"At least one month," Dr. Glass said, nervously fingering the panic button under his clipboard. The figure sitting in the chair across from him slowly blinked its uncannily colorful eyes (damn it, he could never figure out what color they were supposed to be) and carefully read the pink slip of paper in his hand. "Your psychological evaluation indicates that it's been years since you last took a break. You need to let off some steam."
"I did have a break. I took a very nice trip to Italy," Clef said levelly.
"I went to bar. Was fun. Met new friends," Strelnikov insisted.
"A covert mission with six MTF operatives to eliminate a target is not a vacation, and nor are the five weeks in the hospital spent recovering from that nasty gut wound either." Dr. Glass sighed. "Look. Just take the damn vacation. I don't care where you go, or what you do, just spend at least one week where you're not worrying about the fate of the world."
"That would be… difficult," Clef said, folding the piece of paper into precise thirds. "Might as well ask me to stop breathing."
"Is stupid," said the other man sitting across from the psychologist, as he glared at his own pink slip of paper. "Is not like Chechens will stop being Chechens because am fatigued. War is not nine-to-five job."
"Then… at least make saving the world a secondary priority. Think of it as… periodic maintenance. You take your car in for a tune-up every ten thousand miles. This is your time to get a tune-up." Dr. Glass sighed.
"Can't I get a tune-up in the shop? Perhaps I could spend some time at the training facility instead, or in the field…" Clef muttered.
"Can spend time drinking vodka. That is proper Russian vacation."
"No. No field operations, no training, no paperwork, nothing. Just… get some rest. You've certainly earned it. Enjoy your vacations, gentlemen."
The door closed with a kind of epic finality, leaving two of the most dangerous men in the Foundation standing in the hallway, clutching pink slips like a pair of delinquent teenagers sent to the principal's office. The entire support staff of the Human Resources and Training division sat in their cubicles studiously staring at their monitors. One of them, a young lady wearing a very nice pantsuit, was desperately typing the Lord's Prayer over and over into Notepad. Another was whispering a Buddhist sutra under his breath.
The tension was finally broken by a sigh from Clef, who rubbed the back of his neck with the pink slip of paper. "So," he said, "I hear Brazil is nice this time of year."
The airport bar was crowded, full of weary passengers stopping in to have a bite to eat and a few drinks before allowing themselves to be carted off in the big Airbuses and Boeings. Strelnikov and Clef strolled in quietly and took the only two empty seats at the long bar, nodding curtly to the bartender and those next to them before settling in for the two hour wait. Their attire was ostentatious and drew odd looks from the other patrons: Strelnikov in his olive drab dress uniform with peaked cap, and Clef in a Hawaiian shirt with obscene portrayals of people engaging in coitus printed in flamboyant colors.
Their chosen drinks said much about their character. The bartender, hair in a muss from a long day, pointed at Clef and made eye contact, silently inquiring.
“Bombay Sapphire Martini, stirred, not shaken, two ice cubes only, 6:1 gin and vermouth, two olives, one onion, and if you bruise the vermouth god help you,” Clef responded dryly, as if the bartender should have already known. The bartender’s expression went blank for a moment, before he nodded slowly and turned to Strelnikov. “And you, sir?”
Strelnikov gave him the dirtiest of looks. “…Ice.”
“Any preferred brand?”
Dmitri’s stare hardened and he clenched his fists on the bar. “Vodka. With ice.”
The alcohol was forthcoming and it both lightened their mood and loosened their tongues accordingly as they imbibed. As the first rounds went through them, they developed a lively and appropriate discussion.
“You see, Dmitri, a good drink is smooth—you have just a small sip and the flavor and aromas combine and are enough to take your breath away. It’s like the touch of a beautiful woman, something exquisite and rare, something you hold in your hand and show people so they can see what a classy son of a bitch you are.”
“Drink? Drink is not status or class symbol, Doktor Clef. Drink is a drink. You drink it. And you get drunk. And then you are drink more, until you have drink so much that is make you sober again.
“…I don’t believe you’ve understood.”
Their spirited debate continued, beginning to draw the attention of the other customers. Slowly their heads and chairs swiveled to lock on the two oddly dressed gentlemen as they argued and jabbed at one another’s tastes. As their collection of empty vodka and martini glasses grew and grew, the argument mellowed and became a happy, family oriented story telling extravaganza.
“I wanted to see his face when I killed him, Dmitri. That’s why I had the snipers hold their fire. See, I came in behind him like this,” accompanied with gesticulation of the hands, “and swiped him across the face with my pistol. Then he stabbed me and some things happened, and blah blah blah, I ended up in a hospital for a few weeks. Good times.”
Strelnikov nodded approvingly. “In Chechnya, our supplies always run low. So I was force to hold my fire many time and resort to use of bayonet.” He waggled a finger and pointed at Clef, “Many Chechens get it in the face and neck, Doktor Clef. Many. Much blood.”
“Ever drive over thirty people in a tank?”
“Does armored personnel carrier count? What about unarm combat, you snap necks?”
“The spine is usually easier for me, Dmitri. A lot of people prefer the traditional twisting-head neck snapping action but I usually stick with grabbing them by the hair and shoving a boot into the small of their back as hard as I can. It’s a personal preference really.” Strelnikov couldn’t argue with that.
“Once, on night mission, we find rebel camp in bombed warehouse. I send two team, yes?” He holds up two fingers. “Two team, into each entrance, and I climb through window alone, with just knife and pistol. They were sleep, guards sleep, everyone was sleep. We come in and slit all of their throats in the night and leave them for crows.” He coughs. “Later that night I find out there had been a mutual cease fire called,” he concludes with a shrug.
“Oh, man, I know. Once, I was trying an experimental chainsaw that we thought was a possible item for containment. There ended up being a D-Class riot and, well, I was on hand with the chainsaw and one thing led to another. Next thing I know, I’m standing on a pile of D-Class bodies holding the saw over my head and screaming in bloodlust, then someone comes in and tells me it was just the annual costume party and half of my research staff is now dead.” A shrug. “Turns out the saw was just a normal saw, too.” Strelnikov nodded sadly, feeling Clef’s disappointment, pausing for a moment and then saying quietly:
“I was just kid about cease fire, Doktor Clef.”
“…Oh. I wasn’t. It really was a costume party.”
Dmitri sighed and turned back to the bar and asked for another drink, except nobody answered. He craned his head over the bar and found the bartender, pale as a ghost, trembling on the floor with a phone in his hand, poised to dial. Strelnikov shrugged and plucked the bottle himself, pouring a glass and turning back to face Clef. He took a quick look behind him.
The bar was completely empty.
"Considering who we work for, you'd think they could afford to give us better seats than coach," Clef griped. "Seriously. Charging us five bucks for a dry ham sandwich and a half can of soda. This is highway robbery."
"Is better than Aeroflot in 1980s," Dimitri pointed out. "Food recognizable. Cabin actually pressurized. Stewardesses smile at you instead of scream." He raised an eyebrow at the attractive young lady coming down the aisle with the beverage cart. "And are much prettier. Aeroflot stewardesses all fat old bitches with horse face."
"I dunno, a boiled beet and some horse-leather meat might actually be a step up from this… thing. What the hell are these little green flecks, anyway?" Clef muttered, poking the sandwich with his finger. "Lizard bits?"
"Maybe is sperm from 682. Big lizard wet his beak in your sandwich, no?" Strelnikov quipped, making a "jerking off" motion with his left hand.
"I wish, it would improve the taste… excuse me, miss? Miss?" Clef said, reaching across Dimitri from his window seat to tap the stewardess on the elbow. "I'm sorry, miss, but you seem to have messed up my order. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich, not a pus and plastic one. From the taste of this, it seems that you've confused the two."
"I see, sir," the stewardess sighed. "I'm sorry you don't like the taste of your sandwich. If you'd like a refund…"
"I don't want a goddamn refund, I want an edible sandwich," Clef interrupted. "Now, I'm sure that somewhere in that cart under the piles of dried-out human ejaculate and styrofoam sponge, you've got something edible, so how about bending that pretty ass over and looking a little harder, sweet cheeks?"
"Ahhhh," the stewardess said. She turned to Dr. Clef and grinned, a wide, mirthless smile showing too many teeth. "So, I see, what you're really trying to say is that you're the asshole here!"
She leaned across Dimitri, her voice low and stern, but carrying through the suddenly silent cavern, as she addressed the bemused Clef. "Listen up, bucko. I don't make the damn food, I just serve it. If you've got a problem, you can write a goddamn letter to the people who do. But wait until we get on the ground. Until then, it's another six hours to São Paulo, and I'll be damned if I have to spend it listening to you bitch the whole way. So either shut up and eat your sandwich or stop complaining about it, or I'll duct tape your mouth shut and tape you to the chair." She stood up straight. "And my name's not sweet cheeks, asshole. It's Lucy."
There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by a smattering of applause, then the stewardess continued down the aisle, serving sodas and coffees to the other, appreciative passengers. Clef leaned back and smiled. "I like her," he admitted. "Girl's got spirit."
"That's nice," Dimitri sighed. He unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up slowly.
"Where are you going?" Clef asked. "The in-flight movie's about to start."
"To take a shit… and pretend I don't know you," Dimitri said.
Clef shrugged and leaned his chair back as far as he could, ignoring the angry stare from the fat lady in the seat behind him. He was just drifting to sleep when a loud scuffling sound and scream drew his attention.
"DO NOT MOVE!" screamed the bearded man, who held a knife to the throat of Lucy the flight attendant. There were two other men, holding similar weapons: one held a hand grenade, pin out, over his head. All three were wearing kaffiyehs and camouflage t-shirts. "This plane now belongs to the Holy Army of the Chechen Independent Republic!"
"Allahu Akbar!" screamed one of the other men. "God is great! Long Live Chechnya!"
"Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me," Clef winced.
The jostling of the aircraft in the turbulent skies made it difficult for Strelnikov to piss. It always struck him as odd; he’d have no qualms about jumping out of an airplane into a combat zone, but something as simple as taking a leak inside of one gave him hell. The complexities and nuances of the human psyche escaped him at the time, and he chided himself for “being a pansy.”
He finally got control of himself and was about to go when the door was rudely kicked open and someone grabbed him by the shoulder, dragging him into the aisle. He quickly buttoned himself and stumbled along, too surprised to offer effective resistance. The Chechen took a good look at his uniform and noticed the Russian crest on his hat—with a quick decision he began dragging him to the front of the aircraft.
“Caught with your pants down, Dmitri?” Clef muttered as they dragged Strelnikov between the rows of seats, the irony of his witticism wasted. Thinking quickly, he threw his foot out into the aisle just in time to catch the Chechen’s ankle, sending him face first into the carpet and taking Dmitri down with him. The two others immediately rushed forward to try and subdue Clef, one still holding the hand grenade over his head and shouting angrily in a Chechen-Russian dialect.
Strelnikov immediately recognized it.
They were Chechens.
They were on the plane. His plane.
There were Chechens on his plane. Three of them.
“…That is three too many,” he said out loud. Clef gave him an odd look as he immediately began biting the tripped man’s nose, drawing a short knife from the inside of a jackboot and proceeding to punch the man in the kidneys. With the knife.
Clef wasted no time and nearly leapt over the heads of the terrified passengers in front of him, lunging for the approaching men. He connected with the one carrying the knife, knocking him to the floor also. Clef hauled back and slammed the palm of his hand into the man’s face, quickly shattering the bridge of the man’s nose. The man winced and staggered back, clutching his heavily bleeding nose, as Clef casually disarmed him with a complicated aikido wrist lock. He then drove the knife into the man's heart as Strelnikov finished rendering his man into a bloody, dying mess.
There was only one left, still holding the hand grenade and seemingly unsure of what to do now that their plan had completely deteriorated. "Don't move!" he screamed. "I have a bomb!"
Simultaneously, Clef and Dmitri rotated their heads upward, rising from the bloodied corpses like something out of a cheap horror flick, except instead of a dramatic musical score, there was only the wailing of the outboard turbofans as the pilot increased throttle. "I don't care," Clef said.
Dmitri just smiled. Steel teeth gleamed.
The terrorist's eyes darted nervously between the two men, and he took a frightened step backward.
It would be his last. Lucy’s foot caught the man in the back of the knee and sent him stumbling forward, right into Strelnikov’s knife. Clef deftly snatched the grenade from the man’s hand, paying careful attention to make sure he kept pressure on the spoon. Dmitri’s bloodied steel teeth glistened underneath the cabin lighting, offering the man a most disquieting last sight of this earth.
He withdrew the knife as violently as he had inserted it, a spray of blood splashing across the passengers nearest him, letting the body collapse supine on the floor. The occupants of the cabin stared in shock and awe at the brief, bloody conflict, offering no applause as Clef took his seat, grenade in hand. Strelnikov walked past, heading aft.
“I have to make piss.”
"We have a problem," Clef said, when Dimitri came out of the restroom, buttoning up his pants. Compared to the Russian, who was a bloody, gory mess, the stuck-up prick had somehow managed to avoid getting any blood on him at all, despite the violence of the past few minutes.
"No problem. Chechens dead now," Strelnikov pointed out.
"That's the problem. Three dead terrorists on an airplane, a plane full of grateful passengers, media, heroism, a parade, our faces in the paper? Do you see where I'm going with this?" Clef pointed out.
Strelnikov considered the implications of the Director's words. "Inconvenient," he murmured. "Doktor Glass will lecture us muchly about definition of 'relaxation' and 'low profile.'"
"To say the least. Wait here. Then follow my lead when you have a moment."
The gangly, big-nosed doctor took a deep breath, then squared his shoulders and walked back down the aisle, to where the rather shaken young stewardess was sitting in the front of the plane, nursing a cup of coffee. Strelnikov couldn't hear what he said over the sound of the plane engines, but he could see the way that their body language changed.
Clef said something while standing back near the front row.
Lucy said something back, still holding the coffee cup in both hands.
Clef said something else, leaning forward just a bit. He smiled.
Lucy smiled back. She rolled her eyes and wiped moisture off her cheeks.
Clef nodded and laughed. He leaned against the wall next to her, looking down at her and gesturing.
Lucy began to play with her hair.
Clef stroked his chin.
Lucy began to stroke her face behind the ear.
Lucy stroked her throat and collarbone.
Clef came walking back down the aisle. He walked past the bathroom and into the galley.
Lucy bit her lower lip, then followed Clef into the galley. There was the sound of a latch being undone, and a door opening.
Dimitri counted to twenty, then poked his head into the galley as well. The ladder leading down to the baggage compartment was open. He slid down and into the darkened baggage compartment.
The first thing he saw was Clef easing Lucy's unconscious body onto a cargo compartment. There was lipstick on his collar, and the doctor's previously buttoned-up Hawaiian shirt was opened up a bit. He tossed a ring of keys to Strelnikov. "See if you can get our bags," he said. "They're probably in one of those locked cargo containers."
"Doktor," Strelnikov said patiently, "Please just tell me this. What is point of finding bags now?"
"I don't want to leave them behind when we jump."
“I no jump without chute. I have done this once, was not fun. Break many bone.” Strelnikov opened the lockers and riffled around, grabbing the baggage and motioning for Clef to follow. “I have better idea.” They navigated the depths of the aircraft, working their way through access ways and maintenance corridors that usually only the lowliest of wing wipers ever have to crawl through. The aluminum skin of the aircraft vibrated from the air moving around it, and the noise was deafening. Finally, they stopped in the very bottom of aircraft.
“We wait, now.”
The pilot had changed course, ostensibly heading where the Chechens had instructed him to, but in reality veering towards an abandoned military airstrip. The concrete along the runway was cracked in places, with weeds breaking through and angling skyward. The terminals had long since been bulldozed; all that remained now were a few rusting corrugated hangars and a dilapidated, disused control tower. He steadied his hands on the yoke, knuckles white and eyes alert, still shaken from the events earlier. Though he hadn’t seen the massacre firsthand, Lucy had told him about it in grim detail. Where was she, anyway? He needed a drink, badly.
The inboard flaps dropped a few degrees, then a few more, increasing the plane’s lift and drag, flaring the nose slightly and slowing it down. The whine of the engines decreased in intensity, causing the aircraft to slowly descend toward the runway below. Clef and Dmitri felt the shudder of the fuselage as they lost altitude, and heard the telltale hydraulic hisses that indicated the undercarriage was about to drop.
“Hold on! Wait until we slow!” Strelnikov shouted, but it was lost in the noise. Clef gave him a confused expression but knew enough about gravity to warrant already clutching the legs of the gear. The aircraft slowed, dropping to within a few hundred feet of the ground and flaring more, nearly within ground effect. The hatch covers dropped open and the landing gear unfolded, exposing them to a harsh burst of wind that threatened to tear them away, the ground below flashing by in a terrifying blur. The concrete rose to them with alarming speed as the pilot brought the big passenger liner down—the wheels made contact and screeched in annoyance, reluctant to carry the tremendous weight.
The pilot applied brakes and the aircraft decelerated, rolling to a stop at the end of the runway. They leapt from the undercarriage and sprinted across the tarmac to a nearby line of trees, looking back in time to see the ridiculous rubber slides inflate for the other passengers to make a considerably more undignified exit. They knelt in a small thicket of trees, watching to make sure nobody followed them.
Aboard the aircraft, Lucy picked her head up and groaned. That son of a bitch—and to think she almost liked him, despite who he worked for. She sighed and rubbed her temples, pulling a cell phone from a pocket of her uniform and dialing a secure line. The phone chirped and queried her for access codes, which she dutifully punched in, surprised that they were correct considering her foggy state of mind.
“Lieutenant Parks, reporting. I have two probable Foundation assets, track from my location and prepare to deploy a shadowing team immediately.”
"I have to admit," Clef said. "Your idea was much better."
The two men lurked in the treeline for a few minutes, watching the Special Forces soldiers board the plane and get the passengers out through the inflatable slides. A man in a black suit and tie was going from passenger to passenger asking questions: he seemed annoyed at not getting the answers he wanted. Up top, a young man in camouflage gear leaned out the left side doorway and vomited onto the tarmac. Finally, several men wearing medical garb started easing three stretcher-bound bodies down the slide.
"You want stay and watch more?"
"Nah, I've seen enough. Let's get going."
They moved silently through the underbrush, crossing the electrified fence with the aid of some wire cutters and a sleeping bag, and then made their way out into the desert. There was a cracked asphalt two-lane highway under the baking sun, stretching out into the distance.
"Well," Clef said, grinning. "It's not Brazil, but it's certainly far enough away from work for Glass. Let's go hitching."
"First we must find out where we are. Is not good if we wind up in Death Valley. Then is no other people for miles."
"No problem, I'll just check my GPS." Clef said. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, turned it back on, and brought up the mapping software. "FUCK," he growled. "This is bad."
"Where we are? Bolivia? Death Valley?"
"Worse," Clef said grimly. "Texas."
As if on cue, the silence was broken by the sound of a battered pickup truck coming around the bend. Two men in white cowboy hats pulled up to the agents, their rusty old Ford emblazoned with a Confederate flag across the back windshield, a pair of shotguns on the roof, and a dead deer across the hood. The strangers rolled down the window as their car ground to a halt by the side of the road. The man in the passenger seat, a grizzled-looking one-eyed cowboy with unruly black hair, spat tobacco juice on Strelnikov's shoes and sneered.
"Mind tellin' me what you pair of Mexican Jew lizard faggots are doin' in our neck of the woods?" he growled.
Clef and Dimitri shared a bemused glance. "You have got be fucking with me," Dimitri muttered.
The blood boiled behind Strelnikov’s eyes. He looked over their attire and felt a wave of nausea nearly overtake him—how could anyone dress like this? He felt a sudden need to adjust his cap in a vain attempt to counteract their atrocious appearance. Clef just laughed.
“What ‘n the hell are ya’ lookin’ at, y’stupid or somethin’?” The one-eyed cowboy leaned out the window as the driver turned down the radio, which had previously been blaring Toby Keith at an obnoxious volume. “Oh, lemme guess, you’re one a’ them commies, aren’t you?” He spat again. “I fought you assholes in ‘Nam.” The driver nodded. “He fought y’assholes in ‘Nam!” Clef’s smile grew to obscene proportions.
Not being one to let a statement like this go unchallenged, Strelnikov immediately rose to the occasion and jabbed a finger in the man’s face. “YOU KNOW NOTHING OF WAR. I FIGHT IN CHECHYNA BOTH TIME AND I MEET BABIES ON THE BATTLEFIELD THAT WERE HAVE MORE HONOR THAN YOU, COWARD. MY GRANDFATHER TOOK BERLIN WHILE YOUR ANCESTORS SIT ON THEIR ASS DRINKING SCHNAPPS AND HOPING THAT THEY NOT HAVE TO FIGHT LIKE WE DID. YOUR ENTIRE COUNTRY IS BABIES. ALL OF YOU, BABIES.” His finger trembled with rage while Clef suppressed a guffaw. The redneck stared at him in confusion.
Strelnikov punched him in the mouth.
The redneck tumbled over, knocking his compatriot out his seat and onto the pavement. Clef was on him in a flash, hauling him up and securing his arms behind his back with an unhealthy cracking of joints.One-eye regained his composure admirably, and stepped out in front of Dmitri. “Y’ stupid god damned commie, you god damned near broke my fuckin’ face! What are ya, salty because you lost the fuckin’ war?”
It was too much—such an insult to his Russian patriotism could not be allowed to stand. With one hand he lifted the man off the ground by his neck and carted him off towards a dead, wiry tree. The cowboy flailed wildly, trying to strike him or push him away, but Strelnikov had a considerable size advantage. He briefly considered hanging the man, but lacking the rope to do so decided to secure him to the tree with one-eye’s belt, Clef doing the same with the other. Two oversized lone star belt buckles shone in the hot southern sun as Clef and Strelnikov stalked away to their truck, leaving them to bake for a while.
“Who won the war now, jackass?” Clef quipped as he climbed into the driver’s seat. They drove for hours down the Texas highway, finding nothing but dust and clumps of rocks. Dmitri watched idly from the passenger seat, finding the vastness of the state reminding him somewhat of home, if much drier.
Far behind, the two cowboys were delighted to see a black SUV pull off the road, with uniformed men disembarking and approaching them quickly. “It’s about bloody time you got here,” one-eye said haughtily.
“Did they take the truck?” Both of them nodded.
“…Excellent. We’ve got them now.”
"Stupid fucking American car," Clef grimaced. He slammed the hood down on the smoke-emitting engine and kicked impotently at the front bumper of the vehicle. "Stupid fucking piece of shit. Ford really does stand for Fix or Replace Daily."
"We should be driving good Russian car. Like Lada. That is good solid vehicle. Not break down like shitty American car," Strelnikov offered.
"Do you ever fucking shut up about Russia? Ever?" Clef retorted. "Seriously, you've got like, a hard-on for the Motherland so big they can see it from orbit. Goddamn."
"You ever get tired being enormous fucking prick? Seriously, you have stick up ass so big can use it as flagpole!" Strelnikov snarled.
"Fuck you, Dimitri! Fuck you, and FUCK Russia, and FUCK this stupid FUCKING vacation," Clef screamed, nearly going into histrionics. "All I fucking wanted was to spend some fucking time in Brazil lying on the beach, working on my FUCKING tan, and maybe, just maybe, having sex with some South American honey, sex involving lots of cocoa butter and maybe some leather whips, and instead I'm out here in the middle of FUCKING NOWHERE TEXAS, Population YOU AND ME and we'll probably die of fucking heatstroke before too long!"
"And how this is any of my fault!?" Strelnikov shouted back, slamming his fists on the hood of the broken-down Ford.
"I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA!" Clef screamed.
That was when the two men heard a car horn honk behind them. They turned to see a cherry-red Camaro convertible with the top down idling by the side of the road. The car gleamed like a jewel.
So did the three babes riding it.
The driver was a brunette, her long, curly locks flowing over her bare shoulders, her honeyed skin glowing with sweat from the warm Texas sun. Her red lips were pursed playfully as she lowered her sunglasses and gave the two strangers a slightly amused look. Her friend in the passenger's side seat (a tanned blonde with flawless skin and gorgeous green eyes) leaned over and waved, while the redhead in the back seat popped her gum and winked.
"Hey boys," the brunette said. "Seems like you're having a little car trouble. Need a lift?"
"… yes. Yes, we do," Strelnikov said.
"Well, it's a tight fit, but squeeze in! We'll give you a ride to town!" the brunette said. She got up and opened the door of the camaro. Clef and Strelnikov could see that all three of the women were wearing daisy dukes, sandals, and not much else. All of them had bodies that would make supermodels green with envy, their voluptuous figures threatening to free themselves from their straining tops at any moment.
Clef and Strelnikov gave each other a bemused look, their argument from moments before forgotten. "This doesn't happen," Clef whispered. "This NEVER happens. No one EVER gets picked up randomly by a hot trio of babes in the middle of nowhere, especially if they're a blonde, brunette, and redhead."
"Don't question it, just smile and get in car," Dimitri whispered.
Clef shook his head as he saw Strelnikov climb into the back seat, sandwiched by the blonde on one side and the redhead on the other, grinning as the two scantily clad women pressed up against him. He turned his eyes to the sky, beseechingly. "You've gotta be fucking with me," he whispered.
He got in the car anyway.
“How far away is this strip club you two work at, anyway?” Clef asked above the purr of the Camaro’s engine. The brunette next to him just smiled and shook her head.
They had driven for hours. Clef and Strelnikov had no idea where they were, but it wasn’t really a concern—they were more than content to allow the girls to fawn over them as much as they pleased. Clef sat in the front seat with the blonde in his lap, one arm around her waist and the other holding a drink. He whispered witty compliments in her ear like a suave Latin lover, making her laugh coyly and teasingly flick him on the nose. She smiled softly and threw her head back to check on Strelnikov and the redhead, her golden mane swishing across Clef’s face as it twirled around.
“Er, what is he doing?” She asked Clef, tapping him on the shoulder. He craned his head to look, hearing a sound that could only be likened to “blblblbblblblblb”.
“Oh, it looks like he’s motorboating her.” She gave him a quizzical look, and Strelnikov looked up from the other woman’s bosom long enough to say in practiced English, “It is a rapid motion of the mouth across the breasts.”
She giggled and handed him another drink, which he held forward to Clef and toasted, the girls’ smiles widening. Their heads lolled about and they couldn’t help but notice that the telephone poles were whizzing by like blurs, the road becoming a mishmash of grays and whites from the evenly painted dividing lines. The sky spun like a top and together they fell into the darkness.
"Well, they're out," the blonde said.
The other two girls sighed and relaxed. "I thought they'd never drop," the brunette muttered. "Seriously, how much flunitrazepam did we slip them, anyway?"
"About three times the normal dose," the redhead sighed, pushing Strelnikov away and buttoning up her shirt. "This guy was motorboating me all the way to the end, too."
"Well, we're done now," sighed the blonde. "Now it's time for the boys to do their work."
The red convertible pulled into a side street that didn't appear on any maps. The black SUV reached them shortly after.
Wherever they were, it was freezing. They awoke groggily and were aware of only the blindfolds and the bindings around their hands and feet, the scuffling sounds they made echoing throughout the empty concrete room. A door opened and shut from behind them, and they heard the sound of boots on pavement approaching and circling them. Harsh light assaulted their eyes without warning when the blindfolds were abruptly torn off, a trio of unhappy looking men stand before them. They wore crisply pressed and immaculately tailored military style uniforms and were backlit by a naked incandescent light bulb.
It took a moment for their eyes to adjust enough to be able to make out the GOC insignia printed on their breast pockets.
“Where the hell are we?” Strelnikov asked, blinking.
“The data is, shall we say, ‘redacted’, as your people are so fond of putting it,” responded one of the men.
“You gotta be fuckin’ with me,” Clef sighed exasperatedly.
"No, we are not fucking with you," the man in the uniform said. He pulled up a chair and sat across from the two men. A golden eagle insignia on his uniform collar gleamed in the dim light. "We are through fucking with you. From this point forward, we are being serious."
He pulled out a silver Zippo lighter with the words 'FUCK COMMUNISM' written on the side and lit up a large, black cigar. Clouds of acrid smoke billowed from the stogie, filling the room with dense white vapors. "Now," the colonel said. "You are going to tell us exactly what you two Foundation personnel were doing heading into a GOC operation in progress. What is your game? What are you trying to accomplish here?"
Clef and Strelnikov glanced at each other, then turned back to the colonel. "What we're trying to accomplish… how do I put it…" Clef muttered.
"Are trying to relax, get drunk, and wet beaks," Strelnikov said.
"In no particular order," Clef added.
"Also am trying to work on tan," Dimitri said.
"Maybe visit some nice museums or do some wine tasting."
"Meet nice people."
"In other words, we're on vacation," Clef concluded.
The colonel pulled a boot knife from the bag next to him and stuck it, point-down, into the table. "Armed pretty heavily for a bunch of guys on vacation," the colonel pointed out, taking out a bunch of knives and small explosives from the bag next to him and laying them out on the table.
"Actually, we're not," Clef pointed out. "No guns, for one thing."
"Da, and only one knife. No hatchet. Left SVD at home," Dimitri added.
"Really, what's a bit of C-4 between friends? Here in Texas, that's almost like owning a car."
"Detonator is not even primed. Am not stupid, don't want blow up plane."
"Really. So… you aren't on a secret mission for the Foundation? You aren't the backup called in by a Foundation operative six days ago in response to escalating KTE activity?"
"Not at all."
"Did not even want to go to Texas," Dimitri insisted. "Wanted go to Brazil."
"Really," murmured the colonel. He gestured to the screen behind him. The image of a young man with a black eye, wearing a brightly colored hawaiian print shirt, appeared on the screen, flanked by gun-toting soldiers. "This is from our Rio de Janeiro office. Does this man look familiar?"
The guy in the hawaiian shirt raised his head groggily and stared at the screen. His eyes lit up. "Doctor Clef! Dimitri!" Agent Yoric laughed. "Are you here to rescue me?"
The two men stared at Yoric for a moment, then glanced at each other, then looked back at the colonel. "I have never seen or met this man in my entire life," Clef lied.
"Is total stranger," Dimitri said.
"… you've got to be fucking kidding me," Yoric whimpered.
"… and what happened after that?" Dr. Glass asked. The psychiatrist was resting his chin on his hand, gazing at the three men sitting in his office with an expression of spellbound fascination.
"Well…" Clef said. "We couldn't leave Yoric behind."
"… so we break free of captors and gun them all down," Dmitri finished.
"Then we highjacked a GOC plane…"
"Boat," Dmitri corrected.
"Was it a boat?" Clef wondered. "I thought it was a plane…"
"My report said boat," Dmitri explained pointedly.
Clef blinked once, very slowly, then smiled. "It was a seaplane."
"Da," Dmitri said, much relieved. "Seaplane. That explain confusion."
"Yes. So after we highjacked the GOC seaplane, we flew down to Rio de Janeiro, found Yoric, and rescued him."
"I see," Glass said, very slowly. "And this is why you guys were late coming back from vacation?"
"Well, we couldn't just fly back right away," Clef said.
"GOC was looking for us. Very dangerous."
"I didn't want to go back to their torture chamber," Yoric whimpered.
"So, we disguised ourselves as tourists and waited for them to give up looking."
"Disguised… as tourists," Glass repeated.
"Um… yes. As rich corporate executives on vacation…"
"I see. And this explains the…" Glass ran an eye down the page of the document in front of him. "… six nights at a luxury 4-star hotel, five thousand-plus dollars in restaurant and liquor bills, and… good lord, you bought HOW many condoms? And why six bikinis?"
"… the young ladies forgot theirs," Clef said, "and they didn't want to go into the hot tub naked."
"… Dr. Clef. My dear agents. I was not born yesterday. The Foundation Expense Fund is for emergency expenses in the line of duty. It is not to be used to fund a week of debauchery on the taxpayers' dollar, and your ludicrous story is both insulting to my intelligence and…"
Simultaneously, as if they had rehearsed this (and perhaps they had), the three men reached into the breast pockets of their hawaiian shirts and pulled out three newspaper clippings and laid them on the desk in front of Glass.
UNKNOWN HEROES FOIL CHECHEN HIJACKERS
TEXAS MILITIAMEN FOUND GUNNED DOWN IN DESERT
BLOODSHED IN RIO! TWO MYSTERY MEN ATTACK BRAZILIAN MILITARY BASE
Glass looked from one newspaper clipping to the other, then back up at the three men.
He saw Yoric point to the rope burn on his wrists.
He saw Clef lighting up a cigarette with a battered, blood-stained Zippo, with the words "FUCK COMMUNISM" engraved on it.
He saw Strelnikov grin, his mouth full of steel teeth, his broad, slavic face the very picture of angelic innocence.
Dr. Glass took a deep breath and buried his face in his hands.
"You have to be fucking with me," he moaned.