Arch Patton Adventure
By James Strauss
“Doesn’t matter what you got,” the imitation Errol Flynn DEA agent said, standing behind the front desk. “Twenty thousand bucks down to take it for a spin. Otherwise, bring in a marine surveyor and check it out all you want for nuthin.” Arch noted the indentation Dave’s Glock had made in the wood surface of the counter, but didn’t let his eyes rest there, instead he leaned down, and unzipped his black, nylon, ballistic ‘dop’ kit. He pulled out two banded stacks of hundreds, each a little less than an inch thick. The original paper bands had been removed, and replaced with ‘clean’ ones, so no bank or financial institutional information was on them. Mission cash was as sterile as cash could get; scrubbed of prints, DNA, everything. It gave the appearance of being well used, and never consisted of even two consecutively numbered bills.
“Twenty large,” Arch said, placing two packets of hundreds gently on the counter, each about the size of a thick cell phone. “We’ll be a couple of hours. If the boat isn’t what you stated, then we’ll be back for our deposit. If it is then we’ll be back with another hundred and thirty. That’ll be the total, so decide what you want to do.”
Errol looked down at the bills, then at the indentation, and then up into Arch’s eyes. “Who’s getting the report on this? What kind of receipt you going to want?”
“Nobody, and no receipt,” Arch said, with a faint smile, knowing where the conversation was going. “Just a bill of sale for a surveyed out hull. It won’t be going back into service once were done.”
“When will you be done? Those Lambor motors are worth their weight in gold. I’d be happy to buy ‘em back for cash and knowing they’re not going to appear on a ledger account somewhere,” Errol replied, smiling for the first time.
“We’re paying gold prices for them now. If it occurs to us, we’ll come back in a couple of weeks and talk. Take you chances. It’s a cash deal without any questions from us,” David replied, knowing full well that the boat would never be delivered back. It would join others of its kind at the bottom of the warm gulf waters, but he didn’t want the DEA agent, crooked as he might be, to have any idea that the boat might be going into action any time soon.
The man reached out and took the banded hundreds, putting them in a drawer without counting, as Arch suspected he might. “Henry goes out with you, so I know you’re coming back. He thinks your I.D. is phony, and I agree with him. You’re with somebody, but we don’t know who, and we really don’t care. But the boat comes back.”
“Fair enough,” Arch nodded, looking at the unlikely mirror mounted on the wall. He turned, and walked down the counter to the end where the door the two men had come through was located. The door was unlocked. Arch stepped through, without looking back at Errol Flynn. Two video cameras on tripods sat facing the other side of the mirror, which was enclosed by a roughly torn out section of the wall. Arch opened each camera carefully, and removed the SD cards. Errol stood at the door, but made no move to stop him. “We’re easy enough to find if you want to, but we’d rather not have the financial transactions recorded. For your safety, and our own, of course.” Arch looked over at the DEA agent with flat eyes and no expression. “If you’ve got anything else then I’d get rid of it as soon as I could, but of course you can make your own judgment about that.”
Arch took Dave’s bag from the Mercedes, making sure the car was completely empty. Even though it would be locked, it was a near certainty it’d be gone through while they were gone. By the time he got out on the dock, lugging their equipment, the boat was untied and only held close to the dock by a single rope looped around a pylon, and held wrapped tightly around Henry’s thick forearm. Arch jumped aboard after tossing the packed bags onto the deck ahead of him. Dave appeared, and took them below.
“The engines sound awfully quiet, even at idle, for the eight hundred horsepower beasts they’re supposed to be,” Arch said, standing at the controls with both motors running, but showing minimal revolutions on the twin tachometers.
“Pull us out onto the waterway and go to neutral. We’ll take a look,” Dave responded. Dave was a small boat master, whereas Arch, although he could handle almost any boat, knew his limits when it came to high performance running in rough seas, or the complex power and steering systems it took to make it all possible.
Dave stepped past Arch to assume control of the boat.
“Why’s this thing named Thunder Marine if it’s made by a company of the same name?” Arch asked, as he strapped himself into the standing bolster seat located right next to Dave’s left arm.
“Navy,” Dave responded, without turning, most of his attention focused on the many dials built into the dashboard before him. “The first ship built in a series has its name used for the whole run. The Ohio was first of a series of nuclear subs. The whole run of those submarines are referred to as Ohio class submarines today. Whoever ran Thunder Marine was probably ex-Navy. ”
“So this is the first one of these the company built?” Arch asked. “I wonder if the others have Lamborghini engines?”
Dave didn’t answer, his full concentration being paid to operating the boat. A few minutes later, with the engines again running at idle, all three men stared down, as the hydraulic engine cover slowly lifted. Two great chunks of beautiful, technological art sat burbling below them. The set up was a marvel of mechanical engineering. A single downdraft Weber carburetor fed each of the twelve cylinders of both engines, with throttle controls made of interlocked and levered stainless steel tubes polished to look like chrome. The engines were a beautiful nightmare. Tuning the setup would take a rarified expert many hours, using specialized equipment and having a good bit of luck. Henry pointed to the sides of the motor banks. The engines were so quiet because each of the four six-cylinder banks fed exhaust through three distinctly separate mufflers, finally emitting their gases on the bottom of the hull, instead of at the stern board. The boat was rigged to run quietly at a reasonable rate of speed, in rough water conditions.
“So far so good,” Arch said, “Let’s take her out.” The fiberglass cover whined as it slowly retracted, finally stopping with a decisive sounding click.
The trip to the inland waterway channel, which led to open ocean, only took a few minutes. Once through the channel, Dave turned the board into the incoming five-foot surf, and went directly at it. The wide deep bow of the Thunder Marine began to fly from the top of one swell to the top of another. Four bolsters ran across the bridge with Dave secured behind the console on the boat’s starboard side. Arch had the position next to him, while Henry was strapped in, just behind Dave.
“I can handle a rough ride,” Henry mentioned, standing rigidly in the bolster, but clutching two safety straps tightly. “But I get sick if we do it too long.”
“Great,” Dave whispered to Arch, his eyes squinting a bit in a frown. If Henry tossed his cookies, neither man wanted to clean up that kind of mess. “I know this thing’s in decent shape,” Dave went on, raising his voice to be heard over the sound of the burbling engines. “She’s a runner. I can feel it. Listen to those babies hum, and they’re only doing a thousand of twist. She’s propped for ‘dig’ though, not top end. If we want top end, I’ll have to find some Aronow props pitched a little flatter.”
“Make it tap-dance, partner,” Arch instructed, using the uncommon ‘partner’ honorific for his junior team member. Dave smiled at the compliment.
“We’ll quarter this small stuff, and get some idea of how she handles rough water, wind and top speed,” Dave replied, pushing the twin throttles forward.
The boat jumped ahead, making Arch grab the sides of his waist and chest-supporting seat. The going became rough, with the hull jerking back and forth as Dave fought to place it in exactly the right places between, and with, the heaving offshore waves.
All of a sudden they were running smoothly across the top of the waves. It was eerie to have so much sea spray, wind and roiling waves passing by, but be riding comfortably over the surface, almost like the boat was flying.
“Optimal speed in these condition is sixty knots or so,” Dave yelled, moving the wheel back and forth with his left hand, while controlling the dual throttles with his right. “Pitched this way we can probably do about seventy max. With the right propellers, probably a hundred.”
“A hundred and fifteen miles per hour? I don’t believe it? In this monster?” Arch yelled back, over the sound of the wildly passing wind.
“Thunder Marine,” Dave said, laughing with enjoyment as the boat took to the rough waters like a rabbit to the woods. “Nothing built like this before or since. The Lambors in the stern probably put out more like a thousand horses each, but who’s counting? If a couple of carb’s go offline, we’ll be limping home at the speed of a twin hull Hobie Cat. But everything has a downside.”
“Take her in,” Arch ordered. The test run had proven more successful than he’d hoped.
The trip back in was easy, with the wind at their backs and the dual engines running at little more than two of their possible seven thousand RPMs. Still, they passed regular power yachts and speedboats as if they were standing still. Most boats ran at slow speeds through ocean chop. It took a dedicated machine, and an artist at the helm, to transform getting across the surface of an aroused ocean, into a wild speeding adventure.
Without warning a black racing cigarette-style boat crossed their wake, jumping the waves they were leaving behind. It ran as if possessed of some ballerina’s grace. Its long yellow hull leaped and settled, and then leaped again. The sound of its engines was that of a synchronized whining snarl. It was powered by a gas turbine, the most powerful and weight effective of racing boat motors.
Arch looked over to see who might be driving the powerful racing boat, only to make out the macho features of DEA ‘Errol’ at the helm.
“Back it on down,” Arch ordered Dave, as their boat entered the inland waterway. “Let him run, just like he does with his mouth.”
“He’s all fiberglass and wood. Why don’t we just make a small course correction and take him out?” Dave commented, as if he was discussing what they’d have for dinner later.
“He’s DEA. They’d miss one of their ridiculous little puppets. We ignore him, and the rest of them. They don’t have a clue as to who we are or what we’re doing, and that’s the way we want things to remain now, and in the future.” Arch looked back to see if Henry was taking their conversation in. But the man had unstrapped from his bolster and lay flat across the back bench cushion, grasping two handholds and looking as white as a sheet, with his eyes closed. Henry was no sailor.
They pulled back into the same slip they’d left less than an hour before. Arch helped Henry onto the pier, before returning to the helm where Dave stood at the wheel, keeping the boat’s hull securely wedged against the pier’s bumpers. He took out his cell phone, activated it, and then scanned his notes for a list of numbers. He highlighted a couple of lines before texting Dave’s phone. “GPS MapQuest for the end of the hotel pier. I know you know your way back, but just in case,” he said.
Dave checked his phone briefly, before turning back to the helm. Arch retrieved his smaller nylon bag from the cavernous forward section of the Thunder Marine.
“I’ll take care of the rest here, then head on back,” Arch said, climbing back onto the pier. “I’ll meet you later at the hotel pier. Let’s keep all our stuff, except toiletries, aboard the boat rather than at the hotel. Ilke should be flying in later this afternoon. Today is down for rest and preparation. We’ll brief in the early a.m. tomorrow, and begin the plan.
Errol was back behind the counter, probably having broken all the inland waterway speed laws to get back before them. Arch said nothing. Henry stood next to Arch at the counter, still white and bracing himself against the wall next to the two-way mirror. “Hundred and thirty,” Arch said to Earl. “You can count it, but be fast. I have miles to go.” He piled bundles of currency atop the counter’s flat wood surface.
“So go,” Errol said, acting more like Cool Hand Luke, than the Indiana Jones character he seemed to be trying to imitate.
Arch drove the Mercedes back to the hotel, going just five miles over posted speeds. With no traffic to speak of, he reached the hotel parking lot in just over an hour. Thunder Marine was already docked when Arch walked out on the pier, with Dave sitting on the plastic deck with his back against a supporting post.
“How’d she handle coming in?” Arch asked, knowing the answer but asking anyway.
“Like a dream,” Dave responded. “Full throttle most of the way. She sings across the water, the rougher the better.”
Arch took a seat next to his junior partner, swinging his feet down over the water.
“Your signature Breguet, and that strange bracelet,” Dave said, pointing at Arch’s left arm.
“Yeah, the Type Twenty-Two, and an elephant hair bracelet. One works like no other and the other, well, I just like it.
“African? Elephant hair?” Dave asked.
“You’re right about the mission,” Arch said, ignoring Dave’s questions.
“Here I am chastising one civilian, while bringing along a citizen photographer, and a citizen girlfriend. Do you suppose any of this could go down without the big money involved?”
“No, and the mission hasn’t even started,” Dave laughed.
The remainder of the afternoon went smoothly, the team transferring gear and supplies to the boat while Arch drove to the airport and picked up Ilke. She seemed totally enthusiastic about everything they passed, as he drove the Mercedes back to the hotel. Even the car’s rumpled, run down condition didn’t seem to bother her. He showed her to her room, but let her know he’d be staying on the boat. Arch was only willing to go so far in bringing his personal life close to the perimeters of a mission. They agreed to meet in the first floor lobby bar before dinner. He wondered if he should simply introduce her to the team, or leave her in suspense, but then decided to let things play out as they would.
By the time Arch settled into his cabin aboard the boat, the rest of the team was half-drunk. He shaved, changed clothes, and then walked over to the hotel and into the lobby bar. Ilke sat at the bar itself, holding a glass of red wine. The team sat around a large table in the front room. Neither they, nor she, could see one another from where they were. Arch decided to approach his men first. Three half-filled pitchers of what looked like blended margaritas sat on the table in front of them. They were drinking the greenish slush from water tumblers, instead of regular margarita glasses.
Just as Arch turned to go get Ilke and introduce her to the rest of the guys, the whole scene changed. In through the front door walked the DEA guys, with Errol and Henry in the lead. Arch just stood there as they walked by to take a table a little past where Arch’s team was still drinking gallons of margaritas. There were six of them. And they all sat down at the same time, around one big rectangular table, laughing and joking like they were ending the day at one of their own watering holes.