The Wrong Girl
Taylor eventually made his way out of the neighborhoods around the docks. It still took a time to get his bearings and get back to what Taylor thought was Reznikov’s house, but he’d managed it. There were no streetlights, and only a single bulb burned on the outside of the small yellow house.
While Taylor hated stake outs with a passion, he considered observing a target before an attack to be essential. While he’d seen the house before, it had only been for a few minutes, and he hadn’t done anything beyond looking at the front of the building and making sure Reznikov went in. He didn’t know how many people might be inside, the layout, or the likelihood of a security system. What he did know was that if Reznikov set up that ambush, which seemed likely, then there was a strong chance he already knew it had been a bust. Taylor still felt one more attacker was unaccounted for. For a proper ambush, they should have had someone behind him to keep him from retreating, and since three men had been on the forward approach they had had the manpower.
But they’d also made enough amateur mistakes that they could have missed that step. Taylor knew he still had to operate as if Reznikov had at least an hour and a half warning, which further complicated the situation. He knew Reznikov was in the building, or at least he wanted Taylor to think he was in the house since his car sat in the driveway in the same spot it had when Taylor had trailed him in the afternoon. But, there could be more men inside, waiting for Taylor to come back and exact revenge. Or, knowing Reznikov’s connection with the local police, they could be waiting inside.
The one thing Taylor knew for sure was he couldn’t just sit in the car and wait. The longer he delayed, the higher the chance that any of those things would happen, and Reznikov remained his only link to Mary Jane and the other girls.
Taylor stepped out of the beat-up car and headed into a thicker stand of trees adjacent to Reznikov’s property, doing a full circuit of the house, moving slowly, and listening. Nothing seemed out of place, as far as Taylor could see and nothing jumped out at him as a sign men were inside the house lying in wait. Of course there wouldn’t, if they were any good.
Taylor took a deep breath and put his game face on, heading toward the rear of the house in a quick, purposeful crouch. He saw no obvious sign of an alarm system, and a quick strike with his elbow against one of the panes of glass just above the doorknob allowed him quick access into the house.
Pulling his weapon, Taylor began to move quickly from room to room, searching for Reznikov and the guard. All attempts at stealth had gone out of the window as soon as the sound of glass echoed through the house, and Taylor knew his only advantage now was speed.
He was nearing the stairs when he heard the first clue of habitation. A door near the foot of the stairs opened just as Taylor got to it, putting him within arm’s length of the beefy bodyguard Taylor had threatened earlier in the day. The man was smacking his lips, trying to clear the remnant taste left behind by sleep, one hand scratching his ass, as he opened the door. He was unarmed, wearing only a white T-shirt and a pair of white boxers, and it took him a moment to process the man in the hall before him. He was just starting to open his mouth in shouted alarm when the butt of Taylor’s gun smashed into his face. Blood spurted from his nose, coating the underside of Taylor’s wrist, as the man collapsed like a felled tree, hitting the ground with a meaty ‘thwack’ sound.
That man’s total obliviousness seemed to answer Taylor’s speculations about possible traps. It was unlikely in the extreme that someone had managed to set up an ambush for Taylor in the house and never mentioned it to the boss’ bodyguard. Which also meant no one had warned Reznikov, yet.
Taylor looked at the big man lying on the floor, unmoving. He could see the man’s chest raising and lowering slowly, and the puddle of blood pooling under his head seemed small enough to mean the man most likely had a broken nose and nothing more serious. While Taylor didn’t have any qualms about hurting or even killing people who meant him harm, he knew he’d left enough dead bodies lying around already, and he didn’t want to cause Andre additional problems if he didn’t have to.
Taylor gave one more glance at the guard and, feeling confident that the man wouldn’t wake while Taylor braced his boss, turned away and bounded up the stairs. As he reached the top, he could actually hear a loud, nasally snore coming from a room off to the right. Pushing the door open, he could see Reznikov, laying on his back on one side of the bed, completely nude, a loud, ragged snore emitting from his open mouth every time his chest rose.
On the other side of the bed, as near the edge as possible without falling off, was a small blond girl. She had the covers pulled tight to her chin, curled in the fetal position. The way she was sleeping and the gulf of space she had put beside herself and Reznikov, and considering the criminal activities the fat man had his hand in, suggested she might not have been there of her own volition.
Taylor would have to deal with that in a moment. He needed to get Reznikov and the guard out of the house. Even after he questioned Reznikov, he would need to find a way to keep both men on ice while he found the girls. His disappearance would be suspicious of course, but even if he tipped off the people trafficking the girls, they wouldn’t have confirmation that Taylor was tracking the girls down. The last thing he wanted was for them to get nervous and start changing plans.
Looking around, he found a pair of handcuffs and some rope in the nightstand. Taylor didn’t want to even think about why the rotund man kept those; but for his uses, Taylor was happy to have them. Holding the handcuffs in one hand, Taylor roughly rolled Reznikov over, pressing a knee into the man’s back as he snapped on the cuffs.
Reznikov started waking halfway through the shackling, but was groggy and took a few moments to orient himself and figure out what was going on. When he was collected, Taylor had the man’s wrist locked together tightly.
“What...” he said, fear and sleep mixing in his voice.
“Shut up, fat man,” Taylor said in Russian in the man’s ear. “You set me up to be killed, and that really pisses me off. Now you’re going to have to answer for it.”
His eyes went wide as he recognized Taylor, and he started to struggle.
“Don’t,” Taylor said, pressing his gun to the back of the man’s head. “I’m not planning on killing you, but you screw around, and I’ll do it in a heartbeat.”
Reznikov stopped moving. As Taylor holstered his weapon and took a small, dirty towel that had been lying on the nightstand next to the rest of the hardware, silently praying he didn’t catch anything from the disgusting fabric. As he came back up, his knee still in Reznikov’s back, he saw the girl was awake and had pushed herself to the edge of the bed, scrunched as tight as she could, the covers still pulled tight under her chin.
“What do you—” Reznikov started to say then cut off as Taylor wrapped the dirty rag through his mouth, the ends going around his head, and started tying it off tightly.
Reznikov started making struggling noises, half-words and half-gurgles as the rag prevented his mouth and tongue from forming words.
Taylor pulled the gun and pressed it into the back of Reznikov’s head again, making the man freeze, while he looked over at the girl.
“I can get you out of here if you want?” he offered in Russian since she had seemed to react to his words to Reznikov in the same language.
A look of hope flashing across her face even as she struggled with the fear of an armed man so close by, and she nodded.
“Do you have clothes nearby?”
She looked away, nodding at a small pile of fabric lying near the bed.
“Go get dressed, we’re leaving.”
She looked at him a minute, fighting her fear, then moved, releasing the sheet, and moving toward her clothes. As Taylor suspected, she was also nude, and the series of bruises scattered across her body, some looking fresh and others showing the yellowing sign of starting to heal, bolstered his assumption about her willingness in sharing Reznikov’s bed.
He didn’t take his eyes off her as she dressed. Not out of the need for a cheap thrill but, because he wasn’t one hundred percent positive she was a captive here, and he needed to be sure she wouldn’t try to bolt and give warning. Her eyes kept flicking to Taylor then away as she got dressed, a measure of fear returning to her eyes. Once she was finally dressed in the sandals, dirty jeans and a somewhat torn shirt, Taylor had noted there were no undergarments in her discarded clothes, he pulled his foot off Reznikov’s back and stood.
As he pulled the portly man to his feet and shoved him toward the door, Taylor took a second to pocket the rope, having a use for it in mind. Grabbing the back of the cuffs, Taylor led the man forward from behind, waving the girl to go ahead of them.
“Make a sound, and I’ll have to kill you, do you understand?” Taylor said in the man’s ear as they neared the stairs.
Reznikov nodded, his eyes taking on the look of a caged animal.
She stopped, looking back at Taylor, then halfway down the stairs at the sight of the guard, lying in a small pool of blood. He held a finger to his lips and pointed at the door but making sure to never point the gun he was holding in his gesturing hand directly at her.
Reznikov’s reaction to seeing his guard was harsher, as he tried to back into Taylor, wanting to escape from the downed man. Taylor pulled on the cuffs in a quick jerk to get his attention, then pushed slightly, giving Reznikov the choice to either start walking or fall face first down the stairs.
She continued down the stairs and out the front door. Taylor flicked off the light before he exited, plunging the outside into darkness, only lit by the moon. The girl turned quickly, fear crossing her face again as she tried to find Taylor in the dark.
“We don’t want anyone to see us,” Taylor explained in a whisper. “My car is the brown one just across the street. It’s unlocked. Open the passenger rear door for me, then get in the front passenger seat, OK?”
She turned and hurried across the lawn to the car. Taylor pushed Reznikov in the same direction. At one point the smuggler tripped over something in the yard, smashing onto the ground face first, since he had no hands to brace his fall. Taylor didn’t try to slow his descent, partly because he didn’t think he had the strength to support the massive man with one arm, and partly because he didn’t care if Reznikov got hurt. The ground was soft enough that Taylor wasn’t particularly worried about the man’s actual survival.
Groaning, Reznikov stumbled back to his feet as Taylor pulled him to his feet and continued pushing him toward the car. The girl was in the passenger seat, holding her ripped shirt closed and looking panicky when Taylor and Reznikov arrived, but the rear door was opened like he’d asked.
Taylor wedged the Russian through the door, laying him face down on the back seat, pushing him as close to the other door as possible. Using one of the two ropes he’d grabbed, Taylor pulled Reznikov’s legs up, trussed them up, and pushed them as far up his back as possible. He had to lean in on the man’s bent legs and got a few grunts of pain from him in the process, but the remainder of the rope was close enough to tie it around the back of the handcuffs, effectively hog-tying the man face down on the back seat of the car. This made it easier to close the door, wedging Reznikov effectively in, and lessened the chances he would try something while Taylor went to deal with the guard.
Before he headed back, Taylor pulled the front passenger door open, frowning when she flinched away.
“I have to go back and get his guard. Keep an eye on him but,” Taylor said, holding up a finger to make sure she was paying attention, “do not hurt him. I need him for something. I promise I’ll make sure he gets punished for what he did to you, and to everyone else, but I need to get some information from him first. Understand?”
When she nodded, Taylor continued in a gentler tone, “We’re almost done, and I’ll get you out of here soon. I promise.”
She nodded again, and Taylor shut the door, heading back toward the bodyguard. The man was still passed out on the floor. The more Taylor looked at him, the more he realized he wasn’t going to get this man’s bulk very far. Deciding to go with plan B, Taylor rummaged around the house, finding more rope in a trunk in the bedroom that also contained leather masks and other implements signaling Reznikov’s depravity. With some effort, Taylor dragged the man into the small bathroom next to the kitchen and trussed him up much like his boss.
When this was all done, the bodyguard had finally started to wake and struggle against the bonds, but hog-tied like he was, there was little chance he would be getting out on his own. Taylor had also fitted the man with a gag he found in the same trunk upstairs, limiting the man’s ability to call for help.
Taylor was confident that someone would be along eventually to check on the missing Reznikov and find his guard who would tell them all about the intruder with the accent who had visited them earlier in the day. And if they didn’t, well, that’s what happens when taking part in kidnap and rape, even if that’s just protecting one of the men profiting from the practice.
Back at the car, Taylor found Reznikov in the same condition he’d left him, which he was happy about. It had been a little risky to leave a rapist bound and vulnerable with his victim. Even after his warning to the girl, there had been some risk of her exacting her revenge. He’d contemplated bringing her inside with him, but she was panicky enough that it seemed the riskier of the two options. The street itself remained silent, and it didn’t seem like all his coming and going had been noticed.
Taylor found the highway leading south, out of the city and drove for over an hour, watching the centers of population drop steadily. The girl had spent the first twenty minutes casting sideways glances at him and avoiding any attempts on Taylor’s part to get her to talk, sticking solely to head nods and shrugs. Eventually, she nodded off. Exhaustion from a combination of her abuse at Reznikov’s hands, and the limited sleep she’d gotten before Taylor woke her, finally caught up with her. Reznikov, for his part, had also fallen asleep, although how, Taylor wasn’t sure since the way he was tied was uncomfortable.
After two hours of driving roughly south, Taylor found what he was looking for, a heavily wooded area with no notable habitation. He hadn’t seen another car for almost half an hour, and there were no houses he could see. Taylor pulled the car far off the road, just against the wooded tree line, and shut it off. The changing motion of the car was enough to wake his passenger, who sat up suddenly. Her eyes looked about wildly, before she seemed to remember where she was and calmed down.
Taylor got out of the car, making sure he pocketed the keys while he slid the sat phone Andre had given him into his pocket. Walking around the car to open the rear passenger door, Taylor found Reznikov awake, starting to thrash around as he realized they’d arrived at their destination.
“Stop it,” Taylor said, rapping the man on the back of the head to accentuate his command.
Taylor carefully untied the rope from Reznikov’s feet, holding on to it as he pulled the smuggler out of the back of the car. As he turned the man toward the tree line, the other passenger door opened, and the girl stepped out.
“You should stay in the car. I’ll be back soon to get you to someone who can help.”
She shook her head, frowning as she declined his command.
“You need to stay. This is not going to be something you want to see.”
“I want to see what you do to him,” she said, speaking for the first time. Her high voice sounding determined.
Taylor looked at her while he grabbed firmly on the handcuffs still locking Reznikov’s hands behind his back, taking her measure. After a moment, he gave her a nod. He kicked the rear passenger door closed and pushed Reznikov into the woods.
They marched about ten minutes into the woods, well out of the view of any human beings, and hopefully out of their hearing. A stream flowed by nearby, adding to the other sounds of nature. Taylor led Reznikov to a large tree with a thick, low hanging branch.
Pushing a foot against the back of Reznikov’s knees while pulling back on the handcuffs, he dropped the man to his knees.
“Are you going to kill me,” The man asked through choked tears after the gag was removed.
Taylor ignored the question, knelt to look the man in the eyes, and said, “I’m going to switch the cuffs. If you make a break for it, I’ll put two in your back and leave you here in the woods. And before your weasely little brain can start working on a plan to try to get my gun, or get one over on me, remember you set me up to be killed and I’m still here. Consider real hard if you think you’re good enough to take me.”
After only a second, Reznikov broke eye contact first. Like all bullies, he was ruthless when he had the upper hand, and a wreck when he was at someone else mercy. He was the type to beg for mercies he’d never consider giving to the people whose lives he’d ruined. Most of all, Taylor was confident he wouldn’t do anything once Taylor unhooked him. Not that he was planning on giving the pudgy man that opportunity.