(Here's a link to google maps,centered on the areas in the chapter, which can be zoomed and moved around, because I know some of you are like me and love to follow along and see the areas on the story.)
Charles Stiles arrived home later than usual, finding his wife waiting at the door. “So what’s the verdict?” she asked. They’d both had concerns.
Charles shrugged. “Gonzalez has been looking into it since I asked him when Dad first told us of the prize. He found it a bit coincidental too. What he’s found is that the company that sent Dad the honeymoon package is legitimate; a marketing and promotions business based in New Jersey, but we were already pretty sure on that part. What he’s found out since is that they sent out prizes to thirty winners; hotel packages for Vegas and Hawaii mainly, but they sent five other honeymoon packages for various resorts in the Caribbean. These all went to married couples, so they’d be second honeymoons, I guess. It appears they were picked at random nationwide, except that all the recipients seem to live in expensive neighborhoods – and that’s normal for this sort of promotional prize. So, at least it looks like the honeymoon package is one thing we don’t need to worry about.”
“Now if only the wedding was that simple,” Joel’s mother replied. They’d been told a few days before that it would be anything but.
It was a scorching hot morning, and the smell of kerosene was in the air. “I’ll meet you when your return flight lands,” Lieutenant Commander Schwartz said, leading Trevor and Shane out onto the concrete apron. They’d already turned in their two small duffel bags. “Have a safe flight; it’s open seating,” he said, as he bid them adieu from the bottom of the metal stairs.
A sergeant waved Trevor and Shane up. “Welcome aboard. You’ll find this a lot like a civilian flight,” he said, as Trevor and Shane entered the big gray C-130 Hercules, a four-engine turboprop transport.
As they entered the seating area – the forward end of the cargo bay – Trevor found it very different from an airliner. A single row of seats down each fuselage wall faced the centerline, their backs nothing but red webbing. They made their way back, taking seats with one of the few windows between them. They glanced aft, seeing more of the ubiquitous red cargo netting holding boxes and shipping pallets in place.
Even Shane, who had never been on an airliner, found it very different from what he’d expected. “Lots of headroom,” he said, while buckling his seat belt.
Trevor, still clutching his small tote bag containing the tape and two copies, glanced at Shane with concern. “You’ve never flown before. Are you okay?”
“I went parasailing with you, that was flying,” Shane said, glancing nervously around the plane. “I think I’m okay. It was looking down that got me. I just won’t look out the window if it bothers me.”
“Want to move away from the window?” Trevor offered.
Shane shook his head. “I just won’t turn around and look out if it bothers me.”
The remaining seats soon filled, and the loadmaster gave a brief safety talk.
The four engines spooled up, reversing pitch to back away from the terminal, and Trevor, who had never been on a turboprop plane, found them far louder than what he was used to. He kept a concerned eye on Shane.
Shane noticed, and gave Trevor a smile. “No worries, I’m doing fine. I’m not scared at all.”
“Is that because we’re still on the ground?” Trevor asked.
“Probably. Just keep telling me we’re still on the ground if I get nervous.”
The C-130 reached the threshold for the eastbound takeoff, and the loadmaster bellowed, “Our flight time should be about two and a half hours; we have to go around the eastern tip of Cuba to avoid their airspace before turning northwest. We’re taking off eastbound so there’s no minefield at the end of the runway to worry about.”
“No minefield to worry about if we have to make an emergency landing,” Shane said numbly, nodding his head. “Great news, that. Maybe he’ll give us even better news, like no hurricane to fly through.”
Trevor gave Shane’s arm a reassuring pat. “I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather reports. Don’t worry, there aren’t any hurricanes. The whole Atlantic is clear, and there’s no bad weather on our route, either.”
With a shuddering roar, the four turboprops reached full throttle as the plane began its takeoff roll.
The plane pitched nose-up as it rotated off the runway, soaring into the clear blue sky and then banking hard to the right. Shane would have clutched at the armrests, had there been any. Instead, he grabbed Trevor’s arm and held on tight.
The loadmaster’s alert eye noticed Shane’s unease, and he got up to walk over and crouch next to Shane. “Not flown much before? You must have at least once, to get to Gitmo, so this will go just as well as that did,” the loadmaster said, with a reassuring smile.
“We sailed in, on our boat. I’ve never been on a plane before,” Shane replied, relaxing slightly due to the distraction.
“Oh, then I know who you two are… News travels fast around here. There’s nothing to worry about; this plane is as safe as they come, and they hardly ever crash. The reason for the abrupt maneuver after takeoff was just to avoid Cuban airspace and also to avoid overflying Camp Delta. It’ll be a smooth flight to Homestead. I fly almost every day, it’s nothing. What would scare the holy crap out of me though, is being on a sailboat in the middle of an ocean. Now that’s terrifying,” he said, with a smile.
Shane began to smile back. “Thanks. I think I’m okay now,” he said, releasing his death grip on Trevor’s arm. The loadmaster gave them a nod and returned to his seat.
Trevor nudged Shane’s shoulder with his own. “We’re still on the ground.”
Shane chuckled, listening to the roaring engines. “I’m okay now… it’s not as bad as I thought. It’s heights that bother me, and I guess it’s seeing I’m up high that’s a part of that.”
An hour into the flight, Trevor looked out the window. In the far distance, he saw a chain of keys stretching to the horizon, and correctly guessed that they were the Exuma Cays. For a brief moment, blissfully unawares, his glance fell on the distant speck of a Cay that was Bridget’s main headquarters where, at that moment, she was busily putting the final touches on the prelude to her plan for his and Shane’s demise.
Shane found that he didn’t much care for landings either, though he was glad to be back on the ground. They went through customs and passport control in the military passenger terminal, where they were met by Officer Gonzalez. He walked up to them as they collected their baggage, giving them a smile and a cheerful, “Hello, it’s good to meet you both in person.”
Trevor balked for a moment. “Uh, hi. We’ve never met, so… um…”
Gonzalez grinned. “I’m glad you’re learning to be wary. Here’s my ID,” he said, flipping open his badge, which showed him to be the head of Florida’s corruption task force. Then he showed them the phone encryption device he had been using to speak with them. “Go ahead and phone me; I’m actually me,” he said, with a grin.
“We just needed to be sure. We’ve got something for you,” Trevor said, reaching into his bag and handing Gonzalez Arnold Bellevue’s tape, plus two copies. Sending the tapes with Trevor and Shane had been the fastest way to get them to Florida due to there having been no other Florida flights since their arrival at Guantanamo Bay. Trevor still had a tested copy on Atlantis, and one had been retained at Guantanamo Bay. “What happens now?”
Gonzales handed the original tape back. “You carry that one. I’ll take the copies,” he said, slipping them into his briefcase. “This afternoon, you get to be interviewed, then deposed. The latter will be making sworn testimony on video. You’ll be staying at an officer’s house in Miami overnight, and then we leave in the morning.”
Gonzalez made a stop at a courier office, where he dispatched one of the copies to Frank Tittle in Orlando.
When they arrived at the Miami-Dade department headquarters, Gonzalez led Trevor and Shane in via the busy main entrance to the reception desk, where he asked if the FBI liaison was in. When informed that he wouldn’t be in until Monday, Gonzalez glanced at the tape in Trevor’s hand and said, “Just hold onto it until then. What we need to do right away is to get you two interviewed and deposed.” They exited the building, the tape still clutched in Trevor’s hand. The next stop was the Miami office of the state’s corruption task force.
“Hi boss, we’re all set up,” the second in command of the task force said, as Gonzalez breezed into the office’s small, crowded foyer with Trevor and Shane following close behind.
Gonzalez held his hand out to Trevor. “I need the tape now; I’m sending it to the FBI lab direct.” Gonzalez paused for a moment before interrupting himself and handing the tape back, “Actually, no I’m not. I’m not taking any chances on this getting lost, not now. You’ll be under guard the whole time, so hold onto it; we’ll give it to the FBI in person on Monday, and they can take responsibility for it.”
Trevor dutifully played his part by nodding as he’d been asked, though he didn’t yet know why.
The interviews began, and were conducted separately. They were long and grueling, with Trevor’s being especially so due to his longer involvement with Bridget. At the end of it all, Gonzalez was forced to admit to himself that nothing useful had been garnered. That left the depositions – oral testimony, given on camera. This was done, and Trevor and Shane were sent home with a trusted officer, a longtime friend of Gonzalez. Before they left, Gonzalez took the original tape from Trevor and drove it to the FBI’s office himself.
By this time, many members of the Miami police department knew that Trevor and Shane were in town and heading for Lisa and Joel’s wedding. Gonzalez had also alerted – and requested backup from – the Ft. Pierce police department for the wedding at the marina restaurant next to Dirk’s chandlery, a venue Dirk had reserved months in advance.
Gonzalez was expecting trouble. He’d also alerted the FBI to the wedding plans and location, and, for good measure, added the Coast Guard to his notification list. As a further measure, he’d negotiated the bureaucratic labyrinth that had been needed for the Miami SWAT team to covertly deploy to Ft. Pierce for the wedding.
On Friday morning, Gonzalez picked up Trevor and Shane for the drive. They began by going northbound on I-75, and then followed it west out of the city. Trevor held his tongue for a few miles, until he was sure, and asked, “Uh, isn’t this the wrong way for Ft. Pierce?”
“Yes, indeed it is,” Gonzalez replied, with a grin. “Because you’re not going there. Your father and Jim Ainsworth hid out at a condo in Tampa while they were on the run from the law, and if we couldn’t find them, I figure you’re safe there too. They’ll be meeting us there. Ft. Pierce is far too dangerous a place for you to be with Bridget and her organization after you, especially with you going to a known location like the wedding, so I’m not letting you two go anywhere near Ft. Pierce. And before you object, yes, you can still go to the wedding.”
For the rest of the four hour ride to Tampa, Gonzalez repeatedly refused to explain this apparent contradiction.
With bated breath, Trevor, with Shane and Gonzalez standing behind him, knocked on the door. Trevor was nervous; even with all the phone calls, he still felt the remnants of the rift between himself and his father.
Dirk opened the door, laying eyes on his son for the first time in over a year. “Trev,” he said, eyes blurring with tears as he pulled his son into a hug. And with that, Trevor, in a place he’d never been, knew he was home.
“Dad, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, hugging his father tight.
“Trev, I’m the one who’s sorry, for the lies, for everything,” Dirk said, unwilling to let go.
Trevor took a breath, and pulled partially away. “Dad, that’s all in the past.” In a very real sense, Trevor had come full circle; his circumnavigation now complete.
Dirk pulled Trevor inside, and turned to smile at Shane. “Hi, you must be Shane. Come on in. And hello again, Officer Gonzalez, please come in.”
Inside, Jim Ainsworth was standing by the kitchen counter, and smiled at Trevor. “Hi, Trev. It’s been a long time since Messina.”
Trevor hesitated, and then gave Jim a hug. “Hi Jim, good to see you again.”
Shane felt a bit awkward, and was unusually silent. Dirk went up to him and gave him a hug. “We’ve talked by phone a few times. You’re not usually the quiet type.”
“I’m just glad to be here,” Shane replied, beginning to feel more at ease.
“So how are you finding Florida?” Dirk asked, feeling a bit awkward himself and trying to make conversation.
“It’s here, and it’s flat,” Shane replied, giving Dirk a grin and thus breaking the ice.
Jim introduced himself to Shane – they had spoken by phone as well – and then said in a stage whisper and with a wink to Trevor. “I very much approve.”
Trevor smiled, the first hint of a blush coloring his tan cheeks.
Gonzalez waited until the introductions were over and said, “I’ve got an errand to run. You should all be safe here; no one but me knows where you are. I’ll see you all at the wedding tomorrow – and by the way, I didn’t tell Trevor or Shane what we have planned, in case they talk to Lisa and Joel.”
Gonzalez drove to Frank Tittle’s home in Orlando, and Frank met him at the door. “I’ve been studying the tape,” Frank said, not bothering with a greeting. “That’s definitely Arnold Bellevue on it; there’s no doubt. He gave a Rotary Club presentation about a year before he died, and I was there. I’m sure it’s him.”
“The FBI confirmed that it’s him; their lab matched him with known pictures and video,” Gonzalez replied, moving aside an empty pizza box to take a seat in Frank’s home office.
Frank settled back into his desk chair. “I see nothing that helps us. I still don’t see a way out of this. There’s one thing though, and it’s been nagging at me ever since I heard the audio version: Arnold wanted Bridget to find the doll. Why? I think it’s very important.” That wasn’t the only thing he’d noticed, but the other was something he had a fiduciary duty to discuss with Trevor first.
“As you know, the Aussies tracked it to a sale, where it was sold for cash. The trail went cold after that. I think it’s a dead end anyway; why hide anything in a doll that he hoped Bridget would find?”
Frank gave Gonzales a condescending smile. “That’s likely because you don’t really know killers. I defend them, and as part of that I often get to know them. I’m guessing that Bridget actually cared for her daughter, though she cared for herself and her business more. I think Arnold is right; Bridget killed her by arranging for her to get pure uncut cocaine. The bit Arnold mentioned about Bridget showing no emotion at first… that’s a big red flag for me. If she really felt nothing, she’d have faked grieving right from the start, to cover herself. You also told me that she kept a small picture of her daughter in her home, along with a large portrait of Arnold. That’s a pattern that fits what I’ve seen before. Bridget was angry at her daughter, Stacy, for what she saw as betrayal and weakness, and, in calculating anger, Bridget arranged for her death. However, with Arnold and, we think, Henry, and George Alfred too, she did it up close and personal. I think that seeing the doll, which was apparently a childhood favorite of her daughter’s, would shake Bridget badly. So, I think you were not seeing the forest for the trees; it’s the doll itself that might be important, and that was apparently the opinion of a superb lawyer who knew her better than anyone: Arnold Bellevue.”
Gonzalez’s eyes narrowed, and he nodded. “Okay, I see your point, but how can we use it, especially as we haven’t got it?”
“You’re missing the most important part; Arnold thought she would be affected by it. I think I know why; from what we’ve seen, she makes mistakes when she’s angry or feeling betrayed. She lets her emotions guide her. That fits with her formal demeanor; she hides behind it, using it to veil the real her. And when her emotions come to the fore, the cold calculating mask slips. And then, she gets sloppy and makes mistakes. That’s a fit with a few killers of her general type I’ve defended. So, I think pissing her off might be an angle, though I haven’t yet got any idea how to make use of it.”
Gonzalez scratched at his chin, thinking. “Okay, that doesn’t help us much at the moment, so let’s set it aside. I need your opinion on something else; do you think she’ll make a move at Lisa and Joel’s wedding?”
Frank shrugged. “I don’t know if she’d come herself, but I suppose it’s possible she’d at least be in the area if she thought the tape was nearby – I doubt she’d trust anyone with it for long. As for something happening, I’d say it’s likely if she finds out Trevor and Shane will be there – she knows that if she grabs one, the other would probably trade for the tape. You might be able to minimize that by letting word out that law enforcement has it, but on the flip side that might make Bridget switch from a kidnap attempt to a killing – and killing is easier. I’d expect Bridget to pull out all the stops and send in a lot of people. As you know, I’ve strongly advised Dirk against letting Trevor and Shane go, but he said it’s out of his hands. I sure hope you didn’t tell anyone they’re planning on going?”
Gonzales shrugged. “Not many. I’ve been very careful about who I told. Some of the Miami cops know, as does the Ft. Pierce police department, and maybe a few others who saw Trevor with the tape. But I’ll have protection at the wedding; some plainclothes officers. Want to come?”
Frank’s face flushed red as he came out of his chair. “Are you out of your tiny fucking mind? You’ll get them killed!” he roared.
Gonzalez began to smile.
Saturday, August 11th, dawned bright and clear, a perfect day for the event. Lisa and Joel, at their respective homes, got ready for their wedding.
Officer Gonzalez, feeling painfully underdressed in Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, arrived at the Stiles house, and parked out front. Charles answered on the first knock. “Good morning. Lisa and Joel are still in the dark. Is everything still going the way we talked about?” Charles asked. He and Joel’s mother, along with Lisa’s father, knew the actual plan.
“Beach-casual clothes for a wedding. This is… strange,” Gonzalez grumbled, with a good-natured smile.
“Everything is strange about this one,” Charles replied, ushering Gonzalez inside.
“Is Trevor’s car ready?” Gonzalez asked.
Charles rolled his eyes. “As ready as it’ll ever be. Joel did the work on it like he said he would, and I ended up helping a bit on some of it, but neither of us are mechanics. He’s fixed the clutch okay, but the engine is a mess.”
“Think it’ll get to the marina?”
“That’s four miles from here… maybe. The longest test drive we took it on is two miles, and it barely made it back. It’s burning oil; I think Joel put the head gasket in wrong or something. It’ll kick out a lot of smoke, and it fouls the plugs pretty fast.”
“Good, as long as it gets there. I wouldn’t want my Trevor and Shane stuck by the side of the road.”
“They might need to push,” Charles replied.
Gonzalez turned to glance out the window and then opened the door as two young blond guys, dressed in board shorts, flip flops, tank tops, and sunglasses, walked up to the house. “Come on inside,” he said.
“Charles, I’d like you to meet police cadets Grange and Mueller.”
Charles shook the two cadets’ hands. “I hope everything goes okay.”
Joel bounded down the stairs, wearing board shorts and an unbuttoned shirt, his tan chest set off by a white puka-shell necklace. “Are Trev and Shane here yet? I don’t want to be late!” His eyes flicked around, driven by jangled nerves. “Uh, hi,” he said, finally noticing Gonzalez and the cadets.
Charles smiled. “We’re not supposed to leave for half an hour, and don’t worry, I don’t think they’ll start the wedding reception without you.”
“They’re supposed to be here by now,” Joel replied.
Gonzalez fielded the answer. “They’ll be meeting you at the wedding site, for security reasons. Sorry…. but I promise, they’ll be there.”
Joel’s grandfather emerged from the kitchen, and saw Joel fidgeting. “Is your suitcase ready? Remember, you’re leaving for the airport right after the ceremony,” he said, giving Joel a calm smile.
“I forgot,” Joel blurted, already tearing up the stairs to his room. He’d not only forgotten to bring his suitcase down, he’d forgotten to finish packing it.
Gonzalez excused himself and stepped outside to call Frank Tittle. “A small change of plan; I need you to make yourself useful for once…”
At the marina, the guests were already arriving at the restaurant, which was just yards from Dirk’s chandlery. The restaurant didn’t open for lunch, so the owners had given Dirk – their landlord – a very good deal for the use of their facilities.
The arriving guests, including the members of Joel’s swim team, began filling the banquet room in the back of the restaurant. As they’d parked, several had noticed the massive truck backed up to the restaurant’s loading dock, and hoped that it meant the food had arrived and that there would be plenty of it. A dozen officers, wearing the prescribed wedding attire, blended in with the guests. Two others were acting as parking valets, which allowed them to position the vehicles where they wanted them.
Joel and Lisa had insisted on a very unconventional format; casual beachwear – shirts and shorts – for attire, with the reception taking place before the wedding. The reception would be a party; a light meal and snacks followed by the ceremony. Immediately after the ceremony, Lisa and Joel would be taken to the airport in Orlando.
At the restaurant, snacks and soft drinks were being served to the guests, as the appointed hour neared.
Officer Gonzalez strolled in and helped himself to some buffalo wings. He tapped his ear to make sure his earpiece was firmly seated, and continued listening in on the police net.
His cell rang and, as soon as he accepted the call, he heard Frank Tittle yelling, “Gonzalez, I’m sending you a damn bill for the front end of my car – and maybe a whole new car, if I don’t goddamn choke before I get there! I’m a lawyer, not a damn tow truck!”
“What’s wrong?” Gonzalez asked.
“As if you didn’t know when you asked me to do this. Shut the fuck up and look out the damn window,” Frank snarled, and hung up.
Gonzalez looked out the window, and in a few moments saw a cloud of grayish-white smoke coming down the road. At the head of it was Trevor’s ancient Honda, and right behind it, bumpers almost touching, was Frank Tittle’s Mercedes. After a few yards, the Honda began to lurch and slow, its engine backfiring, and as Gonzalez watched, Frank again shoved its rear bumper with his own, getting the Honda back up to speed. It was all a delighted Gonzalez could do not to laugh.
The marina was a public place. Quite a few pedestrians were on the waterfront walkway, and just about all of them turned to look as Trevor’s car announced its arrival with a few muffled bangs, and a wheezing rattle. One of them casually flipped open his phone. “Ma’am, the guests are still arriving and a car just showed up, a real wreck. I think it’s a Honda, or used to be. It’s belching smoke and being pushed by a fancy Mercedes.”
“That is almost certainly Trevor Carlson’s car. I know that horrible thing all too well. Describe the people in it,” Bridget demanded.
“Hang on, they’re just parking. I’m about a hundred feet away… it’s two blond guys, late teens, around six foot, fit and good looking. They’re in shorts and sunglasses, one has a baseball cap on; they’re both shirtless, with golden tans.”
“Are they carrying anything?” Bridget asked.
“Nothing. They’ve just locked the car and checked it… they’re pulling on shirts and heading into the restaurant now. The guy who was in the Mercedes is following them in and yelling at them.”
“Where is the Honda? Be exact.”
“About thirty feet north of the restaurant’s north door, in the parking lot.”
“Thank you. Keep me apprised. I need to be very certain of the situation prior to sending my people in. Any sign of the SWAT team or other police yet?” Bridget asked her operative.
“Three Ft. Pierce patrol cars keep driving by, not displaying obvious interest in the restaurant, and there are two unmarked black sedans with tinted windows in the parking lot that just scream ‘cops’. For the SWAT team, nothing I’m sure of, but there’s a huge truck at the restaurant’s loading bay.”
“How pedestrian of him. I expected better. Very well, begin casually walking away, but keep that restaurant and Trevor’s car in sight.”
Bridget ended the call, which had been on her speakerphone. She glanced at Xavier, who was seated on the opposite side of her desk. “Refresh the teams’ memories and verify that every single one of them understands the mission orders.”
Xavier began barking orders into his phone which, unlike that of Bridget and her operative, was not encrypted. “This is Bruno. Repeat what I say so that all can hear; your first objective is the car and any video tape. Team two handles that. The rest of you are after Trevor Carlson and/or Shane Rhys. At the end of this call, every man must take the phone and confirm that they understand, and also that they have pictures of Trevor and Shane, have them memorized, and know that both are to remain alive. Anyone else there can be killed.” Xavier waited for the individual confirmations, and then gave the marching orders, “Get the foot teams moving to their ready positions, and get the others in their cars ready. Start the tow truck rolling.”
Inside the restaurant’s banquet room, Gonzalez took the podium and announced, “The party’s about to start.” Those words had a special meaning to his people: assault confirmed. To make sure everyone was listening, he clapped three times and raised his voice. “Attention everyone, turn your phones off and do not use them.” To make certain his words were heeded, a police cell jammer, attended by two officers in a back room, was turned on at its lowest setting, to interfere with any cell within a fifty foot radius – though not beyond.
Gonzalez moved to the center of the room, flipping open his badge and holding it out. “Your attention please. My name is Mike Gonzalez, head of the Florida corruption task force. As some of you may know, there were security concerns with this wedding due to the situation with Trevor Carlson, who will be our best man today. Therefore, the wedding and reception venue was changed, and not even the bride and groom knew. If you’ll all follow me, we have a truck in the back that’s had bus seating installed. A police officer is driving, and will take you all to the actual location. You’ll be there in fifteen minutes. I apologize for any inconvenience, but there are lives at risk.” Gonzalez would have preferred to divert the guests before they’d even arrived, though secrecy had precluded it; he could not risk word getting out. He was confident that his forces could protect the guests in the restaurant, but prudence demanded that he get them out of there, and besides, they had a wedding to attend.
As fast as they could, Gonzalez, six officers, and four police cadets – the stand-ins for Lisa, Joel, Trevor, and Shane – herded the thirty-seven guests, along with the surprised restaurant staff, into the big truck via the closed loading bay, where they took seats – the seats had been removed from a prison bus and bolted to the floor, and were far from comfortable.
Gonzalez closed the roller door from the outside, and radioed the driver, “Go.”
The truck pulled away. An unmarked car would soon join it to look for any tails, while detection gear aboard would hopefully notice any tracking devices. Also along for the ride was the cellular jammer.
Gonzalez told his people in the room, who now numbered over twenty and had begun opening weapons boxes, “We’re getting cell intercepts that indicate an attack is being prepared. We’ve got a few minutes, I think. Everyone except me and the decoys, get into body armor and load your rifles now. Okay cadets, come with me; let’s make sure they take the bait,” he said, leading the two stand-ins briefly to the front door and then shooing them back inside. On cue, Joel’s grandfather’s RV rolled up, bearing cadets and current and former officers who bore a passing resemblance to Lisa, Joel, and their families. They all did their best to stay in character, milling around and moving piecemeal into the restaurant, playing their role of a happy wedding party. All were armed – their holsters hidden under the loose summer clothing.
A UPS delivery van stopped behind one of the nearby businesses, its driver, a police officer, seemingly a deliveryman intent on his clipboard. In the back, the SWAT team was completing a final check of their gear.
Inside the back room of Dirk’s chandlery, ten more heavily-armed officers waited.
Gonzalez had been doubtful that his scheme would bear fruit, though the surveillance team’s detection of Bridget’s operative – they knew the behavior to look for; the man was clearly keeping an eye on the restaurant – had raised Gonzalez’s hopes, which the partially-intercepted cellular calls from ‘Bruno’ to the teams had confirmed. Gonzalez’s lookouts now had one of the teams spotted.
“Any female voices on the intercepts?” he asked again, hoping that Bridget was in the area. “If you get even an inkling that Bridget Bellevue is on one of these calls, localizing her is your top priority. If she’s anywhere around here, we’ve got to get her.”
“None that seem involved, sir, male only for those,” came the reply, and then a pause before adding, “We aren’t getting anything from the observer we think we ID’d. That’s either encrypted, or we’re not getting it.” Their cellular sweep had been accomplished by electronically swapping out the closest cell tower with one of their own, giving them close to a hundred calls – most of them irrelevant – to keep tabs on. Another problem was in identifying the specific phones involved in real time. They could not tell the difference between a data stream, such as someone browsing the web, and an encrypted phone call.
Bridget’s operative, now over two hundred feet away, flipped open his phone. “The big RV that’s been at the Stiles house pulled up – same Kentucky plates. Looks like the family is all here.”
In her Bahamian home, Bridget took a sip of her brandy as the first amongst equals, who had just arrived as expected, entered the room. “Jose, so good to see you, my dear,” she said, using his given name, which she only used when they were alone, or with only Xavier or the first amongst equals’ head of security in the room. When anyone else was present, she called him by his honorific, ‘Jefe’. Their romantic relationship was still a secret from the other heads of the cartel – though by this point, neither greatly cared if the news leaked out.
Due to the urgent nature of the ongoing operation, Bridget spoke quickly. “We’re about to send them in. We’ve made absolutely certain that every man knows his orders, for it is likely that many, if not most, will not survive.”
“Your opinion is unchanged since we last spoke?” the first amongst equals asked, as Bridget poured him a brandy. He’d been in Haiti for several days, overseeing the preparations there.
“I have heard from two sources within the departments that Trevor and Shane will be there, and one saw Trevor with the tape at the Miami headquarters and heard that the FBI liaison they hoped to meet will not be in until Monday. Another confirmed that, when he saw him, Trevor still had the tape. Further, a car that can only be Trevor’s has shown up, bearing two people who very much appear to be Trevor and Shane. Officer Gonzalez has arranged for a Miami SWAT team to be somewhere in the Ft. Pierce area, though the evident police presence at the restaurant is rather low-key. Also, five days ago, Charles Stiles used his credit card to reserve the garden room and terrace at a resort in Vero Beach, which is ten miles north of Ft. Pierce. That resort is a perfect spot for a wedding – I attended a charity event there some years ago. I am more certain than ever; the marina restaurant in Ft. Pierce is a trap, one concocted by Gonzalez. It is surely defended to a massive degree, making any assault doomed to failure, even if the targets were actually there,” Bridget said, raising her glass to her lover’s, and then taking a sip of the fine, smooth brandy. “As for the tape, Gonzalez would be an utter fool not to have had copies made, so surely he has long since done so and distributed them.”
“What about the assault teams? Did that work out as we hoped?” the first amongst equals asked.
Bridget chuckled. “Yes, they are gang members. Twelve of them, who often work as low-level enforcers and dealers for the Norte Cartel.” That cartel was one of their rivals. “The gangsters only know one of my operatives, whom I will relocate, and they do not know that he works for us. As for Xavier, they only know him as a voice on the phone that goes by ‘Bruno’, which is the street name of a regional lieutenant of that cartel. They were paid five thousand per person as a down payment, with the promise of ten thousand more upon completion. For that, they were quite willing to go up against the two or three officers they believe may be there. They are well armed and, if true to form, trigger-happy and positively brimming with overconfidence.”
Lisa and Joel took the news well, all things considered. It didn’t hurt that the new venue, a garden room at a resort, was better than the old one. Any lingering objections they had were erased when they were informed that Trevor and Shane could attend only at the new location.
The garden room was spacious, with a high glass ceiling. Around the edges of the room, large walled planting areas held a panoply of tropical plants of all sizes, their lush colors bolstered by the addition of blooming perennial flowers planted in carefully chosen spots. A scent of lilacs hung in the air, and soft music wafted from concealed speakers.
It was a tropical paradise; ideal for the casual beach theme of their wedding. It even had a dance floor.
During the reception, Joel began to understand why they were usually held after the ceremony – he found himself too nervous to enjoy it.
Trevor and Shane, along with Dirk and Jim, arrived during the reception, with Trevor and Shane rushing in to reunite with Lisa and Joel.
They shared a group hug, and finally Trevor, all smiles, said, “I’m so happy for you two!”
Lisa gave Trevor, and then Shane, a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so glad you two actually got here! It just wouldn’t have been right without you, and we’ve been worried they wouldn’t let you come because of the risk. But you’re here! And Trev, you circled the world!”
“That’s because he’s a rotten navigator; he was trying to get back from the Bahamas and instead of west he went east,” Shane quipped.
The four clustered together, all trying to talk at once. Lisa, in shorts and a summer blouse, eyed the light button-down short-sleeved shirts Trevor and Shane were wearing, per her instructions. “Hey you two, you didn’t listen, I said shirts all the way unbuttoned. Like Joel’s, in case you need detailed instructions.”
Trevor began unbuttoning the few buttons he’d fastened, and Shane did the same. They’d both worn white necklaces, also as instructed. She gave their open shirts a nod of approval. “There, that’s better. Now Trev, you get the hard part; holding on to the rings.”
It was Joel who blinked. “Uh, where are they?” He grinned at the three shocked faces around him, pulling the box from his pocket. “Gotcha. Trev, you might want to keep the box in your hand so you don’t have to fish in your pocket for it.”
As Trevor took the ring box, Joel asked him, “So where are you picking us up from? Dad still won’t tell us where we’re going for our honeymoon.”
Trevor shrugged and answered, “All I know is it’s somewhere in the Caribbean, and you’ll be there a week. Oh, and it’s near the sea, because we’re supposed to pick you up in the Zodiac, not go into port. I swear, that’s all we know.”
Joel rolled his eyes. “So they won’t tell you either. Great. Okay, then at least tell me where you’re taking us on Atlantis. I know you know that.”
Trevor began to fidget. “Uh, I do, but, um, maybe it should wait until later,” Trevor replied, glancing with unease at Lisa, who was busy talking to Shane.
Joel pulled Trevor a few feet away before whispering, “What gives, Trev? Where are we going?”
Trevor resumed his fidgeting, suddenly finding his own feet absolutely fascinating. “Uh, it’s a nice place, and we’ll be on Atlantis. But if I tell you, you’ve got to be the one who tells Lisa, and you won’t want to do that today.”
Joel arched an eyebrow. “Why do I have to be the one to tell her?”
Trevor studied his feet some more. “Uh, because Shane and I voted on it, and you telling her won.”
“So it’s not somewhere good, and you two elected me to tell her, did you? Don’t I get a vote?” Joel asked.
“Nuh uh, because you’re the groom. But even if you did, it’d be two to one.”
Joel crossed his arms and gave Trevor a mock hurt look. “Trev, are you really going to do this to me on my wedding day?”
Trevor smiled and shook his head. “Nope, that’s why I’m not telling you now. I’ll tell you after we pick you up. And… it’s not just me, it’s Officer Gonzalez: he doesn’t want us telling anyone, so we can’t.”
“Oh yeah? We’ll see about that,” Joel replied, grabbing Trevor by the arm and dragging him towards Lisa. As soon as they were close and Joel had glanced around for privacy, he told Lisa with a grin, “Trev knows where he’s taking us on Atlantis but he won’t tell me.”
Shane glanced at Trevor, and then at Lisa. “It’s probably for the best,” he said, trying to look innocent, though failing badly.
Lisa glared at Shane. “Okay Aussie boy, spill it; where are we going?”
“A very safe place, super safe,” Shane replied. “Trev and I were there for a few days; it’s really nice, with some nice stores, and nice beaches, and some nice mountains–”
“Shane, if you say ‘nice’ one more time, you’ll regret it,” Lisa said, before turning to glare at Trevor. “Trev, I’m getting married today, so tell me where we’re going.”
Trevor gave it one last try. “We can’t; somebody might overhear.”
“Whisper,” Lisa ordered.
Trevor swallowed once. “Ask Officer Gonzalez; he won’t let us tell anyone, and I don’t want to say anything in here – it might not be safe.” ‘Because you might kill me,’ Trevor silently added, well able to envision Lisa’s first response to the news that she’d be spending the second part of her honeymoon in Guantanamo Bay.
“Okay, where is Officer Gonzalez anyway?” Lisa asked, glancing around the room. She was interrupted, to Trevor’s profound relief, by the minister.
“Take your places,” the minister said, looking somewhat uncomfortable in his loud Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts.
Lisa and Joel shared a smile, and then took their places near the room’s grand entrance. The casual dress was not the only change they’d made to the traditional ceremony.
Joel, with Trevor following a pace behind, walked forward as the wedding march began, heading for the improvised altar – an oak table, on which stood the tiered wedding cake.
Trevor and Joel reached the altar, Trevor standing slightly aside, with the velour box containing the wedding rings clutched in his hand. They turned to face the entrance as the wedding march continued, and a radiant Lisa began walking arm in arm with her father down the aisle.
The music ebbed, fading into a profound silence as the minister’s rich, booming voice began the solemn intonation, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today…”
The three FBI agents, posted at the room’s three entrances, stood guard. They were the only law enforcement officials of any kind within miles.
“A bloodbath. A massacre. An elegant play to reduce the effect of the tape when it’s released,” the first amongst equals said, with a nod of approval.
“Indeed, and the police will be unwittingly aiding in our endeavor.” Bridget smiled, taking another sip of brandy. “Today is Lisa and Joel’s big day; the happiest of their lives. I sincerely hope that their wedding is a joyous one, and I believe that they have been inconvenienced quite enough. For them, this is a time for commitment and solemn vows, a time for family and friends to wish them well as they embark on their life together, ‘till death do them part. A wedding is a very special thing indeed, and I have always believed that it behooves one to put the greatest of care and thought into choosing a present for the happy couple.” Bridget shared a chuckle at her wit with the first amongst equals, raising her glass to his.
A phone call from a second operative, this one at the resort in Vero Beach, came in. As soon as Bridget hung up, she shared the news. “The wedding march ended about a minute ago. They should be reciting their vows now and, unless they changed them, they are quite brief.” When Lisa and Joel had planned on having their wedding at Bridget’s house, they’d discussed their plans for the ceremony, including their vows, with her.
Bridget calmly waited for one minute, and then she smiled again. “By now, they should be man and wife.” She took a sip of brandy before telling Xavier, “Begin the assault.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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 it 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 . ~~~~~~~~ Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice. Thanks also to Low Flyer, for zeta reading. Special thanks to RickMD, for some major advice and help. Any remaining errors are mine alone.