by W.E.B. Griffin


[ ONE ]
Flughafen Schwechat
Vienna, Austria
1630 12 July 2005

As an American, Jean-Paul Lorimer was always annoyed or embarrassed, or both, every time he arrived at Vienna’s international airport. The first thing one saw when entering the terminal was a Starbucks kiosk.

The arrogance of Americans to sell coffee in Vienna! With such a lurid red neon sign!

Dr. Jean-Paul Lorimer, PhD—a very black man of forty-six who was somewhat squat, completely bald, spoke in a nasal tone, and wore the latest in European fashion, including tiny black-framed glasses, and Italian loafers in which he more waddled than walked—had written his doctoral thesis on Central European history. He knew there had been coffee in Europe as early as 1600.

Dr. Lorimer also knew that after the siege of Vienna in 1675, the fleeing Turkish Army left behind bags of “black fodder.” Franz Georg Kolschitzy, a Viennese who had lived in Turkey, recognized it as coffee. Kolschitzky promptly opened the first coffee house. It offered free newspapers for his customers to read while they were drinking his coffee, which he refined by straining out the grounds, and adding milk and sugar.

It was an immediate success, and coffee almost immediately became a part of cultured society in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And spread from there around the world.

Dr. Lorimer waddled past the line of travelers at the kiosk, shaking his head in disgust. And now the Americans are bringing it, as if they invented it, like Coca-Cola, to the world? Spreading American culture? Good God! Outrageous!

Dr. Jean-Paul Lorimer no longer thought of himself as an American. For the past twenty-two years, he had been a career professional employee of the United Nations, with the personal rank of minister for the last five.

His title was Chief, European Directorate of Inter-Agency Coordination. It had its headquarters in Paris, and thus he had lived there nearly a quarter-century. He had purchased an apartment several years ago on Rue Monsieur in the VII Arrondissement and planned—when the time was right—to buy a little house somewhere on the Cote d’Azur. He hadn’t even considered, until recently, of ever returning to the United States to live.

Dr. Lorimer’s blue, gold-stamped United Nations diplomatic passport saw him waved quickly past the immigration officer on duty.

He got in the taxi line, watched as the driver put his small, take-aboard suitcase into the trunk of a Mercedes-Benz, got in the back, and told the driver, in German, to take him to an address on Cobenzlgasse.

Lorimer had mixed feelings, most of them bad, about Vienna, starting with the fact that it was difficult to get here from Paris by air. There was no direct service. One had to go to either London or Brussels first to catch a plane. Today, because he had to get here as quickly as possible, he’d come via London. An extra hour and a half of travel time that got him here two hours earlier than going through Brussels would have.

There was the train, of course, The Mozart, but that took forever. Whenever he could, Lorimer dispatched one of his people to deal with things in Vienna.

It was a beautiful city, of course. Lorimer thought of it as the capital city of a non-existent empire. But it was very expensive—not that that mattered to him any more—and there was a certain racist ambiance. There was practically none of that in Paris, which was one of the reasons Lorimer loved France generally and Paris in particular.

He changed his line of thought from the unpleasant to the pleasant. While there was nothing at all wrong with the women in Paris, a little variety was always pleasant. You could have a buxom blonde from Poland or Russia here in Vienna, and that wasn’t always the case in Paris.

Jean-Paul Lorimer had never married. When he’d been working his way up, there just hadn’t been the time or the money, and when he reached a position where he could afford to marry, there still hadn’t been the time.

There had been a film about ten years ago in which the actor Michael Caine had played a senior diplomat who similarly simply didn’t have the time to take a wife, and had found his sexual release with top-notch hookers. Jean-Paul reluctantly had identified with Caine’s character.

The apartment Lorimer was going to was the Viennese pied a terre of Henri Douchon, a Lebanese business associate. Henri, as Lorimer, was of Negroid ancestry—with some Arab, of course, but a black skinned man, taller and more slender—who also had never married and who enjoyed buxom blonde women.

Henri also liked lithe blonde young men—that sort of thing was common in the middle east—but he sensed that Jean-Paul was made uncomfortable in that ambience, and ran them off from the apartment when Jean-Paul was in town, replacing them with the buxom blonde Poles or whatever they both liked. Sometimes four or even six of them.

I might as well enjoy myself; God only knows what will happen tomorrow.

There was no response to the door bell of the apartment when Jean-Paul rang it.

Henri had not answered his phone, either, when Jean-Paul had called that morning from Paris to tell him he was coming. He had called from one of the directorate’s phones—not his—so the call couldn’t be traced to him, and he hadn’t left a message on the answering machine, either, for the same reason.

But he knew Henri was in town, because when he was not, he unplugged his telephone, which caused the number to “ring” forever without activating the answering machine.

Jean-Paul waited exactly ninety seconds—timing it with his Omega chronometer as he looked back onto Cobenzlgasse, the cobblestone street that he knew led up the hill to the position where Field Marshal Radetsky had his headquarters when the Turks were at the gates of Vienna—before putting his key in the lock.

There was no telling what Henri might be doing, and might be unwilling to immediately interrupt. It was simply good manners to give him ninety seconds.

When he pushed the door open, he could hear music—Bartok, Jean-Paul decided—which suggested Henri was at home.

“Henri,” he called. “C’est moi, Jean-Paul!”

There was no answer.

As he walked into the apartment, there was an odor he could not immediately identify. The door from the sitting room to Henri’s bedroom was open. The bed was mussed but empty.

Jean-Paul found Henri in the small office, which Henri somewhat vainly called the study.

He was sitting in the leather upholstered, high back desk chair. His arms were tied to the arms with leather belts. He was naked. His throat had been cut—cut through almost to the point of decapitation.

His hairy, somewhat flabby chest was blood soaked, and blood had run down from his mouth over his chin.

There was a bloody kitchen knife on the desk, and a bloody pair of pliers. Jean-Paul was made uncomfortable by the sight, of course, but he was never anywhere close to panic or nausea or anything like that.

He had spent a good deal of time, as he worked his way up in the United Nations, in places like the Congo, and had grown accustomed to the sight and smell of mutilated bodies.

He looked again at the body and at the desk and concluded that before they’d cut his throat, they had torn out two fingernails and then—probably later—half a dozen of his teeth. The torso and upper thighs had also been slashed in many places, probably with the knife.

I knew something like this would probably happen, but not this soon. I thought at the minimum we would have another two weeks or so.

Did anyone see me come in?


I gave the cab driver the address of a house six up Cobenzlgasse from this one, and made sure that he saw me walking up the walk to it before he drove off.

Is there anything incriminating in the apartment?

Probably after what they did to him, there is nothing of interest or value left.

And it doesn’t matter, anyway. It’s time for me to go.

The only question seems to be whether they will be waiting for me in Paris.

It is possible this is only a warning to me.

But certainly, I can’t operate on that assumption.

Dr. Jean-Paul Lorimer walked calmly out of the study, reclaimed his carry-on suitcase where he’d left it when coming in, paused thoughtfully a moment, then took the key to the apartment from his pocket and laid it on the table by the door.

Then he walked out of the apartment and onto Cobenzlgasse, dragging his suitcase behind him. He walked down the hill to the streetcar loop, and when one came, got on it.

When the streetcar reached the Vienna Opera on Karnter Ring, he got off, and then boarded a streetcar which carried him to the Vienna West railroad station on Mariahilferstrasse.

He bought a ticket for a private single room on Train EN 262, charging it to his United Nations Platinum American Express card.

Then, seeing that he had enough time before the train would leave for Paris’s Gare de l’Est at eight thirty-four, he walked out of the station, found a coffee house, and ordered a double coffee mit schlagobers, and took a copy of the Wiener Kurier from the rack to read while he drank his coffee.




[ TWO ]
7, Rue Monsieur
Paris VII, France
1205 13 July 2005

Dr. Jean-Paul Lorimer took a last sad look around his apartment. He knew he was going to miss so many of his things—and not only the exquisite antiques he had been able to afford in recent years—but there was simply nothing that could be done about it.

He also had second thoughts about leaving nearly seven thousand euros in the safe. Seven thousand euros was right at eight thousand dollars U.S. But leaving just about everything—including money in the safe—would almost certainly confuse, at least for a while, anyone looking for him.

And it wasn’t as if he would be going to Shangri-La without adequate financial resources. Spread more or less equally between the Banco Central; the Banco COFAC; the Banco de Crédito; and the Banco Hipotecario were sixteen million dollars, more money that Jean-Paul could have imagined having ten years before.

And in Shangri-la, there was both a luxury apartment overlooking a white sand beach of the Atlantic Ocean at Puente del Este and, a hundred or so miles farther north, in the Tacuarembo Province of Uruguay, an isolated 2,000-hectare estancia on which cattle were being profitably raised.

All of the property and bank accounts were in the name of Jean-Paul Bertrand, whose Lebanese passport, issued by the Lebanese foreign ministry, carried Jean-Paul Lorimer’s photograph and thumb print. Getting the passport had cost a fortune, but it was now obvious that it was money well spent.

Jean-Paul was taking with him only two medium-sized suitcases, plus the take-aboard suitcase he’d had with him in Vienna. Spread between the three was one hundred thousand U.S. dollars in neat little packs of five thousand dollars each. It was more or less concealed in shoes, socks, inner suit jacket pockets, and so on. He had already steeled himself to throwing away the cash if it developed he could not travel to Shangri-La without passing through a luggage inspection.

He also had five thousand dollars—in five packets of a thousand each—in various pockets of his suit and four passports, all bearing his likeness, but none of them issued by any government.

Jean-Paul had some trouble with the two suitcases and the carry-aboard until he managed to flag down a taxi, but after that things went smoothly.

From Charles deGaulle International, he flew on Royal Air Maroc, as Omar del Danti, a Moroccan national, to Mohamed V International in Casablanca. Two hours later, he boarded, as Maurice LeLand, a French national, an Air France flight to Dakar’s Yoff International Airport in Senegal. Still as LeLand, at nine-thirty that night he boarded the Al Italia flight to San Paolo, Brazil. There he boarded a twin-turbo prop aircraft belonging to Nordeste Linhas Aéreas, a Brazilian regional airline, and flew to Santa Maria.

In Santa Maria, after calling his estancia manager, he got on an enormous intercity bus—nicer, he thought, than any Greyhound he’d ever been on. There was a television screen for each seat; a cold buffet; and even some rather nice, if generic, red wine—and rode it for about two hundred miles to Jaguarao, a farming town straddling the Brazil-Uruguay border.

Ricardo, his estancia manager, was waiting for him there with a Toyota Land Cruiser. They had a glass of a much better red, a local merlot, in a decent, if somewhat primitive restaurant, and then drove out of town. Which also meant into Uruguay. If there was some sort of passport control on either side of the border, Dr. Lorimer didn’t see it. Two hours later, the Land Cruiser turned off a well-maintained gravel road and passed under a wrought iron sign reading SHANGRI-LA.

“Welcome home, doctor,” Ricardo said.

“Thank you, Ricardo,” Jean-Paul said, and then, “I’m going to be here for a while. The fewer people who know that, the better.”

“I understand, doctor.”

“And I think, mano a mano, Ricardo, that you will understand I’ll more than likely be in need of a little company.”

“Tonight, doctor? You must be tired from your travel.”

“Well, let’s see if you can come up with something that will rekindle my energy.”

“There are one or two maids, young girls,” Ricardo said, “that you may find interesting.”

“Good,” Dr. Lorimer said.

Ten minutes later the Land Cruiser pulled up before a rambling one-story white painted masonry house.

Half a dozen servants came quickly out of the house to welcome El Patrón home. One of them, a light skinned girl who appeared to be about sixteen, did indeed look interesting.

Dr. Lorimer smiled at her as he walked into the house.



The United States Embassy
Avenida Colombia 4300
Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
1825 20 July 2005

J. Winslow Masterson, a very tall, well-dressed, very black African-American of forty-two, who was almost belligerently American and loathed most things French, stood leaning on the frame of his office window looking at the demonstration outside.

Masterson’s office was on the second floor of the embassy building, just down the hall from that of the ambassador. Masterson was deputy chief of mission—read Number Two, or Executive Officer, or Deputy Ambassador—and at the moment was the acting minister extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the President of the United States to the Republic of Argentina.

The ambassador, Juan Manuel Silvio, was “across the river”—in Montevideo, Uruguay—having taken a more or less working lunch with Michael A. McGrory, the minister extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the President of the United States to the Republic of Uruguay. The two ambassadors or their chiefs of mission got together regularly, every two weeks, either in Buenos Aires or Montevideo.

Silvio had taken the red-eye, the first flight from Jorge Newberry airport in downtown Buenos Aires, which departed on the twenty-six minute flight to Montevideo at 7:05 A.M., and he would return on the 3:10 P.M. Busque-Bus. The high speed catamaran ferry made the trip in just over three hours. The ambassador said that much time allowed him to deal uninterrupted in the comfortable first class cabin with at least some of the bureaucratic papers that accumulated on his desk.

There were, Masterson guessed, maybe three hundred demonstrators today, banging pots and pans, held back by fences and maybe fifty cops of the Mounted Police, half of them actually on horseback.

The demonstrators waved—at least when they thought the TV cameras were rolling—banners protesting the International Money Fund, the United States role therein, American fiscal policy, and America generally. There were at least a half-dozen banners displaying the likeness of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

The Argentine adulation of Guevara both surprised and annoyed Masterson. He admitted a grudging admiration for Fidel Castro, who had taken a handful of men into the mountains of Cuba for training, then overthrown the Cuban government, and had been giving the finger to the world’s most powerful nation ever since.

But Guevara was another story. Guevara, an Argentine who was a doctor, had been Castro’s medic. But so far as Masterson knew that was all he had ever done to successfully further the cause of communism. As a revolutionary, he had been a spectacular failure. His attempt to communize Africa had been a disaster. All it had taken to see him flee the African continent with his tail between his legs was a hundred-odd man covert detachment of African-American Special Forces soldiers. And when he’d moved to Bolivia, an even smaller covert group of Green Berets, this one mostly made up of Cuban-Americans, had been waiting for him, not so much to frustrate his revolutionary ambitions as to make him a laughing stock all over Latin America.

The Green Berets had almost succeeded. For example, they had almost gleefully reported that Guevara had taken a detachment of his grandly named Revolutionary Army on an overnight training exercise, promptly gotten lost in the boonies, drowned four of his men trying to cross a river, and taken two weeks to get back to his base, barely surviving on a diet of monkeys and other small but edible jungle animals. And when he got back to his base, Guevara found that it was under surveillance by the Bolivian Army. A farmer had reported the Revolutionary Army to the Bolivian government, in the belief they were drug smugglers.

The president of Bolivia, however, was not amused, nor receptive to the idea that the best way to deal with Dr. Guevara was to publicly humiliate him. He ordered a quick summary court martial—the bearing of arms with the intent of overthrowing a government by force and violence being punishable by death under international law—followed by a quick execution, and Guevara became a legend instead of a joke.

“Lost in thought, Jack?” a familiar voice, that of Alexander B. Darby, asked behind him. Darby’s official title was embassy commercial attaché, but among the senior officers it wasn’t exactly a closely guarded secret that he actually was the CIA’s station chief.

Masterson turned and smiled at the small, plump man with a pencil-line mustache.

“My usual unkind thoughts about Che Guevara.”

“They’re still out there?”

Masterson nodded.

“It looked like rain. I hoped it would, and they would go away.”

“No such luck.”

“You about ready?”

“At your disposal, sir,” Masterson said, and started for the door.

Masterson was bumming a ride home with Darby, who lived near him in the suburb of San Isidro. His own embassy car had been in a fender bender—the second this month—and was in the shop.

“The boss back?” Darby asked, as they got on the elevator that would take them to the basement.

“He should be shortly; he took the Busque-Bus,” Masterson replied.

“Maybe he was hoping it would rain, too,” Darby said.

Masterson chuckled.

If the demonstrations outside the embassy did nothing else, they made getting into and out of the embassy grounds a royal pain in the ass. The demonstrators, sure that the TV cameras would follow them, rushed to surround embassy cars. Beyond thumping on the roofs and shaking their fists at those inside the car—they could see only the drivers clearly; the windows in the rear were heavily darkened—they didn’t do much damage. But it took the Mounted Police some time to break their ranks so that the cars could pass, and there was always the risk of running over one of them. Or more likely, that a demonstrator—who hadn’t been touched—would suddenly start howling for the cameras, loudly complaining the gringo imperialists had run over his foot with malicious intent. That was an almost sure way to get on the evening news and in Clarin, Buenos Aires’s tabloid newspaper.

The elevator took them to the basement, a dimly lit area against one wall of which was a line of cars. Most of them were the privately owned vehicles of secondary embassy personnel, not senior enough to have an official embassy car and driver, but ranking high enough to qualify for a parking slot in the basement. There was a reserved area on the curb outside the embassy grounds for the overflow.

Closest to the ramp leading up from the basement were parking spaces for the embassy’s vehicles, the Jeep Wagoneers and such used for taxi service, and for the half-dozen nearly identical “embassy cars.” These were new, or nearly new, BMWs. They were either dark blue or black 5- and 7-series models, and they were all armored. They all carried diplomat license plates.

There were five of these vehicles lined up as Masterson and Darby crossed the basement. The big black 760Li reserved for the ambassador was there, and its spare, and Darby’s car, and the consul general’s, and Ken Lowery’s. Lowery was the embassy’s security officer. The military attaché’s car was gone—he had a tendency to go home early—and Masterson’s was in the shop getting the right front fender replaced.

Darby’s driver, who had been sitting on a folding chair at the foot of the ramp with the other drivers, got up when he saw them coming and had both rear doors opened for them by the time they reached Darby’s car.

One of the many reasons it wasn’t much of a secret that Alex Darby was the CIA station chief was that he had a personal embassy car. None of the other attachés did.

All the drivers were employees of the private security service that guarded the embassy. They were all supposed to be retired policemen, which permitted them the right to carry a gun. It wasn’t much of a secret, either, that all of them were really in the employ of Argentina’s intelligence service, called SIDE, and which was sort of an Argentine version of the CIA, the Secret Service, and the FBI combined.

“We’ll be dropping Mr. Masterson at his house,” Darby announced when they were in the car. “Go there first.”

“Actually, Betsy’s going to be waiting for me—is, in fact, probably already waiting for me—at the Kansas,” Masterson said. “Drop me there, please.”

The Kansas was a widely popular restaurant on Avenida Libertador in a classy section of Buenos Aires called San Isidro.

Getting out of the embassy grounds was not simple. First, the security people checked the identity of the driver, and then the passengers, and then logged their Time Out on the appropriate form. Then for reasons Masterson didn’t pretend to understand, the car was searched, starting with the trunk and ending with the undercarriage being carefully examined using a large round mirror on a pole.

Only then was the car permitted to approach the gate. When that happened, three three-foot-in-diameter barriers were lowered into the pavement. By the time that happened, the lookout stationed at the gate by the demonstrators had time to summon the protestors, and one of the Mounted Police sergeants had time to summon reinforcements, two dozen of whom either ran up on foot or trotted up on horseback, to force the passage of the car through the demonstrators.

Then the double gates were opened, the car left the embassy grounds, and the demonstrators began to do their thing.

No real damage was done, but the thumping on the roof of the BMW was unnerving, and so were the hateful faces of some of the demonstrators. Only some. From what Masterson could see, most of the demonstrators just seemed to be having a good time.

In a minute or so, they were through the demonstrators and, finding a hole in the fast-moving traffic, headed for Avenida Liberator.

Alex Darby gestured in the general direction of the Residence—the ambassador’s home, a huge stone mansion—which faced on Avenue Libertador about five hundred yards from the embassy.

Masterson looked and saw a pack of demonstrators running from the embassy to the residence.

“No wonder he’s taking his time getting back on the Busque-Bus,” Darby said. “If he’d been at the embassy, he’d have had to run the gauntlet twice, once to get out of the embassy, and again to get in the residence.”

A hundred yards past the residence, there was no sign whatever of the howling mob at the embassy. There was a large park on their right, with joggers and people walking dogs, and rows of elegant apartment buildings on their left until they came to the railroad bridge. On the far side of the bridge they had the Army’s polo fields to their left, and the racetrack, the Hippodrome, on their right. There was nothing going on at the polo fields, but the horse fanciers were already lining up for the evening’s races.

Then there were more rows of tall apartment buildings on both sides of the street.

They passed under an elevated highway, which meant they were passing from the City of Buenos Aires into the Province of Buenos Aires. The City of Buenos Aires, Masterson often thought, was like the District of Columbia, and the Province a state, like Maryland or Virginia.

“It looks like traffic’s not so bad,” Alex said.

Masterson leaned forward to look out the windshield.

They were passing Carrefour, a French owned supermarket chain. Masterson, who had served a tour as a junior consular officer in the Paris embassy, and thought he had learned something of the French, refused to shop there.

“You’re right,” Masterson said, just as the driver laid heavily on the horn.

There came a violent push to the side of the BMW, immediately followed by the sound of tearing and crushing metal. The impact threw Darby and Masterson violently against their seatbelts.

There came another crash, this one from the rear, and again they felt the painful pressure of the restraints.

The driver swore in rapid-fire Spanish.

“Jesus Christ!” Masterson exploded, as he tried to sit straight in his seat.

“You all right, Jack?” Darby asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” Masterson said. “Jesus Christ! Again! These goddamn crazy Argentine drivers!”

“Take it easy,” Darby said, quickly scanning the situation outside their windows with the practiced eye of a spook.

Masterson tried to open the door. It wouldn’t budge.

“We’ll have to get out your side, Alex,” he said.

“That’s not going to be easy,” Darby said, gesturing toward the flow of traffic on the street.

The driver got out of the car, stepped into the flow of traffic, and held up his hand like a policeman. Masterson thought idly that the driver had probably started his career as a traffic cop.

A policeman ran up. The driver snapped something at him, and the policeman took over the job of directing traffic. The driver came back to the car, and Darby and Masterson got out.

Masterson saw the pickup that had first struck them was backing away from them. It was a four-door Ford F-250 pickup with a massive set of stainless steel tubes mounted in front of the radiator. He thought first that the tubes—which were common on pickup trucks to push other vehicles out of the mud on country roads—were probably going to have a minor scratch or two and the BMW was probably going to need a new door and a new rear body panel.

Then he saw the car, a Volkswagen Golf, that had hit them from the rear. The right side of the windshield was shattered. He went quickly to the passenger door, and pulled it open. A young man, well-dressed, was sitting there, looking dazed, holding his fingers to his bloody forehead.

Masterson had an unkind thought: If you didn’t think seat belts were for sissies, you macho sonofabitch, your head wouldn’t have tried to go through the windshield.

He waved his fingers before the man’s eyes. The man looked at him with mingled curiosity and annoyance.

“Let’s get you out of there, señor,” Masterson said in fluent Spanish. “I think it would be better for you to lay down.”

He saw that the driver was an attractive young woman—probably Señor Macho’s wife; Argentine men don’t let their girlfriends drive their cars for fear it would make them look unmanly—who looked dazed but didn’t seem to be hurt. She was wearing her seat belt, and the airbag on the steering wheel had deployed.

“Alex,” Masterson called, “get this lady out of here.”

Then he pulled his cloth handkerchief from his pants pocket, pressed it to the man’s bleeding forehead, and placed the man’s right hand to hold it.

“Keep pressure on it,” Masterson said as he helped the man out of the Volkswagen and to the curb. He got him to sit, then asked, “Need to lie down?”

“I’m all right,” the man said. “Mucho gracias.”

“You’re sure? Nothing’s broken?”

The man moved his torso as if testing for broken bones, and then smiled wanly.

Alex Darby led the young woman to the curb. She saw the man and the bloody handkerchief, sucked in her breath audibly, and dropped to her knees to comfort him.

It was an intimate moment. Masterson looked away.

The big Ford truck that had crashed into them was disappearing into the Carrefour parking lot.

The sonofabitch is running away!

Masterson shouted at the policeman directing traffic, finally caught his attention, and pointing at the pickup, shouted that he was running away.

The policeman gestured that he understood, but as he was occupied directing traffic, there wasn’t much that he could do.

Goddamn it to hell!

Masterson took his cellular telephone from his inside pocket and punched an autodial number. When there was no response, he looked at.

No bars! I am in the only fucking place in Buenos Aires where there’s no cellular signal!

Darby saw the cellular in Masterson’s hand, and asked, “You’re calling the embassy?”

“No goddamn signal.”

Darby took his cellular out and confirmed that.

“I’ll call it in with the radio,” he said, and walked quickly to the BMW.

A minute later he came back.

“Lowery asked if we’re all right,” he said. “I told him yes. He’s sending an Automobile Club wrecker and a car. It’ll probably take a little while for the car. The demonstrators are still at it.”

“The sonofabitch who hit us took off,” Masterson said.

“Really? You’re sure?”

“Yes, goddammit, I’m sure.”

“Take it easy, Jack. These things happen. Nobody’s hurt.”

“He is,” Masterson said, nodding at Señor Macho.

“The cops and an ambulance will be here soon, I’m sure.”

“Betsy’s going to shit a brick when I’m late,” Masterson said. “And I can’t call her.”

“Get on the radio and have the guard at Post One call her at the Kansas.”

Masterson considered that.

“No,” he decided aloud. “She’ll just have to be pissed. I don’t want the guard calling her and telling her I’ve been in another wreck.”



[ FOUR ]
Restaurant Kansas
Avenida Libertador
San Isidro
Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
1925 20 July 2005

Elizabeth “Betsy” Masterson, a tall, slim, well-groomed thirty-seven-year-old, with the sharp features and brownish black skin that made her think her ancestors had been of the Watutsi tribe, was seated alone at the bar of Kansas—the only place smoking was permitted in the elegant steakhouse. She looked at her watch for the fifth time in the last ten minutes, exhaled audibly, had unkind thoughts about the opposite sex generally and Jack, her husband, specifically, and then signaled to the bartender for another LaGarde Merlot, and lit another cigarette.

Goddamn him! He knows that I hate to sit at the bar alone, as if I’m looking for a man. And he said he’d be here between quarter to seven and seven!

Jack’s embassy car had been in a fender bender—another fender bender, the second this month—and was in the shop, and he had caught a ride to work, and was catching a ride home with Alex Darby, the embassy’s commercial attaché. Jack had called her and asked if she could pick him up at Kansas, as for some reason it would be inconvenient for Alex to drop him at the house.

The Mastersons and the Darbys, both on their second tours in Buenos Aires, had opted for embassy houses in San Isidro, rather than for apartments in Palermo or Belgrano.

Their first tours had taught them there was a downside to the elegant apartments the embassy leased in the city. They were of course closer to the embassy, but they were noisy, sometimes the elevators and the air conditioning didn’t work, and parking required negotiating a narrow access road to a crowded garage sometimes two floors below street level. And they had communal swimming pools, if they had swimming pools at all.

The houses the embassy leased in San Isidro were nice, and came with a garden, a quincho—outdoor barbeque—and a swimming pool. This was important if you had kids, and the Mastersons had three. The schools were better in San Isidro, and the shopping, and Avenida Libertador was lined with nice shops and lots of good restaurants. And of course there were easy access garages for what the state department called Privately Owned Vehicles.

The Masterson POV was a dark green 2004 Chrysler Town & Country van. With three kids, all with bicycles, you needed something that large. But it was big, and Betsy didn’t even like to think about trying to park what the Mastersons called “The Bus” in an underground garage in the city.

When she went to Buenos Aires, to have lunch with Jack or whatever, she never used a garage. The Bus had diplomat license plates, and that meant you could park anywhere you wanted. You couldn’t be ticketed or towed. Or even stopped for speeding. Diplomatic immunity.

The price for the house and the nice shops, good restaurants, and better schools of San Isidro was the twice-a-day thirty—sometimes forty-five—minute ride through the insane traffic on Libertador to the embassy. But Jack paid that.

Her bartender—one of four tending the oval bar island—came up with a bottle of LaGarde in one hand and a fresh glass in the other. He asked with a raised eyebrow if she wanted the new glass.

“This is fine, thank you,” Betsy said in Spanish.

The bartender filled her glass almost to the brim.

I probably shouldn’t have done that, she thought. The way they pour in here, two glasses is half a bottle, and with half a bottle in me I’m probably going to say something to Jack—however well deserved—that I’ll regret later.

But she picked the glass up carefully and took a good swallow from it.

She looked up at the two enormous television screens mounted high on the wall for the bar patrons. One of them showed a soccer game—what Argentines, as well as most of the world, called “football”—and the other was tuned to a news channel.

There was no sound that she could hear.

Typical Argentina, she thought unkindly. Rather than make a decision between providing the audio to one channel, which would annoy the watchers of the other, compromise by turning both off. That way, nobody should be annoyed.

She didn’t really understand the football, so she turned her attention to the news. There was another demonstration at the American embassy. Hordes of people banging on drums and kitchen pots, and waving banners, including several of Che Guereva—which for some reason really annoyed Jack—being held behind barriers by the Mounted Police.

That’s probably why Jack’s late. He couldn’t get out of the embassy. But he could have called.

The image of a distinguished looking, gray bearded man in a business suit standing before a microphone came on the screen. Betsy recognized him as the prominent businessman whose college age son had been a high-profile kidnapping victim. As the demands for ransom went higher and higher, the kidnappers had cut off the boy’s fingers one by one, and sent them to his father to prove he was still alive. Shortly after the father paid, the boy’s body—shot in the head—was found. The father was now one of the biggest thorns in the side of the president and his administration.

Kidnapping—sometimes with the participation of the cops—was big business in Argentina. The Buenos Aires Herald, the American-owned English language newspaper, had that morning run the story of the kidnapping of a thirteen-year-old girl, thought to be sold into prostitution.

Such a beautiful country with such ugly problems.

The image shifted to one of a second rate American movie star being herded through a horde of fans at the Ezieza airport.

Betsy took a healthy swallow of the merlot, checked the entrance again for signs of her husband, and returned her attention to the TV screen.

Ten minutes later—Well, enough’s enough. To hell with him. Let him stand on the curb and try to flag a taxi down. I’m sorry it’s not raining—she laid her American Express card on the bar, caught the bartender’s eye, and pointed at the card. He smiled, and nodded, and walked to the cash register.

When he laid the tab on the bar before her, she saw that the two glasses of the really nice merlot and the very nice plate of mixed cheeses and crackers came to $24.50 in Argentine pesos. Or eight bucks U.S.

She felt a twinge of guilt. The Mastersons had lived well enough on their first tour, when the peso equaled the dollar. Now, with the dramatic devaluation of the peso, they lived like kings. It was indeed nice, but also it was difficult to completely enjoy with so many suffering so visibly.

She nodded, and he picked up the tab and her credit card and went back to the cash register. Betsy went in her purse and took out a wad of pesos and pulled a five peso note from it. For some reason, you couldn’t put the tip on a credit card. Five pesos was about twenty percent, and Jack was always telling her that the Argentines were grateful for ten percent. But the bartender was a nice young man who always took good care of her, and he probably didn’t make much money. Five pesos was a buck sixty.

When the bartender came back with the American Express form, she signed it, took the carbon, laid the five peso note on the original and pushed it across the bar to him.

“Mucho gracias, señora.”

“You’re welcome,” Betsy said in Spanish.

She put the credit card in her wallet, and then the wallet in her purse, and closed it. She slipped off the bar stool and walked toward the entrance. This gave her a view of the kitchen, intentionally on display behind a plate glass wall. She was always fascinated at what, in a sense, was really a feeding frenzy. She thought there must be twenty men in chef’s whites tending a half-dozen stainless steel stoves, a huge, wood-fired parrilla grill, and other kitchen equipment. All busy as hell. The no-smoking dining room of Kansas was enormous and usually full.

The entrance foyer was crowded with people giving their names to the greeter-girls to get on the get-seated roster. One of the greeters saw Betsy coming and walked quickly to hold open the door for her.

Betsy went out onto Avenida Libertador, and looked up and down the street; no husband. She turned right on the sidewalk toward what she thought of as the Park-Yourself entrance to the Kansas parking lot. There were two entrances to the large parking area behind the restaurant. The other provided valet parking.

Betsy never used it. She had decided long ago, when they had first started coming to Kansas, that it was really a pain in the you-know-where. The valet parkers were young kids who opened the door for you, handed you a claim check, and then hopped behind the wheel and took off with a squeal of tires into the parking lot, where they proved their manhood by coming as close to other cars as they could without taking off a fender.

And then when you left, you had to find the claim check, and stand outside waiting for a parker to show up so you could give it to him. He then took off at a run into the parking lot. A couple of minutes later, The Bus would arrive with a squeal of tires, and the parker would jump out with a big smile and a hand out for his tip.

It was easier and quicker to park The Bus yourself. And when you were finished with dinner—or waiting for a husband who didn’t show the simple courtesy of calling and saying he was delayed, and who didn’t answer his cellular—all you had to do was walk into the parking lot, get in The Bus, and drive off.

When she’d come in today, the parking lot had been nearly full, and she’d had to drive almost to the rear of it to find a home for The Bus. But no problem. It wasn’t that far, and the lot was well lit, with bright lights on tall poles on the little grassy-garden islands between the rows of parked cars.

She was a little surprised and annoyed when she saw that the light shining down on The Bus had burned out. Things like that happened, of course, but she thought she was going to have a hell of a hard time finding the keyhole in the door.

When she actually got to The Bus, it was worse. Some sonofabitch—one of the valet parkers, probably—had parked a Peugeot sedan so close to the left side of the van that there was no way she could get to the door without scraping her rear and/or her boobs on either the dirty Peugeot or The Bus, which also needed a bath.

She walked around to the right side of The Bus and with some difficulty—for a while she thought she was going to have to light her cigarette lighter—managed to get the key in the lock and open the door.

She was wearing a tight skirt, and the only way she was going to be able to crawl over the passenger seat and the whatever-it-was-called thing between the seats to get behind the wheel was to hike the skirt up to her crotch.

First things first. Get rid of the purse, then hike skirt.

She opened the sliding door and tossed her purse on the seat.

The front door suddenly slammed shut.

What the hell?

She looked to see what had happened.

There was a man coming toward her between the cars. He had something in his hand.

What the hell is that, a hypodermic needle?

She first felt arms wrap around her from behind her, then a hand over her mouth.

She started to struggle. She tried to bite at the hand over her mouth as the man coming toward her sort of embraced her. She felt a sting on her buttocks.

Oh, Jesus Chri ...


From THE HOSTAGE — Book II in the best-selling THE PRESIDENTIAL AGENT series.
Published December 2005.