Chapter 2: A Businessman Kidnapped
September 21, 1989-09
Howie Markels walked back and forth in front of the hotel cooling off after his morning jog. He’d only done about four miles, but that was more to get loosened up for the day than a real workout. That had been eight laps around the block on which the hotel was located. Only a few people had been out and about, although it was still more than one might have expected for right after sunrise. Still, bakers, coffee shops, and other businesses that catered to the early morning crowd form an even earlier morning crowd.
Howie paused in his cooling down walk and stretched to make sure that none of his muscles would tighten up. The air was already warming up and he knew it was going to be a real scorcher later that day. Hopefully, the humidity wouldn’t be all that high, but it was a slight hope. He hated having to wear a suit and a tie when it was hot and humid.
He entered the lobby of the hotel while pulling his keys from his fanny pack. He swung by the restaurant, which had just opened, to grab a bottle of water and let them know to set up a table for him. He spoke to the waiter in fluent Itanese, letting him know that he was going to take a shower, dress, and return for a leisurely breakfast. The waiter acknowledged him with a friendly smile.
Teal was one of a number of countries along the eastern coast of the Surprise Continent that had been settled by Itan, leaving the legacy that everyone spoke Itanese. The country, shortly after its establishment, had been fought over by Itan and Romal, with Itan consolidating its position in Teal while Romal had taken control over Barmud just to the south. There had been periodic wars fought between Romal and Itan, with the wars extending to Teal and Barmud, that had changed the borders by only insignificant amounts. It had left Teal and Barmud uneasy neighbors even after Itan and Romal had pulled their colonial control over them, although it would be more honest to say that Itan and Romal had been kicked out.
Part of the reason over the wars between Itan and Romal (besides the obvious ‘I got more than you’), was that Teal had large areas of pasture perfect for raising cattle. It wasn’t until the initial wars between Itan and Romal were over that the true wealth of Teal was revealed. It had significant natural resources, including rhodium, nickle, iridium, and oil. That wealth sparked a colonial war that lasted for nearly fifteen years, but left Teal with a semi-democratic government in which voting rights were predicated upon literacy.
In a common economic pattern, those who led wars, and won, ended up with great political power early in a nations emergence. They got very rich at the expense of others, and this produced a very stratified class system. In Teal, this meant that there was a small, but very rich ruling class that owned the mines and land, with a large population of illiterate people living in poverty who worked in the mines and on the land. The lack of any great motivation to educate the population meant that the middle class was almost non-existent. Specialists, like engineers and doctors, were hired from Itan on a short-term basis. The very wealthy were more than happy to travel to Amra for quality medical care.
What this economic situation meant was that a lot of foreign businessmen traveled to Teal for the express purpose of purchasing metals, oil, and cattle. From the perspective of the poor, the businessmen were rich targets who nobody really worried about on a local level. A missing businessman here or there was easily replaced by another from some other country. Although it was a minor irritant, the rich didn’t really care, since there was a line at their door promising one big deal or another. As far as they were concerned, so long as criminals weren’t targeting them directly, it wasn’t a problem.
Howie Markels was in Teal for the stated purpose of visiting a new mine that had been producing minor amounts of Osmium. Even small yields of Osmium could be very profitable since it was one of the rarest metals on the planet. The fact that it was used to harden platinum made it a very valued material from a manufacturing perspective. At over $800 an ounce, even small deals for Osmium meant a lot of money was going to change hands.
He had loose plans for the day, his first, and only, meeting of the day was later that afternoon where he was to meet with the mine operators to make arrangements for his visit to the mine the next day. With a number of hours to kill, he intended to do a little sightseeing until lunch time. There were a number of old churches and fortifications around the city dating back to when Itan ruled Teal.
Leaving the hotel restaurant, Howie returned to his room. He took a long shower and then dressed for the morning. He chose some comfortable pants, a pull over shirt, and walking shoes confident that he’d have plenty of time to return to the hotel after lunch to change his clothes to something more appropriate for his business meeting.
He left his room putting the sign out to tell the maids to clean it. Like an experienced business traveler, he left a good tip for the maid. It didn’t necessarily mean that his room would be any cleaner, but he would get better service if he called for an extra towel. It also tended to discourage the theft of small items that could be sold for piddling amounts of cash, a real possibility where a poor population would take anything that wasn’t nailed down. The promise of a little cash every morning with a large tip when leaving outweighed the risk associated with stealing a shirt for resale.
He stepped out of the elevator, took a few steps, and then paused to double check that he had brought his hotel key with him. His few steps had taken him to where he was standing right in front of a second elevator. The elevator opened behind him.
“Get out of the way,” a woman’s voice screeched at him.
He turned, looked into the elevator, and then looked down in the elevator. A woman in a wheelchair was glaring at him.
“Sorry, I was lost in my thoughts.”
“Get out of my way before this damned door closes on me,” she said.
He took a step out of her way. “Can I help you?”
“No. I can manage on my own,” she said.
She rolled out of the elevator just barely a fraction of a second ahead of the doors trying to close. The look of irritation on her face let Howie know that he was better off just letting things be. He turned and headed to the restaurant. She followed after him.
The waiter greeted Howie at the door and led him to his table.
“You are in very good shape,” the waiter commented.
“I should be. I run five miles every morning and work out in the gym three times a week. I’m in perfect health,” Howie boasted.
“I guess you did a little boxing when you were younger?” the waiter said.
“Boxing? I never went for that kind of stuff. I’m a lover not a fighter.”
The waiter said, “My cousin is a boxer. He has a scar just like the scar over your eyebrow.”
“That was an accident. I was playing around and tripped. Hit my head on tree and cut that little gash over the eye. That sure knocked me for a loop,” Howie said.
While Howie and the waiter went through the dance of ordering breakfast, the woman in the wheelchair was not getting the same kind of prompt and friendly service. Her waiter was old and grumpy and moved slower than molasses. He led her to a table at the far end of the room. His only concession for her being in a wheelchair was that he moved one of the chairs away from the table for her. She moved one of the chairs so that the empty spot let her watch more of the room. More importantly, it let her see the waiter so that she could wave at him to get his attention.
Howie’s breakfast had already been served by the time the waiter had taken her order. At least she had her coffee. Howie had almost finished his breakfast by the time she had gotten her lukewarm pile of eggs and toast. Obviously, there were two levels of service in the hotel.
Howie pushed back his plate with a satisfied sigh. It had been a pretty hefty sized breakfast that would last him through the morning and beyond. The quality of the food had been good, particularly the fresh fruits selection. The waiter immediately rushed to his table to clear his dishes.
“My meeting with Western Teal Mining Company isn’t until three this afternoon. I was thinking of doing a little sightseeing. Have you got any suggestions?” Howie asked.
“Yes. Let me get a map, and I’ll show you where there are some good sights to see,” the waiter said.
“That would be great,” Howie said with a broad smile.
Apparently the good waiter wasn’t quite so quick in fetching a map. The woman in the wheelchair had finished her breakfast by the time the man returned. He had a number of brochures in hand and proceeded to go through each one with Howie.
The woman in the wheelchair paid for her breakfast and was rolling through the restaurant for the door by the time the waiter had finished going through all of the ‘most wonderful’ places to visit while in Teal. She glanced over at the waiter helping Howie.
“Next time, I ask for Alfonso,” she muttered before continuing her exit.
The lobby wasn’t too crowded for that time of day. It was in that lull that sometimes happened between everyone leaving for early morning meetings and people finishing breakfast in anticipation of late morning meetings. She made her way to the front door and had to wait for the doorman to open it for her. It appeared they hadn’t yet gone through the trouble of making places handicapped accessible. She didn’t tip him.
She pushed her chair along the street, pausing to look in the windows of the shops. These were the high end places where the rich and their children shopped. The prices were twice what they were in Amra for the same products. She stopped her window shopping and tied her purse to the arm of her wheelchair. A young man who had been approaching her suddenly became interested in a store display and then left in the opposite direction.
Howie stepped out of the hotel. After a short conversation with the doorman, in which an available taxi up the street was pointed out to him, Howie gave the man a good sized tip and started walking up the street. The doorman watched him go. Like a lot of tourists, Howie took his time walking down the street, pausing frequently in front of various shops to look at the goods displayed in the shop windows.
The woman in the wheelchair pulled out a small camera and started taking pictures of the street. She had a nice one of the bellman standing in front of the hotel dressed in his splendid costume. There was a picture of a nicely dressed middle aged man sitting on a bench watching people walk past. He seemed to have a lot of interest in the tourists. She took a few pictures of the cars, there was a hodge-podge of makes and models of cars. Cars, like almost all other manufactured goods, were imported from all over the world.
Howie had just made it to a van on his way to the taxi pointed out to him by the doorman. Two men hopped out of the van, grabbed him, and with surprising ease wrestled him into the van. A large black hood was thrown over his face while his hands were quickly tied behind him. Howie was left on the floor of the van sightless and helpless.
He cried out, “What’s going on here? I demand that you release me, right now!”
“You idiot. I told you, the gag goes in before the hood goes on,” one of the men said.
By this time, the van was moving down the busy street. There was nothing about it to draw attention. It was just another small delivery van battling its way through the morning traffic.
Howie was rolled over onto his stomach and his head pulled up. The hood was raised a little and a piece of cloth was thrust into Howie’s open mouth. He had made the mistake of trying to protest again. A piece of cloth was tied around his head keeping the gag in place. The hood was lowered. He tried to rise to his knees, but a foot hitting him on his ass stopped that.
“Welcome to Teal Wildlife Tours.”
Howie made a lot of angry sounding noises, but what he was trying to say wasn’t intelligible. That was the purpose of the gag and it was doing its job quiet well. The men in the van just laughed at his efforts.
The woman in the wheelchair put away her camera. She turned the wheelchair and headed for the street corner. She had witnessed the kidnapping, but hadn’t done anything to call attention to it. What could a poor handicapped woman do in a situation like that? She could have called for help, but then the bad guys would have turned their attention on the poor defenseless cripple.
She reached the corner in very little time. The light changed and she crossed the street along with a herd of other pedestrians. There were real curbs here that caused a little problem, but she managed to deal with the obstacle without any help from any one. Of course, no one had offered to help her.
Having given up on the past time of window shopping, she pushed the wheelchair down the street keeping pace with the locals walking to work. She slowly glided to a stop near a bench. The nicely dressed man looked as if he was about to leave. Up close, his suit looked a little rumpled and his shoes definitely needed a shine.
“Excuse me, Sir. Could you help me?”
“I’m… running a little late. Sorry,” he said starting to move around her.
She grabbed his wrist and, shocking him into immobility, yanked him back to her. He didn’t notice her other hand descending on the back of his head. He collapsed, quite nicely, across her wheelchair. She pulled a blanket from behind her and threw it over him making it look like she had a large package of some sort draped over her wheelchair. She turned and pushed her way to the curb.
A van approached and stopped next to her at the same time she reached the curb. The door opened and a man, wearing a coverall, got out. There was a sword on the right side of his coverall, as if it was the logo for the firm that employed him. The van doors blocked him from being on full view of anyone except someone walking directly past.
“Nicely done, Sword Lina” he said.
It had been done well. From a distance, it looked like the man had collapsed. There had been no struggle, no wrestling, and no shouting to attract attention. No one had even paid attention to what she had done.
“It was easy. We’ve got the doorman and a waiter to pick up,” she said with a smile.
“Next stop, the Teal Deluxe Hotel,” he said.
Together they lifted the limp body of the man into the van. The man was quickly gagged, blindfolded, and handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Once they were satisfied that the man wasn’t going anywhere, a quick search was made. An interesting point of comparison should be mentioned, they had their man captured, silenced, and bound in less time then the men who had taken dear Howie.
“It appears that the lookout was a cop,” the man said holding up a wallet and a revolver.
The fact that they had netted a policeman wasn’t a total surprise. In putting together the operation, it was assumed that the police were unaware (not likely), incompetent (likely), involved (most likely), or investigating without much success (also likely). They even considered that it might be all four with some police unaware, some incompetent, some involved, and some actively investigating without making much progress.
“He’s either dirty or he just became our liaison to the local law authorities,” she said with a smile.
“Odds say that he’s dirty.”
“It could break either way,” she said.
She rolled off to the end of the street where it would be safe for her to cross. When the light changed, she crossed the intersection having the same difficulty with the curbs as earlier. Taking her time, she wheeled up to the front of the hotel. The doorman was standing there watching the traffic.
The van made a circuit around the block and parked thirty feet down the street from the front of the hotel. Wearing a pair of coveralls, a man got out of the side door of the van. He stood there looking inside the van as if trying to solve some tricky problem with something inside it.
Stopped five feet away from the doorman, Sword Lina rummaged around in her purse as if looking for something. Attracting the doorman’s attention, she pulled out a twenty dollar bill. She held it up for him to see. He immediately moved closer to her.
“My new wheelchair just arrived. Could you help the deliveryman unload it?” she asked while handing the bill over to the doorman.
“Of course,” he answered.
He walked over to the van and looked inside. Not seeing a wheelchair, he started to ask about it. A tap to the back of the head, a little push forward, and the doorman was inside the van. He was bagged and tagged without a moment’s hesitation.
Sword Lina said, “That was done well, Sword Javier.”
“Thank you, Sword Lina.”
“I think it is time for me to hire some waiters for the business soiree that I’m holding this weekend. I noticed this very helpful young man who works inside the restaurant of the hotel where I’m staying. He would be just perfect.”
“He does sound perfect.”
“I’m going to attend to that right now and invite him up to my room to discuss my needs.”
“I’ll be in the stairwell at the end of the hallway in case you have any further pick up or delivery needs.”
“That would be excellent,” she said with a smile.
It was exceptionally easy to get Alfonso the waiter to visit her room during his morning break. All it took was a twenty dollar bill, and the hint that there would be another five hundred dollars more for a couple of hours work.
She let him into her hotel room, a modest suite for the class of hotel in which she was staying. He looked around the suite thinking that she was either on her way up, but hadn’t made it yet or that she was on her way down, trying to halt her downward spiral. Either way, she was spending money and he’d be happy about any that came his way.
She pushed her wheelchair to the middle of the room and stopped. She pointed to a broach that was on the floor.
“Would you mind picking that up for me? I can’t quite reach it,” she said sounding helpless.
“No problem,” he answered.
He bent down to pick up the broach. A sharp rap to the back of his head and he was out cold. She leaned down and picked up the broach.
“You are going to wake up with horrible headache in a little while. I’m afraid that’s going to be the least of your problems, though,” she said.
She put a gag in his mouth, and handcuffed his wrists and ankles. Once he was secured, she rolled to the door and opened it.
She called out, “Sword Javier!”