Adam brushed passed the bouncer and into Klub X-Rated.
Douk-Saga hip hop music from Cote D’Ivoire blasted over a boom box in the corner of the club while the lithe forms of African girls hid in the shadows of the club, dancing for foreign men in country on business from South America. Adam snorted.
The entire place stunk of cheap perfume and shame.
He appeared to move in slow motion as the strobe light blasted on and off as he approached one of the men huddled with a local girl. When the girl looked up at him with wide brown eyes, the mercenary motioned her away. Having spent more then a day or two in the shady establishment, she knew it was time to leave, quickly gathering her things and moving to the opposite side of the club.
“Hey,” the man said in accented English. “Get your own girl, I already paid for her.”
“You got a date with me tonight,” Adam said, pushing the man back down onto his seat.
“Shit,” the Colombian said with recognition. “You didn’t tell me you were coming.”
“I’ll be sure to call ahead next time.”
Edwardo was in the drug business, and at the moment business was good, Colombian Special Forces having eliminated his competition several months ago, taking credit for El Jefe himself in the process. The small sub-Saharan nation of Guinea-Bissau had perhaps the lowest per capita income in the entire world and a government that was easily bought and sold.
Combined with the island archipelago off the coast, it was an ideal stop on the underground drug railroad leading to Europe. Edwardo was a facilitator, making sure that the air drops and midnight landings off the coast went off without a hitch.
“We need to talk,” Adam stated. It wasn’t the first time they’d had words or exchanged information. A bag man was more like a freelance import/export agent than a loyal minion to a drug lord back in southwest Colombia.
“What do you have for me?” the cartel member said, smiling.
“A waiver. Help me out, and I won’t have to put you out of business.”
“Bullshit-” the Colombian jumped to his feet. “You come here to threaten me? I own this country, what the fuck do you do?”
“Take a seat, Edward,” Adam ordered, glancing back at the bouncers. “This isn’t a good time to be a drug lord, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about Ramirez. I’m talking about Khalis. I’m talking about running product through Croatia instead of Greece and pocketing the difference.”
Edwardo’s eyes went wild, his face getting redder.
“I just want information.”
“What kind of information?” the bag man said, taking his seat, attempting to calm himself down.
“You know the term cui bono?”
“Get to the point.”
“Why was Ramirez killed?”
“Doing business with the wrong people.”
“There are not a lot of right people in your line of work.”
“Some are more wrong then others. Some believe that competition is a sin.”
The Colombian wore a lightweight tropical suit, a gaudy florescent tie hanging loosely around his neck. The slicked back hair and sunglasses perched on his head even after sundown completed the image, carefully cultivated to let everyone know exactly who and what he represented. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he palmed a pack of cigarettes.
“What does that mean?”
“Ramirez was an idiot,” he said, shaking loose a cigarette from the pack. “There is a system, an order to things, but he was to stubborn too see that. He invested his money in real estate and businesses; the rest he kept hidden around the countryside. Millions of dollars. Billions. By the caseload. If you want to stay in this line of work, you have to be smart.”
Edwardo flicked his lighter and inhaled on the cigarette. “Smart like me.”
“What do you do different?”
“I keep my money in banks. The right banks,” he replied ,exhaling a cloud of smoke.
“You give the bankers a cut for laundering your cartel’s money.”
“Of course, this is how it has always worked. Haven’t you ever wondered why some cartels in Mexico get a free pass while others have the entire Mexican army deployed against them? Unlike in the US, the border is tightly controlled on the Mexican side to protect the corridors. It is much the same for us. If you know your place, you will be allowed to operate. This is the price of doing business.”
It was a long shot, but with the information Deckard had given him and what he had uncovered on his own, Adam intended to follow the money.
“What are the right banks?”
“The gringo kind,” Edwardo laughed.
* * *
Frank climbed down the fold-out stairs and moved to the side of the Lear Jet, standing watch as the heat mirage rippled up from the asphalt airstrip.
As his principal stepped off the aircraft and walked toward the small terminal, he followed one step behind while the two other members of the Personal Security Detachment covered both flanks, keeping a sharp lookout as they approached immigration.
“Welcome to Nauru,” the clerk manning the desk said smiling.
The American stepped forward, handing over all four passports to the customs official. It was a slow day for him as the plane from Brisbane to the island nation only flew twice a week. Being in the employ of United Bamboo and having access to one of their private jets certainly cut down on time spent waiting for flights to remote airfields.
As the three Taiwanese and one American stood sweating on the tarmac, the official quickly stamped the four passports before handing them back to Frank. He knew the deal. VIP’s don’t get dicked around with.
The protection detail moved in formation around Kao, heading toward the waiting Mazda van. Kao was a big name in United Bamboo, the largest of the Triads. Chen and Kenny were both made men in the organization that was as well known for counterfeiting and copyright infringement as drug trafficking and kidnapping.
Frank was just along for the ride, working out a deal with a fellow contractor to call in sick at the last minute and recommend him for the job. A perfect cover needed to infiltrate the world’s smallest country.
Taking the key from the attendant, Kenny slipped behind the wheel while Frank held the door open for Kao. After Chen followed him in, he shut the sliding door and rode shotgun next to the Taiwanese bodyguard.
Pulling onto the lone road that ringed around the six kilometer circumference of the island, they passed a Chinese restaurant, which led to an exchange between the Taiwanese in their native language. Feeling like a fifth wheel, Frank could only guess what the conversation was about. Chinese immigrants operated restaurants all over the world, many of them a front for the Triads. Others were a front for Chinese intelligence. Many of them probably acted as a proxy for both.
Speeding by the turquoise waters, Frank was comforted by the pistol riding in a shoulder holster under his jacket. Despite the tranquil setting he had a feeling he would need it.
After Western powers had raped Nauru of what little mineral resources it had, the islanders were left to fend for themselves with little if anything to bargain with. They found one avenue to quick cash in recognizing the sovereignty of small break-away republics and semi-autonomous zones on the international stage, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, in exchange for cash payments. They were also one of the first to join the “coalition of the willing” in support of the US invasion of Iraq.
The other method devised by the crafty island government was to set itself up as a tax haven. Foreign investors could deposit money tax free, even open their own banks on the island. No questions asked. The new policy had made the island republic the host of a constantly revolving cast of shadowy figures from dozens of countries.
This shady character’s presence seemed almost preordained. The son of a city councilman in Taipei, he had been photographed soliciting a prostitute. The picture was splashed all over the hot sheets the following morning, so the Nauru job was just what Kao needed until the heat died down back home.
Passing a dilapidated-looking concrete bunker built by the Japanese during the Second World War, they spun in front of the main doors of the island’s only hotel. Several other vehicles sat idling, tough guys in dark suits and shades smoking cigarettes as they waited for their own benefactors to arrive.
Doors swung open as the delegation climbed out of the van and strutted into the lobby. When the uniformed woman behind the desk saw the Taiwanese, she tried to hand Kao the key to his room.
Snatching it from her hand, Chen walked off to scout out the room and conduct his security checks while the crime boss signaled to Frank that he wanted a drink.
“The boss likes Johnny Walker Black,” he told the receptionist.
Nodding, the woman quickly disappeared into the back room.
Frank looked back at his temporary boss.
The islanders must have had run-ins with United Bamboo in the past. They were the largest crime syndicate in Asia, next to Yamaguchi-gumi of Japan, operating through ancient and complex business schemes that the average man or woman in the Orient knew better than to cross.
When the woman reappeared, Frank held his breath. She was holding a glass of Scotch on the Rocks. He couldn’t remember if Kenny had told him if Kao liked ice or not. Breathing a sigh of relief, Frank watched the crime boss smile at the receptionist as he took a sip from the glass.
Kenny shouted from around the corner, giving them the all clear. Chen began following Kao up to his room, pointing Frank back to the van.
Frank mumbled something while walking back to the third-hand Mazda van.
At the moment he was part of a growing fad, or a victim of one, as it were. Any businessman of stature was hiring men with Western features as subordinates to fill their staff requirements in the rapidly expanding Chinese economy. Not to be outdone, the Taiwanese seized upon the status symbol as well. This included Triad mob bosses occasionally hiring round-eye bodyguards, especially when conducting business with foreigners.
The disgruntled employee lifted the bags from the van, hoping that the embarrassment was worth it and glad that none of his pals were around to witness it.
* * *
Looking up from his computer screen, Deckard held his phone to his ear while distracted by a knock at the door.
Pallets of ammunition were beginning to flood in on a weekly and then daily basis. The mercenary soldiers had been firing even more ammunition then he had forecast, which was well in excess of what an infantry battalion would consume. As commander he had no complaints about the current levels of expenditure, but now he had to dispatch a detail back to the capital to facilitate another pickup.
The door opened and one his interpreters walked in, closely followed by one of the Kazakhs in his woodland fatigues. Deckard terminated his call with a diesel fuel supplier in Russia, motioning for the two men to take the seats in front of his desk.
“What’s up?” Deckard asked.
“Lev asked to speak with you,” the interpreter announced. Kevin was a second-generation Russian-American, his parents having made sure he went to the best schools. He had obtained a degree in chemistry and lived comfortably in San Diego until getting laid off by the chocolate company he had worked for. With the economy hit hard he had been forced to find new avenues of employment, this time make use of his bilingual background rather then his scientific one.
“He would like to resign.”
“Is everything okay?”
Kevin translated, Russian being spoke between them for a moment before the interpreter turned back to Deckard.
“He says that he respectfully wishes to break his contract early and is willing to accept a penalty, but he feels he can no longer be a part of the company.”
“I’m willing to accept his resignation if this is really what he wants, but did he give a reason? If he has family problems, we can work out a period of leave for him.”
More Russian exchanged between the two.
“No, he says that combat was more frightening then he could have imagined. He says that he hasn’t slept right since getting back to Kazakhstan. He has a family to take care of.”
Now he could place the Kazakh soldier. Lev was in Alexander’s platoon when they had taken down MIK’s bunker. He was the one who had been taken to the ground by an insurgent, until Deckard showed up.
“Tell him that this is somewhat normal. Many soldiers have this type of reaction to their first time in combat.”
Lev said something in Russian, shaking his head back and forth.
“He says this isn’t true,” Kevin translated. “He says that you weren’t afraid at all. You didn’t care of you lived or died, he says.”
“Please,” Deckard began to explain. “I was afraid as anyone else.”
Lev and Kevin looked at each speaking back and forth while Deckard waited.
“He doesn’t believe you.”
* * *
Maurice kicked, churning the water behind him as he rolled over and into a backstroke.
The sun hung low in the sky casting the clouds in brilliant orange, red, and pink hues. Warm water rippling over him, he stopped swimming and allowed himself to float while the sun continued its descent toward the horizon.
Not bad for a dead man.
Not bad at all.
A smile crossed his lips, thinking about the sunset, thinking about how he had found himself on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Fate was a funny thing, he thought soaking in the remaining sunlight. A criminal indictment in New York had sent him strolling down a path that allowed him to shrug off his bitch of an ex-wife and schedule himself for a permanent vacation.
The New Yorker had many jobs over the years. Investor, stock broker, currency speculator, and investment adviser were all positions he had held over a forty-something year career. He’d even been a chairman of NASDAQ for a time and held a membership at the Council on Foreign Relations. Everything was going great until it wasn’t anymore.
Tranquilo, that was the word. That was what he had found at Nauru.
Maurice had been busted by the feds for running the largest ponzi scheme in world history. After driving several businesses into the ground as a young man, he had found himself with a equally young and very pregnant bride. There was more then one way to make a living as it turned out, and being golfing buddies with the guys at the Securities and Exchange Commission didn’t hurt. Everyone else couldn’t or wouldn’t confront what many secretly knew. Why would they when so much money was being made by his investors?
The clouds moved slowly overhead, giant cotton balls flush with color as the sun sunk toward the sea. Nauru was a nice place, if tainted by the people who actually lived there. Still, it beat a life sentence in a federal prison. He had a bid in to buy an island in French Polynesia, so this hideaway was really just a stepping stone to more permanent fixtures.
Yeah, everything was going great until some prick in a competing investment firm dropped dime on him to enough people in the SEC, FBI, and Treasury Department that they couldn’t ignore the warning signs anymore and moved in. He had been put on house arrest while they finished conducting their investigation, ankle bracelet and all. While he was cooling his heels on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Feds were seizing his assets, the ones they could find anyway.
Flipping over he began lazily swimming back to his bungalow. It was a squat one story home painted blue and green that sat right on the edge of the shore, the waves washing right up to his deck at high tide. It was spartan compared to his old apartments, estates, and mansions, but he couldn’t complain.
As he got closer to trial, his lawyers told him in no uncertain terms that his goose was cooked and he needed to enter into a plea bargain with the feds if he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in a federal pound-you-in-the-ass penitentiary. Then as he prepared to turn state’s evidence on every other crook he knew on Wall Street, a guardian angel arrived.
Of course his fellow Council of Foreign Relations member was a little overweight and he had never heard of a guardian angel who smoked Cuban cigars, but the deal he had offered was a lot sweeter then what the feds were promising.
Not able to take it anymore, he committed suicide.
Or at least a stunt double did. Kammler hadn’t told him who the guy was, and frankly he didn’t care. With a handful of medical officials and police officers bought off, he had been put on a private jet out of the country that night. The islanders were more then willing to accept a white guy with a brand new passport and no history whatsoever. He wasn’t the first and they knew he wouldn’t be the last.
Winston Churchill had called them the High Cabal. Dwight D. Eisenhower had called them the Military-Industrial complex. Whoever the hell they were, Maurice was damned glad he was a member because they looked out for him, knowing he could bring the whole house of cards down with him if he ratted on the hyenas infesting the financial sector.
Reaching the shore he stood up, trudging through the thigh deep water.
The whole damn house of cards, he laughed to himself.
It was a lie he knew, the things they said about him in the papers. There was an even bigger ponzi scheme then his, and it was called the global economy.
Walking towards his bungalow, he squinted trying to ascertain if he was seeing correctly.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Some clown was sitting on his lawn chair, drinking his beer, and listening to his stereo right there on his front porch overlooking the ocean.
“Just having a beer,” the younger man said. “Lighten up, Maurice.”
The former stock broker swallowed.
“I don’t know who you think you’re talking to. I’m Wesley-”
“According to your new passport, I know. But it turns out the rumors about your death being faked weren’t just rumors. One of your lawyers had a few details and didn’t mind some money getting thrown his way.”
Frank grimaced as Maurice’s pasty white breasts swung back and forth as he began to shout.
“Don’t blame him, he just put us on the right path. It was one of your bankers in Argentina that finally led me to your vacation getaway in Nauru.”
“And you are?”
“Private security contractor,” he answered, swallowing a swig of beer. “My boss gave me a few hours off. He thinks I’m banging out a prostitute, a past time near and dear to his heart.”
“Son of a bitch,” Maurice growled, reaching for the intruder.
“I don’t think so,” the Frank said calmly. Somehow as he had reached for the interloper, he had slid a hand under his shirt, drawing a pistol. Maurice didn’t know what it was called, just that it was small, black, and deadly. “Have a seat,” the mercenary said reassuringly.
Eyes drilling into the stranger, Maurice cautiously sat down in the lawn chair next to him before turning as they both looked out across the ocean just as the last sliver of sun disappeared.
“Isn’t this nice,” Frank commented. “I knew we could be buds.”
“What do you want?” Maurice asked, nearly choking on his words, his world crumbling around him. Again.
“Just wanted to have a talk.”
“About twenty billion, the twenty billion the feds never found out about.”
“You want my money?”
“You’re offering?” Frank asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m no danger to anyone out here.”
“You are, even if you don’t know it.” The commando shifted in his seat, “I want to talk about your offshore accounts and what you know about DNA synthesizers.”