Tracker by Courtney Webb
Available in Draft2Digital.com
The trip to Belize went as planned. The tour group stayed at a little discount hotel. It was not as close to the beach as Denise would have liked, but what the heck. She spent time by the pool and sipped exactly one Mai-Tai each evening and enjoyed watching the sun go down. There was time to catch up on her reading and had fun eating dinner with other Americans. Of course, many of them were definitely approaching their golden years at a running gallop, but she didn’t mind, made her feel younger.
There had been one problem on her trip. Denise was in the habit of carrying her ID and money in a little over-the-shoulder bag. One evening toward the end of her trip, she had draped it over the back of her chair and forgot it. She had been speaking with Daniel and Helene, an interesting older married couple. They both laughed like the dickens as she told them the story of buying her ticket in cash. Chuckling, she described the look on the travel agent’s face as they walked her to dinner and found a table.
Half an hour later, Daniel had seated Denise like the lady she was. Grabbing the menu, she looked for the least expensive item she could find.
Suddenly “Oh, my gosh,” she remembered her purse and leapt to her feet. Rushing back to the cocktail table. “Oh, no!” Denise cried. The bag had disappeared. She raised hell with the kitchen staff and the manager. Although they assured her they would do a ‘complete investigation’ nothing ever came of it, the bag was gone.
Denise stamped her foot at the manager. “Fortunately for you, I have another passport in my luggage. Expired of course.”
The manager gave a helpless shrug shaking his head. “So sorry, Senorita.”
Helene and Daniel were so kind and solicitous when she finally came back to the dining room. Helene patted her on the hand. “Do you have enough money to get home, dear?”
“Money? Oh, no that’s okay, everything is paid for in advance and I left most of my money in the office safe.”
Helene nodded then spent the rest of the meal clucking comfortably about ‘foreigners.’
Denise was able to get back into the States with the old passport. She had to answer a lot of questions and then immediately apply for another once she was home, but still, she was safe and snug back in her little condo.
She hated when things didn’t go according to plan, but some days…When she went to pickup her new passport she asked the girl “What if my old one shows up?”
There was a pause. “Don’t ever use your old passport again,” the counter agent was terse. “Not unless you want to have Homeland Security officers all over you. The passport has been flagged.”
Denise wasn’t exactly sure what ‘flagged’ meant but she didn’t feel like asking any more questions so she grabbed up her new document and left in a hurry.
Life returned to normal for Denise after this mad-cap week in Belize. She was back to her usual routine as a senior researcher at the science lab. She still drove to the bank every Friday and cashed a check for her weekly spending amount.
She patiently waited in line. Finally, in front of the cashier, he said, “You know Miss Smith; you are probably one of the only customers I have who still uses checks to get money out of the bank.”
Denise laughed and replied, “If you think that is something, guess what else, I don’t have a home computer, a TV or a landline telephone. I don’t even have an email address!”
The clerk gasped, mouth open.
“Nope,” continued Denis, “don’t believe in those things. Just more ways for people to get into your pocket!” She didn’t add the part where she also believed it was more ways for people to spy on you too. But, she didn’t want to sound crazy so she shut up. She got her money and left. When she got home, she would carefully place the money in envelopes marked for their uses. She prided herself in going ‘all cash.’
Denise’s life continued seemingly without event. She was totally unaware of the van parked down the street from her condo, tracking her movements. Denise who had rarely had so much as a speeding ticket in her life had come to the attention of the authorities. The famous Men in Grey. It had all started when her passport had been stolen and then marked. While processing the new passport, the agent assigned had noticed a distinct resemblance between Denise and an FBI most wanted poster. A female international spy, wanted and on the run for selling government secrets.
The agent marked the file and sent it to her boss who in turn, sent it on to the agency looking for the woman. The local office opened a file on Denise Smith.
The two agents reviewed the material they had on Smith. Agent Tim Curl read it to his partner, “Denise Smith, age 42 years, not married, lives alone, long time researcher at a drug lab. No credit cards, no ATM cards, no TV, no land line, no computer, no email address, no internet banking. Uses a computer at work but only for company business and never takes any personal messages. Does all her correspondence by mail. Has one cheap cell phone that she rarely ever uses.”
His partner looked at him thoughtfully. “Looks like she is hiding something to me.” Curl shook his head in agreement and they decided to set up surveillance on Denise.
Denise continued getting books and videos from the library and eating top ramin for lunch at work. She loved to read romance novels and to watch old movies. She had decided that all cable company charges for channels were a scam and modern TV programs were a joke. “Give me an old black and white any day,” she said to herself as she checked out her latest selections.
The guys in the van followed her to work a couple of days but couldn’t get close enough so returned to her condo. They felt they would have better reception here if Denise made any phone calls or tried to contact someone. They waited for days with little success.
“She’s cagey, that one,” opined Tim Curl. Sandy, his big burly partner grunted.
“How do you think she is transmitting the data?” asked Sandy.
Tim shook his head. “I don’t know. She’s not making any calls on that dumb cell phone of hers, there’s no phone in the condo, we checked. Any messages on the company computer are pretty regularly screened by their IT guys and we don’t think she even sends that many at work because she tells everyone ‘I don’t like computers’. He made a little girly gesture with his hand.
Sandy laughed. However, in the end, they were back to staring at their monitors.
Denise looked at her package happily. “Only $39.99 for this new tracking device,” she told Frisky the cat. “And you can wear and it to track your heart rate, miles walked or run and it shows a breakdown of the calories you used exercising. I love this! With this little baby in place,” she waved it in the air, “those last five pounds will be a thing of the past. I can’t wait!” Frisky waved his tail.
The next day was a Saturday and dawned bright and beautiful. Denise woke up and went through her usual routine, eager to try out her new tracker on a short morning run. She popped a multivitamin and mixed up the green energy drink. It was supposed to be good for you, so she tried hard not to look at it while chugging it down. She had no overtime this weekend so her time was her own. She didn’t want to run too far, hard on the knees. But she could drop down to a walk by the time she got to the park and cool down that way. “Maybe a coffee in the park,” she poured kibble into Frisky’s bowl. With a twinge of conscience she had splurged on Science Diet for her ‘best cat.’
That Friday Tim and Sandy had gotten reamed by their boss. “I thought you said this one looked good!” he shouted. “We have gotten Intel that another data transfer is about to happen, this weekend and on your watch!” he yelled some more.
“Boss, boss,” Tim had his hands up, placating. “We are watching her, we have the stolen passport, and we know she was in Belize at the same time and same place as when the last data was delivered. She is the right age, right height, right color; she fits all the profiles. We think she is the one, we haven’t been able to get her doing anything yet,” he pleaded.
“Great, great,” said the big guy. “But, by the way, you are both on duty this weekend, got that!” and he stormed off. They looked at each other glumly.
Saturday morning, bright and early, Tim and Sandy were parked inside the van drinking strong coffee and eating Dunkin doughnuts. They had moved the van closer to Denise’s condo.
“I can’t help thinking that she is going to do it this weekend. We have got to keep her close,” said Tim. Sandy was adjusting his headphones.
Inside, Denise had suited up in T-shirt, spandex ¾ length pants with the little zipper in the back for keys, and running shoes. The new ones that she had splurged on; Nikes. “With complete arch support,” she reminded herself. She proudly clipped on the little tracker device on her T-shirt so that it could get an accurate reading. She went out the door and carefully locked the lock and zipped the keys into her pocket. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and hit the button on the tracker to start it. She stretched a couple of times and then started a slow jog to the park.
Tim hit Sandy in the arm, “That’s it!” he said excitedly.
“What’s it?” Sandy queried through half chewed doughnut.
“It’s that gadget on her shirt. It must be a low frequency, so we are not picking anything up. Get your gun,” he said to Sandy quietly getting out of the van to follow Denise.
Denise jogged while checking her watch occasionally to see if she was making good time. She tried reading the tracker upside down but decided it couldn’t be done and it would have to wait until she stopped. She jogged about twenty minutes and started her slow down walk as she entered the park. She checked her pulse a couple of times to see if she was getting it high enough. After walking a bit she decided to get that coffee at the vendor stall in the park, cheaper than Starbucks. She was getting her Americano, hot to go, when she stopped. There was the older gentleman whom she had met on her trip to Belize.
“Mr. Marshall, Mr. Marshall, hey it that you?” she held out her hand for a shake with the older guy when she got tackled and knocked to the ground. Sandy had done his job with a nice flying tackle and had grabbed her before she had a chance to hand off the data stick attached to her shirt to her contact person. Mr. Marshall, the contact person, took off running in a surprisingly fast fashion for such an old guy.
Back at their headquarters, Denise was explaining over and over again that she was not who they thought she was. Tim and Sandy had by this time confiscated the tracker device and had given it to one of their own IT guys who confirmed that it was indeed nothing but a heart rate and calorie counting device. They at long last had come to the realization that Denise was not, in fact, ‘their girl’ but they still had a lot of questions about the man she had met at the coffee carrel and why he had run off.
Denise gave them as much information as she could and by data tracking through the AAA club records and airline records they were able to confirm that Daniel Marshall and his wife Helene had been on the trip to Belize. Denise was able to identify them both and the agency confirmed that Daniel and Helene were actually professional ‘transporters’ of information.
A couple of hours later Denise was released. They had fed her with high calorie doughnuts and terrible coffee. She was sure her diet was ruined for a week.
“But, why were they interested in me?” she had asked them.
“It was your passport they were after,” Tim replied. “You may not have noticed it but you are the same age, height, and weight and hair color as Mrs. Marshall.”
“But she is so much older than me,” Denise said.
“Play acting and makeup,” said Tim “mostly to get your confidence.”
“Didn’t you have a drink with them of some kind the evening you lost your passport?” asked Sandy.
Denise considered a moment. “Yes, I did. I was going to order my regular Mai Tai but Mr. Marshall insisted that I try some kind of local drink, forget what he called it. Too strong.”
“Right,” said Tim. “They either put something in your drink or got you to talking so much that you forgot your bag on the chair. ‘Marshall’ escorted you to dinner and she went to powder her nose and circled back and snatched up your bag with the passport before you knew what had happened.”
“But why did she want it?” queried Denise.
“She needed a new name to get through customs. Customs officials were alerted to both of them and have been on the lookout for any of their aliases. Also, stolen passports are very expensive to buy so this was quick and cheap.”
Denise shook her head, she couldn’t believe it. Nothing like this had ever happened to her. The agents had been extremely solicitous of her and were literally trying to brush her off when their boss came in and stopped them.
“We appreciate your help Ms. Smith. These are really bad people selling some pretty valuable stuff and we would love to catch these guys. Your assistance is of course helpful and we are so sorry for any rough stuff.” He glared at Sandy.
“But, but……” Denise struggled with what to say. “Why me, why did you think I was involved?”
The Boss sighed a bit, “Miss Smith, you matched the description of one of the people we we were looking for. You were also at the right time and the right place for what we believe was the last stolen data transfer point, that being Belize. Also,” he paused, not sure he should say this, “you are so, well, off the usual grid of most people, it made us somewhat suspicious.”
Denise stared at him trying to grasp the significance of his meaning. He smiled at her and excused himself from the room. She accepted a ride home from the two arresting agents and they smiled and waved goodbye in good PR fashion. They were hot to get after the Marshall’s.
Denise let herself back in the condo. They had given her the Tracker back but it was hopelessly pulled apart now and of no use. They had given her a form to fill out to make a replacement claim.
She sat down at her kitchen table, a little stunned by the events, thinking. Finally, she said out loud to Frisky the cat, “Well, maybe one ATM card wouldn’t hurt.” Frisky looked thoughtful.
by Courtney E. Webb
Denise stirred. Buzz, buzz, the sound continued. A soft, vibrating movement on her side.
She rolled back and forth a couple of times and her eyes popped open. The buzzing sound continued. She focused for a moment then hit the little tracker resting in her pajama pocket and sat up. Denise wiped the sleep out of her eyes and pulled the tracker out of her pocket. It read: 7 hours and 42 minutes.
Hum, she thought to herself. “Well, it’s not exactly eight hours of sleep but it’s probably okay,” she mused out loud. After taking a pee, she came back to her scales and stepped on; 146 pounds. She frowned. “Damn vacation!” She was up two pounds and she had been working so hard too.
Stepping off the scale she sighed, Guess that’s the price for fun, huh? Going over to her desk, she pulled out the sugar monitor and pricking her finger, put a little sample of blood on the test strip. After several seconds it read ‘94’. She smiled. Her blood sugar was doing great! And the new diet plan emphasized low sugar levels to get the weight off. She was working toward her goal nicely.
In the kitchen, Denise hit the start button on the coffee maker. Regular black, no special coffees or sugar additives. She opened a new box of Special K cereal and retrieved the non-fat milk from the frig. Slicing half of a green banana into the cereal, she started to eat.
Back at her desk she sliced open the envelopes with an antique ivory letter opener. A gift from her Scottish grandmother. Opening her mail, she began to check bank balances.
“Hum.” she saw that one checking had a $5,000 balance and the other one was at an all-time low of $1,000. “That vacation again. Whew! Just wiped me out!” Frisky, the cat, sitting close by, looked concerned.
Savings had a nice $25,000 balance and her 401k was rocking along smoothly. Denise felt proud of herself. As the daughter of a welfare mother and humble beginnings, she was doing pretty well for herself.
However, thinking back, she had had to fight and fight with that travel agent to get them to take payment for the trip in cash.
“But everyone pays by card,” the woman had said pleading, trying to push the bills back at Denise.
Denise skillfully pushed the bills back toward the travel agent.
“I’m very uncomfortable using ‘cards’.” Denise smiled beatifically. “This is how I do business.”
The woman shook her head, mumbling and then reluctantly snatched up the cash and clumped over to her boss’s desk. The young woman handed the cash off to him and soft mumbling followed. The travel agency manager, was a chubby little guy, who didn’t do much, as far as Denise could tell, except eat and play games on his cell phone all day.
She had been to this same agency before and she wondered if he remembered her. They had gone through the same song and dance last time. The clerk was leaned over her boss’s desk, her back to Denise. The little fat guy stole a glance at her around his employee. She smiled back at him. She knew what was coming. He heaved himself up from his desk, reluctantly and cautiously approached her.
He smiled first. She smiled back.
“Miss Smith,” he ventured, looking down at the agency document in his hand. The clerk lingered in the background, uncertainly. Denise, nodded helpfully.
“Miss Smith,” he repeated, “we don’t usually work with cash transactions. They can be…” he searched manfully for the proper words, “they can be difficult to…trace.” He smiled again hoping to hell that she would understand without causing a fuss.
Denise was ready, they had in fact had the same conversation over a year ago.
“Oh, yes, I totally understand, Mr… ?”
“Mr. Shin.” She repeated carefully. “I absolutely understand your position but,” she smiled, “I don’t like using credit cards because of all the interest and banking fees. I know that’s how most people do it, but can’t you make an exception this time? Besides, you did it this way over a year ago.” Mr. Shin’s eyebrows shot up.
He’s probably surprised he let a woman get the drop on him before, she thought with a smirk.
The man stared at her almost a full minute then shook his head and waved for the girl to continue. He turned around and took the wad of cash back to his desk. With a look of almost disgust, he pulled out a metal box and stuck in the cash. He snapped the box shut with a scowl. Shin frowned at his cell phone.
Probably means an extra trip to the bank, Denise thought to herself. Oh, well!
Denise, smiling, completed her trip arrangements to Belize with the girl and got her confirmation paper. She left the agency smiling, happy when she got people to see things her way. She had learned long ago that the banks were the biggest rip off artists in the business with their interest rates and fees on top of fees. Better in my pocket than in theirs, she thought grinning.
She got into her little economy car and started the engine. It was an uninspiring grey green color that she hated; but what the heck, her brother, the used-car salesman, had gotten her a super discount deal, so – no complaints.
“Now,” she mused. She rummaged through her purse and found what she was looking for. She had some coupons in her envelope that were about to expire. Needed to get over to the store pick up those items while they were still good. She sped off full of her next mission.
Miles away, two heads leaned together and whispered in furious tones.
“No, it has to been then, we must get ready!”
The other person sighed and slumped back.
End of Part I
Part V – Conclusion from Storyteller – Courtney Webb
That night Bill and Sam pulled into the dirt lot at the complex at the edge of town. Mr. Sing had given Bill directions and they got there without incident. Both men went in and were greeted by Mr. Sing who invited them to his office.
One of Sing’s bodyguards tried to pat them down and Bill put up a very large hand. “Back off buddy if you don’t want me to break something.”
Mr. Sing waved his hand and the guard backed away. “You have the money?”
“You have the kid?”
“Good faith, gentlemen. Good faith.” Mr. Sing smiled.
“Right, bring him up here now or there is no deal.” Sam wasn’t smiling.
“Certainly, certainly. Can I offer you men something to drink while we wait?” They both shook their heads no at the same time.
“Well, you can at least sit down for a moment.” Sing spoke to the guard in Thai and the guy disappeared.
Sam sat down. Bill took a position in the corner facing the door, arms folded across his chest.
“So, how long you been running this scam, Mr. Sing?” Sam inquired lightly. “This entrapping stupid young American kids in your….” he waved his hand around the room. “Whatever you call this thing you’re running.”
A young Thai girl came in and placed tea in front of Sing. He offered it again to Sam who again shook his head.
Sing poured himself some tea. “Americans, Danish, German, French. We don’t discriminate here, Mr. Sam. Whoever, we don’t care. The operative words are young and dumb as I think you put it.”
“Well, however you put it, someone should close you down.”
“And who would that be, Mr. Sam? The government? No, no. They are too busy with their own cover ups to worry about a little small-time operator like me. Plus,” he sipped his tea and smiled, “they love the taxes I pay them to do business.”
Sam grunted and shook his head.
The door opened, and the hefty guard came in pushing a much skinnier Peter in front of him.
“Ah, here we are. Peter, how are you?” Sing smiled affably.
Peter glared at him.
Sam waved to Peter. “Go stand over there,” he motioned at Bill.
“Now in case there are any problems,” Sam pulled the gun out from the back of his pants. “I have brought my friends Smith and Wesson to the party.” He put the gun on his lap.
“No need, Mr. Sam. No need.” He laughed waving his hands in front of himself. We are not savages here like your wild west. No, no. Just the money and everyone is free to go.”
“Fine, and I want that slip back too.”
Sam pulled up his shirt and unzipped the money belt. He counted out ten one thousand-dollar bills. Mr. Sing reached in his drawer.
“Slowly, Sing. Very slowly.”
Sing put up his hands again in mock horror. “Just the slip, Mr. Sam.”
Sing pulled out a small metal box, opened it and pawed through the contents a moment. He pulled out a slip of paper and handed it to Sam.
“So, there you go. All done.”
Sam nodded curtly and said, “You can have your guy back away from the door now.”
Sing gestured with his head and the guard moved over to Sing’s desk.
“Out the door, boys,” Sam was curt. He walked backwards to the door, went out and closed it behind him. There was a chair next to the door. He leaned it against the door and shoved it under the door handled. “Let’s go!”
Bill grabbed Peter’s skinny arm and the three hustled out of the casino as fast as they could go.
Jumping into the jeep, Bill started it, backed up, did a quick 3-point turn and splayed gravel bits around in an arc as he peeled out of the dirt lot. He hit 60 mph in a nano-second and didn’t slow down for five miles. Sunlight flickering through tall banana leaves as they zoomed by. The lush green was dotted with riots of color and the warm, moist air blew through Sam’s hair as they raced on. He kept one hand on his gun and the other on the roll bar. Glancing back, it looked like they were alone on the old dirt road.
Back at the hotel Sam had Peter call his mother. He could hear sobbing on the other end. Taking the phone away from Peter he said “We’ll fly out tomorrow morning, Phyllis. We’ll see you in the evening sometime.” She was still sobbing when he hung up.
Sam was sitting back in Phyllis’s kitchen having a cup of coffee. It was late, and he was bone tired. He had packed Peter off to bed where the young man had fallen exhausted without argument.
“He’ll have to go to rehab, Phyllis, no question.”
“Rehab?” Phyllis seemed shocked. “But surely this was just a mistake. A foolish mistake like what young people do sometimes…”
“No, Phyllis. Your kid is a to the bone addict.”
“Addict! What kind of addict?”
“You name it. He’s got it. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, maybe sex.”
Phyllis was shaking her head. “I can’t believe it.”
“Believe it, Darling.” He bent over and kissed her on the cheek.
“Got to go. I’m trashed.”
She led him out to the front door.
“Thank you, Sam., I don’t know what….”
“It’s okay. Happy to help. But remember what I said. Next time, I might be…. busy.”
Phyllis gave a little nod as he went out the door.
Sam drove over to Kristie’s to give her the news.
“Kid’s a complete junkie.”
Kristie frowned and shook her head.
“So, that’s taken care of and I need sleep.” Sam yawned.
“Thanks, Sam. I love you.”
“I love you too, Darling. But I wish you didn’t have so many friends with problems.”
Kristie laughed and kissed his cheek.
Thailand – by Courtney Webb
(Previously, Peter Farringwell got himself to Thailand with some funds from his dad. He made fast drinking friends with some co-workers and ended up, alone, at a gambling establishment. With the help of some scotch and a few lines of coke, he has managed to run up a hefty bill. He is now a ‘guest’ of the casino while someone comes up with the money.)
Kristie was puttering around in her garden when she got the hysterical phone call from Phyllis.
“Slow down, Phyllis. I can’t understand you.” She listened attentively, frowning. “It’s alright, Phyllis. Don’t cry. I’ll get Sam and we will be over.”
She called Sam on her cell. “Hon, Could you meet me at Phyllis’s pronto?”
“Whatever you say.”
Sam and Kristie were in Phyllis’s kitchen and she was roaming around looking distracted. She had on a mismatched shirt and pair of shorts. That and her shoes didn’t match. Kristie knew it was bad.
“And this man called me, I don’t know who he is, and he told me they had Peter. I said I didn’t believe him and then they got Peter on the phone and he talked to me and…” At this point she started sobbing. Kristie put an arm around her shoulder.
“Just get it out, Phyllis,” Sam said calmly. He was sitting on a stool and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“He owes them money, gambling or something. Ten thousand dollars! They aren’t going to let him go until they get paid and then the man…laughed and…”
Sam said to Kristie. “You want to make her some tea? With honey.”
Kristie went to put on the kettle. Sam turned back to Phyllis.
“And what, Phyllis?” Sam asked.
“And, and…they wouldn’t hurt him too much if they got it soon,” she finished in a whisper and grabbed a napkin for her eyes.
Sam glanced at Kristie. She reached into the cupboard and got cups and tea.
“Do you believe them, Phyllis?”
Phyllis nodded dumbly, eyes down, holding the counter for support.
“Just sit down, Darling and we’ll decide what to do,” Sam spoke calmly.
Phyllis sat on one of the bar stools and tried to compose herself.
Sam asked, “Do you have the money?”
“I can get it,” she answered in a low voice.
Kristie asked “How did he get over there, Phyllis? I thought you told him no.”
“His father. His father gave him the money.” This brought on a fresh batch of tears. “That idiot!”
“Okay, Phyllis. It’s a little late for that. We need to think.” Sam looked at Kristie. “Phyllis, you need to call your ex and get him involved in this. He’s the one that gave the boy the money. Then, someone needs to go and get your son.”
Kristie looked at Sam in a dazed way. “Sam?”
Sam nodded. “I’ll go.”
Sam called an international phone number.
“Hey, Bill. It’s Sam Reynolds.”
“Yeah, Sam. Long time buddy.”
“Yeah, me too. Listen, I need a little favor.”
“You’ll get paid, you old dog. I need you to get me a little present. I’ll pick it up in Thailand after I get through customs.”
“Present? You know, our favorite kind.”
“You’ll meet me? What a pal. Yeah, here’s when I get in….”
Two days later Sam got off the plane at Suvarnabhumi airport. Stepping off the plane he was immediately encased in warm, moist air. There was a soft flowery scent on the breeze and the sound of cicadas humming. Vivid green plant life surrounded the airport. He went through customs in the super luxe airport and went out to meet his friend Bill.
Pretty, he thought to himself. Too bad it’s such a crime infested…
He saw a long tan arm waving. His buddy at 6’4” was hard to miss.
They gave each other hugs. “Too long buddy.”
“Don’t you know it. Did you get it?”
“In the jeep per your request.”
“Great. Let’s go.”
The two men went out to the jeep and drove away from the airport. When they were far from traffic, Bill pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. He pulled a cardboard box out from under his seat. Sam opened it. A Smith and Wesson 45 sat inside packed around with rags. A back-up of extra bullets was next to it.
“Is it clean?” Sam asked.
“Is it clean? Ha! This is Bangkok, Asshole. What do you think?”
“Okay, let’s get you to the hotel and we’ll talk. Then we’ll get some dinner.”
“When do you want to hit the road and do this thing?”
“ASAP. These people are getting impatient and I don’t trust them as far as I can throw a cat.”
Bill nodded and drove back into traffic.
Continued in Part V
Thailand by Courtney Webb
Peviously – Peter did get to Thailand, care of his father and made fast friends with the partiers in his group.)
The next few weeks Peter and the guys went out night after night. Finally, James, the third one of their group, called off.
“Can’t do it guy. Got to get some sleep. You go.”
“Wus,” Peter said to him. He and Danny would go. In fact, Danny had said he had someplace special for them to go tonight. Something a little different.
That evening Danny and Peter were on Danny’s little scooter and headed out of town.
“So, what’s this place again?” Peter shouted in Danny’s ear over the sounds of heavy traffic.
“They do a little gambling and have the best girls.” Danny shouted back and nodded.
After about twenty minutes, they ended up at a private house on the edge of Bangkok, somewhere they had not been before.
“Just wait, buddy, you’ll love this place.” The two hustled inside. There was a busy crowd of people around the gaming tables: poker, black jack, roulette. Danny headed for the blackjack table and Peter followed him. Scantily dressed waitresses carried drinks through the crowd.
Peter was drinking scotch. He was even winning at the tables. This was heaven!
Two Thai girls sidled up to him to watch him play.
“Hey, big guy. Want a little more action?” One girl winked at him. She was dressed in a long skin-tight gown that showed off all her curves. She smiled, and her big brown eyes glittered at him seductively. After three scotches, Peter was feeling great.
“What kind of action?”
“All the really big players are in the back room and they also have,” she whispered in his ear, “special condiments.” She winked again and took his arm.
The words were magic to his ears. Peter wrapped his arm around her waist and they went to a hanging on the wall. The girl pushed aside the cloth hanging which covered a door and went in. Eagerly, he followed.
The atmosphere changed slightly. There was still the cigarette smoke hanging in the air, but the room was quieter, more serious. There were mostly Asian men sitting around two large round tables. There was a bar in the corner and the girl led him over there and snapped her fingers at the waiter. She spoke to him in some language Peter didn’t recognize. The man brought over a small mirror with lines of white powder already set up.
“Just for you my darling.” The girl gestured at the mirror for Peter.
He immediately inhaled two lines. “Now,” the girl gestured to the tables, “You can play with the big boys.”
Peter patted his pockets. Surprisingly, he had won two hundred dollars at the blackjack table. He felt like he was on a streak, invincible.
“Scotch, Mr. Peter?” The girl asked him sweetly. He nodded and went to sit down. This was going to be like taking candy from a baby.
For the first hour, Peter won and drank steadily. He considered himself a good poker player and had won enough in college to keep himself in beer and cigarettes. He had also studied the game from a scientific point of view, so he felt confident.
As the evening wore on and he got blurrier and began to lose. First a little, then a lot. He kept playing, trying to win it back. Finally, it all got lost in a haze.
Next day, Peter woke up with the worst hangover he had ever had. Son of a bitch! He grabbed his head with his hands and pressed his palms into his eyes to slow down the thudding. Looking up, there was a pitcher of water next to his bed and a glass. He sloshed water into the glass and downed three glasses before he even looked around. Where was he? Back at the compound? He didn’t remember driving back. But, whatever, that was nothing new. Maybe Danny came and got him and stuck him in another room. He got up, head swimming and went to the door and tried to open it. Locked. What the hell? He kept trying the door with no success.
“Hello, hello. Hey, somebody, come open this door!” He was yelling now, a sense of panic starting in his gut.
He heard a shuffling sound outside, a key turned in the lock and the door opened. A fat little Asian man in a dark suit walked in.
Peter backed up in amazement. Who the hell?
“Morning, Mr. Peter. Hope you are well. How is your head?”
“Hurts like hell. Who are you?” Peter demanded.
“Ah, I am Mr. Sing, Mr. Peter and I own this establishment.” The little man waved an arm proudly around the room.
“Why am I here?” Peter put his hands on his hips, outraged.
“Why, Mr. Peter, actually, you owe me some money.”
“What!” Peter yelled and regretted it, the sound of his own voice made his head hurt worse.
“Yes, a little sum.” Mr. Sing reached into his pocket and pulled out a little white slip of paper. “I believe this is your signature.”
Peter peered at the paper. It was his signature, sloppy for sure, but it was his writing. He knew enough not to admit anything.
“So, Mr. Peter, you owe me the sum of $10,000 American.”
“What!” Peter was shouting again.
“Yes, ten thousand of your American greenbacks. Do you have that with you?”
Peter was mouthing words, but nothing came out.
“Of course not, that’s what I thought. Shouldn’t gamble, Mr. Peter if you don’t have the money to do so.”
“The compound. I can call the compound.” Peter’s words were tumbling over each other.
“The Christian Ministry Compound?” Mr. Sing laughed. “Oh, Peter, you are so funny. They don’t have any money. No, no. You will need to call your parents for the money. Your parents in California.”
Peter was staring in shock at the man. How did the man know he had parents and they were in California?
“No, I’m not doing it.” He folded his arms across his chest.
“Tisk, tisk. Peter, no need to get difficult. You will do that, and you will remain our guest until you do so.” Mr. Sing started to walk to the door.
“Hey, you can’t hold me here!”
“Oh, but we already have, Sir. We already have.” Mr. Sing opened the door and before Peter could make a move, a very large guard moved into the room and blocked his exit.
“Mai Ling will be in to bring you aspirin and breakfast. When you are ready to make that phone call, you just tell her,” Mr. Sing said over his shoulder as he walked away.
The guard waited until Mr. Sing had left, then with a smile he went out, closed the door and locked it.
Peter slumped on his bed. He felt like crying. There was a little round pot in the corner. He threw up in the pot instead.
Continued in Part IV
(Peter Farringwell, fairly recent college graduate, is somewhat desperate to get money for airfare to Thailand. He has gone to Kristie Nichol’s credit union and tried to hit up, Phyllis, his mom for the cash. She said no. Peter decides to try another party.)
(from Storyteller – Courtney Webb)
Part II – Thailand by Courtney Webb
Peter Farringwell, II was pissed.
He leaned against the counter at the Zippy Mart drinking cheap, black coffee.
He went to his back pocket and pulled out the colored brochure and put it on the counter.
CHRISTIAN MISSION – SAVE THE CHILDREN IN THAILAND
Rereading the pamphlet for about the fifth time, he confirmed the flight date. Yup, one week from today. He really wanted to go on this thing. He had no interest in saving any children, of course, but he wanted to get to Thailand and this was the cheapest way to do it. He had heard endless stories about the quality of the weed you could get there and the girls, whew! He wanted to try some of that for sure.
He had tried his best to tap the old lady one more time, but she wasn’t buying it. Told him he should work on his religious life more. What a bunch of shit! He was religious. He religiously got his hands on as much weed as possible whenever possible. He had been doing so all through college and mother had no idea.
“She’s a moron,” he mumbled to himself. “Small town moron.”
The woman standing next to him buying a soda looked at him strangely. He turned his back and kept drinking his coffee. Needed to think of something else. He had tried everything to get the Mission people to let him go for free. He volunteered to work, cook, make beds, clean toilets, whatever, but they kept saying no.
“Every member of the congregation,” the Director, Ms. Chen had said, “will to have to pay his or her own plane fare. If you want to exchange labor for food and lodging once we get there, that would be great. But you have to pay your own way there.” She smiled at him.
Peter tapped the brochure on the counter top. “Shit,” he said to the air.
Getting away from those cops had been a close call. Whew! Getting out of town for awhile seemed like a good idea. Maybe he would try to old man tomorrow. His mom and dad never spoke much which was a good thing. Couldn’t compare notes. He looked up at the wall clock. He needed to get back to the Mission before they locked the doors at eight p.m.
What a bunch of weirdoes, Peter grinned inwardly. Whatever, three hots and a cot, it would do for now. He dumped the coffee cup and took off.
Next day, 9 a.m., early for him, Peter was at Farringwell Tires on Main Street. He was casually chatting up his dad, Pete, Senior. Pete was dressed in his usual white polo shirt with his name embroidered on the front and tan chinos. He wore thick soled black shoes.
Peter wore his usual sloppy, all black uniform. They were on the shop floor, both sloshing down cups of coffee in styro-foam cups. The loudspeaker in the shop kept blaring every few minutes asking for a customer to come to the front desk. Peter had worked at the shop through high-school but quit when he went to college. He needed time to ‘study’ he had told his dad.
“I need to ask you something, Dad, it will just take a minute. Can we go somewhere quieter?”
Pete, Sr. looked concerned. He adored his first-born son and was still in awe addressing the first college graduate in the family.
“Okay, Peter, no problem. Let’s go to my office and have a sit.”
Sitting in an awkward aluminum chair, Peter pulled out the brochure and pushed it across the desk to his father.
“I know I’ve had my share of problems this last two years…” Peter said in his most humble voice.
Pete, Sr., waved it away dismissively.
“But I think I have seen the light.” Peter’s hands were folded together in his lap, almost in supplication.
His father peered up at him with small, shrewd eyes.
Peter paused, he better not lay it on too thick or the old man would never buy it.
“But,” he rapidly changed his pitch, “these people at the Mission have really helped me. They have given me a job, food, a place to stay…. Now,” he eyed his dad cautiously, “I just want to help and give back to their organization. You can see what they do over there in Thailand with those kids. It’s really great.” He paused to sip on his coffee. Better stop while he was ahead.
His dad looked down at the brochure. “So, what is it you need Peter?” He appeared to be reading the pamphlet that he held with thick, muscular hands.
“Well, they pay for everything when we get there. All the food and housing are covered. It’s just that…. well, they don’t cover airfare.”
“How much?” The dad looked up slowly and tapped the brochure on his desk.
“$1,500 – economy class. No first class for this boy!” Pete smiled with enthusiasm.
“Well, I don’t know…”
“Dad, if you have any problems with the money, of course, I don’t want to bother you. Times are tough, I know that.”
“No, it’s not the money. It’s just, well….”
Peter knew exactly what his father was thinking.
“Tell you what. I’ll leave the brochure with you.” Peter turned it over to the backside and pointed to a name and number. “This is Ms. Chen and she is handling all the travel arrangements. You can call her direct and give her your info and she will take care of it. And that is good for me because it confirms I’m really going, not just blowing smoke.”
“Okay…” he father responded slowly. “Let me think on it a little.”
“No problem, Dad. Whatever you decide is fine. Just call Ms. Chen if it’s a yes and she will take it from there. I better hustle off now, I handle the lunch crowd and it can be a real gang of folks. Thanks, Dad.” Peter carefully put his cup in the trash. “Talk at you later.”
With a little salute he was out the door. His dad was still staring at the brochure looking uncertain, his chubby face mouthing words to himself.
He’ll do it, Peter thought to himself. He could never say no to me. With that, he started to whistle a happy tune and look for a bus to get him back to the Mission.
Back at the Christian Mission he dropped his backpack on his cot and reached for a pack of cigarettes.
“You know you’re not supposed to be smoking,” a soft female voice sounded from his left.
Peter paused before lighting up and turned.
“Sally, Sally Jones. You old snoop. Watching me are you?”
Sally paused and looked down at the floor. Then, pointing up, “The sign clearly states no smoking in here, Peter.”
He laughed. “Ok, Sister Sal, whatever you say. I will take my smoke outside.” He made a stage bow to her and swept an arm out. “Whatever my lady says.”
Sally blushed and stammered, “Thanks, Peter, so much. Dinner set up will be in a few minutes.”
“And I will be there, trust me.” He paused to give her a little chuck under the chin and walked jauntily out the back door.
Sally turned and looked at his retreating back. She had never met anyone quite like him. So smart, so educated, so good looking! Walking back to the kitchen she sighed as she pulled on the white apron. Why couldn’t she ever get a guy like that? Seeing the time, she let out a little gasp. Better get cracking, that mob would be hungry!
Next day Peter got a message from one of the workers that Ms. Chen wished to see him in the office. He dropped what he was doing and hustled over to the next building and knocked on the door.
Peter went in. “Have a seat, Peter.” Ms. Chen smiled at him.
“Well,” she drummed the top of her desk with fingertips. “Good news, looks like you will be going with us to Thailand after all.”
“Wow, Ms. Chen, that’s really great! Did you guys change your mind about the ticket?” Peter put on his happy face.
“Ah, no. Actually, we got a call from your father and he agreed to put the fare on his card.”
“Oh, gosh, my Old Man! Wow, he came through for me after all. He’s such a pal.”
Ms. Chen’s smile became a little frozen. “Yes, really nice of him. He even included a little for ‘expenses’.”
“Four hundred dollars.”
Peter’s brain started working furiously.
“But, as discussed before Peter, this is a charitable organization and we get a group discount rate on the fare. So, you will be expected to stay at the compound when we get there and help serve the meals and so forth. That’s agreed?”
“Sure. No problem,” Peter said automatically, his brain whirling.
“I believe you said you wanted to do some sightseeing. We will be having some group tours on the bus and you are certainly welcome to join…”
“Group tours, bus…yeah. Good. When do I get the money?”
Ms. Chen paused. “Everything has to process through the bank. I believe I can give it to you as soon as we get to the camp in Thailand.”
“Great! Thanks Ms. Chen. Got to get back to dinner!” Peter jumped up and was out the door before she could say anything else.
Tapping her fingers some more, Ms. Chen was thoughtful.
“Rich kids.” Shaking her head, she went back to work.
The Christian Mission Group landed at the Thailand airport and was met by their driver. Carrying a large sign, he got them after they went through customs. The group was quickly loaded into the van. Traffic was stop and go through the jammed packed streets of Bangkok. Their camp site was on the outskirts of town. It was an old run-down school the church had taken over. The volunteers, climbed off the bus and gazed around. Another worker showed them to their dorms to get unpacked.
“This place is a trip. I love it!” Peter gushed.
“Yes, it’s pretty nice,huh? But hot, wow,” Sally was not quite so effusive. Her pale skin was already pink from the heat and sweating. She kept pushing her fine blond hair, now matted, out of her face.
“The colors, the people, wow,” Peter kept saying.
“I got to go unpack. See you later,” she told him.
“Yeah,” he thought to himself. Much later.
Peter threw his big backpack on the bed and held onto his little bag.
He went in search of Ms. Chen. He was finally able to locate her in the office, chatting up the staff. He hung around the doorway appearing disinterested.
There was finally a break in the chatter; she glanced his way.
“Ah, Peter. Yes, why don’t you come with me?” She got up. Ms. Chen was shortish, in her late 30’s, slim with long black hair.
Peter often thought she didn’t look much like most social workers he was used to. In another life, he and she…his mind wandered.
He followed her out into another, miniscule office. The walls were old fake wood paneling with calendars of beautiful, young Thai women displaying painted nails. Ms. Chen sat down at a heavy metal desk and reached for her purse.
“You’ll be wanting your money no doubt.”
She unzipped her wallet and pulled out four – one hundred-dollar bills and handed them to him.
“You had this in your purse the whole time?” He was incredulous.
“Well, wanted to be sure you had the whole amount for your trip. Problem?”
She looked up at him, her eyes narrowed. He stopped counting the money and pulled out his wallet and stuck it inside.
“No, no problem. Ah, thanks for handling everything.” He turned to go.
“Certainly. The dinner staff will be needing help very soon and dinner is at six p.m. sharp.”
He nodded her way and shuffled out.
“Controlling bitch,” he mumbled to himself as he went back to his room. Each dorm room had a tiny locking safe in the closet. He programmed a password and put three of the bills inside.
Don’t want to lose anything, he thought, patting the safe. Shit, might as well at least look like I’m helping. He was itching to hit the bars in town. He had noticed driving in there appeared to be plenty of taxis around. He could take one later.
Reluctantly, he shuffled off to the kitchen.
The kitchen detail was actually a good thing for Peter. He made friends with two guys in the back and they all agreed to split the moment dinner detail was done. One guy, Danny, had been there longest. He agreed to show them the sights and get them to the best bars. They couldn’t wait.
Next morning, Peter was face down in his cot and drooling on his pillow. Sally was leaning over him shaking him.
“Peter, Peter. Get up. It’s time for breakfast and you’re late.”
“What…” He said blearily and clung to his pillow.
“Get up!” she shouted at him.
“Alright!” He lurched up and stopped himself. The room was spinning. “Be there in a minute.” He was burning with thirst.
He half fell out of the cot and staggered into the bathroom and stuck his face under the faucet. Water splashed over his face and ran into his mouth. He could drink a bathtub of orange juice.
Sally left and went back to the kitchen. He finished running water over his face and grabbed for a towel. He rubbed his face hard. Peering into the mirror, the image was still out of focus. He grabbed someone’s comb and ran it through his hair. Stumbling back to his cot, he pulled a fresh shirt out of his pack and pulled it on. Skip clean pants, who cared, he would be in an apron anyway. Wasn’t there Tylenol around here somewhere? Shit, he couldn’t find it. Better ask Sal.
In the kitchen he got his apron and whispered to Sally, “Need some Tylenol real bad.”
“God, Peter. Your breath!” she pushed him away. “I’ll get it, just don’t breathe on me, okay?” Her face wrinkled up.
“Peter, over here. We need you to serve.” The head guy was waving at him.
Peter nodded and walked gingerly over to his spot. He felt like throwing up. He went to grab a bottle of OJ out of the frig and started downing it. Sally came back and stuck a small bottle in his hand. He forced the cap open and got four pills and took them two at a time. He was serving scrambled eggs.
He was okay for about twenty minutes then he waved at the guy standing next to him and ran for the head. After chucking for several minutes, he was leaning over the sink washing his face off. Another worker came in to use the john.
“Heavy night, huh?” The guy laughed.
“F—you.” Peter thought to himself. He walked slowly back to the kitchen. In truth, he couldn’t wait to do it again.
Continued Part III
CHAPTER TWELVE – THAILAND
by Courtney Webb
Kristie Nichols sat at her desk, drinking coffee and idly perusing the morning paper. It was a morning like any other morning at the Credit Union. It was early June and the day was just starting to get warm in Tranquillity, California. Sprinklers started to hum outside.
“Sheriff’s Department Reports Success with Sting Operation. County Sheriff’s report rounding up several suspects in a drug operation which…”
She heard the front door bell tinkling. She glanced at the clock, 8:36 am.
She could hear Gwen flitting around in the supply room.
She put down her cup and went out to the reception area.
A young man with a wild mop of brown hair slouched by the windows, looking out.
“Good morning, may we help…?”
He turned and looked at her.
Hair, two months past a haircut and stubble on his chin, the hands stuck deep in his jacket pockets.
Kristie held her hand out for a shake, but the young man kept his hands in his pockets.
Staring for a moment, she put her hand down.
“Peter? Peter Farringwell? How are you?”
She tried to minimize her surprise at his appearance. He had always been such a good-looking young man. Now…
“Yeah, good. Is my mom in yet?”
“Ah, Phyllis…no. No…she often works late and usually doesn’t get in until nine am. Can I help you with something, coffee?”
He stared at her a long moment, not saying anything.
Are his eyes bloodshot? She thought to herself. And he looks so skinny…
“Nine o’clock?” He seemed to jerk back to life, glancing at the wall clock.
“You could wait in the lunch room if you would like.”
“No, no. Ah, I’ll come back later.”
He was already turning toward the door.
“If you’re sure. Any message?”
He shook his head. Looking down, he left. The door bell tinkled once more.
Kristie stared after him. She was trying to remember the last time she had seen him.
Back at her desk, she grabbed her coffee cup and wandered back to the employee lounge for a refill, still thinking.
“Gathering wool there, sweetie?”
She stopped stirring her coffee and looked over at her co-worker/friend.
“Pam…” her voice trailed off.
“Yup, that’s what my husband calls me. And?”
Kristie focused on her friend. “Do, you remember Phyllis’s son, Peter Farringwell?”
“Yeah, good looking kid, smart, lots of hair. Why?”
“When was the last time we saw him? Was it his college graduation?”
Pam was sitting at one of the white plastic employee tables also reading a copy of the news. She leaned forward and pressed her fist to her chin. “I think that was it, he graduated from State. We all trekked over there, in the heat, I remember that part. And then went out to dinner. Yeah, some fancy place downtown, served steaks. Smiths, Schmitt’s…”
“How long ago was that? Two years?”
“Ah, hum. I think maybe…two years in June. Right.”
“Have you seen him since then?”
“Well,” Pam was thinking hard. “He stopped coming around here. Didn’t Phyllis say he was off somewhere doing something? Can’t remember.”
Kristie sipped her fresh coffee.
“Ah, he was in here this morning looking for Phyllis and he looked…well, different somehow. Can’t exactly say…”
“Huh. Well Phyllis is running late as usual. Maybe she can fill us in.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Cups in hand, they drifted back to their desks.
The phones started to ring and Kristie’s thoughts about Peter Farringwell were pushed out of her mind. It nearly noon when her head jerked around as she heard a “No!” coming from Phyllis’s office. Forever the nosey one, she got up on tiptoe and peeked over the module wall.
Through the glass wall of Phyllis’s office, Kristie could see her boss. Her face looked flushed, even from this distance. Kristie recognized the moppy haired son, his back to her, sitting in front of Phyllis’s desk. Hands out of his jacket now, they were balled into fists resting on the desk. Kristie couldn’t hear what he was saying, too low, but she could see Phyllis shaking her head slowly back and forth.
Kristie turned back to her own desk and casually straightened up some papers. She pulled her purse out of a drawer. The front door bell tinkled again but with more of a clang this time. Pulling the strap over her shoulder, she walked slowly to her boss’s office.
She poked her head through the door. Phyllis was turned away, bent over.
“Phyllis? You okay?” Kristie ventured further into the office.
Phyllis spun the chair around. Kristie could see her eyes were red and she had Kleenex in her hand.
“You want to go to lunch?”
Phyllis just nodded. She reached over, got her purse and stood up. “You drive.” She dabbed at her eyes again.
The two women got into Kristie’s gold Sebring. Once in the car, the air conditioning running. Phyllis started to sob, both hands covering her face. Kristie reached for the box of Kleenex and handed it over.
“Don’t want them… Didn’t want them…” the older woman gestured back at the office.
“Don’t worry about it, Phyllis. We’ll go somewhere quiet for lunch.”
Kristie picked The Tartan Club because it was dark and none of the staff went there for lunch.
“You want something to drink?”
Phyllis waved a Kleenexed hand at the waiter who hustled over.
“Yes, Mrs. Farringwell.” He walked away briskly and returned in a minute with a short whiskey glass with amber liquid.
“Phyllis…do you think…?”
Phyllis waved her hand at Kristie and downed about half the drink in one gulp. She let out a sigh, pushing some hair out of her face.
Kristie was silent not knowing what to say.
“It’s Peter,” Phyllis started.
Obviously, Kristie thought wryly.
“This has been coming on for months. Where do I start? He was fine until he graduated from college and now…” Phyllis waved her hands through the air. Grabbing a paper napkin, the tears started again.
Mystified, Kristie patted her back.
“First he wanted to go to South America and work on some volunteer project and needed money for plane fare. It seemed like a good deal, he was young, so I gave it to him.”
Kristie nodded and sipped her ice tea. She vaguely remembered something about that.
“That lasted exactly three months and then he was back with some story about how ‘it just didn’t work out, not his thing stuff.’ I thought, well, age and experience. Just a learning lesson.” Phyllis sipped her scotch.
“Then it was a trip to Mexico to help children learn to read. I thought, okay, he’s trying to help children. Again, he needed airfare. Reluctantly,” she glanced at Kristie, “I gave it to him.” Another sip.
“He was home in less than six months. Same story, not his thing, not his kind of people, they didn’t do things right, very unorganized. Blah, blah. Since then he has drifted in and out of one thing after another.” Phyllis stole a remorseful glance sideways at her employee.
“With…” there was a pause, “with less and less time visiting and fewer phone calls.” Phyllis dabbed her eyes. “Basically, he stopped answering his telephone or calling. I haven’t seen him in months. Then two days ago he called and wanted to see me, wouldn’t say what it was about.”
“Today was another trip, another mission, this time to Thailand.” Phyllis paused and took a deep breath. “So, I told him no, he would have to pay for the trip himself or find someone else to give him the money. I can’t do anymore.” Small tears trickled into her napkin.
Kristie patted Pyllis’s hand. She was getting the picture.
“He told me he would get it from his dad and then stormed out.”
“Kristie, I am so worried. You saw him, you saw what he looks like. He’s, he’s changed. He’s not the same. I don’t know what to do.” Tears started again.
“It’s okay, Phyllis,” Kristie stated in a matter of fact voice, “we’ll get this figured out. Let’s get a little lunch. Maybe some soup?”
Phyllis nodded, and Kristie opened the menu. Calling the waiter over, she ordered for both of them.
Continued in Part II
(from Storyteller – Courtney Webb)