Authors: Randy Wayne White
After fifteen days of itâfifteen days of brutal physical and mental training, fifteen days of crawling into his Quonset hut bunk too tired to even talk, fifteen days of no beer but good navy foodâHawker stood looking in the mirror of the barracks head and saw that his face was lean from the weight he had lostâabout eight poundsâand that his eyes no longer had that dull, sleepy South Florida beach bum look. Now they looked alive, lethally so. And his big hands were steady as rocks when he held them out.
He wasn't in the best shape of his lifeâbut he was in the best shape he'd been in for maybe ten years. Plus he'd learned a few of the basic tricks of underwater demolition and had been brought up to date on some of the newest and most effective covert methods of operation.
Hawker was thinking all this as he stood looking at himself in the mirror of the empty barracks when, from behind, he heard the echo of rubber-soled shoes on the tile floor.
The vigilante turned to see Chief Stevenson, the CPO who had been riding him and his group since their arrival in Coronado. Stevenson was maybe twenty-five, a lean, lanky young man who looked more like an Aspen ski instructor than the navy SEAL he was. Like Hawker, Stevenson wore the dark-blue cotton shorts and gray sweatshirt and field cap that was the PT uniform. The vigilante turned when he saw Stevenson, turned and smiled because he wasn't about to let the younger man know what an asshole he thought he was.
In return, he expected Stevenson to sneer. Stevenson had spent the last two weeks sneering at him, treating him like some raw eighteen-year-old boot. Stevenson was a good sneererâhe would bunch his big boney fingers into fists, shove the fists on his hips, crinkle his broad Marine Corps nose, push his head forward, and make a face like he smelled something bad.
Only now Stevenson didn't sneer. Instead he pushed his cap back on his head with a long index finger, smiled, and said, “Mr. Hawker?”
The vigilante tried not to show how surprised he was, but he couldn't help it.
. Hawker. Why was this kid suddenly being so polite?
Hawker said, “Am I late for something, Chief?” even though he knew he wasn't late for anything. It was chow time, and the vigilante had decided to skip lunch in order to get his weight down even more.
Stevenson was smiling now, looking oddly sheepish, almost shy. “You're not late for anything, Mr. Hawker,” he said. “But the brass called me about fifteen minutes ago, said your training was through here. Said you'd be shipping out tonight. I just wanted to catch you before you got away and â¦” The big SEAL paused, not quite sure how to continue. Then he said, “I just wanted to apologize for being such a jerk.”
The vigilante was still wearing the same mild smile, showing nothing. What in the hell was going on here? “Jerk? Not you, Chief. Why would I think you were a jerk?”
Stevenson said, “You kidding? I was riding you from the moment you arrived. But see, those were my ordersâto get on your back and not get off. The big brass sent the orders, so I didn't have much choice, man. They wanted to make sure you stuck out the course, and they said getting you pissed at me was one sure way. Make you so pissed there was no way you'd drop out, let you think I'd run you out 'cause they said you were one man who'd never run. Ever. Said you'd hang on like grim death if I made it into a personal thing with you. Must be pretty important if they want you to stick with the program that bad, huh?”
Hawker shrugged, trying not to show how foolish he felt. He knew from where the orders had probably come. The suggestion to have some young CPO jump on his back had probably come from Jake Hayes himself, because Hayes knew him better than anyone else. Hayes knew Hawker worked best when there was some personal challenge involved. Hayes also knew how silly Hawker might feel having to go to boot camp after all he'd been through in the past three years.
Stevenson looked perplexed. “And you didn't even notice how hard I was getting on you, huh?”
“Guess I was too busy concentrating on the course to notice,” Hawker replied.
“No kidding? Geez, I almost feel kind of bad about that. I was trying to be a real shithead. Just like those drill sergeants in the old movies, you know. Thought for sure I was getting to you, the way you looked at me sometimes. Kind of looked right through me, and, manâ” The SEAL chuckled. “I don't mind telling you that you got a real scary way of looking at people. Made me feel like you were about an inch from going for my throat.” Stevenson was shaking his head. “Anyway, Mr. Hawker, I just wanted to tell you that you are one tough old SOB. Some of the crap I put you through even made me flinch. And I've been in this business for seven, almost eight years now.”
Hawker said, “I appreciate that, Chief. I really do. In fact, I'm kind of sorry it's over. I was just starting to enjoy getting back into shape.”
“Yeah? Man, you're starting to make me feel real bad now. No one has ever left SEAL training, even a short course like this, saying he enjoyed it.” Stevenson eyed him suspiciously. “What you got your weight down to? One eighty-five, maybe? Man, you look like you're getting into shape, huh?”
“Down to two oh two from two ten.”
“No kidding, Mr. Hawker? I'd never guess you weighed that much. But yeah, now that I take a close look at your hands, your wrists, I see you probably weigh more than folks would guess. You're just full of surprises.”
Hawker was smiling more broadly now. “I've got another surprise for you, Chief.”
“Yeah? What's that?”
“I'm a terrible liar. You got to me the very first day I arrived here, and I've spent the last two weeks dreaming of ways to make you miserable after all this was over.”
Stevenson looked genuinely pleased. “Hey, no kidding?”
“No kidding,” answered the vigilante. “And I'll tell you something else. If I hadn't hated you so much, I probably would have split. Probably would have left Coronado after the third day. Because you were, without a doubt, the nastiest, most thoughtless, toughest son of a bitch I've ever run into. And there was no way I was going to let such an asshole run me off.”
Hawker had to laugh at the relief on the young CPO's face as Stevenson said, “Mr. Hawker, I appreciate that. I really do. You're not just saying that to make me feel better, are you?”
The vigilante took Stevenson's outstretched hand and shook it firmly as he said, “It's God's honest truth, Chief. I mean every word.”
Stevenson said, “Mr. Hawker, coming from a guy like you, that means a lot. It really does. And if I can ever do anything else for you, please let me know. Hey, you going to be sticking around Coronado for a while? Maybe we could get together, hunt up some ladies and trade stories.”
Hawker straightened his field cap in the mirror and said, “Naw, Chief, I'd like to. But after two weeks of you running my ass off, I think I'll take a little vacation.”
Stevenson seemed interested. “You might try Carmel. They got some awfully pretty beach girls there.”
Hawker said, “I was thinking of some place a little farther away. Like the Solomon Islands, maybe.”
“The Solomon Islands? Yeah, sure, I guess that'd be pretty restful, huh?”
James Hawker said, “After SEAL training, it will probably seem like a picnic.”
They stuck him on a military transport. Flew him from San Diego to Port Moresby, New Guinea, a hell of a long flight that followed the falling sun around the globe.
At the secret military installation outside Port Moresby, he was led to a Quonset hut on the far side of the camp and was met by three Americans dressed in plain gray suits.
No introductions were made. One man did most of the talking, a second man speaking up only when matters of geography were discussed. The third man, a Nordic-faced agent wearing dark Ray Ban sunglasses, never spoke at all. He just watched Hawker carefully, his expression flat, cold, emotionless.
The first man said, “We were very impressed by the way you handled the assignment in Norfolk, Mr. Hawker.”
Hawker just nodded. What was he supposed to sayâthank you very much for telling me I'm good at killing people?
Motioning Hawker into a seat and then to a glass of iced tea on the desk beside him, the first man said, “So what do you think about New Guinea so far, Mr. Hawker?”
On the flight in, the vigilante had watched the wild forests and black rivers peel away beneath him. At one point he saw a group of dark men scurry off into hiding, as if frightened by the great steel bird. Once on the ground, though, he had seen nothing but the military PX and the base restrooms, which smelled of disinfectant. The base there looked just like the military base he'd left in San Diego, only a lot smaller. The vigilante said, “I'm looking forward to getting into the back country, having a look around. I hear some of the aboriginal tribes are still pretty much unspoiled by contact with the outside world.”
The CIA agent said, “What?” as if not expecting anything but a mechanical answer. “Yes,” he added, “that does sound interesting.” And that was the end of the pleasantries. Getting down to work now, the agent said, “You have been briefed on General Con Ye Cwong's business operations?”
Hawker said, “A little. I know what he does, but I don't know how he does itânot that I really care. All I need is detailed data on his base of operations, help in getting there, and then I'll be happy to cut you and your men loose.”
The man said, “I wish it were that easy, Mr. Hawker. I know that you're used to working alone, and I know you prefer to take the direct approach. I'm not saying you don't do your homework. If you weren't bright and accomplished, you wouldn't be here.”
Hawker said, “Then what do you mean?”
The man said, “I mean that Cwong is not just some common crime boss. He's not anything like those mobs you dealt with in New York and L.A. Cwong is more like a â¦” The agent paused, seeking just the right words. “He's more like a king, a dictator. He demandsâand receivesâabsolute loyalty from his people. To some of them the man is like a god. They look on him as one of the great leaders in the history of Vietnamâone of a handful of men who brought the United States of America to its knees. His people will fight to the death to protect him and his operation. And, as you can guess, Mr. Hawker, that kind of loyalty manufactures tremendous problems for people in our field to overcome.”
Hawker said, “In other words, you have very little specific data on Cwong because his people are so loyal they can't be bought. Or they're so terrified of Cwong, they're afraid to take the chance.”
“See?” said the agent. “Your dossier says you're smart, Mr. Hawker. You catch on very quickly. And you're rightâto a degree. But Cwong is involved in drug marketing in a big way. And I don't care how strict your rules about loyalty areâwhen you begin dealing with drug users you're vulnerable, because drug users have only one loyalty, and that's to their addiction. That's the big chink in Cwong's armor. We have detailed data on the way drugs are moved from his island to stations nearby and then put onto boats and planes for Hawaii and then the continental United States.”
“But that still doesn't get me onto the island with Cwong,” Hawker protested.
“It'll help. See, there are two major drop stations within twenty-five miles of Cwong's little paradise. And we've been able to compile plenty of data about both of them. We now know the exact expected time of drug shipments to both of the stations, how many boats are coming, and how many of Cwong's men are expected to be on the boats.”
“So what?” said Hawker. “That still doesn't help me get next to Cwong. And that's what you want, isn't it? You want me to hunt down Cwong and kill him, right?”
All three CIA agents looked uncomfortable. The spokesman said, “Frankly, Mr. Hawker, we don't know the specifics of your orders. And we don't care. Our own orders say we're supposed to provide you with all possible assistance in getting you onto the island. That's the end of it.”
“And what about helping me get
the island? Your orders don't say anything about
Under the vigilante's steady gaze, the agents now appeared even more uncomfortable. Looking somber, the first man said, “We will, of course, help you off the island â¦ if you survive. I hope no one gave you any illusions about this operation being easy. Because it won't be. Truth is, Mr. Hawker, I don't think anyone much expects you to come out alive. Like I said, Cwong is not your normal street thug. He's smart as hell and absolutely merciless.” He looked at Hawker for a moment, then added, “You want me to continue with the briefing, Mr. Hawker? Or maybe you'd like to rethink your interest in the operation.”
The vigilante gripped his iced tea in a steady hand and swallowed it in a single gulp. “I'm listening,” he said.
The CIA agent stared intently at Hawker. “It's possible that choosing the night of one of Cwong's bigger deliveries will make it easier for you to slip onto his island unseen. His protection won't be at full strength. See, Mr. Hawker, Cwong has his own personal elite guards. Mostly upper-rank Viet Cong. They're absolutely ruthless. I think you'd have a better chance of succeeding on your mission if you caught Cwong while some of them were away from the island.”
“That makes sense,” said Hawker. “But how long will I have to wait?”
The agent shrugged. “According to our monitoring stations, two small deliveries are due in about four days. But nothing really big is coming up that we know about.”
“You just want me to sit back and wait?”
“As I said, Mr. Hawker, our instructions are to assist you in any way we can. The final decisions as to where and how your strike will be are up to you.”
“And you have almost no intelligence on Cwong's island? That makes for a pretty tough choice, gentlemen.”