Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


October 18, 2011

            Two-and-a-half, actually. And by the time they pulled into Galveston, Sally had found a buyer for her boat – Derek. Sally was thirty-five, had married a man twenty-five years older than her when she was thirty. The man, who she said was a nice enough guy, had several million dollars rattling around in the bank and several million more in the stock market. Then, while eating at Joe’s Stone Crab, he’d fallen right off his chair, dead before he hit the floor from a heart attack. Sally inherited the millions, a big modern house overlooking the ocean, and the boat. She decided she wanted a bigger boat and she wanted some time alone to “grieve,” so she decided to sail it to Texas where she had some family, see if she could sell the boat while she was there. Then she thought she might want to spend a few months in Europe. Did he want to come?
            It was a double entendre, and not a very subtle one. Sally was like that. Derek figured her husband must have thought he’d died and gone to heaven when they hooked up. Maybe he even knew she was screwing him for his money. Maybe he didn’t even care. But Derek politely declined, saying he had a job to get back to.
            Standing on the dock, he said, “I’ve got to fly back east.”
            She smiled and kissed him, a lingering kiss. “You never really did tell me what you were doing in Cuba.”
            “Stealing kayaks,” he said. “I told you. Big black market in Cuban kayaks. Didn’t you know?”
            “I’ll get the paperwork going on the boat. Call me.”
            He caught a flight from Galveston to Houston to Washington DC. He was met at the airport by a muscular man with a gray crew-cut in a dark suit that didn’t hide the fact that he pumped a lot of iron and probably used a lot of steroids. He didn’t say anything as he drove Derek to a bland office building in Maryland where Derek was ushered into a small room with two plastic chairs and a Formica table.
            A thin blond man in a gray suit and black and silver tie entered and sat opposite him. “Hello, Derek. Have a nice vacation with Mrs. Kendall?”
            “Bought her boat. I’m going to have to fly back down to Galveston to sail it back here.”
            “Yes, we’re aware of that.” The man, whose name was Richard McGee, was the man who had sent Derek to Cuba. “Just one more fuckup in a long line of them, apparently. Why don’t you start at the beginning.”
            So Derek did. The first time through, McGee didn’t ask any questions. The only time he said anything was when the subject of the Russian woman came up. McGee looked to a spot near the wall and said, “Get that.”
            Derek said, “Hidden camera?”
            McGee nodded. “Continue.”
            Derek did. Finally, once the story made it to Sally Kendall, Derek stopped. McGee said, “Oh, let’s keep going.”
            Derek shook his head. “Sorry. Nothing to tell.”
            “Plenty to tell. You’re being … debriefed. But maybe you already were.”
            “You were forty miles from shore. You didn’t have to stay on the boat. What did you tell her?”
            “Black market in Cuban kayaks.”
            McGee stared at him. “You failed at your mission.”
            Derek leaned forward. “Your Cuban network was totally compromised. And it was compromised before I showed up in Havana. I’m lucky I’m not in a Cuban prison with a car battery wired to my nuts.”
            McGee nodded.
            Derek stared at McGee. “I’ve got a question for you, McGee. Did you know your network was compromised when you sent me in there? Was I bait? Was the real mission to find out if and how much your Cuba network was compromised?”
            McGee stared back at him, giving away nothing.
            Derek knew the answer, though. He shook his head. “The odds of me getting into that facility and finding something useful sucked. And you know it. But the odds of me getting hung up if your network was compromised – they were pretty damned good, weren’t they?”
            McGee blinked a moment. “You will be given a polygraph.”
            “Of course. Let’s continue with this little game, shall we? I hope you’re happy with my mission. Hope you found out what you wanted.”
            McGee didn’t respond, but led him back through the story, asking questions, asking more questions, picking at thing, asking the same questions in different ways. Finally McGee leaned back in his chair and said, “Why did you leave the Army, Derek?”
            “You guys asked me that when I signed up. I was done with the chain of command. I thought I had skills the Agency could use.”
            “You’re more resourceful than I would have guessed under stress, but you’re not much of a spy.”
            “Thanks.” Although it was something Derek had been wondering about. He supposed it depended on the nature of the mission. Plots within plots. If the Agency sent him in to blunder around and they viewed him as largely expendable, then he’d been a fantastic spy. Particularly if they got the extra bonus of him actually getting out of the country when everything fell to pieces. If they really wanted proof of biological weapons manufacturing, then it had been a miserable failure.
            If it had been entirely up to him, he would have skipped trying to talk his way into the facility and done a black-bag job in the middle of the night, snuck out of the country and picked up a boat five miles off-shore. It wasn’t terribly subtle, but then again, neither was he.
            The door opened and a woman handed McGee a notebook. McGee handed it to Derek. “Take a look.”
            Derek opened it. It contained about a hundred photographs of women. Mostly headshots, mostly taken while the person wasn’t looking. Beneath each photograph was a number. He went through the photographs, finally stopping at 14E. “Her,” he said, tapping the photograph. It was the woman he thought was Russian who had saved his ass in Havana.
            McGee said, “Her name is Irina Khournikova. Spent a little bit of time in Spetznaz. Now she is newly assigned to the FSK.”
            Derek had to think about that for a moment. “FSK?”
            Federalnaya Sluzhba Kontrrazvedki. Less than a year ago, better known as the KGB. She joined the FSK and, as far as we know, was assigned to Cuba. Which, given the deteriorating relationship between Cuba and Russia, probably means they didn’t expect much out of her.”
            Irina Khournikova, he thought. Well, he supposed that was good to know. He didn’t expect to ever run into her again. “Can I go home now?”
            “Yes. Get some sleep. Come into the office to write up your report tomorrow. We’ll schedule the polygraph. Then fly down to Galveston and get your boat. I assume you want some time off to deal with all that.”
            “I do.”
            “Make it a good report, Derek. We’re trying to figure out what to do with you.”
            Derek got to his feet. “Any ideas?”
            “Maybe Pakistan. Only we’ll send you semi-official.”
            Derek winced. “Pakistan?”
            “Yeah. Enjoy. The Asian folks want a bioterror expert on the ground. I’m glad to get you out of my hair. By the way, the U.N.’s been asking about you, too. You might want to take them up on their offer. Running around Iraq doing weapons inspections.”
            Back to Iraq? But Derek understood what McGee was saying. You fucked up, buddy. We’re trying to unload you.
            “We’ll see,” Derek said.
            Three days later he was back in Galveston standing on the deck of his new home, a fifty-two-foot Criss-Craft Constellation. Sally was going to ride back with him to Miami before she headed to France and Italy for a few months. Derek thought it was going to be an enjoyable couple days.
            As they pulled out of Galveston, Derek in a pair of cut-off denim shorts, Sally in an orange string bikini, Sally said, “Are you going to keep the name?”
            “What will you name it?”
            He grinned. “The Salacious Sally.”
            “I like that,” she said, leaning against him.
            “I thought you might.”
            “And when you get back to wherever you’re going? Back to Cuba, stealing kayaks?”
            “No, I’m out of the kayak black market for now.”
            “Then what?”
            He thought of his next assignment: looking for evidence of biological warfare agents among civilian casualties in Pakistan. Digging up bodies in mass graves.
            “Gravedigger, maybe,” he said.

The End

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Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Nice ending. It actually explained how Derek got his boat and introduced Irina. And, the ending was so like the end of a Travis McGee -- well, salacious babe and boat -- that I was amused to see an actual McGee showed up.

Great story. I enjoyed it. Question is did the experiment work for you?

12:57 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yes, I couldn't resist McGee when I was talking so much about the boat.

Yes, I think the experiment worked in so much as the damned story actually got written. I'm not sure I would have done it if I hadn't. My timing could have been better - it ended up coinciding with the busiest period I've had all year. The story didn't quite do what I thought it would do, but that's not terribly unusual. I really had planned for Derek to break into the lab and get proof, but events took over and he ended up hiding out all over Havana. Different story, but I think it works.

I might blog about this a bit - something you might appreciate, since you write historical fiction - is how I intentionally wanted to write the story in 1991/1992, after the first Gulf War. But what I had to take into consideration was the geopolitics going on at that time. The USSR had just fallen apart. The KGB no longer existed, replaced the by FSK, which a few years later was replaced by the FSB. For a while after the USSR broke up the Russian government's relationship with Cuba was pretty lousy, although it improved eventually. My understanding is that Russia figured they had enough problems at the time that they didn't feel like throwing money at Cuba. Eventually they decided they could sell stuff to Cuba and vice versa and it improved.

If I actually decide to write "Gravedigger," which seems possible, I'll have to do some research into Pakistan in 1992. I might very well publish it on the blog, but I don't think I'll serialize it. Too much of a high-wire act.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

It seemed like a very complicated setting in a lot of ways for something short of a novel. A lot research. It sure sounded authentic to me, but then, that is to say, you convinced me because I know little about Cuba. Periods of upheaval and transition are good settings. And also, to me, slightly obscure periods are good, although I don't think most readers agree.

I think the story as is might have worked better than had he broken into the lab. Perhaps it seemed more realistic. Sometimes these thins fail. But then there's that terrific twist at the end that maybe the mission didn't fail because it wasn't about what Derek had thought it was.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think, as long as it's entertaining, there's something to be said about your character failing at something. It can cause some problems with satisfaction at the end. In this case I think it works because the satisfaction comes from Derek actually getting off the island in one piece (I hope). And of course, I got to tie in a couple things that crop up in the books, which was fun.

5:07 AM  

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