Villa Clara, Cuba
17:30 (22:30 GMT)
“Here, let me help you with that,” Blake said as he reached for Adriana’s backpack.
Blake and Adriana had spent the past week giving inoculations to children in the outlying villages in Central Cuba. The work had been fulfilling, but not to the point where Blake was any closer to completing his mission.
He lifted her backpack and set it in the back of the pickup they had used for the past seven and a half weeks. Blake had been desperately trying to find a way to get himself closer to his target when a few nights ago, he finally saw an opportunity.
Adriana was already in the truck waiting when he climbed into the cab and closed the door. “Have you given any more thought to what I said the other day about our next location?” he asked.
He’d read that there had been a report of a possible case of diphtheria on one of the outlying islands, close to Vasquez’s estate.
“I have, and to be honest, it really shocked me. MEDICC has effectively all but wiped out diphtheria since two thousand and three. I just can’t believe that several cases have now popped up.”
“MEDICC? That’s your country’s national immunization program, right?”
Blake leaned his left arm on the steering wheel and turned to her. He had a boastful smile on his face. “Well, I’ve got some connections too, and I’ve found out that more than likely, it came over from Haiti. As a matter of fact, a whole boatload of people came from Haiti, and now they’ve spread themselves out among the chain of islands down there.”
Adriana was studying her clipboard. She twiddled the pen in her mouth as she flipped through the papers and marked various check boxes. She’d pulled her long dark hair back behind her left ear, but let it hang down on the other side.
Seriously? That didn’t give you a hint? I hate to sound pushy, but… “So, any more thought to using your father’s estate as a staging ground?”
She still concentrated on her papers.
“Hmmm?” she mumbled, still grasping the pen with her teeth.
“Huh?” She jerked up, eyes wide, turned to him and withdrew the pen. “What? I’m sorry, what did you say?”
An errant clump of hair dangled down the middle of her forehead and caught in the corner of her mouth. She crossed her eyes as she looked at it and playfully blew it out of the way. Her green eyes looked up and to her right as her hair went to the side of her face. She looked back at Blake and returned a bubbly schoolgirl smile. He was amazed at how alluring a woman could be in a dirty green shirt and khaki shorts; even after nearly twelve hours of work in the humid Cuban jungles.
“You’re father’s estate. Can we use it?”
“Oh! Yes! I almost forgot.” She placed the clipboard on the dash. “Well—not yes we can use it, but yes I had a talk with him.” She leaned toward Blake and rest her hands on his. He felt a strange tingle in his belly that he hadn’t felt in years. Oh crap. Please don’t do this to me now. I can NOT fall for this woman.
“He has invited us to dinner tonight. He’s…” Her eyes danced backed and forth as she searched for what to say. “…pretty protective of me and said that he wants to meet you before he makes any decision.”
“Protective?” This is when he’ll threaten to cut my balls off if I touch her.
“Yes.” She removed her hands and scrunched her brow. “That’s probably why I’m still single.” Her full lips pouted and Blake focused on them.
Well, it certainly isn’t your looks.
“But I told him you were engaged. So, he’s agreed to think about it.” She smiled wide as Blake frowned in his mind. Oh, yeah—my fiancée. Good thing she reminded me. Dammit!
“We can go back to the hotel and get our things in case he says yes. He’s sending a plane to the local airport. It’s only about a forty minute flight.”
Blake started the truck and put it in gear. “Well, all right. Let’s see if we can convince him.”
The flight on the private Citation jet took only twenty-five minutes. Blake figured she had made the flight before, but either on a prop plane or she just has a bad sense of time. Probably the latter.
An AMG Mercedes CLS picked them up at the private airstrip. When Blake inspected the car, it had been outfitted with traditional “cartel/Mafioso” accoutrements; bullet proof glass and tires, armor plating, etcetera.
“Uhhh… your father expecting trouble?”
Even with her dark olive features, he could see the blood run to her cheeks. She tilted her head down and said, “Daddy was a general in the army. Many people hate him for some of the things our own government has done to our people. It’s really for his protection.”
Bullshit. You know what he does.
“That’s why he funds my charity. He hopes that by giving back to the people, some might forgive him.”
Yeah, right. Is that what you really believe, or is that just something you’re trying to convince yourself? Blake nodded and opened the heavy door for her. He hoped that by his simple nod, she’d think he accepted that as an understanding, or an acceptance. He didn’t really care which.
The estate was just two kilometers away. When they approached the gate, Blake took notice of all that he saw. The gate was at least thirteen feet tall and had a guard house on either side. He was surprised to see that it was a simple structure, made of wood and chain-link fencing. I guess he’s not trying to impress anyone out here. No less than four guards occupied them and they were all armed with sub-machine guns. The driveway was long and straight, lined with decorative landscaping. Beyond the ornate flowering plants was dense jungle on both sides.
A massive house filled his view as they came into the clearing. Wow! To his left was a dog kennel with three German Shepherds roaming on the inside. Fuck. Dogs.
Another one was on a leash, straining as it pulled an armed guard along for the ride. A well trained dog wouldn’t do that. Good to know.
Off to the right was a six door garage and a large barn after that. They both matched the home in color and architecture. He saw at least three horses grazing in the field beyond the fence.
The car circled around a large stone fountain. It looked like three big fish, standing up on their tails with their “chests” meeting in the middle. The water spilled out of all of their mouths and met about eighteen inches up where it collided, and then cascaded down their backs into the pool below. That...is an ugly ass fountain.
They entered the home from a large central staircase. They were met in the atrium by someone Blake assumed was the head maid.
“Senorita, your father is waiting. I think he started without you.”
Adriana turned back toward Blake and grabbed his hand.
“Come on, we don’t want to keep him waiting.”
Blake gladly took her hand and that funny feeling came across him again.
Before they entered the dining hall, Blake jerked his hand out of hers. Not out of nervousness toward her father, but in the hope that he would get his permission to stay there throughout the duration of his visit.
They strolled into a large room that opened out to a veranda. Birds chirped within the vegetation that adorned the area around the large pool. Beyond that, the orange and violet hues of the setting sun reflected off the water that formed the natural harbor. Blake noticed a large warehouse down by the water. Hmph. Let me guess what you’ve got in there. Without hesitation, she made the introduction.
“Daddy, I’d like to introduce you to David Saye. He is the Director of Canadian’s Helping the World’s Children, out of Vancouver. He and his organization have been helping me administer vaccinations the past seven weeks.”
General Vasquez remained seated at the end of a long wooden table and seemed impartial as he chewed his pork and took a sip of wine. He grunted something. Blake noticed his disinterest and wondered what he could say to break the ice. He glanced over to his host as he pulled the chair out for Adriana, hoping that he would at least notice his genteel behavior. Nothing.
He walked to the other side of the table to sit next to his indifferent host. Servants placed plates with jerked pork, plantains, and a mixed green salad in front of Blake and Adriana. A plate of bread sat directly in front of him. He picked it up and handed it to her. “Bread?”
As they ate, the general remained quiet. Blake tried on several occasions to break the silence, but was met with short, neutral responses. This is going to be tougher than I thought. After a less than successful dinner, coffee was served and Blake continued to try and break the general’s silence.
“I couldn’t help but notice your horses. They remind me of some of the horses I have back home,” Blake said.
Vasquez’s brow raised and he shot a glance over to him. Ah ha, that got you.
“You have horses, Mister…?“
“Saye. David Saye.”
Vasquez cleared his throat and sipped his coffee. “What kind do you have?”
“I have two Paints and one Appaloosa that I keep on my parent’s farm. I’d really like to get more but my work keeps me away. Three horses are all my parents say they can handle. What I would really like to do is show them. I think they would do really well.”
The general wiped his mouth with his napkin. He stood up and said, “Come with me, I’d like to show you something.”
Holy shit, that was quick. Blake stood, turned to Adriana and gave a quick grin with widened eyes. She smiled back and waved him on. He guided Blake to his personal office. Through the large wooden double-doors he immediately cast his eyes upon a one-half scale bronze statue of a horse. He looked around and saw the walls were covered with oil paintings of all of the general’s horses. Next to each painting were framed ribbons that each horse had won in various competitions. The frames were dark mahogany and ornately decorated with assorted carvings of flowers and other equestrian themes like saddles, spurs and lassos.
Blake walked around the office and took in as much information as he could; computers, file cabinets, the desk; anything that might store any intelligence. “These are certainly impressive, sir. Did the same artist do all of your artwork?”
“All but one.” The general knocked twice on the statue. It made a short thump. Not the ringing sound that Blake expected and he made a mental note. “This is one of my prized possessions. It is a one half scale statue of my most winning horse. Unfortunately, she passed three years ago. It is a fitting way to honor her.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sure she was a wonderful horse. Thank you for showing this to me.” Blake continued to scan the room.
“Mr. Saye,” the general said in a tone void of kindness. He stood with his feet shoulder wide and crossed his arms across his chest.
“What is your interest in my daughter?”
Here it comes. Off with my balls!. “Strictly professional, sir. I’m getting married this fall. My fiancée and I have been together for nearly seven years.”
The general nodded and seemed to accept Blake’s answer. “Very well.”
“As you can tell, I’m a bit protective of her. She’s a grown woman. I may not be able to control what she does or with whom she does it when she is out doing her charitable work, but when she’s here… I have total control.”
Blake clasped his hands together and gave a brief nod. “I can appreciate that, sir.”
“Good! Now, I understand you are asking to stay here so you and my daughter can cover the surrounding islands with…” He waved his hands back and forth. “…these drugs, or whatever, that you have to give to the children.”
“Yes, sir. That’s correct.”
Fuck Dude, however long it takes me to kill you and steal your shit. I don’t know.
“I—I really don’t know. A few weeks maybe? We really don’t know how bad the situation is yet or how long this will take. But honestly sir, however long you’ll permit me to stay here is up to you. Anything will help.”
Blake studied the general and assumed the gears were turning in his head. Come on, just say yes.
“Give me fifteen minutes to make my decision. I’ll come and get you. In the meantime, please go back and keep my daughter company.”
I can definitely do that.
“Tell the servant…”
Servant? You don’t even call them by their name? Wow, you are a dick.
“…to bring you some cognac and a cigar. I think you’ll enjoy them both.”
“Thank you, sir. That sounds great.”
Two minutes after Blake left, Luca stood in nearly the same place.
“Did you do a background check on him?” the general asked.
“Yes, sir. Everything checked out. The company he works for in Vancouver, his education; everything. Why?”
Vasquez stood with a crumpled look on his face. He paced back and forth briefly and then stopped. “I need you to check one more thing.”
Luca walked around and sat at the general’s desk. He typed out on the keyboard as Vasquez watched from behind. They pulled up engagement announcements from the archives of the Vancouver Sun.
“Here it is,” Luca said.
Vasquez bent down, squinted and partially read aloud. “The parents of…Allison Slade…engagement… David Saye…wedding date…October twenty-seventh.” He straightened back up. “Is there a picture?”
Luca scrolled down and revealed a picture of Blake and a dazzling blonde.
His assistant looked back up at the general. “Is that what you were looking for?”
Blake was leaning back in his chair, sipping his cognac when the general came into view. Vasquez directed him to come over.
“Excuse me,” he said to Adriana.
When he got to his host, the general said, “I understand you have an early start tomorrow.”
The man nodded and ran his hand through his thick beard. “What’s your fiancée’s name?”
Well, you sneaky fat bastard. You checked up on me.
“I’m sure you’ll be very happy. I have one of the guest houses prepared for you.”
The general turned and started to walk away when he stopped. “One more thing, Mr. Saye.”
“Don’t wander around. The guards don’t take kindly to strangers lurking around the estate at dark.”
“I understand.” Thanks for the warning.