Taylor, Diane, страница 1
>The Montegard Files
Published by Triskelion Publishing www.triskelionpublishing.com 15508 W. Bell Rd. #101, PMB #502, Surprise, AZ 85374 U.S.A.
First e-published by Triskelion Publishing First e-publishing February 2005
ISBN 1-932866-84-1 Copyright © Diane Taylor 2004 All rights reserved.
Cover art by Triskelion Publishing
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
I'd like to give voice to a few people for keeping me sane.
Bob Taylor: A loving husband, great artist, and capable of putting pins in my ego enough so my head will fit through the door. Thank you, my love, for being there.
Sara Bairrington: A better roomie I've never had. One who is a nice guiding light at the end of the tunnel. Okay, she's the oncoming train that threatens to give me a boot in the right spot when I loose track, and makes sure I remember to sleep every now and again.
To my Mom. *waving wildy* Look Ma! You got mentioned. Aint it cool? *evil grin* For being there when I needed a sounding board and a loving conscience sitting on my shoulder.
And to my pets: Rex, Bear, Stephan and Dimitri... for their unconditional love and enthusiastic face washings. The last two, R.I.P, thanks for sitting in your fish bowls and listening to me rant while you were with me.
>I stood at the edge of a jungle-clearing with my back against a hardwood tree. Shackles of iron cut into my skin as the struggle for freedom became frantic. I needed to get free from my bonds, knowing that failure meant death. Each pull and twist almost tearing my shoulders from their sockets. It was an automatic response to the vision of hell before my eyes. Something that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
Before me, glowing like an Asian version of Dante’s Inferno, was total devastation. Flames kissed the dead and dismembered bodies strewn throughout the village. Each building had been turned into it’s own funeral pyre by the hideous and laughing shadows that visited devastation to the villagers wherever they found them. But even their laughter could not drown out the screams. The chilling, heart-rending howl of children being roasted alive in their own homes. The sound tore at the sanity of my mind, forcing me to fight even harder against the harsh metal bonds on my wrists.
One shadow detached itself from the rest of the inky night to walk forward and stand before me. His eyes glowed a sickly evil green as his cohorts held me immobile. With a harsh, downward yank, my shirt fell to the ground in tatters, baring my flesh from the waist up. The darkened shadow held out it’s hand to someone behind him. Without a word, he swiftly turned back to press a glowing brand to my skin. The stench of cooking flesh clogged my nose and my screams joined the dying children.
When it was over, the brand disappeared, or was it taken from him? I didn’t see. I knew, then and there, that to pass out would be to die. Determined to be defiant to the last, I leaned forward and spit into the face of my tormentor. Rage burned his green eyes brighter as a nine-millimeter pistol appeared in his hand. I never took my eyes from his, never blinking, while he took aim at my forehead. Slowly, as if time itself had slowed to torture my mind, the finger took up the slack on the trigger…
The resounding buzz of the alarm clock in my hotel room made me jump a foot out of bed, landing on the floor in a defensive crouch while the cold sweat of terror trickled it‘s way down my spine. I always hated the fact of going from asleep to fighting mode in seconds would be so ingrained at my age. It’s given me the edge a few times in my life, but it’s still annoying. When no one jumped from the corners in an attempt to attack, I sighed softly to myself and looked down at my sweat soaked t-shirt. Five years and still the incident haunted my dreams. Only back then, the shadowy images were Chinese soldiers and all the villagers had been burnt alive while they screamed for mercy in their own dwellings. The bullet meant to kill me never happened. After the branding, they beat me and left me chained to the tree until a group of Red Cross found me the next morning. There were no other survivors of that small jungle village on the border between India and Tibet. The physical scars were healed, but the mental ones continued to be as raw as the day it happened.
It took a few moments to get my heart rate and adrenaline levels under control, but they finally returned to normal. Rising from the floor, I took a moment to throw the still ringing clock across the room to the far wall to stop it’s annoying sound. The resulting crunch and the sweet sound of falling pieces to the floor satisfied my destructive tendencies. Looking down, I had to smile at the shattered timepiece. Time … crap. The day, and my job weren’t going to wait forever while my butt stayed parked in my hotel room. As a precaution, I knelt and began to clean up the broken clock as I reflected on what brought me to this hotel at this moment in time.
My boss got the contract to fly out to Japan and photograph my very loving stepsister, Sara Nogura, along with her politically correct fiancé, Cosar Mentari. Both were in Japan to meet with public officials in the region. Not too dull, but not as exciting as some of the jobs in my professional life. So I had no complaints. Besides, it gave me a chance to visit with Sara for the duration of the contract. Technically, the job was freelance and the conditions were fair. However, the huge paycheck became just icing on the cake compared to visiting my sister.
I’d just finished up cleaning the ruined alarm clock off the floor and set out my clothes I’d be wearing after the shower, when a sharp rapping sounded at the door. Slipping on a robe over my sweat soaked t-shirt, I fumbled with the lock on the door, and opened it to reveal Sara Ashi in her all too awake glory. It looked like my sister had hit the coffee pot way too often. But I knew better, as her father, Ashi Nogura, was a strict man who considered coffee as a vile drink. On his orders, tea is the only caffeinated drink in the house.
Like a ray of morning sunshine, she breezed past me in a tasteful array of reds and oranges. I smiled and closed the door behind her. She never walked anywhere, she breezed. “Wake up Terri. It’s time to shine and take photos!” Her melodious voice came from somewhere behind me, possibly near the balcony window as I relocked the door.
Still, her pleasant and perky voice was making me ill. I hate mornings, can you tell? “Bah humbug, Sis. Gimme a break. I just got off the plane last night and my internal timepiece was still on Seatac ‘Seattle Tacoma’ time. I need a shower and a change of clothes before you drag me off to see the sights.” Don’t get me wrong. I really love my Sis. More than life itself, but it’s just her perky attitude in the mornings. Makes me want to throw things and snarl like a bear.
She smiled, but her eyes lowered to the floor slightly. “It’s just, Cosar has this whole thing planned in Kamakura to meet and greet the people there. He’s working with the Japanese communities in Seattle and here in Japan to facilitate new businesses and new jobs in both cities. You know he’s tried to cut down on unemployment in the area and he needs to generate some form of importation business to help that along. Maybe even get an import contract for Seattle. That would help him boost his voter rating.”
Seeing Sara’s reaction whenever she spoke about her fiancé, I had to fight to keep my thoughts and my words to myself. Truth is, I never liked Cosar. Oh, he always tried to be nice and all, but he just had a way-too-slick feel to him for me to be comfortable when he was around. All politicians have that feel about them. But on Cosar, the feeling ran thicker than most. I
“Tell him to give me a half hour and I’ll be ready.” I looked at my clothes laid out on the bed. “What do you think, jeans and hiking boots with a wraparound silk shirt in a forest green?” Sara was the fashion diva of the family, I could count on her to help me out.
True to form, she laughed and said, “Try the crimson shirt. It’s perfect for your skin tone. C’mon, put a little makeup on for me?” she tried the all too innocent expression on me, then batted her eyes.
I shook my head, laughing, she always had that way about her that warmed my heart no matter the situation. “Oh no you don’t. You may need to wear all that stuff for publicity and all. But I’m not. I hate makeup. It’s...” I paused dramatically to search for the words, though she knew what was coming, “like putting on a mask. I don’t need to wear one. If people don’t like me the way I am, then screw ‘em. My only concern right now is the job that’s contracted out for me to do. Besides, in my line of work, it’s a waste of effort because most of the time I’m on the run with a camera.” I winked over my shoulder. “Now go placate your fiancé and let me get my butt in gear. I need to be seriously on my toes if I’m going to dance circles around political bigwigs and you know it.”
She smiled and tossed a towel at me. “Yes, I do. But still...” she sighed dramatically and didn’t finish the sentence. Instead, she headed for the door. “I’ll go put a leash on Cosar. But hurry up. The first meeting is with Mr. Yaritomo at the Tokyo station in an hour. Then it’s the whole Kamakura thing.”
“Kinky. I never knew you were into that sort of thing. However, the leash idea does have merit.” As the words left my lips, my mind supplied a sinister image of him holding the leash and my sister laying at his feet. I did not appreciate the feelings it set off in my head.
She ducked out the door, then popped her head back in “And maybe we’ll even find you a handsome...” She never got the chance to finish as her face made contact with an accurately thrown pillow. Muffled laughter followed her out the door as it hit the carpet. Always one to leave me smiling, I admired her for her sense of humor. Grinning, I headed into the bathroom.
Once there, I laid out everything on the vanity. As an extra precaution, the camera cases and daypack were within easy reach, filled with everything I’d need for the entire day. Traveling light is the only way to get high quality shots that get me the big contracts all the time. Time. Shit! I ducked into the bathroom and headed for the shower.
>Several hours later, my bloodstream started its demand for a mug of steaming hot coffee to keep me awake. Not even the hastily gulped mug of hotel instant was helping the jet lag. My digital camera took care of the lion’s share of the shots while a standard thirty-five millimeter took rest. For those up close and personal shots, I used a custom telephoto lens crafted to fit both the digital and regular cameras in just a snap. The hardest part of this job? Trying to hold a camera steady to get just the right shots while fighting the yawns. To look bored during a political meeting, even if one is only a mere photographer, would be bad. It reflects not only on my status as a photographer, but also on my subjects as well.
Cosar Mentari looked very impressive in a conservative three-piece suit and tie of a somber dark blue. He stood about six feet tall and looked like a star quarterback type of guy you see in school. You know the type. The one who gets the girls, voted most likely to succeed, is elected Prom King with the head cheerleader as his Queen? Yeah, I thought you might recognize the pattern there. His body showed a well-defined muscle tone through the suit. Not overly muscled, but still a powerhouse if you get down to it. Shoulder length, blond hair and hazel green eyes enhanced his very handsome face. The combination of his looks and an engaging personality could be a lethal combination.
But… I don’t know, maybe I’m just paranoid. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s a politician which set off my alarm bells. I really don’t know. Mentari, Sr. wanted his only son to go in a different direction than football. Politics. Where the true power held sway. Where the pen really is mightier than the sword. Where closet deals to benefit the wealthy are commonplace. That’s why I hate politics, and rarely vote. Or, perhaps, it’s just my personal experience after watching how Cosar treats my sister. Makes me want to slap the crap off his macho chauvinistic throne and give him a wakeup call.
My stepsister, however, contrasted greatly with her fiancé. She was petite, only standing five feet four inches. Her naturally tan skin and dark brown eyes were flawless. Sara’s peacock blue dress set off the dark blue sapphire and diamond earrings in her ears. The four-inch stiletto heeled shoes matched the rest of the outfit. Just the thought of having to wear those things made them ache. I’d probably break my neck in them. However, the way she wore them would have made a Flamingo jealous. The epitome of grace and poise. That was my sister.
All in all, they made a very nice couple. In my opinion, Sara was the most photogenic of them all. Smiling and bowing appropriately. Like a true Japanese woman, she stood slightly behind Cosar, to become the perfect showpiece. Only rarely did she speak, to explain something to her future husband when he seemed unsure of how to react in a given situation. It was a good thing she did, otherwise I think he would have made some major social faux pas in mannerisms.
I angled for a good shot of the bow and a handshake with a minor official, when my elbow made contact with someone. Murmuring an apology in Japanese brought a start of surprise from the man, who bowed and responded in kind. Tall in stature, not Japanese at all, but possibly one of those security types keeping an eye on Cosar. However, something about him stood out. I just couldn’t put my finger on it and no time to strike up a conversation. That didn‘t stop me from cursing my job at the moment because it kept me from talking to him. Not many people make me think of silken sheets and scented bathwater on the first glance. Keep your mind on business, Terri, I thought to myself.
I got the photos taken of everyone, much to their pleasure. So far, so good, my camera even managed to capture The Great Buddha without anyone else in the picture. If I’m on a photo shoot, might as well get some extra photos for my own personal benefit. My salary could handle it and my place needed a little more decoration to make it complete.
The best shot of that statue came when a ray of sun drifted out from behind the clouds to illuminate the smiling visage. A single ray of light made a simple photograph go from plain to outstanding. Using both the digital and the regular camera, it gave me a lot of leeway when they were developed.
Right now, however, a summons came from Mr. Mentari. Not vocally, just this grand waving gesture that reminded me a lot of like a master calling a puppy to heel. I gritted my teeth and counted to ten. First in English, then in Japanese, adding Russian and Chinese just for good measure. I really disliked his attitude. Only Sara’s pleading look in my direction kept me from verbally tearing a strip out of his hide, and forced me to make my way over to where he stood
His voice held the soft whip of command. “You can take the afternoon off. However, we’ve all been invited to dance at the O-Bon tonight on the beach. You will, of course, be there, to take photographs and dance.” It wasn’t a question. It was his attitude that got to me, a grating superiority complex, equal to the fingernails on the blackboard effect. Screaming at him to stop it wouldn‘t help. Most likely, it would feed his over-inflated ego that a woman would have hysterics over him. My father had that same damned voice and attitude. One of the many things that caused me live as far away from him as possible without drowning in the Ocean. It grated on my self-control when someone like Cosar decides to treat me like a welcome mat. However, for Sara‘s sake, I swallowed the words I really wanted to say to his face. I mentally counted to ten one more time, then back
One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t have problems with finding the dance area with everyone in the village working on the festival. A small restaurant with a sidewalk cafe area, provided me with coffee and some egg drop soup. Nothing fancy, yet easy to eat. I don’t eat much on assignment anyways. No telling when you’ll need to jump and run for the picture that may make the bonus bucks. No wonder my sister always moaned that birds ate more than me. Well, not entirely skinny, but when you don’t eat much, work out a lot with endurance running and a bit of weight lifting, you tend to look whipcord thin, yet have this wiry type of muscles that were deceptive. Especially when you’re given the once over by a stranger. It’s good to know that I can fool a few people into thinking I’m harmless.
As I sat and sipped my coffee and took in the scenery, I let my mind wander. My dad never understood my joy in coming to Japan. Whether on assignment, or just playing tourist. The mystique of the place always stayed with me. Thankfully I‘m fluent in Japanese, it‘s a must if you spend significant amounts of time in the country. My stepfather, though able to speak English like someone born to the states, insists on only speaking Japanese. My thoughts on him are of a very annoying and domineering man. Makes me glad at being excluded from the package when my mom married the guy. Dad won the legal divorce and, in the ensuing battle, got me as well. Shaking my head to dispel the gloomy thoughts, I sighed. The past should be locked up where it belongs, in the past. Not dragged into the present.
I looked around and smiled at the preparations for the coming O-Bon ceremony. Colorful paper lanterns were carted down to the shoreline by people chatting happily. Women in brightly colored kimonos walked down the street with their children. The spoken language had such a musical quality to it, I felt like the odd item in the middle of someone’s masterpiece of artwork. Or musical composition. Still, it felt good to just sit and listen.