appear, always carried an element of risk.
On the man’s return, as he prepared to lift the final box, Munroe casually approached from behind, across the dock, amid the commotion, as if she rightfully belonged there.
At the periphery of her awareness remained a counterweight to the savage, the ever present caution that there was no point to eradicating evil if in the end she would only replicate it.
She took the knife to the side of his lower back, tip pointed upward, far enough through his clothes that he would feel the thrust of it.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispered, “and I don’t want to steal from you.”
He tensed, let go of the box, and straightened. His breathing shifted, and it wasn’t a rapid pant of fear.
His were the slow and measured movements of a man who had been down this path before, a man who understood the leverage he held in this crowded area.
With her free arm wrapped around his waist, she steered him back the way she’d come, under the upper floor, toward the staff door along the outside of the ticket building wall.
She wanted him off the wharf and into privacy as quickly as possible. “Walk with me and listen to my proposal,” she said.
The man did as she asked, moved with her for the moment, acquiesced,perhaps to put her off her guard, because several paces forward he drove his elbow into her side so hard that it knocked the knife from her hand.