Assignment Manihiki, Episode 44, Odysseys in Paradise

 

They returned to the bay while a crimson sun still glowed behind the tropic hills to the west of Pago Pago. The Odyssey slid nicely alongside the dock and Oaks leaped from the deck to secure the lines.

Oaks motioned to Rich. “In the mood for a cold one? I’m buying.”

“Sure,” Rich said.

They walked to the bar where Ham was the bouncer.

As soon as they entered Ham stood in their way. “Rich,” Ham said, “there is a man looking for you. He is on the end stool.”

Rich looked around Ham’s massive head.

“Do you know him?” Ham said.

“I can’t tell,” Rich said.

“One way to find out,” Rich said. “I got a Marine and a guy as big as a battleship with me.”

Rich walked to the bar with Oaks and Ham behind him. He sat next to the man at the bar. The man didn’t look at him.

“I’m Rich Larsen. I hear you’ve been looking for me.”

The man turned and smiled. “Rich, remember me, Clyde Acres.”

“Yeah,” Rich said, “what are you doing here?” He turned to Ham and Oaks. “It’s okay, he’s an old friend.”

Ham slowly returned to his post near the door.

“Let’s have a drink at a table,” Rich said, “and we can all get acquainted.”

Oaks motioned for two beers at an empty table. Acres brought his beer with him.

Rich introduced Oaks and Acres.

They sat and the beers were brought. Rich and Oaks immediately gulped.

“Oaks has been taking down my statements and sending them to Caracas,” Rich said. “I’m no trained spy, but I told Oaks a lot of stuff. He knows everything. I’ve never said anything to anyone else.”

“I think we can trust Oaks,” Acres said.

“So,” Rich said. “I’m thinking that there’s something you have to tell me directly. You didn’t come here just to check on my welfare.”

“That’s perceptive of you,” Acres said.

“As long as I’m on the flattering end of things,” Rich said. “You said you think we can trust Oaks; I’d say you are sure you can trust Oaks. I think Oaks knew you’d be here or was coming. I think you and Oaks know each other. What’s more, I think Oaks knows more about Sam White than I do. What are the chances of two guys meeting in the middle of the South Pacific and knowing the same guy? I think Oaks went to Harvard, not just to get educated, but to keep an eye on subversive communists activity.”

Oaks and Acres looked at each other.

“You two meet in Korea?” Rich said.

“Yeah,” Acres said.

“So what’s the deal?” Rich said.

“Something sort of fell into my lap,” Acres said. “We have word of a Russian diplomat who wishes to defect. They have been looking for him for over a year. A month ago he made contact with us through a Central American government. They don’t want any involvement. It has been passed around to several governments before reaching us. We’d like to find him and bring him to the US.”

“Why didn’t he just contact the US, to begin with?” Rich said.

“We don’t know his reasons,” Acres said, “but it is common to find an agreeable third party to act as an intermediary. We watch their embassies and they watch ours, but you can’t watch everybody.”

“Where do I fit in?” Rich said.

“We’d like for you to bring him to Pago Pago,” Acres said.

“Where is he?” Rich said.

“We believe he is on an island named Manihiki,” Oaks said.

“Who does Manihiki Island belong?” Rich said.

“New Zealand,” Oaks said.

“So why don’t they go get him?” Rich said.

“The Russians doesn’t trust anything British,” Acres said. “He’s afraid the Kiwis will just turn him over the British.”

“How far am I from Manihiki?” Rich said. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“A little more than 700 miles,” Oaks said.

“How long do you think a trip like that will take?” Acres said.

“I always figure 100 miles a day to play it safe,” Rich said, “but I’ve been able to go 175 to 180 in a day.”

“That sounds like two weeks round trip,” Oaks said.

Rich rubbed his chin.

“Do you want some time to think about it?” Acres said.

“Will either one of you be going with me?” Rich said.

“No,” Acres said, “there is to be no trace of government intervention, especially military.”

“Will I have any sort of cover?” Rich said.

“You’ll just be a guy who wants to sail around the South Pacific,” Acres offered.

“And just so happens to find a Russian diplomat in the middle of nowhere,” Rich said sarcastically.

“If you can come up with something better, do it,” Oaks said.

“It is also called the island of pearls. They are known for black pearls, especially,” Acres said. “I heard about what happened in Tahiti, perhaps you may have decided to give the pearl transport industry a try, you might say a shift in careers.”

“I’ll stock the boat tomorrow morning and sail with the tide,” Rich said.

Acres reached inside his lapel pocket, pulled out a thick envelope, and slid it across the table to Rich. “$2,000,” he said.

“There must be a budget crunch in Washington,” Rich said. “There was a time you’d pass out 5,000 just to get lost.”

“That’s thousand a week,” Acres said.

“I’m not going to quibble,” Rich said. “So what does Boris Badenov look like and how do I find him. Oh wait, he’s the only guy who speaks Russian on a Manihiki.”

“He speaks perfect English,” Acres said.

“What’s his name?” Rich said.

“Yuri Petrushkin,” Acres said. “Six foot, 170 pounds, light brown hair, gray at the temples, early 40s; that’s all I have. He may even be disguised. He’s likely the only European on the island.”

“Why me?” Rich said.

“Right place at the right time,” Oaks said.

“I handpicked you,” Acres said. “I know you will get the job done.”

“I’m curious,” Rich said, “what happens to him once I get him back to Pago Pago?”

“Bring him to the Naval station and he’ll be flown to the States,” Acres said. “He’ll be debriefed and relocated as John Smith in Des Moines or Peoria.”

Rich chugged down the beer remaining in his glass and stood. He placed the envelope in his pant’s pocket. “I got to find Manihiki on a map and chart a course.” He tossed some wadded money on the table. “The night is on me.”

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