When you need to hide, the best thing to do is have a well-thought-out plan, prepared weeks or months in advance. Failing that, mixing into a crowd works pretty well. Also, if you're associated with some distinctive piece of hardware, like a black 1974 Dodge Charger, it may be a good idea to get away from it and stay away from it. Cars tend to be easy enough to come by.
The six-storey garage opposite Dade Trust charged $38.00 per day. Michael remembered his father, when he was a kid, swearing that $5.00 a day for parking was akin to robbery with violence. Of course, his father was usually swearing about something, so Michael didn't put much stock in it.
They had spent 12 minutes and about a hundred dollars in a tourist clip shop, and now they were wearing purple belts and powder-blue tee-shirts reading “Welcome to Miami,” and bumping hips a lot. Michael was slightly amused at the ease with which Yusuf had dropped into the improptu cover, his body language, like Michael's, saying “Couple.” Yusuf was also carrying a cheap camera, with which he photographed statues and interesting buildings. As cover went, it wasn't much, but it would do.
They wandered and ducked among the tourist crowds, insanely marching in the Miami heat, as Michael moved them toward a slightly seedier neighborhood, until he finally saw what he was looking for. Three or four hookers stood on adjacent corners, waving at passing cars.
Michael approached the closest, a slightly plump black woman with a '70s-style fro, bleached platinum blond.
“Well, hello!” he said brightly. “I just love that do! Do you use Clairol? I think the low-priced brands are really just as good as those salon products, don't you, Raoul?”
He was looking at Yusuf for his input, who immediately scowled. “Joo get whatchoo pay for, mang,” he replied, thickening his Cuban accent to the edge of parody. “I only juse the Paul Mitchell.” He turned to the hooker. “Ain' tha' righ, chica?”
She looked back and forth between them. “I don't think,” she said, in a rich Jamaican accent, “you gemmun are buying what I'm selling, you know what I mean?”
“What!?” Yusuf sounded affronted. “You think, we a couple of queens, not good enough for your Island Coochie?”
“Raoul!” cried Michael, tiredly, “Not again, man!”
A mid-sized Lincoln that was slowing down picked up speed again and sped away, and the hooker's eyes widened. “Look, if you two wanna buy, all good, I give you a group rate, yeah? But I got a livin' to make!”
Michael barely even spared her a glance, glaring at Yusuf. “Every time you think I'm taking you for granted, you threaten me with a vagina! You don't want it any more than I do!”
“Maybe I do!” Yusuf replied heatedly. “Joo don' know everything I do!”
“I know what you don't do!” Michael shot back. “You don't do that!” he pointed at the hooker's crotch.
There was a screech as a recent-model Cadillac pulled up beside them, and a tall, rangy black man stepped out, moving quickly up into Michael's personal space. “There a problem here, man?” he asked. “You're cramping Missy's style.”
“You the pimp?” asked Michael, conversationally.
“And if I am?” the man asked.
Michael shrugged. “I'll feel better about this.”
The uppercut snapped the tall man's head back, and he actually rose into the air for a moment before collapsing in a heap at their feet.
“Come on,” Michael told Yusuf.
Show me a pimp with a nice, new Caddy, and I'll show you a man who won't admit it to anyone, much less to the cops, when he gets knocked out and has it taken away from him by couple of flaming, bitchy queens.
“Barry! How are you?”
The money launderer's voice sounded a little sad in Michael's cell phone. “At a guess? Not as well as I was before I answered the phone.”
Michael chuckled, turning the Cadillac randomly North on a side street. “Now that's unkind, Barry. I never cause you real trouble!”
“But do you ever call just to chat, Michael? Just to shoot the breeze, pass the time, express how much you care for me?”
“Why would I do that?”
“So I could yell at you for wasting my valuable time! What do you need, guy?”
“Got anybody who had to bail late on a real-estate scam?” Michael asked.
“Meaning condos or some such that are ready for occupancy but not occupied. Preferably with electricity.”
There was a long pause.
“I'll get back to you, Michael, Only one I can think of is a guy I can't get jammed up. I gotta find out if he objects to potentially-violent squatters.”
Michael paused. “If he's insured, that would be better. You seen the news last couple of days?”
“You're in that?”
Barry laughed. “You know, Michael, that might just act in your favor.”
Michael chuckled. “Yeah, I'm aware of the irony. Get back to me, Barry?”
“Sure, sure.” The money launderer's voice was amused. “Hang in there, Michael.”
Michael switched off the phone, and was about to return it to his pocket, when it rang again.
“Hello,” he said, returning it to his ear.
“Westen.” The Scots voice was firm, sounded much younger than its fourscore years and seven. “You've been making trouble.”
“Not really, Commander,” said Michael. “It's just sort of following me. Well, following Yusuf.”
Bond's answering grunt was not without humor. “I know the feeling. Can you cache him somewhere?”
“I'll know soon,” replied Michael, scolding his hindbrain for trying to work in a joke about a small Czech. “Can I call you back?”
“You can, now that I've called you with this damned thing!” Bond growled. “Progress! Feh! In my day, phones were a leash you could slip!”
Michael grinned, thinking for a moment of an age when espionage was performed without the help of satellites and the Internet, by courageous, lonely men who went into enemy territory with no backup and no lifeline. “It's a whole new world, Commander Bond.”
“One I prefer to watch over the rim of my martini glass!” Bond shot back, and the phone lit up with the “Call Ended” screen.
There are two ways to do Covert Operations. The right way involves months or even years of planning, training, back-up and exit strategies. The other way involves being overtaken by events without being knocked on your ass. Von Clauswitz says that you must plan on your enemy's capabilities, not his intentions. But when your enemy's forces and resources are as much an unknown as his plans, all you can do is take it as it comes, and try to react fluidly enough to reach your objectives regardless. A lot of times, you have to come up with new plans on the fly.
Fortunately, I'm not bad at that.
Michael was walking back from the small bodega, two cups of yoghurt and a box of plastic spoons in hand, when his phone rang again. He handed the Yoghurt and spoons in through the passenger window to Yusuf, and pulled it from his pocket, glancing at the Caller ID before answering it, “Yeah, Barry.”
“Okay, I got you something. Palm-Frond Condos. Right on the beach, opposite Bill Sadowski Park. The model is ready for occupancy, but there have been... Contract problems among the partners. If you can meet a guy in a half-hour, he'll give you a key for the model unit. The, uh... The partners aren't all that happy in business together, so if they could split a nice insurance check, well, nobody would cry about it, but there can't be any investigations pointing back at them.”
Michael smiled as he slid behind the wheel. “Barry, you're a deeply, deeply beautiful man. Where do I go for the meet?”
“Target,” Barry said. “The one down southwest.''
Michael winced, thinking of all those tempting bull's-eye logos. “I hate that store, Barry.”
“Yeah, well, I'd have suggested Macy's, but your contact's daughter loves those Sami Hayek fashions!” Barry chuckled. “Be standing in front of the Pharmacy sign, eating yoghurt.”
“Eating Yoghurt?” asked Michael.
“It seemed a good bet,” Barry chuckled. “You gonna be there?”
“I'll be there, Barry. Thanks.”
“No need for thanks this time, Michael. Lotta backs getting scratched here.”
Ask any covert operative, and they'll all tell you: It's better to deal with criminals than spies or terrorists. They're reasonable. They've got a business to run, and the smoother it runs, the happier they are. There are gradations of criminals, though, and the ones you want to deal with are the seasoned pros. They just go about their business, doing their jobs, and if you don't interfere with the profit margin, they're fine. The worst to deal with are the crazy ones. Some guys get hired into a machine because they're bughouse crazy, and like to hurt or kill.
Somewhere in between, but in their way crazier, are the amateurs. They get their ideas from TV and movies, and how they're going to react when those expectations aren't met is unpredictable. When your work is secret and not entirely legal, unpredictable is bad. And a guy who ought to be working for an insurance company and grilling back-yard steaks in Boca Raton, but somehow blundered into crime, big crime especially, may make the damnedest of bad decisions if he thinks things are going wrong enough to give him a bad name with a condo association.
If you've got to deal with an amateur, though, you can do worse than a real-estate scammer. The worst thing they're likely to want to do is burn down the evidence, and if you can take that task off their hands and leave them secure in the knowledge that a professional will take care of it, they'll fall all over themselves to let you have it.
The man was shortish, red-haired, with pale, fair skin that would never tan if he stayed in Miami a hundred years, just blotch, burn, peel and repeat. He was wearing an Aloha shirt Sam would have turned his nose up at, and shorts that proved conclusively that some men should be required by federal law to wear long pants. The girl, perhaps fourteen, trailing behind him, carrying several large white plastic bags emblazoned with Target's disturbingly assassin-friendly red “Bullseye” logo, possessed his coloring without its flaws, blue eyes so startlingly pale they seemed almost gray, and a kind of serene, mature beauty that mesmerized the eye. Michael found himself thinking she should be a model, not for magizines or designer fashions, but for painters and sculptors.
“You Barry's friend?” the man asked Michael.
Michael swallowed his spoonful of yoghurt. “That I am.”
The man looked around uncomfortably.
“Relax,” Michael said, smiling broadly. “Nothing wrong with giving a guy a key. No need to make this look like a dope deal.” He reached out and shook the man's hand.
“I wasn't ready,” the man said. “Key's still in my pocket, I'm sorry!”
“I said relax,” Michael replied. “This isn't some secret hand-off, it's a handshake. Just reach in your pocket and hand me the key.”
The daughter's eyes were cool and quiet on Michael, assessing carefully. Michael tipped her a wink, reached out and touched her nose with her forefinger, and she smiled distantly.
Her father fumbled in his pocket and produced a standard Yale key, and Michael reached to take it with a casualness he hoped was enough for both of them.
“Thanks again,” he said easily, clapping the man casually on the shoulder. “Great to see you both!” He winked at the daughter again, funny, friendly, and her cheeks pinkened with a blush.
“Keep him out of trouble, you,” Michael told her, with the easy bonhomie of an old friend.
“I will,” she replied, her voice soft and light. “I don't think hes cut out for this.”
“Many aren't,” Michael replied, smiling widely. “Nothing wrong with that.” He nodded to them again, and walked back away towards the waiting Cadillac.
They'd been driving for about five minutes when the old man sprang upright in the back seat, saying, “Westen.”
“Jesus Maria!” cried Yusuf, as Michael shook his head, regarding Bond's self-amused grey-blue eyes in the rear-view mirror.
“Hello, Mr. Yusuf,” Bond said casually. “I'm helping Michael find you a way out of this mess. The name is Bond. James Bond.”
“How did you get in here!?!?” Yusuf said.
“Quietly,” Bond replied with a grin, “while Westen was meeting his nervous friend.”
Michael was holding a key up over his shoulder. “Temporary safe-house. How's your arrangement going?”
“Goodnight called me back,” said Bond. “It will be ready tomorrow, noontime, and there'll be a boat to pick up our friend,here, at dawn at the marina on Ball Island. Cayman Islander named Georges Quarrel. Father was a friend of mine.”
“You sound like you're enjoying yourself,” said Michael, quietly.
“Don't be fooled,” replied Bond. “I'm enjoying my retirement.”
Michael chuckled. “From the looks of things, your retirement isn't all that different from your career.”
“It was until I made the mistake of drinking near you,” growled Bond.
“Of all the gin-joints in all the towns in all the world...” said Michael.
“Believe what you want,” grunted Bond.
Silence settled in the car for a moment, and Michael looked again at the angry grey-blue eyes in the mirror. “I'm sorry.”
The eyes stayed hard for a moment, then glanced out the window. “It's easy when you're in the thick of it. It's only when you're done, you look back and count the cost. Blood is treasure, and too many friends spilled too much of it.” He looked back up into Michael's eyes in the mirror, seeming to see them clearly through the red lenses of his sunglasses. “Do your best to look out for your friends, Westen. You'll be glad in the end that you did.”
Michael held his gaze for a moment, before turning his attention back to the road.
It's far too easy, in this line of work, to think of the people you work with as assets. What are they good at, what are they good for, how do you manage them? But even spies need people in their lives, people to care about and trust. In the end of the day, it's good to have friends.
Madeline Westen's arms squeezed Mrs. Sanchez for a moment as she looked over her shoulder at Sam. “You take care of her, Sam,” she said, her voice a little hoarser, a little rougher, than the cigarettes could account for. “Don't let her get hurt.”
“I'm all over it, Mrs Westen,” said Sam.
She rolled her eyes at him. “I wish you wouldn't call me that! You're almost old enough to date!”
Sam grinned. “But nowhere near good enough.”
Madeline smiled fondly at her son's friend, flushing slightly as she released Rosa. She looked deep into her dark eyes. “You trust Sam, Rosa. Trust Sam, and Fiona, and trust my boy. They'll take care of you, I promise.”
As they climbed together into the back seat of the big rental car, Rosa turned toward Fiona, reached for her hand.
“It will be all right, Mrs. Sanchez,” said Fiona. “Michael's very good at this, and Sam and I aren't bad, either.”
“Thanks, Fi,” said Sam over his shoulder as he pulled out of Madeline's driveway. “That's about the nicest thing you've ever said about me!”
Rosa Sanchez smiled wanly. “It isn't guns or bombs I'm worried about.”
Fi turned more directly toward the older woman. “What do you mean?”
“My Pidi-- Now he's Mohammad? -- He's done some terrible things, hasn't he? Terrible things.” She looked down for a moment. “I don't-- How will I talk to him about it? All while he was gone, I was hating the people attacking America. Blowing up those trains, killing all those people in Madrid. The subways in London. Now I learn that was my Pidi! He did... terrible things.”
“He learned from it, Mrs. Sanchez.” Fiona's voice was soft and intense. “He learned from it, and now he's trying to make amends, trying to be a better person.”
“It's just... It's very hard for me, Fiona.” Rosa's voice was low. Quiet. “Those people... They are monstruos, monsters! My Pidi was a monster! I did not raise him to be that.”
Fiona stared out the window at the passing palm trees. “No,” she finally said. “No, you didn't. And that means you can help him now, help teach him that he can be more man than monster.” She looked back deeply into Rosa's eyes. “He's lucky there, lucky to have you. Lucky his mother didn't teach him to value a cause over his conscience, didn't teach him that his life, that any life, was worth less than--” She paused. “Than some cause. In Iraq, the mothers of suicide bombers are proud of their sons for murdering innocents. Surely you can take pride in Mohammad turning away from that.”
Sam turned and spoke over his shoulder. “Think about all it's cost him, Mrs. Sanchez. All it's cost him, and all it's going to. He's doing that, paying that, to make amends.”
“Yes...” Rosa's voice was barely a whisper. “Yes, I suppose he is.”