Chapter 59 of Silent Vector

Chapter 59, in which team Temple puts together the latest pieces

CHAPTER 59

CRAWLING BEFORE WALKING

“Three sources confirm it. It’s on the north side of the island, near the water, built almost two years ago.”

Lieutenant Escobar takes a bite out of his grilled steak after that pronouncement.

“None of it’s first hand,” Kyle points out.

“That’s not unusual given the passage of time,” Guzman offers.

“The labor population is transient and seasonal. If nothing’s in the works, they move on, usually to another island. We’re lucky we got what we did.”

“Dalila was great. Once we found the pick-up points it was all up to her. I guess I look too much like a fed.”

“Isn’t that what you are?” Dalila teases.

“Yeah. I thought about being the bull in a china shop and just announcing that Uncle Sam has sent the CIA down this way to clear up some nasty shit and all you motherfuckers had better start talkin’, but Dalila talked me out of it.”

“What’s your saying? You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar?” she asks.

“She’s a natural, Nick. We ought to see if we can get her on board on a permanent basis.”

“I’ll see what I can do. How about you, Pete? Any luck?”

“Nothing but rumblings, rumors, and not much else. The local pharmacists weren’t any help, but a glass supply company on the east end seems pretty cheesed off that they didn’t get a call to supply any equipment for the lab. So far as I can tell, the lab’s sort of an open secret. No one knows what the guy is doing, but once word got out that he needed equipment, some of the locals who could have provided the goods tried to stick their noses in. The professor kept things pretty close to his chest. That was about two years ago, like you said, Raoul, but they’re still not happy about it.”

“Any luck at Government House, Nick?”

“After turning Schnelling’s beat up bomber over to the locals I headed over there. I pulled all customs docs for the last three years and worked backwards. It’s quite a pile. I looked for German surnames, typical German handwriting on bills of lading, anything that might tie Schnelling to an importer, supplier, shipper, or wholesaler. I didn’t get through the whole pile, but as of about 24 months ago, again working backwards, only one item stood out. He must have gotten whatever else he needed offshore. I’m betting he smuggled in what he needed from Cuba. It’s not like customs has this place wrapped up tight. A couple days by water from Santiago on the eastern end of Cuba via Haiti or the Dominican would be easy enough to pull off.”

“You mentioned something that stood out?” Raoul asks.

“Right. A customs document that cleared six two-liter steel tanks from a German manufacturer.”

“Lab equipment?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Pete?”

“If they can be pressurized, then he’s probably planning on airborne dispersal of the formula.”

“Will that work?”

“In the short term, yes. No question, particularly if he releases it into a crowd. It’s the perfect vector.”

The team looks to Nick.

“That’s it, then. It’s simple. Those tanks can’t leave this island. Anything else you need from me Raoul?”

“See if you can’t get us some help from the Coast Guard or the Navy scouring the north side from the water. And we need detailed maps of the bays on the north side and whatever population centers there are. The location has to be remote but accessible from the water. We’ll take a look at the maps in the morning and narrow our focus.”

Nick checks his watch and stands up.

“There should still be someone at Government House. I’ll head down there and get the ball rolling on the extra help. They should have the maps we need, too.”

“I’m coming with you. Let me get changed. This will only take a second.”

Dalila heads to her bedroom. The other men look at Nick. He tries to ignore them, but relents.

“Anyone else want to ride along?”

“Need a chaperone?” Kyle asks.

“You mean a Boy Scout?”

“Just asking. Johnson’s not here to keep you in line, so someone’s got to take up the slack.”

“I’ll tell him about the great job you’re doing when I talk to him.”

“Okay, Nick. Seriously though, take care of her. She’s one of a kind.”

“You’re preaching to the choir, my friend.”

Dalila, wearing the dress from the Kropotkin sting, comes out of her room with a purple orchid in her hair just above her right ear and a large woven-grass shoulder bag. She has effortlessly transformed her classic African beauty into a timeless expression of tropical radiance.

“I’m ready, Mr. Temple.”

“You look lovely, Dalila, far too lovely for the night shift at Government House.”

“I thought I might be able to talk you into a late dinner.”

“Done. Shall we?”

Nick and Dalila leave. Kyle looks around at his teammates. Guzman and Escobar shrug.

“Am I missing something?” Pete Hall asks.

“Beautiful women and Nick don’t mix,” Kyle explains.

“Really? That surprises me.”

“An ugly divorce, an affair with a double agent, and two gruesome deaths. Dalila’s up against some tough odds.”

“She seems like she can handle herself.”

“When he’s in the field he’s a target, and that makes her a target. Comes with the territory. Let’s forget about it. Who needs a drink?”

Pete Hall gets up to help.

“I do. Maybe more than one.”

The prospect that his newest friends might meet an ugly, violent end is a little more than Pete can take at the moment. As excited as he was at the prospect of being part of a CIA operation, the cold brutality of the Kropotkin sanction let him know that what is a fact of life for these men is frankly unfathomable for nearly all of the millions of men and women whose security is their responsibility.