Blue Parrot Cafe
Jack had just turned sixty in June. He’d also been retired from the CIA for the last ten years. Pretty much every Friday, Jack walked down to the Starbucks on Biscayne Avenue for a morning coffee. No nonsense. Large coffee, one cream, no sugar. On this Friday, Jack was sitting at his usual table near the back of the shop when a familiar face walked by. It was Bill Anderson, a friend from his days at the agency.
Jack: Hey buddy, have a seat.
Bill: Jack! Whatchya been up to?
Jack: A whole bunch of nuthin’ mostly. Bored out of my damn skull to be honest.
They chatted for a while about the old days when Bill mentioned that he’d been doing some freelance work for their old boss. He suggested that Jack should think about jumping on board. “The money’s great and the risk is pretty much zero,” Bill explained. Jack was certainly bored with retirement, but he wasn’t so sure about getting back into the “life.” When he retired, he swore he was done with the spy game. But still… twenty grand for a day’s work would be pretty hard to pass up.
A couple of days later Jack pulled the phone number out of his pocket. He laid it down on the counter and stared at it for a few seconds. The boredom had won out. He decided to call the number on the now crumpled scrap of paper that Bill had given to him. On the fourth ring, he was about to hang up, when someone on the other end picked up. “Good morning, Mister Valentine.” They certainly seemed to know who he was. The woman on the other end ran down the basics. It seemed simple enough. Pick up a hard drive from luggage storage at the airport and deliver it to the contact. The exact delivery location would be sent via text. Simple enough. The next morning at 6:05am his phone lit up. The message was short. Deliver case with enclosed hard drive. Wednesday: Blue Parrot Café, San Marcos, Colombia, 23:00 hours. “Well, here we go. What could possibly go wrong,” Jack thought.
Wednesday morning, Miami International Airport, Central Terminal E, 2nd floor. As the escalator eased up toward the second floor, Jack could see the sign for baggage storage. No line. Jack figured this was a good omen. He strolled up to the counter and handed his ID to the young woman. She smiled and said she’d be right back. Sixty seconds later she handed Jack a small black case. So far so good. Jack made his way to airport security. He handed his passport to the TSA agent. The agent looked at him, then back at the passport. “Thank you, Mr. Valentine. Step through please.” Jack often used a fake passport when traveling, but he figured no one would be paying attention after ten years of retirement. So, for now at least, he was Jack Valentine.
After a half hour of the usual airport nonsense, Jack made his way down the narrow aisle of the airplane, finding his seat. 26A. Jack plopped down and settled in for the flight. As the plane climbed into the air, Jack’s thoughts wandered to his early days at the agency.
He had met a young woman, Kristina Wright, in December of 1987. She had just signed on as a Foreign Service Specialist for the State Department out of Buenos Aires. He was on loan from the CIA as part of a covert operations team. They ended up in a short but intense love affair. She had one of those personalities that made people want to be around her. Soul mate was a term that Jack didn’t throw around lightly when describing the women in his life, but there was something different about her. Time and distance had been an obstacle for so long that he had always pushed his feelings for her below the surface. That was a long time ago and he knew he needed to focus on the job at hand. He pulled out the intel sheet that was packaged along with the hard drive. Location, contact info, code name, so forth and so on. It all seemed relatively standard. Flight time to Columbia… 3 hours and 47 minutes. Once Jack landed, he would have to rent a small aircraft to get him to San Marcos. There were plenty of small time operators near the airport so he figured it wouldn’t be a problem.
2:15pm - Jack watched as the other passengers made their way to the front of the plane and on to the jet ramp. Out of habit, he made sure he was the last one off the plane. He didn’t like anyone behind him. Jack moved casually through the concourse. Not that anyone would be watching, but he didn’t want to draw unwanted attention. A few minutes later he was on the sidewalk near a cab stand. As he turned to his right, he could see a sign just outside of the airport grounds. Coastal Aircraft Inc. “That should do it,” he thought to himself. Thirty minutes later he was in the air. It’s not all that surprising what a stack of US currency will do to convince a guy that he should lend you his airplane, especially in Colombia. Jack had been a pilot since he was seventeen years old, so this was no big deal. An hour at the most, depending on headwinds.
The Blue Parrot Café was a funky little place on the edge of town where Jack was supposed to meet up with the contact. More precisely, it was a dimly lit excuse for a dive bar. But, perfect for a sketchy situation like this. When he worked his way to the back of the Blue Parrot a few minutes earlier, he had no idea that he was about to come face to face with his past. Jack checked his watch. It was just a few minutes until the designated meeting time. He scanned the room, keeping an eye out for his contact. At that moment, things seemed to shift into slow motion. Jack watched in confusion as the woman he had fallen in love with 35 years earlier walked through the door at the opposite of the room. A bit older, but there was no mistaking who it was. Seconds later, there she was, right in front of him. He found himself unable to utter a single word. Fortunately, his motor skills were still functioning. As he pulled her close, the years immediately slipped away, as if he had just seen her yesterday. Their lips came together almost out of habit. He instantly recognized that kiss. Warm, soft, and so very familiar. Kirstina pulled away.
Kristina: We need to get out of here… now.
Jack: Hey… I’m supposed to…
Kristina: Jack… I mean now.
Jack: Well… OK… I’ve got a plane close by. We can get there in five minutes. But what about the hard drive?
Kristina: Jack… Don’t worry about the damn hard drive.
Jack: Fine… if you say so.
The two slipped out the back door of the Blue Parrot and headed into the jungle. The faint moonlight was just enough for the pair to make their way down the riverbed and back to the single engine Cessna. They could hear voices approaching as the engine sputtered to life. Machine gun fire rang out in the darkness as the plane headed down the short runway. Just as the gunmen made it to the edge of the airfield, the tiny plane lurched from the muddy strip of land and into the air. For now, Jack and Kristina were headed back to the relative safety of LaPena. The two looked at each other with a sense of relief. But now what? How had Kristina found him in an out of the way place like San Marcos? Was this a set up? He had no idea, but at least they were safe.
(over the hum of the airplane engine)
Jack: Do you wanna tell me what the hell this is about?!
Kristina: It’s a little hard to explain right now.
Jack: Well maybe you should give it a try.
Kristina: I’ll tell you everything but… Jack, I just need you to trust me. Please!
Jack was none too happy. On one hand, he’d just been reunited with a woman he thought was gone forever. But on the other hand, he just got screwed out of twenty grand. Jack was a pragmatist at heart, but this time, he’d have to let some of that go.
Kristina took his hand as the airplane engine droned in the background. He figured this was better than another Friday at the local Starbucks. Jack headed North toward the coast.
An hour later the plane came to rest in a grassy field just outside of town. There was an old barn at the edge of the field where Jack had stashed a rusted out excuse for a truck. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked, and would get them into town. Kristina launched her bag into the back, and they were off. A dirt road and ten minutes later they had arrived at the Hotel De Cortez. It was one of those places you see in movies that look like it hasn’t seen a can of paint in a hundred years, but she was too tired to care. They hiked up the narrow staircase to room 206, last one on the right. By now it was almost two in the morning. They could talk tomorrow, but right now they both needed to pass out. Kristina slipped out of her muddy clothes and climbed onto the bed. They collapsed next to each other. She knew Jack would be looking for answers, but right now, she just needed to sleep.