Arch Patton Adventures

THUNDER MARINE

Chapter Eight

Arch sat in front of the coffee table on the couch, with David at his side and Ilke in an easy chair across from him. He glanced uneasily out the window to where Thunder was moored, barely visible and unmoving, at the end of the pier. Toon had taken care of the DEA crew like they were bad children. And with an ease that was unsettling, it had been so effective. The DEA guys, all tossed unceremoniously into the drink while fully armed, had come out of the water quiet and complacent.   On top of that, Ilke was taking to what was going on without any shock, discontent, or any other normal emotion short of active enthusiasm. None of what was happening was fitting into any pattern that might relieve the nagging worries the whole crazy mission was giving him.

“Classification’s Secret on this stuff, boss,” Griffen said over the top of the laptop.

Arch frowned. A secret classification meant that nobody not cleared at that level could see or know about what was coming up on Griffen’s secure screen. The laptop belonged to Arch, or the data wouldn’t have been transmitted at all. Griffen operating the Apple at all, not having been cleared for anything, was a federal felony all on its own. Ilke wasn’t cleared either. Top secret data was not to be transmitted electronically. So Griffen’s data retrieval was just piling on more potential charges to a mission already rife with illegality and broken security.

“When are we supposed to cross the line of departure?” Arch asked, ignoring the security issue.

He knew Griffen had all the mission instructions scrolling across the screen in front of him.

“Are you recording?” he added, paranoia overcoming him.

“Nah, this is private, and its one tomorrow afternoon,” Griffen replied.

“We’ve got plenty of this day left,” Arch said, his expression one of deep thought. “Let’s inventory the boat, fuel up, and get organized aboard. We’ll pull out at dawn.”

“What about ingress, intelligence, satellite and Naval Support?” David asked.

He delivered his words at a flat, nearly whispered level, adding gravity to the seriousness of his question.

Arch didn’t answer. Both men turned to stare at one another for a few seconds. Almost no CIA missions were conducted in the clear, or run on a scheduled of serendipity. Everything was planned in advance, and schedules were rigidly maintained, unless circumstances forced change. Crossing the line of departure, or starting a mission before its scheduled time simply wasn’t done. Other forces, unseen around them, back in Washington and out at sea, would all be standing by with the mission plan. All supporting asset forces would be gambling, at least marginally, that the plan would be as closely adhered to as possible. At the very least, careers had been ended for unexplainable violations, and at the other end of the spectrum agency personnel, or indigenous assets, had died. To kick a mission off six or seven hours early was almost unheard of.

“Griff, entertain Ilke for a bit,” Arch said, turning to face the man. “David and I have to head over to the boat and have a little discussion with Toon before we can finish here. Be right back,” he said to Ilke with a smile, as he slowly got to his feet.

Arch and David walked in silence until reaching the base of the pier. Out by the boat Toon was nowhere in sight. They stopped at the same moment to talk.

“What the hell?” David began, going on before Arch could answer, “what about control. He’s a prick on the best of days. We can’t get underway without telling him. He could withdraw all our support with one phone call, and probably will if you do this.”

Arch smiled vaguely at David’s use of the word ‘if.’ Arch filled David in with his misgivings about everything that had so far happened including his feelings about Ilke and Toon, and the strangeness of the DEA agent’s actions.

“Nothings right here,” Arch said. “Nothing. You’ve led how many missions? Ten or fifteen? Neither of us is new at this. We’ve already crossed the line at least ten times. Any single violation would have called for the termination of any other mission I’ve ever led. What about you?”

“You brought Ilke, she didn’t volunteer,” David replied, holding up one finger. “You included Toon,” he continued, adding another finger. You negotiated the way you did, pissing off the DEA guys."

When he had three fingers held up to illustrate his points, he closed them to make a fist which he used to tap Arch gently on the chest. “I’ve never been on a mission where the Agency gave permission to keep anything found or recovered pursuant to performing that mission, and I’ll bet you haven’t either. There’s something weird going on here. The amount of money rumored to be sitting on this island getaway, or at the place on the key, are in numbers high enough to attract any and all buzzards that might be flying about. Do you really think we’re gonna shed all the carrion, including the carrion that sent us on this thing, by leaving early?”

“Edge,” Arch replied tersely. “I’m just looking for an edge.”

“Send Ilke and Toon home, if you don’t trust them. That’ll give you an edge. Call control and have the Navy Seals come in. Hell, we’re landing on property that’s so close to being U.S. owned is it even a violation? And the key’s in the U.S. Why are we doing this at all, other than for the money?”

Arch stared at David until both began to laugh.

“I make about eight grand a month, including what I can grift on missions,” Arch said when the laughing died down.

“Yeah, I hear you,” David responded. “Somebody up there doesn’t want the Seals or any other organized force involved. We’re not even legal going into the keys. That’s U.S. soil, and we can’t exactly bend the mission parameters enough to qualify as working counter-intelligence.”

“You going to hold up another finger?” Arch asked.   “I know which finger it would be.”

They walked to the end of the pier together.

“Toon?” Arch called out, before stepping aboard. There was no reply.

“Where is that crazy little Chinaman?” David said, looking around.

“Right here,” a quiet voice responded from behind both men.

“Shit,” Arch exclaimed, both men jumping and turning.

“Where in hell were you,” Arch asked, his tone peevish over being taken totally by surprise.

“Over on boat,” Toon replied, hopping nimbly aboard Thunder.

Arch looked at the fishing boat tied up to the other side of the pier. “Who’s boat is that?” he asked, “and what were you doing on it?”

“I don’t know,” Toon answered from aboard Thunder. “Nobody there. If any man come to Thunder Marine, he not expect problem from wrong boat.”

Arch almost smiled at the small, agile man’s pronunciation. Thunder Marine had been converted to ‘Tunner Maween.’

“You did well with those guys,” Arch complimented him, but Toon ignored the comment and disappeared down the stairs leading to the lower deck of the boat.

“Communicative sod,” David murmured. “We going aboard?”

“No,” Arch answered. “Let’s go back and finish getting the parameters down. If we’re going rogue, then we’ll be on our own right through stage one. I’m not expecting much on that leg. I’m more worried about what shape we’ll be in after so many hours in rough waters, low on fuel, and with mixed support. Not to mention who the hell else want’s a piece of this action.”

“Or all of it,” David added, wryly.

They went back to the room, checking to make sure that Thompson and Nash were both finished with drinking and sobering up. Thompson tried to make something of the fact that Toon’s handling of the DEA had proved him correct, but Arch cut him off, ordering both men to the boat for inventory and a trial run. Back at the room they poured over the plan, which, outside of reconnaissance, was covered by the same old five point orders of the Marine Corps: bad guys, bandages, beans, bullets and batteries. Batteries covered electronics and communications, which there’d be very little of on the mission.

“What do we do with her?” David asked, nodding at Ilke’s sleeping form stretched out on the couch.

“She’ll watch the fort while we’re gone,” Arch replied. “Toon’s going with us.”

“Another change-up pitch?” David said, nodding his head.

They left Ilke on the couch, for Griffen to deal with when she awoke. The twin Lambo’s were rumbling by the time they got to the boat, with Nash standing behind the upper console. At sea he’d pilot from the lower console located in the cabin below. The movement, spray, and beating sun on the open ocean, would wear anyone out if they tried to pilot from high up on the boat when it was running at high speed. Unless it was too rough. Cutting back on their velocity might change all the parameters of the mission, because there was no way even Thunder could run at fifty knots if the waves were too big.

“Fuel?” Arch asked, approaching Nash at the helm.

“Twenty percent,” Nash said, pointing at four gauges, one after another. “Two main and two reserve. Eight miles south to an aviation gas distributor. We’ll run easy and light inside, but once we’re heavy we’ll take it out into the open ocean and see how she handles with some heft to her.”

Once they got there fueling took half an hour, with the tab running right at two thousand dollars. The attendant had no problem, and didn't change expression, when Arch handed him his American Express. The approval was nearly instant, and they were off, heading back toward the hotel. Just beyond the hotel was an opening out to the sea. Thompson started toward the channel.

"What the hell," Arch exclaimed, his tone one of shocked disgust.

Thompson eased back on the dual throttles, bringing Thunder down from plane.

"Over there," Arch pointed to where the DEA turbine lay moored offshore of one of the inland waterway's common bars, set right on the edge of the water. There was no one on the docks in front of the bar, and the windows of the mostly glass one-story building were too dark to see through. The boat was impossible not to recognize, however.

"Take it back, now," Arch ordered.

Thompson brought Thunder around and headed back for the hotel pier until David pointed back toward the way they'd come since refueling.

"Gotta be on that side of the waterway. The same one they're on," he said, dropping his arm.

"Tracking us?" Arch asked.

"Oh yeah, we need to do a sweep for bugs, and then plant our own."

"Head to any open dock down from that bistro they're at," he instructed Thompson.

Moments later, Thunder pulled into an open slot, which was scissored between two huge live-aboard yachts.

It took half an hour for Nash to electronically sweep the boat. He found only one device.

"GPS locator," he said, tossing the golf ball-sized disc onto the console in front of Arch. "No audio or video. That's it. Second-generation crap. Ancient, but effective."

"They're not going to quit, no matter how pacified they seem," Arch said, gingerly examining the device as if it was made of some radioactive material. "Can't say I didn't warn them. Repay the favor Nash. I want something that tracks, military specification. And I want a remote with a hundred cc's of tetryl. Hull mount them near the stern, so nobody gets taken out by the blast. Just in case."

"What's the plan?" David asked. "He's not going to be able to walk over to that thing and do much. Not with that crew of drunken assholes sitting behind the glass watching their laptops to see where we are, while they check out the waterway from behind those windows. And are we dead certain it's their boat? There's a million boats down here."

"How many turbine 'Slam Dunk's' do you think are running up and down the inland waterway right near our hotel? Arch answered.

"Didn't catch the name before," David said. "What an idiot name for a boat. Totally Macho."

"Like Thunder Marine is some sort of laid back gentle thing?" Thompson said, speaking for the first time.

"Still the problem of placing the device," David replied, his tone a bit weaker.

He picked up the tracking device from the console, and in one hand held it out in front of him. "What do we do with this? Deep six it, or attach it to one of these live-aboard scow things?"

"No," Arch replied, gently removing the tracker from David's hand. "We want them to know where we are. We want them to follow us until they're in just the right place. Toon proved that all of them could swim."

He placed the device back on the console, just above the compass in front of Thompson.

RebreatherNash came out of the lower quarters wearing a thin wet suit and carrying an odd-looking rubber bag with a small bottle attached. "Rebreather," he said, strapping the purse-sized thing around his torso. "Good for an hour as long as I don't go below sixty feet. No bubbles. Pure oxygen. Plenty of energy."

He placed a green plastic package on the deck beside him, as he put on a set of overly large swim fins and attached a mask around his neck. He picked up what looked like half an ostrich egg and placed it in a canvas bag, that he then attached to one thigh.

"Looks like a transponder when the instant epoxy bonds it to the hull."

"State of the art?" Arch asked him, accepting a small red box with a fail-safe switch sticking out of it.

"Hit the switch once to arm, and then a double spring pull to set ignition," Nash told him. "Tracker comes back to the laptop. I'll set up the link when I get back. Fiftieth generation. As good as it gets."

Nash went over the back of Thunder's stern quickly and silently, and then eased into the water.

"Jesus, but that guys creepy," David said, staring overboard into the murky inland waterway water. "How's he see anything down there?"

"He's in his element. He probably knows his way around down there better than we do up here."

"What do we do now, L.T.?" Thompson asked. The lieutenant nickname and tone of his voice irritated Arch. It had been a long time since Arch was a lieutenant, and Thompson knew that.

"We wait," Arch answered. "For as long as it takes. Try to think about nothing. It'll come naturally to you.

Arch relaxed against the back cushion of the broad and lavish stern couch. He toyed with the fail-safe box. Although he didn't manipulate the switch; not with Nash in the water still carrying the explosives charge on his thigh.

"Come my pretties," he whispered to himself. "You want to dance; you've got to pay the piper."

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