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Hell or High Water

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Sharkey wakes unwillingly to the sound of footsteps and talking. He flips on the bedside lamp and there’s the boss, fully dressed and raring to go. It’s 6:01, which is two hours too early. Before Sharkey can make reasonable inquiries, Olrik tells him to hurry, they have private business, throw some clothes on and get moving.

Sharkey does so within two minutes, although he has to fasten his jacket on the fly. Olrik is saying something he doesn’t quite catch about the fuel gauge and the extreme efficiency of orichalum.

“It’s not as if one more quick flight will make a difference,” Olrik says as he unlocks the barn. “Besides, it will eventually occur to Ostrog that having someone around who knows how to fly the Bug might be advisable. My handful of flight hours tops literally everyone else on the planet, not to mention my insight into Atlantean culture. Open the doors all the way.”

Sharkey watches with dawning apprehension as the boss pulls the tarp and pops the flying saucer’s top. Olrik grins and gestures at the Bug.

“I assumed you wouldn’t want to miss this. It's not every day you have the chance to build a legend.”

What can Sharkey say to that? He clambers into the saucer, which at least has more leg room that you’d guess, and tries to look happy about it.

“You’ll want to strap yourself in. Transitions between modes can get bumpy.”

Sharkey doesn’t want to know what that means, but he pulls the straps over his hips and chest. They seem to be held with magnetic clamps. The seat is surprisingly comfortable and to his astonishment, there’s odd music piped in from somewhere. Olrik irritably jabs a panel until it changes to something peppier.

They pick up speed along the dark, ragged road until Olrik hits another button and they take to the sky. Sharkey’s gasp is drowned out by the takeoff noise, thank goodness. They gain altitude quickly, then level off. Olrik explains the limitations of the Bug, comparing it to a float plane as far as flight goes. It also has elements of a sports car and a speed boat. Sharkey gets the impression that Olrik would like to take this crazy thing around the world.

“Too bad we can’t risk a flight in broad daylight, the views are excellent. Still, you get the idea. The stabilizing technology alone is a staggering advance. They’ll be studying the Bug for decades to come.”

Olrik makes a tight turn and changes the lighting to there’s a strong beam shooting straight down.

"Brace yourself.”

They plunge into the Tagus. Sharkey finds himself holding his breath, then forces himself to breathe. He’s managing to keep it together, mostly because the boss is completely relaxed and confident. Olrik actually chuckles as they spook a school of fish.

“Ostrog started praying at this juncture, poor bastard. I’m changing modes on three.”

They burst out of the river and continue on the surface, with the front of the Bug riding high. Sharkey has to agree that it is, indeed, a lot like a speedboat, except…

“Water takeoffs are the easiest from what I can tell. Makes sense, with the Atlantean geography,” Olrik notes. He launches into a steep climb. Sharkey can see the lights of Lisbon for a moment before they turn to make their way northeast. They’re on their way back, thank goodness, although how the boss is navigating, he can’t imagine. Olrik admits that he hasn’t quite mastered all the instruments, but there is a way to mark points and return to them.

“Logically there must be a way to track several recurring destinations, and I suspect there’s an auto-pilot option as well. Here’s a trick I figured out only last night.” To Sharkey’s horror they slow to a stop far, far above the farm.

“Hover function,” says Olrik, entirely unconcerned. “We’ll land as light as a soap bubble.”

They do so, and Sharkey feels his heart rate slow to near normal as they bump along the road back to the barn. Olrik drives the Bug up the trailer ramp and pulls the key. He jumps lightly from the trailer and Sharkey follows, staggering slightly on weak knees.

“I’ll be sorry to see her go, but needs must.” Olrik slaps the side of the Bug and orders Sharkey to grab the tarps. They cover up the Bug and fasten the chains.

“Ostrog can get his own people to clean it this time. It doesn’t affect the price.” Olrik lights a cigarette and inhales deeply. He checks his watch. “Six-forty-five. We have time to pack everything up before Señora Vale’s final visit. I know you’ll want to be on hand for her arrival.” Sharkey chooses to ignore his tone on that last bit.

***

Sharkey has time to not only pack but also place the bags and boxes in the Crestline and have a bit of chat with Sal and Marco. Sal is pleased with his little cousin, who is new to Fitzallen and Tupnell. He and Simon, the scarred man, used to do a bit of smuggling and gun running, until Simon nearly lost his sight in a deal gone bad. Marco is thriving in a comparatively straight job and Sal hopes that in a few years he’ll settle down, find a nice girl, make his family proud. Sharkey gets the impression that Sal’s words are directed at Kenny, who cheerfully ignores them. Ken has lots of living to do before he retreats to domesticity. He suggests that Sharkey join him for a fishing trip, that is if he sticks around Lisbon after the deal is done.

He’s not the only one in a mood to socialize. Señora Vale - Inez - slips her business card inside Sharkey’s breast pocket, just in case he’d like to experience a genuine Portuguese home-cooked meal. She even twirls her hair a bit when he loads the final basket into her truck and shakes her hand. If there’s any way on God’s green earth he can accept that invitation, he will.

At eleven the whole team gathers to review the plan. Olrik will lead the way in the Crestline. Sharkey will drive the truck, Pedro at his side, and Sal and Mario will sit with the Bug, weapons at the ready. They leave the farm slowly, allowing time to lock the gates. Sharkey doesn’t worry about staying on the boss’s tail. He allows the Crestline to surge ahead, just within view, until they come to a series of plain-faced buildings on Rua Augusto José Vieira. Two men are waiting to open the door. Olrik drives inside. After a moment he sounds the horn three times to tell Sharkey to follow.

Mr. Underdown is there. He helps Olrik carry the artifacts from the back seat of the Crestline. Ken and Sal position themselves beside the truck. Sharkey hands the truck keys to Olrik and sticks close enough to hear the boss’s conservation with Underdown. The amount of money they’re discussing is staggering, even when you subtract the Fitzallen and Tupnell fees and bonuses for the boys. The boss could live comfortably for the rest of his life on this job, but he won’t, and Sharkey isn’t foolish enough to suggest such a thing. Underdown and Olrik go to a shabby office to make a call. Sharkey can’t hear them, but they seem pleased when they emerge.

“Deal is done,” Olrik says. Nobody speaks, but the atmosphere in the warehouse changes. Fifteen minutes later the black Renault appears. Ostrog is in the front passenger seat beside Marco. Another man, an obvious goon, sits in the back with Simon. Ostrog has regained his air of smugness, although he is more polite than usual.

Olrik meets his customer in the middle of the room. They speak briefly in Russian. Olrik hands over a handful of keys, one for the truck, one to unlock the chains, and the strange key, the golden ankh to start the Bug. They shake hands and Olrik rejoins Underdown and Sharkey. Simon helps Ostrog to climb into the truck, and they watch as the Russian and his bodyguard turn towards the docks.

Underdown breaks the silence. “Very good. Just a few more bits of business. He hands out pay packets to Sharkey and the guards. Only Marco expresses surprise at the amount, but Simon pulls him into the Renault before he can make a fool of himself. Ken grins and whistles for the dog. Sal tips an imaginary hat. Underdown has something for Olrik as well, yet another set of keys and a map. He believes they will find the villa satisfactory for October. If they wish to stay beyond the month, that can be arranged. Now it’s his turn to shake hands with Olrik. He waves to Sharkey and leaves the warehouse, followed by Ken and Sal. Ken turns and makes a casting gesture at Sharkey before they go.

“I gather that your new friend wants to go out and play,” Olrik says, more teasing than scornful.

“If we’re going to spend time here, I wouldn’t mind.”

Olrik shrugs. “It seems as pleasant a place as any to rest and regroup. Word of this will get out within weeks and I’ll be busier than ever. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little quiet in the meantime. I should write down all my impressions of Atlantis while they’re still fresh. You’ll have time to spend your bonus, don’t worry.”

He hands the map to Sharkey and they begin the drive to their new home away from home. As it happens, Sharkey does spend some of the (very generous) bonus, but only a fraction. Most of it goes to savings to nourish Sharkey’s dream of having his own establishment some day. That leaves plenty to show Inez a good time, drink with Ken, and have a few adventures. The boss manages to enjoy Lisbon too, in his own way, but that’s another story.