DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By J. Strauss
“What do you want?” the formerly dangerous man on the bed said, his voice imploring, extending his arms out before him with both palms turned upward in question.
“You forgot to ask a few questions you needed the answers to. Answers that would have avoided this very meeting. I thought Virginia was smarter but it appears fairly obvious she left a few things out.” Arch said the words without emotion, standing well back from the bed so both subdued men could be kept sufficiently far from the steady end of the magnum’s short but cavernous barrel.
“I worked for the Agency for twenty years, performing various mission in wet work,” Arch went on. “I’m responsible for the departure of 37 targets, not including collateral damage from area weapons. There was no chance on God’s green earth that you would be able to handle somebody like me without killing me. So here you are, waiting for me to decide what to do with you. What should we do with you, by the way?”
“Shit,” the man with his palms upraised said very softly, slowly lowering his hands. “We’re dead men? Over something like this?”
“Dead?” the wounded man mewled out, clutching his bloody hand with the punctured pillow. “Dead? You’re going to kill us?”
“Idiots,” Arch spat out in disgust. “Total idiot Knuckledraggers. Where in hell do they find you people? I can’t kill you. You’re with the Agency. I’d love to kill you. Cook you slowly for days over a charcoal spit. I can, however, maim you for the rest of your lives. So, given that prospect, what in hell was this all about?” Arch held up his own injured hand. The man laying on the bed carefully shook his head, and then looked over at his wounded companion.
“It wasn’t Ms. Westray’s idea,” the man on the bed said. “The general thought you might need some motivation to give us the information. My name’s Lorrie, and this is Kurt,” the man pointed at his bloody companion.
“What general?” Arch asked, mystified, and also wondering why the man hadn’t used Virginia’s first name. Last names were sometimes used in fieldwork but almost never with any kind of honorific.
“The Marine general at the base. The one running this whole thing. Dewar. The one star.”
“Brigadier Dewar? The Brigade Commander at Kaneohe?” Arch lowered the magnum. A Marine general. It made sense. The strange goings on over at Bellows with radiation. The totally screwed up mission with agents working against one another instead of together. The whole thing stunk of military involvement leading to misunderstanding and violent failure. The famous President Carter mission to save the hostages in Iran came to Arch’s mind.
“The woman’s real close to the general but he doesn’t tell her everything,” Lorrie said, beginning to visibly relax for the first time.
“Real close?” Arch asked, putting the Magnum back in his pocket. He couldn’t even maim the men for what they’d done. They simply didn’t know any better.
“Yeah, they’re an item. He’s married but his wife has no clue. She doesn’t seem to care. I heard her tell him she preferred married men. No obligations.”
Arch wanted to sit down. His mind had been a hotbed of angst and anger, thinking Virginia had turned him over to torturers without a second thought. But the news from Lorrie was even worse. He looked closely at the man for any hint of deception. He couldn’t pick up a thing. He was almost certain neither man knew of his previous intimate visit with Virginia. What motive would the man have to lie? His relief at not being hurt further or killed was just too evident.
“Get your little package of DZ sick crap out,” Arch ordered harshly, in an attempt to bring his mind back into some kind of mission orientation.
“Look, I used that to be humane. Please don’t give any of it to me,” Laurie begged while gently easing a little black leather case from inside his left front pocket.
“Please? That’s the best you can do, after using it on me?” Arch grimaced, taking the case from Lorrie’s hand. He put it into one of his own pockets. “I’ve no intention of using it on you. Do you suppose the general had some other reason for sending you guys?” Arch’s mind ran to its darkest depths as he considered the situation. Was the general having an affair with Virginia? Everything pointed to it. Had Virginia come to bed with Arch straight from the general’s bed? Unanswerable questions rolled through Arch’s mind, like waves coming at the beach in a never-ending set. One thing was for certain; Arch wasn’t going to get anything of real use out of the two minor players in front of him.
“Get him to the base,” Arch said, pointing at the man with his bleeding hand. “Any civilian ER will have you both taken in custody, where you belong, but we can’t have that, now can we?” Arch laughed but the sound rang hollow in the room, even to Arch’s own ears. “Get out quickly. Using that pillow for a suppressor probably didn’t fool too many people and security in this place will probably be along anytime.”
“Thanks,” Lorrie answered with obvious relief, working to get his partner Kurt vertical and off the bed.
“Think nothing of it,” Arch replied, his voice laced with acid. “When you see Virginia tell her that I’ve gone rogue, and I’m damn sure going to put a huge monkey wrench into all of their plans. And please report to the general that certain body parts of his are going to look like what’s left of Kurt’s hand when I’m done.” Arch was disappointed in himself as soon as the words were out. He was getting old. Predators in the business, players, never threatened. They simply did. If anything they sent waves of kindness, respect and even love before them, before they killed the intended prey.
Arch made it to the elevators unimpeded. The maid’s cart was still in front of 215 with the door propped open, but there was nobody to be seen.
Once inside his own room Arch went to his laptop and started to work. It took seconds to discover that a scintillation detector a device was used to measure how much irradiated iodine was present in a sample. A regular Geiger counter was not sensitive enough to measure dosages so low as to cause cancer-producing radiation in iodine. Irradiated iodine isotopes are the first and most damaging elements to be released from a spill of nuclear fission material. Most fissionable metals are comprised of up to three percent iodine. A good dosage of irradiated iodine would cause thyroid cancer in only a few years, to anyone so exposed.
Arch sat back in his chair. He thought about the events he’d just been through. Scintillation had been mentioned by Virginia and Lorrie both. Scintillation was not a common word for any intelligence agent to know about or understand. Lorrie was lying about some of what he said. Was he lying about the general and Virginia? And what in hell was going on at Bellows? No wonder the Marines were spooked by Matisse and his unlikely band of sovereignty idiots. The poorly timed venture of the Islanders, parking themselves on an island right in the middle of whatever was happening, must have been shocking to the players running whatever show they were running. Arch laughed out loud, imagining Matisse running around nearby holding out a Geiger counter.
He headed out to join Matisse. It was time to encounter Bellows Air Force Base up close and in person. Arch had trained there while attending his last two years of military school. Bellows, in the fifties, following its deactivation as an actual flight base for the military, had served as the Oahu home for the Civil Air Patrol. Arch had soloed there in a glider before being dumped from the program for crashing three gliders and being dumped for insubordination behavior directed at the group commander. Arch remembered the base well, and also the fact that there was a nearby peak off base that he’d used to circle and gain altitude in his glider training days. From the top of that peak, just below the huge menacing Koolau range, every part of Bellows could be viewed with high definition binoculars. The Leica binoculars might, once again, prove invaluable.
Matisse was waiting, just as before, when Arch completed his hike out from the resort. The dependability of the man was disconcerting. Islanders, particularly Kanakas, were notoriously undependable. They were late or didn’t show at all. But Matisse was punctual. That quality in the man faintly disturbed Arch, but he couldn’t understand why. He wanted to dislike Matisse. He’d every reason to dislike Matisse except one. The man had always been true to him. Loyalty was the single quality valued above all others in field intelligence work. Without loyalty, there was no life.
The drive across Oahu took more than an hour. They came at Bellows from the Lanakai side, not the Waikiki side. The peak Arch was looking for was just across the main road leading into the base. It was part of the Waimanalo area. Waimanalo was the worst island enclave for Kanakas on Oahu. A Haole could not walk the street on that small part of the island without being encountered by high threat locals. Most Haoles who were encountered never understood that the locals were all threat and no bite. The incidence of violence on Oahu was the lowest in the nation, while the incidence of car burglaries and petty theft was the highest.
Matisse decided to wait at the bottom of the peak, smoking pakalolo, what the locals on Oahu call marijuana. Not grown on the island, it was imported from the other islands where it was known by various powerful names for its kick. Matisse preferred purple Kona gold and smoked what he called a cigarette but was, in reality, something about the size of the cigar Bill Murray had smoked in Caddy Shack.
It took an hour for Arch to reach the peak. The morning dew and earlier rains had made the going tough and slippery. Tea leaves covered the ground under the bigger unnamed vegetation around. Tea leaves were slippery when wet. Every step Arch gained had been followed by a short slide back. His OP shorts and Lauren polo shirt were totally soaked when he arrived at the peak, but the view was worth it. And the thermal action of swirling trade winds affected by the afternoon radiation of the sun was wonderful. The same effect that had propelled his glider thousands of feet into the air many years earlier served to cool and invigorate Arch in a most satisfying and comforting way. He wanted to plunge himself into finding out what was going on and not in thinking about Virginia.
Being at the top of the peak, which he’s flown around and around many times in his youth but had never climbed, was euphoric. Swinging the Leica binoculars up to his eyes Arch was instantly transported. Back in time. To a mission of technological advancement in the Soviet Union. He was staring through the lenses down at an Ekranoplan Caspian Sea Monster. He was staring at an airplane The airplane was stretched out on the refurbished sixty-two hundred foot runway that had not seen real air service since the Second World War, except for tiny gliders. The plane was the largest airplane ever to fly, by far, but it could only fly in ground effect. It wasn’t a real airplane because it flew just a few tens of feet above ground or water. It weighed in at over a million pounds and flew with another million pounds of troops and supplies aboard. That amount could be the most part of an entire armored division. Arch had not seen one of the three prototypes he witnessed over twenty-five years before. But there it was, revealed by the remarkably clear German lenses. Somehow, at least one prototype of the huge aircraft had survived and astoundingly it was lying there on the old runaway right in front of him.
Arch sat back against the taro leaves and palm fronds propping him up in the
filtering wind. He breathed in and out. The Ekranoplan. It was invented to transport huge amounts of men and armor across great distances. It had one fatal flaw. The eight huge jet turbines powering it ate fuel at a rate of ten tons of fuel per hour. Ten hours of three hundred miles an hour flight time was two hundred thousand pounds. No real long-range flights were possible because of the fuel-limited range. Arch’s mind turned cold. Unless the turbines were driven by fission generated steam. Then, given the size and power of the nuclear power plant, the range might well be unlimited. With nuclear power, a plane of such size could deliver half a Marine division, in one unit to the opposite side of the earth in less than two days. Suddenly, the scintillation detector made sense.
The Apache caught his attention. Arch frowned in question. How could anyone know anyone was at the top of the peak, but somehow the approaching Apache helicopter seemed to know? That the Marine Corps had no such attack helicopters in its inventory would not even occur to Arch until later. The airborne beast came at him from high in the air, as if it knew exactly where he was concealed, nestled deep inside the green moist bracken. The Apache was a frightening mechanical beast, like a five-ton attacking wasp, except a whole lot more dangerous and deadly.
Arch fled. He slewed left and then right as he tried to find the trail down that he’d come up. He could find nothing in his panic. He’d seen the chain gun under the canopy of the Apache moving to direct its fire at him from under the things ugly snout. And then Arch lost all thought of the chopper and pursuit. He slid into a water sluice. A sluice was an artificial stream that was built to run straight down the side of the mountain. It captured him instantly and his body accelerated to near terminal velocity. Arch slid down the curved bottom of the sluice like a hot dog straight through a well-buttered bun. He continued to gain speed as he went, the air going his upturned face at such a speed that he had to unwillingly put his head back down or his eyelids would have been forced to open beyond their capability. Arch splashed out at the bottom of the sluice but did so into open air, flying five feet high with a large pond of water beneath him. He impacted butt first into a waiting ban of deep lava mud on the opposite side of the pond. It took ten minutes to work loose and then cover himself with brush. No chopper made its presence known. Arch lay encased in the mud for almost an hour, letting the panic bleed from his body and mind. His hand was a mess. The pain brought some recovering clarity to his mind.
There was a lot more to the Marine mission than just some Marine Corps experimentation or training exercise. Whatever was going on was big. Bigger than the Corps. Arch pulled himself free staggered through the mud to find Matisse sitting stoned in the bushes not far from the base of the mountain. However screwed up Matisse was, Arch was glad to see him. He dragged his own muddy body into the rear of the Bonneville.
“Home, Cheeves,” he breathed, thoroughly exhausted, to Matisse. The islander laughed and then floored the throttle of the over-torqued convertible. The car rocketed out of the bushes and onto the main road back toward Lanakai. In spite of the Apache, the revamped Soviet ground effects aircraft, and even the bizarre contretemps whatever the mission might be, Arch thought of Virginia. He’d come to the island for her. She was obviously way in over her head. He had to save her. Even if she was sleeping with the general.