As the plane descended through the calm blue sky to the depressive gray atmosphere of Prague, my disposition matched the descent. Only one day before, I received a blood-spattered missive from my husband, Mark, to “come quick”. He had a knack for getting himself into trouble so initially I was not worried, and the letter arrived by post. In my mind, that reduced the urgency; however, the blood added a new and disturbing element. Fear and anxiety battled for top billing in my mind, as did, unexpectedly, excitement.
The scribbled letter instructed me to find a man named Ludvik Myska holding a card that read “Mimi Steel”. My mood brightened. An alias! Fun! I found him easily. Once settled in Ludvik’s beautiful, black S-Class Mercedes, the time for answers had come, or so I thought. We only spoke for a short time.
“Ms. Steel,” Ludvik said, calling me by my alias. “Your husband, Marek, has sent me to take you to a safe house.”
I needed more. “Ludvik, is Mark at that house? What kind of trouble is he in? And how did you and Mark know I would be on that flight?”
He replied, “You should use your husband’s Czech name. Marek Kohout. I cannot reveal the nature of his trouble other than to tell you he was kidnapped from his mother’s house by members of the Broucek family. Before the kidnapping, I worked with him on a special project. Your flight? We had eyes on you.”
“That is so… wait… what is this project? Eyes?” His brief answers led to more questions, yet I sensed there would be no more answers during the drive. Ludvik turned up the radio, and I fell asleep, exhausted from my long trip from the States.
I awoke to an even darker gray atmosphere, unaware of how long we traveled or even the direction. This had to be the safe house and my bag sat by large, wooden double doors. Surrounded by forest, this centuries-old house appeared to be a palace. Only three stories tall, and quite wide, one could see there must have been at least 40 rooms on the main floor. There was an air of elegance, but the disrepair was evident even in the dark. I imagined the house must have once bustled with activity, but there was no sign of life now, not even from Ludvik.
I tiptoed across the overgrown, flat yard and began to push the heavy doors open. Ludvik yanked the door open from the inside, and growled, “There is no one here! A woman was to meet you, but I cannot find her. The caretaker is also missing. Still, I cannot take you all the way to Kutna Hora. It is too dangerous.”
“Are you leaving me here?” I whimpered, excitement and fun no longer on my radar.
Exasperated, he said, “Yes, I said the danger was too great. The rooms are not locked. Pick one and do not come out until morning, your appearance disguised. If you see anyone, remember, you are Mimi Steel.”
As he drove off, I took some deep breaths, stepped into the house, and wryly thought that the caretaker must not have understood his job. Inside, grandeur resonated, but most was hidden by a thick layer of dust. I gathered my courage and headed up the stairs, each step shouting my presence. Between creaks, I heard moaning. I ruled out ghosts though did not completely dismiss the idea. I pulled open the first door in the hall and found a man, lying on the floor, blood pooled under his head.
I leaned over to check his wounds, and felt we were not alone. Slapping his hand around my mouth, Ludvik grabbed me, dragged me to my room, and shoved me onto the bed. He hissed, “Stupid woman! Follow instructions, and don’t put your nose where it doesn’t belong! That man is the caretaker and now I must take care of him.” He thrust something toward me and snarled, “Do what is on this paper! I will be back for you in the morning.”
My hands trembled as I read: cut hair, dye it red, wear dress in cupboard. The nefarious nature of the events frightened me … and intrigued. But first things, first; except for the nap in the car, I hadn’t slept in 35 hours.