A Chapter from The Flemish Coil

CHAPTER 2: THE BAD NEWS FIRST

Nick Temple surveys the beach at Waikiki from the balcony of his room on the 26th floor of the recently-opened Illikai Hotel. He cinches the belt of his terrycloth robe, sticks his hands in the robe’s pockets, and takes a deep breath, inhaling the fresh morning air off the Pacific. To the east, beyond the pink façade of the Royal Hawaiian and the vast banyan tree of the Moana, is a nearly unobstructed view of Diamond Head, richly green from seasonal rain.

“Beats the hell out of Saigon,” Nick thinks to himself.

Two weeks of working the backstreets and alleys of South Vietnam’s capital convinced him of what he already knew. The Soviets are content to let the locals do the heavy lifting knowing full well the Americans haven’t got a chance of making anything good come out of what has been a botched operation from the get go. That conclusion and Nick’s frank assessment that Washington’s fear of a Russian bogeyman sneaking around the jungles of Southeast Asia is driven more by ideology than fact are at the heart of the report he delivered to the brass at Schofield Barracks two days ago. He’s been waiting for the inevitable ass-chewing ever since.

The room’s phone rings waking the disheveled blonde partially covered by the king size bed’s silk sheets. Nick glances over his shoulder. It rings again. She reaches for the phone and lifts the receiver.

“Hello? . . . No, you have the right room. Just a second.”

Nick turns and enters the room from the balcony. She sees him approach the bed.

“It’s for you. Some guy named Bill Johnson.”

She hands him the receiver as he sits on the edge of the bed.

“Bill? That you?”

“Yeah, Nick. Was that your secretary?”

“Sort of.”

“How’s her typing?”

“No idea. What’s going on, my friend?”

“You want the good news or the bad news?”

“Your choice.”

“The Cliff Thompson exchange blew up on us.”

“Sovs wouldn’t give him up?”

“Worse. Shot and killed during the exchange. Smertov too. It’s a fucking mess. Lots of finger pointing, no clues, just a mess.”

“I’m surprised he lived as long as he did.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t deserve to go this way. He was about ten feet away from making it when he took a round to the squash.”

“You want me on it?”

“Probably.”

“So what’s the good news, Bill?”

“The good news is I agree with your report. I don’t see Ivan’s footprints except maybe as a supplier. And this Ho Chi Minh guy doesn’t want anything to do with anyone from the West. Bottom line, they just want the foreigners out.”

“That’s the way I see it, but good luck peddling that view on the Hill.”

“I’ll see what I can do. When are you due at Langley?”

“I’ve got another week, but I can make it sooner.”

“I’ll bury Cliff. See you next week.”

“Okay, Bill. Thanks.”

Nick hands the receiver back to the blonde. She hangs up the phone.

“Back to D.C.?”

“Not for a week. Let’s get dressed and get a cup of java.”

She reaches for the belt of Nick’s terrycloth robe.

“I have a better idea.”