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Chemistry is a really weird thing: some things work together; some things don’t; and some things work together but only if circumstances are right. The last one was the case for ammonia and iodine. Nitrogen triiodide is the substance they form if mixed and it’s a highly unstable contact explosive. Chavez was right! The thing was a magic trick to pull at a Boy Scouts’ camp for young chemists. Once the mixture is dry, it explodes in a purple cloud of iodine vapor at the lightest touch. The stuff is so unstable that it has virtually no use.

That is if we talk about Boy Scouts’ laboratories though. In them, they use concentrated aqueous ammonia and iodine crystals; mix them, spread them on wet paper and so on, and so on—apparently everybody knew about the trick except me! The terrorist case of my Greenland friends was a little bit different, however. The main problem was that the boiling point of ammonia is minus thirty-three degrees Celsius while the melting point of iodine is one hundred and fourteen—hence they couldn’t exist in liquid form side by side. You obviously cannot sprinkle the installation of Greenspace with crystals and expect it to explode!

To avoid this obstacle, Marty and Sharon had used very special containers. They were designed to sustain high enough temperature and pressure but they also had asbestos jackets so that nobody suspected there was something wrong about the stuff inside. The aim was to keep the iodine liquid until the very moment it came into contact with the ammonia at the installation. In the Boy Scouts’ laboratory, they usually dry the mixture to pull the trick but the substance is still unstable even if it’s wet. In any case, my friends’ calculations had proved to be right and the much larger quantities they had used ensured that the result was far more spectacular than in the laboratory tests. The only difficulty remaining was the guys with testing probes in Greenspace’s hub but Marty had taken care of them with his late-night show.

Along with the nitrogen triiodide course, which I took in the evening after my kidnapping, I also enlightened myself on the ways of producing ammonia—something, which I should’ve done much earlier, in fact. The traditional way was the Haber-Bosch process where ammonia is synthesized from hydrogen and nitrogen in the presence of iron, high temperature, and high pressure. Hydrogen comes from burning natural gas and the source of nitrogen is usually the atmospheric air. Most probably, all the ships crossing the Pacific between Chinasia and Ofu, carried such a substance. This technology didn’t fit with what I had seen in the abandoned village on Olosega, however!

The alternative method—there were actually a few alternative methods but the others were economically unsustainable—was the Licht way. In this process, air and water are directly mixed under the influence of electricity. The method involves a few catalysts—iron oxide, and sodium and potassium hydroxide—but its main drawback is the energy it consumes. Since Bobby had told me Menelaus needed huge amounts of it, I assumed he had picked the Licht way to obtain the stuff and that’s where the volcano on Olosega had actually come in handy. Everything had seemed promising at first but DuPont had miscalculated one thing—his technical consultant and lover was not entirely sure about her role in his plan and her weakness was going to bring about his death quite soon!

Early on the next morning, after having dreamed about chemical compounds the whole night long, I woke up to another bombastic news headline. The Couloong commercial firm, which was acquiring the Chinese conglomerate that bought Britain, was going to acquire Britain too. It was officially part of the deal now. The more disturbing thing however, was that the aliens had distant plans for their acquisitions, which turned out to be quite too adventuristic for our earth tastes. In the future, they wanted to send Couloong tourists to our planet, and as a first step, they intended to turn Britain into a huge shopping mall in order to supply them with stuff. The European Confederation was in shock regarding the possibility, but weirdly enough the Brits were divided about it. Some of them were worried that they would become alien subjects but others seemed rather exited—they hoped that through alien technologies, Britain would once again rule the world. The situation was a crazy thing!

The former Prime Minister, Rouhani, promptly blamed the President, Ranganathan, for selling out Mother Britain, and after a severe exchange of accusations, the later assigned a provisional government and then resigned. The provisional government, which was led by Murmjur Oleyka had to broker a better deal for all the British companies that wanted to build the shopping mall. It was obviously time for damage control now!

For about half an hour, I watched the debate on TV while drinking my disgusting looking, smelling and tasting “coffee”, and I wondered what went so wrong with the Brits. For the last ten years, they had been taking only wrong decisions! Then I nervously turned off the device and got back to my business. The persistent thought of Sharon’s camera was still eating at me and I didn’t know why. I was mad with myself because I knew she was setting a trap again but I still couldn’t stop thinking about it. The problem was that I really wanted to get Cork, and if the camera really existed, it would be direct evidence of Sharon’s involvement in Menelaus’ murder. It was going to turn all her plans into a mess and I desperately wanted to see her face after that!

At ten-thirty, highly annoyed with myself, I rejected this stupid idea entirely and prepared myself to leave the motel. I couldn’t stay there any longer because Sengupta’s thugs were surely going to find me soon. I went out to the car and quickly checked its tank; I checked the water in the radiator, and checked the tires. Despite its old age, the vehicle was pretty decent, in fact. It couldn’t compare to new hydrogen and electric models but it moved, and most importantly, it hadn’t abandoned me so far. It reminded me very much of my old beauty back in Greenland.

Interestingly enough, after Chavez let me go the previous night, I found my Ford right on the street where his thugs had dragged me out of it. We had talked for about half an hour but no one had touched the car during that time. In Greenland, the police would have towed it away in less than ten minutes but here, obviously it was fine to stop anywhere—even in the middle of a crossroad between the traffic lights!

I went back to my room, grabbed my jacket and cellphone, dropped into the office to settle the bill, and turning my head cautiously to be sure nobody was waiting for me, I hopped into the car. The engine started right away and I slowly turned the vehicle around to drive down the road to Pago Pago. I urgently needed to buy a new gun from the marketplace behind the yacht port because I felt vulnerable. The previous night’s events had proved that much and Peularia was correct when she said this situation was a death sentence for me. Now I had to put it right.

At first, everything seemed okay. I felt safe in the car and even tried the radio but it turned out to be broken. Soon after I had left Fagatele, however, I sensed I had been followed again. They were Chavez’s people, I gathered, because Marty would have surely jumped on me as soon as I had left the motel and Sengupta’s thugs would have done the same thing. Instead of giving me a hard time, my tail was dragging behind me in two black Comatsus, and they didn’t even try to get closer. I briefly hesitated. On one hand, it was good that I had bodyguards now but on the other, I hadn’t actually meant it when I told Chavez I was going to take him to Marty. I just wanted him to let me go!

I kept driving peacefully all the way to Pago Pago, still undecided about what I was going to do, but after I entered the city, I started to make circuits of the streets in order to lose my tail. I needed a gun and didn’t want “advising” on that! Soon I mingled into the traffic near the airport and turned quickly into a couple of intersections one after another, and after doing so, I was good to go at last. I drove straight to the yacht port, stopped the car under a palm tree, and got out to look around the area.

The marketplace was busy as usual. I really wondered what I should choose this time because I didn’t want to buy some Chinese shit again but I also didn’t have much money—lately, my advance payments had started melting like spring snow! On the other hand, I didn’t have many options because everything here originated from Chinasia. After making a few brief rounds and going through a dozen offers, I decided on a classic: I got nine-millimeter Beretta semi-automatic. It was a pretty old piece but it was lethal enough and quite reliable.

“Besides, it’s always better to shoot at thugs with old-fashioned bullets instead of sprinkling them with high-tech water!” I thought.

After half an hour, happy with my brand-new acquisition and the ammunition I had bought for it, I went back to my car. It was a beautiful morning in hell again—nearly forty-seven degrees Celsius. Nothing of the cool, refreshing weather I had enjoyed the previous night was left. The air was wet and sticky as hot soup and everything seemed to be melting.

I looked at my cellphone, sweating. It was almost eleven. Failolo was half an hour from here and I was tempted again to check the motel. It was a horrible idea for sure—I knew it—plus it was probably a trap, but when you make a living doing what I do, there is a fairly simple pattern you tend to follow—you seek out trouble. It sounds stupid but it’s true because nothing in life just hops into your hands. You usually have to raise your ass and risk it in order to get what you want.

I hesitantly reached to start the engine and soon hit Route 001 to Leone Bay, and after that—009 to Failolo. I made my mind up to only look around the place from the outside because it was still possible to find out something interesting there.

“I’m going to sniff around and not look for cameras or any other bullshit!” I promised myself. On the whole, it was a very reasonable idea but only if I stuck to it. Unfortunately, ideas with “only” are too evasive and they quite often end up being a chain of events with “only”, where “only” is noting more than an empty word. I hoped to avoid that this time!

Some thirty-five minutes later—my old friend was puffing like a steam engine in the heat but holding on—I reached Failolo and turned right to drive up the hill. After a couple of minutes more, I saw the motel with the trellis with a climbing plant on the east wall and the shrub beneath. I stopped the car thirty meters away from the place and cautiously looked at it.

It was a lazy day. There were no people on the street and it was quiet. I was looking for a dark blue Omisumi or an old Ford like mine—the vehicles I knew Marty had used—but there was really no point; the bastard was obviously switching his cars and he could be driving something completely different now. I stayed inside my car for about twenty minutes, sweating, but nothing happened during that time—nobody entered the building and nobody came out. The entire area seemed lifeless. At some point, I wearily opened the door and stepped out because my legs had started stiffening. My shirt was soaking wet on the back and it felt disgusting. Ironically, I had a tropical waterfall stamped there!

I took a few steps, looking for a shadowy place to hide but unfortunately, I saw nothing of that sort because the sun was right above the town. Since I had to stretch my legs anyway, I slowly strolled toward the motel. The street was still empty and I looked like an idiot who was enjoying his “refreshing” walk in the deadly heat. In fact, I felt very dejected. The stupid game to convince myself I was not doing what I was doing reminded me too much of my previous visit here, and even worse—of my visit to Menelaus’ house back in Greenland! My life path obviously followed a vicious cycle and I was doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again!

“On the other hand, you couldn’t stay in your car forever!” I tried to convince myself. “If there was anybody in this motel waiting for you, he would’ve grown impatient already; not to mention he couldn’t know the exact time of your arrival. There’s probably no one—you’re just nervous.”

A few minutes later, cherishing this warming thought in my mind, I carefully approached the building and listened tensely for anything suspicious. I could hear only a distant TV and some birds singing, but that was natural.

Then, an unexpected and brilliant idea occurred to me: “I could look for the Indian guy on the reception,” I thought. “I don’t have to go up to the room. He would remember me and tell me if anything unusual has happened in the motel. This way I won’t take any risks!”

Really confident now, I quickened my pace and soon approached the wooden trellis with the plant. Still nothing happened and only the TV set seemed louder here. I could even distinguish the program—it was a commercial. My next logical step was to reach the alley where Bobby had almost run over me with her car, and when I was at the corner, I furtively peeked behind the edge.

Nothing again! The alley stretched invitingly before my eyes and there was no sound of a car engine roaring, although that meant nothing. The situation had been just the same the last time I was here. At first, I had heard no cars but then, by the time I had reached the opposite corner, both Bobby and Marty were already upon me!

Feeling like a soldier in a military training game who advanced level by level, I glanced behind my back and rushed ahead to prevent any unpleasant surprises. This time I was really fast and gave no one a chance to make it there before me. I also pulled out my gun, just in case. When I reached the other end, I stopped and pressed my back to the wall with my heart wildly beating. I was still alive and the TV set was even louder now.

“Well, so far so good!” I thought, feeling hopeful. Around the corner, the back yard where Marty and I had scuffled was empty, encouraging me to go ahead. I was most probably hearing the TV set from the reception hall where the Indian guy was watching some program. The thought calmed me down further and I tucked the Beretta into the back of my pants and crossed the yard. Then I stopped by the door for a moment and cautiously pushed it open.

The small lobby was the next empty space I ran into. The environment was familiar to me from my last visit, with the reception counter on the left and the stairwell right after it. The passage to it was quite narrow and there was no elevator. In the service room behind the counter, a commercial in Indian was praising something very loudly.

I quietly walked around the reception desk and peeked into the room with a bad feeling in my guts and my legs rigid. I didn’t know why but I expected to see the receptionist dead, his body sprawled on the ground, and his head smashed with a wrench. I saw nothing of the sort, however. Fortunately, it was just the TV set booming inside for no reason. It was a little bit weird but not too much to worry about—the Indian could’ve just gone to take a shit or something!

I nervously drew away and hesitated in the small reception hall. I decided not to wait for the guy, and holding the gun again, I looked up, carefully climbing up the stairs. They were solid and made no creak under my weight. After a couple of minutes, I was already on the third floor but all the while, my heart kept trying to come out from my mouth and save itself individually. And all the while, I kept pushing it back and trying to swallow it!

The former-Bobby’s room was fourth in the line. I tiptoed to it and pressed my ear to the wood. It seemed empty inside but because of the booming TV set down in the lobby, I was not sure and I had to listen for a long time. Almost five minutes passed like this. In the end, I moved beside the doorframe and slightly pushed the door handle, holding the gun tightly in my other hand.

The hinges gave out a hideous screech. Because of my nervousness, I nearly shot myself when I heard it—I didn’t remember such a screech the previous time I had been here! In the next second, I sharply jumped inside because my presence had been revealed now and the possible moment of surprise was slipping away from me. I pointed my gun around the room wildly in every possible direction. I kept turning around like this for almost ten seconds. Eventually, I dropped my hand because I felt stupid—there was obviously no one in the room. It was empty.

However, my mission was not over yet, as it turned out. Before, when I had thought my life was following a vicious cycle, I had actually hoped I wasn’t right—I was only expressing my discontent about it. Now I suddenly realized it had been nothing but a simple statement of fact. I grasped this right between the moment when I thought the room was empty and the moment when I stopped swiveling like a spinning top. I had felt something move behind my back and before I had even turned around to look what was going on, I already knew what would happen.

Unexpectedly, for just an instant, Marty Cork appeared at the corner of my vision, and long before I could react, he violently swooped in and hit me with his shoulder in my back. The blow made me plunge deeper into the room, spreading my arms and legs in the air, and losing my gun. The piece tumbled down and rolled under the cushioned sofa on my right, instantly reducing my chances of survival down to absolute zero. I had no time for anything else except to indicate the fact and smash my nose into the floorboards only a second later.

And that was actually the moment when my mission was finally over!

©2016 S.T. Fargo

Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 31 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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