By R. L. Keller
A short, sharp, whistle and a yell of “Crane,” slowed Lee’s progress down one of the Pentagon’s long corridors and he stopped and turned. Admiral Robert Jones was barreling his direction, a couple of Marine Staff Sergeants in his wake. Being apparently good Marines, both faces expressed total neutrality, but Lee did detect a stiffening of backs and shoulders as Jones walked up to him. Jones started to say something as he returned Lee’s automatic salute, hesitated, and flipped a hand at the other two men.
“Sir?” one of them hazarded the question.
“Get lost,” Jones growled very low before turning and addressing them directly. “You have your orders,” he all but snarled.
“Yes, sir,” the apparently designated speaker acknowledged. But it was with obvious reluctance that both men continued down the corridor.
Lee was unable to totally control a grin and it was not lost on Jones. “What are you doing here?” came out with a deep frown.
Lee was used to Jones after all his years of working part time for the Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence and took no offense at the tone. “Just dropping off some reports for Admiral Nelson, sir,” he said quietly, still standing at Attention. His expression almost broke as Jones snarled ‘something’ not quite under his breath. “They had to be sent by secure courier and he figured that I was about as secure as he could get.” The last few words were said with the barest of smiles breaking through.
Jones’ glare was severe but thankfully didn’t last long before he snorted, accepting Lee’s bit of impishness only because of their mutual respect, earned by Lee over his years of service. Jones would give almost anything to get Lee to work full-time for ONI but grudgingly admitted that the younger man would never give up his position with NIMR and his devotion to Admiral Harriman Nelson. He was just grateful that he could occasionally snag Crane away for special ‘errands’. “And I suppose,” came out a little more civilly, “that you have to hurry right back.”
Lee’s grin spread ever so slightly. “Actually, I’m headed to visit friends,” he admitted. His smile died as Jones’ stare focused into a sharp glare.
“My office,” he ordered. “One hour.”
“Sir?” Lee knew that he’d only get away with the question because of Jones’ respect for Nelson’s temper. That admiral got rather vocal when Jones commandeered Lee without his approval.
Jones harrumphed. “Gives us both time to clear it with Nelson,” he admitted, then glared harder as Lee sputtered, choking off a snort of laughter.
“Yes, sir,” Lee finally got out, his smile back. Jones harrumphed again, nodded, and stalked off. Lee reached for his cellphone.
One hour later – to the minute – Lee entered Admiral Jones’ outer office to be greeted brightly by Lt. Cdr. Roger Andreas, Jones’ aide and an old friend of Lee’s. But their handshake was short as Andreas motioned for Lee to go right in to Jones’ office. Jones’ frown was mediated almost instantly as he waved Lee toward the coffee pot to his left, then indicated the chair in front of his desk. But despite that bit of casualness Jones got right to the point. “You’ve been to NAVSTA Rota.” He gave Lee the official designation for the Naval base in Rota, Spain.
“Yes, sir.” Lee knew that Jones was nearly as familiar with his service record as Admiral Nelson was. “It’s been a few years since I was there, however.”
“The base hasn’t changed much,” Jones told him. The US Navy maintained a Navy/Marine base there, with small contingents of Army and Air Force as well. “Even with that, the area has become more international.” He frowned. “And not always for the better.”
“Maybe because of all the US military presence,” Lee postulated. “More possible access to intel.”
“You’ve never been slow on the uptake,” came out in a snarl. Lee merely nodded. It didn’t help Jones’ expression and Lee had to quickly bury a smile behind his coffee mug. Jones’ glare increased. “What did Nelson tell you?”
Lee swallowed the last of his coffee. “That it was my decision how I chose to spend my Leave,” he said evenly. He carefully didn’t repeat the rest of what Admiral Nelson said although he had a feeling Admiral Jones knew anyway. “It might be hard for me to be undercover there,” Lee offered. “I’m not unknown, with that many naval personnel in the area.”
“I have absolutely no intention of sending you in undercover,” Jones muttered. “I want you visible, both on the base and off.”
“Sir?” Now Lee was totally confused. One of Lee’s assets to ONI had always been his ability to ‘blend in,’ as it were. At least, that’s what he thought.
“You’re known as Nelson’s man,” Jones told him, “thumbing your nose at regulations because Nelson backs you up,” came out in another snarl.
“Sir!” Lee started, sitting forward and wanting to defend himself. “I…”
Jones cut him off. “I want you visible,” he repeated. “In no hurry, relaxing, not a care in the world.”
“A distraction.” Lee stared at him, disgust in his voice. “Certainly you have someone…”
Again Jones silenced him. “An obvious distraction,” he admitted. “At least to some.” A small smile hit his face but Lee thought that it merely made him look a bit evil. “You’ll have your own agenda.” Lee sat back in his chair.
* * * *
Just over twenty-four hours later Lee presented his credentials to guards at the front gate at NAVSTA Rota on the Atlantic coast of Spain and made his way to the Visiting Officers’ Quarters. His papers said that Admiral Nelson had made the arrangements as Lee was there ostensibly to attend meetings with, and collect reports from, several environmental groups as well as some R & R. Lee knew, however, that Admiral Jones had handled most of the details. Personally, and that knowledge brought a smile to Lee’s face as he checked into the VOQ because normally Jones had minions to handle those kinds of details. The grin stayed in place as he settled into his assigned room.
He still wasn’t overly happy with his role in this project, and especially as he didn’t have a complete ‘picture’ of what the entire project was. Jones told him only what he absolutely had to know. On the other hand, Lee told himself and the grin spread, he knows I tend to improvise no matter what’s going on, so… Lee nearly laughed out loud as he thought back on some of Jones’ reactions to Lee’s methods of handling an assignment.
Staying in uniform – with as much military presence in the area he’d fit right in – he headed out to stretch his legs after the long plane ride. While not a major tourist destination the old town with its sights, shops, and lack of crowds made for a pleasant afternoon. Lee stood for a while looking out on the sea of Cadiz. That town was approximately forty kilometers away, on the southern edge of the bay. Tomorrow Lee would rent a car and drive around as his pre-arranged meetings were there. Or perhaps he’d take the high-speed catamaran that made the trip across the bay from Rota to Cadiz upwards of ten times a day. He’d play that one by ear. While access to his own transportation could possibly come in handy, public transport also had its benefits. He’d ponder that one in the morning.
In the meantime he ambled through the center of town, stopping here and there at the many shops, not buying anything but enjoying the variety and visiting easily with the owners. While there had, over the years, been opposition to the military base, for the most part the locals appreciated the money having the base there brought in. He supposed that the occasional wandering Guardia – the local police – also helped keep order. Outwardly he paid little attention to others on the street but surreptitiously he was rarely unaware of his surroundings. He smiled softly as, the instant he’d hit the base he’d had to remind himself this wasn’t NIMR or Seaview where he kept things a good deal more laid back; here he needed to give and return salutes instinctively. He got a few curious looks from people he assumed were military personnel out of uniform; they would be curious of a new officer in their midst. And especially one, he realized, wearing dolphins. There were at present no submarines based at Rota, although there had been in the past. Speculation running rampant could, perhaps, be an issue. On the other hand, Admiral Jones’ comment about Lee being known as ‘Nelson’s man’ could have some interesting benefits.
As was instantly apparent when he returned to the base after an early dinner in town and was directed to the office of Captain Geoffrey Garrison. The base itself was commanded by a Spanish rear admiral but each military branch had its own command staff. Captain Garrison oversaw the US Navy here. As he made his way that direction Lee remembered hearing something about the previous captain having been relieved of duty and reassigned; something about a lack of confidence in his ability to command stemming from his being unable to control a growing drug problem within navy personnel. Admiral Jones hadn’t mentioned it, only telling Lee that Garrison needed to know nothing of Lee’s mission beyond the cover story. Lee had raised an eyebrow but Jones didn’t elaborate and Lee hadn’t pushed. Now he entered Captain Garrison’s office outwardly open but inwardly cautious. Garrison seemed to welcome Lee easily but Lee could almost feel the man’s inner intenseness. “What brings you to our little stretch of paradise, Commander?”
Lee grinned, accepting the handshake after the quick salute and relaxed into the indicated chair as Garrison settled once more behind his desk. “Admiral Nelson was supposed to have meetings with, and pick up reports from, several conservation groups. They’d agreed to meet in Cadiz over the next week. Then things got a little…ah…complicated.” Lee rolled his eyes. “Admiral Jiggs Stark. COMSUBPAC,” he clarified in case Garrison didn’t happen to recognize the name. He sighed. “Anyway, I got sent at the last minute and figured staying at NAVSTA Rota was easiest.” He looked directly at Garrison. “Admiral Nelson didn’t mention any problems when he gave me the orders.” Actually, Lee had no idea whatever of what had gone on to set this up. After his one call to Nelson, Admiral Jones had given him his briefings which included only the bare facts about the backstory.
“None at all,” Garrison waved off the inquiry in Lee’s voice. “I just like to keep a handle on comings and goings. Would have met you when you got here but I was tied up in meetings.”
“I’ll just be using the base…” he sent Garrison a sheepish grin, “well, as a base of operations,” he finished with one of his rather patented through-the-lashes looks. “Just a place to crash,” he added.
“Not using the facilities for any of your meetings?”
“No, sir. I don’t anticipate bringing any civilians on base.”
Garrison nodded. “Just checking.” Lee made a mental note to not underestimate this man in any way. Maybe perhaps because of the previous captain, this one wanted to keep on top of things under his command. “Anything else you need, don’t hesitate to ask.” Lee nodded, then waited carefully as Garrison seemed to want to say something else. “You like sub service?” finally came out.
Lee laughed. “Yes, sir, I do. Mind you,” he amended, “Admiral Nelson’s Seaview is a tad larger than other subs.”
“So I’ve heard,” Garrison admitted.
“Next time we’re in the neighborhood, sir, I’ll try to stop in and give you a tour.” He laughed again as Garrison shuddered ever so softly. “You won’t have a problem,” Lee assured him.
“Well,” Garrison waved him off, “enjoy your stay in sunny Spain.”
Lee stood. “Plan to, sir, and thanks.” He headed for his quarters pondering the short meeting. Not that Garrison wouldn’t want to know why Lee was there. But why, if he’d been tied up when Lee arrived, hadn’t his inquiry waited until the following morning? Why had Garrison stayed in his office until Lee had returned from dinner? Unlike Nelson, who seemed to thrive on puzzles, Lee hated them!
* * * *
Lee’s first meeting was scheduled for the following day. Nelson did, really, meet regularly with all three groups Lee was going to see – just, the meetings had somehow gotten reorganized for a couple of months early. He suspected that that had been entirely left to Nelson as Jones shouldn’t have had anything to do with that end. Perhaps it had even been an idea Nelson had come up with to give Lee a reason for being here once Jones had talked to him. Lee had no idea, and didn’t really care. The meetings had been part of Jones’ briefing notes and since Lee was familiar with all three groups there had been no need to elaborate.
After a quick light breakfast in the Officers’ Mess on base where he ran into Captain Garrison but didn’t exchange anything other than a salute and a smile, Lee caught the next ferry to Cadiz. When he entered the Plaza de Mina in Old Town Cadiz he instantly recognized his contact, Dr. Brian Salazar, an environmental engineer for NOAA. He raised a hand in greeting and the pair met at a bench on the edge of the plaza. “Beautiful,” Lee said as he glanced around at the buildings.
Salazar grinned. “I never get tired of it,” he admitted, and indicated the bench. As they both sat he sent Lee a puzzled look. “But what’s got Harriman’s dander up? The last I heard he didn’t want my data for at least another month.”
Lee shrugged. He’d pondered how to get around the expected questions and decided ignorance was his best option. “Not sure,” he said. “Just asked me to come over and get it while he attended to other matters. I also have brief meetings with Dr. Ignacio from the Cousteau Society and Dr. Benidetto from the Moroccan Marine Research Center over the next bunch of days.” He shrugged again with a quick smile. “Sometimes it’s just easier to do what I’m told.”
At that Salazar laughed. “The Admiral…he can be…”
“Dedicated,” Lee finished for him.
“Exactly. Not that anyone really complains, mind you. He’s been such a driving force in ocean conservation worldwide.”
Lee grinned but it was a wry one. “Driving force pretty well sums it up.” They both laughed.
“Anyway, here’s the reports he wanted. Some of the data will need further updates but everything he specifically wanted is there.”
“Thanks,” Lee told him, somewhat off-hand as he leafed through the folder, pretending to understand what he was looking at. And actually, he was a bit surprised and pleased with himself, some of the data really did make sense after his years of reading the NIMR reports that routinely crossed his desk. He thanked Salazar and offered to buy him lunch. But the researcher declined, saying that he needed to get back to his lab. Lee thanked him again for meeting him on such short notice and the two parted. Lee headed across the plaza to Number 5, the Museum of Cadiz, which showcased the area’s 3000-year history.
While never much of a tourist Lee did enjoy history – an interest, he admitted, nurtured from an early age by his mother. He spent a most enjoyable afternoon there, and planned to come back as he hadn’t seen more than a quarter of the exhibits by the time he needed to get back to the ferry.
It was on the about half hour ride across the bay that he got his first glimmer of what, perhaps, he was here for. There was a familiar-looking person trying to stay as far away from him as possible on the catamaran. Lee couldn’t place the man – well, he thought it was a man; the oversized hoody the person was wearing made confirmation difficult – but he did think that he’d seen the body shape at some previous time. He just wasn’t sure where. Thinking back as he carefully avoided staring in the person’s direction, he didn’t think that it had been in the plaza or the museum. And if it had been on the ferry coming over that morning the person had been dressed differently. But there was ‘something’ that triggered Lee’s curiosity. Over the years he’d developed a memory for shapes, voices, body movements and ways of walking; that talent had frequently been of extreme use helping him stay alive! He’d learned to rely on those senses, not discount them out of hand. Once they reached the other side Lee would have liked to follow the person, at least to see which direction he went. But not only was his uniform in this instance a detriment, he was bumped rather rudely by a passenger apparently in a bigger hurry to disembark than he was. It distracted him just long enough for his ‘target’ to disappear into the crowd waiting to get on. Shrugging, Lee made his way to one of the tapas shops close by. Too many years of the evening meal being served about 1800 hours made him resistant to the Spanish routine of dinner closer to midnight. Not to mention that a lighter meal of tapas, small plates of various small portions, suited his lighter appetite better than the heavier meals later at night.
Not having a scheduled meeting the next day, Lee got up early and dressed in what Chip always griped about as Lee’s ONI uniform: dark jeans, dark knit pullover, and reversible jacket that was dark blue on one side and light tan on the other. Sticking a watch cap in his pocket – along with a few other odds and ends he didn’t normally carry with him – he headed once more across the bay to Cadiz.
Today’s casual destination was the “Torre Tavira,’ the Tavira Tower. During the 18th century there were over 160 such towers in Cadiz from which merchants kept watch for returning ships. This was one of the most well-preserved, and also allowed observation into the Old City. Lee spent a relaxed couple of hours divided between watching his beloved ocean and carefully scanning people walking through the town. He didn’t see the person from yesterday but did spend a bit of time watching another person, this time definitely a woman, wandering casually around the shops. He could never get a clear look at her face, particularly from that far away, but once more he was left with the impression that there was something familiar about her. She finally walked out of sight and Lee gave up trying to figure out who she reminded him of.
He casually exited the tower and made his way to ‘The Admiral’s House,’ a rather palatial residence adjacent to the Plaza San Martin. It had been built in 1690 by the family of Don Diego de Barrios – he was considered the Admiral of the Spanish treasure fleet, The Fleet of the Indies as it was then known as ships brought back trade – and plunder – from the Americas. The name alone was enough to tickle Lee’s sense of humor and he took several pictures to show to Admiral Nelson. There were more tourists in evidence today – streets and attractions were busier than in Rota, and more so than there had been even the day before in Cadiz. That made it easier for Lee to blend right in and he wandered through more of the town, spending time in the plazas looking casually around, and visiting several more interesting buildings. There also seemed to be more Guardia today. They all seemed watchful, although not at all outwardly nervous or aggressive. Lee wondered if something had happened the night before to set them on edge.
He reminded himself that Spain had lately become the destination for small boats carrying refugees from Africa. It reminded Lee of the time when so many people were fleeing Cuba to Florida. Now, as then, too many times the small boats were overloaded, and many lives had been lost before reaching freedom. And too, the narrowness of the Strait seemed to encourage smuggling – especially drugs. Lee had read somewhere that a kilo of hashish sold for around 1500 Euros here, but four times that in other areas of Europe. Add to that the nearly forty percent unemployment among the younger generation and that could easily lead to edgy Guardia. But, as long as they left him alone he was willing to do the same.
He was always careful in these kinds of situations, whether he was on assignment or not, of pickpockets and such; another reason he so liked this particular jacket because he could keep anything important in inside pockets where they were much safer. So it was with some surprise as he left a small shop, one of half a dozen he’d browsed through, that he happened to slip his hand in an outside pocket and discovered a folded slip of paper. He had absolutely no idea when it had been placed there; he couldn’t remember having reached into the pocket in the last couple of hours. Nor had he at any time been conscious of someone that close to him. He did, at one point, get the feeling that he was being watched but had almost immediately shrugged it off. He was in a tourist town, after all, and there were just as many people-watchers as there were attraction-watchers. After a very momentary startle he continued walking until he reached the next plaza, sat down, and drew out the paper as if he were merely re-checking a list. In plain block letters to totally disguise handwriting it said, “Good job. Keep it up.” Lee nearly swore before he chuckled softly. Admiral Jones had indicated that Lee was a distraction for a different mission. He was apparently handling that part of the assignment well no matter that he had no idea what was going on other than the part Jones had set up and which still had several days to go before he could even attempt to deal with.
He forced himself to not dwell on what other pieces of the puzzle might be going on. When he’d first gotten involved with ONI he’d wanted to understand ‘everything.’ Mostly what that caused was him losing his mind trying to make everything make sense. Slowly he came to realize that he was purposely only given what intel he absolutely had to have as a safety measure; if he were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time he couldn’t be forced into revealing intel that might screw up someone else. Frustrating, but also understandable.
As he now stood and casually continued his walk, he smiled. Not having all the intel had, on too many occasions, lead to him using some rather unorthodox methods to complete his portion, which tended to drive Admiral Jones a little whackers. So be it! Jones kept asking for his services so he couldn’t complain too loudly about how Lee problem-solved.
On a whim Lee flagged down one of the horse-drawn carriages the tourists seemed to love, and handed over enough money to keep the driver happy just wandering around through the sights for the next couple of hours. The two horses were Andalusians, the beautiful breed this area of Spain was famous for, and Lee relaxed back into the seat, amiably visiting with the driver and enjoying the somewhat unique atmosphere of the city. The loquacious driver kept Lee entertained with everything Lee could ever want to know – or not – about the area’s history. Generally considered to have been founded in 1104 BC by the Phoenicians, Cadiz was a member of the “Most Ancient European Towns” network. It remained an active trading center despite having been invaded – and occasionally destroyed and rebuilt – over the years by a succession of conquering civilizations because of its direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. Even Christopher Columbus had started his second and fourth trips to the New World from Cadiz. Lee ended up enjoying the history lesson as much as he did his lazy tour and thought that he should perhaps share his new-found intel with his mother, a free-lance writer. He suspected that Helen could find enough of interest to write one of her amazing in-depth articles.
Almost reluctantly Lee returned to the harbor for his trip back across the bay to Rota. He just missed one ferry so decided to have dinner before catching the next one. Or the one after, he teased himself, depending on how long I dawdle over my meal. Chuckling to himself he wandered off along one of the more heavily populated streets assuming that more people would mean more opportunities for food.
He wasn’t disappointed. While still very early for the later-eating locals he did find any number of places catering more to the tourist trade. He ended up in what was more bar than restaurant. But it had a local ‘flavor’ to it that very much appealed to him and he chose a back corner table, partly out of his habit of always wanting to be aware of his surroundings but mostly so that he could relax and people-watch, both inside the room and on the sidewalk outside through the large front windows.
About halfway through an excellent seafood paella accompanied by an equally excellent sangria Lee paused with a bite halfway to his mouth, then covered a smile behind his napkin. “Oh, what a web we weave,” he muttered as a familiar face ambled past the windows – one of the two Marine Staff Sergeants who had been with Admiral Jones when Lee had spoken to him at the Pentagon. Out of uniform, the man could have been just another tourist. Although, the haircut alone was a bit of a giveaway that the man was military of some sort. Lee finished his meal on even higher alert than he’d been. He wasn’t smug enough to consider himself infallible, and really wished he knew more of what was going on, mostly so that anything he did by accident wouldn’t mess up the other ‘players’ in whatever game Admiral Jones had set in motion. Muttering a few rather unkind descriptions of his part-time boss, he headed back toward the docks and the ferry to Rota.
The thought did briefly flit through his mind, wondering if it had been the Marine who had slipped the note into his pocket. But Lee dismissed it fairly quickly. While he had no idea of how the note got there, he was almost positive that no one that size – for the man was not small – had been anywhere near him. And there was no way this man was who he’d seen his first day here. Lee frowned and tried to shrug off the bad feeling he was starting to get. Keep your mind on your own part of the mission, he told himself firmly. But it wasn’t an easy thing to do.
* * * *
The next day brought the second of the three scheduled meetings that had been arranged, this one with Dr. Mateo Ignacio of the Cousteau Society. Lee had met him several times; Admiral Nelson had worked with the Society on any number of cruises. They agreed to meet at a restaurant in Cadiz – what was lunch for the Doctor was Lee’s dinner. Again there were questions and again Lee feigned ignorance. They spent the meal casually going over past and future projects for both Ignacio and Nelson, and Lee made some notes on the back of the reports the Doctor had brought of things he promised to alert Nelson to concerning proposed Cousteau Society projects. Lee tried to bury a grin – unsuccessfully, he realized as Dr. Ignacio sent him a look – and had to admit that his mind immediately had started to plot possible cruises, feeling that Nelson would be intrigued enough that he’d want to be involved with at least two of the Society’s projects, and possibly more. Ignacio grinned broadly.
The relaxed conversation led Lee to eating more than he usually did so he took a long walk before heading back to the port. He also planned to take more of a walk once back in Rota or he’d never fall asleep. And he needed to sleep tonight because his own piece of Admiral Jones’ puzzle would begin the following evening. It would take a couple days – or nights, rather – to accomplish, but Lee was anxious to actually have something to do besides wandering around playing tourist.
He was about twenty minutes early for the next ferry and was standing around watching the gathering crowd when he realized that he was being watched. Ogled, actually, by an attractive woman roughly his age. He’d worn his uniform that morning because of the meeting. Lee allowed himself a small smile as he admitted that, if Chip were there, he’d be teasing Lee about how females always seemed to gravitate to the handsome brunet. Somewhat embarrassed, Lee was doing his best to ignore the woman without being completely rude when Capt. Garrison walked up to her. They exchanged a few brief comments, and Garrison looked Lee’s direction and waved him over.
“Sir?” Lee spoke softly as he got close, the woman still studying him intently.
“Commander Lee Crane,” Garrison started, “my wife, Charlotte.”
“A pleasure, Mrs. Garrison,” Lee said politely, still made a bit uncomfortable by the woman’s scrutiny. If her husband noticed he chose to ignore it.
“Meetings?” Capt. Garrison asked, nodding to the folders Lee carried.
“Yes, sir.” Lee was happy to have a reason to ignore Mrs. Garrison. “Still have one more but that won’t be for several more days. In the meantime I’m enjoying the area.” He patted his stomach and chuckled softly. “And the food.”
Garrison nodded. “I hear that one. Have to hit the gym an extra hour these days.” He shared a quick chuckle with Lee.
“Since you’ll be here,” Mrs. Garrison spoke, her voice soft and seductive, “you’ll be at Admiral Enriquez’s party tomorrow night.” It wasn’t a question as she referenced the base’s Spanish Commandant.
Lee’s momentary hesitation at the comment allowed Capt. Garrison to speak first. “Perhaps Cdr. Crane has already made other plans, dear.” Lee thought that he detected a bit of irritation in the man’s voice.
“Nonsense,” Mrs. Garrison said dismissively, still looking directly at Lee. “Nobody turns down a chance at one of Senora Enriquez’s cocktail parties.”
“I’m just a temporary visitor here,” Lee finally got a word in. “I won’t presume to invite myself.” Lee tried to keep his voice casual but he wasn’t fond of cocktail parties at the best of times, and especially when the look on Mrs. Garrison’s eyes left absolutely no doubt what she’d be trying to eat.
“Posh,” the cougar refused to back off. “I’ll call Senora Enriquez the instant we get back. Of course you’ll be there.”
“I doubt that Cdr. Crane packed his Dress Mess.” Capt. Garrison’s voice held even more irritation.
“And you’d be right,” Lee told him, obvious relief in both voice and expression.
“Then that settles it,” the Captain said, taking his wife’s arm rather firmly. “Charlotte shouldn’t even have brought it up.” He sent her a stern look. The one she sent her husband sent a chill up Lee’s spine and he was grateful that the ferry started to load, giving him the chance to move away from the pair.
“Eesh,” Lee breathed out softly. Aggressive women made him a little crazy no matter where he encountered them. He sure didn’t envy Capt. Garrison having to live with this one! Suddenly he had to bury a grimace. Maybe that’s why he was still in his office late my first night here, he postulated, and why he was having breakfast at the “O” club the next morning. Lee made a point of keeping his distance on the ferry and purposely walked the opposite direction from the base once he disembarked, intending to take a good long walk before returning to his room for the night.
* * * *
The next day was the beginning of Lee’s mission – other than playing distraction for an as yet unknown person, an assignment that still caused Lee to frown softly. He actually wouldn’t have minded a couple of hours of Rear Admiral Enriquez’s company but he was pretty sure that wouldn’t have been what Mrs. Garrison had planned. Rising early he dressed casually in dark jeans and long-sleeved sweater, and sneakers with no socks, looking for all the world like he was just taking a simple day-long hike. Packing a few items into a small backpack he kept in his travel bag because it folded flat when not in use, he made a quick stop at the “O” Club for breakfast, as well as talking the cook into giving him a couple of sandwiches and an apple to tide him over for the day, and set out.
While his actions were casual his actual intentions were not. The guards at the gate, as well as the ferry operators, were now accustomed to seeing him come and go both in uniform and out and paid him little attention so he easily blended in with the other tourists. It would have been less of an issue if he’d been staying in Cadiz but Lee thought he understood why Admiral Jones had him staying on base – it would no doubt serve Lee better towards the tail end of the mission to have his military connection well established. Perhaps already, if the note in his pocket was any indication.
Once he left the ferry in Cadiz he headed out of town to the south. There was, he’d been told, a nice but fairly unused – at least by the locals – walking trail. It rose and fell as beach gave way to cliffs, then back to beach. Houses, from small dwellings to more grand haciendas, dotted the landscape. Lee ambled along, enjoying the relative peace of the area and lulled by the sounds of the ocean close by. He was quick to nod and smile to the few people he met but was left alone with his thoughts as he left the others alone with theirs, not recognizing anyone, and spent an incredibly enjoyable day. Mostly.
He never lost track of the map in his head, alert for the one hacienda that was actually the focus of his assignment. He gave it no special attention when he found it, sitting slightly back from one of the beaches, but continued on for several hundred yards to another section of cliff where he found a place to sit and eat his lunch. His target wasn’t visible from where he sat but he’d chosen it because directly below him the cliffs were somewhat eroded away leaving a jumbled mess of scattered boulders. To his right there was a small drop to a jumble of rocks that would hide him from eyes above but give him a decent view, through the binoculars he’d brought, of a good portion of the hacienda. His sneakers gave him enough traction on the rocks to move easily, albeit carefully, and he kept as close to the cliff face as possible.
My luck is holding, he told himself with a wry grin as he found an almost perfect spot from which to observe the hacienda. There was a fairly flat, wide rock, very stable against several others, on which to stand and, squatting down, he was nearly hidden from view by several bushes growing where they’d found purchase along the side hill.
Lee wasn’t so much interested in the activity at the hacienda as he was trying to identify the best way to access it without being seen. His present location wouldn’t work; there was no route that he could see that would get him the entire way. The house itself was in an open area without fencing and therefore anyone approaching could easily be seen. He supposed that he could access the beach – there were plenty of options for that – and walk by casually but that would leave him even more exposed. He was just going to have to hope that Admiral Jones’ plan worked. He shook his head; he could almost hear Chip growling, “And when does an ONI plan ever work right.” He did have to admit that his XO – and best friend – was almost always spot on with his predictions. He was glad this time that Chip was on Leave visiting his family and didn’t know about Lee getting shanghaied by Admiral Jones.
“However,” Lee mumbled softly to himself, “if I’m spotted here Jones’ plan will for sure fail,” and he carefully worked his way back to where he’d left his backpack and eventually, when he was once again sure that he was alone, back to the trail along the cliff’s edge.
In absolutely no hurry to get back to the base, just in case Mrs. Garrison should make another run at him for tonight’s party, he continued south along the trail for another hour. Intending to return the same way, he instead found a beach access and walked nearly back to Cadiz enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of his beloved ocean. Just because he could, he took the precaution of swapping out his sweater for the short-sleeved polo shirt he’d put in his pack before heading back. With the exception of one small glance at the hacienda as he passed it – the same way he’d glanced at other houses while he walked along the beach – he paid no special attention; just another tourist looking at the sights.
With the day’s activities, and dawdling over dinner, he didn’t hit the front gates to the base until almost 2200 hours. “There you are,” he was greeting somewhat breathlessly by the Duty PO when he entered the VOQ.
Lee stopped dead. “Problems, Petty Officer…Andrews?” he inquired after a quick read of the woman’s name tag, his voice full of puzzlement. He’d so far been pretty much left alone.
“Capt. Garrison called for you this morning and again about mid-afternoon. But he didn’t leave any message.”
A wry grin crossed Lee’s face. “I think I know what that was about,” he told the young woman. Now he was really glad that he’d spent all day off base if Mrs. Garrison had bugged her husband enough to try and track Lee down. “No biggy,” he said with another grin.
“And there’s this,” the PO reached behind her and took an envelope out of the message boxes. “It was here when I came on duty so I don’t know when it came. The calls were logged, but Jeffy, ah, Petty Officer Jefferson, didn’t say anything about it when I came on duty. Just happened to notice it as I was straightening things up. Sorry, sir.”
“Hey, I’m on vacation so I could care less,” Lee joked with the woman, took the envelope, and headed for his assigned room. Once inside he opened the envelope. Again, in plain block letters was written, “Don’t get cocky. Thankfully the only one to spot you on the cliff was me.” Oops, Lee told himself. He wondered briefly if the note was from the one Marine he knew was in the area – the one he’d seen with Admiral Jones. But both this note and the one slipped into his pocket earlier had the slight ring of someone who knew Lee personally. He couldn’t quite say why; just a feeling he got from how they were worded. Now more puzzled than ever, it took him a few extra minutes to fall asleep.
* * * *
Capt. Garrison was standing up, an empty plate in front of him, when Lee walked in the next morning for breakfast. “Understand I missed your calls yesterday, sir,” Lee said pleasantly into the frown his appearance caused on the man’s face. “Did you need something, sir? You didn’t leave a message.”
Lee very carefully kept a benign expression on his face as Garrison worked hard to control his own. “Nothing important,” finally came out through almost clenched teeth. “Another meeting?” came out a little more under control.
“No, sir. Was feeling a little…cramped, despite the bit of sightseeing I’ve been doing, and went for a long hike. It’s not always easy to stay in shape stuck in a submarine so much of the time.” He smiled broadly. “Even if Seaview is larger than your average sub and our cruises are normally only a few weeks at a time, not six months. My last meeting isn’t for a couple days yet. Dr. Benidetto got hung up on one of his projects and couldn’t get away when he planned. I offered to meet him closer to his office but apparently he has other business in Cadiz as well.” Lee shrugged and grinned. “I have no problems with the extra days off.” He kept a soft smile on his face and waited to see what Garrison might offer as a way to fill the time. Dinner at his home, perhaps? Whatever he might have been thinking – and from his expression Lee decided it wasn’t pleasant – got interrupted by a Marine Staff Sergeant, not either of the ones he’d seen with Admiral Jones, walking up to the pair, saluting, and handing Capt. Garrison a message.
The Captain’s “Excuse me,” to Lee as he walked off had an almost relieved sound to it and Lee had to quickly bury a grin, especially as the Staff Sergeant hadn’t moved; he was still standing next to Lee and Lee sent him a raised eyebrow.
“Sir,” was spoken softly, another note was slipped out of his pocket and handed almost surreptitiously to Lee as the Marine glanced around. Lee took the note just as surreptitiously as possible and slipped it into his own pocket. “Sir,” came out again before the Marine left, and Lee headed to get what little he normally ate for breakfast.
As he sat polishing off the last of his coffee with one hand, his other pulled out the note and, keeping it under the table, opened it. The name and address of a café in Cadiz, and a time: 1430 today. Siesta time in Spain so the place would be quiet except for tourists. He’d dressed in civvies this morning but now went back to his room and redressed in Khaki’s. He didn’t particularly want to wear a jacket but needed some place to casually carry a few extra items. He also expected to be out later than he’d been so far and the jacket might actually come in handy. In no particular hurry he strolled casually from the ferry to the Museum of Cadiz, checking out areas he’d bypassed on his first visit until it was time to head, also casually, toward the café.
He hadn’t quite made it there when a man’s voice called his name. Turning, he was totally amazed to see Michelle Ortiz, another ONI agent**, practically draped against a man he thought looked familiar but didn’t immediately come up with the name. He quickly got his expression under control as Micki’s expression wasn’t overly friendly and focused on the man, a slightly puzzled expression on his face.
“Alejandro Amado,” the man identified himself, and held out his hand as the pair reached Lee. “We met at Ambassador Calderone’s reception a couple of years ago in Washington, DC. You were with Admiral Nelson.”
Lee started nodding part way through the explanation and now grinned broadly as he took the man’s hand. “Of course. You and the Admiral got into a discussion about FS1.” But he was also struggling to hide his surprise. This wasn’t how Jones had expected Lee to make contact with Amado. Now who’s playing games? he asked himself, wondering again who the notes he’d been getting were coming from.
Amado nodded. “I wanted to buy it from him and when he said no, I wanted him to make me one.” He grinned but it wasn’t a particularly humorous one. “He refused.”
Lee did grin broadly at that. “He doesn’t share his toys beyond their uses at NIMR,” he answered.
“I’ve been forced to use other engineers.” There was a note in Amado’s voice that Lee didn’t like but he worked to maintain his amiable attitude. “So far no one has been able to come up with what I want.”
Lee forced the grin to stay on his face. “Don’t feel so bad. Many have tried to out-think the Admiral. His genius is extremely hard to keep up with.” Lee chuckled before adding honestly, “I should know.”
“Is he here?”
Lee shook his head. “On my own,” he told the man. Ortiz was doing her best to look bored so Lee basically ignored her. “Vacation, mostly, and picking up some reports from other oceanographic experts NIMR routinely works with.”
“You’re in uniform.” There was again a note in the man’s voice that made Lee slightly uncomfortable but he merely nodded.
“I’m staying on base at Rota while I’m here. Easier and,” he sent the man a small grin, “cheaper.”
It was Amado’s turn to nod before his face once more split into a broad grin. “Do you have plans for tomorrow night? You must come to dinner at my hacienda. I’m having a small gathering, nothing fancy.”
“I don’t wish to impose, Senor Amado.” The man tried to wave that off but Lee continued. “And while I would definitely enjoy it I suspect that it would then be too late for the last ferry to get back to the base.”
“Then you must stay over,” was the man’s happy solution. “I have plenty of room. And over breakfast you can tell me what your Admiral has been up to lately. Exciting things, I am sure, from such a genius.” Lee shrugged. He didn’t think Amado would be too happy to hear about anything Seaview had been up to the last six months. Or, rather, the unclassified parts Lee was free to talk about. This also wasn’t how Lee had been planning to spend the time. On the other hand… passed thought his brain. Lee’s hesitation prompted Amado to continue. “I will send a car to the ferry dock at, shall we say, five PM tomorrow? That will give you a chance to settle in before my other guests arrive.”
Lee accepted graciously. “If you insist, Senor Amado. I would be honored.”
“Ah, but it is I who is honored to have you as my guest.” His face once more lit up. “It was most fortuitous that Anna and I chose this afternoon…” He caught himself. “Please forgive my manners.” He finally indicated Ortiz. “My fiancée, Anna Orejon. Captain Lee Crane.”
“Commander, actually,” Lee casually corrected as he took Michelle’s begrudgingly offered hand. “A pleasure.” Michelle murmured something too soft to hear and promptly withdrew her hand. Lee very carefully kept his expression neutral and looked once more at Amado. “Until tomorrow, then. And, thank you.”
“My pleasure, for sure,” and the pair walked off as Lee continued to the small café. Lee sat down at an outside table and ordered coffee and a small tapas plate. Micki was for sure not happy to see me. Of course, it could be an act. But… Lee didn’t think so. There had been a glint in her eyes that Lee had seen before and it boded no good for whoever she was ticked at. And right this instant, Lee figured that was him! He had no idea why but it was fairly obvious that Admiral Jones hadn’t told her Lee was here.
Suddenly he sat up straight, then had to collect himself and visibly relax as his sudden movement caught the attention of people at several other tables. Bright, Crane, he chastised himself silently, and picked up his coffee as he settled back in the chair. He had suddenly realized why the woman he’d seen from far away his second day in Cadiz had seemed familiar. It had been Michelle Ortiz. There was absolutely no way she could have been the person to slip the notes into his pocket. But could he be the distraction she needed to finish her mission? That made no sense to Lee because Amado was part of his assignment. Had Micki gone rogue, and Admiral Jones not know what she was doing?
Lee was so confused at this point that it was giving him a headache trying to sort out all the ramifications. He ended up walking back to the Museum, spending what was left of the day there keeping his mind on all the wonderful displays and trying to forget all the real-life puzzles. Not easy for him, and he didn’t sleep well that night because of it.
Lee spent much of the next day wandering around Rota before going back to the VOQ and packing his smaller bag for what he’d need overnight. He chose to wear his Khaki’s, unsure of how the evening was going to play out and more comfortable trying to maintain an air of discipline and ‘on duty’ even though he’d told Amado that he was technically on vacation. He told the duty PO at the desk that he’d been invited off-base for the night, purposely not explaining as the younger man grinned broadly. He said that he’d be back at some point the following day and left, timing his arrival at Cadiz on the ferry that arrived prior to 1700 hours.
While he was early he still noticed a man leaning against a car in the lot who straightened up as he noticed Lee looking his direction. Assuming that to be his ride he headed that direction, although into his mind came unbidden the old saying, ‘Assumption is the Mother of all Screwups,’ and a wry grin hit his face. But as he got close the man asked, in heavily accented Spanish, “Senor Crane?”
“Si,” Lee answered easily and his smile broadened at the lack of his rank. The man reached for Lee’s bag and Lee hesitated only a second. There were a few items in it that Lee would just as soon not be found. But they were well hidden in a special compartment. Lee watched as the man put the bag into the trunk of the car, then climbed into the back seat when that was the door opened for him. He’d have preferred to sit up front but didn’t argue the point. Nor was the man inclined toward conversation. After getting only one-word answers to a couple of simple questions Lee gave up and watched the scenery go by on the short ride to the hacienda he’d spent time studying so recently.
To cover that fact, Lee’s gaze swept the exterior of the structure as he paused a moment once he’d stepped from the car. “Beautiful,” he said with a broad smile as Amado came out to greet him. “While there is a good bit of Spanish architecture in California it doesn’t really compare with the real thing.”
Amado beamed. “This was my father’s home, and his father before him. I have had improvements made but have tried to keep it as much the same as I could.” He sent a rapid string of words to the driver as that man appeared with Lee’s bag, then turned back to Lee. “I have asked Antonio to place your bag in the guest room,” he translated.
Lee grinned. “I know,” he said simply. Amado startled briefly that Lee had understood but covered it quickly. “And thank you again for the invitation,” he added in Spanish
“My pleasure, I assure you,” Amado answered, still in English, and ushered Lee toward the door. “You speak quite good Spanish,” came out, not quite hesitantly. More curiously, Lee decided.
“Living in Southern California it comes in handy,” Lee told him easily. “And while there is a difference between Mexican and what’s spoken here, there’s enough similarity that I can usually manage just fine.”
“Well, I’m actually enjoying the opportunity to practice my English,” Amado told him with a broad smile as they entered the house. He showed Lee when his room was, and then pointed out this room and that as he lead the way through the house to a screened-in loggia off of what Lee would have called a Great Room, or large Living Room. Antonio was apparently the houseman as well as chauffeur as he stood ready to accept drink orders. “Would you like to change, to freshen up before my other guests arrive?” Amado asked, gesturing to Lee’s uniform.
“I’m quite comfortable,” Lee assured him with a smile. “But if you would prefer…”
“No, no,” Amado assured him. “I just thought, you are not on duty…”
Little do you know, Lee thought, but merely smiled again. “I’m so used to wearing it I rarely notice,” he assured his host.
“Then sit and relax. What would you like to drink?” and he indicated the attentive Antonio.
Lee sighed as he sat. “Actually, right now I’d kill for a cup of coffee.” That needed no translation, apparently, and Antonio scurried from the room. The two men spent the next twenty minutes, seated in chairs around a low table, discussing how Lee had been spending his vacation and the sites that he’d seen. He avoided mentioning his walk along the cliff, saying only that he’d taken a day hike to enjoy some of the countryside. Amado insisted Lee call him Alejandro, and Lee was basically forced to allow him the same curtesy although he’d have preferred to keep things a bit more formal – hence the uniform.
He started regretting that decision early on as the rest of Amado’s guests arrived. His host went quite overboard – and Lee allowed his private pun to help keep a smile on his face – as he introduced Lee, going on and on about Lee’s connection to NIMR and his wonderful submarine. Lee kept up his usual commentary that everything belonged to and was under the control of Admiral Nelson; that he, Lee, just drove the boat. Alejandro basically ignored his protestations, going on and on. Lee suspected even the other guests of quickly getting bored with their host and only feigning interest. That thought threatened to put an even bigger smile on his face than he was politely maintaining.
So far there had been no sign of Micki in her guise as Anna Orejon. Lee had just noticed Amado glance at his watch and frown slightly when ‘Anna’ made her entrance. Lee supposed he could call her outfit casual. The top was loose, with a wide elasticized neckline that she’d pulled down both arms as far as modesty allowed and worn over also loose palazzo pants, both in a shimmery pale blue. The fabric was soft and flowing, leaving little doubt that there was nothing underneath except skin. Lee took her offered hand and lightly kissed the back as she draped herself over Alejandro’s left side. The half dozen other men, as well as several of the women, had all greeted her as she’d entered. Another smile threatened to appear as Lee noted the women’s expressions weren’t nearly as admiring as their male counterparts.
Amado finally seemed to run out of superlatives for NIMR in general, and Lee in particular, which allowed Lee to mingle with the other guests. He’d switched from coffee to scotch once they’d started arriving but was still nursing his first, much to the apparent annoyance of Antonio who kept trying to replace his glass with a full one. Lee kept up a steady smile as he insisted he was just fine with the still half-full one he had. As he moved around the room he also moved easily from English to Spanish; as the other guests realized that he was bilingual some, like Amado, seemed to enjoy practicing their English while others preferred their native tongue. Lee was glad Chip wasn’t around – Lee would never hear the end of the teasing as most of the women made no bones about capturing his attention. The exception, and it was obvious enough that others took note, was ‘Anna.’ She was rarely more than half an inch from Amado’s side. Lee was confused, and apparently let a piece of it show because one of the women leaned in close and whispered to him. “Don’t let Anna get to you. She’s just mad that Alejandro asked you to stay overnight.” Lee was totally unable to stop the expression that instantly hit his face, causing the woman to burst into giggles. Once she calmed down – and the rest of the room stopped staring – she continued. “No, Lee. Your virtue will remain intact. I just mean that with you here he won’t let her stay.” Lee still drained his glass in one long swallow, and happily accepted the replacement Antonio instantly brought him.
The woman, Alicia Terrero, continued to grin and her husband, Felix, walked up. “Alicia, perhaps you have had enough to drink,” he said disapprovingly.
“No, no, Felix.” Everyone had been using first names, and Lee had actually been enjoying visiting with the banker and his wife. “It’s all good.” He sent Alicia a shy smile. “Just a momentary misunderstanding. It’s all sorted out,” and he sent both of them a bright grin.
“Um,” Felix sent his wife a quick look before gently taking Lee’s arm. “Then come join Gregorio and me, we are in need of a mediator. He says that the west coast of the United States is the most beautiful and I say the east coast.” Lee laughed and allowed himself to be drafted into a discussion of his country’s beautifully diverse landscapes.
A meal was served buffet-style about 2300 hours. Lee had to immediately adjust to landlubber time – 11 PM. He tried to eat little, mostly because he knew that he wouldn’t sleep if he ate a heavy meal at this unaccustomed hour. But the food was delicious, he was actually hungry, and ended up taking seconds of almost everything. That finally pulled a small, quickly covered, smirk from ‘Anna’ and Lee acknowledged it with a quick grin of his own as he turned away. Micki was well aware of how little Lee usually ate.
The party finally started to break up about 0200. ‘Anna’ was the last to leave and Lee struggled hard to squash a grin as Alejandro walked her to the door. He, thankfully, didn’t see anything unusual on Lee’s face, but Lee knew that Micki had caught ‘something’ and had to fight that much harder. He was pretty sure she had absolutely no idea that Lee was again thinking about his unfortunate reaction to Alicia Terrero’s accidentally misunderstood comment. He figured that he’d have to straighten that one out at a later time.
He still had a grin on his face as Alejandro came back into the room and had to come up with a quick, “You are a very lucky man, Alejandro. Anna is a lovely woman.”
Amado’s smile returned. “Thank you. But I confess to being surprised to hear you say that. For some reason she seemed to take an instant dislike to you. She would not admit why.”
Lee shrugged. “Perhaps I remind her of someone she doesn’t like.” He was very proud of himself for being able to get that out with a straight face. “And thank you again, so very much, for inviting me. This has been a most pleasant evening.” He sighed heavily. “But I confess I am quite tired and shall say goodnight myself.”
“Of course.” Amado glanced at his watch. “We shall have a quiet breakfast about 10 AM.” He grinned. “Or whenever you get up.”
Lee laughed. “I don’t ever sleep that late.” He frowned. “Well, hardly ever,” he admitted, thinking about a few of Dr. Will Jamison’s underhanded tricks. Alejandro sent him a curious look but Lee refused to explain. “Breakfast, then,” and he turned and headed for the room he’d been shown to earlier.
Lee had, as he’d maneuvered around all evening, kept his eyes out for surveillance cameras and security systems in what of the hacienda he’d been able to see. He’d seen nothing suspicious but that only meant that Amado could simply be very clever. And clever people made Lee nervous. That was part of the reason he slept fitfully. He knew that he had slept but was wide awake not long after 0600 hours no matter how late he’d laid down. Knowing that there was no way he’d go back to sleep he rose, showered and shaved, and dressed in the casual slacks and polo shirt he’d brought only because yesterday’s uniform was looking a bit too ‘lived in’ for his taste.
He’d barely wandered into the Great Room when Antonio appeared with coffee. Lee smiled his thanks and asked in Spanish, “Don’t you ever sleep?” The man merely shrugged and went back to where he hid out; Lee assumed the kitchen but didn’t follow, merely taking his mug outside to where he could look out at the beach, and ocean beyond. And, casually and carefully, scope out around the house as he worked on the coffee. Antonio appeared with a small pot after about twenty minutes and Lee gratefully accepted a refill. He let his gaze wander to the cliffs to the south, and from this perspective had absolutely no idea how he could have been spotted the other day.
Once more Antonio came out to refill his mug, and Lee took the opportunity that gave him to casually stroll around the small yard. He avoided the back of the house as Amado had indicated that his bedroom was that direction. But Lee meandered around the south side as far as he dared, then back to the patio and around to the north, where his own bedroom window had faced.
The landscaping had been done in such a way that, while it was very pleasant, there was no way to approach the hacienda closer than about thirty feet without being totally in the open. There were outside lights installed here and there which Lee had a feeling probably included motion detectors. They never make it easy, he half-chuckled to himself as he ambled back toward the patio. This time he waved away Antonio’s attempt to refill his coffee mug and instead stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered around inside looking at pictures on the walls, on the lookout for any sign of a security system.
He’d casually checked around the windows in his bedroom as he dressed and thought that he detected a stray wire, colored so as to almost perfectly blend into the paint, and suspected that there were others. Perhaps even under the carpeting, and especially as that item wasn’t often found in this part of the world. Throw rugs, yes; wall-to-wall, not so much. While it could simply be a luxury Amado allowed himself, Lee had his doubts. ‘Tricky’ didn’t even come close to describing what it was going to take for Lee to complete his assignment here – assuming that he could complete it at all. Perhaps he was the distraction Micki needed so that she could accomplish what Lee was quickly deciding might be impossible for him. But she, he was sure, hadn’t written the notes. And while Lee knew that she was a very good agent, he was confident that she’d been totally torqued to discover he was here. Her anger was definitely not faked. He sighed. On the other hand, it was entirely possible that his addition to the project had come impromptu when Jones had spotted him at the Pentagon. He sighed again, heavily.
“You don’t like that picture?” came from behind him and he startled slightly and turned to find Amado only a few feet away. The man moved like a cat!
“Actually,” Lee tried to cover his momentary lack of control, “while I was staring at the painting my mind was many, many miles away.” He sent the man a small grin. The picture was of a matador, in a full ‘suit of lights’ in the bull ring, looking like he was poised to deliver the fatal blow.
“Many people do not like bullfighting.”
“Tradition,” Lee told him matter-of-factly. “So many cultures have something that seems upsetting to other cultures. The world would be a much more peaceful place if we could all accept that while we might not like it, it’s normal for others.” He smiled again. “While I don’t necessarily like bullfighting I can simply choose not to go. It’s not for me to tell you it’s wrong.”
Amado also smiled. “That used to hang in the other room,” and he gestured toward the Great Room. “I wish others were as tolerant as you.” It was his turn to sigh. “I finally hung it back here so that it was not so visible.”
“I hope that you don’t mind my wandering around,” Lee quickly asked him.
“Not at all,” Amado assured him. “I am, however, surprised that you were up so early.”
Either there are cameras I’m not seeing, Lee thought, or he’s already spoken to Antonio. “My Executive Officer swears I never sleep,” he said out loud with a small chuckle. “Tends to drive a few people a bit crazy.”
“I would think you would have much quiet time, merely taking Seaview wherever Admiral Nelson wants you to.”
Lee couldn’t help himself – he snorted softly. “You’ve never been twenty thousand feet below the surface in the Kermadec Trench when an underwater quake hit.” Amado raised the expected eyebrow as he gestured Lee back down the hallway to what turned into a small breakfast room off the kitchen, and Lee spent the next hour relating several non-classified stories about some of Seaview’s less-than-calm cruises.
He was standing, bag in hand, saying his goodbyes to Amado when ‘Anna’ breezed through the front door dressed in a skimpy top and skin-tight leggings. She nearly flattened Lee as he was just starting to reach for the knob, then totally ignored him as she nearly wrapped herself around Amado and planted a kiss, then just as quickly headed for the Great Room. Lee grinned, Amado frowned, Lee shrugged, and with one final word of thanks for Amado’s hospitality, Lee headed out the door to where Antonio waited by the car.
Lee spent the drive back to the ferry deep in thought. Micki was already installed into Amado’s life. At least, that’s how it appeared. It was possible that Amado kept close enough watch on her that she wasn’t as ‘free’ as it looked. Was Lee’s assignment, set for the following night, the diversion she needed to complete her assignment? And yet, while she was the computer expert, Lee hadn’t seen any computers in the hacienda, nor was that part of what Admiral Jones wanted him to do. There could, of course, be half a dozen computers in the building – Lee hadn’t seen into every room and had no idea if there might be basement rooms. And he still had no idea of how to accomplish what he was being asked to do. He’d been given some screwy assignments over the years but this one was starting to look totally impossible – at least, in the timeframe he’d been given.
Despite not having gotten much sleep the night before, Lee’s mind was too full of unknowns to allow him to relax. After getting back to the Base he changed into workout sweats and spent almost two hours in the gym, first on various pieces of equipment and ending up punching the heavy bag. At one point a particularly evil thought ran through his head and the bag took some severe pounding before a snickered snort broke his concentration. “I rather suspect that I don’t want to know who you were gunning for just now,” Capt. Garrison said with a quirky smile.
Lee sent him on of his shy smiles. “Couldn’t answer you, sir,” he said before a bit of a smirk came out. “Not without setting myself up for a Court Martial hearing.”
Garrison laughed. “That bad, huh?”
Lee nodded. “Oh, yeah,” he muttered. His thoughts had been a mixture of ONI in general, and Admiral Jones in particular.
“You box.” It wasn’t a question, and Garrison nodded toward the bag. “You have good form.”
“At the Academy, sir. Just the bag since.” Lee grinned. “Well, a couple of spars with my XO.” His smile broadened. “He doesn’t fight fair,” Lee added as his smile turned slightly evil. “But then, I don’t, either.” He ended up laughing.
“Sounds like you have a good working relationship.”
“I’ve known Chip, ah, Lt. Cdr. Morton, since we were roommates at Annapolis. That’s when we both met Admiral Nelson.” Lee sat down and started to remove his gloves as Garrison raised an eyebrow. Lee sent him a nod. “You’re right. That kind of familiarity wouldn’t necessarily work well in the regular Navy.” He took a deep breath and again smiled. “Does on Seaview. I actually appreciate having someone remind me on occasion that I’m not Superman.” He stood up. “And if you repeat that, sir, I’ll devoutly deny saying it.”
Garrison laughed. “Heard things,” he admitted. “Admiral Nelson…, ah…”
“Likes things done his way,” Lee finished carefully, with a small eye roll. “Mostly things go pretty smoothly.”
“There’s always a pit or two in any cherry bowl.”
“Plans the rest of the day, Crane?” Lee hesitated, instantly wondering what – or if – Mrs. Garrison had something planned. “I have a meeting this afternoon, supposedly informal, but…” Garrison frowned, “there have been rumors of more base closures…”
“Rota will never be closed, sir,” Lee assured him. “It’s far too strategic a location; too important, for a variety of reasons.”
“You and I know that,” Garrison agreed. “I’m not always sure Washington knows their six from a hole in the ground.” The last was said low, with a quick look around, and Lee snorted with a quick nod.
“I hear that, sir. But if you’re asking if I’d sit in on the meeting, I seriously doubt I’d be of any help.” He sent Garrison another little shy smile. “Admiral Nelson hasn’t made himself well-liked in certain congressional circles. My presence could cause issues.”
“Understood, Crane,” Garrison nodded. “Just thought, since I know you do have to deal with them…” He paused as Lee straightened and sent him a raised eyebrow. “Ah, Charlotte mentioned having read that NIMR gets yearly visits from the members of the Appropriations Committee…” His voice trailed off as Lee relaxed.
“Because of continued commitments to the Navy, the Committee thinks that they can dictate to Admiral Nelson.” Lee grinned. “Admiral Nelson has other ideas. But he still has to deal with them. And I leave as much of that to him as I can,” he added with feeling.
Garrison chuckled. “Smart man.” Lee sent him a bashful smile. “So, you wouldn’t care to drop into the ‘O’ club about 1700 hours for a drink?”
Lee shrugged. “Not a complete impossibility depending on where I find myself that time of day, sir.” Garrison nodded and turned to leave. Lee let a small smile grow as he headed for the shower, planning how to be very far away from the Base come that time of the afternoon.
He did wonder, as he sat down in what was becoming his favorite tapas bar in Rota at precisely 1700 hours for his usual light dinner accompanied by a wonderfully fruity sangria, if Garrison had used the invitation to ‘feel Lee out’ as it were; to see if Lee might have been sent here to spy, either on base happenings or on Garrison himself. Lee had to smile at that; he was trying to play spy but it had nothing to do with the Base.
Or did it? Lee pondered that one as he slowly ate. He knew so little of what was going on. Did Amado pose some sort of a threat to the Base? Because of the FS1 issue Lee knew him to be aggressive when it came to acquiring something he wanted. That might explain what Micki was doing here. And maybe, just maybe, once Jones spotted Lee, he’d decided to send Lee over as a possible distraction to Amado so Micki would have a better chance of finishing her assignment – whatever that was.
Lee was more and more convinced, the longer he tried to work through all the puzzles, that the only thing he was going to accomplish the following night was getting arrested. Or possibly shot if things went really badly! While Lee was extremely good at finding inventive ways to complete his ONI assignments, ways that not infrequently torqued Admiral Jones, he simply could not figure out a way around the set of problems he’d been given. He didn’t think that Jones would purposely set him up as a target – for no other reason than Nelson would hang Jones’ six from the closest flagpole, ONI Director be danged!
Perhaps Jones gave me an impossible assignment because I had balked at being just a distraction. Jones could easily be that devious. And that would explain so much. Lee pondered that thought over the last of his sangria. So, maybe, I have my final meeting tomorrow and, instead of getting my head shot off, simply forget everything else and beat a hasty retreat back to California. But that left the unknown third person – the one sending him notes – out in the cold if Lee was, actually, supposed to accomplish something.
Lee was getting a headache and it had nothing to do with the amount of alcohol he’d consumed. He wished that he had some way to contact that third person and wondered if, perhaps, Micki did. But Lee didn’t want to totally screw up things by trying to contact her. That could easily be dangerous for everyone depending on what was actually going on.
Could Garrison be behind the notes? Lee pondered. Not personally, he admitted, but it would be easy enough to assign someone – or several someones so that Lee wouldn’t get suspicious. Perhaps that was part of this afternoon’s invitation. Yet he hadn’t been at all bothered when Lee didn’t immediately accept the invite. Argh, Lee muttered to himself and accepted another glass of sangria. At least that would help give him an excuse for the building headache.
Perhaps he could call Admiral Jones and tell him, in a roundabout way just in case, that he couldn’t finish his assignment. That might, just possibly, kickstart Jones into releasing more intel. Or not, Lee admitted. Jones tended to not say any more than was absolutely necessary. Well, necessary to Jones; Lee was constantly muttering to himself about how little he was told about assignments Jones gave him. Rarely out loud because if Chip heard him it would send the blond into an absolute tirade. Chip hated that Lee continued to take ONI assignments so Lee tried to be careful around him.
That thought eased Lee’s headache momentarily enough that a small smile appeared. However jokingly it had been said, Lee did mean what he’d told Capt. Garrison that morning. Chip kept him sane. Occasionally by driving him a little insane, Lee had to admit. But it always had the desired effect of reminding Lee of the priorities, giving him balance when Lee was pulled in too many directions at once. Lee’s private smile grew as he quickly deciphered time zones and, pulling out his cellphone, punched in a very familiar number.
“What hospital do you need rescuing from?” was muttered into his ear.
“Why would you even think that?” Lee answered the question with one of his own.
“The Admiral called a couple days ago to double-check some details for the next cruise. I made the mistake of asking why he hadn’t called you.” Chip’s voice was flat – not a good sign, and Lee was starting to wonder if he’d made a big mistake by calling. But thankfully he heard humor behind Chip’s next snipe. “So?”
“I’m totally relaxed, stuffed with excellent Spanish cuisine washed down with outstanding sangria,” he grumbled. Both old friends ended up chuckling. “Even ran into an old friend,” Lee teased before changing the subject. “How’s everyone at your end?”
There was only a short pause from the blond – Chip was well aware that Lee had friends all over the world. Not all that close, for the most part. Lee wasn’t nearly as gregarious as Chip was. But still people he was familiar enough with to relax around so he let the comment drop. “Dad hurt his back, Mom twisted a knee; they spend most of the time harping at each other about stuff neither should be doing.”
“But they do it anyway,” Lee snickered. He adored Chip’s family.
“Of course,” Chip readily agreed. “The rest of us try to stay one step ahead of them.”
“Rotsa Ruck with that one,” Lee said with a groan.
“Oh, yeah,” Chip muttered before both once more cracked up. “How goes your end?”
“Two meetings down, one to go.” Lee figured that Nelson would have at least given Chip the cover story. “Enjoying playing tourist in Rota and Cadiz.” He laughed. “I think I need to put Mom in touch with one of the horse-drawn carriage drivers. She’d only need to spend half an hour with him and she’d have enough intel for a twelve-page article.” He sighed. “It actually feels good to just hang out and veg for a few days.”
“That’ll be the day,” came so softly through the phone that Lee almost didn’t hear it. But his grin spread. “How much longer will you be there?”
Lee knew perfectly well why Chip asked. While Lee may be fine now, Chip wanted him out of Admiral Jones’ sphere of influence as fast as possible. “A few more days,” he answered lightly. “My last meeting is tomorrow. Not sure how long I’ll stay after that. It is really peaceful. And beautiful,” he added.
“You’re always welcome here,” Chip said hopefully. “Mom at least listens to you.”
Lee laughed outright. “Yeah, riiiight,” he drawled before they both chuckled again. “We’ll see,” he told the blond. “Was going to drop in on Mom but she’s headed to Shanghai.”
“I’m not even going to ask why.”
“Smart man!” They both laughed again. “Tell everyone I said Hi,” Lee continued. “And who knows. Might just do it in person.”
“Humm,” Chip muttered, once more very low. “Stay safe,” he added with feeling.
“That’s the plan,” Lee snickered back and they both hung up.
Lee took his time finishing his drink and then took a long, lazy, walk before heading back to the base just after 2100 hours. So much more relaxed after his chat with Chip he fell instantly asleep, refusing to ponder what the next thirty-six hours would bring.
* * * *
Lee’s meeting the next morning with Dr. Halim Benidetto from the Moroccan Research Center went much as the first two had, with Lee playing innocent to the expected questions. Benidetto seemed distracted and not particularly interested in chit-chat so the meeting was brief and Lee headed back to the Base to change out of his uniform before returning to Cadiz. Once more he carried his small backpack, loaded with an assortment of items he hoped that he wasn’t caught with as he’d have some problems explaining why he was carrying them when he was supposedly on vacation.
Still not having any concrete plans, after leaving the dock he wandered off to one of the bigger plaza’s, found a café with outdoor seating, and spent over an hour drinking sweet Spanish coffee and people-watching. He decided that it was being so quiet that allowed himself to ‘feel’ once more being watched as opposed to being the watcher. He kept his body relaxed and his observations casual but tried to figure out from which direction the feeling was coming. He wasn’t always successful but the sense, be it sixth or sixtieth, that had kept him alive so far whether on ONI missions or not, would occasionally kick in and allow him to find his target. He figured that his ‘luck’ this mission was still in place when he couldn’t see anyone paying him the slightest bit of attention; well, if he discounted the wandering waiter who seemed to be overly solicitous. But since Lee chose this place to sit his ‘shadow’ couldn’t be someone working here. He’d be more suspicious if this had been the café his note-writer had sent him to the day he'd bumped into Amado and Micki but that place was halfway across town.
The outdoor tables, and the inside ones for that matter, were not full since this was basically siesta time in Cadiz. There was a couple several tables away, the man looking bored as the woman gushed about why her shopping bag was so full. Another table held two women chatting quietly, and Lee had noticed several men sitting at a table inside. The waiter didn’t seem the least bit anxious to have him leave so Lee continued to sit and enjoy his coffee. The warmer it became the less people were on the streets and in the plaza; Lee was grateful for the shade the umbrella over his table provided. He never really lost the feeling of being watched, and grinned to himself hoping his observer didn’t get easily bored. The expression brought the attentive waiter instantly to his side and Lee’s grin broadened as he asked if he might have something light from the kitchen; all the overly sweet coffee was starting to sit uncomfortably in his stomach. The man scurried into the café – after once more filling Lee’s coffee cup – reappearing almost instantly with a tray bearing small plates of various meats, cheeses, and several small pastries.
As he started to nibble on the food he because aware, and for a bit wasn’t sure why, of an almost edgy quality to the atmosphere around him. He continued to sit quietly but his senses went on even higher alert. The few people in sight seemed to stiffen as well, watching more intently around themselves although Lee was at a loss to explain why until, on the far side of the plaza, a group of six early-twenty-somethings ambled into view. From their looks and dress they were Romany, gypsies, often seen all over Spain but especially in this area of Andalusia. This was, however, the first time Lee had noticed so many of this age group together, especially at this hour of the day, and understood why the people around him might be a bit nervous. He’d laid his backpack on the seat of the other chair at his small table, and now casually placed it down between his feet as a precaution as the group headed across the plaza in his general direction. But he continued his light meal without focusing too heavily on the approaching young men. For their part the group seemed to merely be out for a stroll, teasing and joshing each other as young men will do no matter where in the world they happened to congregate.
Lee’s quiet, idyllic, afternoon changed to chaos as the young men approached him. They didn’t seem to be focused on anyone in particular but suddenly, when they got even with the other couple in front of the small café, they split up and attacked. Lee was knocked from his chair before he could even react, as were the others and anything loose laying around, including Lee’s backpack, was snapped up. He thought that he felt a hand reach into where he would normally have been carrying his wallet but that item was buried deep in an inside packet and remained safe. Several other people were apparently not so lucky. As everyone seemed to be shouting at once someone inside must have called the Guardia – perhaps even before the attack happened – as it was only moments before the first siren was heard and several cars rolled to a stop in front of the café. Lee had immediately, once he picked himself up off the sidewalk, assisted the waiter and others making sure that no one was actually hurt. Just startled – and angry – thankfully, with a few bumps, scrapes, and bruises. Lee was sorry to have lost several items along with the small backpack, but when questioned told the Guardia that it had held only a light jacket and change of shirts as he wasn’t sure where the day’s travels might take him. He had no intention of admitting what had actually been in there, and wondered what the young men would think when they stopped running long enough to check. There hadn’t been any weapons; Lee had his small pistol strapped to one ankle and a knife strapped on the other. But he was going to have to replace the night vision goggles, couple of pen lights, duct tape, and small incendiary device, as well as a few other items, none of which would be easy to locate given his present circumstances. And it totally screwed up what few plans he’d been able to make for that night!
Now what? he muttered to himself as he helped restore the tables and chairs to their original positions. He tried to pay for his food but both the waiter and another man, who turned out to be the café’s owner, wouldn’t hear of it, deeply embarrassed by the incident. Even the Guardia seemed to be surprised at the brazen robbery. They had very few problems with the Romany, especially in broad daylight. They weren’t very hopeful to anyone about getting back what was stolen. In fact, Lee got the feeling that they were more interested in finding out what was stolen; almost like Lee had, perhaps, something of more value in his backpack, as well as the one woman’s oversized shopping bag, than what was being declared. Lee kept his cool and played innocent. The woman’s husband got a bit vocal and the Guardia backed off. The incident had drawn a crowd and Lee, once he was released from the questioning, headed back for the Base, his night’s ‘work’ stymied and having eaten enough to no longer be hungry.
He’d barely made it across the plaza when he heard his name being called and turned to find Amado walking his direction from down one of the side streets. As they met Amado gestured toward the still crowded scene at the café. “A bunch of Romany youth decided to play hooligan and robbed several of us sitting outside,” Lee answered the unvoiced question.
“What?” Amado acted outraged. “Unthinkable,” he declared. But Lee thought that he detected a hint of excitement in his voice, and his eyes were shining. “Was anything of value taken? Is everyone alright?”
Lee shrugged. “Knocked off our chairs,” he admitted. “Nothing really serious.”
“You were there?”
Again Lee shrugged. “Just relaxing, having a late lunch,” he admitted. “What brings you here?” he tried to change the subject.
“A meeting,” was the short answer. “Did you lose anything? Your wallet, your passport, anything?”
Lee shook his head. “My wallet is safe, and anything of any value I left on Base,” he told the man.
“Thank heavens,” Amado said with feeling. But Lee still heard a hint of ‘something’ in his voice. “You must come back to the hacienda with me. After your ordeal you will be in need of a drink.”
Lee smiled but shook his head. “I was just finishing eating and about to head for the museum for a couple hours. I still haven’t seen it all and I’ll be headed home either tomorrow or the next day.” Lee said the lie easily. Well, perhaps it wasn’t so much a lie – Lee wasn’t sure at all what would happen over the next few days. “I think,” he added with a grin. “Checked in with my XO yesterday,” he added, to make conversation. “All’s well so I’m still technically on Leave.” He wanted to give Amado even more impression that he didn’t have a care in the world. Amado’s reaction to the robbery bothered him.
“You are so calm,” Amado seemed reluctant to let the matter drop. “I would be a total mess if I was attacked like that.”
“More hit and run than an actual attack,” Lee told him. “Just a momentary shoving around by a bunch of punks.”
Lee waved him off. “Too much testosterone and no legitimate way to blow it off. No blame to the Romany; it could, and does, happen anywhere and everywhere.”
“That much is true,” Amado seemed forced to admit and Lee buried a frown. He had no idea what Amado’s ‘game’ was but Lee felt that he was definitely up to something. Maybe…
Lee sighed heavily. “Perhaps I will let you buy me that drink. If I remember right there’s a pleasant little bar around that corner.” He pointed in the direction the group of young men had originally come from.
“Yes,” Amado readily agreed, and they headed off.
Talk was general for the most part as they walked the short distance to the bar although Amado tried to keep the focus on the attack, wanting Lee to describe the young men, describe the other people, say more about what was taken, what the Guardia might have said. Lee was polite but actually told Amado very little. He said that everything had happened so fast that he didn’t remember much, and afterward was still so flustered that he’d only wanted to get away from the scene. Lee got the distinct feeling that Amado didn’t believe him but, short of calling Lee a liar, couldn’t push harder.
Lee wasn’t sure what to do, what else he could say, to appease Amado’s intense curiosity when the matter was taken out of his hands. The Marine Staff Sergeant he’d seen with Admiral Jones, and again on the street several days ago, walked up to the table where he and Amado were sitting. Lee kept his expression neutral as he looked up. “Yes, Staff Sergeant?”
“Capt. Garrison sent me to make sure you were okay, Commander. The Guardia called to confirm your I.D. after the mugging.”
Lee knew that to be an outright lie; no way could the man have gotten here so fast. Not to mention that he was Admiral Jones’ man, not Capt. Garrison’s. At least, Lee thought so. He admitted that he could be wrong. But that might also explain the feelings Lee had about being watched. But he merely shrugged. “All’s well, Staff Sergeant,” he told the man. “Ran into Senor Amado. We’re just having a quick drink before I head to the museum for a bit. I should be back on base no later than 2100 hours.”
“Very good, sir. I’ll let Capt. Garrison know. He was concerned when you dismissed being looked at by the Guardia physician.”
Lee laughed outright. He knew that line came directly from Admiral Jones for sure, and needled the Staff Sergeant. “Afraid I might have received an injury and didn’t want to have to explain to Admiral Nelson?” He knew he’d made a direct hit when the man turned a couple shades of red.
“Something like that, sir,” was admitted almost bashfully.
Lee chuckled softly. “No worries, Staff Sergeant. I barely got bumped.”
“Glad to hear it, sir,” was returned in a relieved voice. The man started to salute, remembered Lee wasn’t in uniform, and turned and left as rapidly as he’d come.
Lee chuckled again. “Never a dull moment,” he said, mostly to himself. Curiosity was beginning to replace confusion. There was a whole lot more going on than Admiral Jones had alluded to. Which, Lee was forced to admit, wasn’t unusual.
“Lee?” penetrated Lee’s thoughts and he glanced at Amado. “You are really okay? You looked dazed.”
Lee laughed out loud. “I guess I was, for a bit,” he lied easily to play along. “But I’m fine, Alejandro. Really.” He shrugged. “Even on vacation, it seems, I can’t avoid the Admiral.” The fact that he purposely didn’t specify which admiral tickled him even further and he all but giggled, then turned to face Amado. “But I do thank you for the drink,” and he polished off the last of his.
Amado apparently wasn’t quite ready to give up. “How did that man know where to find you?” While his voice wasn’t quite a demand Lee struggled briefly to not over-react.
“Haven’t the slightest,” he said easily, “although one of the Guardia could easily have seen us meet, and then go in this direction.”
Amado’s continued presence was, for some reason he couldn’t quite identify, starting to bother Lee and he stood up. “If I’m going to get to the museum I’d better be going.” He held out his hand to Amado, who had also stood. “Thank you again for the drink, Alejandro. And if I don’t see you again before I leave, thanks for the other night. That was fun.” He smiled. “And take care of Anna. She appears to be a keeper.” He sent the other man a quick wink.
Amado’s smile seemed to Lee to be forced but he took Lee’s hand easily enough. “Perhaps sometime you will dock at Rota. I would love to entertain you, and of course Admiral Nelson, any time.”
“I never know what the Admiral has planned too far in advance. But it’s not unknown for us to be in this area. I’ll for sure give you a call.” Amado seemed at a loss to keep Lee further, and Lee gave him a quick nod and headed in the direction of the museum.
But he didn’t make it. Only a block away his progress was stopped when a horse-drawn carriage pulled alongside and a familiar face in the passenger seat hailed him by name. “Crane, you have the most incredible knack for getting in the middle of things,” came teasingly from ONI special agent Colin Fisher. Lee had met him at several training sessions, and ended up accidentally working with him in Australia.*
“Fisher,” Lee said, shaking his head and accepting the man’s invitation to join him in the carriage. “What the blazes are you doing here?” Lee stopped dead and stared. “Wait. That was you in the oversized hoody,” he finally identified the figure he’d thought he’d recognized. Then another thought hit him. “And the notes…” He glared at the other agent.
Fisher grinned. “You are a royal pain to get close to,” he admitted with a small laugh. “I’ve never had to work so hard in my life.”
“Serves you right,” Lee growled as the driver coaxed his horses into motion. Lee sent him a look.
“Chill, Crane. He’s on our side.”
“And what side is that?” Lee wasn’t really asking, but after all the confusion and concerns he was starting to get a tad ticked.
“Calm down,” Fisher waved a hand at him.
“Why?” Lee demanded.
“It’s not me you’re ticked at, and I refuse to take the blame for someone else.”
Lee glared at him for a couple seconds longer before he surrendered with a deep sigh. “Can you at least tell me what the heck is going on?”
“If I couldn’t you’d never have seen me.”
“Why do I get the feeling that I still haven’t?”
Fisher chuckled. “Eh,” he waggled his hand, and Lee finally sent him a small smile.
“We knew that hashish was coming in hand over fist. The Guardia are doing their best but when the problem on the base got out of hand ONI got involved.”
“The axed captain,” Lee guessed.
Fished nodded. “Not that it was his fault,” he admitted. “At that point there needed to be wholesale changes and he got caught up in it.” Lee nodded. “We sent in a spy here and there. Discovered that a good percentage of drugs were making their way in helter skelter but there also seemed to be a chunk that had some organization behind it.”
“Amado?” Lee guessed.
“At first we had no idea,” Fisher told him. “But somebody was trying to organize the people, mostly out-of-work younger men. The kicker was, occasionally these young men ended up dead.”
“Didn’t want to work for someone else.”
“That was the thought. But we couldn’t get anyone to talk. I asked for someone gorgeous and exotic, and Jonesy sent me Micki.”
“Jonesy?” Lee’s mouth fell open.
“And if you repeat that it will be the last thing you ever say.” He was grinning and Lee just shook his head. “You come by way of the Academy,” Fisher continued. “I didn’t; don’t have your military training. Oh,” his grin spread, “I’m perfectly polite to his face. But away,” it was his turn to sigh, “and after an assignment like this…” His voice trailed off.
“Your secret is safe with me,” Lee assured him. “Micki?” he nudged Fisher to get back to the story.
“She’s evil,” came out with a huff, then held up a hand when Lee snorted. “I mean that in a good way.”
“Trust me,” Lee said with a soft growl, “I know exactly what she is!”
Fisher chuckled again softly. “Heard a thing or two.”
Lee sent him a glare. “Some day, in some far away hole in the wall, we’ll both get drunk and I’ll tell you about her.”
“I’m in,” Fisher agreed, both nodded, and Fisher got back to the current case. “She wasn’t actually given a specific target. At that point we had several leads. But she laid out a few feelers and Amado took the bait.”
“He has a lot of expensive things for seemingly not working.”
Fisher nodded. “He claims family money but he has an awful lot of meetings in very interesting parts of town.”
“So Micki wiggled herself close.” It was Fisher’s turn to stare. “Told you I had tales to tell,” Lee snickered.
Fisher shook his head. “Took her a while; Amado is nothing if not cautious.” He sent Lee another look. “That’s why I couldn’t figure out what Jonesy was doing, sending you in.”
“I really think that was an accident,” Lee admitted. “He spotted me at the Pentagon dropping off some reports for Admiral Nelson and must have known about Nelson and I having met Amado previously.”
Fisher nodded. “By that time we’d targeted Amado as ‘El Jefe’. I got a quick note that you were arriving, and to use you as I saw fit.”
Lee’s expression turned nasty. “I knew Admiral Jones was sending me in for no other reason than distraction.” He sent Fisher a disgusted look. “Tried to sweeten the deal for me by saying I had my own piece of the puzzle. But the more I looked at what he wanted me to do, the more all I could foresee was getting my head blown off.”
“You almost did anyway,” Fisher grumbled. “What the blazes were you going at that cantina just now?”
“Stopped to have coffee and a bite to eat, and try to figure out how to complete my assignment.”
Fisher stared once more. “You mean, you were there by accident? You hadn’t picked that spot on purpose?” Lee shook his head. “Good grief,” Fisher mumbled, along with a few words Lee chose not to listen to. There was a soft chuckle from the carriage driver.
“Oops?” Lee asked softly.
“Of all the dumb luck.” Another mumble from Fisher as he continued to softly shake his head.
Lee cringed. “Chip usually focuses on the ‘dumb’ part.” It finally caused Fisher to grin. He shifted slightly and Lee saw, hidden until now behind the other agent’s legs, Lee’s little backpack. “Oh, no,” he mouthed almost silently.
“We finally had enough information to set up a sting operation.” Fisher told him. “Amado adds new meaning to the term ‘security conscious’. Micki was absolutely furious when he allowed you to stay overnight so quickly. It took her forever to gain even that much trust.” Lee merely grinned. “But we were able to intercept a message that mentioned several kilos of hashish being brought in. They were in that lady with the broad hat’s big straw shopping bag. We still haven’t quite got her and her ‘husband’ – who, by the way, is actually her brother – pegged as to what their game is. But Amado sent his happy little band of incorrigibles to stage the mugging.”
“They aren’t Romany?”
Fisher shook his head. “Amado has them dress like that, then quickly change once they’ve made the grab so they blend right back into the locals they actually are.”
“Clever,” Lee admitted.
“Not so much this time,” Fisher smirked, and Lee raised an eyebrow. “We had a reception committee waiting for them around the corner, with enough people to gather them all up with a minimum of fuss and noise. There was quite enough, as it turned out, coming from the cantina to cover.” He sent Lee a look. “I’d already spotted you, thankfully, and re-confiscated this” he handed Lee the backpack “before the Guardia could figure out where it went.”
“Appreciate that,” Lee said softly and tucked it once more between his own feet.
“Don’t mention it. Please!” he told Lee with feeling. “I’m already on a few of the Guardia’s ‘lists’, if you know what I mean.” Lee sent him a look. “They don’t appreciate that I don’t always play by the rules,” Fisher admitted softly.
Fisher shrugged. “As far as I know, they think she’s Amado’s new squeeze.”
“You don’t think she’ll get caught up once Amado is charged? I assume that the young men are being ‘encouraged’ to squeal.”
“Micki got out the instant she got into Amado’s communications. Made copies of a bunch of computer files, passed on today’s intel, and should be safely in Madrid by now, leaving me to oversee the major haul. Strictly from a distance, of course.”
“So that both of your identities remain safe.” Fisher nodded and Lee grinned softly. “The Early Bird gets the worm; the Second Mouse gets the cheese,” he quoted softly. “I’m just glad that I wasn’t set up to be the first mouse – the one who gets caught in the trap.”
“I was beginning to wonder when you showed up at the cantina.” Fisher told him. “If you had started to fight back…” he breathed heavily. “I had this image of all hell breaking loose before the trap could be sprung properly.”
Lee remained quiet. No way was he going to admit that the attack had been so sudden, so unexpected, and over so quickly, that Lee hadn’t even thought about a counter attack. “We all got lucky,” he said quietly.
“Humm,” Fisher muttered with a speculative look.
“What now?” Lee asked, to get himself off the hook Fisher looked like he wanted to put Lee on.
“You leave,” Fisher told him firmly, but ended up with a soft grin. “Unless you do, really, want to spend more time here.”
“Not particularly,” Lee told him. Then his grin turned a bit evil. “Was thinking I should tell Mom about some of the history I’ve picked up. At the museum,” he added innocently. “I can’t remember her writing about this area much. Oh, she’s done pieces on Flamenco dancing and such, but I really think she’d enjoy Rota and Cadiz.” There was a growl from Fisher and he unconsciously reached up to rub his shoulder, causing Lee to laugh outright. “Chill, Colin,” he said, still grinning. “She’s in Shanghai at the moment, and probably for several more weeks.”
“Hallelujah,” Fisher breathed out before both men laughed.
Lee looked around as the carriage driver continued to meander through the town. “The drug trade won’t stop,” he said quietly.
Fisher shook his head. “No, but if a handle of sorts can be kept on anyone trying to organize it into big business, that will at least be a help.” Lee nodded. “And Capt. Garrison seems to be doing a decent job of managing the problem on base, working well with the other military heads as well as the Spanish Commandant.” Lee shuddered slightly and Fisher raised an eyebrow.
“His wife,” Lee told him softly.
“Never had the pleasure.”
“Don’t,” Lee told him firmly, and there was another chuckle from the driver. “You can let me off here,” Lee told both the driver and Fisher as they were now only a few blocks from the dock. He extended a hand. “A pleasure, as always,” he told Fisher. “Sort of,” he added as Fisher shook his hand and grinned. Lee grabbed his backpack and stepped down. His last sight of the carriage as it turned the next corner was of Fisher leaning back, hands behind his head, seemingly not a care in the world.
Lee pondered only a moment. Chip’s parents’ big farmhouse was suddenly sounding like the perfect antidote to the previous week’s insanity and there was a spring to his step as he headed back to the base to pack.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* See “It’s All Relative” by R. L. Keller
** See “Mouse” by R. L. Keller