Lauren marveled over the awfulness of Hiyashi’s Karaoke singing, and the obvious fact that his drunken behavior had no effect in diminishing his stature with the men he was obviously in charge of. The Asian mentality was, in many ways, inscrutable compared to western cultural norms. Sergeant Yee, on the other hand, never lost his cool, never became embarrassingly inebriated even though his men often did. When Lauren got home his wife was waiting up, which was uncommon.
“Everything okay?” he asked, wondering about her state of mind, the kids, and all the other things that might have gone wrong since he’d last seen her. Their family life was held together by lies and worry, layered over with a good bit of fingernail grappling a tiny dose of tolerance to hang on to the shreds of survival they might have left.
“What happened?” she asked back, sitting on the main couch, gazing out over the light show along the Kalanianaole Highway, the traffic headed over the lagoon bridge and heading toward Koko Head.
“Hiyashi was there,” Lauren replied, “I think your analysis of the situation was accurate, as he basically admitted it by stating that he thought it was a mistake to select me for the role.”
“What’s he going to do?” Sharon inquired, after a moment of thought.
“I asked for a meeting of everyone involved. I told him I have a plan. I said their plan wouldn’t work because I wouldn’t let it work, even it that meant violence.”
Lauren sat at the opposite end of the couch, the distance between him and his wife symbolic of how things had gone since the incident. The distance between them had grown.
“What’s your plan and where’s this meeting supposed to take place?” She asked.
“Well, I kind of wanted to talk that over with you,” he said. “Instead of having Shapiro wasted and then blaming his death on me, barring what plans or agreements Shapiro has in place already, why not bring him in from the international water corridor that runs between Molokai and Oahu. Except, once he stops his yacht there, we don’t bring him in at all. It’s sixteen thousand feet to the bottom of the trench. Submersibles can get down there but no divers. The wreck can’t be raised except for the kind of money the U.S. would only spend on a nuclear submarine or warhead. If the yacht was put down properly, parked with the deck up, then there’s no way any inquisitive submersible could tell anything about anything.”
“What international corridor?” Sharon asked.
“Twenty miles offshore is as far as U.S. waters extend from the shore of each island in the Hawaiian chain,” Lauren told her, “the Molokai Express current runs through that wide channel. Out beyond that channel, twenty miles or so, is International waters. The Navy, Coast Guard, and even local police can’t interdict any boat or ship beyond the twenty-mile limit. They can provide emergency assistance and enforce fishing violations, but that’s it.”
“You’re missing something,” Sharon stated, her tone unequivocal and flat.
“They’d have thought most of this out on their own,” she went on, “maybe not the international waters stuff, but about nailing him on his yacht as he was coming in. You’ve got to find out what ace-in-the-hole Shapiro is holding. He didn’t get away with billions and keep it for all these years because he’s dumb. You can’t have a meeting until you can fashion your plan to overcome what’s likely already in place.”
Lauren was impressed. He knew part of the reason was that his mind was much more open to listening to what she had to say. A good deal of it, however, was simply because she was able to look at things so objectively, seemingly without any emotion whatsoever.
“You’re right,” he concluded aloud. “I know where to get what I need.”
“That would be?” Sharon queried.
“Neuzel,” Lauren answered.
“Let’s turn in,” Sharon said, rising to her feet so quickly it surprised him.
Lauren crawled into bed, his wife still in the bathroom. After a few moments, she approached the bed in her nightgown. He turned and reached for the lamp to his right.
“Do you still want to go to bed together? She swept the nightgown up to show herself.
“Neuzel,” Sharon whispered, after dropping the garment back into place. “You get the information we need. You do whatever you have to do to get that information. Whatever you have to do. Promise me.”
“I promise,” Lauren forced out, his breathing thick with desire and shock.
The next morning, after Sharon was gone to Zippys, and the kids were off to school, Lauren went into the basement. He took the steps more slowly than usual because he was thinking about the change in plans.
He packed away the Mannlicher. Everything had changed. He needed some new tools for the new objectives to accomplish the mission. Even the mission had changed. No longer was he after vengeance for vengeance sake. He was after survival for his family, along with a good measure of comfort and safety, if that was still possible, for all of them.
Lauren unpacked a device he’d never had a chance to try-out, much less use in the field. It’d come from a gun show, where an ex-spook was selling off stolen government toys used in his past. The device was a cigarette pack-sized black box. It was flat black with very tiny yellow printing on one side that read “3.2 million volt Body Guard.” There were no other markings. A very small sliding switch on one side turned on a red light if pushed upward. An almost invisible covered-over button was just above that. It was a stun device. Lauren removed a cord from the box and plugged the BodyGuard into a one-twenty volt outlet. The man who’d sold it to him indicated that it took a good ten hours to charge up as the device and that it delivered almost three million more volts upon actuation than a police Taser. He also said it was one to two percent fatal in application, which simply made Lauren smile. “Acceptable limits of tolerance,” Lauren murmured to himself.
Leaving the BodyGuard to charge, he went looking for one of his son’s pieces of sporting equipment. It took him half an hour to find the small baseball bat. It was a third the size of a regular bat. His son had outgrown it years before. It was perfect for the job, however.
He took the car back to where Neuzel had interrogated him before. He parked back from the corner and hunkered down in the driver’s seat to wait. It was eleven in the morning. He was willing to bet Neuzel spent most of his working time, when not outstripping other men’s wives, inside the building. He was also betting Neuzel was the kind of man who made a big deal about going out to lunch every day instead of packing one in.
An hour and twenty minutes later Lauren was proven right, although more by luck than anything else. The building had a nearly invisible entrance and exit to an underground garage. A black Ford appeared out of nowhere next to the building, and then turned right, which allowed Lauren to see Neuzel’s face as he went by. He didn’t follow the car. He only needed the approximate time the man went off to lunch, and to verify that he went alone.
“An unmarked black Ford,” Lauren mused, as he headed back toward Portlock. “Inscrutable, these hot-shot spook types, like the Japanese,” he whispered to himself with a grim smile. “Lets’ see how you do in my world. Welcome to the Marine Corps, and the frontal attack, my pretty…”
Once again, Sharon was waiting, still up, when he got home from his shift at Zippys.
“Well?” she asked, sitting erectly on the couch, looking like a fashion model, except prettier, tougher and a whole lot more intelligent.
“I had to get ready today,” Lauren replied. “Tomorrow. I’ll take him at lunch tomorrow. Everything’s set.”
Sharon stood up, looked at Lauren carefully, before retiring to the bedroom.
Lauren went downstairs and rummaged through the spick and span cleanliness of the basement until he found what he was looking for. Carefully stacked under the back of the stairway leading up to the garage was a neatly arranged pile of bricks. They were the same bricks as had been used to block in the area between the outdoor pool and the wall outside. He selected two, hefting each to make sure it was solidly thick, and not the hollow kind.
He rose in the morning, after Sharon was gone, got everything ready and then waited until eleven a.m. He placed the BodyGuard stun gun, two bricks, and the miniature baseball bat into the trunk of the family car. He drove to the unmarked building where Neuzel worked, parked in the same place, and waited. Knowing the agent was likely to come out of the same hidden opening from the unmarked basement garage, he parked on the street again, hoping the man would turn the big Ford in the same direction as he had previously and not noticed the same car parked down the street in the same place.
Within three minutes of his previous emergence the day before, Neuzel popped out of the garage onto the empty street. Lauren eased from the curb and followed. They didn’t have far to go, as it turned out. The Kahala Shopping Mall was Neuzel’s destination. Lauren groaned when he saw the Ford ease into one of the Nordstrom’s driveways. The Kahala Mall was hugely busy at almost any hour, with cars and trucks coming and going all over the place. Lauren needed seclusion to accomplish his mission. He followed the Ford into the lot, nevertheless.
Neuzel worked the unmarked cruiser around through the labyrinth of curves running slowly through nagging stop signs, with nobody stopped at any of them. He wound around until his Ford was under the area of the upper floor, where the neatest Barnes and Noble book store on the planet had once occupied. It was the darkest most unused part of the entire lot. Lauren pulled into a slot across from and diagonal to, Neuzel’s space. There was nobody in the underground area. Lauren slunk down in his seat to wait.
Neuzel got out of his car, slammed the door and headed for the shopping center without looking back. The man was unaware of Lauren’s presence and seeming to lack any paranoia, which indicated either his inexperience or simply that his mind was occupied by other thoughts. Lauren exited his own vehicle, moved toward the shop area and watched Neuzel enter the California Pizza Kitchen. In spite of the fact that the place served no local or oriental foods, it was amazingly successful. Lauren headed back to the parking lot to prepare for Neuzel’s return.
The Ford could not have been located in a better spot, although with the parking lot having so much traffic almost anything could interfere. Lauren crouched down by the passenger side of the car, his bricks set up a couple of inches apart nearby, the bat next to them and the BodyGuard in his right hand. The first few seconds of plan execution would be the most hazardous. If he failed to encounter Neuzel at just the right time then there would be no way to stay concealed. Lauren spotted the man from far off. He ducked down until his right temple was against the concrete. His only view of Neuzel, until they met, would be of his feet on the other side of the car.
Neuzel clicked a button and the Ford answered, unlocking the doors and blinking its lights twice. Lauren watched the man’s Alan Edmond shoes approach, and then he was up and underway before Neuzel touched the driver-side door. By the time Lauren was around the back of the car the door was open. Neuzel never got a chance to get in. Lauren switched the stun gun on and stuck the electrodes hard into Neuzel’s spine up between his shoulder blades. Lauren pushed the button. The effect was everything he’d expected. The man collapsed. Totally. One second, he was standing erect, the next he was down on the asphalt unconscious. None of the ‘doing the chicken’ as cops called the routine people went through when they were hit with a regular Taser.
Lauren turned off the BodyGuard, put it in his pocket and then dragged Neuzel around the car to the semi-secluded spot between the Ford and the wall. He ran back to shut the car’s door before stopping to catch his breath and observe the remainder of the parking lot. Nothing was out of order. No alarms. No stopped, frozen civilians or activity of any kind.
Neuzel remained out. Lauren checked his vital signs. The man was alive.
He placed one of Neuzel’s elbows between the two carefully spaced bricks, picked up the small bat, and then struck with all his might. The cartilage gave with a suppressed crunching sound, similar to a stalk of celery breaking while wrapped in a kitchen towel. There was no reaction or sound from Neuzel’s prone body. Moving quickly, Lauren re-arranged the bricks to accommodate the man’s other elbow. He performed the procedure once again.
Lauren replaced all his implements back in his own trunk before returning to Neuzel’s position to wait. It didn’t take long. The man came awake trying to scream, but Lauren was ready for that, holding a rag from his trunk over the man’s mouth.
“Don’t move and it won’t hurt so much. Your elbows are broken. You’re going to be in rehab for a while. How much rehab is going to be up to you. I broke your elbow cartilage instead of the bones. Makes it a misdemeanor here in Hawaii instead of a felony, if that matters at all. Could have done bone in some of those Southern states.”
Neuzel let out a single muffled groan. “Prentice? Prentice?” he inquired through the muzzle held to his mouth.
“Yes, it’s me alright, although I’m sure my wife made a deeper impression on you,” Lauren replied. He pulled the dirty rag from the man’s mouth.
“Don’t kill me. I’m a federal agent. Check my identification,” Neuzel said. “I can’t move my arms.”
“No, you can’t, and you won’t for some time to come. But we have bigger things to discuss. Like your knees, ankles and maybe even your shoulders. All cartilage, just like in your elbows.” Lauren pulled out the BodyGuard, turned it on and pushed the button without touching it to anything. An angry snap of sparking energy flew between its contacts.
“Please no. Please,” Neuzel pleaded. “It was a mistake to do that to your wife.”
“Yes, everyone’s likely to agree with you on that one,” Lauren laughed, although there was no warmth in his tone. “But we’re not here about that. I need to know what Shapiro has. How can he positively know that he won’t just be killed, and his fortune taken, when he arrives here? There’s no way anyone is letting him back into the U.S. unless he brings the gold with him. So, tell me.”
“Not my information to give,” Neuzel forced out, the pain running up from his elbows causing his face to screw up with evident agony. “Classified,” he said.
Lauren stuck the BodyGuard harshly into his chest but didn’t push the button.
“Oh fuck. Please. I can’t take any more of this. What do you want?” he asked, tears running down both of his cheeks.
Lauren pulled the stun gun back. “I want to know when Shapiro is coming, how he’s getting here and what he’s got in place to make sure he gets the deal he’s paying for. Simple. My wife, by the way, just so you’ll know, doesn’t want you to tell me, at least until the very end, and she asked if I’d take out your eyes, in particular.”
Lauren smiled as coldly as he could, sorry he had not brought a sharpened spoon to illustrate better. Sharon hadn’t said anything about eyes but Lauren didn’t think she would mind the lie.
“A week from Sunday,” Neuzel squeezed out, licking his lips and trying in some way to adjust his arms to ease the pain. “He’s coming on his private yacht. You’re supposed to go out and get him. He already has your photo and your background for being the caretaker of his property. He trusts Yee because Yee works directly for the governor. The governor travels to the Philippines regularly, where he has a thing for, well, a thing for some people there. Shapiro has that on him. The governor is guaranteeing Shapiro’s safety. That last isn’t known by very many people.”
Lauren frowned. Neuzel was giving him valuable data but it was becoming more and more likely his own plan would not work, not with the cooperation of all entities involved, anyway. “What about the Japanese? What’s their stake in this?”
“They get a cut for transport,” Neuzel answered.
“Transporting what?” Lauren asked.
“Figure it out. Seven billion would be over a hundred tons of gold. You think you’re going to offload that with a couple of runs back and forth with a small catamaran?”
“Seven billion? Wow,” was all Lauren could think to say. He sat down with his back against the passenger car door. He peeked over the door edge while his wife’s number was ringing. There was nobody in sight. Sharon picked up.
“Can you talk?” Lauren inquired. “Take a break and call me,” he said, after a few seconds, and hung up. He turned back to see how Neuzel was holding up, but his phone rang almost immediately.
“Tell me,” Sharon ordered.
Lauren told her everything, omitting no detail. When he was done he waited in the silence, watching Neuzel who was looking more worried by the second. Lauren didn’t blame him. He knew the man was probably wondering about just what part of his anatomy Sharon might want brought home as a trophy.
“He’s not telling you everything,” Sharon told him. “They wouldn’t have needed some patsy to blame the killing on if what he says is true. That wouldn’t save the governor. There is more here than he’s telling you or he simply doesn’t know. Why did they try to force you to work for them if the NSA and CIA were in on the assassination with you as the cover? It doesn’t make any sense. Something is wrong. Where’s your tie to any of this, that’s going to stick later on?” She asked him one additional favor and then hung up.
“My wife tells me you aren’t being totally forthcoming. I think she’s happy about that as, I have little choice but to break your knees and continue,” Lauren took out the BodyGuard, and pushed the button once again for emphasis.
“Wait,” Neuzel croaked out, “all right. Your father. He was in the Coast Guard during the war. Coast Guard was part of the Navy during the time of war. They changed his records to indicate that your father was one of the sailors lost in the Philippines. That makes it personal and understandable for you to be involved. The First Minister of the Philippines is holding the information. Shapiro’s death at the hand of one of the surviving sons would probably work, as long as he was handsomely cut in, and nobody had any reason to dig deeper into the files.”
Lauren was taken aback. His entire background had been changed. He and his family were on the no-fly list. His photo and phony files were floating around in other people’s hands. Everything happening to him was out of his control. He took out the BodyGuard, moved to Neuzel’s side and plunged it into the man’s crotch before hitting the button. The man tried to scream but the sound died in his throat, as his body bucked upward several times before it went limp. Sharon’s request was honored.