THINGS DONE: BAIT AND SWITCH
Damn, damn, damn.
“I thought you said your people were good,” I chide AD as he wastes space on my sofa. He’s wasting himself as well. We had a fishing tour this morning and the only rule on fishing tours, as opposed to dive ones, is that it’s noon somewhere in the world.
AD is nonplussed by my outburst. “They are good.” He’s drinking my Wild Turkey. All right, so he did get it for me at a steep discount. “Your boy’s just slippery, that’s all.”
“Jimmy? Not likely.”
“He’s evaded all of us. Even you, old man.”
“Call me that one more time and you’ll eat teeth, you bastard.”
He’s stoned and drunk enough to be mildly amused. “Ah, yes, but you don’t have firearms.”
And a very good thing. I might be tempted to use it on him.
No, I’m not being especially fair right now. AD’s a generous sort, but still not a word from Jimmy, and it’s been nearly a month since he put his goons on the case. For all I know, one of them could have gotten trigger-happy, despite his reassurances to the contrary.
I grab another beer. AD got a ‘manufacturer’s discount’ on German this month, so it’s Beck’s. Not a bad way to be miserable, even I’ll concede. “That’s the problem with you. You’re all talk and no action.”
“Jam says otherwise,” he grins lasciviously as he downs the rest of his Wild Turkey and helps himself to some more. “You’re just gonna have to be patient, man.”
“As if that was a characteristic you ever developed.” I’m in a horrible mood. Nothing, not even an icy cold Beck’s, is improving that.
“I’m in a different line of work. Patience isn’t a always a virtue there.”
“And you never were virtuous.”
“I learned from the best,” he eyes me pointedly.
“Do NOT bring up Bangkok.”
That elicits a gale of laughter from him. “I warned you about the girls there.”
“How was I supposed to know she was only 15? She said she was 19!”
“And you believed her?”
She also said she was clean. Turns out she had a raging case of the clap, which she so generously shared with me. I refuse to submit any further details.
“I don’t believe anyone anymore.”
“Welcome to the world of the truly cynical. There’s only one problem with that, old man.”
“You don’t believe that.”
“AD, get out of my house before I do something you’ll regret.”
“I’ll regret?” His eyes open in mock innocence. “I think not.” He finishes his drink and points to the bottle of Wild Turkey. “I think you need this more than I do right now.” He starts out the door, but pokes his head in just before he’s gone. He’s really asking for it today. “Oh, Frohike?”
“I can get Viagra at cost, you know.”
I really should kill the bastard. The problem is, he’s my friend.
Mel’s been at work all day, and comes trundling in late afternoon. My spirits have not improved, although my partaking of spirits has been substantial since I kicked AD’s sorry ass out. I’m glad to see her, but I’d be much happier if I were seeing her in DC or Pennsylvania. It’s not her fault. I won’t take it out on her.
She sniffs the air. “I see that AD’s been around.” He always leaves behind the clean fresh explosion of tobacco and ganja smoke. AD won‘t smoke when Mel‘s around, but if it‘s just me, he feels the house rules can be broken, or at least bent, based upon the fact that I smoked back when he knew me, both legal and illegal.
“At least he didn’t drink all the Wild Turkey.” Just most of it. I’ve stuck to beer. I can get plenty drunk and feel just as sorry for myself on beer as on any other alcoholic beverage. “How was work?”
“The usual. Nothing major. Cuts, scrapes, bruises. Only one person needed a whopping three stitches. Everyone else got bandaids and sympathy.”
I could use some sympathy.
She laughs as she pours the rest of the Wild Turkey into a glass and grabs a water back to accompany it. “I’m telling you, it sounds sick, but I’m really hungry for a good MVA.”
“Not enough stress in our lives already?”
“Actually, I’ve been wanting one because when I’m working on a trauma case, I don’t think about anything else. I think I got to where I liked doing the worst of the worst, because it allowed me to step outside of myself and just concentrate on the task at hand.”
“I could arrange for a GSW on AD.”
We both laugh over that one. She shakes her head. “He’s a pain in the butt, but he’s a good man. Just as you are.” She flashes me a knowing smile. “However, if he spills ashes on the floor again, you won’t need to shoot him, because I’ll have killed him with my bare hands.” She grabs the broom and sweeps up his mess. I’m amused by the image of Mel, mild-mannered, short, slightly plump, taking on AD. He might not be. Mel was raised in Texas, as was AD’s mother. Like me, he has the proper fear of Southern women. He once told me the only person that frightened him was his mother. Like Mel, apparently she was soft-spoken and impeccably mannered--the sort of woman who would say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as she slit your throat, because it’d only be polite.
She comes over and wraps her arms over my shoulders. “You’re quite drunk,” she comments.
“Absolutely. But I did catch a snapper this morning.”
“Truth? I’d rather eat glass right now.” She laughs.
“You and me both.” I love seafood, but quite honestly, I’ve had enough for several lifetimes.
“I think we need an evening out.”
“M’love, there is no ‘evening out’ here on Brac.”
“I know. I was thinking we could take the ferry to the big island...have a nice steak dinner...some good wine...”
We should save our money. We’ve been stashing Mel’s checks and living in the minimalist fashion that pervades this village. We should...
Mel was horribly motion sick on the ferry ride from Grand to Brac. If she’s even thinking about braving that again...
My mood improves as the ferry takes us to Grand Cayman. My last trip there was strictly for business purposes, and it was a complete bust. I do, however, remember that there was a lovely Argentine steakhouse within the banking district, and the idea of a medium-rare steak with all the trimmings has my mouth watering, as does seeing Mel in a long turquoise floral skirt and a black French cut T-shirt. She took out her workaday braids and her hair is loose save for two silver clips we got at the flea market one Sunday. We go at the end of the day when the hawkers are anxious to get rid of their merchandise and I hawked the vendor down from $25 Cayman to $3. And they say you can’t find bargains anymore.
The ferry is uncrowded tonight. Most of the daytime divers went back hours ago and the night divers haven’t emerged yet. We look like any other tourists on the boat. We sit away from the others and sip Mai Tais (complimentary on the ferry. Water you have to pay for).
“You doing all right?” I ask her. So far, she looks fine. A heavy dose of Dramamine seems to be working its magic for her.
“I have a question for you,” she says quietly, nibbling at an orange slice.
“Has anyone ever seen this Runtz in person?”
“I’m sure plenty of people have. I suspect most of them are dead. We do have some photos, but they’re of very poor quality and not recent.”
“How old was the last one you saw?”
“I think about 2 years old.”
“People at our age don’t change very much in 2 years. Not in appearance, at any rate,” she chuckles. “I’m surprised you couldn’t find him on the surveillance tapes of the local banks. You said he most likely banks here.” Well, it is the banking capital of underworld activities, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a customer.
“I doubt he conducts his business in person. Surely he’s got underlings for that sort of thing.”
Damn. Now I’m worried, again. What if he does bank here? And what if he’s in town?
Not likely. He probably doesn’t touch the money himself. Most likely wrapped in layers of shell corporations, ergo, untouchable. Not to mention that the banks close at 3 p.m. here. The term ‘bankers’ hours’ means something in the Caymans.
I decide I’m not going to spoil what should be a perfectly wonderful, romantic evening by dwelling on our situation. For now, we’re going to be tourists, watching the lovely Caribbean sunset and enjoying a good meal out. I need it, and Mel deserves it. For the sake of both our sanity, I’m determined to put business on hold for a few hours.
The bus system here is decent, but it’s an evening on the town and we spring for a preposterously overpriced taxi. For these prices, it should be a stretch limo with a privacy window and a bench seat in back the size of Montana, but, these are the islands, petrol is outrageously expensive, and even if it is an Opel, it’s got four wheels and runs. The requisite kamikaze driver is Jamaican and friendly, and asks what brings us to the islands. I simply tell him, “Honeymoon,” and Mel and I engage in some high-school style back seat petting. He shuts up after that.
I tip him generously for not getting us killed and he departs in search of his next fare. Mel is grinning and blushing as we step on to the curb in front of the restaurant.
“It felt really strange to be in a car,” she comments.
“I’m glad you didn’t say that while we were in there.”
“How could I? I was otherwise occupied.” Her grin is pure mischief and pleasure.
In addition to forgetting about such niceties as automotive travel, we’ve been away from the civilized world long enough to forget about another quaint social custom: reservations. The restaurant is busy and crowded; the host with the British accent announces with an insincere apology that the wait will be approximately 90 minutes. This does not dampen Mel’s spirits in the least.
“Let’s get a bottle of wine and sit in the bar.”
“A plan.” I tell him to put down Fox Mulder. He gives me an odd look but shrugs as if to say, I have seen it all.
The bar is an open terrace in the back. The view largely consists of the surrounding office buildings, but the architecture is Georgian as opposed to Modern Tasteless Cubicle, the breeze keeps the temperature delightful, and the tables are coated with white linen cloths and red lantern candles. We order a French Beaujolais, which is delicious, and I scan the scenery. A few suits, but at this hour, most of the business crowd has left and it’s tourists in the same garb we’re wearing. We blend in. I relax a little.
“Now this really does feel like a honeymoon,” Mel says, laughing.
We order some potato pillows to munch on--good enough to be a meal in and of themselves, and I’m unwound to the point where I almost miss our table being called. I’d forgotten what name I gave, but fortunately, Mel didn’t.
The smell of seared meat and hot bread just about knocks me off my feet. We don’t hit good restaurants very often at home, but this takes me back to those happy times when we’re out celebrating. Once we’re back, I’m going to make a point of taking Mel to places like this more often--she’s more than earned it, especially after this gig.
The waiters make a Caesar salad at the table, fresh, and I feel as if I’ve died and gone to heaven--until they bring the main courses. Mel ordered a tenderloin with pepper sauce, and I a sirloin kebab with tomatoes, onions and new potatoes. The meat melts in my mouth, and I intersperse it with one of the several delicious fresh breads in the bread basket. I’m going to have to figure out a way to duplicate that garlic roll recipe. I’d ask for more but I have no idea where I’d put it, and we did see the dessert tray at another table on our way in. An exercise in sheer decadence.
Mel excuses herself to hit the ladies’ room. We’ve been laughing and talking so much that I hadn’t noticed the new diners coming in. Across from us, two tables over, is a group of men in expensive suits. Expensive suits aren’t unusual here; the area is costly to live in and to visit. People who come here, unlike us, tend to have money.
They must be regulars; the host doesn’t set down menus and their drink orders magically appear. Four of them are large, heavily built; they flank the center one, a dark, slender man...
No. It couldn’t be him. That would be just too much of a coincidence.
Or could it? I think back on the few grainy photos I’ve seen of him. I avert my gaze as much as possible while trying to soak up as much detail as I can. I can’t hear the conversation, of course; the table is 2 over and the noise level, while certainly not rivaling anything from the disco years, is considerable.
It could be him. The more I watch him, the more I think it’s him. Either that, or I just plain drank way too much today and my paranoia is kicking in even harder than usual. Living in hiding, needless to say, is not helping in that regard.
He’s drinking a martini of some sort. No, his liquor preferences are not listed anywhere that I’m aware of, but I’m going to ask AD if he or one of his cronies knows. They just might.
Mel has not yet returned. The waiter has silently arrived at our table, and I nearly hit the ceiling when he politely asks, “Will you be having dessert?”
“Uh...could you package four chocolate truffle cake slices to go?”
“And the check.”
Mel reappears. I tell her that I’m too full for dessert right now, but that I did order some cake to go. This pleases her. “Breakfast!” She smiles with delight. “That’s a great idea. I’m full to bursting right now, but there was no way I could leave without having gotten some of that cake.” She studies me. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I lie. “I think I just drank too much today.”
That makes her laugh. “Only today? I’m kidding, of course.”
The bill has arrived. I pay the waiter in cash, leave a substantial tip, and we grab our bag of goodies for the trip home.
As we leave, I take one last glance at the table with the suited men.
The slender one looks up and I swear he catches my eye.
Whoever the hell he is, it’s time to head out.
Go To Chapter 2