The entire Liquid Sky element was passed out as they flew commercial air to Germany, and then on to Italy. They had changed out of their mission clothes and into civilians provided by the staff at FOB Chapman. The team was still bleary eyed as they boarded a private aircraft in Milan to their final destination. Deckard tried to discern where they were going, but found no indication and no one was telling him. Rick, Zach, and Paul bought some hard liquor in the duty free shop before taking off, pounded a couple shooters of vodka or whiskey and passed right back out. The others just gave Deckard the cold shoulder. Ramon watched an in-flight movie for a few minutes before falling back asleep. Nadeesha looked at Deckard like he was lower than dog shit before she drifted off to sleep.
Tough crowd, Deckard thought to himself. Before long, he fell asleep as well. They were all exhausted from the operation and Deckard was especially jet lagged from bouncing between time zones.
He came awake to the sound of laughing and screaming. After their cat nap, the Liquid Sky team had taken to watching another in-flight movie in their Gulfstream aircraft. It looked like the comedy movie, Superbad was keeping them entertained. Zach and Rick were giggling like school girls. Paul recited the movie line for line in a never-ending stream of commentary. Nadeesha kept to herself, flipping through a copy of Flashbang magazine.
Uninterested in the movie, Deckard wished he had a book to read, but he had always been someone who was comfortable with his own thoughts, if restless in his actions. Sitting around with nothing to do over long periods of time made him uncomfortable, but he knew how to manage it. There was an onboard refrigerator, so he helped himself to a bottle of water.
Deckard watched out the window as they landed several hours later. The terrain was fairly flat with low-laying vegetation and blacktop roads crisscrossing throughout. Disoriented, Deckard had no idea where they were. They landed at a substantial modern airport with a large terminal complex. The private jet taxied off towards the private hangers where a white van was waiting for them. Everyone piled in. If this was another operation, it didn’t feel like it.
They exited from the private aircraft area’s gate and out into the countryside. The road was surrounded on both sides by green rolling hills, sugarcane coming right up to the edge of the pavement and pressing out into the street. Palm trees also dotted the landscape. As they drove through the outskirts of a city, Deckard spotted a Hindu temple and knew he must be somewhere in India. Then he saw a Christian church and finally a Muslim mosque.
Now, he was really confused.
Further inland were green-covered mountains stretching up to touch the blue sky. Deep into the stalks of sugarcane he also saw a few abandoned factories and other structures. It wasn’t until he saw a billboard in French for a cellphone service that he figured it out. They were in Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean.
The van swerved through an intersection and passed the entrance to several four-star hotels. They got dropped off right alongside the ocean. Waves broke against the shore and the sun was already sinking into a blue and purple sky. The smell of salt carried on the breeze. It was a residential area with bungalows lining the beach.
“Party is at my place tonight,” Bill announced. “See you then.”
The team bombshelled in both directions down the street.
“You come with me Deckard,” Bill said to the new guy on the team. “I have to give you the key to Henderson’s old place.”
Bill led him on a stone path to his beach house. The Liquid Sky team leader was so tall that he had to duck under the roof on the back deck. Deckard spotted a security guard roaming the premises. Punching a number into the keypad on the door, Bill led him inside. Like the other bungalows, it was a one-story deal, but spread out with plenty of interior space. The kitchen and living room was wide open. He had pool tables and an indoor bar. Through the sliding glass doors, Deckard could see an extensive gym out on the front deck, which was littered with kettlebells and 45-pound bumper plates.
Opening a drawer under the kitchen counter, Bill shuffled through some odds and ends until he found a key ring and handed it to Deckard.
“You are two houses down, between Rick and Zach. We own this whole row of eight houses on the shore. Whatever Henderson had stowed away inside the house is yours I guess. No one back in the States gave a shit about him. Keep it or throw it in the trash; I don’t care. He traveled light anyway so it won’t be much.”
“Our rules here are pretty basic. We work hard; we play hard. Mandatory team party tonight just like after every op we do. PT is on your own, but we usually work out together. When our optempo slows down you can catch a plane to wherever you want until I recall you, but I’m not sure when that will be. Shit has been picking up the last month with no sign of slowing down.”
“It’s a dangerous world.”
“And they need us to stop it from all coming apart at the seams. We’ll work on getting you set up with a bank account here on the island later on so you can get direct deposits. Mauritius is a tax haven and we got a good set up here.”
“I like the sound of that.”
“Go do what you have to do and I’ll see you in a few hours.”
As Deckard turned away, Bill had one final item to add.
“Deckard, remember that you are still on probationary status until I decide if I have any use for you or not. There are some pipe hitters out there that just don’t have what it takes to be on a team like this. We’ll see if you got it or not. In the meantime, we practice strict OPSEC. Say what you need to say inside our team areas. I have this place under 24-hour guard, and our houses are routinely swept for bugs. Ramon will hook you up with a secure cell phone tomorrow. Aside from that, nothing gets said outside these walls. Do nothing that will draw excess attention to our operation here.”
“Goes without saying.”
“I hope so.”
Deckard shut the screen door behind him on his way out and walked over to his new crash pad. As he continued to scope out the area, he had to admit to himself that he could have done much worse. In fact, he had done much worse. Sleeping in run-down safehouses in Lebanon, crapping in plastic bags in a spider hole on the Iranian border, or sleeping in a jungle hammock in Colombia had almost became a way of life for him. This seaside secret agent stuff was a whole new world. There were some things that these former SEALs were definitely getting right.
Turning the key in the knob, Deckard stepped inside his bungalow. It wasn’t as big as Bill’s place, but there was more than enough living space for several people inside. It was furnished with chairs, couches, a flat-screen TV, and everything else a guy would want at a beach house. There was a full bathroom and another shower stall outside with a hose for washing the sand off before coming back inside after a swim.
The Liquid Sky member that Nikita had killed in Pakistan.
The operator whose corpse Deckard had picked over in the back of a van looking for intelligence information. Now he was in the dude’s house, literally filling his shoes on the team. The other team members seemed resentful of Deckard, not because they took exception to him replacing their former team mate. They actually seemed completely ambivalent about Henderson’s death. Liquid Sky was just pissed that they had to break in a new guy and didn’t trust him any farther than they could throw him.
It was still a surreal moment.
Deckard found Henderson’s iPod on the counter, where it had been laying with the headphones attached since he left on a one-way flight to Karachi. It was loaded with heavy-metal music like Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, and Megadeth. They were all sterile missions apparently. He had left everything behind. Deckard continued to walk around and examine the layout of the house, conscious of the fact that Liquid Sky probably had hidden cameras installed so they could keep tabs on their newest recruit.
In the bathroom, Henderson’s toothbrush leaned diagonally in a glass. The toothpaste tube was squeezed in the middle, the inconsiderate bastard. At least the cabinet was stocked with toilet paper. In the bed room there were some dress shirts. Deckard was still wearing the Walmart clothes that Liquid Sky had waiting for them on their way back through FOB Chapman. He found a shirt which was probably small on Henderson to show off his beach muscles, but would fit Deckard normally.
Going through the dresser to find a pair of cargo shorts, Deckard found an envelope full of pictures. Inside was a whole roll of photographs of Henderson with a blonde. It looked like they were on the shore, maybe Virginia Beach. They were self-shot pictures, close-ups of the two of them kissing and smiling.
Who the hell was this guy?
Henderson, Bill, all these other guys aside from Ramon and obviously Nadeesha, had served in the SEALs as far as Deckard could discern. They were the Navy’s most elite commandos. How had they drifted so far? Throwing the pair of shorts on the bed, Deckard shut the dresser drawer.
Then the more important question.
Who were they working for?
He knew from the records he and his Samruk International mercenaries had seized that Liquid Sky were in business with G3 Communications somehow, but the full picture remained obscured. It would take time to uncover. Time he may not have.
Undressing, Deckard stepped into the shower and began to scrub away days of sweat and grim. He didn’t have a lot of time, because as he infiltrated Liquid Sky, they were also co-opting him and using his talent for their own agenda, to cure their own contracts, one by one. Sure, they would take him on a couple of righteous kills. Do some terrorists or narco-traffickers. First they warm him up, then they take him out on the real work, killing people like Al-Khalifa, and those who got in their way, like Al-Khalifa’s wife.
Toweling himself dry, he slipped into the cargo shorts and began buttoning the blue and white striped shirt over his chest. Deckard caught a glance of himself in the mirror. His eyes were open, even more focused than usual. Hyper vigilant. He put on a pair of Henderson’s sandals. He was slowly transforming himself into one of them.
Deckard’s priorities of work were simple. Get away from Liquid Sky and beat their surveillance long enough to get a message out to Aghassi and Pat. Let them know he was alive, where he was located, and what he knew about Liquid Sky thus far so they could begin working on the problem sets. It was unlikely that he would be able to take out Liquid Sky by himself. He would need some backup when the time came.
Next, before walking Samruk International into the target, he had to get to the bottom of who Bill was taking his marching orders from. Where were the contracts coming from exactly? Who were the puppetmasters behind the scenes? Only when that question was answered could they cut this head off the hydra and move on to the CEO of G3 Communications and whoever else Liquid Sky was in league with.
As he headed out the door to attend Bill’s post-mission beach party, he found he had another reason to be glad he had insisted on doing this mission himself, and not sending Pat, Aghassi, or one of the others. He was heading down a dark road. He was wearing a dead man’s clothes and working for a kill team.
Some people might find they liked this life. Some might not want to come home.