December 17th, 2014
Tobin Garret walked out of the Crown Plaza Panama City into the sweltering heat. He squinted against the glare from the bleached white concrete as he donned his sun glasses and walked to his sedan, his two man security team only steps behind him.
As an investigator for the State Department, he often got to travel to exotic locations–sometimes dangerous locations and sometimes (like today) just hot as balls. His investigation of the Panama Free Trade Agreement contingencies had yielded disturbing results and he was relieved he’d been able to forward his report to the Secretary of State before they went to the president’s team for review…it should shake things up.
As he slid into the air-conditioned armored sedan, a chill passed down his back. One of his security men got in beside him and the other jumped into the black SUV behind them.
“Do you mind turning the AC down?” He said to his driver. “It’s like a forty degree difference between out there and in here.”
The driver nodded and reached down. “No problem sir.”
As the two car convoy moved out, his phone rang. The red screen identified the call as secure before he even answered. “Tobin Garret,” he answered.
“Tobin… I got your report last night,” came a woman’s voice in reply.
Tobin sat up, stiff. No one in the State Department (or the rest of the country for that matter) could mistake that voice. “Yes, madam Secretary. I wanted to make sure you had it on your desk before the President’s team reviewed the final changes.”
“I see… And you’re sure about your findings. You’re sure the banks aren’t operating independently…that they are in fact colluding together to make these changes.”
That was an odd question. “Uh. I’m quite sure, personally, though the proof is circumstantial. But more important are the actual changes. Even if they are acting independently, the result is the same: there will be no way to stop the unrestricted flow of US dollars out of the US to Panama. The last of the safeguards we had in place to track the outflow have been removed…on all versions of the updated agreement. That’s not a coincidence.”
“I see. And what are the practical ramifications of this change to us?”
Again, Tobin blinked in disconcerted confusion. The Secretary of State was not a stupid woman–she would know exactly what the ramifications were. A test maybe? “It would mean that any corporate entity, or for that matter any entity, would be able to move unrecorded, untaxed money of any amount to any Panamanian Bank with no method in place to recoup or record.” He suddenly felt hot again. “It would mean that if every business, man, woman and child in the US decided they wanted to move cash to Panama, there would be no way for us to track it, tax it, or even recover what is owed, and every penny could, potentially, be recorded as a loss and disappear forever.”
“That’s a good assessment.”
It was a test. “Thank you Madam Secretary.”
“I’ll make sure this gets into the right people’s hands,” she said, then as if in passing. “Have you shared this with anyone else?”
“No, ma’am. I wanted to make sure you had it first so you could decide how to proceed.”
“I understand. Good work, Tobin. I can’t believe we missed something this obvious.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Tobin. Have a safe trip back to the States.”
The call ended before he could reply. He looked out the window as they sped through the streets toward the airport. He knew the activity on the streets and the apparent middle class window dressing of Panama City wealth was a thin veil. If you poked to far into the side streets, or worse, beyond the city limits, you would see oppressive poverty and despair. The banks and government of Panama held the wealth close to its core there in the city–no one else in the country got to enjoy the benefit of the billions of dollars that flowed through it daily.
His driver looked up in the rearview mirror. “We’re going to have to take a detour, sir. The highway is blocked with some sort of accident.”
Tobin nodded and turned his attention to the folder in his lap–the details of his investigation. The State Department Security team he was used to had been replaced in recent months with contractors. Private security wasn’t uncommon among the agencies and most were former military elite, SEALs, Special Forces, Rangers, Marine Force Recon. But he often felt uncomfortable surrounded by trained killers who had abandoned their stations–their oaths–in exchange for a larger paycheck and private sector control. He missed his State Department government security team.
The car sped up as they navigated down increasingly narrow streets. A sharp turn caused the papers to slide from his lap. He bent to pick them up and when he rose, he felt the barrel of a gun pressed to his temple. His guts flooded with cold and his chest compressed as he looked up at the driver, hoping, hoping, praying, the driver would see what was happening and do something.
When the driver’s eyes flashed to the rear-view mirror, then back to the street, Tobin knew he was screwed.
“Just relax,” his bodyguard said. “It’ll all be over in a few minutes.”
Panicked and hopeless, but unwilling to submit to the inevitable, Tobin leaned back abruptly and sharply shoved his guard’s arm forward. The gun discharged, sending a splatter of the driver’s blood against the windshield.
As Tobin grabbed the man’s arm, the driver slumped over the wheel and the whine of the engine climbed as the car accelerated toward an intersection. The guard repeatedly slammed his free elbow into Tobin’s rib-cage, sending spikes of pain radiating outward as he continued to struggle holding the gun away from his head.
Abruptly, the world seemed to rotate. Tobin was against the door, then just as quickly on the ceiling of the car. It had hit something and was rolling. As Tobin came down, the guard used his gun hand to steady himself. Tobin took advantage of the split second reprieve and allowed himself to fall on top of the man, using his full weight to dislodge the gun from his hand.
As the car rolled once more, Tobin scrambled to reach the gun before the security man could. Another sharp elbow to Tobin’s face stunned him, but he continued to push against his opponent, keeping him away from the gun as it bounced around inside.
The car came to sudden, jarring halt, and the gun inexplicably fell into Tobin’s lap. The guard’s eyes’ flashed to Tobin then the gun as he lurched forward to grab it. In the struggle to regain his weapon, the guard gripped Tobin’s fingers, squeezing the trigger in the process.
The ringing in Tobin’s ears and the smell of black powder filled his senses as warmth splashed across his face. The wide eyed expression on the face of his guard was only made more disturbing by the blood now running from his nose and ears.
Tobin yanked the weapon free and kicked at the armored door of the sedan to no avail. The front window was smashed and the roof caved in, but he forced himself between the seats and reached across the dead driver to the door locks.
Outside, the black SUV that had been part of his security detail, skidded to a halt and disgorged it’s passengers. If there was any doubt as to the wide spread nature of the betrayal, it evaporated when the second half of his security detail began firing automatic weapons at the sedan.
He flinched backward as the top and side of the car were peppered with small arms fire. It took a second for him to remember he was in an armored vehicle.
He began pulling desperately at the handle of the passenger side door. The car had come to a stop pressed against the side of a building, the passenger door only inches from swinging free inside. As the other security men continued to fire, the ringing in his ears abated and he realized the car was still running.
He caught a glimpse of a metal object flying away from one of the attackers. In the split second he realized it was the spoon handle of a grenade, he reached across his driver’s leg and pushed the accelerator to the floor. The car lurched forward, freeing the passenger side door.
Tobin jumped and pushed the door as the grenade went off, propelling him through the opening and into the building. Fire licked around his legs as he got up and scrambled away, ducking to the side as soon as another hallway presented itself.
Out the back door and through a small courtyard, he gasped the hot air and looked over his shoulder–no one was in pursuit. He ran through an iron gate, slamming into it with his shoulder and then turning into a narrow alley. Constantly looking over his shoulder, he took the next turn as soon as it was clear he was still alone, then tucked the guard’s pistol into his waistband.
It was only then that he realized his leg was bleeding profusely. He pushed through a small shop, scattering customers waiting at the counter, and then proceeded to the street out the front door.
I have to stop this bleeding. He thought. I have to find help…but who?
He realized he could call no one. A panic stricken contraction of his chest had him reaching into his pocket for his phone. He clumsily pulled the back off and fidgeted with the battery until it finally popped out. Snapping the phone carcass in half, he tossed it to the sidewalk as he pushed forward, the throbbing in his leg growing more painful with each step.
Yada, yada, yada. The Panama Free Trade Agreement was ratified by congress and approved by the president.
Fear not…these fiction exercises are spontaneous exercises of creativity, but the good ones get made into novels eventually. I particularly enjoyed writing this one.
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