Arch Patton Adventures

THUNDER MARINE

Chapter 2

By James Strauss

 

Arch rose at six a.m. on Monday morning. No phone call awakened him. The second day hangover, easing only slightly after the first brutal day, following his post-mission bender, had brought him unwillingly awake. Sleeping off heavy alcohol use, something he’d mastered in college, had somehow disappeared from his repertoire with the addition of a few more years. The more he drank, the earlier he awakened. With most people that might have been deterrence to overindulgence, but Arch treated such circumstance as merely part of life’s grand injustice to those who managed to stay on the planet doing what he was doing for any measure of time.

Ilke slept in. She was the only woman he’d spent any time with that didn’t awaken if he got out of bed. Even raising the blinds to bring in New Mexico’s spring-risen sun had no effect. This beautiful woman slept on, a soft ‘nickering’ coming from her half open mouth. Arch went to his kitchen naked, and made coffee. He carefully measured his diminishing, and most treasured, Molokai Peaberry beans into the grinder. He pulled the fluffy blanket from his couch in the living room, wrapped the whole thing around and around the grinder, and hit the button. A muted groan came through the blanket. Ilke could sleep on, and Arch’s own hung over ears remained undisturbed.

After finding and throwing on his ratty blue robe, he made a necessary mission call. Perched atop one of the high leather barstools at the counter, he made the call, while watching and listening to the coffee machine cycle through. Thompson answered after the first ring.

“Thompson, Arch,” he said, following Thompson’s ridiculous ‘yellow’ answer. “Dream mission off Florida. Drugs. Cash. Winner take all with repatriation of whatever we can crab together. Gotta get to Florida later today or maybe tomorrow morning. If you’re free, call Nash, Lee and Herbert. I’ll call Griffen. Pickett is backup, which sucks, but we can’t have everything.”

“Mortgage. It’s the first tomorrow. I can’t leave if it’s not covered,” the voice on the other end of the phone said.

“How much?” Arch asked, trying not to allow exasperation to travel back to the other man.

“Sixteen hundred,” Thompson answered.

“How much you got?”

“About four hundred bucks,” Thompson stated, “but if I put that in I’ll have nothin’ for the mission though.”

“I’ll spot the twelve, and you deserve to be broke on your ass for the mission,” Arch replied, as emotionlessly as he could.   “Bring some ‘roll your own,’ and I’ll keep you in Fiji water. You need to lose a few pounds anyway. Come get the cash at the house, but not until you’ve got everyone else isolated and ready to go.” Arch hung up the phone, barely hearing Thompson’s whispered “hardass” reply.

“If I was a hardass,” he said to himself out loud, going for the coffee, “then you’d be foreclosed on, asshole.” Thompson was the epitome of a great knuckle-dragger in appearance and mission delivery. Every other aspect of his life was a mess. He was a martial arts expert, diver, pilot, ballistics expert and physically fit to the point of ridiculousness. But the rest of the man was a jumbled mess of celebrated stupidity and drunken obnoxiousness. He was undependable, chronically late, disheveled and boorish when he was not working in the field. Arch both loved and hated having the man live in the same community as himself. And then there was the money. The twelve hundred would take the man’s debt to Arch up to sixty-two hundred, and that was unacceptable.

Arch poured some too old half and half, and one envelope of Splenda, into the coffee. He went back to his perch and sipped and smiled, ready to call Griffen. Griffen was their cleanup man, which in the movies would have made him uber macho. In real life his job was to run errands, clean up physical messes, and record the events of the mission. He didn’t do wet work, planning, or have much of anything to do with operations at all. He was along for the ride, and treated accordingly. Garbage man might have been a more descriptive title for the job, but Griffen didn’t care. He just loved being along for any mission, and included among team members he thought of as being much more manly than himself.

“Griffen,” Arch stated flatly in the phone, as the device on the other end was picked up, and before Griffen had a chance to say anything. “Get your gear together. We’re leaving this afternoon, or tomorrow morning, depending on what’s going out of Kirtland or civilian air.”

“I’ll be ready. Where we goin’?”

“Tropics. Shorts, Aloha and rip-stop nylon for the field work. I’ll call you with a couple hours notice,” Arch said, hanging up the phone. Griffen lived onlyKirtland AFB New Mexico a couple of hundred yards from the main gate at Kirtland Air Force Base, which also served as Albuquerque’s International Airport. Only the tarmac was shared between the two entities, though. That airstrip was the longest and highest in the United States, intended for over-loaded B-52 lift-offs and landings in the high, dry thin atmosphere found in New Mexico. Albuquerque was higher than Denver, and considerably warmer.

Nash was next on the list. He was a closet drug addict strung out on Adderall, needing about ten times the regular dosage to get up every day, or night, as he didn’t usually go down until five a.m., or so.   If he was needed in the morning, he simply popped a couple more pills and off he went. He was, however, about the best man on the planet with pyrotechnics. Lee, following Nash, was a consummate actor and master of long range sniping, getting ready and taking his shot while murmuring Shakespeare to himself under any field conditions. Herbert rounded out the team, as a communications expert versed in small arms and any necessary hand-to-hand work. Herbert was also black, which would be an advantage in the tropics for fitting in color-wise, if not culturally.

Arch finished his first cup of coffee and refilled with the phone stuck in his right ear, ringing up Military Air Transport on Kirtland. Luck was good and bad. The Air Force had a flight at five in the morning but it was on a giant C-5A transport. Arch hated the monsters, as they provided almost no amenities. Real luck was in scoring some general’s special jet flying light back to home base. Real luck was uncommon in the business, however.

At least time was easier to work with using military air. The transport would fly at about five hundred and sixty miles per hour, while commercial jets usually ran at about four-fifty, to save fuel. Also, the team could simply enter the base, drive to the aircraft, and climb aboard. No security, no boarding garbage, or TSA search lines. Whatever luggage or gear they had would simply be thrown onto the football field sized deck. C5-A’s had rotten uncomfortable web seats. There was only one small bathroom with no sink. No water. No nothing. And the plane was loud as hell. There would be no napping, and not much talking to pass the time.

But the team would be assembled in Miami by nine a.m. to find a boat and spend the rest of the day preparing for departure. Twenty-four hours’ lead-time was nothing in the business, but then the mission was no ordinary mission. Cash money did not sit around long waiting to be picked up. It moved like the wind, especially if the ‘wind’ got a whiff of any pursuit.

Arch went back to bed. He was irritable, and running on about four of his twelve cylinders. More sleep now, liquids later, but no booze. No beer. No wine. None of that. Ilke lay there as he had left her. He was asleep in seconds.

The phone rang and Arch sprang up. Ilke was not there when he glanced over, but her absence didn’t bother him this time, nor did it set off any paranoia alarms. He knocked the phone off its holder but got it on the third ring.

“Arch,” he answered, and then listened. As he listened his face grew faintly pink. Minutes went by as the person on the other end of the line explained something. Finally, there was only silence in his ear.

“You stupid son-of-a-bitch, Thompson,” Arch hissed. “You know the rules, and you know why we have them. He’s a novice. A citizen. We can’t take a citizen on a mission. Do I have to repeat that?” By the time he got to the last sentence, Arch was up beside the bed yelling into the phone.

“You’re damned right I’ll come and talk to both of you. Don’t bother coming here. I’ll bring your cash, although I don’t have any good reason to now,” he finished, slamming the phone down so hard it fell out of its cradle. He made no move to pick it up.

When Ilke came walking into the room, wearing his ratty robe, she found him sitting on the side of the bed, still naked, with his head in his hands.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, setting a freshly brewed cup of coffee on the small side table, and then leaning down to pick up the cradle and replace the phone onto it.

“Only the sweetest deal of my life,” Arch answered. “Only the best thing that could ever happen to anyone in my business, and then God gives me an idiot to work with. No, he gives me a moron, an idiot would be a giant step up from this asshole.”

“You’re really serious about this insurance thing, or security business, you’re in aren’t you?” Ilke asked.

Arch ignored her question, and instead headed into the bathroom for a quick hot shower, and a shave. When he returned, he reached for the cooling cup of coffee to wash the raw toothpaste taste away. He took a couple of swigs.

“And how do you drink so much coffee?” Ilke asked, having patiently waited on the side of the bed for his return. “You can have several cups and then fall right to sleep. How do you do that? I’d be up forever if I did that.”

Arch threw on his 5.11 Tactical trousers. They were made of light cotton and looked like just any other pair of cargo pants. A couple of well-concealed pockets for a laser designator, radio, and extra magazines were invisible to a normal citizen who might be checking him out, however. He threw a Lauren Polo over his torso and then his cream colored Mephistos without socks. “See you in an hour, if you’re here,” he said over his shoulder to Ilke, as he found his Naval Flight Jacket and headed for Clarence in the garage. He stopped after he closed the inner door behind him. David stood at the back quarter of his Benz, one hand on the vehicle, the other casually resting in the left pocket of his jeans.

“Hey, Bro, how they hangin?” he asked.

“Shit, you picked a helluva day and time. I gotta go meet one of my screw-ups and kick him back into another dimension,” Arch said, opening the driver’s door of the truck. He waited to see what David was going to do. Both of them had achieved Mission Commander status at about the same time. That didn’t mean they couldn’t work together, it simply made such a team-up unlikely and potentially problematic.

“Can I go along?” David uncharacteristically asked.

“What have you heard?” Arch asked, in return.

“You caught the brass ring,” David answered, smiling.

“There can only be one Highlander,” Arch replied, no humor in his voice.

“I’ll buy that. On genuflecting knee, I ask, one to another, me of you…”

“I’ve already got big trouble on this one David, and we’re not even close to the line of departure,” Arch said, sighing heavily.

“Brief me in the car. If I can help, throw me in, otherwise I’ll go eat green Chile at Sadies, and then drink until I pass out.”

Arch moved away from the car and over to a locker at the front of the garage. He dialed in a code, and the top of a sleek metal cabinet opened, as if driven by silent electric motors. He dialed in another code on an interior panel, and a second panel rose like the first. Arch spent a few moments assembling something, while David climbed into the passenger seat, as if an agreement had been struck and he was invited.

Arch pulled his completed work out of the vault, and then closed both doors with a push of his hand. The doors thunked shut heavily, one after the other. He walked to the Gelandenwagen and passed a H&K machine pistol to David. The weapon had special double ‘beta’ drums, one sticking out of each side, making it hard to handle and ungainly to look at.

Each drum held fifty rounds of nine-millimeter parabellum ammunition.

“What are we doing, fighting off some Zulu charge of the light brigade?” David asked, taking the weapon and setting it across his lap.

“The Light Brigade was British, and they were attacking the Russians, dummy. What kind of mission commander are you, anyway?” Arch smiled and climbed into the vehicle, started it and backed down the driveway. He didn’t bother to hit the garage remote to close it. The powerful vehicle seemed to leap up as it accelerated over the surface of the access road.

“What have you got in this thing?” David asked, grabbing the ‘sissy’ bar over the passenger window with one hand, and the inside of his seat with the other. In mere seconds they were cruising at sixty miles per hour. David quickly put his seat belt on.

“The way I drive a seat belt isn’t going to save you,” Arch warned, increasing the “G” car’s speed to a hundred on the abandoned road.

“I don’t expect to live,” David responded, clicking in. “I just want them to find my body.”