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Prologue: Part 4: Calls Home

The palace rooms had once been ornate, but Vasquez had been forced to spend most of his money putting down rebellions, so he had little available than to maintain the building's former glory.  Gilt paint peeled from the walls and the headboard of the bed, and the floorboards bowed under the weight of even the lightest furniture.  As Shane entered his room and saw the crumbling palace, it reminded him again of why Vasquez had turned this country into a free trade haven for the underworld.   El President intended to increase his wealth immeasurably, the rest of the world be damned.

That's why he had to do it, despite his growing unease.  At least, that was Shane's professional reason.

He crossed the room to a table where his computer and electronic equipment sat.  The palace's radio intercept and jamming equipment was positively baroque, so he was unconcerned about being overheard.  He pulled the two-way radio from his case.  It was in four pieces, a precaution  against detection by Vasquez's guards.  Quickly, Shane pieced it together and then sat down on the edge of his bed.

"Hank, are you there?"

"Yeah, boss.  You're coming through loud and clear."

Hank was still the best communications man in the business, and Shane was glad to have him for backup, but communications should have picked up calls to an additional guest

"Why didn't you alert me that Vasquez called Victor Kiriakis?"

"Kiriakis?"  Hank could not cover his surprise.  "Kiriakis is here?"  Shane could hear some shuffling over the radio, probably the sound of Hank flipping through log books.  "We don't have any records of contacts with Kiriakis.  Heck, the last contact with the US was three days ago, and that was to that ranch in Texas --"

"-- where they move migrants," Shane said, remembering the summaries of the calls.

"Maybe the calls were through aides outside the palace," Hank offered.

"I don't know . . ."  Shane paused, frustrated.  "Blast it, Hank, I got blindsided in there.  And by bloody Victor Kiriakis of all people."

He knew Hank would understand.  Hank had been involved in efforts to free the Pawn from Kiriakis' house years earlier, and knew how much Shane loathed the man.

"Look, boss, I'll check our array, see if there might be a communications post we missed.  I just don't see how--"

Shane sighed and ran a hand through his hair.  "No, that's okay."

"Maybe we pull out early?" Hank suggested.  "You got the files."

"No, I didn't.  Ortega wasn't able to get past the guards, so I'm going to try and do it when the guards change shifts at 2 a.m."

The line fell silent.  After a moment, Hank came back.  "Sure you wanna do that, I mean, with Kiriakis around and . . . I don't know.  Something feels off."

That about summed it up.  Shane had the same feeling.  Something was off.  "We need those documents.  If we don't get them now, it could be months before we find out what Operación Norteño is.  Too many drugs and guns could get by us if we wait; no, it has to be tonight.  I think I'll be okay, I gave myself some cover by telling Vasquez we had some more tests to run.  What's a better test than seeing if El Presidente's office can be breach?"

"All right," Hank said, his voice deliberate and sounding uncertain.  "I'll be ready to back you on that.  Oh, DaJohn made it back okay.  He's changing out of those African duds as we speak.  Can't believe they bought the Prince act?"

"Yeah, well, tell him he did a good job."

Silence fell once more.

"Boss," Hank probed, "Are you okay?  You don't sound like yourself."

"I'm all right.  I was just thinking."  He changed the subject.  "Kiriakis told me Jeannie got into Columbia."

"That's great, boss.  Congratulations."

It was great, great for Jeannie, he knew.  Except Jeannie didn't even let him know, leaving it for him to hear about it from Kiriakis of all people.  He suddenly remembered that he was still on the two-way.  "Thanks, Hank.  Okay, you guys get ready for tonight in case I need the cavalry.  I'm going to do some last-minute preparation."  He set down the two-way, and leaned back against his chair.   Disquiet washed over him.

Hank had said it.  'Something feels off.'

Shane got off the bed and walked over to the window.  Turning off the light so he could see into the darkness below, he saw the guards moving around the grounds, their numbers increased due to the party.  So much for calling on DaJohn and Hank to provide back-up tonight.  He was on his own.  Frustrated, Shane flipped the light back on.

The clock on the mantle said 11:30 p.m.  Plenty of time to prepare.

He dug into his bag to find his phone, remembering his thought of calling Jeannie.  Pulling it out, he dialed her number.  It rang three times and went to voicemail.

"You've got Jeannie.  Leave a message."

The message fit his daughter to a tee.  Straight and to the point.

"Jeannie, hello, darling, it's your father.  I just heard about Columbia and wanted to say congratulations.  I . . . ah . . . I wanted to talk to you, clear the air a bit about what I said when you were visiting.  I know you were an-- less than pleased with what I said about Yale, but I didn't mean it like you thought and I, well . . ."  Shane paused, thinking he sounded as far from straight and to the point as possible.  He wanted to clear the air, but a phone message was hardly the way to do it.  "Well, we'll talk some more and you can tell me all about school and applications, and I'll try to explain.  Anyway, I've got to go.  We'll talk more when I get back home."

He hung up, wondering if his daughter would even listen to the message or delete it because he sounded pathetic.  He checked the time again.  11:33 p.m.  Suddenly, he had an urge to make another call.  He dialed and waited as the phone rang.  He smiled slightly as he heard Kim's voice come onto the line.

"Kimberly--"

"-- sorry that I'm not here to answer your call.  Please leave a message with your name, number and the time you called.  If this is an emergency, please call 310-555-6773 and speak with the counselor on duty."

Shane sighed.  "Kim, it's me.  I know we haven't talked in a while, but I heard the news about Jeannie and it's just great.  I hope you're so proud."  He hesitated, not really sure where his mind was going, but then added, "Look, when I get back to the States, how about you and me go up to Stanford and surprise her?  Take her to dinner someplace special for a real celebration."  He wondered if that sounded too obvious, that he wanted Kim to be a buffer between him and their daughter.  Which was one of his reasons.  "Besides, it would be good to see you.  It's been too long." 

Blast it, had he really said that? 

He backpedaled furiously.  "Damn, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that to come out like that.  I just meant that we've always been friends and we haven't talked in ages, and I know there's a lot going on.  Andrew told me about Phillip, and I'm sorry, and I thought you might enjoy getting away from LA for a day."

Now he was nattering on.

"God, listen to me, I sound like an utter fool.  Just forget it.  Forget that I said anything.  It must be the jet-lag talking.  I'll call you when I get back."

He pressed the off button, tossed the phone on the bed, and sunk into a chair by the desk.  How could he still get tied in knots when trying to say something simple to her?  Their marriage had ended close to 20 years earlier, and he still sounded like a schoolboy in short trousers trying to impress his first crush.

And why now?  He should be focused on getting into Vasquez's office, not dwelling on family.  He knew the answer.  Seeing Victor had instinctively made him think of his family.  After all the nightmares Victor had put them through, Shane's natural response was defensive, a father's instinct to protect his family.

He doubted Victor's appearance here was a coincidence.  Maybe it was a ploy to throw Shane off his game, and that was the last thing he needed if he was about to walk into a trap.

And there it was.  Until 30 minutes earlier, Shane did not suspect anything was amiss.  Running into Victor changed all that, but was Shane just projecting to this mission based on the past?  Was there any real reason to doubt? 

After all, Ortega had been an ISA source for years.  The man had passed on key information in the past.  In the 1990s, he had provided key information that brought down Pablo Escobar and how many of the Cali Cartel arrests were due to Ortega?  Shane may not have dealt with him personally, but he had no reason to doubt the man, especially because Ortega's information was consistent with what others in the ISA had dug up.  The deal had to be real.  And, as he had told Hank, if there was any chance this drugs-for-guns deal was real, he had to go through with the mission.  He needed to see those files.  There were too many lives at stake.

As Shane turned back to the palace blueprints and guard rotations, he tried to convince himself that running into Victor Kiriakis was just a chance encounter that had nothing to do with his assignment.