The cigarette boat wake-jumping incident could be ignored. Although how the DEA clowns knew where the team was staying was problematic. The macho exclusionary attitude Errol and his co-worker’s had shown at the phony marina could be absorbed. But their presence in the hotel bar late at night, where the team was staying, could not be overlooked. The other stuff was cheap mano-el-mano junk, but the team meeting to get ready for action was mission-related. Arch could not let it pass. He turned from heading back to Ilke, and stepped to the DEA table. He went right at them, depending on Dave to have read the situation, and positioned the team for whatever response might be necessary. The mission would be blown if physical fireworks resulted in law enforcement being called in, but it was more important to survive a mission than to successfully accomplish it, no matter how much money might be involved. Errol and his friends going to the trouble of bringing the team under surveillance to figure out their location, and then following that up with some sort of confrontation, could quickly turn everything into a survival situation. Their presence also established a dark potential for further unwanted involvement with the DEA down the road. The Agency didn’t normally have any reason to fear anyone at the DEA. Their organization was quite used to dealing in violence and wet work operations if some part of it had gone rogue.
“What are you guys doing here?” Arch asked, stopping right behind where Errol and Henry had taken seats next to one another.
“Thought we’d check you guys out,” Errol said with a slight laugh. “In case you’re moving some drugs in our territory, if you know what we mean.”
When he finished, Errol looked over at Henry with bloodshot eyes. It was obvious that both men had been drinking heavily before they arrived, probably ever since Henry made it back to the marina still suffering from his trip out into the open ocean.
“Leave,” Arch said, simply.
“What?” Errol replied. “We just got here. We just ordered. It’s a free country. Right guys?” he said to the other men at his table.
“Leave and you will live,” Arch spoke slowly and quietly, while bending down, his voice too soft to be heard by anyone other than the men sitting around the table. “Stay and you may die. You’ve stepped into an active operation. But it’s your call. You guys are DEA. We’re not. You kind of know who and what we are. You’re in the way. Don’t stay in the way. You guys probably aren’t bad guys. But don’t stay here. You don’t want to end up this way. It hurts me when guys like you become collateral damage. It bothers my sleep.”
Errol turned his head slowly as Arch talked, until he was staring, unblinking, into his eyes.
“Collateral damage?” Errol said, then stopping as the waitress delivered a couple of pitchers to the table along with a slew of empty shot glasses.
No one spoke until the waitress was gone. Errol poured some amber liquid from a pitcher into a shot glass, and then threw it down before speaking again.
“Like we don’t have guns, or what? We do this for a living. We fight the war on drugs every day. Whoever you guys are, you can kiss our collective ass.”
“You don’t do ‘this’ for a living,” Arch informed him. “People don’t follow guys like us, and not have to pay the piper. You don’t know that because you’ve never done it before. Most people never get to do it twice. This is not a learning experience. If you don’t leave, the mission is blown. And I don’t know if I can control my people, because this one is a personal thing. We’ll leave quietly if you want to stay. But no more following us, or showing any interest in us at all.”
Even though he hadn’t turned or moved, Arch felt David standing off to his left behind him, and also had sensed an uncomfortable building of emotional pressure from his assembled teammates, like they were getting ready for serious trouble.
“You’re leaving?” Errol asked. “What kind of ‘not so James Bond’ creatures are you guys? We’re just toying with you. We got your money and that’s it. We just wanted to party with you guys and see what you’re really up to. Not a whole helluva lot happens down here.”
Arch sat on his bar stool, not moving. Finally, he reached into his shirt pocket and took out a pair of dark glasses. He handed them over to Errol.
“Look through these and tell me what you see,” Arch said.
Errol took the offered glasses, put them on and looked around.
“I don’t see anything,” he said, after a few seconds.
“Look at that guy’s chest,” Arch said, pointing at one of Errol’s friends across the table.
“Shit,” Errol said, flipping the glasses up and then back down. “Somebody’s painting him with a laser,” he whispered.
“Yeah, like I was saying,” Arch replied, gently taking the glasses from the man’s head and replacing them, folded, back into his shirt pocket. “Carbon dioxide laser. Invisible to normal vision. Eight hundred nanometers. You gotta have the glasses to see the beam, and even then you can only see the reflected light when it hits something. Neat stuff. Hanging out with us isn’t really an option, and if we see your boat again it’ll be going down with, or without, you in it. It’s a fast boat, that turbine thing, but how quick are you?”
“How quick are you?” Errol asked, with a tone of exasperation. “Where do you get lines like that from? Bernard Baruch or somebody…the quick and the dead?”
He laughed out loud and took another shot before going on.
“You read James Joyce or something? Weird.” Errol slammed the empty shot glass down on the bar. “C’mon guys, this is a waste of time.”
“Actually,” Arch replied, sounding contrite, “if you guys were just being social I want to thank you for coming. Really. Not everyone can quote Baruch correctly, or read Joyce. I’m impressed.”
Errol and his men got up from the table and slowly walked out of the restaurant. Errol looked back with a question mark on his forehead, but then shook his head, as if to get rid of something in his ear, and went through the door.
Arch left the team to resume drinking, and went back over to the table where Ilke sat nursing her own drink.
“I wondered what happened to you. So I watched what went on over there,” She said. “What do you really do?” she asked, using a twizzle stick to toy with her half full drink.
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to my friends,” Arch replied, ignoring her question and picking up her drink.
“This is Ilke,” Arch told the members of the team, as he and Ilke stood next to the table. Griffen pulled over a chair vacated by one of the DEA guys at the nearby adjoining table.
“What do you guys do, and don’t tell me insurance?” Ilke asked, taking the proffered seat, and holding up her drink, as if to take a sip. Her hand remained in the air gripping the glass, as if waiting for an answer before she joined them. “You guys look about as much like insurance men as lap cats look like mountain lions.”
“Insurance is…” David started to reply, but Ilke interrupted him.
“Yeah, insurance is… and what it is has nothing to do with you. I watched you when Arch was talking to those other men. The men who left. Insurance men don’t look at other men like you were looking at them. And they sure as hell don’t point things at them like you were using. Even though we’re in Florida, not everyone wears dark glasses inside.” She gestured with her drink toward where Nash sat, having replaced the laser designator back into its belt-pack container.
Arch looked into Dave’s eyes as the team’s latest addition finished rubbing his forehead in frustration. He gave Dave an almost imperceptible nod. The rest of the team ‘flowed’ from the table, taking two half-empty pitchers and their water glasses with them. No one said a word as they moved to a table in a back corner, beyond two unused pool tables. David looked at Arch with his eyebrows raised, and his hands on his hips.
“See what I mean?” Ilke said. “They left, but nobody said a word. And they didn’t just leave, they flowed away like water pouring around rocks in a stream.”
“I’m sorry,” Arch said, his voice too low for anyone else to hear in half-filled bar. “Sorry I didn’t give you any warning. Maybe sorry I brought you down here, as well. It could be dangerous. It was almost dangerous a few minutes ago. You really don’t have a place here, in any of this.”
“Ya think?” David exclaimed, his voice almost a hiss.
“Drugs. Its drugs isn’t it?” Ilke’s asked. “Those guys at the bar looked like drug guys. I knew it. Too good to be true. Why is it that I have this infallible talent to find really nice, attractive, scum bags?”
“No, it’s not drugs. Not like what you think, anyway,” Arch replied, his voice rising slightly with surprise, and a bit of wounded pride.
He reached for his wallet and produced his military identification card. He laid the thickly embossed, and official looking, card down on the table next to her drink.
Ilke picked up the card and examined it carefully. “You’re a captain in the Army? Sure looks authentic. What would the Army be doing here, and why would you be passing yourself off as an insurance agent if you were in the Army.
She slid the card back. “Indefinite,” she quoted from her reading. “How can a real I.D. card have an indefinite expiration date? Nothing is indefinite in this world?”
“It just means you don’t have to renew it all the time,” Arch replied. “But I’m not really in the Army, not now anyway. I just wanted to show you something official from the government.” He took the card from her hand and replaced it back in his wallet. “I was just using that for proof. I work for the CIA. I don’t do, or run, drugs.”
“Oh goody,” Ilke laughed, taking a big gulp from her glass.
“This gets better and better. You’re using a fake military I.D. to give yourself credibility, while telling me the I.D. is fake. But you’re really a spy. Too much. Who are those guys over in the corner? Elves? Are you working on building some super-secret version of Pinocchio? Be sure to concentrate on how you form the nose. It’ll have to be able to grow really long.”
“I didn’t think about the I.D.,” Arch admitted, ruefully. “I just didn’t want you to believe I was a drug dealer. We don’t do ‘spying’ like you’ve seen in the movies. It’s not like that. We file reports about stuff we see, or are involved with, but we mostly just get assigned to do certain things the government wants done abroad. Most of us don’t even work together very often. We just do what we’re told to do. Only when the situation calls for it, like now, do we work together as a team.”
“Why am I here?” Ilke asked, taking a sip from her drink, while flicking her eyes from one team member to another.
“Griffen, David, John, Toon and Thompson.” Arch introduced everyone present. The guys who just left were DEA. We bought a boat from them.”
“You bought a boat? Here in this restaurant? Interesting place for that. Where are we going?” Ilke asked.
“Ah, well, we’re going out on the water for a few days, but you’re staying here. I mean, if you want to.”
“I’m supposed to stay here and wait?” Ilke responded, her voice rising. “Stay here and do what? With who?”
“Toon’s staying too,” Arch replied weakly.
Ilke examined the short oriental across the table. “What happened to your hands?” she asked, noting the bandages and wraps covering Toon’s hands.
“He’s been handling the lines, and making sure everything is ship shape, and that we’ve got everything we need,” Arch answered, noting that Toon hadn’t responded at all. In fact, the aikido sensei hadn’t spoken a word since the incident back in Albuquerque.
“He’s handling the lines?” Ilke said, laughing lightly. “What’s he doing now, wearing special protectors so his hands will be virginal for the job?”
Arch realized he would rapidly lose leadership control of his team if he allowed the current conversation to continue.
“Can we talk alone for a minute?” he said, leaning down to take Ilke by the upper arm, but she flinched away.
“Oh, you bet,” she replied, rising to her feet and grabbing her drink. “Where do you want to go? Disneyworld isn’t that far.”
Arch guided her out toward the front deck, past his grinning crew, who were obviously enjoying the show. With the exception of Toon, whose expression never varied from a deadpan stare. He sat next to her on a couch, facing the pier where Thunder Marine was docked, located across the road and just beyond a small parking lot. He could feel the intensity of Ilke’s stare penetrating the side of his head as he looked out over the marina, wondering why he’d brought her to Florida, and what he might possibly say that sounded in the least bit rational. Just as he was about to say something, his eyes focused in on the end of the pier. They were out there moving toward the boat. The DEA clowns were not letting go.
“There’s going to be trouble Ilke,” Arch said very softly, rising to his feet.
His eyes never left the small cluster of men moving toward Thunder.
“Kinda’ thought that was part of whatever this is,” Ilke replied, her enthusiastic tone taking Arch by surprise.
She set her drink on the arm of the couch, and followed Arch back into the restaurant.
“Trouble at the boat,” Arch announced to David’s back, his voice hushed to just above a whisper. “Those guys,” he added, nodding toward the table the DEA guys had vacated.
The team had no firearms on them. The laser designator Thompson carried was attached to nothing. Even with carry conceal laws enacted in every state of the union, pre-mission planning, and in country preparations, had no place for firearms in them. Where there were guns, guns got used. It was an axiom of the business. And if guns got used before a mission even kicked off, then there was no longer a mission.
“Everything we’ve go is on that boat,” Arch added, unnecessarily. “What do you suggest, partner?” he asked.
David looked at the team collected around the table for a few seconds. “Toon, the pier’s your department, and you’ve got some interested citizens poking around out there. See to it.”
Toon stood up, wiped his mouth needlessly with a napkin and headed for the front door, his bandaged hands looking more like they were prepped with white boxing tape, than bandages.
None of the other team members followed Toon, or went to the front windows to see what might be the result of his assignment.
“What’s he going to do out there?” Ilke asked, taking the seat she’d left next to David at the table. “I don’t really understand any of this, but it’s sure more interesting than what I was doing before.”
“You’re not doing anything now,” David said, following the comment by taking a long drink from his margarita glass.
“Not my department?” Ilke answered, taking a drink from her own glass.