Authors: Donald Hamilton
Okay. Ricardo Jimenez, alias Dick Anderson. The medical record was brutal. Red Henry Echeverria’s wreckers had really taken the boy apart in La Fortaleza, judging by the repair work listed on the clinical records: extensive plastic surgery for facial burns, function largely restored to left hand, very limited function restored to lower limbs with further improvement unlikely, operation to correct urogenital injuries partially successful but sexual function found to be irreversibly destroyed.
I drew a long breath and turned the page, wondering how Frances Dillman had known or guessed the full extent of the damage. Maybe it was something a woman, at least a passionate woman, could tell at a glance. For some reason the possibility hadn’t occurred to me until she suggested it, although it is of course an area they always like to go for. The poor damn guy, I thought; it shouldn’t even happen to a Jimenez.
Santa Rosalia welcomed us with open arms, which was a considerable relief. I’d been reasonably confident that my own cover would hold up under any ordinary inspection—they usually do a pretty good job in Washington—but I hadn’t really been able to convince myself that the grim police state of Costa Verde would admit unsuspectingly a fugitive from its notorious prison sitting conspicuously in a wheelchair with the facial surgery obvious to anyone who really looked, with nothing going for him but a phony passport and a bleach job on the hair that wasn’t really very convincing.
But it all went very smoothly. The customs people even waived luggage inspection and passed us through cheerfully to the big bus waiting outside; but it was not really a relaxing country to be in. The airport was heavily patrolled by armed soldiers, and every street corner seemed to be a guard post. Santa Rosalia was fairly dirty, at least around the edges. A lot of Latin American cities aren’t exactly model communities by U.S. standards; but I’ve never got too upset at the sight of cheerful barefoot urchins with grubby faces and fat brown tummies showing through their torn shirts—as a kid I wasn’t all that sold on shoes and cleanliness, either, and my jeans were often fairly well ventilated at the knees and sometimes even in the seat. But these grimy street children weren’t either fat or cheerful; and their parents had a wary, hunted-animal look.
“I didn’t say it was nice,” Frances said a little defensively, pausing by my seat. “Don’t use your camera, please. Our guide undoubtedly reports to the SSN.”
“Science marches on,” I said. “I won’t stop it.”
I watched her move away along the aisle, very businesslike, very different from the warm, willing woman who’d visited my room last night in Mexico City—the rest of the group had gone to a performance of the Ballet Folklorica, but she’d passed me a signal to abstain. Now she spoke to the guide, a stocky dark man in a white suit, bracing himself on the platform beside the driver. He nodded and, as Frances returned to her seat somewhere behind me, he picked up the microphone, whistled into it once to check the sound, and went into his spiel.
“My name is Ramiro,” he said, “and I am happy to welcome you to our beautiful country, Costa Verde, and our beautiful capital city of Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia has an elevation of five hundred and fifty meters above the sea, that is about one thousand eight hundred feet; and a population of four hundred and eighty thousand people, almost half a million. Tomorrow I will be pleased to show you the fine museum constructed by our progressive government to preserve our people’s ancient heritage. You will also visit the fine Palace of the Governors and a new sisal plant, one of the many fine industries encouraged by the forward-looking policies of… Yes, señora?”
It was Mrs. Henderson, the wife of the ex-general. “What’s that enormous building over there?” she asked. “It looks very old.”
Leaning over to look across the bus, I saw it looming over the surrounding slums: a great block of ancient masonry with bars at the windows and a weathered cross over the impressive entrance gates. The dark face of our guide showed momentary confusion, but quickly recovered its impassivity.
“Señora, that is the
Mision Santa Rosalia
, established in sixteen hundred and fifty-three by the Society of Jesus. As you can see, it was built for defense, like a fortress—in fact sometimes it is known as La Fortaleza, the fortress—and in times of trouble people came for many miles to take shelter within the walls. The stone is our local limestone of which you will see a great deal at the ruins we will be visiting soon. Once the mission stood in a small native village; now as you can see a great city has grown up around it. There is a very fine little chapel; unfortunately it can not be visited because the mission is now used as an official state building…”
An official state building. I watched it go by the bus windows, and even at the distance of several blocks I thought I could smell the prison filth and hear the screams from the interrogation cells.
“And on the other side of the bus,” said the smooth voice of the guide, “you will see the new facilities of our national oil company, Petroverde. Costa Verde has many fine resources and more oil is being discovered frequently…”
Then we were through the ugly perimeter of the city and driving down a handsome tree-lined boulevard, with the guide pointing out to us banks and office buildings. Even here there were soldiers; but there were also important-looking businessmen marching down the sidewalks in dark suits, white shirts, and expensive neckties; and pretty secretaries in smart dresses or pantsuits and provocatively high heels. The bus turned into a maze of smaller one-way streets and brought up in front of our hotel, where I went into my wheelchair drill. Frances did her stuff with the luggage and room keys. It was really getting to be a well-disciplined operation.
“Thanks, Sam,” Ricardo Jimenez said as I delivered him to his floor, the third floor here. He glanced down the corridor. “I see my suitcase has already made it; come in for a drink.” He paused significantly. “I think we both need one, don’t you, amigo?”
I studied him for a moment. “Sure. Best offer I’ve had all day.”
When we reached the room, he worked the key, saying, “If you don’t mind bringing my bag inside… There’s a bottle of bourbon wrapped in a shirt. Just set the combination lock to zeros and it will open.” While I put the suitcase on the luggage stand and dug out the whiskey, he got the door closed and rolled himself over to the dresser and peeled the Saran Wrap or whatever the local equivalent was called, off the plastic glasses, holding one out to me as I approached with the bottle. He looked me in the eye. “Pour your own poison, Mr. Helm.”
I grinned at him. “As you wish, Señor Jimenez, but I think we’d better stick to the cover names for the time being,” I said. “How long have you known?”
He shrugged. “Since Houston, I think. A tall man who is very good with a rifle—it is a story I have heard many times. A tall man who knows much about cameras and often uses them for disguise. A tall man who works for the United States Government. A tall man whose lady friend was recently murdered by my stupid young brother and my stupid young sister and their stupid friend on instructions, or perhaps not on instructions, from my still-so-ambitious father.” He looked up at me curiously. “I thought you would certainly betray me at the airport, amigo. I had thought of having you killed, as a preventive measure; but that would have destroyed our plans just as effectively as anything you could do against us. The murder or unexplained disappearance of a member of this tour would have brought everything to a halt; it would have caused an investigation that Mr. Dick Anderson would not have survived. So…” He shrugged and raised his glass to me. “So here we are.”
I said, “At least you’ve learned not to go off half-cocked, unlike the rest of your lousy family. Do they know you’re alive and out of prison? I got the impression from Dolores—”
“They do not know,” Ricardo said. “They really have very few reliable contacts with the land they still hope to liberate; and it was not considered safe for them to know, so the information was not allowed to reach them.” He frowned up at me. “Why didn’t you, amigo?”
“Finger you at the airport?” I shrugged. “Why the hell should I? You haven’t done anything to me, at least not yet. You weren’t even in Chicago when it happened.”
“So I am to believe that your presence on this tour is pure coincidence?”
I said, “Two people wanted to slip into a country without attracting attention, and there was only one inconspicuous way of going at the time, and they both went that way. If that’s a coincidence, you can have it.” I studied him for a moment. “Who’s running your revolution, anyway? Not you, not from the U.S., not from that chair. And not your daddy, apparently, since you haven’t even bothered to let him know you’re still alive.”
There was some guilt in Ricardo’s voice when he said, “I have much respect for my father; but he is very old-fashioned now with his military ways.”
“You’re going to need some old-fashioned military ways if you have any notion of taking over this country, considering all the firepower I saw on the streets today.”
“Actually, the army’s loyalty to Rael is very doubtful, now that a Jimenez is on the other side. That is the reason I am here.” He hesitated. “It would be very good if we could have my father to advise us in the fighting. He was a great fighter, but he was a terrible president, Sam. Like your General Grant. He could not believe that his old army friends would betray his trust and use for their own profit the positions to which he had raised them without any thought for the people of Costa Verde. It was all army, and all corrupt army, while he was president; otherwise Armando Rael with his reactionary friends could never have come to power. Yet the army has always loved my father; and there are many people who are not military who remember the name Jimenez not so badly, now that they have experienced Rael. As I say, that is why I am here. A Jimenez, a son of a well-remembered officer, but no army man himself, with no cronies in the officer corps. A Jimenez, who has suffered much, sacrificed much, fighting against Rael and for his country. A figurehead, if you like, crippled in this chair; but a figurehead that can, perhaps, lead the revolution to victory and a better life for the people of Costa Verde.”
“So you are cutting daddy out, is that it?”
Jimenez shrugged, a little self-consciously. “It cannot be helped. He has never really been in, recently. His time is past. Even if I had succeeded in the mission on which he sent me, and eliminated Rael, he would not have reaped the benefit. There were others on the ground ready to take advantage of the opportunity if it came. I could see at once that they ware assisting me for their own good, not for my father’s. But there was nothing to do but take advantage of their help, since there was no other help available. The death of Rael was the important thing. Who benefited did not matter greatly. The people would have benefited in any case.”
“But you goofed,” I said.
The word threw him for a moment; then he nodded. “Yes. I missed with the first shot and they gave me no time for another.”
“Well, it happens,” I said. “If you’re the figurehead, who’s behind you?”
He hesitated, and shrugged again. “It is no big secret. The man’s name is Lupe de Montano, Lupe of the Mountain. He has the name of
, of course; here if you are against the government, you are always a bandit. Lupe himself will not claim that he is altogether a patriotic saint. My father scorned him as a swashbuckling outlaw in a big hat, very much like that
you may remember; but he was willing to make use of Lupe, not knowing that Lupe was instead making use of him, and of me. Lupe is ready to move out of the hills now; and he needs respectability for his political movement and a lever to turn the army from Rael. With the name of Jimenez I am that respectability and that lever. That is why he got me out of La Fortaleza and shipped me to the United States to be repaired and reconstructed as far as possible, looking ahead to the time when he could make good use of me.”
“How did he manage to spring you?” I asked curiously.
“Spring?” Again the slang word confused him for a moment. “Oh. I think we can say that he got me out of prison in much the same way he just got us into this country, by influence and threats and some bribery. Rael and his butcher Echeverria have made many enemies who are willing to help anyone working against them, particularly if there is a little profit and not too much risk.” There was an old cynicism in the young voice. Ricardo went on: “I cannot tell you much about my escape. I was not really there. I had resigned myself to dying; I wished for death. What did I have left to live for, to live with? I think by this time you have learned what was done to me.” He shook his head. “As for my liberation, I have been told that forged release papers were presented to someone who had agreed not to scrutinize them too closely; but I remember only the pain of being carried, and jolted in a truck, and jounced around in a small, fast boat. At the time I was merely annoyed, as far as I had any feelings at all. They would not let me die in peace. And then the American hospital and the doctors and the operations; and gradually… Well, I was not good for much, the way Echeverria and his torturers had left me. I was no good for a woman and not much good for myself. But if I could still be of some good for my country, then I was not entirely a useless hulk, you understand. So here I am, to do what I can for my people with what remains to me: my heart and my brain and my name.”
It was a little on the heroic side, but they do like their drama down there; and he was obviously sincere. In fact I sensed something a bit obsessive about his patriotic fervor. Well, after what had been done to him it would have been strange if he were totally normal. I thought it possible that Rael and Echeverria might one day come to regret what they’d created here.
I said, “Well, you’re going to have to make up your mind, Ricardo. I have nothing against you, or your revolution, or your man of the mountain. On the other hand, there’s an account to be settled with some other members of your family; and it will be settled, I assure you. If that makes us enemies, it’s just too damn bad. Your decision, amigo.”