Bill stopped at the large mahogany door. Italian, French, and other influences created a beautiful and unique first impression of the sprawling home. The stucco and red tiled roof reminded Bill of his time in the California Wine Country.
Joshua asked, “Are you alright?”
“Yea. I’m getting an impression of Harold by his taste in houses.”
Maria spoke up, “Harold didn’t build this. He has better tastes than that. This was built by an evil man.”
Bill asked, “Then why did Harold buy it?”
Maria answered, “The government gave it to him.”
Joshua interrupted, “Perhaps we should go inside. I’m sure Harold will be happy to tell you more when the time is right. Please, keep my wife’s words in mind; this is not what your brother is about.”
Joshua opened the door, and Bill hesitated.
“Come on,” insisted Joshua.
Bill followed them through the marbled entryway and into the parlor. Inside sat inviting overstuffed cream-colored couches and chairs.
Just beyond the parlor, a retractable wall sat opened. Harold and Darla stood near two pillars with drinks in their hands, talking. As soon as Harold caught sight of the group, he quickly approached them, weaving his way past Joshua and Maria and straight to Bill.
“Welcome to my home, such as it is. I apologize for the décor. I’m afraid it mostly came this way.”
Bill shook his hand, “Thank you. Joshua and I were just discussing the house.”
“It isn’t really me, but Garcia and Darla say we’re safe here, and we’re outside jurisdictional waters, so I’m my own little country.”
Harold chuckled, “It does have its tax perks. Would you like a drink?”
“What are you having?”
Harold answered, “It’s a rum runner. It’s sort of our drink of choice. Frank keeps the alcohol low and the fruit juice high.”
“Do you have any beer?”
Joshua spoke up, “Let me have Frank get you a Copper.”
Bill’s eyebrows went up. “You get Olde Mecklenburg here in the kingdom of Harold?”
Joshua smiled, “It’s the only privilege I requested.”
Bill raised his hand, “Sign me up.”
Joshua excused himself and headed over to talk with a man behind the bar next to the pool. Maria, Harold, and Bill joined Darla.
Bill asked, “Why are so many of your servants and guards named Frank?”
Darla answered, “Oh, they don’t work for us. They work for the U.S. government. They’re part of the CIA detail.”
“The CIA renames all their agents Frank?”
Darla smiled, looked at Harold, and then back at Bill. “We use different names. These are some of our best agents, so they must use an alias. We decided to call everyone Frank because it’s easier to remember. It also gives us an additional layer of security. If you ever meet anyone claiming to be from Harold’s residence and he doesn’t call himself Frank, you’ll know he’s lying.”
“Why aren’t there any female agents?”
Darla answered, “I believe I’m offended.”
Bill shook his head, “I meant besides you.”
Harold spoke up, “I don’t need another woman on the island.”
Darla responded, “Not if you know what’s good for you. Besides, we have Maria.”
Bill turned to Maria, “You’re CIA?”
Maria scowled, “No.”
“Maria is worth ten CIA agents. She’s fearless, and she orders people around better than Alice.”
Bill asked, “Who’s Alice?”
Darla replied, “My boss. She’s running this project. I suspect you’ll meet her eventually.”
Joshua brought over two glasses of beer and handed one to Bill. He took a long swallow and smiled. Maria pointed to her lip, and Bill wiped the foam from his mouth.
Bill asked, “So, what now?”
Darla answered, “Garcia will return tomorrow. We’ll debrief each other and then decide our next steps. It’s obvious Chuck is making his move to exact his revenge.”
Harold pointed to the chairs, “Why don’t we get comfortable.”
Everyone sat. Harold took the chair at the front of the table and asked Bill to sit on his left side, and Joshua sat to Bill’s left. Bill looked across the table at Darla. “Why do you guys think this is about revenge? Why come after me if it was about the CIA?”
“Chuck’s a psychopath. He probably thinks grabbing you would pull us out of the woodwork. You saw what happened at the airport.”
Bill nodded and took a sip of beer. Then he said, “Yea, but they weren’t looking to kill everyone. You said yourself that the guy who took you hostage just wanted to get away. All they wanted was me. The only connection I have to anybody here is Harold and Joshua. If you ask me, they’re after Harold.”
Joshua spoke up, “Why do you think that?”
Bill shrugged, “I’m not a spy, but Harold’s involved in nukes. Maybe this Chuck fella thinks he can get hold of some nuclear weapons if he gets hold of Harold.”
Darla shook her head, “Chuck’s not that dumb.”
Harold spoke up, “Besides, he could have taken me at the beach.”
“What beach?” asked Bill.
Darla jumped in. “When our sting went awry, Chuck had us pinned down with a machine gun. He commented about he and Harold being even and that he would get his revenge. That’s why we think he’s after the CIA team.”
Bill scowled, “I don’t understand. He could have killed everyone on the beach by the sounds of it.”
Harold answered, “Yes, but Darla and I had saved his life before.”
“Was anyone else on the beach?”
“Garcia,” answered Darla. “Chuck had him pinned down.”
Bill mumbled, “Something’s missing.”
Joshua patted Bill’s shoulder, “It’s nothing you need to worry about, my boy. Let Darla, Garcia, and the rest of the agents worry with Chuck. Once he’s captured, we can leave our extended vacation, and they can figure out the rest.”
The table was quiet as the group sipped their drinks.
Harold caught Bill’s attention. “I hope you like tonight’s menu. It’s Rock House Store BBQ from Stallings with potato salad, bbq beans, and banana pudding.”
Bill’s eyes brightened. “Rock House Store? Out here? How?”
Darla answered, “Please, we’re the CIA.”
The table erupted with laughter, and Bill looked around confused.
Harold continued, “Sorry, it’s an inside joke you’ll discover soon enough. When my wife was researching your expenses, she discovered multiple BBQ restaurant purchases. I suggested we fly some in at my expense once I heard you were coming to the island. I hope I guessed right.”
Bill’s eyes glistened, “It was one of our favorite takeout’s.”
“Our?” asked Harold.
“Lori and me.”
Harold nodded and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
The food came out, and everyone dug in. The table was quiet for the next fifteen minutes as everyone enjoyed their meal.
Joshua finally spoke up, “I do miss home.”
Bill nodded in approval.
Harold responded, “I think I’ve been missing out by living on the west coast.”
Joshua asked Bill, “Is anyone watching your place while you’re gone?”
Bill dropped his fork, and it clattered against the plate. He quickly wiped his mouth and said, “Oh shoot. I need to call Carol.”
“Is she watching your house?” asked Joshua.
Bill answered, “Yes, and she was questioned by the CIA today. She said I better call, or she’d call me.”
Joshua responded, “At least she hasn’t called.”
Bill looked over at Darla.
Darla said, “I’m afraid that’s my fault. I had to destroy Bill’s phone.”
She reached for her phone and extended it to Bill. “Here, use mine. It’s secure and can’t be traced.”
Bill dialed Carol’s number. It rang several times and finally went to voicemail. “Hey, it’s Bill. I’m fine, but my phone is broken. Call me back on this number, and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
Bill hung up the phone and handed it back to Darla.
Maria spoke up, “I think your friend is angry with you.”
Maria answered, “Because you ignored her.”
Joshua intervened, “Carol is his administrator, honey. Bill’s fiancée was killed not too long ago.”
Maria looked around Joshua at Bill, a tear ran down her cheek, “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” said Bill. He continued, “I’m sure Carol is just tied up. She’s watching my house, her apartment. There are a hundred reasons she wouldn’t answer. Now, where’s that banana pudding?”
Frank left his location behind the bar and disappeared into the house. A few minutes later, he came out with a tray full of banana pudding in glass dessert cups. Everyone took one, and again silence ensued. A sigh of satisfaction bounced around the table in a round-robin fashion as each person finished off the remnants of their desert.
Darla’s phone rang. She pulled it out of her pocket. “Agent Brown speaking.”
There was a pause, and then Darla said, “Who?”
Another pause ensued, and Harold, Bill, Joshua, and Maria all looked at one another inquisitively.
Darla spoke once more, “If you hurt her.” She stopped for a moment, “I want proof of life.”
Darla extended the phone to Bill and said, “It’s Chuck, he has Carol.”