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He was working the espresso machine at tiny Donkey Dick’s DaKine Coffee Shack, which was no more than 50 yards inland from Alii. Donkey Dick’s was barely a shack. It didn’t have a front door, only a roll-down bamboo shutter they had no choice but to keep open, and every few minutes the wind would whip rain in like someone lost control of a hose. On normal days Alex got a little spray of the ocean, which he liked. Best thing was, the open Shack gave him a good view of anything going down and yet it was secluded — just beyond the little town park that local kids used to score dope and tourists wandered into, hoping for restrooms. Not a bad setup for getting some extra bucks. He’d work here a few days more unless Dick decided he couldn’t keep paying him under the table. At some point Dick would need proper ID.

It was now into February, 2004. Alex had been AWOL less than a month. He was not stupid. He knew that every story like his — every American story — often ends with guns blazing. Inevitably, some decent guy will have to defend his convictions with bullets that kill. Alex had made up his mind. He would not let that happen. He was not going to the gun, not ever. Not any more. Way back when in Operation Desert Storm he’d seen the havoc that overwhelming force could wreak, and he’d seen enough of it. Besides, it was a bad move strategically. Going to the gun was what a standard goon AWOL did. The crackhead privates, the rapists, spies, murderers even. Letting himself get tagged as armed and dangerous only made the authorities’ job easier. No, if he was going to do this he had to be better than decent. Gunning others down only showed a lack of creativity and thought.

The weather made it tough to eye the local cops. It didn’t help that cop cars here were privately owned, Fords and Toyotas and SUVs with smoked windows and no markings except for, if you were lucky, a tiny blue slap-on roof light. A couple cop cars had cruised by this morning, one a Jeep Cherokee, the other a Mustang, and it had seemed to Alex they were slowing to steal a look up the path to Donkey Dick’s. Earlier he’d seen a couple of them standing out in the rain down on Alii, staring his way. Or at least it seemed that way. How many others were there? Surely they had dealt with an AWOL before. It was a perfect time to make their move because the storms were making the island even smaller by the day. Roads were washed out, the airport was closed, and boats were going nowhere. Alex was going nowhere.

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