Clinton wasn't usually the sort of person to stress or succumb to anxiety, but as the taxi sped across the city he became more and more nervous. He had thought up lots of plans and schemes in his life, but this was the most risky.
The cab pulled into the curb outside a house which resembled all the rest in the street. It was what looked to be a nice area, neat lawns and driveways fronting detached residences. The mailbox hung off a stack of concrete bricks, it was open, the number painted on the side. One, seven, seven, eight, O. The O hung off the end like the box itself, leaning backwards. Two silver cars were parked in the drive, one darker than the other. He walked up to the front porch and rang the bell as the taxi pulled away.
A well dressed woman opened the door and ushered him inside, into the small lounge where two men in suits were waiting.
"Sit down," the elder of the two men indicated the sofa.
Clinton sat and looked around nervously. Without thinking about it, his hand touched the dice in his pocket.
"Relax kid," the same man continued talking. "You may be in deep shit, but if you play your part, it'll be fine."
The younger of the two suits, who had said nothing so far, produced a larger folder which he put down in front of Clinton on the coffee table. It was somehow familiar, at least in so far as he'd played out this scene before. His eyes fixed on the folder with his name typed across the little white label.
"It's pretty simple really. You only have to meet your brother and put this," he produced something in his hand, holding it up between his thumb and forefinger, "with the shipment."
That sounded easy enough, at least if he got to meet his brother, and he wasn't sure how he would work that.
"How the hell did you get involved in all this?" the older man asked.
Clinton stared up at him, but made no reply. He did start to think back about how he and Morgan had arrived there, but he quickly dismissed those thoughts and concentrated on what was happening now.
"Does it matter?" he asked.
"I guess not. But listen up. We know your whole history, where you've been what you've done. Hector Agaze thinks..." the man paused his explanation. "Thinks," he repeated emphasising the word, "he is the top dog."
"Beyond the law," the man's colleague added.
"We want you to go back to Venezuela."
Clinton looked shocked. He had thought this was their ticket home. Suddenly these guys had changed the game, and this was a dangerous move.
"Look kid," the elder man paced around, then fixed his gaze on Clinton. "You don't get something for nothing. You have to bring Hector Agaze back here, to Miami."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
Now the two men finally sat down. Perhaps they had expected more resistance, or they were simply playing out their part. Either way, it didn't much matter. They outlined what would happen next, what Clinton needed to do.
It wasn't surprising that the club was chic, this was America, Miami. The bar made a curve around the far end of the salon, tables filled the space between. It was not busy, only a few patrons and guests spread out around some of those tables, or lounging in comfortable armchairs. Smartly dressed waiters with black trousers, waistcoat, and bowties, carried trays or stood attentively, their crisp white shirts with razor sharp creases, ironed to perfection.
A similar young man was at the far end of the glistening, polished, counter. Clinton noticed him immediately, he wasn't sure, but there seemed something familiar about the figure who had his back to him. As the bartender turned around, it was obvious why Clinton had this click of recognition.
Bennie came walking towards him, an expression on his face halfway between a smile and surprise. "Clint!" Bennie's smile lit up his face. "What the..."
Clinton stood the other side of the polished bar staring at Bennie. "What the fuck am I doing here?" He spoke quietly leaning forward. "I know, it's weird. Small world, I guess."
Clinton wasn't surprised by the question. Those two had been very close.
"Morgan is on board a ship." Clinton changed positions, looked around, confirming to himself that the place was almost empty. "I hope. He should be."
"It's the quiet time of day," Bennie gestured towards the almost empty salon.
"Been a while," Clinton grinned.
From the other end of the bar the voice of a young lady called softly, "Bennie!"
Bennie turned as she approached them. Clinton watched, taking in the slim young figure, the elegant dress, and the bright red lipstick.
"Two surprises in one day!" He laughed.
Bennie looked at him. The young lady gave them a half smile and batted her eyelids.
"Clinton!" she exclaimed in a silky voice.
"You two know each other?" Bennie seemed a little confused by the unfolding encounter.
"Yes, we do," Clinton smiled. "Hello, Melissa."
"Marcus needs you out front a moment. Get someone to take over here."
"You're staying a bit?" Bennie asked before leaving.
"You seem to be at home here?" Clinton focused his attention on the young lady.
She smiled at him. "Your brother's here too?" she asked.
"On his way, sort of."
"Well yes, if he made his connections. You moved out of that little town then?" Clinton asked her, changing the topic.
"Oh yes, we did. It would be nice to see him again."
Clinton raised an eyebrow. "It would? I thought we were only trouble back there in Foxton?"
She chuckled. "You were, but I'd still like to see him."
She took a glass mat from the bar and a pen from somewhere on her person and wrote down her number.
"Call me," she said, pushing the bar mat across the counter, "when he gets here."
With that she turned and sauntered off back towards the end of the bar, dodging the newly arrived replacement for Bennie.
He watched her disappear, his eyes following her slightly swaying hips.
"Can I get you something, sir?"
Clinton turned to look at the bar man, another black and white penguin, but a rather nice looking one, with his jet black hair swept back off his forehead and a great tan.
He hesitated a moment before deciding. "Give me a Bud, please," and he smiled at the young man.
The bartender fetched the bottle, opened it and poured out a glass, setting the glass down on a mat, he quickly added a tiny dish of peanuts.
Clinton looked at the glass, then back up at the young man. He took a sip of the cold beer and idly watched the bartender wander back along the bar to serve a large guy in a flowered shirt and bright blue shorts, who had perched on one of the barstools.
Morgan had seen The Captain once during the traverse to Miami, he had hardly acknowledge the two of them. This trip on board the Bombomo was very different to the last time. Apart from sharing a cabin with Javier and having Miguel there as some kind of minder, there was a palpable tension. They all felt it and it reached a peak when Morgan and Javier had Gregoire alone in their cabin.
The confrontation was inevitable, they were about to dock in the huge container port. The ship was gliding past Fisher Island and very soon they would have arrived.
"We're all playing on the same side," Javier stood close to Gregoire in the small space between the two beds.
"What are you going to do?" Morgan asked.
"If you two play your parts..." Gregoire looked from one to the other, "and your brother. No problems."
"Didn't you say that last time?" Morgan frowned, staring at him.
Gregoire grinned. "He threw a curved ball. This time it will work. I only have to get him to come here."
"Here?" Javier was puzzled.
"Of course. The shipment gets offloaded here. Eduardo has to be here when everything goes down. He's got to be connected directly."
"And how you gonna get him to come here?" Morgan was not at all sure about what exactly Gregoire was proposing.
"Miguel is the key. He's here to watch things. If we get him to call Eduardo..."
"Wait!" Javier said. "How exactly you will do that?
"Miguel has always worked for Eduardo. He's loyal, but we've talked. Once he knows for certain Eduardo is out, what's he gonna do?"
"He might just inform Eduardo and he won't come here." Morgan felt that Gregoire had no real plan.
"Look kid he'll come through and it will work out. Now I got things to see to."
Gregoire turned and opened the cabin door. He left the two of them together looking at each other.
"Do you trust him?" Javier asked.
"No, not really, but we've got no choice."
Around thirty minutes later the ship was docked at port and the containers were already being unloaded. Morgan and Javier stood next to each other leaning on the rail watching the long rectangular metal boxes being lifted ashore. The air smelt vaguely salty, the sound of the water churned by the still running ship's engines mixed with the noise of the cranes and an occasional truck.
Gregoire approached from the ship's stern and wandered slowly along the gangway. "It's all fixed," he announced, which kind of surprised Morgan. "Come on up to The Captain's quarters this evening. We're celebrating, and you're invited."
"Are you sure this will work out?" Javier asked him.
Morgan smiled. "Why not?"
He knocked and they entered The Captain's cabin. Morgan was immediately reminded of the time he had spent there. Briefly, a whole number of past events flashed through his mind.
"Welcome boys," The Captain grinned.
Gregoire handed each of them a tall glass. Javier looked around at the plush furnishings. Then The Captain raised his glass in a toast. "Success!" he said, and everyone drank. Javier caught Gregoire whispering something to Miguel, but he couldn't hear what. He could only see the smirk on Miguel's face. It was as though they had shared a private joke and it made him feel uncomfortable.
By the time he had almost finished his drink he was starting to get wobbly on his feet and decided to sit down on the sofa. Morgan joined him.
"That drink was very strong," Javier said, turning to look bleary eyed at the boy next to him.
The other three people in the room ignored them and carried on talking amongst themselves.
"It's perfect," Gregoire was saying. "We will use the warehouse."
"I think Señor Phillipe will be pleased," Miguel told them.
The Captain was not particularly interested and simply smiled. Gregoire had explained things to Miguel and he nodded. "You will have to help me to get them off the ship."
He looked over at the boys who were passed out on the chesterfield. "And to get them strung up. We want Eduardo to come in and have everything ready for him."
Gregoire really did despise that man, but even so, it amused him that Eduardo's taste for boys would be his downfall.
Morgan woke up in a dark empty space. He was lying on his back, but strangely had his legs raised up in the air. He moved to look around and as he did so he felt his body sway. It was the exact same feeling as when they slept in hammocks at the airfield. A headache and grogginess did not help him focus, but slowly he became conscious.
He could move, but he was tied down, and the movement simply caused the hammock to sway a little. His wrists and ankles were firmly tied. A little chill reminded him he was also naked. Looking to his right he saw Javier, who was similarly tied up, only Javier was spread face down against a cross in the shape of a large X.
They were alone. In, from what he could see, a warehouse of some kind. It occurred to him they must have been drugged. He knew he should not have trusted Gregoire. It must have been him. The last thing he remembered was the drink and sitting in The Captain's cabin next to Javier. Panic suddenly griped him. What had they done to him? Clinton had always said he had nothing to worry about with Gregoire, but what about The Captain and Miguel. What had they done?