DIRE STRAITS, Chapter 4A
The rain began. Derek, in the kayak, hunched forward. Drops of rain like bullets hammered his head, his shoulders, his back. Reaching under the kayak skirt, he snagged the rusty soup can and held it so it would fill with rainwater. The wind howled and waves swept over him, watery fingers trying to snatch the paddle and the can from his hands. He clung to both as if his life depended upon it. Because it did.
He no longer knew which direction he was heading. Hopefully not back to Cuba. Hopefully not too deep into the Gulf of Mexico. The wind had been coming from the east, so he was fairly confident he wasn’t heading east.
When the soup can was half full, he drank the contents, grimacing. Rust. Some salt. But hopefully not much salt water. He needed the fresh water.
Tucking the can into a fold of the kayak skirt held in place with his knees, he struggled to keep the wind to his right – his starboard – side. At the very least he would try to keep the bow into the waves and try to keep from rolling.
But battling wind and waves like this in a kayak was a brutal, grueling business. The best he could do was try not to sink or flip.
And it rained…
* * *
After a dubious night’s sleep, Derek dressed in a suit, packed his briefcase, had coffee and a roll in the hotel restaurant and waited for Coro and his driver. When Coro arrived, it was very much as if a different person had appeared. She wore flats, dark slacks, a maroon blouse and a dark jacket. Her curly hair was pulled back in a bushy ponytail, and her makeup was significantly more subdued than it had been the evening before.
“Are you ready?” she said curtly.
“Si,” he said, smiling at her. She didn’t return the smile.
“It was not a nice thing you did last night.”
“I was tired,” he said.
“It was rude.”
She studied him. “Come, let’s go. Senor Osorio is waiting for you.”
Oh great. Derek followed without comment. And sure enough, waiting at the curb was a black Mercedes. A Cuban driver in dark slacks and white shirt at the wheel, and Senor Juan Osorio sitting in the back. Coro slid into the front passenger seat. Derek, not having any choice, climbed in next to Osorio, who greeted him cheerily enough.
“Did you sleep well, Senor Hamill?”
“Not bad. Yourself?”
“Like a baby.”
“You must have a clear conscience.”
Osorio seemed puzzled by this. “What does that mean?”
“It’s an expression. It means you sleep well because you have nothing to feel guilty about. It’s a joke.”
Osorio seemed to consider him for a moment. “And yourself, Senor Hamill? Do you have a clear conscience?”
Derek smiled and spread his hands. “I am a businessman.”
Osorio laughed. Coro did not. The driver was listening, but not being involved. They drove through Havana, heading west of the city. The streets were clogged with cars, some new, many old. Derek wondered if the new cars were all rented by tourists and business people from outside Cuba and the U.S.
Soon they approached a complex of buildings, the Centro de Biotecnologia Cuba, the CBC. It was sprawling, probably ten buildings made of concrete and glass. Several of the glass buildings appeared to be office buildings, the CBC’s headquarters. The more utilitarian buildings were manufacturing facilities. Derek had studied satellite photographs of the facility and compared them to maps. He and his handlers in Langley had come up with ten different ways for him to get into Building 5. But overall, he was expected to improvise. Get in. Find proof. Get out.
Far easier said than done.
Cuba had an extraordinary biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. Fidel Castro had strange priorities in many ways, but he had shifted a great deal of Cuba’s economy to biomedical research and development. It was no secret.
The question was, had he shifted some of it to bioweapons?
The entire facility was surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with razor wire curling along the top. Not inviting, but perhaps the only difference between it and pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturing facilities around the rest of the world was that their headquarters weren’t situated elsewhere in a glossy and manicured technology park. It did give the CBC the feel and appearance of an armed camp, though.
At the entrance, the two armed guards at the pillbox checkpoint asked all four of them to step from the vehicle. One of the guards took Derek inside the trailer next to the pillbox, frisking him efficiently and demanding that he open his briefcase for inspection. Derek was fairly sure that Coro and Osorio were not being given the same treatment.
He returned to the car and the four of them drove to a sprawling green-and-blue glass building surrounded by palm trees and tropical shrubs.
Climbing out, Osorio said, “Welcome to Centro de Biotecnologia Cuba, Senor Hamill. Shall we go in? I am afraid that very few of the executives you will meet speech English fluently. Discussions will be in Spanish. Senorita Gomez will translate. Are you ready?”
“Sure,” Derek said with a nod. Into the lion’s den.