IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
Atlantis led them down the stairs to the basement of the Princeville terminal building. The basement consisted of one long corridor with closed doors lining the walls on both sides. Mid-way down she opened one door and stood to allow them to pass. Harpo hesitated, looked back at Arch, and then went in when he nodded. Amazing dog, Arch thought (not for the first time) or dingo, if for some reason dingoes were not classified as real dogs. Atlantis hung back, still smoking the remains of her cigarette. Arch wondered if all the Caucasian women on Kauai were taken with that dangerous bad habit. The Hawaiian Islands as a whole had become a repository for thrown away white people.
They came in droves, after watching ridiculous television shows about affordable homes in paradise that didn’t exist. They’d stayed and became container people. Container people had no money, and most of them could only get menial jobs simply because they were white. Matson Lines owned the rights to all cargo transportation back to the mainland. It took about twelve thousand cash, paid up front, to get all your stuff back to the mainland, if you’d brought it to one of the islands when you came. A couple of grand more for a car. Containers were the only mode of shipment, hence the name. So, many Caucasians, and a few others, waited to accumulate money because they couldn’t afford to go back without their stuff, but couldn’t afford to stay in the islands either. They waited to be able to fill and ship a container.
“Who was on the plane?” Cyn asked Atlantis, as Arch slid by. The conference area was a room with a fake LCD window at the far end, just beyond a long table with chairs. The scene on the big screen was an incongruous still shot of some snow-filled mountain valley with people skiing all over.
“Apparently, nobody,” Atlantis replied. “Never seen anything to match it. Like it was never here. It plopped down with roar, some black cars drove out the back, and then it took off.”
“Who’s upstairs?” Arch asked.
“Not a soul. Max won’t show up to unlock the place until around nine because the plane’s coming in at ten.”
“Can we go up and look around before he comes?” Cyn asked. “Harpo could use some water and we’re both kind of trashed from the ocean, the beach and crawling through the brush.”
“Hell, you can do anything you want,” Atlantis answered. “I can throw something together on the grill, and when I get it heated up you can eat at the bar until Max comes in.”
“You cook?” Arch asked. As soon as he said the words he wished he’d remained silent.
Atlantis glared at him briefly but didn’t answer. She turned and walked down the hall back toward the stairs.
“Do you work at it, or does it just come naturally?” Cyn said, in a scathing tone.
“What?” Arch answered sheepishly, heading for the door with Harpo already one step in front of him.
“Your adept communication with women,” Cyn responded, shaking her head.
They filed back upstairs, going all the way up to the top floor. The heavy fire door at the entrance to the restaurant was gaping open. Arch stepped through and was immediately impressed. A great old nautical clock above the bar, ticking off big clicking seconds, told him it was nearing seven. The sun shown through the filtered glass that made up the entire floor-to-ceiling length of the west wall. He stepped around the corner of the bar to walk along it. Turning back, he looked up at a giant wooden propeller mounted on the south facing wall.
Cyn went through a small door, hunting for a water bowl to put down for Harpo. The dingo waited by Arch’s side, while Atlantis flitted about getting things ready for whatever she was getting them ready for.
“One of Amelia Earhart’s propellers?” Arch asked, pointing.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people ask that same silly question,” she replied.
Arch thought about her rather cutting response. Of course the propeller was not one of Earhart’s. She’d gone missing in her plane. Her plane had two propellers. It, with both propellers, was still missing. He stepped over to the impressive window wall and looked out toward the landing strip. A black suburban slowly swung in from the access road. Arch stared, frozen in a place for a few seconds. After a very short respite, and finding a temporary haven from the fast-moving and potentially terminal hysteria he’d fallen into, things were suddenly right back where they’d been. The ‘real’ players had arrived, fully suited up, dropping from the sky with near godlike drama and power. They were not going to be easily denied if encountered. Somehow they had to be avoided.
Atlantis opened the door to the armored stair well before Arch or Cyn could say anything. Arch looked back through the coated glass window in time to see Raul step out of the passenger door of the Suburban, while a nondescript smaller guy got out of the driver’s side. Arch didn’t really know what Raul was, although he thought he had a pretty good idea. Only a knuckle dragger would have been dumb enough to take the top secret file to his private residence, and not only leave it laying about, but leave it laying about with a door left wide open for anyone stopping by to see.
“You probably want to go back down,” Atlantis said, holding the door, “but they really can’t get inside until we open up, if you want to stay up here.”
“They don’t need to be inside to know we’re here,” Arch replied, guiding Cyn and Harpo toward the inviting opening. “All they have to do is aim the right equipment at the building if they suspect we’re inside. And once they know we’re in here, we’re done.”
“Who are those guys, anyway?” Atlantis whispered, the door closing before Arch had a chance to answer. He would have liked to have told her that it didn’t matter, but there would have been no truth in that statement and no credibility either. The man with Raul was the dangerous one. A team leader. He had some age on him. He’d be able to feel his way along without necessarily knowing anything of real substance. Arch knew the type. Arch was the type. It was scary to be on the receiving end of that kind of talented capability.
“Atlantis will bring something down in a bit,” Cyn said, as they re-entered the small conference room.
Arch closed the solid wood door, and locked it. If it came to that, which he prayed it wouldn’t, any cursory inspection of the hall would reveal only similarly locked doors lining both sides, not that simple civilian locks would stop them. Cyn walked over to the big screen hung on the wall and hit a button. Arch sat down at the table and pulled out the file. He was about to open it when he heard Cyn’s sharp intake of breath. He looked up. The big television screen no longer showed a scene of some winter mountain valley. It showed the entire runway and access area of the airport they were at. The Suburban sat next to the tarmac, while Raul and the new guy wandered around, waiting. They were obviously waiting for the airport terminal building to open.
Cynthia, Harpo and Arch sat transfixed in their under-the-terminal bunker, staring out across the tarmac before them on a plasma monitor so modern it felt like they were gaping at a giant screen aboard the Star Trek Enterprise.
Raul leaned back against the front grill of the big black Suburban and lit a cigarette, making Arch wonder if, being a smoker like most everyone else
Arch had seen or met on Kauai, the man would have had the endurance to finish the run from the night before. Arch also realized, however, from the way the man’s sinuous body moved, that he appeared to be the cutting edge of what a knuckle dragger was supposed to be. He was more animal than human, or so he looked, lighting up his cigarette and looking around the airport like prey might be hiding somewhere nearby. The ‘player,’ sharing the front grill of the SUV with him, wasn’t like Raul at all. He looked familiar, not because Arch had ever seen him before, but because he was epitome of the type. Arch’s type. Middle-aged, losing his hair a bit, not too tall, not too short, not too fat, not too thin, just right. To be ignored. To be overlooked. To be overlooked because he appeared harmless and ineffectual. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The man didn’t smoke. Instead, he stared intently from point to point around the area he faced, until he turned to look at the terminal building. Arch watched him look directly where the camera had to be mounted on the side of the wall above the long stretch of glass windows. Then he watched the man’s gaze move up to the top of the building. He stared, while Raul puffed and waited, flicking his cigarette ashes away.
“Atlantis is about to have company,” Arch said to Cyn, pointing at the team leader’s face in the silent monitor.
“Seems like they’re waiting to me,” she answered, patting Harpo on the head. The dingo paid as much attention to the plasma screen as the two humans, which Arch found to be oddly disconcerting, as well as weirdly comforting. There were three of them instead of just two. Harpo was definitely important.
“He’s caught on to the camera,” Arch said, pointing, “and the smoke coming up through the vent on the roof from the grill. Atlantis has breakfast on. He knows someone’s inside and he’ll be coming, keys or no keys, Max or no Max.”
“Does it matter?” Cyn asked, and for the first time with a little defeat evident in her tone. “How can we get on a plane if they’re here watching us? We’re in the basement. We can’t get on a plane staying in the basement, and we can’t get by them if they’re sitting upstairs.”
Arch knew that the woman was right. No diversionary fire would draw the attention of an experienced team leader long enough to allow them to get on any kind of plane. Just the opposite. Arch watched Raul toss his half-finished cigarette onto the asphalt, after field stripping it like a military man would do. Both men moved away from the Suburban and headed toward the terminal building.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” Arch said aloud, but mostly himself. “They’re coming in. We need his code.”
“Code? What code?” Cyn asked.
“They call him something. The others on his team. He’ll have a radio to stay in contact. Like the secret service but without the ear plug.” Arch wasn’t sure of what he was going to do but he knew there might be a joker in the deck of whatever game they were playing. He needed that joker’s name. Arch stood up and returned the file to where he kept it. He thought about the fact that contact with the ‘enemy’ was likely to take place at any moment. He couldn’t survive such a contact. Any violence he might commit against any of ‘them’ could be portrayed as Arch being the bad guy and they, the wounded, as good guys. Punishments in the U.S. for causing damage to the good guys were draconian, to say the least. Arch could very easily find himself doing life in a federal penitentiary for simply defending himself. If he could, he had to avoid committing violence, no matter how much a violent response might be called for. Unless he could disguise the source of such a violent result, or minimize the damage to an acceptable level. Atlantis entered the room, kicking the door shut behind her, both arms laden with trays of plates and containers.
“Breakfast. Eat what’s served or forget it. Coffee’s Kona. No cream but the milk’s Hershey’s and fresh. She slid everything onto the conference table, and then looked up at the monitor.
“See you found that function on the T.V.” she observed. “The damned thing gets everything but regular T.V. Worthless. They’re beating on the door upstairs. They gotta know someone’s inside. What do I do? Max won’t be here for awhile.”
“You gotta let them in,” Arch answered, thinking furiously about what to do. No viable options were coming to him. “If you don’t let them in, then they’ll guess we’re in here, too, and they’ll call for back up. No matter what you decide, they’re coming in.”
“Assholes,” Atlantis exclaimed. “Why do I get all the assholes beating a path to my door?”
Arch looked at the young overdone woman, her hair flying and bits of food already spattered about the front of her outfit from throwing the breakfast together at high speed. He wondered if her expression of angst and disdain extended to him.
“I brought some sausage for the mutt,” Atlantis murmured. She took a dish loaded with sausage patties and put it on the floor. Harpo sat, looking first at Cyn and then at Arch. The dingo didn’t move until Cyn pointed at the plate. Harpo ate the entire plate of sausage in about three seconds, sat back, licked his lips and waited, probably hoping there would be two or three more plates of it coming.
“Go up and let them in,” Arch said to Atlantis. “Throw some more food on the grill first because one of those guys is observant. They’re beating on the door because the grill’s emitting smoke. He won’t miss the fact that you’ve been cooking already and there’s nobody to cook for. Make a plate for yourself, and cook for them if they’ll allow it. Give us a bit of time to come up with a plan. The smaller guy will have a radio, but you won’t be able to see it. If he talks to someone you might be able to hear what someone says back to him. I need to know what they call him, and then I’ve got to find a way to get the radio. A regular diversion won’t work. I have to think of something that’ll give us a couple of hours to get on the plane, if it comes in on schedule.”
Cyn sat down and started to eat. Atlantis headed for the door without replying. Arch needed to somehow stay in contact with her. There was a notepad at the end of the table. He reached over and grabbed it.
“Write in big letters to communicate. Take the pad out and go have a cigarette. You can hold it up to the camera when you’re out of their view. We’ll be watching and waiting.”
Atlantis rolled her eyes but took the pad before departing. Cyn and Arch ate breakfast on the long conference table, buried under the Princeville Airport Terminal restaurant named after a long dead aviatrix, with a dingo waiting underneath for any leftover scraps. It was an unlikely spot, but Arch hadn’t been in any situation where he’d had a choice of spots since finding the file. There was no change in view on the plasma screen attached to the wall. The expensive thin monitor was an unlikely item to find in the place they were in, but so was the place itself. If memory served him, Amelia Earhart had never been to Kauai. There was a memorial built to her on Oahu where at least she’d stopped a time or two. The history of the restaurant and its dedication to the flyer remained a mystery.
“They’re not going to stay long without clearing this place,” Arch said to Cyn, as they ate and watched the screen on the wall. “If the player up there follows procedure, setting up a perimeter is always a first step.”
“What’s that mean, exactly?” Cyn replied, between bites of scrambled eggs and spam.
“This building is where they are, so it has to be cleared,” Arch explained. “Every bit of it has to be gone through to make sure nobody and nothing is hiding. Only when they have the area inside the perimeter cleared can they relax and focus on potential external threats.”
“Good grief. Is that the kind of stuff you think about all the time?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Arch responded, with a bit of irritation. “We have maybe half an hour. Two guys are insufficient to clear a building this size, which means reinforcements will probably be shifted around to cover that aspect of necessary procedure after Atlantis lets them in.”
“Well, what’s the plan then, since you’re so versed in this stuff?” Cyn asked, finishing her plate.
“The plane should be here soon,” Arch answered. “It all depends on timing and a different kind of diversion. If the other backup guys show before we can get out, we’re toast. Can’t do anything about them or that. However, we might be able to wave them off or get aboard the plane if we can do something about Raul and his boss.”
“I think you just told us what our problem is again, oh gifted escape artist,” Cyn responded, sarcastically. “Where’s the solution in any of what you said?”
Arch looked at the woman closely. She stared right back with a straight face, the dingo joining in. It wasn’t a time for humor, but apparently dry humor was part of her makeup.
“I need to talk to Atlantis,” Arch answered, weakly. He didn’t have a plan and the woman had guessed that. “We need a break.”
The lock turned with a smooth clicking sound and Atlantis slipped into the room, leaving the door ajar.
“They’re asleep, or at least going to sleep,” she announced, holding up an empty pill bottle in her right hand, and extending it out toward Arch.
He took the bottle and read the printing of the prescription taped to its side.
“Codeine number three,” He read aloud. “You gave them drugs?” He asked, in a hushed tone.
“I ground it up in the coffee grinder and mixed it with their coffee,” Atlantis replied, like she drugged people in the restaurant all the time.
“How many pills?” Arch asked, tension in his voice.
“Twelve or thirteen. But they’ll probably only drink part of them, I think. I’ll go check to make sure they’re out.”
“Only twelve or thirteen,” Arch whispered, staring down at the empty bottle. “God save us all from amateurs.”