"I don't know why you fixed things for Eduardo. Why bother? You should concentrate on Hector Agaze." The Captain wasn't really concerned, Gregoire was a Mr Fix-It, he'd been around nearly as long as he had himself, and the past three years together on the Bombomo. He arranged things for The Captain which suited him fine. He also took care of receiving the merchandise, stowing it, and offloading it when they reached their destination. All of which allowed The Captain to simply sail the ship and collect his commission.
Gregoire thought of himself more of a Personal Assistant to The Captain just the same as he was to Señor Phillipe. In a way he resented both men in equal measure and despised their same weakness for boys. He knew he'd struck gold when he brought the two boys onboard in Boston. It could work out to be exactly what he needed, his way out and retirement package.
"You weren't complaining about the boy when you had him in your cabin."
The Captain scowled at Gregoire. "Mind what you say," he warned him.
"I'm only telling it how it is. Eduardo enjoys the same company. Keeping him happy doesn't distract from our business."
"Maybe," The Captain begrudgingly replied. "But I believe Eduardo is making a move on his boss."
"All the more reason to keep on his good side and know what's going on."
"So why all the story about signing a contract and working a con?"
"Huh? You know about that?" Gregoire was surprised.
The Captain raised his eyebrows. "I'm not stupid. There's nothing goes on here I don't know about," "Juan-Jose told you. I get it."
"So why the story? I'm curious."
"It was a con. If you like. But like all good cons it was on the boys, not Eduardo."
"Not sure I follow this."
Gregoire smiled a self-satisfied smile. "Eduardo got his night of pleasure. The Americans got dropped at a little club owned by a guy, Pablo, who works for Eduardo. And right now Pablo's nephew is taking them to somewhere near the border, although they don't know any of this."
"Where's this all leading?" The Captain asked.
"It's a diversion, of sorts. Hector Agaze wants Eduardo out. Eduardo wants control. The boys are the king pin, everything revolves around them. It's beautiful, the best con I've ever manufactured."
"Whatever." The Captain turned, walked away and climbed up to the bridge. The cargo was almost finished loading and they'd leave tonight. In a little over twenty-six hours they'd be in Cartagena. Gregoire watched The Captain climb the steps, making sure he was where he should be and occupied. Quietly, he slipped away down from the deck onto the quayside. As he crossed the empty dock he glanced around left and right as he headed for Gate Two where Hernandez would be on duty and he could make the call.
There was no one about, but there was a light in the gatehouse. He stepped up and looked inside. Hernandez smiled and opened the door. "Hola, what do you want?" he asked.
Hernandez was an amiable man in his thirties. At least Gregoire guessed that was his age, only because he'd talked about his family life, getting married and the birth of their son. The boy was twelve and Hernandez had married when he was twenty after his military service.
"Hola!" Gregoire smiled. "I need to make a phone call."
Hernandez returned the smile. "Go ahead."
"Private," Gregoire emphasised.
Hernandez moved past him and opened the door, closing it behind him. He stood outside smoking a cigarette. Gregoire picked up the receiver and dialled the number on the slip of paper he pulled out of his pocket. It took a moment before he heard the phone ringing and a few rings before it was answered.
"This is Gregoire in Caracas," he announced to the person on the other end of the line. "I have a message for the Colonel."
"Go ahead," a deep voice replied.
"Tell him the American boys are on their way."
The other person repeated the message as if it were something in code, which made Gregoire smile. He hung up the phone and dialled a second number. As he waited for his call to be answered he watched Hernandez strolling up and down outside.
"We'll dock in Cartagena tomorrow night. Tell Señor Phillipe. You have three days before we sail."
"Bueno. See you there."
He hung up and opened the door. Hernandez dropped his cigarette stub and trod on it moving his foot to grind it out on the ground. The floodlights were just coming on, sending their golden glow across the entrance.
"How's it going?" Hernandez asked.
"Good, and you?"
"Oh, you know, the missus hates me working nights."
Gregoire laughed. "Yeah, I can see she would prefer you home in bed,"
Hernandez chuckled. "Guess you won't be back for a while?"
"Three weeks, if nothing changes. But I'm not the boss."
"Me neither. If I was I'd only have day shifts."
Gregoire stepped outside and heard Hernandez click the lock. He walked swiftly back to the ship.
They had been a few days on the road travelling, but we're now finally climbing up through the verdant hills in the direction of Delicias. The Rio Tachira and Columbian border were just the other side of the town, but the map indicated Las Lajas.
"We could stop in the town. What d'you think?" Morgan asked.
"No. We're already days late," Javier replied, an air of tension in his voice.
The Chevy chugged through the ever steeper slopes, climbing higher, away from the town. The light was fading as night approached and the sun took a slow nose dive below the horizon.
"Late?" Clinton ground out the word.
Javier took his eyes off the road, startled by the vicious tone, he glanced over. They bumped into a pothole, making him quickly return his attention to the route. It was sinuous and becoming difficult to navigate. Morgan also looked questioningly at his brother.
"Pull up!" Clinton shouted, leaning past Morgan to grab at Javier's arm.
The truck skidded to a halt just as they reached the top, where the track levelled out onto a broad plateau. To one side the twinkling lights of Delicias far off and far below, indicated where the town lay. Wherever they were it appeared remote with no sign of life.
"Que pasa?" Javier was breathing heavily, suddenly nervous.
"You better tell us right now," Clinton demanded.
"Fuck! I never trusted you!" He leant over Morgan and grabbed Javier, pulling him forward.
"Alright! Let go!"
Clinton relaxed his grip. "How the fuck can we be late unless..."
"Bueno quieres saber? (Okay, you wanna know?)"
Now Morgan, too, was staring at Javier.
"Señor Phillipe told my uncle he needed you both here."
"Here? Where the hell is here?" Clinton was angry.
"You lied," Morgan accused.
"Everybody lies." Javier looked at him..
The silent darkness of the descending night engulfed them.
"What do you think you would have done? I had no choice. I went to work for my uncle because we needed money for medicine to keep our mother alive. I didn't want my sister being a prostitute, maybe getting pregnant, who knows? My uncle owns his club and works because of Eduardo. I earn money because of both of them. What the hell am I supposed to do?"
Nobody said anything for what seemed like a long time.
"Tell us what's going on," Clinton asked. He was calm and composed, his previous anger had evaporated.
Javier was almost a mirror image of Clinton himself. Both boys knew they had to play the game and they knew how. Neither was ever in control, neither ever had a plan that totally won out. Perhaps more importantly they both knew you could lie best when you told the truth, but not the whole truth
"You know everything as well as I do," Javier replied.
Morgan was about to say something, but Clint stopped him. "Not quite," he grinned. Then changed tack. "We know everything you told us. In many ways we've lived similar lives. You do what you have to so as to get by. I even like you, and Morgan does too. But it's the things you left out making me not trust you. And being fed a tale is not something I like."
It was cold outside and getting colder. Morgan listened, but fixed his attention way off in the distance, staring through the dirty windscreen, up into the clear sky, which was full of stars.
"All I know that I never told you is that Señor Phillipe wants you in Las Lajas."
"At the airfield?" Clint asked.
"I have no idea, but I guess it's got something to do with drugs."
"That's all you know?"
"Sure," Javier insisted.
"So why not say that, instead of telling us you wanted to get away and we could find a job? All that crap."
"It wasn't crap!" Javier was upset. "It was my plan to get out. I didn't tell you, because if you knew Eduardo wanted you there, you might say no. Maybe not, but I couldn't take the risk. I had to get away and without you that wasn't going to happen.
Clint relented. "Okay. Let's go."
Javier started the motor and shifted into drive. The old truck groaned on down the track, leaving the night sky and the stars behind them over the ridge.
The airfield was illuminated not by the strips of lights you might imagine to guide the planes, but by floodlights you would find on a sports ground. Large trucks and bulldozers moved around frenetically. It was obvious work did not stop when the stars came out. You could not see any stars, there was a halo of light spread over the plateau like a dome.
Clint was surprised that a woman took charge of them. Ana showed them to a hut, very basic, it had a tiny bathroom and two rows of hammocks, one each side, the beds slung between the upright posts that marched down the hut. For whatever reason they had three together at the far end. She left them to get some rest, telling them to come and find her first thing in the morning.
"So, I guess we've arrived," Morgan threw his stuff under one of the hammocks.
Clint looked at him, then turned to Javier. "You know what happens tomorrow?"
Javier shrugged. "No. We got here late. Days late."
Clinton climbed into the hammock next to his brother. There was no point questioning Javier further, it was late and he was beat.
The engine noise was a constant backdrop and it was not truly dark inside the hut. Even so they all fell easily asleep, exhausted by the journey and in part also by trying to work things out, mental Olympics.
The next afternoon they were summoned to meet Hector Agaze, the big boss, the godfather, the guy who ran the whole show. Clinton thought it pretty odd that the number one man, probably the richest man in Venezuela, was here in some God forsaken wilderness, on a plateau at the top of a mountain.
Colonel Agaze was not in uniform, although he was apparently the head of the air force and probably the second most powerful man in the country, behind the President. Even that was not definite, nothing in politics, especially as concerns South American republics, was stable, and things could change.
Clinton could rub shoulders with the best of them, and it was he who was the only one to actually speak to the Colonel. That perhaps should be listen, he didn't actually get to utter a word, only nod his head, and try to look like everything was perfectly normal.
"That was some fucking experience," he told Javier and Morgan. They had been relegated to waiting nervously outside. "This my friends is going to be where we part company."
Morgan looked shocked, even Javier was surprised. It was not surprising Morgan would be hit by the announcement, he and Clinton had always been together. It was the one solid thing, they had each other if nothing else. Javier was different, what was he expecting anyway?
"So what happens now?" Javier asked.
Clinton smiled. "You get to drive over to Columbia to pick up some supplies. Don't ask me why. You best ask Ana, she's sorting that little trip out."
"And you two?" Javier looked at Morgan.
"We wait for Eduardo to get here." Clinton started to leave. He suddenly felt the need to be outside and think.
Morgan said nothing at all. He did wonder what was next, he kind of regretted Javier leaving, and nothing of any of this stopped him feeling nervous. Clinton he noticed was juggling the dice and that was not a good sign.