Authors: Randy Wayne White
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Randy Wayne White writing as Carl Ramm
The woman who met him at the Fort George Hotel in Belize City, Belize, Central America, told him that she was a whore. She said it with a toss of her head, a quick, penetrating glare of contempt, an expression of aloof indifference that effectively communicated that she didn't give a good goddamn what James Hawker thought of her, anyway, so why try to hide anything?
Hawker sat at the bar and studied the label on the bottle of beer he was drinking. Belikin Beer, Belize Brewing Company, Ltd. Nice drawing of a Mayan ruin on the label. Hawker had studied many labels of many varied beers in the last year. He had been traveling almost continually. When a man is being hunted by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, travel becomes a way of life.
For the last two months he had been living in a seaside estate in Puerto Cabello, not far from Caracas, Venezuela. In South and Central America, Hawker had discovered, a man is asked only one question of importance: Can you pay? If that question is answered satisfactorily, there are no more questions. On the strength of his portfolio at the Swiss bank of Grand Cayman Island, Hawker had always answered satisfactorily.
So lately he had been living the fast, elaborate life of the wealthy American expatriate. Rented villas overlooking the sea. Maids and man-servants. Invitations to strange, formal dinner parties peopled with swarthy men in white tuxedos and beautiful, dangerous-looking women. It was the kind of life that international spies lived. And escaped Nazis. And international drug runners. And businessmen from places like Toledo or Dubuque who embezzle the cream off the second set of books, abandon the wife and kids, and run off with the gum-chewing secretary.
But it was not James Hawker's kind of life. He had had enough of isolation. He had had enough of cryptic conversations with people he did not trust and did not like. He had ridden with too many lunatic women in fast sports cars and bedded enough Latin beauties to last a lifetime.
Hawker had had enough of running and enough of living the soft life. That's why now, now for the first time in months, he was happy. He was happy because he had another mission.
Hawker put the bottle of beer on the counter and considered the woman who sat next to him. She was of the long, lithe, tropical variety: finely grained mahogany skin; pale brown eyes; a touch of Mayan ancestry in the high cheekbones; a blend of slave ancestry in the ripe hips and jutting breasts; a solid dash of Spanish-European in the delicate nose, mouth, and the dark spill of black hair that framed the beautiful duskiness of her face. Her speech was articulate, accented with Spanish, but touched with the cool English of British boarding schools, not the inarticulate street slur of Belize. And the white blouse, tropical-print skirt, and gold jewelry she wore all had the crisp aura of money. If she was a whore, Hawker decided, she was a damn expensive whore.
Hawker said, “I came to Belize because it was my understanding that Colonel Wellington Curtis of Atlanta, Georgia, was going to meet me here. At the bar of the Fort George Hotel. At eight
on this particular Tuesday in June. It is now eight twenty-three
, and I really don't care if you are a whore or a secretary or a prima ballerina. All I am asking is: Why did Colonel Curtis send a messenger instead of meeting me as had been arranged? Why did he send you?”
Again the woman's dark eyes flashed at him. “You are disappointed, Mr. Hawker? Perhaps the colonel was thinking of your comfort. You have had a long journey from Venezuela. For reasons with which I am unfamiliar, it was inappropriate for you to fly by commercial airline or, for that matter, to travel under your real name. So you have spent the last two days in small bush planesâI know how cramped and hot they areâand cheap hotels. The colonel told me that his inquiries about you indicate that you are a man who, when he relaxes, prefers to relax with women.” Her lips formed a condescending smile. “Perhaps the colonel wishes you to relax before your meeting with him. Perhaps that is why he sent his whore as messenger.”
Hawker nodded and took a sip of his beer. “If that's the reason you're here, then the colonel has wasted your time and mine. I have been sufficiently â¦ relaxed during my months in South America. I need no more relaxation. I need only to see the colonel.”
“You do not find me attractive?” Without taking her eyes from Hawker the woman opened an ornate gold case and put a cigarette between her lips. When Hawker made no move to light the cigarette for her, she fumbled for a small lighter and added, “Or perhaps the inquiries the colonel made about you were misleading. Perhaps you do not like women.”
Hawker noted that her hands shook slightly as she lit the cigarette. He also noticed that she snapped the lighter closed too firmly, as if to compensate for her momentary lack of control. Hawker replied calmly, “You do not understand, Laureneâthat is your name, isn't it? Laurene Catocamez? I'm here on business. Whether I find you attractive or not is immaterial. What's important is what I have to say to Colonel Curtis. And what I have to say can't wait for a recreational roll in the hay with you, which, frankly, I wouldn't accept even if there was time.”
The woman blew a funnel of smoke and tapped the cigarette on an ashtray, her eyes narrowing slightly. “I see,” she said. “You seem to be a man who appreciates frankness, Mr. Hawker, so I hope you do not mind if I am now frank with you. I have not been sent to Belize just to entertain you. I have been sent to interview you before your meeting with Colonel Curtis. The colonel, though he has never met you, knows of your reputation. He has told me about you, for as well as being his whore, I am also his confidante. Colonel Curtis admires your work as an American vigilante. He has heard good things about your wars on the criminals of Los Angeles and Detroit and Washington. As you no doubt know, Colonel Curtis is, in his way, also a vigilante. Though he is an American, he has helped finance, arm, and lead the great rebel cause in my country. He and his mercenaries have fought side by side with my people in a revolution that will not end until the communist regime now in control is destroyed.”
“I know,” put in Hawker. “In that regard I am in support of the colonel and his work.”
“As you should be. Colonel Curtis is a great man. He admires you and your work, too, Mr. Hawker. Even so, he does not know why you want this meeting with him. It is his sincere hope that you have come to offer your considerable abilities to our cause. But Colonel Curtis also knows that his work in Central America has many powerful enemies back in the United States. One of those enemies is Senator Thy Estes, who, according to our sources, is also your lover. The colonel knows that his enemies have been inventing terrible lies about how he gets money to fund this revolution. They have accused him of torture and extortion and God knows what else. Frankly Colonel Curtis wonders if you have come to Central America to assassinate him.” Laurene Catocamez gave him a sharp look of appraisal as she inhaled on her cigarette. “Is that why you are here, Mr. Hawker? Have you come to murder Wellington Curtis?”
Hawker couldn't help but smile. He hadn't realized that Curtis, who had been described to him as a Southern aristocrat and military hobbyist, was capable of setting up an intelligence network sophisticated enough to collect such accurate data. Who in the hell besides a few close friends and a couple of airplane pilots knew that he and Thy Estes, the buxom redheaded senator, were lovers? And how many people knew that he was a vigilante? It was an impressive demonstration of Curtis's organization, and Hawker took it for what it was: a warning; a warning that Curtis was more than just a military adventurer.
“You are right, Laurene,” Hawker said easily, “I am a man who appreciates frankness. Even so, if I were here to kill Colonel Curtis, you really don't think that I would admit it, do you?”
“Your eyes would tell me what your tongue might not.”
“Is that right? You are a mind reader? And what do my eyes tell you now, Laurene?”
The woman studied him carefully, and as she did, Hawker felt, to his surprise, a strong surge of physical desire for her. Perhaps it was the disdain in her manner or the petulant way in which her lips pursed as she stared at him, but the wanting was there: a strong abdominal surge, like pain.
“What do my eyes tell you?” Hawker repeated.
The woman looked deeply into his eyes, and then, after long seconds, seemed to shake herself from a light trance and turned away. “Very little,” she said quickly. “Almost nothing.”
“Oh? Why is it that I think you're lying?”
The woman pressed her cigarette into an ashtray. “Lying? How absurd. It's really just a trick of mine, you know,” she said, smiling for the first time. “I pretend I can read things in people. People love to think someone else knows about them.
knows about them. I guess it gives them a little break in their loneliness. My grandmother was a gypsy. When I tell people this, they immediately believe that I can see into their eyes. They are anxious to accept anything I say about their past or future as true.” She laughed. “Of course, I always tell them what they want to hear. It is a trick. My grandmother could do it, though. She really could see into the past. And the future.”
“But you can't? You don't have the gift?”
The woman looked at Hawker. “Sometimes,” she said slowly. “Sometimes I can see things. Sometimes I have the gift.”
“Yet you saw nothing in my eyes.”
The woman stood abruptly. “What I saw or did not see does not matter. The future is not ours to control, is it? But I am convinced you have not come to assassinate Colonel Curtis. I do not know why you are here, but I don't think you have come to kill him. That is all that matters. Tomorrow I will take you to him. It is a long journey. You should get some sleep.”