Mark Terry

Friday, September 30, 2011


September 30, 2011

            Derek drove the motorcycle past Pleasure and the market. It was slightly after four in the morning. The fruit and vegetable market was closed. Pleasure was still in business. He circled the area, then parked the bike behind the bar and drifted in.
            Momka was working the bar. Two girls in G-strings undulated listlessly on the stage to very loud music that was all bass and drum. Multi-colored lights flashed, providing the girls’ imperfections some camouflage. And providing Derek with some as well.
            He crossed to an empty stool at the bar and perched there, scanning the men in the bar. Three sat at the bar, slouched over their drinks. It was hard to tell if they were even conscious. Black men, Afro-Cuban, he guessed was the description, and he assumed they were from Sierra Leone or West Africa or were just Afro-Cubans of some vintage.
            Sitting at three of the tables closer to the stage were seven men. Three at two of the tables, one by himself. Two blacks, one white, three Cubans.
            Derek took them in, his brain doing computations, analyzing what he saw. One of the Cubans worried him. There was something about his bearing that suggested cop or military. He’d looked up when Derek walked in, studied him for a moment, then shifted his gaze back to the girls. But his gaze had been a little too intent and a little too long.
            A girl with black hair wearing a tight pair of denim shorts and nothing else except spike-heel shoes tottered over to him. She threw an arm over his shoulder and pressed her bare breasts to his side. She said something to him in Spanish. He was guessing it was something along the lines of “Can I get you a drink?” or “Will you buy me a drink?” or, perhaps, given the classiness of the bar, “Do you want to go upstairs and fuck?”
            He shook his head and tipped a finger at Momka. The man came down and said in Krio, “You bring my bike back?”
            “No, but it’s fine. I can tell you where it is.”
            Momka’s lips creased into a tight line. “I told you to bring the bike back. I told you not to come back. But here you are.” His voice was rising. Some of the men were watching this exchange. Derek thought only one of them knew what was being said, one of the blacks sitting two stools down from him.
            “It’s safe. And I’ve got a motorcycle. But I can’t ride both, so I need somebody to come with me to get the bike for you. Okay?”
            Momka shook his head. “I don’t want you coming back here. Go. Go get my bike and leave it out back and don’t come back.”
            Derek sighed, reached in his pocket and withdrew his wallet. He pulled out a sheaf of bills and said, “I want a cup of coffee and some food. You’ve got a grill, right? What do you have to eat?”
            Momka’s greedy eyes fixed on the money. “No coffee. I’ve got kebab. Fried plantains. Black beans and rice.”
            The girl said something. Momka spat some machine gun Spanish at her and she scowled and walked away, visiting the man at the single table, who wrapped his arm around her naked waist and started talking to her.
            “Then give me some. And a beer will be fine. Out of a bottle.” He didn’t want Momka watering his booze. He wanted to see him open the damned bottle. Momka pulled a bottle of Bruja from a bucket filled with ice and angrily twisted off the top and handed it to him. Derek tossed him some money.
            It seemed to mellow the man some. He came back a moment later with a plate with a grilled lamb kebab, or maybe it was goat, Derek wasn’t entirely certain, and black beans and rice. A moment later Momka delivered the plantains.
            Derek drank the beer, which was dark and strong, and ate the food, mildly surprised by how hungry he was. He finished the food and considered his options. To Momka he said, “I could use a place to stay for the day.”
            “I don’t want you here. You’re done. Go away.”
            Derek felt movement behind him. He’d been sitting somewhat sideways at the bar so he could keep half an eye on the other patrons and get a sense of things at the door, but it was impossible to sit at the bar and keep his full gaze on the room. The man who had given him an official vibe appeared next to him. “Momka,” he said. “Problemo?”
            Momka appeared very uncomfortable, wiping a glass with a dirty rag, not meeting the man’s gaze. “No. No problemo.”
            The man turned to look at Derek, eyes appraising. “Documentación, por favor.”
            Derek pretended he didn’t understand Spanish, even though he understand what the man wanted. In Krio he said, “I’m a tourist from Sierra Leon. I don’t speak Spanish. I’m sorry.” The man wore khaki pants and a white guayabera. On his hip Derek saw the holster beneath the shirt.
            The man glanced at Momka. Nervously Momka said, “He wants to see your documentation.”
            “Ask him why.”
            Momka said, “No. Just show him your papers.”
            The man rattled off something in Spanish and reached into a pocket, presumably for his own identification. Once the man had his hand deep into his pocket, Derek grabbed his wrist with his left hand and slammed his right elbow into the man’s jaw. As the man’s head snapped back, Derek reached down and snagged the gun off the holster and slammed the butt of it into the man’s skull. The Cuban collapsed to the floor like a bag of bones.
            Kicking back off the stool, Derek rushed through the bar, ignoring the screams of the girls and the shouts of Momka and the other patrons. He jumped on the cycle, kicked it to life and raced off.

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Monday, September 26, 2011


September 26, 2011

            For one disorienting moment, Derek wasn’t sure of where the motorcycle was. Racing through the woods, branches lashing at his face, weeds and bushes tangling his legs, he didn’t have time to stop and search. He plunged on. The soldiers were a dozen yards behind him. Once they all entered the woods they had stopped firing, probably in fear of shooting each other.
            He nearly ran past the motorcycle. Skidding to a halt, he leapt onto the saddle and kicked the engine to life. He zigzagged in and out of the trees, leaning low over the handlebars, barely able to make out tree trunks. He hit a rock, nearly catapulting off the bike, but clung.
            Something tugged at his shoulder. He heard the gunshot a moment later. Heart racing, adrenaline surging, he jammed the throttle down and roared through the woods, breaking out into open road.
            He took the bike up to its top speed, flying down the serpentine road at over one hundred miles per hour.
            It wasn’t a solution, and he knew it. He had to get the hell off the main road.
            Once he was out of the town, he skidded onto a gravel road that led into the hills. Kicking up gravel, he gunned it, taking every turn he could. The hills soon flattened out and he was running on roads sandwiched between fields of sugar cane and tobacco. He felt vaguely protected by the sugar cane, with its tall stalks. The tobacco was no good, though, he couldn’t hide there.
            He had lost his pursuers. Derek pulled to the side of the road alongside a sugarcane field and touched his shoulder. The bullet had nipped at his coat, but he hadn’t been hit. He’d been extremely lucky tonight, he supposed. He still wasn’t in prison and he wasn’t dead or wounded.
            But his exfil plans had gone completely to shit. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do next.
            He decided to return to Havana and attempt to hide out for another day. At the safe house or back at Pleasure?
            He opted for Pleasure.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

What I've Been Reading

September 23, 2011
I'll get back to Dire Straits next week for sure. In the meantime, here are the last 10 books I read.

Ghost Watch by David Rollins
Another fine outing with Rollins's wonderful character, Vin Cooper, a U.S. Air Force investigator. In this case, after the death of a partner/lover, he volunteers for the worst possible assignment - providing security for several rap/hip-hop stars who are going to give performances to U.S. military bases in Congo. But when their helicopter gets shot down by rebels, Vin's got major trouble on his hands just keeping his people alive.

The Devil Colony by James Rollins
As far as I know, David and Jim are not related (Jim Rollins is a pseudonym anyway). Another Sigma Force novel, this time involving the Founding Fathers, volcanos, nanotechnology and a significant amount of mayhem. Great fun.

Dick Francis's Gamble by Felix Francis
I was slightly ambivalent about getting this because I wasn't really sure Felix could follow in his father's footprints. I liked some of the books they wrote together better than others. In this case, for the most part I really enjoyed the novel, which is about a former jockey (of course) turned investment advisor, who is at a race (of course) with a fellow employee who gets assassinated right in front of him.

In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
I listened to this as an audio book, which is a terrible way to go. Terrific book focusing on the U.S. Ambassador to Germany just prior to World War II and his daughter.

1.     An Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age by John Bingham
     More or less a memoir, there's not a lot that's new here if you've read any of Bingham's other books about running, but much of it is hilarious.

      Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
      Wonderful SF, co-written by two guys. Part hard SF, part military SF, part space opera. In a reasonably near-future, although we don't have the technology to get us to the stars, we have colonized many of the planets and asteroids. But when a freighter stops to help out an SOS and is instead attacked by ships, it's the beginning of an inter-planetary war, politics, space battles, shootouts, vomit zombies, extra-planetary alien life forms... 

      Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott
      CIA Agent in London, his office blows up, his wife is probably involved, the CIA thinks he's in on it, all hell breaks loose, rendition, waterboarding, escapes, mysterious cabals, action, adventure, and a fairly dumb MacGuffin from a technological point of view, but overall I enjoyed it.

      Lassiter by Paul Levine
      After 14 years Paul Levine wrote another legal thriller featuring Miami lawyer Jake Lassiter, a man who graduated in the top half of the bottom third of his night school law class. The sister of a missing girl demands to know what he knows about the night her sister went missing (got that?) 18 years before, and Jake was one of the last people to see her. Involves prostitution, the porn industry, organized crime and other stuff. Great to see Jake back.
      The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva
      Espionage novel featuring Israeli agent Gabriel Allon, involves Islamist terrorists in London, the kidnapped daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to the UK, and was very, very good.

      Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
      I doubt I need to say anything about this, except that I was fairly intrigued both by what was left out of the films and how, even after all these many readings and viewings, this book is wonderfully engrossing.


Thursday, September 22, 2011


September 22, 2011

With some gear in a backpack, he rode the motorcycle out of the safe house and headed toward the countryside. He drove along the highway toward La Boca, something of a tourist destination for Cubans. He’d been told in his briefing that it wasn’t really a spot tourists outside of Cuba visited that much – too rustic. In the off-season it was pretty quiet.
            Leaving Havana behind, he found the suburban areas stretched out, leaving more smaller homes, farms, and what could probably be described as wilderness areas – Derek was hesitant about calling it jungle, although Cuba had its share of mountains and rain forests.
            Half an hour outside Havana, Derek spied a long line of cars backing up. He eased up on the throttle. A half a mile ahead or so he thought he saw flashing lights. An accident? Or some sort of roadblock? Heart hammering in his chest, he wondered if it was a roadblock.
            He pulled to the side of the road and pulled out the small map of Cuba he had found in the safe house. Glancing at his watch, he saw that time was running out for meeting his exfil deadline.
            Wheeling the bike around, he turned around and took a right at the first road. The next thirty minutes was a blur of gravel and dirt roads winding through foothills and forest and suburbs, before he finally worked his way back into La Boca, which was a sleepy village, although there were many beautiful colonial-era homes.
            Derek drove to a wooded area near the beach about a quarter mile from his rendezvous point. He hid the motorcycle behind trees, then rummage in his backpack and pulled out the night vision goggles. Donning them, he started a slow and cautious recon to the rendezvous site, keeping to the shadows. From house to house, from tree to tree. Mosquitoes swarmed around him in a cloud, buzzing in his ears.
            Finally he was near a secluded area of beach. Cupping his hand around his watch, he checked the time. He had fifteen minutes until the boat was supposed to arrive.
            He settled in next to a date palm and became motionless.
            The seconds ticked by. Looking out at the water, he thought he saw a small boat out on the water, but couldn’t be certain.
            Something caught his attention further down the beach. Some movement of some sort. He trained the NVGs on that area, the world lit up in green and black, but filled with shadows. Nothing showed up. Maybe it had just been a bush or tree moving in the breeze.
            Shifting his gaze back out to the water, he saw the boat growing closer. Yes, right on time.
            Taking out a small flashlight, he aimed it toward the boat and flicked it on-off-on-off, waited ten seconds and then flashed the light three times. After a moment, a light on the boat flashed once, hesitated, then flashed three times quickly.
            Derek waited in his hiding place for the boat to draw closer. He would be glad to get the hell out of Cuba, but he was totally dissatisfied with how things had gone – he had not accomplished his mission.
            The boat, a Zodiac inflatable with a sound-dampened engine approached the shore. A soft breeze tugged at the trees. Crickets chirped and other insects whined. The mosquitoes were terrible, feasting on any exposed skin. Otherwise, all was quiet.
            Derek stepped out from the treeline and headed for the boat.
            Suddenly spotlights lit up from three different directions, pinning Derek in its harsh glare. Voices shouted in Spanish and English: “Halt! You are under arrest! Don’t move!”
            The Zodiac was still thirty or forty yards off shore.
            Half a dozen uniformed men rushed toward Derek. Somebody fired a rifle at the boat. With a roar, the Zodiac spun in the waves and headed back out to sea.
            Derek turned on his heels and sprinted into the trees. Bullets chewed the air around him. More shouts. The soldiers thundered after him.

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Monday, September 19, 2011


September 19, 2011

            Derek was one of thousands on bikes, motorcycles and scooters and he felt a level of anonymity he hadn’t felt in a car. Still, he was cautious, driving circuitously through the city. He drove around the CBC complex, not seeing much different. Security didn’t seem any higher. There were more cars in the complex. He knew from his brief tour that two of the manufacturing plants ran around the clock, but the R&D and administrative areas did not.
            He drove the scooter past the safe house, seeing nothing. Derek drove the scooter several blocks away and parked it. Walking back toward the safe house, he found an isolated spot to keep an eye on the property, a brick wall bordering a row of apartment buildings. He sat in the shade of a eucalyptus, back against the wall, out of sight, watching people come and go. There was no movement in the house and no indication anyone was watching the house.
            It was possible the Cubans had set up some sort of watch in the apartment building.
            Derek knew paranoia from being in war zones, but that was a different kind of paranoia than he was experiencing in Cuba, where you trusted no one and suspected everyone.
            In the Army, you trusted your squad and your partner, your fellow soldiers. They weren’t all trustworthy, but it gave you at least the illusion that someone had your back. As far as he was concerned, the CIA had given him a complete illusion of support. It all went to hell within a matter of hours. And he no longer trusted any of their backup plans.
            As it grew dark, the area became even quieter. Leaving his watching spot, he began to stair-step around the area on foot, making sure he wasn’t being watched. When he was confident he wasn’t, he circled close to buildings near the ocean, and made his way to the beach. In the dark, he jogged down the waterline until he came to the safe house, which was dark.
            He crouched in the sand and watched the house for a while. Still nothing.
            He entered through the rear door to the garage and made a quick search of the house in the dark using night vision goggles stored in the garage. Standing in the front room, he peered out the windows at the street and the apartment building, scanning each window for any indication someone was watching the house. After a methodical scan, he decided he was probably safe.
            In a back room was a computer. Next to the computer was a CD-ROM in a jewel case. Booting up the computer, Derek slid the CD into the drive. The CD-ROM apparently contained a few dozen photographs. A scan through them showed them to be shots of Havana – the beach, historical buildings, the Marecon.
            Derek double-clicked on Photo 04, of the Marecon, waves crashing over the breakwall.
            He typed: 8X3_$/>Fgi and pressed Enter.
            The screen went blank except for a small square requiring an entry code.
            Derek typed: CCcF*^@Zy+. But didn’t hit Enter. Enter would cause the DVD to be erased.
            The photograph of the Marecon reappeared, then pixels slowly faded out until a message was visible.
            Network blown. Exfil ASAP. Exfil 3 suggested.
            Derek glanced at his watch. The Agency had sent him out with three contingency plans for leaving the country. One was to simply go to the airport and fly out as fast as he could. The second was to get to the Swiss Embassy. From there a route out of the country would be set in place.
            Exfiltration #3 was more complicated. He was to get to a spot on the Cuba coast northwest of Havana on any given night by 2:45 AM. There was an exactly 15-minute window when a small boat would be available to get him off the island to a larger vessel waiting several miles off the coast.
            There were other contingency plans, but getting all the way across the island to Guantanamo Bay was only useful if you were close to Guantanamo Bay.
            Derek looked at his watch. It was just past midnight. Time to get moving. He typed in a set of figures that caused the CD to be deleted as well as cleaning the computer’s cache and ROM. He didn’t completely understand how the tech wizards at Langley and Meade made it work, but he’d take their word for it.
            Sliding into the garage, he started packing for the trip out.

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Friday, September 16, 2011


September 16, 2011

* * *
            There were a number of different techniques that could be used to climb back into an overturned kayak. None of them were terribly effective when caught in rough seas.
            Clinging to the rope with one hand, other hand gripping the paddle and the gunwale to make sure it stayed in the cockpit of the kayak, Derek timed the waves. The trick – and it would be a good trick if he pulled it off – was to catch the kayak in a level trough or as it was moving down, which would allow gravity to help him.
            It was almost impossible to time the waves in the dark. The wind was blasting spray into his face, it was raining, and the waves seemed to come in every direction. But he couldn’t hang by his wrist forever.
            Derek felt the kayak rising on a wave. As it rose onto the crest and began the awkward slide down the other side, he pulled as hard as he could, levering himself to sprawl on top of the kayak.
            The kayak, with him almost spread eagle on top of it, plunged down the other side. He felt himself tumbling, the kayak starting to roll.
            With a desperate, half-rolling, half-jackknifing motion, he jammed his feet into the cockpit and held on.
            A wall of water swept over him. He inhaled at the wrong time, and choked, coughing and wretching.
            But he was in.
            He still had the paddle.
            The skirt, practically in tatters, was still around his waist.
            But the cockpit was half filled with water.
            And the can he used for bailing was long gone. He tried to bail with his hands and made some headway, but not much. He finally gave up and resealed the skirt. The kayak was less stable with too much water, but it wasn’t in any particular danger of sinking. There were floating packets in the bow and the stern, so even if full it wouldn’t sink. Not exactly.
            Derek gripped the paddle and instead of fighting the storm, used it as a rudder to steer the kayak, no longer trying to keep it bow into the waves, but running before them, in God only knows what direction. And he prayed that the storm would move on soon.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011


September 15, 2011

The woman’s name was Claudetta Tambiama. She ran the fruit and vegetable market. Her husband, Momka, ran the bar and strip club next door. He was sleeping in a room above the market, where they lived. She asked him if he wanted coffee. He did. Desperately.
            While she fussed with an old-fashioned coffee maker, a glass bubble on the top to announce the perk, he spun a tale of fooling around with a local girl, only this local girl’s brother was a cop, and he found out  their tryst and went after Derek – Derek was calling himself Jake Smith in the story. She brought him a mug of coffee and sat down across from him.
            In Krio she said, “You are full of shit. Why are you lying to me?”
            Damn, he thought. That didn’t work. He raised his hands in surrender. “Look, Claudetta, I’m really in trouble. I can’t talk about it. But I saw the sign and I really did grow up in Sierra Leone. I need to lay low for a couple days before I can get out of the country. I thought you might be able to help.”
            “Maybe I can. What kind of help?”
            “A place to sleep for a day, maybe. Maybe a car or a bicycle or something.”
            “We don’t own no car, Jake. Or a motorcycle. Momka, he own a bicycle and a scooter.”
            “The scooter, maybe. So I can get around the city a little faster.”
            She drank her own coffee, staring at him over the mug with her brown eyes, skin the color of a coconut. “You bring trouble on Claudetta. Chaka-chaka.” Chaka-chaka. Messy. She made the peculiar gesture at her chin, the all-purpose symbol of the bearded one, Fidel and his government. She let the comment dangle there, something inferred.
            “I’ve got money,” Derek said. kɔpɔ. And he did. Some in his wallet. More in his money belt. Canadian. Cuban. American.
            She smiled. “Why you not say so before? Of course we can help you. Got a room above the bar. For business. You know?”
            So it wasn’t just a bar or a strip club. It was a brothel, too. “How much?”
            She reeled off a figure. He pulled out his wallet, then raised an eyebrow. “And how much to make sure you or Momka don’t tell anybody I’m here. At all.”
            She doubled the price. He laid out the Cuban Pesos.
            “I show you room.”
            Upstairs above Pleasure were four squalid little rooms off a short hallway. At the end of the hallway was a bathroom – a toilet and sink, rusty and stained. The walls were whitewashed plywood. Each room contained a soiled mattress and a bare table with a lamp. The Hilton’s reputation was safe.
            “You need anything else?”
            He shook his head and thanked her.
            Once she was gone, he slammed home the door’s slide-bolt and pushed the table against it. It wouldn’t keep anybody out for longer than about ten seconds, but ten seconds could save his life. He’d take what he could get. It’s not like he had many options.
            He decided to leave his shoes and clothes on, sprawled on the mattress and was asleep in minutes.
            It was a restless sleep. At one point, mid-day according to his watch, he heard movement down below and murmured voices. Claudetta talking to a man. Some of it was in Spanish, some of it was in Krio. He heard his name – Jake – and he heard the Krio word for money.
            He drifted back to sleep.
            Several hours later he snapped completely awake. Heavy footsteps were climbing the steep stairs. Two sets. A deep male voice said something in Spanish. A flirty female voice giggled and said something back. Derek, not for the first time, wished he spoke more Spanish.
            He rolled out of the bed and onto his feet. The only weapon he had was the utility tool. He snapped open the blade, stood to the side of the door and waited, body coiled.
            The footsteps passed his room and the door to the room next to his closed. Through the thin wall voices muttered, then the rustle of clothing, followed by encouraging male words.
            Glancing at his watch, he saw it was seven in the evening. The bar was either open or a customer was getting an early start. He slid back the mattress, unlocked the door and hurried down the stairs, peering around the corner into the bar.
            Along one wall was a tin bar with stools. Across the bare wood floor were about ten small round tables, two or three chairs stacked atop each of them. Along the opposite wall was a low stage with two stripper poles, spotlights and a sound system at one end.
            A short, thin black man in jeans and a loose white cotton shirt was sweeping the floor. His Afro was bushy and speckled gray. A wispy mustache decorated his upper lip. In Krio he said, “Cop upstairs. It how we do business, yes? They get a girl, they leave us alone. But he early tonight, otherwise I warn you. Best you get out of here.” He fished in his pocket and tossed a key to Derek. “Vespa out back. Tank is full. Don’t come back until late morning, hear? Or best you not come back at all. Leave bike, though.”
            “One way or the other I’ll get the bike back here or let you know where it is. Thanks.” Derek handed the man a twenty Peso note and headed out the rear of Pleasure into the Havana evening.

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Monday, September 12, 2011


September 12, 2011

            Derek drove by the U.S. Embassy Office, but kept on going. The Cuban police presence in the area was large and obvious. They’d been alerted and were looking for him. He wasn’t even sure if it would be safe to get near the Swiss or Canadian embassies, but he decided to try.
            If the U.S. Embassy Office was clearly being watched by the Cubans, it was nothing compared to what was going on at the Swiss Embassy. The Swiss Embassy was a seven-story concrete building with all the charm of a city jail, surrounded by a wrought-iron face. Driving by, he noted Cuban military vehicles outside the gate. Six of them.
            It was obvious that at least one of the Company’s networks has been totally obliterated. Derek had a few backups, but he wasn’t entirely sure he trusted them any longer.
            If he headed for the airport, it was possible they’d let him go. He had his wallet with credit cards and cash. He had his passport. He had his utility tool. He had the clothes on his back.
            It was also entirely possible they would arrest him, find a dark cell to leave him in, and start to barter with the U.S. government over him. And they might torture him for any information he might be able to provide them.
            Execution was not out of the question.
            He’d take a pass on that option.
            He continued to drive, giving himself time to think. Driving around Havana in a stolen car with the police and the government actively searching for him probably wasn’t a great idea.
            Working his way back to the safe house might be the best tactic. He wasn’t sure if he trusted it any more, though. He would need to check it out for a while, put it under surveillance. If he could get in there, somebody with the Company would check in with him. But how badly blown were the CIA’s networks in Cuba?
            He had driven into an older neighborhood in Old Havana, narrow streets, alleyways, signs in a variety of languages, only a few Spanish. Many of them were African.
            Derek could say “one more beer, please,” and “where is the bathroom?” in a dozen languages. Otherwise he was only fluent in one language other than English: Krio.
            Krio was a strange mix of English and a dozen African dialects that was spoken by about ten percent of the people in Sierra Leone, but understood by almost everybody. Out of all the countries he had lived in as a kid, Sierra Leone was closest to being home, the one he had spent the most time in.
            He saw a sign scrawled across a storefront bar: plɛzhɔ.
         It was the Krio word for pleasure.
            Derek drove the car away from the African area and abandoned it in an alley, and began to make his way back to the bar. He stood out a bit in the neighborhood, but not as badly as he had thought. It was filled with all sorts of shops – groceries and bakeries and bars, bookstores and shops that sold religious items for Santeria, Yoruba, Vodou, Abakua, Palo Monte. It was predominantly black, but there were enough whites and Cubanos that he didn’t stand out. He heard a lot of different languages spoken – Spanish, of course, and some English, but Krio and Swahili, some Haitian Creole that sounded similar to Krio.
            He approached the bar. It was closed, but he pounded on the wooden door. Next door to the bar was a small grocery. A heavy black woman out front loaded plantains onto a hook. She looked at him and in heavily-accented Spanish said something to him. The only word he recognized sounded something like borracho, which probably meant she was accusing him of being drunk.
            He smiled at her and in Krio said, “I haven’t had a drop to drink.”
            Her eyes grew wide. She responded in Krio, “Are you from Salone?” Salone was the Krio word for Sierra Leone.
            “I grew up there. I could use some help.”
            She studied him for a moment. “Are you in trouble?”
            He smiled and raised his hands to his shoulders in a helpless gesture. “Plenty yagba don fal down pan we.” It was a Krio expression that was hard to directly translate, but was generally understood to mean: I’m in seriously deep shit.
            The woman seemed worried, looked up and down the street for a moment, then invited him into the back of the grocery. Derek pointed at a mango as he walked by and asked her if he could buy some breakfast. He was hungry.
            She nodded and pushed through a rickety door in the back. It was a small office. She pointed at a chair and told him to sit.
            Ah de wit u,” she said. Literally: I am with you. It meant, in this case, Derek figured, that she was staying open-minded and listening. But what to tell her?
            He took a bite of the mango and started to talk.

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