Hey everyone, back here with the third episode of the series, Hope you all enjoy it.
And there's another thing, I'm hardly fond of defending myself but over the past few days, a few of you have assumed I'm a hacker of sorts myself! I mean that's weird, I can barely type 20 words a minute on the keyboard! But I hope you take the hacking involved in the story in the right spirit, cause it's not meant to offend anyone. And please don't send me hack requests and codes; they're plain gibberish to me!
So hoping the hacking controversy dies down, we move onwards to the third episode!
And yeah, don't forget to send me feedback!
"What the fuck?" Duke exclaimed at the top of his lungs to an empty room. His room was used to being quite the listener whenever he was sitting at the computer for hours at a time, and this was one of his louder outbursts of emotion.
Duke had been angry all afternoon. He'd been sad the past day; morose to the point where he's almost broken down, but the incident that occured after he'd been wasted, had knocked him out of the doldrums. And contrary to the fact that he should have felt some kind of gratefulness to his savior Scott, he felt anger, pure unadulterated antagonism towards the people who had milked him, and especially towards `that' man.
All his sorrow had been replaced by wrath, his sadness overtaken with a feeling of revenge, for that was all the vengeful spirit had on his mind right then, revenge! He had already decided that he would channel all the rage he felt and use it to find the `deadly duo'. He would find Scott and would have his revenge. And he had only begun the rather impossible task of finding two phantoms.
He had spent the last two hours going over every detail he could remember from their operation. The two really hadn't left that much for him to follow. But the internet was Duke's domain, and he could use it to its full potential.
And Duke had chanced upon a page that listed priceless curios around the world, and there he saw the very image of the `watchful lady' that they had stolen, listed for an auctioning price of $456,000.
And Duke blew off his head when he saw that. He yanked the earphones out of his ears, abruptly ending his `concert' of clanging metal music, as if it was in the way, and looked at the figure more closely. He could hardly believe his eyes.
"How can his be?" He asked loudly to the room. The room gave no answer.
Frantically Duke opened a host of other websites, pulling pages with the jade statuette in them, and with each listing his shoulders slumped a little more. The artifact was in fact priced that much. Then what had he seen before? Where was the page that Natasha had shown him?
And then it hit Duke; the trick they played on him went far deeper than he had felt at first. The price of the mission had never been fifty grand a person; it had always been a hundred and fifty grand, and he had been na´ve enough to never even check up on the actual cost of the artifact. The deadly duo had probably lied to the hacker so if they got stuck with him, they could pay him just a third of his actual payment and make a dash for it. The poor broke hacker would be overwhelmed by the sum of fifty thousand anyway.
"Great." Duke stated calmly to the room as he accepted the fact with sudden tranquility that surprised him too. "Just great, I guess this is just gonna be the beginning of the surprises."
And with that Duke sighed as he resumed tapping over the keyboard, the inner vindictiveness he felt even stronger than before.
"Duke honey, how you holding up?" Damien's voice was full of concern. He had to take care of his friend during the rough time he was going through.
"I'm fine." Duke replied through the other end of the phone.
"Ok, then I'm coming over to your place. I've got us dinner, some Chinese."
"Err, actually Dame, I'm at the Archery."
Damien paused as he heard that. He took that as a good sign; a sign of recovery. Duke indulging in his pass time was a sign of him getting over the whole thing.
"But don't worry. I'm just leaving the archery right now. Just tell me where you are and I'll pick you up."
Damien wasn't too happy at that. Duke coming to pick him up meant he would have to ride pinion on his bike. And Duke wasn't too fond of pinion riders; but Damien's reluctance to ride pinion on Duke's bike was far more; the boy always drove so fast that his eyes watered and his heart jumped right into his mouth. But it would have to do for now. "Fine, I'm just at the park near my apartment."
"Great, I'll be there in 5 minutes."
Damien sighed as the call disconnected. It would take a good 10 to 15 minute drive to reach the Archery from his place. But that was only for mere mortals.
Exactly 6 minutes later Damien heard the droning of an engine as the metallic blue BMW skidded across the corner and screeched to a halt next to where Damien had taken a seat on a bench along the street.
Damien sighed once again as he gave a helpless smile to the biker in who removed his helmet and grinned at him.
"I hope the food's not gotten cold, you waiting here long Dame?"
"Not long enough." Damien stated before he made his way to the kerb and saddled the bike, positioning himself behind Duke.
A few minutes later Damien was cursing himself as to why he had not simply taken a cab or something. The 152 bhp engine roared as his eyelashes were moist with the water around eyes, instigated by the strong winds gushing at his face. His heart was beating fast and he closed his eyes each time Duke hit the brakes. His hair was obviously a mess. `Why do I have to get stuck with this speed demon?' he asked himself.
They finally made it to Duke's apartment, Damein checked to find himself in one piece..
Damien waited till Duke got off the bike and flailed his arms around, stating melodramatically, "And great Lord, I thank thee I'm still alive after that ride!"
"Yeah yeah. We know."
"Seriously darling, we oughta go back to that park. I think I left my stomach back there."
Duke shrugged him off and started closing the garage door, Damien hastily making his way out lest he be shut inside.
"His name's Christian."
"Who?" Damien questioned at the sudden utterance from his friend.
"The guy who screwed me over, his name's not Scott, its Christian; Christian Steel."
Damien looked apprehensively at his friend as they entered the apartment.
"Honey, you still thinking about that bloke? Forget that meat-pack darling. Men who look like that always have something up their sleeves."
"Nah! Not gonna forget him, Damien snorted. "In fact I'm gonna catch up to him."
"What?" Damien exclaimed his voice getting shrill. "You're not thinking of doing anything stupid are you pumpkin?"
Duke led Damien straight into his room, where his computer monitor was still on, and Damien first squinted his eyes to make out the screen clearly and groaned when he saw the wallpaper. It was a photo of Scott, or Christian as he'd better come to know him now. Only he was wearing a blue skin tight spandex suit and had his arms stretched horizontally out. Clearly he was on a gymnast's mat.
"Don't tell me you're gonna obsess over him darling."
"Sit down Damien, take out the food and I'll tell you a thing or two."
Damien scowled as he opened the packets and took out the cardboard boxes, withdrawing the chopsticks and handing over Duke his share. He had a good mind to tell his friend to just drop the whole issue with this Christian/Scott guy but he knew better than to argue with Duke when he had his mind made up.
"You know, I told you that those two cheated me off fifty grand?"
Damien uh-huh'd in response.
"Well that wasn't true. They actually milked me off a hundred and fifty grand!"
Damien gasped in response.
"Yup," Duke stated nodding his head, "that's what the job was worth."
"Jeezus honey! What the hell were you trying to pull off? Robbing
Duke grinned, "Something like that."
"Anyway," Duke continued, "I found that out only today and then I spent the entire day searching for him." Duke pointed to the screen where the handsome youth on the wallpaper stood in the glory of his own body.
"He looks cho-chweeet!" Damien cooed. "Must be a photo taken when he was younger of him. How old was the beefcake when the photo was taken?"
"Sixteen." Duke replied, breaking apart the chopsticks as he dug into his meal.
"Real cute guy!" Damien nodded. "Man he must've broken a lot of hearts in high school!"
"Christian Steele. Born December 16th, 1983. Raised by his mother, he was a single child and showed exceptional talents in academics and athletics. He was considered a prodigy of sorts, a brilliant mathematician who also keenly focused on soccer, swimming and gymnastics."
Damien nodded as Duke continued in his `professor' tone.
"Christian was an ace gymnast who won several competitions for his high school and was touted to be entering the Olympics after he entered college. He excelled at the rings, the parallel bars and the mat and..."
Duke pushed Damien aside as he made his way to the computer and clicked an icon on the desktop.
"...Believe me Dame, the guy was good."
Damien's eyes grew wide as he watched a video of the teen gymnast at the rings, dressed in a pure white vest and white slackers, the boy's strong arms fastened on to the rings as he performed a succession of mind boggling revolutions keeping the ring bar as his fulcrum. The crowd applauded and aww-ed each time he changed hands or let go of the rings, performing summersaults in the air before he caught them again.
Damien whistled as he watched the muscles ripple with the acrobatics "Damn, it's like watching really really soft porn!"
"Yeah, sort of poetry in motion kinda stuff. He trounced the competition each time he was on the show. And then it all suddenly stopped."
Damien looked curiously at his friend, waiting for him to continue.
"Drug testing. He failed the health tests; was using some kind of steroids or something. Needless to say, he was banned from the sport and probably shunned by his mates and all. That was towards the end of high school. He never joined college, or at least I didn't find any records that say so. After turning seventeen, he just plain disappeared, that was after his mom died from a stroke."
Damien took a deep breath. "So cutie got into some bad shit eh?"
"Yeah, and then he took to duping dumb broke guys like me I guess." Duke resumed slurping at the noodles as Damien absorbed all the info.
"So honey," Damien started, "What are you gonna do now? I mean you're gonna stalk him or something now? Firstly, where did you find all this stuff?"
"Spent hours searching it over the internet. Used all my resources and all. Here let me show you," Damien once again clicked on a folder as images of gymnasts popped up one after the other.
"I've looked over thousands of these guys in the last few hours, cause I was sure he had to be there somewhere, and I finally nailed him."
"Hey some of these guys are hot!" Damien exclaimed as Duke scowled at him. "Ok ok, but what are you gonna do now?"
Duke inhaled deeply before he replied, his voice full of conviction, "Am gonna track him down."
"And how you gonna do that honey? I don't think all this is gonna be any help in finding him? He's probably thousands of miles from here now."
"Well he was in town yesterday night."
Damien swallowed as he recalled the incident with Randy that was still fresh in their minds.
"But honey, this is pointless. Forget the guy," Damien paused before adding, "We'll hook you up with some other handsome hunk!"
Duke frowned at his friend who pretended to cringe.
"No but seriously sweetheart, how you gonna find him?"
"I have some other leads. I'm gonna try and follow those."
"And this is Vladimir Checkov."
He stared at the photo on the laptop screen ahead of him. A photo of a wizened man dressed in a woolen suit. Silver cuffs on the edges of his sleeves screamed money.
"Yup Russian. And here's a photo of his yacht, the Nebressa."
He looked at the photo of the luxury yacht. "Stinks of money."
"Yeah it does. It arrives at the docks on Wednesday night around 9 PM and departs Thursday 12 noon. The jobs gotta be done somewhere Wednesday night."
Christian sighed. He rather fancied the city of
"That hardly gives us any time
"Yup," his companion quipped, "No time at all." She unfurled blueprints of the ships architecture and plans of it's security. They had cost them a bomb.
"Hate doing back to back jobs. Its not been 2 days since that statuette job."
"Yup. Not been two days," his partner repeated. She knew he was somewhat different than before and she knew he had that young hacker on his mind. But she conjectured that he would soon get over him. He was hardly as stable as she was.
"So here are the plans of the ship and of the dock area. Now the yacht is private owned and as such there is not much security other than Mr. Checkov's personal museum, but the docks and their security are what's gonna be the major problem. The place has armed guards, police jeeps and tight round the clock security. And the wharf area is huge, almost endless."
"And the plans..."
"Yup, all here. Unfortunately Zelderman had a hand in this too, so a huge cuts gonna go her way. She was a medium of sorts to provide us the plans."
"Man, she's a real tough bitch."
"And she does know how to call the shots. But, I don't think we'll be dealing with her anymore after this stint."
He let out a deep breath at that. "Glad to hear that! She's always on our necks when we have deals with her and the pirate area."
The deadly duo glanced through the photographs of the ship and the dock area as the slides were changed one after another. Suddenly Vanessa broke the silence.
"So Chris, where did you disappear yesterday evening?"
He cringed at that. He knew it was inevitable. Sometimes Vanessa could be worse than his mother had been.
"Just out for a drink."
She saw through the lie. It was easy for her to read him. They had been together for over five years now, ever since they were teenagers.
"Well, the next time you go for a drink, do tell me and go."
He nodded, his face red. He was not going to tell her where he had gone, and he was glad she did not pursue it any further, though he was aware that she obviously knew the truth.
The two paused as she clicked on the next slide icon.
"And that Chris, is the Assassin of the Dark."
He snorted as he looked at the grim painting. A man's dark silhouette against a brown background, dressed in black robes that partially hid his face. His hand held a scythe with drops of blood trickling down he edge.
"The grim reaper eh?"
"Yup, and that grim reaper is gonna fetch us three hundred thousand dollars."
He nodded in approval. Their next job was set.
"Honey, just calling to check up on you. You doing ok? Nabbed any hot criminals yet?" 8 AM Tuesday morning and it was Damien over the phone.
Duke snorted at that. He'd been in touch with Damien a lot recently, since he was the only one who knew of his predicament at the time.
"No, not having much luck here."
Damien picked up the drowsiness in his voice immediately. "Honey, you don't sound all that good? You slept recently."
Duke sighed. "Nah, been up all net searching for a name over the underground internet. Using all my connections with he hacking community but can't find this guy."
Damien had to strain his ears to hear Duke's voice over a constant clashing sound in the background. "Jeez honey, whats all that cacophony? You still listening to that metal shit?"
Duke immediately paused the music and his head felt empty. The music had been his only company over the long night.
"So who're you supposed to be looking for?" Damien asked once the background was purged.
"Some dude named Zelderman or something. I mean I don't know how to spell that but I sort of overheard those two talking about him. I think he's their deal setter or something, the one who sets the location and buys them their plans and all. Those two do the actually deed."
"So you've not found this guy yet?"
"Nope. Been staring at the screen all night and my eyes are kinda burning now. I mean there are a lot of people with that name or that kind of name but someone who has to be a little shady and would satisfy me, is barely there."
It was Damien's turn to sigh now. He was hardly in favor of Duke playing this cat and mouse game in the first place. And he wondered what was going on Duke's mind. What did he plan to do exactly?
Suddenly Damien balked as he recalled something.
"Wait a minute sweetie. What did you say the name was?"
"Zelderman or something like that. Why, you heard of him?"
Damien sucked in his breath wondering if he should tell his friend what he knew. Finally he decided in favor of it.
"Yes," Damien stated slowly. "In fact I do know someone with that name. But only its a she darling, not a he."
"Yup. And this might be the Zelderman you're looking for. She's into all kinds of shady stuff, drugs, gangs and the whole nine yards. She's pretty famous you know."
"Who is she?" Damien could hear the drowsiness dissolve in Duke's voice. He was getting a little excited himself.
"Why Argessa Zelderman! Don't you know her? She's like the godmother of the underworld in this town and all."
"Uh-huh, so how do you know her?"
"She owns Crazy Mongers darling, the bar you frequent." Damien paused before adding, "The one where trouble was prevented the other day."
"Great, so how do I meet her?"
"Well," Damien hesitated before continuing, "I can try and pull some strings you know."
"And how would you do that?"
"Well I know a bodyguard of hers. Actually, I know two of them."
Duke snorted from the other end of the line. "Lemme guess, you've been screwed by both of them?"
"Of course honey!" Damien replied without missing a beat, "And at the same time!"
"Tch. To think I would ever doubt the great Dame!"
"No you shouldn't!" Damien quipped cheekily.
It was 9:30 when Damien called back.
"Not having much luck honey, I think she's way bigger than I thought at first. Some puny bodyguards can barely arrange a meeting for you. I don't know how to get you through to her."
"What happened to those guys you lolled around with?"
"They are not even worth calling pawns hon. Although I did get this much out. She's gonna be at Whispering Palms tonight at around 7:30."
Duke thanked Damien for his efforts. He had not been able to arrange a meeting with her, but at least he had confirmed her identity and tracked her down, Duke was thankful for that. He would have to manage the rest on his own.
Whispering Palms was a high profile restaurant, reserved for the rich and famous. Its patrons mainly comprised of clientele that earned at least five figures a month, and they looked the part. Duke stood waiting outside the grand foyer, his black jacket and flashy pants already being given a disapproving glare by the doorman. He would have to play his cards right on this one.
He waited till it was 7:35 and then typed in a message from his cell phone.
`INTEND TO MEET YOU. HERE ARE A FEW GOOD REASONS;'
`A little cheeky', Duke thought to himself, but it would have to do. He was never one for class.
And immediately after he pressed the send button, he logged into his Multimedia drafts, the ones that he'd spent a considerable time of the afternoon preparing. Drafts with personal details, contact numbers and transaction details; drafts that spoke of many of the iniquitous deeds that the infamous female gang-leader had been up to. And drafts that he had conveniently hacked into after obtaining one of her contact numbers and finding she used the Frees360; a mobile phone that synchronized with the internet to store personal data.
Duke waited for a reply, nervously checking to se if he'd turned his set to the silent mode. Two minutes of worried thoughts later, Duke could hardly contain himself. He sent his final message.
`I'M OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW.'
Duke's fingers trembled as he hit the send button, but he knew there was no going back. He had jut thrust his head into the alligator's mouth. Now he had to wait for the jaws to snap shut.
About a minute later two hulky men exited the grand entrance. They glanced around and made straight for Duke whose breath was caught in his throat; he questioned himself repeatedly; was he doing the right thing?
"You here to meet Zelderman?" a huge bald man who towered over Duke asked in a menacing tone.
"Yup." Duke replied, shrugging his shoulders. He was in now. There was no going back.
Duke took towards the entrance, the two men following him barely a centimeter behind. They walked at a brisk pace, forcing Duke ahead to walk as fast as they did. The doorman continued to eye him as he walked by.
The trio walked through a maze of corridors, ornamentally garnished with flower arrangements, paintings and soft lighting. A waiter raised his eyebrows at Duke's attire as they passed him. `Well I'm no suit and tie guy' Duke murmured.
The two giants walked him to an oversized wooden door, pausing to frisk Duke to search for concealed weapons. They gently knocked before they pushed open the heavy door and nudged him in.
"So you're the little Menace sending those messages favi?"
The lighting inside was dim and Duke strained his eyes to make out the profile of a blonde woman wearing a deep pink tight jacket smoking a cigarette.
"Yes. I'm Duke." He stepped forward, extending his hand. Her face emerged from the dim light and suddenly Duke stopped short.
Half her face was charred; scarred and burned. Starting from above her right eyebrow, there was an ugly demarcation of seared skin, the flesh wrinkled obscenely in parchment forms till the lower side of her nose; fading away into the skin just on the right side of her lip.
She obviously noticed Duke's reaction, but spoke none of it.
"So favi, what business do you have of me?"
Duke noted the baritone voice she possessed; a voice with a husky timbre in it. Clearly this was a person not to be fooled around with.
"I err, wanted to meet you," Duke stammered much to his own chagrin. Where had his confidence suddenly disappeared? "I'm searching for a man called Christian Steele."
Her eyebrows shot up in surprise as she heard that. "And what business do you have of him?"
Duke paused, he knew the next part was going to sound stupid. "I sort of helped him in a job, a job I think you arranged, the job with that jaded statuette, the watchful lady," Duke's words were coming out in a hurry. The authoritative lady blew smoke in his direction as he continued to speak. "And he left without paying me my share. I am trying to catch him now."
"Oh Fabulous!" she suddenly burst out smiling as the two massive bodyguards looked at each other. "So you're the dimwit who entered the password wrong!"
Duke's cheeks turned red. "Th, that was a mistake."
Zelderman burst out laughing. "Yes indeed favi, a fabulous mistake." Her laughter broke as abruptly as it had started. "And now you're here because?"
"I want to know where he is, I mean they is, I mean they are!" Duke kicked himself mentally for the incompetent fool that he was appearing to her. She had an unnerving presence and he had felt the brunt of it.
"And why should I tell you?"
Duke wanted to say something, but nothing left his mouth. `Maybe this was not such a good idea', he thought to himself, wishing he was at home that very instant. Scott and Christian and gymnasts and artifacts could all go to hell.
"So favi, you think that if I don't tell you where he is now, you're gonna use all that stuff against me," she pointed to her handset, the one on which she had received messages from Duke just minutes earlier.
Duke stood motionless, stupefied. He wished the floor would just swallow him whole.
Zelderman edged ahead on her seat, resting her elbows on the desk as Duke looked at her through the floral arrangement, noticing how beautiful half her face was, one blue eye and blonde curls falling over her spotless left face as well as over the singed skin on the right. The beauty and the beast, all packed into one face.
"Do you know what I do, favi?"
Duke swallowed knowing he had to reply. "You do a lot of big business, with other big people." Duke could hardly believe what he was saying. "And you own Crazy Mongers."
Zelderman puffed on her cigarette, blowing rings into the air. "You ever been there favi?"
"Lots of times." Duke murmured. It was the only bar he ever went to.
"Oh Fabulous!" Zelderman practically shrieked at the top of her lungs. "So favi is a little faggot as well!"
Duke cringed into himself. He had no control over what was happening anymore.
"So faggot-favi, what have you, to offer me, for telling you where that bastard Scott is?"
Duke noticed she used the name Scott instead of Christian. He shrugged at her question. There was a nagging feeling in the back of his head to offer his bike; but something told him if he said that to her, she would have bitten his head off.
"Ok favi, here's the deal. I can actually make use of you right now."
Duke gulped. He could be useful to her?
"I have this trouble transferring some amount from one of the accounts one of my rogue clients tried to dupe me with. You have to transfer it for me."
Zelderman paused as she inhaled deeply on the cigarette and let the smoke out with a puff. Duke was still looking at her face, the perfect make up, the mascara under her left eye. One eye was baby blue and the other eye socket was disproportionate; wrinkly dark brown skin and pale pink flesh embedding a green eye. But the unburnt portion of her face was immaculate, perfectly done over with make up. Duke shook himself as he tried to concentrate; maybe there was a way out of this.
"There was a fabulous job done earlier but that twit of a client tried to pull me panties over me head."
Duke stifled a giggle. He somehow found the phrase being used by this enigmatic lady very humorous.
"Oh and favi, don't worry about the client, he's reached the top floor now," she flicked her cigarette roof-wards, as Duke understood the meaning of her words.
"But the money is still not here."
Zelderman uncrossed her legs as she leaned forward on the chair.
"So here's the deal favi, if you can finish this job by the time I order dessert, I'll tell you where that scoundrel Scott is."
She paused as the cigarette made its way to her lips again.
"But if you don't do a fabulous job honey, you can be sure I'll have your fagotty balls for dessert," she paused before adding, "With cranberry sauce of course."
Duke gulped again. What had he gotten himself into?
"Oh, and you can't refuse now favi, cause if you do, I'll have dessert before my meal!"
Duke stood there listening to the proposition. Was there a choice?
He finally spoke, "So what's the job exactly?"
Zelderman motioned over to the room and for the first time Duke noticed there was someone in the room other than Zelderman, himself and the two man mountains. A thin bespectacled man brought over a laptop.
"Do a fabulous job favi, and do it quick, cause I'm about to order my main course. And get this right favi, cause there's a score I have to settle with that bastard Scott myself!"
10:03 PM and the phone was ringing in his apartment. Duke picked it up, barely making it to the phone before it rung out; he had just entered his apartment
"So how was the meeting sweetie?"
It was Damien.
Duke bellowed from his end, "Fabulous favi, it went along fabulously!"
"You got Scott, err, Christian's location?"
"Yup favi, I've caught hold of that scheming rascal!"
"So where is he? And why are you talking like that?"
Duke burst out laughing from the other end, much to Damien's consternation.
"So you gonna speak or what...?"
"She was quite the girl," Duke spoke in between fits of laughter, "Our Zelderman, you should have met her Damien."
"Yeah yeah, I can imagine, so where is Christian?"
Duke stopped laughing. The past few hours had seen way too many ups and downs. From almost having his balls served as dessert with cranberry sauce, to half beautiful lethal women to forged account transfers, And Duke's adrenaline had pumped non-stop, giving him the high he always unknowingly sought.
"Yup and he's only there till tomorrow night. And this will be my last chance to catch him!"
"And you're going hon? I mean that's far! How you gonna get there?"
"I don't know." Duke whispered, all traces of mirth suddenly vanishing from his voice.
"And what are you going to say to him when you do meet him?"
"I don't know," Duke replied, uncertainty filled in his voice as he repeated, "I don't know."