Happy Holidays And Peaceful Thoughts

I read today some “predictions” for the coming year of 2017.  For those who are interested in this type of thing, you will not be disappointed.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, claiming to see into a future that the rest of us cannot.

I was struck by the starkness of the statements.  None could be supported by facts, of course, but they also did not take into account cumulative cause-and-effect theories (also known a causality), nor the emotions that can put a powerful sway on what we see or perceive.  Instead, they just stood as isolated statements and, frankly, I found most of them to be fear-based.

This all left me with a “thank you, but no thank you” feeling.  I think I would rather work through the future as it is dealt out to me — a spoonful here, a spoonful there.

If you have read any of my past blogs, you know I’m a genuine (flag-waving) optimist that believes that in America and other democratic societies, we have a choice of free will.  That choice alone creates opportunity and it creates hope.  It also depends on belief.  Belief that when the chips are down, you and your fellow man/woman will make the right decision — that your actions will be reflections of the consciousness that comes from the heart.

I believe we all can and do make a difference.  Part of Pope Francis’s recent Christmas message was directed at just that thought:

Peace on earth to men and women of goodwill, who work quietly and patiently each day, in their families and in society, to build a more humane and just world, sustained by the conviction that only with peace is there the possibility of a more prosperous future for all.”

So, I leave you with some thoughts to contemplate as we enter a new year. I wish each and every one of you a Happy Holiday.  To my friends in Israel and across the world, I wish you a Happy Hanukkah.

Thank you all for reading and being part of my blog.

Shalom … Peace …

Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 13 and 14

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Cairo Awaits

It was two hours later when Stiles and Marc arrived at the hangar, meeting up with the two other pilots who had just signed for the fuel.  Marc threw his bags onboard, while Ashton was preforming his preflight inspection of the aircraft.  A few moments later, he entered the cabin and closed the door, rotating the handle to the lock position, and moved to the flight cabin.  Marc felt the craft slowly being pulled out of the hangar, then the subtle whine of the Fanjets coming to life.  Ashton had just finished his check list when a blur of a crimson red car slid to a stop directly in front of the craft.  Ashton looked back into the main cabin saying, “Marc, I think someone’s looking for you!”  Marc got up and moved to the cockpit door looking out the front window as Dara pulled her car around the side of the aircraft and into the hangar.  Marc turned to the main cabin door, unlocked and rotated the lever opening the door.  Dara was already standing anxiously waiting for the steps to appear.  As she entered the cabin, Marc said, “I’m beginning to think you just enjoy bizarre entrances, or is it just this aircraft?”  Dara smiled then said, “I haven’t been to Cairo in two, maybe three years, and I was planning to take some time off anyway, so any objections?”  Marc smiled saying, “Well, shut the door.”

Marc had to admit, the flight time went by much faster with Dara onboard the craft.  He didn’t know what would become of their relationship, but every time they spent time together, it was a bit more difficult to depart.  He knew it was a bit early to be thinking these things, but it’s not like anyone’s truly in control of their destiny, or the detours it brings.

Later, Marc awoke, finding Dara asleep with her head in his lap.  He reached over and opened the curtain on the window.  He could see billowy clouds tinted orange from the imminent sunrise, just as he sensed the tone of the engines change to a lesser whine.  The landing gear emitted a clunking sound as it locked into the down position.  Dara was startled slightly, sat up and looked out the window.  Marc said, “We’re on approach; Eyan should be there when we arrive.”  Ashton was smooth.  Marc heard the tires cry out, but never felt the touch down.  The sun had not quite arrived on station as yet, but as usual, it was another beautiful day in paradise.  Marc once again flashed back to his youth and his time spent on the islands.

As the Gulfstream rolled up to the private terminal and began its shutdown, Marc said to Dara, “Why don’t you see if you can find some open shops?  I know you’re going to need some stuff,” referring to the fact that she had brought no bags.  Dara, looked up and smiled, then said, “Any special requests?”  Marc just smiled.  His attention was drawn to the cabin door; he heard knocking from outside.

A short time later, they were once again en route.  Marc had called Ricardo Ruiz, the arms dealer in Madrid before departing.  He had made arrangements with Ricardo to use his various contacts to arrange for a vehicle and the various weapons he had selected for this mission, and to have them waiting near the Cairo International Airport.  Ricardo was proving to be a valuable asset.  Moving arms around the globe quickly is not an easy task in this day and age.  When a bona fide arms dealer can simply pick up a phone and legally arrange for this to happen, it vastly simplifies matters.

About halfway to their Cairo destination, Stiles retreated to the rear of the craft after turning over his flight duties to the other pilots, hoping to get some shut-eye.  About seven hours later, he was slightly startled awake, hearing the pitch of the engines changing harmonics; they were starting their decent once again.  He rose and moved about the cabin gently waking the others; Ashton above all, was a perfect gentleman.

The Sat phones had been once more activated and instructions had been given to the senior pilot to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel, about thirty minutes’ flight time to the east-northeast and wait on station at Ben-Gurion Airport for their call.  Stiles did not want someone commandeering the aircraft while they were en route to and from the apartment near Tahrir Square.

As they were entering the terminal doors, Marc’s Sat phone started to flash, and then emitted two nearly-silent beeps.  Marc answered; it was Ricardo on the line. Now Marc was really impressed with the man.  He said, “Mr. Bracken, there’s been a small change in the program, the vehicle will pick up your party at the curb in front of the terminal.  The driver will be wearing a bright pink scarf with a sign saying “Uncle Tom,” his name is Akil; he will be alone.  He is my nephew and can be trusted.  He is very familiar with the area and I taught him to shoot well.  I hope he can be of service.”  Marc was more than astounded; he was now just shaking head in disbelief, saying, “Ricardo, this is beyond the call.  Are you sure you’re OK with this?  You know I can’t guarantee his safety.”  Ricardo’s response was, “Mr. Bracken, in this part of the world when a young man picks up a rifle, he has become a man.  If he can help, reward him in kind, that’s all I ask.”  Marc said, “Thank you, Ricardo.  This could help immensely.  I’ll be in touch.”  Then he ended the call.

The terminal was not as busy as one would have thought. Several of the airlines had shut their kiosks and security was all but non-existent; customs had only two uniformed agents working.  They were basically waving people through the turnstiles, no luggage checks, and only speaking to an occasional passenger.  The team, as it was, all passed without incident and walked directly through the terminal to the main exit.  Marc began to search for Akil, looking at the assorted vehicles parked along the curb.  As he turned to the right, the third car up the street was not like most of the others and the man standing next to it nearly brought Marc to open laughter.  Akil was about six-foot, three inches tall and resembled a running back in the NFL. He was a very strange sight standing there with a shocking pink neck scarf holding the sign that read “Uncle Tom.”  Akil appeared to be in his early thirties, was very muscular, and spoke English as if he had gone to school in the States.

The Cairo International Airport was about ten miles from the area that Tahrir Square occupied, near the center of the city.  Along the way, they passed by a series of apartment buildings and went through several antiquated industrial areas.  The city itself was archaic but, over the years, some of it had been redeveloped, while other parts looked much as they did millenniums ago.  About two-thirds of the way toward the Square, Akil pulled off a main road and traveled a long block down a side street, and pulled up to a compound.  The walls were twelve or fourteen feet high with a large sheet metal gate.  Akil beeped his horn twice.  A moment later, a small metal door opened within the gate.  Akil waved to the man peering from the opening.  A few seconds later, the car pulled into the compound and the gate closed behind it.  Akil invited them into the structure.  The exterior of the building was quite old but, as they walked inside, the architecture was neo-modern with a strong Western influence.

Akil showed them to what appeared to be the main living area.  He said something to a man in the room, speaking in Arabic, and the man then disappeared.  He turned and picked up a remote control unit from an end table and pushed several buttons.  A very large flat-screen television arose from a credenza mounted alongside a wall.  Marc turned to Dara and the others saying, “Now maybe we can see what going on in real time.”   Akil was dialing up CNN International on the satellite receiver as he said, “Things have been extremely dynamic in the last two days.  The police have chased the people from the Square and the people have just this morning retaken it.”  Marc pulled out some photographs; they were satellite screen captures of the apartment building that the client’s daughter-in-law and son were sequestered in.  The building was one block south of the southernmost point of Tahrir Square, well within the confines of the government’s blockade.  They were going to need the cover of night and a serious amount of luck getting in and out of the area in total anonymity safely.

The man Akil had spoken to earlier returned to the room and gestured to Akil.  He turned to the team and said, “I have taken the liberty to prepare dinner for us all.  I hope this is not being too presumptuous.” Just then, the other man opened a rather large sliding door revealing a beautiful dining room and a fully set table.  Eyan said, “Akil, as far as I’m concerned, you can be as presumptuous as you like.  Thank you for your hospitality.”  They all enjoyed the dinner; it had been some time since they had truly sat down and eaten.

When they were done, they retired back to the main room and began to discuss a plan.  In a short period of time, Akil had become an integral part of the puzzle.  Over the next four hours, they had formulated a plan which was predicated on some form of contact with the two semi-hostages.  Marc had the cell contact number and, after checking the time the sun was currently setting at their location during this time of year, he decided to contact them.  He dialed the number and just as quickly heard a rapid beeping sound indicating a system overload.  Akil said, “We need to try them between four and five in the morning. It’s the best chance we have at getting through.”  He said, “The real problem is the power has been cut to the area for several days and if their phone has been on all this time, the batteries are certainly depleted.”  It was nearing twelve o’clock midnight when they were shown to their individual rooms, again surprising them all.  Marc and Dara had just settled down in their bed, but were finding it hard to sleep, as they lay talking of the planned mission.  Marc had set his smart phone alarm to sound at four fifteen in the morning to try and establish contact with the woman and her son.  For the first time since Marc and Dara had been seeing each other, they had simply passed out lying next to each other, physically exhausted and mentally expended.

It was a rude awakening at four something in the morning for both of them, but the plan was demanding action.  Marc redialed the number.  It rang once, twice, then three times.   Then it went straight to voicemail; the line went dead.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Will It Work?

As daylight breaks over the city, the group is somewhat lethargic; the time zones had taken their toll.  As they started to congregate in the kitchen area of the compound, things began to clarify.  Marc, Akil and Dara were drinking their second cup of Arabic coffee when Ashton and Eyan entered the kitchen area.  The general mood was somewhat diminished due the fact that Marc was unable to establish contact with the primaries.  They all began collectively brainstorming the problem, looking for any and all avenues of success.  The reality was evident after a time, they would need to go in blind and deal with the cards as they fell.

For the better part of the day, they stayed glued to the news channels absorbing any and all information that could be gleaned.  In the early afternoon, they began assembling the gear needed for the mission.  Akil, once again, proved to be invaluable.  He had contacts in the area of the Square that would call and report the goings on in real time.  Marc asked about them and Akil said they were mostly made up of his cousins and nephews.   It was almost spooky that in this time of turmoil, in such an ancient city, the cellular service seemed to be the most reliable of all modes of communication.

When it came to the weaponry they potentially needed for the mission, Marc finally asked Akil, “What were you able to acquire of my wish list?”  Akil’s eyes lit up as if it were Christmas.  He turned saying, “Let me show you what I’ve been able to put together.”  They followed him down a hallway and through a door, down steps to a basement entrance that vaguely resembled a door that could be used at Fort Knox.  The door required three separate methods of unlocking, an electronic mag key, a keypad then a biometric fingerprint reader before access was granted.  As they entered the room, Akil flipped on the light.  Marc stood in sheer amazement as he realized now that Akil was the Egyptian equivalent of Ricardo.  The room was full of any firearm one might need.  The look on Akil’s face was that of man who was proud of what he had accomplished.  Then, a rather unexpected statement poured from his lips. “Perhaps, if we’re smart and just a bit lucky, we will not need these tools to achieve our objective.”  At this point Marc realized that Akil was certainly not what he had pictured, seeing him standing on the curb at the airport.  Marc’s past experiences in this region of the globe had tainted him.  He had come to believe that most, if not all the people, were extremists and prone to action without a forethought.  It was very calming to know otherwise.

As night began to fall, they began loading the two vehicles that Akil had acquired for the task.  Marc and Eyan had been in Cairo many times before, but this time was different.  As the team loaded into the vehicles preparing to depart, the tension in the air was extremely heavy.  The looks on the faces of the people in the streets were impossible to miss on the drive from the airport.  Some expressed fear, others anguish, and then there were those whose faces seemed blank, without expression, as if they had lost all hope.  This was not the Cairo, or the people, they had remembered at all.

Ten minutes later, the vehicles came to a halt after pulling into an alleyway, about three blocks to the south of Tahrir Square.  Everyone in the group donned their protective vests, and then dressed in Arab garb, hopefully allowing them to blend in and have some added protection, as they set off into the night.  The five of them formed into a covert fire team, one on point, each subtly covering the other’s movement, and one always covering the rear.  They made their way past alleys and doorsteps for the entire two block distance until they reached the apartment’s location.  As they approached the building and prepared for the planned extraction, the air was laden with both the smoke from the fires of the encampment at the Square and the occasional whiff of CS gas that the police, still loyal to the President, were using to contain the crowds.  Then, of course, there was the occasional sporadic gun fire.

Marc once again pulled out his Sat phone and redialed the apartment above.  There was still no answer.  Akil tried his cell phone; to his surprise, he still had service.  Most of the people that had been calling in reports were saying that they needed to move several blocks from the Square to get service.  He called each of the two vehicles to verify they had reached their predetermined pickup points; they both reported they had. Marc and Akil made their way into the building; the others would filter in behind.  It was extremely dark.  They had been informed that the power was off in the general area before the mission had started.  As they entered the candlelit lobby, they were approached by two people dressed in Western-style clothing.  Marc instinctively knew they were armed by the way their suit jackets were tailored. As they walked up, one hung back, his hand was extended into his breast pocket – a second confirmation of his suspicions.  The first man said something in Arabic and Akil started to respond, but just then, four other men appeared from doorways around the lobby, similarly dressed.  Despite Akil’s pleadings with the man, he was becoming more and more agitated by the second, continuing to insist that they must leave the building.  By this time, the others had, one by one, entered the building and began to disperse in the lobby.  As things were now beginning to look hopeless, Marc removed his hood and started to address the man in English.  The man was taken by surprise and his demeanor began to rapidly change.  Marc said, “We have come to escort an American family to safety at the request of their family in America.  They were trapped when the riots broke out.”  The man replied in surprisingly good English, saying, “Do you have any way to prove what you say is true?” Marc looked up at the man and said, “I have the name of the person who rents apartment 703 in this building and the names of both his wife and son that hopefully are still holed up here waiting for us.” The man replied, “What is this man’s name?” Marc said, “Thomas Marquand, apartment 703.”  The man asked them to remain there while he checked the register.  When he returned, he said, “If what you say about helping them is true, then perhaps we can make an arrangement,” as a subtle smile appeared upon his face.  Ten minutes later, the team was making their way up the stairs to the seventh floor, but only after Marc had bribed the man with $500 US.   Akil seemed upset that Marc had let the man manipulate him in such a way, but Marc simply said, “Sometimes it’s easier, and a lot safer, to skip buying the bullets and just pay the end user.”

When they reached the seventh floor, Marc opened the door to the hallway, stepped out of the staircase and slowly entered.  When he raised his flashlight looking down the hall, he could see chairs and furniture stacked in clumps.  Then he saw movement and someone yelled out in Arabic.  He turned to Akil and he translated, “They want us to leave them alone. He said they have no money or food, but he says they are armed.”  Marc said to Akil rather loudly, “Ask them if they know Mr. Marquand in room 703?”  But before Akil had the chance, a voice from down the hall said in English, “Yes, I know Mr. Marquand, do you?  What is his first name?”  Marc answered, “Thomas, we are looking for his wife and son.”  The man then said, “Why would you be searching for them?”  Marc replied, “We were contracted to provide safe passage out of the country for the two of them by Thomas’s father back in the US.”  A man in his mid-forties stepped from behind a furniture barrier a short distance down the hall and walked toward them.  He was carrying in his right hand an antiquated snub-nose .38 revolver.  As he approached, Marc said to the man, “I suggest you throw that snub-nose away and find some good rocks to throw.  You’ll have better luck hitting something with the rocks.”  The man looked down at the gun he was holding in the palm of his hand and said, “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never had a reason to fire it before.”  The man had a slight build, was dressed in casual Western-style clothing, and wore wire-rimmed glasses.  There was a brief introduction.  He said his name was Jacob Rubin and he also worked for the State Department, like Marquand.  He said he worked in a different department and was on call as a translator.  He lived just down the hall in apartment 706.

Marc asked Jacob if Thomas’ wife and son were OK.  He answered saying, “The son is fine, but his mother has been ill for the past few days.  She and the boy have only been here a short time.”  Then he went on to say, “Many suffer this fate during an adjustment period to the food and water.”  They walked around the barriers down the hall and then came to a door with the numbers 703.  Rubin knocked on the door, turned to Marc, and said, “I haven’t talked to them since yesterday morning.”  Just then, the door opened slightly and a young man peered out through the partially open door, still chained.  Marc said, “Max, my name is Marc.  Your grandfather, Nicklaus, has sent us to help you and your mother.  Can we come in?”  The boy’s face lit up as he fidgeted with the chain lock and opened the door wide saying, “Mom’s in the bedroom getting dressed.  She’s feeling better tonight but she’s still really weak.  I was just going to fix her something to eat.”  It was more than obvious that the boy was overwhelmed by the responsibility that had been placed upon him.  Dara spoke up saying, “While you’re whipping up some food, I’ll see how your Mom is faring,” as she asked Max which way it was to the bedroom.

A short time later, the two women emerged from the bedroom.  Dara following very close behind Mrs. Marquand with her hands on her shoulders as she was none too stable as she walked into the room.  Marc looked over at Eyan with a concerned expression.  They both knew that the task at hand was going to be difficult enough without extenuating circumstances.  Over the next few hours, the team had jointly made the decision not to carry out the extraction until the following night, as Mrs. Marquand was much too depleted for the current window of opportunity.  Dara administered some of the medications from their standard med kits.  Mrs. Marquand began to show signs of improvement as the evening progressed.

Akil and Stiles were taking turns out in the hallway with Jacob Rubin, making sure that there were no surprises during the night.  Akil had called the two drivers and rescheduled the pickup time for the next evening having them return to station shortly after dark.  It was summertime in Cairo and the sun would rise at five in the morning and set at nearly seven in the evening.

The boy and his mother were sleeping in the bedroom; it was just before sunrise and Dara had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room.  Marc had taken the midnight shift in the hall, and had been relieved by Eyan sometime after two in the morning.  Everyone but Dara had taken a turn on watch; she had taken on the duties of nurse looking out after the woman and the boy, Max.

Marc was sitting in a chair near the window looking to the northwest toward Tahrir Square.  There was a large park area just below the apartment building and a wide tree-lined avenue on each side of the park that lead to the Square that was less than 200 meters’ distance.  Marc had tried to sleep, but was unsuccessful.  The sunrise was beginning to cast a peaceful shade of orange on the high stratus clouds over the city, as Marc noticed Dara starting to stir.  She opened her eyes and smiled upon seeing Marc watching her.  She got up from the couch and walked over to Marc and began to massage his shoulders from behind.  Marc let his head fall forward as she kneaded his neck with both hands.  As he raised his head, she bent down and kissed the side of his forehead.  Marc reached up placed his hand on the right side of her face and then returned the kiss. She sat down next to him and they quietly talked while watching the sun’s rays begin to strike the buildings around the Square.

As the light of day crept into the apartment and the smell of coffee began to overpower the smoke wafting up from the Square below.  The team began to consider the options that lay before them.  The intermittent gunfire from below had ceased during the night and now the silence was almost as disturbing.  Akil walked into the apartment from the hall saying, “I just received a call; the loyalists to Mubarak have retaken the Square during the night and are in control of the general area.”  Marc said, “I knew something was going on.  I heard a lot of vehicles, about three this morning, then shouting.”

Later, after all of them had eaten, they gathered in the living room to discuss the plan of action that would lie ahead.  Marc turned and said, “Mrs. Marquand, how are you feeling this morning?” She replied, “Much better, thank you.  Please call me Renae.” After a short conversation, they determined that they would go ahead with the extraction after sunset.  Each of the men took turns throughout the day on hall duty.  When Marc was taking his turn, he had a chance to talk to Jacob, the man down the hall in 706.  He learned that he was an unmarried man on his second duty station for the State Department.  He was off duty when the evacuation from the embassy had taken place and didn’t learn about it for several hours because the cellular service was down.  Marc also learned that the top floor of the apartment building was leased by the Embassy for the staff based in Cairo.  The other people that lived in the building were on duty when the evacuation occurred.  Marc was sensing uneasiness in Jacob’s voice as he spoke, saying he just wasn’t sure how he would manage after the team pulled out with the Marquands.  After Marc had been relieved from hall duty, he was talking to Stiles about the aircraft and the passenger capability. Stiles informed him that even as it was with just the woman and boy, it would be a two-trip affair getting all the people out of Egypt air space to a safe location.  Marc queried Stiles as to the possibility of Jacob being included on the second flight out. Stiles said, “If we don’t refuel before returning to Israel, it shouldn’t be problem.” That was all Marc needed to hear. He went to the hall door that was now kept open for air flow and walked down the hall to 706 and knocked on the door.  Jacob answered the door, wiping the sleep from his eyes, and saying, “What’s going on?” Marc said, “Can you be ready to leave at sundown with us?” All Marc needed to see was the relieved expression upon his face to know the answer.  Jacob said, “I could walk out this moment if I needed to.”  Marc smiled and said, as he turned to walk back to the other apartment, “Try and get some rest, we’ll assemble later down the hall.”

The sun was hanging low in the western sky.  Akil was on his cell phone trying to make contact with his drivers – to no avail – the grid was down.  Marc fished his Sat phone from his carry bag and tossed it to Akil saying, “Make it quick as possible, those batteries won’t last long.”  Akil made contact with them and verified the time and locations once more, and then hung up saying everything was set and that he had his drivers change vehicles, moving up to larger cube vans.

By early evening, Renae had improved a great deal and her pale color had returned to a natural hue.  They all began to suit up for the extraction.  Stiles had offered his vest to Jacob, but it was too large to be of help.  Dara had offered hers to Renae, but she instead gave it to Max, politely saying it most likely wouldn’t fit her anyway as she was a size 10 and Dara was maybe a size 6.  It fit the boy perfectly after Dara adjusted the upper torso straps tighter. Jacob had several extra Arabic galabaya’s – men’s traditional garb – which he gave to Renae and Max.

It was now shortly before eight in the evening, as they set out from the apartment’s location.  Akil had briefed everyone on the location of the pickup vehicles, just in case they were separated, or worse.  With the crowd at the Square being dispersed, it was now very quiet on the streets. Akil cautioned everyone to be as quiet as possible as they made their way toward the nearest pick-up point.  They were moving in the same fashion as they had arrived.  Marc was on point; Akil was covering the back door.  Dara was paired with Max and Stiles had Renae as a partner; Eyan was near the middle of the group with Jacob.   Marc had reached the end of the first block to the south, and then turned and signaled to Dara to bring Max to his location, as he stepped back into a darkened entryway.  They were almost to Marc’s location when headlights flashed from around the corner just beyond Marc’s position.  Dara grabbed Max’s arm and began to retreat toward an entryway to a door to her right.  She grasped the lever, and then realized it was locked.  She looked up the street as a truck turned the corner, the headlights illuminating both her and the boy standing in the entryway.  The truck pulled up right in front of them and stopped.  There were three men in the truck, the driver and two others standing in the bed, leaning on the cab.  The two in the bed jumped out and approached them, speaking loudly in Arabic while waving their weapons in the air.  Dara was doing her best to conceal her assault rifle holding it close between her and Max.  The first man walked up, then reached out and slapped the hood back off the top of her head.  She looked up but stood her ground as the man was somewhat shocked at the fact she was a woman dressed in men’s clothing.  Marc had moved to the back of the vehicle and was making his way around to the passenger side.  The man turned to say something to the other, when he saw Marc’s movement.  He raised his free hand up to his rifle.  Dara pushed Max away to the ground and swung her assault rifles butt around, slamming it against the side of the man head.  As he was going down, the driver decided to vacate the area and sped off quickly. The third man let out a gasping sound as a knife thrown by Akil struck him in the neck just below the jaw.  He fell to his knees then backwards grasping for his neck.  Dara reached down and grabbed Max’s hand and pulled him to his feet and then guided him back to his mother’s position away from the bodies. There was no way of knowing if these were police out of uniform, or loyalists, or even perhaps just thugs.

The team reassembled and moved off down the street to the south as quickly as they could, knowing that the estranged driver may be bringing others back.  They had traversed nearly the entire distance to the pickup site, when they heard other vehicles approaching from their rear.  Marc shouted out to Dara to get the Marquands to the truck in the alley just ahead.  Akil went with her so there would be no mistaking of identity as they approached the vehicles.  As an afterthought, he also sent Jacob with them.  The three remaining took cover and prepared for the worst.  They could now see multiple sets of headlights moving toward them in the darkness.  As they drew closer, Marc could make out an open jeep in the lead with a machine gun mounted on the back, silhouetted by the truck’s headlight behind it.  Eyan could see better from his position and noticed still another vehicle bringing up the rear.  One advantage they had was the streets in this neighborhood were very narrow.  Eyan signaled to the others that a third vehicle was in play.  Marc yelled out to take out the jeep and hopefully create a logjam for the other vehicles.  All three of them began to fire upon the jeep, their assault rifles set on full automatic.  The jeep veered sharply but, instead of jamming the street, it busted through a courtyard wall and disappeared, allowing the other vehicles to advance unencumbered.  They were now beginning to receive small arms fire in return from the oncoming vehicles. Marc signaled to the others to fall back toward the alleyway in hopes that the truck would be waiting, ready to bolt.  Just as they got to the corner, Marc saw Akil running toward them carrying something in both hands, larger than a common rifle, but it was too dark to see what it was.  As he approached he said, “Let’s see if this will slow them down,” as he raised a Soviet-style RPG-7 to his shoulder and took aim at the lead truck. Marc, standing to his side, tapped him twice on his head indicating that the rear back-blast was clear, as he fired the weapon with deadly accuracy.  The truck was now only sixty meters away, as the rocket’s shape charge pushed its way into the cab and exploded, ripping into the bed area of the vehicle.  Marc saw several dark silhouettes of men being thrown into the air, as the canvas covering the truck’s bed shredded and burst into flames.  The truck turned slightly, and then the front right wheel became lodged between two large, imbedded granite stones, bringing it to a rapid and complete stop as it became totally engulfed in a ball of orange and white flames.  Akil and Marc had just managed to turn around and begin to move toward the transport vehicle when a massive concussion from behind lit up the entire area and hit them.  It was so intense that Marc nearly lost his footing.  He looked at Akil questioningly, as if to ask, “What kind of round was fired at the truck?” Then, just as quickly, he realized it was a secondary explosion from the truck’s cargo area.  They both looked back toward the truck only to see a large crater where it had been, as debris, some still burning, rained down all around them.  They both began to run toward the truck as the driver pulled out from the alleyway and stopped.  As soon as they were aboard, Stiles rapped on the back window of the cab signaling the driver to go.  As they sped off into the darkness, the streets were devoid of all traffic, which helped them move quickly away from the area.  But this also made them a point of interest for any military or police patrols that were in their vicinity, due to newly-imposed sunrise-to-sunset curfew.

The truck had gone but a few blocks when everyone in the back was thrown toward the cab, as the driver pulled over and slammed on the brakes of the truck when he saw a convoy of military vehicles traversing the next intersection ahead.  He quickly extinguished the lights on the truck so they would not garner the attention of the convoy.  They sat there for several minutes as truckloads of men and equipment passed by the crossroad accompanied by several tanks.  No one said a word, but they all knew the convoy was headed toward Tahrir Square.  After the vehicles had passed, Akil rapped on the back of the cab motioning to the driver to proceed.  He turned to Marc saying, “I knew this was coming, but I thought it would be later – not now.  I need to warn my contacts at the Square.”  There was no need for Marc to respond to Akil’s statement. The tenseness in his voice and the expression upon his face was easily read by those around him.

As the truck resumed its jagged path through the city streets, Marc couldn’t separate his thoughts from Akil’s dilemma.  The man had been invaluable to this mission and had, without exception, been there at every bend of the road.

They soon reached Akil’s compound and quickly pulled in and shut the large entry gates behind.  Once everyone was safely inside, Akil arranged for the Marquands and Jacob to have their first real food in days.  After dinner, they were gathered around the table sipping wines from Akil’s wine cellar. The team began to address the next portion of the extraction.  Stiles spoke up calling everyone’s attention to the TV.  A news bulletin banner was flashing on the screen.  The Square was now in the control of the people, once again.  A short time later, Marc excused himself and found Akil in the next room.  He was just ending a phone call as Marc entered the room.  Marc once again could see a look of frustration on Akil’s face saying, “Akil, pardon the intrusion, but I assume you’re concerned about your friends and family at the Square?” Akil said, “I am.  Am I that easy to read?”  Marc replied, “Perhaps only by those who have come to know you, but yes.” He went on to say, “Our extraction is nearly complete and with your help, these people will be safe by tomorrow afternoon, but Akil what about your dilemma?”  He looked up saying, “This is not your fight, Marc.” Marc said, “And you would tell me this extraction was yours?  I don’t think so.  It’s obvious you care about these people even though you have just met them. Dara and Stiles are escorting the others to Israel tomorrow.  Once they are on Israeli soil and truly safe, Stiles will wait for my request for extraction before returning.  I’ve told him that may be several days depending on what you have planned.  Now, are we on the same page?”  The look on Akil’s face was that of appreciation.  He knew he would most likely need help, but he was not the type of person to ask for it, especially from these people that he had just met.

Akil said, “Marc I don’t have a clue how to go about this, or even if my friends will still be there or want to come away from the Square.  If the military makes a move, this could get real ugly, really quick.  Some seem to think the army will side with us but I’m not so sure.”

Copyright © 2016; All Rights Reserved

Iran and the Boeing Deal: How Will The New Administration Weigh In?

On the back of recent media coverage of President-elect Trump’s recent boasts of having struck a deal with the Indiana company, Carrier, that would prevent an exportation of 1,800 jobs to Mexico — a move which some observed only gave American companies a road map into how to receive extra tax breaks and incentives — I read with interest a story about Iran signing a record $16.6 billion dollar deal with Boeing for 80 737 and 777 model aircraft.  Iran is also in the final stages of sealing a deal with Airbus as well, for another 118 aircraft.

Under sanctions for decades, Iran has long employed the use of improvised parts or those that have been smuggled into their country.  Now, with the lifting of these sanctions, they are now in a position — and are anxious — to replace their aging fleet of aircraft.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives who opposed lifting of the Iranian sanctions, recently passed a bill limiting financial transactions by U.S. banks in an effort to derail the Boeing deal.  Boeing and others are working on alternative financing efforts, some still not yet in play.  But, because this is a 10-year deal, some exporting licenses may need to be extended during President-elect Trump’s term.  So, the question begs itself … what will this Administration do or not do? Do they renew the licenses necessary to promote U.S. business? After all, the promotion of U.S. businesses was a key talking point in the Trump campaign on more than one occasion.  Or, do the license renewals meet with repeated delays in an effort to stall the deal indefinitely — something that makes a strong political statement to the Democrats and to Iran?

Of key importance here was Boeing’s recent statement that completing this 10-year deal supports “tens of thousands of U.S. jobs for the 777-300ER jets and nearly 100,000 aerospace jobs for the whole package.”

Who will show up when the time comes?  The vindictive Donald Trump or the benevolent one?  The one that seizes the opportunity to trounce on Iran, or the one that sees the wisdom of promoting U.S. business abroad?

Trust me when I say this won’t be the last time we will be asking this question in the days, weeks, and months to come.

(Thanks to Tim Hepher and Sami Aboudi at Rueters.com for a provocative article.) 

Note:  Chapters 11 and 12 of Serenity: Full Circle posted earlier today.  See side bar to the left to catch up!

Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 11 and 12

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Island in the Mainstream

Marc and Dara disappeared into the bungalow; Eyan gathered up his clothing and followed their lead.  Around two in the afternoon, Marc walked Dara to her car; she had a late afternoon flight to The Hague, where Europol’s main headquarters are located. She needed to fill out the paperwork necessary to facilitate her temporary transition to the private sector.  Neither Marc, nor Dara, had any false hope for the future, but both knew what had evolved was much more than simple infatuation.  He kissed her and helped her into the car, shutting the door after her.  Dara dropped the window down and said, “Marc, I know we’ll both be horribly busy for a while, but I would like to see you again, whenever we can work it out.”  Marc put his hand down on her arm, lying on the windowsill and said, “Sounds like a plan; watch your six.  On second thought, I’m sure it gets watched enough,” smiling, as she pulled away.

A while later, Marc was poolside when Eyan emerged from his bungalow and joined him.  Marc asked how his arm was doing.  Eyan said, “Actually, I think the swim helped it more than hurt it; it doesn’t seem as sore today.  Where’s Dara?”  Marc gave him the run down, then the conversation changed to the early morning discussion of the Island.  Eyan said, “I laid awake for an hour, thinking about what you said about the Island. Why hadn’t you said anything before?” Marc looks up and said, “Eyan, the reason is that I was pulling it all out of my ass!  I had no plan at all; Dara was right.  I just couldn’t let her know it. That’s what I was thinking about when you just walked up.”  Eyan said, “Marc, I think you and I should take a lesson from Martin here and shake hands, throw our joint money in a pile, and start constructing our base of operations.”  Marc replied, “OK, but we’ve never even seen the Island.  We need to go there and get a feel for what we have to work with, agreed?”  Eyan got up from his chair, walked over to the bar pit and retrieved two beers, bringing them back to the table.  He popped the tops off and said, “Your eyes are too bloodshot to look straight into right now, so we’ll just have to drink to it, if you don’t mind.”  They tapped the bottles together and a true partnership had begun.

At dinner that night, they thanked Martin for his generosity.  They also spoke of their plans for the Island and announced their planned departure the next day.  Martin offered them his corporate aircraft to get them back to Hawaii, which they graciously accepted. Martin also said that if they found a need for specialized equipment, he might be in position to help out, and to feel free to contact him.

After dinner, when they had returned to the bungalows, Marc joined Eyan for further discussion about the plan.  They first compiled a running tally on available funds.  They quickly ascertained that without using funds from dive shops, they could muster nearly three million, not counting the windfall of one million each that had been donated from Martin in stock from Die-Hex/Corp.  Eyan fired up his computer and opened up Google Earth.  With a minimal search he found the deeded Island, and then he began to peruse the graphics. As they pushed in tight on the postage-sized island, it revealed some promising traits.  Eyan brought up the distance scale in the application and determined that the Island itself was nearly a mile and a quarter in length, and almost a quarter of a mile at its widest.  According to Google Earth, most of the island was flat and rose only sixty to seventy feet out of the water, with one exception.  The shape of the island resembled a cowboy boot, similar in shape to Italy; the area around the heel rose up on an outcropping of what appeared to be rocks.  It protruded upward slightly more than 200 feet, the highest point on the island. The top of the boot pushed to the west, the heel was to the east and the toe pointed nearly straight north.  There were two areas around the Island that had large expanses of white sand beaches.  First was the entire top of the boot; the second was the top bridge of the boot, where the toe rounded to the boot top.  That area appeared to be a natural cove; they could also see what appeared to the remnants of an old dock.  One of the first realizations that hit them was that eventually they would need an aircraft. A three or four-day boat ride to the nearest airport would not work out logistically.

They decided to call it quits for the evening.  Martin had said that the corporate aircraft would be available shortly before noon.  This would leave them plenty of time to pack and say their final goodbyes.  They had made arrangements with Ricardo Ruiz, the owner of the arms distribution business in Madrid. At first, they just wanted to rent some space to place the equipment they had purchased from him in storage.  He said that he had working arrangements with other international clients that may suit their needs better.  He would, at a discounted price, buy back the used equipment and hold the funds in escrow in their open account.  When they were in need of other or possibly different equipment, he would, at a discounted rate, sell them new items, depending on their needs at the time and their account balance could be applied at that time.  He explained that this system was most expedient for his premium customers.  This would also save him labor and storage space and that, compounded with the fact that a great many of his lessor clients preferred to buy used equipment, only made it better.  Ricardo was a true entrepreneur and both Marc and Eyan could see the advantages of doing business with this man in the future.

It was about one-thirty in the afternoon when the corporate jet lifted off the runway at Madrid’s Barajas airport.  During the flight they brainstormed the possibilities taking copious notes.    Once they had arrived back in Hawaii, they had already made up their minds; they were going to continue on to their Island.  After arriving, they crashed for nearly 18 hours, readjusting to the time zone changes.  They didn’t have many connections on the islands, but Marc decided to contact “SilverCrest Flight Services,” the firm they had contracted for their flight to Madrid.  He was aware that they didn’t deal with boat rental; however, they catered to the rich and famous, so logic says they would know who to call.  Everybody refers their clients to their connections and, in turn, a referral fee is usually in the offing.  Marc made the call to SilverCrest.  When the call connected, a woman with a pleasant voice answered.    As soon as she pulled up the records on her computer verifying that Marc was indeed a client, the tone of her voice became even more pleasant.  Ten minutes later, Marc had the contact information of no less than three for-hire craft, with the range capability necessary for the trip.  At the end of the conversation she said, “Just have them call Alexis here at SilverCrest for any information they need for billing. Will you be using the same accounts for this booking, sir?”  Marc answered saying, “Yes, the Serenity Group; everything’s the same as before.”

It was just after lunch when they arrived in the harbor district at SeaBourn Charter. While talking on the phone to the owner, Marc had discovered he was ex-Navy man.  Marc’s allegiances ran deep; he made it their first stop on the list.  Mike Schell, the owner, was in the office at his desk just inside the main gate.  As they walked up, he looked up from his desk and said, “Two bits says your name is Marc.  I can spot a Sea-Dog a mile away,” as he stood up and moved out from behind his desk to greet them.  He looked like any one of a hundred other Navy men Marc had known, with one exception.  He was sporting a prosthetic leg from the knee down on his right side.  He moved as quick and graceful as anyone would without the impediment.  Marc’s first thoughts were, if he were not wearing shorts, he simply wouldn’t have noticed.  Mike shook hands vigorously with them both, asking them to have a seat, and then offering them both an ice cold beer.  Eyan looked over at Marc and laughed and said, “Sure, sounds great, thanks,” As soon as they had had a couple sips of beer, Mike asked how he could be of service.  Marc said, “We work for an organization named Serenity Group and we need to do some survey work on a small island about 1,800 miles to the west-southwest of here and we’re need of a craft.  Are you interested in the charter?”  Mike said, “As long as it’s all on the up and up, no drugs and no partying.  I can supply the boat and I’ll skipper her myself.  If you guys want to hold the price down a bit, you can work the ship with me and we’ll only need one other person on board to cook and check gauges.  You pay the fuel, food and five hundred a day.  What ya say?”  Eyan said, “Well, it sounds OK, but I’ve got to have a few beers along the way.”  Mike laughed and said, “Hell son, I couldn’t find my way out of the harbor if I didn’t have a six-pack under my belt. I said partying; you know – girls, sex and loud music – especially that rap shit.  I had one charter where there were half-naked girls all over the boat at all hours of the day and night; hell, I didn’t sleep for a week.  I was lucky I didn’t have a heart attack!”  After a bout of laughter, Marc said, “Mike, sounds like a deal.  We’ll need about two days on the island.  I can’t see being there any longer than that, and we’ll take you up on the offer to work the boat.  What’s your time schedule to push off?”  Mike smiled and said, “I’ll have the supplies ordered and get her fueled up this afternoon and get the supplies on board by noon tomorrow.  I’d say, let’s look at about two tomorrow afternoon.  That work for you guys?”  They stood up, Eyan saying, “Mike, it’s been a pleasure meeting you, and in all honesty, we’re looking forward to this,” as they started toward the door.  Marc turned and said, “Call Alexis over at SilverCrest.”  Mike cut in saying, “Yeah, I know the drill; she’s my wet dream, ya know.”  Both Marc and Eyan were laughing, as they walked to their car.

It was nearing eleven o’clock in the morning when Marc and Eyan arrived at SeaBourn Charter.  They began to on-load the gear that they had been gathering for most of the morning.  Mike’s boat was a fifty-eight-foot V-hull Meridian-580 pleasure craft with twin screws matched up with twin Cummins marine diesel engines called Eve’s Revenge.

Mike was busy working below deck when they came aboard.  Marc called out to him.  He replied, “Down here, in the mechanical room, replacing a bilge pump.  They found their way down just in time to see Mike picking up and throwing his tools back into a five-gallon bucket. He then stood up as he rubbed his hands with a rag. He looked over at them saying, “Good timing, I just finished the dirty work,” with a smile.  Both Eyan and Marc were amazed looking around the compartment; it was spotless.  Mike moved over to a cabinet near the bottom of stairs and began wiping his tools off as he stowed them each in a preformed slot.

They finished loading the supplies aboard and were ready to castoff.  Mike said, “Oh, I nearly forgot, I had a booking come in after you guys left yesterday on my big boat.  The cabin boy/cook was needed on that cruise so will be a bit short handed.  Do you mind?”  Eyan said, “If you can put up with Marc’s cooking, works for me.” As they dropped the mooring lines, it was almost noon – straight up – when they cleared the breakwater.

As they settled down to a cruising speed of about twenty knots, Marc was somewhat surprised that the craft was nearly vibration free. The weather was fair and the sky was cloudless and extremely blue.  He looked at the charts and did some quick calculations; it was 1800 nautical miles to the island.  At cruising speed, they would arrive there at about sunset on the fourth day out, with good weather and smooth sailing.

The trip went by quickly; the three of them became well acquainted and played a lot of poker. The ship had all of the best navigational equipment along with RayMarine Autopilot, backed up with an E120 Radar/GPS/Chartplotter of the same manufacture.  They had been blessed with favorable weather all the way and had made great time.  Shortly after noon of the fourth day, the Island came into view on the radar.  As they approached, they still had several hours of daylight.  They circumnavigated the Island clockwise.  They were closely inspecting the coastline and as they did so, they saw some signs of former habitation, but very few.  They had approached the Island from the northeast now and, as they were completing the full circle, and found themselves near the top bridge of the boot’s shape. They could now see the pilings from an old dock protruding from the water in the cove.  Mike maneuvered the craft into the mouth of the cove and dropped anchor.  They dropped the runabout, Carrib Tender, off the fantail of the ship and loaded a few items, then went ashore.  As they approached the beach, the water was so very clear, it appeared shallow.  Marc jumped off the bow of the tender, so that he could pull the boat to shore.  This would allow Mike to shut down the engine, avoiding prop damage from old coral.  As Marc entered the water, he knew immediately that he had misjudged its depth.  He sank to his neck before touching bottom; both Eyan and Mike almost lost it, laughing so hard.  The look on Marc’s face was priceless.  Mike hit the switch to raise the engine’s shaft from the water, as the bow of the boat silently slid to a stop on the sandy beach.  Eyan stepped out onto the beach and turned to Marc with a straight face and said, as he walked ashore, “We’re going to check out the Island.  When you’re done with your swim, why don’t you join us?” Mike was still laughing so hard, he couldn’t get out of the boat.

A minute later, Marc was ashore and sitting on a remnant of an old foundation wall at the head of what was long ago a dock and building.  He was rinsing the sand from his shoes.  Eyan and Mike were securing the tender to a palm tree, near where they had beached it.  Marc walked up on to the beach and, as he did, he saw what may have been a path through the dense foliage.  He called to the others and pointed to the opening as they approached.  They collected some items such as Machete knives, side arms and water from the tender, before starting out.  Mike had suggested the side arms because the Island was large enough to potentially have wild boars on it, and it was better to be prepared, than not.  The path was inclined as they moved into the foliage, making it difficult to maneuver through.  They could see an opening about twenty yards ahead.  Just before reaching the opening someone had moved large stones onto the path to use as steps up an embankment about five feet high to the opening.  As they emerged into the open and looked around, they could see a large area that had at one time been cleared of old growth trees and palms.

The undergrowth had begun to return and the grass was about knee high.  As they walked out into the opening, it was much larger than it first appeared, Eyan stopped and looked up.   The large trees on the sides of the opening had grown a full arch canopy.  They had entered the clearing from the north side of the Island and were now facing south, as they came to its center.  To their left to the west was the boot heel; there was a large hill of what appeared to be dark volcanic stone covered in dense green shrubs and hundreds of palm trees rising up to 250 feet.  As they turned in the opposite direction, the clearing seemed to go on forever, but they could see an opening – quite large in the distance – up to the top of the island’s bootstrap, to the west.  It was now four in the afternoon.  They decided to clear the path from the beach with the machetes for easier access during the next few days.  When they had finished the task they returned to the boat at anchor and had a swim before dinner.  As the sun was setting in the west, the three were lounging on the fantail having some ice cold beers and talking about the Island.

The conversation became a bit speculative between Marc and Eyan, and then Marc turned to Mike and said, “We’re not really surveying the Island,” and before he could continue, Mike said, “Yeah, I figured that out on my own.  Why do you think I asked you if everything was on the up and up?  I figured you’d tell me when you got around to it.”  Marc apologized and began to tell him the story of how it had all come about.  When he was done, Mike said, “So, you two lease this pile of sand, do ya?  Well, things make a whole lot more sense now.”  Marc gave him a synopsis of the plan he and Eyan had pieced together, then Mike said, “I told you guys I was in the Navy, but that’s not the whole story.  I know you’re curious about the missing leg; it was a service-related injury from early on in the Afghan war, right after the war started.  I was a lower-grade officer in the Seabees; we were building some underground bunkers just outside of Kabul.  I was on a D-9 Cat scraping out the hole, when a grenade bounced off the cage and landed right next to me.  I jumped down on the far side of the seat, but the transmission tunnel wasn’t big enough to completely hide behind. They tried to save it, but by the time they got me to the med station, it was too late.  But – back to the point I was trying to make – I can help you put this place together; that is, if you need some help.  I have a Civil engineering degree and a Master’s in structural engineering from Ohio State. Hell – I had hopes of becoming an architect when I was a kid.  But building things in the middle of the desert with no materials – that taught me more in six months, than six years in school ever did.”  Marc went below and then returned with a document tube.  He popped the cap off, opened it up and then thumbed through several charts.  He then extracted an enlarged chart of the Island.  They moved into the main cabin, spread the chart out on the large table and turned on the overhead light.  After having a chance to actually see the lay of the Island, Marc said, “We need to walk the distance to the far end and see what we have to work with.”  They talked and had a few more beers before calling it a night.

The next day, some low clouds were moving overhead during the early morning with the obligatory rain showers, but disappeared before ten.  Marc and Eyan had begun their hike up the Island toward the top of the bootstrap about eight.  Mike stayed back and assessed the potential of rebuilding the dock and constructing a building to house the pumps and tanks for the island’s fuel supply.  He had completed this chosen assessment by one in the afternoon and was now making his way along the path they had cut yesterday, when his radio crackled and came to life.  It was Marc; he and Eyan were about half way down the Island.  He thought it would be prudent to check the range on the hand-held radios; they were not military issue, just commercial over-the-counter units.  He estimated that the trek would take at least another two hours to reach the west end of the Island.  Mike was planning to pick them up in the tender runabout when they arrived on the sand beach at the top of the boot.

Mike emerged from the path into the open area, and decided to check out the rock formation to the east.  He made his way to the base of the rise, and then realized it was more of a climb than he was up for.  He followed the base of the small hill to the north.  It curved back around to the east; the approach from this direction was more gradual and also had fewer rocks to navigate.  He made good time moving up the hill, he had adapted well to his disability.  Most other men in their forties would have had difficulty staying up with him with two normal limbs.  It took him fifteen minutes to reach the summit.  From the top of the butte, the view was surprising.  He walked to the edge of the bluff facing to the east and looked down; he could see the waves breaking on the rocks almost 200 feet below.  After a moment he turned to the west.  The Island was much easier to visually assess from this vantage point.  He could see where the trees thinned out toward the top of the boot to the west, and then the large expanse of white sand beach that led to the very west end of the Island.  He checked his watch and noted that he would be expected at that very same beach in less than an hour.  He took some mental notes and measurements of the flat area on top of the bluff.  He turned and began descending the hill.  He didn’t want to be late for his appointment with Marc and Eyan.

A short time later, Mike beached the tender next to where Marc and Eyan were standing at the very tip of the Island.  They cruised back to the cove and put some sandwiches together and began to discuss the events of the morning.  One of the more interesting things Marc and Eyan had discovered was that at one time there had been a landing strip down the middle of the Island.  Grass was covering it now, but they could still follow it without effort.  The other thing that they found interesting was the fact that the overhead tree canopy extended over two-thirds of the way down the Island.  Eyan’s description of the canopy was, “It was like walking through a straight tunnel with a light at the end.” The Island was proving to be much more than either Eyan or Marc had imagined.  As the day wound down to the early evening, they all bantered about the basics of the project and how to proceed.   It wasn’t long before Mike had taken the lead voice in the planning stage.  Both Eyan and Marc had begun to defer to his obvious knowledge of both the potential and the reality of the island’s development.  Mike’s first love of life was building things.  After his discharge from the military, he had rechanneled his building instincts to the construction of his charter/cruise business.  He and his wife had done well.  She had received a settlement from her first husband from a divorce.  Her ex had deep pockets, no pre-nup, and rampant penchant for infidelity.  Two years ago, she had been involved in an auto accident and died instantly as a result.  Mike had submersed himself in the charter side of the business and tried not to look back. As a result, the business was somewhat like the dive shops Marc and Eyan shared – very profitable.  Mike had been growing ever so tired of the repetition of the business over the last year and he said as much to Marc and Eyan.

The next morning, Mike said that he would like to show them something that he had tripped across the day before.  He guided them to the hilltop where he had been yesterday morning.   He had already formulated a plan for its utilization.  He pulled out some sketches on a pad and said, “Try to visualize this – the hilltop’s measurements are large enough for a sizable house.  If we were to face the structure to the east and cantilever the rear off the back of the hill just far enough, we could utilize the entire hill as a superstructure for the facility.  We would need to cut into the hill at the bottom, west side to complete the lower floors of the building, but it would be a fully weather-tight facility and easy to air condition.  We would need to run an elevator shaft from the back of the top housing facility straight down the hill.  About half way down, it would enter the ground and emerge on either the second floor or the bottom hanger where the aircraft can be housed.  The bottom level would be the same level as the tarmac.  My preliminary estimate of the square footage would be about 14,000 square feet.  That’s inclusive of the hanger, of course!  Both Marc and Eyan’s heads were spinning.  Neither could believe that he had conjured the vision and sketched it out overnight.

On the way home the next day, Mike was hard at work refining the drawings and adding auxiliary implements along the way.  As he was working, Mike realized that it was the first time in a very long time that he was truly enjoying what he was doing.  That evening at dinner, Mike brought up the subject of the construction on the island. Before he could phrase his questions and ask if they had someone lined up for the construction of the project, Marc said, “Mike, Eyan and I want to know if you might be interested in managing the project for us. We know it could be extremely difficult, especially considering you have a thriving business of your own to tend to.  But we just never realized the extent that this project could reach and, all in all, it’s more than we can handle and also generate the cash needed to complete it.”  Before Marc had finished his sentence, Mike was already smiling. It was as if Marc had read his mind.  Mike said, “I have a secret to share with both of you.  I was just about to ask you guys if you would consider using me to put this thing together.  I have contacts all over the islands and even some of my old buddies from the Seabees are hanging around looking for things to do.  We can do this thing and, if I’m not mistaken, for a lot less than one might suspect.”  Eyan said, “How and where do we save on the costs?  I don’t follow.”  Mike said, “As far as the logistics go, I know several companies that handle shipping to and from the islands. There are always ships available, especially in the lesser season that can be had for pennies on the dollar, and then when you consider I have the crews to man them and the licensing to contract them, it’s a snap.  Then, looking at the actual building on the Island, remember we are our own government.  We inspect our own work and we can use unconventional methods in our building, so we can circumvent the cost of elaborate architectural and engineering fees.  As I said, we could use the mountain itself as the structural backbone of the project.  That alone will save tens of thousands of dollars in materials.  We stay with the basics – steel imbedded in concrete, use the latest in free-form design.  It’ll be as green a building as any being built around the globe at a fraction of the cost.”

At this point, both Marc and Eyan were excited as to the prospects of the venture.  Eyan said, “Mike, what do you want out of this?  How can we ensure mutual equity?  This is going to be a big project.”  Mike said, “Will use the KISS system – you know – ‘keep-it-simple-stupid.’  You guys oversee the payments as they come in; that keeps you up-to-date on all the funding.  I’ll submit all requisitions in advance – let’s say over $25,000 dollars – for your approval.  We keep a $25,000 slush fund for the incidentals. As for me, how does cost, plus two percent monthly, sound?  Once we have an idea of the total scope of the project, we can revisit the money issue, if necessary.  I can probably have a ballpark estimate within a couple weeks.”

Before they arrived back at home port, the three of them had created a strong bond of friendship Once again, the years they had all served in the Navy was a strong elixir.  Over the next few weeks, Marc worked with Mike to formulate a general design for the Island.  Eyan had taken a trip back to California to amass the general funds needed to start the job.  He had also had several meetings with Robin Evans, the manager at the two dive shops.  He and Marc had decided to take him on as a third partner in the venture and all they would ask of him was his signature.  He had, from the very start, been the primary catalyst in the business, and they both agreed that he had earned the partnership many times over. They also discussed the plan to move – both north to the San Francisco area for a third shop – and westward to Honolulu for a fourth.  Robin had been a “hands-on” type of manager, but now he would need to step back and take an overview position and train new managers for all the shops.

Before Eyan returned to Hawaii, he and Robin went over the books for both locations.  Robin was smiling when Eyan began to understand that the shops had redoubled their profits from only a year earlier.  The second shop hadn’t been open a year yet, and it was surpassing the San Diego shop’s numbers.  There was almost two million dollars in the primary account, and a vast overallotment still in the payroll account.  Eyan rolled a million and a half from the primary account to the Serenity Group’s General Construction Account which he had just opened with a little bit over $3,000,000 with a contribution from Marc and himself.  The dive shops were listed as a subsidiary of “The Serenity Group” and Robin had no signatory rights above the dive shop’s level.

When Marc picked Eyan up at the airport in Honolulu, he was more than surprised to learn of the unexpected windfall from the shops.  They drove to the harbor, pulled into Mike’s facility, parked next to the office and walked inside.  Eyan had also closed out their apartments in California and either stored or shipped the remaining things to Hawaii before returning.  Mike was on the phone when they entered his office.  He raised his hand with his index finger in the air indicating he would be a moment.  Both Marc and Eyan took a seat and waited.  When Mike finished his call and hung up the phone he said smiling, “Well that’s the icing on the cake.  The Reinhold, a ship, is available for four to six months; she’s an inter-island-sized freighter, equipped with dock booms and a crane aft, with a commercial-sized hold.  She’s big enough for a cat-bulldozer with full blade.  The equipment company is giving us great pricing on anything we need; this down economy is kicking their butt.  Their lot is crammed with rental stuff and the insurance alone is choking them.  I’ve talked to nine of my old buddies, seven have signed on and two of them said they had several reliable, but more importantly, qualified friends that would jump at a chance of a good, stable job.

Mike pulled out some large rolled blue prints from the side of his desk and opened them up.  Eyan’s surprise was all over his face.  Mike and Marc had been hard at work putting the plans together. They had drawn it on enlarged satellite maps of the Island. Now the Island had a name.  Eyan had to smile as he looked over a map naming the Island Serenity.

He could see the position of the runway down the center of the island, running right up to the hill at the heel of the boot.  They had a large structure cut into the side of the hill where the runway terminated at a large tarmac.  He could see another outline that followed the entire top of the hill and extended out over the structure at the bottom of the hill. Marc explained that this would be the perimeter of the house that would sit on top of the hill; some of it directly above the hanger facility far below, but still connected by an elevator.  He could also see a dock and pump house located in the cove area.  Next, Mike pulled out more drawings that even Marc had not seen; now it was his turn to be surprised.  Mike had a full set of drawings for the house as he proposed it.  Marc said, “I’m not even going to ask when you had time to do these,” knowing that they had worked together eight and ten hours a day – almost every day – over the past two weeks. The drawings were not just floor plans but were, in fact, full color pencil renderings of the rooms and exterior deck, kitchen and workout room with tech facility center.  The house itself was 4,600 square feet.  It was constructed of free-form concrete and structural-tied rebar, as were the other two structures making up the compound.  The house was an amazing feat of engineering; the ocean side of it was nearly all glass floor-to-ceiling.  Each six-foot wide section of one and a half-inch thick glass, pivoted on a center axis, working like multiple giant vertical louvers. The automated weather sensors continually adjusted the doors to shunt any excessive wind or rain from the structure.  The exterior terrace that surrounded the entire house was slightly over twenty feet wide, constructed of concrete with imbedded crushed black lava rock.  Each of the large four bedrooms had a double pivotal glass doorway to the exterior deck and large private bath.  The main room that faced the west, looking through the pivoting animated glass panels, was somewhat pie-shaped.  The point of the pie was a large open kitchen area that led to a central hall to the rear of the house.  Off of the hallway was a fifth bathroom and workout facility with all the toys, sauna-room and a whirlpool bath included.  Moving on down the hallway was the entrance to the elevator that descended to the hanger facility that was carved into the rocky hill that the house sat upon.  Beyond the elevator, on down the hall, were the doorways to the four bedrooms.

Mike then opened up more drawings; these were of the lower supply and hanger facility.  The floor plan would accommodate two auxiliary living quarters, each 700 square feet, with a sizable general storage room on one side of the hall.  On the other side were two areas, one a small electrical mechanical room equipped with bathroom and storage facilities for aircraft general maintenance.  The other, a large storage area for dry goods and fresh and frozen foods.  Then, of course, was the actual hanger itself – big enough for a large corporate jet.  Above the hanger, on the second level, was the in-door shooting range and armament room.

Marc had been on the phone with Martin Colby in Madrid several times during the prior week discussing his thoughts about a possible aircraft for The Serenity Group.  After arriving at the fact that there were several needs that could not be overlooked before acquiring such a craft, Martin said that he might be able to help them acquire a craft that both filled their needs, and would be financially within their reach.  What he proposed was that The Serenity Group lease Martin’s Gulfstream G150 from the Die/Hex Corp.  There were tax benefits for his company in buying out the aircraft’s lease, and he had a new G250 due for delivery in a month or so, anyway.

Knowing the size of the aircraft was helpful in designing the hanger facility without a doubt; however, Colby’s offer solved a more pressing problem that either of them had really considered.  The Island of Serenity was located in such a remote area that a small aircraft simply didn’t have the range to reach it. This forced them into a larger aircraft that would cost much more to operate and maintain.  They had amassed a small fortune and that was the problem – that they had amassed a small fortune.  They now realized Serenity was going to cost more – much more.  Over the next few days, the three of them worked to refine the plan for Serenity.  When they cleared the runaway for use, they would leave the overhead canopy intact.  This would save time which would translate to money.  It ran almost two-thirds of the length of the island’s runway.  But because of the rise at the heel of the boot, one could only land or takeoff in one direction; takeoff to the west and land to the east.  The dense foliage on all sides would also help shield the landing and takeoffs from extreme cross-winds.

Mike had made arrangements for his second-in-command to take over the cruise and charter business for the interim.  He was far too busy to do both jobs.  He and Eyan set sail for the Island the next morning to begin doing the survey work in advance of the first of many island freighters that would be arriving over the next few weeks.

Marc, on the other hand, was packing his bags, enroot to Spain to finalize the paper work with Martin on the G150’s lease.  Marc knew that this could most likely be done by e-mail, but the real fact was, he wanted to see Dara again.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Reality Sucks

When Marc arrived at Madrid’s Barajas Aeropuerto, he was retrieving his baggage from the turnstile when he heard a familiar voice from over his shoulder say, “Hey, stranger – need a ride?”  He turned to see Dara standing directly behind him, wearing a glowing smile.  He reached out and pulled her toward him and whispered in her ear, “I’m looking for the ride of my life; how about you?” She said, “It could be arranged, but only if you’re ‘up’ for it,” as she returned the smile.  He retrieved his luggage and they made their way to Dara’s newly-purchased split-level townhouse, a short distance down the road from Villa Martini.

They pulled into the driveway and turned off the car.  Marc said, “So, how’s the new job working out with Martin?” Dara looked over at him and said, “What you see is what you get.  He’s fine – a perfect gentleman in public and in private, he takes no advantage.  It’s amazing, in general.  It’s a lot different than working at Europol but, I have to admit, I miss the excitement a lot.”

As they got out of her car, Marc’s attention was pulled away from Dara’s lure, and he finally noticed that the car was a brilliant blood red as he closed the trunk lid, after retrieving his luggage.  He said, “Nice ride – and I like the color.”  Dara’s reply was, “If you work for Martin, you learn to love red through osmosis; it comes with the paycheck.  Besides, it’s hard to bitch about a $230,000 work vehicle,” as she pressed the lock button on the remote to the SLS-AMG Benz.

As they walked up the narrow entry to Dara’s front door, Marc noticed from behind that Dara had cut off a sizeable length of her hair.  As she keyed in her entry code on the door lock, Marc said, “Do you change the length of your hair often?”  He suddenly realized he really didn’t know a great deal about her.  Dara opened the door, and then turning to him said, “You know, you would have made a great detective.  And the answer to that is no, I don’t usually, but I find myself at a lot more social functions in strapless gowns.  So, I wear my hair up and it’s a lot easier to do at this length.” She reached behind her and swirled her hair up into a bun, striking a model’s pose.  Marc dropped his baggage, as he stepped closer to her and took her in his arms.  He held her for an instant; there wasn’t a nook or cranny of either of their bodies that didn’t fit perfectly together. Marc said, “I’m ready for that ride right now!”

The next morning, Marc and Dara drove to Villa Martini and were greeted at the entrance to the main house by Martin.  After the niceties were shared, they got down to business, discussing the aircraft lease.  Martin as usual, had everything broken down into a simple contractual agreement.  Marc was astounded at the information.  Martin had also put together a projected ownership cost evaluation so that there would be no rude surprises for The Serenity Group.  After reviewing the information, Marc was satisfied that he and Eyan would indeed be able to support the outlay of capital necessary to support this part of the venture.  He made arrangements with Martin for the aircraft to be delivered to the airport in Honolulu when he received the new Gulfstream 280 that was on order.  Later, after signing all the paperwork and finalizing the deal, they, including Ashton Stiles, had drinks and caught up on the information on the Island project.  They then enjoyed an amazing dinner prepared by Martin’s new chief chef at the villa.  A short while later, Marc made a reference to being tired, possibly from the jet lag, and suggested they head toward her condo.  Martin and Stiles smiled, they both knew he was looking for some private down time with Dara.

Early the next morning, Marc remembered his e-mail alert on his phone chiming sometime during the night.  He retrieved his phone and read his messages.  One from Eyan said that he had returned to the main Island to order some special equipment for the work on Serenity and was planning on returning to the Island in two days’ time on a supply boat. One of the other messages was from Robin Evans, their partner in the dive shops, saying he had found the location for the third shop just below Santa Cruz and was negotiating a lease for the property.  The last of the mail was from someone that Marc did not know, named Nicklaus Marquand.  The voice mail said, “I have been given your contact information by Martin Colby.  He has assured me that you possess the qualities necessary to assist me in extracting my son’s wife and my grandson out of Cairo, Egypt.  As you may know, the social unrest has grown far beyond what was expected, very quickly.  My son’s wife and my grandson were visiting him when all this occurred.  He was at work at his station at the U.S. embassy when it all started to come unraveled.  He was assigned courier papers and given orders for extraction by Marine helicopter to a ship in the Mediterranean two days ago.  My daughter in-law, Renae, and grandson, Max, were at his residence.  We have been in contact with them by cell phone a few hours ago.  They are safe, but sequestered in their apartment near Tahrir Square.  I don’t know anything about the Serenity Group.  Martin was playing it very close to the vest, but I trust him.  Please contact me at your earliest convenience.”

Marc wrote down the contact information and dialed Eyan, hoping to catch him still on the main island.  He and Dara had also planned to spend a few days in Valencia at the Mediterranean Shores Boutique Spa, playing with the go-fast boat and such, but reality sucks at times.

He was able to catch Eyan before his departure back to the island and fill him in on the call from Marquand. He asked Eyan to begin assembling the gear needed for the retrieval before ending the call.  He then returned Marquand’s call and was filled in on the missing information.

Marc called Martin and thanked him for the referral also saying that if any paperwork needed to be signed on the Gulfstream, he would need to do it quickly not knowing how long it would take to get a flight out.  Martin said, “Marc, I have no pressing need for the aircraft.  How about I have Stiles drop over and pick you up?  You can be on the ground in Hawaii by sunrise tomorrow, and back in Cairo the next.  We can settle up later, and it will give you an idea of what you can expect of the aircraft.”  Marc was once more taken by Martin’s generosity and said, “Martin that’s a generous offer but things are beginning to get a little out of balance, don’t ya’ think?” Martins answer was simple, “Not when you consider that I still have Laurel to watch grow-up.  I’ll have Stiles call you as soon as he can get the plan in action.” And then he said, “Goodbye.”  Marc had met a lot of people worth a lot of money, but Martin was one that stood above all the rest, he was possibly the most unpretentious person he had ever met.

Just then, Dara came walking out of the bedroom to the main living room. She was still towel drying her hair having just stepped out of the shower.  She was positively radiant with her usual full-body tan.  It must have been the look on Marc’s face or perhaps she was just a bit clairvoyant.  She knew something was up saying, “Why do I have the feeling were not headed to Valencia?”

Copyright © 2016; All Rights Reserved

Serenity: Chapters 9 and 10

Welcome back, everyone!

Now that the turkey and stuffing is all behind us (so to speak), we move toward the upcoming holidays with a sense of anticipation and good cheer!

As you take a break from that holiday shopping and endless “to do” lists, why not catch up with the characters of Serenity: Full Circle with Chapters 9 and 10 …

CHAPTER NINE

Down Time

(Two days later, back at Villa De Martini)

Martin Colby was more than pleased with how this event had unfolded.  Part of the reason that Martin was the success that he was, is that he never gives up.  When he makes up his mind to achieve a goal, everything that lies in front of him becomes crystal clear.  He could always sense others that had this similar trait and he seemed to draw them into his world, making things easier for him to achieve his vision.  This is why he chose Marc and Eyan; after relentless searching, their names kept rising to the top of his list.

Now that his granddaughter was safe and unharmed, Martin was like a chameleon.  Stiles, his assistant, had adapted to this quirk in his personality during his first year in service with Martin.  The operations room at the villa was repatriated to the pre-abduction style even before the group had arrived back at the villa.  Martin had invited the team, as it were, to remain around for a while and enjoy the privileges of Villa De Martini.  Marc and Eyan had agreed to the gracious offer and were moved from the second floor of the main villa to the adjoining guest pool house across a breeze-way from the villa.  Dara had been called back to her headquarters for debriefing on the actions she had taken on her own.  Eyan was offered the services of Martin’s private physician, who was available to tend to his wound upon arrival back at the villa.

Three days later, Dara arrived back at the villa.  As she stopped her vehicle in the drive, she sat for a moment seemingly transfixed, very deep in thought.  Then she quickly regained her composure and exited the car, walking to the entrance of the main house.  Martin met her at the door welcoming her in.  Marc and Eyan had been enjoying the sun by the pool through the morning hours. Martin and Dara emerged through the large French doors leading to the pool area at the side of the villa. The view of the Valmayer Reservoir that the villa backed up to was a vast expanse of deep blue water.

They sat down next to Marc and Eyan at a large table that was covered overhead by a trellis.  The trellis itself was fully covered with beautiful Yellow Lady Banks roses.  A servant appeared from out of nowhere and placed glasses full of sparkling water with small lemon wedges upon the table for all.  There was some small talk for a few moments then Martin excused himself saying he would return shortly.  Marc looked over at Dara and asked if she had brought her swimsuit with her, she replied, “Marc,” she said with a grin, “As I told you before, I always have it with me, but…”  Eyan spoke up saying, “Great!  Everybody’s going swimming now, while I sit in the sun and bake,” referring to his wound.   Marc said, smiling at Dara, “Relax Eyan, I don’t think the lady is going swimming,” garnering more than a questioning look from Eyan.

Martin returned from the main house and sat back down and said, “I’m glad we could all get together this afternoon.  There’s some business we need to discuss.  First, I would like to thank each one of you for everything you’ve done. Then, there is the matter of compensation.”  Dara stood up and started to excuse herself.  But, she was abruptly asked to remain at the table by Martin.  She said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be included in this discussion; your business is with Marc and Eyan.”  Martin said, “We could argue that logic later, but right now this concerns all three of you.  Marc and Eyan, would either of you have a problem sharing the one million contract price with Dara on an equal basis?” Both replied, “no,” instantly.  Dara spoke up saying, “Martin, I can’t accept payment as an active Europol agent. I would think that you would know that.” Martin said, “Dara, yes, I do know that, but I also know that you’ve been placed on administrative leave due to your actions in helping us.  Now, I would like for you all too just hold your remarks until I’m finished.  I have no doubt that this may sound a bit strange but here’s what I propose.  Besides what we have discussed in compensation, I would like to offer each of you, individually, one million dollars in stock from my private portfolio in Die-Hex/Corp.  In return, no one can ever disclose the reason why or how this has come about.  I would rather think of it as a virtual retainer.  If I find myself in need of your services in the future, I will expect your undying loyalty, but not without further compensation. Dara, as for you, I would like you to consider assuming the top position in my family’s personal security and also act as a senior advisor to my corporate security structure.  I want no more to do with being 007 in the future.  I have spoken to the appropriate people and they assure me that your tenure at Europol will be held for the foreseeable future, should you decide to return.  Oh, and this mishap or action on your record, will be amended to read as an extended vacation. Now, before anyone says a word, take the next 24 hours and discuss it among yourselves.  No one but the four of us, make that five – Stiles, of course – will ever know of this.”  Martin reached into his vest and retrieved three envelopes, handing one to Marc then another to Eyan, he looked over at Dara, holding up the third envelope. Dara looked at Marc and then said, “Martin in all honesty, I don’t need 24 hours,” as she accepted the envelope.

As the sun began to set for the evening, Martin called it quits just as Stiles joined the group by the pool.  Stiles had earned his right to join in the makeshift celebration and they all were becoming friends that were forged much like a military team. In conversation, the others learned that Stiles had once been a Lt. Commander in the British Air Force.  He was forced into early retirement due to a leg injury suffered in the Persian Gulf War.

About the time the shadows of the early evening were fading, Marc and Dara were making their way around the pool to the bungalow in search of some much needed privacy. The pool houses, as they were referred to, were larger than most people’s regular homes.  They had fully equipped kitchens, two bedrooms; one being a master suite. The master bath was three-sided, one side opened on to a private atrium with an open air shower; everything was constructed of natural quarried stone from nearby hills.

Marc had just asked Dara if she cared for a drink, when the doorbell chimed.  Marc said, “If that’s Eyan, one of us is going to get drop-kicked over the pool,” as he made his way to the door.  He opened it, and there stood a Villa attendant with a silver cart. The man said, “With Mr. Colby’s compliments, sir.”  On the cart was smorgasbord of items, two bottles of chilled champagne with iced flutes, assorted strawberries, some chocolate dipped, and also truffles and caviar with wafers. The man quickly pushed the cart into the room, and then just as quickly, left the room, shutting the door behind him. Marc, a bit surprised, looked at Dara and said, “How did he know?  We haven’t been in the room for five minutes.” Dara smiled and said, “Maybe we’re putting off too many pheromones,” as she began unbuttoning her blouse as she walked up to him, and pushed him down in an overstuffed chair.  She stood in front of him and slowly removed her clothing one piece at a time with the aid of a large ottoman directly in front of the chair. As she removed the last thread of clothing from her perfect body and stood in front of Marc, she said, as she curled up on the ottoman, “Now it’s your turn, and don’t rush on my account.”  Marc smiled and began to reciprocate, first removing his shirt and sandals, then his swimsuit, as he stood up next to her.  There was a large white alpaca rug in front of the large dormant fire-hearth.  Marc reached down, picking her up, pulling her close to his body and stepped over to the rug.  He laid her down gently, and then moved down onto the rug beside her.   The day was warm but the air-conditioning combined with the raw sexual tension between them had raised Goosebumps along the nape of her back running down to the sculpted line of her buttocks.  Marc began to run his cupped hand along her thigh, up to her hip, just barely touching her with the tips of his fingers. The sensation was too overpowering for Dara to resist – not that she wanted to.  She rolled over on top of Marc, and consumed him in one easy movement, her body flexing and then just quivering as he slid deep within her.  In unison, they both rolled back over with Marc on top, as he began a slow rhythmic motion that pushed them both farther and farther into a nether land – an exotic place where people are seldom allowed to tread as deeply. An hour or so moved by swiftly, then another.  At this point, they both felt like scuba divers running out of air, and needing to surface.

The ice in the champagne bucket was now only cold water; but champagne was still cold.  Marc opened and poured two flutes full to the brim.  Neither were fans of caviar, but the chocolate strawberries were quickly devoured as they sat in the overstuffed chair; Dara comfortably sitting crossways in Marc’s lap, as he fed her the last berry.  After eating, they headed off to the master bedroom.  Dara was awestruck when she stopped by the bath area.  She turned to Marc and said, “Let’s see how a shower under the stars feels,” with a bit of a sly grin, as she grabbed Marc’s hand and pulled him out toward the atrium.  The shower was aglow with open moonlight, and the stars were brighter than Marc had ever remembered. As he turned the shower on with the flat touch panel that first sensed body temperature, before it slowly starting to rain down over the entire six-foot square area. There were three large quarried sitting stones randomly placed in and around the shower area with polished top surfaces.  The water was perfectly blended to body temperature as it rained down.  Dara was standing under the shower of water, her face straight upward as if she were receiving blessings from the heavens.  Marc was thinking that perhaps it was he who had received the blessings.

Dara was all of five feet, seven inches tall; Marc would guess she weighed maybe 110 lbs.  Her waist was around 23 or 24 inches, and her breasts were full and natural with proud nipples.  Her hips were a perfect match for the rest of her and, yes, the only tan line on her body was from the thong.  He stepped up behind her and filled his hand with shampoo, and then began to slowly massage it into her hair as she leaned her head back. When he had completed this, Dara turned around and put her arms around his waist, placing her head against his shoulder.  She could feel him coming to life once more, as they stood there.  She slid down to her knees and began to return the affection that he was now so vividly displaying.  A few moments later, his body quivered intensely, and then he collapsed to his knees alongside her.  As they held each other, the water still was raining down upon them.  There was an evening breeze rustling the shrubs within the atrium as Marc turned the shower off.  He retrieved a large bath sheet from a shelf and draped it around Dara and once more for himself.  A few minutes later; they made their way to the overstuffed bed.  Marc held her in his arms, as they fell asleep in exhaustion.

The next morning, at precisely 11:00 am, there were two soft beeps on the phone, and a blue LED light started to blink.  Marc picked up the receiver, there was a ring-back tone, and a man came on the line and said, “Good morning sir, will you and your guest be joining the house for lunch, or would you prefer to have a lunch prepared and delivered?”  Marc looked over at Dara; she was still sleeping, and said, “We would like to have it delivered, please. Maybe some cold cut sandwiches, some chips, and a six-pack of ice-cold beer.  And would you convey our appreciation to our host and let him know that we will be joining him for the evening dinner as planned?”  Marc hung up the receiver and then rolled back over towards Dara.  She was now awake and quietly stretching like a lanky feline awakening from its nap.  Marc said, “Good morning, gorgeous!  So, tell me, what’s it feels like waking up a millionaire for the first time in your life?”  Dara’s eyes opened wide, as a smile crossed her face and said, “It doesn’t seem real, and then us getting sidetracked like this – my head’s spinning a bit.”  Marc said, forcing a straight face, “You mean you don’t unwind like this after every mission?”  Dara rolled over straddling Marc’s chest and feigned smothering him with a pillow, as Marc laughed aloud.  They both knew it was only foreplay for the afternoon full of gratuitous sex to come.
CHAPTER TEN

Millionaires’ Dinner

It was nearing 5:00 p.m. when the group had all assembled at the main house for cocktails before dinner. Martin was playing host bartender.  He had taken everyone’s order and prepared them with his usual dexterity.  He cleared his throat rather loudly, drawing the immediate attention of the house butler, to which he signaled to leave the room.  Martin then tapped the glass martini shaker to draw further attention of those in the room and said, “I’ve also asked Ashton to join us this evening.”  Seeing the expressions, he continued on, “By the looks on your faces, I see that you may have thought that Stiles was his first name but, in fact, let me formally introduce Ashton Stiles.  Now, as we discussed yesterday, is there anyone who has chosen to forgo my offer?”  He looked around the room; no one spoke up.  Marc looked over at Dara. He knew she had made up her mind at the table yesterday.  Martin said, “As Ashton knows, I do not require a contract when it comes to personal business.  However, I do ask that each of you shake my hand in agreement while looking me straight in the eye.”  Each one of them, in turn, complied with the request, thanking him as they did so.  Martin raised his drink and said, “To an indelible friendship.”  The entire group followed suit.

The dinner was a superb mix of Spanish dishes with fresh seafood from the Mediterranean coast.  The wine that flowed like water was a smattering of Spanish, Italian and Californian varieties.  Some of the Italian bottles had vintage dates in the 1800’s.  As the evening progressed, Marc, Eyan and Dara were experiencing the tip of the iceberg of the billionaire’s world.  Marc found it somewhat amusing that on the day he had become a millionaire, he could still feel totally impoverished by these surroundings.  Life never ceases to amaze, he thought.

The party, as it were, broke up around 3:00 a.m.  They all ambled out pretty much as a group; Marc and Dara, being the last to step out in to the evening air.  They stopped by the pool.   Marc turned toward the door, but before he was able to open it, Dara had decided a moonlight swim was in order and had begun to remove her clothes.  Marc turned to see her beautiful back side in mid-air before hearing the splash.  He looked up at the main house just in time to see what he thought must have been Stiles’ lights go off.  He kicked off his shoes, dropped his pants, pulled off his remaining clothing, and dove in the pool.  He swam up to Dara and pulled her in close.  He wanted to feel her body next to his.  He kissed her quite passionately and started to react to the moment.  Just then, he heard Eyan from the side of the pool say, “That looks inviting. Mind if I join ya?”  Before Marc could say, “Your wounded, remember?”  Dara said, “Sure, just throw your clothes over there by ours.  The water’s fantastic.”  Marc looked at her as if she lost it, when she said, “Relax, anticipation is half the fun,” as she pushed away and began swimming like a fish, across the pool. Eyan had stripped and was in the pool almost before Marc could catch up with Dara.  He grabbed her by the ankle and pulled her back to him and said in her ear, “I’m going to make you pay for this one,” before kissing her, then pushing her below water, as he swam off to the shallower end of the pool.  After several minutes of swimming around the pool the three of them moved over to the side that had submerged marble stools along a poolside service bar.  After some small talk Dara said, “Anyone for a beer, as she walked up the stairs, then down into the service pit, and around to the bar refrigerator. The guys both said yes as she opened the door and retrieved the beers.  She walked up on the service side of the bar and sat the drinks down; she rejoined them in the pool.  Eyan, being a virile male, was having a rough time trying not to be obvious, as Dara was hard not to stare at.  Once she sat back down in the water, the pressure eased a bit for Eyan.

They began to discuss the future, as they had been talking of current events most of the evening.  Dara asked how things had evolved into the current situation and what they had planned for the future.  They looked at each other, both feeling a bit myopic. Dara said, “You two haven’t a clue, do you?” Marc said, “Actually we do, it’s just very dynamic at the moment.”  Dara said, “Then what’s the general game plan?” Marc, realizing just how acute Dara’s critical thinking was said,” We own this Island out in the middle of the South Pacific – don’t ask – we plan to set it up as a base of operations, but we needed to cross a point of income to begin the process.  Now we’re nearly there.  Unless something of amazing potential falls in our lap, that’s what we’re planning to do.”  Marc looked over at Eyan to see his reaction.  Eyan was posed, sitting at the bar looking somewhat like the statue of the thinker, with his hand at his chin and his lips pursed.

Dara was more than intrigued with the response, and said, “An island in the South Pacific?  OK, why there, and not some place more convenient, like in the States or maybe in the Bahamas?” Marc said, “Because one, we have it on a 99-year lease, and two, it’s in the mainstream – almost dead in the middle of the Eurasia transit; it’s perfect jump-off point for the entire globe.”  Dara said, “God, I hate to admit it, but it makes perfect sense.”  Neither of them had noticed, but the sunrise was beginning to cast its ember glow to the east. They decided to call it a night.  Eyan turned to Marc, as Dara swam to the steps, and said, “Marc, I think you’ve hit on something here; we need to talk more about this.” As he and Eyan turned to get out of the pool, there in front of them, stood Dara silhouetted against the sunrise.  She was standing at the edge of the pool, squeezing the water from her hair, in all her natural beauty. Eyan said to Marc, “Right now, in all honesty, I wish we weren’t such good friends; she’s just amazing,” as they treaded onward, towards the steps.

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