Chapter 1 - Product Placement
The final kick of the eight mile run left his heart savagely pounding under the tanned, bare chest. The sinewy legs were only clad by a pair of salt-caked Saucony running short that silently told the story of the previous night’s Hornitos tequila and table dances at The Lodge. He had to clear his head and running always worked like that.
Now that the cob webs were gone he remembered he had a task at hand. It was time to go back under, deep under. It was a time to be reborn as a thief among thieves. He only needed the final details.
Almost as if it could read his mind the Verizon smart phone’s mechanical monotone rattled “droid”. The anonymous text message simply said…Bali.
B-A-L-I. He immediately knew his task. He knew the organization he needed to infiltrate, the method he would use, place he would stay, and potential contacts he would use. And he knew which kaki lima he would eat at that first night and successive nights. But more importantly those four letters caused an unnoticeable, yet disturbing rush of anxiety to travel down Dent’s usually fearless spine.
Dent feared no person, no situation, and no challenge. He had lived through plenty and should have perished at least a half a dozen times. But he did have fears, he feared his own vices. And the Island of the Gods had both of them….a beautiful woman, Asil, he met during his last, mostly unpleasant, assignment there, and …Opium.
So he ran again. He ran to forget…not Opium, which was long past but always remembered. He ran to forget Asil. Asil the food cart girl he fell in love with at first sight. She operated her kaki lima in the central district, that’s where they met. A picture of her sweaty pink tank top clinging to her damp olive skin is still branded in Dent’s brain. Her scent could only be that of a goddess. And her food…flavored with passion, seasoned with love and spiced with the hotness that could only be crafted by a double agent. The spiciness was her “tell” of dishonesty. But Dent didn’t care.
Dent broke THE rule, the one single rule all those undercover know too well. Don’t get emotionally involved. But he did. And Asil played him like a ’69 Les Paul through her twin Marshalls stacks. Her distorted rhythm laid the foundation to let him feel in control. Then she flipped and her sustained lead captured him, kept him on edge for what seemed like weeks before culminating in a Balinese prison. And that’s where Dent developed his taste for Opium. But he never lost his taste for Asil.
Early the next morning he awoke to the memories of Asil and Opium and the slight, yet cool dampness in his palms, so Dent did what Dent always did when he didn’t have time to run. He washed the memories away with a bottle of Corona. And then another. When all six were empty he packed his Coach backpack for Bali. Yes, just one Coach backpack for the extended stay. He needed little to blend in. And his needs didn’t include fancy-smancy undercover gadgets or guns. He preferred to outsmart the enemy. He was a Mental Assassin.
Consciousness came quickly, in a parking lot at LAX. How did he get there? Dent’s last recollection was a daydream of Asil. What had happened? As he sat up in the car’s backseat the searing pain piercing his rib cage meant bruised ribs, maybe a few were broken. And dull ache deep in his lower back could only indicate traumatized kidneys. And finally to the lower right of his stomach the stabbing pain could mean a ruptured appendix, or that pesky chronic, bowel obstruction that he religiously drank Metamucil to avoid.
But he had no marks, bruises or blood. A quick check…passport, wallet, Droid X all were accounted for. Just as Dent thought, it wasn't a robbery, this was a professional warning. But from whom?
The clock on his Droid told him his flight was boarding. Damning the pain, he grabbed his bag and sprinted through the Hertz Rent a Car lot and into the Tom Bradley International Terminal. $10 and a charming wink got him past the cute TSA screener and directly to the China Airlines gate. Dent was the last to board.
He slowly stretched out in the 1st class cabin, promptly popped two Valiums and the flight attendant brought a tumbler of Whipped Vodka with a splash of Dr. Pepper. He first sipped, and then he guzzled. The vodka and Valium tangoed in his head. For a moment he forgot the pain and grinned with a warm, euphoric buzz.
Just as he was drifting away for the 23 hour flight, reality hit him like a demolition ball to the solar plexus. He was left in the terminal parking lot because someone knew his plans. Someone wanted him to catch the flight. It could only be Asil and her evil ways, still haunting him.
Dent Brudenhoeffer, Undercover Agent Extraordinaire
Chapter 2 - Women Dent Loves
In the cold, dark windowless cell, she lay stretched on the board, bound at the wrist and ankles with her feet slightly elevated. Her lean, slightly muscular body was only partially clothed. She was surrounded by men in mismatched surplus military garb, many distracted by her beauty, and all armed with pistols and knives. Her blindfold was a greasy mechanics rag and the thick wool cloth covering her nose and mouth was even nastier and reeked of human waste. The water would soon wash away the acrid stench. She welcomed that, she hadn’t had water in three days and she loved water. She had a unique relationship with water.
The torturers were perplexed. How could such a, seemingly, weak and fragile woman not break under the 72 straight hours of interrogation. The crusted remains of blood that had trickled from the left side of her nose and corner of her mouth told the story of a right-handed interrogator who lost his control to her steel will. The interrogator was immediately ordered shot to death by the commander. Leaving physical damage was strictly forbidden. Knowing that only solidified Asil’s willpower.
The previous 72 hours had prepared her for the torture threat of last resort. Even though Asil thought actual waterboarding was more than likely off-limits, she prepared by summoning her Kundalini Shakti, a meditative state that lowered her metabolism and bodily functions to imperceptible levels but still allowing her to be aware of her surroundings. The interrogator, Chief Riki’s, questions continued and rapidly increased in pace and volume, until he was screaming from lack of control. It was then she felt the first chill of the water, saturating the wool cloth draped across her face. Suddenly the oxygen was gone, but the gasp reflex waterboarding depended upon was non-existent in Asil’s state. She knew it wouldn’t be long before the pain from the previous 72 hours of torture would be gone. And she would quickly follow, it would then be over and Asil would win...her secrets would be locked away. But it took longer than she wanted, was more painful than she expected and her last fading memory was grasping for the smooth, yet strong hands that had rescued her twice before…Dent’s hands.
“Warung” was the whispered, unemotional order given in Balinese to stop. Immediately the room fell silent and everyone snapped to attention. Everyone except Asil, she lay motionless and lifeless. Giving the order while entering the cell, was Commander Popi-Arat. Popi-Arat had earned the troop’s undying loyalty and respect with generous rewards for those who followed orders. The few not following orders were victims of a quick and usually humiliating public death, often dealt by Popi-Arat’s hand.
Popi-Arat eyed the limp body and removed the wool cloth and blindfold, then locked eyes with Chief Riki while blindly feeling for Asil’s non-existent pulse. The interrogator couldn’t help but notice the single tear escape Popi-Arat's eye and the quivering whisper, “Asil.”
Commander Popi-Arat ordered the chief interrogator, the one responsible for Asil’s torture, to take the lifeless body along the two kilometer overgrown forest trail to the disposal pit. Popi-Arat, alone and unarmed, closely followed the interrogator.
Only Popi-Arat returned, with Riki’s holster and unfired sidearm slung across her shoulder, a bloody knife in her right hand, and in her left hand was his genitalia.
Even though the Balinese revered their women as goddess-like, it was rare when one, like Popi-Arat, ascended the ranks to such a powerful position. She, a petite female of exquisite beauty, who’s unwavering fairness, gentile spirit, and most importantly her immediate and addictive sexual appeal to both genders earned her a nickname she proudly wore… Opium.
It would have been easier to find him with Asil alive; he had the bad habit of always eating at her kaki lima. And that was one of the few mistakes he ever made. But that egomaniac, Riki, had to lose control and kill Asil, forcing Opium to make an example of him. And that she did by passing the body part, a trademark of hers, to each of the men who witnessed the torture and murder. Several of the men were noticeably distraught, one openly wretched, but all were solidified in their loyalty to Opium and her task.
Luckily, Opium had a contingency plan. She was a detailed planner and left no element to chance. She was a savant at setting traps and that’s what she was doing…setting a trap for the American, the Brit, the Westerner or whatever he was…the runner.
Chapter 3 - Surprise Visitors
The aches from the beating had started to distract Dent. But he couldn’t keep from noticing the two men who boarded the China Airline flight at the last minute, without carry-on bags. Strange for a 23-hour flight to a foreign country, Dent thought.
The two men boarded together, but seated separately, one in coach the other in 1st class. Dent didn't miss the nod of acknowledgement from one to the other, nor did he miss the slight bulge on the left side of one man’s jacket or the prolific growth of turf tumbling from his chest and the one-button-too-many unbuttoned on his shirt. A right-handed Air Marshall, Dent could have easily surmised. But something wasn’t right. He was too young and didn’t look very smart. And these days everyone from dopers to drag queens was armed for World War III. But how did he get the gun on the plane? That was the question bouncing around Dent’s brain. And right then and there, he knew, these two were scumbags he needed to keep his eyes on. Well connected, they were, for sure, that was Dent’s bet.
Dent reclined in seat next to the window. He always sat with his back to the wall or in a window seat. It was something he learned from watching old western movies and it had worked out pretty good for him so far. No one sat in the aisle seat beside him, that was a good thing. Firstly, because if Harry Chest decided to get brave, Dent didn’t want an innocent person in the line of fire. Long ago Dent realized it was difficult, if not impossible, to unshoot an innocent person. Secondly, and most importantly, Dent had given up on his once polished social skills. He liked to blame it on his half-heartedly chosen career, but the reality was he had lost too much and he never wanted to get attached to anyone or anything again. That was the price paid for being a double or triple secret agent (he’d lost count)…and making the “big bucks”. Yeah, the “big bucks”, he silently chuckled to himself while mumbling, "The effin' big bucks."
Then he shook his damn head in self-disgust.
Dent needed another drink so he ordered a Bloody Maria, specifying Sauza Hornitos tequila. “And make it a triple, hold the Zing-Zang mixer” he said as he swallowed a handful of Vicodin. He didn’t know how many, he had stopped counting. And the tequila welcomingly washed the final dry pill down his parched throat.
Knowing he had twenty hours of flight ahead, he let the medicinal fog overtake his thoughts while plugging the headphones into his iPod. The song playing, ironically, was Guns-n-Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle.