Bill stood alone in the familiar woods clothed in wolfskin. The trees shuddered with a howl. He reached for his weapons, but they were absent.
He spoke to himself, “This is just a dream. Concentrate, you can wake up.”
The howl grew louder and more desperate.
“Wake up, come on, wake up!”
Bill’s eyes shot open. A roar through the walls made the pictures and television around the cabin vibrate. He rolled out of bed and grabbed some clothes. Another howl came through, but this one sounded more distant.
Bill opened his cabin door and looked up and down the hall. There was nobody to be seen. He ran for the stairs and up to the main deck. The ship still appeared deserted. He topped the stairs and quickly maneuvered around the indoor dining table and into the living room.
Bill stopped and looked through the sliding glass door. Maria, Darla, Harold, and Carol all sat at the round dining table with their morning meals. Maria had a scowl on her face, uninterested in the food. Harold had shaved his beard and cut his hair. To Bill, his brother now looked more like the man he had seen in the business magazines.
Bill rushed over and opened the door. “What’s going on?”
Darla and Harold looked up, “Good morning.”
Maria and Carol did not make eye contact.
Bill asked again, “Hey, what’s going on?”
Darla answered, “What do you mean?”
Bill scowled, “I thought I heard Harold holler, you know like something was wrong. I come up here, and everyone is having quiet breakfast.”
Darla said, “Joshua and Garcia are questioning Chuck.” She took a bite of eggs.
Maria spoke up, “You mean torturing him. I know what that sounds like. Men from the cartel used to enter my village and “question” a family about talking to the police. I can still hear their screams.”
Harold asked, “Maria, do you know who gave those cartel men their weapons and who told them when someone in a village had betrayed them?”
Maria shook her head.
Harold answered, “Men like Chuck. They make money on the misery of others. If they can create a conflict to sell more goods to a customer, they’ll do it every time. That’s not the villagers you hear screaming down there. It’s the cartel.”
Maria crossed her arms, “Joshua told me he wouldn’t torture anyone.”
Darla answered, “He’s not torturing him. Garcia and Joshua are making Chuck review where he has been, his victims, who paid him to do the things he did. Anybody with Chuck’s past is going to have his demons to face.”
Harold shook his head. “I don’t know. Chuck’s a smart guy. I trust the Doc, but I hope the information they’re getting is reliable.”
Darla grabbed Harold’s wrist, “They know what they’re doing.”
Bill asked, “How long have they been at it?”
Darla answered, “About an hour.”
Bill looked over at the clock over the bar, “I slept in this late, with that going on?”
Darla answered, “Garcia gave you a mild sedative in your drink last night so you would be able to sleep.”
Bill scowled, “Thanks for asking. Well, I’ll be back up in fifteen minutes. I’d like some breakfast.”
Harold answered, “No problem.”
Bill sulked over Garcia’s actions as he made his way back to his cabin. He slipped off his clothes, got in a shower amidst the chorus of howls echoing through the lower parts of the ship. When he returned for breakfast, Carol sat waiting for him.
“Where did the rest go?”
Carol answered, “Darla and Harold said they will be back soon. Something about checking on the Doc and Garcia. Maria is upstairs. She said she wanted to get away from the noise.”
Bill sat down, “I can’t really hear much of anything up here.”
Frank appeared with eggs, bacon, and a large mug of coffee. Bill savored his first sip of coffee and the perfectly cooked breakfast.
Carol asked, “Are you alright with what’s going on?”
Bill put down his fork, “What do you mean?”
“This Chuck guy. Do you think he’s really as bad as they say, or are you just taking their word for it?”
Bill scowled, “He killed Lori, he tried to kidnap me, and he almost made you a sex slave.”
“I know, but why not just throw him in prison? This seems
Bill answered, “No crueler than he was to us.”
“That’s what I mean. We aren’t supposed to be like him. Didn’t you ever learn that two wrongs don’t make a right?”
Bill nodded. “This isn’t that simple, at least from what I’ve heard. It sounds like they can stop a lot of bad people if they can get Chuck to talk to them.”
“Maybe they should just ask him.”
Bill picked up his fork, “I don’t think Chuck’s honesty is worth much.”
Carol looked out over the sea as Bill quickly finished his breakfast. He was getting down his last bite when Harold and Darla emerged.
Carol asked, “Is he still alive?”
Darla answered, “Yes. He’s been giving the guys lots of good intel.”
Carol’s eyes narrowed, “And what are the guys giving him?”
Darla and Harold joined them at the table as Frank showed up with a coffee decanter.
Harold answered, “Doc has been helping Chuck work through the people he killed. The howling we’re hearing is a combination of him reliving the events and grief.”
Bill asked, “And Chuck’s okay with that?”
Darla answered, “Garcia was going to stop when they got the name of the person behind this operation, but Chuck asked him if Doc could help him face his demons.”
Bill said, “Wait, you have the answer? Who is it?”
Darla put up her hand, “Just wait. We’ll have a debrief with everyone in a little while. Joshua wants to finish with Chuck and see where things are. Garcia thinks they’re turning him.”
Carol asked, “Turning him into what?”
Darla answered, “Turning him to our side.”
Bill noticed a slight shake of Harold’s head. He asked, “You don’t agree with your wife?”
Harold answered, “Chuck’s a smart guy. Doc is smart too, but I’m afraid he’s letting Garcia’s optimism get the better of him.”
Darla said, “Darling, I can’t believe you’d say that about your mentor.”
Harold answered, “Doc is family, and I’d say that about my own dad if somebody was trying to take advantage of him.”
Darla answered, “Well, you’ll get your chance soon enough. Joshua said he thought it would be safe if you and Bill went in together to talk to Chuck. We’re going to see if we can learn anything new when he talks with both of you.”
Bill asked, “When?”
Darla answered, “As soon as the two of them return. It could be in a few minutes or a few hours. In the meantime, I suggest we change the subjects or do something to pass the time.”
Bill turned to Harold, “So, where’s your lion’s mane?”
Harold blushed, “Well, it’s going to sound a little crazy. When Chuck got away, I made a vow to God that I wouldn’t shave until we caught him or killed him.”
“We know,” interrupted Bill.
Darla rolled her eyes, “You’re still going with that? Just admit it. You called it a “vow” so Garcia and I would find him faster. That beard was hideous.”
Harold laughed, “The vow was real, but it did have some side benefits. I saved a lot of time not shaving.”
Carol asked, “Has anyone seen Maria recently? The last time I saw her, she was going to the top deck.”
Darla answered, “She took the elevator down. I saw her in the hall, she said she was going to pray for everybody.”
Carol responded, “Smart woman.”
“This thing has an elevator?” asked Bill.
Harold nodded, “CIA had it installed in case they needed to transport wounded agents. It’s used by the staff most of the time now.”
Bill answered, “But your staff is CIA.
“If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go for a short walk.”
Carol stood to join him. The two went to the third deck and walked forward to the front of the ship. The salt breeze blew past them. There were no sounds of screaming or people bickering about what was going on.
Carol slid her arm around his and put her head on his shoulder. He slid his fingers between her’s and gave her a light kiss on the back of her hand.
He whispered, “Thank you for being such a good friend.”
Ahead of the ship, he could see the Bahamas’ minor island chains. They were not far from Cuba, but far enough. The dot of a small vessel on the port side seemed to match their speed.
Bill pointed out towards the horizon and asked, “Do you see a small black dot out there, or am I seeing things?”
Carol stared for several seconds and finally answered, “That’s a ship or something. Do you think we should tell somebody?”
Bill let go of Carol’s hand. “Let’s head downstairs and ask Darla.”
The two went back down to find Darla asleep against Harold’s broad shoulder. Harold gently pushed against her head when Bill and Carol came closer.
Bill asked, “Did you know a ship is shadowing us?”
Darla yawned, stretched, and then asked, “Is it on the port side?”
Carol asked, “What side is that?”
Harold answered, “The left side.”
Carol said, “No, the right.”
Darla smiled and laid her head back on Harold’s shoulder, and said, “Good, it’s one of ours. It’s just escorting us until Chuck is off the ship.”
Bill commented, “It seems pretty far away.”
Darla mumbled, “Don’t worry, the navy knows what it’s doing.”
Bill looked at Carol. Her look was as skeptical as he felt. The sliding glass door opened, and Garcia emerged.
He pointed at Harold and Bill. Alright, you two, you wanted to talk to Chuck; here’s your chance. His only requirement is that he talks to both of you alone. Don’t worry. The room is wired for sound and video. I’m sure Chuck knows that. He’s just being Chuck.
Bill asked, “So, you won’t be in there?”
Garcia answered, “No.”
Harold asked, “What about Doc?”
Garcia answered, “We’re right outside the door.”
Bill said, “Okay. I’ve been waiting for this. Let’s go.”
Garcia stepped in front of Bill, “You and Harold follow me.”
The three men began their journey into the bottom of the ship.