Chapter 1

“Well, I just got into town about an hour ago.

Took a look around, see which way the wind blow

with a little girl in a Hollywood bungalow.

Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light?

Or just another lost angel, city at night.”

-The Doors, “L.A. Woman”

One of the mercenaries kicked the young man again to make certain he wasn’t getting back up. Another placed a bag on the screaming woman’s head as his associates tossed her bound body into the back of their Humvee. Men in two other vehicles searched around the crash site, looking for anything or anyone else of value to collect. The local authorities would be there soon, and they wanted to be gone long before then.

Another of the mercs picked up the woman’s purse and climbed into the back of the Humvee with her. As the other men were making ready to leave the area as well, he opened the purse and dumped out its contents for inspection as he’d done many times before.

He’d found what he’d come to expect: Money, papers, a phone, some other items. He peeled off a few bills from the roll for himself, enough to insure an extra cut but not so much that the others would accuse him of skimming, and tossed the phone away, knowing it might have a tracker. The credit cards would be worthless by the time he got somewhere they could be used, but the cosmetics could be exchanged with some of the local prostitutes. Medications were also a potential source of revenue, but the woman had none.

An envelope fell out. What made this different from the passport and other papers the woman’s purse held was the hundred-Euro note secured to it with a pair of crossed rubber bands. He picked it up and flipped it over, revealing a second bill secured to the back. It felt like there were more inside the envelope with the letter. He removed the rubber bands and pocketed the money before opening the wax-sealed letter.

Inside was a piece of expensive stationary folded twice. Each fold was wrapped in another hundred-Euro note, forcing anyone who wanted the money inside to open and read the letter. The letter was the same message written in four languages. English was the one he recognized, so he read that part.

*To whomever has opened this envelope,

I have more than paid for you to take the time to read this letter. If you know who the woman that carried it is, then you know who I am, and you are aware that this message is to be taken seriously and that I am capable of doing all that it promises.

This envelope is being carried by a woman whose identity may be verified if she is without other documents by an emerald signet ring on her right hand, or a small tattoo on the back of her left shoulder of the family crest pictured at the top of this stationary. If you have found her injured or aided her escape from others, call the number at the bottom of this letter from any phone in the world and think upon your heart’s desire, and I will make it yours.

If you have taken her against her will, you have already noticed that she has fallen unconscious and will not answer your questions. She is under my spell and only I can awaken her. (Again, if you know who I am, you understand the truth of that statement.) However, you are still in control of the situation and still have all of the bargaining power. Call the number at the bottom of this letter from any phone in the world to give your demands or instructions.

If this woman is returned alive and unharmed (And for those who need clarification, that includes “unraped” as well.), your demands can be met. If she comes to any harm whatsoever, you will earn my wrath and will find nowhere to run from me.

For your own sake and all that you hold dear, make the smart decision.

With all sincerity,

Contessa Helena de San Finzione*

He debated telling his employer about the letter, then stuffed it into his pocket. He certainly had a lot to think about now.


The maid ran through the castle, frantically searching for La Contessa. She found her in the library, staring at a chessboard and seated opposite a bald Russian man. The Russian moved his bishop, took her pawn, and declared check.

Contessa Helena de San Finzione looked at the board, then looked up and smiled at him before asking a question in Russian. “Do you read Confucius, Mr. Kasparov?” The grandmaster shook his head no. “I do. I love his style: Simple, logical, things we all SHOULD be thinking about all the time, but life then intrudes. One of my favorite passages applies here.” She looked at her king, staring down the barrel of his bishop. “Great Man may be deceived, but he is never...” She castled her king. “cornered.”

The maid stood between two bookshelves a distance away and cleared her throat. Helena heard her and turned around. “Just a moment, Tovarich,” Helena said to him before approaching the maid.

“Jeanne,” Helen said when she was close enough to speak in a low tone, switching from Russian to French without missing a beat. “Do you know who that is at the table? Even for me, arranging a private game with Kasperov is a challenge.”

“Oui, Contessa,” the maid replied. “It is that urgent. Something has happened with Lady Maria’s helicopter.”

Helen mentally switched gears. “Garry, “she called to the man waiting at the chessboard. “Don’t leave town, we’re not finished.” She walked out the door and the maid followed.

“Is she ok?”

“They do not know. They say that warlords have shot it down and her phone tracker has been found at the crash site but she has not.”

“Where is my jet,” Helena asked the girl.

“You sent it to Africa with her and Monsieur Stavro, Contessa.”

“Right. Wake my pilot and tell him to have the helicopter ready in 20 minutes, then call the airport. Find a trans-continental flight that hasn’t boarded yet and tell them they’ve been commandeered by the government. Tell the pilots to chart a new course for the People’s Democratic Republic of Uongo.”

Jeanne made the needed calls as they walked, arriving at the Study. Helena went to her desk and opened the safe next to it. She pulled a black Prada Arcade bag from the safe and inspected the contents: Her diplomatic credentials, 25,000 Euros in various bills, a few platinum and black credit cards, a small, black leather pouch, and a Ruger LC9 with an extra clip were inside. Helena turned to Jeanne.

“I’ll need clothes for the jungle.” Helena recalled that Jeanne had only been with her for two months and told her “Closet 4, second rack. Two outfits.”

Once the maid was out of the room, Helena steadied herself against the desk. “You’ve got 30 seconds,” she told the tears forming in her eyes, and sat down and allowed herself 30 seconds of crying at a picture of Maria on her desk before wiping the tears away, blowing her nose, and sticking the picture next to it into her bag. She picked up her phone and told Siri “Army,” as she heard the helicopter on the roof powering up. The call connected on the first ring.

“Si,” said the voice on the end.

“Generalissimo, my great-granddaughter’s helicopter has been shot down in Uongo. I’m about to fly to the airport. I want two squads of commandos waiting for me. I’ll text what gate.”

“Si, Contessa. I have only now heard and was about to call. Per favore, The Lady Maria; two of my men were escorting her.”

“The only information I have so far, Generalissimo is that Lady Maria was not found at the scene. You may want to tell the men to pack with vengeance in mind,” she replied, checking her Ruger before returning it to the bag.

“Si, Contessa. They shall be ready.” The call ended and she made her way to the roof.

La Contessa walked toward the waiting helicopter, Jeanne in tow with a packed shoulder bag. Helena took the bag from her maid and loaded it into the helicopter. As she was getting in, she stopped and turned to the girl, shouting over the whirling props overhead.

“I just ordered the world’s highest ranked grandmaster of Chess not to leave San Finzione until we finish our game, didn’t I?”

“You spoke in Russian, Contessa. I do not know what was said.”

Helen thought for a second. There wasn’t time to go tell Kasperov he could leave. She finally came to a decision.

“Jeanne, I want every effort to be made to insure that my guest is happy and comfortable.” The maid nodded. Helen grabbed the maid by her chin and gazed into her eyes. “And if it calls for it, I want YOU to be happy and comfortable with making HIM happy and comfortable, do you understand me?”

The maid’s cheeks flushed as she smiled and nodded.

“Oui, Contessa. I shall make him happy and comfortable.” Helen gave her a brief kiss before getting into the helicopter.

“Vive La France,” she said to the maid as the door closed and she flew off to the airport. That’s what she loved about the French, one didn’t have to explain innuendo to them.


Three shots were fired into the night air. A half-mile away, lights turned on, illuminating a gate ahead, which began opening. The convoy of Humvees made their way off the road and into the compound.

Shots of welcome were fired into the air as they approached, hailing the conquering heroes returning from their hunt. A man walked toward the incoming vehicles with a video camera, recording as they roared through the gates; the mercenaries looking as fierce as possible for the camera.

A large black man emerged from the lead Humvee, cigar clenched in his teeth. A face the world had come to know from YouTube videos and recent news exposure. He approached the one that had been in the rear and opened the back.

“Has she spoken,” he asked the mercenary who was getting out of the vehicle. The merc handed him the woman’s purse, which he tossed to a subordinate.

“Nothing, Mr. Igazi. She has been quiet the whole time. In fact, I think I heard snoring.”

“And she is still wearing all of her jewelry?”

“You told us not to take it, Mr. Igazi. Everyone knows the penalty for stealing from you.”

Igazi looked over her hands, finding the emerald signet ring he’d hoped for. He removed the hood and looked at Maria’s face. Sometimes women he removed the hood from were terrified, sometimes they were relived to be out of it. This was the first time he’d ever removed a bag from over a woman’s face to find her sleeping peacefully.

“Hey,” he said loudly to the sleeping woman. When she did not move, he tapped her on the forehead and yelled “HEY!” Maria continued sleeping. He motioned for two of the men to bring her to one of the huts, then turned toward the men in the yard of the compound. The mercenary who’d rode with her followed the two men carrying Maria.

“There will be no fun with this one! She is mine,” he yelled so all could hear. Many of them turned away in disappointment. “You have done well. Beer for all!” The disappointment turned to cheers as coolers were opened and cans and bottles passed around. He walked toward the largest hut in the compound, the men hoisting beers and cheering “Igazi, Igazi” as he walked away from them.

He unslung his rifle as he entered and sat down at a hexagonal poker table in the center of the room. The man who’d been recording their return knocked on the door. “Come,” he called.

“Mr. Igazi, we have some good footage. Shall I edit it and deliver it to the media?”

“Not yet. How long were we gone?”

“Three hours, sir.”

Igazi put out his cigar. “Then we still have eight hours before she arrives. I’ll record my demands, and then it shall be delivered not to the media, but to the San Finzione embassy in the capitol.”

“If you say, sir. Permit me a question, but I am told the girl is some kind of royalty?”

“Some kind, yes.”

“Then with a prize this great, you could have the world’s attention. Every television camera in the world would be pointed at Uongo and the name of David Igazi would be on the lips of all.”

Igazi didn’t remember the man’s name, but he recalled that he was American. He’d taken a semester in journalism before dropping out of school, so Igazi had put him in charge of media affairs.

“This is not for attention,” he told the cameraman. We need this girl, and we need one person alone to know where she is.” He walked over to the small refrigerator by his desk and pulled out two bottles of beer. He set one before the cameraman and opened the other with his teeth before producing another cigar. “Once we have recorded my part, take it to the embassy.”

“As you wish, sir,” the cameraman said, setting down his camera and opening his beer. “I take it they will pay a greater ransom if the media is not informed?”

“Possibly, yes. But it is not ransom I seek.”

“Your plans are greater than my understanding, sir,” the cameraman replied. Americans always knew just how to kiss his ass.

“You’ll want to get this,” Igazi said, gesturing to the camera. The cameraman picked it up, pointed it at him and pressed record, giving a thumbs-up. David Igazi looked into the camera.

“If you want to trap a witch,” he said to it. “First you must catch her familiar.”

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