Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Mindwalkers - Chapter 10

Chapter Ten

Hector had worked around the clock to do several things in preparation for the assassination of Shirley Waterbury.  First he had obtained a layout of Shirley’s headquarters in Cedar Key.  The complex was still under construction, but the basic design and layout had been obtained.  Her headquarters stretched many levels underground and covered multiple city blocks. 

The second piece of the puzzle had been to assemble a team capable of launching such an attack.  Shirley was constantly guarded and security was seamless at Waterbury Enterprises.  An ex-Chief of Police had established the initial security protocols for Shirley and designed the alarm systems for the offices.  That had been turned over to a security specialist who had made many upgrades to the system and instituted additional security measures for Shirley’s personal safety.   This second man, a Dustin Zane, had provided security for dignitaries in the past and commanded a considerable degree of respect from his colleagues.  Breaching the outer layers of security would not be easy.

The team Hector had assembled was as ruthless as any he had ever worked with.  The entire complement consisted of six men and counting him totaled seven.  Each member had several kills to their credit and all of them were wanted by various governments for a variety of crimes.  They had agreed without hesitation, especially when the payoff had been discussed.

Rising from his chair, Hector moved to the living room area of the rented house.  It was a tiny home outside of Paris, but had been the ideal rendezvous location for the squad.  Two members were already up, one with a cup of coffee in his hand as he studied the layout of Waterbury Enterprises.  The second man was eating a croissant and memorizing photographs.  He held a picture of Shirley Waterbury in his right hand and one of Dustin Zane in his left.

“How big is this man?” asked Pedro Gonzalez, a Spaniard by birth, fugitive by choice.

“Six foot seven inches and close to three hundred pounds.  If Shirley leaves the complex he’s with her.  Made his reputation by guarding an oil Sheik during the war.  Has numerous kills to his credit.  He’s as smart as he’s big.”  Hector slipped down in a chair facing the two men.  “And ruthless.  He will not hesitate to shoot.”

“What does he carry?” asked Pedro.

“His favorite weapon is a Colt 45 revolver with a six inch barrel.  Deadly with the gun.  Keeps it on his left side in a shoulder sling.”  Hector pulled the picture from Pedro’s grasp.

“I would’ve expected him to carry more than a revolver.  Kind of archaic.”  Pedro tossed Shirley’s picture down on the table in front of him.  “How many people guard the offices and provide personal protection for her?”

“We don’t know.  Since he took over security most of that information is closely guarded.”  Hector had jerked his thumb toward Dustin Zane’s picture when describing security.  “We don’t know how many people are involved on the inside and we don’t know their rotation for posts or the movement of personnel.”

“What have been his tendencies in the past?  Everyone has a pattern they follow.  Especially security Chiefs.  They love the routine.  Gives them a sense of comfort.”  Gordon Slough, an American, looked up from the diagram of the building he had been pouring over.  A three day growth of beard gave him a menacing look and his beady eyes peered over the paper at Hector.

“That’s one of the unique aspects of Dustin Zane and his trademark.  That’s also how he kept the Sheik alive.  Change is something he does at random intervals.  Unlike his contemporaries in the field, he constantly changes security coverage and designs, what he calls a ‘fluid matrix.’  His concept is one of movement, honing in on the talent of his staff.  And he has assembled the best money can buy.  I don’t know how many people guard her, but the ones I do know about are top notch.  This won’t be an easy target or kill.”  Hector rose from his chair.

“That’s why we’re being paid five million each.”  Pedro laughed while stuffing the rest of the croissant into his mouth.

“Get the rest of the men up.  We need to go over the entry and assault one more time before we break and depart for America.  The clock is ticking.  Timing is essential for or employer.” 

Hector grabbed an available coffee mug and headed for the kitchen.  One more day and they would be ready.  And Shirley Waterbury would die, along with anyone who tried to stop them.

            Slade had finally selected a location where he would ask Katherine to marry him.  It was a decision that had kept him awake at night, but one he was certain would be the perfect choice.  His heart still fluttered when he thought about it.  Whiskers and Wings.  Thinking about it more, Slade was absolutely certain Katherine would love the location and the restaurant would create the atmosphere he was hoping for.

 Before he had selected the location, he had taken a drive to see his mother and father.  Not that he needed it, but he wanted the approval of his parents on this decision.  They had met Katherine countless times since they had been dating and they had fallen in love with her as much as Slade had.  The last phone call Slade had made was to Katherine’s parents.  He would have preferred to see them in person, but they had understood.  They too had given Slade permission to ask their daughter to marry him. 

Smiling to himself, Slade realized he was very old fashioned when it came to matters like this, but that warmed his heart.  He did not see anything wrong with protocol and he believed it had meant substantially more to his parents and Katherine’s than they had let on.  Most of his friends would probably call him a ‘romantic’, but he was okay with that.  He just wished he had found this ‘romantic’ side a lot earlier in his life.

Focusing back on the problem at hand, Slade evaluated his current position.  Another reason for selecting the restaurant was a joke he and Katherine shared when they ate at Whiskers and Wings.  An old wooden building on poles could be seen from the western windows and was about three hundred yards away from the pier.  Originally it had been built as a small cottage, but had been long abandoned.  Now it was a roosting place for pelicans and the locals called it the Honeymoon Shack.  Katherine would tease Slade and ask him if that was where he was going to take her if they were to ever marry.  Slade had always joked that he probably could not afford it and not to expect anything so nice.  It had become a familiar landmark for them and one that always sparked a conversation about marriage.  Slade was hoping it would do the trick tonight.

Slade knew he could count on Ophelia Carmichael, the restaurant’s feisty manager, to help him select the perfect table and create the atmosphere he so desired.  Also, he knew Ophelia could keep it quiet. Since Shirley had purchased the restaurant and pumped a considerable amount of money into the restoration, the food had become as respected as the seventy-two year old manager.  The menu was watched over by Ophelia who insisted on original Southern cuisine she had grown up on.  There was always a line leading outside the door and the chef had already won several awards, especially for his fried catfish and stuffed pork chops, recipes given to him by Ophelia.

Slade had called ahead and reserved their favorite table.  Earlier in the day he had stopped by and spoken to the waiter who would be serving them and had given him careful instructions. 

After Slade had left, Ophelia had telephoned Shirley and the coconut telegraph had become active.  Within the hour, Bubba, June, Professor Johansen, Harry Sloan and Dustin Zane were huddled in Shirley’s office admiring the ring Slade had given to the waiter to keep until dinner.  From there it had been a matter of logistics, with each of them adding to the conversation as they passed the ring around. Slade asking Katherine to marry him was perhaps the worst kept secret in the history of Cedar Key.  The only one totally in the dark was Katherine.

The sun descending into the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico was going slowly for Slade.  He wanted to arrive at the exact moment when the red hue of the sinking orb cast rays across the waters creating a bronze glow.  From the table he had selected, just inside the open deck in case an errant rain squall should blow in, they would be able to stare at the Honeymoon Shack when he popped the question. He wanted things perfect for Katherine. 

Trying not to tip his hand, Slade had selected a dark blue dress shirt, with khaki slacks.  The ensemble was dressy, but casual for Cedar Key and he would not stand out at Wings and Whiskers.  Plus if he was too formal, Katherine might be alerted to his intent. 

For the thousandth time, Slade wiped his hands on his pants, trying to keep them dry.  What if she said, “No?”  Slade did not want to think about it. Picking up the pace, Slade strode confidently into Katherine’s shop.  If they did not hurry they would be late for their dinner reservations and would miss the setting sun.

Sliding into the front door of Katherine’s shop, he spotted her coming down the stairs and he paused to stare at her.  She was wearing a print dress that stopped just above her knees and her hair was pinned back, but still flowing down to her shoulders.  Slade felt his heart skip a beat.  She was the perfect choice.  That thought kept echoing through his mind as she walked up to him.

“Don’t you look nice, all dressed up.  Who are you trying to impress, mister?” said Katherine, slipping her arm around his waist as he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Just you.  I always have to try and look good when I’m with you, because you’re always so beautiful.” 

Katherine leaned over gave him a kiss, the sincerity in his voice causing her to blush.  He was so innocent about his feelings for her and so tentative sometimes when expressing them.  She smiled to herself.

“Did you make reservations?” asked the artist, content to be led by her boyfriend down the sidewalk.

“I did.  Asked for a great table where we could watch the sun set over the Honeymoon Shack.”  Slade saw Katherine’s eyes light up.

“Good.  Then let’s hurry so we won’t be late.”

The remainder of the short walk was done in silence and when they swept into the door, Ophelia herself greeted them.

“Don’t you two look lovely tonight.  Come on, I have the perfect table for you.”  Ophelia led them to a table just inside the double doors.  The wooden deck spreading past them was occupied with some patrons who were already seated.  Slade helped Katherine take her seat before sliding into his chair. 

“I have a new order of wine in and I’m going to send a bottle to your table, courtesy of Wings and Whiskers.  Tell me what you think.”  Ophelia smiled and patted Slade on the shoulder as a sign of encouragement.  The effort was not lost on him.

“Thank you,” responded Slade, his eyes glued to Katherine as she stared at the setting sun.  Realizing he was watching her, she turned back to him.

“What?  Why are you staring at me?  Do I have something on my face?” asked the woman he was hoping would marry him.

“No…no, not at all,” stammered Slade.  “You look lovely tonight, that’s all.”

Katherine reached out and patted his hand.  “You’re being very sweet and I like that.”  She was pleased when she saw Slade relax.  Her verbal acknowledgement of his comments reassured him he was saying the right things.

Before either of them could continue their small talk, the waiter slid up with the bottle of wine Ophelia had promised.  Flawlessly, he popped the cork and poured each of them two glasses.  Before he left the table Slade asked for an appetizer.  He selected a round of Ophelia’s famous Shrimp Cocktail.  The waiter hurried off.

Raising his glass, Slade proposed a toast.  “To us.”

“I’ll drink to that.”  Katherine sipped from her glass and stared back out at the water.  “Beautiful isn’t it.  The way the sun sets, casting everything in a rich color.”

Slade’s heart danced.  The night was going as expected.  If only his luck held.  “Yes it is.  Beautiful.”

Before he could say anything more, the appetizer was set in front of them and the waiter looked directly at Slade, nodding his head ever so slightly.  The Shrimp Cocktail was served in a glass bowl, covered with a metal top.  When the covering was removed the shrimp were artistically revealed, causing the patron to admire the handiwork of the kitchen staff.  It was as much a work of art, as an appetizer. 

Only Katherine’s bowl did not have any shrimp.  Lying inside her glass bowl on a white piece of linen was the engagement ring Slade had selected.  Timing was crucial. When Katherine reached over and placed her hand on the covering, Slade distracted her.

“Look at the color on the water near the Honeymoon Shack.  Beautiful isn’t it?”

The comment had the desired effect.  Katherine turned to stare at the old building as she removed the lid from her “Shrimp Cocktail.”  Unnoticed to her, Slade slipped out of his chair and took a knee next to her, the ring glistening in the overhead light.

Inside the kitchen of Wings and Whiskers, the kitchen staff was meandering around a throng of people hovering near the double doors inhibiting access from the restaurant area.  Bubba, June, Dustin Zane, Shirley, Professor Johansen and Harry Sloan were trying to peek out the door to watch.  Shirley had hired a professional video specialist to record the moment and he was near the bar, his equipment hidden inside a brown tote bag.  No one had been seated near him so he would have a clear and unobstructed view of the scene unfolding before him.

“What’s happening?  I can’t see,” whispered Bubba, stepping aside so a waitress could carry food to a customer.

“I think he’s about to ask her,” commented Shirley, elbowing Dustin Zane in the stomach.  “If someone would give me more room.”

“I’m looking over you,” said her bodyguard, jostling June and Shirley for a better position.

“It’s gonna happen now.”  June grinned and glanced over at Bubba.

When Katherine turned around she was momentarily taken aback by seeing Slade on one knee next to her chair.  Glancing at the table, she placed the lid to her Shrimp Cocktail down next to her elbow and that is when she saw the ring in the glass bowl.  Immediately her hands flew to her mouth and she inhaled sharply.  Slade reached forward and took her hands.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment with you for so long.  You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.  I don’t want to wait any longer.  Will you marry me?”  Slade reached over and picked up the ring, sliding it onto her offered ring finger.

Unable to hold back the tears, Katherine started to cry as she leapt out of her chair, knocking her wine glass and chair over.  She slipped her arms around Slade’s neck and gave him a kiss.  After hugging him several times and kissing him again, she stared at her ring.

“Well?” asked Slade, a look of concern etched across his face.

Katherine looked at him momentarily perplexed until she realized she had not responded to the most important question she had ever been asked.  “Yes!  Yes!  Of course I’ll marry you!”  Katherine slipped her arms around his neck again and kissed him passionately.  Slade picked her up off the floor and swung her around.

“About time.  Was wondering when you were going to get around to it,” said Bubba, walking up with the others in tow, a smile lighting up his face.

The surprise on Slade’s face was priceless.  As he looked over the group, Ophelia walked up and hugged Slade and Katherine.

“You didn’t think I was gonna keep this quiet did ya?”  Ophelia took Katherine’s hand and admired her ring.  “Looks lovely on you dear.”

“Thank you,” said Katherine, glowing in the attention.

Shirley gave Katherine a hug and admired her ring.  “We’ve been waiting in the kitchen for the last hour.”  They all laughed as Slade’s face turned a brighter red.  “You should know you can’t keep a secret like this from us.  We’re family.”  Shirley slapped Slade on the shoulder and added, “Shame on you for trying.”

“Don’t even know why he tried,” said June, slapping Slade on the back and hugging Katherine.  “Congratulations to both of you.”

Before anyone else could say or do anything a woman seated at a table near them screamed.  Gliding across the wooden outside deck and into the restaurant was the largest pelican anyone had ever seen.  Landing on Katherine and Slade’s table, he waddled toward Katherine knocking over anything left standing.  The hair on his head was standing on end and his eyes shot around the group.  His look was menacing.

Old Clacker had spent the afternoon outside Katherine’s art studio, where she had fed him lunch.  When Katherine and Slade had walked to dinner he had followed them.  Unknown to them Old Clacker had landed on the far piling of the wooden deck.  From his vantage point he had been able to keep an eye on them when they sat down for dinner.  A primal instinct had kicked in when he detected the woman who fed and cared for him was upset.  He did not know what was wrong, but he was coming to investigate.

A young bus boy grabbed a broom and headed for Old Clacker, yelling at the bird to get out.  Before he had taken two steps, Dustin Zane reached down and grabbed the broom and placed a massive right hand on the young man’s shoulder.

“It’s okay.  He’s with us.  He has reservations here. Year long.  I’ll vouch for him.”  Everybody chuckled.

Katherine stepped forward and grabbed Old Clacker, giving him a hug.  Staring at her and cocking his head, his feathers finally flattened against his head indicating he was calm.

“He likes my ring, too.”  Katherine held her hand out for Old Clacker to see and he turned his head from side to side as if admiring the gem. 

Slade felt the emotion well up inside him.  This was what his life had been missing, the void that had occupied his inner space, his central being.  The very core of his existence had been hollow and he had not known it.  On LAPD he had never had friends like this or had met a woman he had wanted to share the rest of his life with.  He did not have the answers as to why he had waited all his life, but he had.  Now that wait was over and he would not change a thing.  Slade Lockwood was more certain than ever that he had the proper path in front of him, the much needed direction in his life lying before his eyes.  And he was sure he had found the perfect woman to share it with.

When their eyes met, Katherine stepped forward and Slade took her in his arms.  Old Clacker opened and closed his massive beak several times and all their friends clapped in approval. 

All was as it should be in Cedar Key, Florida.  

Read Chapter Eleven

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