“We’re here.” Her voice carried just above the noise of the boat’s engine.
Despite the swollen waves of high tide, Isla Jimenez brought the inflatable runabout up on the beach with the sure handedness of long experience. Killing the engine and tipping the heavy outboard motor up on its mount, she jumped out with the loose end of the bowline. A few powerful tugs in unison with the breaking waves and the inflatable was above the tide line before the mercenary had time to gather his things. Her lean, almost petite form concealed surprising strength.
“You’ve got two hours.” She looked at her watch. “Win, lose, or draw, I pull out at three-twenty. I need everything after that to get back to the boat before dawn.”
They both knew getting caught inside territorial waters by a patrol without proper papers was suicide. Even with papers, it could be risky in these turbulent political times. Darkness and the open ocean were their only allies.
He shouldered his pack then checked the chamber of his silenced Heckler & Koch assault rifle.
“I don’t know where the hell Myles found you, but you have got to be the hardest — and I don’t mean this in a bad way –- bitch I’ve ever seen.”
Isla started spreading a camo net over the inflatable. “I don’t mean this in a bad way, but if you want to see how hard I really am, be late.” The whiteness of her teeth showed in the waning moonlight, more feral grin than smile.
“You’d leave me?” he smirked.
“In a goddamned heartbeat. I get paid to make the run, not fight your battles or take unnecessary chances.” Her voice carried a hint of Spanish accent only when she cursed. She retrieved a small-framed .45 semi-automatic pistol from her backpack, screwed a noise-suppressor onto the barrel, checked the magazine, and worked the slide.
“You’re wasting time.” Isla moved toward the tree line. “Two hours.”
The merc jogged inland, his movement silent as smoke. She didn’t know his name. She never wanted to know their names. If things went wrong it was easier to forget. Now she started the hardest part. The waiting. Making sure the landing zone stayed secure and safe for the mercenary’s return.
Isla blended into the shadows. She watched from a Palmetto thicket, drinking water from her canteen and munching on fried banana chips. Such smells blended more easily with the humid jungle than something like chocolate or the smoke of a cigar, which she deeply craved.
Not that it really mattered. She doubted any of the pigs El General called soldiers were skilled enough to smell the enemy. The patrol units were filled with the dregs of his mandatory service militia. The real soldiers were kept in his elite guard, protecting him at the palace in the city. Not here on Diablo Bay guarding what amounted to a political death camp. The same camp that once held her father.
Benito Jimenez had been imprisoned without trial or bail, without hope of release for three long years. Charged with crimes he didn’t commit. He was never a staunch supporter of the tyrant El General Miguel de Torello nor was he a dissident. Benito ran his charter fishing business quietly and cleanly. He paid the exorbitant licensing fees and permit costs without complaint. Heeding all ridiculous curfews and restrictions on staying inside the prescribed boundary waters. Still, he was arrested on charges of smuggling contraband and helping enemies of the state to defect.
Other than the rollers breaking on the beach, lizards scurrying on leaves, or occasional night birds calling, the darkness was silent. Isla moved through the woods to a better vantage point. In the distance, she could make out the glow of the camp. Bright spotlights set in guard towers above the razor wire. She knew the camp well after attending the once-a-month visits allowed the prisoners. She had seen her father sink into ill health from squalid living conditions, overwork in the mangrove swamps, and despair.
Isla used the only thing she had to bargain with in hopes of securing better treatment for her father. Scrubbing her skin nearly raw after lying with the corpulent warden or filthy guards, trying to cleanse the dirty feeling that went even deeper than her bones. It had been to no avail, as she had, on some level, known it would be. But no matter how repulsive, she could not let slip any chance to help her father, whatever the cost to her.
Too late to save her father, she had met Myles Preston, a soldier for hire who would liberate political prisoners or retrieve kidnap victims for a price. In the past four years, Isla had used her marine skills in five different operations for Preston. Now she was back here at Diablo Bay, on a job that would make enough money to get her work visas and citizenship in the United States. She would be able to open her own charter business. There would be money enough to take Pablo and Chico with her, the two old men who had crewed with her father and were like family. Even now they waited on the Wet Witch, a forty-three-foot cabin cruiser that had belonged to her father and now was hers.
The rampant political unrest made this an especially risky undertaking. The poverty and oppression at the hands of El General had finally put the people in the frame of mind of the oft-beaten dog. They were ready to fight back against the club bearer even under the sure threat of death. Myles had assured her the job was important and profitable, perhaps even of special personal interest to her. He was right, if it would free even one more of her countrymen from this nightmare. The risk was worth it.
There was noise from down the beach, voices drifting on the light breeze. A patrol no doubt. Not yet close enough to spot the runabout, but they could present a problem. Isla checked her watch; the mercenary could be returning with a weak, perhaps even an injured man in tow. Trying to get underway with a patrol nearby could turn into a disaster. She would have to deal with it quickly and quietly.
Loosing her hair from the elastic tie that restrained the thick ponytail, it tumbled in dark waves over her shoulders. She quickly wiggled out of the black combat fatigues and water shoes that she wore, leaving her in a gray tank top and panties. Looping her web belt at the waist gave her top a vague resemblance to the short dresses the bargirls uniformed themselves in. It also gave her a place to tuck the pistol at the small of her back. With her left hand she palmed the combat knife from her bag.
She could only hope that luck and darkness would hide a lot. Such as she was too healthy and attractive to be a working girl trying to turn a few tricks with the soldiers this far from town.
She made her way out of the trees. In the distance she could see the three of them walking just above the tide line where the sand was the firmest. Two of the men were smoking cigarettes. She called loudly in Spanish and waved.
“You need a break. Some fun, maybe?”
She staggered a little as she walked, hoping to lull them quickly into thinking she was no threat. There was laughter from the group.
“We’ve got your fun,” she heard and then more laughter.
Isla stopped, swayed a little with head hanging down.
“Twenty dinavos apiece,” she mumbled.
They were closing in as she heard another speak.
“You’ll take what we give you, whore.”
The trio stopped, forming a loose half circle in front of her, a couple paces away. She needed them closer.
Isla took a stumbling step forward head lolled to one side. “Ten dinavos apiece.”
They came forward. Their next round of laughter was cut short. In a liquid flow of motion as smooth as mercury, she seemed to move in three directions at once. The knife flashed across one of the soldier’s throats. Blood sprayed across her arm as the scalpel-sharp blade effortlessly opened a gaping wound. The pistol came up to fire two shots into the opposite man’s chest, making no more noise than quickly expelled breaths. Her foot caught the third man in the crotch with stunning force. He doubled with a grunt and she put one shot into the back of his head.
Her stomach lurched at the violence, more from the adrenalin rush than any moral upset. These violent, abusive men languished in their power of authority while innocent people were imprisoned and children starved.
She scanned the beach in both directions and checked the water for boats. Nothing. From the trail into the woods came the sounds of labored breathing and heavy footfalls. She moved away from the bodies and dropped to a prone position in some nearby saw grass.
Two figures came out of the woods. One she recognized instantly as the mercenary. He walked awkwardly, favoring his left side. The other man was large, moving as if unaccustomed to heavy exercise. Isla stood up, pistol at her side. The mercenary spotted her and changed course in her direction, the man with him following his lead.
He looked over the bodies of the soldiers. “You’ve been busy.”
“Just doing my job.” She checked her watch. “You’re late.”
He looked her over, lingering on the cleavage and bare thighs. One hand gripped his chest on the right side.
“You’re hurt?” She stepped toward him.
He slumped, leaning on his rifle like a crutch. “Let’s launch first.”
The man nodded. “He’s right. We need to get under way.”
In the darkness she could make out that he was older and bearded but little else. His voice had a tone of contempt, as if he were used to making demands and having them obeyed.
“We leave when I say,” she said. The statement was made for both of the men. “Once we are on the water, I’ll have no time to tend his wounds.”
She started to open the mercenary’s shirt. The sticky warmth of blood was everywhere.
He groaned. “I think it may have nicked a lung. There’s a lot of blood. I’m having trouble breathing.” His voice had a wet wheezy sound she didn’t like.
She retrieved her backpack and clothes from the thicket, kneeling again beside him. She dug out a field dressing and applied it to the ragged wound, pressing hard, trying to help stanch the blood flow.
“Hold this,” she told the other man.
The man stood looking at the two of them. “Leave him. We go now. There is no time for this.”
“We’re going nowhere until this man is treated. There may be soldiers on their way here right now. If you don’t help me, every second you waste may be one of the last you will live.”
The mercenary groaned. The other man knelt grudgingly.
“Put pressure on this,” Isla said.
The man sat a large briefcase on the ground beside him. The handcuff chain that linked it to his arm jangled. He roughly dropped a hand on the pad of the bandage.
As Isla wound a roll of gauze around the merc’s body, she looked up at the bearded man. Close enough now, even in the darkness, she could make out the features. Her hands fumbled and she barely stifled a gasp. It was El General.
The hair on his head was thinner, the beard shot through with gray, but the face was the same. The small deep-set eyes and hawkish nose set over a fleshy, petulant mouth. It was a face she would never forget.
El General read her expression. “So, you recognize me, do you?”
He smiled at her. “I have decided to make strategic withdrawal while I rally my forces.”
Isla propped the mercenary up. “Help me get him to his feet and to the runabout.”
El General stood. “Leave him. He will only be a problem.”
Isla got under the merc’s arm and began to half drag him to the inflatable boat. El General followed but offered no help. She threw back the camouflage with one hand and helped the wounded man into the boat, then started pushing the boat back into the surf. It was hard work with the man aboard. At last El General offered help getting it afloat and turned bow out. She hopped gracefully into the inflatable, tilted the prop into the surf, and started the motor.
The dictator unceremoniously flopped into the inflatable. Landing on his back, clutching the briefcase to his chest, he lay there breathing heavily. This was the man responsible for her father’s death, the deaths of countless others, the oppression of an entire nation.
The sound of shots from the beach pulled her thoughts back to the present. Slugs whined close by her head. A few hit the water with muffled splashes. One of the bullets struck the casing of the outboard motor with a dull clunk. The engine missed out and then caught. Isla twisted the throttle to full speed and the small boat shot away toward open water.
“Your troops seem upset with your departure,” she said as she mentally plotted a rough heading for the Wet Witch.
“My troops are loyal. Those are rebel forces. Farmers who think they can run a government.”
Isla smirked. “So the times have changed. You’ve lost favor with the people.”
“You are a soldier for hire, a profiteer, so save your political opinion for someone else and just do your job.”
She kept her eyes on the horizon. The Wet Witch was waiting fifteen miles out to the northwest. She could only hope they could slip past the patrols undetected again. The shore patrol would surely be on alert after the running firefight on the beach.
Around the ten-mile mark their luck broke. A boat came in from the port aft quarter at top speed, blowing warning horns, and washing them with spotlights. An amplified voice came across the water ordering them to halt.
Trying to outrun them was futile. The inflatable was quick to accelerate and highly maneuverable, but couldn’t match the gunboats top speed. On their deck were mounted .50 caliber machine guns and 20-millimeter cannon, so they wouldn’t need to run her down, just blast the inflatable to bits. For one moment, the thought of making a run flashed in her mind. Being arrested and imprisoned in Diablo Bay prison or someplace like it was more hideous than death.
“Cut the engine and keep quiet,” El General said standing up and putting his hat on his head. “I’ll handle this.”
The patrol boat came alongside with armed soldiers at its rail. These were well-outfitted, hardened members of the Elite guard glaring down at them. One after another, they began to recognize the figure standing in the boat. One of the men saluted and called the others to attention.
“You will continue your patrols,” their supreme commander barked in Spanish. “Inform all other patrols to leave this corridor open until dawn.”
The man saluted again.
“Yes, My General.” He turned to the men, shouting orders. “Take your posts! Prepare to move out!”
The General gave the soldier a sloppy salute and sat down. “Take us away from here.”
In the final moments of the spotlights glare she saw the blank fixed stare of the mercenary’s eyes. His breathing was still.
Isla fired up the engine and reestablished her bearings.
“There will be no more problems,” he informed her.
“I believe you are right,” Isla nodded.
* * *
Myles Preston stepped aboard the Wet Witch from a seventy-foot power yacht. He was probably in his sixties, but still trim and powerful. His once black hair, cropped short in a military fashion, was an even steel gray color.
“Isla,” he said with a smile. “Right on time as usual. Any problems?”
“Pablo.” Isla motioned to the tarp lit by the pale rosy light of dawn.The bearded deckhand pulled back the canvas.
The body of the mercenary was laid out with all his gear to one side. The body of General Miguel de Torello lay on the other, briefcase on his chest, still manacled to his wrist.
Myles Preston pursed his lips. “Otto.”
A rough looking man in tailored clothes came aboard from the yacht.
Myles motioned at the bodies. “Make sure that Dixon’s beneficiary is paid.”
The man nodded.
“We’ll need the briefcase from El General as well. Then a quiet burial at sea.”
The man nodded and went back to the yacht.
Myles stood hands clasped behind his back. “Rough trip?”
Isla shrugged. She felt exhausted as if a long journey were almost over. “It was harder for some.”
“Sometimes there are casualties in this business. You found it interesting? The trip I mean?”
Otto came back with a pair of bolt cutters and two other men wearing coveralls. He clipped the chain and the men moved the bodies to the yacht. Otto carried the case to the cabin on the yacht and returned with a smaller case he handed to Isla.
“There is a bonus along with your usual fee. I was able to negotiate with three parties on this.” Myles smiled. “Seems the General was willing to pay for transportation. Which he got. The rebel forces wanted him out of the country. Which they got. The U.S. Government wanted him permanently removed from politics. Which they got.”
Isla tossed the bag to Chico in the wheelhouse. “This is the end for me. My last job.”
Myles looked at the coast. “Better hurry through the channel. The tide is changing.”
Zen McCann is a pen name. Zen has been writing for a number of years. He has almost sold novels, had screenplays read but not optioned, and had a sitcom knocked on its ass by the destruction of 9/11. He continues to dabble in several genres.