Chapter 55: Safe Harbor
I texted Craig that I was all right and heading home, but I couldn’t stop my mind long enough to pull out of the parking space. I opened up the folder and looked at it again, I couldn’t believe what he was offering.
The photo was an aerial view of a tropical island off the Pacific coast of Panama called Isla San Jose. The island was seventeen square miles of jungle, cliffs and over fifty white sand beaches, plenty large enough to hide a Pack. It had a current had a population of ten and was privately owned. These ten were all caretakers of the island, and lived at the Hacienda del Mar on the southern coast. The resort was closed now, and the staff would stay on as employees if we bought it. The island had become popular as a setting for reality television, with several seasons of Survivor filmed on its remote beaches and thick jungles. It looked like a tropical paradise, with white beaches in hidden coves. The paperwork said it was almost overrun with wild pigs and deer.
“Not for long,” I thought as I flipped through the paperwork.
I didn’t understand how such a beautiful island could be so undeveloped until I got to the history part. It turns out there were real dangers there. I looked at the printout of this news article, and among other things it said this:
“Zima said news reports from the 1940s indicated that around 200 U.S. soldiers were dispatched there to conduct chemical warfare testing.
According to a 1988 U.S. Army book, “The Chemical Warfare Service: From Laboratory to Field,” U.S. soldiers came to the island to assess “chemical warfare weapons under tropical conditions.”
They tested 1,000-pound bombs that contained phosgene and cyanogen chloride, and smaller mustard-filled bombs, the book says. Other reports say the soldiers also tested VX nerve gas and sarin, the lethal neurotoxic agent that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found had been used in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21.
“These studies gave the participants valuable data on the offensive and defensive phases of chemical warfare in jungle fighting,” the book says.
Zima said in an email that the abandoned chemical munitions lie scattered “on a very small percentage (9 percent, approximately) of the island, mostly in the northwest section.” (Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article24756817.html#storylink=cpy)
At least eight unexploded munitions had already been located but not removed, and there were suspected to be more submerged offshore. As a result, the island had only a small portion developed, including a long airstrip and roads down to the resort once popular with sport fishermen.
Al had left some notes in the margins of the printouts; he told me that the existence of the airstrip meant we could be flown directly to the island, and the caretakers could use boats to bring food and supplies from the mainland or other islands when required. He would provide passports and immigration stamps for each person in the Pack so our long term residence would be legal. It would be absolutely remote, and under our ownership we could ensure our secret part remained safe.
He also noted that although Panama tested eyes for werewolf shine like all immigration authorities, they did not consider themselves to be at war with weres. There simply weren’t any there that they knew about. There were werecats in the jungles, but they stayed to themselves. Werecats didn’t have large packs, they had small family units of a mother and her kitts; when they grew, the young moved out and established their own territories. Most cats led a solitary existence, unlike the social life of wolves.
As I looked at pictures of unspoiled beaches and soaring cliff faces, I mentally thanked myself for having suffered through Spanish class in school. Finally, I set the material back in the folder and drove home.
It was past eleven when I arrived, and the house was quiet. I entered quietly, taking the folder up to our room and leaving it on the dresser. Craig was asleep, one of the boys under each arm as they cuddled up to him. I smiled, I had missed so many moments like this. I grabbed one of his T-shirts out of the drawer and a pair of his boxers, reminding myself I really needed to go shopping soon. I went into the bathroom, closing the door quietly, and showered and got ready for bed.
When I came back out, Craig was looking at me with love and lust in his eyes. I rolled my eyes, there was no time for that since he hadn’t been able to settle the boys in their room. I didn’t mind, I wanted to sleep and I wanted my boys with me too. I lifted up the covers and slid under, trapping Mitchell between me and my mate. I threw and arm and leg over, trapping him, and quickly fell asleep.
Morning came way too soon, and started out with two little boys jumping on the bed next to me and landing on my stomach. “MOMMY! WAKE UP!!!”
I grabbed one in each arm and roared. “Mommy’s a BEAR when you wake her up! She’s gonna eat you up!” They squealed as they tried to escape, but since their Alpha wolves had only begun to appear, they were only as strong as human children their age. I pulled Darryl up to my head and blew a raspberry on his little belly, causing him to shriek with laughter. “DADDY! DADDY, SAVE HIM FROM THE MONSTAH!” Craig came running out of the bathroom, shaving cream on one side of his face, as I rolled the boys over and dove down onto Mitchell’s belly, giving him the same treatment.
“I’m coming boys!” Craig leaped onto the bed and pulled me off them and to the side, his hands moving up my shirt to tickle my stomach. The boys leaped on top of me as I started laughing uncontrollably, and soon it was an all-out tickle war.
There was a knock on the door and we all paused. “Are you guys going to eat breakfast or just create a commotion,” Mabel asked.
“Coming,” I said. “Come on, boys, we need to eat a good breakfast so you can grow big and strong like Daddy.”
They jumped off and ran out the door, shaving cream still on their arms and faces, as Craig and I collapsed onto the bed together. “I missed this,” I said as I took his hand.
“Me too. We all missed you.” He got up and went back to the bathroom to finish shaving. “So how did it go last night?”
“I’ll tell you later. We need to have the Pack leadership together, probably all the Pack adults. That way I go through it once.”
The breakfast was fun, and thankfully without the teasing I’d endured the previous morning. We got all the kids washed up and out to play, once again some of the local wolves volunteered to keep them busy. The bounce house had been set up again, and would get a workout today.
The living room started to fill up as our Pack members arrived. We greeted them all, and I was happy that I could remember the names of some of the new arrivals. John and Teri Johnson were survivors of the Rochester pack; newly mated, they had been off alone in a cabin when the rest were surrounded and killed. They were both seventeen. The Peters family, Jerry, Mary, Justin (six) and Lawrence (four), and elder Mark Miller were the sole survivors of the Alexandria pack. Finally, we had the entire Albertson clan from Grand Forks; grandmother Lois, parents Zach and Laurie, and children Lars (15), Logan (13), Larissa (12), Lance (10) and Linda (7). All had been camping when their Pack had been hit.
They all knew about the CIA breaking me out, so I told them about the dinner meeting and the offer. I spent a lot of time going over the island; the papers and photos were passed around the room as I talked. These people had been through a lot, and there was a constant sword over them from the police and military; at any moment, we could be surrounded and exterminated like a number of Packs before us. I’d missed a lot of that tension in the cell, but I could read it in their faces. The thought of being on a remote island, hidden from the horrors of the ongoing war, was exciting.
So, they all looked at me waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I laid it out. We could pay the money and take our chances, or I could do this job for them and we get the island and protection.
And I get to be whole again, in a different form.
The debates were spirited and emotional; as much as we wanted the safety of the island, no one wanted me risking myself again, much less Craig. Things went back and forth until finally, I had to make a decision. I looked over at Craig, holding his hand and squeezing it, before I stood up. “My parents taught me from an early age that Pack is more important than anything else. As I was learning to be an Alpha, I saw first-hand the sacrifices they made for it. The safety of the Pack means more than the safety of any individual member, including me.” Tears were flowing down some faces as they realized what I was saying. “For this reason alone, I would do what they ask of me. But there is more to this offer than just the island. I’m being offered a gift, a chance to get back a part of me that was stolen. I’m tired of being an Alpha without a Pack link, without strength or smell or the ability to truly protect you all. I’m telling them yes.”
Craig looked at me, tears in his eyes. “Are you sure?” I nodded, and he let out a breath he had been holding. “All right, but you get to tell the boys.”
That wasn’t going to be a fun conversation. I gave him a hug, and the meeting broke up. Each of the members gave me a hug or a word as they filed out; finally, just Craig, Marge and Mabel were left and the women were crying. “I have to make a phone call,” I said. Pulling out the phone they gave me, I dialed the number and hit send.
Five minutes later, everything had been set into motion. We were told to be ready to leave tomorrow night at eight PM, a bus would be arriving to take us to the airport. The flight would make one refueling stop in Nevada before flying to the airfield on the island, and each person could only bring two suitcases.
Craig and I went to visit Alpha Rose Stormwater and fill her in on what was happening. We didn’t tell her where we were going, just that I had found a new Pack land. I thanked her for all she had done, we truly owed her more than we could ever repay. Everything we couldn’t take with, all our vehicles, houses and possessions, was to go to her and her people.
The bus arrived right on time, and Al was driving it. My Pack members put their luggage underneath, then loaded on to the luxurious seating. The mood was all over the place; excitement, fear, loss, hope, all across their faces. Craig and I shared a look, this was one of those times when you had to trust your Alphas to make the right call. I hoped we had.
We drove to the Minot airport and into a hanger, the only occupants were a small cargo aircraft and a desk with an older man and a young woman behind it. As we filed out of the bus, we were rotated past the desk as the rest of the people loaded the luggage. The woman took our pictures, while the man was putting together our new passports and identities. I was still Elanor Black, and my husband was now Curtis Black. Every other person was given a new name, similar to their old name, but different enough to have a clean break.
The turbo-prop cargo plane was not exactly a Dreamliner. Seats had been placed inside, there was a single tiny bathroom, and not much else. It was not a lot of fun. The refuel was short, and the tropical heat and humidity was taking its toll. By the time we arrived at the island in the late afternoon, everyone was tired, cranky and sweaty.
The dirt airfield was bumpy and the landing was hard, but it was all worth it when the door finally opened and our Pack got out. The caretakers had brought trucks up, it took three trips to get all the people and gear to the resort hotel.
I smiled as I saw the inside of the hotel; it was truly in a tropical paradise. There were enough rooms for the entire Pack to live comfortably, and there was a lot of excitement about the new place. We had a huge welcome dinner at the beach that night where everyone met the caretakers and learned about our new home.
The next morning, I left with the cargo plane. It was time to go meet Ker and Trevor.
It was time to become an assassin.