FINAL POINT

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

ADVENTURE, MYSTERY, SUSPENSE, PUZZLE

The mysterious deaths of two well-trained former special ops members attracts the attention of a former male Ranger and an extremely capable female member of the US Embassy in Uruguay.

FINFINAL POINT

 A Short Story

 Nicholas Cochran

 

Axel Hadrian was stunned, barely managing to prohibit his face and eyes from betraying his emotions. Hadrian, a six two, reddish-haired man with a marked boldnes to his posture, was a Special Forces graduate, logging five distinguished years as a Ranger. His face was unreadable, especially his ebony eyes. He was a solid stoic man who radiated the competence and strength of his profession. His bearing advertised his practiced confidence. He usually wore a Brioni suit to the Board of Directors’ meetings of Manaplan Export Company, New York.

Hadrian immediately considered telling Jeffries and ‘the Board’ to shove it and get some other sucker to take up their ‘Labor of Hercules’. Despite some lingering doubts administering a scraping warning in his gut, Hadrian was resolved. He smiled to himself while he internally created his own plan.  He was certain of the key to the two deaths.

When he answered Jeffries, Hadrian was brimming with expectation. However, he simply stated his misgivings about the operation and ended by signaling his acceptance with a slight nod.

 

Eight Weeks Earlier

 

Adrian Taylor knew he was literally falling asleep on his feet; or, at least, in a vertical attitude. He had not slept for almost fifty hours, a number he remembered as his previous record of sleeplessness; in that case, because of delayed flights out of Istanbul.

Rain flailed him for hours wherever he stood. The rusted metal awning provided some shelter, despite the dozen bullet holes pocking its surface. He hastily employed all his personal wiles to trick himself into believing he remained not only awake but also completely compos mentis, in full regard of his mission. He thrust his bare head out under the rain to use the cold stinging pellets as a stimulant; anything to keep him awake and capable.

Scrapping the original plan severely tempted Taylor. Instead, he decided to make ad hoc decisions at each stage of his mission—as long as he arrived at his destination on schedule. In spite of everything, when he calmly summed up all the expectations of him, as well as the prepsotersous amount of money they were paying him, he did not deviate from the planned route on the Western border of Brazil where the Amazon meets the Andes. From there, he would fly to Uruguay, rent a car, drive to Paraguay, and, finally, take a bus to Buenos Aires. He fully understood the jungle route was his only means of evading the detection systems employed by the competition; if only for an hour or two, or—with luck—perhaps a day or two.

Anderson Jeffries, as well as the rest of the Board of Directors of the Manaplan Export Company, insisted on the circuitous route in order to plant Taylor in Argentina days before the Conference; and definitely, at least a week before their rivals checked in.  

*

Taylor completed his change of clothes, moustache, hair-color, (wig) glasses, and hat. He wore a dark grey suit with a blue and purple military stripe tie, a light mauve shirt with sterling cufflinks, and new black brogues. He carried a local newspaper, an umbrella, and his briefcase. Every vestige of his jungle persona of twenty minutes ago disappeared into his suitcase, which was now inside out and a different color.

He deployed his umbrella and stepped smartly toward the main concourse of the airport, where he lined up to await security searches and boarding instructions. Thirty minutes later, he was airborne and primed for his landing in Chinquinqua.

Taylor was the absolute best; a thirty-nine year old Annapolis–educated retired SEAL. Taylor had tattoos on the back of each hand and an ankle holster over the sock of his right leg. He possessed more top-secret information about this operation than any of the Board members—and substantially more than Jeffries. This was a simple matter of Taylor maintaining close ties with several of his former SEAL-mates, as well as his commanding officers. Although he was retired from active SEAL military assignments, Taylor continued to serve his country by feeding information back up the chain to the government, while he received invaluable information necessary to complete his tasks for his Export company employers.

*

The shaking of Taylor’s sagging frame by the dark-haired attendant was futile. She swallowed a scraping scream. The noise from the engines overpowered her muffled squeak. Moments later, the chief attendant and the co-pilot came to Taylor’s seat, found no pulse, and decided to leave him there in the otherwise unoccupied row of three seats next to the window until they landed.

*

When word reached New York, finally identifying Taylor, Jeffries took a call from his Navy contact who briefed him on every facet surrounding Taylor’s’ death on the plane to Chinquinqua.  A full investigation team was flying to Montevideo to determine the cause of death. His contact admonished Jeffries to avoid that particular airline for any planned missions involving any SEALS only loosely attached to the Navy.

When Jeffries hung up, he suffered a brief bout of vertigo, forcing him sit down heavily into his high-backed swivel. Following a few moments to purge the waves of unsteadiness, he removed a bottle of scotch from a lower drawer of his desk and drew in a generous gulp; then another. After downing these straight from the bottle, he found a glass and poured himself a triple.

*

Jeffries was the target of mostly discreet critical glares from all ten board members. He did not bother to look at any of them when he announced his decision.

“We’ll send another; Smale; tomorrow.” Jeffries folded his attaché case, took the three strides to the door in two, and disappeared quicker than breath on glass.

After a thorough recalibration of all relevant factors, Smale would retrace the same trail as his dead predecessor. The ten remaining men sat indifferently. Slowly, they shifted their concentration—that had been locked on Jeffries—to the walls behind their fellow members who faced them. No one spoke for minutes. Every one of them churned the incalculable number of complexities as well as the combinations and permutations now swirling about the Chairman’s unilateral decision to dispatch Smale.

Axel Hadrian, unanimously regarded as the gutsiest of the ten, angrily shoved back his chair, wheeled about, and threw open two windows. The sounds of Fifth Avenue traffic jumped into the room and assaulted both the ears and the thoughts of the remaining nine. After a moment to inhale the noise, along with the air, Hadrian very casually meandered down the length of the boardroom rug, lying with deep pile beneath the conference table and the chairs of the nine conferees. The nine continued to sit in postures of ones prepared to camp there for the week.

Eventually, in a disorderly sequence, the nine sitters parked their personal thoughts (as well as their opinions) and turned to the man next to them and began to converse in rapid phrases about the risks of sending Smale.

"Isn’t it your strong opinion that it’s pure folly to sacrifice another fully trained operative?" "Isn’t that just pure gambling? We’re not in the loose business of mere chance."

They provided Taylor with every asset, from logistical information to armaments,. He failed. They thoroughly parsed every possible reason for Taylor’s failure, his death.  They could not develop—or conjure—one new factor to assure Smale’s success.

*

On the ground in Chinquinqua, the medical and security personnel investigated and searched the passengers. The authorities found no weapon or other evidence of a crime having been committed. After giving their local addresses and being admonished not to leave the city until advised by the law enforcement officials, the authorities released the passengers. The investigator in charge decided to wait for the autopsy.

*

The alcohol began to work a second or so before the last slug warmed his throat and enlivened his stomach. Jeffries considered calling the board to another meeting but decided to summon Hadrian first. Hadrian was undoubtedly the leader of the other nine Board members. Rightly so. Hadrian arrived promptly. Jeffries immediately sought the Ranger’s opinions about the wisdom of sending Smale.  Before Hadrian could answer, Jeffries updated him on the new scheme, as well as the added peril of the mission: the unexplained death of Taylor. Doctor Menendez told the airline Taylor died of a heart attack: perfectly-conditioned SEAL or not, a heart attack killed him.

Jeffries and the Manaplan Company asked the American Embassy to dispatch their brightest member to join the investigation. The Embassy dispatched Stephanie Marless. In addition, Jeffries and Heppenheimer  asked the Embassy to handsomely pay the examining doctor for his time as well as any opinions he could offer about any unusual aspects of Taylor’s death. Manaplan would reimburse the Embassy for all costs, fees, and extras.

 * .

In a moment of candor, Jeffries told Smale what he and the board, as well as the company, considered—and expected—as the result of the entire endeavor. They fully rebriefed Smale before he set off to complete the snatch. An industrial spy’s welcoming celebration (plus an astonishing fee)—as the savior of the company—awaited his resolution of the matter.

*

Marless arrived, paid, and cross-examined Doctor Menendez.  She instantly emailed her report to Jeffries. Taylor died of a heart attack. What Jeffries had not asked Marless to do, was to check into all possible reasons for the heart attack. When Jeffries got Marless on the line again three minutes later, the Embassy attaché listed every cause for the heart attack both she—and especially Doctor Menendez—could think of—or even speculate on.

*

Coming from such a highly-trained, thirty-four year old man of unquestioned intelligence and cunning, Jeffries was acutely tempted to adopt Hadrian’s assessment of the Board and summarily scrap the entire undertaking. Hadrian could convince the other nine members of the Board to abandon the whole mission. He was too late. Hadrian closed Jeffries’ office door a few minutes before. He undoubtedly took the elevator, and was now half way across the parking lot. Jeffries hesitated to call Hadrian only minutes following his departure; it would be a clear sign of weakness and uncertainty.

*

Smale was not only sworn to secrecy about his task but also to avoid all non-urgent contact with Jeffries. If contact was absolutely necessary, Jeffries ordered Smale to use a verified-secure line to Jeffries’ private office phone he kept in a secret compartment of his desk.

Smale made a secure call from Peru before leaving for the Amazon (a call during which both he and Jeffries agreed the serpentine path through mountains and jungles; airports and buses—in fact the entire route—was probably unnecessarily clandestine). Smale agreed to follow orders. Under the heavy rains of April, he soldiered on. His next call was from the airport in Balablanco where Taylor made his final report, before taking his last plane ride, and finding his final rest. Smale sounded concerned—also somewhat alarmed at the prospect of boarding the death plane. Jeffries barely slept the last two nights. Fear poked its head into his thoughts only a few seconds after ending his call from Smale.

*

Stephanie Marless tried to call Jeffries many times. Each time, his secretary told Marless his line was in use. Marless said she would wait and held for another five minutes before the secretary put her through. After receiving his Code Red alert and advice from Marless, Jeffries frantically called Smale. Smale never received Jeffries’ warning, took the same plane as Taylor, and was DOA at the Chinquinqua airport.

Marless was frantic. Marless, a young brunette of twenty-nine with an impeccable resume including Vasser and the Naval Academy, was rapidly learning the details of embassy grist as well as its jargon. She was close to tears when she relayed Smale’s death notice to Jeffries. The news stunned Jeffries, forcing him to sit. He opened a drawer, yanked out the half-empty whiskey bottle, and began to ram himself into a quasi-coma before deciding what to tell the other nine members of the Board.

Next morning, Jeffries called upon all the experience of his forty-one years on the blue marble—not to make a speech—only to convey the gruesome news about the operation.

The first bulletin to Jeffries and the Board said Smale was dead. A silent shudder ruffled along the line of faces occupying the long black conference table. Their shoulders shivered; their nervous systems seized up; a subconscious dread roiled their guts.

The second disclosure concerned Jeffries. He was stepping down from the Board of Directors, leaving the Company, and abandoning the ‘business life’.

Jeffries’ third revelation was: the company’s undertaking to obtain that certain secret harbored in Buenos Aires failed; utterly. The entire operation succumbed in the wastelands of the Pampas Mountains. At present, there was the distinct probability that any chance for Manaplan to overtake the competition in the race to design a clean bomb, was now at least five years away.

Hadrian also announced his departure from the company, using the trope excuse that he wanted to spend more time with his family. None of the Board members recalled meeting another member of the Hadrian family. There were none.

*

Axel Hadrian set off to Chinquinqua to meet up with Stephanie Marless. Together they were going to undertake some deeper discussions with Doctor Menendez as well as oversee a full autopsy of the bodies of Taylor and Smale.

A savage storm of gusting rain-squalls knocked out the power, allowing Hadrian and Stephanie Marless to enjoy a splendid dinner by candlelight. Shortly after a final liqueur, Hadrian crashed for twelve hours before joining Marless for a late lunch. Together, Marless and Hadrian reviewed the Georgi Markoff assassination.

In 1978, the Secret Police poisoned Markoff, a Bulgarian dissident. All initial tests offered only one conclusion: Markov died of a heart attack. Marless knew every detail of the Markov case and filled in Hadrian’s memory gaps. Before their coffees and desserts, both knew exactly what to do in order to close the cases of the two deaths.

Their first call was to Rafael Perona, the Montevideo Chief Inspector in charge of investigating the two deaths. He readily agreed to see them—warmly welcomed them. The chance to reopen the two cases sparked up his humor. He could return to the investigation of those cases, which spilled a large black splotch on his reputation as the finest detective in Uruguay.

The three, plus an aide of Chief Inspector Perona, met at the local police station. When Marless and Hadrian finished briefing the Chief Inspector on the Georgi Markov case, they agreed to begin their inquiries by interviewing the entire flight crew that worked the particular leg of the Aero Playa flight to Chinquinqua. Their ultimate goal was to find the flight attendants who served the main cabin of the death plane. They wanted to investigate anyone with access to the suspected poisoning agent. Their investigation included any member of the flight crew who owned or stored a possible death instrument during that particular leg of the flight.

The truth surfaced: a very slight nick with the poison tip shot the poison into the systems of the two heroes. Chief Inspector Alonza ordered all the flight crew to assemble in his office while members of his force thoroughly searched each of their living arrangements.

Nothing.

Stephanie, Axel, and the Chief Inspector gathered to discuss their next step. Axel and the Chief Inspector slowly shook their heads.

Nothing.

Stephanie made a suggestion. Three days of unsuccessful searching among the mounds of recent garbage at the dump also drew a zero.

Sitting together, bent over with their heads in their hands, the four ‘seekers’ were silent while each dug deeper to come up with the next move; a plan, or an idea. Five minutes later, Axel asked the Chief Inspector the winning question.

Three hours later, in a donation store run by the Red Cross, they found it and sent it for immediate testing. The donor left no name nor took any receipt. Luckily, a randy young man who volunteered a couple of afternoons at the donation center while not tied up in school, described all her charms in luscious detail—as well as the rest of her.

The Inspector found and arrested the responsible attendant. She was an undercover mole of Manaplan's rival company in the race to construct a clean bomb. The ‘item’ was an umbrella with half an inch of the tip missing.

Chief Inspector Perona asked for lab tests on the areas around the shortened tip, Tests revealed nanoparticles of a poisonous substance; a substance able to cause a heart attack without leaving any traces.

Stephanie Marless married Axel Hadrian. The CIA immediately employed them—as a team.

THE END  


Submitted: March 01, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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