The ocean lapped at our feet as palm trees swayed in a slight breeze to our right. With a red head on either arm and the sounds of Reggae wafting across the dunes life couldn't get much better. Sailboats hugged the horizon, their colorful sails stretched tight by the afternoon winds. The ladies with me laughed at my clever jokes and we all knew what lay in store for us at the cabana we were casually strolling toward. In the distance, I could see a phone on the beach. Not very big at first, it began to grow in size and it was ringing. The ladies didn't seem to notice as we continued toward it. But somehow it drew me to it and it seemed to grow in size far too quickly. I couldn't ignore its persistence ring. As I stared at the phone, the beach seemed to fade away and the ladies were gone. This was an evil phone and it was in my hand now.
Phone calls after midnight are rarely a good thing. The later they are, the worse they are. That's been my experience and I have plenty to go by. This one came just after 3AM. No one else was going to answer it but me and the echo through the house demanded my attention. I paused for a couple more rings to let the dream sadly fade from my brain.
"Danny boy. Pack your bags," was my greeting, all chipper as though it was morning or something. I knew both the voice and the source of the nickname without looking at caller ID. Knowing it was one of my very few old friends, Jackson Pollard, on the other end didn't help me figure if this was good or bad news. Probably bad, since he didn't sound drunk.
"Jackson. Your timing sucks." I asked with wake-up grumbling in my voice. It wasn't an automatic but I was pretty sure a late night call from him must have been somehow unavoidable. He didn't call that late, or early, whatever it was, just to chat. He wanted something. Jackson had the resources and contacts to get just about anything done and calling me, especially a late night call was extraordinary.
"Were you in the middle of something good?"
"The best. I was on a beach in Fiji with a pair of redheaded twins."
"Well then, it's a good thing I called. Red heads burn easily and they would have hated you in the morning."
"Thanks for the help, Jackson. I'll tell them what a great guy you are next time I see them. What kind of trouble do you have for me and how do I get out of it?"
"I need you to perform a bit of an extraction/relocation. It needs to be done soon." He paused a bit to let me digest that. Relocations are what the two of us had done for a living but that was a couple of years ago for me and longer for Jackson. Extractions were much more rare and usually meant trouble. Either someone didn't want to be relocated or someone else really didn't want them relocated. I was good but there were plenty of others, especially still in the Marshals that did it professionally. For me, it would be a hobby. "Daniel, this is high profile, very high risk. The company can't be seen in the mix of this and the Marshals won't touch it. We need an outsider."
"Who are you working for now? How soon?" If Jackson said it had to be soon and I was the guy, it was only because he had run the rest of the options and I was the obvious choice.
"There's a company plane on the way. There's a laptop on board with all the info you need."
"That's great Jackson but you presume much. What am I doing, for whom and how long? Is there pay involved or is this just because I'm such a great guy?" I asked, not really expecting much clarification.
"The CIA is passing info to the Fibbies to bring in a big name. He's getting old and we think he'll open up everything. One catch. His daughter. She's 23. She wants out. She's wanted out of the family since she figured it out a long time ago. Daddy won't let her go because he thinks he's her best protection. If she's already gone and he's convinced she's safe, things could go a lot smoother."
"That seems easy enough. Why doesn't she just leave," I asked. Why did you wake me for this, I thought.
"We think Daddy would hunt her down and bring her back and then shut up tight. If she's gone before we take him in, and he thinks she's safe, problem solved."
"So you want me to relocate her without Daddy's knowledge. Is that it? And by the way, who is Daddy?" I owed Jackson a lot. No. I owed him just about everything and this sounded pretty easy. If I could pay anything toward that debt, I would do it in a heartbeat. If I could earn a buck or two, so much the better.
"You're not gonna like it."
"What am I not gonna like Jackson? Who daddy is or how little I'm going to get paid?"
"You're not gonna like who daddy is at all. You're especially not gonna like who his friends are" he said. I think he wanted me to say "yes" before I had all the details but debt or no debt, I needed to know what I was getting into.
"Daddy is Sergey Mogelivitz. You heard of him?"
"Yeah. I've heard of him. Remind me."
"He's one of two American faces of the Bratva in America. Portsei is the other. Mogelivitz operates out of New York but has fingers into everything, New York to Louisiana." He paused a moment to let that sink in. I knew the Bratva was the Russian mafia and Mogelivitz was one of the biggest names. Nothing happened in the Eastern US, at least as far as the Bratva was concerned, unless it went through Mogelivitz. "His daughter is Smetlana. She's old enough to know everything. Sergey's partners and enemies alike will think that what he knows, she knows, that she could testify as well as he could. They're probably wrong but Hallmark hasn't gotten around to making a "I don't really know anything" greeting card yet. Can't send one out to all concerned. When Mogelivitz comes in, they will all want her dead. They'll want his wife dead too but she probably doesn't have long to live and will probably stay holed up in their Gold Coast estate. The wife isn't the issue."
"Oh, that Sergey Mogelivitz. So you think that's why I won't like it? Well, you've got that right. As soon as he goes into custody, every Russian crook in the world will either be trying to take his place or looking for her and especially Portsei. Not wanting to go to jail might be a motive. The bounty will be a billion dollars. Why wouldn't I like that?" I asked, my words dripping with the sarcasm it deserved. This was way beyond doing a very good friend a very big favor or paying off a very big debt. This was like signing my own death warrant. The world is not a big enough place to hide from the Russian mafia. We both let the silence hang until it was too thick to tolerate.
"Does she want to go? You said she does but does she realize what's going to happen when she leaves?" I asked. I stood and stretched. I looked back at the bed but there were no redheads to be seen although there might have been a bit of sand on the sheets. I was wide-awake now whether I did Jackson this little favor or not. I took the phone into the bathroom and turned on the lights. Bad idea. I squinted at the mirror and didn't like what I saw. "Does she realize how much risk there is for her?"
"She knows. We have a man inside and he's convinced she wants to be done with it. She's ready to go but hasn't had the opportunity. And Daniel, you don't have a big window here. I need you moving now."
"Alright Jackson. If I don't say yes before I'm completely awake, I won't say yes. When and where do I pick her up?" I asked. Normally it takes at least a couple of weeks to prepare an extraction and relocation. You need a new identity and documentation to go with it, a job, a life, an invented past. You can't just pick up and go. You have to prepare the way. I had spent almost six years working witness protection for the U.S. Marshals. I knew the drill. Fast and reckless usually meant failure. A safe house could buy some time and professionals working the paper and plugging background info into legitimate databases helps.
"Danny, the FBI is picking Mogelivitz up late this afternoon. She needs to be gone before that," he said and we both got real quiet. The more time between her "disappearance" and Mogelivitz being taken into custody, the more of a head start we would have and the better our chance of success. Success being that I continued to live. Double success if Smetlana Mogelivitz did too.
"That's nuts, Jackson. We'll be dead before we leave the country." It was likely and we both knew it.
"Danny, there's an account with your name on it and $5 million ready to transfer as soon as you have her. More to come for her once you have her established. There's a lot of money here, Danny. Don't ask where it came from 'cause I'm not gonna tell you. But I would certainly think Mogelivitz will reward the man who ensures his daughter's safety. $5 mil is for starters."
I took a deep breath. I was hoping for something a little less risky and a little less profitable. $5 million was a lot of money but it's hard to spend when you're dead. I told him so.
"She must have personal security. What does it look like? How close are the bad guys, or are they good guys? Do I have any help?"
"You don't have any help. Well, a little. She typically has a security detail of four to six when traveling and she is traveling. She's in Savannah, Georgia now but we think that's going to change later today. Charleston, shopping on Market Street is her likely destination. And if we're lucky, our inside man will be on the security team."
"Well that's a start. Four close and two separate or the other way around? Two cars, three? How do they travel? Does she have anyone with her or does she just love the company of big Russian goons?"
.... There is more of this story ...