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Strait Flush Ch 5 Wednesday 1015
Strait Flush Ch 5 Wednesday 1015
Tom resisted the urge to call Li and verbally abuse the Chinaman for his ability to talk business partners into such an undertaking. He was getting tired of carrying around so much cash. He checked through the telephone books for pilots to hire and wrote a few names down. Skimpy leads, thought Tom. Now the prayer hour is upon us again at noon. Business will not resume until four or so in the afternoon.
He called the first service and got a recording that he couldn't understand, there will be no flying during Ramadan, Tom supposed. The second air service was reluctant to give out much information, and then admitted that they possess no large aircraft. The third was no better. Tom figured the oil companies had their own planes. Maybe a trip to the airport to talk with some hanger types would pull up a lead, or he'll spot the airplane and then ask for the pilot. He checked his watch and locked the room to leave.
In the lobby, the same Sikh girl was behind the counter. She smiled as the tall American approached.
"Hello again." Tom spotted her nametag. "Belin."
"Hello, Mr. Rossi. Are you enjoying your stay?"
"Yes, very well. The hotel has very good accommodations and an excellent staff." Tom watched her flush with the complement. "But I'm trying to find something and I am wondering if you could help me?"
"Of course, what is it that you need?"
"I am looking for a place that Westerners would go, get a hamburger, hear English news, that sort of thing." The girl paused for a moment, the brightened.
"Ah yes, there is a place near Port Rashid where the British and American sailors go. Are you familiar with the city?" Tom nodded, lying. She pulled out a memo pad and pen and leaned across the counter to scrawl a quick map. "This is the Gulf, here is Diera, here is Port Rashid...do you know where the tunnel is?" Tom nodded as she glanced up from her drawing. "OK, the place is here, before you get to the roundabout."
"Do you know the name of this place?"
"It is known as the Seafarer Inn, but its actual name may be different."
"Will it be closed today?"
"Possibly not. This is a private club but it is easy to join. There is usually no interference from the government on any such clubs, as there are many for the local businessmen. This is the only that I know of for Europeans and Westerners." Tom smiled and took the map she was offering.
"Thank you very much. I'll go here right now, but I think I'll check the telephone book for the correct name and address. I'd hate for a cab driver to take me on a big tour of the small city." She giggled and smiled a good-bye.
The phone booth's book did not list any such club. At least I have a map, thought Tom. He walked out the lobby doors and into the sunlight of the early spring.
The cab driver saw his fare and was already en route to the front door. Tom climbed in, debating between the club and airport.
"Port Rashid, twelve Dirham, please."
"Oh, Sir, it is very far to Port Rashid. I need fifteen Dirham."
"This morning I went for ten. OK, fifteen Dirham, but you wait at this place for a few minutes after I go there."
"OK, fifteen Dirham."
"Do you know the Seafarer Club.”?
"Yes, yes. Seafarer Club by Port Rashid."
"Take me there, please."
"OK boss." The driver sped off. The trip was the same as the one earlier in the day. At the roundabout in front of Port Rashid, the driver herded the taxi into the right lane and slowed as they approached a high wall obscured by olive trees. An opening in the trees was the entrance to a semicircular drive. The cab pulled in and stopped next to a low wall covered with vines. Tom paid the cabbie and ignored his request for a tip and got out.
The wrought-iron arch at the low wall framed a split-level building, starched white in the Arabian sunlight. There were dozens of white tables scattered throughout a patio large enough to play football on, mostly shaded by a series of trees on the north side. There were a few Marines, each with shopping bags and casual attire, lounging around a few tables, watching television from a big-screen on one side. This is a single-man's paradise in Dubai, thought Tom. It would be a good sports bar even in the 'States.
A sand volleyball court was on one end to Rossi's left, behind the building was a covered green sunscreen, presumably a patio of some sort. Willow and eucalyptus trees dotted the grounds. A neon sign adorned the side of the building: Dubai International Seafarer's Club. Muted rock music came from the green sunscreen area. Tom waved the cabbie away and wandered through the jungle of patio tables and entered the club through an innocuous doorway.
Inside there were office doors to the left and a registration book atop a desk on the right, along with signs warning the guests to read and understand before signing. Rossi registered and walked past several banks of telephone booths and trinket counters. A short hallway and staircase leading upward were near the restrooms, then the hall opened to a main room featuring a large L-shaped bar of solid oak. A food service window was on the right, complete with order board listing everything from spaghetti to burgers. The bar was adorned with Miller and Bud Light neons and mirrors. Rows of top-shelf bottles and beer taps lined the back mirror. The main room housed a dozen or so dark wood tables and booths, the walls featured posters of various fighting ships from Great Britain, Australia and the U.S. Two pairs of French doors led to an Olympic-sized swimming pool under the green sunscreen. On either side of the main room, a television room faced a game room with billiards, darts and foosball.
Several Marines, dressed similarly and sitting around a table in the room's center noticed Rossi as he entered, then resumed their conversation. Tom turned to the cook behind a counter in the kitchen window and ordered a burger and fries. A lone bartender was sweeping the barback and stopped when Rossi ordered a Foster's. He took his beer to the television room to watch CNN's International Channel, still busy with news from the Gulf War's pullout. Apparently Saddam had his hands full of mutinous army and Kurd rebels and was using attack helicopters against the uprisings, causing an international uproar.
Tom sat at one table in the corner until the Asian cook, still attired in his white apron, brought his burger in a heavy white porcelain platter. Tom asked for the manager and received a quizzical look from the cook, then watched the man scurry off. He drank from his Foster's.
The burger was large and worth the price, but the fries were undercooked. He finished the burger when a chubby man appeared in the main room doorway, scanning the room. He was in his forties, with dirty blonde hair jutting from under a Greek fisherman's cap and the look of a man that's spent much time on both sides of the bar. He spotted Tom and weaved his way through the tables and approached Tom with an extended hand.
"Hiya, Mate. I'm Tony, the manager of this fine eating and drinking establishment." He was grinning ear to ear. Tom guessed that he was Australian or New Zealander and rose and shook the Aussie's hand. "The cook says you wanted to speak to the manager. Is everything all right?"
"I'm Tom Rossi, and yes, everything is fine. This is quite a club, considering where it's located."
"You mean, in the middle of the Islamic bible belt? I think so, too, mate. I'm pleased that you're pleased."
"Do you have a minute to join me? I need the services of someone local to help out on a problem."
"Sure, mate. Forgive me for not gettin' a drink, but I'm in the middle of orderin' several hundred cases of alcohol and I need to be as sober as I can be." Tony grinned as he pulled out the chair and sat down.
"Tony, I've got to move a bunch of stuff overseas from here in a few days and I can't find a pilot or plane." Tom sipped from his Foster's.
"You want to hire a whole plane? What sort of plane, mate?" Tony leaned forward and scratched his chin with a thick set of fingers.
"A cargo plane, like a C-130 or so." Tony brightened.
"Yeah." He grinned a toothy grin and drummed his fingers on the table. "I know a guy with a Hercules. `E's got a flyin' service at the airport. Him an' a kraut got a few that'll go anywhere."
"I'll need to talk to him as soon as possible for a job that'll go to the Far East for a few days, the catch is that we'll need to go Friday."
"I can probably call 'im right now." Tony started to rise to his feet but stopped when Tom waved him to sit.
"Tony, this guy's gotta be discreet. The cargo is touchy but profitable." Tom watched the smile slowly disappear as the Aussie relaxed and sat back in his seat.
"What's the cargo, mate?"
Tom watched a pair of Marines walk through the other room with shopping bags in hand, heading toward the French doors and pool area. He leaned forward toward the table. "It's not totally illegal, just touchy."
"If it's drugs, forget it. There's no price worth a planeload o' opium if you're caught. I know for a fact..." Tom waved his hand up and shook his head.
"No drugs. The load is weapons, several tons of small arms. Everything's planned out, except I'm missing a plane. The original plan called for a small freighter and I'm scrapping that one. Is this pilot up to that sort of load?" Tony settled back in his seat, then grinned again.
"Yeah, he'll probably go for that. I doubt he's done this sort of thing before, but who knows what `e's hauled in the past, right?" Tom shrugged with a grin. "You want me to give `im a call now? I got his number in the office."
"Yeah, that'd be great. I'd like to talk with him also, if you don't mind."
"Naw, come on, we'll see if `e's home." The two stood and walked back to the office near the front counter of the building, across from the sign-in book.
The office was tiny, but as clean as you'd find for a business of this type, thought Rossi. A single desk swamped with paperwork. A pair of reading glasses and a Parker pen atop an inventory form, several sheets of paper jutting from underneath. A Rolodex and desk lamp adorned the front of the desk. Several mismatched filing cabinets on the opposite wall. A wide wooden chair with worn arms sat across from the desk. A computer keyboard and monitor sat on the right hand corner with a telephone between them. On the backwall was a calendar displaying a blonde on a surfboard with a black and white dog clad in a Hawaiian shirt. Electrical tape covered the blonde from shoulders to knees in a joke of Arabic censorship. The dog had a strip across his hips as well.
Tony waved Tom in an invitation to sit down as he slid behind the desk and thumbed through the Rolodex, then snatched the receiver and punched several buttons. He winked at Rossi as he waited for an answer, leaning over the paperwork wit meaty forearms.
"Marty? Hey. Marty, this is Tony from the club. What the hell's goin' on, mate?" Tom listened, amused. "Yeah, yeah, you an' your bitchin'. Sound like a damn woman with all your whinin'. Why don't you and I get a real job?" Rossi shifted in his seat. "Yeah. Look, mate. The reason I'm callin' is that I got a chap `ere that needs a pilot....right...yeah, soon. Like tomorrow fo' a few days. The load's goin' to the far east." He looked at Tom seriously. "I better let 'im talk to you about that. Hold on." He handed the receiver to Rossi.
"Hello, this is Tom."
A voice on the other end was husky and sounded American. "This is Marty Harrell. I understand you need a plane for a few days for a cargo trip to the Pac rim. I've got a C-130 that can definitely do the job. I need to know what the cargo is."
"I've got to trust you not to talk if you decline."
"That's understood, Tom. I've been down this road before. As long as it's not drugs."
"No, it's probably six tons of small arms and ammunition." A pause.
"OK. And where is it going? I don't mean the plane, I mean the load. I don't like to prostitute myself out for some trigger-happy third world dictator or Communist terrorist bunch. I need to know before I say yea or nay." Tom looked at Tony, sitting back in his chair.
"To a peasant army in a Socialist country."
"Ahh, Burma, I'd guess. Good deal. I'll go with that." Tony grinned as he watched Tom's expression improve. "Let me do some figurin' and meet with you later. Are you sure about the load weight?"
"Fairly sure. The time line is set, but the flight plan is open."
"Let's meet at the club later tonight and go over the details."
"OK, say around nine."
"Yeah, I'll figure the price and let you know what we can or cannot do."
"Sounds like the plan, I'll see you at nine tonight."
"OK. Lemme talk to Tony again. Adios." Tom handed the phone back to the club owner.
"Yeah." Tony grinned into the mouthpiece.. "Yeah, in the Crow's Nest. I'll see you then, mate. Do I get the finder's fee?" A pause as his grin increased. "Ha! A promise to frequent the establishment more? And you call that a reward? How about less frequent, ya bastard!" Tony was laughing into the phone. "Yeah, see ya at nine, ya bum." He chuckled as he hung up the receiver. "He's a good guy, that Marty. Done a lot o' flyin' in the service and for a couple o' oil companies. He's the guy you want for the job."
"Sounds like it. When this deal is done, I'll see that it's worth your while, Tony." The Aussie held his palms outward.
"Naw, mate. I appreciate it nonetheless. If you don' mind, I'll stay outta the cash flow of this transaction. You never know how these things wind up. I did this as a favor to both o' ya."
"Well, I appreciate it just the same."
"Well, I hope everythin' goes well. I'll stay `ere with my little club. It's safe."
"Yeah. Look, I know you've got work to do..."
"And you've got a burger coolin' on the plate."
"Yeah. I'll see you later tonight and we'll drink a few."
"Not if I don' get this order out. These Marines are drinkin' me dry. Two weeks o' beer in four days!"
"We've been know to do that." Rossi stood and shook the Aussie's hand. "See you at nine."
"Come with an empty stomach, mate. I've got some steaks from the `States."
"Will do." Tom turned and left the man to his papers, closing the door behind him. He saw the Oriental cook with his platter of food, scurrying from the table to the kitchen. Tom started to stop the little man, but he interrupted Rossi.
"Mistah Tony say get you `nother hamburger and fry just now. I have in two minutes. Yes?" Tom waved the cook on and sat back with his beer. As promised, another hamburger within minutes.