I woke up and jumped, startled, nearly uprooting the shrub under whose shadow I was hiding. Something was generating a rattling noise disturbingly close to me that resembled an engine working. I carefully crawled to the outer leaves and lay down, sticking my head outside.
I saw someone on the platform where Marty Cork had ditched his containers earlier that night. I also saw a small boat with an outboard engine near the shore and a bigger one a little bit further out to sea. It was too dark, however, to distinguish more details. I took out my night vision goggles and looked at my cellphone, while shading its screen. It read three forty-three—just half an hour after I had dropped off to sleep. I put the goggles on and looked at the platform.
It was obviously Marty Cork again—I could tell by his gait. There was also some other guy with him but he wasn’t Spit Master. The figures were near the containers and doing something very weird: Marty was taking the seals off the good stuff and his party was carrying them to and putting them on the wrong stuff, using some gadget. Then Marty quickly labeled the good containers as wrong and vice versa and the men jumped onto the small boat and headed to the bigger one in the sea. Just a few minutes later, it was all peaceful and quiet on the platform, just as it had been before their coming.
I took off the goggles, puzzled. “What the hell was he doing? Is this what it’s all about?” I asked myself, still sleepy. I couldn’t believe he was trying to trick Greenspace into buying some bullshit stuff instead of ammonia. He had to be nuts!
The answer to all my questions actually came at around six-thirty—a few hours before they opened the base. I had already awoken because I couldn’t sleep well after the scene I had witnessed, and I saw a vessel on the horizon quite similar to the one I had seen in the night. Twenty minutes later, it arrived at the platform and I recognized it—it was “Mountain Cougar”. Soon Marty popped up on its deck and then he jumped down onto the shore, all the while talking on his phone, after which a sleepy dockworker appeared on the platform. The latter slowly climbed up to the cabin of a crane, sank into it, and started loading the wrong “wrong” containers onto the boat. From there, the ship’s crane was taking them down into the hold. The engine of “Mountain Cougar” was working all the while and when the operation was finished, the boat beat it into the sea immediately.
By that time, the first “alchemists” had already arrived at Ofu with their boats, and I cautiously sneaked out of my shrub to mingle with them. Soon, the entire wharf was full of chemical enthusiasts. A little later—around eight—they opened the base and a mobile platform came to take the sealed containers inside because they were blocking the space. Nobody cared to look through the stuff inside because nobody had a reason to suspect anything. The containers were pushed to the back of the base with other similar to them for further processing. Around eight-thirty, a bunch of testers came out of the facility and made a morning round on the fishing port, issuing fifty quick refusals, after which I had a true variety of boatmen to pick from. By half past noon, my new Avinash had already taken me back to the harbor of Tutuila. He was more than happy to do so because it was a reimbursement for his wasted diesel fuel.
I slowly headed to my hotel, tired and confused. Everything was getting weirder and weirder. “If the ammonia business is so lucrative, why aren’t the Chinese in it?” I wondered. “After all, they’re the manufacturers!” Maybe Chavez had a real monopoly over the trade then! China had disintegrated before Couloongs’ coming and it consisted of city-states now, which was probably an inconvenience for the aliens because they wanted centralized deliveries. On the other hand, if Greenspace were the only supplier, why would Marty Cork do such a stupid thing and waste his chances to deliver in the future? Could it be that he just wanted to discredit Chavez in the eyes of the Couloongs? It was a possible answer but it would’ve been a stupid move anyway, because Marty was nobody to the aliens. Why would they believe him?
Fifteen minutes later, still thinking, I reached my hotel. I was dying for sleep but before grabbing it, I desperately wanted to brush my teeth. I had the feeling my mouth still stank of shit because of the rat meat sandwich I’d had, and when I opened the hotel door, I was actually dreaming of just that—a toothbrush! Unfortunately, people do not always get what they want in the moment they think they need it. As soon as I entered the lobby, I realized that someone had rearranged my schedule this afternoon without asking. I stopped at the door, alarmed.
The first thing that caught my eye was the total disorder everywhere about me. It looked like a battlefield. There was yellow tape that read “crime scene” and “do not cross”, and a few guys were crawling on the floor with ultraviolet spectrometers in their hands. Weirdly enough, I had seen no police cars outside and I turned around surprised to look again. Unless they were invisible, the street was empty though.
“They were outside but they were called upon.” I suddenly heard a familiar voice in the lobby. “Police cars are not so abundant in Tutuila, Mr. Mellrow. It’s not Greenland here!”
I turned back. It was Peularia, standing in the doorway to the snack bar and looking at me. Behind her, Nereidi was sitting at the counter and drinking a cocktail with a little umbrella in the glass. She was smiling at me.
“Please, come. You obviously have many things to tell me!” Gzundis invited me in, looking serious. Reluctantly, I stepped inside.
We went to one of the glass-topped tables—one of the few that had survived the Armageddon—and sat on the couch near it. I faced Nereidi, behind who the shelves were full of smashed bottles. The air was heavy with the smell of liquor and I was glad it was so because it neutralized my stink to a point.
“They were looking for you, you know!” the inspector informed me after a while, rather stating the obvious. Her voice was somewhat cold, and although she didn’t look mad, she was surely not happy with the situation in the hotel.
“Who?” I asked innocently. In fact, I suspected who might have done this—a devastation of such a scale was only within the powers of Chavez or Sengupta—but I couldn’t decide between them.
“You tell me!” she insisted.
“How am I supposed to know? I just got here!” I looked at her careful not to gesticulate too much. I didn’t want to stir the air around me.
Peularia glanced at her watch tiredly.
“Okay, now it’s almost one p.m. Start with four this morning and we’ll see how well it fits in with the mess here!”
“Well, this morning at four, I just crawled out of the shrub where I spent the night!” I smiled at her.
Gzundis looked at me dismally and shook her head. She obviously thought I was making a stupid joke, which made me realize she didn’t deserve such a treatment. So far, she had been good to me and helped me a lot.
“I’m not kidding!” I added. “The shrub was my only option. They don’t have many hotels in Ofu, you know!”
The inspector remained stone-faced. She was not one of those people who would express their surprise so I had to go on explaining without invitation. Behind her back, Nereidi was balancing on her stool, on the verge of tipping it over, and blowing the straw to make bubbles in her glass. I wondered who had made the cocktail for her because there was no bartender around.
I watched the girl for a few seconds and when she eventually regained her balance, I looked back at Peularia. I had nothing to lose so I decided to tell her about my latest Dick Tracy impersonations, while sparing a few delicate details, of course. I thought that if she wanted to arrest me, she would’ve done it already, and besides, she could help me understand the exotic games local gangsters were playing here. All the while, she remained expressionless.
“So you say this Marty guy tried to trick Greenspace into buying fake ammonia? Isn’t it too cheap?” she asked when I completed filling her in on my day up to the moment I arrived back here. “He probably won’t be able to repeat the trick!”
“I know! And I’m still looking for the answer!” I said. “I kinda hoped you’d tell me why ammonia is such a valuable commodity in this part of the world. It’s just a chemical compound everywhere else!”
Peularia kept looking at me for a while, thinking.
“I don’t know why that is,” she replied. “It’s just Chavez and his business whims; I told you when we talked the last time! What I really don’t understand, however, is your stubbornness about it. Why do you keep risking your life without anyone paying you for it? You have no case anymore! Are you actually trying to get yourself killed?”
I smiled sadly because I was too tired to pretend I was cheerful. Actually, I was smiling at Nereidi again who nearly swallowed her straw behind the inspector’s back, while chasing ice cubes around her glass and sucking at her drink. She noticed I was watching her and turned her head to me, looking at me naughtily.
“You’re missing a little but very important detail,” I moved my eyes back to Peularia when the Indian resumed the chase of ice cubes. “In Greenland, I’m a wanted man. I have to finish here first!”
“You seem to be a wanted man here too so what’s the difference? You know, Sengupta is a fancy person and he normally wouldn’t do such a thing,” she spread her left hand around, “if you hadn’t stepped on his toes! What did you do to him?”
“How do you know it’s Sengupta who did this?” I asked.
I sighed and scratched my head because it itched from the dirt. It didn’t actually matter that much who had done this but if it really was Sengupta, it meant that Sharon might have something to do with it. She obviously hadn’t given up on me!
“Well, I kind of intruded on his property,” I admitted after a while. “I may have sneaked onto one of his boats, you know!”
Peularia looked at me grimly. “And you were looking there for what?”
“It’s complicated,” I said. “Basically, I wanted to get my non-existent case moving.”
She rolled her eyes. “Look, the situation here has always been delicate,” she explained wearily. “I mean the region, not just Tutuila. We know what Sengupta’s been doing but we can do little to stop him, if nothing at all. Our island is small and mighty crime syndicates in India back him up. He has always behaved though, and we had reached a silent truce. Unfortunately, when you came here, you made this place turbulent again and I don’t like it, you know!”
“Well, I’m sorry,” I said and I really meant it. “It was never my intention to break anything, but if the guys I followed here have joined forces with Sengupta against Greenspace, which I think they have, then your truce had already been broken even without me. It was just a matter of time for the outcome to become obvious!”
Gzundis looked at me without saying anything. She knew I was right.
“Sengupta and Chavez are natural enemies,” she went on after a moment. “Their business is radically different and there’s not enough space for both of them on Tutuila. And now, if your friends have come here to build on DuPont’s project, it means there will be a third party and we’re going to get into a very complicated situation!”
“At first I thought so too, but now I’m not so sure why they came.” I shook my head. “The project on Olosega was obviously halted after Menelaus’ death and now it’s a ruin. Besides, these guys are not entrepreneurs—none of them has made the effort to go see the place. I think they need Sengupta rather to help them start a new trade route because they don’t have resources, you know—the ships and everything. In return, the Indian will have Chavez brought down and that’s the deal!”
“You said DuPont had planned a docking station on Olosega,” Peularia said thoughtfully, “but there’s no economic ground for such a thing—we already have a docking station in the region!”
“I know but maybe the product for which it was initially planned was going to make the project sustainable. It seems that the product is ammonia but maybe it’s something different—something more valuable!”
Gzundis pondered my words for a while, but she said nothing about it. Then her cellphone suddenly rang. She glanced at the display and picked up, as she went to Nereidi to give her a sign to finish her drink. The inspector listened to someone on the line for about a minute, during which time she said nothing—not even “okay” or “uh-huh”. Then she closed the line in just the same reserved manner and came to me.
“I need to go now, Mr. Mellrow. It’s urgent!” she explained. “I’d want to tell you one last thing, however, and I really hope that you listen. I think it’s best for you to leave this island immediately and if you decide to leave the region, it would be even better. No matter what’s waiting for you back in Greenland, believe me, what’s waiting for you here is worse. You just don’t know the local gangsters!”
“Of course. I’ll do that!” I said evasively and scratched my head again. “At the first chance, I’ll leave! You can count on me!”
Peularia shook her head in disappointment. “You’d better count on yourself!” she said and went to grab Nereidi, after which they headed to the door hand in hand. On the way, the Indian turned her head a couple of times to look back at me. I merrily waved my hand at her and she gave me a playful smile. Then they went out. I stayed in the snack bar for a while, looking at the place where they had been just seconds ago. I had never seen such a weird police couple before—not even in the movies!
A minute later, I wearily got to my feet and went to the counter to grab one of the bottles of whiskey that had remained intact. I felt miserable and disgusting and when I put the neck to my mouth and the spirit slipped down into my empty stomach, it spread a pleasant warmness throughout my body. It tasted much better than the drinks I got from the printer up in my room. After having another sip, I put the bottle back down and headed to the door. This hotel was becoming the next place in my life that I was going to leave prematurely and unexpectedly. Lately, I was doing this just a day or two after checking in somewhere!
Outside in the lobby, the yellow tapes, which blocked the stairwell, were still there but the guys with the spectrometers had gone. The elevator was open and the reception hall was empty. It seemed that the entire hotel was empty too. I stooped under the tape and climbed up to my room. I expected to see devastation inside and I saw it. Everything was ripped apart—even the couch and the fabric of the cushioned armchair. The curtains were down on the bed and my shirts—all over the floor. Whoever had ransacked the room had been obviously furious for not finding what they had been looking for.
“The poor jerks!” I thought as I collected my stuff into a black plastic bag because I hadn’t had the chance to buy a suitcase yet. “They must have been disappointed in my taste of shirts, throwing them everywhere around the room like this!” When I had gathered everything, I changed my clothes because I had no time to hit the bathroom and quickly went out. Every second of living was a gift for me now!
In a few minutes, I was already down at the car. The street seemed peaceful, and it was no wonder—the temperature was above forty-five degrees Celsius. I knew that its sleepy tranquility might be deceptive, however. And since I was expecting to see mobsters behind every corner, when my cellphone suddenly rang, I nearly spat my heart out in panic. I took the device out to look at the screen and as I did, my hand froze in the middle of my gesture. Then I quickly got into the car and shut the door.
At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I was hallucinating due to the combined effect of sleep deprivation and starvation. The screen read Bobby Bjornson! The device indicated a video stream was available so I carefully turned the camera out of reach of the car windows before picking up.
“Hey, babe! Where have you been?” I said cheerfully when I opened the line. “I thought you had given up on me!”
Bobby’s face showed up on the screen and she tried to smile at me but it didn’t come out successfully. She looked weary and exhausted. She was still beautiful but not heavenly beautiful as she had been in Greenland.
“Hey!” she answered curtly. “It’s been a while!”
“Yep, baby, it’s been a while! What took you so long?”
“They are trying to kill me, Mellrow!”
“Who are they, babe? The aliens?”
“Sharon and the moron she fucks!”
Bobby drew her device back for a moment and a lonely bench on a seaside ally flashed behind her hair. Then she adjusted the camera again.
“I thought you were buddies, baby!” I sneered at her, ignoring her cry for help because she was most probably acting. “Marty, and the bitch, and you!”
“Stop calling me baby, please!” she insisted but without much passion in her voice.
“Okay babe! And what do you have for me now? Another dead body? You want me to go find it for the police? Okay, no problem! Where should I go?”
She remained still for a moment, just looking at me. Her blue eyes had lost their usual sparkle; they were grayish now but maybe it was just the light.
“They made me do it,” her mouth opened after a while. “Cork threatened me with a gun. Let’s meet and I’ll explain everything to you!”
I briefly calculated. I had left Menelaus’ house at around twelve-thirty so Marty’d had an hour and a half to find her and make her call me. It was possible but still hard to fulfill. Maybe Sharon had helped him. Nevertheless, I couldn’t trust Bobby anymore—she had thrown away any respect I’d had for her.
“No, I’m not going anywhere!” I said coldly. “You explain to me now!”
“Look, I knew you were going to survive this! Everything was so lamely set up that the police were not going to believe it. You have to forgive me! I had to buy time because I was the next victim!”
“What the hell are you talking about, Bobby? What do you think I am? An imbecile! If you just wanted to save yourself, you wouldn’t have come to the place where Menelaus had started his grandiose project! You mean you had no idea they were going to come here afterwards?”
She looked at me uncertain as if trying to come up with an answer.
“I didn’t know they were aware of Menelaus’ plans, I swear! I knew this place well and there was nowhere else I could go!”
“Oh, come on!” I snapped. “You’re a terrible liar, you know! You slept with me while playing behind my back! And you were DuPont’s mistress at the time! Why did you sleep with me in the first place, huh? Were you also buying time or just buying my trust so that I wouldn’t suspect anything when you lured me into the trap later on?”
“I didn’t have any ulterior motive when I slept with you!” Bobby insisted. She seemed desperate. “I just liked you!”
“Yeah, tell me about it! You also liked Menelaus I hear but you didn’t warn him about Sharon and Marty! You express your feelings in really weird ways, my dear!”
“Menelaus knew about them,” she shrugged. “He just wanted them to believe he didn’t know anything because he planned to use Marty in order to lay his hands on Sharon. He had no idea they would go that far!
“Okay, let’s unpack it then!” I pressed her harder. “Menelaus had plans to push Greenspace out of the ammonia business, right? He hired you as a consultant and then you became his mistress. He hired you because of your education in pharmacy and your background experience here in the region. But then he needed a fool and he made you hire me. What was the real purpose of the fool, huh? Why did DuPont need the entire Red Dragon bullshit instead of starting the business right away?”
Bobby hesitated for a moment but then she obviously decided she had nothing to lose.
“It was a delicate situation,” she explained. “The Couloongs already had enough contractors. Menelaus needed to kick someone out of the pool in order to take their place. At the same time, he had to keep away from the ammonia because the scandal would affect the aliens. He needed something completely different!”
“No, no, Bobby, don’t do that!” I shook my head irritated. “Don’t tell me it’s all about ammonia. Please, don’t start bullshitting me again!”
She just kept looking at me tensely for a while without saying anything. She was serious and her expression was urging me to believe her but unfortunately, I couldn’t believe her any longer!
“This thing’s not trivial, Mellrow; it’s huge!” Bobby suddenly went on. “The aliens started buying up all kinds of chemical compounds half a year ago and it’s large-scale now. Ammonia is among the most profitable of all the commodities and it’s so serious that it literally changes the rules of business!”
I said nothing and thought about the docking station on Olosega. DuPont really must have intended to export bulk goods from there because otherwise, he wouldn’t have started such a enormous thing. He had enough spacecrafts for any more minor trade activity than this!
“Menelaus needed to mix Greenspace up in something very unpleasant but he had to be careful,” Bobby kept talking. “Since Greenland’s on the main smuggling route from Africa to Chinasia, the Chinese and Chavez were meeting regularly for their deals with rare animals and exotic foods. So the Red Dragon story was a convenient solution, you know. The main idea behind it was making the Couloongs withdraw from the ammonia deal!”
“And you don’t think it’s weird that DuPont started building his docking station in Greenspace’s backyard?” I asked peevishly because I was still not sure whether I wanted to hear all this. “I wouldn’t have picked a place so close to them if I were him!”
“Why would it matter?” Bobby pursed her lips. “He wanted to take their business and the hub here was going to be abandoned soon after the scandal burst. Moreover, the aliens are loading on the docking platform of Swains anyway so it would be convenient for them to drop by Olosega. And there’s another plus side to this place too—the volcano. Menelaus needed huge amounts of electricity because of the specific technology through which he chose to obtain ammonia!”
“You mean the specific technology you chose for him?”
She didn’t answer.
“Okay, so then you fed the fool with your bullshit story about rhino horns and hired him to link Greenspace to the Chins?” I went on. “He had to risk his life for you two without knowing the truth, right?”
“Well, you knew it would be risky! And technically, it’s not a bullshit story,” Bobby made the effort to defend herself. “Chinese are really buying rhino horns and we really didn’t mean to set you up. You were just supposed to deliver the pictures and then the Couloongs were going to back out of their deal with Chavez in order to avoid diplomatic complications. So it was nearly the truth!”
“You know what? I don’t believe you!” I said bitterly. “Sharon and you have been trying to fool me ever since I met you. You picked rhino horns and she came to me right after you had left with a very similar story about South African swallows. You both thought I was an idiot!”
“Well, that’s weird, I know!” Bobby admitted. “But as you rightly assumed when we met in that cafe in Greenland, she probably tried to counteract Menelaus’s actions. I think Marty had overheard something and they were afraid DuPont might really take hold of the trade with the Couloongs. He did want to monopolize it! I guess afterwards, it was going to be harder for them to achieve what they wanted—to seize his empire!”
I shook my head grimly. I didn’t know if she was telling me the truth but so far, her explanations had made some sense except for the “seizing empire” part. Sharon and Marty were not back in Greenland, trying to seize the empire. They were here, making another plot! Somehow, Bobby grasped my hesitation.
“Well, it must have been their initial goal at least!” she added. “Their actions sharply changed after they killed Menelaus. Maybe they had realized he was almost broken due to the project on Olosega. And now, they look for an ally to revive their plan!”
“What ally? What do you mean?” I looked at her intensely.
“I’m not sure but it seems Sharon is making advances on one of the mafia bosses here. I managed to snatch a memory stick out of Marty’s car when I accidentally ran into him a couple of days ago. The files made me believe she seduces her new Indian friend in order to help her enter the ammonia business. Unfortunately, Cork got me the next day and he took the memory stick back.”
“You mean the accident in the motel where you tried to kill me?” I asked sourly without telling her I had the stick now.
“Marty was right behind me!” Bobby tried to appear honest. “I hit the brake to give you a chance!”
I didn’t answer. I was looking thoughtfully through the front windshield of my car, arranging the pieces of the puzzle in my head. Everything had started to fit together and it completely explained why Marty had appeared on the deck of “Southern Star” and why Sharon had hooked up with Sengupta on his boat. I just didn’t know yet what their secret goal was but I suddenly realized Bjornson was my only chance to find that out.
“So would you come?” she used the short pause to beg me again. “They’ll kill me if you don’t!”
I slowly turned my eyes back to her. Her face expressed an ill-concealed hope and she looked sincere for the first time since I had met her.
“Where are you?” I asked coldly. I wasn’t sure at all if it was the right decision but I knew I had no other option. If Marty wiped her out, I would remain alone against Sharon and her crazy boyfriends!
Bobby’s face sharply disappeared for a moment and then I received a message containing some address. I heard her voice say that she would be in bungalow 27B tomorrow at six in the afternoon and right after that, she hung up. I searched the address on the navigation system and it turned out to be the beach of Leone Bay. It corresponded to the place, which I had seen flashing behind her hair when we started talking, but of course, that meant absolutely nothing!
I put the phone back into my pocket and reached my hand to start the car. It was close to two-thirty and I was deadly tired. I hadn’t slept for more than fifty hours and I wasn’t able to think about Bjornson now. For the moment, I urgently needed to fix myself up with a place where I could grab some sleep because my hands were shaking on the steering wheel and I was barely holding myself conscious. It also had to be as far away from here as possible. The next things were a shower and some food, and after that—Bobby’s turn. I was not going to let her play her stupid games any longer. It was time for her to cut the bullshit at last!
©2016 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!