When he arrived to open at the usual appointed time the bar was somehow different. The place was full. Lauren hadn’t been there to either unlock anything or to serve any drinks, but the Honolulu Police contingent and their Yakuza counterparts were already hard at it. Lauren sighed. His current job was totally in their hands, not his own. They could pour drinks, take food, or merely enter whenever they felt like it and Lauren could be blamed and then sacked. The thought made him laugh out loud as he walked in. Ochuru never came near the bar, and no doubt was either paid to stay away or frightened into complete submission. It didn’t matter which force was applicable. It was effective.

The Hawaiian cops had taken over the microphone. “Over the Rainbow,” the Hawaiian version so popularized by Izzy Kamakawiwo’ Ole, flowed out into the room. There was no trace of the usual Karaoke madness of wretched missed notes and tones. The Hawaiian officer, in full uniform, sang the song a cappella, and the sound was beautiful. The man’s deep voice caused every person in the bar to pay attention with uncommon focus, even the normally raucous Japanese listened.

No one came to discuss anything with Lauren at the bar. He served, charged and then fed unpaid tabs into the register under the cash drawer. There was almost never any cash, except for the money that showed up in his tip jar at the end of his shift, which seemed to suit everyone just fine.

Lauren washed glasses and continually ran back and forth to the kitchen to get the snacks each group desired: nachos (which bore no resemblance to anything Spanish or Mexican) for the Japanese, and sausage and pepperoni pizza for the cops.   His mind ran over what he’d learned and came to a total one-way dead end. There was no place to go. He could commit some terrible violence and change the rules of the game, but then he would no longer be in the game for himself or for his family. He could go along with the ridiculous ‘parallax’ plan the triumvirate of cops, Yakuza, and government idiots had caged together, and hope he would somehow be spared, or he could huddle in fear deep inside the basement of Shapiro’s house, his armory significant, but once again, his family’s chances for any success, or quite possibly survival itself, near non-existent.

There was no contact from the government. Upon leaving Neuzel in the parking lot, Lauren had stopped a Kahala security guard to point out the drunk sleeping it off under Barnes and Noble. He’d left the center in no hurry, having come to a decision about how he might be treated. There was so much money at stake no one was going to rock the boat. As long as Lauren kept his actions, even violent actions, within tolerable limits there was going to be no intervention. Neuzel was a tool of forces Lauren hadn’t identified. He should have looked at the man’s identity card when he’d been offered the chance but it was too late for that.

After closing the bar, he headed for home, moving into a cool trade wind. He walked the mile distance to the end of Portlock without incident. He moved slowly, hoping his wife was in bed for the night. For a couple of years, he’d complained to her about a certain distance growing between them. But the new Sharon, with strong, solid and good opinions was a bit more than he could handle, sometimes. Reporting the condition of Neuzel, following Lauren’s calculated abuse with the stun gun, and more might elicit more deep criticism than he was ready for.

“Is there no middle ground?” Lauren asked aloud to the glowing scuds of highflying clouds passing over the end of the island.

There was no answer, which was the usual answer, only wind, and windblown silence. He keyed in the code and entered the gate. The lights were on inside the house, which meant Sharon was still up. Lauren delayed entering the residence for a few minutes to get his act together. He knew he needed Sharon’s advice. There was no way out of their current dilemma, but she’d shocked him before when he’d felt exactly the same way.

A dull little glow appeared through the hedge and then was gone. Lauren frowned. He squatted down to peer through the thinner branches near the bottom of the Panax bushes. Further up the road, in front of the last house, before the cliff fell into the sea, a dark car sat parked. Another glow appeared on the driver’s side. Lauren watched an arm snake out and flick red sparkling embers to the asphalt surface of the street below.

Possibly, the government was responding to Neuzel’s mistreatment, Lauren mused to himself. There was no way to know without going out to encounter the person behind the wheel of the vehicle. And there was no way to do that without incurring the driver’s attention first. Unless he went into the house, climbed over the back wall down to the cliff face. The face was extremely craggy and easily climbable. Lauren looked up into the night. The moon was gibbous, in wane from full only nights before. The rocks would be easily visible, but if Sharon was still up he had to somehow get by her. He still carried the BodyGuard stun gun in his right pocket. There was no sense encountering anyone using fatal force, at least not yet. The stun gun would have to do.

Sharon was up. He put his finger to his lips and pointed toward the front of the house.

“We’ve got company,” he whispered, even though he believed everything Yee had said about the soundproofing of the place.

“I’m going around to see if I can find out who they are,” Lauren continued, fully expecting to hear strident objections.

“Did you do it?” Sharon asked, aloud.

“What?” Lauren asked, gently releasing the catch holding the rear sliding glass doors together.

“Did you?” she continued, ignoring his reply.

“Yes. His elbows are gone. He’ll be a year in rehab but they’ll probably never work like they once did.”

“Did you do what I asked?” Sharon inquired, staring straight into Lauren’s eyes.

“Yes,” he said, attempting to exit through the door opening.

“Tell me. Did he scream?”

Lauren hated the deadly tone and her demanding need to hear every detail of Neuzel’s torture. The violence was necessary but not emotional or visceral for him. If anything, he always performed violent acts with a sense of sad regret. But he got nothing of that from Sharon.

“No. He was in too much pain. His body bucked and convulsed several times before he went out. I presume he’ll recover the usage of those parts but it’ll be a long time before that happens.”

“Go visit our friends,” Sharon smiled, the twist of her lips making Lauren feel uncomfortable. Neuzel had reached down and brought forth from Sharon a primal creature of such unbridled ferocity that Lauren was afraid they’d never be able to harness or accommodate it. “I’ll be waiting.”

It took Lauren half an hour to work his way around the tip of Portlock, keeping his body a good twenty feet above the pounding surf. Once he began moving along the far face around the edge he was bombarded by the roar of the full force of deep-sea driven rollers striking beneath him. Twenty feet was not high enough above them, he realized, when the spray from one crashing monster washed over his lower legs. He climbed with renewed energy and now fear.

Once up into the scrub bushes he moved as he had in Afghanistan by night. With the moon, no night vision goggles were needed. It took several long minutes to come up to the passenger side of the vehicle. It was another of the ‘hidden in plain sight’ unmarked Fords. Both windows were down. Two men sat in the front seats. Lauren didn’t hesitate. He swept the stun gun up, switched it on, jammed it into the neck of the passenger and hit the button. The man went out like a light, jerking gently until ceasing to move at all. Lauren retreated down.

“Jeff?” The stunned man’s partner asked. “You okay?”

Lauren moved around the car like a low-lying nearly invisible wraith.

The driver was leaning over to check his partner when Lauren struck again, hoping the mega-million volt Body Guard had enough life left for another hit. It did. The man went out like his partner.

Finding the driver’s identification was easy. The man carried a regular wallet in his back pocket, and a second slimmer one tucked into the belt just above his right thigh. “William Pernell Ashton, Chief of Station, Analysis, Asian Pacific, Central Intelligence Agency”, it read in as many lines.

“Oh shit,” Lauren said out loud. “Central Intelligence. Why couldn’t you be DEA or NSA, anything, but CIA? Shit, shit, shit. He replaced both wallets just as he’d found them, then retreated to the house. He entered the bedroom, knowing Sharon was waiting, but again surprised by her in the manner of that waiting. She lay upon the bed, totally naked, legs partially spread.

“Who were they?” Sharon asked as if the men were no longer among the living and she couldn’t care less.

“CIA,” he responded. “Worst case scenario. The only saving grace was that they appear to be from analysis, not operations. CIA is hardball all the way, with enormous assets to draw on. Unforgiving, but the field people never carry identification like these guys,” Lauren finished.

“Gee, like we were not in it up to our necks already,” Sharon replied, her voice cool and well-modulated, but also flat and analytical.

“I need your advice again,” Lauren told her, pacing by the sliding glass window after plugging the BodyGuard into a nearby outlet, not sure he wanted to get into the bed just yet. He told her about his discussion with Neuzel and the information he’d gleaned from the man’s brutalized body.

“We have nowhere to turn,” he said, sitting on the side of the bed, his back to her. “Nowhere to go. We’ve made every move and exhausted every player in the game and we’ve come up empty. We’re right back where we started.”

“We’ve lost,” Lauren whispered, more to himself than to her.

“No we haven’t,” Sharon responded. “There’s one more play. Think about it.”

“One more?” Lauren asked. “There’s no one. Not Yee, not Hiyashi and certainly not the people behind Neuzel. Bill Ashton, Chief of Station is out there unconscious in that car right now. I don’t think he’s going to be reasonable. Who the hell else is there?”

“Shapiro,” Sharon replied, her voice quiet and measured.

Lauren crawled into bed beside her, wondering what she meant. Shapiro was an unknown. What could he possibly do and why would he do it? He went to sleep rolling the seemingly non-existent possibilities around in his head.

The next morning Lauren sat at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of Oahu Plantation coffee considering his next move. If he was to get an opportunity to actually talk face to face with Shapiro, with any kind of privacy, then something special had to be worked out. His role as a conveniently available violent person, to take the blame for Shapiro’s murder, no longer rang true. It was an unnecessary role. He wasn’t needed for that. Which meant that the seemingly separate, but in reality, a coordinated trio of forces, were not only working together but lying together. What was his real role and how had he come to acquire it?

He waited until the afternoon before calling the HPD. Sergeant Yee was the most friendly of any of them. All he could do was hope that Yee might give him a glimmer of what was going to go down. Lauren expected little, as, for some reason, his important unknown role did not rise to the level of having any of the factions take him into their confidence.

Sergeant Yee agreed to meet him at the house within the hour. At least Lauren was still important enough, in the scheme of things, to be able to maintain communications. Some of the things that had occurred made no sense in the real world.

Even if Shapiro’s hundred-foot yacht was a very heavy ‘expedition’ ship it wasn’t likely it would weigh in at anything near a hundred tons. So how was it supposed to be able to handle so many tons of gold? And who in their right mind would trust the Yakuza to deliver such cargo safely? And then there was the discovery of the night before. Sharon pointed out the unlikely nature of a ‘Chief of Station’ of any intelligence agency being staked outside a house to keep track of anything. Surveillance was a boring, thankless and menial job never to be conducted by agents of such high rank. Plus, if they truly were CIA, not some other agency not nearly so equipped or experienced in such things, it was even more unlikely, and if that was the case then why the fake I.D.?

A car beeped its horn out in front of the house. Lauren went out and pushed the button to open the security gate. Yee pulled his black Marauder into the inside driveway and got out. He was in full uniform.

“Prince,” he said with a smile, walking around the newly waxed car with his right hand extended.

Lauren shook his hand, wondering how all of the personnel in what they were involved with could be so friendly and civil socially, while just under the surface dark violence lurked.

“Please get rid of that stun gun,” Yee said, matter-of-factly. “You can’t go around knocking everyone out, especially when they’re high mucky-muck intelligence officers. Ashton wants to send over a cleaner team here and flush your remains down the toilet.”

Lauren said nothing, struck dumb by the confirmation that the men were exactly who and what their identification said they were.

When Yee finished the sentence he began to laugh. It took almost a full minute for the sergeant to recover himself.

“It took half the night for the ER doctors to figure out what happened. Those guys thought they had some sort of sympathetic seizure together.” Yee laughed again.

The man’s charm and laughter were contagious. Lauren pictured the macho hot shot intelligence agents sitting on gurneys in the ER trying to tell the young doctors what had happened without knowing what had happened. It must have been a hysterical scene. He laughed along with the sergeant.

“Let’s go inside,” Lee said, his mirth subsiding. “I don’t know where those clowns are hiding but they’re around. You won’t catch them sitting out in plain sight again.”

“What now?” Yee asked, throwing himself onto the long couch and taking in the wondrous view of the bay.

Lauren told him everything, not expecting to get much in return, but knowing any piece of data that might give him and his family a better fighting chance was worth the risk.

After Lauren stopped talking, Sergeant Yee sat and thought for a while. He rubbed his chin.

“Well, we are getting close. I don’t see what it can hurt to tell you a few things. You’re right. There’s no gold. There was gold, but it was converted long ago. There’s a fortune though, and some of it is in cash. U.S. dollars and that has to be brought ashore. Not by the Japs. They are merely a nuisance, and in the area, but can’t really be ignored either. You’re here because Shapiro requested you, or someone like you. He doesn’t trust any of us. And there is no child porn stuff on him. That was just cover junk.”

“Why is Ashton personally involved?” Lauren asked.

“Everyone is personally involved in this, and lucky for you. If they’d been field agents you’d be dead or worse. Everyone is going to get something, even you if you don’t get dead. Nobody’s willing to leave any of this in subordinate hands. But if you act out again there’s likely to be some violent repercussions. These people aren’t used to being hurt. They’re used to hurting people. They don’t take the personal stuff well.”

“So, I’m supposed to meet Shapiro. Where, when and what are the details?” Lauren asked, hoping that the mystery of the geographics and logistics would be solved, but that was not to be.

“We’ll let you know. We’re no more a player in this than the Japs are. We’re just standing by. The governor has our back because he’s in. This is going to be between Shapiro and the United States Government, with you in there, somehow chosen to negotiate back and forth.”

Lauren swallowed. He was caught in the middle, between two factions possessing untold billions, both with moral codes somewhere between those of an alley cat or a sewer rat.

“Who’s going to tell me when things are ready and what I’m supposed to do? Lauren asked resigned to whatever role was being thrust upon him.

Sergeant Yee had no answer. He told Lauren that he would be contacted by someone, maybe even him. The sergeant had no more data to offer. His diffident, but somehow caring ‘island’ way left Lauren with less a feeling of dread than of casual incompetence. For the amount of money rumored to be at stake, and the nature of its origin, he would have thought that there would be defined and refined plans in place. Instead, all he kept getting were lying reports, clouded by seemingly sleepy indolence. The ‘plan’ appeared to be adapting and changing at a pace, and in a direction, no single entity understood.

Yee lowered the window on the passenger side of his Marauder. Lauren hit the button to let the vehicle out through the protective security gate.

“Watch your top knot pilgrim, Ashton is madder than I’ve ever seen a Fed get. You embarrassed him in front of his men. He may want to get even in some other low-life chicken shit way, like last time.”

The black Marauder thundered out, the spooling up of its powerful engine sending vibrations throughout the house.

Lauren thought about his wife and kids. How could he protect them against anything as powerful as the Central Intelligence Agency? He sat for an hour on the same couch Yee had relaxed in and thought about the problem. He finally decided it didn’t matter what the Feds wanted to do since he was powerless to stop them. He was in a hopeless situation.

He walked out through the front door and let himself out through the gate. His first reaction was going to be to walk to Zippys and warn his wife about the threat, although he wasn’t certain it was a good idea. Sharon had gone slightly irrational in her emotional behavior since the incident with Neuzel, although her mind seemed to have become more finely tuned and with increased vigilance. His thoughts revolved around how he might seek her advice when he saw the car parked three blocks from the house in a cul-de-sac.   It was one of the unmarked Fords. The occupants of the car were standing fifteen feet from it, looking outward with binoculars from the only small observation point on the entire street. They appeared far to busy to notice Lauren walking by, which he did, before crossing the street, ducking behind some other parked cars and running bent over all the way back the way he’d come.

Once back in Shapiro’s mansion it took Lauren only minutes to bring out a pair of Leica fifty- millimeter field glasses. Shapiro only bought the best. Very slowly and carefully he began scanning the entire bay from points closest to most distant, hoping to figure out what the Feds were looking at or in partnership with. Their unmarked unit was parked way too close to the house not to have relevance, as whatever they were looking at was much easier to view from several other points on the road out to the end of the point.

He swept the huge light-gathering lenses back and forth across the bay, but without success. Lauren tried to put himself into the other men’s position. Only after spotting the zodiac did he figure it out. The men were tracking their team-mates aboard a boat. A boat that had inherent portage capability. The Shapiro house had one Achilles heel.   It was not protected from the sea. Anyone able to drop into the rocks along the bottom of the face would have no more difficulty penetrating into the house than Lauren had had the afternoon he evaded security and took out Ashton and his assistant.

Whatever the men had in mind it was pretty clear how they intended to get control. The Zodiac would make up the main body of the attack while the two men from the Ford provided a diverting deception. Or that would have been the way it would have gone down if Lauren had not been uncommonly lucky enough to spot the unmarked cruiser.

The Zodiac was headed straight for Portlock. Lauren knew he only had minutes before the car guys would be knocking on the front door. Without hesitation, he dropped the binoculars onto the couch and ran for the basement. It took less than three minutes to unpack the Mannlicher two-forty-three and load its tubular magazine with five rounds. They were extremely rare hot-loaded hollow points in that caliber, large enough to perform the mission. Lauren had paid heavily for the nearly unavailable ammunition at a gun show back on the mainland.

The Zodiac he’d seen through the Leicas was a ‘real’ one, not one of the fiberglass under-bodied ones.   Nomex rubber tubes ran throughout the boat, giving it great flotation while allowing for any encounter with rough rocks, sand, or other hard surfaces. Jacques Cousteau was more known for inventing SCUBA diving than the Zodiac, but all operations personnel throughout the world’s intelligence services preferred the boat over the underwater gear.

“Nobody has to die here or really get hurt,” Lauren said to himself. “I know how to do this. We’re going to have fun gentlemen,” Lauren spoke aloud with a laugh, realizing that there might be an edge of mental unbalance in talking to himself like that, but not caring.

Moving directly to the back lanai he ignored the doorbell out front when it went off. His company had arrived, in more ways than one.

“Time to rock and roll,” Lauren breathed out, suddenly blissful. He had a function to perform that he was really well trained for, as well as equipped and psychologically suited for. He raised the rifle to his shoulder, resting his left forearm atop the back lanai wall, and then laid the flat stock of the rifle gently down. The strap dug into and around his wrist. With his right hand, he flipped the little rubber covers from the Unertl variable power scope. He fed the first round smoothly into the chamber with a series of quiet clicks. The soft pad of his right forefinger depressed the forward ‘set’ trigger and then took its rightful place very gently on the second. The racing Zodiac swam into the center of the eyepiece as Lauren calculated its range and began to adjust for it.

“Ready on the right…” he whispered, too quiet for anyone to hear if anyone had been there.

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