THE ART OF RENDITION (Begin Reading)
Cold rain struck the German capital shortly after sunset on that raw March night. Robin Monarch pushed open the windows of a darkened room on the fourth floor of the Ellington Hotel. Gazing through the pelting rain across the street and down at a lighted office suite one floor below, he dwelled on the fact that he really did not like kidnappings.
Snatching people, in Monarch's experience, was almost always messy, rarely clean, and rarely contained, which was the way he liked things to be. But maybe that had just been his luck in the past.
In his mind, a young girl appeared. She was fourteen and dressed in a white tennis skirt and a blue polo shirt. She was frightened, sobbing. Twenty years ago. He still felt horrible.
A tall man with an athletic build and a face that could fit in almost anywhere, Monarch was the team leader of a CIA "Special Operations Group." Operating on an Italian passport, he carried nothing that linked him to the U.S. government. Indeed, if he were caught at something like this, the government would quickly disavow any knowledge of his activities and pretty much hang him out to dry. His job was to achieve his objective with zero casualties and zero trace left behind. He and his teammates were expected to be ghosts who barely haunted the landscape.
Trying to become that ghost, Monarch watched the office suite windows and reexamined various facets of the plan he was about to set in motion. By nature and nurture, he was, suspicious of assumptions, especially when things had the potential to turn deadly; and he kept trying to determine which assumptions might be dangerous to him, or to his--
The suite lights across the street went out.
"He's moving, Rogue," came a woman's voice through the earbud Monarch wore.
"Rogue in motion," he said into a voice-activated mike, using a handle given to him in the U.S. Special Forces. He grabbed his cap and went quickly out the door.
Jogging down the hall to the staircase and ignoring the looks of several hotel patrons who gawked at his uniform, Monarch took the four flights to the lobby in seconds. Setting the cap on his head, he smiled at the bellman who cried to him in German, "Alarm für Cobra 11!", referring to a popular television show about the Autobahn Police.
Monarch smartly saluted the bellman before exiting into the storm, turning right, and going straight to a no-parking zone where he'd left a Brabus CLS Rocket, a 735-horsepower four-door sedan that carried the blue-and-white markings of the Autobahn Police.
He climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine, flipped on the wipers, and watched the space-age dashboard come to life. The CLS Rocket was the fastest street-legal sedan in the world, with a top speed of two hundred and twenty-five miles an hour. Pretty nice for a loaner car.
"He's taking his usual route," the woman's voice said in his ear.
"Eyes?" he asked.
"I'll be right along behind them," Monarch said, putting the police car in gear, heading toward Kantstrasse, where he drove west toward the E 51, the autobahn that linked Berlin to Leipzig.
Turning south onto the ultrahigh-speed freeway, Monarch began to accelerate into the driving rain, chewing up the miles that separated him from the target, thinking once again that he did not like kidnappings. And then, through the windshield, in the falling rain and the headlight glow, he seemed to see an opaque rendering of a memory from times long ago.
Monarch saw himself at sixteen, as Robin, a long, lanky kid, just coming into his own body. Robin was in Buenos Aires, walking through the streets with a boy two years older and a man in his early twenties. All three wore stylish clothes and had discreet tattoos on their inner right forearms: "FDL."
Two years had passed since Robin became a full member of La Fraternidad de Ladrones, the Brotherhood of Thieves. Almost three years had evaporated since his parents were murdered in front of him, and he'd been cast into the streets, orphaned and impoverished.
Since joining the Brotherhood, however, he'd become a favorite of the gang's leaders, especially the two who were with him that day: Claudio, who was like a brother to him, and Julio, who'd founded La Fraternidad and devised its eighteen rules. Both had come to believe Robin was capable of almost anything, a thief of the highest order, and they had just told him so in light of what they wanted him to do now.
"A thief, yes," Robin replied in hushed complaint. "But a kidnapper? No. I don't steal humans. My parents, well, my mother, she thought it was unlucky. Stealing people. Kidnapping, I mean."
"You're mother's dead," Julio scoffed. "And besides, what did she know?"
"A lot," Robin said hotly, his hands gathering into fists. "She thought you could get just as much money out of people from other ways."
"Like long cons?" Claudio asked.
"Long cons take too much thinking, too much time, and there's too much of a chance you get caught," Julio said. "This way, we take her. Hold her maybe a few hours. She's their only child. We hit them for a small chunk, so they pay and we trade. Nice and fast. And The Brotherhood will be good for months, maybe a year."
"I don't know," Robin said, remembering his mother, but looking to Claudio, who shrugged.
Julio put his arm around Robin's shoulders, said, "C'mon, my young thieving genius, for you this will be such a simple thing. And I give you twenty-five percent of whatever we get."
THE ART OF RENDITION Copyright © 2012 by Mark T.Sullivan.