IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
The elevator went several floors down. Harpo and Arch got off where they’d gotten on. There was nothing to do but wait. Arch walked Harpo back out through the opening they’d driven the van into. His message to Doug had been unclear. The pilot would have to figure out, with Atlantis and Cyn, what to do. They needed clothing, all of them. They didn’t look like tourists at all. They looked like the working white poor of Hawaii, except for Doug, and he resembled someone out of an airline commercial.
Harpo and Arch waited about twenty minutes, trying to stay sort of inside of the lot, but not really succeeding. It was always difficult to remain unnoticed in espionage work. Generally, the more effort you put into remaining unnoticed, the more attention you attracted. The subtlety necessary to be a successful spy was never touched upon in the movies or television, and training didn’t quite get it either. Years in the field helped.
Doug, Atlantis and Cyn got off the nearby elevator laughing. Harpo and Arch headed back inside to intercept them.
“We got a room,” Cyn said, with a laugh. “Harpo can wait there while we go shopping. The ship leaves for Maui at noon.” Arch moved toward the elevator, thinking about their predicament. They would have to sneak the dingo into the Marriott, again, shop for clothes at the nearby center without being spotted, and then get Harpo on the Independence (which was going to the wrong island) without further incident.
Arch assembled what he considered his small team in the tiny Marriott hotel room to figure out what to do, or rather how to do what they had to do, next. There were no real choices about the what. Either they got aboard the ship or they were done. Or, at least Arch was done. The pilot might lose his job, Atlantis might get fired from the Amelia Earhart, and Cyn might end up back at the resort drugging her way into an early suicide, but Arch was in danger of very quickly and painfully losing his life, right there on the dock of Nawiliwili Bay. Only the dingo might walk away clean, but then Harpo wasn’t that kind of dingo, if dingoes came in kinds. He was ‘all in.’ For some inexplicable reason, the confluences and eddies of life’s current had thrown their small band of odd citizens together into a small human whirlpool. Arch thought about Ahi, the Kauai cop. People who came close to Arch’s band somehow seemed to get sucked in by whatever forces were magically swirling around them. Arch also thought about how quickly it could all end. The members of India Company in Vietnam had gone through misery, hell, elation, loss and triumph together, only to have almost all the Marines die within the space of a few hours. That it had been Arch’s fault would never leave him, but much greater than the guilt he felt over his failure was the staggering loss of the individual men themselves. And here Arch was again, the unwilling and ill-qualified commander of another tiny company, banded together against forces he didn’t understand any better than those that killed his Marines back during the whole Vietnam thing.
Arch noticed a brown paper bag Doug had been carrying when he came off the ship. The pilot tossed it onto the single queen bed.
“Might help,” he said, casually, going over to the desk, opening a door and checking out the mini-bar supplies collected within.
Arch stepped over to the bed and grabbed the bag. He dumped its contents onto the bedspread. A leather harness and some sort of small jacket fell out. The jacket had a big black patch on each side of its red nylon surface. The patches said “Authorized Service Dog” with small letters underneath reading: “Fully authorized.”
“Holy cow,” Atlantis said excitedly, grabbing the contraption and dragging Harpo over to it.
The dingo sat unmoving except for the tilting of his head slightly sideways and a vaguely skeptical expression in his eyes. Atlantis ignored the dingo’s reticence and fitted the harness carefully to him, adjusting the Velcro straps until it was just right. Harpo looked at Arch, as if in appeal.
“Sorry,” Arch whispered, before turning to Doug. “Where in hell did you get that?”
“Somebody left it on board the ship. An old girlfriend of mine works below decks. I don’t know what she does, but she seems to know everything.” He tossed the passenger tags he’d stolen on top of the small desk, then opened two tiny bottles of Remy Martin, one after another, the crackling sound of the metal tops seeming to bounce off the walls. “I told her our story. She said we can come aboard using the entrance in about an hour. Forget the tags. She said she’d find us a room.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What story? You told her what story?” I asked, my tone registering fear close to panic.
“I told her we’re all headed to Kailua on Oahu for rehab,” Doug said, holding up first one small bottle and then the second to his mouth, draining them and then leaning down to choose some more. “She’s been through Rehab four times herself. I told her that nobody could know. You’re this rich guy who’s paying the way to save us, and you’ve got the service dog because of how screwed up you are from Vietnam.”
There was a total silence in the room. I looked into Harpo’s eyes, in hopeless appeal. He canted his head briefly, in sympathy, then lay down to endure his own burden. Atlantis and Cyn started laughing together, the volume of their voices rising, as they sat down next to one another on the bed behind the pilot.
Arch realized that he had somehow put together a band of fellow travelers to aide him in his quest, but he’d seriously underestimated all of them. Both when it came to their sanity, but also their level of ingenuity.
Arch didn’t say anything, instead deciding to the use the time he had to examine the vitally important deadly file he’d carried with him through thick and thin to arrive at this postage stamp room at the Marriott Hotel located on Nawiliwili Bay, Kauai. If modern top secret documents weren’t produced on paper more like the hearty material used for U.S. money, then there would be no file. The file folder was actually in much worse condition than the indelibly typed pages inside.
The pilot still sat at the small desk getting smashed on miniature bottles from the mini-bar, but his contribution had been so great Arch couldn’t complain about his crummy conduct. They were all likely getting on the ship because of him. Harpo could even come along because of him. They also had the passenger tags in case they were challenged by any crew. Overall, though, security aboard the ship was lax, because most of the passengers were too old, or infirm to have been any kind of problem in the past.
There were other concerns. There was the gun to think about. There was the problem of keeping Doug sober enough to get them down the path he’d made for them. There was holding Atlantis close enough so she wouldn’t run off and get into trouble before the Independence docked first on Maui, and then Oahu, which meant Arch had to keep her with them for days. He couldn’t do that against her will. If she figured out how little she had to lose by dumping the rest of them, that was it, especially if she stopped to consider what she might lose by staying with them. Then there was the conduct of the Kauai cop to think about. And finally, there was the mystery of whatever identity the others had used to rent a room at the Marriott.
Arch sat hunched down against one wall of the little room. Atlantis and Cyn showered in the bathroom behind a closed door. Arch knew they would be awhile before coming out again. Doug was having a wonderful time downing miniature bottles, while laughing and reciting old movie lines.
“Come to Jamaica mon, and have a good time,” he toasted. The line was stolen from Planes Trains and Automobiles. It was a John Candy line no more out of place where they were than it had been when recited in the mythical motel from the movie. Arch had to smile to himself. Harpo got up, walked over to his side and lay down with part of his head pushed into Arch’s hip. He fidgeted in his ridiculous costume, but eventually adjusted to the rig. It was saying something when Arch felt that the member of his team he could probably count on most was a dingo he’d met only the day before.
Arch opened the tattered mess of the classified file, tossing the folder aside. It was shot. Arch would have to fold the papers and put them in Cyn’s sack after reading. Arch went into the document, reading fast but missing nothing. It took fourteen minutes, according to the little travel clock on the nightstand next to the bed. The pilot had moved to the bed and lay prone, taking a nap or passed out, a mini-bottle still gripped in his dangling right hand.
Arch continued to sit there with his back against the wall, having discovered in his reading that he was going back in time to when a no-fly zone was established across part of Iraq. A time when George H.W. Bush was president. A time when sins were committed by western world leaders that were so egregious that an amateur league financial nothing named William Jefferson Clinton was now president of the United States. A time Arch thought he’d escaped from, but was now back into.
Arch sat scrunched down in body and mind, holding onto a top secret set of papers that felt more dangerous than raw plutonium. No wonder the Agency, and God knows who else, was after the file, and committed to silencing anyone who might have read, or come into contact with it. Arch realized that he wasn’t the only one in mortal danger. They all were. The file damned former president Bush, the current president, and many functionaries along the way who had to have been involved, not only in the PROMIS co-opting, but in the bogus no-fly zone agreement made between the two American administrations and Saddam Hussein. An agreement that Arch had personally been involved in blowing into oblivion, causing the loss of billions of dollars in under the table transfers.
Arch breathed deeply in and out. How was it possible that he could have been wandering lost on an abandoned Kauai beach and run across an unprotected classified file that documented work Arch was involved with less than a year earlier? It wasn’t possible. If it wasn’t possible, then what? He had nothing. Absolutely nothing. He’d never have run across Raul, Ringo, Cyn, Atlantis or even Harpo. He’d never stayed at the Hanalei Resort. He’d only been to Kauai once before in his life. On that trip he hadn’t made it to the North Shore. It simply wasn’t possible for what had happened to have happened by advance planning, no matter how arcane and brilliant the planners. But it also wasn’t possible that it had happened by accident.
Arch realized that he wasn’t missing a piece of the puzzle, or even a few pieces. He was missing the whole damned thing! Only the picture on the cover of the puzzle box was before him, in the form of some typed pages. He thought back to his days after Desert Storm working in Iraq. He’d worked with eleven other men to change the no-fly zone plan put in place following the active part of that war. They’d realized, thanks to Arch, that the planned zone would allow Saddam access to the Kurds in the mountainous north. To prevent that, Arch convinced all of them to change the plan to make certain that Saddam had no way to get past, or over, the mountains on one side of the Kurds, or the border on the other side. The bogus plan was approved. Nobody checked the dimensions of the zone until after the signing was done. The plan was submitted to the U.N. and immediately approved. And the plan couldn’t be changed back, or everyone would know that the Kurds were being offered up for genocide. And that was that, or so they, the twelve apostles (as they called themselves), thought.
Atlantis and Cyn came out of the bathroom laughing. Arch stared up at them in wonder. As they saw it they were on a grand adventure. They had no clue as to the very real and close danger they were in. And he’d brought the deadly danger right to their door, like a cat plopping down a chipmunk. A chipmunk emitting deadly radiation, with rabies and Ebola thrown in for good measure.
“We’re going shopping,” Cyn announced. “Probably best if you guys stay here with Harpo. Slacks and aloha shirts ought to do for both of you.”
Atlantis pulled off one of the pilot’s shoes. The man slept on.
“Ten,” she said, turning to Arch, before discarding the shoe back onto the bed.
“I’m an eight,” Arch said, without her asking. He knew what was on her mind. Old people’s white socks with sandals, slacks and loud aloha shirt left untucked. Old Haole tourists visiting Hawaii. More of a uniform than a costume.
Arch clutched the killing document to his chest, knowing he wasn’t giving up the New Balance shoes that had saved his life twice in twenty-four hours, and if he lived might well be called upon to do so again.
Arch was still shocked over the enormity of what he’d read. Somehow, since the moment inside the bushes outside his room at the Hanalei Resort when he’d stared up at Raul, a stone cold assassin of the worst kind, he’d been on a conveyor belt screaming pell-mell into a future he could neither fathom, nor figure out.
After not giving a damn about life, he’d decided to live, enough to enter someone else’s residence to close some lanai doors and then steal a top secret intelligence file. A file that was so wired to Arch and his past, that he might have written it himself. It was like he was controlled by fate without having any free will. Yet the characters who’d thrown in with him could not be anything but real and genuine. Or were they? Arch’s mind reeled. He looked over at the pilot’s limp hand hanging from the side of the bed with a rum mini-bottle clutched in it. That could not be part of a staged event. The pilot had to be real. Atlantis really worked at Amelia Earhart’s restaurant, and Cyn had been sought out by Arch, not the other way around. He’d chosen to enter her father’s office, nobody else. He’d seen the open drapes and climbed the sand berm to do the home’s owner the favor of closing them. It was then he’d seen the file. Nobody could have predicted Arch would do that.
Atlantis and Cyn had gone out to shop for all of them. The people Arch was with had to be real. The file was real. The opposition was real. And Harpo was real. That none of them fit together, as logically possible, or even probable, was the core of Arch’s mental conundrum. It was all too convenient, but too accidental and variable to be part of even the most arcane of plans. But it had to be linked together somehow. Real coincidence in the universe was abysmally rare. The Count of Monte Cristo could not have put together such a comprehensively complex revenge plot, no matter what the size of his immeasurable fortune.
Arch knew he wasn’t going to be able to figure anything out without more data, but none of that would matter if he didn’t live to see Oahu. And what of Oahu? Was walking into a CIA counter-terror office going to do anything other than hasten his end, what with CIA agents already after him, along with the local police? The cops hadn’t been brought in without being told some made-up story. The made-up story hadn’t been very believable or Ahi, the Kauai cop, wouldn’t have bolted from his brothers and sisters on the force. He had chosen to stay out of the pursuit, and then actually help Arch. Why?
Arch felt if they continued on the path they were taking they’d all die. They didn’t have days. They had hours to live, or maybe less. Arch felt death nearby, deep inside his aging agent bones. He got up and moved to the side of the bed. The pilot snored on. Arch looked closely at the tiny printing next to the phone and then picked it up and dialed nine. He waited until he had a dial tone. There was no directory to give him a ‘business as usual’ number for the Kauai police department, so he dialed 911.