Mercenaries of Panama

The autumn in Virginia stirs nostalgia for those disposed to a past life. I’ve always had the strangest feelings that somewhere, at sometime, I had lived here before. It was before the time of Washington and Fairfax. 

It was in the very early days of this exciting Colony. It was during a time when the aboriginal people lived and hunted on this land. Don’t get me wrong! I don’t believe in reincarnation! As a matter of fact, I don’t believe in the afterlife, whatsoever. It’s just a feeling I get when the leaves begin to display their myriad of colors, the air is crisp and clear, and the smell of winter is faintly intermingling with the left over humidity of the past summer. 

Frank Jr. is gone. My son is gone. Out of the two hundred and forty three passengers on flight 534, two hundred and forty bodies were recovered. Frank’s wasn’t one of them. I still haven’t resigned myself to my son being dead. I can accept the fact that Frank is missing or gone, but not dead. I’m somewhere between grief and hope. When the telephone rings or when the mail is delivered, I almost expect to receive word that my son is somewhere alive and doing the things that we both dreamed about his doing. 

Twelve days after the Aircraft disappeared off the radar scope, just outside the Rome Airport, it was determined that a bomb was the cause of the disaster. That made the tragedy all the more impossible to bare. Who could have done such a thing? The question was, why? What kind of animal would kill innocent people? And what would be accomplished? I didn’t have any answers to these questions. No one did. Not the Airline, nor the authorities, nor the President of the United States.  There were two hundred and forty three people dead for nothing. Or at least nothing that was readily identifiable. I had to know. I had to find out why my son was sacrificed on this altar of terrorism. It was time to go to work. Since that night in August, I haven’t been able to collect myself and get started in some direction. That time came this morning. When, for the first time in two months, I got up, got dressed, got in my car and began to drive to work. 

 I was to meet Alberto on the corner of 10th and F Streets in Washington, D.C. near the old Fords Theater. Lincoln had been shot in that building near the end of the Civil War, and that thought crossed my mind as I drove to my destination. As usual Alberto was on time. He got into the passenger seat and we proceeded toward New York Avenue. “What’s on the agenda?” I asked, as he settled down for the ride. “The important thing, Frank, is how are you doing? Are you ready to get back to work?” He queried. Alberto’s interest in my persona was typical. In our business, there wasn’t any room for surplus baggage. Performance was everything. There was never any room for error. “I’m fine. I’m ready. I need to get back into the mainstream of life.”I said. “Good. That’s good, Frank. I’ve missed not having you around. He stated. Take us to Rt. 50, east.” We started to drive out of town toward Annapolis. Jokingly, I said, “Where are we going Al to see the Governor?”  “We’re going to the Naval Academy Frank. There’s somebody there I have to see.” In our line of work to meet someone at the Naval Academy seemed completely incongruous. But Alberto always knew what he was doing and for the most part, I was just along for the ride.

We drove up to the Marine Guard at the gate and stopped.  Alberto put down his window. The Marine Guard said, “Sir, are you here on business or just sightseeing?” “Just sightseeing,” replied Alberto. “Sir, if you’ll just park your car in the lot marked visitors. You may walk from there anywhere around the campus.” We drove to the lot and parked the car. “Where are we going, Al?” “Dahlgren Hall, there’s a restaurant.” 

Dahlgren Hall is one of the older buildings in use on the campus. It was built around the turn of the century. Until the early seventies, it was used as an armory. More recently, it has been converted into a Student Union Facility for the Brigade of Midshipmen. As you enter the building there is an Ice Arena where the Navy Hockey Team hosts visiting college teams, every Saturday and Sunday during the winter season. As we proceeded around the Ice Rink, a restaurant came into view. 

We entered the restaurant, found an empty booth and sat down. “Do you want something to eat,” Alberto calmly said. “I’ll take a cup of coffee.”I responded. Alberto walked toward the galley section of the facility where food and beverages are available for sale. After a moment, he came back to the table with two cups of coffee. For a few moments, we just sat there sipping the coffee. “Who are we meeting?”I inquired. “I think you’ll be interested in this one, Frank.” He countered. I didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about, but my curiosity began to get aroused. 

After a few minutes, a tall young Midshipman came into the restaurant as if he were looking for someone. Alberto raised his hand to signal the Midshipmen. As the Midshipmen walked toward us, I noticed that his features were very mid-eastern in appearance. “Is you name, Alberto, Sir,” the Midshipmen said shyly and with a strange, but distinct accent. “Please be seated young man.” The Midshipmen removed his hat and sat down next to me. Alberto’s eyes turned in my direction as he continued his remarks to the Midshipmen. “This is the associate I referred to on the telephone. Please feel free to discuss anything that you have to tell me in front of him.” 

“We can’t speak privately here, Sir,” the Midshipmen said, as he looked around to see if anyone could overhear their conversation. Alberto, shaking his head in agreement said, “Where would you like us to go?” “I think outside, Sir.” The Midshipmen said. “All right,” Alberto said in a matter-of-fact manner, as we all stood from the table. We followed the Midshipmen up the white marble stairs that led out to a parking lot. 

As we walked through the parking lot, the dome of the Naval Academy Chapel loomed in front of us. The Midshipmen pointed out, “There is a Gazebo across from the Chapel. We can talk freely there.” We crossed to what looks more like a turn of the century concert facility. Near by was the famous Herndon monument, where the Plebe Midshipmen every spring attempt to climb after it has been greased and an admiral’s hat has been glued to the top.  This is their passage into the upper class. 

We stood in the center of this circular structure facing one another. For a moment no one said anything. Then the Midshipmen turning to Alberto said, “My father asked me to give you this message. Everyone on flight 534 didn’t die.” Those words struck me like a bolt of lightning. “Who are you,” I said, as my eyes glanced down to the name tag elegantly displayed on his white uniform. He looked me in the eye and said, “My name is Elihu Amun. I’m an exchange student from Egypt. My mother was on flight 534. She was the target. She was a negotiator during the Carter, Bagin, Arafat talks at Camp David in the seventies. She has been on a list of people to eliminate for a long time. My father is very rich man. He has instructed me to offer you one million dollars in U. S. currency, to neutralize the persons responsible for my mother’s death.  

If my mother is a hostage, liberate her.” Alberto gave me a quick look. “We have expenses,” Alberto said. The Midshipmen, looking directly at Alberto said, “Everything will be taken care of including your expenses.”  “What do you mean not everyone died on flight 534?” I said.  I couldn’t help thinking how he knew that there were survivors? The best American intelligence in the world has been working on the downing of flight 534 for more than two months, and no one has reached that conclusion. “My father is well connected. He knows exactly how, who, and why flight 534 was destroyed. He wants the persons responsible to pay the ultimate price. 

My father was told that this is your business. That you are the best people to take care of these matters.” After a slight pause he said, “Are you interested, or not?”  “What else can your father tell us?” asked Alberto as he stared off across the campus. The Midshipmen removed his hat and took from it a small envelop. He handed it to Alberto. “Everything my father has learned is written down.” Alberto put the small envelop in his inside coat pocket. “We always get paid in advance.” Alberto said, without looking at the Midshipmen. “You’re to give me the instructions for payment and I’ll see that the information gets to my father.” “I also want one hundred thousand dollars, in advance, as a down payment for expenses.” Alberto said, looking at the Midshipmen for the first time. Alberto reached into his pocket and produced a business like card and handed it to the Midshipmen. “There’s an account, transmittal, and phone number on the back of that card. When the bank informs me that the money has been deposited, we will go to work.” After a slight pause, Alberto said, “Are we to report our progress to you or to your father?” “Progress reports will not be necessary. The Midshipmen said. We will know when the job has been completed.” Alberto looked at me and said, “Do you have any questions?” My mind, once again had short circuited, reminiscent of that night in August. “Nothing, I said. I don’t have any questions.” 

We started back the way we came. The Brigade of Midshipmen must have been changing classes. Suddenly, there were thousands of them all around us going in all directions. We took the outside route in our car.  As we drove out of the Naval Academy gate, the Marine Guard snapped to attention and saluted as a Navy vehicle drove through the gate other way. As we past through this old colonial town toward Rt. 50, my whole life in the military flashed before me. I thought about my ROTC education, and my flight school training. My two years as a POW in Hanoi, my assimilation back into civilian life.