They reached the edge of the jungle late in the afternoon that day. Taking time to remove as much of the filth as possible, they worked quickly to make themselves presentable. It wouldn’t do to hike into town looking as if they had just spent the better part of two days hiking through the jungle. Especially when those responsible for the murders of the truck driver and his Contra passengers were in all likelihood somewhere in the town watching for strangers to appear from that direction.
It was a medium size town, quaint and picturesque if you ignored the armed soldiers lounging around the tiled fountain which decorated the main square. The dirt streets were filled with villagers all bearing the look of wanton poverty. The civil war was obviously being felt by the civilian population as hunger-filled eyes followed them as they made their way through the streets. It was difficult to maintain an air of indifference to the resentful glances that were thrown at the two well-fed Americans.
As Jack and Frank walked slowly down the street they saw a young woman, her breast bare, nursing an infant, as she sat on the stoop outside her home talking to an elderly neighbor. Young children ran back and forth in the universally popular game of tag. One of the children, dressed in little more than a pair of ragged shorts, ran up to the pair of strangers and begged for a few pennies. Frank glared at the child and harshly told him to leave, using a few well-chosen words of Spanish.
Jack’s lips narrowed as he gritted his teeth, knowing Frank was absolutely right to have chased the child away. If he had laid aside his common sense and given the child the coins, he knew within minutes they would have been surrounded by a crowd of begging children. So much for remaining incognito. It would have been a quick trip to the local jail, if not to the nearest mortuary to dispose of what sorry bits of their remains were left. Oh yeah, Frank had called that one right. Giving in to compassion would only get you killed on this kind of mission.
Moving quickly and confidently along the street, they soon spotted their target, a small cantina several blocks from the square. The CIA intel had thus far paid off if you ignored the colossal screw-up of choosing a truck driver. Mark’s directions had been perfect.
They would meet their contact at the cantina. Then they’d be taken to join the contra unit somewhere in the jungles near here, where they’d pass on the information they’d painstakingly memorized. After that they would begin the daunting task of training them to fight, and defend their country against Ortega’s Communist government and his Sandinista soldiers.
As the two men casually strolled into the dim interior of the cantina, they found it crowded with local villagers enjoying a drink and the companionship of friends after the day’s labor. All eyes turned and conversation ceased as the two Americans entered the building. As Frank worked his way over to an empty table, Jack moved nonchalantly up to the bar. Holding up two fingers, he threw a few coins on the counter and spoke to the bartender, ignoring the silent men who watched him curiously and with mild hostility in their dark eyes.
“Dos cervezas, por favor.”
The bartender picked up the coins and handed Jack two bottles of beer which much to his surprise actually felt cold.
The locals opened a path before him as he made his way carefully over to the scarred table where Frank sat waiting, Jack handed him one of the bottles before taking a long drink of his own. They sat quietly ignoring the locals, giving the impression of having simply stopped in to quench their thirst. Although the conversations around them gradually reconvened, the air was thick with tension. They ignored the uneasy glances tossed their way.
Waiting was always the hardest part of the mission for Jack, though he was careful to hide his impatience. Sitting ate at him. He wanted, he needed action. His long fingers danced along the neck of the bottle, channeling his desire for movement.
They were nursing their beers a half an hour later when Jack nudged Frank’s foot gently. Placing three fingers around his beer he informed Frank of the new arrivals.
Frank nodded surreptitiously, took a final drag from his cigarette and ground it into the floor.
Cautiously the three newcomers approached the table and stood in a semi-circle looking down suspiciously at the Americans. “Welcome to our village, señors. You are Americano?”
Frank eyed the leader and answered with the prearranged information.
“Sí, señor. The names are Bob and Joe Valentine. We’re interested in talking to someone about purchasing coffee beans to export back to the States. You wouldn’t know who we might meet with to discuss this business venture in private, would you?”
Slowly the leader gave a grim tight smile and nodded.
“Si, señors, if you will follow me, I will take you to whom you seek.”
Jack and Frank rose slowly, preparing to follow their new guide just as a sharp whistle sounded near the front door.
“Sandinistas!” their guide hissed between clenched teeth as a group of soldiers walked purposefully into the room.
The soldiers’ eyes locked immediately on the two Americans standing in the middle of the room. They moved towards them. Throwing Frank a quick glance and receiving a nod of understanding the already volatile atmosphere of the cantina erupted as Jack kicked over the small table they had been sitting at and in the same motion threw a hard punch at a nearby farmer’s jaw, knocking the man into a group of men who had been standing at the bar. In a smooth motion Frank followed the his lead and shoved another man into another group of locals.
In a flash, the match they had lit exploded the gunpowder situation. Tempers discharged and within seconds a full-fledged bar fight had ensued.
The Sandinistas were swept up into the flood of fists. Dodging bodies, Jack saw Frank make use of the chaos to move back towards him. In the distance he could hear the shouts which had to be the local policía coming to break up the fight. They needed to use the diversion and get the hell out of here quick.
Their Contra contacts were moving towards the back door, likewise using the fight as cover to escape. He signaled Jack to follow.
Nodding, Jack sought out Frank before he moved towards the escape. He had to make sure Frank was in the clear and knew of the plan before he fought his own way out. The squad of police burst through the door, leaded clubs flailing, just as he made eye contact with Frank.
Frank was on his feet and using his fists to clear a path towards Jack. At Jack’s pantomimed directions he nodded that he understood. Shoving a skinny peasant farmer aside, he moved towards the door.
Jack had reached the back door and stood there watching Frank’s progress ready to lend a hand if he needed it. The local civilian population posed no real threat to the well-trained Special Forces soldiers and Frank moved towards Jack’s position rapidly.
Suddenly however, he saw Frank jerk to a stop. Ignoring the battle still raging around him, he was staring at his side, a look of shock written on his face. Blood poured from a deep stab wound. His eyes sought out Jack as he clasped his hand over the pulsating wound, just as he was shoved viciously from behind.
Immediately, Jack launched himself towards his friend. Frank was down, swallowed under the fighting sea of brawling humanity. Jack’s eyes were locked on the place he had last seen Frank. Distracted by his search, Jack failed to see the policeman swing his heavy club until it was too late. The club struck him hard behind the ear and he sunk beneath the waves of unconsciousness before he hit the floor.