Ice monkeys drunk monkey.., p.10

Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 10

 

Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting)
 



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  Hell, this was like a luxury vacation. A real bed in a real house, time to watch TV, and a heated pool and a hot tub at their fingertips?

  He almost felt sorry for the rest of their unit back in Florida.

  Despite the chilly night air, the pool felt perfectly warm. As he floated on his back, Uni stared up through the screened lanai at the starry sky. He’d seen that sky from lots of different vantage points over the past nine years, the last nearly five years of it serving with the Drunk Monkeys.

  Nights like this made it hard for him not to think about his parents and his sister, Corrine. His niece, Alice, who must be seven now.

  His parents wouldn’t see her grow up to be a young woman. They’d died six years earlier from the damned flu.

  Fortunately, Corrine, her husband, Pat, and Alice were, last he heard, safe in Toledo.

  He hoped they were safe.

  Before he was known as Uni, he was Gilberto Pickett, named after their mother’s father. Although everyone called him Gil growing up.

  Ironic, since he loved to swim.

  As the water caressed his naked body he stared up at the stars. He hadn’t been smart enough for a scholarship to college. He’d known from his junior year that the military would be the only way he’d ever get ahead. Certainly wouldn’t do it working part-time after school at an auto parts warehouse. And his eidetic memory was a great party trick, but wasn’t exactly a marketable skill.

  That skill set and experience, however, had unintentionally been parlayed into his logistics position now. The aptitude tests they gave him when he enlisted in the military got him slotted for training in logistics. Able to quickly memorize large swaths of information and manipulate logistics as a result.

  Now he was here. Somehow, he’d survived the wash-out process and became part of SOTIF1.

  It sucked that two of the other things he proved damned good at were killing people and destroying things.

  Unfortunately, with his memory, he could remember all of it.

  The good thing about winter fast approaching was that people would stay indoors and away from crowds, helping slow the spread of Kite. The virus was very delicate outside the host, meaning cold weather would help kill it faster, unlike its more tenacious cousin, the flu. With many parents keeping kids home from school, and things like sporting events a distant memory until the outbreak was contained, it would be even slower to spread.

  Maybe he and Victor would be lucky enough to find someone for themselves. What he didn’t know was if they would be pulled from OTG status and come in from the cold. If their unit did that, there wouldn’t be any more additions of civvies to their unit.

  Truth be told, while he envied the triads, he also felt sorry for them. He couldn’t imagine the terror Doc and Tango must have felt in Australia when Pandora got snatched by the mercs who’d ambushed her. And Lima and Quack nearly lost Ak when the guy shot her brother and she was covered in his Kite-pos blood. Her and Quack, both, when he pulled her away from the man’s body.

  How do you do your job when you’re worried about the person you love?

  At least Chief was high-ranking law enforcement and a former MP from when she was in the military. Annie was also former military, a skilled sniper who took out one of the moles in General Arliss’ food chain for them. Panda was still technically active military, although as a pilot, she wasn’t as much at risk as Clara.

  Clara was a nurse practitioner working in the lab with the scientists on a daily basis. Oscar and Yankee were good at not letting their stress show, but knowing that she worked in there, potentially getting exposed to Kite, had to be ripping the twins apart from the inside out.

  Maybe it’s better this way. Wouldn’t mind a one-time roll in the rack with someone to ease the tension, though.

  Like all the other two-man teams in their unit likely had done, he and Victor had shared women before. Hot for them and hotter for her. He loved the guy like a brother.

  With the world in chaotic flux, maybe their unattached status was for the best.

  Rolling onto his stomach, he started swimming laps in the pool.

  * * * *

  Victor channel surfed on the TV.

  Never thought I’d ever have this problem again.

  With a premium cable subscription, over three hundred channels and he couldn’t settle on a damn thing to watch.

  It was a…weird problem to have.

  Normal.

  As if he hadn’t seen a metric shit-ton of crap from one side of the globe to the other.

  I wonder if Jim’s okay.

  It was just him and his older brother now. They’d grown up in Phoenix, raised by their grandmother. Victor didn’t even remember their parents, who were killed in a car wreck when he was two.

  Then their grandmother died when he was almost eighteen. Jim had already enlisted by then. Fortunately, an older cousin lived nearby and signed the paperwork with the state, claiming to be his guardian. She’d let him stay there in the rental house by himself for the next several months, until he graduated high school and moved out to join the military.

  It’d been over five years since he’d heard from his older brother, who was only four years older than him. He thought Jim had ended up in a covert ops unit, but in his travels he’d never run into him with other SOTIF teams.

  Sometimes Victor thought about growing up, and then he was Quentin Maddox again, a kid relatively satisfied with life with their grandmother watching over them.

  Finally, he switched off the TV and sat up.

  Lima looked up at the sudden quiet. “What’s wrong?”

  He stood. “Nothing. I’m going to hit the rack.” Lima wouldn’t understand. He and Quack had Ak. She was an ass-kicker, all right. Tough as nails despite everything she’d been through.

  Yeah, Lima had to go stag for the duration of their stay here in Georgia, but he had Ak waiting for him when he got home.

  Who’d he and Uni have?

  Each other, and neither of them were into guys. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but it wasn’t their thing. For a very brief moment in time, Victor had thought—hoped—that maybe he and Uni might have a shot with Panda. But Foxtrot and Kilo had literally seen her first, and it was to that duo she gravitated toward and eventually bonded with.

  Disappointment.

  He was a professional, though. And she was military. He wouldn’t say shit to her or the two men about it even though a tiny green thread of envy ran through him a little deeper than about the other five pairings before them.

  Victor headed for the bedroom, stripping down to his shorts before turning off the light and climbing into bed. He left the bedside lamp lit on the other side of the bed for Uni.

  He could fall asleep in pretty much any condition, surrounding, position. Noisy aircraft. Cold, hard ground. Hell, once even standing up and propped in a corner.

  But until he finally heard the last low groans sound off in the bedroom down the hall, he couldn’t sleep with someone fucking a couple of doors away.

  Closing his eyes, he was just about to fall asleep when he heard the bedroom door open and close again. He didn’t bother rolling over.

  “I’m not asleep yet.”

  “Sorry.” Uni switched off the lamp as he climbed into bed. “I wonder if those guys realize how lucky they are?”

  Victor didn’t need any further explanation. “I hope they do. They’re all pretty smart guys.”

  “I was thinking that while they’re lucky, part of me doesn’t envy them.”

  Victor rolled onto his back. “How so?”

  “How do they deal with the worry? The stress? It’s all I can do to focus on the shit we have to do during the hot and heavy times. Like after the earthquake. Getting our shit out and worrying that the damn building would come down around us. I don’t know about you, but I was sitting on a pucker factor of ninety-nine, dude. Add worrying about a woman into the mix.”

  “If you’re trying to justify being a gruesome twos
ome instead of a gleeful trio to me, I’m not sure we’re singing the same song.”

  Uni rolled toward him. “Really?”

  “Life is short, dude. We’ve seen that first-hand. Been the dealers of shortening lives plenty of times. I don’t want to die having never found someone to love. That would suck.”

  Uni stared at him. “I love you, man,” he joked in a slurred voice.

  “I’m serious.”

  Uni schooled his expression back into practiced neutrality. As their unit’s logistics expert, he frequently had to deal with a shit-ton of stuff, all at once, and keep his cool doing it. They’d been paired together because, before Australia, when their unit still had their own Exhart, Uni had functioned as their loadmaster since he was intrinsically involved with moving their shit from place to place anyway.

  “You know I would never deliberately sabotage something if we met someone,” Uni finally said. “Frankly, if you met someone and didn’t want to share her, I wouldn’t begrudge you.”

  “Gil, it wouldn’t work like that and you know it. Couldn’t work like that. Besides, we’re a team.”

  “I’ll promise to keep an open mind, Quent, but can you handle the heartbreak if we end up with someone who ends up dying of this shit?”

  “I’d rather have someone for a little while than never have anyone.”

  Uni rolled onto his side facing away from Victor.

  The end.

  Victor rolled toward his side of the bed. He knew Gil hid his pain deep inside. At least losing his parents at such a young age had allowed Victor to process it better, get used to it. He really didn’t know anything else. Yes, he’d lost his grandmother, but it’d been…different. No less painful or sad, but it’d been more expected due to her age and health.

  Uni hadn’t expected to lose his parents when he did.

  Closing his eyes, Victor tried to go to sleep.

  Chapter Fourteen

  Monday morning, Rajesh Patel sat in the square in Havana and studied every person who passed. More people than he’d thought would be were wearing surgical face masks. That made his job a little harder.

  Havana was a city, not some backwater borough where he could easily spot Julie and her son.

  He took a risk. Looking around, he noticed a building on the other side of the square that had its name painted on it. It’d be easy to find. Using his tablet’s camera, he took a picture of himself with the building in the background and logged into an anonymous mail server.

  Guess where I am now? Please, I’m alone. We need to team up. If they are where they say they are, I want to investigate further to find out if it’s legit. If it is, then you both can come in and be safe. This afternoon, noon. I’ll be waiting.

  He didn’t sign his name, or use hers. She’d know damn well who he was.

  Whether or not she’d trust him was another matter entirely.

  * * * *

  Julie Chu had to clap a hand over her mouth to stifle the cry of shock when she saw the e-mail.

  Rajesh Patel, in Havana. He’d cut his hair short and dyed it a dark blond color, but it was him.

  She’d know those soulful brown eyes of his anywhere, even over the surgical mask he wore.

  And he wasn’t just in Havana, but literally a block from her safe house.

  Panic set in and she struggled against it.

  No, don’t overreact.

  She slowly stood and went over to the window. From that vantage point, she could see part of the square, but the building he’d snapped in the background actually blocked her view of where Rajesh had been sitting to take the photo.

  From the time-date stamp, he’d sent it only minutes ago.

  She’d always liked Rajesh even though the circumstances they’d met under had been…horrific.

  Liked him a lot.

  Of all the scientists, she sympathized with him the most. Rajesh had also been trying to protect his family, the way Julie had been trying to protect Liang.

  Under different circumstances, she would have liked to have gotten to know him a lot better, but none of them dared risk that for fear of the North Koreans having more of a stranglehold on them than they already did.

  Her son looked up from where he was reading a book on the bed. “What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing. I need to go out. You stay here and do not leave, understand me?”

  He nodded.

  She put her surgical mask on, donned a floppy hat and sunglasses that a lot of Cuban women were wearing against the harsh tropical sun, and headed out without her purse or anything except her room key.

  She wanted nothing on her to identify her.

  Nothing electronic that could somehow be tracked.

  Her skin tone, fortunately, blended in well with the widely diverse palette of native Cuban complexions. With her sunglasses on, and her hair hidden under the hat, it was impossible for anyone to tell she didn’t belong.

  Moving quickly, she rounded the block of buildings to the south of the square before approaching it from an alley on the east end. Walking casually, she stopped in the shade of a building’s awning and studied the square.

  There the man sat.

  Apparently alone.

  She watched him working on his tablet for a while before he got up and left. There were over three hours until the proposed meeting time he’d listed. Instead, she followed him, being careful not to let him see her. He disappeared into a boarding house six blocks south of the square and didn’t reappear.

  At no time did she spot anyone following him besides her. In fact, he took a rather roundabout way getting back to the boardinghouse himself.

  Hurrying, she returned to her own B-and-B, once again making sure she took as circuitous a route as possible to prevent anyone from finding her. It had been nearly an hour since she’d left, and it was with no small measure of relief that she found Liang exactly where she’d left him, still reading.

  He looked up at her return. “Is everything okay?”

  She considered her response. “How would you like to see Uncle Rajesh again?”

  * * * *

  Rajesh considered changing boardinghouses, except he’d paid for a week in advance and wasn’t sure if leaving that soon would bring more attention to him than he’d wanted. It almost felt like he’d been followed, but he hadn’t spotted anyone.

  If they’d followed him, they’d done a damn sight better job of it than the mercenary team who’d nearly caught up with him in the Ukraine a couple of months earlier. Them he’d spotted, almost immediately, and it had been pure luck that allowed him to get away.

  Unless…

  He went to the window. His room overlooked the front entrance.

  Down the block, he caught sight of a woman disappearing around the corner.

  The floppy had she’d worn concealed her identity, but from the way she’d moved…

  He smiled. If that wasn’t Julie, he’d eat his damn tablet. Maybe she’d received his message and had been close enough to check him out. If so, even better.

  It meant she might be willing to listen to him.

  He wouldn’t e-mail her again. He didn’t want to spook her away by letting her know he’d seen her. And if he was mistaken and it wasn’t her, it might spook her even more.

  No, he’d have to wait and hope she trusted him.

  * * * *

  Julie got them an early lunch that they ate in their room. She didn’t want Liang anywhere near the square when she went to meet Rajesh. In fact, she’d changed clothes, just in case. An abundance of paranoia, yes.

  From one of the messages the man named Bubba sent her, Julie wrote down a phone number on a scrap of paper and folded it, tucking it into the side pocket of her carryon.

  Then she sat next to Liang and made him look at her. “I need to go do something. If I don’t come back by dark, you take that piece of paper and my sat phone and call and ask to speak to Bubba. Speak English. And then you do what he says, answer any questions he asks you truthfully. But
not until after dark. And you do not leave this room. Understand?” She hoped the man wasn’t lying to her, but it was the only backup she had.

  “Where are you going?”

  “Hopefully just to meet Uncle Rajesh. But there are bad men everywhere, and the problem is, we don’t know where or who. You have to trust me when I tell you what to do. Understand?”

  He nodded, hugging her. “I love you, Momma.”

  She fought back the prickle of tears. “Love you, too.” The past couple of years for him had been a life no child should have to live, the fear, the lack of friends and formal schooling, the constant need for secrecy.

  With her heart in her throat, she locked the room door behind her and headed out, taking a totally different route to the square than she had before.

  Sure enough, Rajesh was already there, waiting, sitting on a low wall, his back to her, when she arrived fifteen minutes early.

  She sat on a planter and pretended to read the newspaper she’d brought with her, one she’d picked up in the lobby of the B-and-B on her way out the front door.

  He looked around once or twice but didn’t seem to notice her.

  Watching for any sign he might be talking to someone on a two-way radio, she also looked around the square for anyone standing around and observing.

  Nothing.

  It’s now or never.

  She folded the paper and stood, walking across the square to take a seat a comfortably polite distance from him on the edge of the wall. They were far from alone, the square popular with lunchtime crowds eating their meals.

  He finally looked her way and then down at his tablet again before he put it away. She pretended to read her newspaper, now unable to tell one heartbeat from the next, her pulse pounded so quickly.

  Please don’t let this have been a mistake!

  He leaned in and held up his bare left wrist, pointing to it as if to ask her the time. In a low voice he said, “I’m alone.”

  She nodded without looking away from her paper. “As am I. How did you find me?”

 
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