Neptune's Payback - Part 1

Hall Cooper is having a very good day.  

The weather is magnificent on this perfect summer day. A day like this reminds him why he left the humidity of the Florida Keys and came to Rio.   Well, OK, that and the fact that they’d ordered him to get out of the country until further notice.

Coop has just returned from a very successful charter.  Of course, it’s always a successful charter when no one tosses his cookies all over the deck of his MarineWay 60. Today, the fish were biting, and his customers caught several worth writing home about in spite of their obvious lack of fishing experience.  He had to bait a hook or two, but they’d been able to land their catches themselves.  Pretty impressive, actually, since a couple of the fish they’d pulled in were good-sized marlin.

After they return to the docks and Coop has Latitude Adjustment tied up, the exhausted but happy customers pose for pictures showing off their trophies. Coop is pleased when they express that happiness with the especially generous tip they hand him as they leave.  To celebrate, he heads for his favorite dockside watering hole, Saúde, and orders what will be the first of several cervejas.  Though Carnivale is still a month away, the outside tables are packed with tourists sipping caipirinhas and gawking at Sugarloaf, many of them tanned and scantily-attired lovely young ladies. 

For whatever reason, women find Coop’s scruffy looks appealing.  He has deep blue eyes, like the sea that makes it possible for him to live here in Rio, trolling for more than just fish.  He wears his graying curls on the longish side, adding to the wild and wooly look the ladies seem to like.   Women don’t even seem to mind the "eau de pescador" that clings to his clothes like a signature scent.  Tonight is no different.  Coop spends an hour or so of flirting with a pretty red-headed dental assistant escaping the brutal Chicago winter back at home.  After a couple more caipirinhas, which he is happy to buy for her (Coop hates them, but he’s gotta love their effect on the uninitiated), she is more than willing to take him back to her hotel room.  And he is more than willing to help her create an exciting carioca memory to warm her through the rest of the winter.  

He is just getting to it when he hears the distinctive tones coming from the cell phone in his cargo shorts.

“Fuck!  Sorry, honey, no pun intended.”  Coop relaxes his arms and collapses onto the redhead beneath him.  His arms aren’t the only body parts that collapse, and he knows he’s lost his mojo.  

After all these years, that sound from the cell phone is one he’d about decided he’d never hear.  But he really enjoys his freedom, so there is no way he is going to ignore it.  He rolls off the redhead, who is looking decidedly pissed off, and reaches for his shorts, puddled on the floor beside the bed.  He grapples with the flap of the side pocket and yanks out the phone.  There on the screen is the coded text message he was told to expect when all this started years ago.

Neptune alpha gamma 502-d charlie

He’s being summoned. He has to chuckle when he reads the message.  It’s all so cloak and dagger.  “Neptune” is his code name (code name – who’d a thunk?) and the rest of the message directs him to a bank of old-time closed phone booths, the only ones left in Rio.  “Charlie” tells him to go to the third booth, and dial the untraceable number he’d been required to memorize and call once a year, “just to check in.”

He yanks on his shorts and steps into his sandals as he zips up.  

“Sorry, Rhonda, but I’m afraid I have to go.  I hate to leave like this, especially like this,” he grins at her, “but it’s important.”  Without waiting for a reply, he’s out the door.


Hall Cooper’s military career should have been the stuff of legend, not to mention many a good yarn told over a few single malts.  Yeah, would have been, too, were he allowed to talk about it.  But part of the deal that kept him out of Leavenworth was the mother of all gag orders.  Since Coop is no fan of closed spaces, he was more than happy to comply.  The other part of the deal wasn’t something that concerned him much.  Like Scarlett, he figured he could worry about that tomorrow, if tomorrow ever came.    When several years went by without a call on his IOU, he’d begun to think he was never going to have to pay that part of the debt. He was sorry about that, because paying it would buy him a complete pardon.

Before his exile, Cooper was a retrieval expert.  Although technically, he’d been in one branch of the service (the Marines, the best branch, as far as Coop was concerned), in truth, he’d been in none.  As part of some government agency – he’d never known which one -- he’d worked with military and assorted other agencies in the US, plus a few in other countries for good measure.  When the brass – any brass -- needed something seemingly impossible to get, Coop was your man.  Nothing was impossible to get, not as far as Hall Cooper was concerned.

And that’s where he’d gotten himself into a world of hurt.  

Several years ago, Cooper caught wind of an intriguing rumor about an artifact in Europe, but it was so vague and far-fetched, he mentally filed it away and forgot about it.  Over the next few years, however, he picked up additional tidbits about the artifact on the jungle drums, as he liked to call the vast rumor mill that contributed so much to his success.  If there was anything Hall Cooper was good at, it was gathering snippets of intelligence, rumor, exaggeration and outright lies, and piecing them together to create a pretty detailed road map to the truth.  In fact, he was sure that his skill at doing so was what had kept him out of the hoosegow.  He was apparently just too damned valuable to lock away, incredible as that seemed to Coop.

So Cooper had done what he does.  When he started to hear more bits and bobs about the ring, he determined to find it.  Hey, a guy’s gotta do something with his vacation time, right?

His information eventually led him to Rome, where like any good tourist, he paid a visit to the Vatican.  In the end, he’d relieved the Vatican of one of its prized and secret treasures, the signet ring of Armand de Périgord, a Grand Master of the Knights Templar.  The ornate gold ring bore the image of The Two Riders, the most sacred seal of the Templars.  Everyone thought the ring had gone missing in the 13th century along with de Périgord himself.  Everyone but Hall Cooper. 

You know that old saying, something about “hidden in plain sight”?  That’s exactly where the ring was.  Sometimes what glitters actually is gold.  Unfortunately, the ring’s resting place in the Clementine Chapel below the Basilica of Saint Peter was also in plain sight of a Swiss Guard stationed behind a gold mesh screen.  Cooper hadn’t known the guard was there, not until he was arrested by a couple of gendarmes.  As he tried to slip out of Vatican City at Saint Anne’s Gate, they nabbed him. But what they didn't nab was the ring.  Hey, mama didn't raise no fools.  Coop was smart enough to know that his odds of getting out of Vatican City with the ring in his possession were pretty slim.  On his way to Saint Anne's Gate, he'd stashed the ring in what he sure was a secure spot, planning to go back and retrieve it a few days later. 

The gendarmes politely escorted Cooper to the Palace of the Tribunal.  Once behind closed doors, they weren't quite so polite as they thoroughly searched him and bombarded him with questions and accusations.  He played the tourist, confused and then outraged at his treatment.  He'd had years in the field to perfect his act, after all.  After much loud Italian and even louder English, the gendarmes had gotten nothing from Cooper.  Though they were sure he'd pilfered something, they had no evidence that he was anything but than a bumbling tourist who insisted on touching, like so many Americans.  They turned him over to the Polizia di Stato, the Italian State Police. The Polizia took Cooper to their headquarters in Il Palazzo del Viminale.  While they tried their hand (so to speak) at breaking him, Italian authorities tried to get more information about him.  They quickly realized that the US credentials they found in his pocket were unlike any they’d ever seen, and they notified Washington of his arrest.  

In a matter of hours, he was handed over to US officials and on his way back to the US, and what he was sure would be a court martial.  Much to his surprise, he was offered the deal that kept him out of Leavenworth.  As it turned out, his “punishment,” such as it was, caused Copper no hardship.  He was free to live anywhere but the US.  His passport had been flagged and he couldn’t have gotten into the country anyway.

His sentence?  Basically, it was “get out of the country, zip your mouth, check in once a year, and wait to hear from us.  And, oh, yeah, keep your nose clean. We’ll have eyes on you.”  

Não tem problema.


This was written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory 


  1. Nice job!! This is better than Clive Cussler's stuff. More, please!!

  2. Enjoying your short stories more than I can possibly say... can't wait to read the the next installment!

  3. patti...ran out of time to read this thoroughly so will keep it marked and come back to night when i can leave a more intelligent response...

  4. nice...i like the concept and the background on the guy...the opening is a bit more tell than show and then a couple tense issues i think, but will wait for the finish...i like this...

  5. :)! Why does it feel good when the bad guy is having a good day? And yet, it does!

  6. I'm seeing The Italian Job and some Dan Brown...

    The character's interesting... he acts differently than described. A bit Remington Steele-ish (which happened in another recent tale of yours, as I recall).

    Latitude Adjustment is the boat?


Thoughts? I would love to hear from you.