“And one other thing,” Rapp said. “You’re not by chance heading to the Bahamas this weekend, are you?”
Butler laughed. “I wasn’t planning on it.”
“Well, I’m flying over to Nassau in the morning.”
“What on earth for?”
“I need to talk to someone about a shipment of stolen drugs. And while I’m there I might visit one of your banks.”
“Oh,” Butler said, showing a bit of concern.
“If you’re interested, meet me at the Graycliff. Say around eleven. If not . . . send someone you trust. Someone who might help expedite things.”
“Let me see what I can do.”
“Fair enough. Just shoot me an email and let me know if you can make it.”
Kennedy covered a few more things with them, thanked them for their time, and then disconnected the call. She looked up at Rapp with a pensive stare and said, “The Bahamas.”
“And when were you going to tell me about this?”
“I thought I’d send you a postcard from the beach.”
“Really . . . and just how do you plan on getting there?”
“Actually, I need to borrow one of your planes. The guy I’m going with is sending his plane to Cuba to pick up the man I need to talk to.”
“Cuba . . .” Kennedy frowned. “Who?”
“I think it would be better for both of us if I spared you the details.”
“You’re unbelievable,” Kennedy said with a shake of her head and a sigh.
HIS watch woke him up with a steady beep . . . beep. Hakim turned off the alarm and looked over at the dashboard clock. It was four-thirty in the morning. He reached down with his left hand and searched for the seat controls. After he found the big vertical knob he pulled up and the driver’s seat began to raise itself out of the fully reclined position. He looked over the steering wheel, half expecting to see a cordon of police officers. There were none. He smiled at the cars opposite him. There wasn’t a person in sight and beyond the edge of the concrete parking ramp he could see the sky in the east turning gray with the first hints of dawn. The relief felt good. So far his plan had worked.
On the drive into New Orleans he’d weighed his options and decided it was time to press his luck, before his window of opportunity closed. It was time for a bold move. He had a brief conversation with his Cajun associate, Timmy the Bayou Coke King. The Coke King told him he was running a boat in five days. The thought was Hakim could ride out for the transfer and then ask for passage on the other boat. The plan might work, but Hakim had other concerns. The first involved staying at the Cajun’s swamp shack for five days. The place was filthy. In his current state he was likely to catch a debilitating infection. His second concern was the vision of himself attempting to climb from one boat to the other in the inevitable swells. And that would be after pounding through who knew what kind of seas, at close to fifty knots. If it had been his only option, he still would have wavered, but he supposed in the end he would have simply dealt with the pain.
Fortunately, there was an alternative. There was a great deal of risk in the sense that he would be trapped as soon as he entered an airport, but sometimes the best course of action really was the simplest. He had an American passport and a matching credit card with a ten-thousand-dollar limit. On the way down the night before he’d pulled into a Wal-Mart parking lot outside Vicksburg and turned on his laptop. There were no direct flights, but in a way that was better. He had his choice of ten or more flights that would work, but the best combination was the 6:00 A.M. out of New Orleans with a connecting flight through Miami. He was very familiar with both airports. The security people at New Orleans International Airport weren’t exactly the cream of the crop, and the people at the Miami Airport weren’t much better. Miami was also one of the busiest airports in the world, and they were far more worried about who was entering the country than who was leaving it.
So Hakim said a quick prayer and booked the tickets through an online travel site. He then very carefully eased himself out of the car and slowly walked into Wal-Mart so he could use the bathroom and purchase what he would need for the next leg of his journey. Back in the parking lot he took all of his purchases out of the packaging and neatly placed them in the new carry-on bag he’d purchased. He was back on the road in less than thirty minutes and headed over to Jackson, Mississippi, where he pulled in to a truck stop. He hobbled in with his new roller suitcase and found the pay showers that the truckers used. He fed dollar bills into the slot and then entered the cramped space. Slowly and carefully he peeled off his clothes and rolled them into a neat ball before stuffing them into one of the two plastic Wal-Mart bags he’d saved.
Hakim stood in front of the streaked and scratched mirror and inspected the full extent of his injuries. The left side of his body from under his armpit to nearly his waist was one marbleized slab of purple. Both eyes were bruised, his nose was broken, and his lip was split. Even when confronted with the severity of his injuries, he had a hard time believing his friend had done this to him. He plugged in the electric clipper, set it to one, placed his head over the sink, and began to buzz off his medium-length black hair. In a few minutes he was done. All of his hair was buzzed to a uniform quarter inch. He then took the electric razor and took off the two days of stubble on his cheeks and neck, leaving the thick black hair on his upper lip and chin. It was exactly the way he had worn it for the photo he used on his fake passport.
After a quick shower, Hakim placed the electric razor in his suitcase and put the clipper in the second bag with his shoes. He then put on his baggy khaki cargo shorts, a striped light blue and white polo shirt, flip-flops and a Budweiser hat. On the way back to the car he tossed the two Wal-Mart bags into a garbage can, then drove down to New Orleans and the Louis Armstrong International Airport.
He arrived a few minutes past eleven and pulled up to the short-term parking kiosk, where he grabbed his ticket and entered the large multilevel parking structure. He found the perfect open spot on the fourth floor. It was dark and the space was bracketed by a large SUV and a pickup truck. He carefully backed the vehicle into a tight space. There was barely a foot to spare on each side, which was good. If any security guards were on patrol this was the last row they would pick to cut through. Hakim set the alarm on his watch, reclined his seat, turned it all over to Allah, and went to sleep.
Now he had a flight to catch. He was about to open his door when he realized he needed more room. He started the car and pulled out of the spot. Near the end of the row he found two open spaces and pulled in. He popped the trunk and took the keys with him. He stuffed the keys in the pocket of the hoodie sweatshirt he had on over the polo shirt and then very carefully slid the carry-on over the edge and let it slide off the bumper to the ground. After extending the handle he grabbed the bag of cotton balls and tore it open. He took three and stuffed them in his mouth on the left side between his teeth and his cheek. He tapped his cheek with the palm of his hand and decided he could use a few more. After that he put just two on the right side and stuffed some extra ones in his jacket pocket. He then grabbed the dull metal cane he’d picked up at Wal-Mart and closed the trunk. With the left hand on the cane and his right hand on top of the wheeled carry-on he began hobbling toward the terminal.
Just before he got to the double glass doors he stopped and dumped his other forms of ID in the garbage can. It wouldn’t look good if he was searched and they were discovered. He took the elevator down a couple of floors and then took the skyway over to the main terminal. So far he’d seen just one person, a flight attendant who walked briskly past him. Inside the terminal there were more people but it didn’t look like much in the big space. Hakim looked carefully both ways and saw only one police officer. Overweight and barely awake, he didn’t look like much of a threat. If they knew he was coming they were doing a wonderful job concealing themselves.