Out of sight and waiting for the next stage. But why here? What evil do they have planned next?
From my recently released crime/detective novel, GROUND EFFECT:
The sign was green like the trees and sat a little crooked in the stone base. The paint was missing in spots but Walid could still read it as they approached and slowed. Ghali turned in and the drive sloped immediately up a hill toward a small building at the side of the road less than 100 yards ahead. A white metal gate made of tubing was on the other side but was stuck in the up position.
“A guard, what do we do?” Walid squirmed in the seat then looked back behind them.
“Be calm, we are visiting our cousin here, remember that. Our cousin…” Ghali had to quickly pull the paper from his pocket and look at the name written under the map, “Alexander.” Ghali did not know if that was the first or last name but pictured the city, Alexandria in Egypt, so he would not forget it again. Their primary instructor had been Egyptian and Ghali added that to his mental note.
They slowed more as they approached the guard house but found it empty and weeds growing around the foundation. “No one here,” Walid said.
The road wound up higher, pulling them first right then left as it ascended the mountain. The trees were thick on both sides of the road and pieces of pavement had broken apart, leaving holes and asphalt debris in places. The truck had no difficulty crossing over the potholes and bumps. As they neared a split in the road, a house appeared on the opposite side of the divide. It sat back from the road and the front of the house had wooden siding that lacked color in places. The space between the road and the house was overgrown. They made the right turn and continued higher. Now more homes appeared and a few had cars parked in front and the lawns had been mowed but most of the others looked unoccupied and run down. Some even had broken windows and blackish green mold growing on the roofs. At the next intersection, they turned left and the road leveled out. On the right side of the road, several big and hundreds of small rocks had come down from the hillside and landed on the road. Ghali had to move to the left side of the road and work around it on the shoulder.
They passed six more houses, only two of which looked lived in. Each lot was over two hundred feet wide and separated from the next by trees and underbrush. The wooded mountain, in varying shades of early summer green, rose up behind the houses. They found the mailbox with the number on it that had been written on the map and pulled into the driveway. The yard had boulders arranged with mulched beds around them but no flowers or shrubs. The lawn had been mowed but it was some time ago and was ankle high and filled with patches of bare ground and smaller rocks.
Ghali said, “Check the back.”
Walid thought about the pistol but got out without asking Ghali for it and walked around the right side of the house slowly, listening as he took deliberate steps. Ghali adjusted the Sig in his belt and went to the front door. There was a soggy and faded rolled up bundle of paper on the front porch that was partially under a small roof. He stepped to the side and went to the front window to look in. The window was covered by curtains inside and he went back to the door and put his ear to it. Satisfied there was no sound from inside, he drew the pistol and turned the lock with the single key. The scent of stale air and old cigarette smoke hit him as he stepped in. There was no sound or movement.
Ghali went in past the entrance hall and found a living room with a couch and two wing back chairs facing a fireplace. Several small tables were beside the chairs and a large glass ashtray sat on top of one of the tables next to the couch. It was nearly overflowing with cigarette butts and ash. Ghali swept through the living room and turned left past a counter and into the kitchen. The opposite wall opened into a small dining room with a bare table and four chairs. Past that was a hallway accessible both from the dining room and the living room. The house was only a single level and the hallway led to two bedrooms and a bathroom. The beds were made but there were no pillows. Ghali retreated back to the living room and spun to movement at the sliding glass doors at the far end. He brought the pistol up and found Walid over the front sight, peering in from outside.
Ghali cursed in Arabic under his breath and walked across the living room to open the door to let the Libyan in. “You almost got shot, you fool. Did you see anything in the back?”
Walid looked surprised, shook his head ‘no’ and then followed Ghali inside, turning to close the sliding door.
“No, leave it open. It smells foul in here.” Ghali went through the door to the garage and Walid heard the overhead garage door opening. Ghali came back in and handed Walid the keys to the Ford, “Pull the truck in and close the door.”
Walid went into the garage and Ghali went back through the bedrooms and checked the closets, thinking he should have done that the first time. He was getting careless. In the big bedroom, he found an oversized black plastic garbage bag on the floor of the empty closet. Ghali bent and slid open the top. Inside he found a long bundle wrapped tightly in brown paper and duct tape. On top of the bundle was a plastic encased cell phone. The phone was still wrapped as it had come from the store and was not activated. Ghali stared at it and then covered the contents back up with the bag and went out into the hallway.
He heard a loud crunch from the garage and then the truck engine revving several times. Ghali shook his head and went to the refrigerator and opened it. The inside light came on but he was surprised at the horrible smell and slammed the door shut on what had been its fully stocked but now rotten contents. Ghali stepped back and went to the kitchen cabinets. He opened several to plates and glasses and found one that had cans of tuna, beans, several other cans that he was not sure what they contained and boxes of rice and pasta.
“What is that awful smell?’ Walid appeared in the kitchen doorway from the living room.
“The electricity must have shut off and everything in the refrigerator is spoiled. Find something and empty it out. What was all the noise in the garage?”
Walid tossed the keys on the countertop and huffed, “The mirrors are too wide on the truck. They did not want to fit into the garage. I got the door to close though.”
“Brilliant work. Now we have to go into the town for food and the truck is damaged,” Ghali said.
“The garage wall is scraped but only one mirror is broken, the truck is fine.” Walid found the cabinet with the food and stood looking at the contents.
Ghali reached over and slammed the door shut. “Clean out the spoiled food, I’m bringing in our clothes.”
Walid opened several of the cabinets and found a box of big black plastic bags under the sink. He pulled one out of the box and discovered they had a plastic ribbon around the top to close them. He could only work for a few moments at a time in front of the refrigerator and the kitchen again filled with the odor of spoiled food.
Ghali threw Walid’s bag of dirty clothes into the smaller bedroom and put his own into the other. He was tired and needed sleep but the next part of the mission worried him. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the bare walls. Home seemed so far away. He realized there wasn’t a picture or any sort of decoration on any of the walls in the house. He got up and walked past Walid squatted in front of the stinking refrigerator and went into the living room. There was no television or radio anywhere in the house, no books or magazines, not even a Koran. The wall across from the fireplace had what appeared to be a telephone outlet but there was no phone either.
His orders were to stay inside and out of sight until Wednesday. But it had taken them longer than planned to get here and the white car they lost had been clean. Not impossible problems but problems. He needed no more of them. Two more days with only him.
Walid waddled past dragging a heavy black bag and went out through the open sliding glass door to the back patio. Ghali saw Walid step off the concrete, cross the overgrown small back yard and go up into the woods behind the house. Ghali stretched out on the couch but then got up and took the glass ashtray out onto the patio. Walid walked back into the yard without the bag and Ghali said, “Next load, take this filthy thing out too,” pointing to the filled ashtray.
Time then seemed to stand still for Ghali. He listened to Walid cough and bang things in the kitchen. Two more bags of rotten food went out the back door and then Walid plopped down in one of the chairs and stared at Ghali. “Now what do we do?”