Chapter One: No Problem
One block away from the suggested tourist area and the town of Falmouth, Jamaica reverted to its true form. Decades old cars, competing with bikes and pedestrians, filled the streets. Half-naked children darted about. Old women hung out of windows from upstairs apartments. Rail-thin girls with tight-fitting shorts looked for the next patron in need of human companionship by the hour. Young men with hungry eyes and menacing faces clustered on corners. The sun burned brightly in the Caribbean sky, yet there was no joy to be found here. It was for no small reason tourists were reminded to stay with their group.
Jordan Noble walked down the broken pavement of the hilly street. His eyes constantly moving, - ‘head on a swivel’. It was a poor neighborhood and he dressed as accordingly as he could. His Tag Heuer stayed in his stateroom. In its place, an eleven-year-old G-Shock. He wore a white wife beater and dark green shorts. Nothing could be done about the Maui Jim sunglasses—if they attracted attention, he would just have to deal with it.
At one corner, he stopped to orientate himself. At another there stood a market of sorts. Opposite it, a bar, long boarded up and closed. Yes, this was the place. He turned at the bar and went down an alley. Immediately, in the shade of the buildings, the temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. He had just made it to the middle when two young men appeared at the other end. One was shirtless, all lanky and wiry. His companion wore track pants and a Bob Marley T-shirt. Shirtless stepped into the alley. His eyes were wide—the whites completely surrounded the coal black pupils.
“Hey there, mon,” he said. “You looking lost.”
Jordan didn’t break stride. “I’m good. Thanks.”
Shirtless looked back to Bob Marley then to Jordan. “Hey, no problem, mon. No problem, mon. Still, sometimes we lose our way, ya know. It happens, ya see.”
Bob Marley walked a step or two to the right. Between him and Shirtless, the exit was blocked. Jordan came to a stop and sized them up. If they had just jumped him, it might have been a fight. But now their body language suggested no formal combat training or, for that matter, general good health. They were counting on their superior numbers to put the fight in their favor. Not a good strategy.
Jordan sighed. Might as well get this over with.
“I suppose you two are going to put me on the right path.”
“Exactly,” Shirtless said, pointing a bony finger at Jordan.
“It will, of course, cost me something, though.”
The would-be assailants inched forward. “Now, then. That seems only right,” Shirtless said.
Jordan spread his stance to shoulder width. He relaxed his muscles and bent his knees ever so slightly. “All I want is to be on my way.”
“We all want something,” Shirtless said, “don’t we, now?”
As if that was a cue, Bob Marley drew out a blade that had to be eight inches long. Jordan slid his right foot behind his left, presenting a smaller target. As he did, he noticed two more men behind him.
“Four?” he asked. “You sure that’s enough?”
“We’ll just have to see, now, then?”
Jordan tightened his jaw. He was still fairly sure he could win this fight. It just wasn’t going to be as easy as it would have been before knives and two extra guys showed up. Bob Marley and Shirtless continued forward and the other two closed in as well. The men ahead of him were a little more than six feet away. Bob Marley brought the knife to chest level. Jordan started to count down from five…
“Is this how you treat all our visitors, now?” a female voice said. The men, front and aft, stopped. Jordan couldn’t see the speaker, given his attackers positions. He did see their eyes dart around as they tried to keep track of Jordan and the woman at the same time.
“Go on now, woman,” Shirtless said, “this don’t be concerning you.”
“Yes, and I think I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.”
Shirtless whirled toward the woman. “Hear me now—leave and go on home.” He turned back to Jordan. “Sorry, brother,” he said with a toothy grin. “But you know women.”
Jordan nodded. “Yup. I learned it’s best to listen to them.”
“Not this time, brother,” Shirtless said. “Not this time.”
The men were in motion again. Jordan tensed. The unmistakable sound of a weapon’s cylinder turning and a hammer falling back into firing position filled the alley. Hands froze where they were. Slowly, Bob and Shirtless eased into a turn. As they did, Jordan got his first view of his rescuer. She was slender with a flowing mane of midnight hair. She wore a flowered bikini top and cargo shorts. In her right hand, casually at her side, a Smith & Wesson. A .38 Special from the looks of it.
“Jesus, woman!” Shirtless said.
“Don’t be taking the Lord’s name in vain around me, Wilson.”
“See now! Why you got to be using me name, here, NEL-lie!”
“Oh, now shut up, Wilson!” Nellie said. “Now, go on, take your gang of hooligans and get.”
Wilson’s eyes switched back to Jordan. They burned with anger. Jordan bounced his shoulders. “Told ya.”
Wilson made a gesture and his three companions headed toward Nellie. She wasn’t having any of that, though.
“Easy, there,” she said and leveled the gun at Wilson’s chest. “Go on—the other way.” Wilson sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth. He gestured again and his gang reversed course.
“Nice meeting you,” Jordan said as Wilson and company passed.
Wilson literally bared his fangs. A few moments later, the four men were out of the alley and out of sight. Jordan turned to Nellie. She was sliding the .38 into the small of her back as she approached him. She was five foot six, and every pound of her was muscle and bone. She was lean as a welterweight prizefighter. Skin the color of mahogany with eyes as dark as her hair. Even in the shadows of the alley, he could see a sole trail a perspiration work its way around her naval and downward into a dark heat below.
“Thank you for that,” Jordan said.
Her eyes met his for a moment. After that, they traveled down. Her inspection over, she came back to his face. “Yes, well, I can’t have me first customer in weeks getting killed, now can I?”
Jordan sent his brow into an arch. “I beg your pardon?”
“Well, now, you are Jordan Noble.”
“And that’s just a lucky guess.”
“No, it’s not. You’re looking for Oscar, aren’t you?”
Jordan paused, considering before he answered. Given she clearly knew what the answer would be, he said, “Yes.”
“Well, then,” she said turning around. “Unless you plan on visiting St. Matthew’s and going down six feet, you won’t be finding him.”
Jordan, about to follow Nellie, stopped. “Oscar’s—”
“Dead,” she said looking over her shoulder—a dark eye peeking around a dark river of hair. “Four months.”
“And you are...?”
She stopped and turned. Hands on ever so slightly tilted hips, she said, “We had…a relationship. Now then, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to get out of this alley and conduct our business somewhere more professional.”
Once out of the alley, the sun returned with a vengeance. Nellie led him a few more blocks through the increasingly dangerous neighborhood. Jordan was a couple of steps behind—distance enough to admire the sway of her hips. An almost hypnotic motion, like the crash of the waves on the shore. More than once, he had to shake off the effect of her easy rhythm lest he walk into a streetlight.
At a two-story building painted in a faded yellow, she turned to a door with several locks. She drew a large ring of keys. Noisily, each lock was thrown. The door opened with a squeak straight out of a horror movie. She stood aside allowing Jordan to enter first. As he passed her, their eyes met. She said nothing, but the curve of her lips and the soft breath she exhaled spoke volumes. He couldn’t imagine sex just flowed off of her so naturally.
The doorway led to a stairway. Damp musk swirled over the poorly lit steps. He climbed, and from the noise, feared each step would send him crashing through to the floor below. At the apex, a small landing with another door with just as many locks as its twin below. Nellie reached the top and repeated the opening procedure. A moment later and this door was open as well. Again, Jordan entered first.
He was in an apartment. It was dark as the six windows were all drawn tight, barring the entry of even a photon. A click and several recessed lights in the ceiling snapped to life, not so much brightening the room as casting a soft glow. He turned to see Nellie pull one hand away from the light switch as the other closed the door.
“Make yourself at home.”
It was a task as the room was definitely a woman’s. The walls were a blush blue and the floor was made of some light wood. The furniture in the living room was bamboo framed. Beyond in the dining room, a glass top table held up four place settings. He could see a kitchen and a hall off to the left. The soft hum of an air conditioner explained the coolness. The only thing seemed out of place was a massive curio cabinet, on each shelf, ancient flintlocks from an era when pirates ruled the waves. Jordan sat on the couch as Nellie headed for the kitchen. She glided with an easy grace as if she floated an inch above the floor.
“Rum?” she asked at the arch leading to the kitchen. Even in the dim room he could feel the dark spheres of her eyes on him. “That’s what you Yankees come down to the islands for, anyway. Well, one of the things.” She paused for a moment as she swelled her breasts with a deep breath. She was trying hard to be indifferent, but the encounter in the alley had probably spiked her adrenaline – which in turn would spiked some…other emotions as well.
“No thank you,” Jordan said. “But don’t hold back on my account.” She didn’t move for a moment. Then she laughed—the sound a whisper above a sigh. She drifted into the kitchen and was gone for a handful of seconds. When she reappeared, she had a large mug in her hand. She came to rest in a chair opposite Jordan. On the table between them, she put her drink next to a small lamp. She ignited the lamp and created a slightly brighter halo in the near space.
“Nice place,” Jordan said.
Nellie looked around. “Yes. It was Oscar’s shop for years. I never knew of it until recently.”
“After he died.”
Her eyes came back to him. “Yes.”
He studied her more. Honestly, Jordan didn’t know Oscar Fennel well. He was just another civilian employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Late forties, early fifties. Coal dark skin, snow white hair forcing out the brown. He was an equipment specialist who crossed paths with Jordan from time to time. When he retired, almost a decade now, he told Captain Noble if ever he was in Jamaica to look him up. He also implied he could get Jordan some ‘equipment’ if needed.
Other than that, Jordan knew very little about him, to say the least, having a relationship with a beautiful woman. A woman he must have trusted a great deal. Jordan was doing the math in his head…Nellie must be twenty…twenty-five. Not bad for a guy his age.
Nellie broke into his thoughts. “Oscar was, as you say, ‘a rolling stone.’ ”
Nellie leaned back, spread her arms across the back of the chair and slid one creamy smooth thigh atop the other. “You want to know where me come from…how’d I get access to all of Oscar’s goings-on. What he was doing with a twenty-four-year-old- woman.” She smiled slightly and tightened her eyes.
Jordan gave a nod to her correct deduction. “Anyone could say they knew Oscar,” he said. “Can’t blame me for being careful.”
She came forward again, got the mug and took a long solid hit of the rum. She brought the back of her hand across her mouth before she spoke. “You knew Oscar from your time in the Defense Intelligence Agency of the United States. He didn’t know but suspected you were in the Defense Clandestine Service. How am I doing so far?”
He shrugged. “Close enough.”
“Hmph. Well then. How about that your code name is Spartan? And Oscar was known to you as Cool Breeze.”
Jordan applauded softly. “Bravo. That’s what I needed to hear.”
“That’s a terrible code name, by the way. Just tell everybody you were a spy from Michigan State, now.”
“Everyone keeps telling me that.”
She smacked the palms of her hands on the table. “Well, then, Spartan, let’s get to it. Did you bring the money?”
He leaned back, his hand stroking the new growth on his chin. “I knew Oscar. Not you. So I think this is one of those, ‘you show me yours, I’ll show you mine’ kind of things.”
Her thick lips pulled back into a smile. “I thought you’d never ask.”
She stood and her head faded into the relative dark surrounding them. Her body, the curves of her breasts and the flat of her stomach slick with sweat came close to the lamp and almost glowed. She moved away and headed for the ancient curio. She latched both hands to the right of the behemoth. With a manly groan, she pulled it away from the wall. Jordan leaned forward and saw the furniture was actually on a hinge, behind it, a large safe. Nellie checked over her shoulder before going at the lock. The safe came open with a click and she removed something. She secured the safe again, pushed the curio back to its original position and returned to Jordan. In her hands was a metal box, a foot wide and half as deep. She slid it across the table. He opened it, and resting in foam was a Glock 21SF and two thirteen-round magazines. He reached for the weapon, but before his fingers could reach the non-fiberglass reinforced polymer frame, a demure hand smacked him across the knuckles. He looked across the table.
“Now, then. I showed you mine.” A wicked smile.
He nodded and leaned back into the couch to get access to his shorts’ pocket. He removed a thick envelope and tossed it to Nellie. She caught it one-handed. She weighed it for a moment. Seemingly satisfied, she stuck it in her back waistband. Jordan, meanwhile, withdrew the weapon and inserted one of the magazines.
“There should be a bag that comes with it,” Jordan said.
“Ah!” Nellie stood and returned to the curio. She opened a drawer and produced a black backpack. She laid it on the table next to the Glock’s box.
“Would you like to test your purchase before leaving, sir?” Her voice was light and friendly now she had been paid.
He looked at her. “Really? There’s somewhere I can do that here? Where?”
She stood up again. “Where else would a man get his gun off?” Her eyes dropped for a moment. “Down…stairs.”
From a door in the hall on the living room’s left, a stairwell went down to a subterranean level. Here was a custom firing range where Jordan pushed out fifty rounds with the Glock. Nellie had informed him the range was soundproof and they would not be disturbed. The weapon met his expectations.
“Satisfied?” Nellie asked.
“Very,” Jordan answered. He twisted his left arm to see the face of his G-Shock. It was three o’clock. He had an hour and a half before his cruise ship pushed away from the dock and it had taken him half that time to walk from there.
“I have to go.”
“All the pity,” she said. “C’mon. At least I can give you a ride back.”
“Free of charge?”
“Well, mon, nothing you’re not willing to pay.”
Nellie had a red Jeep Wrangler, sans doors and roof, parked behind her building. The trip to the port was a brief ten minutes. The oversized tires screeched to a stop right before the gates. A pair of uniformed guards lazily waved through vacationers returning to their ship. They popped their heads up for a moment at the arrival of the Jeep, then back down again. Jordan leapt from the vehicle and tossed the backpack over his shoulder.
“Well, now,” Nellie said. She turned sideways to face him. “It was a pleasure doing business with you.”
“Thanks for everything, Nellie.”
“Perhaps next time you won’t be in such a hurry, now.”
He leaned back into the Jeep. “Why? What then?”
Nellie leaned closer to him. “You’ll have to see. There are things Jamaica has to offer besides rum and guns. Maybe I can show them to you.”
He pulled away. “Maybe. Until next time.” The Jeep dropped into first gear and sped away. Nellie merged into traffic, blew the horn and waved good-bye over the roofless vehicle. Jordan stood there for a moment, planning his next trip to Falmouth.