A Gathering of Secrets
“Play Glenn Miller”, Jericho Vaughn commanded, military swaggering
through the entrance to the American Jazz and Blues Garden bar in Baía dos Pescadores, a fishing village in the northern
Brazil state of Caeará. The afternoon sun reflecting from his short sleeve gray cargo style gear, and bulging biceps
made him appear taller than five feet and ten inches as well as younger than sixty years old. Perspiration from the 98 degree
heat pouring down his chiseled face and close cropped white hair underscored every battle scarred year. He paused briefly
to press the equivalent of two euro into the palm of oversized camouflage shirt and baggy shorts clad Pato, the 17-year old
leader of the barefooted, scantily attired dark skinned group of children that roamed the pier and dusty street performing
ad hoc chores. Pato waved a gift Stetson straw hat signaling his crew to cease the playful African slavery origin capoeira
martial arts dance, remove the road grime from the ATV, and “assure” its security through their wary flashing
eyes. The bar, a restaurant, a bakery, a boat repair fishing gear shop, a fruit and vegetable stand, a grocery store and several
food kiosks comprised the commerce center at the northern top of the bay. The remainder of the businesses, restaurants, disco,
lounges, and hotels were located three kilometers south off the adequately named Main Road. The Jazz Bar’s remote location
was ideal for the secretive fishermen to protect from outsiders the fertile fishing grounds of the sea and the estuary at
the northern tip of the bay known and referred to locally as Secret Bay. Itinerating free lance mercenaries seeking an isolated
secure staging venue relished this locale as well. Paulo a.k.a. Glenn, the bartender tossed a towel to Jericho moving briskly
to the restroom then carried a mint condition vintage vinyl recording carefully in his now gloved hands and started the precision
turntable while muting the MP3 player system. The best customers and old friends were treated to vinyl records from his extensive
Jazz collection in air tight cabinets behind the long artistically crafted wooden bar. Best customers and old friends were
identical. Native born Orpheus, the DJ/bar backup stretched his bare muscular ebony arms resolutely as a brawny sleeveless
tee shirt and shorts clad cold-eyed customer waved his hands derisively for the interruption to his air guitar cover of an
Eric Clapton recording. His comrade also shouted displeasure for ending his mimicking spastic androgynous Mick Jagger peripatetic
accompaniment. He started to move towards the bartender to complain before being restrained by a veteran mercenary who whispered
“That’s Jericho. Stand down, rook!” The group of four settled at their side window table, resumed doing
cachaca shots and downing Brahma beer while devouring the popular regional favorite peixe na telha, a spicy fish, tropical
fruit, and black beans dish served on orange clay roofing tile platters. Whispered discontent, pungent aromas, and cigarette
smoke drifted away as a mélange into the uncoordinated rhythms of the ceiling fans.
Jericho placed his floppy boonie hat and aviator style sunglasses on the bar,
drank a cool glass of water, then stared into the waiting single malt scotch as though the noir secrets languished would plunge
in to be consumed and concealed again. As the lush strains of Moonlight Serenade, the Glenn Miller band theme wafted across
the lounge, you could see the tender side hidden behind the perpetual scowl. As his light green eyes twinkled, a very slight
smile darted from the corners of his mouth, as his feet subtly shuffled rhythmically recounting a slow dance prelude to a
special romantic moment. The New Zealand born, Australia matriculated former British commando began to read the international
flavor of the room. There was the table of four shooters at the window, veteran mercs, Frenchman Gilles “Champagne”
Montaigne, Cuban Alexei “Che” Ramos, American “Harlem Andy” Willis, a “dead man walking British
rook”; body parts harvester/surgeon Canadian Alexander “Doc the Butcher” Lawrence and his apprentice. Two
American young “cherry” mercenaries that had left the adjoining Mariners Club restaurant and stared around the
room before sitting at the bar, two attractive but stoic unapproachable Latin American women in shorts at a corner booth and
two European parties of four fishermen having lunch completed the guests. Then he saw the tall athletically built man of French-Moroccan-Portuguese
descent who he was to meet with first. Attired in a rakishly placed plantation boss straw hat covering close cut jet black,
gray at the temple hair, tailored silver khaki camping shirt and slacks “The Painter”, dapper suntanned Rembrandt
H was sitting alone, doodling in a sketch book, making phone calls, entering copious notes and playing Sudoku on a smart phone.
Drinking tropical acai berry and guava juices while blowing Trinidad Cuban cigar smoke rings on the rear patio with a stack
of newspapers and maps at his side. Rembrandt H was an enigma, the son of an internationally acclaimed artist who wanted him
to pursue this career path as well. The given name reflected this desire. 35-years old Brandt as he was called; opted for
more adventurous pursuits, inherited artistic acuity notwithstanding. Being multi-lingual and legally changing the family
surname to H on his passports from ten nations; he adopted a bon vivant lifestyle. Acknowledged as a rare flora fauna photographer,
an artifacts and arts expert, and a graphic facial reconstruction artist; this former US Army Captain special operative was
sought by varying entities for ad hoc clandestine pursuits and insurance companies as a claims investigator.
The procurement of mercenaries comprises a sophisticated network.
This tight network has worldwide facilities, ranging from five star Hong Kong hotels, Bangkok markets, London pubs, New York
delis, Chicago cigar clubs, Miami discos, Tijuana topless dives, to San Diego sports bars; each catering to a specific, often
clandestine need. Each node has a specialized contact. Dexter ‘Shooter’ Zane’s, a former mercenary specialty
was high end clientele seeking ‘persons or articles of interest’. There would be ancillary assignments for security
or quasi-military functions in support of the primary operatives.
Jericho asked the owner of the adjoining Mariners Club restaurant, Paulo’s
long time soul mate Ava to have a midday meal prepared and to give Rembrandt a message to dine with him in one of the eight
rooftop thatch covered booths when the foods were ready. In the clandestine world of mercenaries, it is routinely customary
to not show immediate recognition on the initial rendezvous; analyze and assess the area being the modus operandi. Jericho
who had been in semi-retirement was temporarily handling the brokering of assignments for Dexter “Shooter” Zane,
recovering from a massive heart attack. Overhearing two young mercs say as they watched Rembrandt, “let’s Bogart
the fancy rich dude for some drinking money”, he laughed to himself thinking, “Bad move guys, very bad move”.
Shaking his head in disgust he reflected on the raw mercenaries, the number of CIA agents and the foreign operatives that
would appear whenever, the controversial self proclaimed, “The Last Nazi Hunter” Arnold Donn’s arrival was
eminent. Donn would always augment his crew with additional bodies as his agenda capriciously expanded.
The Club mainly served
snacks and sandwiches, full course meals were prepared in the adjacent restaurant and carried in by saucy pretty waitresses
via a thatch covered connecting pathway thru a dining garden. Rembrandt’s forthcoming assignment would be to identify
the rumored to be dead, possibly surgically altered features of exiled embezzler Sid Keats or aid in locating him if still
alive. There were substantive leads for both instances. Jericho would provide backup and other “ancillary services”.
As they dined and planned this mission they reminisced about prior instances when they had met and dined. Jericho philosophized
in his prominent Australian-British accent, “I prefer a clean family style restaurant. Snooty waiters with an attitude
can ruin a meal. Hell, meals merely satisfy biological needs. Despite the vintage of the wine, the c v of the chef, and the
gourmet exhibited in preparation and presentation; the food cycle ends in a pool of piss and a pile of shit.”
Brandt laughed noting the efficient
hip wriggling pretty waitresses, “Nothing snooty about these lovelies”. He autographed the poem he had written
in perfect Portuguese for the curvaceous flirtatious tactile Carioca waitress then signed her tan rounded derriere presented
sans underwear when she lowered her wide skirt. She kissed his cheek then whispered into his ear before sashaying away giggling.
The DJ had resumed playing MP3 selections, a mixture of Jazz, classic rock, and Blues. As Jazz aficionados the conversation
drifted to Jericho’s love for big bands and Brandt’s for classic combos and legendary vocalists. They bonded harmonizing
vocal riffs, drumming on the table top and glassware, and singing along when a verse was remembered. This was particularly
entertaining to everyone on the rooftop when the Jazz novelty piece, ‘Big Noise from Winnetka’ was played. This
classic featured a bass and drums duet with the melody being whistled. Jericho covered the whistling and bass while Rembrandt
simulated the percussion while riffing the infectious rhythms. The rooftop patrons joined in with a distinguished elderly
couple doing an impromptu well choreographed high-stepping, trucking jitterbug complete with the sophisticated reserved lady
leaping into her partner’s arms and wrapping her legs around his waist. As the festive clamor faded, Rembrandt became
reflectively solemn when the Frank Sinatra rendition of “All My Tomorrows Belong to You” played; looking inside
a small pouch hanging from a leather chain around his neck.
The astute Jericho chided, “Voodoo
bag inside your shirt, faraway look in your eyes when a romantic ballad is played, sounds like a woman is in there somewhere.
What did you do before you came down here?”