A murmur of intermingled conversations, suffused by some quiet jazz piped in over a mediocre sound system, gave the pub a relaxed air. The decor was wood, machine-finished golden oak mixed with faux mahogany highlights, offset by plentiful polished brass. The scent of the place was a mix of stale smoke and beer.
Basingstoke had arrived a little early and occupied a booth, and was currently nursing his third schooner of lager. He’d already learned much that day, the result of several meetings with his various contacts in the underworld. He now had a clearer idea of what the authorities thought, and their plans; he knew they had his plane’s model, and that they had asked that a watch for a Beechcraft Debonair be kept by the personnel at the three airports he could use as refueling stops to cross the Nularbor Plain.
Basingstoke had also been told that they believed him to be somewhere in the region of Melbourne – information which had come from incautious questions asked of informants by the authorities.
The risks were now, he judged, greater than he’d ever faced. The fact that the cartel was sending two people was another thorny issue; Basingstoke always worked alone. Were it not for the huge sum of money he’d been offered, Basingstoke would have withdrawn from the contract.
Professionals in many fields often consult with their peers when faced with a dilemma. Amongst doctors, lawyers, and engineers, this is a professional courtesy, also known as a peer consult. It was different for Basingstoke only by virtue of the rarity of his occupation. His profession was that of enforcer; threats, intimidation, and an occasional killing were his stock in trade, and there were few like him in Australia. There was however one with whom Basingstoke was acquainted, who had been in the profession for decades. It was he whom Basingstoke had come to the bar to meet.
Basingstoke stared at his beer, waiting. Always, his nerves were on edge for, though a killer himself, meeting with one of his own kind bore risks. He had made many enemies over the years. Still, even his profession had its rules, a code of conduct, a form of honor amongst thieves. In that, he took quiet solace, as he glanced at his watch.
Had he not been skilled at the subtleties of his trade, Basingstoke would not have noticed the faint change in the room; a slight alteration in the tempo of conversations, a few people heading for the bar at once. Basingstoke’s trained eyes roamed, a seemingly brief, casual sweep, taking in the details. He identified one at once; the bartender, watching Basingstoke out of the corner of his eye. Another, a man at a table across the room from Basingstoke’s booth, had withdrawn from his conversation, his attention casually on the door. Following a glance from that man led Basingstoke to another, who appeared to be a muscled dockhand, though he was wearing a light jacket indoors on a warm day. That man, Basingstoke knew, would be the protection. The subtle changes meant his wait was just about over. It was not lost on Basingstoke that he was seeing a well-orchestrated professional tour de force, the touch of a master of their craft.
The bar’s doorway darkened, and with a casual, confident air, Basingstoke’s associate strolled in, and without looking in Basingstoke’s direction, made his way to the booth. Basingstoke could only admire the man’s skill, for he even avoided making eye contact with his own operatives in the bar.
The man who, like Basingstoke, went only by a pseudonym, a nickname in his case, took a seat, and smiled mirthlessly. “G’day, Basingstoke. It’s been a while.”
Basingstoke nodded in greeting. “G’day, thanks for this. Name your poison,” Basingstoke offered, intending to buy the man a customary drink.
The man, known in certain circles as Gray, glanced in the direction of the bar, and with a faint raise of his left eyebrow, sent two signals to the bartender. One was the all-clear, and the other was for his drink. The bartender knew what to do, and opened a bottle, placing it on a scratched silver serving tray, which he smoothly deposited in front of Gray.
Basingstoke looked at the beer, a local limited-run brew, Mountain Goat Surefoot Stout, and got the message; Gray had invited him to one of his regular haunts, and the beer was likely from his private reserve. That he’d invited Basingstoke to such a place was a sign of trust, one he’d never shown in their previous meetings over the years. The muscle in the room, however, was a sign that trust had its limits. Basingstoke lowered his voice, speaking quietly enough that the din of the bar would grant privacy. “I’ve got a tough one, and I’d like to get your opinion, and maybe offer you a bit.”
Gray, a quiet man, his persona outwardly unimposing, replied, “Like you, I work alone.”
“That’s part of my problem, Gray, a difficult client…” Basingstoke replied, and went on to give Gray a brief overview of the job, though without naming the target, or the client.
“You’re already badly compromised, Bassy; I’ve heard that a Debonair is on the watch list, so you’ve got high-level interest of a kind you don’t want. That kind of interest wouldn’t normally occur from what you described of your try on the island or by impersonating a reporter.There must be more, so let me think aloud for a bit. A target who’s a yachter, and who seems to have high-level interest in his case. Someone who’s been a target before, or someone famous? A politician, perhaps, or similar high profile…” Gray’s face went blank for a moment. “Wait, that reporter, Fitzroy, who’s always snooping around the docklands. He put the word out to all and sundry that he was trying to sell some kind of a mayday bottle message, and recently he was hauled in for questioning. That mayday was from that kid who’s been in the news, two attacks, one by a bomb, the other from pirates…”
Basingstoke replied with the subtlest of nods.
Gray’s eyes narrowed, and he turned his attention to his beer, taking a long pull on the bottle, and then studying its label before replying, “Not a job I’d have taken, not unless they paid a right packet. You’re playing cleanup for someone else’s failed attempts, against someone likely under official protection. That’s a dangerous situation. What does your client want with him?”
Basingstoke shrugged. “I don’t actually know. They’re rather specific though; they want his head, literally, and now his boat.”
Gray raised both eyebrows. “Interesting. Sure doesn’t sound like locals, more the like of someone from his home region, or south of it, who wants to send a message. Wet work of the vulgar kind. Such people are erratic and unstable.”
“And now they’re sending two of their own, and they've put me on hold until then. They’ve already paid me the contract amount – they did this after the failed attempt – and are offering even more.”
Gray pondered that. “I see your issue. I wouldn’t work with outsiders, especially foreigners. Far too risky, and what’s the reason? I don’t see how proceeding can be wise, especially now the authorities are alerted.”
“Normally I’d agree, but if I get the payoff, it’s my ticket out; that, plus what I’ve saved, would let me move far away, and never have to work again if I’m careful,” Basingstoke replied.
“That changes the equation somewhat; if you’re not going to be around after, you can be a bit more blatant about it. I don’t want a piece of it though; I’m not ready to retire yet,” Gray said, before finishing his beer and signaling for another.
Basingstoke waited for the beer to arrive before replying, “The piece I’m offering isn’t direct. I need your other skills.”
One of Basingstoke’s covers was that of a traveling security salesman. Gray had his own business cover, for the same reasons. His guise was that of a computer expert, a role that greatly aided in one of the needs of his profession; access to confidential information. “What have you in mind, Bassy?”
“Two separate things, and you already know the first. The second thing is some custom software. It’d need to run on a laptop computer or something portable…” Basingstoke went on to explain his needs, and that part of his plan.
Gray stared at his beer for almost a minute, deep in thought, before replying, “That’s a bit more complicated than you think; that kind of interface is probably tricky to work with, I’ve never done it before. I can do it, but it’ll take time, plus some testing. How much are we talking?”
“Thirty-five plus costs, ten now, the rest on delivery,” Gray replied, without hesitation.
“Done,” Basingstoke replied, before fishing out an envelope, which contained ten thousand in cash. He’d expected the demand for money up front. He slid the envelope across the table to Gray and then, while Gray counted the contents, Basingstoke finished the beer he’d been nursing.
Gray signaled the bartender for two bottles of his preferred beer. Once they’d arrived, he told Basingstoke, “My advice to you; drink up. Leaving Australia means you’ll have to do without the finer things in life, such as good beer. Enjoy it while you can.”
The two shared a friendly chat as the topic turned to their shared love of Aussie Rules Football, and Basingstoke began to relax.
They finished their beers, and made arrangements to meet again in a week. Gray got up to leave, and then turned to Basingstoke, and as casually as giving an afterthought on the weather, he said, “One other thing: you’re not as secure as you think you are. Information has a way of being found out. So, if you’re caught on this risky bid of yours, you keep your mouth shut about me and anyone else in Melbourne, or you’ll have far more to worry about than jail. Are we clear on that, Alastair?”
It was all Basingstoke could do not to blink. The threat was expected, but the mention of his real first name, the first time he’d heard it used in over a decade, was a show of professional prowess from Gray, because if he knew that, he could well know his real surname as well. It made the threat even more direct. Basingstoke took it as intended; a warning, just business. However, they were both professionals, men of years of experience and many sources, so Basingstoke decided that Gray needed a reminder of his own, and a bit of a turnabout. Thankful that he was in a position to return the play, he tapped his beer against Gray’s empty one, and smiled. “My own requirements for confidentiality are precisely the same as yours, Graeme,” he said, with just a hint of a smirk.
“Touché,” Gray replied, nodding in acknowledgment at the use of his own name, before strolling out of the bar. It was, after all, just business.
On the other side of the continent, Kookaburra was at anchor in Rhys Lagoon, close inshore, her hulls aground on soft sand in the receding tide. It had been an interesting day; Joel had been at the helm during the challenging entry over the shallows at the lagoon’s entrance. Trevor had stood by at the other helm, keeping a careful watch, but Joel had managed the entry, though he’d run aground once.
A late afternoon swim had followed, with Joel besting Trevor and Shane in a race.
As dusk approached, Trevor and Shane shared a secret mirthful glance, and then Shane began carrying supplies to the beach, one that Trevor and Shane knew well.
Trevor and Joel joined in the preparations, carrying the remaining supplies ashore while Shane rebuilt their previous fire pit.
Soon, a fire was blazing high, and the three gathered around, drinking beer and chatting as darkness fell.
Shane grinned, nodding at the blaze. “The fire should be burned down enough to start cooking soon, so I’ll get us a bit more firewood, in case we need it.” He snatched up the battery-powered lantern and headed off to perform his twin tasks, while Trevor and Joel sat drinking.
“I’ve had an awesome time on this trip. Australia is just… wow. Parts of it remind me a bit of Florida; Carnarvon kinda does,” Joel observed.
Trevor smiled, and jostled Joel’s elbow. “Until you look close. The colorful birds are everywhere, and they have all kinds of exotic wildlife. You don’t see many kangaroos in Florida,” Trevor said, sliding the conversation towards his intended goal.
Ten minutes later, Shane returned with a few pieces of wood. “I had to go a ways for this; I guess we got the easy stuff last time we were here,” Shane said, grabbing another beer.
The three friends sat on a log, side by side, a few yards back from the fire, listening to its muted crackling and enjoying their beers in the night air, until Shane cracked open a bottle of whiskey and handed it around, before turning his attention to their dinner.
While Shane put the steaks on an iron grid and placed it over the glowing embers, Joel got up to join him, eyeing the steaks and the cans of beans. “I thought your carrot surprise was tonight?” he said.
Shane hid a grin. “That takes a bit of time to prepare, but you’ll have it soon, I promise.”
They chatted, bantering back and forth next to the campfire, while the steaks cooked. Trevor and Shane were careful with their drinking; taking just sips of the whiskey, while Joel was doing full shots.
After dinner, Trevor and Joel took the dishes and cooking utensils back to Kookaburra and then returned to the campfire to share a few more whiskey shots and beers with Shane. The three had proclaimed the night their belated New Year’s Eve, a chance to unwind from the stresses of the prior days.
The campfire, now little more than embers, cast a faint glow as Trevor and Shane listened to the night. Shane noticed the distant sounds first, and gave Trevor a subtle nudge.
Trevor nudged Joel, and asked, “Have you read any of Shane’s writing yet?”
Joel, who had a good buzz going, took another shot of whiskey, then a drink of his beer, before replying, “Yeah, some of the novel he’s writing about you. He’s good.”
“He’s very good,” Trevor replied, taking a drink to hide his smile, as a soft tut-tut-tut sounded, well inland, followed by a faint chuff. “You should see some of his stories about Western Australia, history stuff, but good. Shane, got anything with you?” Trevor asked.
Shane, on cue, reached for his gear bag, fished out a paper, and handed it to Joel. “This is one of my best,” he said proudly, and then held the lantern so Joel could read the same story Trevor had. He just hoped that Joel was drunk enough.
The sounds of the Australian night grew louder and closer, so Shane repeated the explanation he’d given Trevor, on a similar night in that same place. “Just birds; we’ve tons of them about, all sorts, and lots of stuff is more active at night,” he said, as Joel began to read.
Joel angled his head, focusing on the page. “You… you put your name in the biggest print, why am I not surprised?” he said, slurring his words.
“Shane thinks very highly of Shane… and we’re at the lagoon he named after himself,” Trevor quipped.
“Cruel and abusive bastard!” Shane grumbled, before deftly turning to Joel and directing him back towards the page, “It’s about what happened to a town a few hundred clicks north of here.”
His vision slightly blurry from the alcohol, Joel began to read;
The Night of the Mob
By Shane Rhys
They move by night; a glimmer in the dark, a shimmer in the pale moonlight the only signs of their passing. Questing forth for their hapless victims, spurred ever onward by their insatiable appetite, they pause only to listen, and look.
The outback holds terrors all its own, unlike any other.
Massive, powerful, ancient creatures, so long the bane of these desolate lands. Their deadly scimitar claws, glistening in the moonlight, bespoke their power. Nature’s perfect killing machines; they have no enemies, save for others of their kind.
Moving by echelon, the group, over ninety strong, a mob of death on the fold, stalked through the low, arid hills, fearing nothing.
Intent on their hunt, they pressed on, their large ears sweeping the night. A large male, even bigger and more ferocious than the rest, led them. At the crest of a low rise, he paused, scanning the night, scouting the way ahead.
Below, in the shadows, the big male could see the small, unsuspecting town of Cossack. With a twitch of his ears, he focused his attention on it, moving forward, his mob following in obedience to their leader.
Cossack was remote, far from any possible help. It was on its own, facing the onslaught. Any cry for help would go unheeded – and it was already far too late.
They were the largest of Australia’s entire lethal array of land animals: the Red Kangaroo. Red, the colour of blood... Ever ravenous, they sensed food, and with that, the town’s fate was sealed.
With great powerful bounds they tore through the night, shaking the very earth beneath their feet, heading for the defenceless, unprepared town.
The mob... onwards it came, thundering through the darkness, descending on the hapless, innocent settlement...
At long last, after a night of untold horror, dawn came, revealing a dead and ruined town; shattered buildings, lifeless streets, windows gaping empty upon the desolation like a myriad of eye sockets in a graveyard of dusty grey skulls. But still the killing went on, as the mob converged on the ruined centre of town.
When at last the mob was done, there was no human life remaining in the hapless town. Cossack was dead.
By morning, the mob – its appetite temporarily sated – moved on in its relentless pursuit of new prey, leaving in its wake only ruins – and ghosts.
Joel gaped at the page. “Great story, but… you said this is real? It can’t be. We saw kangaroos at the farm… they sure don’t look like they could wipe out a town.
The sounds of the night changed slightly, some growing closer, prompting Shane to reply quickly as he clicked off the lantern, as he had for Trevor. “It’s non-fiction, and it’s all true. The roos you saw at the farm were gray kangaroos, they’re smaller and more mellow. What hit Cossack was red kangaroos. They’re the biggest there are, and when they come, it’s not just one; they travel in mobs, sometimes of a hundred or more. Trev’s told me of your bears back in Yankeeland; black bears like you’ve got in Florida, which are small and rarely dangerous, and then the big grizzlies in the western part of the country, the man eaters. That’s what red roos are to gray roos. You don’t mess with red roos, ever.”
“How come I’ve never heard of ‘em?” Joel asked, slurring slightly.
Shane shrugged. “How come I’d never heard of grizzlies until Trev showed up? Still, I’d rather deal with grizzlies; they don’t run in huge mobs like red roos do.”
The sounds of the night grew more distant, so Shane stood up, and grumbled, “You don’t buy beer, you only rent it,” and headed off into the brush, intent on scattering a few more carrots.
When Shane returned, he regaled Joel with a few tales of the red kangaroos, made up on the spot, about campers killed by them. Trevor joined in at the end, stalling for time by warning Joel not to take future charter customers camping ashore in red roo country.
Finally, when Trevor and Shane were beginning to doubt their ploy, a few tut-tut-tuts sounded, close by, accompanied by the loud snap of a heavy twig. “Just the wind, I guess,” Trevor said, glancing out at the darkness with feigned concern.
Shane put the story away and whispered his rehearsed line, “I love the sounds of the night, listening and trying to figure out the noises. The birds here even make calls at night, and some of them are really strange.”
Joel took another drink of beer, pausing to listen. A tut-tut-tut came from close by, followed by a grunt. A few more sounded, interrupting a crunching noise.
“Almost sounds like something chewing on carrots,” Joel whispered, before taking another drink of beer.
Trevor and Shane shared a worried glance, and Shane replied, “Something big, eating… oh bloody hell, this isn’t good.”
Joel nodded, leaning close to Shane in the near total darkness, and whispering, “We’re not in red kangaroo country, are we?”
“Oh crap, yeah, I guess we are,” Shane whispered, trying his best to sound terrified. “Maybe we should have a look; it might be nothing,” he added.
Shane picked up the lantern, holding it high, and clicked on the fluorescent light, sweeping it rapidly around, revealing that they were not alone. Several massive shapes moved at the edge of the darkness as a few heads rose high, turning to look, and Joel caught a glimpse of many glowing eyes and large, dark shapes.
“Shit!” Shane hissed, clicking off the light. “Did you see ‘em?”
Joel waited for a moment, and then whispered, “It could be… I don’t want to even think it… oh my God, it could be… a carrot surprise!”
“Bastard!” Shane grumbled, flicking the light back on, brighter this time, and setting it down. The kangaroos, the nearest now just a dozen yards away, looked at the light, their ears flicking. After a few moments, they began ignoring the light, dropping their heads to resume eating.
“I thought we had you,” Trevor muttered. “How’d you know?”
Joel chuckled again, before whispering, “Let me guess; Shane got you with this, right?”
“Yeah,” Trevor admitted.
“You forgot two things about me; I’m not as crazy as you, and I’m nosy,” Joel whispered, and then added, “Shane and I usually cook together, so I was curious what he had planned. I looked in the cooler and saw all the carrots in with the stuff. But then he didn’t make them part of dinner… not our dinner anyway,” Joel said, watching the kangaroos. “They are big, you’re right about that. Awesome… anyway, I knew something was up, and I know kangaroos love carrots – Trev’s mom was complaining about what they’d done to her vegetable garden – so it wasn’t too hard to figure out. When you two were going on about red kangaroos, I knew you were up to something like this. I hope you guys know that this is sexual harassment.”
Shane chuckled, and then jostled Joel’s elbow. “This I gotta hear; how is it sexual harassment?”
“Listen and learn,” Joel replied, and then angled his head for a moment, before taking another drink of beer. “Uh, I’m too buzzed to explain it, so ask me in the morning.”
“He’ll think of something, he always does,” Trevor whispered, as they settled in to watch the kangaroos.
Shane handed Joel a bunch of carrots, and said quietly, “Toss them to them, one at a time, and they’ll come really close. They’ll hang around on the beach tomorrow, too.”
“Cool,” Joel replied, tossing his first carrot to a kangaroo.
And so began a fun night of drinking and kangaroos, a shared time of camaraderie, the coming parting going unmentioned, by mutual unspoken agreement.
‘Just a few more days and Joel will be home,’ Lisa thought, as she strolled down her grandmother’s street in Newark, New Jersey, with her father by her side. They were scheduled to fly home the following day, though on separate flights due to Lisa traveling on frequent flyer miles from Joel’s father.
As they approached her grandmother’s home – they’d only walked around the block; both were becoming a little stir crazy in the tiny apartment – they noticed a young man in a dark grey overcoat pause outside the apartment building, and then begin walking in their direction, his attention seemingly on the cell phone in his hand, as he studied the picture on its screen.
While Lisa chatted with her father, she paid little attention to the oncoming man. They’d passed quite a few people during their walk, and had no reason to think this was any different.
They closed to five feet, and the man glanced at Lisa’s face. “Becky, this is a surprise. How’ve you been?” he blurted out, a delighted smile on his face, his hands coming up as he reached for Lisa, as if to hug her. His cell phone, still in his hand, was now facing Lisa, but she didn’t notice the man thumbing the button to take her picture with it. Suddenly, his face went blank, his eyes opening wide as he froze, then took a step back. “You’re not Becky,” he exclaimed, blinking a few times.
“I’m definitely not Becky,” Lisa said, resuming her pace towards her grandmother’s building.
“Sorry,” the man said, continuing on his way, taking a quick glance down at his phone to make certain he’d taken her picture.
Lisa blinked, and then turned to look at her father. “Maybe I’m getting paranoid, but that felt… weird.”
Her father glanced back at the man, watching him walk away for a moment. “I don’t know, it might be just a guy who thought you were somebody he knew, but… did Bridget Bellevue know you were coming to New Jersey?”
Lisa swallowed once, and nodded. “Yeah, I think I mentioned it to her, months ago.”
Her father’s head snapped back to look at the man, now almost a hundred yards away. “If you see him again, call the police, just in case,” he said.
Rob, Bridget’s former partner in Rob’s Marine, was already on his way to his car. What he’d just done was part of the reason Bridget had pressed him to return to his native New Jersey after he’d returned Sea Witch to her. Rob didn’t know why he’d been asked to get Lisa’s picture, nor did he care; money was money.
When Rob reached his car, he took a moment to attach the photo to an e-mail, and send it.
In Nassau, capital of the Bahamas, Gonzalez strolled through the hotel grounds, occasionally doubling back, his sunglass-shielded eyes sweeping the scene, seeking any sign of a tail. When he was at last satisfied, he made his way towards a row of patio rooms; each room opened, via a sliding glass door, onto a small open patio, bedecked with a few pieces of plastic lawn furniture. They were open to the grass, and the pool area beyond.
Gonzalez had the room number memorized, but the rooms were only numbered on the entry doors, located on the far side of the long, narrow building. He paused for a moment, and then counted the units to identify the one for his rendezvous.
Quickening his stride, he walked along the row, and then, drawing close, he angled suddenly for the open glass door of the room, as one might do to enter one’s own room.
It was a good plan, until Gonzalez brushed aside the curtain and stepped across the threshold, evoking a startled gasp from the naked women in the room’s plush bed. She rose up on her elbows, pointing in horror, and then shaking the shoulder of her slumbering lover.
“Oops, sorry, I thought this was my room,” Gonzalez blurted, backing hastily out of the room.
Gonzalez backed up three paces, and then came a soft voice, barely loud enough to hear, from the next room’s open door. “Pssst, in here, Inspector Clouseau.”
Gonzalez gritted his teeth and entered the room, the scattered fast food wrappers telling him in an instant that he’d chosen the right one.
Frank Tittle, cocktail in hand, regarded Gonzalez with a baleful eye. “So much for subterfuge. Maybe I should have hung out a big banner; ‘Secret meeting in here’.”
“If there’s one thing worse than a lawyer, it’s a smart-ass lawyer,” Gonzalez grumbled, closing the curtain and door before taking a seat across the table from Frank.
Frank chuckled, and then took another drink before replying, “Actually, I think Henry would approve of the error. He often told me that doing something incongruous was a good way to allay suspicion. God, I miss him.”
“So do I,” Gonzalez replied, with a pained look on his face. “Thanks for coming, Frank. I’m no good at this cloak and dagger crap.”
Frank arched an eyebrow. “And I am? I’m a lawyer, not a detective.”
Gonzalez arched an eyebrow, helped himself to a beer from Frank’s courtesy bar, and as he pried the cap off, he said, “I need someone who’s underhanded, devious, and unethical, so of course I called you.”
Frank glared for a moment. “Did you get me to come here just so you could insult me and rack up my tab with a beer? Do you have any idea how much they charge for the damn courtesy bar stuff? I walked to a liquor store for some canned cocktails, which saved me a ton.”
Gonzalez snorted. “You take home six figures in a bad year, and you’re bitching over the price of one beer?”
Frank nodded. “Fine, I’ll send you a bill for that. Okay, why did you get me to come here, really?”
Gonzalez got down to business. “I’m onto something. The DEA liaison in Freeport, to be exact. I went out beating the bushes, passing around those pictures Henry took of Bridget’s mystery visitor. I figured something would turn up from that, and it did, in the form of the DEA liaison, Sharpton, telling me I had photos of a messenger, and was pissing off the local cops. I tricked him into admitting he’d met with George Alfred. I knew George had law enforcement contacts here, and took a guess; some of ‘em might be dirty. It worked. Now, here’s my problem; I’m not sure who I can work with. The new State Attorney is helping me, but aside from him, I can’t get anyone involved without risking a tip-off, or a DEA opp to take down Sharpton. That would be their prime goal if they knew, but it’s not mine. I’ll help on that when the time comes, but not until he’s served his purpose.”
Frank allowed his combative demeanor to subside while he took another drink, and then said, “I’ll help in any way I can to get Bellevue, and anyone else involved with Henry’s murder. Any leads on her whereabouts?”
Gonzalez scowled, and shook his head. “All I have is what I just told you. The theory I’m going on is if I find that mystery visitor of Bridget’s, she’ll be close by, or he’ll know where she is. I’m thinking that Sharpton knows who he is, and maybe where to find him. I’ve been trying for weeks to put a name to the picture, but the FBI and DEA drew a blank. So, I need a devious scheme to play Sharpton, and haven’t been able to come up with anything good yet.”
Feigning offense, Frank glared at Gonzalez. “So you need a crooked scam, and you thought of me, did you?” Frank cracked a soft smile. “I’m flattered. Okay, right off the top of my head… flip Sharpton. Arrange a meeting, and give him a heads up that you’re running a play to flush out cartel operatives; you’ve put word out that Sharpton is helping you run down this messenger, so he might want to keep an eye out. Give him mystery visitor’s name, and say that’s what you’ve leaked. That’d put Sharpton in fear of his life from his drug running buddies, and that’s when you turn the screws to flip him; it’s either that, or you let him take his chances with the cartel’s tender mercies. Blindside him like that, with maybe a state’s evidence deal and witness protection as a sweetener, and you’ve got a good chance of getting him.”
Gonzalez was suddenly doubtful of Frank’s usefulness. “A few problems. First, he had muscle at the meet, which he claimed was a local cop. I doubt that, but it doesn’t make a lot of difference. The response might be to take me out, then and there. The other problem is that your plan is predicated on me giving Sharpton the name of the mystery man, which I just told you I don’t have – and can’t get.”
“Ye of little faith,” Frank replied, with a smirk. “The guy Henry took the pictures of goes by the name of Sanchez, at least some of the time. He’s very high in the Colombian cartel that runs this area; either part of the top circle, or one step below. He may run the show in the Bahamas, a very big fish indeed.”
Gonzalez gaped. “How the fuck did you find that out when the feds couldn’t?”
Frank gave Gonzalez a conspiratorial smile. “I have friends in low places, and more than that, I can’t say. All I can add is that the ID was made by someone who has met Sanchez a few times, though not in the last two years.” Frank’s source was one of his clients; he’d defended the man from narcotics trafficking charges the year before, and had gained him an acquittal. Frank had shown the photos of Sanchez to two other former clients, but on the third, he’d hit lucky. The man had demanded confidentiality, plus a break on future legal fees, in return for the information.
“I have to ask; how solid is this?”
“Solid, though from a single source. I think he’s on the level. He was shocked when I told him the pictures were taken in Florida; he said that whoever Sanchez was there to see must be very important, because people like Sanchez don’t like setting foot in the U.S. – too risky.”
That answer, plus knowledge of some of Frank’s past clients, gave Gonzalez a good idea of the nature of the source. The lead wasn’t as solid as he’d have preferred, but it was all he had. “Good job. Okay, maybe we could flip Sharpton with that, but that leaves the other problem; the need for backup. I might be able to get a few guys to meet me in Freeport, but it’ll take time, and it’d be a risk. I can set something up here in Nassau and use the Coast Guard office at the embassy for the meeting, but… we’d have to get Sharpton here. I think I know a way.” A smile spread across Gonzalez’s face, as he waited for Frank to figure it out. To help, he added, “There’s a reason I asked you to bring a suit.”
It was only his skill at hiding his expressions that stopped Frank from blinking. “I’m a lawyer, not a con artist.”
Gonzalez chuckled. “And those are different things how, exactly?” he asked rhetorically, as he helped himself to another beer.
A Discussion thread for this chapter is in my forum, please have a look and join in. direct link here. The forum enables conversations so in many cases it's a far easier to use format than the "leave a comment" section on this page, so I suggest having a look, but use whichever (or both) you are more comfortable with .