Bill slowly opened his eyes. A red fuzzy blob floated in the air, and he blinked a few times. Harold’s bearded face hovered over him.
Harold said, “Hurry up, you need to get going.”
Bill grabbed the back of this head as he sat up.
Harold pointed at the nightstand, “Darla said you might have a small headache. There’s a coffee and multivitamin right here. Joshua brought over some clothes; they’re in the bathroom.”
Bill asked, “How late is it?”
Harold answered, “It’s eight in the morning.”
Bill grabbed his coffee and took a sip of the steaming liquid.
Harold said, “You need to get moving. You can drink that after you dress.”
Bill scowled, “What’s the hurry?”
“Garcia’s coming. He wants the crew together when he arrives. Darla said he’ll be here in under twenty-minutes.”
Bill stretched his back and massaged the back of his neck. “I’ll do my best.”
Harold said, “No, you have to be at the meeting. I’ve learned that the CIA is very serious about these things. I’ll see you out on the patio in fifteen minutes.”
Bill protested, “You said we had twenty minutes.”
“It’s CIA time.”
Harold left, and Bill waved off the closing door as he made his way to the bathroom. True to Harold’s word, a pair of Bermuda shorts and a tan linen shirt sat folded on the counter along with Bill’s undergarments. He took a quick shower and walked out of his room in ten minutes with the coffee in his hand.
Everyone was seated and conversing among themselves. Coffee mugs lined the table except for one seat across from Harold. Harold’s chair from the night before sat empty with a cup of steaming black coffee in front of it. The crew grew quiet as Bill sat down.
Bill looked around, “Please, don’t let me interrupt.”
Darla asked, “How are you feeling?”
Bill answered, “The headache is getting better. Why didn’t you just ask Joshua to help you instead of slipping me a mickey.”
Joshua interjected, “I wasn’t consulted.”
Darla looked between Joshua and Bill. “Since I didn’t know what sort of information might be locked in Bill’s head, I had to keep the number of people involved to a minimum.”
“So, spouses have clearance?”
Harold answered, “My company makes nukes for the government. You can’t do that without a high-security clearance.”
Bill leaned forward towards Harold, “Is that why we had our little chat on the beach? You’re were trying to win my loyalty for Darla?”
Harold scowled and shook his head. “No. We’re family.”
Bill sat back, “Yea, so you’ve said a few dozen times. Maybe we are, and maybe we aren’t. I just lost my family, I’m not in a hurry to replace them.”
The group sat silent and drank their coffee. Frank walked over and topped off Bill’s mug when Garcia’s voice emanated from inside the house, causing Darla to rise, and everyone followed suit.
Garcia was dressed in tan khaki shorts, A flowered button-down shirt, socks, tennis shoes, a straw hat, and sunglasses. He said, “Everyone, please have a seat.”
Bill sat and watched Garcia wander to the front of the table. Garcia took the empty seat next to him and grabbed Bill’s hand. Frank put the decanter on the table and left.
Garcia said, “Darla told me your meeting at the airport took an unexpected turn. I’m so glad you’re alright.” He released Bill’s hand.
His sunglasses scanned the table. When he got to Maria, she pointed to her nose’s bridge. Garcia removed his sunglasses and continued studying the remainder of the group. It reminded Bill of Dr. Adam when he acted as softball coach at the orphanage.
Garcia’s gaze moved past the group into the empty house. “I wanted to get you guys together and give you a heads up. Alice is on her way here.”
Darla rested her forehead against the palms of her hands. Harold let out a low whistle.
Bill asked, “Who’s Alice?”
Darla answered, “Our boss.”
“She’s everyone’s boss?”
Garcia answered, “No, just Darla and me.”
“So, she’s what. CIA, DHS, some other acronym?” asked Bill.
“Something like that,” replied Garcia. “Look, Alice confirmed Carol is in the hands of a human trafficking organization, and if Chuck hands her over, we’ll never find her.”
Bill slammed his hand on the table, “No!”
Garcia grabbed his hand, “Calm down. We have a plan. Alice has a plan, and she’s joining us in our rescue of Carol.”
Bill clenched his fist under Garcia’s hand, “I better be involved.”
Garcia patted his hand, “Relax, you’re at this table for a reason.
Darla asked, “When will Alice arrive?”
A familiar woman’s voice caught Bill’s attention. Bill stood before anyone in the group could move. “Cindy, why are you here?”
Garcia stood up, and the remainder of the group followed suit. Bill recognized her black hair pulled back in a ponytail and her fit figure. Garcia said, “This is Alice.”
Alice held up her hand, “Relax, Mr. Johnson and I met at the hospital. As I mentioned at the time, the less you knew, the better. I apologize for my false name.”
Bill asked, “So, you’re FBI?”
“Also, for lying about my department. I’m with the CIA.”
Bill’s eyes danced for a moment, and he said, “My gosh, you were convincing.”
Alice smiled and said, “Please, have a seat. We need to discuss getting your friend back and Chuck.”
Bill nodded, and everyone sat down. Frank appeared with a mug of coffee, and Alice leaned up against a column rather than sit down.
She began, “First, let me commend Bill for the way he has handled himself. I know agents who had to take a sabbatical after their first week, and it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as yours. Regarding your friend with the smashed skull in Wilkesboro, I’m happy to say he was just a mercenary. In fact, everyone at the hanger was a hired gun.
“This is excellent news for us. It means Chuck no longer has a team of people he can trust. I imagine Nigel was his last connection before Bill took him out. Of course, this also means Chuck is more unpredictable.
“I believe it’s safe to say the CIA is no longer on his target list. He seems obsessed with Harold. We don’t believe he’s planning on killing Harold. It could be leverage to get the CIA to back off. It could be more sinister and involve Harold’s company and nuclear weapons. We aren’t sure at this point.”
Bill interrupted, “Maybe someone else wants Harold.”
Alice pushed herself off the pillar, against the back of Harold’s chair, and stared down into Bill’s eyes. “Mr. Johnson, that’s an interesting thought. What makes you say that?”
Bill cleared his throat, “Well, I’m not an agent, but it seems like Chuck would have gone into hiding and waited for things to calm down. I deal with people’s money every day. There are a thousand places around the world that launder money and keep gray money safe. I imagine Chuck has plenty of resources to keep himself comfortable and out of sight for decades.
“Also, why come after me at all? Harold and I didn’t know each other.”
Joshua interrupted, “Your brother’s one goal in his life was to find you. Chuck knew about that somehow.”
Bill continued, “But why put himself at risk for Harold if this is about revenge or leverage? He has way too many people looking for him now. Either this Chuck is an idiot, or someone is pulling his strings.”
Alice took a step back and took a long sip of coffee. Her lips smiled as she lowered her mug. She looked across the table at Joshua, “I thought you told us Harold had the higher I.Q?”
Harold spoke up, “Doc, you said that?”
Joshua raised his hands up, “Please, don’t place any weight on those tests. It’s just how you boys tested at the time. It doesn’t mean anything now.”
Alice turned back to Bill, “You have a very analytical mind.”
Bill answered, “You can’t succeed in the stock market if you don’t.”
Alice walked toward Garcia’s position and took his chair. Frank appeared from the house’s shadows with a wicker chair and sat it next to Harold. Garcia took a seat.
Alice said, “I’m interested in your opinion of our plan to rescue your friend.
“I sent word through channels to Chuck that we will meet him at Crossroads Key. We all know the terrain, and I’m assuming Chuck has not been back there. I have a well-hidden bunker, and there is only one side of the island accessible by boat.
“I’ll be in the bunker until Chuck makes landfall with Carol. Then I’ll make my way through the grasses and get a scope on Mr. McGill. There’s lots of open water, so it will be easy enough to position a couple of satellites to scan the area for any backup on Chuck’s side. My plan is to have Harold and Bill both wait for Chuck.”
Garcia asked, “Chuck’s okay with Harold and Bill being at the meeting?”
Alice replied, “He won’t know, but it’s not a problem. Chuck can be unpredictable, but he can’t argue with Bill’s desire to take Carol home. Chuck will likely assume we wouldn’t put Bill in harm’s way after our last encounters.”
Bill leaned towards Alice, “What encounters?”
Bill couldn’t help noticing Garcia and Alice glance at Harold. He looked over at Harold and asked, “What encounters?”
Harold answered, “It’s not important right now. I can tell you later.”
Bill asked, “Who died?”
Harold replied, “Only some horrible people.”
Maria spoke up, “They shot Darla.”
Alice glared towards Maria, and Maria returned the favor. Garcia and Joshua looked nervous.
Darla cleared her throat. “If we can get back to the plan. Am I to assume we’ll grab Chuck as soon as Carol is safe with Bill?”
Alice nodded and continued to glare at Maria.
Bill looked over at Harold. “What’s to stop me from killing the man responsible for my family’s death? Would you try to stop me?”
Alice’s cool touch got Bill’s attention. She looked into his eyes with compassion and softly warned, “Please, don’t make me shoot you.”
Bill pulled back his hand and said, “Whatever. I may be in the mood to be shot.”
Alice replied, “Mr. Johnson, Chuck is not a stupid man. He seems to understand your brother’s berserk tendencies, and I have no doubt he knows what you did to Nigel. He will be armed, but Chuck likely wouldn’t shoot you. He would shoot Carol as soon as you took a step towards him. Whether you collapse in grief or you tear him apart, Chuck would consider it a personal victory over you.”
Bill responded, “Whatever. I don’t know anything about this key, but your plan sounds alright. I don’t care if you shoot me or not. If Chuck gets squirrely, I’m taking him out.”
Alice replied, “Then we’ll make sure Mr. McGill is convinced the exchange is legitimate.”