Arch Patton Adventure
The six of them loaded onto the Marine Corps Osprey tilt-wing aircraft. This Marine form of military air, with the aircraft flying at about three hundred miles per hour and with one in-air refuel, would take longer than any commercial jet. But if travel, security, loading and deplaning were factored in, it was a tossup, and nobody was going to look into their rip stop nylon bags to see what goodies they had. Homestead Air Force Base outside of Miami was the Osprey’s destination, and the Marine crew had no idea that their aircraft had been commandeered for a mission. Their orders, generated at Langley and sent over to the Marine Corps Commandant, would merely reflect some training exercise or supply pick-up created outside of their own communications system capability.
Arch hated military air, unless it was one of the private jets normally used by flag rank officers or high-level bureaucrats. The Osprey taxied and took off, as soon as the loading ramp was shut, leaving Arch and his men to sprawl across thin web seats designed for the maximum density of combat ready troops, who might only be aboard for minutes. There was no such thing as comfort. The bathroom was a ‘dry hump’ affair, little better than what might be found in a cheap camper. Service was non-existent, because there were no attendants to provide it, or a place to go to get it. There was one Marine Master Sergeant that rode with them, but gauging by his damaged looks, he wasn’t anyone a sane person would want to ask for any kind of assistance. No drinks, no snacks, no nothing, typical of the United States Marine Corps. Even the aircraft was typical of the Corps. Uncomfortable, loud, and obnoxious, but totally functional and extremely deadly, when put to its intended mission.
The flight was uneventful except for the refueling. The Osprey flew shaky, and lurched under and behind the tail of the tanker. Refueling only took moments, however. Arch went back to snoozing, having thought far enough in advance to bring earplugs and a sleeping mask. The extraordinary noise of the huge Osprey propellers was deadened to the point where the turbines whiney drone actually helped him sleep. When they put down at Homestead, the Marine crew walked away from the aircraft without comment, or looking back. They ignored their passenger manifest as if it was composed of unmentionable, or undesirable, individuals they’d rather not know or socialize with. This suited Arch and his team just fine. The sergeant had hit the ramp lever before he followed the rest of the crew out.
Arch called a cab from the nearby Public Affairs Office of the 482nd Air Wing based there. Nobody in public affairs ever asked questions beyond demanding authentic military I.D., which all of them had, earned or not. It took twenty minutes for the cab to show up, and then transport them to the Mondrian Hotel on South Beach. It was one of only three hotels in all of Miami that allowed guests to park their boats in the private marina. Arch checked to make sure no super-wealthy yachts were filling up the dock space. The place was empty of everything, but small rental outboards and jet skis. It would do. Plus, it was cheap, which meant the bar drinks would be watered. And there was no way he was going to keep his crew of rather whacked out knuckle draggers from drinking, while they began their wait for action.
Arch decided to share a suite with David, which he normally didn’t do. It was as necessary that he maintain distance from the rest of the mission team, as it was for a combat commander of a Marine platoon. Familiarity under intense combat conditions did not breed contempt or disrespect. It bred death. Both men strapped on small arms, and threw light windbreakers on to conceal them. Florida was too hot for such attire, but there was no other way to conceal real and available weaponry.
Arch and David drove along the freeway, under the speed limit. The traffic was simply too dense for anything else, although the Prestige Hertz Mercedes Benz 350 would go all the way up to a hundred and a half without taking too much time or trouble.
“Where in Lauderdale are we headed?” David asked, firmly belted in, having experienced Arch’s driving previously.
“Inland Waterway Marine Storage,” Arch responded, turning on the weird single dial radio, and scrolling through satellite stations as he talked. “River’s Bend, it’s called. The place got taken over years ago by the DEA, and they still run it clandestinely to see who’s bringing in high performance boats for the drug runners. The DEA then sells the confiscated drug boats, so we can have the pick of the litter for peanuts, compared to the outside market. We have to be satisfied with what they’ve got on hand, though.”
“The DEA?” David responded in surprise. “Who thought that up? We’re ‘poaching’ on DEA turf right under their noses, and they’re going to sell us some hot boat at bargain basement prices? Why don’t I think so?”
“Nah,” Arch laughed, settling on an eighties rock and roll station, before adjusting the bass to as high as it would go, using the big dial. “They think we’re Coast Guard. Nash’s military I.D. is Coast Guard. They think we want to patrol just offshore for unregistered wreck divers.”
“Wreck divers?” David whispered to himself. “Wreck divers who will surely climb into their Cigarette dive boats and race away if the real Coast Guard pulls up nearby. What’s wrong with this whole scene? I don’t know about this mission. Who’s dumber, the DEA, or the Agency? I think it’s a toss up, with us caught in the middle. This whole thing has a rotten feel to it. When you sit in on a poker game and can’t figure out who the mark is…it’s you.”
“You want out? I can get you out. Langley’ll never know you got cold feet ,” Arch offered.
“Out?” David exclaimed, turning the radio down by leaning over and pushing an arrow mounted on the Benz steering wheel. “Asshole. I don’t want out. I want the ‘effen’ money! Just like you do. I’m always broke. My wife is always on me about the exotic travel and toys for me, but nothing for my family or home. Cold feet? I presume that was some of your subtle laconic humor showing. I’m going to take it that way and not charge a price for that one. Don’t pull it again, though. You have the miles on me, and maybe the intellect, but you can still be taken down like any other person in a weak moment.”
“Easy Pilgrim,” Arch laughed. “Take the pebbles from my hand. I meant nothing. If you had not exhibited great talent and courage, you wouldn’t be on this mission, and you damn well know it. I’m looking for you to back my play, not drive me home because I’m too drunk to do it myself.”
They drove the last twenty minutes in silence. An hour out of Miami- which would have been half an hour in most other places-Arch pulled off the freeway, and turned east at the bottom of their exit. They drove for a few minutes more until a huge metal building appeared directly in front of them.
Arch drove the Mercedes right up to the structure. He parked a few feet away from a door, where an ‘office’ sign hung from a rough piece of wire, that was draped over a huge nail driven into the solid wood door.
“We don’t have Coast Guard identification,” David pointed out, before Arch opened the door and stepped out.
“I got Nash’s card,” Arch told him, pulling his wallet from his left back pocket.
“You look nothing like Nash,” David hissed, quietly, as they opened the door.
“Like they care,” Arch said, taking the I.C. card out, and putting it down on the long clean counter. They stood and waited, both men fully aware of the large mirror behind the counter. Two men came through a door, one after the other.
“You the ‘guardo’ types?” one asked.
Arch took an immediate dislike to the man, who wore a small goatee and pencil thin mustache, below his Ray-Ban sunglasses and a flat Irish ‘apple’ cap. The man was young, muscular and lean. He looked like he’d spent years perfecting his tough look. “Yeah, we’re the guardos,” Arch smiled easily as he gave into the man’s sense of dominant macho. “Here’s some I.D. We need a good-sized fast boat that can handle some weather offshore.”
The man picked up the military I.D. card, and looked at it briefly before handing it to his partner. The second man stood no taller than five and half feet, and was every bit as wide as he was tall. He wore no facial hair or any other kind. His mildly perspiring pate gleamed, as he looked down to examine the card in more detail.
“He doesn’t look like this guy,” the man said to his tough, mustached partner.
“You got cash?” Mustache asked. “These things don’t come cheap,”
“Cash. As long as the price is reasonable, and possession is immediate,” Arch replied.
“I think these guys might be phony,” the short fat man said, putting the Nash I.D. card back on the counter and pushing it toward Arch without looking up at him.
“David, show us something here,” Arch instructed, staring into Mustache’s Ray-Bans, while keeping his hands flat and unmoving on the top of the counter. “These men have doubts about our sincerity. Help persuade them.”
David stepped to Arch’s side, and with one smooth move pulled a duty Glock automatic from under the left side of his windbreaker, and slammed it down sideways on the wooden counter. The loud crack of sound caused both men behind the counter to jump back a pace. Arch grimaced, not expecting quite such a dramatic display, but he didn’t move or take his eyes from the men in front of him.
“What do you have available for us?” he asked into the deafening silence.
David’s Glock lay on the counter next to his hand, but he made no move to pick it up or touch it.
Both men behind the counter stared first at the Glock, and then followed Arch’s hand as he slowly picked up the I.D. card and replaced it in his wallet.
“We didn’t come here to play, and you don’t want to waste your time.” Arch said, smiling gently. “No mysteries here. You got a phone call. You’ve been waiting. Well here we are. Let’s get to it.”
“Show them what we got, Henry,” Mustache ordered.
“Henry?” David said. “That’s a nice name.”
David’s tone instantly sent a warning signal to Arch.
“A boat, David. We need a boat, not trouble. Eye on the ball,” Arch said the three sentences low, keeping his eyes on the men in front of him.
All federal agencies fielding operational agents were filled with ‘buffs’ looking to make believe that they are seasoned and tough. But in actuality they are usually assigned to ineffectual side roles like running boat marinas. The men themselves often worked for many years on the fringes of real fieldwork, before they came to realize they’d been judged and found wanting for real operational work.
Arch and David spent an hour going through the huge fully automated boat storage building. Most of the craft were of the offshore race variety made by manufacturers with names like Cigarette, Cimarron, MTI, and Mystic. They were all of the single or twin hull variety, built long but very low to the water. The more Arch surveyed the boats the more he realized he didn’t want any of them. They were too ostentatious, too flimsy and would be unable to carry the kind of personnel and cargo the team needed for the mission.
“What else you got, Henry?” Arch asked.
“Only what’s over there in the marina floating around,” Henry answered, pointing at the boats lying in slips not far from where the black Hertz Mercedes was parked. “Some of them have been there for awhile though, so no guarantees.”
“Understood,” Arch said. They left Henry to close up the storage building, and headed to the docks.
The second set of docks out had fewer boats. Only one looked interesting to Arch. He and David walked toward its’ side. The boat appeared to be about forty feet in length, and although it had a distinctly predatory look, it didn’t resemble the offshore racers they’d seen in the storage facility at all. The boat was five or six times as high as a cigarette-style boat, and much broader of beam. Arch noted two drives protruding out from the stern. The drives were covered with a green slime, but there was no mistaking the surface-running nature of them, which had to be uncommon for a boat of such size and mass. Surface-running props were inefficient for propulsion under speeds of forty knots, or so, and most boats that appeared like the one they were checking out didn’t look capable of that.
Arch spotted Henry walking back from the main storage facility toward the office and whistled. The thickset bald man changed direction and headed for the pier.
“What’s this thing?” Arch inquired, pointing at the blue hull of the boat.
Henry pointed at small plate mounted just forward of the stern. In very small red print, set into the small face of a solid metal arrow were the words: Thunder Marine.
“Yeah?” David asked, looking at Henry.
“Thunder Marine,” Henry answered, again pointing at the arrow. “Don Aronow design. Only six of these babies were ever built. They were meant for smugglers running stuff from Canada to New York in the Great Lakes. Lake waters can be rough. Twin Lamborghinis for power. Probably still hit seventy knots in rough water. Looks like a weekender yacht, but runs right past most of those Cigarettes over in storage. But this baby will run you a lot more than you got.”
“Really, Henry?” Arch laughed out. “What’ve we got?”