Christmas In Calgary: Espionage Thriller Short Fiction By Dustin Lietha
Dustin Lietha, author of Christmas In Calgary, has previously published in “Midwest Outdoors Magazine” and “The Woodsman Magazine.”
We navigated the desolate downtown streets of Calgary against a cold, stiff wind. The clouds hung over us like a grey sheet, the only noticeable sounds being the whooshing and dinging of the city’s light rail train.
“It should be just down here,” Alex said as he pointed down the block through his jacket pocket. The others related that the city would be nice to explore when it was noticeably populated, I was reluctant to agree.
The quaint tavern was located in a basement just off the street, it fell into the “dive bar” category of establishments. The four of us sat behind frothing amber beers and conversed about our upcoming objective. I had met the local operatives in Calgary only hours before, leaving us with little time to get acquainted.
Alex was the tactical lead on the project and sat to my left, he was tall, lean and wore a commanding presence like a finely tailored suit. To the left sat Ezra, one of the best up and coming agents in the department, she had dark skin and daring brown eyes. Steven, the muscle of the mission, sat to the left of Ezra.
He was brawny and short with a reflective bald head. The bald man and the beautiful Ezra seemed to get along in a mutual yet illicit way. Alex scowled at the bald man when he put his arm around Ezra however the bald man offered a glare of his own, an understanding had been reached as both men tended to operate off the books.
Alex was the tactical lead on the project and sat to my left, he was tall, lean and wore a commanding presence like a finely tailored suit.
I was the intelligence expert for the mission and worked on the cyber surveillance floor of headquarters in Ottawa, you could say I was the nerdy one who worked with computers all day. I had been tracking and monitoring a Hainan airline pilot who was stealing sensitive information from the Canadian government concerning the design and performance of the new “smart” gun being tested near Edmonton. Over the course of a few months I had gathered surveillance footage of the pilot at one particular restaurant in downtown Calgary.
He and his crew would stop in for a meal and before leaving, the captain would saunter into the kitchen and offer a token of personal thanks to the cook. We knew, thanks to some inside help, that a handoff also occurred in the kitchen, usually the transfer of an SD card or USB drive loaded with documents and schematics.
The captain was a unique and valuable asset who needed to be interrogated. Careful planning and extreme caution was crucial, if our cover was blown and he returned to China, we would never get the same chance again. The loose-lipped cook providing him the information was also a paramount source to capture as it would plug a leak and likely lead to subsequent arrests.
We sat behind our nearly drained beers and eyed the two other people in the bar, they were beyond tipsy and engaged in a flirtatious game of pool. Alex took a long look at his watch, “Alright guys we’re gettin’ close, remember the brief.” The plan was to go to the restaurant disguised as a regional U.S. flight crew.
On Christmas Eve, as we expected and confirmed, many restaurants were closed. The authentic Chinese restaurant the Hainan pilot preferred however was not. Our rationale rested on the probability that another airline crew, would seek out the restaurant on Christmas. It was nearly perfect cover. Also, given the holiday, the potential for bystanders to become collateral damage was low. With any luck It would be just our crew and the Hainan crew.
We exited the bar and took again to the cold, barren streets, turned South the way we came, then began a haphazard jaunt East, back North, then East again. We kept checking our phones and arguing about where we were going for effect, trying to look like tourists. It wasn’t likely anybody was following us yet we did it anyway, it was an instinctive tactic. Blending in on the street had been engrained in us during training.
When we finally arrived at “Mei Inn” and passed the large front window, we confirmed the Hainan crew was there, most importantly the short, cheeky pilot. They sat at a large, round table which although not closed off, was in a separate room.
Alex took a long look at his watch, “Alright guys we’re gettin’ close, remember the brief.” The plan was to go to the restaurant disguised as a regional U.S. flight crew.
There were fifteen flight attendants arranged like decoration around him, every one of them displaying a perfect bun of hair and sitting incredibly straight. The flight attendants were supremely elegant and likely oblivious to their Captain’s espionage, we would find out.
We didn’t need to fake our knowledge of Chinese culture, none of us knew very much yet we were greeted with hospitality and offered a table across from the Hainan crew. Alex and Steven draped their leather pilot coats on the back of their chairs, Ezra and I did the same with our wool, flight attendant equivalents. From here on in things were pretty simple, eat a good meal and when the Captain waltzed into the kitchen in his arrogant stride, rush in and spoil the party. We picked up our menus, first things first.
I ordered spicy pork stir fry, Ezra decided on dumplings and white rice, Steven went with fried rice covered by sweet and sour chicken. Alex, in perfect Chinese, ordered the “Salt and Pepper Squid.” With blank, stunned looks we stared at him in his L.A. Kings hat. “What? I studied Chinese in college.” This was no time for funny, flirtatious games, our operational security was still at risk. Our waitress, Yang Mi was our recruit on the inside and we could not compromise her, Alex was jeopardizing our mission, my mission.
The plates were brought out, smelling and steaming with succulent aromas, Yang Mi placed the dishes on the table and we piled up our personal plates using the rotation feature of the table to share certain offerings. Alex asked the young, slim waitress for a cup of coffee and she replied, “Sorry Sir, no coffee.” Which meant everything on her end was affirmative or in other words, a “go.”
We could hear the Hainan crew conversing however only the laughter was discernible. We turned again to Alex since he was the Chinese expert. He looked up from his plate with a mouthful of squid, “Wha?… Beats me.”
Ezra sat cozied up to Steven and began to spoon feed the bear of a man. Mildly annoyed I turned to eat my own dish savoring the hot, spicy pork, almost forgetting we were operational. It appeared our spy pilot and his crew were wrapping up their meal. Yang Mi came out from the kitchen while obviously brandishing the black booklet containing their check, it was confirmed.
My entire body tensed with anticipation, my adrenal glands began to work overtime secreting my bloodstream with frightful giddiness. I gave everyone at the table a very narrow and alert glance telling them to get ready, surprisingly they all straightened up and prepared for our orchestrated entry and take down which would occur in the kitchen. Alex composed and readied himself, reassuming his leadership role for which I was thankful.
While pretending to converse I saw the pilot’s chubby, intelligence grabbing fingers fondle the check. His tie was loosened and collar unbuttoned, he wiggled a toothpick with his teeth. The guy was supremely arrogant, he likely thought of himself as a badass boss and international espionage asset, his bank account may be loaded but his work was far from the best, frankly it was easy to discover what the man had been doing.
My entire body tensed with anticipation, my adrenal glands began to work overtime secreting my bloodstream with frightful giddiness.
Seemingly all at once the Hainan flight attendants stood up and reached for their coats. The Captain rose soon after while swigging down the last gulp of white wine directly out of the bottle.
He sauntered over toward the cash register which sat on a counter in front of the kitchen. I took a dry gulp and tried to steady the fork in my gently shaking hand. He picked at his teeth with his tooth pick as he talked with Yang Mi, she was blushing with the the thrill of what was to come and maybe also by the man’s allure and obvious flirtation. He pointed and asked the question we didn’t need translated, “Can I talk to the cook?” Yang Mi acquiesced and he pushed through the swinging steel doors behind her.
Without a sound we moved, pulling our pieces from our inside the belt holsters. Alex took point, we gathered just outside the kitchen doors in a spread designed to create layers of containment. Ezra moved to gather and escort the flight attendants out the door onto the street, she then took up a fortified position against an adjacent building, she was our last chance if we needed it.
We waited, my heart thundered, had it been a minute?? Two?? We looked at each other not wondering, just waiting, we needed to catch him after the handoff. Steven tilted his head from side to side to imitate the ticking of a clock, he seemed calm under pressure, almost bored.
“CLANG!!” There it was, Yang Mi had bumped a dish, that was the “Go” signal. Alex crashed through the door, pinning the Captain to the ground, Steven stayed just inside the door guarding it. Yang Mi stood at the opposite end of the room in amazement, with her 32 caliber Kel Tec, it was pointed at the very surprised cook.
I helped Alex bring our now, very coy and concerned captain to his feet. Steven handed me a pair of zip cuffs and I slipped the chubby wrists through the holes and yanked on the tags, securing them just a bit too tight. In the process of being handcuffed, the USB drive had fallen onto the floor and our Captain prisoner proceeded to smash it with the heal of his shoe. Alex punched the Captain in the face causing him to fall awkwardly into a dish cart causing a cacophony of clashes, clangs and bangs.
We waited, my heart thundered, had it been a minute?? Two?? We looked at each other not wondering, just waiting, we needed to catch him after the handoff.
Steven’s biceps twitched, itching to get in on the action. The smashed USB drive was a non-issue, Yang Mi had recorded the whole event on the camera inserted in the broach on her collar and we had been feeding fake information to the cook for a month trying to see where it went. As far as we could tell China was not sharing it.
With foreign shouts Yang Mi began to animately and loudly berate the cook for her part in the ordeal, I stepped in between them to calm the situation, not ever having to expect to, Yang Mi seemed so docile and agreeable. The heat of the moment and life or death seriousness was getting to us all.
Alex led the way out of the kitchen as Steven escorted the captain, Yang Mi led the cook, I followed behind, the 9mm still feeling weird in my hands, I was used to computer mice. The black utility van from the Calgary station should be rolling up any moment, while waiting Yang Mi secured the surveillance camera footage of our takedown and placed the contents of the crushed USB drive into a small plastic bag.
We heard squealing tires and moved fast for the door. Just as we hit the pavement, two shots rang out in the crisp night air. I saw the muzzle flash and glanced to my left, Yang Mi sat on the pavement clutching her knee. Bam!! Bam!! Two more shots cut through the dark, coming from the opposite direction this time. Ezra stood there with a menaced, frustrated furrow in her brow, “Bastard” was all she said. I took two quick strides back to attend to Yang Mi, I put her arm around my shoulder and hopped her toward the open van door.
“God Damnit!!” Steven bellowed, the handcuffed cook was making a break for it down Front Street towards a dimly lit lot. The bald man took after her in a tactical stance, his pistol drawn and pointed very intently in front of him.
“C’mon!!” Alex yelled at me as I hesitated to watch the unfolding action. It seemed as if everything was moving in slow motion but I was able to lay Yang Mi into the van as Ezra helped the last of the flight attendants in. With the driver already revving the engine,
I said, “Go, we’ll meet you there.”
With no time to discuss the matter Alex yelled, “Jesus Christ, be fuckin’ careful, this ain’t no computer game!!” I wasn’t going to let this chick slip through our fingers, she was just as important as our captain and I had set this whole thing in motion, I felt obligated to see it through.
I had only fired my gun at the range in the bowels of the Ottawa Intelligence headquarters, never at a human being on the run in a dark metropolitan maze. Figuring she couldn’t be that agile and evasive with her hands tied behind her back, I hurried along making sure to cover all four points of every intersection as I combed the blocks. I started to notice a certain type of smaller foot print in the patches of old snow and ice that dotted the sidewalk.
Taking a gamble I decided they were fresh and likely hers, in reality I had no idea. It had seemed like hours but I was only two blocks from where the van had sped off. I wondered where Steven was.
The tracks led to an alley and then veered behind a heaping dumpster. I approached very slowly, cognizant of the sound of my footsteps but also how my silhouette from the streetlights was cast. The dumpster was situated the long way and parallel with the alley. I went past on the street and then hugged the buildings as I worked my way back up to the alley intersection.
I came to the edge of the last building and creeped down the alley to the front end of the dumpster. As I took a short break to compose my nerves and breath, a soda can fell from the overfilled container and hit the ground.
My heart stopped. I heard the sound of scuffling shoes on snow covered pavement, I took two strides to the side of the dumpster and saw the cook running down the alley, I centered my crosshairs on the black mass and eased down the torso toward the legs carrying her away. I resisted the urge to jerk the trigger and instead pulled it slowly, surprised by the harsh “bang” the wrist kick and the glow that lurched from the barrel.
A shrill scream pierced through the silence, I walked toward the cook who was writhing in agony on the dirty asphalt. Seconds later a stocky figure came running from the left and stopped at the opposite end of the alley, I raised my weapon again just to be sure.
“Yo man it’s jus’ me!!” Steven yelled as he came jogging up. “Dude we gotta get outta here, they’re freakin’ crawlin’ all over!!”
“What, who?” I asked already knowing it wasn’t good.
My heart stopped. I heard the sound of scuffling shoes on snow covered pavement, I took two strides to the side of the dumpster and saw the cook running down the alley…
“Fuck if I know, they must’ve been watchin’ the freakin’ place. Once Ezra pegged that one they probably heard the shots and started closing in.” Steven reached into his pocket and pulled out a new magazine for his Glock. “Fuck man, I hit three of em’ and a couple more ran off.”
“What do we do?”
“There.” Steven cycled the slide on his weapon and pointed to the spot where the cook had sat against the dumpster.
We dragged the screaming cook back to her hiding spot and prepared for a shootout.
“Hope to god your techie friends are “pingin’” our cellphones right now.”
We waited a few long agonizing minutes before we heard more scratchy footsteps. The bald man and I readied our weapons as the adrenaline once again surged through circulatory systems, it hadn’t really waned since the captain had entered the kitchen.
The ability to think past the immediate moment was non-existent and something I hadn’t really experienced at least to such a degree, I was focused on staying alive and that was all. I could tell Steven was a bit calmer and was used to such intense moments but naturally he still tensed as the plodding footsteps neared closer.
Steven narrowed his eyes in confusion, I too started to discern the laziness in the footsteps, odd at least. We couldn’t see the figure until they were very near as our vision was obscured by the dumpster and corner buildings. The person seemed to be a man in a hoodie and baseball cap, he staggered a bit as if drunk but weirdly straightened out as he pulled out his phone. He looked up from his device then looked left and right. He walked right up to the dumpster, hopped up on the side and peeked in.
My hands were shaking again and Steven had a furious “kill em all” look. I was truly freaking out, I thought of my family and the fact that I would be found dead near a dumpster on Christmas in Calgary.
“Steve??” We stayed silent for a beat.
“Alex?” The bald brute whispered. Alex rounded the side of the dumpster. Our cook captive’s smile quickly settled back to her pained frown.
“Jesus Christ!! Let’s go!!” With no time for questions we followed Alex as he took point. In a move that manifested complete badassery, Alex swung out an M-4 assault rifle that was concealed against his back with a tactical sling. I kept the cook in front of me guiding her by her tied hands.
The way Steven and Alex cleared intersections and looked right when the other looked left was incredible and a result of prior military training along with a few hairy operations like this one. As we neared wherever we were going we heard a vehicle, I hoped it was the Calgary station van.
Alex put his hand out behind signaling us to stop, we stopped in the middle of the street and as the van neared the intersection in front of us two figures leaned out from an adjacent building to our left, just as quickly as I saw them two staccato, muffled pops rang out from Alex’s rifle. They were down and no longer a threat, we sprinted toward the intersection just as the van pulled up. Alex grabbed our prisoner by the zip cuffs and slung her violently through the open door.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here!”
We boarded the covert ops super jet at the Winters Aire Park Airport and took off for headquarters in Ottawa, leaving Calgary station with some cleanup to do but we had the people we wanted, the mission was a success. We learned via SAT phone that Yang Mi was recovering well with her leg wound in Rockview General Hospital. Alex and the bald man slept soundly, my eyes were closed but I could not sleep and sometimes I would catch my hand shuddering. Tomorrow was Christmas morning and I knew I would not sleep.
“Do you like it Daddy??” My three year old daughter Cosette asked as I sat in my recliner holding the new keyboard I had wanted. Even when going on no sleep my senses were keen enough to know that computers were no longer enough, the night before though scary had been exhilarating. As Cosette sat in her room dressing and re-dressing her new dolls, Amélie, my wife asked the question I knew was going to asked,
“Where were you last night??”
I smiled, “Work related field trip.”
“Where?” She asked as she maneuvered around and sat on my lap
“You know I can’t talk about that.”
“Of course, of course, it’s all sooo secret.” She said in a condescending tone yet also in a way that relayed that she did understand. Amelie moved closer and said, “Well we’re glad you’re home.” She placed a gentle kiss on my lips.
“So am I.” I said the words and I meant them just as CTV announced the breaking news out of Calgary complete with an image of the Hainan pilot posted on the screen. Amélie looked at the television then to me and slyly smiled.
“I thought you worked with computers??” she asked with narrowed eyes.
“I thought so too.”
If you’ve enjoyed Christmas In Calgary by Dustin Lietha, you can check out our free digital archive of crime, thriller, and horror flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.