Join the Laissez Faire Club and be among the first to grab a FREE copy of the complete e-book of Higher Cause, a serialized novel with timely sweeping themes, active free-thinking characters, conflicts affecting the world, spies, guns, explosions, new forms of energy, sinister conspiracies, government plots, nationalization, destruction, and hope.
Installments will be posted on Wednesdays.
For a full list of chapters, see the table of contents.
In recent installments…
The new OTEC survived the attack by the Azid and Khamil, but Petur and Jeff needed time to recover from their injuries. There is unrest in Mexico, the nation that owns the Paradise Islands, and Juan Marcos is poised to benefit from the impending change in government. Joseph Onbacher has found evidence that the Bounty may be lying somewhere on the bottom right near the Paradise Islands.
Chapter 30. Women
Petur watched as Elisa strode confidently down the ramp from the commercial aircraft and into the warm and relaxed Saturday morning atmosphere. She had been away for only a few weeks, and he had only met her once, but he had been eager for her return. There was just something about her….
He wondered if she expected anyone to welcome her. With the small population, remote location, and a somewhat limited number of opportunities for scheduled entertainment, people had to make close friends quickly. There were likely several people among the waiting crowd who would pop up to greet her.
But nobody did. Petur pressed the accelerator of his electric cart and steered it to her side as she walked in toward the baggage-claim area.
“Welcome home, Elisa! It’s good to have you back!” After several weeks of healing, his vocal cords were functioning normally and his voice was clear.
Elisa turned with a start. When she recognized Petur, she smiled and swept a hand through her hair, as if to brush back the ill effects of many hours of flight time. Her hair was not pulled back in its usual tight bun; and it was lovely as it blew in the gentle breeze. Under the out-of-style clothing and heavy lenses, Petur knew, a woman was hidden. Sophia had told him she was beautiful. Elisa seemed to be trying to hide that.
His hand indicated that she should climb into the passenger seat.
She said, “But I need to pick up my suitcase.”
“No problem. I know people.”
Elisa nodded and climbed in next to Petur and he swiftly drove the cart under the belly of the plane from which the baggage was being offloaded. “We’ll just intercept your luggage before it gets into the terminal.”
“Thank you, Petur. It is so nice of you to help me out. Lucky for me you were here!”
Petur shook his head. “There is no luck involved. I saw your name on the incoming-passenger manifest this morning.”
“And you came just to meet me?” she asked hesitantly.
Petur was embarrassed, and his ears reddened too quickly for him to conceal them. “Well, I guess that’s just what I did.” He changed the subject. “I was hoping to talk with you again about the Mexico situation. You left me with a great opportunity to worry, you know.”
She patted his shoulder and said, “Your recovery should be occupying more of your energy right now than worries about Mexico. I read about your adventures on and around the OTEC. Your picture, which wasn’t flattering, was in the newspapers.”
“They didn’t get my good side, then?” Petur asked wistfully.
“I am not sure you had a good side at the time.”
Petur nodded toward the various suitcases that were now being placed on the tarmac. “Did yours make it?”
She pointed to the middle of a large group of bags, and Petur hopped out to retrieve hers. It took a moment for Petur to work his way through the other luggage, and he turned back to the cart so she could guide him to hers. In the moment that Petur’s back was turned, Elisa had pulled her dark brown hair back tightly. Petur’s forehead creased as he looked back at this woman: she had just intentionally made herself unattractive.
She directed him to an old, decrepit brown case. He had to push several bags out of the way to get to it, and she laughed as he fell over a hefty duffel bag and landed half on the tarmac and half on her suitcase. After he brushed the little black grains of tar off his hands, Petur pulled himself to his feet and smiled. He was not embarrassed. He did not feel foolish. It was just an opportunity for a chuckle, and he was glad he could give that opportunity to the people who were watching. One of the baggage handlers gave him a thumbs-up and said, “Have a nice trip? See you next fall!” Petur made a face at him, and hustled with the suitcase over to the cart and tossed it in the rear.
As the electric cart made its way out of the terminal area and onto Harbor Road, Petur turned to Elisa. “You know, I don’t know where you live.”
“I live in a small house near the resort. Easier to play tennis and golf, you know, when you live so near. By the way, I really appreciate the ride. And the welcome.”
They rode in silence as Elisa directed Petur down several small roads to her house. It was essentially a bungalow: a single floor and a thatched roof. There was no view from this place. It was surrounded on all sides by the jungle. They had driven by other houses just moments ago; so it only looked to be secluded. Nonetheless, clearly her house was off the beaten path. It fit rather well the librarian look that Elisa maintained: calm, quiet, boring.
Petur pulled up to the front door, heaved the suitcase from the back seat, and followed Elisa up the three steps to her porch. As she opened the door, Elisa turned to Petur.
“Thanks again. After I take a nap and freshen up a bit, would you like to have dinner?”
Petur replied, “Since you asked first, does that mean you’re going to pay?”
“You’re a bum!”
“Always have been,” said Petur with a wink. “Eight o’clock okay?”
“Can you pick me up here?”
“Sure.” And Petur turned and strode happily down to his little cart. He turned back and asked, “By the way, where did you go while you were away? I forgot to ask about your trip.”
“Mexico. Reading newspapers.”
“Then we should have some interesting conversation tonight.”
“Are you going to squeeze me for information about Mexico all evening?”
“Squeezing you certainly crossed my mind,” Petur replied with a sly grin. He climbed in the cart, stepped on the pedal, and as the cart accelerated down the road he called back, “See you at eight!”
He drove the cart rapidly, for he planned to see Jeff off on the same plane on which Elisa had just arrived. He assumed that Sophia would be with Jeff, to help him pack for his next expedition. Poor fellow. He had not had an opportunity to stay on the island for very long.
Petur swerved to the right onto the main road that ran between the resort complex and the harbor. Several carts buzzed by in the opposite direction. He waved to the riders of two of the carts, and nodded to the unknown driver of a third — probably a resort guest. Jeff had told him that the men who bombed the OTEC had stayed at the resort for several days prior to their attempt at sabotage. It had made Petur fume for a moment. He thought fleetingly about shutting the place down, or giving strict security checks to all people who arrived on the island. But Isaac had reminded him that in the longer term, this would be counterproductive. They did not want to live in a police state.
The Island certainly had controlled immigration tightly, but they had never controlled visitation. Nor would they now. Jeff had noted that terrorists’ success is based on instilling fear. So, to avoid losing to them, don’t be afraid. Don’t make a prison to protect yourself. Jeff also thought that the best defense against terrorism is to know thy enemy and use their own weaknesses against them. And that was what Jeff was good at — perhaps the best on the planet. The problem was how to determine whom to target. Jeff somehow had some good clues.
Petur had reached the airport road, and turned right once again. He passed the driveway to Science Hall. This was where he would take Elisa tonight. It should be an excellent night for dinner there. He had made his reservations two weeks earlier, although he had no idea then that Elisa would come too.
A little line of carts pulled into the air terminal. People rushed in at the last minute with their suitcases. Petur pulled his cart into a parking area that had been set aside for privately owned vehicles, and hustled inside the building. Although crowded this morning, it was not big. He found his sister and his friend immediately.
“Good morning, you two. Jeff, you all ready to go?” Petur patted him on the shoulder, gently, and smiled.
“Petur, I thought you weren’t going to make it. Figured you were sleeping in.” Jeff grinned back.
“Nope. I was up bright and early. Met a friend on the incoming flight. That’s what held me up. I was dropping her off at her house.”
“Her? What ‘her’ might that be, dear brother?” Sophia eyed him with suspicion but also with hope. She always thought he could use more of a social life.
“Your assistant, Elisa.”
Sophia shook her head. “It doesn’t look like she is going to be my assistant much longer. I heard you’ve begun lobbying to get her a full-time position as the Island sociologist.”
“Yes I have. I was going to talk to you about that, but it slipped my mind. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize, Petur. It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s exactly what she wanted. I hope you can make it work out for her.”
Petur was certainly going to try. He figured it would not be very difficult to convince the members of the Island Project that they were sorely lacking in sociologic knowledge.
“Jeff, it was Elisa who brought the Mexican issue to Petur’s attention in the first place,” Sophia noted. “She definitely has expertise in interpreting social and political trends in Latin America.”
Petur added, “She is going to brief me over the next few days, although she doesn’t know how seriously we have begun to take this. I wish you had time to meet her. We may need your talents in dealing with this.”
Jeff replied, “I am always ready and willing to serve. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico. By the time I return from this trip, you will probably have gathered enough information about this potential Mexican threat — enough for me to dig my teeth into. Then, if needed, I’ll buzz over and see what I can do to keep an eye on things.”
Petur asked, “You sure you don’t want to go over there sooner? This effort of yours to catch up with our Arab friends seems to have a low likelihood of success, anyway.”
“Petur, I am insulted,” Jeff claimed, with a pretend frown. “I think we need to find these fellows, and find them soon. Three strikes and you’re out — but they are still at the plate. It’s my job to make sure they don’t take another swing. I have little doubt they will try.”
“Yes, I know. Go do what you think you need to do. How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
Jeff turned to Sophia, smiling. “I have enormous motivation to rush back. But I have a lot of research to do first. I expect I’ll be in Washington for at least three weeks. Then, off to the Middle East. I have no idea how long I will need to stay there. I could easily be gone a few months.”
“Well, as soon as you can return, please do. And stay safe. It sounds like you’re planning some dangerous games.”
“Danger is my middle name, Petur.”
“I thought ‘shoot me’ was your middle name!” Sophia chided, with concern.
“Well, I intend to be completely free of all foreign bits of metal on my return. And no new scars, either. I want nothing for that scoundrel Dr. Standall to have to work on.”
Petur shuffled the two over to a nearby seating area that had just been vacated, where he and Jeff settled in on padded chairs. He put his feet up on the little wooden table. Sophia was pulled away by a friend, and although eager to get back to Jeff, had to be polite. Jeff gave her a nod of assent, and with resignation she began to chat with the chubby woman.
“How long until you board?” Petur asked.
“I think it should be soon. But enough of that.” Jeff looked over toward Sophia, who was busy listening intently to her friend’s animated discourse. He said, sotto voce, “So, tell me about this young woman of yours.”
Shaking his head, Petur replied in a similar voice, “Not mine yet. I am working on it though.”
“Yeah, yeah. Is she pretty?”
“She could be. My first impression of her was terrible. She looked like a school librarian, and was wearing a potato sack for a dress. She could have been a hairy-legged slug under that outfit and I would not have been able to tell. And she has these very thick coke-bottle glasses in old-style frames.”
“Well, then. You sure don’t make her out to be a raging beauty, Petur.”
“But that’s the strange thing. She has a great walk. And her eyes are beautiful, when she takes off those glasses. Her hair is luxurious, but she pins it back so tightly it looks like it is varnished on. She has a lovely face, perfect features, yet no one would notice.”
“How long have you known this girl?”
Still speaking quietly but not in a whisper, Petur replied, “Until today, I had only met her once, a few weeks back, the day you came in on the OTEC. She has been here off and on for a few months. She works with Sophia.” His sister turned when she heard her name, and Petur smiled at her. She went back to her conversation.
“Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about her a lot these past weeks, while lying on my couch and letting my skin flake off. So when I saw her name on the incoming-passenger manifest, I decided to meet her at the plane. That’s all there is to our relationship… so far.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a ways to go before you have any good stories for me, then. Oh well.”
“We can’t all be so sharp with the ladies as you are, Mr. Baddori!”
“That’s true. I’m hard to match,” Jeff quipped. “But it sounds like you’re trying.”
“Yes. I would say I have developed some sort of infatuation. Can’t explain it, really.”
“Have you ever heard of pheromones?”
“Sure have. Those little airborne hormones have really screwed with my mind over the years. I remember there was one girl who I saw a couple of times several years ago. She made this enormous impression on me even though I don’t think I ever saw her face. I even dreamed about her a few times, though we never said a word to each other. I’m pretty sure her pheromones got to me. We were in a cramped elevator together.”
“Tell me more.”
“You know, I don’t even remember. She was pretty, I think, and brunette. Great legs. But that’s all the information I recorded in my brain about her.”
“So where did this sentinel meeting, or contact, with this pheromonically exciting woman occur?”
“Amsterdam. That was when I first met Dr. Standall, your favorite meat cutter. I saw her again a day later, in Germany. Strange coincidence. We were staying in the same hotels, I think.”
“So you had two chances to hook up with her — each in a hotel, mind you — and you blew them both. Is that what you’re telling me, Petur?”
“I thought she must have been Standall’s traveling companion. I didn’t think I should ask his girl out.”
“But she was not Standall’s girl?”
“No. Actually, he thought she was mine!”
“Too bad. You both missed out. That should teach you something, my friend. Two opportunities blown to hell. And you know the chance of you ever running into that girl a third time is zero.”
“And I haven’t given her much of a thought, because of that. Pheromones got me. They are very real. I have no doubt about it. Maybe we should sic one of our biochemists on that task — isolating pheromones. The Island could make a fortune!”
“It already is making a fortune,” Sophia chimed in as she stepped over to the men. “What have you gentlemen been talking about so quietly over here?”
“Your beauty and talent, sister. What else would two sane men, in the presence of such perfection, be talking about?”
“Yes, yes. I am sure you two were up to no good. You aren’t even paying attention to your flight.” She pointed to the door leading out to the tarmac and the waiting aircraft. “Jeff, I think they want you to board.”
Jeff looked across the now-nearly empty room at the door, just as Sophia’s chubby friend was squeezing herself and two large carry-ons through.
“Whoa. Almost missed it. Thanks, Sophia!” Jeff scrambled to grab his small leather bag, shook Petur’s hand, and gave Sophia a quick kiss. He moved to the door, stopped, put his bag down, and returned to kiss her again. This time he paid more adequate attention to the kiss. Petur was a little uneasy. This was his baby sister.
“Alright, already. Why don’t you two get a room!”
The couple broke apart.
Jeff looked at Sophia, while still holding her hand. “Good luck with your experiment tomorrow. I’ll be interested in hearing the results.”
“So will I. I’ll also be interested to hear that you are okay wherever you’re going to be. Call us please,” Sophia requested plaintively.
“I won’t be able to call as much as I would like. A couple of times from Washington, maybe. But not after that. But I’ll be fine. Count on it.” He nodded to Petur, and walked away.
“Hurry home!” Sophia called out as Jeff stepped out onto the tarmac.
Jeff waved his hand over his shoulder to acknowledge the comment, but he did not turn around. In a moment, he was climbing the boarding ladder, and was gone.
Sophia held on to her brother’s arm. “I am never going to see him again, Petur.”
“Nonsense. Jeff is a survivor. He’ll be fine. Before you know it he will back here drinking my beer… and showing off his newest scar.”
“Not funny, Petur. I don’t think he could survive another wound. He’s already a mess.”
“Men like that don’t die, Sophia. He’ll keep coming back. Don’t you worry.” Petur held his sister close as the plane taxied away from the terminal and onto the end of the runway. It held firm there as the engines were throttled up until they were screaming. Then the plane started moving, tore down the runway, and leapt into the sky. Sophia watched it turn gradually to the north, slowly become a speck, and then finally disappear from view.
Brother and sister walked hand in hand out of the air terminal. Petur gave Sophia a sympathetic hug before she climbed into her own little golf cart, and with tears marginally obscuring her vision, she drove down the road for home.
Petur also headed for his home, where he hurriedly changed into his standard Saturday-morning garb: jogging shorts and brightly colored socks. He threw on his old sneakers and his horned Viking hat. Grabbing a six-pack of Pripps beer, he began the short walk to Science Hall, where the Hash was soon to begin.
By the time Petur arrived, the hares had already sprinted on their way through the roads and back trails of Paradise 1.
“Hey, DUR, did you think we might not notice that you’re late?” asked Professor Harrigan. “You missed the announcements.”
Petur replied, “Sorry, Irish Spring. Hung over.”
“Well, at least that’s an adequate excuse. But I don’t believe it. I’m not sure I have ever seen you drink to excess, as every Hasher who is worth their salt should.”
“Well, that may change soon. I am planning on imbibing champagne fairly heavily tonight.”
“As will I. It sure took them long enough to repair the OTEC after you tried to blow it up, DUR! But, after tonight, I will have abundant electricity for my experiments. It is something I have been eager for. And it is well timed, for I didn’t actually needed the power until this week.”
“You have had some new successes, Professor?” inquired Petur.
“Nothing I can be sure of. But I think so.” Harrigan scratched his head and turned away slightly. He did not want to discuss it further right now — that was clear.
Petur spoke again, and changed the subject somewhat. “Sophia has been eager for the power too. But she has been waiting for months. I feel like I let everyone down.”
“Nonsense!” Harrigan said adamantly. But he felt no need to explain further, and turned to talk with another group of Hashers.
Petur sidled over to Isaac and Joseph who were chatting quietly. He smiled at Joseph, pleased that the older man had come to a Hash again.
“I heard what you said to Harrigan,” Isaac said to Petur. “You’ll have to get over the feelings of guilt, my friend. The only thing people are thinking on the island is that it’s amazing how fast you got the second OTEC built after that first one was sunk. And you are singly responsible for saving the second one from a similar fate.”
“Not singly. I had lots of help from Jeff Baddori.”
“Of course, of course. Where is he, by the way? I thought you were going to get him to take up Hashing?”
“He hasn’t recovered enough to go running yet. Besides, he is off to catch the men who tried to blow us up,” Petur said casually, as if hunting saboteurs was an everyday thing.
Joseph asked, “How is he going to accomplish that? I understand that we have no clue who they are.”
“Jeff has some kind of notion. I didn’t ask him to go into details. I bet he’ll succeed, though.”
“I hope he does. I would love to get a piece of those fellas,” Joseph said, while he shook his head.
Isaac smiled as he stretched his calf muscles. “I don’t think Jeff Baddori is likely to leave any pieces for you to find.”
They all nodded. Then, about a stone’s throw away, they heard Harrigan shout out “Tally Ho!” and off went the hundred or so members of the day’s pack down the driveway and onto the airport road. Isaac and Harrigan — Lewd and Lascivious and Irish Spring — ran briskly near the front. Petur and Joseph took up a slower pace and fell in at the back of the pack. They ran along in silence, as they followed the pack and turned left on the airport road, away from the airstrip. It looked as if they were heading to the resort area today.
After a while, Petur spoke, just a little out of breath. “Joseph, it’s good to see you Hashing. It doesn’t happen enough.”
Joseph replied, as he panted a bit. “It seemed a good thing to do today. For one thing, I knew you would be here, and I wanted to hear if you had given any thought to what we were talking about a few weeks ago.”
“I’ve been mostly stuck in the house flaking away for the last few weeks, Joseph, and I found myself thinking about the Bounty constantly. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on. We have so little to go on. In fact, we have no reason to believe that any of it is true. And indeed, it defies recorded history. This could all be an elaborate hoax.”
“Yes, I know, I know. But can’t you feel that it’s true? Feel it in your heart?”
Petur pulled up short and started walking. Joseph did likewise. “I don’t know, really, but I agree with you that it is worth looking for. If nothing else, it will be a mighty fun treasure hunt.”
“It will be the most amazing treasure hunt ever. And the most amazing treasure ever, too.”
“If we find it,” Petur added. He started running again, but Joseph stayed walking. “You okay, Joseph?”
“Sure, DUR.” Joseph called ahead. “Go on. I’m going to walk a bit.”
Petur waved back and accelerated. The pack was spread out ahead, but Petur, unencumbered by his slower friend, used his wiry long legs to propel him steadily into the middle. The trail coursed through the harbor area, and then alongside the lagoon. A narrow path brought them down to the water’s edge, where one required nimble feet to avoid slipping on the wet volcanic rock. This difficult terrain continued for more than a kilometer, along which two people fell into the blue water of the lagoon — casualties of the Hash. Finally, another narrow grassy path took the long line of runners back up to the main road, right to the main entrance of the resort complex. This is where he came alongside Isaac.
Isaac, too, was puffing a bit. Since he started Hashing, he had come to be in reasonably good shape for a man in his late sixties, but it was warm and the breeze was light, so he perspired profusely. Isaac’s brow was moist, and his T-shirt was drenched down the middle.
“DUR, I am ashamed of you. You should be keeping the faith with our good friend Joseph.” Isaac wiped his forehead on a portion of his shirt that was still dry, as he ran on.
Petur, feeling fine and not tired at all, answered, “You know, we have to name him today. He may not be a regular, but he deserves a name. Any ideas?”
“Several. How about Santa Claus? He rather looks like him.”
Brushing that suggestion off, Petur prompted further. “He is an old friend of yours. Do you have any long-forgotten stories or secrets? Any skeletons in his closet?”
“Not a one, at least nothing that I can remember. Well, he once put bullion cubes in a showerhead in one of the girls dormitories at Radcliff. It was quite a feat in those days just to get into the girls dormitories.”
“Baloney, Isaac. Your generation was little different from mine. I am sure you snuck in there all the time.”
“Actually, I still do. You know I am rather fond of women. And I am, of course, quite attractive. The prettiest college girls sneak into my house quite regularly.”
Petur said nothing in response to this last. When Isaac got onto one of his self-inflating sprees, it was best not to encourage it, lest he soon regale you with stories of his sexual prowess with the queen of Bavaria, or some such. Petur hoped to avert this.
But he failed.
“Petur, I have never told you about the time when I was in the hospital, have I?”
“No, Isaac, I don’t believe you have.” Petur knew something outrageous was in the making.
Isaac wiped his forehead again, and then began. “It was perhaps ten years ago. I had been experiencing severe abdominal pain for several hours after a particularly compelling evening in an upstairs room of one of the finer homes on Commonwealth Avenue. I cannot remember the fine woman’s name now, and it was unimportant then, I imagine. The pain in my belly increased. At first, I assumed that I was being haunted by the spirit of the spirits consumed to excess during the night’s revelries. But as a fever took hold, I knew otherwise. I bid adieu to the fair lady, who was most upset to see me depart, and made sail for the nearest hospital.”
“Did you have an appendicitis?”
“Oh yes. I had surgery that night. And over the next five days, I was washed and massaged and in general treated wonderfully by three nurses. Their names were April, May, and June, by some strange quirk of fate. Young, sprightly, in short pink nursing outfits. They worshipped me. And, in my immobility, they managed to keep me, shall I say, occupied. They worked shifts, eight hours each.” Isaac grinned. “Each shift was memorable, Petur. Very memorable. But for some minimal postoperative pain, adequately treated with postoperative scotch, I would have to say my hospital experience was worth repeating. You really should try to get an appendicitis someday.”
Petur patted his friend on the back as they followed the pack ahead. “I think I would probably end up with the typical older, portly nurse named Hilda, wearing a broad white lab coat with pockets full of needles and enema tubes.”
“Petur, you should spend more time with me. You are getting older, you know. One must enjoy life while one can. And, speaking of enjoying life…”
The trail of flour that had been laid skillfully by the hares now veered through white wooden gates into the main swimming-pool areas of the resort. Petur and Isaac ran through the gate and were greeted by the bewildered stares of two dozen or more guests who had been quietly contemplating life’s virtues while soaking in the sun until a herd of wild Hashers destroyed their reveries. They were about the fortieth to run through, and the guests did not know that there were sixty more to follow.
Petur leapt over a lawn chair, which would have been reasonable since it was in the line he was running, but for the fact that somebody was lying in it. That somebody was rather fat too, and Petur’s foot knocked over the drink that was resting on her chest. Fortunately the fracture-resistant glass did not break on impact with the cement. Petur apologized profusely, nodded to the waiter to bring her another beverage, and ran off along the poolside.
“Who was that terrible man? He should be stopped immediately. I am lodging a formal complaint with the Island’s leadership. He should be found and expelled from this place. What nerve!” The fat woman was yelling to no one in particular, and loudly. “How dare you, you pig!” she cried after Petur as he retreated.
A young college-aged waiter came by her side and smiled, “Ma’am, that man is the Island’s leadership. That was Petur Bjarnasson himself.”
Hearing the name, which had become familiar to people around the world over the past year, caused the woman to sit down abruptly in her lawn chair. She burbled something incoherently to the waiter, who went off to obtain a fresh glass of whatever she had been drinking. He knew Mr. Bjarnasson would insist it be put on his tab. The head honcho of the Island Project was big into personal accountability.
Meanwhile, Petur caught back up with Isaac. This was not hard, for Isaac had removed his running shoes and jumped into one of the larger segments of the multilayered pool. He was dallying with two young and fit women who, until the moment that he entered, had been swimming laps. Petur sat down beside the pool and laughed at his friend.
“You know, Isaac, we’re going to get way behind!”
“Nonsense, my young and sightless friend. Look there.” He pointed to the far side of the pool complex, where, overflowing from within a darkened grass-roofed bungalow, a crowd of Hashers gathered for the middle-of-the-run beer stop. “We have all the time we need to make some new acquaintances.”
Petur chuckled, and let Isaac perform his magic on the two swimmers who, clearly, had caught his eye. Petur’s eyes wandered out over the sunbathers. There was, as always, a melting pot of nationalities represented at the resort. Almost everyone spoke some English, which seemed to be becoming the international language of choice, perhaps by default, since the Americans never seemed to learn other languages, and people had to communicate with them somehow. Or perhaps it was because one of the most influential American exports was Hollywood movies, and the subtitles helped make English so broadly understood. Among the resort staff were such a variety of nationalities that language barriers were never long a problem for the guests. Translation was always readily available. There was even a speech translation software package developed by one of the groups on the Island. It had a ways to go, but Petur was certain that someday this software would help people communicate worldwide.
A Chinese couple sat close together on the other side of the pool. They were watching, bewildered, as the continuous stream of runners invaded their resort-sanctuary. A British couple, pale-skinned, with the man sporting a large mustache, seemed more amused by the interruption, and waved at the passing Hashers. Hashing was a British phenomenon, after all. Those two might be Hashers themselves.
Next to the British couple was an empty lawn chair. A woman had just climbed out of the pool and picked up a towel and sunglasses from that chair. She walked away from Petur. It was an elegant walk. Her hair was dark brown and wet, just reaching her shoulders. She was of modest height — not tiny. Her legs looked as if Leonardo had carved them: perfectly shaped, and precisely contoured. Petur knew who she had to be.
The wet hair, which was plastered against her head, the short white towel around her waste, and the drips of water that followed the luscious curves of her legs as they rolled down to the ground brought back memories as if they were yesterday. Despite all odds, and, miraculously, defying Jeff’s prediction from earlier that same day, the woman whom he had dreamed about so many times — the woman whom he had seen in the elevator in Amsterdam, and again, soaking wet in the lobby of the hotel in Mannheim — was now here in Paradise. It had to be her.
She was just about to disappear through a high wooden fence, so Petur moved expeditiously. He left his sneakers by the poolside and trotted along the cement after her. He had to weave a way around the architecturally designed pools. A prodigious amount of water thwarted him, and as the girl disappeared through a gate in the far fence Petur jumped into the pool and swam for the other side.
The cool fresh water of the pool was exhilarating, but not nearly as much as the girl. Petur climbed up the far side as fast as he could and bounded across the cement to the gate. It was spring-loaded, and the latch had become sticky from the salty air. Petur, in his excitement, could not get his fingers to work the latch, so he struck at it with his fist, and then swore loudly. He reached up to the top of the white fence, half-climbed and half-vaulted the structure, and landed with a soft thud on the thick grass on the other side.
She should have been right there, just a stone’s throw away. But she wasn’t. Petur turned to the right, toward the beach, but the path was empty. Then he looked left toward the main hotel building. An elderly couple, holding hands, was walking unhurriedly toward him. Two newlyweds were playing Frisbee on the grass. In the distance, a golf cart was disappearing around the back of the hotel. The brunette, the girl of his dreams, was nowhere to be seen.
Dejected, Petur stood and gazed around, though he knew she would not reappear. The old couple said hello as they walked past, and the woman showed her white dentures in a pleasant smile. Petur acknowledged them only in an offhanded manner. The dentures stopped smiling, and the couple moved down toward the beach.
The Beer Stop had filled with Hashers now, and as Petur reentered the pool area, the havoc was only beginning. Dozens of sweaty bodies flopped in the pool, water flying everywhere. The stodgy British couple was thoroughly soaked by the floodwaters, but took it in stride. Some other guests quickly moved out of the splash zone, although nobody but the obese woman, whose breast Petur had tripped upon, had actually risen to leave. Several cases of beer were imbibed in very short order.
Most of the Hashers weren’t drinking yet. There was more running to do first. He worked his way through the rambunctious crowd to one of the people who was drinking: Isaac.
“You remember that woman I saw in Mannheim? The one who I thought was traveling with Standall?” Petur spoke loudly into Isaac’s ear, for the partying around them was loud.
“No. Have you been to Mannheim recently?” Isaac appeared to have no clue what Petur was talking about.
“The time when I first met Otto Wagner. It was that great week when we finally got financiers. I can remember every detail of that week. Well, almost every detail. Can’t you?”
“Not at all. I remember little of anything. My brain is becoming like mush.”
“Well, I guess the impression was mine, as were the hormones. There was a girl who I bumped into, just for a moment in Amsterdam, at the hotel. Then she was at my hotel in Mannheim, the very next day. I fell instantly in lust with her.”
Isaac swallowed repeatedly as he downed another half of a beer. “Yes, now I remember.” But he said it in an unconvincing, perhaps bored, tone.
“Anyhow, she was not with Standall. In fact, he thought she was with me. I puzzled over that for a time, then attributed the whole thing to strange coincidence.”
“Or perhaps fate,” Isaac interrupted.
“Perhaps. But now I have seen her here, on Paradise.”
“So, did you find out what she is up to?” asked Isaac, who still seemed not to care.
Petur shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “No. I only saw her as she walked away. Didn’t even see her face. I couldn’t catch up to her before she disappeared.”
“Didn’t see her face? How do you know it was the same girl?”
“Isaac, you of all people should know that a man can tell quite a bit by the wrapping. This girl is wrapped in a most distinctive manner.”
“I withdraw my question. So, now that she’s here, you should certainly be able to find her. I don’t think there are any more planes leaving today, are there?”
“No. You’re right. I should have no problem!”
The pack of runners seemed to be congregating spontaneously near a large opening in the pool area’s fence, rather like fish gathering in a school. One person stayed behind to clean up the beer stop, but the rest began to run once again, and cries of “On! On!” trailed behind them as they went.
Petur and Isaac ran together in the middle of the pack. But because Petur was motivated to begin the hunt for his mysterious woman and Isaac had beer in his belly, the two gradually separated: Petur pulled farther ahead and Isaac fell farther behind. Soon, Petur was at the front of the pack, picking out the Hash markings and leading all the others. He was nearly sprinting. Several false trails had been laid, but Petur stuck on the true path and was the first to reach the end of the journey — the On In, where the waiting hares congratulated him on a most brisk run. The On In was on the beach east of the resort complex. They would all have a long walk back to Science Hall and their surrounding homes.
He still had much time before he could start his little private investigation to hunt for the woman. There were post-Hash festivities, and having been the fastest bum on the run, he would no doubt be encouraged to imbibe large quantities of beer. Oh, well. Someone had to.
The rest of the hundred-or-so runners gradually arrived, and as they caught their breath they headed over to the two golf carts that were loaded with coolers. Most people, after wiping the sweat off their foreheads, reached in to grab one of several varieties of beer.
Joseph came in near the end of the pack, after he had walked much of the second half. He moved over to Petur.
“Young man, you are too fast for me. I get older every day.”
“Well, Joseph, you get younger today.”
“Today is your second run, right?”
“Yes, I suppose it is — although far from being consecutive.”
“Doesn’t matter. Tradition in this Hash is that you get named on your second run.”
“Oh my. I am not sure I like that idea.”
Petur reassured Joseph that since he was a much more respectable character than Isaac, he doubted that he would be given a name like Lewd and Lascivious.
“That’s encouraging, DUR. I have a reputation, you know. I have no great interest in being kicked out of my society circles because of a crude nickname, no matter how fitting it might be.”
“We’ll be good to you, I’m sure.”
Irish Spring had called together a large gathering of people. This group — the naming committee — then began bantering over the future Hash names of the various people who deserved the honor. From time to time, they would call over experienced Hashers who could advise them regarding their friends and acquaintances. After a time, Petur was called over. “DUR, get your hiney over here!” Even though he founded the Island Project, and was gaining worldwide influence, Petur was given no more respect than anybody else at this gathering. He expected this.
“So, DUR, what kind of improper and impious name can we stick old Joseph with?” Evan Harrigan, a.k.a. Irish Spring, asked.
Petur looked around at the eclectic group. Most of them had been Hashing since early on. Many had Hashed in their previous careers at other locations around the world. All of them were dedicated to Hashing weekly, and several, Petur knew, had traveled around the world to Hash. Harrigan, for one, had gone to Kuala Lumpur for an InterHashional, in which Hashers from around the world converge in order to run and wreak havoc.
“I was thinking that Sphere would be a good name.”
“Why?” asked one of the committee members.”
“Well, it’s most fitting, for reasons that I am not at liberty to divulge. But publicly, we can claim it is because of his rather impressively round midriff.”
“Any other ideas?” asked Irish Spring, a name that he had been given, years ago, because he had failed to use deodorant before a particularly sweaty Hash.
Petur said, “Another name might be Bounty Hunter. He has a price on the heads of the people who bombed the OTEC.”
“Well,” Irish Spring added in support, “it has no sexual connotation, and therefore it has one weakness, but other than that failing, I think it is a mighty fine name. Bounty Hunter, he is.” The committee all drank from their beers and ushered Petur away so they could work on the next person on their list, as they hoped they would be more successful in their attempt to malign that Hasher.
Petur walked back over to Joseph. Joseph eyed him suspiciously.
“Don’t worry, Joseph. Your Hash name is manly and respectable. It will tickle you, actually, and no one will know why it fits so perfectly.”
“Well, what is it?” Joseph asked impatiently.
“I am not supposed to say.” But when he saw Joseph’s distressed expression, he relented. “Bounty Hunter. You will be rechristened Bounty Hunter.”
“Ha!” Joseph laughed. “That will be just fine. Most apropos!”
The committee meeting went on for some time, as the committee had to honor about a dozen people with names today. The Hashers reveled and socialized as they waited.
“Petur… I mean, DUR, how do you think we should go about our search for the Bounty? Assuming you buy in, of course.”
“I don’t really know. If it is here at all, it could be anywhere within a ten-kilometer radius of the island — maybe more. It’ll be like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Joseph thought that the analogy was apt. “But it is very helpful, when searching for a needle in a haystack, to equip oneself with a giant magnet. We have all sorts of technology at our disposal.”
Petur concurred. “I suppose we’ll have to obtain a vessel with which to sono the floor of the ocean all around here; then send down ROVs to check out the most likely candidates based on the sonographic findings. Despite using that kind of equipment, it will be nearly impossible to find. And if it is at the bottom of a crevasse — or worse, on one of the slopes — the chances are even more remote. Heck, Joseph, it could be down two thousand meters, on the other side of Paradise 3!”
“I’ll do whatever it takes! We need to keep it all under wraps though, Petur. I don’t want many people to know.”
“What’s the problem? Why the need for secrecy?”
Joseph scratched his ear. “Petur, you don’t see it, do you? You don’t understand what that sphere is.”
Petur thought about it. “It is some sort of ancient island artifact which has special, perhaps magical, features. But possibly it is just a hoax the kings played on the people of Tahiti for untold generations. Perhaps they used this so-called magic as a means to retain control over the people. In that time and place, they would attribute an unexplained event to the gods, after all. And the same hoax tricked Captain Cook and the British Admiralty.”
“But Petur, there is no way that this could have been faked. That young midshipman wrote in detail about how there was no way that the line could have been tied to the sphere. And I doubt they would be able to develop a much more technically challenging technique than that. No, this was not a magic trick.”
“Then how about a fake story altogether? That midshipman, John Carver, could have made up the whole story. Who knows why?
“Perhaps Petur, but the circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise, as I told you before. The whole voyage of the Bounty was contrived just to get the sphere. You felt it in your heart before. You know that the Bounty is here, right off these islands.”
“Maybe. Probably. But I’d rather not get hopes too high. And even if we find it, the sphere may not be aboard.”
“Yes, you’re right, Petur. In fact the whole chest may have been taken off.” Joseph stood in silence for a moment, and then spoke heatedly, but quietly. “Petur, if it is real, this sphere harnesses the knowledge for combating gravity! Do you understand what that means? It means we can get off this planet without rockets, without consuming tons of energy! The device itself could be a massive new source of the wealth that you strive for. And ready access to space will, in the end, provide the ultimate access to wealth. This may be the path by which you accomplish your goal of paying down the debts to the future foisted upon us by central banking. I think we should go for it.”
Petur immediately replied, “If you pay for it all, well then, let’s do it!”
Joseph laughed, pulled his pipe from a pocket of his shorts, and a bag of tobacco from another. “I thought you’d see it my way.”
The committee finally finished its deliberations and the hundred-odd Hashers gathered round to sing tributes to the newly named crowd. Each neophyte was given grog of one sort or another with which to baptize him- or herself, and each did so with gaiety while being regaled with humorous verse. Joseph received his new name as if it was a complete surprise, guzzling an entire bottle of beer like it was lemonade while the tuneful crowd boisterously told him in song that he ought to go fester and rot after being tied to a piss-pot.
The language, verse, and humor were not for the faint of heart. But despite the crudity, innuendoes, blunt remarks, and outright obscenity, none of the humor was ever at anyone’s expense. This was a group of politically incorrect human beings, and Petur therefore loved them all. He looked around the throng, trying to pick out a face from among the crowd. He was hoping to start a conversation about the insanity of political correctness with Isaac, but Isaac was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Petur had not seen him since coming into the On In. He was suddenly worried. Could the old man be lying on the side of the path somewhere? Despite his recently improved habitus, Lewd and Lascivious did not lead a very healthy life. Maybe he had retreated to the pool with those women he had found. Perhaps he had hitched a ride on a golf cart back to his home, and was now sitting on his front porch sipping a rum Collins. But Petur had a feeling that Isaac was doing none of these things. Something else had prevented him from finishing the run.
Chapter 31. Intent to Nationalize
Slipping away from the frolicking band of Hashers was not difficult, and Petur bade farewell to the newly christened Bounty Hunter after they promised that they would meet soon to discuss this new adventure in which they would seek a sunken treasure. He wondered if he had supported Joseph’s crazy treasure hunt because of the beer and the fun he had with Joseph’s new Hash name. Sometimes small and irrelevant things change the course of a person’s history. He walked back along the trail he had just run, following the splotches of flour in reverse, hoping to not see any sign of Isaac, his friend and mentor, lying uncomfortably just off the path. He knew he was just paranoid, but nonetheless he felt compelled to make this trip.
Since he was walking, not running, he was able to appreciate the trail more. He had time to look at the blossoming tropical white flowers that carpeted the forest floor. Standing above these flowers were abundant species of jungle trees that provided intermittent shade to the small plants below, without completely obscuring the sun. Scattered among this lush landscape were occasional residences. In this area, most of the abodes were one story with large porches. Several had small pools adjacent. They were connected by narrow cart paths that were densely lined with recently planted green leafy shrubs. Less than a year ago, this path was wide enough to allow the construction trucks to pass. Now nobody could discern that this route had ever been anything more than the narrow path it currently was. Vegetation grew rapidly here in Paradise. If they ever abandoned the island, nature would consume everything they had built in just a few short years.
He followed the flour trail through several turns, and across three intersecting paths. He walked around a corner, and suddenly things looked familiar. He had not paid attention during the Hash itself, but now he did. He was on the narrow road leading to Elisa’s small home.
He was ashamed that his worries about Isaac disappeared as thoughts of Elisa took their place.
As he approached the house, he could see two people sitting on the porch. He was still far away, but he could discern that it was Elisa facing him, her hair falling straight down to her shoulders and clinging tightly to her head. She was not wearing her glasses. There was another person, obscured by a large white wicker chair, whose back was to Petur. The two seemed to be deeply involved in a conversation, for Elisa was leaning in close to the person whom Petur could not see.
Elisa became aware of Petur’s imminent arrival. She smiled and waved. Petur picked up his pace toward the front steps. The girl had slipped into the house quickly, and was not on the porch to greet him. Instead, a man rose from the wicker chair and turned around with a beaming smile.
“Petur! How was the rest of the Hash!”
Petur stopped in his tracks, and then laughed, “And to think, I was worried about you, Isaac! You know, I retraced the trail just to see if you were lying dead in the shrubbery somewhere. But no, you are here talking with a woman.”
“You should have known,” Isaac chastised him. “Do you know of anything I prefer more than meeting attractive young women?”
Elisa stepped back out on the porch. She was wearing her glasses now, and had used a rubber band to pull her hair back into a short ponytail. A long blue bathrobe adorned her. She brought three glasses on a tray, each with lemonade.
“Hello again. I wasn’t expecting you. What a pleasant surprise.”
Petur was a little embarrassed and replied, “I was in the area, looking for Isaac actually, and realized I was near your house.”
“Well I am glad you stopped by. Please excuse my appearance, I had just gotten out of the shower when Professor Bonhoff walked up.”
Petur eyed his older friend suspiciously.
“Don’t worry about her chastity, my dear Petur,” intoned Isaac. “I simply got off the trail, and this beautiful woman here coincidentally stepped onto her porch in her bathrobe. I would not be who I am, had I not immediately invited myself up to have a long discussion with her.”
“I should have known you would be just fine.”
Elisa seemed amused by the conversation, and not offended in the least. She handed out the glasses of lemonade, and sat down in a chair. “Please sit down, gentlemen. Professor Bonhoff and I were talking about Mexico. You might be interested in sticking around for the rest of the conversation. That way we will be able to talk about other things on our dinner engagement tonight.”
“Petur, you are the rogue!” Isaac chortled. “You already have a date with this girl, and you didn’t tell me!”
“Didn’t think you’d be interested.”
“Hmmm.” Isaac whispered to Petur, while Elisa’s back was turned reaching for her glass. “You are fickle.”
Petur assumed that Isaac’s furtive comment alluded to his hunt for the beautiful girl from Amsterdam, a hunt postponed by his desire to stay here with Elisa. Well, Isaac was correct. He was fickle. But this was fun.
Elisa turned back quickly, and drank from her glass. The men did likewise, both enjoying the fresh lemonade. It was better than beer for quenching thirsts after a hot run.
“I was telling the professor that he is almost as well known as you, Petur. Although, he seems better known for his proclivity to seek out female companionship. You have a different reputation.” She was looking at Petur.
“I would not take that as a compliment if I were you, Petur,” Isaac chimed in. “Women like confident men.”
“Confident, handsome, and intelligent men, just like you, Isaac.” Petur had learned to be quick with his repartee.
“Yes,” he nodded, “Just like me.”
Petur spoke to Elisa. “Isaac seems serious, but this is all show. He has transformed the appearance, though not the practice, of womanizing and chauvinism into an endearing part of his character. He is well loved and respected by all, and as a result gets away with statements and actions that would be considered rude and obnoxious were others to perpetrate them. Isaac thinks that politically incorrect comments and deeds are charming when they come from him. Please excuse him.”
Isaac did not seem to be uncomfortable during Petur’s commentary. “So, Mexico was the topic of discussion, was it not?”
“Indeed,” replied Elisa.
“Elisa has just been telling me that she is worried about the stability of the Mexican government. She thinks there is a conspiracy there. Perhaps a dozen men are leading others in a surreptitious effort to bring disrepute to the government, and such an effort would not be particularly difficult. It’s a very interesting and concerning issue.”
“Yes, she gave me a short briefing.” Petur turned toward Elisa. “What new information do you have?”
Elisa pulled herself forward in her seat, and assumed a position that indicated that she would reveal important information. “I am now completely convinced that there is indeed a conspiracy to overthrow the Mexican government. It is beyond doubt. My suspicions, previously based on third-party sources and my analysis of published literature, now have been confirmed.”
Petur inquired, “How have your suspicions been confirmed?”
“I have identified many of the major players. I have dubbed them the Group. They are all wealthy and powerful. Between them, they control the media even more than the government. They run the major corporations, including the oil, textile, and electronics industries. Members of the drug cartels are included in this eclectic group. Perhaps twelve key people in all. They each have scores, perhaps hundreds, of people working for them to disable and topple the government without breaking the rules of the democratic system.”
“Sounds like a political movement, not a conspiracy to overthrow the government.” Petur commented.
Elisa acknowledged this. “Yes, you are right. But it is a conspiracy. This is not the standard political movement where one side attempts to defame the other in open conflict within the standard media channels. This is a well-planned system to topple the government using major-media techniques as well as by developing an undercurrent of popular discontent.”
Isaac noted, “Like a grassroots campaign. Grassroots efforts can be effective, but they hardly constitute a conspiracy.”
“But this is not a grassroots campaign. In fact, it would be better termed a surreptitious campaign. You see, their method of developing an undercurrent of popular discontent consists of an exceedingly well-paid army of individuals whose job it is to enter into the socioeconomic complex throughout Mexico. They work in bars and stores. They have infiltrated the churches, school committees, and anything else that can get them the opportunity to spread their discontent.”
“There are lots of reasons to be discontented within Mexico. What’s the problem with what these guys are doing?” Isaac probed her.
“Despite using the democratic system, and their freedom of speech, this group of people is dedicated to destroying those entities. You see, they figure, rightly, that Mexico has awesome natural resources, a superior climate, a strategic location for trading with both hemispheres, and abundant labor supplies. They think the constant government graft and waste, combined with strong socialist influences, has prevented Mexico from achieving a position of world superiority.”
“Seems like there is something to that,” Isaac interceded, nonchalantly.
“There certainly is. But the same can be said for governments anywhere else — certainly the United States has been adversely affected by government waste. The difference is that in Mexico, a wealthy powerful group has decided to do something about it. They are going to take over the government through the ballot box, by shaming the regime with a terrible defeat. Then, on the wave of popular discontent, most of which they have contrived, they will reform the government. Some of these reforms are very much needed. Others will concentrate power within what will become, essentially, an oligarchy. Mexico will become more powerful as it achieves solid economic gains. But this will occur at the expense of advances in personal freedoms.”
“As long as the oligarchy remains benign, there might be no problems. But power corrupts.”
Elisa nodded her assent. “Exactly, Isaac. Perhaps these people started out with purely benign intentions. They felt compelled to help their country. But even early on in the process, they began to be corrupted: Getting friendly with the drug cartels. Developing and spreading false allegations and contrived stories about the government. The whole enterprise is Machiavellian. It is shockingly similar to how the Nazi party took over Germany in 1933. They have taken ‘the end justifies the means’ to heart. And so you see, they will not remain a benign leadership. Corruption is already present within them, and it will grow.”
Petur remembered that Elisa had told him before she left on her trip that this endeavor was initially formed to combat the corruption within all levels of the Mexican government. Now it had itself been corrupted. Not surprising, really. It seemed that this endeavor was borne in corruption.
He asked, “As an entity, the Island Project has avoided becoming involved in any international disputes, and we do not wish to concern ourselves with internal upheavals within nations. We stay out of trouble in this way. But do you think we need to do something about this process in Mexico? Are we at risk here?”
“I think there is, indeed, substantial risk. Any contracts or treaties which the current government of Mexico signed will be threatened, unless they are in Mexico’s best interest, or at least in the best interest of the impending new leaders. The new government will not hesitate to break contracts and treaties if they were to feel that Mexico was getting the short end of the stick, or if the initial contracts were done solely for the personal benefit of former government officials, or if breaking the contract will benefit them. This latter point is where the Island Project comes in.”
Isaac looked at Petur. Petur was nodding.
“Yes, I suspected that at least some of the lease money for these islands has been lining the pockets of less-than-admirable public officials in Mexico City. I have been meaning to address this, but things were going smoothly, and it hasn’t made it onto my lists of priorities.”
“Regardless, the Island is now a cash-producing asset — already incredibly successful, with a golden future. The new Mexican regime will wish to claim it. And I bet they will.”
“How confident are you that the stars will align in such a way that they will ever be in a position to make such an attempt?” Isaac asked.
Elisa replied, “I am completely confident that the conspiracy is not only underway, but in a quite advanced stage. Many areas in Mexico are primed for revolution, and indeed, the individuals in charge have had to slow events down, for the popular discontent in many areas had grown out of synchrony with the rest of their plan.” She paused and looked directly at Petur. “But soon, all will be in synchrony. The president of Mexico will be tossed out into the cold on a tidal wave, driven by popular opinion. The vice president will take his place, and the changes will begin.”
“The vice president is in on this, then?” asked Isaac.
“I think he must be, although I am not completely certain. He is a flunky, I believe. But he is in the right position, and the others will use him.” She took a sip of her lemonade and sat back in her chair. “To continue answering Petur’s question, after the vice president takes over, there will be radical turnover in the government. People will be tossed out of bureaucratic positions ‘for cause,’ whether or not there actually was cause. There are so many government officials there that are corrupt that any government employee will be considered guilty unless proven otherwise. It will be very easy for the dozen people in charge to repay all the people who had been working for them during the prelude with lucrative and powerful government positions after the power turns over to them. The Group has made promises, and those promises will be kept. Mexico will soon have drug traffickers running parts of the government alongside businessmen.”
“You’re kidding!” Petur was distressed.
“Not at all. I am sure of this. After these initial changes, the Group will continue to have control over almost all of the private mass media, but now they will have complete control of the government television networks and radio as well. There will be few checks on the government activities, and, although not by force of law, freedom of the press will not in fact exist in Mexico. Open propaganda will come into effect after the change in government, just as there has been surreptitious propaganda before the change. Motivational symbols will be used to hold public opinion in their favor, and to encourage the populace to assist with the Group’s efforts. One of those symbols will be the Paradise Islands: Though they belong to Mexico, they have been leased cheaply to an organization composed of men who are, to a great extent at least, gringos. They will make the case for Mexico to take back what is truly and legally theirs. Mexico will renege on their agreement with you, Petur. They will take back these islands, I am sure.”
Petur turned to Isaac. “If these events come to pass, will we be able to appeal to the international courts to enforce the lease agreement?”
Isaac shook his head. “I doubt it. The international courts aren’t very powerful . How would they enforce a decision? Would the US defend us with its military against Mexico? Fat chance! Although I think there could be an international consensus supporting us, a consensus that has no teeth is not worth much.”
“That’s correct,” Elisa concurred. “Mexico could take us over, without risk of adverse consequences of any kind. There would be little, if any, retribution. The Island Project would become an asset of the new Mexican government.”
It was Petur’s turn to shake his head. “The Project is primarily a conglomeration of people and ideas. The Island itself and the things on it will not get Mexico very far.”
“Not scientifically, no. You are correct. The Group will present in the press the idea of getting the Paradise Islands back as a major desire of the people of Mexico. This will be self-fulfilling, for the people of Mexico will take on that desire. It will truly become a major goal. To them, the Islands will be a symbol. To get it back will represent the new government’s power and willingness to acknowledge and respond to the people’s desires.”
Isaac intoned, “You do not give the people of Mexico much credit. Don’t you think they will see through this? Won’t they perceive this manipulation?”
“I don’t think they will — at least not in sufficient numbers to make a difference. But I do give them credit, as much credit as any other group of people. They are equally as bright as the people of other nations, and their educational level, although low, is not at the bottom. But, as we well know from history, the carefully conceived plots of a powerful few can manipulate large groups. This sort of manipulation is exactly what is occurring in Mexico now.”
“So, what do you recommend we do to stop it? Can we not just expose the Group for what they are? Or go to the Americans and inform them of what is going on south of their border?”
“I don’t think we can. It’s too advanced, and if it were exposed now, the press would treat the allegations as rumors developed by a sinking government in a last gasp effort to remain in power. And the Americans will welcome this change. I am sure they are well aware of the Group. At least, I am reasonably sure they are. The Group does not appear interested in communism; and it is likely that both Mexico and the U.S. will greatly prosper by the changes that lie ahead. The US will not meddle in the internal politics of Mexico. They have no motivation to do so.”
“But the government will be corrupt. We can point this out to the Americans.”
Isaac helped Elisa here. “It’s pretty corrupt now. It will be less corrupt after the change. The problem is that while the corruption has helped the Island Project in the past, the new corruption will hurt us. We must be careful to keep perspective. We do not wish to become like them.”
Petur asked, “Elisa, can you get this all to me in writing? Give me all the details that you can muster. Tell me your sources if you are able. Give me everything. We will need to address this. We’ll need to prepare for this potential occurrence.”
“It is not a potential occurrence, Petur,” Elisa said confidently and deliberately. “This will come to pass.”
“What kind of timeframe are we talking about?”
“Well, of that I am unsure. Parts of the plot seem ready now. Others are running behind. So, six or at most twelve months, I would think.”
Petur turned to Isaac, and said matter-of-factly, “I had not planned for this.”
“Well, Petur, you can’t plan for everything. We’ll get through it. Petur; I think we should call a meeting of the Council.”
“Yes. I agree. No sense in delaying.”
“I’ll have a full report for you in the morning, then,” said Elisa. “That will interfere with our dinner plans, Petur.”
“I’ll make it up to you, Elisa. I promise.”
Isaac stood up and smoothed out his shirt; the sweat was now beginning to dry. “Elisa, I’m glad we met today. Thanks for the lemonade with the pleasant dash of panic added.”
She laughed as the two men departed. Petur and Isaac began the long walk to Science Hall, where the Hash had started that day, and near where their own houses sat. They initially walked in silence, each deep in thought.
After a time, Isaac asked Petur, “How much do you buy into what she is saying? Do you have any reason to trust that her conclusions are accurate?”
“Some. She seems very bright, and your résumé on her, although not complete, shows that she is talented at what she does. She is a bright sociologist. But I am eager to hear what her sources are. How reliable is the information on which she is basing her conclusions?”
“We’ll need time to read her report. How about if we call the meeting of the Council for Monday instead of tomorrow? — to give us more time to absorb.”
“Sure, Isaac. But we may not have much time to act.”
They walked the rest of the way home, once again in silence.
After parting from Isaac at the road leading to his house, Petur increased his pace going toward home. He wanted to push the thoughts of Mexico to the back of his mind, even if only for a short time. He showered quickly, and dressed in casual green pants and a short-sleeved button-down shirt. After spending more time than usual on his hair and his teeth, Petur felt ready to go on his treasure hunt. Not a hunt for a treasure concealed in the depths of the ocean onboard the Bounty, but a fickle treasure embodied in the person of the loveliest woman he had ever known — or in this case, had never known.
He ran the little golf cart at full throttle. He buzzed down the steep hills toward the airport road, careened around corners on the paths to the resort, and finally stopped abruptly at the front entrance to the main resort building.
He did occasionally enjoy some perks as the founder of this organization, and today’s perk was that the bellhop who welcomed him from the tall marble pillars of the entrance recognized him immediately and ran down to park his cart for him. Petur thanked him in a hurry as he climbed the steps, two at a time, and entered the lobby. He walked across the luxuriously well-appointed room, which was paneled with mahogany and carpeted in a deep red, straight to the registration desk.
“Mr. Bjarnasson!” exclaimed one of the two clerks behind the counter, as he quickly adjusted his well-ironed shirt from its suboptimal position in his tropical shorts. “How are you today, sir?”
“Well. I am well, thank you.” Petur came in closer so he could speak with less chance of being overheard. He also took the opportunity to note the engraving on the man’s nametag. “Bob, I need a favor.”
“Of course — anything.”
“I need you to help me locate a woman who’s staying at the resort. I don’t know her name, but I can describe her.”
The clerk looked uncomfortable, but nodded his head. “We’re not supposed to give out information about the guests. I suppose, however, that it’s okay in this case. I hope I can help.”
Petur hoped he could help, too. “Look. She’s a brunette, with shoulder-length hair; perhaps thirty years old, give or take several years; perhaps five foot five.” And then he added, even more quietly, “And incredible legs. You can’t miss those legs.”
The clerk was amused. This man in front of him was human. Most people thought of Petur Bjarnasson as the idealistic genius who had brought the world’s best minds together, with a unified purpose. Here, he was trying to find a girl to scam on.
Assuming the same conspiratorial tone, the clerk replied, “I don’t know, sir. Do you have a picture?”
Downcast, Petur answered, “No, just the description. It will certainly be someone who will catch the eye of most men — assuming you are…” He let the implied question hang in the air.
“I am indeed. My eyes are trained to pick the best of the best.” The young desk clerk, blond, blue-eyed, and likely from California, smiled at the leader of the Island Project. “But there is a dearth of gorgeous women here this week. Tommy and I were lamenting that just a few moments ago.” He indicated the young man at the other end of the counter. “Seems we’re in a lull.”
“Can you ask Tommy to come over, please?”
“Sure. Tommy!” He called over to his friend, who was idling away his time by fiddling with a computer. This was always a slow part of the day in the lobby — no one checking in or out.
Tommy glanced over, and seeing Petur standing at the lobby desk, hurried over and nodded respectfully.
“Tommy, Mr. Bjarnasson is looking for a highly attractive brunette woman with gorgeous legs.”
“Aren’t we all!” replied Tommy, his smile revealing a prominent gap between his upper front teeth. And then, more seriously, “Anybody in particular?”
Petur let Bob explain the situation. It was too humiliating to have to go through this twice. The younger men, on the other side of the desk, were clearly enjoying Petur’s discomfort. They respected him, he was sure, but that did not mean they wouldn’t toy with him a little. Petur felt happy that he could amuse these two a little. He was not so sure that he would feel as happy about amusing the dozen or so others to whom they would relay the tale. Not much he could do about that, though. His reputation would stay strong. It was okay to appear a little human now and again.
Tommy was not able to help, either. “Sir, I’ve been working all week. Honestly, I note every attractive woman who walks through the lobby. It’s one of the perks of my job. I haven’t seen any brunette of the height you describe who knocks my socks off. Several blondes, yes. But no brunettes. You may have different tastes than I have, of course.”
“No. You would remember this woman.” Petur thanked the two, and then turned to walk slowly down the long lobby toward the open courtyard in the center of the building. Actually, he thought, perhaps she was not so memorable. For despite his best efforts, he really did not know what she looked like. He had never seen her face, or at least not much of it. He could only remember his impression of her: regal, lovely, … beautiful. Yet, she had blurred in his memory. Perhaps only the pheromones kept her in memory at all. As a drawing on a beach is brushed out by the waves, his momentary and partial view of her face had been washed over by the faces of hundreds of other women whom he had met since then. He shook his head in dismay.
Petur stayed on the resort grounds for the next several hours. He walked among the small shops that purveyed the consumer merchandise that the people of the Island Project had invented. There was new diving gear, new software, home-medical devices that Dr. Standall had dreamed up, and several dozen other items that were now entering markets all over the world. Petur no longer kept track of them all. But the Island was almost completely self-sustaining; it had cash surpluses accumulated for future needs; and the investors were satisfied. The pace at which progress can happen when science is wisely funded and not inhibited by bureaucratic hurdles was remarkable.
He walked past the pools, past the chair on which the fat lady had been sitting earlier. The place had been restored to its original pristine condition after the Hash storm blew over. The Hashers were always very good about cleaning up after themselves, even when they were three sheets to the wind.
Petur looked in the golf-and-tennis shop. He walked through the lounge and the bars. He visited the exercise rooms, the hair salon, and the docks where boats could be rented. The folks working at these places could not help him, either. Then he walked up and down miles of beach, looking for those telltale legs and that telltale wet hair. He had no luck on the beach, either. She was nowhere to be found.
It was almost seven when he admitted defeat. The sun had set, and the brief red glow in the sky was long gone. He was taken with a feeling of loss at not finding the girl with whom he imagined he had a spiritual, rather than just a pheromonal, connection.
The lights from the resort beckoned him back from his sandy walk, and he slowly worked his way through the dunes to his little golf cart. Somehow, on this small island, she had managed to get away once again.
In the next installment (Chapter 32: Spy and Destroyer; Chapter 33: Dissent and Exploration; Chapter 34: A Man from Maine), Joseph Onbacher overhears one of the Island’s prominent scientists making a deal that sounds both suspicious and dangerous. Enrico Marcus fights with his father over their future roles in the planned new Mexican government. A high-tech hunt for the wreck of the Bounty begins.