Arch Patton Adventures

Thunder Marine

by James Strauss

The call came at six in the morning. Arch’s eyes snapped open and he pushed a button on the television remote, before tossing it aside in disgust. It took a few seconds for him to awaken enough, gather his wits, and go in search of the extra telephone handset located in the kitchen. The bleating phone gave him plenty of hints as to its location. Somehow, in his drunken stupor of the night before, he’d stuck the guest bedroom television remote into the telephone base on the table next to the bed. A bed in one of his extra bedrooms. Why he’d slept in that bed instead of the one he normally slept in was unknown to him. He ran, buck naked, through the house to the kitchen. He didn’t want the answering machine to pick up and play while he talked. For some reason, once the damned recording started it had to run its course.

“Patton,” he answered, his mind still so foggy that he gave his real last name.

“You’re a go,” a deep male voice stated. “Satellite stuff today to box. Go online with niner x-ray six six five using the company site along with user I.D. Pick a team. You are the six actual. Pickett will serve back up once on turf. Find the right conveyance. Budget to follow. Don’t go over. Report control is Maximilian.   Update daily prior to Lima Oscar Delta. Go for seventeen. U.S. Navy egress.”

The phone went dead.

Arch replaced the receiver and moved slowly back toward the master bedroom where he normally slept, his scarred naked body aging but still conditioned and trim. He passed through the room and headed for the bathroom noting that his bed was empty. The best looking bedmate he’d ever had was gone. They’d gone to bed together but somehow parted in the middle of the night. They’d been dating for three days. Some of the best day of his life. She had a conference to attend in Hawaii he knew, but couldn’t remember when she had to be there. She was a motivational speaker, or at least did the leg work for the person who actually presented. She traveled a lot.

The sun shone through the sliding door opening out onto his rough desert looking back yard. Albuquerque, New Mexico in spring. He slid the doors open to take in the warm but pleasing dry wind. It felt wonderful. He dressed in jeans, long sleeve shirt, white athletic sox and Mephisto running shoes. His wallet, Mont Blanc pen and money clip should have been on the counter next to the kitchen phone where they always were. He frowned, as he finished dressing. He’d been too groggy to recall seeing them when he was on the phone. Moving slowly, Arch exchanged the television remote with the telephone receiver lying on the floor next to his bed. He needed to cut back on the drinking, and he had a mission to help with that. A mission was the best and easiest way to cut back as, once he was fully operational, it would demand all of his attention and require functioning at a hundred percent. That left out drinking and drugs, at least until after the mission.

Arch hadn’t had an Agency mission for six months. Not since the last one. A debacle when everything had gone so well until the chopper ride out from the embassy. Arch and his partner had leaped into the back of the helicopter to find themselves in the center of the Black Hawk cargo area. The flat surface was covered with slick aluminum plating and the rear doors had been removed. The pilot pulled a maximum emergency lift off as they climbed aboard and then, for some reason nobody would discuss later, canted the helicopter nearly ninety degrees from horizontal and rapidly pulled out of the area. Arch had slipped his wrist through the back of the co-pilot’s seat webbing. His partner hadn’t thought so fast or fortunately, slipping out of the chopper and falling ninety feet to his death.

Arch wanted to kill the pilot, the co-pilot and burn the machine into a blackened lump but that was not how such things were handled in the Agency. Instead, he was sent home for Post-Traumatic Stress counseling and a ‘sabbatical.’ He didn’t have PTSD, but he did have a long memory and hoped one-day to catch up to the hot dog aircrew that’d so recklessly and thoughtlessly killed his partner.

His wallet was in the sink. It was thinner than it should have been. Arch’s heart didn’t sink. It had already reached bottom when the image of the empty counter had played across his vivid, nearly eidetic memory. His credit cards were gone. The money clip was there though. Empty. He’d only had a couple of hundred dollars so that loss wasn’t so bad. The money clip itself was more valuable, and not replaceable. He’d made it himself years before, hammering out a piece of Holland and Holland brass and then annealing a silver Mont Blanc insignia to it. Sometimes the universe gave a little back, he reflected. He went on a hunt for his keys. Both the Mont Blanc pen and keys were gone. Why would anyone take his car keys, he thought for a second, before frowning and heading toward the garage.

When traveling abroad all an operative had was what he wore and how he looked. The cut of the hair, the make of shoes and quality of leather, and even the manufacturer of eyeglass frames were all taken in by attentive onlookers. His Mont Blanc pen was more than a writing tool. It cost seven hundred dollars and the people who needed to know that knew. His Breguet watch cost more than a car and they knew that too, although most people would have thought a showy Rolex of lesser value a better bargain.

“God damn it,” he breathed, opening the connecting door to the garage. His Volvo was there but his Gelandewagen was gone. “Where could the woman have gone?” Arch asked himself aloud, looking at the empty space.

Only a couple of hundred G-wagon’s were sold a year in the U.S. In a city the size of Albuquerque Arch’s was the only likely to exist. Not exactly a great choice for a car thief. A small knife had been thrust into his heart, however, and it wasn’t stuck there over the loss of his special car. He didn’t really care about the stuff. He could replace it all. But Ilke, his three-day amour, was something else again.

“Ilke, you whore,” he castigated himself, going back to the phone, promising himself never to date an Icelander again as long as he lived.

He’d have to call in about the credit cards. Then he stopped. He’d have to do it from upstairs where his main computer was. Although he remembered the credit card number for the Agency American Express he’d never bothered to memorize the others. All the numbers were written on a small piece of paper taped to the Apple monitor. He took a break and sat on one of his bar stools, bellied up to the clear lacquered bar and started drinking what was left of a warm Mexican coke. The bottle felt good in his hand and the smooth real sugar taste took away the mess in his mouth.

“Why don’t they make coke flavored toothpaste?” he mused aloud between swigs and feeling bad.

Arch heard the garage door opening. He wondered who else had a push button device for it. Only David, another operative he’d never worked with in the field had one. That Arch knew of. They shared house keys and codes, but that was about it.   David normally lived up in the hills East of Albuquerque but used the shared house as a kicking off point for mission work. Storing mission equipment, no matter how innocent seeming, wasn’t conducive to long-term family life. Occasionally Arch and David would meet out at the Mine Shaft on North Highway 14 for coffee or a few beers. It would be good to see David, Arch decided, if that was who it was. He wasn’t motivated enough to get up and find out though. He took another swig of coke and waited

Ilke opened the garage door and walked in carrying two plastic bags.

“This place has shit,” she said, moving to the kitchen opening out from the bar. She opened the fridge, starting to unpack the bags she threw onto the counter.

“You took all my cards,” Arch hissed at her. “My money. My keys. My pen. To buy breakfast? You scared the hell out of me.”

Ilke stopped what she was doing, reached into her small purse and dragged Arch’s personal stuff out, item by item. When it was all on the counter, and Arch was feeling guilty, she laid into him. “We’ve known each other three days. I didn’t need you leaving while I was gone, or doing anything stupid. By the way you’re gun is in the car under the seat. What do you keep that monster around for, anyway? The barrel’s full of lint.”

“You found my hidden gun?” Arch said, in amazement. “I don’t believe this. How’d you know it was there?”

“Under your bed?” Ilke replied, shaking her head and snorting, before going back to resupplying the refrigerator. “You’ve got to be kidding me. What do you do for a living again? International security, you said? What do they pay you? Minimum wage?”

Arch studied her back, admiring the sleek mold of her hips and the solid power of her over-wide shoulders. Almost every part of the woman didn’t fit, including her aquiline nose and wild curly hair, but somehow all the elements came together to form a wonderful package. Ilke was the first woman Arch had ever dated who truly met the definition of attractive. When he was with her it was difficult to leave her for any reason. He could not get over the fact that, in spite of his hangover and fears upon awaking, he felt a great sense of complete relief.

“I have a security contract,” he said, to change the subject. “When are you due in Hawaii for the conference out there?” he asked. He made a mental note of where his gun was. In spite of his prodigious memory he’d lost his gun at least three times in the last year alone. It was terribly embarrassing to have someone, like a hotel security guard, come to his door to return it to him. “The Smith and Wesson is in Clarence,” he whispered, wishing the information into his long-term memory. Clarence was the Mercedes “G” wagon. He called it that because of the “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie character. The character looked easy going but later proved to be tougher than hell, just like the Mercedes. The truck looked cute, like it was made by Tonka, but under the skin it weighed over six thousand pounds, was driven by five hundred horses. The glass was bullet proof, at least against small caliber handguns. Vaguely, he wondered why Ilke had bothered to take the Magnum but he let the thought pass. He was tickled to death to have her back and to not have to call the Agency bout losing his stuff and his shitty lack of personal security. Again.

“Where are you going?” Ilke asked. “It’s Sunday. I’ve got to be out of here tomorrow. Eats up most of a day just getting to the islands.”

“Same,” he replied, figuring it would take most of Monday to put the team together, get down to Florida and find the right boat, or ‘conveyance,’ as his control called it. Maximilian, his control officer, loved dramatic cover codes. When Arch called in at the Agency to reach him he had to use a code word to get through. Maximilian knew it bothered Arch to deal with such idiotic and childish gestures but used them anyway. Ilke made coffee. She talked while she worked.

“The eye of the devil,” she stated. “We’ve got to go do it. It’ll bind us together in a pact of courage.”

Arch groaned. It was the third time she’d brought up her Icelandic rite of passage. Somewhere in Iceland there was a geyser with a small spout and under-ice illumination. You could go and stick your head over the edge, stare down and deep through into the bright green water below. If the three hundred degree steam geyser went off when you were looking into the spout you couldn’t pull your head away fast enough to escape. Or live. You literally would get to watch yourself die, and no doubt feel the whole lousy experience. The geyser was not like Old Faithful, the one in Yellowstone. The Icelandic one went off unpredictably, which made the rite of passage nonsense at least a bit logical, if not potentially stupid. Icelanders called the practice ‘looking into the eye of the devil,’ or so Ilke said.

In Arch’s opinion, Ilke was crazy. She drank ‘Black Death’ almost every night. Black Death was Vodka. Not Icelandic. It could be any Vodka she chose to call by the same name, but it was how it was stored and consumed that made it special, and she liked the name. She put the vodka in the freezer overnight. The next afternoon she drank the cold thickened syrupy solution by the shot glass. Four of them poured down in quick succession. The ice slurry that hit her stomach did not go into her bloodstream until it warmed considerably. After those four shots, and maybe four minutes, the whole load hit her system at once. Her memory went in seconds for the rest of the night, hence why she said it was called Black Death. Arch knew his awakening in the wrong bed had a lot to do with drinking Black Death the night before, even though he had no memory of it.

“How long are you going to be gone,” Arch asked.

“Four or five days,” Ilke answered, putting a newly purchased bottle of vodka in the freezer. “You?”

“About the same. You took my gun. Why? What do you know about guns, anyway?” Arch finally asked the question that kept coming back in his mind. It had been oddly logical for her to take his wallet and other stuff but why the revolver? He couldn’t let it go. That and how she knew that the gun was not just a regular revolver.

“Smith and Wesson,” she answered, her tone flat and analytical. “Five Hundred. .50 caliber. You’ve got it hot loaded with what looks like three hundred and twenty-five grain bullets with enough powder to generate about sixteen hundred feet per second, or more, I’d say. Huge muzzle flash because of that short four inch barrel. What are you afraid of that might require putting more than a ton of muzzle energy into?”

Arch sat back on his stool in shock. His puzzlement said it all, and Ilke responded.

“My Dad’s a gun nut. I’ve been shooting since I was a little kid. Fired clean groups at twenty-five yards when I was ten, and that was with a forty-five. I took your gun when I looked under the bed and saw what it was. I love that kind of huge monster. I’m not recoil sensitive.”

“No shit,” Arch said, without a trace of doubt in his voice.

He put the woman’s unlikely knowledge of ballistics and weaponry aside for a moment. He thought about the team he had to put together. Would David be in if he asked him? The mission would take a nautical expert, which he was. Would he partner for a mission? Was he involved with something else? To have the two of them working in operations and living so nearby was about as uncommon as the Agency got, and not very likely either. Maximillian would give Arch carte blanche in personnel, as was normal for a control officer/mission commander role, but that didn’t mean Arch could draw from personnel assets if they were committed elsewhere or off limits for reasons he couldn’t know.

It was a ‘dream’ mission. Grand Cay in the Bahamas. A spigot of land called ‘The Retreat.’ Drug money. An open contract to keep whatever they found Retreat Grand Caymanas long as it wasn’t contraband, weapons or drugs. Once down in the tropics, where everyone wanted to work, Arch could pick up the phone and instantly have experts in every area of his need available in minutes or hours at the latest. He couldn’t imagine anyone saying no to being a part of such a mission, except maybe someone who might have worked with Pickett, the mission backup. The man was a complete and utter prick. Good at what he did, looking out after the Agency’s interests, but that was it. Arch would be Mission Commander but the situation reminded him of the old Soviet submarine command. The captain was the captain of the sub but aboard each sub was a major political ‘advisor’ from the Politburo. For all practical purposes every Soviet sub had two commanders who were always in some sort of conflict. Pickett would be all over Arch in any way he could.

Arch decided to spend his last Sunday at the house with Ilke getting past his hangover. None of the satellite stuff would come in until Federal Express delivered the following morning, anyway. Why FedEx was considered more secure than transmission using the Internet was never explained by the Agency. Arch would have little more than one day to put a complex mission team together and get it down to Florida. Nothing new there.

“What do you want to do?” he asked, looking across the kitchen at Ilke’s supple body working away.

She didn’t turn or stop unpacking bags, but Arch could tell from the slight change in her body language that there was little question about how they would be occupying the time.