You Can’t Buy Real Friends
As the sun began to illuminate Cairo, Marc and Dara were heavily involved in saying goodbye. After a refreshing shower, they said it once more, this time verbally, but with the same urgency. The transport vehicle was readied and being loaded down in the courtyard as they made their way down to see the others. Marc had spoken of his intentions to Dara about helping Akil, in whatever way he, and Eyan, could. Dara had asked to stay also, but Marc asked her to escort the Marquands to Israel, saying, “They need you more, right now.” Dara acquiesced without further discussion.
Within the hour they were turning on the access road to Cairo International Airport’s Executive Terminal. They were slightly ahead of schedule, which was fine with Marc, better early than late. This time there were many more people at the terminal but luckily, not many officials. It looked as if the more affluent residents of Cairo had decided to vacate the premises. As they emerged from the building, the tarmac was a veritable parking lot, filled with all types of corporate jets. Marc looked over at Stiles and said, almost jokingly, “What was that tail number, again?” Stiles, grinning said, “Fourth one on the right, just beyond the Falcon,” knowing Marc would recognize the Falcon on sight. It had been he and Eyan’s common mode of travel during the time they were assigned to the Secret Service. They quickly got the Marquands and Mr. Rubin aboard; both Stiles and Dara brought up the rear after saying their goodbyes. Marc, Eyan and Akil watched them get airborne before departing back to the compound.
Now that the curfew was in effect from dusk to dawn, they decided to move as quickly as possible to the Square. The information coming from the television made no mention of the military trucks and tanks that they had seen the night before, which was a bit perplexing. Before sunset they had made contact with some people near the Square that Akil knew of. They proceeded to their location before dusk to avoid the risk of the later curfew. Once they had arrived there, they learned the fate of the convoy they had seen the day before. His contacts had seen them enter a parking structure several blocks from the Square. They also reported other people had spotted convoys converging on the Square, one from the south and also one from the east. The thing they all had in common was that each had taken up a position that afforded them cover and quick access to the Square.
Omar, one of Akil’s most trusted friends, and his daughter, had produced a rudimentary hand-drawn map of the area. It approximated the direction, distance and location of all the known military units encircling Tahrir Square. When asked if he thought other military groups may also be hiding in the area, he said, “Anything’s possible, but we have been most diligent in our efforts to know what is going on.” Later, Marc asked Akil for his take on Omar’s information. Akil said, “Omar is the most respected friend I possess! I would rely on his counsel as I have many times in the past, never with disappointment, my friend.” With mixed feelings, Marc accepted his assessment; any valid information was welcome.
It was now dark. As with most risks, there are some advantages. The evening brings on the curfew, but it also brings along the cover of darkness. The cell towers in the vicinity of the Square had been off now for two days. As the group began to put together their plan, they keyed in on one paramount factor. They must stay together in the midst of anything they might encounter. When in the proximity of large docile crowds, this is not normally a problem. But if gunfire or perhaps CS gas is introduced into the equation, everything changes and maintaining the integrity of the group is pushed to a higher level. They chose a regrouping location within the Square and then the five of them began to filter in, one at a time. Ten minutes later, they had regrouped beneath the largest political banner on the traffic circle at the center of the Square. There were at least a hundred banners of all shapes and sizes covering the circle. They had three com units with them, which also equaled the number of people that had visual knowledge of Akil’s relatives. They broke into groups, Akil moving on his own, his friend Omar and Marc, then Eyan and Omar’s daughter, Asysa. They had arranged to meet back at this same location in one hour. They also agreed to only use the radios if they found all the people they were seeking or it became imperative that they regroup and depart.
They were hoping to retrieve three people from the Square: Akil’s sister, his mother and stepfather. His stepfather was the editor of an underground newspaper. It was essentially the heart of the organized effort to oust the President from power. Akil knew that convincing him to leave the Square was unlikely, at best. But he hoped to convince him that the safety of his mother and sister was somehow more important than his vested interest in the uprising. Akil was a patriot himself, but he was also a realist, and was well aware of the potential for violence and bloodshed. Before coming to the Square, he had decided that the drumbeat of social change was not going to overshadow the potential loss of his immediate family.
They were moving out through the crowd methodically, each team taking a portion of the area and beginning their search from the center out. Akil was on home turf, so to speak, and both Marc and Eyan were not. They had both seen photos of the people they were searching for. But the common Shemagh on the men and the Burqa’ veils covering the women’s faces, rendered the pictures useless. Marc and Eyan reverted to being security lookouts for Omar and his daughter, Asysa. They were ever vigilant watching for anything that seemed out of place or perhaps didn’t feel right. But even this didn’t seem successful; the crowd was extremely agitated. Both Marc and Eyan were beginning to feel more like infiltrators than searchers. As they worked their way amongst the people, they began to notice secular groups separated by only a few meters. Each of the groups seemed to have their own look-outs.
The com ear piece crackled and then Akil was heard saying, “Regroup; back where we entered the Square.” Both Eyan and Marc with their wards began to move toward the original entry point. Eyan and Asysa arrived first; Akil had located his family but Eyan could clearly see that Akil was extremely agitated. He was arguing with his stepfather. His mother and sister, heads bowed, were standing silently by his side. Marc and Omar were approaching, when Eyan heard thumping sounds coming from multiple directions. He looked over, coming eye-to-eye with Marc, as they then recognized the familiar sound of tear gas canisters being fired, just as the first rounds began landing in the Square.
His stepfather was still insisting that his mother and sister stay with him in the Square. Akil turned toward Marc and gestured in a direction to move toward. As Marc began to move out, Akil said to Eyan, “Take my sister,” as he grabbed hold of his mother and began pulling her, following in Marc’s direction. His stepfather grabbed Akil’s arm as he began to move away, but it was to no avail. Akil was twice his size and was not to be dissuaded. Akil turned back and displayed a look of dissatisfaction, holding his hand up with his index finger raised, as a warning sign. His stepfather had never seen this side of Akil’s personality, but his intellect and common sense told him to release Akil’s arm.
The crowd began moving in all directions, making it even more difficult for their group to stay together. Marc had only moved about twenty meters up the street when he saw a formation of soldiers coming in their direction. To his left was an entrance to a bakery shop. The door was slightly ajar and he could see someone peering out from behind. He quickly turned and burst through the door knocking the person to the floor. It was an elderly gentleman; Marc reached out helping him to his feet as the others filed in quickly behind him. Eyan, being the last in, shut the door firmly behind him, then pulling the blind down. Marc moved to a wall and extinguished the light mounted upon it, as they all watched the soldiers move on by the shop. The owner of the shop stood quietly amongst them, eyes wide in anticipation of what was to happen next. Akil, skilled in the many dialects of the city, found the appropriate one and assured the man that nothing was to happen to him and thanked him for his involuntary help.
With the immediate danger past, the shop owner said they could observe the Square from the top of his shop at the rear of the building. Marc and Akil, directed by the owner, made their way to the roof and carefully watched things unfold. Eyan stayed with Akil’s sister, mother and the others. What was to happen next was a surprise to all. The military moved through the mass of people, paying no regard to them. As they approached the center of the Square, the Egyptian police entered the far side. Shots were fired and the crowd began to scramble once more in all directions. A subtle smile came to Akil’s face; he had hoped for this, but it was still a surprise. After a millisecond of glee, he turned to Marc, still smiling, and said “Time to go, my friend.” Marc caught the impact upon Akil. He had hoped the military would side with the people, against the tyrant.
As they left the shop, Akil turned to the shop owner and offered him a sum of Egyptian pounds. But he refused the gesture, instead offering in return his bracelet, an Egyptian token of friendship. Akil accepted the bracelet, and then offered one of his own. He smiled at the man, as he exited the shop.
They turned up the street, away from the Square, and made a hasty retreat. Just before reaching the first intersection, they heard voices and what sounded like many people running. Then, from both the right and left cross-streets, twenty or more police, fully clothed in riot gear, and automatic weapons, appeared. Akil was in the lead; he made no move to resist the sudden onslaught. In the blink of an eye, they were all taken into custody, however not one of them were searched for weapons. The police seemed much more interested in the events happening at the Square. Two of the men were assigned to watch the now group of seven, as the rest rapidly moved on toward the Square. The Egyptian policeman were well trained, although had little practical experience. No more than a minute later, Eyan and Akil were cinching nylon quick cuffs on the two men, taken from the soldier’s own riot kits. After relieving them of their gear, they pulled both men to a nearby stairway and secured them to the steel rail out of sight.
They reassembled where they had been taken into custody and, at just that instant; they heard gunfire coming from the direction of the Square. A look of distress came over Akil’s mother’s face. He could tell she wanted to return, but Akil just shook his head, indicating that he would not allow it. As in most Arabic cultures, when the man had made a decision, it was final. She turned away from the Square and proceeded with the others. They once again heard people running, this time though, it was the people from Tahrir Square, dispersing. They picked up their pace as the people began to move closer. Marc and the rest began to see and hear bullets hitting the buildings all around them, fired by the police chasing the crowd. They were still more than four hundred meters from the vehicles they hoped were still waiting. Omar and his daughter were instructed to accompany Akil’s mother and sister on to the pick-up site. The trio would hang back a short distance and cover their retreat.
The gunfire was coming closer as the people moved even nearer. Then Eyan saw it first, one of the people in the crowd abruptly fell to the ground. His lifeless body crumpled as others began tripping over him, and then others summarily began to go down. The soldiers were giving no quarter; they were shooting randomly into the crowd. The three quickly took cover behind a cement street barrier. They glanced at each other briefly, then turned and began firing back with deadly precision. In mere seconds, no less than eight or nine of the soldiers were taken down. The remaining few were scrambling for cover, but no longer firing their weapons.
Most of the crowd had dissipated from the street when one of the soldiers began running back toward the Square. Akil yelled out loudly – something in Arabic – the man stopped in his tracks and turned around. Akil fired one shot taking him down, saying, “I never shoot anyone in the back, even these sons of Jackals,” to both Eyan and Marc. They then began to retreat from their position, only to find themselves caught in crossfire with still more policemen. Akil looked toward his mother and the group, as they moved around a corner, safely reaching the pickup vehicles. Eyan was covering the rear as the three of them went into combat mode, one advancing, as the other two covered his movement. Before they had traveled very far, two more groups of combatants appeared. They were quickly running out of options.
Akil was the man in the middle when he quite literally stumbled, catching the toe of his boot on a poorly constructed drain grate. He whistled at Marc, who was currently in lead position, getting his attention. He motioned to him to return to his position, just as Eyan was preparing to advance to Akil’s location, bringing them all to the drain opening. They converged at the same time, as Akil was trying to pry the drain grate from its mooring. As soon as Eyan was close enough to see what Akil had in mind, he dropped his gear and began to assist in removing the grate. Marc changed out the magazine on his weapon and began to lay down rapid fire in as many directions as was possible. As soon as he noticed the breach of his weapon freeze open, indicating that it was empty, he picked up Eyan’s and continued firing. The grate was massive but they managed to prop up one side allowing space for them to slide through one at time. After Marc had exhausted the ammo in Eyan’s rifle, he followed them, dropping down to the prone position and then sliding feet first under the grate’s edge. He felt someone grab his leg directing it to a crude metal ladder leading down the vertical shaft to the primary tunnel below. He started down the ladder, then stopped, reached into his side pack and pulled out a grenade and pulled the pin, lodging it loosely next to the bundle they had used to prop up the grate. He swiftly descended the ladder to the tunnel below. They moved off as quickly as possible following Akil. Marc yelled out for the others to open their mouths and cover their ears, saying, “I left a present at the grate for our pursuers.” A few seconds later, the concussion of the blast came rushing through the tunnel.
Akil, using dead reckoning, moved forward to the next overhead grate, then turned left to the second grate, and scrambled up the ladder. His knowledge of the area was extremely useful, he reached down and pulled out his com unit and called for Omar. Omar answered rapidly. The extraction vehicle was but fifty meters away. He directed it to their location and, with the help of the bumper wench; they were out and on their way in a few short moments.
Later, as they were pulling into Akil’s compound, safely away from the turmoil, Akil introduced both Eyan and Marc to his mother, Asilah, and his sister, Ara. After they had all had a chance to clean up, they sat down to lunch. Akil’s mother, Asilah, was busy placing things on the table as Marc, Akil and Eyan entered the dining room. They were coming from the great room where they had had a tasty sample of Arabic-produced wines from Akil’s cellar.
Asilah was a very beautiful woman. Both Marc and Eyan could clearly see this now that she was not wearing a veil or dressed in her street attire. As they began to be seated, Ara entered the room similarly dressed and was also as beautiful as her mother, if not more so. As the dinner progressed and the conversation deepened, it was also evident that Ara was as intelligent, as she was beautiful. She was a teacher at the university working on her doctorate in cultural antiquities. This was an atypical education for a women living in an Arabic country.
There had been a local news blackout ordered by the President’s regime when the police had entered Tahrir Square. After lunch, they all had returned to the great room and watched while Akil scanned the international satellite stations for news. He landed on Al Jazeera just as a report was coming in from the Square. The report was not what they had hoped for. There were several casualties, many injuries, and two of the organizers had been taken captive and were said to be under lock-and-key, at an undisclosed location.
Later in the afternoon, after Akil had been in touch with several of his contacts, they were able to piece together what had happened after they had departed the Square. The civilian casualties were caused mostly by indiscriminate shooting between the police and the military. There had also been many more people taken into custody than was reported on Al Jazeera. But the most disturbing information was that two of his contacts had said that his stepfather was one of the casualties. He and two others had been singled out by the military and shot, execution style, unlike the others.
Akil also knew that the police would not stop with his execution. They would continue on looking for his family, eventually leading to his compound.
After breaking the news to his mother and sister, he made a decision to move his weapons cache to a new location elsewhere in Cairo. He then asked everyone to collect their belongings and be ready to leave within the hour. He planned to use his Convair 240, an antique aircraft by today’s standards, to transport the lot of them to Madrid, Spain.
Marc called Stiles in Tel Aviv and brought him up to speed on what was going to happen, and then asked him to return to Madrid with Dara in the Gulfstream. The Marquands and Mr. Rubin had been escorted to the American Embassy earlier in the day by Dara and Stiles, rendering the contract fulfilled.
With a stop off at Malta for refueling, the Convair was on approach to Madrid’s Barajas International Airport, just after eight, local time. Once on the ground, Marc instructed Akil how to get to the Die/Hex hanger. The doors to the hanger were opening as the aircraft rolled to a stop, just outside. The Die/Hex hanger was more than large enough to accommodate both aircraft. The Gulfstream was already being tended to by the corporate mechanics as the Convair was being ferried in.
Stiles had arranged transport for Akil and his family to Ricardo’s private compound across town, even before they had landed. As they were preparing to depart, Marc asked Akil if he had any immediate plans. After he had replied that he did not. Marc, having previously cleared it with Stiles, asked him to drop by Casa Martini the next day.
Eyan and Stiles stopped off on route back to Martin’s compound and had a few drinks, but Marc and Dara drove straight back to her condo. After they had had a shower and something to eat, they opened a bottle of wine, and moved out to the patio. Marc filled her glass and then explained the events of getting Akil’s family out of Cairo. Dara, with a rather troubled look upon her face, said, “I need to tell you about something I’ve decided.” Marc, seeing the concern on her face said, “What’s up?” Dara was staring at her wine glass, as she swished it around, saying, “I’ve decided to give my resignation to Martin.” Marc said, “I can’t say that I’m surprised, but I am a bit concerned. Are you going back to Europol?” “I think so, but for the time being, I’m going to sit back and try to decide what’s right for me. I’ve got another seven months before this sabbatical period is over and, after going back out in the field with you guys, I felt alive again. I’m just not ready to be a social butterfly, flittering around, protecting the rich and famous. I just hope that Martin will understand. I’ve grown quite fond of him and maybe even more so of the money. I think greed, in some way, is its own prison. I just can’t do this anymore. No. The fact is, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Marc reached up, taking the glass from her hand, saying, “Follow your instincts, Dara. It’s the best advice I can give.”
Changing It Up
The next day at Villa Martini, the group reassembled, joined by Martin and completed with Stiles in attendance. They were all seated around the pool at the sunken bar. Akil, accompanied by Ara, had arrived shortly before and had been introduced to Martin. Martin asked what the Serenity Group thought of the Gulfstream after the excursion to Hawaii and Egypt. Marc replied that without the use of the craft, he didn’t think they would have been in time to help the Marquands out of Cairo before the rebellion had exploded. Then he said that although they may incur added costs with the craft, it would most certainly pave the way to better servicing Serenity’s clients.
Dara asked Martin if she might have a moment alone with him. He answered, “Why, of course,” as he rose up from his chair, joining her while walking toward the main house. Eyan thought it was an unusual request, but didn’t want to disturb Marc while he was talking to Akil and Stiles. Eyan noticed that Ara was at the end of the table alone and he walked over and sat down next to her, saying, “We didn’t have much time to talk in Cairo, but do you mind if I ask, have you traveled much outside of Egypt?” Ara said, “Well a bit. I did my undergrad at Brown University in Rhode Island. But I actually did much more traveling when I was at a girl’s academy just outside Taos, New Mexico. Most of the other girls were avid snow skiers, so we hit all the ski areas out west.” Eyan was a little more than surprised; the clarity of her diction was becoming more and more evident as she talked. Eyan ask if she had skied in Utah at the time. She replied, “Actually several times; Utah has the best powder skiing of all the places we skied.” Eyan, smiling, said, “Your English seems to improve as we talk.” Ara, with a wide smile in return said, “The academy was an international boarding school. Most of the girls were from all over the globe, so we were always trying to see who could pass themselves off as an American. It was kind of a competition between us, but it really became helpful later on at Brown. My father insisted that both Akil and I speak English only around the house after we were eight or ten years old. He said English will be the language of the business world one day; in retrospect, I think he was right.”
Martin and Dara emerged from the main house and walked toward the group. Marc, Akil and Stiles and were still occupied deep in conversations of their own, as the two approached the pool bar. Eyan and Ara were oblivious to it all. As Marc looked up, he saw Martin, and then glanced over at Dara. They were both smiling. He took that as a good omen, considering what he knew had just transpired.
After some cool drinks and a bite to eat, Martin begged off, saying that he had a business dinner engagement across town. He said, “I hope you will all stay and enjoy Casa Martini in my absence.” Martin was always the gracious host. He looked over at Stiles with a smile and said, “Feel free to use the wine cellar, Ashton.” Then he turned and walked toward the house.
A few hours later, as the late afternoon sun was laying low in the west, the conversations had dwindled as they sipped wine from the cellar. Now that they had relaxed a bit, Marc asked Akil what his plans were for the future. His reply was measured with much thought. Then he said, “Marc, I’m really not sure. Until this unrest settles, it’s hard to say. The only thing I can say for sure is, I’m not taking my family back until its safe.” Marc asked how his mother was dealing with the loss of his stepfather. Akil said, “She’s a proud and amazingly strong woman, and being here with Ricardo, is extremely helpful. Ricardo’s wife, her sister-in-law, is by her side constantly. I suppose she’s doing as well as one would expect.”
Marc said, “Akil, I would like you to consider joining with Eyan and me. We have some things developing and we need someone we can trust with your skill set and also your business contacts.” He went on to tell him of Serenity Island and the project currently underway there. He said, “You know what we do and Eyan and I both trust working with you. It’s proven to be extremely lucrative. Will you consider it?” Akil said, “I still have Ara to take care of.” But before he could say another word, Marc nodded his head toward Eyan and Ara saying, “Ara is also welcome on Serenity, although I think Eyan will be somewhat distracted with her being there. Anyway, sleep on it and we’ll talk later.” Akil turned back around to Marc and said, “Ara is extremely demanding at times; perhaps we should sit back in amusement and watch.” Akil and Ara would fit in well with the group, Marc was thinking, as they both laughed and finished the last of an amazing bottle of Argentine Malbec wine from the Mendoza region.
After a while, all were beginning to feel the effects of the wine, but most likely it was the hangover of the long week of events, as they began to say good-night. Akil and Ara drove back to their uncle’s estate, while Marc and Dara retreated to her condo, leaving Eyan and Ashton to yet another bottle of Martin’s amazing collection.
The next morning, while Marc and Dara were still lying in bed, Marc asked Dara how things had gone with Martin with respect to her resignation. She said, “You’re going to love this. He was expecting it; he said he had not thought I would have lasted this long. When I asked him why he thought that, he said, ‘Some animals are just made to run, my dear, and you are most certainly one of them. You’ve been like a caged leopard since you been here; go do what your heart tells you to do.’ Then he hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for everything.’ It just blew me away.” When she looked up at Marc, he could see her eyes were tearing a bit. Marc said, “He’s an amazing soul. I think we’re all beginning to just now realize how much. “Oh,” she said, “I asked him where to drop off the car and he said, ‘Keep it.’ But I told him, I didn’t think that the Island had many roads, being so small. He smiled and just said “Take care of Marc; he’s special you know. As for the car, there’s room in Villa Martini’s garage until you need it.”
Later, just before noon, Marc’s phone rang, it was Akil. After a short exchange, Marc finished the call and placed the phone on the counter. He looked over at Dara and said, “Well, how long do think it’ll take us to close down this place and get you packed? Akil said he and Ara would be good to go by lunch tomorrow.”
A few days later, and ten thousand plus miles behind them, they were on approach to Honolulu International Airport on Oahu, Hawaii. Mike was there with one of his company vans to pick them all up. Mike had been back on the Main Islands from Serenity for only three days. He was checking on his own businesses and securing more materials for construction on Serenity.
He told them that he had secured rooms for them all near his office and also conveyed that he would be returning to the Island in two or three days. He dropped them off at the hotel with the exception of Marc who accompanied him back to the office. It was late afternoon by the time Marc had returned to the hotel in the van. When he arrived upstairs at the room, Dara had just walked out of the bathroom from taking a shower still drying her hair. Marc said, “That’s a great idea,” as he started to remove his shirt walking towards the bath. As he walked past, Dara she reached out, grabbing his arm saying, “There’s a tariff for using my shower, mister,” with a coy smile upon her face. Marc reached up and untied her bath robe and, with a spinning motion, picked her up and carried her to the bed across the room saying, “Tariff, you say? When I get through with you, lady, you’ll be begging to pay me!” Two hours later, they had shared a shower, ordered room service and retired to the bedroom. Jet lag was now beginning to collect its tariff.
Over the next two days, they all laid low, recharging their batteries, as it were. Mike called Marc late the second day to check in and see what he had planned for the group. After checking with Mike about the facilities available on Serenity, he had everyone ready to leave for the Island around six the next morning. They all piled into the van and made their way to the dock next to Mike’s facility. One of the small ships that Mike had leased for transporting materials to and from island was named the “Sandollar.” It was capable of both loading and transporting the track vehicles and materials necessary for the job. It also had the ability to be used as temporary facilities for the workers in preparing hot meals and such when it was on station at the Island and it could also be the living quarters for the group.
When they arrived at the Island several days later, both Marc and Eyan were more than impressed with the work that had been completed during their absence. The runway had been cleared of all the underbrush and had been packed and graded; a crew was in the midst of trimming off all the lower branches of the trees that acted as a canopy over the majority of it. Several foundations had been laid for the structures to be built. The tarmac leading into the hanger had been poured and was now the staging area for the entire job. When they had left, Mike was working on the new docks and supply tanks for both generators and aircraft JP-5 fuel. All this had been completed and it was now a bustling center of activity; the unloading process of the Sandollar was already in progress. Some of the supplies were already being inventoried upon the dock. Mike was turning out to be far more than advertised. He was a natural born leader. Marc and Eyan watched the workers go about their assignments; it was obvious they had made the right decision with his selection.
The next few weeks, it became clear that communications were the most imperative of all the immediate things that lie before them. They needed to set up a permanent satellite phone system that insured their constant communication with the outside world. When they approached Mike about the situation, he grinned, saying, “The antenna is on special order from a communications tower manufacturer in Japan. It has been designed to emulate the local fauna. It is slated for delivery in the very near future.” As it was, Marc had his handheld Sat phone on 24/7, as Serenity’s link to the outside world. Later that evening after dinner, everyone was relaxing around a large fire, fueled by the remnants of the cleared runway. The trade winds were brisk but also refreshing, and then came a large clap of thunder as the trade winds turned from friendly to ferocious in a heartbeat. They all picked up their drinks, and scrambled to the ship moored dockside a few meters away. As they all took cover in the security of the ship’s confines, they commented on the ferocity and suddenness of the event. That is, all but Mike, who was well aware of the South Pacific’s quirks.
During the following weeks, work on the compound moved forward rapidly. Mike was a genius when it came to constructional engineering. Every evening around the table after dinner, they would collectively brainstorm the project and postulate on, the “what ifs.” Originally the project was designed for a handful of people. The sudden reorganization of the Serenity Group had changed the configuration dramatically. When Marc approached Mike, inquiring as to the possible expansion of the main house, he laughed briefly, and said, “We have a solid rock foundation and structural steel and concrete walls as it is now. All we need to do is increase the steel rod in the walls and we can double the floor space with a second level. I’ve already looked into the secondary needs of extra materials like plumbing and electrical equipment. None of this will necessitate any major changes considering we’re just now starting the underground phase of the structure. The only thing, obviously, is the completion schedule would be pushed out a bit. Give me a few days to run the numbers on the materials. Once I get the engineering changes worked out, we’ll have some numbers to go over.
They had been on the Island for more than a month now and things were progressing as projected. Late that afternoon, Marc’s mobile Sat phone signaled an incoming call. When he answered it, Ashton Stiles was on the line. After the usual niceties, he said he had called to let them know that Martin’s new aircraft had been delivered and that he and one of the corporate pilots could chauffeur the G150 to their location so the Serenity group could take possession of the craft. Later that afternoon, after a conference with Mike, he re-contacted Stiles. He relayed the information needed to locate the Island and the radio frequency for contacting them; also telling him it was a daylight approach only. The installation of the field landing lights had not begun as yet. They set a window for his arrival in four days and ended the call.
As the days passed, it was becoming evident that Eyan and Ara were finding more and more in common. For Marc and Akil it was often a common subject of conversation. Akil had never observed his sister in this manner; she had always been such an academic, totally captured within her work studies and teaching.
Everyone had seemed to fall into a pattern of responsibility. Dara, with the help of Mike, was turning into an excellent cook. It was quite a surprise to everyone, including her. Ara had begun helping Mike with the ordering and organization of the materials as they were needed. The men helped out wherever they could but sometimes it was a matter of simply getting out of the way and letting the men Mike selected, carry-out their jobs. There was no standing around leaning on a shovel. Each and every one of these men had multiple abilities.
The day before Stiles was due to land, they all broke off early and walked the runway abreast looking for debris. Mike had had the tarmac cleared for tying down the G150. At precisely eleven the next morning, the radio aboard ship crackled and Stiles’ voice was heard saying, “Serenity, were about ten minutes out to your west. We’re going to take a look-see, then swing around and come in on final, over.” Mike pulled the cord twice, emitting short blasts, on the ship’s air horn. It was the pre-arranged signal for those on and around the runway to vacate. He keyed the radio and said, “Welcome to Serenity gentleman; permission to land.”
Marc and the rest of the group were standing off the edge of the tarmac at the head of the runway. As Stiles approached, he turned on his landing lights well over a mile out. He touched down with a slight teetering of the wings and there was a swirl of dust off each wingtip as he began braking. The aircraft needed little more than half of the runway to fully stop. However, Stiles allowed the craft to taxi on once he understood the facility and could see tarmac ahead. He finally stopped, shut down the engines, and then disembarked, joined by the co-pilot. He shook hands with everyone and re-introduced his co-pilot, Arnesto Garcia. Ara and Eyan appeared across the tarmac walking slowly around the tail of the aircraft. Ara was waving to Ashton as they approached. Ashton glanced over at Marc; the look upon his face was part laughter and part question, as he noticed Eyan’s and Ara’s mutual attraction. Marc just smiled and tipped his head slightly, acknowledging Ashton’s query.
Ashton was even more than surprised by the Island, especially considering the description he had received back a Villa De Martini. He had expected far less than he was seeing. Marc asked him how the runway felt when landing, knowing that landing on crude runways tended to be tenuous at best. Ashton said that, in all honesty, it was smoother than many he had landed on around the smaller venues in Spain.
Later that evening, everyone was looking forward to the barbeque. Mike had arranged for one of the backhoes to dig a massive pit. He had had the men stoking the fire all morning long, building up the coals to make ready for the piece de resistance – a forty-pound pig smothered in tangy BBQ sauce, then tightly wrapped in water-soaked burlap. He had dropped it in the pit on a layer of corrugated tin covering the coals and covered it over with large palm fronds, then a layer of sand to prevent it from reigniting. The dinner was nothing short of fabulous deep-pit BBQ and when done correctly, can only be described as tantalizing.
After dinner, the workman retired to their sleeping quarters and the usual nightly conversation continued on. Ashton had recently finished his two-week training session on the new aircraft. He was talking to Marc, Eyan and Akil about what would be required of them to acquire their certifications. Both Marc and Eyan had their pilot’s licenses but were not certified on the G150. Akil, on the other hand, was fully certified as he often flew between Egypt and Spain flying his uncle’s G250. The arms business was extremely lucrative. He also would fly his own older Convair 240 when the need presented. They were drawn away from the topic when the volume of Mike, Dara and Ara’s laughter overpowered their conversation. Mike was telling old Naval stories that had the girls practically rolling on the deck. The next morning none of the management crew was any too spry. Mike walked in carrying what he described as a prelude to a Navy breakfast – orange juice and three ibuprofens – for everyone around the breakfast table.
Over the next two days, they had time to show Ashton the entire Island ending up on the top of the hill. They were standing on the large foundation of the main structure. The walls were beginning to rise to the top of the first level, which made it easy to see the layout of the ground floor. They were all on the observation patio deck looking over the newly modified drawings when Marc’s Sat phone started to vibrate. He stepped back away from the others and answered it, before the ringer sounded. A few moments later, after completing the call, he stepped back toward the group and said, “Well, it’s time to go to work and pay for all this. We have a job request, indirectly from our old buddy, General Thomas. It seems he’s been keeping track of our – as he put it – ‘exploits.’ He made reference to the job in South Africa but, even more surprisingly, the Egyptian retrieval, which must have been the State Department connection. It seems they have eyes on a group down in Argentina that they think may be a terrorist group in training. He wants us to take a look-see and figure out what they’re up to. We’re to meet up with a contact in Buenos Aires for a briefing and any support items we might need. It’s strictly a cost-plus job – half up front and final payment on the way out.” Eyan said, “Why don’t they take care of it in-house? Something doesn’t seem right.” Akil spoke up saying, “Eyan’s got a point. Something’s not quite kosher.” Marc finding it odd that a person of Arabic decent would use an Israeli colloquialism in such a fashion, just smiled and said, “I agree.” Akil was somewhat like an onion; when you thought you had him pegged, he would expose yet another layer of his persona. That may well be one of my first questions at the briefing, Marc muttered to himself, as they all started down the hill back to camp.
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