Read The Annihilators Online

Authors: Donald Hamilton

The Annihilators (6 page)

BOOK: The Annihilators
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I asked the important question: “What’s the current word on Bultman, sir?”

“Immediate where found.”

Interesting. It doesn’t mean we blast them in the public plaza at high noon, of course; however it does mean that unless the mission upon which we’re engaged has extreme priority, if we stumble across them—the ones with that designation—in the course of it, we take time out to arrange for a discreet removal before proceeding with our regular business. Apparently Bultman had made somebody very angry, or scared, somewhere up the chain of command. Open season.

“Whose toes did he step on?” I asked; and then I said, “Never mind, sir. I guess I can figure out the answer if I try real hard.”

“I should hope so,” Mac said.

“What about the person who spotted him in Guatemala?”

“Observation personnel only.”

“Who’s been sent for action—just in case I should fall over him in the dark somewhere down there?”

“You don’t need to know who was sent. He has been recalled.”

“I see.”

And I did. I couldn’t help a rueful grin. I’d thought Mac had yielded a little too easily when I had announced my sentimental pilgrimage to Costa Verde. Hell, I had even asked innocently what homicidal talent might be wandering around that part of Central America. I’d walked right into it. He’d had to make a few arrangements, or rearrangements; but if temperamental superagent Helm insisted on heading down there anyway, why risk another valuable operative in such an uncertain area?

I said, “My baby, sir?”

His voice, when he answered, was cool: “Your baby, Eric. You did express interest, you’re visiting the country, with a resonably good cover as a magazine photographer, and it seems likely that Bultman’s presence in that part of the world is related to your current business. What else would President Rael’s dirty-work specialist, Echeverria, have to discuss with a trained and experienced assassin? That makes you the logical man to deal with the problem.” Mac hesitated. When he spoke again, his voice was carefully expressionless: “I think you understand the situation, all aspects of the situation. I will leave the final decision to your judgment.”

I suppose I should have been flattered. He was giving me a free hand; but the trouble with that is that if your judgment turns out not to agree with certain other people’s judgments, you can wind up in serious difficulties. Definite orders are safer… I looked up as somebody tapped on the glass of the booth. I said into the phone: “Just a minute. Somebody wants me.”

It was Dr. Frances Dillman, holding out a boarding pass. When I opened the door to take it, she said, “I wonder if you’d give me a hand with something, Mr. Felton. After you’ve finished your call, of course.”

“I’ll be along in a minute,” I said. When she’d gone, I spoke to Mac: “My judgment. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Mac said, “Research has asked me to tell you that they’ll try to have a full report on your fellow travelers ready for you in Mexico City. You know how to make contact. A weapon will be passed to you in Santa Rosalia; let’s hope you’ll have no need for one earlier. Unfortunately, we have no resident personnel there, but arrangements are being made.” He hesitated, and went on: “Be careful, Eric. The Costa Verde situation is not good, your traveling companions may not all be as innocuous as they seem, and with two feet or one, Herr Bultman is not to be taken lightly.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “Careful.”

He always tells us that, but he never tells us how. I hung up, picked up my camera case, and went over to where Dr. Dillman was chatting politely with an older couple named Henderson, Austin and Emily. The woman was a formidable dowager type with blue gray hair. The man, tall and gray and rather stooped, had been introduced as a retired contractor; but in spite of the bowed posture I sensed military experience beyond the average. They stopped talking when I came up.

“Private Felton reporting for duty, ma’am,” I said, saluting smartly.

Dr. Dillman’s unamused glance said that she would have liked to have me for a student. Here I was a paying customer toward whom she had to behave tolerantly; but she knew how to deal with smart alecks in her class.

“This way, please… No, you’d better leave that big camera bag. Austin will keep an eye on it for you.”

The fact that I might not like leaving my cameras out of my sight in a big busy airport was, of course, irrelevant. I followed in her wake. She had a long explorer’s stride in spite of the fact that she was wearing moderately high heels that brought her almost up to my level. Her traveling suit, worn with a white silk blouse, was not a comfortable old friend like the tweed number of yesterday. She was rushing the season a bit in view of the southern latitudes toward which we were heading; and this was a light, tailored costume in businesslike khaki poplin—well, I guess beige is the proper word for that particular shade of tan when the garment in question is very high-class indeed.

The well-fitting skirt was somewhat too narrow for her impatient manner of walking, snapping sharply at her legs; but a little pleat in front prevented the situation from becoming critical. I decided that the neatly nyloned legs weren’t quite as thin as I’d thought them at first glance; and that the figure wasn’t skinny enough to constitute a real deformity, either. But she certainly was a tall and masterful lady. Mistressful?

“I am going to ask a favor of you, Mr. Felton,” she said as we marched briskly through the airport crowds, two long-legged people covering a lot of ground with each stride. “One that I have no right to ask. We have a… a slight problem, and, well, you seem to be reasonably able-bodied and not too ancient unlike, for instance, Austin Henderson. I’m fairly strong, myself, and I’ll do what I can, but the red tape of the tour will keep me pretty busy and I’ll need a little assistance from time to time. I’d like to be able to count on you, Mr. Felton.”

I drew a long breath. I kicked myself hard, mentally, for jumping to conclusions; for judging by first impressions. I would have bet a considerable sum that this was a woman who’d be too proud to ask for help; and that if she were forced to do so by circumstances, she wouldn’t know how to go about it graciously. Well, I’ve been wrong before.

“What is the predicament, Dr. Dillman?” I asked.

She glanced at me quickly. “I’m sorry. I’ve been awfully stiff, haven’t I? My name is Frances. I prefer not to be called Fran or Frankie.”

“Samuel here,” I said, “but I don’t mind being called Sam. Okay, Frances, what’s your problem?”

“You’ll see in a minute. I’m responsible for this tour, and I’ve let somebody come along who… Well, you’ll see.” She hesitated. “A little personal background may help you to understand. I… we have a handicapped child. Never mind the clinical details. She’s quite a bright and delightful little girl, she just doesn’t get around very well. And I would like to think that when she grows up people will be willing to go to a little trouble to help her lead a reasonably normal life. So when this request was put to me, as tour director, I couldn’t help acceding to it even though I knew it would cause some difficulties…” She was looking ahead, frowning. “I told him to stay right here. Ah, there he is!”

I looked ahead to see a young man rolling himself toward us in a wheelchair. It was marked with the name of the airline; presumably his own chair had been checked on through. He brought himself to a stop in front of us.

Frances Dillman said, “Sam, this is Dick Anderson. Mr. Anderson, Mr. Felton. Well, we’d better get you to the gate, Dick; the airport people said for us to be early so they could put you on the plane ahead of everybody else.”

He was a blond young man in his late twenties; and there was something a little wrong with one side of his face. I knew what it was, of course; I’d seen burned faces before. The plastic-surgery boys can perform miracles these days, but they’re seldom quite perfect miracles. Anderson was wearing jeans and a checked shirt with a gray ski sweater over it; and his legs didn’t look quite right, either, thin and shrunken in the blue pants. Obviously they weren’t much use to him. Accident, I thought, no birth defect, no polio; they wouldn’t have resulted in a badly cooked face. But it wasn’t a bad face. It was rather handsome in spite of the repair surgery that had been performed on it. The brown eyes under the heavy brows were steady and intelligent… Brown!

I looked at him more sharply as he sat there in his mobile chair—and I knew him. The straw-colored hair was phony, of course. Anderson, hell! He was about as Scandinavian as I was Spanish, just about exactly; and I’d seen those big soulful brown Latin eyes before, all too recently, in the face of a young and attractive girl. I’d seen them go snake-mean at the sight of a gun. I’d seen them go murder-cold; I’d seen them condemn to death a girl I loved. Well, as much as a man in my line of work can love anybody.

It took me a moment to dredge up the given name, but only a moment. I was looking at Ricardo Jimenez, Dolores and Emilio’s older brother, Hector’s older son, who was supposed to have died in the political prison called La Fortaleza after making an attempt on the life of President Armando Rael; an attempt that had failed.


My first thought, after a sick wave of hatred that surprised me—after all, this damaged young man had done nothing to me; and I don’t usually blame the sons for the sins of their fathers, or of their sisters and brothers either—was that it seemed to be a great day for resurrected, unsuccessful hitmen. I’d just heard of Bultman’s return from the dead after his try at Castro; now here was young Jimenez still more or less alive after his try at Rael. It was an interesting idea, but I couldn’t make anything sinister of it. Coincidences do happen after all.

But I knew why I hated the phony-blond fragment of humanity in the wheeled chair: If this stupid little amateur assassin had done his job right, his father would never have felt compelled to try to recruit me for the work, and Eleanor Brand would still be alive. And it was a damn good thing that somebody—maybe that secret-police chief Enrique Echeverria of whom I’d just heard—had broken his lousy incompetent back for him so I didn’t have to.

“Don’t you think so, Sam?”

I glanced at the tall woman who’d addressed me. “Sure,” I said. “Whatever you say, Frances.”

“All right, we’ll try it over there, it looks easier.”

“You don’t have to push me,” Ricardo Jimenez said. I mean, Dick Anderson. “I’m perfectly all right on level pavement.”

He didn’t have much of an accent, not nearly as much as his kid sister. I noticed that something had happened to one of his hands also; the nails hadn’t grown back quite right. A couple hadn’t grown back at all. I drew a long breath, losing that hot feeling of hatred in spite of myself. It was replaced by an odd sense of kinship: After all, this was something we all had to face. This was something that could happen to any of us, and often did.

They’d caught him, burned him, smashed him, mangled him, broken him; but he was going back to Costa Verde. All right. Maybe he didn’t know how to shoot worth a damn, if that was the way he’d tried to do it—I remembered that his father had always been a lousy marksman—but he had the courage to return to the country where this had been done to him. And I would wrestle his crummy wheelchair, dammit, in memory of the good men I knew who’d tried what he’d tried and wound up sitting where he was sitting, as Frances Dillman would make the same effort for the sake of her handicapped child. Besides, I had to find out why. Why was he going back? What could he hope to accomplish in that condition?

As we wrestled the heavy chair down some steps, I glanced at the woman beside me, wondering if she knew that she was helping to smuggle into Costa Verde the son of an exiled political figure, a wanted man in his own right as a failed assassin and escaped prisoner, a man whose presence in the group could get us thrown into what was by all reports a particularly unpleasant prison. I decided, looking at her severely handsome face, that she’d happily sacrifice us all for her science, but that was just the point. It seemed highly unlikely that she’d risk having her work stopped and her precious ruins placed out of bounds by Armando Rael’s government because she’d meddled in local politics exactly as she’d warned us not to. I decided that she couldn’t know.

And I wasn’t about to tell her. After all, I’d embarked upon this crazy semiscientific expedition to learn about the political situation in Costa Verde, and it seemed very likely that this crippled young man was a significant part of it. And I didn’t really owe any Dillmans anything. I’d do what I could to see that the lady and her tour group escaped unharmed if the blowup came, but I couldn’t afford to interfere by speaking now.

We delivered the warm body to the shipping point, where the airlines personnel took over; they’d load him aboard the plane, I gathered, and take back their wheelchair.

“Thanks a lot, fellas,” he said with a jaunty wave, as we left him. It wasn’t exactly authentic Yankee slang, addressing a lady Ph.D. as a fella, but it was a good enough try for a Spanish-speaking amateur.

“Any time,” I said, replying for both of us.

As we moved away I couldn’t help thinking that it was very nice to walk with a woman who could just about match my ridiculous stride, even in a tailored skirt. In pants she’d probably walk me into the ground.

I said idly, “It’s too bad your husband couldn’t come along on this trip, Frances. But on second thought I don’t suppose it would be any great treat for him, helping you play nursemaid to a bunch of Sunday archaeologists.”

“Archie’s in Arizona, attending a conference at Canyon de Chelly. He was involved in that dig for several years, you know.” She glanced at me quickly. “Isn’t that a terrible name? But the poor man can’t help it. And is Archibald any better? Archibald Dillman, archaeologist, for God’s sake! But he’s really rather a nice person. Anyway, I happen to like him.” She stopped abruptly and turned to face me, putting a hand on my arm to halt me. “Dammit, I was going to work up to it very cleverly, but I’m just not built to be subtle, Felton. I’m about as subtle as a hippopotamus. But, please, you
be nice to us, won’t you?”

BOOK: The Annihilators
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Urban Necromancer by Chard, Phil
Cachet by Shannah Biondine
Full Impact by Suzanne Weyn
Fire in the Stars by Barbara Fradkin
Blush (Rockstar #2) by Anne Mercier
A Pattern of Blood by Rosemary Rowe
Saints and Sinners by Edna O'Brien