RS Perry Jim Johnson novels Out Of Time
Copyright RS Perry All rights reserved.
Guantánamo Bay, US territory, Cuba, Aug 30, 2000.
Sergeant Alex Smith struggled to keep the smirk off his face as he sat at the console controlling the security gates for the CIA’s new and illegal detention center. He had enlisted in the army to escape his small hometown and see the world, but it had not turned out as he’d expected. So far all he had experienced was army training camps, noisy barracks, KP duty, the white-trash mecca that was Biloxi, Mississippi, and now this holding tank for the worst of the worst. Prisoners too insidious to be tried and detained through normal channels, or so the CIA said.
Forty months of one dipshit after another riding my ass in one hellhole after another for less than minimum wage, he said to himself.
Smith knew he should have been promoted by now; he could run this place blindfolded. Only one scrawny woman prisoner. But the army did not agree with him. He was not rated as leadership material, and his peers just didn’t like him. He had been posted to dead-end jobs because the army expected no more of him than he now did of the army. Smith’s future was just as bleak as it had been after high school and he knew it.
But all that was about to change. Buck-Sergeant Alex Smith was going to secure his future with the press of button. He would even get to screw the army in the process. After a tiny, unauthorized movement, he’d pocket more money than most of his soon-to-be-ex colleagues would see in their lifetimes. Enough to finance a lifetime lounging on the beach in some third world country, maybe he’d even open a bar.
Smith glanced at the clock; it was time. Still he hesitated. Technically what they had asked him to do—what they were paying him to do—was treason, and if even half of what he’d heard about this prisoner was true, she deserved to be incarcerated. Though personally he doubted that prisoner 49C was the dangerous, cold-hard killer the CIA said she was. So what, he thought. Even if she is, she won’t be the only nasty woman there. The world will survive and I’ll have money.
Smith shook off his doubts and let the smirk spread across his face; none of this was his problem, and the army only had itself to blame. Without another thought, he pressed the button that opened the outer gates, allowing anyone free entry to or exit from Guantánamo Bay’s top secret facility: Camp X-Ray.
The new head of the Siastra cartel had spent months repairing and rebuilding his reputation and his organization after the mysterious destruction of the cartel’s headquarters and the death of its former leader. Guillermo had been driven, brutal, and focused, now remorselessly strengthening his position as the head of Mexico’s most powerful cartel. As second-in-command, he had been away on business when the headquarters was destroyed, but even with all his connections, he had been unable to discover who had carried out the attack and how they had managed to succeed where so many others had failed. The Mexican government had claimed responsibility, but Guillermo saw right through that particular politically expedient fiction. They could never have pulled it off without him hearing of it first through his contacts; the Mexican government had feebly tried before. Yet his inquiries into the matter, few of them pleasant or painless for those he queried, led only to unanswered questions and dead-ends, reinforcing his determination to find the truth.
Guillermo had assembled the best team of computer experts that he could buy. They easily hacked into the Mexican government’s computers. Although they were more skilled than his previous computer team—all of whom had been killed when his hacienda was attacked—they’d been unable to tell Guillermo who had done it.
Guillermo, a firm believer in the future of the electronic age, had then recruited even more computer technicians, mostly hackers, insisting that they broaden the search until eventually a small detail was found in the CIA’s computers; this led to an astonishing discovery. The female assassin he had recently employed had not been killed, as he had been informed, but was incarcerated at a CIA facility in Cuba.
Guillermo had had strong contacts in the Cuban government and military before the hacienda attack dented his cartel’s influence. However, with zeal, and money, he had rebuilt his influence in Cuba, with one goal in mind: to find and vanquish those who had tried to destroy his organization, his headquarters, his power, his reputation, and his future: the assassin, once free, was the only person who could tell him what had happened, who the attackers were, and what had become of his cartel men and his staff who were not executed by the Mexican government. He had to learn what had happened. He had to know. In Guillermo’s business, the only way to stay on top was to avenge all attacks and eliminate all foes. His enemies feared him and consequently respected him, or they would try to kill him.
And so Guillermo had plotted and schemed and paid, and now, at long last, he would be reunited with his captured assassin. No longer would she be prisoner 49C in the CIA’s purportedly impregnable, secret, new detention center. For the promise of a few million dollars, the gullible soldier was going to let her walk right out the front door.
Now Guillermo waited. Soon Najma would be here, and soon he would have his answers.
Footsteps grew louder in the dim hall behind three-stripe Buck-Sergeant Alex Smith as he waited at his console dreaming of his beach bar. The buzzer didn’t startle him. He was expecting them; he’d opened the door. This was the penultimate step before his payday, the worst but most necessary part as far he was concerned. They had informed him that the Taser would shock him and knock him out but cause no lasting damage. Smith had read up on Tasers and even though he hated shocks, it seemed that the information was accurate: this would likely keep him out of prison, and it wouldn’t kill him. So with a little trepidation, he had agreed to the small but necessary incapacitation. The footsteps came closer and he sensed shadows moving behind him. He gritted his teeth as he focused on the controls in front of him, steeling himself against the Taser’s jolt. Any second now, he would feel the high voltage sting him into unconsciousness.
Instead, he felt nothing; his brain, communicating thoughts in milliseconds, merely questioned why electricity would make him see red—the red of his blood as it splattered on the glass monitor and console in front of him.
Colonel James L. Johnson, the Biological Warfare Center’s special agent, lay relaxed on his back, fingers interlaced behind his head, surrounded by blue bunchgrass that moved listlessly in a soft breeze, on the top of Coyote Ridge. This was the longest stretch of time he had spent on his eastern Washington ranch in years, and it hadn’t been by choice. Jim was on an enforced rest ordered by his boss, General Will Crystal, while he recovered from the gunshot wounds he had received in Mexico, courtesy of Guillermo’s assassin: Najma. Even here, he could see her obsidian eyes, so dark and penetrating that they felt like black ice, instead of living tissue.
Scattered fluffy white clouds coalesced, churning, boiling upward as he slowly erased her image by opening his eyes. His months here had been a time of contentment, increasingly tinted, however, by boredom. Jim had been careful to show no signs to Heather, who seemed to revel in his uninterrupted presence. Although he was adjusting as best he could to the easy peace and slow pace of life on the ranch, he felt an empty space inside that neither his longtime companion nor their newly adopted son could fill.
Clumps of the silver-highlighted bunchgrass cushioned his hands and hips as he basked in the sun’s warmth and stared up at the blue August sky—the color of round, blue-glass marbles, Jim thought, willing himself to enjoy this moment. He gazed into the sky just as years ago he had looked into ‘clearies’—the marbles he had loved as a child. The sky was deep and translucent in the summer heat. A charcoal tinge permeated the late afternoon air as if a fire was burning in the nearby mountains, but there was no fire, just the heat and light of late August tinting the sky. Jim imagined he was inside one of the glass marbles with its edge, the edge of the universe, far above.
His personal-Earth universe, where he lay, eyes fixed on the sky above, not the ‘real’ universe’s edge, billions of miles away where quasars race at near the speed of light into infinity. Or was it infinity? He never could understand why there were not endless universes beyond ours. Billions of stars, making up billions of galaxies, making up a universe. And why not more universes in the infinity of space? Clearies, marbles, a child’s universe expanded to the infinitely larger universe of the planet that he now rested on. His small planet, his solar system and galaxy, mere specks in the universe—or infinity of universes.
He looked at his boot soles, not quite six feet from his blue-gray eyes, then past them to the late-summer-tanned canyon below. Jim lay stretched out just over the top of ridge, four hundred feet above the ranch house and barns below. A small dust cloud appeared from the opposite ridge, which had no name. Several horses led by Skipper, his palomino stallion, raced past sagebrush, and then down the hillside toward the large barn.
Heather was at the barn with Pedro, putting out grain for her beloved llamas. The horses wanted their share but they would not get any of the sweet molasses-coated corn, oats, and barley mix. They didn’t need it this time of year but in the mysterious way that horses think, there was no memory of a sweet-molasses-and-grain-free summer in years past, only an expectation that today they would push and jostle each other successfully for the tasty mouthfuls the llamas were now devouring.
Jim lazily scanned to his left, looking west toward the high mountains still holding last winter’s snow. Oval Peak, one of his two favorite wilderness places, barely stood above the other mountains at 8,800 feet, even though it was the tallest mountain in that part of the Cascade Range.
He tilted his head and watched a lone, black cloud moving into the lower valley as if drawn into a vacuum. The small but jumpy cloud bubbled and grew as he watched it; a common sight in the late afternoon heat. Chances were that the cloud would grow large enough to produce heavy rain, but Jim could only guess where in the valley it might release its cooling drops. Every few years out of the sixteen that he and Heather had lived here, there had been a deluge over their canyon, Wolf Canyon. Sheets of rain that started as mere trickles on the ridgetops became cascading water, building strength and volume as the torrents raced lower, gouging ruts and mini-gorges from the soft, alluvial soils.
Jim watched as the cloud grew larger, darker and billowed higher, gaining size and strength. Lightning shafts rose from the ground and he saw the streaks of rain descend somewhere between Twisp and Winthrop, the two towns in the valley. Several seconds later the distant sound of low rumbling thunder resonated up the canyon to his ridge.
This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, he thought, as he had thought hundreds of time before. A dichotomous kaleidoscope of seasons and plants. Jim reached his hand to his right and softly caressed the shriveled remains of a balsamroot. They covered the hills in the early spring with their yellow flowers. Native Americans who had freely roamed this ridge in times past had used the balsam’s tuberous root to make flour. Jim tried it once, soaking the root for days and trying to pound it into something edible; his technique failed. One day perhaps he would enlist the help of Heather and Pedro and between the three of them, they might be able to do what the Native Americans had mastered over a hundred years before.
The ranch canyon, nestled between ridges, held over twelve hundred acres, a small enclave in the hundreds of thousands of acres of state wildlife and forestland that surrounded it. Rising at the head of the canyon stood Wolf Mountain, covered in dense, large ponderosa pine, as was Coyote Ridge’s north side, just below his vantage point. The trees on the ridge were smaller than on the mountain, and more scattered than at the higher elevation. The cooler, north sides of the hills were dotted with green scraggly pines, while the hot south sides were populated with scented sage and bunchgrasses dotting friable tan-brown soils. The higher elevations held thick forests of large old pines—biding their time before chainsaws and helicopters turned the mountains to slash-covered mounds, unless they burned first.
Fires, the ever-present danger in these mountains, sometimes destroyed the forests before the loggers. When the Native Americans and first settlers walked the valleys and hills, the fires rarely set the higher limbs and needles ablaze as they raged across the ground, scorching grass and low bushes. The pines’ heavy bark and high branches prevented the fires from reaching the dry needles far above. Forest management, supposedly to prevent those fires, had allowed the undergrowth to flourish in recent years and when lightning or careless campers inevitably started a fire, the tall burning brush ignited the lower branches, causing unstoppable wild fires.
Jim’s idyllic thoughts pushed aside that one major threat to the canyon and his home. Someday fire would come and he would do what he could to protect the animals, house and barns, but luck would have to be on his side to save the structures. As valuable to Jim as the home he had built was, he knew it was only a place, an object. Nothing compared to his family and animals. My family, he thought as he shook his head in wonder. Nine months and one day ago, there had been only Jim, the special-agent rancher, and Heather, the lithe five-foot-six botanist ‘llama-lady.’ Days later, his immediate family had doubled. They had adopted Pedro, then five years old and, to all intents and purposes, twenty-nine-year-old Lola, a short Mexican woman who had mustered the courage to try to save Pedro from the cartel and their assassin Najma.
At the hands of the same cartel, Heather had learned that the world was not always a nice place to be. Something that Jim had known since he was eighteen in Vietnam and Lola had learned at an early age as a lowly female Yaqui Indian. Her life had always been tough but it had turned into a nightmare when the cartel killed her son and forced her to serve their whims at the Mexican hacienda where Pedro was brought after his family’s slaughter by the cartel’s devil woman.
Heather and Jim had been on the fence for years about having children, but in the aftermath of the hacienda’s destruction, Pedro appeared and the decision had been made for them by fate. Over the past months, their initial shock had turned to fulfillment.
Jim smiled at the thought of his new family and looked down toward the barn again. Walking along the road just in front of the structure were Heather, Pedro and Rosie, their huge, tawny-tan Irish wolfhound. Pedro looked tiny next to the massive, shaggy dog. It was hard to make out the three of them over the long distance; they walked so close together that only Jim would know it was three separate beings.
He pushed himself up, stretched and set off with long strides descending the ridge on a well-worn but narrow cattle trail that traversed downward, allowing him to intercept his family just before they reached the house. While he walked with the self-assurance and efficiency of someone comfortable with mountain trails, Jim knew he needn’t hurry. Heather would stop along the road to show Pedro plants and insects and, if they were lucky, they would spot something larger, a coyote or the rarer porcupine.
There was a small family of rabbits near a little grassy area they called Spooky Meadow. There were never more than a few since the small, flat field carved into the Aspen Grove was a hard place for them to survive. Coyotes and eagles quickly consumed the careless rabbits, just as they did house cats that wandered in the open.
The anxious and cautious cats and bunnies survived; the brave and bold ended up in sharper claws and bigger mouths. These were the same truths that Lola and Pedro had learned in Mexico, that both had lived by until Lola’s desire to save Pedro overcame all the lessons hammered into her soul, ingrained in her mind.
Suppressed by her culture for centuries, there lurked in Lola an ancient strength that allowed her to overcome terror and fear for that one horrifying, desperate moment in time. The usual outcome of her bold break for freedom with Pedro would have been certain death at the hands of the cartel she sought to escape. In a twist of fate, she had chosen to leave the hacienda grounds on the very night that Colonel Jim Johnson and Major Brush McGuire came to capture the devil—Najma. The love that had grown between them all after the battle against Najma, their common enemy, had forged an unshakeable bond, the sort of bond that can only be built between survivors of shared strife.
Lola, freed from past oppression and fear, now spent her days taking care of her new family, slowly shedding her anxieties and learning English from Heather. Pedro absorbed words at a rapid rate, which led Heather reluctantly and Jim less so to decide he would be better off in public school come fall than home schooling under Heather. The days of their idyllic isolation were numbered.
The narrow cow trail that Jim followed vanished onto the flat bottom of the canyon. He walked through a small, steep ditch whose soil eroded through the eons by water, inexorably pulled down the canyon by gravity. There had been none for years and it was overgrown with bushes and small trees. He climbed up and out. Just as he cleared the top he was met by a running Pedro followed by a loping Rosie. Pedro jumped into Jim’s arms and held him, not with the exuberance of a nearly six-year-old, but rather with a maturity of someone who knew how important it was to cling to what was precious.
Jim reached his right arm out to scratch Rosie’s head and then an ear; the big dog’s golden eyes sparkled and gazed back into his. Heather stood smiling, proud of her family. Pedro clung to his adopted father until Jim raised him up, holding him under tiny shoulders then setting him on the ground. He took the boy’s hand and together they walked to the gravel road where Heather waited, glowing in the late afternoon sun.
She stood wearing her typical August work clothes, a baggy T-shirt, ponytail pulled through the back of an old blue baseball hat, and loose shorts that did nothing to diminish her long-legged slender shape. At five foot six, she was five inches shorter than Jim. Nonetheless, she was not without physical strength or mental determination in her hundred twenty-six pound, well-toned body. She was braless and she titillated his senses, as had everything about her since they met so many years ago. It’ a miracle to be so attracted still, he thought, except for the fact that to his eye there was no woman more attractive in body or mind. Amazing, yes it is—the thought finished as she walked to him and the crinkles at the edge of her green eyes captivated him. She moved to Jim and lightly kissed him with her eyes open. He liked that about her.
Pedro had an arm wrapped around each of their legs. Rosie knew an opening when it presented itself, and with her huge tongue licked Pedro’s face while he scrunched up his eyes. Pedro clearly loved the attention as much as Rosie-O-Twisp loved giving it. ‘Early dinner?’ asked Jim. ‘Are you hungry, Pedro?’
‘We’re hungry,’ replied Pedro, as he hugged Rosie.
‘Let’s go help Heather fix something then, shall we,’ said Jim. He took Pedro’s hand on one side and Heather’s on the other and started off to the house.
‘Nope, don’t want you guys in the kitchen.’ Heather grinned. ‘Grab something to drink and the plates and stay out on the deck.’
‘Coke?’ Pedro asked hopefully.
‘I think you’ll like the sun tea much better than a Coke,’ Heather told him. Pedro could not hide his disappointment as he looked up at her.
‘OK, we’ll make it a Diet Coke but no more after school starts,’ she added.
Pedro had a sweet tooth and Heather hoped to diminish it over time. Sugar, refined or unrefined had been a point of dispute between Heather and Jim since they had known each other. Jim argued that whatever we ate converted to sugars, lipids, and proteins and it didn’t matter that much if you ate a potato that eventually became sugar. He saw no real difference in the two with one proviso, that straight sugar hit the system faster. Heather, on the other hand, argued that refined sugar was unnatural. Jim said it didn’t matter if food was natural or not if it had the same molecular formula. The disagreement would probably never be resolved. It was a chemist’s point of view against a naturalist’s.
Pedro, at this point in his life, didn’t care about either of their points, only that he liked sugar just as much as he liked Rosie and having his back scratched. They all gave him pleasure.
On the deck, Lola stood, holding a damp towel, the delectable aroma of carne asada wafting around her. ‘Wipe your face, mijo, and behind your ears too. Food is on table. Pronto, la cena está lista.’
The light breeze rustled the aspen leaves near the deck. The grass trailing its way down the canyon swayed hypnotically and a hawk glided across the sky. It was warm and wonderful and the flowers next to the house bloomed bright adding soft scents. An ideal time and place. Heather turned to Jim, her eyes wide and shining with happiness. She started to reach for him just as his ringing cell phone shattered her idyllic spell.
RS Perry Jim Johnson novels Out Of Time
Copyright RS Perry All rights reserved