DIRE STRAITS - Chapter 4B
way contaminating or dangerous.
This Writing Life
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
DIRE STRAITS - Chapter 4B
August 31, 2011
Arlo Benita was the CEO of the CBC, but he showed an uneasy deference to Juan Osorio, particularly since Osorio was being presented to Derek as merely an escort. They sat in a large conference room with windows overlooking a courtyard, date palms waving in the breeze. Arlo Benita, Juan Osorio, Coro Gomez to translate, and three other executives from the CBC sat around the conference tables.
Benita was a fat man, probably 350 pounds, a smidge over six-feet tall. His thick graying hair was wet with sweat. Benita was a sweaty guy, his collar wet and wilting, armpit stains on his white shirt. Derek wondered if it was nerves, or if Benita just wasn’t very healthy. The building was air conditioned, but not terribly well.
The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Luis Manuel, was giving a presentation on products the CBC thought might be good for distribution in Canada. Derek had begun the meeting by talking about TLM Biotechnology and the Canadian company’s distribution relationships with various other countries. He topped it off with what TLM, he and the CIA felt would be a major carrot for CBC – a potential distribution relationship with TLM into the U.S. market, a possible way of working around the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo.
It had definitely gotten their attention. He had been instantly peppered by questions, which Coro had struggled to translate. The CBC management team wanted to know how sure he was of the feasibility of the deal, would the U.S. government prevent it, could he present numbers. He’d been forced to finally raise his hands in protest. “Gentlemen, I assure you that TLM’s lawyers have been working on this and it is entirely legal and possible. It’s the sort of thing you will have to discuss with them in detail. As you know, although I’m presenting TLM to you, I am largely a technical-business guy, so one of the principle reasons I’m here is to evaluate your technical units to determine if there’s a good technical match between our two companies. To that end, as we arranged before, I hope we can spend a significant period of time touring your facilities and meeting your technical personnel.”
It was at this gambit that Benita, glancing nervously at Osorio, began to hedge. Coro translated: “I understand, Dr. Hamill, your interest in CBC’s manufacturing facilities. You do, of course, understand that many of our technologies are…” A nervous pause while Benita met Osorio’s gaze, who spoke up to say, “Proprietary.”
“I understand,” Derek said. “However, I don’t see how we could continue much further without at least showing me some of your facilities and seeing your manufacturing processes. It’s why TLM wants this relationship, after all.”
“Of course,” Osorio interjected. “After lunch I’m sure we can begin a tour. In the meantime, I believe Senor Manuel has a presentation.”
Derek leaned forward and spoke directly to Arlo Benita. “I’m sorry. I thought Senor Osorio was my liaison.”
Benita twitched. Osorio, his oily voice losing a bit of its smoothness, said, “I’m sorry I didn’t make my role clear, Doctor Hamill. I am an advisor to the executives.”
Osorio smiled. “Legal and governmental.”
“But you do appreciate that although I am interested in the business relationship with CBC, I’m here to perform technical due diligence, as well as to set things up for further discussions. Surely, your government would approve of a distribution deal of this potential magnitude with Canada and TLM’s other partners worldwide.”
“Of course, of course. But Senor Manuel will continue with his presentation.”
And so it went. They ate a pleasant lunch where Derek primarily talked baseball – the Toronto Blue Jays – and boats – Benita owned a cabin cruiser he docked at the Marina Hemingway. Finally Osorio, Coro, and Manuel led him on a tour, starting with the vaccine research laboratories in Building 1. Derek noted the building’s security – a barcode reader that read the badge, a uniformed and security guard sitting behind a desk just inside the door. Both surmountable, if it should be necessary.
But he was most interested in a building deeper in the complex. Toward the end of the day, having only seen two buildings – but interviewed dozens of people – he had pointed to a more utilitarian building. Concrete, very few windows, a more complicated entrance that suggested higher levels of security. “What’s that building?”
Manuel, a short, thin man with receding black hair and thick glasses, a beak of a nose and a carefully groomed and greased mustache he seemed very proud of, hesitated before saying, “A vaccine manufacturing facility.”
“I’d like to see it.”
“Perhaps tomorrow,” Osorio said. “I believe it’s time to go.”
Derek shook hands and was escorted out of the complex. Coro was very quiet. Osorio, dropping him off at the hotel, said, “Tomorrow morning, Doctor Hamill. Have a good night.”
Coro looked up, as if remembering that she had a job to do. “Dinner?”
“I’m really tired tonight,” Derek said with a smile. “I think I’ll just have something light here at the hotel, write up a draft of my report and get some sleep.”
She looked almost relieved. Osorio didn’t look pleased, however. They said their goodbyes and Derek went in, bypassing going up to his room and instead went to the hotel bar, set his briefcase down beside him and ordered a beer. The bartender was a blond woman in her twenties.
He said, “There was a bartender here yesterday. I think her name was Maria. When does she come on duty?”
The young woman’s eyes grew round and she glanced nervously around. Shaking her head, she said, “She’s not here any more.” And then, for the first time since being in Cuba, he saw someone make a gesture he had been warned about – she raised a hand to her chin and pulled the hand down, as if she was stroking a beard. In being briefed for this mission, he had been told that many everyday Cubans did not like to mention Fidel Castro’s name aloud, so they used the hand-to-beard gesture to signify his – or the government’s – presence. Usually in a Big Brother Is Watching kind of way.She gave him his beer and hurried away, as if just asking about Maria had been in some
way contaminating or dangerous.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
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.
Monday, August 29, 2011
DIRE STRAITS, Chapter 3C
August 29, 2011
They ate dinner in an outdoor café that overlooked the harbor. For a moment Derek wished he wasn’t working. There were far worse ways to spend an evening than with a beautiful woman in Cuba eating good food while a warm breeze kissed your cheeks and ruffled your hair. But he’d been raised by religious folks with a positively Puritan work ethic, although neither parent approved of him in the military. Neither of them knew he had joined the CIA. It was hard to enjoy vacations when there was work to be done.
From dinner Coro led him to a series of nightclubs where they danced and drank. She encouraged him to drink and he pretended to comply, but most of his drinks were left untouched or unfinished. She was a sexy dancer, a toucher, a seducer. He wasn’t oblivious to her charms.
Closing in on midnight, he said, “Sorry to be such a killjoy, but I want to get back to the hotel and get some sleep. I’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
She gave a sexy little pout, then pressed against him, flinging her arms around his neck. “Sounds wonderful. Except the sleep part.”
Ah, temptation. He untangled her and led her toward a taxi, not a Coco Taxi this time, but a white Volkswagen. Untangling her wasn’t easy. She was about as subtle as a ball-peen hammer to the forehead. To the driver he said, “Take her home, please.”
“I’m going with you.”
“I’ll see you in the morning.” He paid the cab driver and headed down the street, slipping into the next cab to appear before she could get out of the taxi.
He was back in his hotel room within twenty minutes. Studying the room, he nodded. It appeared to have been searched. The papers on the desk seemed to have been moved, his suitcase not in the exactly the same spot. Not a terrible surprise.
Making preparations for a light night mission, Derek put on black jeans and a dark shirt. The Company preached blending in and anonymity, which did not necessarily mean dark clothes at night. However, Derek was also Army Special Forces and he was all too aware that Cuba was enemy territory.
Once he was prepped, he turned the TV on low, hoping to give listeners the notion that he slept with the TV on. Derek made appropriate sounds and motions with the lights off to make it sound as if he had gone to bed, then slipped very carefully out the door.
He took the stairs and on the main floor, avoiding the lobby, he edged out a rear exit. Unlike in the U.S., there was no alarm on the door.
Out on the street, he walked until he was several blocks from the hotel, then caught a cab. He had the cab drop him off about four blocks from the Inglaterra Hotel.
From there he walked, stair-stepping around Old Havana, slipping into the doorways of buildings, stopping at benches, leaning down occasionally to talk to a cab driver before moving on. He did not think he was being followed. Once he was confident in that, he circuitously worked his way back to Central Park and the Inglaterra Hotel. It was easy enough to stay in the shadows of one of the many buildings. It was almost two o’clock.
He became motionless.
It was quiet. The palm trees rustled in the breeze. Horns honked from further away. Occasionally a cab pulled up in front of the hotel and a guest entered the lobby.
He saw nothing.
Nobody had shown up. Perhaps they were waiting for him to make an appearance.
Perhaps his contact couldn’t make it.
Derek didn’t know what happened, but he wasn’t going to wait much longer. Then he saw movement. Across the park, he saw a figure walk out of one of the buildings and cross to a car. Juan Osorio.
Osorio talked to someone in the car. Derek saw two figures in the car, a Russian-made Lada, but couldn’t make out any details. Then Osorio did him a favor and put a cigar in his mouth and used a match to light it. The flame of the match cast just a little bit of light on the passenger in the Lada. A woman with long auburn hair.
Derek recognized her. She had been in El Floridita. He might have seen her again in one of the nightclubs, although he hadn’t been sure.
Now he was. He didn’t know who the woman was – and again, maybe because of the Lada, he got a Russian vibe off her. There were plenty of Russian military and intelligence advisers still in Cuba, despite the USSR having fallen apart last December.
And maybe she was Cuban.
It didn’t matter. Something had gone seriously wrong with the dead drop and the meeting here. He was being set up. But why? Did the Cubans know he was with the CIA? Was Derek’s support network here compromised?
He melted back into the shadows and headed back to the hotel.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
August 25, 2011
I'm going to take a momentary break from DIRE STRAITS (are you enjoying it? are you reading it? The hits are up slightly, but not dramatically) to bring to your attention - assuming many if not most or all of you are also writers - a blog post by friend and SF writer Tobias Buckell in which he so accurately describes and defines the nature of my writing neuroses that you'd think he was my therapist. Read it here.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
DIRE STRAITS, Chapter 3B
August 24, 2011
* * *
El Floridita was, without a doubt, a tourist trap. Everyone there seemed to be Canadian, Venezuelan, European or, in a few cases, Russian. Derek caught an attractive woman with reddish hair studying him. He didn’t know why, but he got a Russian vibe off her.
He and Coro pushed their way to the bar and, of course, ordered Daiquiris. They were large enough, overpriced, and he liked it. The waiters in their white shirts and red aprons were pros. He relaxed a bit. Coro said, “So, what do you think of Havana?”
“Very nice. Like the weather. Much better than Toronto.”
“I have never seen snow.”
“You’re not missing much.”
He scanned the bar. He wasn’t too wild about their location at the bar, back to the door, so he shifted on his stool so he could better scan the place.
“They say that Hemingway invented the Daiquiri,” she said. “I don’t think so.”
He shrugged. “I’m skeptical.”
“Do you like Hemingway?”
She studied him. “What don’t you like about him?”
“Machismo for machismo’s sake, I guess. It’s all about war and hunting and fishing. There’s more there, of course, but…” He shrugged. “I liked ‘The Old Man And The Sea.’”
“I like ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls.’”
“The war story.”
“And a love story.”
“I guess you’re right. Which part did you like best?”
“The love story, of course. The earth moves when they make love.”
He laughed. “Again, Papa Hemingway, excuse my skepticism.” He then excused himself and found the restroom. Taking out the slip of paper, he saw that it had a word – Corona – and a number – 12. Both were code. The Corona was a simple code for a location from a list he had memorized. This one referred to the statue to Jose Marti in front of the Inglaterra Hotel in Central Park. The number, 12, was actually a time, but not to be overly obvious, you always added 90 minutes to the time. He was supposed to meet someone at that location at 1:30 in the morning.
He flushed the paper, washed his hands and returned to Coro, who asked him if he wanted to eat there or find someplace else. Knocking off his daiquiri, he said, “Dinner and dancing, senorita!” and grinned.
“Now you’re talking!”
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Dire Straits: Chapter 3A (A Derek Stillwater novella)
August 23, 2011
Coro Gomez took Derek by the hand and headed toward the elevators. He stopped her just long enough to grab his camera off the desk. She was, he thought, way too good to be true. While training at The Farm, the CIA’s training school near Williamsburg, Virginia, he had been coached on motives for spying – how to use them to recruit spies and to be wary of them. The acronym they taught was MICE, which stood for Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego.
Sex as a way of recruitment typically fell in the Compromise bucket, because the recruitee was married or involved or perhaps a closeted gay. Under certain circumstances, it fell under Ego – flattery and vanity, certainly.
Having sex with Coro Gomez, if the opportunity arose, wouldn’t seem to compromise him because he wasn’t married or involved with anyone. It was also something he was just plain planning on avoiding, no matter how attractive and sexy she seemed. His job was to get into the CBC, evaluate its manufacturing facilities, and fly home. If possible, he was to steal a sample or take a photograph or otherwise find proof that their vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities were being used to develop and manufacture biological weapons. Bedding Coro Gomez wasn’t in the plan.
But man, she came on strong.
She strode through the hotel lobby, short skirt flaring around long tanned legs, then out onto the street where a line of cabs waited. She said, “Oh, we have to take a Coco Taxi,” and dragged him toward a bright yellow cab that seated two behind the driver in its round yellow open cockpit.
“Why do they call it a Coco Taxi?”
“It’s shaped like a coconut, silly! How do you like Havana?”
“Very nice. I haven’t seen much of it so far. And this cab doesn’t look anything like a coconut. It looks like a big round lemon.”
She laughed, girlish, cute, sexy. “Lemons aren’t really round, though, and that doesn’t sound as good as Coco. I will show you the city. Do you like to dance?”
“Sure. But it’s early. Let’s see the city a little bit. I like historic architecture.”
She laughed at him, amused. “Everything in Havana is historic architecture. You want to go to Old Havana?”
“There aren’t many clubs there. But we can walk along the Malecón.”
“Sounds great.” He wanted to see the Plaza de Armas. There was a building there with rows of collonades. In between several columns were wooden planters filled with flowers. In one of the planters was a small plastic box that would contain a message for him. “But let’s hit Old Havana first.”
Figuring out how to get her out of sight while he checked the dead-drop would be the trick.
They squeezed into the Coco Taxi, which forced them shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh. She leaned into him and rattled off a stream of incomprehensible Spanish to the driver. Derek had taken an intensive Spanish language course for this mission – his first for the CIA - but he was far from fluent. He caught very little of what she said. And he didn’t want her to know he spoke Spanish at all. If they assumed he only spoke English, maybe they would say something useful that he could catch.
In what Derek was starting to realize was a constant and necessary state of paranoia for an undercover CIA agent, he wondered if the driver was just a random taxi driver or someone working with the Cuban government. He drove from the hotel to the Malecón, a broad roadway and seawall that stretched along the coast for almost five miles from the mouth of Havana Harbor to Vedado. They climbed out and Coro told the driver something. Derek had his wallet out, but she told him he was going to pick them up a mile or two down the esplanade.
Walking alongside her as she pointed out the sites, Derek had to admit that he liked the Malecón, a broad road and walkway. It was a sunny day, evening just coming out, the blue of the ocean dark beneath a denim-colored sky. The water was restless, the occasional high wave splashing over the seawall.
“So you are a scientist?” she asked.
He was gazing at the horizon. Derek loved the water, loved the ocean. He hoped one day to own a boat. He didn’t know where that came from. His parents were missionary physicians. Home base was Florida, but he and his brother, David, just now finishing up his medical residency at Johns Hopkins, had grown up all over the world – Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and even in Cuba for six months when he was about ten. If he had to call any of them home, it would have been Sierra Leone, but in many ways he’d never really put down roots.
“Yes,” he said. “Although a scientist with a business side. That’s why I’m here. To evaluate CBC’s facilities and try to outline a possible R&D agreement with my company and the CDC.”
They walked, the ocean to their right, Old Havana to their left. They passed people every few feet – lovers out for a stroll, runners exercising, tourists taking in the view. Not as many people as Derek would have expected.
Coro chatted, asking him questions about himself. The CIA had developed a good cover for him, one similar enough to his own that it wasn’t hard to stick with it – Peter Hamill had a doctorate in biochemistry; so did Derek, although his was also in microbiology. Hamill had an MBA as well. Derek did not. Derek had been a Special Forces soldier specializing in biological and chemical terrorism and warfare. He had served in active duty during Desert Storm, a frontline cowboy. His partner, a psy-ops guy named Richard Coffee, had died there.
Peter Hamill was single. So was Derek.
Peter Hamill lived in a condo in Toronto with a view of Lake Ontario. His parents were doctors working in the Canadian healthcare system.
Derek lived in an apartment in Virginia that he spent as little time in as he possibly could. His parents were doctors currently living and working in Sri Lanka.
He slowly shifted so he was asking Coro questions, although he had doubts about the truth of her answers. She was twenty-three, unmarried, living with her parents. She worked for a translation and tourism guide firm and was regularly hired by CBC to provide translation services to English, German and Italian speaking business travelers visiting Cuba.
After walking for about a mile, she pointed to their yellow Coco Taxi. “Are you ready for food?”
“Not yet,” he said. “I want to see more of Old Havana.”
She gave a very pretty pout. “Old buildings. Don’t you want to party?”
“With you? You bet. But first, show me around the city. I’m going to be stuck in a conference room for the rest of the week and I wouldn’t be surprised if the meetings lasted into the evenings. So I want to see some of the city now before I get cooped up.”
She strode toward the taxi. Derek purposefully got a grip on her elbow and helped her in so he could get a hand on her purse. Not surprisingly, the purse was unusually heavy.
Exactly as if it contained a small handgun.
She turned to him in surprise as the purse swung away from him. A complex of emotions ran across her face. He held up the camera and snapped a picture. “Hey, sorry, I got tangled up in your purse. Smile!”
Two hours later Derek had not gotten any closer to the site of his dead-drop at La Habana Vieja, although Coro had been willing to show him Castillo del Morror and two other castles, half a dozen churches, and the National Capitol. She seemed to be intentionally avoiding Plaza de Armas.
“Now to the night clubs,” she said. “I want to dance!”
“One more place. Plaza de Armas.”
“That is, how do you say it… a tourist trap. How about we go to El Floridita. It’s on the same street. That was Hemingway’s favorite bar. We can have a daiquiri.”
He shrugged. “Maybe later. I’m a tourist. Last place. I promise.”
Reluctantly she directed the driver to Plaza de Armas. And sure enough, it was crowded with tourists. They wandered the large plaza while Coro talked about the different buildings. Finally Derek pointed for her to stand by a statue of King Fernando VII. He backed up to the planter that would hold his message and held up the camera to take a picture, then shook his head. “Hang on! I’ve got to change film.”
Coro looked disgusted. He wound up the film, popped out the cartridge, then fumbled around in his camera bag for extra film. And intentionally dropped it, so he had to bend over next to the flowers. He slid open the little box inside, withdrew a slip of paper, and stood up.
“Almost got it!” he called out, and loaded the film. Then he slammed off half a dozen shots. Mission accomplished. “Now, how about that daquiri!”
Friday, August 19, 2011
DIRE STRAITS: Chapter 2B
August 19, 2011
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.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
DIRE STRAITS, Chapter 2A
August 18, 2011
A Derek Stillwater Novella
Copyright Mark Terry 2011
Sitting in the hotel bar, Derek took a sip of his Tinima Bay beer. Juan Osorio had ordered rum. Osorio was trying to be a friendly Cuban, all Caribbean charm and manners, but Derek thought the man’s humor never made it to his eyes and his body language indicated more than a modest portion of unease.
The bar had a very Caribbean feel – padded chairs in orange and blue and peach; tropical plants, granite-topped tables, walls painted with murals of Cubo-African women carrying baskets on their heads in front of the beach.
“So, Senor Osorio,” Derek said. “Thanks for meeting me. I wasn’t aware that anyone from CBC was meeting me here. I have a meeting with Arlo Benita tomorrow morning, but I’m sure you know that.”
“Si,” Osorio said with a broad smile. “We will send a driver to pick you up and deliver you to the facility. How does nine o’clock sound?”
It sounds, Derek thought, like the DI wanted to keep an eye on him. He decided to test that out. “Thank you for the courtesy,” he said. “But I’m sure I can make my way there on my own. I’ll have the concierge call me a cab.”
“But I insist,” Osorio said. “We take care of our business partners here in Cuba. You are our guest.”
“Well, if you put it that way. Of course. Your English is very good, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Osorio said with a nod. “Do you speak Spanish, Senor?”
“Not really, no.”
Something moved in Osorio’s expression, something rippling beneath the surface. “So you will be needing a translator tomorrow?”
“Perhaps. I was assured that there were several people of the CBC’s executive team that spoke excellent English and there would be no problem.”
“Of course, of course,” Osorio said. “But I believe this is can be helped. We will provide a translator.” He pulled a notebook from his pocket and checked something, nodding. “Si. She will do. Along with your driver, Coro Gomez will assist you with any translations and anything else you might need.”
A minder. “Gracias,” Derek said with a nod. Off to his left he saw the bartender, a tall, slender Cuban woman with dark hair streaked with blond highlights, catch his eye. The Company had indicated there would be a contact at the bar of the hotel who would help him with messaging. He showed no signs he had seen anything.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Senor Hamill?”
No, you’ve done plenty. “No, I think I’m good,” Derek said.
Osorio finished his rum and said, “Shall I accompany you to your room? Do you need anything?”
“I think I’ll finish my beer. And thank you. You’ve been more than generous.”
“I hope you enjoy your stay in Cuba. Will you be dining in the hotel this evening or going out to see the city’s sites? We have many wonderful nightclubs.”
Wouldn’t you like to know? “I haven’t decided yet. I have some business papers to go over, but it would be a shame to come to Cuba and not explore a little bit.”
“Very good. Your ride will be here at 8:30 in the morning. Have a good evening.”
Derek watched Osorio disappear. A few minutes later the bartender drifted his way and asked him if he needed anything. He said he was fine. She left a bill for him to sign and returned to her post at the bar.
Sipping the beer, which had a mild fruitiness to it, Derek idly glanced at the bill. He was picking up the tab for Osorio, he saw. In addition, the bartender, whose name was Maria, had underlined her name with two lines, apparently for emphasis. It was one of a series of codes he had memorized. It indicated he was to pick up a message at a dead drop after 7:00 that evening in Old Havana.
And so it begins, he thought…
* * *
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
DIRE STRAITS: A Derek Stillwater Novella
August 17, 2011
Hi everybody! I've started a project. I will be publishing a serialized Derek Stillwater novella (unless it grows to a novel) here on my blog titled DIRE STRAITS. I can't promise you it will be posted every day (unlikely), but probably 2 or 3 times (hopefully) a week until I complete it. When it is completed I will probably also publish it as an e-book. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this story. It's a little bit different (sort of) than the Derek Stillwater novels in that it's a flashback (prequel). I think we'll all learn a little bit more about Derek here. Enjoy (and wish me luck).
p.s. And tell your friends!
The stolen kayak rode hard in the swells. Derek Stillwater slouched in the cockpit, gazing south toward Cuba only a few miles behind him. He was fairly certain he had avoided the Cuban Navy, but he couldn’t count on it. There were boat lights out there and he could only hope that a kayak wouldn’t show up on their radar before he made it to international waters.
It was almost midnight and dark roiling clouds blotted out the stars. The clouds didn’t bode well. A storm was brewing. A big one.
It was approximately one hundred miles of open water, sharks and bad weather to cross the Florida Straits back to the U.S. Not to mention that the Cuban government would like to catch him, arrest him for espionage, torture him, try him – probably in that order – and have him shot by firing squad, no last requests, no hand-rolled Cohiba cigar.
He dug in his paddle, keeping the dark smudge and dim lights of Havana to his back.
* * *
Five Days Earlier
The flight from Toronto, Canada landed at the Jose Marti International Airport southwest of Havana, clunking down heavily on the runway. In the airport, Derek Stillwater, wearing a summer weight tan suit, presented his passport.
The Cuban inspector studied it. “Senor Peter Hamill.”
“The purpose of your trip?”
“I’m with a biotechnology company located in Toronto, Ontario.”
“Where will you be staying?”
“The Riviera Hotel.”
“Length of stay?”
“One week, two if necessary.”
After some suspicious mulling, the inspector stamped his passport and allowed him into the country. It was 1992. The Soviet Union was in financial disarray and their relationship and economic support to Cuba had become tenuous at best. Dr. Derek Stillwater, PhD, fresh out of the U.S. Army after Operation Desert Storm, was attached to the Central Intelligence Agency, an expert on biological and chemical warfare and terrorism.
The U.S. was concerned about Cuba’s biotech industry. Derek and other analysts believed Cuba was developing biological weapons. Derek’s job was to confirm it.
Outside the airport, Derek stopped to let the tropical breeze kiss his cheeks and ruffle his hair. The air was a little smoggy – there were surprisingly more cars than he had expected, although many of them seemed to be U.S. vintage 1950s and ‘60s – he saw a 1956 Chevy Bel Air, the only one he could recognize, but there were plenty of others.
A line of taxis waited. He strolled toward a white cab, a Volkswagen. His Spanish was slim and not part of his cover anyway. The cabbie quickly shifted over to English and they negotiated a price to the Riviera Hotel.
* * *
The Riviera Hotel was a high-rise in blue and white, vaguely reminiscent of 1950s architecture, or what Derek thought might merely be Pre-Revolution Glitz. He checked in at the desk. Just as he was turning over his passport, someone behind him cleared his throat.
Derek turned. The speaker was a short, Cuban man wearing a dark slacks, a white shirt and what looked like a cashmere sport coat. “Si? Who are you?”
The man held out his hand. “I am Juan Osorio. I will be your liaison with the Centro de Biotecnologia Cuba.” The CBC, the company Derek was to inspect because the CIA believed it was a front for the development of offensive biological weapons. And what were the odds, he thought, -- was Senor Osorio actually with the CBC or somehow affiliated with the Direccion de Intelligencia, Cuba’s intelligence organization? The safe money bet on Juan Osorio being with the DI.
“Pleased to meet you,” Derek said, shaking his hand.
Copyright Mark Terry 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Success & Marketing Thoughts
August 16, 2011
I was thinking about this today, and I'm not going to draw conclusions. I was thinking about the enormously successful writer Harlan Coben. I actually was introduced to his work by an article in the now-defunct magazine The Armchair Detective. Harlan and two other mystery writers early in their careers had gone on a self-financed book tour together, the three of them in a car driving all over the east coast and south hitting bookstores and giving talks and doing signings, etc.
Harlan, as I think we know, has gone on to an enormous international career.
As far as I can tell, the other two are no longer being published at all. They wrote a handful of books and just, well, disappeared.
What does that mean?
They were all being published more or less at the same time, they were writing somewhat similar materials, they were being equivalently aggressive in their marketing and yet... one of them got struck by lightning and the others, well...
I don't actually think Harlan is more talented than his partners in that long ago drive, although maybe he is. Something happened, certainly. One thing I do know is Harlan started writing a different kind of book than he was earlier in his career.
Or maybe it's all just capriciousness.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
The Fortress of Diamonds - cover art
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
I just received my complimentary copies of the trade paperback version of THE FALLEN. For those of you who don't have Kindles, where it's going very, very cheap ($1.99, I believe) or who don't want to purchase hardcovers, the trade paperback version is officially out on August 11 and can be pre-ordered! Yes, pre-ordered!
THE FALLEN is pretty much "'Die Hard' at the G8 Summit."
This novel, by the way, won the USA Book News Best Books 2010 Award for Thriller/Adventure novel.
"When you open Mark Terry's latest thriller, the very first page will launch you on a journey that will have you reaching to turn each page more quickly than it can be read. Wow! Good book....The suspense is thrilling, the plot tightly written, the characters realistic and the pace calls for a breather every so often."
—Mary Ann Smyth for Bookloons
"Tense from the first page, The Fallen maintains its intensity up to the very end, and Stillwater is both a sympathetic and believable hero. Readers of previous Stillwater novels will eagerly wait to see him in action again, and those new to the series will seek out his earlier adventures."
—Jeff Ayers for Booklist
"Blisteringly paced and unrelenting, Mark Terry's The Fallen reminded me of 'Day of the Jackal,' but with a modern polish. With a ripped-from-the-headlines urgency, here is a novel that will keep people talking long after the last page is turned."
—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of "The Doomsday Key"
Monday, August 01, 2011
Thought Du Jour
August 1, 2011
At the risk of overstating the obvious...
My wife is on vacation for 2 weeks (I am not) and today she went running and after getting back, she commented that she was having a lousy summer getting into a groove running, but she was going running tomorrow (she's a fine runner and we've been kayaking and doing tons of karate this summer).
I idly (I was doing stomach exercises on the living room floor because I was too lazy to go to the gym today) said, "If it's important to you, make time for it."
Well, duh. But that applies to all sorts of things in our lives, doesn't it?