DIRE STRAITS: Chapter 2B
August 19, 2011
Copyright 2011 Mark Terry
Copyright 2011 Mark Terry
* * *
In his suite on the twelfth floor, Derek first did a sweep for listening devices. Turning on the TV loud to a Spanish-language soap opera, he started with the telephone. In his suitcase he kept a small utility tool, a Swiss Army Knife with a compass, knife blade, screwdriver, corkscrew and other handy tools on it. First he dismantled the receiver.
Sure enough, there was a small listening device. He left it where it was and put the phone back together. He found three listening devices overall – one in the phone, one in a lamp in the sitting area, and one beneath the desk,
He left them all where he had found them. He didn’t intend to hold any conversations of importance in the room. His biggest concern was that the listening devices were a way to keep track of his comings and goings. The second biggest concern was that his cover was already blown and they knew he was an American in the employ of the CIA. Hopefully the Cubans were just worried about any northerner paying a visit to one of their biotechnology firms and were displaying a fairly typical Communist level of paranoia about it.
It was also possible that there were other devices and pinhole cameras that he hadn’t located, so it was best to be innocuous and boring.
Dropping his briefcase hard on the desk, he opened it and pulled out a sheaf of documents related to a possible research and development relationship between the Centro de Biotecnologia Cuba and Ontario, Canada-based TLM Biotechnology, Inc. Fidel Castro and Cuba’s economy might be a train wreck by many world standards, but the quality of the country’s healthcare system, including pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, were some of the most robust in the world. Go figure.
TLM Biotechnology, Inc., was a legitimate biotechnology firm founded and operated by a pair of college friends, one American, one Canadian. They were on very good terms with the Central Intelligence Agency, providing a number of their non-official cover (NOC) agents with background to travel internationally under the guise of various business aspects of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. TLM Biotechnology had a very firm footing in Central and South America, parts of Asia, and was working on developing business relationships in the Middle East.
Humming to himself, hoping to annoy anybody listening, Derek spent some time going through the paperwork and making the occasional notes. It was busywork. Primarily he was refreshing his memory with his cover for TLM.
He took a shower, put on slacks and a light sport shirt and prepared for an evening exploring Old Havana and generally acting like a tourist. He also wanted to put real landmarks in his head about his various escape routes, should they become necessary.
Heading for the door, he was brought up short by a knock. Raising an eyebrow, he cautiously opened the door. An attractive young Cuban woman stood in the hallway. She had flowing curly black hair, a heart-shaped face, and lush red lips. She wore a white blouse and dark short skirt, feet in heels, a leather purse over one shoulder.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello! I am Coro Gomez. I’m your guide and translator. I thought I would come by, introduce myself, and show you around the city.”
Derek blinked, re-set his emotional flight plan and smiled. “What a coincidence! I was just going out. Nice to meet you. I’m Peter Hamill.”
* * *
The kayak bumped and wallowed. The swells and waves were growing larger, ten and twelve-foot waves that would cause problems in a small boat, let alone a ten-foot-long kayak. Derek struggled to keep the bow of the kayak facing the oncoming waves, squinting as waves splashed over the bow into the open cockpit, soaking him to the skin.
Something bumped the kayak from below. Looking into the darkness, he saw little except fluorescent froth in the dark night.
Scanning the horizon, Derek felt his stomach clench. It was so dark he couldn’t see land. Fumbling in his pocket, he removed his Swiss Army Knife. Built into the handle was a small compass. From another pocket he withdrew a tiny flashlight, which could be a very dangerous thing to turn on with the Cuban Navy possibly on the lookout for him. Nonetheless, he needed to get his bearings.
Briefly turning on the light to check the compass, he saw that he was now facing east. If he kept going east he might hit the Bahamas or the Turks and Calcos Islands. Or he would miss them entirely and find himself in the North Atlantic with the next stop being Africa.
The wind, which was strengthening, seemed to be coming from the east. He hoped it was just a storm. Not a tropical storm or a hurricane. He also hoped it wasn’t bearing down on him.
As it was, if a storm surged out of the east, he might get blown deep into the Gulf of Mexico.
In the precious seconds he had taken to stop paddling and check the compass, the kayak had spun in the waves, turning broadside to the swells. The kayak tilted precariously. Derek gripped the paddle with white knuckles, urgently stroking to bring the kayak around into the wave.
He felt the world tip. He dug in hard. It felt like paddling cement. Then he was over the crest of the wave and crashing down into the trough on the other side. The kayak wallowed as water splashed into the cockpit.
Fishing around behind him, he prayed the owner of the kayak had kept some sort of kayak skirt. He had been too busy trying to evade pursuit to worry too much about it. He gripped a piece of nylon and sent up a little prayer to the gods in thanks. Also in the cockpit of the kayak was a metal soup can. He contemplated that a moment, dropped it by his feet and went about squirming into the spray skirt and clamping it down around the cockpit of the kayak.
The kayak bumped again.
Glancing over to his left, he saw a dorsal fin, black upon black, knife through the water just feet away from his boat.
But before he could worry about the shark, another massive wave caught the kayak and sent it spinning.