Arch Patton Adventure

THUNDER MARINE

Chapter Seven

Arch got up from the table, where the team was gathered, and headed for the front door of the restaurant. The DEA crowd was still present and obnoxious because they felt their turf was being violated, and they weren’t wrong. Because he was irritated by their presence, Arch had given Toon an impossible assignment, with the consequence that the man had damaged his hands. Toon had suffered as a result of Arch’s conduct. So now Arch headed across the street toward the pier at a lope, avoiding passing cars that didn’t make the slightest effort to slow, or stop, to allow him to cross. Once he got to the base of the pier he stopped. The water was filled with swimming and wading men. Toon stood near the end of the pier with his arms crossed and his back to the tied up boat. There was no one else on the pier.

“Shit,” Arch said aloud, moving toward the edge of the sandy shore where the DEA guys were staggering out of the water, one at a time. Errol was shaking the water out of his nine-millimeter he’d taken from its web holster.

“Don’t do that,” Arch cautioned, holding both hand out before him as he approached the sopping wet clump of armed men. “You won’t get all the moisture out without taking it down. You can fire it under water or in the air, but not in the air with water in the barrel,” he cautioned the men, speaking in as conciliatory a tone as possible.

“He threw us off the pier using some of that chopstick, hokey pokey, dance crap,” Errol intoned, flatly. “Nobody does that to us.”

Arch would have begun laughing, but he understood the deadly potential of the situation. Any kind of firearms discharge, even if it involved one of the agents blowing his own hand or head off with his own gun, would end the mission before it even got fully underway. Florida was the most progressive of the states in allowing people to shoot one another with the flimsiest of excuses, but it wouldn’t matter. The investigation alone would take days, if not longer, and none of the team’s identities would hold up under the kind of intense scrutiny they’d receive.

“Twenty thousand,” Arch said, his hands still up.

“Twenty thousand what?” Errol replied. He had a blank look in his eyes indicating he wasn’t engaging much of what little intellect he appeared to have.

“Off the books,” Arch continued. “Cash. Twenty grand for you guys to split. For your trouble, and to let this all go.”

“We’re government agents, for Christ’s sake,” Errol replied, looking down the barrel of his weapon while he had his index finger on the trigger.

“Put the guns away before somebody sees you,” Arch instructed. “We’ll go to the car, get the money and off you go.”

Henry approached Errol after briefly talking to the other men. He leaned close and said something Arch couldn’t hear, before moving a few feet off to join the others.

“Screw it,” Errol said, his voice reduced to a nearly silent hiss. He jammed the useless automatic back into its holster, and snapped its cover shut.

Arch turned, and headed for the parked Lincoln, wondering how the team would pay for gas and incidentals. That twenty thousand was all the cash he had left. The boat would take twenty-five hundred just to fuel up with the aviation gas it required. And it was unknown how far he could push the Agency American Express card issued in Arch’s name. Sometimes the card was denied, and American Express wasn’t accepted by all businesses, anyway. The Agency was a brick wall when it came to explaining itself about such things, however. Some former director had been an AMEX executive and that was it. When the card was denied there was never an explanation, even after a mission was over. One sure thing that never escaped notice and investigation was any questionable charge. No booze, no women, no nightclub bills, or any charges that might be deemed to be of a personal nature.

Arch led the group of dripping, squishy, sound men toward the parked car. This time traffic on the road came to stop to let them cross, since the DEA guys didn’t seem to notice small things such as automobiles being driven right at them.   Arch opened the driver’s door, hit the yellow trunk button, then stepped to the rear of the car.

“You don’t even lock it, with a trunk full of cash?” Errol marveled.

“Not my cash,” Arch replied flippantly, knowing full well that the cash, the duffle bag, and even the car were all GPS equipped. Any of it moving would set off silent alarms back to the nearby team.

Arch reached into the trunk and pulled out the bag. He didn’t open it, instead just handed it over to Errol, and then slammed the trunk closed.

“Who the hell are you guys, anyway?” Errol asked, unzipping the nylon bag and looking inside.

Arch didn’t answer. He looked over at the restaurant and saw his teammates gathered in the windows next to the front door. Any gesture might bring them out, so Arch turned his attention back to Errol.

“We done here?” he asked, watching Errol re-zip the bag without taking the money out, or trying to count it.

“Movie lines. All movie lines. Is that the best you can do?” Errol replied, dropping the bag down to his side.

“Nobody in the movies gives anybody twenty grand to go away, unless it’s a really bad movie,” Arch said.

“I’ll give you that one. Think you can get Tojo here to let us have our boat back?” Errol pointed to the end of the pier where Toon stood, legs and arms crossed in front of him.

Arch followed the man’s eyes, and then held up his right arm, making a fist with his hand and pumping it up and down twice. It was the tactical hand sign for run or double time, but Arch hoped Toon might get the idea, without his having to return to the pier. Any move in that direction could bring out members of the team, and then anything might happen.

Instead of walking toward them, however, Toon turned, and jumped aboard the boat and disappeared.

“Well, your people seem well trained, anyway,” Errol said, gathering his men and heading back toward the street.

“Yeah,” Arch replied, scratching his head with a sigh.

By the time he returned to the restaurant, Ilke and the team were back around the table drinking. Ilke had become "Kay" to all of them, although Arch didn't care for it. But he knew saying anything about what he thought, would change nothing.

"Griffen, go to the room and download all the stuff," Arch ordered. Then he tossed his suite key across the table where it slapped against the side of Griffen's margarita glass with a clink. There'd been a time in the past when satellite maps, and written instructions and warnings, had all been hand or courier delivered. But those days were long gone, although Arch missed them. No matter what the resolution of satellite data sent to a laptop, it never equaled the same stuff printed in detail on giant scrolls of paper. The up side was that all evidence could be tossed into the ocean in an instant, without leaving a trace,

"Tomorrow early we outfit, fuel up and get out of Dodge," Arch said. Letting the others know without saying it, that heavy drinking was about to end. "You video most of this from one of your subterranean locations?” he said to Griffen's back. The man kept moving toward the stairs, but glanced back with a smile. No matter what complaints might be lodged about taking an untrained man along on a mission, Griffen had several times proved to be the most valuable member of the team when it came time for having to prove anything. And he was a master of editing audio and video to get the most effective results. He was also the only computer savvy technician among them who could handle problems when electronic junk went wrong.

"What's the mission?" Ilke asked, her voice very low but deadly serious.

"Not for discussion," Arch replied, trying to smile in order to soften the denial of information. "You'll be back here waiting with Toon, although you don't have to be around him if you don't want to. We'll be in and out very quickly, so we're not talking about a lot of time. A day and part of a night. Maybe a bit more, but that's it. Then we can spend some time on our own down here."

Ilke said nothing, but her looking away said volumes. Arch knew bringing her down here had been a wild-haired idea, but he wasn't sure he'd have even come without her. Missions were exciting to be involved with, no matter what happened, but it had become increasingly difficult to come back after every mission to nothing and no one. Arch wanted to say, "Trust me," but bit back the hoary, over-used phrase in time.

"What do you want me to do now?" Ilke asked.

"Just hang out here," Arch answered. "David and I'll go up and check out what we've got with Griffen. Can I get you anything?"

"Another drink," Ilke said, without much enthusiasm.

Arch went to the bar, ordered the drink, and then nodded over at David.

They climbed the stairs, and walked down the hall to the room without comment. The night latch on the door had been flipped between the edge and the jam to keep the door from closing and locking. Arch flipped it back when they went through, and the door locked behind them.

"What've we got?" Arch asked Griffen, before he’d even gotten across the room to where the man sat in front of a MacBook Pro.

"Interesting stuff," Griffen replied, not looking up over the edge of the screen. "Seems we're going a hundred and seventy-five miles or so over to a place called Old Bahama Bay. Freeport's the island. Used to be a restaurant on the north tip of the island, but it's not that anymore, obviously.

Arch and David settled side by side on a couch, close to where Griffen was set up at the dining room table. "Instructions?" Arch asked, making no move to access the computer himself.

"Usual stuff," Griffen said. "Just what you told me before. Nothing about what's there or who. No security junk or people, according to this."

Arch and David looked at one another. Drugs aside, large amounts of U.S. cash would merit security devices and manpower. Something wasn't quite right.

"Anything odd, so far?" Arch asked, frowning.

"As a matter of fact," Griffen answered with a laugh. "There's plenty here; satellite stuff and a write up on a place called Ballast Key. What's Ballast Key got to do with anything?"

"Ballast Key's in Florida," David answered. The southernmost tip of the U.S., out side of Hawaii. Private Island.

Arch got up and went to the Apple. He tapped Griffen on the shoulder for the man to move away. He scrolled through many pages of detailed mission instructions.

"We're to hit two points of interest, not one," Arch said, disbelief in his voice. "We take out the Old Bahama Bay target, and then come back to hit the key. And there's plenty of security there."

"Two hundred miles across a rough sea to one target, secure that, and then two hundred miles back to another with instructions to take that one too?" David asked, his tone expressing as much surprise as Arch's.

"There's got to be a reason they're not saying," Griffen observed, moving back to the computer.

"The drugs are at one place, and the money is at another," David concluded from the couch.

"Whatever it is, we're in," Arch replied. "Not much choice. Fuel becomes important. Thunder holds five hundred gallons, with another hundred in reserve. If it eats a gallon a mile at speed, then the margins are too close. That much fuel weighs over three thousand pounds. Half of it will be gone when we hit the island, which is a good thing because it's pretty shallow there from these charts. Even at the pier we certainly don't want to come in at that. Talk to Thompson, and get some potential burn rates. I think we'll have to keep the speed down to make it, and that mean's a rougher, riskier ride. More to the point, though, is why they're issuing us a letter of marque."

"What kind of letter is that?" Griffen asked, leaning over to read the small print on the computer screen.

"It's a letter we can give to the Navy when we come back with cash," Arch stated. "It means we get to keep the cash, less expenses. I don't think the Department of the Navy has issued one since the revolutionary war, but I don't' know."

"Isn't that good news?" Griffen inquired, weakly.

Arch didn't answer, getting up from the table to pace back and forth across the room. Griffen took back his seat. He suddenly froze and looked over at David. "You thinking what I'm thinking?" he said.

"Yeah. What's the Navy doing out there anyway? Where will they be, and what forces will they have?"

"First the DEA, and now the Navy. Who next, the IRS? Arch said, shaking his head and going back to pacing.

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