It didn’t look good for Chance Nitro. He’d been in some tight spots before-straight jacketed in a burning Zeppelin over the Arctic, covered in chum and thrown in a tiger shark tank-and he never shirked from danger. It was his middle name.
But even he was sweating, despite the cold. It mingled with a curious taste, a taste barely familiar to his palette; it was fear.
Chance, stripped to his black boxer briefs (which he thought nicely accentuated his ‘package’), was spread eagled on a Ukrainian steppe. Each limb was bound with rope to a horse. Four bearded Cossacks stood to the side, one holding a whip, which he casually slapped against his thigh. The men all looked at Chance with rather cruel amusement. Chance smiled back, wishing he’d paid more attention in his Russian/Ukrainian classes at Langley. He also wished he hadn’t seduced the chieftain’s daughter, Shashka.
Though in reality, she had done most of the seducing. Perhaps she would throw herself, Pocahontas-style, on his splayed body and plead for his life. And maybe we’d spread freedom to Iran, Chance thought bitterly. He also thought bitterly about how he would not reach his goal of achieving intimate relations with women on every continent. Antarctica was a damned nuisance.
The man with the whip approached Chance and slowly ran the whip over Chance’s bruised and battered, but still commanding torso. He said something in his native tongue. It didn’t sound like, “Hey guys, let’s let him go and have some beers and shag some wenches.”
Chance gave the man a quizzical look and his face suddenly flushed with anger, “Cossacks, seriously? In this day and age? Don’t you have a pogrom to get to? Can’t we be men about this? Men who love horses and women and war? I didn’t force myself…”
None of the men understood him and Chance, in impotent disgust, hoarsely yelled, “Your mothers are all back alley whores and your genitals are small and laughable, like those crappy, cheap shrimp you get in the freezer section.” He tried to spit for punctuation, but 24 hours without water had deprived him of saliva.
Softly, consolingly, like a mother to her sleepy child, Chance said to himself, “Looks like it’s the end of the road Chancy. You’ve had a good run. I think I’ll mostly remember the laughter. Still, drawn and quartered? What the hell year is this?”
The man with the whip said a few word to his companions, who laughed robustly. Then with an expert flick, he extended the whip to its full six foot length. Chance closed his eyes and said quick prayers to the deities of every major religion, just to cover his bases. There was a sound and Chance braced for excruciating, limb-wrenching pain.
It didn’t come. He opened his eyes to see the man with the whip face down, a red pool forming around his head. There was an arrow in his back. Almost simultaneously, another arrow struck a Cossack in the head and a third went down with one through the windpipe. There was one left, eyes wild with fear. Three more arrows struck, but they did not hit the man. Chance felt the ropes slacken and saw that all but one rope had been severed by. The remaining Cossack pulled a small, ancient revolver from his belt and fired a shot into the darkness. An arrow struck home and he dropped dead. The noise frightened the mare that Chance’s left leg was still fastened to and it bolted.
Chance howled with pain as he was dragged across the hard, rocky ground. He saw a black flash and a figure leapt up on the horse and quickly, skillfully brought it to a halt. The figure patted the horse’s head and dismounted. Chance saw that it was adventuress for hire, sometime associate, future girlfriend (at least in his head), ex-model Humility Go. She was dressed in tight fitting army green fatigues, her long hair tucked under a fuzzy hat, a leather quiver on her back. Humility took a hunting knife from her boot, cut the rope, and reached down to help Chance to his feet.
“The goods and the face are intact, if that’s what you were asking about.”
“I wasn’t. We should go. I have a base camp a mile from here. Can you walk?”
Chance nodded and his teeth chattered. Humility jogged back to the Cossacks and brought Chance a thick jacket and Morocco boots, which he put on as fast as his aching body allowed him.
“There’s coffee with whiskey back at the camp.”
Chance grinned, “I feel better already.” They disappeared silently into the Ukrainian twilight.
“Well Humility, thanks. I owe you one.”
“More like seven,” she said with the hint of a smile.
“Seven? C’mon, that time in Bombay with the Kali death cult only counts as half. I was close to getting free.”
“Fine. And it’s Mumbai now, not Bombay.”
“Why don’t I get memos about these things. They’re not changing the name of the gin, are they?”
“I don’t think so.”
“That’s a relief. At least there are a few things you can rely on.”
Humilty and Chance sat on the terrace of Humility’s dacha, overlooking the Black Sea, breakfasting on caviar and very black coffee. Chance was wearing one of Humility’s terry cloth bathrobes bearing her monogram and her crest. There were small bandages on his arms and legs. Humility was reading Chekov in the original.
Chance took a big scoop of Caviar and asked. “How’d you find me, by the way?”
“The CIA transmitter is still in you.”
Humility looked at him and brushed a dark hair out of her face. “What were you doing with Cossacks, anyway?”
“I was going to do an article for Xtreme Travel Magazine. A little freelance work.”
“But you’re a terrible writer.”
“They didn’t know that.” He poured himself some coffee from the samovar. “This thing’s cool.”
“Supposedly it once belonged to Boris Yeltsin.”
“Good guy, Yeltsin. There was this one crazy night in Moscow when he and I did jello shots with about a dozen strippers. I almost brought one back to the states. Tatanya, I think. Good times.”
Humility pulled a manila folder out of the satchel by her chair. “Well, I didn’t just rescue you so you could resume your international conquests. I need some muscle for a job. You’re crude, but effective.” She showed him a few black and white photographs. It showed a well- dressed man, with a wave of white hair and dark glasses. In one he was riding a saddled zebra.
“The Baron. Nobody knows his real name, origins are obscure, operates out of England. He was in Bosnia in the early 90s before resurfacing as a rare animals smuggler. His organization has been nicknamed ‘the Ark.’ Anything a rich client wants, for whatever purpose-pet, sport, fashion, medicine, aphrodisiac-the Baron and his men can get. Of course, quite a few of these animals are protected. Interpol, MI6 and the World Wildlife Fund have been trying to shut him down for years. They called me in.”
“Do they ever smuggle monkeys?” Chance asked.
“I suppose so.”
“Because I’ve always wanted a monkey butler. I mean, who hasn’t?”
Humility shook her head and poured herself some coffee. “As ridiculous as you are, you’re on the right track. We may have to pose as a wealthy couple to attract the Baron’s attention.”
Chance’s eyebrows went up and with a mouthful of caviar, he inquired, “And what may this posing as a couple entail? I mean, we’d have to share a bedroom…”
Humility shot him a dangerous look. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.” She stood up. “Look the file over. Get to know those animals listed. You’ll have to be marginally familiar with them.”
“I had goldfish as a kid. His name was Liberty.”
Humility dropped her robe to reveal a black one piece swimsuit. Chance noticed a small, dark tattoo on her shoulder. “I’m going for a swim. We fly to London tonight. The Baron’s having a party for his most exclusive clients. We have to be there. And, by the way, Chance, the Cossacks were a set-up. There’s no Extreme Travel Magazine. You still have a lot of enemies from the old days.”
“Right. I’ll have to fire my agent.”
“Be ready to go at 3:00. My helicopter will take us to the airport.”
Chance slowly stood up. “And soon the hunter will become the hunted.”
Humility rolled her eyes and walked down to the sea.
Next Episode…Savage death! The Baron! The assignment! Accents!
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Portland Fiction Project
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