Bill and the Sting of Death

The Trade

The sea spray burned Bill’s eyes, and the Kodiak bumped against his butt mercilessly. He looked back over his shoulder and saw Harold smiling at the controls of the outboard motor.

Bill hollered over the roar of the engine, “Do you have to hit the top of every wave?”

Harold hollered back, “Sorry, it’s a little bumpy.”

Bill turned and faced the front. The image of the yacht had long since disappeared. Harold had sworn the island would appear soon, but Bill was beginning to think Harold may have an issue with his sense of direction. The cold, wet breeze permeated his jacket and skin.

Bill closed his eyes for a moment and spoke quietly under the engine’s cacophony and the Kodiak slapping against the waves.

“Maybe you are there. I don’t know. Please, don’t let anything happen to Carol. She is the only person left who understands me. You’ve taken everything else from me. Please don’t take her.”

Harold hollered, “There it is.”

Bill looked up. A small dot on the horizon began to take shape. The few palm trees on the key started to emerge, and then the rest of the island started coming into view. There were at least three boats on the beach. Harold slowed their craft slightly until the unmistakable figure of Darla emerged from a small hill. Harold opened the accelerator, and Bill nearly fell over backward.

The engine cut off a few feet from the beach, and Bill leaned back before Harold said a word. They slid up on to the sand and made an abrupt stop. Garcia walked up wearing his usual tan and white with a wide brim straw hat and sunglasses as the men were getting out of the boat.

Garcia said, “Nice stop.” He pointed several yards to their right. “I want you both to go over there and check out the foxholes I’ve made. If there is any shooting, I want you both inside them. Bill, if Carol is with you, toss her in and jump on top of her.”

Bill and Harold walked over to find two deep holes dug in the sand with a slight bump around them. Bill looked around. The handful of workers appeared to be navy. Everyone was spending more time disappearing over the small hill and coming back than worrying about the beach where the meeting was to take place.

Harold said, “Hang here for a minute. I’m heading over to check in with Darla.”

Harold headed up the hill, and Bill crossed his arms. The seconds started to tick by, and Bill didn’t feel like spending his time focusing on what was about to happen. He wandered to the top of the hill when Alice’s voice came from the foliage on his left.

“Mr. Johnson, I wasn’t aware you were needed up here.”

Bill turned to see Alice emerge from the brush with an earplug hanging by a small threaded wire draped around her neck.

Bill said, “Sorry, I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Alice pulled him over off the narrow path. “That’s alright. I have a couple of minutes before I need to suit up.”

Bill asked, “Why is the military here?”

Alice answered, “International waters and they have the equipment we need. We can’t have people nearby, that’s why this key was chosen. So, we have ears and eyes hidden around the island. Help is still thirty minutes away, but every second counts. If they hear trouble, these people will come in locked and loaded.”

“I still think we should take him out as soon as Carol is safe.”

Alice gave him an icy stare. “We have an agreement.”

Bill waved her off, “Yea, I haven’t forgotten. Don’t forget, though, if Chuck makes one move to hurt Carol, our agreement ends.”

Alice answered, “Look around you. I have the situation well in hand.”

“We’ll see.”

Alice turned on her heel and looked over her shoulder, “Time to get back to work.”

In a few steps, she disappeared, and Bill took that as his cue to return to the beach. He had barely gotten his on the sand when the sound of multiple footsteps came from behind. He hurried out of the way. Several young men and women carried various boxes to the boats and were out of sight in minutes.

Harold came strolling over the hill and hollered down, “Good, you’re still here. I thought you might wander off. Darla said Chuck’s been spotted by our drone. We won’t have to wait too much longer.”

Bill and Harold stood in silence. Both men scanned the sea. The only thing that rose from the horizon was an occasional bird. Bill thought he heard a motor traveling along the sea breeze a few times, but nothing appeared.

Bill asked, “I thought you said he’d be here soon.”

Harold looked down at his watch, “Yea. I thought we’d see him by now. Oh, shoot.”

“What is it?”

Harold turned towards the island and cocked his head. Bill strained to try and hear what Harold was listening for. A faint hum seemed to pass over the hill, but Bill dismissed it as another mind trick. Yet, it started to grow louder.

Harold said, “Chuck likes to scan the island. If he’s alone, he’ll circle past us at least once.”

The sound of the hum soon became a dull roar and shifted direction. Before long, a shallow gunboat appeared from the corner of the island. A lone man was seen on its deck. Harold waved, and the stranger waved back as he passed the beach and continued around the island.

“Where’s Carol?” asked Bill.

Harold answered, “Probably sitting out of sight with her hands tied until he feels it’s safe. Chuck’s a cautious guy.”

The motor faded and soon returned, but this time running with less urgency. Bill could see Carol standing next to Chuck. She appeared to have her hands tied in front of her. The boat turned to the beach and softly slid into the edge of the sand. Chuck threw an anchor out on the beach.

Harold grabbed Bill’s shoulder as Carol was led to the boat’s edge. Chuck hopped out into the shallow water and put his arms out. Carol slid over the rail and fell into Chuck’s arms. He carried her to the dry sand and gently let her down on her feet.

Chuck hollered, “See, safe and sound.”

“Are you alright?” asked Bill.

Carol responded, “If this fool doesn’t unshackle me, he’s gonna get the beating of his life.”

Chuck pulled out a large bowie knife and held up his free hand. “Just taking off the rope. I’m afraid Ms. Lewis took offense at being bound, but it was for her safety and mine.”

Chuck grabbed Carol’s forearm and put his knife back in its hilt. The pair walked closer. Chuck stopped. “I thought I said you were coming alone, Harold. This doesn’t bode well.”

Bill said, “You have my friend.”

Harold interjected, “How did you think Ms. Lewis was going to get home, swim?”

Chuck laughed, “Harold, you’re always thinking ahead. I suppose that’s why you’re the boss, like me. Of course, I practice better hygiene, but we can discuss your shaving habits on our ride out of here. Billy, how have you been? It’s been a while since we last talk.”

Bill replied, “I thought I told you to call me Bill.”

Chuck smiled, “So, you do remember me this time.”

Bill snarled, “I remember you had my wife and child killed.”

Chuck shook his head. “No, no. Like I said on our short phone call a few days ago, technically speaking, I had nothing to do with that. Nigel was supposed to go in, scare the people in the office, kidnap you and leave. No bloodshed or anything to make the news for more than a night. I suppose that’s what I get for sending an accountant to do a man’s job.”

Bill growled, “It never would have happened if you hadn’t sent him.”

Chuck took out a cigar, lit it, and then pointed it in Bill’s direction. “You need to watch that temper. It will get you into trouble.”

Chuck stuck the stogie in his mouth and then reached behind his back and pulled out a large pistol. He waved it in front of him. “Harold probably knows this gun, growing up like he did, but let me explain it to you, Bill. This is a Desert Eagle. It can bring down anything I point it out, including you two and your friend. Now, relax.”

Harold spoke up. “I have one question, why me? Why put yourself at risk just to pick me up.”

Chuck answered, “We all have a job to do, and we all have our bosses. My employer wants me to bring you in.”

“Why?” asked Harold.

Chuck waived his gun as he spoke, “He’ll have to tell you that. I’m sworn to secrecy, the hazards of my trade. I can tell you he’s promised me no harm will come to you. Now, let’s get this show on the road. The sooner I deliver you, the sooner I can rebuild my business.”

“Oh, did I reduce your staff?” scoffed Bill.

Chuck answered, “You should learn some humility from your brother. The CIA dismantled most of my operation. You just helped me fire a subpar employee.”

Harold asked, “What makes you think the CIA will leave you alone?”

Chuck took a long drag off his cigar. Carol waved the smoke back in his face. “Let’s just say when my little assignment is done, I’m looking for work, but enough chit chat. Let’s make the swap. I’m tired of being in the sun.”

Bill started to walk forward. Chuck pointed his pistol and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I take Carol, and then you get Harold.”

Chuck started laughing, “Boy, you really are full of yourself. I’m afraid not, sonny. Your brother comes forward, and I release Carol, and they meet halfway.”

Harold answered, “Alright.”

He began towards Chuck. Carol started walking quickly towards Harold. She passed Harold before he was halfway across. Bill opened his arms, and she dove into them.

Bill whispered, “Did they touch you?”

Carol answered, “No. Chuck protected me.”

Bill put his arm around her and slowly walked away towards the unseen foxhole.

Chuck hollered, “Freeze, nobody moves.”

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