Chameleon 8

© 2018, Jack H. Tyler

O’Reilly was damned uncomfortable.  The sun beating down on the steel cargo container brought the temperature to a level she was sure any oven would be proud to reach.  Sweat soaked her clothes, and she had no doubt of what effect that would have when evening brought the cool sea air flooding back over the estate.  She would have to be out of here by then.

She had tried the potty gambit, but the laughing trio simply told her to go ahead.  As dehydrated as she was, that hadn’t been a problem yet, but it would, and if they made her urinate in her clothes, the resulting rash would be one more thing dragging her down from one hundred percent efficiency.  No, she had to get out of here.

Getting out of here would be something she could easily enough arrange, but for the trio of live-in guards.  She needed time to work on her restraints, and with someone staring at her over the muzzle of a gun every minute, there was simply no opportunity.

Even now, in the stifling heat, her three guards took it in turns, two of them standing outside the container catching whatever air chose to move, while the third sat just inside the door by her feet watching her every movement.  Nothing would distract them, due to the lingering death Rodriguez had promised them.  She could only wait for some random event to provide her with an opportunity.

“Hey, Adolph,” she said to the guard in the box with her, “how about a cigarette?”

“How about one?” he sneered.”

“Lobo told you to watch me.  Did he tell you to be an asshole, too?”

“You want me to fix that big mouth, bitch?”

“Come on, all I want’s a cigarette.  What do think I’m going to do with it, then, burn through my chains and set you on fire?”

“Come on, Mario,” one of the outside guards said, “give her a cigarette.”

“Fuck you!” Mario spat back at him.  “You start getting chummy with this one, El Lobo’s going to fuck you up.”

“Oh, shit.  If you’re so scared of him, get out of there.  I’ll give her one.”

“Fine, then.”  Mario climbed out, and his place was taken by the friendly one, who lit a cigarette and put it between her lips.

“Some of these guys like to be shitheads just for fun,” the guy said as she took a drag.  “They think it makes them tougher.”

“What do you think?” she asked.

“The boss is gonna do what he’s gonna do.  If he decide to tie you between two trucks and rip you in half, that fact that somebody gave you a cigarette ain’t gonna make it any better.”

“Has he ever done that?”

“Yes, he has.  It’s one of his favorite paybacks for people who double-cross him.  It kind of makes them double, see?”  He caught her sudden concerned expression.  “Oh, don’t worry.  He won’t do that to you.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“In a way.  He ain’t going through all this effort just so he can fuck you up.  He could have done that the minute he caught you.  And he would have, if that was his plan.”

“You talk too fucking much!” Mario snarled at him from outside.  “You’re going to get us all strung up.”

“Relax, Mario.  Pull the wings off a fly or something.  You’re not in here, so you’re not in trouble.  You shouldn’t work for a man who terrifies you,” he added to O’Reilly.

“And he holds no terror for you?”

“No.  He is a demanding employer who wants his plans to come out in the end, but if he killed every guard who showed a little initiative, soon there would be no one who would work for him.”

“What’s your name?”

“Never mind.”

“Why do you work for him?”

“Colombia is a very poor country.  Here, you are a coffee picker, or you peddle jewelry you have made from beer cans to what few tourists come here, or of course, you can be a revolutionary.  What a life.  Or, you can sign on with one of the cartels, and if you keep your nose clean and don’t try to go into business for yourself, you will be paid good money.  If you don’t have respect, you will at least have power, which is the next best thing.  Life could be a good deal worse.”

“And you have no remorse over the lives your product destroys?”

“That is unfortunate, but you know, we do not go to Europe and America and strap people to tables and force-feed them cocaine until they become addicted.  People buy this stuff because they want it.  This operation you see around you provides cocaine in lots measured by the ton.  It is only one of over a dozen in this country, and many neighboring countries have their own operations.  Would you believe that the only difficulty we have here is keeping up with the demand?  You should save your judgment for the people who create this business, not those of us who labor in it.”

“Always someone else’s fault,” she said to a point far above his head.

“What would you know?”

“I once dealt in death, just as you do.  The day I woke up and admitted that it wasn’t anyone else’s fault was the day my life began.  Leave him, Mister No Name.  You can do better than this.”

“All right, that’s enough!” Mario shouted, pulling Friendly back by his collar.  “I’ll take a turn now.  You try your poison tongue on me, bitch, and I’ll knock your teeth right out of your head.”

“Don’t worry, Mario.  No girl worth her skirt would want to talk to you.”

He said something else intended to be threatening to a woman who was chained hand and foot, but she paid him no mind.  She was thinking of another time on the other side of the world when she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut, and had paid a terrible price for it.  If she had one dangerous fault, that had to be it.

So, where did she stand?  Two Eighty Three had seemed a decent enough chap, if a little flighty, and he had been smitten enough to mount a one-man rescue attempt.  But Two Eighty Three was dead, caught by his concern for her, and executed like a dog.  Four Twenty Seven was a question mark.  He would help her if it suited his purposes, but all that suited his purposes was getting the boy out.  If he could assemble a rescue team for her, wouldn’t he use it for Takeri instead?  She would, so even if she weren’t in considerable doubt about his motives, she knew she could expect no help from him.

She was on her own, chained to the floor of a druglord’s lair, and the only help she could count on was herself.  She couldn’t even test the limits of her bonds with three guards staring at her around the clock, and they weren’t likely to slack off because her escape would be their death warrant.

It promised to be a very long day indeed.

 *          *          *

“Señor Rodriguez, Mr. Dayton from Chicago is on line one.”  It was Luisa, his personal secretary, standing before him with a cordless phone.  Always immaculate, always elegant, she lent an air of respectability to an otherwise seamy business; his exchange with O’Reilly notwithstanding, he had no delusions about what he was doing.

“Thank you, dear.”  He laid his hundred dollar pen on his thousand dollar desk, and took the phone from her.  He didn’t allow a telephone in his study.  He came here to think, not listen to a phone ring, heralding a procession of people with demands on his time.  Luisa had the A-list of people who could be brought in on the cordless.

“Mr. Dayton, it’s so good to hear from you,” he said in greeting.

“Lorenzo,” said the voice at the other end, “you forget my name now?”

“Phil, my old friend.  You know I don’t take those liberties until I am invited.”

“You should, my old friend.  A man might get suspicious otherwise.”

“Suspicious?”

“Yeah.  A man might think you was trying to distance yourself from your customer.”

“Phil, I’m hurt.”

“Not near so much as me.  I ordered a thousand kilos from you.”

“Yes.  A splendid order that I was honored to fill.”

“Yes.  So, imagine my surprise when what arrived was three hundred.”

“Three hundred?  You must be mistaken.  You must not have searched the container thoroughly.”

“I own the container, jerkoff!  Everything in it has been reduced to powder.  The container itself is in pieces on my workshop floor.  I’ve got three hundred kilos, and that’s giving you the weight of the packaging.”

“Perhaps Customs . . .”

“Lorenzo!  Lorenzo.  I may be old fashioned and out of touch, but I have this silly idea that Customs would have kept all of it.”

“Well, we need merely work back upstream.  Who was your middleman?”

“Never mind my middleman.  I’ve worked with him since you were sweeping donkey shit off the sidewalks down there.”

“And he could not change his mind?  He could not go into business for himself?”

“Is that what you’re saying happened?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Well, you just hold on.  We’ll ask him.”

Before Rodriguez could answer, the phone began to play some elevator version of How Deep Is Your Love?  It took about two minutes for Dayton to come back on.

“Mr. Rodriguez, this is Mr. Dellucci, my receiving agent.  Mr. Rodriguez is my supplier.”

“How do you do?” Rodriguez said.

“Yeah, likewise.”

“Mr. Rodriguez thinks you stole seventeen hundred kilos out of my last shipment.”

“What?  Why, you shit-eating spic!  How about I come down there and cut off your chili peppers?  Where the fuck do you get off?”

“Now, Mr. Dellucci, there’s no need for that kind of talk.  Your employer made that statement, not me.”

“My employer?  Phillip, you mean?  Let me tell you something, bub.  Mr. Dayton and I go back forever.  Our kids had the same babysitter.  We had each others’ backs in the old neighborhood, and we still got ’em.  If you want to steal a ton of shit from an honest businessman, that’s your lookout, but if you want to cause trouble between me and my bro, I’ll have your spic ass for a toilet rug.”

“Mr. Dellucci, I assure you, I made no such statement.  My customer is not satisfied, and in order to keep him as a customer, I must reconstruct the chain of custody and correct the problem.  Now, if you did not tamper with the merchandise, all I need to know from you is who you accepted delivery from.”

“Oh, that’s all, huh?  Hang on a minute.”  There was a thump as he laid his phone down.

“You must forgive Mr. Dellucci” Dayton said.  “He can be pretty volatile.”

“Volatile?  Is that American slang for asshole?”

“What do you expect, when you call a man a thief?”

“I never called him that, you did, and then you lacked the cajones to own up to it.”

“Hey, watch your tongue!”

“You watch yours.  I did not get to where I am by being a forgiving man.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Rodriguez, you there?” Dellucci’s voice came back on.

“Yes.”

“I took deliver of the container from Clear-Thru Trucking.  They took it off the dock from the Sandra Morgan, Liberian registry out of Panama City.  Before that, I got no idea.  I got both bills of lading.  You wanna gimme a number, I can fax them to you.”

Rodriguez gave him the number and added, “I don’t expect to ever speak to you again, Mr. Dellucci, but if it should happen, you would be well-advised to keep a civil tongue in your head.  I have crews everywhere.  I am certain I have one within a mile of your shop.  If you ever call me a spic again, I will send one to cut off your head and present it to your wife.”

“Why you son of a bitch!”

“Do you wish to test me now?”

Something in Rodriguez’s voice gave him pause, and he just said “Fuck!” and slammed the phone down.

“You’re a good bluffer, Rodriguez,” Dayton said.  “Do you play poker?”

“No, and I never bluff.  Your underling could tell this, and wisely held his tongue.”

There was a long silence, then Dayton said, “Whatever you say, Mr. Rodriguez.  Let me know what you find out.”

“Of course.”  Rodriguez hung up without saying goodbye.  He stood up then, and paced around his study, stopping at the window to look out over the jungle and the distant Caribbean.  Finally, he went back to his desk.

“Luisa,” he said to the intercom, “Send Mr. Escobar to me.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rodriguez paced around some more, steaming.  Someone was stealing his dope.  Customs he understood.  That was their job.  Some were honest, some would take bribes, but they were an occupational risk, like sharks to a fisherman.  A thief was another thing, and could not be tolerated.  He must be found and made an example of.  Rodriguez would kill him and every living relative.  Seventeen hundred kilos was worth a lot of blood.

There came a soft tap at the door, and Escobar stepped just over the threshold.

“You sent for me, boss?”  He was dressed in gym sweats, and had obviously just been engaged in keeping that big body in fighting trim.

“Carlos, come in, come in.  Sit down.”  He waited until Escobar had settled into the chair, then said, “We have a problem.”

“The woman?”

“No.  She is tenacious, yes, but dragging that container around will slow her down.  No, we have a mule who skimmed off most of our shipment to Dayton.”

“Most?”

“He left three hundred kilos behind.”

“What the hell . . .  Why wouldn’t he take all of it?”

“Who knows?  Maybe he could only get a Japanese truck.  Look, I’ve got a fax coming in.  It’s the legitimate papers on the container.  I want you to get a team on this, find the bastard, and decorate his mother’s home with his intestines.  I’ve had about all the crap I’m going to take this month.”

“I’ll get right on it, boss.  By the way, the boy’s old man withdrew his savings, followed our boys’ instructions all over El Paso, and made a drop of about twenty grand.  No cops, no hassles.”

“Twenty grand?  I told him a hundred.”

“All he could get on short notice, I guess.  Anyway, that’s the report.  You want me to whack the kid?”

“No, you work on this other thing.  We’ll let the good Mr. Takeri stew in the dark for a while.  That’s all for now.  Keep me posted.”

“As always, boss.”  Escobar got up to leave, and when he opened the door, another man stood aside to let him out.  Escobar looked back to see whether Rodriguez wanted him to stay, but Rodriguez, a smile on his face, shook his head, and Escobar walked away.

“My old friend,” Rodriguez greeted the new arrival, “why did you wait so long to get back in touch?”

 *          *          *

O’Reilly sat against the wall of the container.  They had finally taken her out to pee, with a trio of armed men watching, and despite the experience, she felt some better.  Now she was seated on two folded up blankets, hands shackled behind her, the chain still running through a tie-down.  Her feet were free.  There was still a single guard in the box with her, staring at her over a submachine gun, but security was getting looser.  She didn’t need much more.

A minor wave of excitement rippled through the guards, an event she could detect by their constant, hushed speech, in which she caught the word “boss” several times, then it suddenly stopped.  Moments later, Rodriguez stepped around the end of the container and stood framed in the doorway.

“My dear Miss O’Reilly,” he said with exaggerated charm, “I do hope my guards have been treating you well.”

“For veal,” she replied.

“Pity.  I simply must send them to charm school.”

“What brings you down here, then?  Certainly not concern!”

“Oh, how you wrong me, little one.”  Still that sinister obsequiousness.  “I can hardly expect to receive the best price for you if you are ragged and your spirit is broken, now can I?”

“So what’ll you do, then?  Dress me in finery and parade me on a runway?”

“Hardly anything so dramatic.  In fact, I have already sold you.  Your buyer will decide whether you are treated well or ill, indeed, whether you live or die, so you see, it is no longer of any interest to me the condition you are kept under.”

“And who’s my buyer?” she asked, tightly controlling the wave of heat spreading through her abdomen.

“Why, it’s an old friend of yours.  Come, Martin, examine your new purchase.”

O’Reilly’s control and jaw dropped as one as the familiar, smiling face came around the door.

“Two Eighty Three!”

“In the flesh.”

“But, you’re dead!”

“Alas, the bungling executioner missed.  I’m afraid an azalea met an early demise in my place.”

“What?” Rodriguez exclaimed.  “My prize plant!”

“Shut up, you sick bastards!” O’Reilly shouted.

The two men looked at each other as if confronting a madwoman.

“Volatile, isn’t she?” Rodriguez asked, trying his new word.

“That’s what attracted me to her from the beginning.”

“Never mind the rest of the vaudeville routine,” O’Reilly said.  “What happens now?”

“And see how quickly she recovers her composure.”

“God damn it, what?” she shouted.

“Well, Colleen,” Two Eighty Three said, “it is that you are wanted all over the world, and Mr. Seven and I have these jobs that bring us into contact with people like yourself.  Rare art objects, too, kidnapped heirs to fortunes, you can work out the list.  We raise our income to what we deserve by collecting the rewards.”

“Isn’t that against the law in your country?”

Two Eighty Three laughed.

“My dear, funny Colleen.  If you hadn’t spent the bulk of your life breaking the law, you wouldn’t be in this position now.  None of us earn what we’re worth, but all of us find ways to make ends meet.  Look at yourself, charging us two million dollars to save the world.  You have no room to be judgmental.”

“I’ve plenty of room!  I came here to save a boy’s life and restore his liberty.  What you’re doing to me is something very different.”

“And to save one boy, you would have killed fifty men if necessary.”

“Fifty drug traffickers.”

“Look I didn’t really come here to have a philosophical discussion with you.  The British government is offering fifty thousand pounds sterling for you.  Your old friends with the IRA claim they’ll double that price, and should someone bid more, you’ll be going to them.  It won’t matter to you, because you’ll be dead on delivery, whoever it is.”

“Just like that?”

“Colleen, we can hardly hand you over alive, knowing the risk of you remembering this little conversation at your trial.  I’m sorry.  I really like you.  It’s nothing personal.”

“So, Señor Bradford,” Rodriguez said, “how do you wish to perform the transfer?”

“It would be ideal if you could leave her in here, keep her under guard, and just ship the container when we finalize a destination.”

“What you ask is very costly.”

“And you would like another bribe?”

“I would like a fair business transaction.”

“All right, I’ll give you a fair trade.  You know that boy you’re holding, Takeri?”

“Yes.”

“Well, his father is a chemist at Levinson Labs of El Paso.”

“Three,” O’Reilly said in a warning tone.

“Be quiet.  He has developed a—”

“Three, you can’t tell him that!”

Guiding Rodriguez out of the container, Bradford reached up and closed the door.  Draping his arm across El Lobo Gris’s shoulders, he walked him back toward the main house as he told him a tale of a doomsday weapon with which he could hold the whole world hostage.

To be continued . . .