Foam on the Large Wave

 

(Fisi 'o e nauaoam)

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Lee and Ajaamil claimed their luggage and then walked to the front of the terminal.  It hadn’t taken long; this was not the best time of year for tourism and it wasn’t crowded.  Somehow Crane was of the opinion that he might very well stick out like a sore thumb in this place and at this time of the year, but he wasn’t the one who had planned it.  He could only suppose that his contact felt safer here at the far ends of the earth.  

Ajaamil hailed a taxi.  The only way that Lee could tell it was a cab was the small, hand-painted logo in Nepalese on the door.  Otherwise, it was an old beat-up Ford circa early 1950’s, probably put together with the local equivalent of bailing wire.  He even felt the hard end of a spring in the seat when he got in.  Shifting, he finally got comfortable as the driver sped off toward the destination Ajaamil had given.  That was the only instance of speed that the taxi was able to maintain.  Despite the weather, there were people about, most on foot, some on small mopeds.   The streets were narrow--extremely narrow, and if Lee hadn’t been used to life on board a submarine, he might have felt claustrophobic.  The high, multi-storied brick buildings seemed almost medieval.  They drove past several large squares where Lee was able to glimpse pagodas, one of them monstrously high.  He saw small displays, some with masks of extremely grotesque faces-- deities, the captain supposed. 

They continued on, still navigating through the narrow streets, but the houses seemed to be getting a bit smaller, the steep mountainsides closer.  The driver soon pulled up in front of a temple that had the appearance of being a bit off the tourist path.   It was still clean, but not as large and elegant as the other temples he had glimpsed.  The taxi driver looked at them expectantly.  Lee just shrugged.  “Sorry, don’t have the local currency.”

“Do you have American dollars?” Ajaamil asked with a smile.

“Uh, well, yes, I do,” Lee responded.  “I can pay in U.S. currency?”

“Of course,” Ajaamil replied, his smile broader. 

Lee dug into his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill.  He showed it to Ajaamil.  “This enough?”

“More than enough, Mr. Morris,” the Indian said, shaking his head.   “You need only give him a five, maybe seven dollars at the most.”

“That’s okay,” Lee said and handed the twenty to the cab driver.  “I’ve taken cabs in Los Angeles.  This was a bargain.”  The man’s dark face crinkled in delight.  He nodded and thanked Lee profusely in his native language.  He jerked the hand brake and jumped out to get Lee’s suitcase.  With a nod, Lee took it and then gazed at the entrance of the temple before them.  They stepped into the front entrance and walked down a short hallway, that, in turn, opened up to a large room where sat a life-sized statue of what looked to be a local rendition of Buddha.  Dark shadows danced on either side of the room and Lee glanced nervously around.  It was too quiet. 

Then suddenly, somebody detached itself from one of the shadows and beckoned to them.   Even in the dim light, the figure looked to be a monk, or someone dressed as one.  Light colored material draped their host, covering all but his face and his lower arms and feet.  Lee was amazed to see that the feet were bare.  It had to be less than fifty degrees, even inside the temple.   The figure beckoned again.  So far everything had worked smoothly, so Lee had to trust that his luck would continue to hold.  He stepped forward and heard Ajaamil at his side.   The figure suddenly stopped them and motioned for the Indian to remain where he was.  He turned to Lee.  “You have something for me?” 

Crane pulled out the embossed card.  The monk nodded in satisfaction and beckoned him to follow.

“I suppose I will wait here with your luggage,” Ajaamil said sardonically.

“I guess,” Lee responded, feeling a bit less sure about the situation.  However, if this was the place where he got the information, he could understand why Mendez wouldn’t want anyone else in attendance.  When the monk gestured again, he stepped forward.  His guide, satisfied, turned and walked behind the statue.  A small, dimly lit hallway curved toward a door that the monk opened and motioned for Lee to go through.   Taking a breath, the captain did so and found himself in a darkened room.  He stopped, wondering what to do next.  The door clicked shut behind him and he pivoted, reaching.  If the guide was in the room with him, he had moved silently out of his reach.

“Mr. Morris, please walk slowly toward my voice.”

The speaker spoke in a lightly accented voice, and Lee assumed that it was the scientist, Gerardo Mendez.  There didn’t seem to be much choice, he began to step slowly, almost shuffling toward Mendez’ voice.  There also didn’t seem to be much point in saying anything either.  The scientist was in charge and would most likely answer questions when they were face to face.   Lee continued to walk, hands outstretched.

“Stop!  That is close enough,” Mendez commanded.  

Lee stopped and waited.  A bright light suddenly shone in his eyes and he threw up his arm in surprise.  As soon as he became used to the light, he lowered his arm and gazed at the tall man in front of him.  Mendez was probably an inch taller than he was; thin, with graying hair and intense brown eyes.  Again Lee waited for the scientist to make the first move. 

“Please follow me,” Mendez said quietly. 

They went through another door and it was quickly apparent that this corridor was dug directly into the mountainside.  The walls were smooth, but they were definitely solid rock.  They walked for about twenty feet and then there was another door, one that looked like it was more suited to the Seaview rather than inside a temple.  Mendez undogged the hatch mechanism and opened the door.  The figure that had led him into the dark room was waiting in a chamber about the size of the missile room.  It was furnished conservatively and seemed to serve as a combination of living quarters and workroom. 

“Have a seat, Captain Crane,” the monk said, in flawless British English, pulling back his hood. 

The man appeared to be native Nepalese.  Whether he was an actual monk, Lee couldn’t venture a guess.  “Thank you,” Lee murmured.

“Would you care for some tea?”

“Yes, please.”   He would have preferred coffee, but if nothing else, the tea would serve to warm him up a bit.  The room seemed to have some heating, but it was minimal. 

Mendez pulled a chair close to the captain.  “I was beginning to think that the planners of this rendezvous were not going to let us meet.”

“May I see some identification, please?” Lee asked matter-of-factly.  “You have the advantage of knowing me, but I don’t have the same advantage.”

“Of course, Captain,” Mendez said with a smile.  He produced a driver’s license, but Lee handed it back not totally satisfied.   The scientist handed him an envelope.  Opening it, Lee saw a hand written note from the admiral.  It was coded in the cipher that Nelson had established for the two of them to be able to verify people in situations like this.  Lee smiled. 

“Are you satisfied, Captain?”

“Yes, Doctor.  Perfectly.  The admiral warned me not to accept anything edible from you,” Lee said wryly, not quite sure what the warning was about, but guessing. 

Mendez grinned and then began to laugh.  Finally, he choked out, “I will let Pran do the honors, then.”  He saw Lee’s slightly puzzled face and continued.  “I like my food very spicy and my drinks strong.  I have had neither since I have been here, so you are safe.”

Lee smiled and nodded.   “Now, could you explain what it is that I am going to take back to Admiral Nelson?”  

“Soon, Captain Crane.  But I have been living in almost total seclusion for the past few months and I now have the opportunity to interact with someone, for however short a time it is.”  Mendez turned to the monk, who was returning with a tray containing three mugs and a pot of steaming tea.  “No offense, my friend.”

“None taken,” the Nepalese replied.  “Your jokes wear thin, perhaps the captain has some new ones.”

Lee smiled.  He found himself quickly liking these two men and was glad there was going to be some bantering before the business that had brought him to this place.  He sipped his tea and found it to have a flavor he was totally unfamiliar with.  “Excellent.  What is it?”

“A local blend that I put together myself,” Pran said, pulling up and chair and sitting near the two men.  “And I will not divulge my secrets.  I plan on packaging and selling it for money to make repairs to the temple.”

Nodding, Lee drank the tea and then poured himself some more.  

“Is Harriman safe?” Mendez asked.

“Last I heard,” Lee answered.  “But then, I haven’t had contact for over two weeks.”

“Good.  I heard about the courier, Anderson, and worried about the others.  This project is too important to end up in the hands of someone else and definitely too important to be allowed to die with us.”

“I plan on getting your information back safely, Doctor,” Lee said with great conviction.

“Our enemy is very cunning, I’m afraid.  I sincerely hope you are right, for the admiral’s sake, for the future, and especially for you,” Mendez said, his voice losing its more light-hearted note.   The scientist sighed.  “Perhaps we’d better get the business done and then we can have something to eat.”

Pran got up.   “I will fix something appropriately delicious, gentlemen.”  He looked at Lee.  “Including something for your companion outside.”

“Thank you, my friend.”  Mendez beckoned to Lee.  “Come with me.   You will be receiving the information in a way that will make it much more difficult for any unauthorized individual to access.  In fact, I would daresay that it would be impossible."

Crane raised one eyebrow in question, but Mendez didn’t say anything.  The scientist motioned for him to sit in a chair that looked a great deal like a doctor or dentist’s chair.   Complying, Lee watched as Mendez walked over to another table.  “At the sake of sounding skeptical, could you explain what you’re doing?”

“You won’t be harmed in any way, Captain,” Mendez assured him.  “It’s something else I have been working on.  Pran has been my guinea pig and so I know it works.”

“Just call me Lee, Doctor,” the captain said.  He began to say something else, but the prick of a needle interrupted his question.   Looking accusingly at Mendez, he immediately fell asleep. 

 

It was the smell of food that woke him, rather than the voices that bantered nearby.  

“Ah, Doctor, the captain is awakening,” Pran said as though from the end of a tunnel. 

Lee tried to sit up, but the room was spinning too violently and he lay back down on the narrow bed.  Mendez appeared at his side.  “What the hell was that for?” Lee asked accusingly.

“What I have put in your brain cannot be extracted by conventional means such as truth serums.  However, anything we discuss, can,” Mendez said.  “Please trust me when I tell you that you have what you came for and it will remain safe until you have returned to the United States.”   The scientist held a cup to his lips and Lee drank from it.  More of Pran’s tea, he realized.   Whatever the Nepalese man put in it, the drink also seemed to have the effect of clearing his head.   He felt a tiny incision at the base of his left ear, only noticed by the fact that something had felt different, but owing to Mendez’ secrecy, Lee chose not to ask about it.  He figured what it must be anyway.

Soon he was sitting up and a short time after that, he was cautiously making his way to a small table where a very delicious-looking dinner was waiting.  The two men gazed at his progress with good-natured amusement, but were soon pointing out a variety of dishes for him to try.  Lee was familiar with many of the world’s cuisines, but much of what was before him was unfamiliar.  The rice he recognized and took some of that first.

“Baji,” Pran said.  “Flattened rice.  It is good with the chhoyla, the spicy meat.  I made it for the doctor here, but he claims it is too bland.”  The Nepalese shook his head as Mendez laughed.  Lee tried some and declared it good.  “The only thing that he finds hot enough for his palate is sanan, the pickles,” Pran explained.  “You might not want to try them.” 

But Lee was feeling adventurous, now that the goal of his mission had been attained and he was among friends.   It was indeed hot and he choked, trying to take a deep breath, but when the fire in his mouth waned, he still found it to be quite good.  There were several other dishes and he tried at least a small amount of each one, washing them down with what Mendez called thon, a sort of local rice beer.   Finally, he sighed and leaned back in his chair.  “Excellent, Pran.  You should market this, too.”

The monk smiled.  “If I was in the United States, perhaps.  But these are commonplace here, Captain.”

“Nevertheless, it’s the best meal I’ve had since I started all this globe-hopping.”

“I will be sorry to see you go, Lee,” Mendez said, almost dismissively.

“Personally, except for the fact that I miss the Seaview, I am sorry I have to leave, too.   I have enjoyed this short time immensely.”  He gazed at Mendez’ wistful expression.  “I suppose I need to leave quite soon.”

Mendez sighed.  “Yes.  We just don’t know how much our enemies are able to figure out from your travels, but if you stay here too long without reason….”

“Yeah, I know,” Lee said sardonically.  “I guess one session with the spiritual advisor is enough to get me on the road home.    I was really not looking forward to another 10 K race.”

Mendez chuckled.  “Not a great cover for a submarine captain, is it?  But take heart, you will be flying from here to Taiwan and there you will board a plane for Hawaii where you will meet the Seaview.”

Lee smiled.  “Good.  I’m ready to change back into my uniform and do something normal, like take the boat on a deep dive.”

A short time later, Lee left the temple with Ajaamil, who had waited patiently through the afternoon in the inner courtyard.  The Indian did not accompany him on the flight this time.  It was a longish flight, owing to the looping southerly route to avoid flying over the People’s Republic of China and Lee dozed off several times.  Finally, though, they landed and he headed toward the airline information desk to get his tickets for the flight to Honolulu.  He informed the airline agent who he was.

“Mr. Jeffrey Morris?” the young Chinese man repeated. 

“Yes, from Santa Barbara,” Lee answered.  “I should have tickets waiting for me.”

“May I see your passport, please?  And other identification.”

Lee frowned, wondering what was going on.  He had never been asked for this much identification from an agent before.  Something political happening that he hadn’t heard about?   He dug out his ID’s and handed them over to the young man. 

Instead of handing them back, the man said, “There is an irregularity.  Will you come with me?”

“What kind of irregularity?  I was told that I would have tickets waiting for me.”  Alarm was warring with irritation. 

“Please come with me and my superiors will explain everything.” 

Lee hesitated. 

“You will either accompany me willingly, sir, or I will have to call security.”

The alarm bells claxoned in Lee’s mind and he simply turned and sprinted for the terminal entrance.  He never made it.  Someone blindsided him only twenty feet from the main entrance and at the same time, he felt the sting of a hypodermic needle in his upper arm.  Then there was nothing.

 

 

Chapter 4
Foam on the Large Wave Prologue
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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