A Serpent's Tooth
A few hours later Scott was in his hotel room, having showered and napped and then settled down with Julius Fast's Body Language and a glass of nice cold milk promptly delivered by room service, when Robinson arrived with Hackaby.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in," said Scott. "Some cow juice, George?"
The dapper Englishman was appalled. "Absolutely not, thanks all the same. You chaps wouldn't happen to have something a bit stronger, would you?"
Robinson gave his jacket a negligent toss and went to a chest of drawers, from which he extracted a bottle of Tennessee sour mash and a couple of glasses. As he poured, he shook his head.
"You know, Scotty, Jamaica is a big enough island that I ought not to have to bump into George here every time I turn around."
"We're on the same team this time, remember, Kelly?" asked Hackaby drily.
"Oh yeah. That's right. But you said the same thing in Berlin -- right before you let us stroll into a S.T.A.S.I. ambush."
"I knew you could handle yourselves. I have complete faith in the capabilities of my two favorite American secret agents."
"That warms the cockles of my heart, George," said Robinson, handing the Englishman a glass of who-hit-John.
"What did you find out from Chee?" asked Scott.
"He doesn't know anything," replied Robinson. Carlow had recruited Chee Lin as a "stringer", and the Department didn't know much about him. It was assumed that Carlow had never let him in on anything too confidential, while at the same time vouching for his reliability. "And he says Carlow didn't know anything, either."
"If that's true, why did Poto kill him?"
"Possibly to impress his own followers," speculated Hackaby. "Or to recruit new ones. It was fairly common knowledge that Hugh Carlow was the resident American spook. And I hate to speak poorly of the dead, but he was an easy target. Insisted on staying in that villa up in the hills. I suppose he thought Poto wouldn't risk bringing down the wrath of the United States government on his own head."
"Hey, Kel," murmured Scott, "are we the wrath of the United States government?"
"That would be us, yes." Robinson knocked back his drink, poured another.
"So can we count on Chee?"
"Oh sure. We can count on him to be halfway to Timbuktu by dinnertime," said Robinson wryly. "He's spooked. No pun intended."
"I'm afraid we're not making much progress, gentlemen," said Hackaby, settling down on the sofa.
"Maybe we are," said Scott -- and proceeded to tell them about the invitation to the party being thrown by the notorious Dominic Rojas. As he spoke Hackaby leaned forward, keenly interested.
"Dominic Rojas," said the Englishman. "Yes, that makes sense. If Poto wants arms, then Rojas would be a logical connection. But we need proof that there is a connection. Only then can our respective governments proceed to apply diplomatic pressure in all the right places -- and justify a military response powerful enough to crush Poto."
"Who do you have to justify it to?" asked Robinson.
"Why the people, of course. They think Poto is a freedom fighter. Many of them will come to a different conclusion if we can prove he intends to turn this island into the next Marxist stronghold in the Caribbean rather than a democracy."
"Gotcha. Well, maybe we can find the proof you need."
"On the other hand," said Hackaby, "we might find your bodies washed up on the beach tomorrow."
"You're such a party pooper," complained Robinson.
"It all depends, old chaps, on whether Rojas believes you fellows are just a tennis bum and his trainer, doesn't it?" He looked so melancholy as he contemplated his empty glass that Robinson was compelled to refill it. Hackaby's expression immediately brightened. "But never fear, my friends. Quinby and I will be close at hand, in case you run into a spot of trouble."
"Gee," said Scott, with a sigh. "That makes me feel a whole bunch better."
Lily Pringle was punctual. She arrived precisely at seven. They traveled in her father's cheauffuered Mercedes sedan to the waterfront, where several launches were employed in transporting the invited guests of Dominic Rojas to the yacht in the harbor. It wasn't hard to distinguish the Rojas yacht from the other pleasure craft anchored in the vicinity -- it was lit up like a Christmas tree, and the sound of calypso music reached the shore. They were met by a very large black man in an immaculately white suit and a lovely young woman in a very sleek black gown. She introduced herself to Lily as Dominique Rojas. Lily, in turn, introduced her to Kelly and Scotty.
"Kelly Robinson, the tennis player?" asked Dominique.
She extended her hand as she spoke, and, with impeccably gallantry, Robinson took it and raised it to his lips. "At your service, my dear," he said.
She smiled. It was, he thought, a very nice smile. In fact, everything about her was very nice. She had long black glossy hair and delicate features in a heart-shaped face, with large dark eyes and cafe-au-lait skin that hinted at a blending of Caribbean and European bloodlines.
"I play tennis myself," she said, "and I have followed your career with interest."
Robinson reluctantly surrendered her hand so that she could offer it to Scott, who shook it and said, with a boyish grin, "And I taught him everything he knows."
"Modesty being one of his foremost attributes," remarked Robinson.
Dominique laughed softly -- a perfectly charming laugh, in Robinson's expert opinion.
"Shall we all go aboard, then?" she asked.
They got aboard a launch, unaware that, two hundred yards away along the waterfront, in the deep night shadows of an alley between a pair of darkened warehouses, Hackaby and Quinby Featherstone sat in the latters blue Triumph roadster. The former was using some small but extremely powerful binoculars equipped with night-vision capability. Quinby very much wanted to use the binoculars, too, but Hackaby hadn't offered.
"Well, they're off," sighed Hackaby.
"You really think something is going to happen?" asked Quinby, stifling a yawn.
"When you've been in the field as long as I have you develop a sixth sense about these things, Quinby."
Quinby grimaced. Hackaby loved to play the role of the veteran spy showing his protege the ropes. "I thought you didn't like the two Americans."
Hackaby spared him a withering glance, then returned to the binoculars. "Our rivalry is purely professional." A slow grin spread across Hackaby's handsome face. "Besides, they would never be able to live it down if I, George Ponson Rickeby-Hackaby, rescued them."
"You mean you'd never let them."
"Quite right. Oh, and Quinby."
Hackaby squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. "Next time get a bigger car."
They were welcomed aboard the yacht by a man clad in an impeccable white tuxedo. His hair was just as white, and meticulously groomed, a sharp contrast to his dark, square-jawed face. His cheeks were pockmarked, and a scar separated his left eyebrow -- the effect was to give him the look of someone who had a peasant background, although his bearing was sufficiently aristocratic. Dominique performed the introductions, introducing the others to her father, General Dominic Rojas. Rojas seemed particularly delighted with Lily Pringle, and gallantly raised her hand to his lips.
"At long last I have the privilege to meet you, my dear. When I last saw your father he spoke often of you, and now I see his pride in you is justified."
"Thank you, General."
Rojas turned to Scott and Robinson. "I am delighted you gentlemen could join us. Please excuse me for a few moments. There is a small matter my daughter and I must attend to. I would like to speak to both of you. But for now, mingle with my other guests, if you like."
Rojas took his leave, his daughter on his arm, and her goliath bodyguard followed.
"Well," said Lily, "I guess we should mingle."
"Certainly," said Robinson. "Scotty and I are masters of the art of mingling, ourselves."
"I got an A in mingling in high school," said Scott, "and an A-minus in small-talk."
Robinson rolled his eyes. "There he goes again."
They mixed with the crowd on the promenade desk -- and Robinson could tell that this was the cream of Jamaica's upper-class crop, business executives, the idle rich, a sprinkling of local celebrities. The calypso band was mounted on a dais at the stern, and there were tables, tended by white-jacketed stewards and draped with snowy-white tablecloths, laden with hor d'houvres and champagne cocktails.When the band started up a slow ballad -- Robinson caught part of the lyrics, something about love being as sweet as the fruit from the mango tree -- Lily prevailed on Scott to dance with her. He was reluctant, but Robinson made a snide comment about his two left feet, and that did it.
Robinson didn't have long to ponder the predicament of being alone, for Dominique reappeared. He couldn't help noticing the daring decolletage of the gown, which seemed barely able to restrain her ample breasts. her lips were as scarlet as the orchid in her raven-black hair. And, of course, her bodyguard was still pretending to be her shadow.
"You have lost your friends, M'sieu Robinson?" she asked. "Perhaps you will allow me to keep you occupied."
"I can't think of anything I'd like better, Ma'amselle Rojas."
"Would you care for something else to drink?" She eyed the champagne cocktail, untouched, in his hand.
"You read my mind. Something with more guts to it would be nice."
She extended her arm. "Come with me."
He placed her arm under his, and they proceeded to the saloon, the bodyguard looming in their wake.
"Um, does he have to come along?" asked Robinson, a conspiratorial whisper in her ear.
"Andre? Oh, don't mind him. He's very devoted to me. He has been watching over me my entire life. He won't bother you unless you make improper advances. That would make him very upset."
"Well, I certainly wouldn't want to upset him, so I won't make any advances, improper or otherwise. Scout's honor."
"Aw," she said, pouting. "I'm disappointed."
They entered the main deck saloon, a plushly furnished cabin with a suite of red velvet and mahogany furnishings, a plush cream-colored carpet, and a bar of white marble and mirrored glass. With Andre posted just inside the door, Dominique led Robinson to the bar. He took a seat on one of the white-leather and chrome stools. He admired the way her body moved beneath the sleek black gown as she went round behind the bar.
"What would you like?" she asked.
"I hardly know where to start," he sighed.
She glanced coyly over her shoulder. "I meant to drink."
"Ah. Scotch and soda will do the trick."
She mixed the drink on the back bar. "Both my father and I have followed your career with interest, M'sieu Robinson, though for different reasons. I admire your...form." She turned, handing him the drink. "Father has commented on your...how do I say it?...willingness to speak against your government's policies from time to time."
"I didn't know that was common knowledge."
"You are an international celebrity. What you say will be printed in the newspapers. Especially when you criticize your government for it's actions in Southeast Asia."
"Oh, that." Robinson sipped the Scotch-and-soda. "Yeah. I guess if I was a little younger I'd be into those campus protests. Or maybe dodging the draft in the frozen tundra. But, you know, it just doesn't make sense to me, fighting against an independence movement. Two hundred years ago we fought to free ourselves from the British. No sooner do the Vietnamese free themselves from the French then we step in and install a puppet regime instead of letting them have the kind of government they want." He shook his head, took another drink. "No, ma'am -- that's not what we're supposed to stand for."
"Your government says it is trying to contain Communism. That communists are bent on taking over the world."
"That's what they say. Or could it be that my government is trying to take over the world?I say live and let live." He squeezed his eyes shut. "It's hot in here. I think I need some fresh air...."
He got up -- and then the floor suddenly disappeared and he was falling, and everything went black, and he kept falling, but he didn't really care....
Andre caught him before he hit the floor.
"Set him down gently," admonished Dominique, her tone brusque and businesslike. "I will go get the other one. Be ready."
The giant simply nodded.
She returned to the promenade, spotted Scott and Lily standing near one of the serving tables. When she approached them she wore a convincingly distraught expression, and clutched anxiously at Scott's arm.
"M'sieu, you must come quickly. Your friend is very ill."
"Ill? Kelly? What do you mean, ill?"
"I do not know what is wrong with him. Please, come!"
Scott put down his champagne cocktail. "You'd better stay here," he told Lily.
"I'm coming with you."
Scott shook his head. He knew better than to argue with her.
When they entered the saloon, the first thing Scott saw was Robinson, sprawled face-down on the floor. Instinctively he moved towards his friend. Lily was coming behind him, and he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and then heard her gasp in surprise, and turned, reaching under his jacket for the Colt automatic holstered under his arm, but Andre already had Lily, a mammoth arm wrapped around her throat, and Scott knew the goliath could snap her neck with ease. So he hesitated -- and his concern for Lily's situation led him to forget, if only for an instant, about Dominique. It was all the time she needed. The karate chop was delivered to the base of Scott's neck, and he was out cold before he hit the floor. Kneeling, she frisked both agents thoroughly, and relieved them of their guns. These she placed on the bar.
"Watch them," Dominique told Andre. "I will get my father. And don't kill her. That pleasure has been reserved for someone else."
She left, returning a few moments later with the general, who gazed upon her handiwork with great satisfaction.
"My dear, you have outdone yourself!" he exclaimed. "The Americans are so foolish. They are so unwilling to accept that the female of the species is deadlier than the male."
"I'll take that as a compliment," said Dominique wryly.
Rojas chuckled, glanced at Lily. "My apologies, ma'amselle. Unfortunately for you, your father decided to sacrifice his daughter rather than give his fortune to the revolution."
Lily could scarcely breathe, much less speak, with Andre's muscle-corded arm pressed against her windpipe.
Rojas turned to his daughter. "The launch awaits. The starboard side has been roped off, so you will not have to deal with any of our other guests, and you will not be seen by anyone who might be watching from ashore. Take them all to the freighter, then make contact with Poto. I will see to the delivery of the shipment, as scheduled."
"Bloody hell," muttered Hackaby.
He'd been watching the guests being offloaded by the launches for an hour, and had seen the last launch return to the Rojas yacht and not come back to shore. Lowering the binoculars, he rubbed his bloodshot eyes, and said it once more for good measure. "Bloody hell. That's all the guests -- except for Kelly and Scotty and that Pringle woman."
"Maybe they decided to stay aboard," offered Quinby.
"Or maybe they didn't have a choice. Get me the phone."
Quinby reached into the back of the two-seater and lifted the leather-encased, battery-operated portable phone, placing it on the console between them and loosening the flap, flicked on the power, checked the frequency, and handed the receiver to Hackaby.
"Get me the superintendant of police," said Hackaby into the receiver. "Yes, I know what time it is. No, I don't bloody care if you have to wake him up. Tell him to send a patrol boat to Dock 14 -- and quickly."
"What are we going to do?" asked Quinby, as Hackaby hung up.
"I'm going to search that yacht."
"By whose authority, sir?"
Hackaby smiled coldly. "Don't you worry about that. You get back to the office at once. Monitor all radio communications in this area. I want to know if Rojas sends any messages. That might give us a lead to what he's up to." Hackaby opened the car door and extracted himself, stiffly, from the Triumph.
Quinby started up the car, but hesitated. "Are you sure you'll be alright, sir?"
"Yes, sir." Quinby put the Triumph in gear and drove away. Standing in the night shadows, Hackaby raised the binoculars and scanned the yacht, still at anchor across the expanse of ink-black water.
Thirty minutes later -- it seemed like thirty hours to Hackaby, who was a little surprised by the degree of anxiety he experienced as he wondered what fate had befallen Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson -- the police boat arrived. Hackaby left his hiding place, ran to the end of a pier, and jumped aboard. At his direction, the helmsman steered the boat towards the Rojas yacht. As they drew near the pleasure craft, Hackaby glanced at the three stern, uniformed officers the Ocho Rios police superintendent had seen fit to dispatch. The oldest was a lieutenant, and Hackaby briefly explained to him the purpose of this middle-of-the-night excursion.
They were allowed to board, but held at bay on the promenade while General Rojas was summoned. When the latter arrived he was tightening the sash of a scarlet smoking jacket over silk pajamas. He looked like he'd been roused from a deep sleep.
"I apologize for the inconvenience, General," said the police lieutenant. "But this gentleman has alleged that three people are being held against their will aboard this vessel."
"Indeed?" Rojas peered curiously at Hackaby. "And who is this gentleman? I don't believe we've had the pleasure."
Hackaby smiled. "George Ponson Rickeby-Hackaby, sir, of Her Majesty's Foreign Service."
"Ah. Forgive me, but I am at a loss. This charge has caught me completely by surprise. Um, what three people am I supposedly holding captive?"
"I am sure it is just a misunderstanding," said the police lieutenant. "I hope you understand that we are required to investigate such charges."
"Of course, Lieutenant. You are only doing your job." Rojas made an expansive gesture. "Please, feel free to search my ship."
The lieutenant thanked him profusely and led his two colleagues away to begin the search. Hackaby felt the knot in his stomach getting bigger. He knew now that the police would find nothing. He walked to the railing and looked down at the black surface of the water lit by the yacht's lights. Rojas walked over to stand behind and a little to one side of him.
"So tell me, Mr. Hackaby, why would I abduct three people? To what end?"
"I don't know why you want the Pringle woman," said Hackaby, a hard edge to his voice. "As to the two Americans, my guess is that they are the payment for arms you intend to, or have already, provided Poto."
Rojas didn't bother denying it, since the police were gone. He smiled coldly. "Let us accept, for the sake of argument, your supposition that I am an arms dealer and kidnapper. Of what value are these two Americans?"
Hackaby wasn't about to reveal that Kelly and Scott were American agents, even though he was pretty certain Rojas knew that. It was just something one didn't do in this profession, no matter the circumstances.
"Nice boat," he said, strolling along the starboard side, Rojas in his wake. "The trappings of capitalism, wouldn't you say, old boy? Hardly what one would expect of a diehard communist."
Rojas laughed. "Speaking of which, would you care for some champagne? I have several cases of Dom Perignon left over."
"Very kind. But no thank you."
Rojas shrugged. "As you wish. Please, feel free to look around. If you'll excuse me, there is something I must see to at once."
Rojas left him. A few moments later, the police lieutenant and his men returned to the deck.
Hackaby held up a hand. "I know. Don't tell me."
They climbed down to the launch. The police lieutenant, obviously annoyed, barked an order to the helmsman to return to shore. But as the launch pulled away from the Rojas yacht, Hackaby pulled the lieutenant aside.
"Maintain this course for a few minutes," he said. "To give them the idea that we're giving up. Then swing out into the harbor."
"What purpose would that serve, Mr. Hackaby?"
"The yacht is rigged for four launches. But there are only three aboard."
"I do not see...."
"You don't have to see," snapped Hackaby. "I'm sure your superintendent told you to cooperate fully. Rojas has moved his three captives. My guess is to another vessel. So be a good fellow and do as I say."
Kelly Robinson came to in complete and utter darkness. His first impulse was to panic, but he ruthlessly stamped that down. His hands and feet were tied with rough rope. And he was encased in a metal container of some sort, about six feet long, three feet wide, and three feet long. He noticed three small holes, no more than a half-inch in diameter, drilled into one end of the container, near the bottom. But it was nearly as dark outside the container as in, and he couldn't see anything through the holes.
"Hey!" he yelled, and slammed his bound feet against that end of the container. "Hey out there! Let me out of here!"
"Hold it down, will ya? I'm trying to get some sleep over here."
It was definitely Scotty. His voice was muffled, but he was close by.
"Scotty? That you?"
"Yep. I wish it wasn't, though."
"Are you in a...box?"
"Where are we?"
"I don't know -- but it sure isn't Cleveland."
Robinson sighed. Even though Scott was as helpless as he was, he felt a lot better knowing his partner was nearby. He wondered what had become of Lily Pringle, but decided against broaching that subject, considering that there was -- or had been -- something between her and Scotty.
"Well," he said, "at least it's not the famous locked room. Variety being the spice of life and all."
"Funny," muttered Scott, "I was just thinking fondly of some of those locked rooms."
"Yeah. I know what you mean. We've got to get out of here, you know. It's a clause in our contract."
"Right. The escape clause."
Have a plan?"
"No. Do you?"
"Well, wake me up when you do."
"Sure," said Robinson. "I promise you'll be the first to know."
"Groovy," said Scott.