(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.)
In Ft. Pierce, Gonzalez listened with consternation, and not a little confusion, as one of his lookouts reported over the radio that a tow truck, with just one man in it, was casually pulling up behind Trevor’s car. He set down his body armor and crept to the window for a look.
“What the fuck is going on?” Gonzalez mumbled; the cell intercepts had indicated an assault force of over a dozen armed men.
In that instant, his blood ran cold; he’d depended on secrecy and diversion to shield the real wedding venue. He lifted his other radio, knowing that it could already be far too late.
“I now pronounce you Man and Wife. You may kiss your bride,” the minister intoned, breaking into a grin.
Joel, beaming with pride and joy, swept Lisa into his arms for the kiss, as cheers and applause broke out in the room.
The FBI agents posted as guards received Gonzalez’s warning first; “Your location may come under attack. Attack may be imminent. Close up and get everyone under cover, guns out. I’m sending help, ETA ten minutes. Keep this link live and report any developments. Gonzalez out.”
This had been planned for, even though they’d hoped it would not be necessary. The senior agent dashed into the room while Lisa and Joel were cutting the cake, yelling, “We just got an alert; we may come under attack. Everyone take cover, and those of you with guns, cover the entrances. Help is on the way, but it’ll take a few minutes to get here.”
A dozen of the wedding guests, including Jim and Dirk, had concealed carry permits. Due to the longstanding concerns regarding Bridget – her history with Lisa, Joel, Trevor, and Shane was at least somewhat known to all in attendance – almost every permit holder had gone to the wedding armed. So had half a dozen that had no permits. Instead of the three guns of the agents, the wedding was now protected by a total of twenty-three.
Gonzalez had taken a calculated risk; he felt the possibility of a lone gunman within the ranks of the invited guests to be unlikely – it would require one of the invited guests to be working for Bridget, and also to be willing to undertake a near-suicidal mission for her. An even stronger reason was he felt it wasn’t her style, and also that he believed that Trevor and the tape were the prime targets for a kidnapping, not an execution. Another factor was that Gonzalez was concerned with the danger of a leak, and so had chosen to defend the wedding with a few agents and secrecy rather than a large police detachment. For all those reasons, he’d dispensed with the normal procedure, which would have been for the police to disarm the potential victims and protect them with a sufficient number of police officers.
“Oh fuck,” Joel mumbled, as his wedding shifted over to chaos.
The minister drew his revolver – an old, big, and heavy .45 – and barked, “Take cover, unarmed to the center!” In that moment, he fleetingly remembered a Navy chaplain caught in the attack at Pearl Harbor, who had famously cried out while helping to defend his ship, ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, boys!’
Trevor drew the .357 Jim had lent him, telling Joel and Lisa, “Go to Shane, he’s armed too.” Trevor bolted towards the northern door, where he lent his muscle to moving a table to block it. Within seconds, the three entrances were barricaded and covered by at least six guns apiece. One of them was Frank Tittle’s. “Gonzalez, damn you, what have you gotten us into?” he mumbled to himself, staring down his sights at the door.
The two agents outside had also taken cover, and were positioned to engage. They were the first line of defense, and both knew that they would also likely be the first to die, but, for them, duty came first. They looked down their fields of fire, seeing nothing but empty hallways. After many tense seconds, the senior agent spotted movement. “Target, target,” he barked into his headset, as a shape moved from the cover of a potted plant. “Cancel, civilian,” the agent added, as he got a clear look at his ‘target’, toddling in his direction in diapers. The child’s mother swept him up, continuing on her way, oblivious to the situation.
Bridget’s observer was at that moment enjoying a pleasant drink in one of the resort’s bars, having been ordered to raise no concerns.
In the center of the garden room, Shane, Lisa, and Joel sheltered behind an upturned table, exchanging worried glances with the wedding guests. The ominous silence was like a blanket, enhancing the tension. They eyed the barricaded doorways, expecting them to burst open at any moment.
Shane glanced down at the .357, lent to him by Jim, in his shaking hand, and whispered, “Trev’s been teaching me to shoot, but I’ve only done it a few times. Do either of you shoot much? If so, take it – I’m not very good with it.” Shane was not yet comfortable with guns, in spite of Trevor’s best efforts.
Lisa took the gun. “Daddy made me take lessons after all the trouble started, but I carry mine in my purse, which I don’t have today,” she said, while checking that the pistol was loaded and ready.
Shane glanced around the room, amazed at the number of armed people, though particularly the minister’s big gun. “Does everyone around here carry a gun to a wedding?” he muttered, finding it very strange, though, under the circumstances, reassuring.
Joel reached for the Smith & Wesson snub-nose holstered in the small of his back before replying, “Most probably have permits, but I don’t think many would be packing at a wedding if it wasn’t for the troubles we’ve had. Right now, I’m sure glad they are; anybody charging in looking for unarmed victims is going to get one hell of a surprise. I just wish we knew what was going on,” he said, pulling out his phone, only to find no signal; no one had thought to shut off the cellular jammer.
Dirk and Jim made their way over to the newlyweds, just as Trevor returned. “Nothing so far, and I guess help is on the way,” Dirk said, while checking his pistol again. He gave Lisa and Joel a sad look. “I’m sorry this happened, today of all days.”
Lisa gave Dirk a nervous smile. “Nothing has actually happened yet, and I think we’re pretty safe in here.”
“Sorry about this,” Trevor said, with an apologetic look.
Lisa scowled at him. “Trev, shut up. We wanted you and Shane here, remember? And don’t forget, I was the one who got all chummy with Bridget. We don’t know what she’s after, or even if anything is happening.”
Gonzalez watched the lone tow truck driver awkwardly attempting to hook up Trevor’s car.
“Sir, we have a plate match. The tow truck was reported stolen three days ago,” Gonzalez’s headset informed him.
“A diversion, it has to be. SWAT team, roll for Vero Beach, now! You’ll get directions en route.” The SWAT team, still in their UPS van, were the most mobile of Gonzalez’s heavy forces, and, aside from a few local police, they were the force that could get to Vero Beach the fastest. Sending them weakened Gonzalez’s defenses, but he felt it had to be done.
One minute later, the tow truck driver succeeded in attaching the tow hook to the Honda’s back axle. “Take him down; use two uniformed officers, covered by snipers.” Gonzalez had no sooner given the order when his lookout reported two large sedans turning into the parking lot at high speed. “Hold on the takedown; we have incoming!” Gonzalez barked, just a moment before all hell broke lose.
Gang members spilled out of the two sedans, half of them heading for the restaurant entrance, the other half for Trevor’s car.
The last report Gonzalez heard before the first shots was from a rooftop lookout, “Six men running in on foot, from seaward, not the parking lot. Looks like shotguns and MAC-10’s. They mean business.” What the lookout didn’t know was that the MAC-10’s they were carrying were the fully-automatic variety that were not uncommon on the street, though they had never been legal.
The first shots rang out as the gang members from the parking lot charged into the entrance, only to find themselves face-to-face with a veritable forest of guns aimed from cover. “Drop your weapons!” one of the officers shouted.
The lead attacker lifted a handgun, holding it sideways and letting off a single shot, which missed by a dozen feet. The volley of answering fire ensured he was dead before hitting the floor. The man to his left raised his MAC-10 as a volley of shots slammed into him, and as he went down, his finger tightened on the trigger, letting loose a wild spray of shots from the submachine gun.
The thunder of guns filled the restaurant as the brief and very one-sided battle erupted. The police in the main entrance kept up a massive barrage of fire, with many of the rounds hurtling unhindered into the parking lot, where several slammed into Frank Tittle’s car.
Gonzalez glanced in fear at the distant civilians running for cover; he’d emplaced his officers with care regarding their fields of fire, but he knew that stray rounds would happen. This was another calculated risk he’d taken; he could have cleared the area completely instead of just nearby buildings, but doing so could have alerted the attackers. His main mission, as he saw it, was to take out Bridget and her organization, which were becoming an ever-larger danger to the people of Florida. He’d made a choice, one that put innocents at risk. Police officers routinely had to make similar choices, such as when deciding whether to pursue in a car chase. It was part of the job, though not a part he liked.
Gonzalez’s operational concept had been to lure Bridget and the cartel into committing a large force, one large enough that losing it would weaken them enough to make using the tape to ignite a war that would finish them a viable option. Failing that, just taking out a chunk of the cartel’s troops was something that he considered well worth doing.
Staccato bursts filled the restaurant as the police trained their fire on their attackers. In the discordant firefight, some of the gang members fired wildly at the police, with most, though not all, of their shots going wild.
The battle in the restaurant held the full attention of the police for several critical seconds, allowing the team tasked to Trevor’s undefended car time to reach it. One of the gang members used the butt of his gun to smash the passenger side window before reaching in and fumbling to open the already-unlocked door. He snatched up the VHS cassette tape that had been left prominently on the passenger seat, and with it in hand, barked at his fellows, “We’ve got it, go!” The sight of the body-armored police attack team pouring out the back of Dirk’s chandlery added a touch of panic, prompting the man with the tape and two others to shove the tow truck driver – a member of their team – into the truck and pile into the cab with him. “Go, GO!” the man with the tape screamed.
The tow truck’s engine had been left running, so the driver punched the gas, no longer mindful of the fact that he’d managed to get the tow hook around the Honda’s rear axle before all hell had broken out. What he hadn’t had time to do was hoist the rear end off the ground – had he done it right, he’d have hooked up the front end of the front-wheel-drive car. The steel tow line went taut with a jarring shudder, but the heavy tow truck surged on ahead, only partially slowed by the weight of Trevor’s car.
Aiming for the parking lot’s entrance, the driver pressed on the gas pedal with all his might as he saw the guns of the police squad from the chandlery come to bear on him. Judging the tow truck no threat, they held their fire, turning instead to race to the restaurant battle.
Racing out of the parking lot, the tow truck driver spun the wheel to the right to make the turn, his foot still hard on the gas. Tires screeching, the truck lurched to the right, though Trevor’s car, guided by inertia, tried to keep going straight until the tow line snatched it into a flat skid. The force on the tow line whipped the truck into a fishtail, but for Trevor’s car, the results were even more serious; it skidded sideways into the curb, where its left wheels hit, the force of the impact slamming the Honda into a roll and kicking it into the air. The Honda pirouetted in mid-air, rolling almost completely upside down before landing on its roof, still moving, and careening into a fire hydrant in a shower of sparks and broken glass.
The tow truck’s wheels kept turning, dragging Trevor’s car back onto the street and away, trailing sparks from its roof.
Three Ft. Pierce Police cruisers, sirens blaring, raced to give chase, though they soon had to jam on their brakes; the tow truck was never able to exceed thirty miles per hour.
After two blocks, the tow truck whipped around a corner to the left, its driver now having recovered his wits enough to realize that he had to shake free of the deadweight of Trevor’s car. The Honda, still on its roof, side-swiped a tree and then slammed into another, ripping its sole remaining side mirror off. Moments later, the driver’s side door popped open, snagging on a parked car to be torn away. At last, the strain on the Honda’s rear axle was too much, and the metal yielded with a scream, tearing free, the recoil and snatch on the line whipping the axle toward the tow truck. It hit just forward of the rear wheels, taking out the drive shaft in the process.
The chase was over. Moments after the tow truck ground to a halt, the Ft. Pierce police swarmed over the scene, and assault team two became the only one whose members all survived.
The gunfire at the restaurant died down even before the squad from Dirk’s chandlery could enter the fray, four of the gang members having decided to drop their guns and surrender, thereby saving themselves from death. The rest of the attack force, save for those in the tow truck, were dead or, in two cases, severely wounded. The assault had turned into a bloodbath, as Bridget had planned.
On the police side, only two men had taken a bullet: one had suffered a glancing hit to his body armor, and would endure nothing more than a bad bruise. The other was Officer Gonzalez, who had not had time to don his own body armor.
Three officers, guns out, raced on foot down the marina walkway, after the man they correctly suspected was Bridget’s spotter.
He saw them coming, and turned to heave his phone far out into the marina. Turning to face the oncoming officers, he raised his hands as they neared, guns drawn. One of the officers had seen him throw something into the marina, and growled, “You’re under arrest.”
“For what?” the man asked, with a smile.
As soon as Bridget’s operative was in handcuffs and had been patted down, the officer roughly turned him to face the restaurant. “For that, for a start.”
The man shook his head. “I had nothing to do with that. I’m not even armed.”
“You threw something into the marina, and I think it was the phone you were using.”
The man nodded. “Let’s assume, hypothetically, that I did as you claim. That’s not a crime.”
“You’re going to jail,” the police officer replied, already growing concerned. He knew they could hold him for seventy-two hours but, after that, they’d need to charge him with a crime.
“Then I’ll say nothing more on the matter until my lawyer arrives,” Bridget’s operative pleasantly replied. He’d been briefed on what to expect, and what to do.
Inside the restaurant, Gonzales stood up. “Anyone hit?” he yelled.
One of the cadets noticed a red stain on Gonzalez’s shirt. “Uh, I think you are, sir.”
Gonzalez glanced down at his side, seeing the blood.
“Paramedics arriving on scene sir, I’ll get some of ‘em in here,” another officer said, before racing for the door.
Gingerly, fearing the worst though wondering why he didn’t feel much pain, Gonzalez eased his shirt up, exposing the wound that was just above his hip. Before he had a chance to open his mouth, a paramedic team stormed in. One of them stooped to examine Gonzalez, and then stood to report with a smile. “You’re going to need that irrigated and then a bandage, sir. It’s a nick, looks like about a quarter inch deep and three quarters of an inch long. It’ll probably start to sting in a bit.”
“Either make it fast, or give me something to hold on it for a while; I’ve got a crime scene to look after. His face lost its color as he gasped, “Or two.” He’d momentarily forgotten about the wedding. Lifting his radio link, he yelled, “Vero Beach, come in. Report.”
After what seemed like forever, though it was less than a second, the radio crackled. “Agent Landry, Vero Beach. We’re buttoned down tight, no sign of trouble yet. Some local police have arrived per your call, but the SWAT team you sent is still en route: ETA, three minutes.”
With that, Gonzalez relaxed somewhat, giving in to the persistent paramedic and letting him dress his wound. Once that was done, Gonzalez began looking at the bodies, and then he turned his attention to the survivors.
Agent Landry of the FBI stood on a chair in the garden room to announce, “We may have had a false alarm, we aren’t sure yet. It appears that something big went down at the restaurant in Ft. Pierce and that was the reason for our alert. We now have half a dozen officers here, with more arriving as we speak, including a SWAT team. There is no sign of any threat at this location, but we’re going to play it safe and act as if there is. At this point, I suggest that you all relax, put your guns away, and go back to enjoying yourselves. We’ll keep you posted, but we’re not expecting trouble at the moment… ah, one other thing; we’ll be providing rides home for all of you who left your cars at the restaurant. It’s a crime scene and it might take a while to get them back to you.” What he didn’t say was that several of the cars had gained bullet holes.
The tension in the room eased markedly, and people began putting away their guns and returning the furniture to a semblance of its normal positions.
“Let’s finish cutting the cake,” Lisa said, returning the gun to Shane.
“Your Yankieland weddings aren’t boring. Very strange, but not boring,” Shane said, chuckling as he eyed the cake, licking his lips in anticipation.
With a speed that amazed them all, the wedding returned almost to normal.
After the cake cutting, Lisa and Joel made the rounds, thanking everyone for coming.
Frank Tittle made sure that he was amongst the first to leave, and managed to convince the officer driving him to take him to Gonzalez.
When Frank arrived at the restaurant, he was taken to the loading dock entrance. Yellow crime scene tape was everywhere, and the building, along with the surrounding area, was swarming with police, paramedics, and a team from the coroner’s office.
When Gonzalez spotted Frank, he took him aside. “I’ve only got a few minutes, but I’m going to need your help for the next couple of days, Tittle. We got what we think was Bridget’s observer, but he tossed his phone into the marina before we got him. I’m sending a dive team to find it, but the techs tell me the salt water will have erased it. At most we’ll get the phone’s ID and can check the account. We’re trying to figure out what, if anything, we can charge him with. He’s already requested a lawyer. We have some IDs on the attackers: gang members, and we’re looking into them now. Now give me your read on the situation.”
Frank’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s… strange. I’d have thought Bridget would have used her own people, not gangsters. I also didn’t like the way they came in; from what I’ve heard, they walked right into it. If Bridget had an observer, he’d have seen at least some of the police presence. Something smells.”
Gonzalez nodded. “Yeah, it smells. What I’m trying to figure out is how and why. Each of the attackers had pictures of Trevor and Shane, and one told us they had orders to take them alive. They were also clearly after the tape; they took the blank one we left for them, and also tried to take the car too – though I can’t figure out why.”
“It sure wasn’t for its resale value. As for you, I think you played this whole thing pretty well. You even had me until you came clean, and I’m not an easy man to fool. I didn’t think Bridget would buy it that the tape was still in Trevor’s possession, but apparently she did.”
Gonzalez gave Frank a pat on the back. “It was you who did the legwork to help us there. Your digging in case histories and using your experience to ferret out other officers who might have been getting tips from Bridget’s organization led me to three who are likely connected to her. I walked Trevor and the tape past ‘em, and let word get out that the restaurant would be heavily protected.”
Frank scowled. “I’d normally object to one of my clients being put at risk like that, but in this case… Bridget thinking he had the tape might be the only thing that kept him breathing. On the other hand, Bridget surely knows that by now it’s been copied and sent to various agencies – and that leaves Trevor and Shane facing a hit.”
Gonzalez was careful to keep Frank away from the restaurant’s main entrance, and then detailed an officer to make sure he stayed away. “Keep him out of sight of his car. I don’t want him getting distracted; we need his help. He’s in the loop for anything we find; start him off with whatever files we have on the attackers.”
“What if he asks me about his car directly, sir?” the officer asked.
Gonzalez shrugged. “Just tell him we need to get some evidence out of the air vents. Don’t tell him that the vents are bullet holes.”
Charles, with a police escort, got Lisa and Joel to the airport on time. He wished them well, and at last handed them their tickets for the resort. “The south coast of Jamaica, and it looks like a great place. Sorry for not telling you before, but we wanted to keep this as secret as we possibly could. Dirk knows; he’ll tell Trevor before he leaves, and Trevor and Shane will be picking you up at the end of your stay and taking you on a cruise to a safe place.”
“Where?” Joel asked.
“Officer Gonzalez wouldn’t tell me, only that it’s safe. I’m sure you’ll have a blast,” Charles replied, giving his son and daughter-in-law a final hug.
Under Charles’ watchful eye, Lisa and Joel checked in for their one-way flight to Kingston, and then made their way through security. Charles waited until their plane had taken off, and then began the drive back to Ft. Pierce.
Lisa and Joel were on their way, though they had a long stopover in Miami ahead of them, due to the last American Airlines flight of the day from Miami to Kingston having left too early for them to have had any hope of making it after the wedding. As a result, they would not arrive in Jamaica until Sunday morning. Under other circumstances, they could have stayed overnight in a Miami hotel, but recent events had made it clear that they would be safer within the airport’s security zone.
Frank Tittle opened his door and ushered the disheveled Gonzalez in. “I heard you got shot. You didn’t tell me that at the restaurant,” he said, by way of greeting.
“It was just a nick. I’d been bandaged up by the time you got there; it was just a little hole,” Gonzalez replied.
“Like the ones in my car?” Frank replied, arching an eyebrow. “When I saw where the gangsters had fallen, I figured my car would take a few of the police shots that missed, and I know that a lot of cops are rotten shots. The way your officer squirmed when I asked him about it told me all I needed to know.”
“You’re not yelling,” Gonzalez observed, with a note of surprise.
Frank shrugged. “The only reason I’m not yelling from the roof tops and threatening to sue your agency for damages is the fact that you’ve been hit. I’ve got four other cars, so I’m not hurting for transportation. I do, however, plan on billing your agency for the car. I’m assuming it’s totaled?”
Gonzalez shook his head. “Nothing vital was hit, so all it needs is some body work, plus some upholstery. You’ll have it back inside of a week.”
“Thanks Mike,” Frank replied, and then his smile faded. “Okay, I know you didn’t stop by to discuss my car, so what’s new?”
Gonzalez made his way to the refrigerator and helped himself to a beer. He cracked it open and took a drink before replying, “That operative of Bridget’s we bagged at the scene. The phone he tossed didn’t help us, nothing useful was recoverable. We traced the account; he’d made calls to a number in the Bahamas, one that’s now dead, that was registered to a dentist in Freeport. The long and the short of it is we can’t make a case against him because we can’t prove he did anything illegal. His lawyer has been pointing this out loudly and often. So, we have to cut him loose by tomorrow night unless we can find something to charge him with. Frank, I’m hoping that you can think of something, because my prosecutor can’t.”
Frank opened a beer and turned to gaze out at his lawn, deep in thought. “Your prosecutor is an expert on state law, so maybe he’s not thinking outside that particular box. It’s a long shot but… the only thing you can probably prove is that he threw a phone into the marina. Phones have lithium batteries, and they also contain lead, antimony, and a bunch of other toxic chemicals. The marina is on the Intracoastal Waterway, and I think that makes it federal waters. You might want to see if your FBI friends, or better yet the EPA, could make a case against him for throwing toxins into Federal waters. It might not stick, but at least you’d keep him busy for a year or two – and you could keep a very close eye on how he’s paying for his lawyers, which might open the door to some better charges, such as RICO.” RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act, is a federal law that levies heavy penalties for any acts performed by, for, or linked to, a criminal organization.
Gonzalez gave Frank a pat on the back. “Good idea. I’ll see what I can do. Okay, I also need your opinion on Lisa and Joel; have they become targets?”
Frank studied his lawn some more. “I wouldn’t rule it out, but I doubt it. The reason is simple; they are still alive. If they were targets, Bridget could have gotten them well before the wedding, because she knows where to find them.”
“The FBI concurs. They also share your opinion that something stinks about the restaurant attack.”
“It’s a play of some kind. With the clues you gave her, she had to know that you had major forces there. I think you did the right thing; it was a slim chance but our only one. And like slim chances are wont to do, it didn’t work. Good try though.”
Gonzalez frowned and, with a sigh, replied in a very quiet voice, “It’s my job to keep innocent people like Trevor and Shane alive. Now I’ve got to tell them that I failed, and that I probably can’t.”
“Mike, you did all you could, no one could have done more. As for telling them, you’re wrong; that’s not part of your job. It is, however, part of mine,” Frank said, handing Gonzalez another beer.
Bridget relaxed on the patio of her Bahamian home, enjoying the sea breeze as she chatted with the first amongst equals over coffee.
“The news says it was a bloodbath, as we hoped.”
Bridget nodded. “The good news is that some of the attackers survived, and hopefully one or more are spilling all they know. If not now, deals will be offered to the first to talk, so the police will take care of that part. Once the police reveal, as they will have to, the connections to the Norte cartel, it makes any release of the tape aimed at us rather suspicious, due to it just appearing right after a raid by them. With a bit of help, that will undermine the veracity of the tape. Once Trevor and Shane are dead, there will be no witnesses to the unearthing of it. Still, I give this less than a one in three chance of working, so we still need the main operation. By seizing and holding the targets with overwhelming force, and then destroying Atlantis and all aboard in spite of their protection, we will demonstrate our capabilities and power to all. That, alongside any headway we can make in undermining the tape and painting it as a forgery, ought to avert the war. However, if the war occurs, we will easily win, and you and I shall emerge stronger than ever – though a few of our recalcitrant tablemates might not fare quite so well.”
The first amongst equals took her hand. “My dear, you amaze me. Once again, you have taken a grave problem and not only found a possible solution, but you’ve arranged it so that we win either way.”
“Thank you. I have always prided myself on my tactical thinking. So many times, what appears to be a problem is instead an opportunity, if only one can see it,” Bridget said, before taking a sip of her drink.
“I’m concerned that the American Navy or Coast Guard may try to intervene.”
“There is little that they could do. They would have very little within range to respond in time, and we will have seventy fast boats; they cannot possibly chase more than a few, and we shall have sovereignty and national pride on our side, along with the shield of hostages. If they try, so much the better; it makes us look all the stronger,” Bridget replied.
The next day, Frank Tittle, driving one of his other cars, arrived in Tampa to meet with Jim, Dirk, Trevor, and Shane.
As soon as Frank was let into the condo, he turned to look at Trevor. “I need to speak with you, alone,” he said, tugging Trevor into a bedroom. Frank shut the door and got down to business. “I’m your lawyer, and I need to ask you about something you may not want anyone to know about. I can’t tell anyone what you tell me without your okay, but I need to know. At the end of the Bellevue tape, he says, ‘It is a weapon of great interest, couched in revenge and wrapped in worth.’ Trevor, good lawyers choose their words with great care, and I think Bellevue did so here. The first parts, of great interest and couched in revenge, seem obvious, but they aren’t. ‘Couched,’ in particular, means worded in a particular way, but it also means a heap or a pile of leaves, and the original meaning was to lie down. Interest, to a lawyer, means a right, or title, or legal share in something. It’s an odd choice of words, and one made by a man who made his living choosing his words with care. I think it relates to the last bit, wrapped in great worth. Trevor, I need to know; what was the tape in when you found it? This could be important.”
Trevor hesitated for moment, until he remembered that the man before him had helped save his father and Jim. “About fifteen pounds of solid gold,” Trevor admitted. He was only guessing at the weight, which was in actuality slightly less than eighteen pounds.
“Damn, I was hoping it was something more than that, like invisible ink on wrapping paper, but that fits with ‘interest’ better, and money of some kind was what I suspected. Who knows about it?”
“Just me and Shane. We don’t know the law on it, and we didn’t want the police in Australia – or anywhere else – trying to steal it by confiscating it. We’re going to ask Jim about it, but we haven’t had a chance yet.”
“You’ll need his advice and tax advice as well. I’m not a tax lawyer, but as far as I know, that became taxable as soon as you realized what it was – but there are some odd precedents which might contradict that. It’s especially complicated due to finding it on a boat you own, one with contradictory registrations. As the old saying goes, better to ask forgiveness than permission, so secrecy is a sound choice. A further issue is that the Bellevue estate might have a claim on it. You might be well advised to sell it as bullion without disclosing how you came by it, but you’ll need expert advice to make that call.”
Trevor nodded. “So far as anyone knows, we don’t know what it is. It was just a lump of painted metal we were using as an anchor – we really did think it was lead at first. And right now, it’s somewhere where no one could ever find it.”
“So only ‘discover’ it if you want to sell it, otherwise you might want to hold onto it. Gold is always a good investment; I have a thousand ounces in my own portfolio. Just make sure you get legal and tax advice before doing anything. Now, for the important part, let’s join the others. I’ll say nothing to anyone regarding the gold,” Frank said, turning towards the door.
Once seated in the living room, Frank gave them his unvarnished opinion and speculation, the same as he’d done with Gonzalez. At the end of it, he added, “I wish I had better news. The best hope I can offer is that if you stay out of sight for a couple of years, the cartel price on your heads might be less vigorously pursued. As I understand it, Gonzalez has you and your boat stashed in a very safe place, under military protection. I don’t want to know where – your lives depend on secrecy, and that means the fewer who know, the better – but if that’s the case, you may want to stay there a while. The other thing is that your boat makes you easier to find; leaving it for a while would be a good idea. Perhaps go to Australia and hang out in the outback – and away from your other boat, and your families. Normally, the answer for two people in your situation is the witness protection program, but you’re both famous enough that that’s no option – at the moment. However, if you can stay out of the public eye for a few years, you should change enough that, with the help of a plastic surgeon that could become an option. The best advice I can give is stay hidden and safe, and hope that Gonzalez and I can find some way to end this. The bad news is that I think we’re looking at a timeframe of years, at least. I will promise you this; I will do anything within my power to destroy Bridget. Anything. Henry Wesson was the best friend I’ve ever had, and she brutally killed him. I think you’ll find that Mike Gonzalez is similarly dedicated on this issue. However, even if she dies, the rest of her cartel will still be after you.”
The one thing Frank held back was his guess on the odds; he felt that Trevor and Shane had less than a ten percent chance of surviving the year, and essentially zero in the long term.
Lisa and Joel, tired due to their overnight stay at Miami International, emerged from passport control at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, and were surprised to see a chauffeur in full uniform, holding up a neatly printed sign; ‘Mr. and Mrs. Stiles’. Lisa saw it first, and grinned. “That’s us!” she said, walking up to the chauffeur.
Amid the chaotic noise of the airport, the chauffeur replied, in a rich Jamaican accent, “Welcome to Jamaica. Your limo is at the loading zone opposite baggage claim.”
Lisa and Joel shared a delighted grin. They’d been told that the resort would be providing transportation, but they hadn’t expected a chauffeur driven limousine.
The chauffeur handled the baggage, and soon they were on their way, heading east. The chauffeur played tour guide, and explained, “The airport is built in the bay, in the middle of the Palisadoes, the long sandbar that protects Kingston Harbour. At the far end is Port Royal, the famous city that sank in the 1692 earthquake and tsunami. It’s a small town today, but back then it was British Jamaica’s capital. Two thirds of the city sank due to the sand liquefying, and most of the Palisadoes sank as well, leaving Port Royal an island for several years. It’s also prone to hurricane damage.”
“Is that close to the resort?” Lisa asked.
“No, the resort is two and a half hours from here, near Treasure Beach. It’s a beautiful area. On the way, I can take you to Lover’s Leap, a spectacular seventeen-hundred-foot sea cliff just east of Treasure Cove. The view is incredible.”
The happy newlyweds readily agreed, and upon arriving spent twenty minutes at the precipice’s edge, taking in the vistas of verdant green against stunning blue, soaring cliffs, and verdant tropical plants; their first good look at Jamaica’s beautiful scenery.
The chauffeur joined Lisa and Joel at the cliff’s edge, turning to lean against the railing as he pointed out distant landmarks. “To the east is Alligator Pond, a fishing town…” he went on to point out a few other spots, and then finished by sweeping his hand towards the vast vista, and then gesturing towards the precipice on which they stood. “This is a beautiful place, but it has a sad story. It is named after two young lovers, slaves, who lived over two hundred years ago. They were to be parted against their will. They could not live without one another, so they ran away and were chased, only to be cornered here. They could not bear to be separated, so they embraced one final time before hurling themselves over the cliff to their deaths.”
The mention of Alligator Pond had brought memories of Henry Wesson’s death to Lisa and Joel, and learning of the legend behind Lover’s Leap did little to improve their spirits. They turned towards the limousine, trying their best to focus on what should be the happiest time of their lives. Within just a few miles, they succeeded.
The limousine pulled up to the resort’s main entrance, and again the chauffeur handled the baggage, handing it off to a bellhop. After receiving their keys, Lisa and Joel, with the bellhop in tow, were lead by the manager to the honeymoon suite. The manager swung open the door with a flourish before saying, “Welcome, and please let us know your needs. You have an inclusive package, which includes meals in our dining room or room service, if you wish.” It was indeed a deluxe package that they had been given.
With a grin, Joel swept Lisa off her feet, cradling her in his arms as he carried his bride across the threshold.
Inside, the honeymoon suite was every bit as beautiful as they’d hoped. It was on the second floor of the two-story building, and had a large private balcony, which included a hot tub. The suite itself wasn’t huge, though it had a very open feel; an idyllic tropical getaway that overlooked the resort’s manicured landscaping, and the sea beyond.
On a glass table in the corner a silver ice bucket held a bottle of champagne, and beside it stood a large bouquet of tropical flowers in a crystal vase.
“Please do enjoy your stay, and I look forward to seeing you again,” the manager said, before excusing himself and the bellhop, pausing only to gently close the door behind them.
Across the hallway from Lisa and Joel’s suite was a similar one. In it, Xavier flipped open his phone and dialed. “Ma’am, they’ve arrived, and the listening devices are working.”
“Thank you,” Bridget replied, ending the call to Xavier as she gazed out at the Haitian coast from the helm of Sea Witch. With a smile, she turned to the first amongst equals to say, “The happy couple has checked in. I do so hope that they enjoy their stay – it took me a great deal of trouble and expense to arrange it for them.” One small detail had evaded Gonzalez’s background check on the firm that had conducted the prize giveaway; its manager and part owner was Rob, formerly of Rob’s Marine, once the home base of Sea Witch. Gonzalez hadn’t recognized the name for a simple reason; he’d never known it. To all intents and purposes, the firm appeared to be – and indeed, usually was – a perfectly legitimate business.
Slightly less legitimate was the travel agency Bridget owned in Nassau. Like most travel agencies, it had access to the OneWorld booking system, and thus could see the mileage totals in a frequent-flyer account. The amount of the recent reduction in Charles Stiles’ account balance was, as Bridget had hoped, confirmation that Lisa and Joel were traveling on one-way air tickets. Thanks to her credit card intercepts, Bridget knew that Trevor had been in Guantanamo Bay, and correctly assumed that Atlantis would sail from there to pick up Lisa and Joel.
Bridget was very pleased that her plan was coming together so smoothly. “Once we have ascertained Atlantis’s arrival time, we shall seize the resort a few hours in advance – the twenty men I have there as guests should be more than sufficient, though for our purposes, a hundred more will land and participate. When Atlantis appears, we shall strike hard and fast with forty fast boats to destroy her and all aboard with gun and rocket-propelled-grenade fire, in full view of the coast. Our boats are far faster than Atlantis is; escape will be impossible. We will then hold the resort against the authorities for twelve hours to ensure proper news coverage. When we are done, our fleet scatters, vanishing as if it had never been. If luck is on our side and we have inclement weather, so much the better, but even with clear skies that night, almost all should get away.”
“We will be back in the Bahamas by then, so even if a few boats are taken by the authorities, it will not matter at all,” The first amongst equals nodded with approval; he’d come up with that part of the plan himself. “A display of force that our rivals will not soon forget – and that they will greatly fear. What we can do in Jamaica, we can do to their compounds and bases. Incidentally, what of the happy couple?”
Bridget smiled wistfully, the wind blowing in her hair. “Their marriage will, regrettably, prove quite brief. We shall keep them as captives, just in case Atlantis needs persuading to approach. I do not think that Joel would begrudge us help with a knife at Lisa’s throat or other means of persuasion. Hopefully that contingency is not required at all, and Xavier will simply kill them once we have dealt with Atlantis. The other resort guests shall serve as our hostages, as needed.”
On Monday, August 13th, Trevor and Shane packed their bags for their flight. Remembering Shane’s anxiety, Trevor checked the weather report. He looked at one that fit what he needed and smiled before hitting ‘Print’.
Trevor thrust the report into Shane’s hands and, as Shane read it, said, “Clear skies for our flight. The only rough weather in the report right now is a tropical depression off the Cape Verdes, thousands of miles away. The regional forecast says there’s a chance of thunderstorms along part of our route, but that’s for the late afternoon; we’ll have landed by then.” Trevor was embellishing a little; there were a few thunderstorm and squall areas in the Caribbean, though, in his opinion, none posed a threat to their flight.
“Thanks Trev,” Shane replied, giving Trevor a hug. “I’ll be okay. I just wish our other trouble was as easy to overcome.”
“At least we’ll have loads of time at Gitmo to finish the book,” Trevor replied, trying to sound positive, though the attempt fell flat.
Dirk gave Trevor the name and address of the Jamaican resort where Lisa and Joel would be staying, along with a phone number for it. “Just be real careful what you say on the phone, and don’t tell anyone you’re going. And don’t show your faces there.”
“I’m going to run in on the Zodiac; I won’t even set foot on the beach,” Trevor promised. With a frown, he added, “Like Frank Tittle said, we’ve probably got to stay hidden for a long time. I don’t know when we’ll see you again. I love you, Dad.”
Father and son shared a hug and, with tears in all their eyes, the four set out for Homestead Air Force Base.
Their return to Gauntanamo Bay was somber and uneventful until the C-130 entered the landing pattern and the loadmaster announced, “We’re landing eastbound, so we’ll be making our final approach over the Cuban minefield. In the event of a crash short of the runway, please try to verify that we aren’t in the minefield before exiting the aircraft.”
Shane clutched Trevor’s arm, holding on tight.
The base leg of the approach crossed the coast two miles west of the end of the runway, and the C-130 turned base-to-final over Cuban territory, to make an uneventful and routine final approach, crossing over the minefield to make a smooth landing.
Trevor gave Shane a grin as the plane slowed to taxiing speed. “I think you’ll get used to it; that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Shane nodded, and in a numb tone replied, “Yeah, I think I’ll be okay on flights that don’t go zooming in over minefields.”
They soon returned to Atlantis, finding her as they’d left her. For the first time in his life, Trevor felt almost no joy at returning to his beloved boat. “I guess this is home for a while. Gitmo, I mean. Except for picking up Lisa and Joel, I don’t know when we’ll be able to leave again.” What Trevor didn’t know was that they’d never be returning.
Shane pulled Trevor into a hug. “We’ve got each other, that’s all that matters.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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.