This episode of the online spy series takes place at an undisclosed “mom and pop” diner on Highway 1 in Key Largo, Florida Keys. If you like the Florida Keys and the Caribbean Islands, you’ll love this online spy series…enjoy!
Episode 2: An Urgent Call To Come Home…Home To Key Largo
Corey Pearson sat at a table by the front picture window of the Key Lime Café in Key Largo, enjoying a conglomeration off the breakfast menu of steak and eggs, hash browns and grits, coffee and Key Lime pie. It was after 4pm, but with no time for breakfast or lunch, he didn’t care about the unusual request. Neither did the waitress. A customer decked out in cut-off jeans, sandals and a ‘Wastin’ Away At Margarittaville’ T-shirt sat at the counter watching a small Motorola black and white TV, complete with rabbit ear antennae. The Parrothead wannabe sipped a Corona and snacked on a complimentary cheese plate which was frequented by flies. A large tarpon hung over the bar. Every picture and sign hung slightly askew, including a Karaoke poster that read, “No Refunds For Songs We Don’t Play!!”
Corey thought to himself: CBIF went all out acquiring this joint. Definitely doesn’t draw the sport’s bar, country western, college, punk rock, yuppie or corporate community. A class all its own.
The owner bragged to the Jimmy Buffet Parrothead, describing how he miraculously acquired a state liquor permit, his plans for a backyard patio for bands and a remodeling of the downstairs bathroom.
I wonder how much the Caribbean Basin Interdiction Force (CBIF) invested to take over this joint…and their reasons for doing so. Poor guy doesn’t know he’s working for them, nor that his newly-hired waitress is most likely a plant for their counter-intelligence team. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Parrothead is too.
He gazed outside past the column of coconut palms and pink hibiscus decorating the front of the mom and pop bar and restaurant. It was Friday and already an endless flow of traffic ventured west on US 1, heading to Key West. The waitress tapped a series of buttons on the aged jukebox in the corner. It took a while for her selections to play, but finally a medley of Buffet tunes began, beginning with “Turnin’ Around”. Corey noticed two men talking in front of a small grocery store across Highway 1, and wondered if they were a section of CBIF’s counter-intelligence (CI) team.
Probably not. They’re too obvious. The real guys wouldn’t be noticed. They’re out there, somewhere, blending into the daily activities, invisible, and they tracked me since I left the Jamaican safe house.
He never had second thoughts about joining CBIF. Of course, no one “joins” CBIF. Many work for the organization without realizing it. Corey inadvertently became entangled in the web of the secretive organization. He believed he worked for the CIA until he sensed something was out of the ordinary. Initially, the CIA selected and trained him to be a Special Operations and Program Officer (SOPA) to plan and coordinate covert missions throughout the Caribbean. Corey earned approbation by setting up “Operation Salt Flamingo” in the southern Bahamas.
But, the portentous execution of “Salt Flamingo” raised his suspicions. The resources available to accomplish each step of his covert plan seemed limitless: no red tape, cost restrictions, or organizational bottlenecks from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CIA Case Officers keep their thoughts to themselves, so Corey’s uncertainty about his true handlers went unspoken. He just did his job well. Still, ever since “Salt Flamingo”, Corey privately questioned whether he was still working for the CIA. He wondered if his operations to build Caribbean spy cells were backed by the CIA…or someone else. Just a hunch, but his gut feelings eventually proved correct.
He wrote up detailed intelligence reports and sent them to CIA Headquarters, but not one piece of intel ever reached the analysts at CIA HQ in Langley. All intel was furtively detoured directly to General Thomas Morrison, the Directorate of Operations at the Caribbean Basin Interdiction Force (CBIF) HQ in Key West, Florida.
Despite the deceptive hiring, Corey liked the pay in the organization and, mostly, that his new career was for the salvation of democracy as we know it in America. He didn’t “interdict” drug smuggling shipments from South America as the title CBIF would lead one to believe…he hunted down terrorist cells throughout the Caribbean basin, America’s vulnerable southern flank. The U.S. was at war, fighting an enemy that proved the orthodox methods used by CIA, FBI and DHS to be ineffective. Corey’s early intelligence training, in fact, was inadequate.
No, Corey didn’t have second thoughts about coming on board with CBIF. His earlier years working homicide in Miami, while attending Miami University and graduating in forensic psychology, joining the FBI and specializing in Forensic Psychology and Profiling at the FBI Academy in Quantico, then entering the CIA’s Clandestine Service Trainee Program left him ill-equipped to battle an enemy employing a world-wide, attack-oriented, team approach. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) umbrella cast a red-tapist, dark shadow over the eighteen intelligence agencies it governed. The mandarin system was unproductive in penetrating self- autonomous, leaderless terrorist cells that stretched around the world and communicated via Internet, fax machine, and cellular phone to plan and quickly swarm together to strike inside America. Only a secretive organization like CBIF could uncover terrorist cells that believe martyrdom and certainty of paradise can be reached…by detonating “dirty” radioactive bombs or biological weapons inside America.
A cell phone musical chime interrupted his thoughts. The waitress retrieved it from her apron and spoke guardedly, while retreating to the back kitchen.
Hope this is the signal for me to come home. The counter-intelligence teams must not have detected anyone tailing me from Jamaica.
Corey thought about the hectic day. He chugged down the iced tea, wishing it were a cold beer. An urgent call on his secure cell phone awoke him 13 hours ago at 3am. Of course, all calls at that hour sound urgent.
“We need you to come home.” Then, a click. CBIF never minced words. Agency protocol established what happened next: proceed immediately to the Montego Bay Sangser International Airport and check your locker.
Corey went on procedural autopilot. He threw together a few favored clothes items, electric shaver and toothbrush, then vacated the premises, leaving the rest of his belongings behind. As he backed down the driveway of the condo, he glanced down the street to see if the “cleaners” arrived. Yes, they were already there, parked a block away, waiting in a rusted-out, unobtrusive-looking, white van.
A few moments after Corey disappeared around a bend, the van pulled into the driveway. His temporary residence in Montego Bay would be expertly sterilized within 15 minutes. Before Cory reached the airport, the refrigerator, bed, ashtrays, wastebaskets, carpet, ceilings, walls and cupboards would be vacuumed and cleansed with chemical amalgamations which left no residue behind. Marks, smudges…all physical clues that revealed Corey and his Jamaican cell chiefs had been there disappeared. Dishes and buffet containers with leftover Ackee and salt fish, jerk pork, curried mutton, Fricassee chicken and coco bread were tossed into a rubber trash can to be incinerated. The cuisine was delivered by a 24-hour catering service named “Jamaican Cookery”, owned and operated by CBIF.
By the time Corey retrieved plane tickets, a carry-on bag with fresh clothes, further instructions, and $5,000 cash from the airport locker, the “cleaners” vacated the safe house. No paper trail, fingerprints, hair follicles, or potential DNA samples remained.
Despite the 85 ton take-off weight, the American Airlines Boeing 737-800 rocked gently as it taxied to the main runway. The gentle motion lulled Corey to sleep. The pilot set the screw mechanism to extend the flaps and straps; the drilling sound further sedated him.
Met with Jamaican Cell Chiefs until 2am, then roused at 3…need sleep.
He never heard the engines spool up or the high-pitched whine of twin GE engines. The landing gear tucked into the belly of the behemoth ship at 6:48am. Before it completed the ascent to 32,000 feet above the sparkling gin and turquoise-colored waters off Jamaica, Corey’s brain spiked out beta waves.
The roar of thrust reversers awakened him from a deep sleep as the Boeing touched down at Miami International at 9:42am. The 2-1/2 hour slumber rejuvenated him. Thoughts of the three CBIF cells in Montego Bay and Four in Kingston surfaced. It took years in the making, but the cell chiefs he so carefully recruited and groomed worked alongside parliament members, banking executives, import/export tycoons, and high-ranking officials in the Jamaican Constabulary Force. Several of these assets were promoted to influential positions. The hasty call to come home to Key Largo puzzled him.
What’s behind the urgent call? Can’t have much to do with operations in Jamaica. No fresh intelligence twists or pressing problems surfaced recently. CBIF-Jamaica is on track…secure.
As instructed, Corey ended up at the Key Lime Café after climbing aboard an American Eagle from Miami International to Fort Myers-RSW airport, then caught a 1:15pm Cape Air Cessna which was forced to weave around a large flock of gulls before touching down on the tarmac at Key West International at 2:05pm. He climbed into a green Ford-250 pickup in log-term parking space No. 43 and drove to this unpretentious eatery at mile marker 102.8 in Key Largo and ordered a meal, as directed.
I wonder how many CBIF counter-intelligence agents have copies of my itinerary?
Corey finished chugging down his iced tea and savored the last bite of Key Lime pie. The waitress reappeared from the back kitchen, stuffing the cell phone back into her apron. She walked across the peanut shell-littered floor to his table and laid a receipt on the vinyl, red-checkered table cloth. He stared at the blank tab and understood, handing her an arbitrary amount of cash.
“Keep the change”.
She smiled and replied, “Thanks. Have a safe trip.”
Corey returned the smile. “The pleasure’s mine. I must have a look at your wine list sometime”.
In the pickup, Corey took a miniature penlight from the glove compartment and shined it upon the blank receipt. Under the special UV light the words, “You’re cleared, Come on home” appeared.
Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and writes the online spy series “Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean”.