Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Strike Out in Siberia

The MEOW jet touched down in Yekaterinburg. From the outside, the jet looked like just another plane owned by a rich businessman and was at home in the executive section of the airport. It pulled in to the hangar space as directed by the tower. The door opened, the stairs descended, and Angus, dressed as the business man cover complete with a briefcase, exited the plane. The briefcase contained the papers that Clouder Number Nine and their support humans needed to enter Russia and carry out their mission.

“Colonel MacDougal?” asked the approaching Russian immigration official.

“I am,” Angus answered as he extended his free hand.

“I'm Colonel Boris Pieteroff,” the Russian said as he shook Angus's proffered hand. “I'll be you liaison while you're in my country.”

“Is there somewhere we can talk?” Angus asked as he noted the busy airport and the ramp workers everywhere. His briefing of the Russian would be better with less ears to hear.

“We should go review your papers in my office,” Pieteroff suggested.

“Lead the way,” Angus agreed.

An hour later, the paperwork was completed and the other arrangements for the mission were completed. The arrangements weren't what Angus would have preferred but he could deal with them. Chief condition was that if the Clouder split up, each group needed a Russian observer. Boris Pieteroff, himself, would accompany Angus and Nala. Tatiana, Pieteroffs's secretary, would stay on the plane with Erik, Alexander, and Lt. Steven Smith. She would be both the Russian baby sitter and facilitate cutting through the administrative colored tapes, since Russia enjoyed bureaucrats in such large numbers that red wasn't the only color tape tieing things up. Lastly, Pieteroff's lieutenant, Oleg Federoff, would keep tabs on the Fifis and Lt. Jane Brewster. Angus didn't like having the Russians know more about operations than absolutely necessary but it could be helpful for Russians to interface with local officials.

Lt. Jane Brewster and Oleg Federoff took Fiona and Phoebe to inspect the area where Natalia was last seen. They were hoping to pick up her trail, either going or coming. One would tell them where she might be. The other would give context for the meeting.

Angus, Pieteroff, and Nala would find out who the man the fugitive feline met with was. That would hopefully tell them what the meeting had been a bout. So they started tracking down the car. It was a part of a fleet of personal drivers for businessmen. Pieteroff would be handy in intimidating records out of the company's administrative personnel.

Tatiana and Erik were deep into requesting and hacking, where needed, to access CCTV cameras and requesting records before the others had even exited the hangar. Tatiana was was searching for property records for Natalia or any of her known front companies. Erik was searching for any more security footage of the cat in question.

That left Lt. Smith and Alex to patrol around the plane. The lieutenant was also the pilot of record for the plane so he could hang out in the pilot's lounge and other places a pilot would be expected to be. It would look strange if he kept circling the plane on patrol so that task was left to Alex. Most people would never notice a stray cat. If they did, it would never occur to them that the cat was doing anything other than searching for a mouse for its next meal. Alex might tire of patrol if the mission lingered on for several days, but he was still new enough to field work that he was still pleased to have a job to do.

It took twenty-six hours but all three lines of inquiry led to the same place – an abandoned estate of a really minor branch of the Romanov family. It was exactly the kind of place Natalia would like – secluded, opulent, and Royal. It was also a three hour drive away. There was no place closer to hide the plane in plain sight, so Erik, Alex, Lt. Smith, and Tatiana would remain in Ykaterinburg, but the others would go scope out the place.

Angus was continuing in his role as a wealthy business man for a cover. Pieteroff was taking the role as his driver and would drive the Colonel and his cat to the estate. They would enter by the front door. The story was that Angus had some business he wished to discuss with Grey Import and Export, one of Natalia's holding companies.

The Fifis and the humans with them would arrive separately, by helicopter to few miles away, and sneak in. The estate was built into the side of foothills of the Ural mountains. It would take humans and cats working together to get inside.

Phoebe took point. She was the smallest and an able to squeeze into the smallest of openings in the wall. She scaled the wall and caught the grappling hook that Lt. Brewster shot. The feline anchored the rope and the Lieutenant climbed the wall with Fiona in her pack. (The black and white feline couldn't follow Phoebe since Fiona was both fatter and fluffier and thus had to suffer the indignity of being carried.) Lt. Federoff followed as the cats and Lt. Brewster were taking in the lay of the land.

It was odd but the grounds and what they could see of the house, or more accurately- the palace, looked deserted. If Natalia was here there would be patrols at the very least. Either she wasn't here or she had left a very clever trap. The foursome worked their way down from the walls searching for the answer.

The limousine with Angus, Nalla, and Pieteroff came up the drive as the others entered the palace. The car was not challenged at the gate. In fact Pieteroff had to get out from the driver's seat to open the gate. The car pulled up to the palace and parked. Pieteroff opened the door for Angus and Nala. They played out the fiction of Angus being a business man and Pieteroff his hired help as they entered the palace. Again there was no one there.

They rendezvoused with the others and together they searched. No one was there and no on had been there for a few days. They found papers for several other holding companies and the deeds to three other estates.

“Colonel MacDougal,” came the computer voice of Erik over the comms.

“Yes, Erik?” asked Angus.

“There is a message coming from HQ,” Erik said.

“Go ahead,” Angus said.

“The message reads, 'if mission is done, then return home immediately',” Erik said.

“That is it?” Angus asked.
“All that can be said over comms,” Erik said with the implication there was more but had to said in person.

“We'll rendezvous as planned,” Angus said.

Three hours later, the MEOW agents – both human and feline- bid farewell to the Russians and left for home. The part of the message Erik hadn't relayed over the comms was the sad news that Clouder Number Eight had suffered heavy losses in an ambush meant for cats. Lady Gwenllian was recalling all Clouders until the larger implications could be evaluated and the Ministry formulate a plan. Clouder Number Nine took off in the airplane with heavy hearts and headed for home.

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