Briefed On Arrival

Briefed On Arrival

Chapter 23 – Beware Of gringos Bearing Gifts

Hands gripping the arms of the chair, Adrian lurched forward as though ready to leap from the chair. Problem was, the room was so small he had nowhere to leap. Glancing at his suitcase, he remembered the revolver and quietly began maneuvering to retrieve it. He'd hidden it deep in his luggage and finding it in his cramped circumstances was going to be as difficult as finding an elevator in the Paris Metro. Moving slowly, he heard a low curse and the sound of irregular footsteps retreating from the window at the rear of his hotel room. By the time he'd located the gun and slipped outside, all he could hear were the normal night sounds from the insects, birds, and jake brakes of the big trucks going by on the bridge crossing the Rio Dulce.

His initial suspicions fell right in the lap of the stranger he'd seen in the Guat City hotel but he couldn't know for sure. If it was him, it represented a new and disturbing escalation in the cat and mouse game he was part of. Tailing him to the relative wilderness of the Rio Dulce could only be deliberate. Armed, alarmed and alert, his nerves on edge, Adrian kept to the shadows and quietly went back to his room. He vowed then that it was critical that he hear from John the following day. He had to know who was following him and why.

Adrian had a restless night. He'd secured the door by jamming the chair under the door knob but that wouldn't stop anyone from breaking in if they were determined. It would alert him to anyone's presence however and he slept with the revolver at his bedside, just in case. He was dozing in fits and starts, waking every couple hours to listen to the night noises. Hearing nothing, he'd slowly drift back to sleep.

Morning finally arrived. Adrian threw on a pair of lightweight jeans, a collared shirt and a pair of comfortable walking shoes. It was already hot. Where the hell did all the humidity and temperature come from so early in the day he wondered? With the hint of a slight sweat on his brow, he wandered over to the restaurant to get some breakfast. He started out walking slowly and deliberately, all the while seeking out the shade. It was so hot despite the early hour, that he noticed even the locals were seeking protection from the sun. Some of the females were carrying fully deployed umbrellas despite the lack of precipitation – probably to preserve their complexion. Some used his strategy. When given the opportunity, he went well out of the way to avoid walking in the direct sunlight. That was a habit that he maintained during the rest of his stay in the Caribbean. It was uncomfortably hot while he was there.

He kept a wary eye out for any unusual activity while he slowly ate the standard Central American breakfast: eggs, beans, tortillas and plantains. The restaurant was adjacent to the bar. The tables were set to overlook the river and boating activity. It was a lovely setting. He found it difficult to imagine the level of shock and fear when the Queen was shot down in full view of the other diners. But then it was hard for him to imagine the Gringo cruiser being cut so deep with a machete that he nearly lost his head as he rapidly bled to death on the cabin sole of his forty foot yacht.

The morning went by without incident. John didn't call and he didn't show his face. By two o'clock, Adrian was back in his room and starting to make plans to grab the last bus out of town if he didn't hear from John by four. Too hot to hang around in the room, he went back to the bar to wait in the relative cool of the breeze off the river. Grabbing a table, he decided to get a sandwich for lunch when a tiny beggar who had sneaked into the bar in search of food or spare change accosted him. She looked at Adrian with large ebony eyes. As cute as a bug's ear, she was well suited for her work as a panhandler – for a few more years anyway. She told Adrian her name and then told him she was eight years old. A tender young age to be a street urchin.

“Tienes un qwatar?” she asked.

She left Adrian slightly confused with the question. He knew she was asking if he had something but he wasn't sure what it was she wanted. He asked the beggar,

“Qwatar? Que es qwatar?”

'Qwatar' was a word he was unfamiliar with in English or Spanish. The tiny beggar just repeated herself and then it hit him.

“Oh. You want a quarter”, he said with the hint of a chuckle. “En Engles, no es qwatar, es quarter.”, pronouncing it as an English language utterance.

She was skittish for some reason and yet so childlike Adrian just melted in front of her and gave her a US quarter with the stern admonition of "no mas", indicating that was all she'd get from him. Like a preying mantis snatching dinner, she snatched the quarter but hung around anyway, hoping maybe for a bite to eat or maybe another coin.

Adrian was determined to avoid giving her any more currency, but she was so innocently cute he couldn't help but keep glancing her way. Her face was distinctly Mayan and was totally expressionless. It was a face so deep with an intrinsic beauty that you could easily drown in it. She looked as though she wasn't quite sure what to expect from him. Her native Mayan culture had likely taught her all her life to beware of Gringos bearing gifts. In the past several hundred years, most of the supposed gifts had come from priests or warriors – and they always came with a hidden price tag attached.

Wondering how she would react to an ice cube, he offered her one by hand. She looked at it in confusion as though she had never seen one up close and didn't know what it was. As she took it from his hand a slow expression of unbelievable joy and astonishment slowly spread over her beautifully innocent child's face. She reacted as though she had never touched an ice cube before. A lot of the native Mayans were living in the hills above the town where there was no electricity. Ice was sure to be a novelty in their neck of the woods.

The moment was shattered when the owner of the restaurant came by with a cross look on his face and chased the young urchin out of the restaurant, still clutching the ice cube. It would be a long time before Adrian forgot that expression of joy and delight the ice cube brought to her face.

Three o'clock came and went. At three forty five, Adrian went to the latrine to relieve himself in preparation for the return to Guat City and the virtual end of the mission. The door was partly open when he went in and one stall door was closed. Facing the wall and draining his bladder, Adrian became aware of a presence at his back. His hands temporarily occupied, he knew he couldn't defend himself effectively if the presence became hostile. The hair on the back of his neck started to stand on end. He was tempted to grab a glance when a voice in English whispered softly.

“I'm John. You looking for me?”

Stopping to shake off his member, Adrian slowly zipped and pivoted at the same time. It was him. The thought that he was meeting John in the john, came and went quickly.

“Yes. I believe I am. We've got things to talk about.”

The telltale grayish blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, the jeans and a collared shirt. A bit more age in his face then the pictures admitted too, but it was him.

“Let's get started. The bar OK with you?”

“That'll do for now. It's open and a lot cooler than my hotel room.”

The pair walked back to Adrian's table and John pulled up another chair.

"So you're the celebrated Adrian Humnicki. I've been looking forward to this for quite some time. How much do you know?”

“I know I had an intruder late last night, listening at my window” Adrian replied instantly, somewhat unnerved to find out he had a reputation as 'celebrated' in such an out of the way location.

No response from John but Adrian knew he was interested when his left brow rose slightly at the observation. He also noticed that John moved his left hand to cover a tear on his jeans as he slowly nodded his head. Out of form Adrian thought silently to himself. That tear doesn't belong there.

After a long pause John asked, “What'd you do? What did he look like?”

“Chased him into the jungle, but I never got a good look at him.”

“Welcome to Rio Dulce” he said with an inappropriate leering grin.

They'd ordered some refreshments while conversing. Adrian requested a local beer they called Gallo and John had asked for an orange soda, which had just arrived. The conversation stopped while the waitress set up the orders.

After she left Adrian asked John if the place was safe.

“This place? You mean Rio Dulce or the hotel?”

Actually, Adrian was curious about a response for both but his more immediate concern was the hotel. It looked calm enough now but he wondered about the frequency of the shootings in the bar.

“The hotel. This bar. Are we a target here? It's wide open.”

Adrian wasn't going to let on that he knew about the assassinations of the Queen and her teenage son that took place here not too long ago. He wanted John to bring it up so he could ask some innocent questions.

“Safe enough. It's wide open because if it wasn't, the customers would all leave due to the heat! It's seriously warm here in the lowlands. Had you noticed yet?” he said with a crippled grin while looking at Adrian's forehead.

“Yeah. I noticed.” as he wiped the droplets of sweat from his brow.

Adrian then pointed to what looked like a bullet hole in the mahogany bar.

“Is that what I think it is?”, he asked.

A wide grin slowly grew from one side of John's face to the other.

"That depends on what you think it is!"

"Looks like a bullet hole to me" Adrian responded.

“I was wondering if you were gonna bring that up.”

“Bring what up?”

Adrian figured his best course of action was to play dumb. If John knew what he wanted, he might try to second guess Adrian's motives and play dumb as well. John looked at him with a skeptical grin, took a slow drink from his orange soda and asked,

“You hear about the murders here?”

He seemed to know that Adrian knew something, so he threw him a bone.

“You mean the Queen? Is this where it happened?”

Another big grin from John and,

“Yeah. This is where it happened." A brief pause was followed by a long laugh, then he spoke again.

"It wasn't good for business.”

Adrian waited for John to continue but he clammed up and stared off into space. Adrian took a drink from his Gallo and fearing John was finished with the topic, he asked him what had really happened. The response was chilling.

“The 'family' from Morales had an image problem and they resolved it.”

So that was how the locals saw it.

“An image problem”, Adrian asked with a hint of skepticism.

“Yeah, no more than an image problem”.

John went on to explain that the petty thefts from the Gringos were starting to be a problem, but the murder of a tourist made it look like the local 'family' had lost control of the entire region. The death by homicide of Mayan locals wasn't newsworthy, but the potentially unresolved death of a Gringo on his yacht was likely to end up on CNN throughout all of North America. That couldn't be allowed to happen so the 'family' took care of it.

“You know”, John said, “the slaughter of the cruiser happened just outside my marina in Monkey Bay. I was first on the scene after a mayday from the Gringo's wife. She was bleeding like a stuck pig when I got there. She had trouble breathing, probably from a collapsed lung. Her husband was on the floor where he'd been thrown by the bandits. His fore head was propped up against the cabinetry and the blood was still oozing out from his throat when I got there. I moved him to try and stop the blood flow but he was already dead. His wife wasn't too far behind. She was in panties when I got there – nothing but blood covered panties. I helped her change into something more presentable for the ride to the medical clinic in Rio Dulce.”

He paused in his narrative, noting that Adrian was clearly shocked by his revelation. Hoping for a little more information, Adrian asked,
“Did you take her to the hospital?”
“No. The river police heard the mayday and had showed up by then. I helped get her into the police launcha and that was the last I saw of her. I heard later she survived and went back to the States.”

Sitting there listening, Adrian was amazed at how hot and humid it was. He was sweating from head to toe. His clothes were sticking to him at every opportunity. Yet, he noticed that John didn't seem to be in the least discomfort. This was one cool character – in several ways apparently.

“That's enough of the small talk,” John said with a distorted laugh. Let's get started for Monkey Bay. Meet me at the launcha with your gear”, he said as he pointed to what looked like a Guatemalan fishing boat with an enormous outboard.
A good idea Adrian thought. All this talk about killing was making him uncomfortable anyway. He wanted to get started with the information dump and figure out what his role in the operation was going to be. He made a brief stop in the hotel room to verify he'd left nothing behind. On the way out of the hotel, he gave Sherry a grin and a wink and told her he was leaving. She responded to his overture with a blank stare and a furrowed brow, which didn't surprise him at all.

He met John at the hotel dock. He was ready to go so Adrian stowed his duffel bag and climbed on board. They took off slow but soon were high out of the water on a plane, leaving a huge wake behind the boat. The spray was going everywhere and Adrian was a little concerned for his luggage. Interpreting the concerns without even hearing them voiced, John laughed and said,
“Don't worry. It's fresh water”,as they continued their headlong flight across the water in the fading daylight.
Fifteen mad dash minutes later, they were pulling into the Monkey Bay Marina. Two barking dogs met them at the dock but John told Adrian not to worry since they were more show then substance.

“But still, you probably shouldn't turn your back on the black one if she's barking at you”.

Great, Adrian thought. Just what he needed. A dog you can't turn your back on!

John continued to fill him in with what he knew as they talked a little more while standing on the dock. The mosquitoes finally brought an end to the conversation and they agreed to meet in the morning. As the conversation ended, John started to turn away from Adrian. Then as though remembering something, he stopped in mid turn.

“One more thing before you get some shut eye. The DAA wanted me to relay a message to you. They said a friend of yours by the name of Greg was found with a slit throat in Caracas. The handler said it was a surveillance mission gone bad. The CIA was running a parallel covert op as back-up for you, and Greg was part of the operation. Sorry to have to be the one to tell you.”

Adrian was stunned. His good friend Greg murdered during the course of a CIA undercover operation. His knees involuntarily buckled slightly before recovering.

“What? Why?” he stuttered in astonishment.

John had already started to walk to his boat and he cut Adrian off with a terse response.
“He was working a sting with Mike Raker. That's all I know. It was a classified operation. You can ask Raker himself. There's a rumor going around that he's already in town."