Rain. Torrential rain. A warm rain. Almost hot to the touch.
A rain like only a subtropical county like Belize could produce. Raindrops the size of .45 caliber slugs falling from the sky in weaving curtains so thick it was hard to see more than a hundred meters in front of you. Drops big enough to beat you down into the thick ooze of the black mud.
Big enough to leave large purplish bruises. Big enough to peel the flesh off your bones.
Standing in a dry spot in the leaky thatched hut on the outskirts of the village his dark brown eyes gazed at the whitewashed stone walls of the small hacienda just down the track a few hundred feet away. He could just make out the low wall and vaguely see the outline of the tall wooden gate. On the other side of the gate was a modest stucco walled hacienda of four bedrooms and a detached garage with a second-floor apartment above it.
The apartment above the garage posed a problem. That’s where most of the guards would be. Eating. Watching videos. Playing cards. Sleeping. Six or eight of them. Armed with Kalashnikovs and M-16’s.
The compound and its attending buildings sat in a clearing maybe one hundred meters in diameter hacked out of the thick green lush of the Belize jungle. The ever creeping foliage was kept beaten back so those within the compound would have a clear field of fire in case of government intervention.
He grinned suddenly. A sudden flash of humor and deep dimples as brown eyes took in the rain, the compound, and the black sea of ooze for a track leading out of the village and past the compound’s gate.
The getting in he wasn’t worried about. It was the getting out with his live package that was the issue. Everyone knew she wasn’t going to come willingly.
“Listen, Benvenuti. My daughter is seventeen years old and she thinks she’s in love with the Latin lover. She ran off with him a month ago to that godforsaken backwater country, for chrissakes. She doesn’t think she’s been kidnapped! So she won’t come home willingly.”
Words imparted to him three days ago from a desperate father just before climbing aboard the man’s private Learjet.
Bradley Peabody was the girl’s father. A father who was, conservatively speaking, worth slightly more than a billion dollars. Oil. Shipping. Software—the man was a gifted workaholic who seemingly had the Midas’ touch when it came to business. But there was no doubt about the father’s love for his daughter.
Belinda Peabody was her name. A voluptuous seventeen-year-old with long brown hair and startling blue eyes. Easy on the eyes, with long, graceful legs that seemed to never stop. No wonder Rodrigo Romero wooed her and captured her heart and whisked her out of a Las Vegas casino.
The problem was Belinda Peabody was worth a lot of money and Rodrigo Romero was not a nice man.
“For two million dollars. Said if I didn’t send it to Belize he’d start sending pieces of her back by FedEx.”
This was what he did for a living. Benjamin ‘Beano’ Benvenuti. You had an unsavory problem—he had a fix for it. Kidnapping—threat of assault—extortion—blackmail—all a part of the resume. But cash up front please. No financial records. No bank drafts.
“I have three days to pay the ransom. My Learjet is at the airport waiting for you. Two valises are inside. Unmarked bills as the note said. Bring my daughter home alive, Benvenutti. I don’t care about the money. Bring her home to me alive.”
That was three days ago.
The noise of the pounding rain was relentless. Glancing at his watch he noted it was five minutes past noon. Glancing up he looked down the winding mud trail for a road and saw the Blue Range Rover coming toward him.
Right on time. Just like the instructions said.
Reaching above his head he grabbed the small radio and lifted it to his lips.
“Roger that. Going for the pizza,” the soft voice replied immediately.
He grinned again, dimples flashing, stuffing the little radio back into his hidden cubby hole. An operation like this needed the help from a few friends. Four of them. Specialists in black ops. Asked no questions and left nothing behind to trace. For Peabody, it would come cheap. Only fifty thousand each.
The Rover slid to a halt in front of the hut. Beano watched two big-boned goons dressed in rain slicks and boots get out and move toward him. He stepped back and let the two enter the hut.
The men didn’t say a word. One pulled out a 9mm Beretta and aimed it at his face while the second man stepped around the two valises setting on the wooden floor in front of him and frisked him. Assaulted him was more like it. Either way he made sure blond haired, brown eyed American wasn’t carrying a weapon.
Satisfied the goon stepped back, never turning his back toward Beano and never getting between him and his partner’s Beretta. Bending down he opened one of the valises. Neat packs of one hundred ten dollar bills flashed into view. With a grunt of satisfaction, the kneeling goon reached for the second valise.
There was the loud bang of a firecracker going off. The kneeling goon screamed and leaped away. The one with the Beretta let his eyes register surprise as he glanced at the valise. It was a painful mistake. Beano moved with lightning quickness. A hand swept up and grabbed the gunman’s wrist. Yanking backward and down the startled gunman stumbled forward. That’s when one of Beano’s legs swept around and took out the right leg of the gunman. On the way down the sharp edge of Beano’s right hand drove into the back of the gunman’s neck.
The second gunman rolled to one side, reaching for a weapon stuffed in his trouser underneath his rain slick. He never made it. A sweeping roundhouse kick caught the man in the right side of the face. The man staggered back dazed but not down. A second kick in the genitalia finished him off. The gunman went face first into the hut’s wooden flooring and didn’t move.
Beano stepped back and glanced out the hut’s open door. Precisely on time two dark figures carrying weapons emerged out of the driving rain. They didn’t waste any time. Stripping the gunmen of their rain slicks and weapons they hurried put them on. Bending down they used plastic lock strips to bind the gunman’s feet and hands securely before covering their mouths with gray duct tape.
No one said a word. Coming to their feet, dressed like the gunman, the two looked at Beano. The blond, brown eyed man grinned and nodded. The two rain slicks turned and hurried out to the Rover and climbed in. Beano snapped both valises closed and followed. The Rover splashed and slid its way around in the deep mud and headed back to the compound.
The pounding rain seemed to strengthen in its intensity.
Visibility dropped measurable.
The wide, heavy looking wooden gates of the compound wall opened as the Rover approached by two more gunmen in rain slicks with Kalashnikov’s strapped over their shoulders. The Rover slowly drove past the two and then stopped just past the gates. Inside the wall of the compound were two small wooden gate houses. From out of each a rain slick stepped out.
There were two soft ‘thunks!’ and each of the rain slicks staggered back, their faces painted in total shock as hands reached for their necks. On their necks were ugly looking welts where a paintball had whacked them. But instead of paint the colorless jell was a anesthetic. Coughing and gagging, they took one step back before their eyes rolled up into the heads. Each fell backwards into their respective gate houses and didn’t move.
Asleep for hours.
The Rover driver got out, gun in hand and walked to the back of the vehicle. Two more ‘thunks!’ were heard and then the splashes of two objects hurtling into the mud. The driver slid back into the car and turned to nod at Beano. The brown eyed man grinned. More sleeping beauties.
Beano climbed out of the back door of the Rover, valises in hand, the moment the vehicle stopped in front of the hacienda. The double doors opened and four gunmen waited for him to step out of the rain. One of the gunmen stepped forward and tried to take the heavy bags from him. Beano smiled pleasantly and shook his head no. The gunman shrugged, turned, and started walking deeper into the house.
They moved in two a large, elegant room furnished with expensive leather divans and heavy oak tables. On the brightly polished wooden floor was a large Persian rug. In the room were four additional people. Two more gunmen, Rodrigo Romero and the long haired young beauty Belinda Peabody.
Rodrigo was a tall man with wavy black hair and a thin mustache. He was dressed in a plain white shirt and expensive slacks. A pair of expensive Italian shoes were on his feet. The man was in his late thirties. Handsome and vaguely looking like Guy Williams of Disney’s Zorro fame.
Belinda Peabody was a drop-dead beauty. She was hanging onto Rodrigo’s right shoulder dressed in the skimpiest of bikinis. What wasn’t revealed could have been covered by a threadbare handkerchief. An arm draped over Rodrigo’s shoulder she looked at Beano with a sly wisp of a smile on her luscious red lips.
She didn’t look like someone who had been kidnapped and held against her will.
“You have my money?”
“Some of it,” Beano grinned, nodding, as he deposited the two leather cases into a coffee table in front of him. “Really, my friend, you have to get better help. The two you sent to me to take the money and shoot me were pathetic. How can you run an organization as big as yours with morons like that?”
Rodrigo’s smiling, arrogant, face changed. Now it was a mask of smoldering anger. Anger—and hesitation. Pulling the hand he had wrapped around the girl’s bare hips he made a motion to one of the gunman.
The gunman grinned as he pulled out from inside his jacket a .44 Smith &Wesson and stepped forward to the still grinning Beano.
Beano laughed and shook his head in a pleased, relaxed fashion as he turned and looked at Rodrigo.
“Relax, my friend. Rough stuff isn’t going to make you any richer. You think I believed I’d just walk in with two million clams and then walk out with the girl?”
The gunman glanced at his boss. The dark-haired drug lord motioned the man to halt.
“What makes you think I want the two million? Two million means nothing to me. Two million is, as you gringos like to say, nothing but chump change. What I want is right here in my arms.”
Beano’s grin widened.
“So you’re after daddy’s empire,” he said, nodding. “Well, I’ve got news for you. Daddy figured that one out. Daddy made sure that’s never going to happen.”
Faintly through the noise of the driving rain Beano heard it. That familiar thumping sound. Helicopters. The handsome man heard it too, turning his head slightly to listen.
“You got about three minutes,” the brown-eyed, blond American grinned, shrugging. “Maybe four. And then this place is going to over run with DEA agents and British paratroopers.”
It was time for the handsome man to shrug and laugh.
“Let them come, gringo. There are no drugs here. Do you think I am that stupid?”
Beano nodded, grinning still, and pointed to one of the two leather cases.
“If you had smart people working for you they would have checked. Five pounds of cocaine and two blocks of pure heroin. If you don’t leave her and clear out now it’s gonna be too late.”
It was already too late. From outside the French doors behind Rodrigo came the sound of glass shattering. There were two small explosions. Men began shouting. More glass shattered and followed by the rattling staccato roar of Kalashnikovs.
The bag Beano had pointed to offered its surprise. There was a sharp crack and white smoke, volumes of it, began rolling out and rapidly filling the room. Pandemonium broke out. Rodrigo began screaming at his men to shoot the gringo and the woman. He violently threw the girl from her, tossing her onto a leather divan as if she was a rag doll before turning to escape through the French doors. The gunman with the .44 Smith &Wesson in his hand started to lift the gun up to shoot. But the blond-haired American stepped in and stuck the tip of his fingers viciously into the man’s throat. The gunman gagged and bent over in sheer agony, dropping the .44 and then went down in a lump of wet flesh from a second well-placed blow.
The smoke was stifling. Already it was so thick only vague forms seemed to drift in and out of view. Behind the line of goons standing directly behind Beano came the sound of two paint guns barking loudly. He heard the grunts of surprised men just before the smashed to the floor. Turning, one of his rain slick associates tossed him a small elongated device. Swiftly Beano slipped it into his mouth and began breathing.
Through the smoke, he found the semi-nude Belinda. He didn’t hesitate. He threw the coughing, gagging form over his shoulder and made his way out of the smoke-filled hacienda, his two associates covering his retreat. Throwing her in the back seat of the Rover he and the two rain slicks climbed into the car and started moving through the mud as fast as the mud would allow. Overhead the thumping sound of helicopters—several of them—drowned out the roar of the driving rain.
A quarter of a mile down the track the Rover slid to a halt in a deep mud hole. Two black forms appeared out of the rain and climbed in. Behind them they heard gunfire and explosions. But the rain kept them from seeing anything.
Twenty-four hours later in the dead of night Beano stood on a desolate parking ramp of the Las Vegas airport in the simmering dry heat and watched a white limo drive off with the teary-eyed Belinda Peabody in the back seat and sitting between two white-clad medics.
Belinda’s father turned and looked at him.
“Her Latin friend?”
“In jail. For a long time, I suspect.”
“In the limo. Minus a quarter of a mil. Call it expenses.”
Peabody smiled and nodded. His eyes were red and watery.
“Thank you for saving my little girl, Beano. I am in debt to you.”
The blond haired, brown eyed man smiled and shook his head.
“You paid me. No debts. Except you know your problem really hasn’t gone away.”
“Yes,” the billionaire nodded, turning and gazing at the disappearing tail lights of the limo, “I know. But what can I do? She’s my daughter.”
Yes. What else could any father do?
B.R. Stateham writes noir. Writes hard boiled. Writes because he likes the kick he gets out of it. And who knows? Maybe someday he might actually make some money at it.