Ashes to Ashes
February 28, 7:10 P.M., London, England
Rick Meiers stood near a streetlight, which gave off a modicum of illumination. The faint glow of his cigar provided a greater hint of his presence than the dirty globe.
"Painting your lungs with black tar will definitely make you more difficult to see." Those weren't Marta's exact words–but close enough.
He could imagine her voice and look of loving concern. His wife was an artist, but gifted with words as well as the brushes and easels. He gazed across the river, listening to the rumble of lorries on the other side. There were sounds of stop-go coaches welcoming new fares from the neighboring pubs where many customers reluctantly downed their last pints before finally heading home to cold suppers of potatoes and tripe.
Few tourists wandered the periphery of the Tower of London this evening. It was the season for renovating and regrouping with towers closed and tourist shops making the best of the calendar-dictated annual holiday. Winter usually discouraged visitors to London from the continent or abroad. Many Americans and Europeans were already entrenched in their own weather reports of icy highways and sub-zero temperatures and consequently inclined to postpone their guidebook tours of Great Britain.
Rick gazed at the reflections on the water and recalled a familiar line of verse…where Thames with pride surveys his rising towers. When did he first hear those words, maybe when he was an Oxford graduate student, advancing his credibility in criminology? Of course, his family had owned a big chunk of Austria then, so no one had expected him to be anything but a playboy. Scotland Yard gave him his experience as a criminologist; later, espionage satisfied his blood lust and hunger for higher levels of excitement.
Extreme adventures always found favor in his life. Skydiving, mountain climbing, and cycle road racing sated a hunger for adventure until the auburn-haired artist he'd met rock climbing in the Sierras of California altered all his goals and redirected his passions to the confusing webs of matrimony.
The smells of petrol and exhaust were irritating his nose now even as the expensive cigar gave off its last aromatic wafts. It was nearly burning his fingers. He laughed to himself. It isn't as though I don't have a couple of Cuban reserves in my pocket!
Two weeks in London playing CIA operative again wasn't exactly the planned business trip he'd reported to Marta. In the past month he had lied to her more than he had in their entire five years of marriage. Supposedly, he had retired his secret and dangerous life as an intelligence expert once he had fallen in love. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for Marta–not then–not now. However, somehow he neglected telling Marta about his past with its many circuitous, questionable turns.
It was Rick who contacted the CIA and former colleagues from the Yard, U. S. federal investigative agencies, and American Embassy, in December, when he recognized a Sedona, Arizona patron of the arts as a drug cartel member. A month of surveillance revealed plans and names of associates for a London meeting of international drug members.
The black stretch limo pulled up beside Rick. The driver opened the window. "Howdy, Mate," he called. "I recognized the glow from your cigar before I even saw the bloody tower."
There were two CIA agents and a New Scotland Yard Superintendent in the limo. The driver was CIA and Rick's former spy partner, Barry Sullivan.
Barry said, "The transfer is on for 8:00 P.M. The chartered jet will be ready when we arrive with our special cargo. In the meantime–the Morelli boys are cooling their heels at the Queen's Inn with the mod squad."
The transfer from the Queen's Inn was uneventful, especially with the Morelli cousins shackled. Martin Morelli hadn't known he would be accompanying his crime boss cousin, Vincent, to the United States instead of to their intended destination, Rome, Italy. For the past four hours the Morelli cousins had been sleepy and relaxed. However, as they shuffled to the limo and its contingent of plainclothes American and British agents, they started to awaken.
An hour later, Vincent Morelli recognized Rick Meiers. "You damn spook," he shouted, "did you think we were just waiting in our rooms for you guys to drop by for a visit?"
Rick answered, "No way–we had our welcome parties spotted around your inn for days!" He continued, "Several of your countrymen will never eat cod cakes or pasta–or much else ever again."
Barry said, "That reminds me–I'm hungry."
They were traveling on a dark stretch of highway, where channel seawall flanked their right and cliffs absorbed the blackness on their left. Suddenly a small sedan sped by and swung into their forward lane. A hooded man with Uzi, thrust through an open window, fired point blank at the windshield of the limo. Several agents exchanged fire with him; then the sedan and limo collided, the sedan exploding into a ball of fire. The limo careened into the guardrail, bounced back against the cliff, and finally came to a stop.
Rick felt something wet and sticky running down his cheek. He heard someone grunt in the front seat, knowing someone else had been hit. His vision was impaired as blood oozed from his scalp and covered his eyes. Glass fragments seemed to be everywhere, some clinging to his jacket. Rick was in the back seat. There was a fleeting awareness that he had been wounded in the shoulder too. At first the pain was sharp, then it changed to a numbing weakness. As blood drained from him, he felt lightheaded, wondering if he’d ever see Marta again. He slumped against the door.
With what strength remained in Rick, he tried to shout, “Don’t let the bastard get away.”
Three figures ran out onto the highway. One of the shackled prisoners disappeared into the darkness.
There was frantic activity as two men opened the limo doors and began searching for and depositing items. Luggage was removed. A dead body was sprawled on the back seat.
The limo was pushed to the edge of the highway, soon careening down the rocks, onto a small beach, where it burned, rapidly converting much of its cargo into ash.
March 13 Sedona, Arizona USA
Vincent Morelli had returned to the United States, arriving in Sedona, the same day Marta Meiers received her husband's ashes, her husband's wedding ring, and a personal visit from the CIA director, Jason Carlson.
Jason proclaimed Rick, as a former intelligence agent, an American hero, even though he had died tragically in a senseless traffic accident outside London.
"Rick was a special breed of CIA agent—he was always determined to keep his personal life safe from all elements of crime—no matter what it cost him."
Vincent Morelli, attorney at law, had political plans and a large political war chest, and determination to punish his enemies for altering his agenda. His law partner, John Walker, was talking of running for office too. There was no stopping either one of them. Although Vincent probably already had most of the Arizona influential politicians in his pocket, he did have one major concern.
He swore, "I don't think John has the balls to stand up to a smart detective, let alone a congressional hearing. I'll be keeping a sharp eye on him!"
The man beside Vincent wore a frozen smile. He murmured, "John won't be visiting his banker or his mistress without a tail. I don't know why you ever trusted him in the first place."
"I didn't–I don't."
"You sure as hell give him more power than he deserves."
"I've often thought the same regarding you and John's demented son."
Jimmy raised his hand as if to strike Vincent Morelli, his brother. Then, reconsidering, he dropped the arm to his side.